Sunday, January 3, 2016

When faith takes a wrong turn: Easy street

When faith takes a wrong turn: Easy street
RUMC 1/3/16
 One night in 1988, I left the Garrison church in a full-blown blizzard. I should have stayed in town that night. Woulda- shoulda- coulda, right? You know what it is like when it is snowing and blowing so hard you can’t see the road, the centerline, the reflectors alongside the road, or anything but the snowflakes bowing horizontally across the bean of your headlights. It is easy to become disoriented. To make a very long drive short, on just this side of Dysart, I lost track of the centerline and before I knew it, we were stopped… in the ditch… on the LEFT hand side of the road. It didn’t take much of a wrong turn to get me off track and in trouble.
 That happens in our beliefs too. Sometimes we get distracted by something… Sometimes we want to believe something so bad… sometimes we are lead off the road by well meaning teachers or pastors. These belief accidents, or detours, are called HERESIES. The word heresy comes from the Latin “hae-re-sis,” meaning, "act of choosing." It refers to “choosing” our own beliefs, rather than following the Bible. Leaving town in the middle of a blizzard and ending up in the ditch was just stupid choice but it turned out OK. Taking a wrong turn with our beliefs can be much more serious.
 We need road signs, then, to help us stay on the right road and keep us going the right direction in our beliefs. That is why I am writing this series of six sermons I am calling “When belief takes a wrong turn. From the list of 13 heresies I originally made, I have chosen the six that I see most often. (Not in any particular order).
Let me be clear. I do this in love. If you discover that you have been led off, or veered off the road into one of these heresies, somewhere along the way, do not panic. Most likely, a little steering adjustment will bring you back in line with Biblical Christianity. I want you to consider these sermons, then as road signs to reassure you that your beliefs are headed in the right direction down the right road.
 (Start easy street video) Let’s start this week with a wrong turn onto “easy street.”
 Easy street. We all want life to be easy, don’t we? This wrong turn occurs when people believe that God paves the way by blessing us with material stuff, health, success, popularity, and a problem free life. Usually, in order to unlock these blessings we have to do something. It might be that we have to believe certain things, pray a certain way, belong to a certain church, or, most commonly, donate to a particular ministry. (Usually one from which the preacher directly benefits.) You might hear some refer to this as the “Prosperity Gospel,” the “Health and Wealth Gospel,” or the “Gospel of Success.”

Oral Roberts, TD Jakes, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin are some of the most prominent preachers who have taken this wrong turn. Let me play a clip of the most extreme, most offensive example of what happens when this heresy is taken to its natural conclusion. This is Creflo Dollar (Yes that seems to be his real name.) talking about what he would do with those who do not seek God’s blessings by giving generously to his ministry. This comes from about the same time he has a vision that God wanted people to give him $65 million for a new private jet for his ministry.   (((Video)))
 Isn’t that sickening? As I said that is the most extreme position I have ever heard. More often it is, “God wants to bless you, and God will do that if you just send your donation to me.” “God wants to make you rich, so you send me $10 and God will bless you with $100.” If you watch much religious television like Trinity Broadcasting, you will hear those kinds of things. Do not fall for it.
The other end if easy street is less opportunistic, but just as wrong. You may have friends who believe that being Christian makes life easy-peasy. God solves all of our problems protects us from any hardship, or pain, or sorrow, or depression, or sickness. These are the folks who tell us that we grieve because we don’t have enough faith, or we have depression because we don’t pray enough. I wish I could tell you differently, but the Christian life is not easy-peasy.
You may run into “Easy Street Christianity” in other places. They key is the belief that God is here to make our lives easy, comfortable, and if we are really faithful, God even makes us wealthy.
 Is it true that God wants to bless us? Absolutely, God wants more than anything to bless us. The first mistake easy street preachers make, however, is believing THAT MATERIAL WEALTH AND COMFORT ARE A SIGN OF GOD’S BLESSINGS.
Many times these folks turn to Galatians 3:14, which says to “the blessings of Abraham come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus.” They say, “That’s us. God wants to bless us with health, wealth, and comfort.” Conveniently, however, they ignore the second 11 words of the verse: “so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” “The promise of the spirit through faith” does not sound like a promise for health, wealth, and comfort to me. That says to me that there are blessings much greater than a problem free life; blessings much greater than living on easy street.
In fact, Abraham lived WAY off easy street. He was tested by not having an heir until he was very, very old. He suffered through being asked to sacrifice Isaac. He accepted the hardship of leaving his home to go to, “God knows where!” None of that is easy-peasy.
These Easy Street preachers have been blinded by the bling, the shiny bobbles, the big toys, and the drive for prosperity-- and frankly the greed and manipulation-- that dominates our consumer culture. By selecting certain verses and parts of verses, they have created a God, in the image of the Madison Avenue advertisers.
 The second mistake in the Health and Wealth gospel is believing that WE GIVE IN ORDER TO RECEIVE. Robert Tilton referred to this as the “Law of Compensation.” He bases this on Mark 10:29 in which Jesus said, “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands.”
It is convenient that when they are raising funds they can say, you give me $10 and God will bless you with $1,000. It is also convenient that they leave out is the rest of the sentence. Listen to the whole thing. “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Using half of a truth is one of the marks of a wrong turn in belief.
Prosperity preachers teach people to give ---because they will be rewarded and become #1.But in Jesus economy, the first shall be last. Jesus taught his disciples to give like a servant, out of love and humility; expecting nothing in return. Luke 6:33 says “if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” He taught,” If they take your coat give them your cloak also.” He taught if you show care to those who cannot pay you back because they are poor, or in prison, or hungry; you have done that for Jesus. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to give in order to receive.
 The third wrong turn they make is believing that FAITH CAN BE USED TO GET WHATEVER WE WANT. Ken Copeland writes in The Laws of Prosperity. “There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.” In other words, faith is our key that unlocks all of God’s blessings for the believer.
Creflo Dollar writes, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”
The truth is that we cannot manipulate, or blackmail or trick God in any way.
They say if I have enough faith and give enough to them that God will give me whatever I want. James says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James. 4:3). Jesus didn’t pray, “Not thy will, but mine be done” did he? No, “Not my will but thine be done.”
 Let me be clear. I am not against having money. Jesus was not against having money, but he was adamantly against money having you.
•           Jesus warned against storing up treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19-24) and covetousness (Luke 12:15).
•           Jesus emphasized caring for the poor (Matt. 25:31-46).
•           James says, “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).
Along with Paul, I have grave concerns about those who preach this prosperity gospel, and anyone duped by them. Paul writes, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness. (1 Tim. 6:9-11).
In today’s scripture, Jesus is talking to a rich young man. It turns out that he has followed all the commandments to the letter. His behavior was right. There was only one thing standing in his way. It wasn’t his money that was in his way…  
It was either his love of material things, or his lack of love for the poor. Jesus perceived either that he loved money and stuff more than God, or he perceived that he loved his money and stuff more than other people. Either way the command was the same, “go sell all that you have and give the money to the poor.”
Not because money and material stuff is so bad, but because God is so good!
Jesus told him the road of Christian discipleship is not called easy street.
 The road to Christian discipleship is not called EASY STREET, but GENEROSITY STREET… as we learn to make our first instinct generosity rather than greed.
The road to Christian discipleship is not called EASY STREET, but TRUST STREET… as we learn to trust God for ALL that we need rather than depending on the crutch of our money and our stuff.
 Life is sometimes like a blizzard and it is easy to lose our way. Nevertheless, if we walk together down Discipleship Drive… if we walk together with God’s help we can get through life even if we don’t live on Easy street. AMEN

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