Tag Archives: The American Dream

Jesus’ Message to the American Church.

It is tempting, when considering the state of American Christianity, to assume that all is well, on both a corporate and individual level. Certainly the American Church displays a number of strengths inside its walls, within the local community, and in the political arena, as do the vast majority of churchgoers. So perhaps it’s no surprise the overwhelming view among Christians is that American Christianity offers a robust and faithful portrayal of Jesus’ teachings.

The reality, however, is much less sanguine. In fact, the American Church is in a far more perilous position than we imagine; a state of spiritual slumber so severe it undermines our relationship with Jesus and jeopardizes our eternal destination. So deep is this spiritual sleep that Christian leaders and churchgoers alike are almost entirely unaware of our condition. We mistakenly believe the Church is on the verge of revival. In fact, it is barely alive.

However, the Lord is steadfast in His desire to awaken the Church from its comatose condition. He wants us to open our hearts to His words and reject any teaching that contradicts them. He calls us to cast aside the veil of deceit that blinds us and reject the apostasy that so easily ensnares us.

Fortunately, we needn’t look far to discover Christ’s words for the American Church. The Bible captures them in clear and unmistakable language. Though His words are difficult to digest, we must accept and apply them in our lives if we truly believe and trust Him.

We must resist the temptation to dismiss His words as nonsense or inapplicable to our individual lives. Such resistance reveals their relevance more than ever, and exposes our religious hypocrisy. In fact, those most in need of hearing these truths are likely the same folks who reject them quickest and most fervently. Similarly, those closest to the Lord and in least need of hearing His words are likely the same people who’ll experience the greatest conviction and respond the most urgently.

Jesus’ message of sacrifice, selflessness, and surrender is as unpopular with the Church today as it was with His audiences two thousand years ago. No doubt many find it as unsettling as they do unpalatable. Certainly it is not for the faint of heart, which is why Christ warns potential followers to ‘count the cost’ before expressing faith in Him. For if the American Church is to experience real revival, we must meditate on and accept the Lord’s message – and transform our lives accordingly.

Here, then, is the message of Jesus Christ to the American Church. (Note: all verses are from the New King James version).

1] “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus is referring to Himself, of course. We have abandoned Him who we once claimed to love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. While we may have committed and surrendered our lives to Him at one time, our lives no longer reflect that faithfulness. We profess our love for Him but our lives reveal that other passions and priorities have supplanted our devotion to Him. The treasures and lures of this world gained a foothold in our lives and captured our hearts in the process. By any reasonable metric – how we spend our time, how we invest our income, how we allocate our resources, the plans we pursue – Jesus is not our first love. And for many of us, a love for Christ no longer remains at all. It is that diminished (or non-existent) love for Christ that, more than anything, explains our current spiritual state. Absent a repentant return to Him, the Church will never undergo revival and awaken from its spiritual slumber.

2] “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). Jesus spoke these words to the church at Sardis, which had a reputation for spiritual vitality. Underneath its religious veneer, however, was an unfruitful and unfaithful church. Much of the American Church struggles with the same dichotomy. We have cultivated a reputation of righteousness, love, and devotion to Jesus. We are very religious and greatly esteemed within church circles. But we have never crucified the flesh or surrendered ourselves fully to Christ. Our shallow commitment to Him rarely extends beyond our comfort, convenience, and personal agendas. We regularly refuse to follow Christ when it disrupts our lifestyle, forces us to deny ourselves, or makes demands we believe unreasonable. Such a casual, half-hearted faith is no faith at all. It is dead.

3] “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). When a church loses its first love (Jesus) and focuses more on its outward appearance than on the condition of the heart, it becomes lukewarm. Add immense wealth and a self-sufficient spirit, and you create a church that fails to further the gospel and advance the agenda of Christ. The American Church shares these attributes that Jesus used to describe the church at Laodicea. Our enormous prosperity and pride (masquerading as self-confidence) have concealed our current spiritual condition: lukewarm churchgoers who lack the fundamentals of faith. Unless we repent quickly we will suffer the same fate as the Laodicean Church.

4] “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Jesus’ warning couldn’t be clearer. But it falls on deaf ears in America, where covetousness consumes the Church. No amount of protest, however adamant, erases that truth. Evidence of our greed and materialism can be found in our homes, garages, closets, and basements. Despite Jesus’ admonition, we pursue and possess an abundance of things that momentarily fulfill our ravenous craving for earthly treasure – revealing a spirit of rebellion, defiance, and selfishness. It also demonstrates a distorted view of biblical stewardship and ignores Jesus’ example of sacrificial love. In short, our unbridled materialism indicates a lack of love for Christ and utter disregard for His teaching.

5] “And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Jesus identifies two primary dangers of accumulating worldly treasure. First, like the cares of this world, riches prevent the Word of God from taking root in our hearts, distracting us from Jesus. Consequently, we become spiritually unfruitful and our faith flounders. Second, covetousness deceives us, leading us to adopt biblically unsound doctrine, such as the compatibility of the American Dream with the call of Christ. Those two worldviews are diametrically opposed to each other and cannot co-exist. Yet somehow the Church has reconciled them into a single hybrid quasi-religion that resonates with worldly-minded churchgoers but bares little resemblance to Jesus’ teachings. Until we dismantle this doctrinal abomination and cast it out of the Church, American Christianity will not experience a reawakening.

6] “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24). We cannot simultaneously love the world and Jesus. We cannot pursue both worldly treasure and Jesus’ agenda. We cannot chase ‘the good life’ and faithfully follow Christ. Jesus leaves no room for ambiguity. And yet the American Church believes and teaches that loving the world and all it offers (leisure, luxury, comfort, entertainment, pleasure) does not compromise our ability to fulfill the call of Christ and live as His disciples. Jesus warns us that view is heresy. Those who practice it prove their allegiance to the world and confirm their infidelity to Christ.

7] “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Jesus provides the antidote to materialism, covetousness, selfishness, and self-sufficiency. Forsake all. Surrender our lives fully to Him. That represents a fundamental requirement of following Him. It is not optional. And yet how often does the American Church teach that unvarnished truth? Rarely. Instead the Church suggests that Jesus’ statement is not compulsory; that Christians need only be ‘willing’ to forsake all without having to actually forsake anything. That message is as astonishing as it is dishonest, and sends millions of churchgoers down a path that leads to darkness. This must stop. We must quit sanitizing and distorting Jesus’ difficult statements and instead start incorporating them into our sermons more often. Only then will the Church fulfill its duty to Christ and the lost.

8] “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus gave His life so we could enjoy eternity with Him. In return, He expects us to give our lives in service to Him. To do so, we must learn to deny ourselves, set aside our selfish interests, and count as loss anything that prevents us from fulfilling God’s will. Unfortunately, many in the church believe this passage reeks of legalism and somehow replaces God’s grace with ‘good deeds’ as the source of salvation. Consequently, they either explain away Jesus’ words or ignore them altogether. We must stop invoking legalism as an argument against Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, obedience, and sacrificial living. Yes, salvation comes by faith alone, through God’s grace. But authentic faith crucifies the flesh, yielding a surrendered life, a sacrificial spirit, and a submissive heart to the Lord who saves us. We must teach that truth and quit misrepresenting Jesus’ demands on our lives as believers.

9] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). This scenario ought to gravely concern all who reject or disregard those difficult teachings of Jesus with which they disagree. He states unequivocally that entering heaven requires an individual to have a personal relationship with Him and to do God’s will. It is not enough to call Jesus ‘Lord.’ It is not enough to be religious or commit good deeds with selfish motivations. Examine your life. Has faith transformed your life so dramatically you no longer blend in with society? Or have you conformed to the world, leaving little difference between you and your secular neighbors, friends, and colleagues (except, perhaps, for an hour on Sunday)?

10] “These people draw near to Me with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). The Old Testament is replete with anecdotes of people who verbalize their commitment and devotion to God but who fail to surrender their hearts to Him. Similarly, many in the Church today sound religious, use Christian language, and worship God every Sunday. But they retain ownership over their lives and refuse to submit to Jesus’ lordship in any meaningful way. Christ states such faith is fraudulent and useless. It is exercised in vain.

11] “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Jesus reiterates the importance of aligning our hearts with God’s will. Having a veneer of righteousness or earning the approval of church leaders is worthless. What matters is an ongoing, transformative relationship with Christ. That is the essence of Christianity, and the truest expression of faith.

12] “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). When we truly believe Jesus and trust Him as Lord we keep His commands and fulfill His will. This is not legalism or works-based salvation. It is basic, fundamental Christianity. Our obedience demonstrates our love for Him and reveals genuine faith.

13] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then the father came to the second and said likewise. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-30). Jesus has no interest in your words if they are not backed up with action. Professing our unwavering love for Him is meaningless if unaccompanied by an equally resolute pursuit of His will, regardless of the cost to ourselves. Asserting our faith in Christ is of no value if that faith does not manifest itself in radical sacrifice and extreme generosity. Verbalizing belief in Jesus means nothing if we do not passionately pursue His presence in prayer, silent meditation, and by studying the Scriptures. Jesus wants our words linked with substantive action. Otherwise we’re just offering lip service. And Jesus abhors lip service.

14] “Take heed that no one deceives you. [For] many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:4, 11). By and large the American Church preaches a sterilized gospel today. We have scrubbed away the rough edges, the difficult truths, and the demanding requirements of Christ and replaced them with a casual, comfortable message that emphasizes religious appearance over a contrite heart, and affirms our profession of faith regardless of any contradictory evidence no matter how overwhelming. The Church refuses to confront our zeal for leisure, comfort, and entertainment, which frequently reaches idolatrous levels, and our fervent pursuit of worldly pleasure and treasure, which often constitutes spiritual adultery. We have embraced a faith that yields all the benefits Jesus promised but few, if any, of the demanding obligations. We have been deceived by leaders, preachers, and teachers more focused on popularity, prosperity, and success than on the faithful preaching of the whole gospel. We would do well to diligently search the Scriptures and ensure our faith fully reflects the words and lifestyle of Jesus, not a distorted imitation of His gospel.

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False Teachers Threaten Vitality of Christianity

One of the most confounding characters in the Bible is the false prophet Balaam. His ministry of divination is instructive in understanding the promulgation of false teaching and offers insight into the motivation that drives false teachers. And his story serves as a warning to how easily false prophets can manipulate the truth to advance their own interests.

We first encounter Balaam as he responds to messengers of the Moabite king, Balak, who offers a considerable fee for Balaam to place a curse on Israel. Balaam instructs the envoys to stay overnight as he seeks direction from the Lord.

That night God commands Balaam not to return with the men or speak against Israel. “You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed.” (Numbers 22:12, NLT). The following morning Balaam tells the king’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” (Numbers 22:13, NLT).

Though Balaam refuses to help the Moabite king, his response reveals his frustration with the outcome. It’s the kind of answer a kid gives his friends when they ask him to come out and play: “I can’t. My mom won’t let me.” The response makes clear he wants to play, but the big bully in charge won’t let him. So it is with Balaam. He grudgingly obeys, but not because he agrees with God’s decision.

When King Balak learns of this, he sends a more prestigious delegation to Balaam and increases his offer. Balaam responds, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God.” (Numbers 22:18, NLT). On the surface it appears Balaam has no interest in worldly treasure but only in obeying God and communicating His truth.

But then he adds a caveat to his answer and in doing so reveals his secret motivation. He tells the delegation, “Stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” (Numbers 22:20, NLT). Balaam knows God’s will on the matter. He expressly told Balaam not to curse Israel; that they were a blessed nation.

But Balaam is hopeful God will change His mind. That he can convince the Lord to allow him to fulfill King Balak’s request and collect a significant payment in the process. So God consents to Balaam returning with the men to their homeland (a decision which almost costs Balaam his life – see Numbers 22:21-34).

When Balaam finally meets King Balak, however, God commands him to bless Israel not curse it. Balaam reluctantly obeys and blesses Israel not once but four times. His obedience not only earns him the king’s rage but also results in his forfeiture of the large fee the king had promised.

This proves too much for Balaam to bear. So he develops a devious plan to destroy Israel and thereby collect his fee from King Balak. He instructs the Moabite women to have sexual relations with the Israelite men and seduce them into worshipping their pagan gods. [See Numbers 25:1-9, and 31:16].

And it works. Many Israelites gratify themselves sexually with the Moabites and begin worshipping their gods, arousing God’s anger in the process. Twenty-four thousand people die before God finally relents and His anger subsides. Balaam succeeds in placing a wedge between God and His people.

The New Testament mentions Balaam several times and in each instance attributes to him a legacy of greed and deceit. He comes to represent the face of false prophets and false teaching. His story offers us insight into how false teachers operate and how they deceive so many into embracing a false form of the Christian faith.

The first thing to notice about Balaam is how spiritual he sounds. He says all the right things in public. He tells King Balak, “I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.” (Numbers 22:38, NLT).

After Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel and the king protests, Balaam reminds him, “Didn’t I tell you that I can do only what the Lord tells me?” [Numbers 23:26, NLT].

And finally, after the king flies into a rage against Balaam for blessing Israel a third time, he says, “Don’t you remember what I told your messengers? I said, ‘Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord.’ I told you that I could say only what the Lord says!” (Numbers 24:12-13, NLT).

By his words, Balaam appears to be an obedient prophet of the Lord. It is impossible to argue against anything he says. He claims to be God’s messenger and insists he only speaks those words the Lord places on his tongue. In fact, his prophesies contradict what the king demands. Surely only a man of God could stand against a king and his nation, and speak God’s words faithfully.

But beneath his veneer of religious piety, Balaam harbored a heart of greed and deceit. He may have claimed fidelity to God with his mouth, but his heart was devoted to the world and its treasures. He declared himself a faithful messenger of God simply to establish his credibility in the community and burnish his credentials as the Lord’s mouthpiece.

But it was all an act. He had no intention of denying himself the wealth and prestige the king offered. So no sooner had he pronounced a litany of blessings on Israel then he was conspiring to bring destruction on those same people. His actions revealed his words as mere lip service to God.

And so it is with the false prophets who fill our churches today. They claim to speak only those words God gives them. They make a show of standing-up against cultural leaders and speaking out against societal immorality. They eloquently declare their commitment to God and insist that His Spirit guides their Sunday sermons.

But like Balaam they are filled with deceit and motivated by greed. They refuse to preach biblical truth when it prevents them from collecting worldly treasures. They ignore Jesus’ words when those words reveal them as frauds. They dismiss and distort Scripture when it exposes their lifestyle as an expression of spiritual adultery.

Sadly, false prophets now lead a vast number of churches across the country. While they adhere to biblically sound doctrine on many topics, they are grossly negligent on others including Christianity & The American DreamIdolatry, Spiritual Adultery, Sacrificial Faith, Casual Christianity (click on each link to read more on that topic).

As with Balaam, these false prophets (which are exploding in number) are leading the nation down a path of destruction. They have bargained with the devil and compromised the gospel, exchanging the souls of their congregants for a life of worldly treasure, pleasure, and prominence. And unless you immerse yourself in Scripture regularly, studying its truths and comparing it with what your pastor preaches, you risk falling for a perverted gospel.

The risks are so great that Scripture frequently warns of the dangers of false prophets and the proliferation of false teaching in the last days. In his second epistle Peter exclaims, “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false prophets among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of the truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money.” (2 Peter 2:1-3, NLT).

Note that false teaching is rarely obvious. Peter emphasizes the fact that false prophets shrewdly communicate their destructive heresies, wrapping them in language designed to sound good. Unsuspecting churchgoers who innocently assume their pastor preaches truth easily digest these lies. For that reason we must remain diligent to search the Scriptures ourselves to validate everything we hear from the pulpit.

Peter goes on to explain that false prophets even deny God. Not so much verbally but in their hearts, as evidenced by their lifestyle. Peter warns that greed fuels their penchant for mistruths and willingness to distort the gospel. They want your money and will tell you whatever you want to hear to gain it. Too often those in the church are happy to oblige.

Paul tells Timothy, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NLT).

These days people want more than anything to hear that God desires to bless them materially and financially. That God wants them happy, comfortable, and safe. He wants them to enjoy the good life as they live the American Dream, chasing whatever shiny objects catch their eye.

Paul speaks of this in his second epistle to Timothy. “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will … love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that makes them godly.” (2 Timothy 3:1-2a, 4b-5a, NLT).

Paul emphasizes that many of these people who love themselves, money, and pleasure, also act religious. They are churchgoers who attend services regularly and maintain a veneer of Christian respectability. They include deacons, choir members, Bible-study leaders, Sunday-School teachers, and, of course, pastors. And they constitute large swaths of the congregation in many churches today.

But they are not Christians. They only have the outward appearance of a believer. Inside, they live for themselves and have never surrendered fully to Christ. They act holy and talk holy but refuse to deny themselves and live sacrificial lives for the Lord. They want their churches led by pastors who tickle their ears with half-truths; who mingle the gospel with the American Dream and suggest the two can cohabitate in one’s heart.

Paul says such people “have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith,” and that we should “stay away from people like that.” (2 Timothy 3:5b, 8b, NLT).

Paul also reminds us that those who do not preach the whole gospel and who fail to teach those messages of Jesus with which they disagree are “destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5b, NKJV). Unfortunately, this describes many pastors and churchgoers today. They have never died to self that Christ might live in them. Instead, they pursue an appearance of godliness in order to advance personal agendas of greed, stature, and influence. “From such withdraw yourself,” Paul advises. (1 Tim. 6:5b).

Jude adds that false teachers “bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of … Balaam (who) deceived people for money.” Jude 1:10b-11, NLT).

False teaching thrives in America today. Sadly, it often goes unnoticed because those in the pews want to hear it as much as those in the pulpit want to preach it. And it isn’t limited to messages that declare the wrong thing. One of the most insidious forms of false teaching today involves the unwillingness to preach against the rampant materialism, pride, and selfishness that often consumes churchgoers as much as it does the unchurched, and their relentless pursuit of comfort, luxury, popularity, and leisure.

The spiritual adultery and idolatry this represents has infested a devastating number of churches in America and threatens to remove the last vestiges of genuine Christianity in this country. Until faithful prophets arise and speak out against this spiritual abomination, the Church will continue its slide into irrelevance in society.

I realize this message is difficult to swallow. Like Jude, I would prefer to share a message of joy regarding our salvation (see Jude 1:3-4). But as long as false teaching flourishes and false prophets inhabit the Church, it is critical to expose their deceit and warn others of their presence.

May the Lord awaken us and strengthen what little remains.

When Idolatry Thrives, the Church Subsides. Raising the Alarm on Greed and Materialism Within the Church.

Scripture speaks a great deal about the dangers of wealth. Jesus addressed the subject frequently during His ministry, issuing a number of powerful warnings to the rich. Yet for some reason the church tends to ignore these messages or explain them away, signaling their irrelevance to churchgoers. But we disregard them at our own peril.

The apostle Paul offered this advice on the topic. “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6: 9-10, NLT).

No ambiguity exists in Paul’s message. Those who desire wealth succumb to temptation and become ensnared in destructive lusts that eventually ruin their lives. Wicked and ungodly behavior flows from the insatiable appetite for money, which even leads some churchgoers away from authentic faith and into eternal torment.

Paul’s candor and clarity make his warning nearly impossible to mistake. Don’t pursue prosperity; and avoid the love of money! These deadly desires will drive you away from Christ and toward a future filled with sin and suffering.

Yet the world, perhaps not surprisingly, embraces these desires without hesitation. Unfortunately, the Church and its membership increasingly do as well. In America especially, the lust for riches and craving for earthly treasures are escalating exponentially inside church walls, and within the hearts of believers.

How do Christians justify our obvious disobedience to Paul’s counsel? Rather easily as it turns out.

We proclaim we have no desire to be rich and insist we do not love money. It is a ridiculous response in face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Our lifestyles mirror those of our non-Christian friends and neighbors. Like them, we fill our lives with earthly comforts and our homes with worldly treasures. And we do so with such excess that it is absurd to suggest we neither love money nor lust for wealth.

What we fail to understand is that our spending habits and unbridled materialism represent an outward manifestation of our hearts’ desires. Irrespective of what we say, our lifestyles are the best evidence of what we really believe.

Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler illustrates this. You may recall that the young man approaches Jesus with a question. He wants to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. The ruler immediately responds that since his youth he has kept all the commandments. So Jesus tells him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21, NKJV).

This exchange offers incredible insight into the human condition and the deceptive nature of the heart. The rich young ruler genuinely believes he has never violated God’s commandments. As a result, he is confident his love for God is real and he will spend eternity in heaven. He simply wants Jesus to confirm that fact.

But Jesus knows the man’s heart; that he loves worldly treasures more than God and therefore will never love God with all his heart, soul, and mind (what Jesus refers to as the great commandment). He worships wealth and conducts his life in accordance with that priority, thereby violating the first of the Ten Commandments.

To reveal this truth and expose that barrier to genuine faith, Jesus instructs the young ruler to crucify his materialism. Only by selling everything and donating to the poor can the young man break the bondage of idolatry. Only then can he enter into a real relationship with Christ.

The ruler, of course, declines Jesus’ offer. Scripture informs us the man “was sad at this word, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:22, NKJV). His love for worldly treasure surpasses his love for God (and desire for eternal life).

Sadly, an overwhelming number of Christians share this outlook. We have convinced ourselves we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul, and are certain we will spend eternity in heaven. Like the rich young ruler we are completely unaware of our spiritual blind spot: that we love worldly things more than we love the Lord.

For proof we need look no further than our homes, garages, closets, and cars, and then consider Jesus’ challenge. Are we willing to sell everything we have and distribute the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Christ as His disciple?

I imagine every reader will agree that he or she is willing. Of course, Jesus didn’t tell the rich young ruler to be willing to sell everything. If He had, the ruler would have quickly agreed he was willing. Our willingness, then, is irrelevant, absent substantive action that puts that willingness into practice.

The truth is, most of us have some possession, some treasure, which compromises our relationship with the Lord. And in fact many of us, like the rich young ruler, have an idolatrous relationship with wealth and material possessions. It impedes us from knowing Christ intimately and hinders us from pursuing His call on our livesiHH.

At this moment Jesus is challenging each of us: Go, sell those treasures you have worshipped for too long, donate them to the poor, and fully surrender your life to Christ.

Avoid the temptation to simply say your treasures are not an idol; that you do not love them. That is a lie from the devil. You must permanently rid yourself of them if you want to be free from idolatry and its grip on your life.

Do you resist? Dismiss the challenge as ludicrous?

Our inability to respond to Christ’s challenge, or even understand the necessity for doing so, reveals the condition of our hearts. They mirror the heart of the rich young ruler, filled with deceit, greed, and idolatry.

Instead of closely examining Scripture, prayerfully considering what God wants, and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance to do what is right, most of us parse words to justify our lifestyles and explain why the Bible does not prohibit our insatiable materialism and impassioned pursuit of prosperity. In fact, we often insist that God wants us to enjoy the lavish American lifestyle.

Such outlandish views, however, simply prove Paul’s point that wealth and greed lead us to embrace a false faith that ends in destruction.

Jesus understood the ease with which the heart convinces us that our covetous lifestyles are approved by Scripture and ordained by God. To dispel this myth, which enjoys incredible popularity in the Church, Jesus declared, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:23, NKJV). Knowing His listeners would think He had misspoken, He repeated Himself, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24b, NKJV).

How can Jesus make such sweeping statements? And on what basis does He claim that the wealthy face considerable difficulty gaining eternal life?

The answer lies in Jesus’ two statements. In the first, Jesus references “those who have riches” while in the second He mentions “those who trust in riches.” His point, of course, is that those who have riches frequently trust in riches – preventing them from placing their trust in God. In a similar vein, those who have worldly treasure often love their worldly treasures – supplanting their love for God.

Many Christians presume this issue does not apply to them. However, that is a dangerous perspective, and one that runs counter to the evidence. For example, the average American churchgoer gives about 2% of his/her income to the church.

That fact reveals a great deal about our spiritual condition, and suggests we have much in common with a farmer from one of Jesus’ parables. Jesus shared this parable in response to a request that He intervene and secure an inheritance for a young man.

The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12:16-20, NKJV).

American Christians are the modern manifestation of this farmer. We share his selfish spirit. When our incomes increase or we experience economic windfalls, we typically acquire more worldly treasures and reward ourselves with more comforts.

Like the farmer who tore down perfectly good barns and replaced them with bigger ones, we trade-in perfectly good cars for newer ones; we upgrade working electronic devices (e.g. cell phones and televisions) with faster, fancier ones; we renovate functional kitchens and bathrooms to better suit our evolving tastes; we replace clothes and shoes we no longer like with trendier ones that fit our style; we move into bigger houses in more prestigious neighborhoods, so we have more room to store more of the possessions we desire.

Our choices, which are simply more extravagant versions of the ones the rich farmer made, put us in the middle of Jesus’ parable. We are the lead character in His story. So what message does Christ have for us?

We, too, jeopardize our souls as we chase the intoxicating riches, crass materialism, and indulgent excesses that increasingly define the American Dream. And it is not a remote risk. When our commitment to Christ extends no further than our lips, and does not extend to our checkbooks, we signal our belief that this world’s passing pleasures are of greater value than eternal life with the risen Lord. It is an incredibly foolish choice. But it is one made by millions of Christians every day.

Our selfish, greedy lifestyles have numerous causes but perhaps none more critical than a severe misunderstanding of biblical stewardship. We mistakenly believe that we take ownership of the income and financial blessing God steers our way. As such we can do with them as we want: lavish ourselves with luxury, pamper ourselves with pleasure, or consume the latest amenity that catches our eye.

Sure, we give a little to the church and less fortunate. But we spend the vast majority of our financial resources on ourselves. We refuse to recognize that it is God’s money. All of it. And He expects us to invest in things that drive His agenda, further the gospel, and accomplish things of eternal value.

Our selfish use of God’s money has dire consequences. Jesus says, “If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:11, NLT). Our unfaithfulness in stewarding the financial resources God has entrusted to us in this world means we will have no heavenly riches entrusted to us. And that’s the best-case scenario for those who worship at the altar of materialism and greed.

Scripture makes clear that the likeliest outcome for those who pursue prosperity and love worldly treasure is eternal darkness. When explaining the meaning of the parable of the sower, Jesus informs His disciples that the seed sown among thorns are those who hear the Word of God but “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19).

Once again Jesus reminds us of the deceitful nature of wealth and worldly treasure. Our desire for such things distracts us from a healthy relationship with God and eventually sabotages our faith.

We may insist that we love neither riches nor worldly treasure, but our lifestyles and spending choices contradict that claim. While sharing the parable of the rich farmer Jesus offered this warning. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15, NKJV).

It is important to note the implication of that statement. Jesus is equating the farmer’s lifestyle (which is comparable to the lifestyle of many American Christians) with covetousness. That troubling revelation ought to concern us since Scripture clearly defines covetousness as idolatry (see Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5).

Some may wonder why we can’t simultaneously pursue a genuine relationship with God and satisfy our desire for the riches of this world. Jesus answers that question in unmistakable language at the conclusion of his teaching on stewardship. He says, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate the one and love the other; or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” (Luke 16:13, NLT).

Unfortunately, most of us have little interest in exploring what the Bible says about our financial lifestyles and the danger we invite when we chase wealth and riches. Jesus addresses that danger directly in His remarks to the Laodicean Church. “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17, NLT).

Like the Laodiceans, we have become so entrenched in the world and so enamored with its treasure that we fail to understand our condition. We have convinced ourselves that we are people of God when in fact we are lukewarm pretenders. We are neither on fire for God and His agenda, nor are we refreshing water for a culture dying of spiritual thirst. Worse, wealth and comfort have established in our hearts a spirit of pride and self-reliance. We don’t know what it means to truly trust God on a daily basis. We are spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. And we are on the cusp of facing God’s judgment if we don’t repent from our lifestyles of greed and covetousness.

Our lifestyles should instead mirror the example provided by the New Testament believers of Macedonia. Paul said, “They are being tested by many troubles, and are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5a, NLT).

This is the model of financial stewardship that Jesus calls us to embrace and live. In contrast to the wealth and excess enjoyed by American believers, the Macedonian believers were impoverished and burdened with economic troubles. Despite their onerous financial circumstances, they gave generously to their needy brethren in Jerusalem, and did so freely and with great joy. They considered it an honor to help those in God’s family and begged Paul for the opportunity to do so. They put the welfare and interests of others ahead of their own.

Their example offers us a clear illustration of what sacrificial giving looks like.

The Macedonians, out of their poverty, gave generously and sacrificially. In contrast we, out of our abundance, give paltry sums to the Lord (as a % of our income). We resist God’s prompting and guidance to give more, and instead convince ourselves that the best way to honor Christ is to spend nearly all our income on enjoying the good life. In doing so, we move further down the path that leads to destruction.

Sacrificial giving was also the lesson Jesus emphasized to His disciples outside the Temple. After observing worshippers drop money in the collection box, including many wealthy people who donated large sums and one poor widow who gave two small coins, He declared, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44, NLT).

The wealthy gave exponentially more than the widow. But Jesus commends the widow on her stewardship and asserts that she gave the most. Why? Because she gave sacrificially and out of a deep love for God.

Christ wants us to follow the widow’s example. We, too, ought to give sacrificially to the Church and Christian ministries that advance the gospel. Sacrificial giving means it hurts financially. We resist the temptation to buy non-necessities and indulge in extravagances, and use those resources to fund the Lord’s work instead. And we give out of joy, not begrudgingly.

This is a difficult model to follow. And it is made all the more difficult when we fuel our selfish desires by chasing prosperity and accumulating worldly treasures. These pursuits pose a real threat to our spiritual vitality and relationship with God. It is why the apostle John warns, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

The basis for John’s counsel not to love the world is critical for Christians to understand. He explains that you cannot love God if you love the world. And the more wealth we obtain and the more treasures we amass, the more likely we are to turn our backs on God and place our trust in worldly riches.

Christ gives potential disciples similar guidance. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths 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.”

Investing in God’s work here on earth accrues to us eternal treasure, whereas earthly treasure is fleeting. Why would anyone jeopardize eternal life and heavenly treasure for eighty years of earthly pleasure? It is an insane exchange.

Yet millions of churchgoers have placed that bet, believing they can love the Lord with their lips on Sunday while simultaneously becoming intoxicated with worldly riches the rest of the week. They believe they can ignore what Jesus taught about financial stewardship and disregard His numerous warnings about wealth and money, without consequence.

By fostering an environment in which greed and idolatry thrives among believers, the Church compromises its credibility with the culture and undermines its authority to speak to society on issues of morality and biblical truth. If we want to impact the nation for Christ we must embrace all of Jesus’ teachings and not just the ones we find palatable and easy to follow.

As you consider how to respond to this message, meditate on these words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21; NKJV).

Now ask yourself, ‘Where is my treasure?’

The most misunderstood Bible verse.

Dozens of Bible translations exist today with no single version commanding a majority of sales in bookstores. Among pastors, preferences vary widely among a half dozen dominant translations. Readers and pastors alike gravitate to different versions based on perceived accuracy, readability, style, and reputation. Not surprisingly, no consensus exists as to which Bible translation is best.

So when the Christian community overwhelmingly selects one translation to quote a particular Bible verse, we ought to ask why. Perhaps the most reasonable conclusion is that the preferred translation tells us what we want to hear – it underpins the narrative we choose to believe. The fact that so many churchgoers can quote the verse from memory reinforces this inference. But such a prodigious consensus should concern us when the espoused opinion aligns neatly with what our secular culture teaches. We ought to examine more closely any such verse to determine its true intent rather than hasten recklessly to a popular perspective that indulges our desires and biases.

Jeremiah 29:11 is such a verse. One of the most recognized and oft-quoted Old Testament verses, 29:11 plays a prominent role in how many Christians define and live their faith. Unfortunately, its influence flows from a misunderstanding of its meaning. A little context around the verse is instructive. The people of Israel are living in exile in Babylon and are disheartened. The Lord has just informed them that they will remain there for seventy years. As encouragement He reminds them of two things in verse 11, their exile is part of His plan and those plans reflect their best interest. It is a difficult message to digest because it goes against the prevailing view that God will rescue His people quickly and keep them from suffering.

Let’s look at several translations of the verse. The NASB states: “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” The NKJV versions explains it like this: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Finally, the NLT translates the verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” [I’ve highlighted the key word difference in each].

All three translations make clear that God’s plans offer hope and are for the welfare/good/peace of the Israelites. But first they must endure seventy years of captivity (see verse 10). All is clear, right? Well, not so fast. Instead of understanding the verse as it’s intended, many believers embrace an entirely different message using the NIV translation. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Emphasis added). We focus on the word ‘prosper’ and insist it means that God wants His followers to enjoy wealth and prosperity. That perspective, however, fails to understand the context. It ignores the fact that their exile will continue, which is not at all what they want. So God shares a truth we would do well to remember: His plan often runs counter to our desires but is in our long-term interest. Therefore, we should never lose hope.

Frequently, we dismiss that truth. Why allow context and intent to distract us from the message we want to glean from Scripture? We want a God who blesses us with prosperity, coddles us with comfort, and frees us from discomfort. So we scour the Bible for verses that reinforce that mindset and validate our yearnings. If the truth gets lost in the process, so be it. That’s a small price to pay for enjoying a message that tickles our ears.

Sadly, the predominant view of Jeremiah 29:11 is predicated on deceit, just like the false teaching of the prophet Hananiah earlier in chapter 28. He dies two months after pontificating lies in the name of the Lord. He had told the people of Israel that, according to the word of the Lord, God would rescue them from captivity within two years. His deception cost him his life. It is a valuable lesson. We need to exercise caution in deciding who and what to believe. Pastors must diligently teach the truth, irrespective of whether people agree.

One reason the prevailing view of 29:11 finds such an enthusiastic audience in this country is because it fits with the American dream. We want to enjoy ‘the good life’ as much as our unbelieving neighbors. We want the American dream and God’s will to be one and the same. But they are not and nothing in Scripture supports such a position.

I encourage readers to examine Jeremiah 29:11 on their own. Read through the entirety of chapters 28 and 29 to understand the context and learn what God is saying to His people. Study several translations to glean the message. Most of all, resist the temptation to interpret the verse through the lens of your fleshly desires. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal His truth to you through His Holy Spirit. As you do, His word will come alive in a way you may never have experienced.