Modern Day Indulgences

About 500 years ago, the Roman Catholic priests would travel the countryside and when the townsfolk would visit them to confess their sins, they would require a “contribution” called an indulgence before they would extend “God’s forgiveness” to them. They would also tell them if their loved ones were in hell or purgatory and require more money given ‘to the church’ so they could in a sense buy their loved ones out of hell and into Heaven. Catholic doctrine did not teach this, but many groups of priests practiced it. The people, with no copies of the Bible of their own, and desiring to be forgiven and receive God’s blessing were grossly taken advantage of with no more than a marketing strategy to line the pockets of the priests and build cathedrals. The church built beautiful cathedrals from the money they took from common people who believed what the corrupt priests had said. The selling of indulgences was one of the practices that fueled Martin Luther in his quest for reformation of the Church.Now, before you get offended on behalf of these common folk and feel thankful that we don’t have to buy God’s blessing today, let’s take a look at our own modern-day version.

A couple of nights ago, I turned on the TV and started flipping channels. You know what that’s like. You hope there will be something entertaining and uplifting. I landed on the TCT channel – which is Christian programming. Or so they say. There was a woman in a red suit making a plea for people to send in money. She caught my attention when she said this: “We need people to sow into this ministry! Just $40 a month and you will see God bring back to you double for your trouble! He has told me that if you will sow a financial seed into this ministry, $40 a month, God says that He will give you all you desire.”

Well before I knew what was happening really, I had picked up my phone and started dialing the number on the screen. I didn’t call in to “sow a seed” or to have “all I desire” from God to the tune of $40 a month, but I called in to speak truth. I’ve never done this before. I usually just change the channel when they start trying to get money from people. But I could not help myself. It felt like the Holy Spirit inside me had enough! I called and a nice woman answered the phone. She wrote down what I said, thanked me for calling, and said she’d deliver the message. What did I say?

I told her what I was watching on the screen and said that while prophecy is a real spiritual gift, that this woman was giving a false word. She was using this false word and her position on the program to bring in money and that people were going to give in hopes that if they did that God would grant their heart’s desire! It is blasphemous and not of God at all. What will ever make the world want our beautiful Savior and His love if this is how we do things? This is nothing but a way to manipulate people out of their hard-earned money. The woman said she agreed and understood. Why don’t the people with the mics in their hands understand? Are they trapped by the sensationalism? greed? need? Are they blinded by the bright stage lights? Can’t they too have faith for their needs, that if they teach truth, that God will provide for them?

The priests and the lady in the red suit appeared to represent God, but did not speak for Him at all. Where is His love in something like this? It’s absent. The individual is made to feel that they have to perform to get God’s blessing. Not true. We can’t buy God’s love or God’s blessing in our lives. He’s not like Wal-Mart where you pay to get what you want.

While scripture does teach the spiritual law of sowing and reaping, it’s not always about money, but also about behavior. If we are truly prompted by God to give, we should give gladly, but not in hopes that He will give us a new Cadillac. Giving should be our response of faith to God for what He has done for us, and not just for what someone said who happens to be holding a microphone!

There was a time that I did not know the Lord well enough to be able to tell the difference between God’s voice and what man told me God was saying. I was told something was of God when it was not and it brought havoc and grief into my family’s life for years. One situation concerned money. There were people who said the Lord told them to come to me for the money they needed. I’ve yet to be repaid. I should have sought the Lord on my own and not simply relied upon their hearing of what God was saying for me. The point here is that even though I am now able to walk in forgiveness towards them, I still needed to know how to truly discern the voice of God for myself. So how do you do that?

A relationship with God in many ways is like any other relationship. If I want to get to know you better, I’ll spend time with you. We may talk over coffee and share how we feel about things important to us. I will want to spend time in your home and maybe you’ll share with me what’s important to you. It’s the same with God. I can get to know Him by genuinely making a decision to seek Him by reading the Bible and talking to Him and learning to listen. He tells us in Jeremiah…

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

He is not hiding or not speaking. Quite the contrary! He longs for us to know Him. It’s the reason Jesus came – to restore our relationship with the Father.

Knowing Him is not just being “saved”. We need to understand that a decision to accept Jesus as Savior is just the beginning of the relationship. I met Him many years ago, but do I know Him better than I did then? Has my relationship with Him continued to deepen? Getting to know Him and His heart of love for me is what keeps me from falling for deception! Knowing Him is what helps me accept myself. Knowing Him is what gives me some of the love and compassion for others that flows from Him. Knowing Him is how I know what is true.

In relating my experience before about the TV evangelist, I want to clarify that all Christian TV is not bad. But we have to know how to discern between what is true and what is not. And I am not downing the Catholic Church either. It has been a voice for truth in many ways. The point is that none of us have this perfect, but knowing God better and knowing what His voice sounds like will help to keep us to the right path. And when we do fail, and we will, He uses that to help us get to know Him a bit more.

If you want to know how to hear His voice, start by asking Him to teach you what it sounds like, what it looks like. Start spending time in His Word and asking Him to help you understand His heart for your life. He is waiting for you.

(Originally published Sept. 15, 09)

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