The Awesomeness of God And the Myth of the Prosperity Gospel

imageMichael W. Smith sings in his song, “Our God is an awesome God/ He reigns from heaven above/ With wisdom, power, and love/ Our God is an awesome God.” But, why do we sometimes fail to see his awesomeness? Why do we try to orchestrate the events of our lives instead of leaving it to the Lord? The closer we get to God, the more we see his glory, and the more we glorify his name instead of taking credit for the great things He has done. A trial free life does not imply piety and a life filled with tribulation does not imply sin. God wants us to see his awesome character in the midst of difficulty. Recently, there was an article in the New York Times, “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me,” in which the author, Kate Bowler, a Christian professor, had interviewed televangelists of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that material wealth is the will of God for them, and that faith, positive thoughts and speech, coupled with tithing will increase one’s financial prosperity. Proponents of this belief, say that one will be relieved of any sickness or disease if he positively believes that he will be healed. The positive confession, they believe, results in a life free of financial and physical hardship. As a result, material prosperity will flow. The author of this article, however opined, that she herself was diagnosed with cancer. She realized that prosperity is not related to piety.  In the end, she admired them for their steadfast belief in rejecting illness and poverty, although she did not believe in all the tenets of the prosperity gospel. If we could simply recite a mantra and donate money, why would we need Jesus? Heartache and disease can find us even if we denounce it.

Job, in the Bible, was blameless and upright and eschewed evil. In spite of his piety, God allowed him to suffer great hardship. He lost everything he had and suffered miserably. After losing his children, his servants, and his livestock, he became despondent.  Those around him both ridiculed him and blamed him for the tribulations he faced. Eliphaz, Job’s friend, says to him, “Is it any advantage to the Almighty if you are righteous? / Would it be any gain to him if you were perfect?/ Is it because you are so pious that he accuses you and brings judgment against you? / No it’s because of your wickness.” (Job 22:3-5). Moreover, his wife told him to curse God and die. Providentially, he did neither. Job asks, why do the wicked prosper? They spend their days in peace, yet are far from God. Job, further ruminates and says, “They think their prosperity is of their own doing, but I will have nothing to do with that kind of thinking.”( Job 21:16) Knowing God controls his destiny, Job acknowledges that God is testing him and that after his test, he will be refined as pure gold.  After many conversations with God, he begins to see God’s awesome character. God reminds Job of His awesome ability, his omnipotence. Pondering God’s character, Job realizes that everything is within God’s control. Job acknowledges that he has now seen God with his own eyes, and that he has experienced God. Job, restored manifold, lived, in the end, a long prosperous life- only after enduring great suffering. Job, through his own mettle and God’s love, had the resolve to endure great hardship like a soldier.

Thus, if one of God’s choicest servants endured great suffering after having great material and spiritual wealth, then no Christian should expect to be exempt from suffering. Nothing is wrong with desiring material wealth, but its grip should not control us. Godliness next to contentment is great gain ( 1 Timothy 6:6). If we are in poverty or if we are sick, we should pray to God regularly with thanksgiving, and believe in faith that we will be delivered. We should pray that our deliverance depends on God, but act as if, it depends upon us (faith without works is dead James 2). If we do these things, then we will see God’s awesomeness in both the great and the small things of life. image

“Let’s trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus! ” John H. Sammis says in his song published in 1887, ” When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, /  What a glory He sheds our way! / While we do His good will, He abides with us still,/ And with all who will trust and obey.”

Let’s pray God’s strength and recognize that prosperity comes in many forms, but it never implies a lack of suffering. For, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.”(psalm 119: 71-72) Suffering, however, should never be minimized, but should be taken to the Lord in prayer.

For further reflection read Job: 40, 41, and 42. Let it richly bless your soul. Remember, let’s be fishers of men!

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Christian Piety versus Evil in Robert Eggers’s The Witch

imageLast October was the one hundred anniversary of Arthur Miller’s (an American playwrite) birth. Accompanying this anniversary are several works, two of which highlight the witchcraft era. One of his most famous works, The Crucible, uses historical records to recreate the Salem Witch Trials. Within the next week, the theatrical production of The Crucible will appear on Broadway (directed by Ivo van Hove). Additionally, as a forerunner to the upcoming Broadway production, Robert Eggers’s debut film, The Witch premiered last week. It is set in seventeenth century New England, a few decades preceding the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The Witch is not classic horror, but it has enough horrific scenes to make one uncomfortable. A Sundance favorite, Eggers won best director for this dramatic feature.  It is the story of a devout Christian family banished from their puritanical community for actions that are theologically based, but are not specified. The family then moves far away from their community and from anyone (lack of fellowship with other Christians is a death knell). They settle into a daunting lifestyle away from others as the husband struggles both to provide food for his family and spiritual guidance. Unexpected and strange events start to occur without any explanation other than witchcraft. The eldest daughter, Thomasin (superbly played by Anya Taylor-Joy), is suspected of engaging in witchcraft that has caused one child to disappear, and another child, Caleb  (incidentally Caleb in the Bible wholly followed God- Joshua 14: 14), to become demon possessed. All the while, the family recites biblical scriptures to ward off the evil within them. Although Thomasin may not have started out engaging in witchcraft, she somehow becomes entangled and ensnared by its trappings. This feature film mostly uses actual historical records of conversation and events to form both the film’s dialogue and events from that era. The film is a bit creepy, but Eggers shields the audience from many of the horrific actions.

The film juxtaposes man’s desire for piety with his sinful nature. How does one become devout? What does one have to do to put his sinful nature under subjection? Does devotion come after turning from sins or turning to God first? In The Witch, the family spends time praying and reciting scriptures, but their actions seem powerless to stop Satan or any unexplained phenomena from wreaking havoc on their family and enticing the elder daughter to become a member of Satan’s kingdom. Under normal Christian circumstances, sincere prayer or communion with God wards off evil. A Christian need not fear Satan. Satan may try to strike Christians, but the Bible says no weapon formed against believers will prosper (Isaiah 54:17). The Bible never says that the weapon would not be formed.

The Witch highlights the most salient symbols of original sin, the apple (in the Bible, the apple is not mentioned as the fruit eaten) and man’s nakedness to underscore his depravity. Thomasin, in the end, seems to have bought into the notion that she can have everything if she turns her life toward Satan. She welcomes this life after she has lost everything that she once held dear. That is the greatest tragedy of this film

                                                Biblical Analysis

The Bible says that we are not to love the world and the things therein ( 1 John 2:15). In order to not be enticed by the world, one must turn to God in prayer and must meditate on God’s word day and night. One must take captive every thought unto the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must think on those things that are lovely, pure, and are of good report (Phillipians 4:8). Lastly, we must put on the full armor of God which includes: the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the buckle of truth, the sword of the spirit, and have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel ( Ephesians 6:10-18). If we do these things, we will have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and we will not have to fear satanic attacks. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

The Witch is a great feature that highlights the Puritan witchcraft  era of the seventeenth century. Using historical accuracy and folklore, this film captures the essence of the era’s mass hysteria. It provides much food for thought. Unfortunately today, people are engaging in witchcraft; however, do not fear because we who are born of God, have overcome the world (1 John 5:4). It’s now playing at BAM and other local theaters.

For further reflection: Read Ephesians 6; Romans 10: 9-13

Let’s be fishers of men!

The Names of Christ

imageThe Bible says that in the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). The Word, Jesus Christ, dwelt among flesh.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ has many names symbolizing his deity. We first know him as “I am who I am”(Exodus 3:14). Both the Old and the New Testament identify Christ’s character via his names. Here is a small sampling of the names of Christ, and each one’s corresponding symbolism.

Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd and that a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep ( John 10:11). A shepherd rears and guides sheep in a particular direction. He protects his sheep. God, as our shepherd, protects us from danger; yet, he is sovereign and does not shield us from every harm because He wants us to know how to depend upon him. If harm does come to us, He wants us to cast our cares upon him while knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22).

He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Christ promises us that whosoever comes to him will never be hungry again. Christ, the one who sustains us, is talking about a spiritual hunger, for he is our daily bread.

He is the Lily of the Valley and the Rose of Sharon (Song of Solomon 2:1). A lily represents purity and it has a strong sweet fragrance that permeates the atmosphere. Whenever we are at a low point in our lives, Christ’s fragrance remains perfuming our lives during challenging times. Sharon was a place of fertile land in which plants and crops were able to grow. Let Christ grow in your fertile heart like a flower.

The King of kings and Lord of all lords (Revelations 19:16 and Revelations 17:14). There is no one above him!

The Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last (Revelations 22:13; Revelations 1:8). Without him there was no beginning and without him there will be no end.

Christ is Living Water (John 4:14). Christ promises us that if we drink from him, we will never thirst again. Water sustains us, but Christ’s water will never be depleted.

Let him be all of these things to us and more. He is waiting with open arms to receive us. He is the Light of the World (John 8:12).

For further reflection and meditation read the above referenced scriptures. If we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4-5).

 

 

Knowing and Doing the Will of God

imageWhen I was preparing for law school, I never considered that I was not within the perfect will of God. Although God permitted me to attend law school and subsequently practice law, I soon realized that God had other plans for my life. Even though I was not within his perfect will, he used that time period to sharpen my faith, and my dependence on him. He saw my heart and put me on the course that He had for my life. That’s what The Apostle Paul means when he says that all things work together for the good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Additionally, the Apostle Paul said to the Colossians that he and Timothy had not stopped praying for them and asking that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that they would live a life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit and pleasing him in every good work (Colossians 1:3-6). For many years, I struggled with knowing the will of God, although I desperately wanted to do it. I even believed that if something was good then God wanted me to do it. I did not have a clear understanding on the perfect will versus the permissible will of God. Many years later, while attending a church in Philadelphia, one of the associate pastors often said, “The will of God is to do the will of God.” But I never seemed to grasp it and I still asked myself what the will of God was for my life. I now know it is as succinctly as he put it: the will of God is to do the will of God.

The Bible is filled with scriptures that tell us God’s will. God, through his inspired servants, tells us to pray without ceasing, to look after the unfortunate, to live at peace, to love one another, to humble ourselves, to study and meditate on his word, and to praise him. Of course, many of us want specific directions for our lives. After and while doing the will of God, He will begin to reveal his perfect will for our lives. He will speak silently if we take a few moments to listen and He will give us peace about a decision we are making. Moreover, He will keep those in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on him (Isaiah 26:3). God will use scriptures to speak to us, and he will use people to confirm the direction we should take. Knowing the will of God starts with deep reflection on God’s word and daily prayer to know the steps God has for us. God says that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord (Psalm 37:23) and that His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). Doing his will will spare us from the ramifications of bad decisions. God can reroute us if we have detoured away from his will, if we sincerely ask for his help.image

If we are filled with the knowledge of his will, we will (Colossians 1: 9-12) :

*Bear fruit;

*Grow in the knowledge of God;

*Receive strength with all power;

*Endure and have patience;

*Give thanks and,

*Share in the inheritance of the saints

I pray that we will all seek to know his will and allow ourselves to be co laborers in Christ.

For further meditation and reflection read: Colossians 1 and John 15.