Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Prosperity Gospel ... Continued

We have the lottery (actually, lotteries - many of them) in my home state of Kentucky. I have seen some remarkable sights associated with the lottery in my 8+ years of living in Kentucky.

One morning, when I lived in Hopkinsville, I stopped in at a local convenience store to buy gas for my car. As I waited in line to pay, I saw something that truly dumbfounded me. A woman directly in front of me was cashing what I assumed to be her paycheck. It was somewhere in the vicinity of $150, as far as I could tell. She stepped up to the counter with two cases of beer. She requested the attendant to fetch her a case of cigarettes from behind the counter. She paid for her purchases with the paycheck, then promptly spent the rest of the money ... every single dollar ... on lottery tickets. I watched helplessly as she pocketed a stack of tickets and about fifty cents in change. She then took her beer, smokes, and lottery tickets and got into a car just outside the door of the store. Inside that car were four small children.

That's why we call the lottery the "stupid tax." Surely only sheer stupidity would lead someone to take such actions. Or is it something more?

You might ask, "What does the lottery have to do with the prosperity gospel?" I believe that it has a lot to do with it.

The lottery is, in my opinion, an unfair tax upon the poor. They are "mentally blackmailed" and duped into thinking that if they just keep playing ... just put a little more money in ... just one more ticket ... then they will be the big winner.

Now, stay with me. Who is, hands down, the most attracted to the prosperity, name-it-an-claim-it, you-deserve-it, God-wants-to-prosper-you "gospel?" The people who have little. The people who are seeking financial hope. The poor. Beyond the poor, such a "gospel" would only appeal to the truly greedy.

I believe that we have, in the prosperity "gospel," nothing more than a spiritual "lottery." If the people will just keep giving, keep supporting the "ministries" in faith, then one day they will hit the "Jesus jackpot" and be rolling in the dough. Because, after all, that's what these supposed "gospel" preachers are telling them.

But didn't Jesus say, "You will always have the poor among you...?" (John 12:8) And didn't Paul have an entire ministry among the Gentile believers to collect offerings for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem? What was wrong with those Jerusalem Christians? Didn't they have enough faith? They must not have given their "seed gift" in faith, or surely they would have been healthy and wealthy.

Here is reality: Some of the most joyful, most faithful believers that I ever met lived in huts made of sticks and cattle dung. I met them while serving short-term in Kenya. They had nothing in this world. Just a hut, a garden, a family, and a couple of cows. But they had everything they needed in Jesus Christ. They were the happiest, most fulfilled people I ever met. I have never seen such dedication and faith in the provision of God. The idea that they are poor because of some spiritual problem is preposterous.

The prosperity "gospel" is, in my view, a uniquely North American phenomenon. It is built upon the selfish premise that everything in the universe revolves around us. We are ridiculously pampered and spoiled. To think that the Creator of the universe is actually worried about the size of my house or my personal 401k is the ultimate intellectual and spiritual act of overblown, out of control self-indulgence.

Shame on those pastors and "ministries" that prey upon the hopes of the poor and profit from the uncontrolled self-centeredness of the American people. The prosperity "gospel" is no gospel at all. Surely these are the "wolves in sheep's clothing" that Jesus warned us about.

As we seek to grow the church and plant new churches, let's make sure we avoid this spiritually and morally bankrupt short-cut just to draw a crowd (and grow a bank account). Let's follow Jesus, who said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)


Anonymous GuyMuse said...

Overall, I agree with your post. For most of my life I have opposed lottery schemes.

However, in the country we serve, Ecuador, the whole lottery system is what supports hospitals for the poor, and a whole list of other social welfare services not covered by the government or the church. Without the lottery the poor here would be without any kind of help at all. So, as deceiving as it is and hurtful to those who can least afford it, at least here, the lottery returns to the masses of poor at least part of what is collected in the form of health services.

3:32 PM  

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