Sunday, May 3, 2015

Persecution And Prosperity: A 'Christian' Dilemma

From random stories of unimaginable atrocities committed against Christians in the Middle East - to the advent of ISIS where Christians become automatic target for beheading because of their faith- all these seem to amount to nothing - if the sound of preaching in many Christian churches today is anything to go by. Even before ISIS came into the scene, there was Boko Haram that randomly torched Christian churches in Nigeria - along with their congregants - and sometimes spraying bullets on them while they worship God inside their churches. Pastors and their families have been soft targets for these evil Islamists and the repercussions for being Christian in the wake of persecutions are beyond despicable. Of late, those over 200 Christian girls abducted by this group - were known to have been made sex slaves or murdered - and some were forced to become human bombs targeting public places so as to maximize casualties.

In Egypt, Christians have their own share of indescribable persecutions from Islamists that you do not see often reported in media. Churches pelted with rocks and vandalized by Muslim mobs are a daily occurrence mainstream media think so trivial enough to be given little of their attention. Rape of Christian girls by their Muslim neighbors commonly do not get reported for fear of repercussion from the Muslim majority that has the stranglehold of virtually every government office - from police, military to the judiciary. And not even the highly-publicized beachfront beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by the ISIS can deter Muslim mobs from inflicting more persecution upon the relatives of those beheaded - when they surrounded the homes of those in mourning and threw stones at them - upon hearing that a monument will be built in honor of those 21.

Nowadays, cases of Christian persecutions worldwide are rising exponentially in a level unprecedented in history. Christians in the Middle East and some parts of Africa certainly have plenty to say - and some have vouched through photos of their severed heads on top of their chests - why it is never easy to be a Christian. These Christian beheadings that have of late become a mundane scenario with its gruesomeness easily accessible in the internet - surprisingly do not surprise the world anymore.

Nowadays, Christian persecutions come in varying forms and degrees but fueled by the same evil force that hates the truth. It's only a matter of geography that gives new definition to it. While Christians in the US and most part of the West are not imminently subjected to threats of beheadings, persecution nonetheless can come in myriad other forms, such as losing your livelihood because you refused to bake wedding cake for same-sex couples as a matter of faith principle, or getting terminated from your teaching job because you gave your student a Bible when she asked for it, and getting bullied or taunted because you prayed and gave glory to God when you scored a touchdown at a football game - and the list goes on and on.

Deception in the last days

When the disciples asked Jesus what will be the signs of His coming and of the end of the age, He said to them "watch out that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:4). In verse 9 to 13, He continues to say, "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved."

Jesus spoke very clearly of what is to come and what should befall those who would follow Him. The apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy concurred when he said "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12). The apostle Peter on the other hand reminds us believers to rejoice amid all our sufferings and trials because it is to purposely test the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6,7), and if we pass the test, the end result of it is the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9)

I have been to a lot of evangelical churches before and seldom this topic is mentioned in their pulpit. You speak of trials and sufferings in your exhortation and you get perplexed audience in quiet discomfort staring back at you - and the usual 'amens' heard in unison suddenly get obsoleted. If anything, this sort of reaction is understandable given the monotone feel-good messages that you usually hear behind pulpit and compounded by the prolific positive quotes from Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer that proved popular on social media.

So, what does this say of the spiritual condition of the present day church? When you have the most popular mainstream preachers such as Joel Osteen (who never preaches sin, hell and repentance let alone judgment day and second coming), Joyce Meyer (whose entire family sits at the board of his multi-million dollar ministry and lives off at it grandiosely), and the formidable duo Benny and Kenny (Hinn and Copeland) of the little-gods doctrine; plus the ultra-rich jetsetting Creflo Dollar - who as a bunch has hijacked the true gospel of Jesus Christ into their own brand of gospel - what else do we expect to see around so many churches that do not pray for discernment but only have their sights on earthly blessings?

The teaching that God wants His children to prosper in all aspects of their lives has been the single most indispensable subject everyone loves to talk about. And the increasingly strong desire by congregants to obtain these blessings propels them to even faithfully give their tithes because the usual sermon they habitually hear - either promises of a tremendous blessings - or otherwise a threat of a litany of curses - and that's the last thing the congregants want to hear.

Paul Washer in one of his sermons spoke with full conviction that "False teachers are God's judgment on people who don't want God, but in the name of religion plan on getting everything their carnal heart desires. That's why a Joel Osteen is raised up. Those people who sit under him are not victims of him, he is the judgment of God upon them because they want exactly what he wants, and it is not God."

Even during Jesus' earthly ministry, He already taught substantially on His return that reflected on the numerous parables admonishing believers to be ready (Matthew 25). The apostle Paul in his epistles constantly reminded believers to be patient and to keep themselves worthy as the Day of the Lord is drawing near (1 Thessalonians 4, Hebrews 10). Even at the earliest church age, the believers had hoped that they were going to witness the return of Jesus. Such earnest longing for Jesus' return inspired early believers to preach the gospel of salvation to every place they could reach - calling all people to repent from their sins. That very same message reverberated across the earth after so many generations till today that predisposes ungodly people to mock Christians for Jesus' impending return that never took place. The apostle Peter had in fact long predicted that and had this to say to believers:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "where is this coming he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:3,4)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. ~ (2 Peter 3:9,10)

The high-jacking of the true Gospel by wolves in sheep's clothing

When I was a kid growing up in a rural area in the central Philippines, the only medium by which we get to know what the world is up to is by transistor radio because there was no electricity available. I would always hear pastors warning people of the imminent coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. At that time,  even people living in the mountains had been reached by the gospel and somehow had heard of the signs leading to Jesus' return. Recently, as I was listening to a podcast from Stand Up For The Truth, the hosts and their guests have echoed similar observation that during their early years they used to hear preachings left and right about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ but now the usual talk-about from mainstream preachers is how a Christian can live a life of favor, abundance and happiness. And who can resist such message when in fact it was the Lord Jesus Christ himself who promised that "He came so that we may have life and have it to the full?" In one of his sermons, Paul Washer had famously quoted: "...twist not Scripture lest you be like Satan!"

Few would argue that the advent of the so-called prosperity gospel, its lure, its comforting message, has paved the way for the true gospel to cunningly evolve into the gospel of demons - where believers are made to believe that they can have all they want in this life for being co-heirs to the wealth of the Great Provider. Today, the world at-large has grown numb to hearing scandal-after-scandal involving so-called mega pastors who make no apologies for living the high-life, whose sprawling estates, fleets of private jets and palatial mansions in tight security fit for royals - are a picture of total contrast to the life of humility of the Man they preach about - who did not even have a proper place to lay his head (Luke 9:58).

Of course, a gullible Christian would never think deceptions could come from within the church. For as long as he comes and sits at his favorite spot on Sundays, does his assigned ministry , and gives his tithes, then there is every chance that he is on the right track and his place in heaven secured. He doesn't see any wrong in his pastor using Rick Warren's unbiblical teaching materials, (in fact that is what they have been implementing in church recently); the words 'tribulation' and 'rapture' are strange to him - he has been to this church for two years but hasn't heard of them. He has been an ardent fan of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, in fact he loves to share their quotes on facebook and draws inspiration from them. "These are great men and women of God and I have been tremendously blessed by their teachings!", he would argue. When you post encouraging verses on facebook, he is one of the first to hit like, and you get tons of it thereafter; but when you post verses pertaining to hell, holiness and judgment, you would get convinced spontaneous boycott from facebook friends does really happen - and that solely depends on what you post.

The sidestepping of the gospel for prosperity's sake

It is the belief that when you act on your faith God will bless your every endeavor. Such is the driving force behind Christians who have been heavily involved in online networking that have plagued local churches that I know. The proliferation of online investment schemes that attract recruits to invest for an incredibly huge profits have now crept up in these churches that you will see worship leaders, elders and deacons, and even an ordained prophetess and some pastors in a race to find recruits to invest in the schemes. Those Bible verses that you usually see in their facebook walls have been dislodged in favor of video materials and testimonies from successful investors. And no one, not even one has dared rebuke them and stood up to them. They even have the temerity to use Jeremiah 29:11(NIV) in their slogan to validate their claims that God desires to "prosper them, give them hope and a better future".

Lack of knowledge and discernment is what thrusts Christians into a dilemma of the supposed incompatibility of scriptures when embracing one doctrine without forsaking another. They reluctantly admit that trials and sufferings are fixtures in the lives of Christians but their hearts vacillate when confronted with biblical promises of wealth, health and success - which their mentors have twisted and taken out of context to suit their needs - because it is what they primarily want to hear.

It is a Christian's reluctance to grow in the knowledge of the Word that puts him in a situation where the scriptures albeit plain and simple seem conflicting to him. The state of many churches today is such that deception is hardly noticed because leaders are deceived and in turn deceiving the flocks. The lure of prosperity, endless favor and good life advocated and being practiced by the so-called megapastors -  has in turn influenced local church leaders to pass on the teachings to their flocks who are now attributing their success and new-found financial breakthrough to God's favor. When you have "prophets and pastors" in church whose mentors they list as Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar, that says it all of the spiritual condition of the church.

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." ~ (2 Timothy 4:3-5)

The true prosperity 

As for those Christians who are being systematically slaughtered, raped and torched, starved to death, falsely accused and imprisoned without trial, losing their jobs and businesses - all because of their faith - surely God did not fail them and did not forget His promises to them of a hope and a better future. A Christian who truly desires to obey the Lord Jesus Christ and is willing to take up his own cross daily and follow Him understands and finds the true meaning of prosperity: the joy, godly contentment and peace that emanates from our hope of redemption when Christ is revealed to us in His glory.

A lot of Christians around the world have been experiencing untold sufferings and tribulations because of their faith, and they willingly embrace their fate - to them they share with the sufferings of Christ - to them the glory that will be revealed on the last day and the crown of righteousness and the crown of life that await them - is the true prosperity. The apostle Paul had this to say: "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." ~ (2 timothy 4:6-8)

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