Turn on Christian TV and you're bound to run across the Prosperity Gospel.
The famous preachers who teach this 'Name-it-and-Claim it' theology swear you can become financially wealthy by praying the right kind of prayers and giving the right kind of gifts.
You'll hear these wolves in sheep's clothing ask for some kind of "seed money" or "faith offering." They say if you give to their ministry, God will honor your faith and bless you financially.
They wear designer suits, have perfect hair, shiny white teeth, and fly around in private jets.
Don't be fooled! It's all a lie.
To hear these con artists talk, if you have faith and do what they say, God simply must prosper you in return.
Christianity is not a quid pro quo religion, that is, one thing in return for another. If it were, it would reduce God to the place of a laborer, obligated to do some duty for us because we "paid" him with a donation.
No matter how many Bible verses prosperity preachers quote, that idea gets the New Testament exactly backwards. We are obligated to God, not the other way around.
You and I are obligated to God because, through his graciousness, he provided salvation for us through the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. It's a debt we can never pay back, and fortunately, God doesn't ask us to. All he asks is that we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Once we get that truth clear in our minds, the prosperity gospel seems pretty ridiculous.
If monetary wealth were the most important thing in life, why did Jesus of Nazareth, the model human being, spend his life in poverty, without a home or material possessions? If riches are the ultimate sign of God's favor, why wasn't Jesus decked out in gold jewelry and fine clothing?
If you're broke, you may want to argue that point. You may believe if only you had a fortune, all your problems would be solved. More likely, you'd just be a rich person with a lot of problems.
Don't let their smooth talk sway you. The gospel is not a get-rich-quick scheme and it insults Jesus's sacrifice on the cross to treat it that way.
Some of the really clever prosperity preachers get salvation right: A free gift from God, with no works required on our part. Then they ruin it by insisting you can be healthy, wealthy and wise if only you follow their little program.
Preachers who advocate the prosperity gospel talk a lot about God's favor, and how he will shower goodness down on those who love and obey him.
Then how do we explain the holy person who is beset by one tragedy after another? Some hidden sin? No, that theory was floated by one of Job's friends and was soundly shot down.
If the prosperity gospel is true, how do we explain wicked people who prosper monetarily, such as drug dealers and con artists. Are their evil dealings receiving the favor of God?
"No, no," you might say, "you're distorting what the Bible says. The prosperity gospel has a solid scriptural foundation."
When Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler who asked what he must do to receive eternal life, Jesus didn't tell him he already had eternal life because he was rich. On the contrary, Jesus told the young man to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and follow him (Jesus).
Nowhere in the New Testament do we read that Peter, the other apostles, or Paul were wealthy men. When Peter and John were confronted by a beggar at the temple, read what happened:
Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." (Acts 3:6)
If the logic of the prosperity gospel were true, that is, God favors "good" people with riches, then we'd have to assume that poor people are not good in the sight of God because they're not prospering.
Prosperity preachers reply that poor people aren't bad, just ignorant of God's laws. They're quick to point out someone who sent them a donation and within weeks received many times that amount from some unexpected source. But how many people sent in donations and received nothing?
We singles are equally as susceptible to this pitch as married folks might be, and even moreso if we're in debt. Ministers who preach this line can be extremely convincing. They've polished their message over the years so it seems to make perfect sense.
Yet if Jesus was an example of how to live a good life in every way, how do they explain his lack of wealth?
God is not the lottery. God is not Santa Claus. God cannot be bribed by seed money or any other scam.
One of the great flaws in the human race is expecting something for nothing--or very little. It's what fuels the billion-dollar gambling industry.
Let's grow up and read the Gospels for what they truly mean. The greatest wealth a person can possess is eternal life in heaven with Jesus Christ. We can't even donate our way to that--it's a free gift available to all who will accept it.
So put your credit card and checkbook away and get out your Bible. Stop looking for monetary riches through the phony prosperity gospel and appreciate the spiritual riches you already possess in Jesus.
You can't get any wealthier than that.