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Grace Preachers List II

I have made a list of the recommendations of various people and ministries that preach a pure-grace message. I have not gone through all of these myself as yet, but I thought I would post them up here for people to check out for themselves. This list follows on from my previous Grace Preachers List.

1. Faith Ministries International Network
http://www.fmin.org/

2. Safe Harbour Network
http://www.safeharbornetwork.org/

3. Impact Ministries (Jim Richards)
http://www.impactministries.com/

4. Dan Thompson
http://www.fbfc.us/

5. Kingdom Life Ministries (Arthur Meintjes)
http://www.kingdomlifeministry.com/

6. Allen Speegle
http://www.fambible.org/

7. FMCI Denver, CO. USA (Dave Duell)
http://www.faithministries.ws/

8. Gene Michelsen Ministries
http://www.gmmin.net/

9. Bradley Dearlove
http://www.thexpoint.com/

10. Bill Johnson
http://www.ibethel.org/

11. Impact Christian Center, Colorado Springs, CO. USA.
http://www.impactcenter.org/

New Testament Tithing

Is Ten Percent Wrong?

“New Testament Tithing” – this sounds like a contradiction in terms to the radical grace-believer.  There does seem to be some controversy when it comes to Christians paying tithes.  But I don't think there is anything wrong with giving ten percent of your income to the church, as long as you are led by the Spirit to do so. Basically, all of our giving should be according to 2 Corinthians 9:7.

7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

So, if a person has a certain sum of money in their heart which they know is from God to give to the church, then they should go with that. It just might be that God says to give 'X' amount of pounds which just so happens to be ten percent of their income.

I think many of us grace-believers have a sneaky suspicion that some grace believers give ten percent of their income to the church, because that's what the Bible says about Old Testament giving i.e. Tithe being ten percent. Although, they will tell you that they are giving freely.  Perhaps there's a bit of grace 'n' law present there!

But, if a person's argument supporting their ten percent offering is some Old Testament, law-based verse of scripture such as Malachi 3:10, arguing that everybody should give as they do - then something is wrong.

Offerings with No Sticks and No Carrots!

What really irks me about preaching on tithes and offerings is when there is a threat, implied or expressed otherwise, if the person does not give ten percent or more. I also don't like it when they say something like, "You don't have to give - but you have an opportunity to give and you'll be missing out if you don't!" Then, they'll say, "Make sure you don't give to get! God's not a slot-machine, you know!" There should be no carrot-and-stick approach to Biblical prosperity whatsoever. God provides for us based on His love for us - nothing more, nothing less.

There's nothing wrong with paying ten percent of your income to the church and there's nothing wrong with the law - the law is good. But it's just when these things become a duty, a standard to fulfil - that's when they become wrong. It's all about motive.

Offerings and “The Fear-Factor”

The “Fear-Factor” has got to be taken away when it comes to serving in church, living right and not sinning, as well as giving offerings. This reminds me of an excellent blog entry entitled The Fear of Sinning that gives an analogy of the fears being taking away in relation to sin and the way it gives people confidence towards God and everyday life.

In the same way that this link relates to sin - we need to have the same attitude towards offerings. We need to know that God will not punish us and that we won't be cursed if we don't tithe.

According to His Good Opinion

One of the most quoted verses of scripture in relation to divine provision is Philippians 4:19.

19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

The Greek word translated “glory” in this verse is doxa (G1391), which has a three-fold meaning depending on the context of a verse:

  1. Opinion, judgment, view (e.g. John 5:44). Note: sometimes this word is translated “honour” in the New Testament.
  2. Splendour, brightness (e.g. Revelation 21:23, 2 Corinthians 4:4).
  3. A most glorious condition, most exalted state. (e.g. Mark 13:26, Titus 2:13). Note: sometimes this word is translated “glorious” in the New Testament.

Philippians 4:19 cannot be using the Greek word doxa (G1391) in relation to the brilliance and splendour of our Lord Jesus Christ. It must be the good opinion that God has of us because He sees our faith in His beloved Son Jesus Christ – Hallelujah!

God does not provide for His children according to merit, according to our tithes and offerings. No, God provides for us and prospers us according to His love for us – not because we love Him and try to prove it by our works.

1 John 4:19 says that we love Him because He first loved us. If the meaning of this verse is not immediately apparent, look at the way some of the modern translations render this verse:

19 So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first.

1 John 4:19 TLB

19 We have the power of loving, because he first had love for us.

1 John 4:19 BBE

We know God loves us because He sent Jesus Christ to die for us – when we did not deserve such a sacrifice.

8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:8 TLB

8 But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

Romans 5:8 msg

Be As Little Children

Jesus Himself said that we are to be as little children (Matthew 18:3). This means we are to have a child-like faith. The term “child-like” seems to imply a simplicity and unwavering trust – like that of a small child trusting in its father for provision. A child does not attempt to seek provision, such as food and clothing, from its father, based on works or merit.

9 "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"

Luke 11:9-13

Why is it then that some Christians hold to the belief that they can only receive from God according to how much they give in the offering basket? Why, it is like a child that asks its father for an egg – to be told that it first must tidy its bedroom or wash its father’s car!

I recall a message from Andrew Wommack on this subject. Andrew used the analogy of a small child being carried in the arms of its father. Such a child would not be continually praying, “Thank you father that you won’t drop me father. I trust that you’ll continue to carry me father…” Similarly, we should not make a work out of faith when it comes to receiving basic material provision from our Father who loves us.

If we have a need then we ought to be able to trust in our Father in Heaven who gives us all good things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

Guilt and Condemnation

The most harmful aspect of sin for a Christian is likely to be the sense of guilt and condemnation that it brings. If a believer forms a moral code by which he lives by, if he does not adhere closely to that list, he is likely to experience guilt and condemnation.

If a believer is taught that the only way he can be blessed by God is if he remains sin free – he will live with a sense of an impending curse whenever he does something wrong. This conviction does not come from the Holy Spirit – it comes from the believer himself. The Bible says that the only sin the Holy Spirit convicts the world of – is not believing in Jesus:

7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

John 16:7-11

In the future, when you sin, and you will sin, just notice the way that you react when you do. Do you get anxious about it? Do you feel guilty and ashamed? Do you believe that the more guilty you feel then the more you will please God with your attitude? Do you wrack your brains trying to figure out why you did it and what you can do in the future to prevent it from happening again? Do you wonder how long God will put up with your behaviour? Do you wonder whether or not God will curse you?

If so, then don’t.

Punishment for Sin or Natural Consequences?

Jesus has dealt with sin once and for all; He paid the price to set us free from the slavery to sin and the punishment of sin:

24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.

1 Peter 2:24

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:13-14

Does this mean that we should continue sinning? What sins are believers “allowed” to get away with committing?

If Jesus has set us free from sin and its consequences, one of the biggest considerations when it comes to sinning is the affect our actions will have on ourselves and others. Some believers might ask, “Well, is it alright to steal?” The Ten Commandments say that we should not steal.

Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf so that we don’t have to. But if we steal then because there are laws in place, the law-of-the-land, which prohibit us from doing so. Therefore, there are often natural consequences when we sin. A believer could tell the story of how these negative consequences mean that he is being punished by God for his sins.

The truth of the matter is that there is no punishment for sins: Jesus bore your sins and the punishment for those sins – on the cross! Jesus took away your sin so that there is no longer any sin for the Father to see (Matthew 26:28).

If a person sins and suffers negative consequences as a result, it is not because he is being cursed; it is because he is experiencing the natural consequences for his actions.

The Ten Commandments say that a man should not commit adultery. There is no law against adultery is there? However, adultery can become legal grounds for a divorce. In relation to adultery, we ought to consider the affect an affair will have on our own family and that of the other person. Is it worth risking a family break-up just for an affair which won’t bring you satisfaction anyway? Think of the affect it will have on your children and the money you might have to pay for an acrimonious divorce and the alimony you might have to pay.

Anything that is not according to God’s will for your life will not satisfy you. This is one of the best ways in which we can know the will of God for our lives. It is common sense really.

You Cannot Sin if you are in Christ

Did you know that if you are in Christ – you cannot sin? Yes, that’s right – you cannot sin! Hallelujah! Don’t just take my word for it – look to the scriptures and see for yourself:

9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

1 John 3:9

9 The person who has been born into God's family does not make a practice of sinning because now God's life is in him; so he can't keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into him and controls him--he has been born again.

1 John 3:9 TLB

9 People conceived and brought into life by God don't make a practice of sin. How could they? God's seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It's not in the nature of the God-begotten to practice and parade sin.

1 John 3:9 MSG

This verse does not say that believers in Christ should not sin – it says they cannot sin. It is no longer a case of trying to keep rules and do good works in our own effort; no, it is all about receiving the new nature that God has now imparted to us, because of what Christ has done for us.

Now, the only commandment that we need to keep is that we abide in love (John 13:34).

Many Christians find this obligation very difficult. They need not because the Bible says that they are not burdensome (see Matthew 11:30, 1 John 5:3). God has already imparted His love to our spirits (Romans 5:5).

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we have been made a new creation: we have literally been re-created in the likeness of Christ; our old nature has been stripped away, our sins done away with (Romans 6:6-7).

We have been made partakers of the divine nature by faith:

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

2 Peter 1:2-4

Depression in Relation to Grace

I recently became a friend of Fred Pruitt on Facebook. I have been reading some of his articles, some of which cover the subject of depression. This subject is dear to my heart because I have suffered from depression for as long as I have known now. But having read through some of the articles on Fred’s website, the Single Eye, in the section on Miscellaneous Articles on Union - I have been finding confirmation of some concepts which I have been contemplating for a while now.

I am going to make it my objective now to continue to read through these excellent articles by Fred Pruitt and some other mutual grace-believing friends. I feel that this could be the catalyst to my growth in grace and ascension to another level of understanding.

The irony of all of this is that it has probably been my desire to figure things out, the reason why things happen the way they do, which has caused my depression in the first place.

Self-Control in the Church

My struggle with depression has set me on a life-long quest for answers and self-discovery. I found that I was disappointed with the teaching in church for quite a while as it just seemed to give people rules and platitudes that did not empower them in any way at all. Despite this, Christians seemed to merrily go their way, “applying” the teaching they received in church and keeping themselves busy with church routines and duties. During this transition time in my life – I felt like I was going crazy, because I did not know about what had come to be known as the Grace Message. I honestly thought that I was the only one who had doubts about the accepted church system

I feel what really annoyed me with the church was that there seemed to be some people who could keep a subset of rules or works to an extent whereby they praised themselves, and others praised them, for being spiritual, holy, dedicated and all those other labels that Christians love so much.

I have come to experience that to a great extent, things just tend to happen. We just like to think that we had something to do with it. I would say that this comes down to a establishing a sense of self-security and self-reliance. If a person loses that dependence on self – they are likely to be thrown into a state of panic.

Sure, Christians love to go to church on a Sunday and go through the typical routine of telling everyone how they sacrifice their lives to Jesus and that they’re going all out for God and so on. But the truth of the matter is: to a great extent, they have been subconsciously conditioned to depend on what they have and what they do. It comes back to the concept of the Sunday worshipper Christian who goes through the motions on a Sunday, but in every other way, lives their lives just like anyone else.

It is only when that safety-net of security has been taken away, that we can really enter into an intimate relationship with God, knowing that He is the source of our life and strength. Perhaps this concept of self-reliance is what Jesus meant when He referred to believers, in the Parable of the Sower, not having a “root” in them? See Matthew 13:21.

I would say that I have been living the Romans 7:15 scenario in my life for as long as I have known. Time and again, I would hold a sentiment in my mind, telling myself what I should, or must, do – only to find that I end-up doing something completely different! I can tell you – it is extremely frustrating when this happens. If this happens a consistently over time – is destroys a person’s sense of self-reliance and self-control – leading to a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Despite this, even though Christians know they cannot keep the rules imposed on them by people in and out of the church – they still subject themselves to guilt, shame and rules they cannot keep. The idea is that one day they will eventually make it – if they just turn up to church and get shamed enough from the pulpit, or if they read the right book or pray the right prayer or whatever.

Church and the Want for Approval

The want for approval is a key factor in the behaviour of people. People can be subconsciously motivated to do things they don’t really want to do, but feel they ought to do – if they believe that doing those things will make them accepted by other people.

I see this concept playing itself out in the church over and over again. This is why the message of no-condemnation and justification by faith, not works, is so vital to personal freedom. If believers are always doing works to be accepted by God and others people – it contradicts the concept of righteousness by faith alone. It seems that the ability to do works and keep rules is something of a safety net which some believers still rely on in order to feel accepted by God. If a person knows they are accepted by God, then they at once feel assured that their life will go well for them and that they are reserved a place in Heaven when they die.

I suppose some pastors are reluctant to share the message of grace, because they feel their congregation would cease from their efforts to modify their behaviour, suppress their negative feelings and would probably quit most of the routines and duties which they perform in the church. But it is essential that people live their lives in freedom without the threat of condemnation from God and ex-communication from the church. Otherwise, what these people do in the name of “serving God” – will be nothing more than desperate attempts to be accepted.

Powerlessness Leads to Anxiety

I think it has been my sense of powerlessness to control my environment, which led to anxiety. Anxiety occurs when a person strives to figure things out – but fails to establish a solution or a reason why things have happened as they have. Depression, being a sense of heaviness and deadness, seems to be the inevitable result of anxiety.

I feel that my depression and anxiety have enabled me to come to the realisation that I simply cannot control my life. I have noticed that most happy individuals still hold on to the notion that they are actually in control of their lives. If people would just come to realise that they are not in control of their lives – it would refute, once and for all, the ridiculous idea that people only need to know what is right, wrong, good or bad – in order to live right and achieve great things in life.

As soon as a Christian begins to pride himself on his ability to keep rules – it is the start of a slippery slope into the abyss known as human pride. The Pharisees were the religious elite of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were just like some of the Christians we see in the church today: they kept the rules (well, they appeared to), they observed the traditions and the rituals – they appeared to be what we would think Jesus wants Christians to be like. Despite these facts – Jesus was always at odds with the Pharisees – He called them a “brood of vipers” in Matthew 12:34. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. We tend to forget that these were the people who seemed to be keeping all the rules – just like some Christians today.

25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:25-28 NKJV

Control through Word of Faith

When a depressed and frustrated individual comes accept Christ as Lord of their life, they are eager to learn of ways in which they can control their lives in relation to their behaviour, circumstances and perhaps even – other people. It is for this reason why Word of Faith and prosperity teaching is so enticing: Christians love the idea that they can name-it-and-claim-it in relation to something they believe they must have or do in order to be happy and to be accepted by God and other people.

Christians eagerly look for verses of scripture that they can “stand on” in order to hold God to some sort of promise. What we tend to do is to bring all of our insecurities and fantasies to God in a vain attempt to get Him to agree with us and to rubber-stamp our deluded wishes.

Not all of our desires are fantasies and many of us have dreams that are in fact a part of the vision of a great life that God has for us. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that not everything that we feel we must have which comes to mind – is from God, and is therefore, a legitimate goal.

Tithes and offerings are another area where we tend to try to control God. Word of Faith holds to the concept of sowing and reaping: meaning that the more money you give to the church – the more God will return to you. This belief has been exploited by church pastors, some of whom have created mega-churches and become rich as a result of confused and desperate Christian giving away money they cannot afford, with the belief that God will bless them as a result.

The truth of the matter is that the curse of the law has been done away with – Christ having become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So the concept that God will curse Christian if they do not tithe – is not scripturally accurate in relation to the New Testament. Tithing, just like the curse of the law, is an Old Testament concept which has now been done away with. Well, to be exact: Jesus did not come to destroy the Old Testament Law – but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).

We must consider the fact that when we attempt to get back into keeping rules and doing works in order to gain God’s favour – we are in essence bringing ourselves back under the Old Covenant; it is as if we have switched covenants when we mistakenly believe that we must keep rules. No-one can be justified by the law. Therefore, when a Christian believes they have to do works and keep rules to be accepted by God – they risk bringing the curse of the law upon themselves.

Conditioning and Control

What I think has really helped me to understand something about myself in relation to human behaviour, circumstances and beliefs – is the concept of conditioning. I wrote about this in my recent blog entries, under the titles:

Conditioning is the Psychological study into the way in which behaviour is established in humans and animals. These modes of behaviour are established through the creation of sets of beliefs, in relation to their experience and interpretation of, and perhaps interaction with, the environment around them.

As I wrote in my previous blog entries on the subject of conditioning: what determines our behaviour and belief system to a large extent – is our perception of what happens around us and how we correlate that to our behaviour.

But a lot of what happens in our lives is actually random. Alright, I would actually say that God knows exactly what happens to us and what will happen in the future. I suppose that God knows exactly how we will react to a given set of circumstances and how that will effect us physically, mentally and emotionally. God knows whether a set of circumstances will weaken or strengthen certain beliefs that we hold onto. God knows what circumstances are required in order to make us become the person He wants, or allows, us to become.

God knows if the things that happen in our lives will contribute towards us become secure or insecure people. See my previous blog post entitled Security versus Insecurity for a comparison between the attributes of a secure person and insecure person.

When something happens in our lives that we think is “bad” or “wrong” – if we are insecure, we can become anxious about it as we try to determine why that thing happened, what it means and how we can overcome it and percent it happening again. But this response to other circumstances of our environment simply gets us into wanting to be in control of our lives. God is in control of our lives.

We can begin to doubt God’s love for us, our right-standing with Him or even our salvation – according to what happens to us or doesn’t happen to us; or what we do or don’t do in relation to a particular situation. This, I believe, is what leads to depression and anxiety. The likelihood is that the things that make people anxious in life – have very little to do with their rule-keeping, works, sin and behaviour.

Something good might happen in our life and we then convince ourselves and other people how that good thing occurred as a result of our prayer, hard-work, morality, intelligence, kindness, good personality, church offerings and so on.

Something bad might happen in our life and we tell the story about how it happened because we sinned, did not give enough money to the church, aren’t good enough, did not work hard enough, did not pray enough and so on.

The truth of the matter is that these things actually have very little bearing on what happens to us in life. But I suppose we still attach to these beliefs because it gives us a sense of control over our lives.

The Power of Prayer

“What?”, I hear you cry, “Don’t you believe in the power of prayer?”  I do believe in the power of prayer.  Actually, this may be a shocker for some – but the power is not in our prayer, neither is it in our faith – the power is to be found in the precious blood of Jesus Christ which is what gives us access to the presence of God.  Prayer is what takes our focus away from ourselves and our weaknesses, and onto God and His grace:

5 "And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 6 "Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. 7 "The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 8 Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need.

Matthew 6:5-8 msg

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 1:3 that God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing!  Therefore, it is absurd to believe that God rewards our efforts in some way.

16 For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift.

John 1:16 AMP

Conclusion

We are to reach a place, I believe, in which we become non-reactionary; totally accepting ourselves, life and other people – just as they are; we are to avoid seeking to figure out why things happen the way they do and what we can do to change them. We are to accept that we are powerless to control our lives and to stop sinning in our own effort. Rather than becoming frustrated with other people and the circumstances of our lives – we are to accept life as it is. Acceptance is, I believe, the key to happiness in life and the key to an intimate relationship with God.

Faith is actually trust in God through the message of the Gospel of Christ. No matter what happens or does not happen in our lives – we should hold fast to the belief that we are right with God regardless of our behaviour; knowing that Christ is our righteousness; knowing that God is not mad with us; knowing that God loves us the way we are. This assurance of righteousness is what paves the way for our total acceptance of ourselves and other people.

Articles on Depression

Here are a couple of relevant articles regarding depression, a sense of powerlessness and the need for self-acceptance - written by Fred Pruitt:

I recommend that you read through more of Fred’s articles which can be found here.

Fred Pruitt also contributes to another website called Christ As Us.

I was recently read an article on the Christ As Us website which was written by Watchman Nee, entitled Boasting In Our Weakness. This is a fantastic article which covers the subject of accepting ourselves just as we are, even if we experience weakness and inability to do what we have been told is right.

I recently read a note on Facebook which was taken from an article written by Brian Coatney entitled I Don’t Give a Damn If I’m Depressed. This article focuses on the importance of self-acceptance.

Here is the same article in PDF format.

There is also another link to this note, which has been included in a blog entry by a fellow grace believing friend, which can be found here.

Derren Brown on Conditioning and Superstition

The U.K. mind trickster, illusionist and show-man Derren Brown, in his T.V. series, Trick or Treat, re-created a veritable human Skinner Box, based on experiments by the Psychologist B.F. Skinner. This, he reasoned, was to prove the way in which superstition is established.

The following is a quote from the following website:

http://www.rmjs.co.uk/db/tv02g.htm

• Programme Six Series Finale: Friday 6 June (C4) and Saturday 7 June (E4), 2008

o All of the participants in the series meet to celebrate the end of the series, but DB explains they are to participate in a "sociological experiment designed to unlock the irrational mindset behind superstitious thinking".

o They are told they have to earn 100 points within 30 minutes to open the door and win the named bundles of £500 appear outside the door. The room contains a variety of objects. The participants start moving things around and a display shows their points increasing.

o DB explains that the experiment is based on B F Skinner's experiments into behaviour in the 1960s. He shows footage of Skinner's experiment with pigeons in which they are rewarded with food during the course of the experiment. The pigeons believed that the food was delivered in response to them repeating certain actions when the food was, in fact, delivered at random. This led to the pigeons simply repeating behaviour for no purpose. Skinner explained this as has superstition works where humans make false connections between cause and effect. DB explains the the participants' score is increasing a result of a pair of goldfish's movements in a tank.

o DB discusses superstition with Joey, an applicant for the programme, and during their conversation at DB's instruction she does several superstitious things (walking under ladders, breaking a mirror, opening an umbrella inside, etc.). At their destination they play a game in which she is blindfolded and has to throw a dart at a deck of cards which have been arranged on the wall; if she wins she gets a bottle of champagne. She names a card (QH) and throws the dart. It lands in the QH and she wins the champagne. On the bottle there is a note which tells her she has won £50 if she got the dart in the circle. She removes the QH and it is the only card with writing on the back: there is a circle and the dart has landed in the circle.

o Return to the participants who are still trying to work out, unsuccessfully, what is causing their score to increase.

o The participants are shown again now 15 minutes into the experiment. DB shows that after 5 minutes of the experiment he revealed another sign on the roof telling them that the doors were unlocked and they could walk out and collect £150,000. They, however, are still to intent on trying to work out how to increase their score to see the sign.

Conditioning and Superstition

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning occurs when an observable stimulus does not exist, the absence of such, produces a particular response in an organism in order to acquire something. This is non-reflexive behaviour. In other words, a person or animal will interact with the environment in an effort to establish what it is that it needs to do in order to get its needs met.

B.F. Skinner’s Experiments

The psychologist B.F. Skinner formulated his theory on operant conditioning by creating experiments whereby he could observe the behaviour of laboratory animals. Skinner's work was influenced by Pavlov’s experiments and the ideas of John Watson, father of behaviourism.

skinner_box

One of Skinner’s classic experiments would be to put a rat in a box, called a Skinner Box, in which it eventually accidentally presses a lever which dispenses a food pellet. After repeating this process several times, the rat eventually learns that it can cause a food pellet to be dispensed by pressing the lever. At this point the rat has been operantly conditioned because even after the food dispenser has been disconnected, the rat still presses the lever in anticipation of receiving further food pellets.

Skinner found that once the rat had been operantly conditioned, the behaviour could be reinforced by dispensing a food pellet in response to the lever pressing on an intermittent basis – this is called partial reinforcement. Skinner experimented with different types of partial reinforcement such as dispensing pellets after a fixed interval of say a minute or dispensing a pellet according to a fixed rate such as every twenty presses of the lever.

Unlike Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning, where an existing behaviour (salivating for food) is shaped by associating it with a new stimulus (ringing of a bell or a metronome), operant conditioning is the rewarding of an act that approaches a new desired behaviour.

Videos of Operant Conditioning Experiments

Short videos of a rat in a Skinner Box, pushing a lever to dispense a food pellet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQtDTdDr8vs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl7jr9EVcjI

A video of a Skinner interview showing operant conditioning with pigeons. Discusses schedules of reinforcement:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ctJqjlrHA

Conditioning and Superstition

B.F. Skinner also formulated a theory about how superstitions are formed. Skinner experimented with dispensing food pellets to pigeons on a random basis. The pigeons, however, were convinced that it was their behaviour which led to the pellet being dispensed. Skinner noted that the pigeons that were conditioned in this way, would exhibit predictable patterns of behaviour as a result of formulating a connection between their behaviour and the dispensation of the food pellet.

This type of conditioning also lends itself to human behaviour. It would seem that human beings are always trying to determine the means by which they can control their environment through their behaviour. So if a person walks under a ladder and something falls on their head, they can relate that unfortunate experience with the “bad luck” that is associated with their behaviour i.e. walking under a ladder. The fact that something bad happened because they walked under a ladder, had a rather obvious and practical reason associated with it because of the safety issue that the ladder presented.

Superstition is also associated with more impractical and random occurrences. For instance, a person might see a black cat and minutes later they find they have lost their purse or wallet. This person might not yet associate that bad experience with the sighting of the black cat. The same person could then see a black cat again and minutes later their mobile phone rings with someone on the end of the line giving them some bad news. After a few such random occurrences, a person could become convinced that black cats are a bad omen.

With this concept of conditioning in mind, we can see the various instances in which people become conditioned to behave in a certain way because of the belief formulated by the occurrence of random events.

I am certain that God also tests us in this manner and this concept certainly has its application in the life of the Christian. Some Christians don’t like the concept of being tested by God, and therefore, we shall say that God allows Christians to go through certain experiences.

Elijah’s Supernatural Experiences

I personally believe that one of the best illustrations of this testing is found in the story of Elijah when he was running away from Jezebel and he saw all sorts of supernatural happenings such as fire, wind and an earthquake – yet he did not get carried away with trying to fathom their symbolic meaning and purpose.

Instead of straining himself to try and work out what God was saying to him through the supernatural occurrences, Elijah just chose to ignore them whilst remaining quiet on the inside, listening for God’s direction.

I think some Christians get carried away with reading into the symbolic meaning behind random events and circumstances. Those who are accustomed to being led by the Spirit of God, such as Elijah, become acutely aware of when God is speaking to them and when He is not. It is only the Christians who are struggling to be led by God who anxiously seek to find the relevance and purpose in almost every little random thing that happens in their life.

Superstition in the Church

A Christian could do something that he knows is sinful like looking at a woman to lust after her or swearing. Then, something bad happens to him – perhaps he has a car accident or misses the bus. Straightaway, the Christian makes the association with the bad thing happening and the sin that he committed. The bad thing that happened, although a random occurrence, was seen as a punishment from God when it was nothing of the sort.

These superstitions are rife in the church and lend themselves to the perpetuation of wrong beliefs and false doctrine, handed down from other Christians, which is nothing more than a paranoid fear in response to random occurrences. When something bad happens, this will be attributed to sin or a lack of prayer, giving, works, etc.

Superstition and the Tithe

Another area, in which Christians can become operantly conditioned, is in the area of tithes and offerings. If a Christian struggles financially, he could be told by other, well-meaning Christians that he is being cursed by God because he does not pay a tithe to the church. The accepted idea is that if a Christian pays a tithe to the church, then God will rebuke the devourer and will pour out a blessing, according to Malachi 3:10-12.

If a Christian is desperate to be blessed, he might end-up paying a tithe, albeit begrudgingly, with the misguided notion that God will open the windows of heaven and pour out such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. Then, if he pays his tithe and still does not get blessed – he will be told to be patient, or will be told he does not have enough faith, or that he must increase his giving, or will be asked if there is hidden sin in his life, etc.

The truth about the tithe is that the tithe was a commandment established in the Old Testament. The modern day church has taken Malachi 3:8-10 and made it into another rule for Christians to keep. The tithe actually related to food, not money, that a person was to bring into the storehouse. The tithe harkens back to the days in which Israel gave a tenth of their yield to the Levitical priests who looked after the priestly duties and were not hunter-gatherers. The concept of the tithe has been transposed in modern times to relate to pastors of churches who require the donations of the congregation to operate effectively and to fund the various programs of expansion that they have.

Punishment from God or Consequences of Resisting God?

Sometimes God does seem to punish Christians for their sin, but it is usually sin in the context of their propensity to do a certain thing rather than the actual sinful action which they commit. It is more about living according to the consequences of their disposition, their disposition being the accumulation of their beliefs, desires, attitudes, motives and patterns of thinking.

If God wants a believer to do something nice for a person who has offended them, then God is likely to be resisted by the pent up feelings of bitterness and resentment that a person has towards another person - If the believer has such an inclination towards being easily offended.

If a person walks in love towards others he will naturally flow with God according to His will, making himself better able to cooperate with God when it comes to getting his own needs met.

The Bible tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The Bible also tells us that the law, which brought condemnation, has been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). So you see, it is not as if God is punishing believers for their wrong behaviour – it is more a matter of being able to respond correctly to the instructions of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Bible tells us that as we sow that shall we reap, this could be seen as being punishment from God, but really, it is simply reaping the consequences of our own actions more than anything else.

If Christians get carried away with the concept of punishment for their sins, it distracts them from the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins, once and for all on the cross. This idea of sowing and reaping, sin and punishment, can lead the believer to identify all sorts of rather innocent things as being sinful, due to an association with random occurrences.

Galatians 6:8 contrasts sowing to the flesh against sowing to the spirit: one brings corruption (separation from God and self-reliance), whilst the other brings everlasting life (the presence of God). Sowing and reaping really comes down to how much we are able to yield our spirit as a vessel of the Holy Spirit for His use.

When Christians Get Blessed

When believers get blessed they can relate it to something good they have done an act of servanthood in the church or perhaps simply a reward for their diligent efforts to keep rules. This reinforces the notion that a person has to perform in order to be rewarded. We tend to carry that notion into the church with us when we get saved – it is the classic concept of effort-and-reward that exists in all of us.

This idea lends itself to Christians who force themselves to make all sorts of efforts to serve God, with the motive of becoming acceptable to God so that they can get their basic needs met and live a peaceable existence.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in the power of prayer. But I also believe that many Christians become encouraged to pray incorrectly. All sorts of prayer methodologies can be formulated in this manner. A believer could pray regularly for something, perhaps the salvation of a loved one, and then months later that person gives their life to the Lord. Convinced that it was their diligent prayer that got the person saved, the believer could then continue to pray in the same manner for someone else to get saved – even though the prayer could be rather unscriptural and fruitless. I have heard believers tell the story of how a loved one has come to faith in Christ, because they prayed for their salvation for eleven years.

If a Christian prays for someone who is admitted to hospital for some reason, then after a period of time the person gets better and is discharged from hospital. The praying Christian could then cite his prayers as being the reason why the person got better - despite the fact that it was simply down to the medical treatment that the person received whilst in hospital.

There is also a more obvious factor to consider: if a person commits to a certain pattern of behaviour, such as cigarette smoking, he will risk facing predictable and unpleasant consequences. The health risks associated with smoking are not punishment from God, as such, but simply the natural consequences of the person’s actions.

But again, behaviour is largely governed by the beliefs, desires and attitudes of a person. We see evidence in scripture of the concept of the sinful nature opposing the divine nature, in Galatians 5:17.

16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Galatians 5:16-17

This tendency is ingrained in human nature. We have become convinced that our life experiences are utterly dependant on the way in which we interact with our environment. Christians then seek to compile lists of do’s and don’ts in an effort to control behaviour. This attitude can lead to people experiencing a sense of guilt for things that were not their fault and outside of their control. Conversely, some people can become puffed-up with pride as the result of something good happening that they had very little, if anything at all, to do with.

Covetousness and Conditioning

1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James 4:1-3

17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."

Exodus 20:17

From these verses, it is easy to assume that to covet means to desire something which someone else has. However, that description is more fitting with envy than it is with covetousness.

Covetousness can cause a person to desire what he does not have. But it has more to do with desiring after a created thing with desires of the flesh nature, rather than desiring something with love - which is God’s desire working in us.

Covetousness is the classic wrong belief that the acquisition of more money, a promotion at work, a more expensive car, a younger wife, and so on, will make you happy. Let us get one thing straight - you could get all of those things into your life and yet still be just as dissatisfied with your lot in life.

Fullness of Joy

The Bible says that in the presence of God is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Joy actually comes from God - it does not come from material goods. Joy is a spiritual power that resonates in our spirits and makes us feel alive. Therefore, the idea that an inanimate object has some sort of mystical power - is absurd.

It is a different matter entirely when you desire a created thing with the love of God. Love brings the very presence of God flooding into your spirit, which in turn, compels you to desire those things that God wants you to desire and to do the will of God.

13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13

13 For it is God Himself whose power creates within you the desire to do His gracious will and also brings about the accomplishment of the desire.

Philippians 2:13 WNT

The Apostle Paul said that it was the love of God which compelled him to do what he did.

14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;

2 Corinthians 5:14 NKJV

Other versions of the Bible express this verse slightly differently:

The love of Christ constraineth us (KJV); it is the love of Christ which is moving us (BBE); Christ's love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do (MSG); Whatever we do, it is certainly not for our own profit but because Christ's love controls us now (TLB); We are ruled by Christ's love for us (CEV); For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us (AMP); Christ's love guides us (GW).

The Presence of the Invisible God

When the love of God compels a person to desire something and do a certain thing, they often do not attribute that desire and action to the presence of God’s indwelling love. We experience the emotions of love and joy, and yet, God still remains invisible and somewhat unknown to most people. The net effect of this is that people, without the knowledge of God, see the power of God as indwelling created things, people, places, activities and material objects. In this way, people make a god out of something. This is the situation which was addressed by the Apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans.

17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Romans 1:17-27 NIV

God wants His children to have good gifts, it is therefore His intention that we desire after those things that He wants us to enjoy. If you think about it for a moment: something would not be a good gift for us if we did not enjoy it and if it did not bring us a sense of satisfaction and delight. It is for this reason that we delight in spending time with those people that we love and doing the things that we enjoy. However, the moment that we take our mind off the invisible God for a length of time, we are in danger of misappropriating the power of God and making idols out of created things.

The people of Israel had to be told to remember God in relation to the accumulation of wealth, so that they would be reminded that it was God’s power, not their own, which entitled them to have what they had (See Deuteronomy 8:18).

Classical Conditioning

We are creatures of habit that respond to conditioning. According to psychology, there are two different types of conditioning. There is classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning is when an observable stimulus exists, which produces a particular response in an organism. This is reflexive behaviour. In other words, a person or animal is trained to naturally respond to something in the environment, which it has associated with some other thing.

The best example of classical conditioning is the experiments of Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist.

Pavlov noticed that when the dogs in his laboratory were given meat, they would salivate. The dog's salivation to meat is an unconditioned reflex: it is something which is within their nature.

Just before the dogs were fed, a bell would be rung. The ringing of the bell in itself did not have the ability to cause the dogs to salivate. After time, the dogs had learned to associate the ringing of the bell with the dispensation of food. Therefore, the dogs would begin to salivate in response to the ringing of the bell alone. When this happened, classical conditioning had occurred and a new, conditioned reflex had occurred.

Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life

People become classically conditioned when they are given the love of God for the purpose of desiring something. A good example of this would be when a man becomes attracted to a particular woman. This is for the purpose of the man becoming conditioned by the love of God in order to desire a close relationship with that woman.

In the absence of a proper apprehension of the role that God plays in a person’s life, a person can become conditioned to believe that it is the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex which brings him or her the experience that we know as love.

Without the revelation of the existence of God and a reverence for Him – a person is likely to dismiss the belief that it is God’s presence that makes him or her happy when he or she falls in love with a member of the opposite sex. This misappropriation of God’s love will inevitably cause a person to make a god or goddess out of a person. The same concept is true with anything else that a person has learned to associate with feelings of well-being.

In the absence of something which a person has been conditioned to identify as giving him pleasure, he will naturally long for the acquisition of that thing by the quickest and most accessible means. In the absence of the love of God, a person will continue to long for what they identify as bringing them love.

In the absence of God’s love, a person will often desire after something through lust rather than love. Lust in the Biblical sense is not always sexually related: lust can come in the form of the desire for an abundance of material goods.

We all have become conditioned to make idols out of things. I am not laying the blame upon the love of God – not at all. I am simply highlighting the effect that love can have on the mind of the person who does not truly appreciate God. We can therefore see the vital importance of praise in the life of a person. Praise is not simply flattery – it is the acknowledgement of the truth: God is all in all. Christians cry out to God for Him to pour out His power, and yet, it is the very power of God that could lead to the creation of wrong beliefs and the like – if we are not ready to receive that power.

Idolatry can be likened to the creation of icons in the mind which represent something that is vital to human existence. Money is one of the most notorious of these icons which man has made into a god. It is little wonder that the Bible warns us against seeking after the acquisition of money. (See 1 Timothy 6:9-10).

Greed will always cause a person to want more and more of something, with the belief that the more they have of it - the more satisfied they will be. When a person delights in the acquisition of money, they will desire more of it, even when they have acquired more than enough for their own needs.

Selfish Ambition

Once a belief has been established in a person’s mind through conditioning – the mind, in the absence of God’s love, will seek to established ideas and plans which may seem convincing – but are actually nothing more than baseless fantasies. The Bible calls these fantasies, selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3). We see selfish ambition at work in the parable of the man who broke down his barns in Luke 12:15-21.

The first line of this parable is interesting:

15 And He said to them, "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

The Greek word translated “life” in this verse, is zoe (G2222) which means the very life-giving essence of God indwelling man’s spirit. When a person is covetous, he has become deluded into believing that the very source of his joy actually comes from an inanimate object, place, activity or person.  This leads to a fruitless pursuit of happiness through people, power and possessions.

What Is Happiness?

Happiness could be described as the fulfilment of a person’s need for a sense of security, significance and self-worth. Joy could be described as the manifestation of the life-giving presence of God. There seems to be a correlation between the two in that when a person is truly content, feels secure and accepts himself as he is – then he experiences a free-flow of the joy of the Lord.

The Bible says in Romans 14:17 that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. This righteousness, peace and joy is found in the Holy Spirit, not in our achievements, the way we look, what other people think about us, our good works or our ability to keep rules.

No wonder Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:33 that we are to not worry about material provision – but that we were to seek after the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we do this – all those things, the material provision that we seek – will be added to us.

Contentment is the Key

I believe that contentment and self-acceptance is the key to happiness. 1 Timothy 6:6 says that godliness with contentment is great gain.

God does want His children to have all of their needs met and to live life in abundance. But God also calls us to live simply and to appreciate what we have. When a person succumbs to greed, he loses the ability to be satisfied with what he has; in fact, he cannot be satisfied with anything.

The Illusion of Wealth and the Fear of Missing Out

33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Matthew 6:33 MSG

I believe some people are terrified of missing out on something in life. We look to other people to establish what normal is, and what is excellent and what is above average. We then aim for excellent or above average or somewhere in between.

The truth is that we don't want to lose out on something in the game of life that we can have and enjoy. We don't want to be cheated, outsmarted and left behind - missing out on something good that could be ours. Oftentimes, if we see someone else with something that we feel will bring us pleasure – we want it.

People Hate “Average”

The truth is that we hate the thought of being average. In a country that has a high proportion of prosperous people, so-called average when compared to a world scale, would actually be considered rich. Despite this, the average wage earner in a prosperous country would never consider himself to be rich. It amazes me just how much the classification of “middle class” has gradually expanded over the years to encompass more and more people. It seems that hardly anyone would call themselves “upper class” – as if they would be considered haughty to do so. However, we should be honest and call those who have substantial wealth as being “upper class”.

Comparison with Those in Our Environment

Rather than looking to people of other nations with whom to compare the quality of their lifestyle, many people just look to those people in their immediate vicinity. This can result in a person feeling hard done by, when in actual fact, he has all his needs met and would be considered wealthy in comparison with people from less prosperous nations.

We often content ourselves with the fact that perhaps we will never be totally happy; perhaps we will never be all that he hoped to be. But at least if we can have, and be, just that bit more than the average person or those in our community - then we will have something decent.

This causes us to constantly compete with, and compare ourselves with, other people around us. The people who we compete with, and compare against, are often those people who influence us the most and whom we aspire to be like.

We then work to surround ourselves with people who accept us the way we are; people who we feel we have something in common with; people who can understand us and relate to us - and we with them.

We then seek to avoid those people whom we do not get along with; people we don’t seem to understand; people who perhaps reveal aspects of ourselves that we do not like and wish to avoid.

The people whom we surround ourselves with, then become our world, as we deliberately seek to filter out the people who seem to make life difficult for us. The problem with this is that it can make our perspective on life very narrow as we establish the boundaries of our life, according to what we believe are good and acceptable to us. To an extent, people can almost become like carbon-copies of their friends and relatives with whom they surround themselves with.

Therefore, if a person is naturally competitive and everyone around him has, hypothetically speaking, a ‘C’ class car – he will naturally seek to own a ‘D’ class car. This, he assumes, will make him feel as if he has something that is better than his peers. Prosperity can therefore become the “norm” for those people whose environment constantly bombards their senses with the images of prosperity.

The Illusion of Not Having Enough

The truth of the matter is that people who live in wealthy nations such as the U.S. or U.K. – do not realise just how wealthy they are on a world scale. What might seem like poverty to someone living in a wealthy nation could easily be seen as being rich to someone living in a poor country. If a person lives in a house made of brick – that is a far cry to those millions of people who are living in mud huts in the third world.

Some people might complain that they cannot buy the latest plasma T.V. set. Whilst there are some households that don’t even have a regular supply of electricity. This might seem like an extreme comparison, but it is the truth and I feel it brings things into perspective.

Wealth Indicator Variables

If you search for the term “Wealth Indicator Variable”, you will find documentation which attempts to asses the overall wealth of a household. What might be surprising to some people is that the criteria for assessing wealth includes what could be seen as being the most basic of household items, such as a refrigerator, radio, television, oven and so on. Why, a house or dwelling having walls is even a criterion. You can read more about “Wealth Indicator Variables” here and here.

The Christian Prosperity Message

It is important for Christians to read each verse of the Bible in the context in which it was originally written. For instance, when we read the Old Testament, we need to bear in mind that the Messiah had not yet come. Therefore, some of the things that we read might no longer be relevant to us. For instance, those verses threatening condemnation are not for us who are in Christ (see Romans 8:1-2).

There are certain rituals, such as tithing, which were relevant to those who were under the law, that is, the Jews. But we are no longer under the law but under grace (Romans 6:15). Therefore, the tithe is no longer required from the New Testament believer. Now, we are to give as we purpose in our heart according to love – not as something that is required of us (see 2 Cor. 9:7).

The promises of prosperity in the Bible were typically written to those people whom we would consider to be “working class” in modern terms. These were typically farmers, fisherman and the like, who depended upon a harvest of crops or a good catch of fish in order to survive and to look after their families. Therefore, when the Bible says something like your barns will be filled with plenty (Proverbs 3:10) – it literally meant that a person would be blessed with a good harvest.

I remember reading in a book by Kenneth E. Hagin entitled Biblical Keys to Financial Prosperity in which he addresses this point of the meaning of “rich” in the Bible. Hagin says that it means a “full supply”. That does not mean that God will make us all millionaires - it simply means that God will meet all of our needs – which is what Philippians 4:19 promises. But nowhere in the Bible are we promised specific things, such as designer clothes or sports cars. The Bible does not promise a celebrity lifestyle when it says that we shall be made rich (see 2 Cor. 8:9)

Prosperity preachers have manipulated verses on abundance and provision to mean all sorts of things in a modern context, such as having a full bank account and so forth. I have heard prosperity preachers say things like, “God hates average”. Have you noticed that the Christian prosperity message is preached mostly by those people who live in prosperous nations?

If a person living in a prosperous nation believes that the quality of his life is average – he could respond to prosperity teaching by believing that God will make him rich in the western world’s interpretation of the word – which totally different to the world as a whole and the Bible’s interpretation of the word. This could lead to frustrated Christians seeking a celebrity lifestyle, believing that they are not rich, when in fact, they are.

My Church Experience Today

I still attend church to this day – although I tend to go once every two weeks. I have defined my boundaries with this church I go to.

The Message

When it comes to the message - I never feel condemned by the message, which is rather grace oriented. I will admit that the message does tend to be something of a mixture of grace and law. Although I’m certain, they are likely to call it a “balance”. Oftentimes, we have a popular visiting speaker. But such speakers I find are often just Christian motivational speakers. I suppose this is what the office of evangelist is all about.

But I have been feeling rather disenchanted about these pep-talks for some time now, especially in recent months. I believe it coincides with the fact that I’ve been getting more into the grace message. It is rather amazing the way in which my perspective has changed on the message in my church. Messages that I once considered to be fantastic – often seem like a legalistic challenge to me or a set of platitudes.

Servant hood

I used to feel compelled to serve in church, but this was something that I did in order to prove myself, make friends and earn God’s favour and blessing. Now that I know that I’m right with God by faith in Christ – I’ve cooled-off on church routines and duties.

The church I attend has a strong emphasis on servant-hood. But the great thing is that they don’t made it into a work or a “should”. The pastor does mention serving on team from time-to-time in order to present to the congregation what they could get involved in – but I never feel coerced like I used to in some other churches. I would say that the great eagerness for people to get involved in serving in this church, is purely because of love.

Nevertheless, because of the great emphasis on servant-hood in the church, it is difficult to get away from the subject. Quite often, a lot of people that you know in this church, perhaps most of them, are involved in serving in one team or another. Therefore, it does seem to be difficult to avoid a sense of guilt sometimes if you are not participating in one way or another. But perhaps that is the test: to attend the church, define your boundaries, and then stick to it. If God does not call you to serve in the church – you should be happy with that and not see it as a sign that you are a bad Christian or that you will not be “used” by God in some way.

Fellowship

I meet up with a group of people in church who I call friends. I am privileged to go to a church which is truly blessed when it comes to worship. It is rather like a Christian rock-concert every Sunday!

Together with my Christian friends we usually go to lunch after the service. I get invited to go to events during the week with these people (as well as via church announcements) – either private events or associated with the church, such as ten-pin bowling. But most of the time, I don’t find peace about such things, as if it is simply not for me. Don’t get me wrong – I like these people. But I believe that God will let you know by His love, the boundaries of every relationship that we have. So I usually end-up declining such offers. Ever since I’ve held to my integrity with the church and what I feel comfortable doing or not doing – I feel so much better about it all.

I often used to feel guilty about such things, as if it was my duty as a member of the church to engage in such activities. The church that I go to at the moment, gives a heavy emphasis on fellowshipping. So I would also consider that there was something wrong with me: perhaps I did not find the love to fellowship as I should, because I’m not serious enough about God, or because there was hidden sin in my life or whatever. But such considerations simply get a person into morbid introspection and self-condemnation.

Now I have the boldness and integrity to say “no” to things in the church. I define my boundaries according to love, not according to rules and logic – and I stick to those boundaries.

I suppose in the past I would have forced myself to go to church events – for two reasons I believe: to fit in with the crowd and just in case I missed something good – something life-changing. But in my experience, such life-changing events never seem to occur at these corporate church programs.

The Internet Church

It is amazing how God has used the internet to connect grace-believing Christians from all over the world, to encourage each other and learn about the true Gospel of Christ.

When I created an account on Facebook, I thought it would be just an opportunity to keep in touch will old work colleagues and the like. I had no idea that I would be using it to meet some wonderful Christians who were radical about God’s grace. Some of these people do not go to a church because they cannot tolerate the religious legalism and the abuses that go on in some churches. I feel that I have a gift to write and I use this on the various discussion boards on the internet.

I suppose it is through these social networking sites that I am able to make my church experience more varied and more complete.

I also use the internet to get most of my Christian teaching. Thankfully, a lot of this teaching is free. I am currently in the process of getting rid of most of my Christian books, as they take up much needed space and I feel that I have not benefited much from them (other than to bring me out of Word of Faith and into the message of grace).

I mostly listen to the radical grace message nowadays. You can refer to the “Favourite Websites” on the sidebar of my blog and you can also refer to the Grace Preachers List for links to some great resources.

Reflections on My Church Experiences

I spent ten years in the charismatic/word of faith movement and the importance was impressed upon me about ministry. I was absolutely convinced that I was meant to be in full-time ministry. I just got the impression that every Christian was a weak and feeble "wannabe" church pastor or evangelist. As if every Christian was seeking the ultimate achievement of being in full-time ministry and could not be considered a successful Christian unless he did.

Praying for the Lost

I just got the impression that only the corporate church could come to the rescue of lost and hurting humanity. As if Christians, by themselves, were weak and helpless. I think the corporate church therefore became something of a cop-out for many Christians, who opted for praying behind closed doors that God would “save the lost” or “bring revival” – instead of Christians simply enjoying a relationship with God through Christ and living their life to the full.

There always seemed to be an emphasis on somehow going outside of the confines of everyday life in order to be “used” by God. But I came to the conclusion that if I could just get my relationship with God sorted out – everything else would just fall into place.

Where Are All the Happy Christians?

Unfortunately, due to a distinct lack of successful and happy Christians, the only positive testimonies were from people in full-time, and therefore, were always in the context of full-time ministry. I just got caught-up in the fervour of it all. So, although there was something that was bothering me about it all – I just bided my time until I would became spiritually mature enough and dedicated enough in order to finally join the ranks of the elite who were chosen to be called into full-time ministry.

I Just Want to Be Normal

But I think there was always something that bothered me about it. All I really wanted was to live a normal, everyday, but blessed life. But the charismatic movement seemed to frown upon what it considered to be an average way of life. The message of being content with what you have, seemed to be replaced by grabbing as much as you could. This appealed to me because I just thought that life, God and other people owed me something because I wanted to make up for what I felt had been a disappointing life so far.

This emphasis on “claiming the promise” became something of a yard-stick to measure how much faith you had, how “spiritual” you were and how devoted you were to Christ and the ministry – as if devotion to the church equated to devotion to Christ. I am still in reverse gear from the church – seeking what it really means to have a deep, personal and intimate relationship with Christ – without the constraints of the institutional church.

“Keys” to Spiritual Maturity

A Christian author wrote that the keys to spiritual maturity were prayer, bible study, walking in love, and ministry. These attributes seem good on the surface, but the problem is that we often make these things into a rule, a work, something that the Christian must do in order to prove his worth to God. The author stated that you must have all four disciplines to grow and the more you do them, the more spiritual you become.

One thing that puts me off about what that author wrote is the word "keys" which is a word that is often bandied about in Christian’s circles and used to make a formula or principle out of something. All of these four "keys" can be something that people do because they feel obligated to do so. All of these things can be measured according to how much time we spend doing them.

Prayer

As for prayer: I can’t ever say that it’s really worked for me – or anyone else for that matter. I just switch off now when a church pastor says, “Let’s pray…” I do believe in the power of prayer, but I’ve been so caught-up in proving myself and pushing through my own plans for selfish ambition, that I feel I’ve nullified the effects of prayer in my life. I’m still trying to figure out what role prayer plays in my life.

Bible Study

I do believe in studying the Word for yourself, but not as something that you “must do”, as if it is an obligation to fulfil.

Walking in Love

As for walking in love, as soon as the church makes it into a work, something that you must do for God – it no longer becomes love. So many Christians are vying for a sense of significance and self-worth. The church then becomes a platform for a Christian to prove that he is a “proper” Christian or “devoted” Christian. This involves forcing oneself to do all sorts of perfunctory routines and duties in the church.

There seems to be this accepted belief that anything that is church-oriented and seemingly good on the surface – must be from God and is the responsibility of everyone in the church to participate. But I found that this simply moved me away from knowing that I was right with God, just as I was. It moved me away from knowing what my true calling was, because I would get carried away with a whole lot of corporate church nonsense.

It becomes a catch-22 situation in that the more “devoted” you become in the church – the more people expect you to participate. Therefore, the harder it becomes to say “no” to those things that you do not feel motivated to do by love.

The truth of the matter is that love should never be something that you need to be persuaded to prove to other people. If a person does not express love in one way, they might express it in another way. We all have different gifts and callings and are therefore inclined towards expressing our love and utilising our gifts in different ways: what might be right for one person might not be right for another.

God’s Plans or Our Own Plans?

God has a purpose for all of our lives. It is only God’s purpose that prevails over those plans. (See Proverbs 19:21 NIV). There are various other verses of scripture which on the surface, seem to support the notion that we can come-up with any plan we like, and if it is something that will benefit us and other people, then we can confess it into being. For instance, Psalms 20:4 NIV, Proverbs 16:9 NIV.

We need to remember that God has a plan for our lives that we cannot replace with our own plans. What leads to our own plans and desires to come out of line with God, is the impressions that the subconscious mind has gained over the years.

According to the beliefs instilled in the subconscious mind, all sorts of plans and ideas will emerge from the heart of man. Some of the ways that we can know that these are true, is whether they come to pass or not and whether we have a feeling of peace about it or a sense of lust, wanting and a fear that we might not be able to have it. This is what the Bible calls selfish ambition.

3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

Philippians 2:3 nkjv

It is assumed that selfish ambition includes anything which benefits the believer personally. This seems to be an assumption adopted by Christians who attend legalistic churches, were the focus is on helping others, even to the neglect and detriment of the individual.

God does delight in our prosperity, He loves us and He is for us. But this does not mean that we can dictate to God how and when He should bless us. Selfish ambition is therefore any plan which arises from the heart of man, independently of the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The more that a person holds onto their own beliefs, those which are not of God, the more anxious he will feel and the more frustrated he will become about them. Just as following the law brings a person into the curse of the law and wears them out with religion – so following selfish ambition wears a person out so that they eventually become ready to obey God.

A Desire to Fulfil the Law

The previous sentence would sound rather legalistic to radical grace believers. But we can bring all of this into context if we consider that the desire to fulfil the law, especially when we know that Jesus has already done so on our behalf, is born out of pride, selfish ambition and a desire to prove oneself according to what he does or what he has.

The Bible tells us that when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. (Romans 4:4 NIV). We believe that God owes us something when we believe that we can fulfil the law and do something good for God. The Bible tells us that we are justified by faith and faith alone.

1 Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith? Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? 2 If so, then he would have something to boast about. But from God's point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. 3 For the Scriptures tell us Abraham believed God, and that is why God canceled his sins and declared him "not guilty." 4 But didn't he earn his right to heaven by all the good things he did? No, for being saved is a gift; if a person could earn it by being good, then it wouldn't be free--but it is! 5 It is given to those who do not work for it. For God declares sinners to be good in his sight if they have faith in Christ to save them from God's wrath.

Romans 4:1-5 TLB

 
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