Thursday, September 30, 2010

TV Evangelists’ “Good News”

I have a lot of trouble watching the TV “prosperity” evangelists. Their “Christianity” is hard to recognize, and their Good News is personal success.

Recently, I saw evangelist Mike Murdock on TV. I was intrigued and wanted to watch further. His sayings were certainly catchy: “The Bible is not about destiny but about decisions.” He wasn’t taking about God’s decisions, but ours! We’re the captain of our ship! Instead, I like to think that God is running my life and guiding me down paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3) and sculpting me into His art form (Eph. 2:10). I began to think about it a little more, and concluded that our God does destine our lives:

• “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
(Psalm 139:16)

• “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases”
(Proverbs 21:1).

He even directs our footsteps! Strange that Murdock should get it so wrong. I listened further: “God will not give you anything you haven’t pursued.” But isn’t this teaching crediting us with too much? Paul claimed that we don’t even know what to pray for, and so the Holy Spirit has to intervene for us (Romans 8:26).

Does my life in Christ rest upon my pursuits? I hope not! I hope that He is applying a corrective hand over my pursuits, replacing my foolishness for His plan. James claims that we don’t receive what we pursue because we are pursuing the wrong things (James 4:2-3). However, Murdock never made such a distinction.

If it was up to me to chose the right pursuits, I’d have no peace at all. However, I recalled that it doesn’t always depend upon me or what I might pursue:

• “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephes. 3:20-21).

This truth does so much to remove all of our self-concern – wondering whether we are asking for the right thing or pursuing what God wants us to pursue. Then Murdock made another provocative pronouncement: “God never uses disease to teach!”

My gosh, I had thought that God had been teaching me through my diseases and infirmities! Could I have been deceived? I had thought that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28), even our diseases! And Paul seemed to have the same assessment:

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

It seems that Paul had learned a lot through his “thorn in my flesh!” But perhaps this “thorn” hadn’t been a disease? However, it was clear that Job had been physically afflicted and it turned out to be a real learning experience for him (Job 42:6-8). David was also afflicted and thanked God because it enabled him to learn God’s Word (Psalm 119:67). He had also been prompted to cry out to God from his sickbed (Psalm 41:3). Hezekiah had been humbled in the midst of his disease and had found healing in God (2 Kings 20:1-3). Sounds like God taught him something! The blind man that Jesus healed learned that Jesus was the Messiah through his disease and healing (John 9).

Listening to Murdock, it was hard not to think that I was carrying the weight of my life upon my own shoulders. It was all about me and my choices, and so they better be the correct ones! I knew that this was leading somewhere. Finally he made his pitch. We had to send him $1000. I couldn’t listen any further, but I knew what would follow. I had heard him and other prosperity preachers before. We are required to prove our faith before God by stepping out in faith with big bucks.

In order to lubricate the process, Murdock let loose with another catchy phrase: “Obedience delayed is obedience denied.” This meant that we had to write out the check without any delay. The catch had to be reeled in before he could escape. But isn’t there a place for prayer or reflective consideration before making such an “investment?” Not according to Murdock! The check had to be sent immediately and not to one’s home church either. It had to go directly to him, as if he and the other prosperity preachers are the only authorized channels through which to receive God’s blessings.

Instead, the Bible gives us a lot of reasons to delay making hasty commitments (Proverbs 19:2; 21:5; 29:20). I was reminded of Jephthah’s hasty and costly vow (Judges 11:31-39). Jesus also taught thoughtful restraint:

• "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him”
(Luke 14:28-29).

Wouldn’t we too become the object of ridicule if it was known that we had just sent our last $1000 to Murdock to finance his fifth mansion? (I don’t know how many he does have, but prosperity preachers have a reputation for high living.) I think so, but this isn’t my main concern. I am concerned about those who associate this type of preaching with the real Good News and will become hardened against this News after they wake up - $1000 poorer – and find that they’ve been duped.

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