Good Old Fashioned Suffering

I Once Thought I Would Enjoy a Lifetime of Easy Living. How Good it is that I was Wrong.

Since 9/11 it seems that so much of America has been struggling to regain its lost sense of comfort. Economically (and some would say politically) this has become even more difficult. Many wonder: Will we ever regain our ability to buy maximum quantities of stuff?

So what it we don’t? Now is the prime time for us, as a nation, to relearn the values of hard work, perseverance, community, simplicity, and — dare I say? — suffering. The present crisis can either kill us culturally and morally…. or it can make us stronger. We stand at a crossroads.

The message of the cross is this: Jesus died to pay a debt you could never repay… but to receive that gift you, too, must take up your cross and follow him. Faith was never supposed to be easy. We need God’s help. We need each other. We need to accept that in this life there are no quick fixes, but that’s okay because there are fixes in the end. Whether you , in this body, will live to see that end is beside the point.

Life Outside of Time?

Time is uneven, if linear, for mere mortals.  We do not experience it with the regularity of a stopwatch.  We all remember summer days that seemed to last forever, bittersweet goodbyes that did not last long enough, or your life flashing before your eyes of your last car accident.  In moments like these, the subjectivity of time peeks through. 

God is outside of time.  If He created time, why should His experience and perception of time be as linear and constrained as it (usually) is for us?

If the God you follow is outside of time, could He ever bend the “rules” for you?  The idea is this: God blesses us when we do not deserve it, but he also loves to be generous to us in the ways that we are generous toward Him and to others.  If we give freely of our resources (money, time, service, care), should we not expect Him to give freely of His?

I think of God’s admonition to His people to bring true sacrifice in Malachi.   “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse– the whole nation of you– because you are robbing me.   Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.   Malachi 3:8-10 

I think of Christ’s promise to His disciples.  Instead of running after food, drink, and clothing — what your body needs — “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:33 

In this passage, God does not promise free food and clothes.  Do not quit your job.  Be a responsible worker, but remember that those responsibilities come second.  You are more than your job.  Seek first the Kingdom of God.  Live in light of your love of Him and of your neighbor, by His grace. 

We can be courageous in sacrificing time and energy in order to serve others and to pray, even if it means that we won’t be putting in twelve hour days at the office.  But don’t be surprised if God blesses you even more abundantly with what you truly need than if you had spent a month of twelve hour days. 

And we must be wise, knowing that some days we should love God and other by putting in those extra hours.  But we cannot make the mistake of depending on a lifestyle of long hours and our own efforts as the source of blessing.   

You may end up with more time than you think you had.  Joshua tells us (10:13):  the sun stood still for him over Gibeon. 

Random Dude on the Street Gave Me $$$!?!

Ten minutes late, I parked my car on the edge of Forest Park and dashed across Skinker, dogding traffic as cannily as any SLU student (we all have minor’s in Jay-walking).

Before I could turn up the steps to my church, a random guy approached me on the sidewalk.  He was wearing a ‘wife-beater’ and had a bright orange Hawaiian shirt draped over one shoulder.  Good thing my wallet is empty, I thought.

“Are you going to church?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

He reached into pocket and pulled out a clear plastic bag containing a folded-up one dollar bill and about $2.78 in change (my best guess based on years in customer service and counting my piggy bank).  He pulled out the dollar bill and handed it to me.

“This is how I want to be a blessing.  My name is ____.”

“Thank you,” I said, baffled, as he turned and quickly continued on his way.

That just blew my paradigm for half-a-dozen things and it wasn’t even 11:00 yet.  What a way to start the day!

God Promises Health, Wealth,… and Good Looks?

Bible B.S. + American Dream = Poison

“God is good and wants good things for you,” the preacher says.  By good things, he (or she) means money, cars, and easy living.   Who wouldn’t want to believe that?  “For you to reap the harvest of God’s blessing, you have to plant a seed and water it.”  And by plant the seed, the preacher means give his (or her) ministry money.  This is the “prosperity Gospel.”

The Bible teaches the principle of tithing, of giving a portion of our earnings to His work.  The Bible also teaches that God does want to bless us, but those blessings happen in the context of a relationship, not of a business contract; and while He blesses some people materially, it is never deserved and it is never a promise.

Such promises are believable because: 1) the preacher preaching them is has obviously been so blessed, judging by his (or her) suit; 2) we live in a very money- and image-driven culture, so we want that kind of blessing; 3) key Bible passages are taken out of context or are redefined in a way that makes such promises seem plausible; 4) the people in the greatest financial need desperately want a way out.

After encouraging a community to help those in need, Paul reminds the Corinthians: “And God is able to make all grace come to you in abundance, so that you may always and under all circumstances and whatever the need be self-sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Joyce Meyer, in her booklet “Prepare to Prosper,” transforms into this this passage into: “And God is able to make all grace (every favor and earthly blessing) come to you in abundance, so that you may always and under all circumstances and whatever the need be self-sufficient [possessing enough to require no aid or support and furnished in abundance for every good work and charitable donation].” (p. 21, Warner Faith, 1997)

Grace has everything to do with God’s favor, but it is, by definition, unmerited.  Grace can have material benefits, but not always.  This self-sufficiency should not be interpreted individualistically, as we Americans are wont to do; Paul uses the you-plural and this is a letter written to a community.  They together will have enough together for whatever material, emotional, and spiritual circumstance may arise.

Later in 2 Corinthians we see Paul wrestling with grace in a way utterly foreign to the prosperity Gospel:  “…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’…” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a).

Paul was in pain.  We don’t know the details, whether it was some physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual problem.  But we know that he asked God to take it away, and God said, “No.”  Why?  Because God’s unmerited favor is enough, Paul, so you will have to live with the pain and be humbled by it.

God wanted Paul to suffer, the same way that He wanted Jesus to suffer, the same way that He wants you and me to suffer: that is when life is the most real, when we can draw closest to Him, and when we might draw others closer to Him.  (Romans 5:3-4; John 12:24; Philippians 2; etc.)

God promises that life with Him is good, but not easy.  The prosperity Gospel is a big fat lie.