On October 27, 2009

Wheel of Fortune

There is a dangerous theology that is quite popular right now. It basically says that if you give to God than God will give more back to you. This way of thinking about God can reduce him into that cosmic E-trade in the sky. This theology tends to be preached by people who are asking you to give to their particular ministry/church/program so that you can be rewarded by God.

This idea has been around since Job’s friend. It’s called the Health and Wealth Gospel, and it couldn’t be more dangerous.

But the reason it is dangerous is because is partially true.

Before you start to think that I am drinking the Olsteen Kool-aid let me clarify what I mean by that.

Leslie and I just got back from a 3 day conference called Generous Giving. It was my third conference to be at within 14 days (I’m conferenced out) but I am so glad that I went. We got to hang out with Ruth Haley Barton, Chip Ingram and Fernando Ortega. We listened to Barton talk about generosity as a spiritual discipline that God uses to instill faith and deep joy in Jesus-followers, or Ingram talk about generosity as a first step toward incarnational living.

But the best part of all was the testimonies of the people doing it. One after another we heard from people who had given sacrificially. Like this one guy who had given over $100,000,000 in his life. He could have lived in a palace, but he chose to live off a very modest income to give to people who didn’t have as much.

We heard from person after person who had given sacrificially and the common denominator was a deep joy.

And here’s where the Health and Wealth gospel misses out.

See the partial truth of this preaching is that God does want us to give generously. But not for the sake of tricking him into giving us more.

The assumption under that way of viewing the Scriptures is that getting more is the best that could happen to you. And so they teach generosity for the purposes of eventually hoarding. But the truth is that when some people give stuff away they stay broke.

I’m reading about the Medieval world right now. And one of the most surprising things is how they generally thought about possessions. They had a metaphor for fortune that showed how fickle they viewed it.

It was the wheel of Fortune.


They said that this wheel constantly was turning, and that the fastest way to live a miserable life was to put your hope and trust in what you owned, or your government (this is one reason that Arthur’s legendary table was round). Because they recognized the instability of the things we have come to put the most trust in. They knew sometimes the wheel would move up and create a happy ending, and sometimes it would create a tragedy.

Think about the irony of this. We call these people primitive, yet if they were to have lived through the last two years they would have been trying to explain things to us.

They had a metaphor to explain this deep truth, and we use it to market a game show that teaches the exact opposite.

The wisdom of God does tend to go against common sense often. But never as much as here.
One speaker this weekend said, “Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightning.” Which means if you want to know how well you love, just look at your bank statement, or your day-planner. Are you generous with your life? Is your life oriented around values that you are willing to die for?

So here’s a question: Have you ever known people who embody this? Generous with their money, time, resources? If so, What did their example do to you?

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  • Phil M

    Thanks for sharing thought from the conference man! I enjoyed them.

    When I read that question at the end the first person that came to my mind is my dad. One of the images that I associate with my dad is him always handling money to people; whether it was strangers at the gas station or members at church. And honestly it used to bother; it bothered me because my brothers and I were always told we didn’t have enough money to get that toy or to go out to eat, but I would always see him giving money away (how selfish of me right?)

    But what bothered me then, continues to shape me today!

    Because of the incarnational living of my dad, I now have a better understanding of what “give him your cloak as well” means.

  • http://westcoastwitness.com/ Wes Woodell

    The New Testament was written in Greek, but it was thought in Hebrew. Ever spot the parellelism in John 3:16?

    “For God so loved the world
    that He gave His one and only Son…”

    You can draw a big circle around “loved” and “gave”-they go together.

  • Bryan Kelsen

    I am with you Jonathan. So many people come to church on Sunday looking for their blessing instead of wanting to BE the blessing.

    I have learned in my life that when I work to bless others God will bless me. But it isn’t the reason for my actions. Love is.

    Billy Graham wrote that “Love is the opposite of selfishness.” Words to write on your heart.

    It isn’t about what I will get in return. I pray that God will find a way to use me to bless you. And when you do that He has your back.

  • DecaturJeff

    The tragedy is that many of us remain focused on this life-being happy in this life, having prosperity and health in this life. Giving generously often emanates from love and giving generously because of love does lead to a huge reward- life everlasting with the Lord.