America’s Ugliest Export

Here’s a video from Christianity Today about the prosperity gospel in Africa.

(If you are viewing this in a feed reader, you may have to click through to the blog to see the video.)

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Life Ministry

Preaching in Pretoria

Oh no. He’s refuting my sermon points before I even speak.  Jesus, there’s either going to be radical transformation today, or I’m going to be chased to my carI shouldn’t have worn flip-flops.

Those were my thoughts as the service began this morning at my friend Lordwick’s church here in a South African township, when John, the “emcee,” was up front.  He excitedly talked about enjoying a prosperous life as a Christian.   At one point he said, “If you are in trouble, if you are suffering, there is something wrong with you.  You need to get close to God.”

The demonic prosperity gospel has an enormous stronghold here in Africa. I wanted to confront it head-on.  I wanted God to do a mighty work and reveal the true nature of the gospel.  I knew that because of what I was going to say, suffering could come my way.

While I sat and listened to John’s pre-sermon ‘sermon’ and the loud, keyboard-driven praise music, I prayed that God would come with power to preach boldly — even if the message would be unpopular.  I prayed for transformation.  And by God’s grace, I think we saw the beginning of transformation by the time we were done.

Let me be honest: after the service, I tried to avoid John.  But he found me (it wasn’t hard, there were only about 40 people, and more than half were children).  He grabbed me and shook my hand and said, “James, you have opened my eyes up to something I didn’t know about.  I thought when I have Jesus, the money should flow in.  But I realize that I wasn’t believing the real gospel.  Your message, it was the real gospel.”  I was floored.  All I could say to him was, “Praise God.”  I gave my manuscript to John, and over lunch, we talked about getting him more resources that will help him be shaped by the real gospel.

With this response, God answered my prayer.  All week I had been praying that God would open people’s eyes to see.  I can’t do that.  Yet, that is exactly what God told Paul to do in Acts 26:18, “I am sending you to open their eyes.”  How can we do this impossible thing? It is only by God’s grace that he works through us.  Anything is possible with himHe is the one who says, “Let light shine!” (2 Cor. 4:6). And he did today.  In fact, he’s doing it everyday.

John was just one man, during one service, after one sermon, in one small, sweaty, school room in South Africa.  But it’s a testament to God’s grace and power.  It’s a testament to his kindness in answering prayer.  It’s a testament that he is the one who opens eyes, and that he uses nobodies like me to do it.

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Thanks to Rylan for the pictures!  Preaching with a translator is never easy (this was my second time).  It’s difficult to get in rhythm because I have to speak very simply (he’s not a professional translator) and sentence-by-sentence.  But by the end though, Lordwick and I started to feed off each other.  Listen to or read the message.






Jesus isn’t a Genie to Do Your Bidding

I picked up this flier from a pastor near the local orphanage I volunteer at in Pretoria.  Evidently, Jesus is dishing out miracles next week in Mamelodi.

Power Hour

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It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t link this video about the prosperity gospel.


Can Christ-less Book Still Be Considered “Christian” Just Because a Pastor Writes It?

I was at Kinko’s a few days ago and I saw Joel Osteen’s book in the company of many others that were about doing more than getting by financially and becoming wealthy.  I’m think the prosperity gospel is not a real gospel, but perhaps we should no longer call Osteen’s books or sermons “Christian” because, in reality, there is no “Christ” in them at all.

Life Theology

Jesus Didn’t Suffer and Die on a Cross to Make You a Better Person

Last November, for my birthday, Mike Janssen gave me a pseudo-present: a Joel Osteen, Become a Better You daily calender (thanks, Mike!).  For Thursday, May 15, Osteen quotes Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and he will direct and make straight and plan your paths.”  Here is Osteen’s motivational thoughts:

I believe one of the best prayers that we could ever prayer is “God not my will, but your will be done.”  I pray it in some form every day: “God open up the right doors and close the wrong doors.”  If you will stay open to His direction and follow your heart, God will protect you.  It says in the Proverbs, “If you acknowledge God in all your ways, He will direct your paths.”  One translation says, “He’ll crown your efforts with success.” 

I’m pretty sure that Osteen’s idea of success is vastly different than God’s.  I’m pretty sure that God does not always crown our efforts with success.  I’m pretty sure that sometimes we even fall flat on our face so that we know the surpassing power belongs to God and not us (2 Cor. 4:7).  Perhaps success, in God’s eyes, is suffering even though you did something right (1 Pt. 2:15-16).  Perhaps success, in God’s eyes, is being beaten five times with 39 lashes so that others will come to experience Jesus as their treasure (2 Cor. 11:24-27). Perhaps success, in God’s eyes, is being persecuted and mocked because that’s the same thing they did to Jesus (Jn. 15:20).

I would like to ask Joel Osteen how that fits into his prosperity theology.  Certainly God will make our paths straight and will lead us to rivers of joy, but that is grounded in his Son Jesus.  Success is not the goal of the Christian.  God’s glory and our joy is.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”