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Prosperity Gospel

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Did you know that the antichrist is already here? John says he’s already in the world. And he wrote that during the last half of the First Century.

John begins 1 John 4 in today’s Bible reading with a warning to test the Spirits. (1 John 4:1) So how do you know which spirits to believe? John answers that question for us.

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2-3 (CSB)

One scholar says, “To test the spirits is ‘Put them to the acid test of truth as the metallurgist does his metals. If it stands the test like a coin, it is acceptable , 2 Cor. 10:18), otherwise it is rejected.'”[1]

It’s so easy to turn on the TV to a “Christian” program, or tune into a “Christian” radio station and hear all kinds of teachings from all kinds of Bible teachers. And not all of the Bible teachers are teaching Biblically-sound teachings. Oh, they may quote the Bible. They may throw around some Greek or Hebrew words. But how do you know if what you’re hearing is right?

The early church struggled with this question. The Apostles’ warnings are laid out in their letters to the young churches and their leaders. And back then, there was a higher level of accountability than there is today. Back then, all you’d have to do is call out the false teachers in a letter and the local pastors confronted them. But today with 24/7 “Christian” TV and radio — not to mention the Internet — there is little to no accountability of the false teachers and their false teachings. Don’t believe me? Call the teacher/preacher/writer and ask the receptionist to let you speak with him/her. Trust me, you won’t be able to talk with him/her. They have more important things to do.

Application

Regardless of the times and the technology, each of us is responsible to make sure that the preachers/teachers/writers we learn from are teaching consistently with the Bible. And that means Believers must test the spirits for themselves. Your pastor can help to point you in the right direction. And that’s one very good reason to be plugged into a good, Bible-believing church. But even your pastor may not know if a particular preacher/teacher/writer is teaching God’s Word legitimately.

Applying John’s counsel, look at what the Bible teacher/preacher/writer says about Jesus. Is the Jesus he/she teaches the Jesus revealed in the Bible? Just talking about “Jesus” doesn’t mean it’s the Jesus of the Bible. What does the teacher/preacher/writer have to say about the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Does what he/she say line up with all of Scripture? Does he/she say that God’s Word is our ultimate authority on Who Jesus is? Does listening to him/her make you feel uncomfortable about sin? Does listening to him/her make you want to live more of a God-centered life?

Yes, it’s very important to put Bible teachers/preachers/writers to the acid test. And just because they passed the test ten years ago doesn’t necessarily mean they would pass the test today. Don’t let down your guard. Your walk with Jesus is impacted by who you watch, listen to, and read. Be careful. Test the spirits.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

This devotional was originally published on September 30, 2019.

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Scratching Itching Ears

All of us have itchy ears. The question is, how do you scratch?

If you’ve been around church for very long, you may have heard Paul’s warning in today’s Bible reading. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

All of us Believers have our favorite Bible teachers and preachers. And we have our favorite Christian music. Some of our favorites are well worth the time to listen to! These are the kind of Bible teachers, preachers and songs that will lift your spirits when you’re down. They’ll feed your hungry soul. They’ll point your eyes to Jesus and the glory of God. They’ll give you a hunger for more of God!

Some of our favorites are OK. I mean, they aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good either. These Bible teachers and preachers will tell you what God says in the Bible. The songs will give you a nice beat to keep your toe tapping. But in the grand sceme of things, they are simply “amusing”.

One of my professors warned about Christian “amusement”. The word literally means “not-thinking”.

And then there are the favorites that shouldn’t be. These Bible teachers and preachers have so little nourishing content, it’s difficult to sort through all the chaff just to get to the wheat. And some are so bad, there’s actually no spiritual nourishment to be gained. And some of the songs have pretty melodies and harmonies, and some of the words are sentimental, but the songs lack anything of real substance.

Application

Paul’s concern was not about the outright “bad” teaching and songs. Yes, bad teaching should be avoided. Yes, bad Bible teachers and preachers should be avoided.

But we should also avoid a steady diet of marginal and questionable teaching. We should avoid a steady diet of one-dimensional Christian music that only looks back at the day we were saved and the day we get to heaven. We should vary our songs so we don’t just sing and listen to songs about God; we should sing and listen to songs to God at least as much as we sing about Him! Now, lest anyone think I’m bashing one type of music and promoting any other type, I’ll just say that there’s good and there’s bad in all kinds of Christian music. Some of the “old” stuff is good and some of it is bad. Some of the “new” stuff is good and some of it is bad.

There are lots of ways to scratch our itchy ears. Some are very good and helpful. Some are OK. But some are to be avoided completely.

So how do you scratch your itching ears? Remember: Don’t be “amused”!

This devotional was originally published on September 21, 2019.

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Sowing seed

Paul continues to address the Corinthians regarding the financial support of God’s work in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his appeal, “The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 (CSB)

Note that Paul doesn’t use manipulation. He doesn’t twist Scripture to promise health and wealth if the Corinthians would just plant a seed of faith. No, Paul just puts it out there, saying that God will reward generosity with generosity.

Although Corinth was a thriving metropolis when Paul wrote this letter, the citizens must have had a concept of sowing and reaping. If you want a harvest, you have to sow seeds. If you want a bountiful harvest, you have to sow a lot of seeds. Paul tapped into the people’s understanding of agriculture and presented this principle of sowing and reaping.

Application

It’s easy to look at your paycheck and panic when you see how much of the “gross” is taken before you ever see the “net”. Between taxes, Social Security, insurance premiums, it can seem like there’s not enough left over. As the month goes on, sometimes it can seem like the month goes longer than the paycheck.

So where does God fit in the discussion of money? Well, if you’re a growing Christ-follower, God should fit right in the middle of your budgeting. Don’t just give God leftovers. Give Him your best! Give regularly. Give generously. Give sacrificially. And give wisely.

Give, and it will be given to you;
a good measure—pressed down, shaken together,
and running over—will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Luke 6:38 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published on September 3, 2019.

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Jesus heals a leper.
Image credit: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.

For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])

If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.

For a comment on “mustard faith”, see my posts here and here.

Application

Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!

And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.

If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.

And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.

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There are no short-cuts to maturity

James doesn’t mince words about suffering. He begins his book urging his readers to rejoice whenever they experience trials. And he wraps up his book with today’s Bible reading, urging his readers to be patient in suffering. (James 5:7-11) He fills in the gaps about suffering in between. In fact, James never refers to suffering and trials as a remote possibility. He always refers to it as a given. One can only wonder how the Prosperity Gospel flourishes given the enormous weight of consistent Biblical teaching against it.

In Western Society, we don’t like to wait. The coming modern conveniences promoted on commercials in the 1950s only left us cramming more into our days rather than the promise they made that life would be easier and we would have more free time. I’m still waiting for that.

Take the microwave oven for example. With a microwave oven, you can boil water in a matter of a couple of minutes and make a nice glass of good Southern Sweet Iced Tea in half the time compared to boiling water and steeping your tea on a cooktop. But how often have you impatiently screamed at your microwave oven, “Hurry!”? Personally, I’d rather not answer that question!

Application

James seems to indicate that suffering produces patience. And you won’t gain patience without having to wait, oftentimes experiencing some level of discomfort or suffering. Is it any wonder why some Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of patience.

The bottom line is that there are no short-cuts to maturity in the Christian life. Enduring hardship develops patience and other positive character qualities. So take James at his word when he tells you to rejoice whenever you encounter various trials. (James 1:2-4) Trust that God will use those trials for your good: That you would become more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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