Exposing A spirit of religion

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Exposing Christianity Today's Article “How to Be at Peace and Get What You Want”

Imagine Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and shouting, “Come to me and get what you want!” You have got to be kidding. Is this how far the church has fallen away from the message of the forerunner, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”?

The problem with the article “How to Be at Peace and Get What You Want” is that the paradigm behind it is not aligned with the Gospel of Christ, His death on the cross, His resurrection power, and His victory available for all who hear and respond to what His Spirit is saying to the churches.

According to the author, getting what we want and being at peace comes in part from managing our expectations. This humanistic approach to the topic distorts the truth that peace comes from Christ through His well-message and not through managing well our expectations. What about the potential of our expectations to be transformed by the power of Christ, who has been given all power through His resurrection to clothe the body of our humble estate with glory? The old must die and the new is brought to life and made to stand under the authority of Jesus. This is what the author misses and one reason why this article is anemic to the health and wellbeing of Christians.

After the opening story about Colby, the author’s grandfather, the article states, “Most of us have a vision of what we think is absolutely necessary for us to be happy. As we have noted, there is a measure of truth in those beliefs. But the greater truth is that we can learn to live happily even if we are denied things we consider essential.” That sounds like we should learn to live happily even though we would really like things to be different, but according to Jesus, the issue of being happy is not about what we want. It is about doing the will of God.

The reign of Christ in our lives and thinking determines true happiness. Jesus taught this mentality through the beatitudes, as when He described as blessed or happy those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied. In other words, we who hunger after Christ will not be denied what we want because we desire what He wants for us. We need to ask Jesus to conform our wants to His will, so that the only thing we desire is what truly pleases Him. Inner change through the grace of God means we will not be denied, for our desires are being conformed to His will and not the world system.

Colby exhibited a stoic philosophy of life, but since the reader is not told until the end of the article that Colby was a Christian, the question arises whether the story is supposed to serve as an example of the Gospel of Christ or of a man’s good character despite his tragic loss. I am not willing to dismiss this distinction as inconsequential. While the apostle Paul determined to know nothing among those to whom he preached except for Christ and Him crucified, the article does not make it clear until its end why the accident did not embitter the grandfather toward life.

Why isn’t Christ front and center in the story of Colby? Was it merely an editing choice to leave out the name of Christ until the second page? Why is it that the reader does not learn until the conclusion of the article about the grandfather’s internal surrender to Jesus? Why, instead, does the article make the point that “we can learn to live happily even if we are denied things we consider essential”? This draws attention away from Christ as the center point of life, who alone provides the power to live pleasing to God. The introduction to the article wrongly puts man at the center of the equation rather than God Himself, the author of life and the only true source of peace and contentment.

Jesus would never have asked Himself how He might live happily despite His wanting to be being accepted by His people. He came to do the will of His heavenly Father. Neither should we as Christians replace obedience to the will of our heavenly Father with the focus on how to live happy here on earth.

The primary issue should not be learning how to live happily regardless of what our lot in life is. Believers in Jesus Christ are called to be continually developing an obedient relationship with God through Christ and to be discovering the purpose of God in the midst of sometimes-unexplainable events. God desires us to trust Him, to seek Him, to know Him, and be revealed as His true servants through Jesus His Son when He appears in glory.

That believers should focus on learning to live a happy life is ludicrous for an obedient servant of Jesus Christ. Our goal is not to seek happiness but to please God in all things. Experiencing the well-message of Christ produces happiness as a result of our living faithfully in Him. In the well-message of Christ, joy is a fruit of the Spirit, born from living life in the Spirit. We do not seek the fruit but rather the connection with God that will bear fruit that remains.

Secondly, the idea of our being denied what we might deem essential is misleading. The phrasing brings to mind a picture of God, blessed be His name, up in heaven deciding a particular person can no longer have the use of a leg or an arm. An alternative, but just as inadequate understanding, is that life happens, circumstances cause difficulties, and it is not God who denies us something. In other words, in the world sometimes bad things just happen to good people.

At issue is not whether or not we are being denied things we consider we must have. The key is to find Jesus in the midst of, or beyond our circumstances, and obey Him in all things, so that at any time, we are where He wants us to be, doing what He wants us to do, that we may be prepared for Christ to carry us up into heaven when He appears in glory whenever that may be. The goal is not to live happily on earth but to achieve the victory of Christ in all areas, complete the work God has called us to accomplish, and to walk in faithful obedience to His word to us in the world.

God has a purpose for everything that happens to us, for all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose. Jesus was rejected and crucified, the worst of bad things that could happen to a good person, though Jesus was and is much more than a good person. He is the Son of God, yet Israel’s rejection of Him was integral to God’s plan to deliver us from the power of sin and to destroy the works of the enemy, just as Israel’s Return to God through Christ is integral to His plan of salvation.

The article leaps from the grandfather’s loss of the possession of his leg to insatiable cravings, exemplified in long lists of things people own, which they consider important, including large quantities of clothing and means of entertainment. The connection between the two subjects is unwarranted because the values illustrated are fundamentally different. Losing a limb in an accident as a result of helping a neighbor is not the same as acquiring a large quantity of material possessions. In the first scenario, service to another caused the loss of a physical limb, whereas the accumulation of material things reflects consumerism.

Putting the well-message of Christ front and center would have united the opening story with the rest of the article, for walking in relationship with God through Christ makes it possible to be overcoming in every situation, whether that involves the loss of something or the desire for more.

The writer of the article again skirts the issue of the well-message of Christ when he says “We think it’s safe to assert that people-both women and men-in any developed society would recognize themselves in these concrete examples of “longing for more.” Without a conscious change of direction, this is where we live. But how can we move past our insatiable cravings to a genuine contentment?”

While change of direction is mentioned in passing, it is not followed by the centrality of the cross to unite us to God in the core of our being and the power of the well-message of Christ to transform us, our motives, and our desires. Instead the article glosses over our greatest need, the need to be transformed by God’s power in our Return to God, and rather introduces the question of how to move “past our insatiable cravings” as if essential change were not the answer. Can desire really be educated or practiced out of us? The cross of the Gospel of Christ is the answer, not any program of works. We must die to self and live to God, all through the grace of Christ.

The author goes on to suggest “genuine contentment” to replace the desire to accumulate more things, followed by practices to attain it, habits that help us grow in the experience of God’s love, including “participating in the life of the church”, where we can consistently learn of our purpose in Christ; personal prayer and Bible study; and connecting God’s love for us to a new thinking about money and possessions based on what the Bible teaches. Although this all sounds good, it again misses the mark.

Genuine contentment is a gift from God. It comes through the power of the Gospel, our being united to Christ and His well-message to us. True contentment will not come from anywhere else and certainly not by virtue of religious activities. The fact is that people attend church for years without being confronted with the need to change and overcome in the power of Christ. The truth is that in Him, and in Him only, all the pieces of life fit together perfectly to unite us to God’s purpose for our lives.

Christ alone is our hope. We need more than to learn about God’s purpose; Christ unites us to it and to God Himself. From Him and His leading come all things. In Him we live and move and have our being. The practices He desires for us are born of Christ and Him only. Actions come from our connection to God, that is, our Return to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. We must be careful not to place any activities, no matter how good they sound, on par with Christ and His well-message.

We must be careful not to deny Christ by thinking any system of works can bring contentment. The power of Christ is to know Him crucified, that we might know the power of His resurrection. If we rely on a program of works, we are communicating that Christ died for nothing, but He did not die in vain. He died to unite us to the Father. Jesus may lead us to do the works we did at the beginning before our fall from our first love for Him, but focusing on works to achieve contentment is just as bad as collecting shoes to be happy.

Again, we must be careful not to replace Christ and His well-message with religious activities. David Wilkerson warned about the anemic preaching of the Gospel. Holding to a form of godliness while denying its power exchanges God’s life-giving, world-transforming word into something less, mere suggestions for better living, and that is not the Gospel of salvation.

The author states that “The Bible resounds with encouragement for us to work hard to acquire what we need and to avoid the trap of believing that money or things will make us happy or content. It tells us to use and enjoy things without letting them cause us discontent.”

The first part of the first sentence, “The Bible resounds with encouragement for us to work hard to acquire what we need” contradicts the second part, “and to avoid the trap of believing that money or things will make us happy or content.” It is not true that the Bible encourages us to work hard to acquire what we need. Yes, the Bible encourages work, but Jesus clearly told us not to focus on working hard to meet our needs because He said that is what the nations do. We must not conform to the motives of nations under the authority of powers and principalities. The nations worry about what they should wear, but God our Father knows what we need. Instead, we are called to keep knocking, keep asking, and keep seeking the reign of Christ to put Him first.

When our hearts are true to God, every aspect of our lives can be brought into alignment with His reign. Proverbs says the Lord gives riches and adds no sorrow to it. The guaranteed way to experience sorrow is to focus on meeting our own needs rather than making Christ and His reign our priority and trusting the Father, who will add to us all the things we need. When all we do is in obedience to His will, material possessions will not witness against us through discontent.

The author’s next line says the Bible “tells us to use and enjoy things without letting them cause us discontent.” This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. True, all good things come from above and God has given us all good things to enjoy, but contentment comes from Christ and His well-message. It is not derived from us or from our commitment not to let material things cause us discontent or control us. We can desire that materialism not grip us, but Christ provides the only victory.

Either we are on the throne of our lives or Jesus is. We cannot have it both ways. Christ’s lordship is over all material things and material things find their rightful place under His reign in our lives. Christ has triumphed by the cross over all the principalities that once reigned over humanity through sin. We are freed from their authority and are under no obligation to live by principles of the world that can only bind and never set free.

The author describes contentment as coming from inward surrender to God and not through outward circumstances. He provides Paul as an example, implying that Paul was not yet surrendered until he went through the process of want and abundance. This reveals a flawed view of sanctification. Sanctification and surrender are not synonymous. Christ learned obedience through the things He suffered, and all would agree He continually lived surrendered to God. Paul’s obedience taught him Christ’s contentment. The issue was not Paul becoming more surrendered but continuing in obedience no matter what the situation.

The surrender road is a dead end. Christ is both the beginning and the end of righteousness to all who believe, in whom we live and move and have our being. We are only able to obey God through the will of His Son Jesus and through His well-message.

A western mindset may characterize coming to realize that Christ infuses His strength into us as riding a rollercoaster, but this thinking would be foreign to a Jew and particularly to a rabbi such as Paul. Jews regard descent or experiencing troubles as part of the process of knowing God and His salvation, as, for example, when Abraham descended into Egypt after receiving God’s promise. God uses circumstances to draw us to Himself. We get to know Christ, His transforming power, and His grace in times of blessing as well as when we carry the cross through difficulties.

The author says, “Sometimes contentment and peace come by managing our expectations”, but this thinking can also be a trap. The article goes on with the story of a woman with Down syndrome, and though the story is meaningful and heartfelt, the author’s use of it misses the point. The story is used to illustrate the value of not wanting more than is realistic for a person, of the need to manage our expectations, and the importance of settling into our place in life as what it takes to live in peace. Though there is some truth to this, it is also deceptive. As the author says, peace comes from Christ, but the story and its unintended implications cloud that message.

Does contentment with my lot in life mean that if I have yet to begin a business that I should not do so? Who is to say what is realistic for a certain individual? A person with Down syndrome is given grace for his or her situation, but each of us has been given a unique grace to be used with the measure of faith God has also given to each of us. What if God wants a person to leave all and preach the Gospel in a foreign country? What if God by His grace desires to develop skills we may not yet have realized? If a person sees his or her abilities and resources as limited, if they focus on managing expectations rather than trusting in Christ for all things, then he or she could actually miss out on the opportunities for growth that God may have planned.

The teaching that managing expectations is a means of contentment is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The well-message of Jesus includes contentment and satisfaction with our relationship with God. It involves discovering His power in life in contrast to our perceived limitations. Whatever the Lord leads us to do, we must do, whether that draws us out of our comfort zones or conforms to the status quo.

On the other hand, it is also anti-Gospel to think that we have no limitations and we can be like a god if we just get in line with universal principles, dream big, and achieve our goals. We must be careful not to allow any of the philosophies of this world to go unchecked by the Gospel of Christ or to supplant it.

One implication of the final story of the article is that God, blessed be His name, desires us to want less. This misses the power of the cross and resurrection. We are called to die to ourselves and live to God, to be transformed by His grace and power to bring glory and honor to Him. He changes us by implication of obedience to His will and purpose in our lives, not through believing that resources in life are limited and that our lives are also limited. God wants us to be the productive and profitable servants He is calling us to be. We have been given eternal life, and God desires us to bear fruit for eternity.

Everything we could ever need and want comes out of our Return to God through His Son Jesus Christ, abiding in Him and His well-message to us. God does not want us to discover our limits to make us content. That thinking does not even appear sensible.

The Lord leads us in obedience in order to bless us and expand His reign in and through our lives. There is no end to His Kingdom. Our sense of wanting more should only lead us to Him. We as overcomers are granted our portion of the tree of life in the paradise of God, and that tree continuously bears fruit. Our contentment and our peace remain in our expanding connection to His reign in our lives, His reign in heaven, and our extending His reign upon the earth. Doing God’s will by His grace makes us happy because we are doing what He wants, not pursuing how to get what we want.

GOD'S MIGHTY STRENGTH

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Belt of Truth

Respect for the place God has given each of us in His plan, we live and speak the truth in love.

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Shield of Faith

Faith and trust, believing and trusting God, walking habitually with God through fellowship with His Son Jesus the Messiah.

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Sword of the Spirit

Although No one truly understand the ways of God, He knows the beginning through the end and He gives us grace to obey what He says.

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Helmet of Salvation

Central to a life lived obeying, Christ’s death and resurrection unites us to God and each other. His love and compassion extends to each person.

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Breastplate of Righteousness

Living clothed with Christ’s righteousness. God gives us His grace to do His will with integrity.

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Sandaled With the Message of Peace

Knowing in the deepest heart that all is only by grace, we offer peace with God through Christ alone, the message of well-being.

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Praying and Watching

Pray God’s word into every nation, every people. Be vigilant to persevere and petition. May the greatest revival sweep the earth for the glory of Christ.

Victory

Having Done Everything To Stand

By Christ, His people are victorious through the power of His Name. His blessings are made reality in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

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