Review- American Gospel: Christ Alone

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I was scrolling through the “Recently Added” section of Netflix when I came across the 2018 documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed and written by Brandon Kimber, American Gospel provides an in-depth look at the heretical teaching known as the Prosperity Gospel.

I have to say that Kimber’s research and passion for the project comes across in the documentary. The first thirty or so minutes of American Gospel relies on interviews with theologians, pastors, authors, apologists, and church historians to lay a firm foundation for the presentation of the true Gospel. The case presented is solid doctrine and a great reminder for all Christians to study the Word of God for themselves.

Once the foundation is set, American Gospel presents an examination the false doctrine of the prosperity message and its prominent teachers such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, Bill Johnson, and Joel Osteen to name a few. The documentary traces the roots of the prosperity message back to Kenneth Hagin, who in fact plagiarized from the works of E.W. Kenyon. As a lawyer would systematically breakdown an argument in court, strong biblical teaching and the experts refute the doctrine and merits of the prosperity message until it is revealed to be the heresy and deception that it is.

American Gospel is not simply an academic or theological debate, but also provides personal stories from people whose lives were affected negatively by the prosperity teachers. One of these people is Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn who has renounced the false teachings and is now warning believers about the prosperity message. I related with the heartbreaking stories of the everyday people who fell in with this dangerous message. As a young believer, I lacked discernment and was part of a word-faith type of church for a number of years, which taught that God always heals, God wants to bless, and placed the onus on our works and not the finished work of Christ.

No matter if you are a new believer or one who has been in church for decades, I highly encourage you to watch American Gospel: Christ Alone. I rate it five stars out of five stars. The documentary is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Hold The Line

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By Michael W. Raley

The armies of darkness and despair have waged war in my life

For what seems an eternity.

I have paid a heavy price and suffered tremendous loss.

Yet, I remain steadfast in the midst of this battle.

“Hold the line!”

By the grace of God, I have come too far to waive the white flag.

Now is the time to regroup and to strengthen what remains,

For victory is imminent, so judgment will be executed on the darkness and despair.

As long as I have breath, I have hope.

“Hold the line!”

My spirit and my resolve are battle-hardened,

My strategy is coming together,

As I plan to launch an offensive

That will scatter the enemy and break their spirits.

“Hold the line!”

 

 

Dangerous Doctrines and Pandemics

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NASB).

As I write this post on April 24, 2020, there are 2.73 million cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19), with 890,000 confirmed cases in the United States where I live. As of this moment, 192,000 worldwide have died from the virus, with 50,372 deaths in the United States. Not in my lifetime have I lived through such a pandemic. Life has ground to a halt and the world economy is on the verge of collapse. However, as with Coronavirus and other catastrophes, there are people who will seize upon the situation politically, financially, and unfortunately, spiritually.

I know that many churches and charitable organizations are struggling during these times. I know these organizations are doing the best they can to serve their respective communities and be a light in this darkness. I pray these groups get the resources they need in these times. My beef, however, is with the so-called “prosperity teachers.”

The prosperity gospel, aka “the health and wealth” gospel teaches that God will bless His followers with material wealth and physical health if they are faithful with their giving. The prosperity message is not new, as this heresy dates back to at least the 1940s and 50s, with the teachings of Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts. The playbook  is exactly the same for today’s prosperity teachers, which include Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paula White (President Trump’s spiritual adviser), Joel Osteen, Jesse DuPlantis, and Creflo Dollar to name a few.

One of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so successful is that it appeals to the greed which lies in the human spirit. Who wouldn’t want to get a fortune from making a simple donation, or “planting seed,” as the prosperity teachers say? These false teachers take Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 13:18-23) out of context. Jesus clearly states the seed represents the Word of God, but the false teachers claim seed is money, which is where they promise a thirty, sixty, or hundredfold return on your investment into their ministry. However, if you look at the net worth of these so-called teachers, it looks they are the ones prospering from those spiritually and financially vulnerable.

During this Coronavirus pandemic, Kenneth Copeland has been out front and center, blowing “the wind of God” on the virus and telling followers to keep tithing, even though they may be out of work. Here is a video which summarizes Copeland’s antics. I don’t own the rights to the video.

These kind of teachings are dangerous because they take advantage of people in their weakest mental, financial, and spiritual states. Early in my faith, I fell victim to doctrines such as these, which were reinforced by the church I was attending at the time. However, as I began to study deeper into Scripture and hear what was really being taught, I turned away from this false doctrine and I pray you do as well if you are caught up in this false doctrine.

These heretics are exactly what Scripture warns us about:

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).

Brothers and sisters, it is time we expose these heretics, these clouds without rain, these false teachers for who they are. Read the Bible for yourself. Exercise discernment and throw these snake oil peddlers off to the wayside. Don’t give these people your money, instead, donate it to your local church or a food bank. Above all, let us put aside greed and seek to be a blessing to those around us in these troubled times.God bless you.

I Miss the Old Hymns

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By Michael W. Raley

I miss the old hymns

And the truth we sang

About that Old Time Religion

In the Old Country Church.

We sang about God’s Amazing Grace

And the soul cleansing Blood of the Lamb.

I miss the times In the Garden

Where our Precious Lord took our hand

And made it well with our souls.

I held onto the Rock of Ages

And found peace in the valley

Because Love lifted me.

Nothing could wash away my sins,

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

O how I miss the days of the old hymns.

Help My Unbelief

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Mark 9:17-27 tells the story of a desperate father who longs for his sick son to be healed.

“…Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” (Mark 9:17-18, NASB).

After Jesus laments the generations unbelief, He calls for the child to be brought to Him. The child immediately goes into a convulsion. Jesus asks the father how long this has been happening and the father replies:

“From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:21-9:22, NASB, emphasis mine).

I sympathize with the father here. When I was a small child, I suffered with seizures. I don’t remember having one, but I’ve heard stories from my parents and other family members. I was never diagnosed with epilepsy or any disorder, but I took medication until I was ten years old. When I read the father’s words, I can hear the helplessness he must have felt when his son had these attacks. My parents must have felt the same way when I had a seizure. (For the record, I’ve not had another seizure for over thirty years).

Jesus then puts the emphasis on the father’s faith: “‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23, NASB).

“Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.'”

Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the child, which causes more convulsions before the child is healed and freed from the demonic spirit.

We often look at this story as one of Jesus’ miracles, which it is or we only walk away with the “All things are possible verse.” However, as I re-read these verses this week, I really empathized with the father. I have been in those desperate situations, whether it be health, financial, marital or loved ones dealing with a sickness, only to have my faith tested. When the pain goes on for a long time with no answers in sight, the doubt creeps into our spirits. We question what we know, we question God, and we question the point of having faith.

Mark’s text doesn’t say how old the child was, but he dealt with this spirit for a long time. I know the father had to be emotionally and spiritually drained from the ordeal. I’ve been wearied through many battles myself and I’m sure you have as well. I believe the worst thing we can say to someone is “you just need more faith.” I believe this statement is damaging to one’s spirit and reflects our ignorance of someone’s situation. We don’t know someone’s level of faith. We truly don’t know what someone has gone through up to that point. The best thing for us to do is to love and accept someone right where they are. God bless.

 

 

God’s Unending Grace

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By Michael W. Raley

My life’s path is littered with regret,

Where I had the best of intentions,

Yet things did not work out for the best.

I look back on those days with equal amounts of frustration and lamentation.

In the midst of this darkness, I try to hold onto the Light,

Though I can’t make any of this right.

My hope and strength are gone,

Sorrowful, seemingly unable to carry on.

The failed experiences have left me feeling jarred

And left me to play a hand of worthless cards.

In my mind I am broken and defeated,

Paralyzed with indecision,

For fear that the past will be repeated.

I once again fall back into a depression.

Then my spirit comes into a revelation

That there is hope, there is salvation.

I remember that God’s grace

Is bigger than any mistake I can make.

The past, of course, can’t be erased,

But I can go forward in grace,

If you will, a heavenly clean slate

Which gives me the opportunity to get back in the race,

Without the feelings of failure, self-loathing and hate.

As long as I have breath, it’s not too late

Thanks to God’s unending grace.

 

 

 

 

The Lawless Times

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

Matthew 24:12, NASB

It is so easy to turn a deaf ear and form a cynical heart towards community decay. Newscasts are filled with stories of people being shot, crime, rape, child abuse, political bickering, and an overall disregard for established law and order. If the incidents take place blocks or miles from our comfortable existence, we can become insulated and isolated in our thinking about our community’s pain.

Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) discusses what the times will be like before His return- wars, natural disasters, persecution of believers, false prophets, and rebellion to name a few signs. (Jesus also speaks of these events  in Mark 13 and Luke 21).

God knows our limitations as people and He knows how overwhelming bad news and events can weigh on our minds. Just the major events in our own lives- the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, job loss, and financial problems can trigger anxiety and depression, causing us misery upon misery.

As overwhelming these events seem in Matthew 24:12, that people’s love for each other and God will grow cold, Jesus us offers us hope.

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NASB).

Verse thirteen is not dealing with eternal salvation, it is dealing with a sense of protection or deliverance in the midst of suffering.

Now that we have a reason to hope, Jesus gives us an assignment.

“The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then, the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NASB).

We live in lawless times, but there is a way not to become overwhelmed and unloving regarding people and their suffering. We must reconnect with the love of God by repentance, prayer, study, and being community with other believers. As we grow in our love for God, our love for people will be a natural offspring and a platform for sharing the gospel with them. God bless you.

I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Live in Grace

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Faith and grace often rise up during our lowest times. My walk with Christ has enabled me to overcome and work through very dark and difficult situations, such as sickness, family issues, mental health, career and financial struggles, and the dissolution of my marriage, all of which have taken a physical, mental, and spiritual toll. I haven’t been perfect in my faith or responses, but I am learning to live in grace.

My church is doing a series called “90 Days with Jesus,” where Monday through Saturday, we read one chapter of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I am halfway through Mark, which is just action packed with miracles and powerful teachings from start to finish. What has always struck me about the gospels is how a person’s lifetime of physical or emotional suffering came to an instantaneous end when they encountered Jesus. However, if many of us were to be honest, we’ve read these stories and petition God as to why He’s never healed us or a loved one of an affliction, why He’s not listening to our prayers, we wonder where are you, God?

God’s grace provides us with the strength we need to face our daily difficulties. Grace and faith should be realistic-not every situation is going to end in a miracle. There will be dark times, there will be struggles, but we must remember to rely on God’s strength to carry us through those times.

The Apostle Paul faced what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” which was a constant struggle in his life. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talked about his struggle and how on three different occasions he prayed God would take it away, but God did not. Some people  would argue Paul was physically sick, others would state Paul’s thorn was the constant persecution he faced. I personally lean toward the persecutions as his thorn. Even spiritual giants such as Paul had their struggles and that should comfort us. We must remember that God is working to perfect our character and prepare us for long-term growth, even if it comes at the expense of our perceived short-term comfort, as Paul wrote:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to  torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB).

So as we go about our day and our lives, let us remember that during the weakest moments, God’s grace is to be our strength. We must change our mindset concerning our suffering and difficulties and look for God’s guidance and direction. As we look toward God, our faith will increase. God bless you all.