“You’ve got just THREE days to cough up my rent, kid!” Greg’s rich landlord warned.
“Can’t you give me a break, mister?” Greg pleaded. “God will bless you if you give me a few extra days.”
“What do I care about God?” the man blustered. “If He really loved you, why would I be standing at your door threatening you with eviction on Friday? This whole building belongs to me and everybody here is at my mercy.”
“You might own this building, Mr. Sharkley, but my Father owns this whole wide world. You can’t put me on the street unless He allows it.”
“We’ll SEE if I don’t! All I know, kid, is you better be at MY office with the dough at nine a.m. sharp Friday morning, or you’ll be bumming on the beach pushing a shopping cart.”
“My Father will provide,” Greg said. “After all the money I’ve sent to TV preachers, He’s bound to. They promised me a miracle harvest.”
The landlord smirked. “You’re dumber than I thought you were, kid. Those guys are lying to you through their teeth. Why do you think they’re all living in oceanfront mansions and driving a Mercedes Benz while you can’t even make the rent on this grotty dump? This world’s not fit for sweet suckers like you. How do you think I’VE made it so far in life, kid? I give no mercy and I ask for none. You’re living in Cloud Koo Koo land. In the REAL world you’ve gotta FIGHT for everything you get, and you either sink or swim.”
“It says in the Bible, ‘What good does it do you to gain the whole world and lose your own soul’, Mr. Sharkley. God is the One Who let you have all this and He can take it away anytime He wants.”
Greg shuddered. It wasn’t like him to stand up to bullying authority figures. He was too nice a Christian for that.
Mr. Sharkley shoved his face into Greg’s. “Do you know who I am, you snot-nosed punk? I’m a multi-billionaire! The man upstairs can’t do NOTHIN’ to me! I could have sent one of my agents to call on you today. But I wanted to put the fear of god in you myself.”
“But you AREN’T God, Mr. Sharkley.”
Mr. Sharkley looked downright wounded. “One more peep out of you, kid, and you’ll be sucking your breakfast through your nose. Make me any madder and I’ll throw you out now! I don’t care how you get it, Friday morning’s the deadline or you’re OUT!”
Greg didn’t even say “God bless you, sir” as the billionaire landlord stalked away to his next victim. Greg shut the door, drew the shabby curtains and started pacing the floor. ‘Oh, LORD!” he cried. “Did you see how mean he was to me, and what he said about You? When WILL You make good on the TV preacher’s promise to multiply back all that money I sent? I sent it in faith, Lord, my RENT money, and I just lost my job at Burger Delite! If You don’t multiply it back, I don’t know WHAT will happen to me! ”
Greg was out looking for a job the next day when he found Mr. Sharkley slumped on a park bench. Greg greeted him only to be told to mind his own business.
“But Mr. Sharkley, I’ve just put in my application at McDonald’s and they said they’d call me back to let me know if I can work part time. I might be able to borrow the rent off my uncle till next month. Could you wait till next Monday, maybe?”
“Get lost kid, your rent’s nothing to do with me anymore.” The forlorn landlord pulled his expensive Armani business suit closer about his shivering frame. Such icy weather was unusual for this area.
“What are you doing, sitting out here in the park, Mr. Sharkley? Look, it’s snowing. You should go home.”
“Ain’t got one no more, kid.” The landlord looked like he could cry.
“Who? YOU?” Why you said you owned two city blocks of apartments.”
“Yeah, I did kid, till I blew it all at the race track. I bet a billion on Flying Fleabag because my pal Bugsy told me the other horses got doped up by one of our stooges and I just couldn’t lose. Well, it seems like that dirty rat double-crossed me! He was a secret agent for the bookies and he LIED to me so I’d lose everything and he could collect his cut! It was either sign all my properties over to pay my gambling debts or I’d be found dead in the river the next day. Boo hoo hoo! The syndicate seized all my beautiful mansions and properties. They even took my wife away! All I got left is the clothes on my back and my cell phone, which is already running out of juice. I don’t even own a tent! If my bodyguard Beefy don’t phone me back and say I can stay with him, I’ll have to go stay at that homeless flophouse on Ninth St., and everybody’s gonna laugh at me!”
Greg patted him on the shoulder. “Mr. Sharkley, Jesus can help you…”
Mr. Sharkley shoved Greg away. “Don’t you DARE tell me that junk! If there WAS a god, he wouldn’t have let that happen to me! All I did was try to be a trillionaire, and He let me down! Get out of my sight!”
“But Mr. Sharkley, would you at least take my jacket if you’re gonna stay out here? It’s warmer than yours.”
After Mr. Sharkley hurled unprintable insults at him, Greg got the message and split. He stopped to tell a policeman that someone should bring Mr. Sharkley out of the cold before he froze to death. The cop nodded with a deadpan face and promised to take care of him.
Greg was gone but the cop just stood where he was, munching on his doughnut, weighing his options. After all the hell that man had put him through….
Next evening was Wednesday night service, a special Sharing Night. Greg went up front to testify. “It was on the news,” he choked. “My landlord, Mr. Sharkley, was found dead this morning on a park bench. He must have been too proud to go to the homeless shelter after he lost all his money at the race track. I tried to witness to Mr. Sharkley when he came for the rent, but all he did was curse my faith and threaten to throw me out of my apartment.”
Some saints mumbled their sympathy, but others whispered that it served that old devil right for being such a mean reprobate.
“I feel real bad about it,” Greg continued. “I wish I’d hung around to witness some more to him, but I’ve been so wrapped up in my own troubles. I’ve been worried, uh, I mean concerned, about my rent being due on Friday morning. Everyone please pray for me that I’ll get my miracle by Friday.”
“Amen,” the pastor said. “Simon Sharkley, billionaire realtor, lies silent in the grave, and his tongue blasphemes no more. Let his tragic life and death be a warning to all who would dare to cross the ministry of this church. Brother Greg has kept current with his tithes, and has faithfully sown seed in Brother Jubal Filbert’s TV ministry. Son, you can rest assured of our prayers. Be of good cheer. EXPECT A MIRACLE! Tonight we’ll be joining Brother Filbert’s service live through the miracle of Interactive Internet.”
Head hung low, Greg slumped down in his seat, hardly daring to look at anyone. Greg wondered if he even belonged here, in this big rich church that attracted big crowds of fancily-dressed strangers you knew would never quite be your friends. Their stony silence and icy stares said it all. Some yawned or coughed. Nobody really cared. Then he felt a light touch on his arm. Strange. Hardly anybody ever sat near him, even if the church was filling up.
Greg had never seen this elderly lady before. A tiny wisp of a woman with steel gray hair, wearing a simple blue dress. She looked old enough to be Greg’s grandmother. But her cheeks were rosy and her smile was bright and she had the warmest, sweetest smile. Unlike Greg’s party animal mom, who was divorced and had run off with her new man, hardly ever bothering to call or even write.
“Greg,” she said, “after the service, I’d like you to join me for a cup of coffee. Better yet, why don’t you just leave with me now?”
“Might as well,” Greg sighed. “I just embarrassed myself in front of the whole church.” He picked up his Bible and slowly made his way to the front, feeling all eyes glued to his back.
“You know you really don’t belong here,” the lady said when they were outside. “This place is like a mausoleum.”
“Amen to that,” Greg agreed. Big wet snowflakes hit him in the face. He pulled his scarf tighter around his chin.
Soon they were settled in a cozy seaside diner. Greg was surprised when his new friend asked for the menu.
“But we were only having coffee,” Greg said. “That’s all I can afford…”
“But I was going to treat you, Greg. Order anything you like. I know you must be starving.”
“Sure am. All I’ve had to eat this week is beans on toast, and I’ve even run out of that.”
The omelette, sausage and hashbrowns tasted heavenly to cash-strapped Greg. “The Lord will surely bless you for this, ma’am,” he mumbled between mouthfuls.
“He already has, Greg, and my name’s Rita.” She held out a thin, blue-veined hand.
He shook it and asked her where she was from, said he’d never seen her around church.
Her eyes darted. “I spent some time down in Frisco doing the Lord’s work, but felt led to come further up the coast and see if I could be of some service. Go on now, Greg, eat up and you’ll feel a lot better.”
“But aren’t you having anything, Rita?”
“Oh, I had something earlier. This hot chocolate is nice.”
For several minutes they discussed Greg’s life as a college student who hailed from Oakland. Rita consoled Greg over his unhappy home life and told him to trust in his loving Heavenly Father, Who would neither fail nor forsake him. Then she touched his hand. “Greg, I didn’t bring you here to interrogate you, but is it all right if we discuss something?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Greg, a lot of good Christian folks have gotten mixed up in this devilish Prosperity Doctrine. It promises them untold riches but always leads to eternal ruin. And one big problem is so-called television ministries peddling lies in the name of the Lord.”
Greg almost choked on his sausage. “What lies?”
“That you can BUY God’s favors in exchange for cold, hard, cash. As if Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on Calvary wasn’t enough to move God’s heart to answer your prayers and deliver you from evil.”
“If you’re talking about Brother Filbert,” Greg said defensively, “you’re wrong. He’s the humblest prayer warrior alive.”
Rita laughed. “Humble? I have been told he wears gold and diamond rings, but has the jewelry airbrushed out of his pictures so his so-called faith partners can’t see them. He drives expensive cars and he owns TWO huge mansions. His ‘ministry’ earns him $60,000,000 a year. What kind of humility is that?”
“But he must be broke!” Greg said. “Just recently Brother Filbert said he saw a 10,000-foot high Jesus Who ordered him to build an Inner Healing Center out in the desert, and to raise $50,000,000 for it from his Faith Partners. If Brother Filbert doesn’t come up with it by the end of February, he’s a dead duck!”
Rita’s eyes twinkled. “That ‘Jesus’ sounds an awful lot like your former landlord. He threatened to put you out on the street if you didn’t cough up the cash by Friday, and this imposter ‘Jesus’ threatened to bump off Brother Filbert if he didn’t do the same! It’s easy for these con artists to lie, and even if he DID see and hear such things, 2 Cor.11:14 states that satan can masquerade as an angel of light. The REAL Jesus said, ‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ Jesus isn’t a gangster, Greg. He’s a loving Savior Who NEVER ONCE took up a collection at His healing meetings. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world to make DISCIPLES, not make money!”
“But Rita, this is a different world than Jesus lived in. It takes money to run a church.”
“Greg, it IS a different world from the one Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. It’s only gotten WORSE! And as for ‘running a church’ that concept is absent from Scripture. The true New Testament Church is a living ORGANISM, not a cash-generating organization. The church is God’s people, not some fancy, high-maintenance building. If Jesus doesn’t rule the church, men will surely try to run it, and RUIN it!”
She reached in her purse. “Greg, soon I’ll have to leave, because someone else needs me. Here, I’ve written a few scriptures to help you. Another topic covered by these scriptures is monetary tithing. It’s a false doctrine of men which didn’t take hold of the church till long after the death of the early apostles. These scriptures PROVE from God’s own Word that the ONLY tithes God required were from the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, and that they consisted ONLY of agricultural produce taken from the Land of Israel. Unless you were a farmer or herdsman in ancient Israel, you didn’t have to pay any tithes.”
Greg shoved the paper in his pocket, but said, “So you brought me here, Rita, to try to lure me away from the sacred truths I’ve been taught from the pulpit. Who am I, and who are you, to reject time-honored doctrines? I’m just a common burger-flipper and I don’t even know what you are, except you tried to soften me up with a free meal.”
She looked hurt. “Greg, in your heart you KNOW that’s not true! You AREN’T common! The Holy Ghost dwells in your heart by faith, and you’re a son of Almighty God. Acts 10:14 teaches you NOT to call any man, including yourself, common or unclean! God is very angry with preachers who teach people to play Him like a Las Vegas slot machine! When you do, you ALWAYS LOSE! Your landlord gambled everything he had and lost his own soul”
“Because he defied God, that’s why my landlord died. “I heard about Seed Faith from a pulpit so it must be true! God is BOUND to repay me for all the offerings I mailed in to him.”
“That’s my argument in a nutshell,” Rita replied. False prophets teach ‘God is BOUND by what I do.’ But what man can bind Almighty God?”
“But hasn’t God bound HIMSELF to abide by His own Word?” Greg argued.
“Yes, God WILL fulfill His Word, Greg, but He won’t fulfill promises made in His name by wicked preachers who twist what He really says and make the Bible say what it doesn’t. Scripture warns against anyone adding to or taking away from God’s Word. Preachers the world over do that every Sunday as they collect unscriptural money tithes from God’s people. And by the way, Malachi chapter 3 is directed toward JEWS who lived before the Cross, not modern-day believers in Christ. If you’ll read the WHOLE chapter carefully, which most preachers don’t bother to do because it would cost them money, you’ll find that God is speaking primarily to the sons of Levi and to the Aaronic priesthood.”
Greg felt his insides churning. “But I gave money out of MY pocket! Money I could have eaten a decent meal with! Won’t God give me my 100-fold return anyway, just to be nice about it?”
“God doesn’t honor a lie, Greg. He must be true to Himself and to His own precious Word. Not as men twist and manipulate and add to it, but as it stands written and faithfully preserved in heaven. Who is little, wormy mankind to dictate to God, Creator and Upholder of the Universe, that He MUST make you as rich as King Solomon just because you helped provide a new Mercedes for some greedy preacher?”
“Greg, answer me this and be truthful: Has God blessed you either spiritually or materially for tithing your paychecks?” Rita’s eyes searched his.
He swallowed hard. “God forgive me, but I can’t lie. No.”
“Now, Greg, if God were to reward the keeping of a false manmade religious law, what would that say about His own integrity?”
“I guess it would mean God changes with the times like we do, and He doesn’t think it’s such a big deal to change what His Word says and you can make up your own code of ethics as you go along, and it doesn’t really matter if you take the Bible literally. It would mean all God really cares about is whether you’re sincerely doing what you believe is right.”
“Exactly. You can be sincerely wrong and still pay the price. There was a time in Israel when every man did what was right in his own eyes. During those dark days Israel lost war after war and lived in fear of her heathen neighbors. Haven’t you felt like everything you do goes wrong and you’re always afraid of guys who have money?”
“Yes, Rita, you could say that.” Greg nibbled on his toast.
“Now how does this square with the preachers’ promise that God will multiply your contributions back to you?”
“Well, they DO say that if it doesn’t work, it’s because we’ve got no faith, and the only remedy is to keep on sowing and believing!”
Rita laughed scornfully. “What a copout! The preacher just can’t lose either way. He’s got all his bases covered. Random probability says that once in awhile things will go your way, and when life is good, the preacher claims the credit. But when things only go from bad to worse, and the bottom falls out of your life, the preacher won’t take the blame for bad teaching. Oh, no, it’s always YOUR fault for not having enough faith! Preachers teach that Jesus isn’t enough to persuade God to help you. They deny that Jesus paid it all on the Cross. Instead they teach, ‘Money plus faith (or positive thinking) plus Jesus just might get you your miracle. And when it doesn’t you either failed to pay enough or ‘faith’ enough! And as for ‘keep on sowing anyway’ , that’s like throwing your paycheck in a pond!”
“But what about the blessings God promised for putting Him first, don’t I still get them?”
“Are you under Law or under grace, Greg?”
“Under grace, or at least that’s what I’ve been taught.”
“If you’ll read Leviticus 27, verses 30 to 34 you’ll discover that tithing was given as a law ONLY to the children of Israel, BY MOSES FROM MT. SINAI. It was NEVER given to the church. Sometimes preachers will quote Matthew 23:23 where Christ okays the tithes paid by the Pharisee from his herb garden. But remember, Greg, at that time Christ hadn’t yet gone to Calvary to die for your sins and usher in the New Covenant. Christ’s earthly ministry took place in the closing days of the Old Testament. The old Mosaic laws and rituals were still binding. Preachers argue that tithing preceded the Mosaic Law. So why don’t they force people to observe animal sacrifices and circumcision if they want to be consistent? These things also preceded the Mosaic Law.”
“That’s logical enough,” Greg said. “But what does this have to do with me being under grace or under law?”
“I’m glad you asked that, Greg. Galatians 3:10 warns that if you put yourself back under the Law you come under a curse. The curse for breaking any part of God’s Law is terrible. Read Deuteronomy 28 if you want to know how bad it was. Humiliation and failure, loss of your health and possessions, perpetual failure, mental problems, always being oppressed in your life and bound by the enemy. Haven’t you felt that way, Greg?”
“You bet I have. But how have I broken the tithing law by keeping it, even if I wasn’t supposed to?”
“Preachers teach you to come under a law Christ died to set you free from, and they teach you to tithe in a way which goes against God’s Word. If you’ll read that Scriptures I gave you, you’ll discover that the tithe consisted ONLY of agricultural products, NEVER money. It was collected ONLY to feed the hungry and to consume at Israel’s festivals, not to make rich preachers richer. Greg, does your pastor allow you to buy booze with your tithe?”
“WHAT!” Greg gasped. “Did I hear you right? BOOZE?”
“That’s right, Greg. Preachers seize on the ten per cent figure because they figure it’s not too little and not big enough to cause a mass rebellion in the pews. But they skim over any tithing passages which don’t support their view. Only if tithed produce had to be hauled a long way was the tithe ever converted to cash, and even then that money was to be used ONLY to buy more food products at the Israelites’ place of worship. Money itself was NEVER accepted as the Lord’s tithe. Preachers who love money don’t like Deuteronomy 14:26. Here God commands tithers to spend such tithe money on anything they want to eat at the Israelites’ annual festivals. GOD even suggests they buy wine and strong drink! How many times have you heard your pastor preach on that tithing passage in Deuteronomy 14?
“Not once, Rita. Wow!”
“Not only that. The whole purpose of the tithe was to feed the hungry. Period. That included poor widows and orphans, poor foreigners and the priestly tribe of Levi, which wasn’t given a share of real estate in the Promised Land where they could raise their own crops and livestock. Preachers were actually classed among the poor back then, believe it or not. So if your pastor doesn’t allow you to buy beer with part of your tithe money and doesn’t use it to feed the hungry and instead uses the tithe to construct church buildings with, then who is breaking God’s law, as stated in Scripture?”
“I guess HE is,” Greg muttered.
“Greg, did you know that every seventh year the people were forbidden to plow and sow or reap their fields? That was a year of REST. No tithes could be taken from uncultivated fields in the seventh year. Does your pastor forbid his people to go to work every seventh year, or give them a break from tithing?”
“Not that I know of,” Greg admitted.
“So who’s sinning?”
“And you too, for observing this false teaching, contrary to the Word of God. God can’t bless heresy, or manmade additions to His written Word. Imperfect law-keeping is just as bad in God’s sight as failure to keep the Law. Now do you still want to be under the Law and its curse?”
Greg shook his head. “Rita, I just can’t believe I’ve been lied to all this time. What about the AUTHORITY behind the pastor’s pulpit?”
“Another lie of the devil. Pulpits didn’t appear in church buildings till 250 A.D., long after the death of the Apostles. By Martin Luther’s time the pulpit dominated the church. Actually the pulpit evolved from an earlier piece of furniture borrowed from the speaker’s podium in the Jewish synagogue. But the earliest church met in private homes and related together as brothers and sisters in the Lord, with no clergy-laity distinction among members. That heresy snuck into the church later. There IS no divine authority invested in that wooden pulpit. Christ gave authority over all the power of the enemy to individual believers, not just to a select few. Many so-called men of God have used their position up front to control others, and to usurp the Holy Spirit’s job of guiding God’s people into all truth. The word ‘pulpit’ does not appear anywhere in Scripture. Paul and Jesus before him ministered to people IN THEIR MIDST, not behind a tall pulpit. Preachers may need a simple lectern to hold their notes, but preachers who ascribe divine virtue to a pulpit commit idolatry.”
“Rita, where did you get all this info?” Greg wondered.
“Greg, I’ve been around the block and learned a few things in my time. Don’t just take my word for it. Study all those Scriptures I gave you.”
“Still, Brother Filbert’s been around longer than I’ve been born.”
“Listen, Greg,” Rita pleaded, “you’ve been bamboozled long enough. “Age doesn’t make you wiser, it only makes you an older fool. In the days of Samuel Eli the High Priest of Israel was executed by God Himself for allowing his own sons to desecrate the offering of the Lord. Samuel was just a little child at the time and God TOLD him that Eli was into apostasy and as a result, his whole family would be desposed from the priesthood. There are countless men like Eli today who lie and deceive to rob God’s people and make Him angry. This Brother Filbert your church worships is in danger of eternal hellfire for profaning the offering of the Lord and DELIBERATELY making merchandise of the flock purchased by the precious blood of Christ. What a terrible paycheck religious con artists will receive on the Day of Judgment. Talk about being paid back for your deeds. Greg, if anything, you ought to REPENT for going against the Holy Spirit’s gentle warnings and listening to these liars. You simply don’t WANT to share in the same reward as these snakes, thieves and crooks.”
“That scares me, Rita,” Greg said, as the truth dawned upon his formerly blinded spiritual eyes. “But surely SOME of those preachers must have known Christ at some point in their lives.”
“Undoubtedly some of them DID formerly confess Christ as Savior, Greg. But the Apostle Peter warns against the dog returning to his vomit and the sow going back to the pig pen. If they ever knew Christ at all, they’ve betrayed Him even worse than Judas did. At least Judas didn’t make converts after he betrayed Jesus. These slick liars are making disciples who are twice the sons of hell as themselves. Jesus said that whoever makes a little child to stumble would be better off if a millstone were tied around his neck and he was drowned in the depths of the sea. New converts are little children in God’s Kingdom. The religious charlatan who teaches them doctrines of devils to profiteer off them will reap a bitter reward.”
“And Greg, speaking of being a ‘Faith Partner’ in Brother Filbert’s ministry. Isn’t a partner supposed to be an EQUAL relationship? Whenever HE wants something, Brother Filbert doesn’t hesitate to hit you up for cash. Do you think you’d get anywhere near this guy if you tried to get him to help pay Friday’s rent? Before you answer, one of the scriptures I assigned you was 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. In this passage Paul says it isn’t his will that some be burdened while others live an easy life off contributions. God’s will is EQUALITY in the Body of Christ, but you hardly see that with so many Christians struggling to pay their bills while your rich Faith Partners live in luxury.”
“You’ve convinced me now, Rita, thanks.” Greg sighed. “I can’t argue with plainly written Scripture, and I will read all those you wrote out when I get home.”
“Greg, if God blesses you before you go to bed tonight, consider it a GIFT from God, not a reward for your donations to Brother Filbert. Take it rather as a token of His mercy. ‘Bye now. Rita sprang up to go pay the bill. Greg tried to follow her but she just smiled.
“Hey, wait!” Greg called. A small family got in his way and slowed him down.
With a light step Rita quickened her pace and walked so fast across the parking lot that Greg shouted warnings about oncoming cars.
Surely she can’t be all that old, Greg thought. He kept following her. She faded away in the dense fog. Greg kept calling her name but no one answered. All Greg heard was the barking of sea lions in the surf.
Greg could hardly wait to get home so he could read. He caught the bus to his dilapidated studio apartment. He fumbled for his key. “Oh no,” he mumbled. “I must have left it on the couch when I used my phone.”
Then he remembered. I’ve got a spare …. Greg reached under his doormat and was startled to find a white envelope marked simply “from a friend.” When Greg opened it he nearly fainted.
“Hallelujah!” he cried. “This’ll pay my rent AND get me some food! Wonder who it’s from? Thank You, JESUS!”
The next day Greg landed a job at the supermarket which paid much more than Burger Delite. Before long he found a nice room near the university, which cut down on bus fare.
Greg resolved that from now on only GOD would be his guide and Jesus his ONLY Way to God’s favor.
“He’s the only Partner I need to meet my needs,” Greg realized. “And Jesus has already paid it all.”
* * * * *
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