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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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Does God Really Have Plans to Prosper You? Jeremiah 29:11 Pt. 1

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)
Prosperity Image
Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

Jeremiah 29:11 is a much loved passage from the Jewish scriptures used by well-meaning Christians to demonstrate God’s commitment to prosper all His children. But does this verse teach this promise? In addition, we must question to whom does this verse apply? Does this passage from Jeremiah apply primarily to certain members of the nation of Israel or can all followers of Jesus claim this passage as their own?

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Leaving A Legacy Amidst a Global Disaster

Photo by peter-f-wolf Unsplash.com

My parents both passed away within the last decade. They are buried in a Jewish cemetery in North Lauderdale, Florida. Whenever I am in the Sunshine State, I make every effort to show my respect and visit their gravesites.

I find it a bewildering experience to observe the engravings on the grave stones in this memorial park. Some headstones illustrate that the departed were avid gamblers. On their markers are carved images of dice, playing cards, roulette wheels and cocktail glasses. The only thing missing is whether after thirty years of gambling, they came out ahead or died with a heavy debt.

Why would someone who lived for almost a century desire to be known for their gambling passion? What kind of legacy are they passing on to their loved ones?

In this article we look at Noah, a man who left us a legacy of faithfulness to God in the midst of an impending worldwide disaster. He has many descriptions written about him in Scripture that chronicle how he handled the universal crisis that confronted him. Any one of these statements could have been written on his tombstone: a man who “found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8); “a righteous man, blameless in his generation . . . walked with God” (Genesis 6:9); “an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7) and a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).

Noah left us an example of how we can conduct ourselves when life does not meet our expectations. Yes, there are vast differences between ourselves and Noah that impede us from drawing an exact parallel. Yet there are some spiritual attitudes possessed by this patriarch that can help us during the current COVID-19 crisis of crippling economic deprivation, extreme health hazards and separation from loved ones.

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Noah Confronts a Worldwide Catastrophe Part 2

Overall View of Noah's ark
jeff.jacobs1990
Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Summers in the East Coast were often a treat for me as a young boy. I treasured spending those hot, humid days visiting my grandparents in Coney Island in New York. Besides cooling off in the Atlantic Ocean, the main attraction was Steeplechase Park. The assortment of rides this park offered to a young starry-eyed boy was dizzying. Of course, I was ambitious enough to think I could enjoy them all in one outing.

One go-to amusement was the swing ride. According to an online history of carousels, the “swing ride is a variant of a carousel ride – a fairground ride that has chairs suspended by chains from the top of the carousel . . . This ride is also called a swing carousel, wave swinger, yo-yo, Chair-O-Planes or a swinger”.

This mechanism operates on a principle of a spinning central core powered by a motor that forces the swings to extend outward on wires or metal chains. The faster the central core spins, the farther out the swings stretch.

What does this sentimental childhood memory have to do with Noah’s situation or any spiritual truths? Let me suggest our relationship with God begins with a person’s central core fixed on the Lord. From this connection to our Creator, we discover a powerful, inner centrifugal force that drives our spiritual aspirations. When that inner connection to God is fractured, there are grave spiritual consequences-lack of purpose, extreme self-centeredness, depression, broken relationships, and involvement in destructive sins. This truth brings us to the reason why God brought the Flood upon our planet.

Sadly, this catastrophic event in Noah’s day was due to man’s lack of any desire to enjoy a relationship with God. The human population refused to see their need to have God as that centrifugal force. Instead, they attempted to enthrone themselves at the core of their souls. We too are fooled by the same self-deception. As long as we keep the swings in motion, we are convinced we can be the “captain of our own souls.” Despite our sincere endeavors, we default to arrogant pride, extreme self-centeredness, and a refusal to believe there is Someone in the universe greater than ourselves.

From this breakdown in man’s bridge to God in Noah’s day, humanity spiraled out of control. The downward thrust of mankind was enough for God to respond with a promise of a worldwide Flood. Like the motion of the carousel swing ride from the central core, our trouble is due to a failure to see the need to allow God to become part of our energizing inner core.

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