Posted in My Journey

Let Your Yes Be Yes

I once said to a friend of mine, a fellow Christian, it is easier dealing with unbelievers than it is to deal with some Christians. I said it off the cuff, but I also said it to express my frustration with believers who say one thing but do another.

The book of James talks about this and makes it clear that our words have an impact on people:

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12 ESV throughout)

For believers who are infants in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1), seeing other Christians sinning is discouraging. That is why we always need to be attentive of what we are doing so that we do not partake in hypocrisy. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).

If we say something and do something else, then we are no different from the scribes and Pharisees. What we have to do though, is rise beyond mere display and ensure that our actions reflect our words. Otherwise, we would not only be in jeopardy of departing from the faith, but also cause others to do so, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

Putting it another way, liars will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is just that simple (Revelation 21:8).

Therefore, let us put aside vanity, lying and deceitfulness, and walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Especially so close to celebrating his death and resurrection, we need to repent and change in order for Christ to live in us. When we do that, then the fulfillment of God’s promise to us to inherit his kingdom will not be too far off.

Posted in My Journey

My Peace I Give to You

Yesterday I preached a sermon at my church about overcoming anxiety. The key bible verse I used comes from the Gospel of John:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV throughout)

I emphasized how that one verse in John has so much meaning for Christians, that it would take a series of sermons to cover all the layers. What I concentrated on most, though, was the message of peace Jesus delivered to his disciples.

Jesus was about to face crucifixion at Golgotha (Calvary) when he spoke those words. He said a lot more before that, but it was interesting that his first words after his resurrection were “peace be with you,” which he said once (John 20:21), when Thomas was not present, and once again, a week later (John 20:26), when Jesus instructed Thomas to place his finger and hand in his wounds.

To be clear, the disciples were behind closed doors when Jesus appeared; and who could blame them? The Romans had just killed Jesus, so for all they knew the Romans could have been after them as well. The chief priests were the ones who condemned Jesus in a mock trial, so who was to say they would not do the same thing to the disciples? Then there was this whole thing with Jesus having promised them persecution (John 15:20), and that ought to have made them even more apprehensive.

Imagine then what the disciples must have felt just before Christ had appeared to them that first time after his death. Their anxiety level must have been peaking. Those words he spoke “peace be with you” not only should have reassured them but also should have acted as a reminder of what he had said before his death:

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” (Matthew 10:19)

Saying it another way, the source of most of our anxieties is the fear of the uncertainty of what will happen next. Much of that anxiety turns out to be unfounded, since most of the things we think will happen never does. Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). If that advice sounds familiar, it is, because it sounds a lot like the latter part of John 14:27: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Overcoming anxiety takes work. Coming to have the peace Jesus spoke about requires extra help, too. Thankfully, neither were the disciples nor are we without that help.

Jesus promised us a comforter, a helper, who would provide us with everything we need to overcome our anxiety, usher peace into our lives, and bless us with the truth that comes from reading God’s word (John 16:7). That helper is the Holy Spirit; and through the Holy Spirit God gives us the power to overcome and the power to remember the things spoken of by Christ Jesus (John 14:26).

I am thankful to God every day that I have the Holy Spirit to guide my path and protect my way. Even more so, I pray that all of you may come to have the generous gift of God, which is the Holy Spirit, that he may also give you peace from your anxieties and worries.

Posted in My Journey

I Hate the Prosperity Gospel

Hate is a strong word. I rarely use it. When I do use it, I make it clear that I do not use it in jest, or without reason. When I say I hate something, I mean I abhor it, I detest it, and I wish it were not in existence.

Therefore, saying that I hate the prosperity gospel, I still feel I am putting it mildly. Frankly, I wish it would disappear never to deceive another Christian again.

What is the prosperity gospel?

Without giving you a long, drawn-out definition, I will make it simple: the prosperity gospel convinces Christians that God wants them to be wealthy, that he does not want his children to suffer, and that he wants them to enjoy every moment of this life, because he promised he would bless those who have faith enough to believe he would do just that.

In effect, the prosperity gospel does more than hurt Christian growth. The prosperity gospel attempts to deceive us into believing that with enough faith, we will inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and by extension, the nation of Israel in this lifetime, which is simply not true.

What is worse is that Christian ministries throughout North America are now exporting this health and wealth gospel to poorer nations, such as Africa, and walking away with millions of dollars in donations for what in reality is a lie.

Problems with the prosperity gospel

Several inherent problems exist with the prosperity gospel that Christians ought to understand:

1. The prosperity gospel negates Christ’s sacrifice.

Jesus sacrificed his life in order to reconcile us with God (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:14). Up until Christ’s death, there was a need for a blood offering as a means to approach God’s throne (Exodus 30:10). Without that sin offering, which typically came in the form of an animal sacrifice performed by a representative of the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 4:1-7), no one could request an audience with God directly.

All that changed once Jesus died on the cross. No longer do we need to worry about our sins getting in the way of our relationship with God. Instead, we have Jesus, who bore the penalty of our sins, who now acts on our behalf as intercessor, drawing us nearer to God in a communion based on repentance and forgiveness (1 Timothy 2:5-6). In turn, God refers to us as sons, of whom the creation is eagerly waiting for the revealing of our inheritance (Romans 8:18-19).

The prosperity gospel throws that all aside for the temporary hope of gaining riches now. Christ’s shed blood is meaningless in the context of our desire to petition God to grant wishes, as if he were some kind of genie. God is only there to serve, and if he does not give us what we want, then we did not ask him with enough faith, which cheapens what Jesus did for us because there would be no need for redemption if all we are looking for is a comfortable life without sickness.

2. The prosperity gospel does not recognize Christian suffering.

When God began working with Job, one of the richest men of the Old Testament (Job 1:1-3, 8), he began doing so by allowing Job to lose everything (verses 13-19). God not only used Satan to permit Job’s suffering (verse 12), but he also used Job’s sense of loss to act as a contributing factor to bring about his repentance. Job came to realize just how awesome and wonderful God is, such that he accepted God’s greatness regardless if he understood, or not, why God did what he did (Job 42:1-6).

Contrast this example with how the prosperity gospel interprets scripture.

The prosperity gospel renders Job’s suffering as an example of the doubling-up principle detailed in Exodus, “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double” (Exodus 22:7 ESV throughout). In Job’s case, the thief was Satan; and since Satan took all that Job had, Job’s compensation would be double his loss (Job 42:10).

Saying it another way, Job’s suffering had nothing to do with repentance, but had everything to do with claiming a reward from a long-forgotten civil statute enacted in ancient Israel to discourage thievery.

A couple of things are wrong with this thinking. First, when Job went through everything he did, the nation of Israel did not exist, therefore, the thievery statute, being part of the Law of Moses, did not exist. Second, and more importantly, it would be presumptuous to assume God’s intention when he allows people to suffer. It would be even a bigger mistake for others to deny that God allows suffering.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke many times about this life’s riches and the futility of trying to accumulate wealth (Luke 12:15-21). He even made it clear that the rich would have a hard time entering the kingdom of God, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). In all that Jesus said, he guaranteed one thing: his followers would suffer for his name’s sake (John 15:20) and his apostles confirmed this understanding (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12). He did not promise material wealth, but actually encouraged followers to sell everything to give to the poor (Matthew 19:21).

3. The prosperity gospel blames poverty on a lack of faith.

People are poor because they want to be poor. In essence, that is the prosperity gospel message.

We do not have because we do not ask. If we asked, we would have and we would not have any reason to disbelieve God’s promises made to Abraham. Of course, this reasoning does not take into account what the apostle Paul said:

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

People become sick and stay sick because they lack faith in God to heal them. After all, did not Jesus say, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34)? Yet when someone dies of cancer, is it because of a lack of faith that he or she died, or was it that God allowed it to happen for a greater purpose?

The prosperity gospel answers this question by hinging its entire theology on faith. With enough faith, God will bless us Christians with health, wealth and happiness. If we hope for whatever we ask, we will receive it; and if we do not receive it, we did not hope for it enough.

The problem with this type of thinking is that we make what we hope for our goal instead of asking God what his will is for us (Matthew 6:33). In fact, God’s will soon takes a backseat to our desires, which could run contrary to what he wants (James 4:2-3). For this reason, many Christians wonder why God allows things to happen the way they do, rather than trusting God’s ability to resolve things according to his will.

There is nothing wrong with having faith, so long as we do not mistake it for materialistic faith, which leads nowhere other than against God’s plan.

4. The prosperity gospel guarantees a payback for anything Christians give.

Imagine investing $100 and receiving $10,000 back. That is what the prosperity gospel will have us believe. Whatever money we give will come back to us a hundredfold: “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will 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'” (Mark 10:29-30).

Other than the apostle John, historical evidence suggests all the apostles died by the hands of persecutors. What happened to their reward? Whatever became of their hundreds of houses they owned?

The prosperity gospel twists the meaning of these verses to suit an invalid premise: if we Christians give, we will receive a hundredfold reward now in the form of money and property. But, that is not what it says. Jesus is talking about prosperity in relationships and families. Jesus explains this at the beginning of the book of Mark:

“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’.” (Mark 3:31-35)

As regarding to the mention of houses and lands, these verses are referring to families, much like how other parts of scripture refer to families by a patriarch’s name; such as the House of David (1 Samuel 20:16; 2 Samuel 3:1), the House of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4; 1 Kings 12:21), and the House of Jacob and Israel (Jeremiah 3:18; Hebrews 8:10).

And should there be any confusion as to what Jesus was preaching, we need to read Mark 10:29-30 in context with the other verses surrounding the passage, starting from verse 17 all the way to verse 31. Jesus was saying that for the rich and wealthy, it would be difficult, almost impossible, for them to enter the kingdom of God, “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (verse 23). Before that, he made it even clearer to a rich, young man what his stance was regarding riches, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’” (verse 21).

Other proponents of the prosperity gospel camp turn to the Old Testament to convince Christians to give generously: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).

Again, should what Malachi say apply to Christians today, it does not refer to blessings now, although we may receive blessings but it may have more to do with God’s spontaneous generosity than with the verses written in Malachi (Matthew 6:3-4).

God wants generous and cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). He does not want Christians giving with the expectation of getting something back in return (Proverbs 11:7). He does not want to limit us to give only a tithe, or rather, 10% of our increase either. Everything is his (Psalm 24:1). He wants to see just how much of what he gives to us do we dare keep.

What is the true gospel?

Jesus came as God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), lived, died, and rose from the dead. He sits at the right hand of the father (Romans 8:34), waiting for the time when he will return as a conquering king (Hebrews 10:12-13). During his time on earth, Jesus taught about loving God and loving others more than himself (Mark 12:28-31; John 15:13). He healed the sick (Mark 1:34), taught forgiveness (Matthew 6:14) and instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of his death and resurrection (Luke 22:17-20).

Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross (Matthew 26:39), to save from the penalty of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23), all those who believe in him (John 3:17-18).

Everyone who believes now has salvation through Christ’s sacrifice (John 3:16).

This is the true gospel.

Posted in My Journey

Thankful for Miracles

Yesterday I completed my “Year of Thanks” project I had begun in 2017. During this same time last year, I had resolved to think about one thing I was thankful for daily and tell people about it. I wrote it all out on Twitter as one long conversation. Some days I was thankful for the simple things, like eating a cheeseburger. Other days, my appreciation extended to knowing just how incredible a life I live having God there to support me.

Several things I did not mention, for which I am also grateful: I am on the Board of Directors of my church, Catch the Fire Newmarket. I am on the Leadership Team, as well, delivering sermons on a regular basis. And I am a Youth Leader giving messages. Lastly, I have written a book called When Forgiveness Is Enough, which I now realize God had led to publication.

Of course, the biggest of all events I am thankful for has to be the Christmas gift God had given my family when my son broke from his Autistic Shutdown. Our appreciation could not be any larger than when we later found out that the cause was anxiety.

But nothing compares to what I feel whenever I think about the salvation I now have through Jesus. The apostle Paul expressed it so well when he related his thanksgiving regarding the grace given to others:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4 ESV).

No matter how small or how large of a miracle that takes place in our lives today, or this week, being thankful for all of it gives us the opportunity to know just how much God loves us. With every little miracle God grants, he demonstrates his love.

Posted in My Journey

Trust in God

Anxiety is a big hurdle for many. With my son, it had put him in the hospital for over a month. As I am learning about the effects of anxiety, I am also learning about coping techniques in order to recognize the condition. Most importantly, I now understand the difference between stress and anxiety, knowledge I previously did not possess had my family not experience what we did last November and December.

Stress is the feeling one gets when events happen all at once and need immediate resolution. Stress is not necessarily bad. Without stress, life would lack a certain amount of excitement. However, too much stress can cause all sorts of problems, including physical injury to the heart. In such a case, it would be a good idea to step away for a while as a short-term means to stem the effects of stress on the body.

On the other hand, anxiety is having a feeling that something bad might happen if a certain action does not take place. Anxiety works to saturate the mind with thoughts of “what if.” What if I did not turn off the burner to the stove after I cooked? What if I missed my rent/mortgage payment this month? What if I left the lights on to my car when I parked it for the evening? These types of scenarios could prove endless and could quench the light of an otherwise joyful life, turning it into a life of bondage filled with worry and fear.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Mat. 6:25 ESV throughout). As a society, we tend to worry about everything, especially with social media being as pervasive as it is, leading young girls to compare themselves with waif-thin models, holding them up as standard-bearers to what girls ought to look like at that age. And young men having it in their mind that once they are out of college, their lives will be set with a high salary and job security.

Instead, as a way to alleviate the effects of anxiety, Jesus tells us to place our trust in God, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 33-34).

With God on our side, we do not need to worry about a thing. If we place our trust in God, seeking first his will in all things, he will provide for everything we need, including food, drink, clothing and anything else we might lack, because ultimately, our lives should be a reflection of our relationship with him and how he is deeply working to mold us into his image.

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Answered Prayer

My family’s life is slowly getting back to a semblance of normalcy. We are learning more and more about autism, and learning more and more about our son each day. We have a predictable schedule set for him, a list of daily activities to go through with him, and lots and lots of prayer to carry us well into the week. Had it not been for all the prayer, I do not believe we could have had the miraculous turnaround that took place last month with him. Because, really, it was a miracle he woke up as he did from autistic shutdown.

This weekend was a breakthrough weekend with him. Finally, after months of growth, I was able to cut his hair and trim his beard. I say breakthrough, since after we had come back from Niagara Falls in October, he had not wanted anyone to touch him. Now, he is allowing hugs, kisses and me cutting his hair, which is a big deal for our family.

Again, much of the successes we are currently experiencing with our son are all due to prayer. I cannot see it being anything else. Naturally, patience and a lot of determination have made a difference with Luana and me. But, I would say, prayer is the key for us here.

I remember reading about Jesus and about how the night before he died on the cross he was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for his disciples while, at the same time, Judas was betraying him to the high priest. Throughout the whole thing, he knew what he had to do, he knew he had to give up his life for the sin of all, and with prayer, he confirmed his fate as the Lamb of God:

“Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done’” (Mat. 26: 42 ESV).

Sometimes there is no other solution than to rely on God, petitioning him in fervent prayer, not only us, but others on our behalf. He does listen. I can attest to that. Otherwise, we would not be seeing the progress with my son that we are seeing with him now.

My son dresses himself, washes his face, eliminates regularly again, speaks, answers questions and sits out in the backyard. He has come a long way from not speaking and only staring for the better part of the day.

All of it I attribute to prayer.

Therefore, if you feel there is nowhere to turn, turn to God in prayer. He will answer. My son is a living example of answered prayer.

Posted in My Journey

Renewing the Spirit

I was sick in bed a couple of days this weekend with a cold. With all that went on these past few months with my son, I was not surprised this happened to me so soon. I was running back and forth from hot to cold, home to the hospital, eating on the run, sleeping a few hours here and there that I had brought my immune system down so low. I find it funny how that happens with our physical bodies. For a while, all I was doing was functioning on adrenalin.

As Christians, we similarly need renewal to carry us through the day. Sometimes that renewal needs to take place when we are in the throes of trials.

The Book of Psalms is replete with examples of those wanting to draw closer to God. King David was no exception:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10 ESV throughout).

For those unfamiliar with David’s history, he uttered those words when he was at the lowest point of his life. He had just committed adultery with Bathsheba, another man’s wife, and the prophet Nathan came to David to tell him God would bring calamity to his household. Instead of fleeing from God, David drew closer to him in prayer. He recognized God’s spirit was as only a flicker of light in his heart, instead of the burning inferno he had raging within him when he first became king. He asked God for the renewal of his spirit.

We also can ask God for that renewal. Prayer, bible study, meditation and fasting are our tools to seek God with all our hearts. And it does not take long for him to respond to our request:

“You who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners” (Psalms 69:32).

As long as we seek him during our low moments, he will continually be by our side, encouraging us, taking care of us, and protecting us. Because, more than anything else, God wants to give us life, and should we desire him, how much more will he want to give us his spirit?