Friday, April 28, 2006

The prayer cloths of prosperity

I just returned from a 5-day software conference in Orlando. It was sunny and 32 the whole time, which means that all of you are jealous. Fortunately for me I was able to sit inside virtually the whole time sipping on real-fruit smoothies while listening to giant nerds from New York blather on about product updates and code improvements. To the point though, I didn't write this entry to brag, rather to mention some very disturbing things that I witnessed on American TV.

On Sunday evening (after Sportscentre) I was flipping around the channels and I came across one of those evangelist shows. You know what I am talking about. A well-dressed guy sitting in a southwest themed room with giant cacti in every corner, open bible before him, praying fervently. Now I was intrigued because these things are never what they appear...and I was not disappointed. Within seconds of the prayer finishing this fine gentleman had several donation numbers splashed up across the bottom of the screen and was advocating that you call in with a donation and he would set up a prayer cloth for you, which he would then pray over at the end of the show. Moments pass and he's being inundated with donations of varying amounts (I can't say whether they are legitimate or not, but that's beside the point). He then saunters over to his "Middle East" set which has stone-like walls sitting in front of a desert backdrop, with an alter in the middle. He begins laying out the prayer cloths on the alter and then starts praying. He prays for Sue, $25; Richard $1000; Gary $400 and on and on. He thanks them for their assistance and offers nothing more in prayer. The whole spectacle was disheartening to watch, but it doesn't end there. The very next show was another guy who was offering "prosperity cloths" because "God wants you to be happy". Such shows simply reminded me of other, more notable, television wahoos like Robert "Look at my giant window church" Schuler, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Chuck Swindell. These guys may not be as overt, but don't be fooled, they are on TV because it's TV not because it saves people.

Seeing all of this really made me grateful for our church and the truths that consistently manifest themselves during our times together. The "culture of Christianity" is a frightening thing, particularly when it makes itself onto television and people presumably look for answers in very wrong places. I have no doubt that there are people all across the world that seek answers from false teachers. I have no doubt that prayer cloths have some sway because then people don't have to pray themselves; it gets taken care of. Prosperity cloths are an easy way to make people feel like they've done their piece in approaching God now he's going to show them the money. Hmmm, where have I seen this before...oh right...buying indulgences anyone?

The whole experience left me feeling a little dirty. But it also reinforced the necessity of the Gospel and for the simple truth the good news extends to all who believe. There are false prophets everywhere making money off of false teaching. I think what is most frightening is that such unsavoury types have made it onto mainstream media to salve the conscious of unsuspecting watchers. It's false teaching direct to your home and it's a direct affront to the faith.

Pray that we may be faithful watchers.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel according to Judas

Anyone catch this article in the Globe and Mail, "Judas acted at Jesus's request, manuscript says". Ooooo, I can tell you right now this is going to be fun.

First of all, I have always been suspicious of National Geographic. I mean seriously, what kind of organization has such an oxymoron for a name. Broken down I find the whole concept of "national geographic" to be silly. National is an derivitive of "nation", which usually represents a bordered country, but which can also be a people group (ie: the nation of Islam). See, double-entendre already and that's only one word; which one is it guys, make up your minds. Secondly, what does geographic really mean? As I understand it, "geographic" is a related term to geography which is the science of the earth. When I noticed that a bunch of wahoos at a magazine that hasn't changed it's cover design in about 300 years, and is audacious enough to have name which roughly translates into "People Group Earth Science", is coming forward with the next big thing in religion, I just had to take a bite.

To the issue at hand. The document that was discovered is from about 300 AD (according to carbon-dating), written in a Coptic script as a copy of an earlier Greek manuscript. The gist of the document is that Judas betrayed Jesus at Jesus' request. I can't tell you the myriad of problems I noticed off the bat, but for the doozie wait till I get to the climax of this "tale".

Here are a couple of things that I noted:
1. Is it really betrayal if Jesus told Judas to do it? What's the point of an all-powerful God who needs the help of Judas to get the redemptive work of salvation completed? The whole concept of this article indicates that Jesus was having trouble getting salvation done so he needed an inside man.
2. The first guy they talk to about it is Rev. Don Senior, the president of the Catholic Theological Union. What does this high ranking theological scholar do? He seems very excited about the prospect of this "fascinating" document. Does he know what theological means?
3. Another thing I noticed was the liberal use of the term "scholars". These geniuses somehow know that Jesus was looking to Judas to help rid him of his spiritual self. Are these the guys who discovered the 1,700 year old document in a sand dune or are they the fine individuals like the above gentlemen who are far too fascinated to really take a stand. I think they are likely bored old guys who want to make something of themselves before they die.
4. The key passage (we're told) is when Jesus says to Judas (in private conversation):
“you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothed me.” Okay, didn't Jesus make quite the point of teaching his disciples that the first will be last and the last will be first (see Mark 9:33-36). It doesn't even sound like any other recorded words by Jesus, elevating one above others (for an illustration of what happens when humans do it check your closest encyclopedia under 'Roman Catholic Church"), and requesting help from a guy who takes his own life in a field. Yeah, I can see how that's key...key to nothing. It's not even a complete thought! Who writes this ancient garbage?

I think that these are the kind of articles that remind me how much I appreciate the Gospel. The simplicity of grace and mercy, salvation and forgiveness are treasures that cannot be shaken by such revisionism. As Christians let us be very careful that we do not underestimate the power the devil to undermine doctrine with ancient manuscripts that none of us were there to see written, but are readily believed because some crazy guy found them in a sand dune.

God works for his own glory, as Romans aptly teaches. I don't think Judas was necessary, but God chose to use him for his own purposes. I just don't think God would be God if he had to ask him first.