Sunday, August 5, 2012
Promise Me This
By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service
SWARTZ CREEK MI (ANS) -- Many preachers these days exhort us to call upon the promises of God, including material prosperity. But how often do we think about the promises WE have made to God?
Recently I heard a world-famous preacher talk about God’s promises. Actually, it was the wife of a world-famous preacher, who had developed quite a thriving business with her own ministry. These days it seems that evangelists and big-name ministers are not just called to preach the Gospel, but called to be the wife, or son, of a big-name preacher. Prosperity often follows.
Actually, that was the topic -– prosperity -– of this evangelista, who shall remain nameless. But Victoria Osteen is not the only prophet of the Prosperity Gospel these days. many of my brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal churches, and in other corners of Christianity, frequently preach about prosperity, “seed offerings,” the blessings that await the faithful -– under the general, spiritual umbrella of “receiving God’s promises.”
Content warning: I do not intend to join the debate, here, on the theology of what should be a more active discussion in today’s American church. I want to address our response to the promises of God, not whether people are wasting chances for nice homes and cars, or whether people are wickedly twisting the words of the Bible, or whether naiveté or agendas have driven new translations and understandings.
For my own part, the plausibility of God’s intention to shower me with material things was shaken years ago when the magazine of a favorite evangelist printed a chart that explained the “hundredfold return” that Jesus promised. It explained by simple arithmetic how dollars given as offering would returning in dollars that were, well, one hundred times greater. A sure bet.
Mark 10:28-31: Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You." So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -– houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -– and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Hmmm. Christ’s fine print included sacrifices that do not mention money; results in this life and the next; persecutions might be numbered among the “dividends”; and a warning against expecting anything by formula. It IS called the Hundredfold “Return,” not “Reward.”
So much for not joining the debate, but I do urge us all to think about God’s promises for a moment. God had made many promises to us, His children. Many more than we realize. More than most of us ever… take advantage of? ... receive? With terms like that we stray close to presumption, a sin. Not petitioning God to do something, not expecting, but presuming He will do something; and as it turns out in the circumstances of believers, it translates to Him do doing something we want. Not usually the mode of the Almighty.
Bookstores are full of biblical “Promise Books”... and should be. Indeed, God has made many promises. In fact, between the history and commandments, we can say that the entire Bible is “God’s Promise Book”! Some of God’s promises are conditional, of course. But His greatest promise -– eternal life bought by the substitutionary death of His Son -– is unconditional. Jesus died while we were yet sinners, and we are free to accept or reject this unspeakable gift according to His grace.
How often do the evangelists talk about OUR promises, in between calling in those of God? Every one of us, maybe in different ways, have made the same promises to God – when we received Christ into our hearts; when we have been hurting; when we have sought forgiveness; after we have sinned; at times of confusion; when crises have hit; during challenges in the areas of health, finances, career, loved ones; and so forth in an endless list. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creeds, we exchange promises with God. The mere act of repentance –- a frequent thing for Christians -– is tantamount to making a promise.
... and how often do we break our promises to God? How many times do we sin? The thoughts, words, and deeds, even of “saints,” are not perfect. We break our word to the Creator of the Universe, the master of our souls. Often. And we have the audacity to call God out about what we perceive to be His promises to us? God cannot lie, no... but let us be a little humble about this Promise thing. As Micah wrote, He has showed you, Oh man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Does God want us to prosper? I say that it is not inconsistent with His will. But I have a friend who once said to me, with tears in his eyes, “I KNOW if I were rich, I would lose control of myself in a lot of ways, over-eat, afford the sins I used to lust over... probably kill myself in the process.” If this man were honest about himself, it would be a merciful God who would prosper him in radically different ways.
Farther along, we will understand the finer points of theology. But we can receive the spiritual blessings of justice, mercy, and humility, right now. That is a solid promise we can take to the REAL bank.
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Part of a Christian’s humility is accepting that we will never know some things... or know them “farther along.” Here that great old hymn of faith is sung in a living-room setting -– complete with flubbed lines! –- by three of the most beautiful singers, and beautiful voices, in music today: Suzy Bogguss, who opens and sings the verses; Matraca Berg; and Gretchen Peters on the mandolin. A prosperity of talent! (With the line, “And still we wonder why others prosper…”)
Click: Farther Along
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.