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Does God Really Have Plans to Prosper You? (Jeremiah 29:11) Pt. 3

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

In the film documentary American Gospel writer and director Brandon Kimber shares a sampling of the messages coming out of the Prosperity Gospel movement. In one video segment Pastor Joel Osteen punches out a message in which he asks, “Who told you you can’t accomplish your dreams? God has His plans for you. Your destiny is calling out. It’s time to start living large.” In another sermon Osteen counsels, “I’m asking you to feel good about who you are.”

The focus of Osteen’s message in these video slices is not fixed on the person of Jesus. Rather the youthful Osteen concentrates on self-fulfillment and the belief God will enable us to realize the American Dream of prosperity and accomplishing our personal plans and goals. A message like this often latches on to Jeremiah 29:11 as a passage that guarantees God will enable you to attain your hopes and dreams.

Prosperity Image
Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

As we dive deeper into the Jeremiah passage, we learn the prophet’s message has little to do with actualizing one’s private ambitions. Jeremiah is not promising modern Christians that God will grant His children all aspects of the American Dream.

When Jeremiah 29:11 is misapplied in this manner, the intent of the text is tossed aside to make the words of the prophecy fit an entirely different situation. Then the Scriptures become a source text for people to quote as they wish depending on the situation. Rather than allow the Scriptures to shape our spiritual values and our attitudes towards materialism, we bend the Word of God to our own aspirations as demonstrated in the aberrant teaching of the prosperity huckster Joel Osteen.

Furthermore, in the American Gospel Dr. Julius Kim, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California notes the harm done when the central focus on the New Testament message becomes self-fulfillment, healing and prosperity,

“We’re seeing a church in America that is becoming ultimately Christless. When we believe in a gospel thinking it is all about us, we miss Jesus’ words entirely.”

Dr. Julius Kim, Westminster Seminary California

In fact, the recipients of Jeremiah 29:11 would have been aghast at how this prophetic promise has been misunderstood and misused by modern followers of God. Sadly, the reason why the prosperity gospel is so popular is that most Bible teachers and pastors refuse to correct and call out these questionable teachers.

Today, many Christian leaders succumb to the immaturity of Christians who come out in droves to hear a carnal prosperity message. Somewhere along the line these neophyte believers were taught incorrectly. As a result, their hearts are more fixed on God’s blessings, rather than on God Himself. Once a follower of Yeshua locks into a lifestyle of seeking gifts over and above the gift giver, they are ripe for deception.

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Does God Really Have Plans to Prosper You? (Jeremiah 29:11) Pt. 2

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Introduction

Prior to my acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah of Israel and Redeemer, I embraced several Eastern faiths. I was hunting for a connection to God. To find true peace, some paths required I subjugate my cravings that were in the way of experiencing inner tranquility. Eventually, I was no longer bothered by material things I could not afford or the circumstantial setbacks I experienced. Maintaining my inner calm became a greater priority than getting rattled by temporary frustrations.

Soon I embarked into the world of New Testament Christianity. The evangelical sphere I observed split into two avenues. One lane beckoned me to take the words of Jesus seriously when He called His followers to a life of self-denial. This road involves serving God and others even in the midst of difficult times. In the course of enduring life’s obstacles with God’s strength, the follower of Yeshua finds divine peace and joy.

The other route I encountered was the prosperity gospel. In this scenario suffering should NOT be part of the believer’s life. Rather, this scheme teaches God has promised His children a lifestyle of self-fulfillment, physical health and material wealth. The message is positive and promises the Christian freedom from suffering.

The question must be posed: Which path is the one that most aligns with the teaching of Scripture?

Understand the priority of pursuing God’s kingdom over material blessing

Prosperity Image
Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

According to Matthew 6:33, Jesus taught His disciples, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” “All these things” refers to the preceding verses in which Jesus describes the concern of God for our material needs-food and drink plus clothing. Jesus does not declare God will provide His followers mansions, several luxury cars in our garage and extravagant vacations. In contrast, because we can trust God to meet our basic needs, we are freed up to seek His kingdom as a priority.

In contrast, many prosperity gospel preachers encourage the Christian to seek “these things” first and then once the person is wealthy and healthy, he or she can experience the kingdom of God. In this world of promised prosperity God exists for me and my needs.

As a result, the Christian enmeshed in this teaching no longer becomes more like Jesus, but he or she is transformed into a materialistic person with skewed priorities. It is my observation this prosperity-focused movement has ignored a lack of spirituality that has crept into the Body of Messiah. The reason? The focus of this teaching is on the believer’s selfish desires and not on establishing the priority of the kingdom of God.

Grasp the true meaning of happiness defined by Scriptures

In no way am I promoting the idea the follower of Yeshua cannot find lasting happiness in this earthly world. My concern is determining what exactly is the happiness God wants for us.

Sadly, some faith teachers offer little qualification of what prosperity and happiness means. The unsuspecting Christian is led to believe that the promised happiness is defined by the materialistic pursuits of our contemporary culture, not by the Word of God. For this reason, believers are open targets for erroneous thinking about what true happiness is.

It is a fair question to ask ourselves, “Is my contentment based on the secular American Dream or by a blessedness defined by Scriptures?”

After all, fulfilling the American dream does not always bring us lasting enjoyment. According to Jonathan T. Pennington, in The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, he observes, “Wisdom literature such as Psalms and Proverbs often depicts the foolishness, shortsightedness, and ultimately short-lived and destructive nature of ungodly pleasures that promise no lasting happiness” (pg. 295). If we are deadset on grabbing our “best life now,” how are we any different from the unbeliever who cherishes the same pleasures? Does God bring us into a relationship with Him so we can scarf up all the material benefits we can fit into our earthly suitcases? Where is the discernment to see material blessings are a by-product of seeking God and not the goal of seeking God (Matthew 6:35-34)?

Later in this blog post we will gain more insight into the enjoyment we can expect from the Lord. For now let us be cautious to not allow secular thinking define for us what is lasting happiness.

Zero in on the place of blessing during our times of hardship

We should not overlook the future aspect of the blessings God wants to give us. Pennington frames this concept from the New Testament where God is “bringing His kingdom from heaven to earth, vanquishing His enemies and establishing justice and peace between people and all of creation” (Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, pg. 296). In other words, there is a “not yet” aspect of God’s promised blessedness.

Hence, we await the coming of God’s kingdom to grant us lasting happiness on earth, not only in heaven. Jesus describes the “not yet” aspect of spiritual joy on earth in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Mathew 6:10).

Why speak a prayer about the future coming of God’s kingdom on earth if we believe the kingdom has come with all its blessings right now? In other words, how can we receive our best life now if God tells us the “best life” is ahead of us and awaiting the Second Coming?

Often the blessings we receive from God in this world are found in the midst of suffering and brokenness. In a strong sense, the follower of Jesus lives in a paradox: we encounter loss, longing, suffering and even persecution along with spiritual happiness, joy and peace. Paul writes, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ [Messiah] you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). The inclusion of suffering in the spiritual life is also described in Phillipians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ [Messiah] Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [Messiah]”.

What we need is a more balanced approach to what it means to find happiness that is not tied into grabbing as much of the American Dream as possible.

To establish the basic tenets of the health and wealth message, the faith teachers gravitate towards biblical passages like Jeremiah 29:11. In this series of articles we have been focusing on understanding the context and audience of this often misused Scripture verse. We must ask, “Who is this promise addressed to? What exactly are the plans God has for His people? How should a modern follower of Jesus apply this verse to their lives?”

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Did Those Six Million Jews Die for You?

Auschwitz entrance

The Entrance to Auschwitz

By now the controversy surrounding the Jews for Jesus video “That Jew Died for You” has simmered down. Still the strong negative reaction by the Jewish community to the JFJ evangelistic effort remains a stain on Jewish-Christian relations.

At the release of the video prior to Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Jews for Jesus press release, explained the video seeks “to help redefine the conversation and reshape views of Jesus and His relationship to the Holocaust.”

The intentions of JFJ in the production of this video were honorable and aimed to initiate conversation among Jewish people regarding Christianity’s relationship to the murder of six million Jews under the evil Nazi regime.

David Brickner, Executive Director of  JFJ offered his public commentary on the video, “The horrors of the Holocaust and the 6 million who died has gnawed at the consciousness of Jews for over 60 years. We want Jewish people to understand that the sufferings inflicted at the hands of the Nazi’s were in no way based on the teachings of Jesus (underlining mine). In fact, he suffered and died on our behalf to show us the love of God.”

Oddly, the majority of Jewish people do not think the teachings of Jesus are responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, the Jewish community is  more concerned with the antisemitic attitudes of  Eastern European Christians prior to and during World War II that helped fuel the racist ideology behind the  Holocaust. (more…)




Not All Israel Is Israel Part 3

The controversy over God’s continuation of Israel as a viable nation despite their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah looms large in the Christian church.

Most followers of Jesus are not even aware of the various Christian theologies regarding the Jewish nation.  Yet when uninformed evangelicals are exposed to such anti-Israel beliefs such as Replacement Theology (the view that Israel is no longer God’s elect people but replaced by the Church), these Christians are conflicted over what they are  hearing and what the Bible teaches.

As a representative of Replacement Theology (though he prefers the term “Fulfillment Theology”) Gary Burge, New Testament professor at Wheaton College, in his book Whose Land? Whose Promises?  the author states, “Abraham can become the father of many nations because when Gentiles share in Abraham’s faith, he becomes their father too (Romans 4:16).  Physical lineage, therefore, has been spiritualized into a lineage based on faith (emphasis mine). The ‘land of Israel’ is likewise spirtualized now to include the entire world” (pg. 182).

geneology

The key concept to focus on from Burge’s theology is, “physical lineage  . . . has been spiritualized into a lineage based on faith.”  Israel  is no longer a physical nation, according to the Wheaton professor, but has become a spiritual entity that one enters into by faith  in Christ not by physical heritage through Abraham. If the physical seed has been “spiritualized” then the “physical” is no longer relevant, hence the physical nation of Israel is moot to God’s spiritual program.

The glaring mistake Burge makes is twofold:  first, the physical lineage of a member of the nation of Israel never implied the individual within the nation  has a relationship with God, and second, within the physical nation of Israel there has always existed a spiritual remnant of Israelites who remained faithful to God.  These two truths do not redefined the nation of Israel, but describe the reality of a spiritual remnant within the physical Jewish nation.

In contrast to Gary Burge’s fulfillment theology which pushes aside God’s plan for the physical nation  the Apostle Paul  teaches that Israel still exists as a nation even after the first coming of the Messiah. In Romans 9:3-4a Paul pleads, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” To Paul, “those of his own race” are “the people of Israel” quite alive and not replaced by or fulfilled in the New Testament church.  (more…)




Not All Israel is Israel Part 2

To many students of the Bible Paul’s comment in Romans 9:6 that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (NIV) sounds very strange.  Is Paul saying the part of Israel that is “descended from Israel” is no longer part of the nation known as Israel?  Then that would mean the only people who are actually Israelites are Jewish people who believe in Yeshua as Messiah  and the “not all who are descended from Israel ” group are no longer members of the Jewish nation.  Yet if you follow that logic, any examples of the NT apostles addressing the segment of the Jewish nation who have not accepted Yeshua as Messiah as  still “Israel” makes no sense.

Check out these examples from the New Testament:

Acts 2:22: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this:

Acts 2:29:  “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.”

Acts 2: 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Acts 3:12: “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you?”

Acts 3:17: “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.”

Acts 4:10:  “then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.”

No wonder Christians are befuddled by Paul’s reference to two Israel’s in Romans 9:6.

Twelve Tribes of Israel

Twelve Tribes of Israel

 

In light of Paul’s head-scratching use of the phrase, “”not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”, Christian theologians come up with explanations that confuse the issue even more.

My favorite explanation is the one that states unbelieving Israel has been replaced by the Church.  This is called “replacement theology.”   In this theological system,  “Israel” that accepted Yeshua is none other than the Church.  Rather than create clarity, Replacement Theology (aka disguised as Fulfillment Theology or Transformation Theology or Promise Theology) contributes more fuzzy thinking since the reader of the New Testament is forced to think “Church” when he reads the term “Israel”. Try to think “Church” in reading Romans 11:26,  “and in this way all Israel will be saved.”  Thanks, but no thanks.  (more…)




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