Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 15 November 2015
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Laden with Prosperity
Seven weeks ago and last week, I revisited and confirmed prophecies over this church about abundant provisions. God has plans for us and they also require finances. Maybe I just tell you again the latest prophetic word which God gave to Vicki, our chair:
Vicki was very busy and only remembered late that our “Touching Base” meeting was coming up and she asked God for a word for the congregation. She continued with her work and was vacuuming when she heard God in a voice that was louder than the vacuum cleaner and he said: “Forcefully advancing.” She immediately went to the Bible and found the verse: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).
Vicki went to bed early because she was very tired. Around midnight, God woke her up and said: “Church of Philadelphia”. She left the bedroom and looked up the church in Philadelphia in the Bible:
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:7-13).
This is what we had been sensing all year. The time of waiting and closed doors is over and we are now in a breakthrough season. For years (since 2010), we have been praying about the “key” to the Lutheran Church and now God opened the door that no one can shut again. God is pleased with us – “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” And there will be vindication.
[Compare this with the prophetic word in 2008 when God gave us the word of being like the church in Laodicea (also in Revelation 3).]
Vicki was jumping for joy when she understood what God meant and, in the middle of the night, had no one to tell which was a little difficult. She could not go back to sleep. And we are also excited – especially with the Lutheran Renewal Conference coming up and all the planning that we do. However, this morning, I do not want to spend more time on what God has promised us but want to ask the basic question: Are these prophecies of open doors – revival – and abundant provisions to finance the work above board? Are they biblical? Is it okay to believe God for riches and wealth? Is it okay to believe God for breakthrough also in finances and prosperity? According to many, it is not. The internet is full of hostility toward exercising faith for finances and, in my own experience, colleagues are quick to label expectations of success as “prosperity theology” and “health and wealth gospel”. And you can study articles like “5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel” (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-errors-of-the-prosperity-gospel). Jesus was poor and Paul was poor. As Christians, is our calling to be poor? Is it or is it not okay to believe God for abundant provisions – here at Living Grace?
The following report is from a Christian magazine:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/july/12.22.html: Gospel Riches – Africa’s rapid embrace of prosperity Pentecostalism provokes concern – and hope, Isaac Phiri and Joe Maxwell, July 6, 2007:
Pastor Michael Okonkwo rises from his gold-coated throne before 4,000 onlookers in Lagos, Nigeria. “Hallelujah!” bellows the self-proclaimed “father of fathers, pastor of pastors,” wearing a glittery green gown. The crowd stands and roars.
A 62-year-old former banker and graduate of the Morris Cerullo School of Ministry in San Diego, California, Okonkwo touts a seminar called “Financial Intelligence”; if you’ve missed it, he encourages you to buy the tapes. Okonkwo describes the “intelligence” he preaches in his book Controlling Wealth God’s Way: “[M]any are ignorant of the fact that God has already made provision for his children to be wealthy here on earth. When I say wealthy, I mean very, very rich. … Break loose! It is not a sin to desire to be wealthy.”
Bishop of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) since 1988, Okonkwo presides over the annual Kingdom Life World Conference of 150 prosperity-oriented churches. But tonight he yields the podium to the Rev. Felix Omobude, who urges the crowd to dream big. “There are so many dream killers around,” he says. “Don’t let them kill your dream.”
Omobude prophesies: “Your tomorrow will be better than today. In 2007 you will take your place.”
The crowd is thrilled. Omobude promises that women will find husbands, audience members will buy new cars, and the barren will birth twins.
To open themselves to this blessing, Omobude encourages the crowd to give N25,000 (about $200). Local schoolteachers earn only $150 per month, so the amount is significant. Yet more than 300 people swarm Omobude, who rubs oil from a bowl on their palms. Within minutes, the church nets a tax-free $60,000.
Similar scenes unfold every day in countless venues throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where prosperity-tinged Pentecostalism is growing faster . . . than all religious groups, including Islam . . . They make up more than a fourth of Nigeria’s population, more than a third of South Africa’s, and a whopping 56 percent of Kenya’s.
We probably don’t like the look of this testimony. The emphasis seems to be all wrong. A gold-coated throne for the self-proclaimed “father of fathers” and “pastor of pastors” smacks of pride and greed. [Yet, in traditional churches – especially the Catholic Church – ministers also have special seating.] And it seems irresponsible to manipulate the poor into giving money that they do not have. In many places of the world, if you want to give more than a month’s salary in one church meeting, you have to hear from God or your family goes hungry. The Bible says:
Luke 12:15: Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
1 Timothy 6:8-10: But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Yet, the Bible also records a testimony where some of the poorest people gave the most to God and the pastor – the apostle Paul – did talk about supernatural multiplication of what has been given. However, in the Bible, the pastor tried to talk the poor out of giving so much but they pleaded with him. They begged to give that much because Jesus had done that much for them:
2 Corinthians 8:1-5: And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
As Paul was telling and affirming the story of the Macedonians, he explained the following principle to the Corinthians – 2 Corinthians 9:6-11: Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
[Galatians 6:7-10: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Luke 6:38: Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.]
Paul took the money from the poor and he trusted in the provisions of God which, according to his teaching, become activated by giving generously to receive abundantly. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
Was the apostle Paul a “prosperity preacher” that others would persecute on the internet? In his case, the accusations would have been difficult to sustain because he himself was not rich and most of his colleagues were not rich either:
1 Corinthians 4:9-11: For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings … To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
Paul worked for his keep (but he also accepted support for his work) and he worked hard (he was not sitting on a gold-plated throne) and God gave him enough for his own needs and to be a blessing to others.
Acts 20:33-35: I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
My sense is that God promised to provide always the necessities of life:
Matthew 6:25-33: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear … So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
However, times of persecution can leave you poor – as Jesus and Paul and the frontline apostles were poor:
Hebrews 10:32-34: Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
There are no promises of God that he would protect our property against those that persecute us. But when the kingdom of God overcomes the opposition and revival breaks out – whole regions come to faith in Jesus Christ – persecution turns into acceptance – then surely financial prosperity is part of God’s favour and blessings.
Prosperity, abundance – with a clean heart that is pure from greed – is surely a high value of God. Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done as in heaven, so also upon earth” (Matthew 6:10). And in heaven the people of God walk on golden streets – gold for bitumen!
Revelation 21:21: The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
Throughout the Bible, financial abundance is part and parcel of receiving blessings from God:
Genesis 26:12: Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him.
Genesis 39:3: Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.
Deuteronomy 8:18: … Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
Deuteronomy 15:10: You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.
2 Chronicles 31:20: This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.
Psalm 1:1-3: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Psalm 35:27: Let them shout for joy and rejoice, who favour my vindication; and let them say continually, “The Lord be magnified, who delights in the prosperity of His servant.”
Psalm 67:1-2: God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
Proverbs 10:22: The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
Malachi 3:10: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”
When the people of God – the people of Israel in the past – finally escaped the persecution in Egypt, God made sure that they would not leave empty-handed. On the contrary, they would leave Egypt laden with silver, gold and clothing:
Exodus 12:35-36: The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favourably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
And God did not promise to bring them to a barren land but a land flowing with milk and honey – a rich land where they could prosper:
Exodus 3:17: And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey.
Exodus 33:3: Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey …
Prosperity is not a dirty word. God wants his people to live among milk and honey. But, this side of eternity, we are on a journey to get there (as we spoke before about frontline mission work and persecution) and when abundance comes, it is not for us to consume without compassion for others. We share what we have and trust God that, as we give, he gives more.
Last week, I told the story of Heidi Baker – how Jesus had promised her abundant provision: “I died that there will always be enough.” And incredible provisions have come to Rolland and Heidi Baker’s work but they live a challenging life where they do not shut themselves away from the poor but face them – every day and every Sunday:
Rolland and Heidi Baker: Reckless Devotion: 365 Days
into the Heart of Radical Love, Chosen Books 2014: Every Sunday after church,
Heidi, having poured out everything she has, will go to her truck ready to
drive home. And every single time, a crowd of people surrounds her as she
attempts to get into the truck and drive. This isn’t a little gathering of
well-wishers, come to wave her off.
This is a clamouring crowd of angry, shouting people! A mob of youth who are really upset because Mama Ida won’t provide them with a house right away. Or whatever else they want. Typically, they will yell something like, “You don’t love me anymore!” Or, “You don’t care. You took me off the street, and now you’ve forgotten me.” They beat on the car and slap the windshield. Eventually, Heidi manages to pull away and escape.
By all means, pursue provisions (sow to reap) but keep bearing the pain of the poor. And they are not always grateful but bite the hand that wants to reach out and give to them.
I close with a testimony of Roly Sondergeld, who is a local Presbyterian pastor:
Interview with Pastor Roland Sondergeld, 4 November 2015: It began with a Christian in a Presbyterian church who experienced really difficult times with high interest rates and he was on the verge of not being able to continue. Then he saw, as he was sitting on the church’s committees for mission, that the church was always struggling to have the money to give. He approached Roly and asked: “What about you and Christlife Presbyterian Church (Toowoomba) and us down here in Brisbane (Acacia Ridge) and maybe you can think of a third church and I sell you the whole business for a dollar?” To cut a long story short, this is what happened. The third church was Camphill Presbyterian Church in Brisbane.
The business was sold to the three churches about 20 years ago and they took over a huge debt – 2.4 million dollars. As the churches were travelling along, they realized that the new centre that the business was developing would take a while to become profitable. During the time, Soncorp Bank was amalgamating with a number of other banks and the three churches owed the money to one of the banks that were amalgamating. The combined – amalgamated – bank did not want the sort of business the three churches were having.
The complex of the business was huge. It started off with about twenty squash courts and then kept developing into four swimming pools (redeveloping the site), etc. It has now about 4000 members. The complex goes up to two or three levels. There is also a house in the front of the complex. There was another centre which the churches were able to unload and reduce the debt to $1.4 million. The amalgamated bank exerted pressure to sell this part of the business. At the time, a lot of sports’ centres were going to the wall. They were not a good risk factor. Even though the banks were meeting all of their financial requirements, the amalgamated bank started to say that they didn’t want the sport’s centre business of the three churches on their books.
To cut a long story short, the bank valuated the property and valued it at $800,000. By doing this valuation, they were able to say that the three churches were insolvent. (According to the valuation, the worth of the asset was less than the debt owed.) Therefore, the bank called the three churches – the management board – into meetings.
It was a pretty emotional time. Roly remembers sitting there in the public foyer in Queens Street of that particular bank and he said to the rest of the directors (six or eight of them): “We got to pray. This is not good.” They bowed their heads and they prayed. And when they opened their eyes, a guy was standing over them. He asked: “What are you guys doing?” They said: “We are praying.” “This is a bit unusual. Where do you come from?” They said: “We are from AJ’s Sports Centre.” He said: “Oh, I’ve been there.” The directors said: “Yes, things are not going too well for us. The board has called us in on the seventh floor.” He said: “Ah, well, I will pray for you.” And off he went.
The directors went up and this is when they were told that the bank was not happy with how things were. And the bank involved KPMG (a liquidation group) which Roly considered to be heavy-handed and merciless in their approach. A representative of KGMP attended the meeting. This was serious. They said: “At this stage you are insolvent and we are going to do something about it.”
A couple of weeks later, Roly knew that things were getting very serious. He remembers that he was walking the beach at Kings’ Beach, Caloundra. And the surf was really rocky and noisy and since he did not see any other people and it was night time, he screamed out to God on the top of his voice: “What is going on here?” He poured out his heart.
The second time that the directors went to the bank, they were waiting for the lift. There were three lifts to go up to the seventh floor. And the door of the middle lift opens and the same guy is walking out of the lift. He said: “What are you guys doing here?” They said: “Yes, things are not improving. As a matter of fact, they called us back in to clarify a little more what’s going on.” He said: “It’s okay. I keep you in my prayers.” And off he went.
The directors went up there and the bank said: “Look. Within the next couple of weeks we are going to wind you up.” Within about ten days, they called us in and said: “Look. We are having you closed down by Friday.”
When the directors went to the last meeting and they told them that they would be closed by Friday, Roly confronted them and said: “I’ve had banking background. We’ve missed one payment and you want to close us down. You have no grounds because we have always honoured our commitments.” Then the banking representatives lost their temper with them and said: “We don’t want to talk to you. You are arrogant. We don’t want to have anything to do with you.” And so the directors came out – most of them in tears. Roly, as chairman, was trying to hold them together.
Roly pressed the button to go down the lift. And when one of the three lifts opened, the same person stands inside the left resting in a corner (having his arm lean against a side) as if he had been standing there all day. He said: “Ah, you guys back again.” “How come you are in the lift?” “I am in international finance – a few floors above.” [Roly said that now they are not sure how far the international finance went up.] And Roly said: “Ah, that’s interesting.” On the way down, the directors told them what happened and he said: “Just give me the name of those people who are handling this.” At the bottom, as they were leaving the lift, he said: “Don’t worry about it. Just leave it with me.” And away the directors went. [Three of eight directors resigned because trading while being technically insolvent was illegal and could have cost the directors their homes and assets and land them in prison.]
And strangely, they had been negotiating madly in the background trying to interest any other bank in the business. The National Bank came in with a valuation of $2.4 million for their property. And the bank said: “You just tell us what money you need.” The amalgamated bank said: “We just want to have you off our books. You’ll give us one million dollars. We write off the $400,000. And we give you the land titles and get you off our books.” [The whole process took about six months or more.]
The directors now wonder: “Who was that person?” They are now convinced that it was an angel of God that was very much part of this. (They never saw him again.) In it all, what happened was that they realized that they were trying to help God. And he had to show them that he was doing the work and that they could rest in him. Roly began to call God: our Jewish banker. Whenever anyone came to do business with the board, they would start talking to him and he or they would say that the economy was a little tough and this and that but the board, especially Roly, would respond: “We have a Jewish banker who looks after us. We don’t need to worry about these things.” And they would all look at the board and think that they were a little bit of a nutcase. According to Roly, it was just beautiful because God showed them that he is Lord over every aspect of life and every director that they had on the board was briefed on this. They learned to rest in God.
Before the business just broke even but this business became so prosperous that, over eighteen or nineteen years of Roly being the chairman, it was just amazing. Within twelve months, they made half a million dollars profit and then, within a couple of years, they were over one million dollar profit every year (for more than fifteen years despite economic downturns). The board was then able to hand out money to all sort of mission organizations (e.g.: Jubilee, Uganda, Sudan, chaplains in schools, city women) and also clear all of their own debts within two years (their churches’ debts). [“It was like Santa Clause.”] AJ’s was turning over profits that none of the other sports’ centres could do. There was amazement at conferences where the managers of sporting centres came together. How was AJ’s doing this? It was amazing how AJ’s was able to hold on to its club members.
The journey to a profitable – supernaturally profitable – sporting centre was not easy and there were lessons along the way: “Trust and rest in him. You cannot generate wealth by yourself – at least not that sort of wealth.” But God was pleased to grant breakthrough and supplied millions of dollars for kingdom work, making the directors feel like Santa Clause.
Is it okay to believe God for riches and wealth? Is it okay to believe God for breakthrough also in finances and prosperity? Yes, it is. In times of persecution, our properties may be confiscated or there may be other restrictions. But milk and honey are God’s idea and they are for sharing and experiencing the answer to Jesus’ prayer which he taught us: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done as in heaven, so also upon earth” (Matthew 6:10). In this season – here at Living Grace – we exercise faith for an abundance of provisions to come. Amen.