Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Gospel Of Bo Sanchez And Why 'Christians' Turn To Him

If you happen to be a Filipino and a social media habitue at that, you'd definitely agree the name Bo Sanchez is big and popular. In fact many people diligently follow his series of posts on facebook and get excited for his next - and his legions of followers love to share them on social media.  It's hard to not like the person. His name alone rings out positivity, optimism and good vibes - the very stuff that titillate almost everyone. His quotes are too powerful to ignore that many take them as source of encouragement - either to drive them to work harder so that they become rich and get wealthier like there is no limit - or to get them convinced that investing in stock market is one surefire way to becoming millionaires - and foremost from his tips is how to achieve a healthy body and healthy relationships. So, who would not like to take his words and share them with friends?

Bo Sanchez is a professional self-help speaker and confidently eloquent. He knows what his audience wants to hear - and that's easily understandable why he has millions of adoring fans. Few would argue that Bo Sanchez is the Joel Osteen of the Philippines - as both men identify themselves to be "ministers of hope" - to the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, and those with low self-esteem - except for one significant dissimilarity: Bo is a proud Catholic and lay minister for that matter, as opposed to Joel who professes to be a born-again believer and pastor to arguably the largest megachurch in America.

Now, what is wrong with being a fan of these two guys if it is the message they bring that gives 'hope' to the hopeless and 'healing' to the infirm? Ain't this what the world needs amid all the troubles that encumber us? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the message if it all points to the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of His word. For non-believers such as Filipino Catholics, we can see the spontaneity of this sort of admiration and their getting drawn to the message of Bo Sanchez. But how about born-again believers who have developed fondness for this man for his feel-good message and ultimately get convinced it is God's plan for them to be rich and truly happy here on earth? Is it because they are just staking their claim to their Father's wealth as co-heirs to everything that was promised to them? If so, how about that?

Peddling prosperity-only message

In the Evangelical community, Joel Osteen is discerned to be a false teacher who has built for himself and his family an empire at the expense of the millions of gullible followers that took on his bait of prosperity on earth with an assurance that they could live their best life now. He and his wife make up a power couple in both the Evangelical and secular communities. They are the darlings of media and adored by Oprah - simply because - their faces alone beckon 'hope and optimism' - the one you don't expect to get in another half century of your existence - from the true preachers of the gospel. So the next time you see people get on a stampede on  any given Sunday to hear them speak at Lakewood church, it is because people are increasingly growing in desperation to hear their trademark message of promotion, healthy relationships, taking back what's rightfully yours, and discovering God's plan to send you to places you've never been (maybe cruising the Pacific, climbing atop Table Mountain or maybe scaling the frozen Niagara?). It's all sky is the limit, because "your Father is a big God who takes pleasure in smothering you with his blessings".

Bo Sanchez, on the other hand was a name raised from obscurity but gained cultic following only in recent years for his similar brand of gospel through his books and sermons. He has expanded his clout internationally targeting Filipino communities around the world through seminars and conferences that carry a monotone message on ways to unlocking prosperity, perfect health, healthy marriage, and tips on keeping a fat bank account, and all the positives you can ever imagine. So, it's not surprising at all that millions of Filipino Catholics (and non-Catholics alike) adore Bo Sanchez for the inspiration he has given them.

These two pretty much stick to their guns: always speak of the positives and never give chance on the negatives - and that's easily obvious why they both have maintained great following through the years and exponentially thriving. Speaking of the negatives, the topic of sin and being accountable for it - is a strange commodity frowned upon by their target audiences, not for its stressful and depressing effect, but because they were a departure from their usual fodder, hence do not feature in any of their sermons. Anything that does not help to ease up the burdens of the weary (such as guilt from sin)  - is a "deviation from their calling" - so they contend that they stay in their lane: to proclaim only what helps, eases and alleviates - and not to rebuke, admonish and condemn. But on the contrary, while the scriptures convey of God's everlasting love and mercy to man, it also condemns the unrepentant, the unbelieving and all other sorts of sin. The good news is: a person is free to take the path whichever he wishes. After all, at some point, he has heard the truth.

Leading by example: practices often sidestepped and overlooked in church

Sometimes, it is upsetting to see churches doing very little to nurture their congregants with spiritual food to bring them into spiritual maturity and discernment. What mostly occupy our time in church do not contribute in our spiritual growth. Congregants even spend longer time debating what menu to prepare on their thanksgiving day, family day, couple's day; what game to be played on sports day; practicing all day their special number to ensure success on anniversary. But mind you, all this time only John 3:16 and John 11:35 remain in their arsenal. They are not even taught the things written in Matthew 24 and have no clue whatsoever about the things to come written in Revelation - because the pastor promises it's difficult to understand so the flock goes on to lap on formula till they find themselves writhing in spiritual diarrhea.

I heard a story from a colleague who once attended a worship service in a church close to where he lives, and had a front row seat to a cringe-worthy sermon from a female pastor who said that "there must be something wrong with your faith if you remain poor despite having access to the throne of grace". Needless to say, roughly a third of those in attendance shrank in their seats for playing part of her own statistics of those who either fell short in the faith department - or became recipient of a curse for not surrendering their full tithes to church coffer. Now, that is a really disturbing concern within the body of Christ. Seriously, that's just some insanely flawed theology driven by man's hedonistic desire to obtain anything and everything for his own satisfaction - and we are talking here of Christians - not some atheists or capitalists.

Few years ago, after I rededicated my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, I had a privilege to enroll in a discipleship class where church members such as pastors, elders and even new believers from different local churches can be your classmates. One night after class, our class president (who was a preacher and elder) drove the five of us to a certain place where we initially thought we were in for a treat (I already had in mind what to order). But to our surprise, we were herded to a dark room where powerpoint presentation of some sort greeted us. (He then suggested "God gave us the privilege to act out on our faith because faith without action is dead. And it is God's plan to prosper us if we act out on our faith." Really?) We were then given forms to fill out and compelled to register in some networking business at his behest. Sure, he footed the registration fee as we were automatically registered to be his downline, but there is nothing worse than feeling violated for being put in a situation where we could not refuse. That moment we were like sheep awaiting slaughter. It was a travesty knowing we were better off as messenger of the gospel rather than some aloe vera salesman aiming to exceed his quota so that he could qualify for unrealistic perks promised to him.  But it didn't take long for one of us to muster a nerve, and called a spade a spade. And what used to be a great camaraderie had never been the same again - thanks to a distorted concept of prosperity.

These kind of stuff being taught in church and exemplified by many including elders are only one of many reasons why a lot of Christians gravitate toward the lure of earthly prosperity. That being said, they develop a thought pattern that Christians are not only guaranteed pompous welcome to the pearly gates but also a life of abundance and happiness on earth. Personally, this enlightens me a bit why a lot of Christians are into online networking slash pyramiding on facebook - it's because they thought the sky is the limit if they work out on their faith. And the strange thing is, you're grasping for any hint if this certain brother or sister is still the same person you meet at church for they sound very different on facebook. They would even taunt their critics and shrug off counsel from other Christians - all for prosperity's sake. You will even see how worldly their  goals have become by misusing the verse Jeremiah 29:11 as caption beside pictures of their colleagues waving bundles of cash. Meanwhile, their pastors are into prolonged  slumber for fear their precious sheep cum online entrepreneur might quit his/her ministry if admonished.

Contentment and humility is greater than  earthly prosperity

It is disheartening to even imagine Christians who are most visible in church can easily fall into a trap of earthly prosperity - and get entangled unconsciously in greed - while forgetting that the Jesus whom they claim to be their Lord and Savior was a perfect example of contentment and humility. Whatever happened to John's admonition of "being friend with the world is enmity with God"? Has the teachings in church evolved with time to keep the flock laying still in pews? Have church leaders realized that feeding their flock with meat has contributed to their dwindling number so that a revert to their familiar diet comes naturally as the next practical thing to do? Why a lot of our Christian brothers still religiously follow and get comfort from the advice of prosperity preachers such as Bo Sanchez and Joel Osteen? And why not find comfort to the truth of the gospel that whoever wants to be a disciple of Jesus must take up his own cross daily and follow Him? Last time I checked, Jesus did not promise a mansion on earth but in heaven. Why Christians do not pray for contentment and humility just like Agur who only prayed for his daily bread for fear He would forget the Lord if he would be given more than he needs (Proverbs 30:8)?

If a Christian does not see anything hideous with following prosperity preachers rather than following the example of Jesus, then it should be a major concern within the body of Christ. The enemy will have every reason to boast that his ancient tactic - though perennially exposed - is still his favorite weapon against Christians - and we seem to be oblivious it's wreaking havoc in the spirit realm. Besides, prosperity gospel puts on subtle nuances when juxtaposed with a Christian's claim on inheritance of God's favor and blessings (Psalms 5:12). And who would know the difference between what is right and almost right unless he is given discernment?

On the contrary, who might know the difference between a trap (from Satan) and a rightful claim (to God's favor) when both share resemblance with one another? However, a true disciple of Jesus Christ will always be equipped by the Holy Spirit with discernment and heavenly wisdom. Whereas, an undiscerning Christian does not seem to be troubled at all even if he is being gradually led away from the presence of God by his priorities (to obtain earthly prosperity). That's why the pop culture called prosperity gospel is an ever-thriving and classic weapon used by the enemy to keep Christians at bay from the presence of God. And all along, they believe they are in the right path - so long as they are warming the pews on Sundays.

The truly prosperous ones

Having been privileged to listen to 'amazing people' such as Joel and Bo to whom we credit for making our day for their wonderful words, who else would want to hear about people getting burned alive in cages, Christians beheaded en masse, babies cut in two, 12-year old girls being raped by dozens of ISIS men on a daily basis, and fellow Christians being burned alive and hacked to death in their thousands in Nigeria? The world is quickly rotting away before our very eyes, its moral decadence beyond repair, man's compassion for his kind in steep decline, selfishness abounds, people run to and fro to obtain what satisfies them - and so are Christians' spiritual perspective blurred by worldly priorities and therefore being oblivious to the sufferings of the humankind. How many times we Christians dropped to our knees and interceded for our Christian brothers and sisters who are being systematically murdered on a daily basis because of their faith? Or are we just too preoccupied petitioning God to grant us that long overdue promotion so that we could travel to places we've never been and live our best life now?

Clearly, those that are not born-again believers do not comprehend the true meaning of prosperity that Jesus wants us to aim for, but through the help of the Holy Spirit, true born-again believers are equipped with wisdom and understanding to comprehend what true prosperity is all about. The Bible is replete with people who completely grasped the essence of true prosperity: Stephen, Paul and Silas, Peter, James, John the Beloved - and many other early Christians who either got beheaded, sawn in two, fed to lions, among other gruesome methods of death; and even Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They all understood what prosperity meant, and they never blinked in order to obtain it - and we know what these men had to go through! Unfortunately in this age, Christians get in their droves, chasing their earthly dreams in the prosperity gospel their favorite preachers feed them. But when the time of reckoning comes, will we be given a platform to speak in our defense before a holy and righteous God? It's for us Christians to redeem the time. And time is not of abundance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Prosperity 101: What Every Christian Should Know

There was this Bible study in a church where I used to attend - and the discussion slightly got on the subject of sufferings and persecution for being a Christian. A relatively new member kind of reacted like, "wait, I come to church so that I may be blessed and find favor from God, now you're telling me I will at some point experience all these dreadful stuff because I became a Christian?" A good pastor or teacher has got to be prepared in answering every question while keeping his composure amid an ensuing air of activism from an unsatisfied audience. If anything, the argument this member raises is quite valid, isn't it?

People are drawn to church because they hear church people are friendly and welcoming. Others are convinced Jesus is the answer to all their troubles in life, and they heard of a certain promise that they could live their best life now. While the first two arguments are generally true, the third argument is somewhat shady. Why today's Christians do not like the idea of suffering and persecution being a part of a Christian life? We should be reminded that our generation and those before us are no different from the people who were with Jesus 2000 years ago. The people who walked with Jesus were considered blessed yet they suffered from all forms of persecution and suffering because of their testimonies.

Mary's suffering yet she is blessed
Mary the mother of Jesus was called 'blessed among women' by the angel Gabriel. Of course we know that nine months later she gave birth to the Savior of the world. So, if Mary was a blessed woman, why did she have to be subjected to so many uncomfortable circumstances in her lifetime? Certainly, giving birth to the baby Jesus in a manger because they were refused shelter in a crowded inn can be attributed to them being poor and lack of humanity from people around them. If it were in today's setting, I'm sure a lot of good-hearted individuals and few altruists would not hesitate to usher them in even to some creepy basement if only to shelter the heavily pregnant woman and her husband from a cold night. Imagine Mary in deep pain struggling to keep a supine position in a cold pavement while first-time father Joseph frantically catches baby Jesus' head with bare hands. And I bet the oppressive all-conquering stench and occasional chorus of bleats and neighs from curious onlookers did not help much either to alleviate their predicament.

Just imagine the terror a young mother would have felt when at the middle of the night she and her baby had to be whisked away to a far country to escape from a king's plot to murder her baby. Imagine the exhaustion she must have suffered from a long journey and the indifference people might have shown them for being foreigners in another country. Imagine the pains of watching your beloved son struggling to stand on his toes with a heavy cross lodged on his shoulders and getting whipped every time he topples - and the sound of a piercing spike hammered into her son's hands and feet. The agonies she had to be subjected to certainly do not equate to a blessing - in fact they are a complete opposite - if today's Christian's concept of a word 'blessing' is anything to go by.

Early Christian persecution
By all accounts, the apostle Paul was arguably the most persecuted born-again believer in all of New Testament. The persecution he had suffered as detailed in the book of Acts is anything but impossible to duplicate. From getting whipped and dragged into prison even without charges, to getting stoned and left for dead by a mob - such were among the cruel and terrible things that he experienced, not to mention the countless murder plots and attempts that he had to survive - and God knows what kind of cruel death he had to be subjected to, if only to obtain that true spiritual prosperity that he aimed to achieve.

Herod the chief persecutor of early Christians in Jerusalem got James the brother of John killed by the sword so as to please the Jews and to continually terrify the believers. Peter got lashed and bound with chains, not only once but several times for preaching the gospel - and history says he was crucified upside down as a matter of personal pleading for he thought unworthy to be crucified in a manner similar to that of Jesus'. So many other early believers also died a horrible death - either by stoning, their heads chopped off , some were fed to lions - and take this: sawed in two (imagine the act of manual sawing sans electricity); shall we go even further? Amid all these indescribable forms of persecution and methods of death early Christians had to face daily, was there ever a biblical account saying they had suffered a crisis of faith or that they had stopped midway in their race for realizing Jesus' promise of abundant life in John 10:10 was a 'hoax'?

Influence of megachurches
Given the advent of mega churches in our time, it's not very surprising that today's brand of Christianity has morphed into something else compared to that of the early believers. Even in our local churches, very few pastors put emphasis on  spiritual prosperity which we should desire rather than any form of material and financial prosperity which is a hit to the congregants. If you happen to visit any local church in your area, take notice of the familiar and long exhortation on tithes and offering that sounds more like a sales pitch that guarantees overflowing return of investment rather than an encouragement to be obedient to what God decrees. It is very common to hear them say, "if you want to be blessed then you should give" - a really typical forceful admonition that doesn't even spare the new attendee who in the first place is utterly clueless of what is happening around him and the 'trouble' he just got into.

The typical thought pattern most Christians maintain today is that the God of the universe is their ultra-rich abounding source of all material blessings because they contend what belongs to Him also belongs to us and He is overly-joyed if you are happy and being yourself. Wow! Thanks to Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer et al for making us all feel good with such hypnotic brand of gospel - the most popular antidote ever invented for a weary soul since vanilla ice cream. If only to grasp the state of today's Christian concept of prosperity, look no further as Facebook is awash with quotes from these prosperity gospel preachers, being shared by so many 'Christians' as if their shout of  having a big God "willing to send them to places they've never been and grant all their wishes", is not deafening. Such distorted view of the true meaning of prosperity can only get scarier because time and again, we prefer to hear words that are lullabies to our ears, words that do not even tell us that we are to be held accountable for our sins; and as Paul Washer puts it, these prosperity preachers that we so love to hear is God's judgment on this generation that forsakes knowledge and wisdom for earthly gains.

But what kind of true prosperity does the Bible really advocate for Christians to pursue?  And how come the biblical concept of true prosperity is oftentimes being misunderstood and misapplied? Let's see how the Bible is being explicitly clear and coherent as to the real concept of prosperity: 

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." ~ Matthew 6: 19-21

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." ~ Romans 8:18

"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, so that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy." ~ 1 Peter 4: 12,13

True prosperity
Jesus, Peter, and the apostle Paul are one in their concept of true prosperity - the heavenly riches, the glory that will be revealed in us, our partaking of Christ's sufferings  so that we may share in His glory - all refers to eternal reward that awaits us in heaven. It speaks in complete contrast to what we've been made to believe by our favorite preachers: that we should live our lives on earth like we are "the most blessed ones, the highly-favored, the apple of God's eye - that God itches to prosper every aspect of our life, so that when we are happy God is also happy - that He serves up answers to all our entreaties, on a silver platter - so that we feel entitled to all His riches because He considers us His own, that if we lack few good things in life or fail to succeed in our plans, it is as if we failed to unlock the keys or secret to enjoying our best life now that is already ours for the taking. Of course Jesus said in John 10:10 that "He would give us abundant life and have it to the full". But they ask "is this not the same Jesus who said 'heaven and earth shall pass away but My word shall not pass away'? So there you have it brother, don't tell me your different theology".  Views such as these serve as a rude awakening why modern Christians prefer to flock to mega churches, get inspired and swoon over the success stories of their mega-rich pastors who dwell in multi-million dollar palatial houses and travel in their luxurious jets.

God calls for His children to lead a life of humility, contentment and thankfulness just as what Jesus exemplified when he walked the face of the earth. These preachers constantly invoke the life of Jesus as the perfect example of all the virtues mentioned yet the glaring contradiction in the way they conduct their lifestyles is beyond astonishing. This is the reason why today's Christians gravitate toward their feel-good message of a loving, generous and cheerful God who is too obsessed to drown us with good things but are oblivious to the fact that God disciplines and subjects His children to trials and sufferings to prove the genuineness of our faith that may result in praise, honor and glory when Jesus is revealed.

If you claim to be a Christian and have an appetite to twisting the words of Jesus pertaining to His promise of abundant life in John 10:10, I advise that you stop twisting His word, lest you be like Satan. Stop following your favorite prosperity preachers like Joel and Victoria Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Creflo Dollar, T.D Jakes, and Kenneth Copeland (because they are the obvious among the multitudes) - and if you're a Filipino Christian, stop swooning over Bo Sanchez with his encouragement that you could all be millionaires - because you are parading your ignorance every time you share his quotes on your Facebook - instead study your Bible and ask wisdom from God so that you may understand the biblical concept of true prosperity. 

And before you argue and defend your theology that was passed on to you by your favorite preacher, just a quick reminder, that it is not God's will that you live in palatial houses when few meters away, the homeless struggle to keep their heads and limbs covered - neither it's His will that you shop till you drop from Prada or CK stores when a lot of other believers around you struggle to keep dry - neither it is God's will that you keep posting on Facebook your expensive breakfast, lunch and dinner alternately from different high-end restaurants, when so many missionary brothers in indigenous areas struggle to live off yam and tapioca so that the gospel of Jesus is introduced to some natives.  Whereas you cannot even share John 3:16 on your Facebook wall so that all of those whom you are courting to join your group in AIM Global, Emgoldex, Royale and SWA business, will also be able to hear the profound love of God that He gave us His Son Jesus so that if we believe in Him we will receive eternal life, as opposed to the promise of gold bars in Emgoldex  - and a greeting of "welcome good and faithful servant, share your master's joy", as opposed to the greeting of "wealthcome to AIM GLobal".

Pursue righteousness
Of course I do not advocate that Christians should live a life of poverty because that would be tantamount to twisting and disrespecting scriptures - and that is what we call hypocrisy. In Psalms 30:8, Agur the son of Jakeh tells God that he wants neither riches nor poverty but only his daily bread. King David asserts in Psalms 37:25 that he has never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. In Hebrews 13:5, we are being admonished to keep our lives free from the love of money, and be content with what we have, for God has said "I will never leave you nor forsake you." In Philippians 4:19, Paul tells them that God will supply all their needs according to His riches and glory by Christ Jesus. Shall I go on and on? The scriptures speak in plain language - its clarity and simplicity beyond question - it requires no hidden formula for us to discover - as opposed to the purported secrets your prosperity gospel preachers would want you to discover by buying their books.

In His earthly ministry, Jesus being the symbol of incomparable humility, was found in appearance as a man, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8). That means He was a majestic God dwelling in His glory, stripped himself of His majesty and glory, born in a manger, in a stable (where few of us would dare to get close to and be able to hold breath) - had worn probably a cheaper set of clothing and an old one (tell me of a carpenter's son and a firstborn for that matter, who frequents Starbucks in his daintiest signature outfits). Jesus had experienced to go hungry (Matthew 21:18-19), got tired from a day's long journey (John 4:6), had no roof on his head (Luke 9:58), wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35), was persecuted, rejected by His own people, cursed and slapped at, and died the most humiliating and painful death so that all of those who would believe and put their trust in Him will be with Him to share in His glory in heaven. Jesus willingly embraced all of these sufferings and persecution not for His benefits, but for you and me, so that we may be overjoyed when we partake of his suffering, because the glory that will be revealed in us is beyond compare. While awaiting for that Blessed Hope to appear, Christians should lead a life of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and if I may add, the word contentment - to me that is true prosperity. So, how is that to you?

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