Counterfeit Christianity – Prosperity – That you can find God in the world

Mark 4:35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" 41 They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
The sun is shining. It is a peaceful day. A few friends and family members are getting together inside the church for Bible study. A new visitor has even joined them on this day.
But what happens when that visitor in Bible study pulls out a gun and kills nine of your friends and family members? What happens when the sun is still shining but the floors of the church are filled with blood? What happens when the peace has been broken by gunshots and sirens and tears?
We Christians have bought into the false theology that God truly loves us when everything is going great for us. Then we believe the opposite must also be true – that God is not loving us, perhaps even punishing us, when things go wrong … horribly, massively, lethally wrong.
That’s because we, like so many other Christians in America, have been taken in by the counterfeit Christianity of Prosperity.
We want the best this world has to offer. Deep down we know that there is more to come after we finish our time on this earth. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy as much of this world as we can, right? After all, I’m sure the disciples would have been more satisfied with a bigger boat, calmer waters, a larger following, a higher salary, and more health benefits.
What’s wrong with trying to make the best we can of this material world?
Nothing. There is nothing inherently evil about a little filet mignon, an iPod, or a car new off the lot. But, there is something terribly, horribly wrong with all of them because sooner or later (and more often sooner) they’re all going to rot, rust, get digested, get excreted, burn out, go out of fashion, and/or fall apart. Tables and chairs, pots and pans, shirts and shoes, everything that is anything in the world has the same cursed predicament of looking gorgeous and seeming as if it might just last forever, but never proving to be anything more than fading dust in reality. This goes not only for all the “stuff” we spend our lives trying so hard to make and own and keep and fix.
Jesus teaches – but we refuse to listen: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). We try to keep the moth and the rust and the thieves away … but it costs a boatload of money. To our society, that doesn’t matter. As a nation we are committed to living beyond our means. Even we Christians have bought into this worldly, prosperity-driven mindset. The important thing is right now. Before the storms hit and the rains fall and the winds pick up. It all might be gone later … so we need to live for the here and now.
Prosperity’s lie is that you can find God in the stuff of this world.
We like believing the lie that God wants us to have sunny days and clear skies and smooth sailing. We love to praise God for the good times. But what happens when the storm clouds roll in and the winds pick up and your life is about to be overturned? We are supportive of God when it is a time to be born or a time to heal or a time to laugh. But are we so supportive of God when it is a time to die or a time to be ill or a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:2-4)?
We so often try to keep up with the prosperity of the Joneses – unaware that the Joneses are two steps from divorce, are self-medicating in their own hidden ways, just sprang bail for Johnny, and took the family vacation out of state in order to keep Julies’ need for an abortion quiet.
It is one thing to constantly be chasing every little thing to satisfy our every want. It is another thing altogether to believe the lie that this is Christianity. To be sure, Christianity does teach that God plans to give to every person in the world ultimate abundance in and through Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ was very, very clear about what that means. He said, “My [prosperity] is not of this world” (John 18:36). This world is filled with all manner of wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6), where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19), where charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting (Proverbs 31:30), where the pursuit of prosperity is a snare filled with senseless, harmful desires that threaten to plunge you into ruin (1 Timothy 6:9), a wide and easy path filled with plenty of growth but leading only to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
Against this sandy land where storms will come and blow, authentic Christianity stands firm as a house built on bedrock. This world and all its decay, rot, and anti-prosperity cannot touch it because it cannot touch you. This Good News of the Gospel is the promise that God does not expect you to find abundance (or even happiness) in this dying world. Christian contentment is knowing that both to be brought low and to abound are godly for the sake of Christ, for the sake of His cross, and for the sake of His atoning blood. Both to face hunger and to face plenty will harm the body eventually, but neither of them can touch the soul kept safe in Christ. Christianity has never budged from this truth because Christianity is not about this world.
That’s what surprised unbelievers – and even many Christians – about the response of the victim’s family members in the horrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. The family members told the killer things like:  “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. But I forgive you.” Another person said, “I forgive you, my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most — Christ.” Still another said, “May God have mercy on you.”
These people had just gone through the most terrible storm you can imagine. But there was no hatred in their voice. Sorrow, yes, but no hatred. Only love and forgiveness. How could these have calm and strength and peace to be able to speak these powerful words of forgiveness?
It was because they didn’t believe in some counterfeit Christianity that false promises prosperity and safety and calm as a Christian. Rather, they believed in real Christianity that promises weaknesses, insults, hardships and persecutions for Christians. Real Christianity that delivers on carrying crosses for Christ. Real Christianity promises burdens and suffering and hardships all in the name of Jesus Christ.
Those Christians in that Charleston church knew that despite the storm that was raging around them, Jesus was in the boat with them, and that He was in the boat with their loved ones. There He is in the back of the boat, on the captain’s cushion, with His arm draped over the rudder, appearing like He is sound asleep. Yet He couldn’t be more at peace … or more in control.
Who is this in the boat with you? He is the One who can speak to wind and waves and make them obey. He is the One who takes care of us when demons and cancers and broken hips and shooting madmen threaten our peace and safety. There’s only One like this, and He happens to be the One in whom you are baptized, in whom you believe, with whom you commune.
Jesus tested His frightened disciples and increased their faith. That’s why Jesus invites you to join Him in His boat of the Christian Church. The place in the church where you are sitting, where the pews are, is called the “nave,” which is the Latin word for “boat,” from which we get our word “navy.” Here in the boat, Jesus is here with us. In Baptism, in His Word, in Absolution, in His Supper, giving faith and forgiveness; teaching us and revealing exactly who He is. He is patient with us and bears with us.
This is what we do here; what we experience here; what we take part in hearing and speaking and eating and drinking here. This is what counteracts our counterfeit Christianity of Prosperity that threatens to steal our faith.
Honestly, this is never as tantalizing to the flesh as the lies of Prosperity, but then again, it’s not a lie, either.
Our greed fights back, seeking to idolize the present world by worshiping it rather than its Creator (Romans 1:25). God has said these things are not Him, nor are they a way to know what He thinks about you (Matthew 12:39).
Do you want to find God now? Do you want to know how He feels about you now? Do you want an answer untouched by the sands of time and undiminished by our greedy attempts to build heaven out of this halfway hell? Then believe His words: I baptized you (1 Peter 3:21). Take, eat. Take, drink. I am here (1 Corinthians 10:16). I am the Word made flesh (John 6:55). I am the source of living water (John 4:10). I am the bread for heaven (John 6:51). I am your rebirth (John 11:25). That is how God feels about you. Buried and raised with Jesus, where He has said you are buried and raised with Him.
It is only in Jesus Christ where death becomes life; mourning becomes joy; weakness becomes strength; and affliction becomes prosperity.
“I thirst!” the Creator of water said (John 19:28), and with those words He mocked Prosperity. The God-Man who stood in the desert after forty days of fasting, laughed in Prosperity’s face saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). He is the Word who commanded the waters of creation, “This far you may go and no farther (Job 38:11) and then when His disciples thought all their Prosperity would be taken to the depths of the Sea, Jesus once again commanded the waters, “Quiet! Be still!”
Remember the parable of the farmer who wanted to build bigger and bigger barns for his Prosperity. No matter how big you build your barns (Luke 12:18), you can only eat your bread today. The secret of Christian contentment is that tomorrow we do not eat here at all. Tomorrow we dine in paradise.
The secret of Christian contentment in the face of tragedy is that despite the storms of life, Jesus will get His Christians safely to the other side.
The secret of Christian contentment in the face of the counterfeit Christianity of Prosperity is that if Jesus could calm the wrath of God by dying on the cross, then a little old sinking boat is nothing. Amen. 

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