Continued from thursday.
My earliest influences as a Christian were of the Word Faith, positive thinking, self esteem and success variety. Or was it the other way around?? Having been recruited/seduced to Amway at the age of 18 I was bombarded with self help, positive thinking, positive confession, prosperity materials. I was strongly encouraged to read people like Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale and Zig Ziglar. My western consumer mentality was only too happy to embrace a lot of this thinking. It made sense and was presented in a way that appealed to my carnality.
This paved the way into the Word Faith movement with people like Kenneth Copeland, and Kenneth Hagin. Perhaps I portray myself as more shallow than I really was (although I don't want to give myself any credit). As I reflect back I am without doubt that God was doing some serious providential work in my life. It was at this time that I also had a frightening experience where a complete stranger spoke words to me that penetrated my veneer of social acceptance and exposed an area of sin that I knew had me already condemned (you see, I already knew the truth - at least to a certain extent - through a young man who witnessed to me as a teenager. Though I never spoke publicly about it I did hide the words that the young man spoke in my heart and I'll speak more about this in my next post). I was overwhelmingly convicted of the sin of denial.
I knew I was in trouble and could hardly sleep at night. I had never read the verse where Jesus says that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father. But I knew I was guilty and my conscience was burning!
I went on a hunt to find a professing Christian so I could beg them to take me to their church - I didn't want to go alone in fear of being humiliated when people found out they had a sinner in their midst. I found a guy who took me to a charismatic church that was nearby. I must admit that some things struck me as weird but I was drawn to the fact that these people were very serious about their walk with God and loved to sing about Him with their hands up high. I was drawn and intimadated all at the same time. Drawn to the reconciliation I needed to put my conscience at rest, but intimidated by this great cloud of sanctified people with hands raised in unison. What if they found out that I was sinful and unclean?
Though I am not an advocate of "altar calls" (at least in as far as they are used as a substitute for Holy Spirit empowered regeneration), the altar call I responded to was a big deal because it was addressing my pet sin of hiding in silence and forced me to humiliate myself in front of the entire congregation. I don't know what to think about the message preached on that day (I can't remember to be honest) but I have no doubt that God was doing a transforming work regardless. I really walked out of that place a different person and unashamed to testify of Jesus Christ. That unashamedness coupled with my immense stupidy and lack of social skills certainly helped me to be at "enmity" with the world around me. I took it all in my stride under the delusion that the persecution was because of my faith and not because I was a jerk.
Though the church I attended was not officially "Word Faith" it did dance with a lot of their teaching and theology. I was only too happy to buy into a lot of it. I never got sick, I was financially blessed, no real tragedies to speak of, and life was turning out to be a pretty good ride. If they wanted a Word Faith poster boy then I was it . . . except maybe for the private jet!
I paint this background because it is important for you to understand that my criticisms aimed at Word Faith theology don't come out of an axe to grind with some rich pastor or because prosperity and health didn't come my way. I harbor no bitterness from earlier experience (though many of my congregational friends certainly struggled with sickness, experienced harrowing tragedy, and were dead broke). I was just really blind and stupid. I actually thought that I was the guy who must be pleasing God and all these other struggling people must have lacked faith or had sin in their lives.
Oh, I am so ashamed of this self righteousness. The truth was that many of these people had greater faith, greater devotion, and greater fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. In hindsight, I'd have to say that my blessed life was probably due to my weakness, lack of faith, and inability to cope with tragedy which in turn caused God to extend one big tsunami of mercy my way. I often ask the question - Why does God allow me to live in my blessed little bubble of safety when others go through suffering, poverty, and tragedy? Honest self examination brings me to the point of bewilderment. Why has God dealt so graciously with me and my entire family when I deserve His wrath? In fact 20/20 hindsight reveals that this is the question every person on this planet should be asking!
So what tipped me over the edge and drove me away from Word Faith theology? It was when a visiting pastor started preaching about Job!
God had graciously gave me a hunger for His Word and I spent considerable time searching the pages of my Bible. When the pastor started teaching about Job I could see the twisting of Scripture straight away - loud and clear. I knew what the book of Job taught and this "preacher" was butchering it to make it fit his theology. I was furious and my eyes had been opened to the magical world of Scripture twisting. I was on the warpath . . .
To be continued on tuesday!
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