I was reading a story about a pastor who was visiting an underground church in a country that was hostile to Christianity. One of the ladies who attended the church came up to him and told him that she had an old television and, every once in awhile, she was able to tune in a station from the United States where she would sometimes see church services. She talked about how many of these preachers would be holding services in these very nice buildings and they would be wearing very nice clothes and they would tell listeners that they, too, could have nice things if they would have faith.
Then she paused and looked at the American pastor. She told him this made her wonder. After hearing this message, she looked around at the extreme poverty of the people who attended their small church, at the condition of the run-down house in which the met, at the fact that their very lives were in danger any time they came to worship together.
And she wondered.
She looked to the pastor and asked, “Does this mean we do not have enough faith?”
This is a problem.
This is an example of what happens to the perfect Gospel message when it becomes corrupted by man.
We export a message to the world that equates Christianity with material prosperity and it is dangerously wrong for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it distracts from the real problem. It distracts us from the problem of sin; from the fact that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
And it distracts from the absolute, majestic beauty of Christ and his sacrifice for our sins so that we might be redeemed, justified, sanctified, set free from enslavement to sin, and reconciled with our Creator for all eternity.
Instead, it puts the focus on us and makes God out to be akin to an ATM. We put in our “faith” card and God gives us good stuff.
Many of us are familiar with the passage in Romans 8:28, which says that, for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.
And that is absolute truth…but we can’t properly understand this verse without reading on to verse 29, which says “for those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
Aha! So, the “good” that God works in the lives of those who love him is conforming them to the perfect image of his Son. The “good” is that we as Christians become more like our Savior.
We love more, serve more, care more, have more patience, get less angry, live in greater peace with others, are kinder to our neighbors, are more faithful to our God, are more humble and more gentle, practice more self-control…
We become more like Christ.
THIS is what we should expect for our lives as radical followers of our radical Lord and Savior.
Not health and wealth.
The Bible never tells us to expect a life on easy street when we become Christians. In fact, Jesus promises us that we WILL have trouble in this world.
He PROMISES that we WILL have trouble.
He never says things will be easy for us. In fact, He says that the world will HATE us and PERSECUTE us if we follow him.
This doesn’t sound too much like big houses and fancy cars, does it?
Is it possible that we, living in the land of plenty, have become blinded to the real meaning of Jesus’ words?
Have we closed our eyes to what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus?
Have we become so accustomed to great material blessings that we have somehow managed to redefine Scripture to align with the American culture that prevails around us?
What message are we sending to the poor and powerless Christians across the world?
Does that message shine the spotlight on Jesus or on us?
James 4:4 (ESV) Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.