The last few weeks I have missed a lot of Sunday morning services at my church due to some health issues. Since I hate to have a Sunday without hearing a good sermon I have watched quite a lot of ministers on TV.
Let me start by saying this post is not meant to be a bashing of TV ministers. I have heard several excellent sermons based on the Bible that were challenging and encouraging.
However, there did seem to be a theme running through many of the ministries on the TV which I found not biblical and disturbing.
One recurrent theme seems to be that becoming a Christian means a life of material blessings and nothing but victories in every area of your life.
One service I watched on video had a pastor praying over the offering. I could not believe his words.
Basically he told God because the congregation were tithe payers, they were claiming:
promotions at work, increased interest on savings, great real estate deals, new sources of income.
I could not help but think: really, this is why Jesus died on the cross?
Granted, I believe Jesus has promised to bless those who follow Him and give to others. In my own life I have seen God provide for me and my family many times when we were in real need.
But I think Christians in America have come to think of material blessings as the main part of the gospel. Our country has been blessed with many freedoms and for many years Christian believers have been in the majority. We have experienced little persecution. On the contrary, until recently, our laws protected and even encouraged the Christian faith. Instead of recognizing how blessed we have been to be born in this country I am afraid we have come to think material blessings, freedom to worship as we please and laws that protect our way of life are all the “rights” of being a Christian.
Sadly, that is not what Christians in other countries have found to be true. And that is not what I believe the Bible teaches.
Do not misunderstand me. I am so grateful for being an American. My husband, our youngest daughter and I all spend time in another country teaching in a Bible college. As our plane touched down in Hawaii, I wanted to kiss the ground and thank God for being an American.
But these blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with all that entails is not what Jesus died for.
Jesus came to set up a kingdom but He made it clear it would not be a worldly kingdom with our own leaders. Rather He would be the one in charge. In His kingdom things would be much different than what we experience here in the USA.
His gave us an idea of what His kingdom would look like in His discourse we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” The things He said would make us “blessed” or “happy” were opposite of what we as Americans have come to think are our “rights.”
As we find our nation becoming more and more post-Christian – even anti-Christian – we are beginning to experience what the first Christians knew, what a large majority of Christians around the world know.
Jesus did not promise us “rights.” Rather, he called us to a high standard of love and commitment.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? …
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.”
The early Christians did not demand their “rights.” They were focused on sharing the good news with all who would listen and willing to give up any right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I am not suggesting that we should not work to keep our government committed to the freedoms our fathers died for. My own father won in the Pacific in World War II and my first husband (now deceased) was a Purple Heart recipient from the conflict in Vietnam. I honor and respect them and others who have given so much for our freedom.
But I am suggesting that we keep our eyes on God and not forget that nations rise and fall, politicians come and go, but God remains forever and His kingdom calls for us to be Christians first, Americans second.
Let us not confuse “success” as the measure of what is right.
“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”….Dietrich Bonhoeffer
No offense meant – but as a Christian I cannot proclaim “America first.”
I’m a follower of Christ first, then an American.