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Friday, December 28, 2007

"The Prosperity Gospel"

I wanted to comment on this news article, but the entry was getting long so I decided to journal it here instead. Here goes:

I found this interesting:
The Book of Job is a case study in piety unrewarded...
I guess Mr. Palmer forgot to read all the way to the end of the book of Job. I'm sure he can find a better example than that!

Lack of balance on the part of some doesn't mean that the whole thing is incorrect. As I journaled recently, just because someone is mistaken about the nature of the sun doesn't mean there's no sun. To me there is so much evidence that God wants His people to be well-supplied (I won't go into multimillionaire territory here... I just mean not destitute and scrambling for funds) that it's hardly worth arguing, but here are a few things to think about. God calls us an army. Who sends their army out without provisions? God calls us his children. Who willingly sends their children to school hungry? Jesus called us "friends." Who sees his friends in need and doesn't try to help out? We just had a new baby; friends of ours from church brought us dinner for a week. Jesus said the Church is his "bride." You wouldn't marry someone and then lock them in the basement to starve, would you?

All of those terms are terms of endearment, of love. The world around us is partially constructed in such a way that it teaches us things about God... which is why we have fatherhood (to show us fathers how God feels about us) and marriage (to show us how Jesus feels about us) and all those other things. If you think God wants you dirt-poor or sick or any of those other negative things, you're not paying close enough attention to your own attitudes toward the ones you love.

Now, I think some people live lives of poverty because of a call of God. If you are one of those people, you know it and have peace about that; if you don't have peace about that, you're likely not that person. Some people's lives end in martyrdom; those are casualties of war, not some kind of Holy Corpse Brigade. Sometimes things don't seem to fit the mold, but the concept remains: God loves us and His best, in general, is not for His beloved to suffer.

The problem here is thinking that you can do something and make something else happen. Thinking that I can put a $10 bill in a collection plate and then, based on the "hundredfold return" principle, assume that God is obligated to send me $1,000 right away. That, my friend, is not "faith" but "magic." Witches and magicians think they can cast spells and control nature. Christians know that only God can control nature. Nothing I can do can force God to do anything.

So, my thinking is this: we need to follow the teachings of the Bible as best we can, including the ones about giving and tithing. Doing these things Scripturally means that you are doing them out of a giving, generous heart, not with an attitude of trying to get something back. When we do so, we satisfy something in the system of just cause and effect which God has set up, and it allows us to receive from God whatever He, in his sovereignty, has decided to provide for us.

We're not making things happen. A better way to look at it is that we are being obedient to God in an effort to not stand in the way of the blessings which we believe He is sending our way.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Peace on Earth: How Can It Be?

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah Noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas you get you deserve

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - "I Believe In Father Christmas"

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
Jackson Browne - "The Rebel Jesus"

Peace on earth, can it be?
Years from now, perhaps we'll see,
See the day of glory,
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again.

Bing Crosby & David Bowie - "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth"

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Sounds like Christmas time is time for people to be nice to each other. After all, Linus said it, didn't he? If Linus said it and Snoopy approved this message, then it must be true. Actually, I think we have misunderstood the message a little bit... most modern translations word it something like how it is worded in the ESV:
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14 ESV)
The "peace on Earth" is not for the whole Earth, but specifically for those with whom God is pleased (NIV "on whom his favor rests"). Although we know God has called us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), apparently Jesus knew that He was not going to have that effect on people as a whole:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matthew 10:34-35 ESV)
So, I've been thinking about those things this December, as the songs quoted above and others have been swirling around me. The three songs I quoted are all actually big favorites of mine, both musically and lyrically, but something about each of them bothers me. The cynicism of the ELP song, the mild judgmentalism of the Jackson Browne song (covered this season by Bebo Norman, which is how I first heard it), and what I believe to be the misplaced optimism of the beautiful duet from Bing & Bowie (who may be the strangest Christmas duet combination ever, although Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper on "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" is right up there too).

I don't think there will ever be peace across the whole Earth... at least, not until Christ returns and we live under the rule of God alone. I do think that each of us has a job to bring peace to a small corner of the Earth each and every day; I can make peace with my next-door neighbor. Better yet, I can live in such a way that he sees peace in me, and comes to the source of that peace... being drawn ultimately into peace with God (Romans 5:1).

But we have to do this peacemaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that's the problem with some utopian Christmas songs. There is doing good things by our own human good will, and that's terrific but we clearly can't maintain that state forever without messing it up (see Isaiah 64:5-6). Then there is doing good things by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, and that is infinitely sustainable because God strengthens us to perform the tasks He has called us to. The problem with "peace on Earth" without first becoming one "with whom He is pleased" is that it is probably impossible to maintain indefinitely. People get tired and frustrated eventually, and their base instincts rear their heads.
With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. (Mark 10:27 ESV)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Here "he" comes

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane
He doesn't care if you're rich or poor; he loves you just the same
Santa knows that we're God's children, that makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer, 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight!
I don't know why I'm being such a Grinch this year, but I just head this song on the radio (thank you, Elvis!) and remembered how much this pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo verse has always bugged me. It's almost like Santa is being cast as Jesus in a mushy local theater production of A Christmas Carol.

I see nothing in the Word of God that says that everyone in the world is a child of God. I've actually heard Christian leaders who should know better (Michael Tait of DC Talk comes to mind) saying baloney like this. I see in the Word that those who receive Jesus and believe in His name (John 1:12) through faith (Galatians 3:23-26) are sons of God. I see that those who are led by the Spirit of God are His sons (Romans 8:14). I see that peacemakers are sons of God (Matthew 5:9). But until everyone meets these criteria, not everyone is a son of God.

And even assuming that we were all God's children... how does that "make everything right"? Is everything right in the world? In a dream world, maybe. In this world, I don't think so.

The only person that truly loves each and every one of us exactly the same (infinitely) is not Santa Claus. Santa may love us a lot, but the only one who can love us completely is Jesus Christ! ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

MY God

"My God."

"MY God."

"MY God."

Yesterday evening during the worship service at church, I began thanking God that He had made it so He could be my God. I wasn't specifically thinking about Hebrews 8:8-12 at the time, but that's the vibe. God is mine. My God. Not just my church's God. Not just my family's God or my parents' God. Not necessarily my nation's God, like the children of Israel to whom this prophecy was originally given... my God. It's what was being spoken into my heart as I was communing with God.

Last night I went home and worked on my checkbook. Let's just say that it's not how I would like it to be, especially right before Christmas. Unless something changes, I'm going to need to call some people and have some uncomfortable conversations. This is occurring immediately after we began giving toward our church's new debt reduction/building project. I'll be honest... it makes me feel anxious that I don't know when God will come through for me. After all, He's not the one that has to make those phone calls.

This morning it started to come to me again... my God. My God. He's MY God. And then, unexpectedly, the phrase completed itself out to a familiar Scripture verse about a group of people who had been giving of their finances to God:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:19 ESV)