by Eric M Hill
Author of What Preachers Never Tell You About Tithes & Offerings:
The End of Clergy Manipulation & Extortion
The American Dream
What is the American dream? It’s to make a lot of money. It’s to make enough to satisfy the lusts of our flesh. All our lives we are brainwashed into believing that our true worth is based upon our net worth. So we go to school, get an education, and finally land a job. We then sell our souls to that company so we can climb the corporate ladder. Once we reach the top, we protect our turf through any means necessary—lies, ruthlessness, unholy alliances, sexual favors, unethical decisions, whatever it takes. And, of course, all the while we’re contributing the maximum amount allowable to our 401k, our mutual funds, and our savings. This is for our retirement years. Our stash for the future.
The long period between our first paycheck and our first day of retirement proves what is most important to us—money, things, comfort, prestige. Minus the leftovers we give God, the bulk of our lives testifies that we are “…lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God”(2 Timothy 3:4). Our lives prove that we have bought into the dead-end pursuit of the American dream. We have the homes, the money, and the vehicles to prove we are smart people. We’ve achieved the American dream. Yet without warning we shall be violently awakened from this dead-end superficial dream of materialism into the nightmare of God’s righteous judgment. And who shall be able to stand? “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4; NKJV).
What’s Wrong With Riches?
There’s nothing wrong with riches. Riches are commodities: paper, ink, metals, land, property, promises, etc. Riches are neither moral nor immoral. Riches go neither to heaven nor hell. They can not accept nor reject our blessed Lord. The Almighty’s anger isn’t against riches. It’s against people who choose riches above righteousness. The above scripture (Proverbs) accurately pits riches against righteousness. One can not serve both. As Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [money]”(Matthew 6:24).
Paul’s observation was that “…those who desire to berich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition[final ruin]” (1 Timothy 6:9; NKJV). “But I don’t want to be rich,”you say. “I just want to get ahead.”
That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get ahead. I don’t want to criticize hard work and godly promotion. I want to criticize the attitude that all too often hangs out with our desire to get ahead. This is the attitude that would never come right out and say, “God is not important.” But when you study it by the standard of the Word of God, you see that there’s an undertone of arrogance. This is what I want to deal with by the power of the Holy Spirit—the arrogance of the flesh.
When I Grow Up I’m Going To….
Ask a child what she’s going to be when she grows up and you’re likely to get many answers. But I guarantee you that not one in a million will answer, “I’m going to be suddenly and tragically killed; I’m going to suffer with a terrible disease; I’m going to fail at virtually everything I do; I’m going to become a paraplegic; I’m going to disobey the commands of God, satisfy my lusts, die and go to hell.”
Now ask an adult what her plans for the future are. What will you get? Fools have no plan for the future. So if you ask a fool, you’ll get nothing but empty rambling. But if you ask a wise person, you’ll get something of a plan. However, even people who are wise by this world’s standards are disproportionately unwise by God’s standards.
What separates the wise from the unwise in God’s eyes? Here it is: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10a). Wise people fear God; fools do not. It doesn’t get any simpler. A man is wise if he fears God. We know he fears God when his decisions are based upon God’s moral standards, and when He seeks above all else to please God. He isn’t consumed with the world. He’s consumed with the God who made the world. He is wise because he lives his life with the coming day of judgment in mind.
Conversely, we know a man is a fool when he fashions his life upon the superficial and increasingly wicked standards of this world. His greatest aim in life is to satisfy the demands of his flesh. He’s more consumed with the world than the God who made the world. He is a fool because he lives his life as though there will be no day of judgment.
Truly wise people are ever aware that when they grow up they will die. Facing the inevitability of death and the Day of Judgment produces wisdom.
In America you are considered wise if you prepare for retirement, and many people do. It’s an amazing and sometimes humorous thing to watch. Humans destined for sure death prepare for life after retirement as though it is promised to them. Incredible amounts of energy go into studying stocks, bonds, mutual funds, commodities, metals, real estate, pension funds, etc. This is not a bad thing. Anyone who doesn’t have a plan for retirement, whether it be the certainty of God’s faithfulness, or the uncertainty of good earthly investments, is reckless and shortsighted.
The humorous, yet eternally tragic, thing about this frantic retirement activity is that huge amounts of people who place such importance on preparing for retirement do absolutely nothing to prepare for the day after retirement—death. Death and eternal judgment is going to smash them as suddenly as a swatter on a fly. How ridiculous it is to not plan for eternity!
The Foolishness of the Rich Business Man
There is a story in Luke 12:16-21 that represents America perfectly, and to a large degree the American Church. “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room to bestow my fruits. And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided: So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Several things in this story deserve our attention. First, the Lord again picks a rich man to teach a negative. If you check the scriptures you will see that God has a lot of bad things to say about the rich. Actually, the Bible seems to be divided into the rich oppressor and the poor victim. Now, of course, these are the extremes of social and economic status, and all rich people aren’t evil, and all poor people aren’t victimized by the rich. However, anyone who wins souls knows that the more money a person has, the harder it is to reach him for Jesus. Money to the flesh is like a fan that blows on manure. It doesn’t cause the manure to stink; it simply magnifies what’s already there. This rich man stank.
Second, like so many who have been unwittingly blessed by God with material wealth, this man didn’t use his goods to bless people. He instead stored it in a barn. This is exactly what greedy pseudo-Christians do. We keep God’s wealth for themselves. Of course, we don’t actually admit to hoarding wealth. Christians have subtle religious ways we use to keep God’s goods for ourselves. The most popular is to put off until tomorrow what we should financially do today.
The third thing I notice about the rich man in the story is that he makes the mistake of assuming God-like powers. That is, he declares that he will live for several more years. Yet no one has the power to directly lengthen one’s life. A person may choose a lifestyle that indirectly lengthens one’s life, but one can’t put off death should God demand it. To believe otherwise is to make one’s self a fool. Don’t believe the prosperity preachers. They are blinded by the darkness of arrogance and presumption. When God determines that your life is over, He will not ask anyone’spermission. He will exercise His right as Almighty God.
The Foolishness of Belshazzar
Daniel 5 tells us a sobering story about the judgment of God and the suddenness of death. King Belshazzar was in the midst of a huge drunken and blasphemous party. Suddenly he saw a hand appear out of nowhere. The king was so terrified that his knees trembled until they hit against one another. The hand wrote an ominous message, but the king and his playmates couldn’t interpret the writing. Finally, Daniel was brought before them and the king promised Daniel that if he interpreted the writing, he would give him great gifts. Even making him third ruler in the kingdom.
Daniel did what no prosperity preacher would do. He turned down money and human honor. Instead he rebuked the king and told him that his days were over. “This is the interpretation of eah word: MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting [deficient]. Peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians”(Daniel 5:26-28).
Now king Belshazzar does something that makes no sense whatsoever, yet is repeated every day in the lives of fools. He plans his life as though it is not going to end any time soon, and as though he is in charge. But the interpretation stated clearly: “You’re through, hot shot! God has examined your life, and He’s not pleased. He’s taking your kingdom and giving it to another.”
Belshazzar promoted Daniel and gave him gifts, but these were the actions of a dead man with a pulse on loan. That very night God killed him. I know the prosperity preachers hate to hear this. According to them God can do no such thing because He’s a good God. Yet one can only believe this foolishness if one perverts the Word of God.
King Belshazzar died a fool because he lived as though he would never die. Like so many others he thought life and death werein his hands. But that very evening he discovered as he lifted up his eyes in hell that the power of life and death is in God’s hands.
The Foolishness of King Herod
King Herod Agrippa was on top of the world. He had it all—money, fame, power, servants. Yet there was one thing that he didn’t possess. That was wisdom. He didn’t fear God. This was a big mistake. When a person has no fear of God, he will develop traits that will usher him into destruction. A person without a fear of God will be ruled by arrogance, presumption, and ungratefulness. Any of these three sins can provoke God’s anger.
For some ungodly reason, the king arrested the apostle James, brother of John, and had him murdered. When he saw that James’ murder pleased the Jews, he apprehended the apostle Peter for the same purposes. What better way to solidify his rule than to kill the apostles. It was a win-win proposition. He couldn’t lose; or so he thought.
Herod assigned 16 soldiers to guard Peter, four on a team per shift. Either Peter was bound with chains between two soldiers, or Peter was actually chained to two soldiers. And just outside the cell were two more guards. Escape was impossible. It was at this point that God delivered Peter. An angel put a deep sleep on the soldiers and released Peter from his chains. Peter escaped from his maximum security cell into the stillness of the night.
In the morning Herod was shocked and humiliated to find Peter gone. In his madness, Herod killed the jailers. He then went down to Caesarea. Perhaps to forget being made a fool of in Judaea. On a certain day Herod put on his royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made a speech to a crowd of people. An ancient historian tells us that the king wore a robe that shimmered with precious metals. The speech was so wonderfully inspiring that the crowd shouted out, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.”
Herod didn’t know it, but he was being tested by Almighty God. God had drawn a line before the haughty king, and had determined to kill him if he crossed. This was to be the king’s day of judgment. Herod arrogantly accepted the blasphemous praise of the crowd and suffered immediate consequences. “Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms, and died“(Acts 12:23).
History tells us that although he was immediately stricken by God, he actually lingered on for a number of days with a loathsome, smelly disease that ate away at his genitals and bowels and bred worms (Josephus: Antiquities, 19.343-352). One moment he was a king with great power whosaton a throne and woreroyal clothing. The next moment he was a man stricken by God with a filthy, humiliating disease for his arrogance and contempt for God.
The Foolishness of Ananias and Sapphira
A great revival was taking place in Jerusalem. Christians were so in love with Jesus and each other that many sold their possessions and donated the money to the church for the benefit of the poor. Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife team of hypocrites, were deeply impressed with this movement—but for the wrong reasons. They saw this as their opportunity to get a position of prominence in the church.
They agreed to sell some property, keep back part of the profit, give the rest to the church, and yet give the appearance that they had given all the profit to the church. This was a terrible mistake. They underestimated God, as fools often do. God killed them on the spot. Immediate death! (Acts 5:1-11).
What’s the moral of this story? Don’t lie to God? Well, of course,we shouldn’t lie to God. But that’s not the point I want to emphasize. What I want you to see is the suddenness of God’s judgment. You know they weren’t planning to die that day. They had plans for the future. Unfortunately for them, their future on earth didn’t go beyond that day. Before the sun set, they were dead.
Who is in Control of Your Life?
How much longer will you live? 30 years, 20 years, a week, one hour? You don’t know. Now, of course, if you’re a follower of the prosperity cult, you’re probably convinced that you have control over how long you live. You know all the scriptures that promise long and fruitful life, divine protection, and peace and material prosperity. Unfortunately, you know very little about the sovereignty of God, eternal perspective, divine wisdom, and the place of suffering in the life of a believer. You also probably know very little about the context of the scriptures you quote for long life.
The truth of the matter is that no matter what your favorite preacher has told you, neither he nor you have as much power over your life as you would like to believe. In an extremely short while you will both be dead. I don’t know what the cause of death will be. Nor do I know whether you will have any warning. But I do know that your soon death is certain.
Just a few months ago (1998) a van load of teenage cheerleaders were on their way to or from a sports event. Suddenly they lost control of the vehicle and flipped over. Several girls were thrown from the van and instantly killed. Tell me, which of those girls planned to die that day? Which one did not have plans for the future? Plans for that very night? What was it like the moment before this tragedy?
You know what it was like. A van full of young girls, cheer leaders. There was lots of talking, laughter, kidding…until the moment death struck! How much preparation time did they have to meet God? None! How many more opportunities did they have to do the things they should have done before? None!
Suddenly death struck! Let that sink into your heart. Your prosperity teacherscan only take you so far. Their formulas and simplistic answers won’t deliver you in the day of trouble. Where will they be when the doctor tells you you have cancer? Don’t you know that for every testimony of healing and deliverance they tell you about, there are a hundred failures they don’t reveal?
Do you not yet understand the power and love of God? Have you not yet grasped that prosperity preachers are riding a wave they have no control over? God will bless you with or without them? You are being blessed in spite of you, not because of you. Was it the jaw bone of the ass that delivered Samson from a thousand Philistines? Or was it God?
If you are blessed with long life, wonderful health, and lots of money, is it the jaw bone of a prosperity preacher that caused it? Or is it the mercy and goodness of God that blesses you though you are as undeserving as Samson? The point I am trying to make is you aren’t blessed because of your seeming manipulations of God. You are blessed because of God’s goodness. As a side thought, I warn you that if you credit your ability to manipulate spiritual laws to get the blessings of God, instead of humbly giving all the glory to God, and admitting that God is blessing you in spite of your faults, you will provoke the discipline and maybe even the wrath of God!
The bottom line is God is God, and not we ourselves. All our posturing and purported mystical experiences and questionable meetings with angels and Jesus can’t add one day to our lives. Why did that van flip over? I don’t know. Was it the devil? Was it simply an accident? Was it sin? Was it lack of prayer? Was it…? I don’t know. I’ll let the all-knowing prosperity preachers explain what God has kept to Himself.
But what I do know is several little girls were suddenly and tragically killed. I do know that just a few days ago a disgruntled employee in Connecticut went to work and killed five or six people. I do know that every day multitudes suddenly die. I do know that even followers of prosperity preachers suddenly die. I do know that John the Baptist had his head chopped off. I do know that Jesus was brutally murdered. I do know that Stephen was stoned to death. I do know that Peter was killed. I do know that Paul was killed. I do know that none of these people died early because their faith was weak, they didn’t know their rights and privileges in God, or had forgotten to say their faith confession.
These things happened because we live in a wicked world. And until the Lord physically returns to this corrupt, murderous, hellhole of a planet, tragedies will regularly occur and good people will suffer—through no fault of their own.
Does this mean we shouldn’t believe God for protection, health, or prosperity? No, it means we must grow up. It means we must understand that those promises of God are for saints who have died to the lusts of the world and flesh. We must also understand that God reserves the right to do as He pleases. He isn’t limited to our understanding of Him. Despite all our spiritual acrobatics, the curse that came upon the world when Adam sinned is still here, and God has allowed us only very limited immediate relief from it.
Bald Heads, Pot Bellies, and Sagging Breasts
Have you ever stopped to think of the reality of death? Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and wondered where the time has gone? Look at your body. It’ll tell you that you are dying. When we were young, we thought we were immortal. But what about now? Look at us. Our bald heads, pot bellies, and sagging breasts testify that we’re dying. Every wrinkle on our face is saying, “You’re going to die!”
You say, “But I’m a hard body. I work out. I’m young. I eat right. I’m full of energy.” That’s irrelevant. You’re also going to die. And God may not wait for you to get old. He may suddenly demand your life. The question on that fateful day will be, Were you ready? Did you live your life for God or Satan? It’s time to put away foolishness and seriously consider death. Are you ready? Or are you playing games with God?
Paul gave a wonderful testimony shortly before his death. He said, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing”(2 Timothy 4:6-8).
This is what I want. I want to be able to say, I am now ready. But there’s only one way to be ready to face God. To be ready to face God one must do more than “get saved.” One must “get committed.” Salvation is one thing; pleasing God is another.
Paul was more than saved. He was committed. Paul spent his Christian life living for God and others. Therefore, at the end of his life he could say, I am now ready. The question is not, Are you saved, but Are you committed to the One who saved you? And if your answer is yes, what is the proof that you’re committed to Christ?
Examine Yourselves Whether Ye Be In The Faith
Paul told the Corinthian church, “Examine yourselves, as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves”(2 Corinthians 13:5). This seems like a routine exhortation until you realize to whom he was speaking. This was a church that in Paul’s own words, “That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 5-7).
Paul also said of the Corinthian church, “You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!”(1 Corinthians 4:8).
The compliments Paul gave this church were that they had gifts, knowledge, material prosperity, and a hope of the coming of Christ. Yet he also said that although they were full, rich, and were reigning as kings, their blessings and understanding of God were purely materialistic. This is what he means when he says, “You have reigned as kings without us–and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you.”
To be ready to face God we must understand that the things that are highly valued by people are often hated by God (Luke 16:15). We dare not fall into the same delusion that overcame the Sardis church. “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write…I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast, and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you”(Revelation 3:1-3; NKJV).
To the Laodicean church Jesus said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”(Revelation 3:15-17).
Both churches appeared to have it all together. Yet both churches were very close to judgment. This is scary. We can impress one another with our religious clichés and activities, yet God knows our heart.
Paul was ready to face God because he had spent his time not trying to please man, but God. He had learned to resist covetousness, and to instead store up treasures in heaven. He had learned to forgive his enemies. He had learned to praise God even when he went through fiery trials. This is so unlike many of us who praise God only when things go our way.
Where is the proof of your love of Christ? Can you truly say that God is pleased with you? Is He pleased with the television programs and movies you watch? Is He pleased with the books you read? What about the romance novels that Satan uses against you? How does Satan use them against you? By stirring up sexual desires, by creating an ungodly restlessness in your soul because you’re not yet married.
Is the Lord pleased that you’re considering divorce? Is He pleased that you’ve been flirting with adultery? Is He pleased that you have made no honest attempt to financially support His work? Is the Lord pleased that you go to the church assembly only when you feel like it? Is the Lord pleased that you won’t put away that secret sin? Is the Lord pleased that you won’t leave your comfort zone to reach the unreached, and love the unloved? Is the Lord pleased that He is not number one in your life? Be honest. Is the Lord pleased with your life?