Bible

Yesterday

Yesterday was a bad day. My very good friend with the biggest softest most beautiful heart you’ve ever seen wrote to me: “I’m sad about yesterday and how ugly we are to each other.” And all there is to say is, me too. I’m not surprised, though, and so far I can’t tell what is more depressing, that it happened or that none of us are surprised.

But there is this other side of things that came out of me to her and cleared things up for me. Have you ever felt like you honestly don’t know how you feel? Like there are so many emotions, some polar opposites, and they aren’t creating any sort of cohesive environment. Like it’s snowing and you’re warm and sweaty. Or like you’re listening to Britney Spears and enjoying it. It doesn’t make sense, you don’t make sense.

Yesterday was this no good horrible very bad day and as I watched the news and refreshed my browser every 30 or 40 seconds to see new reports of tear gas and evacuation and then broken glass, my heart was indeed breaking but I was strangely hopeful amid the wreckage. Now I know why.

Because she also ended her message with “How are you?” That’s why.

You see, sometimes something really terrible happens and it leads to change that couldn’t happen otherwise. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are just fine, but then we get fired or she leaves or we have a breakdown and there’s no more point in pretending. We run and run until we simply can’t run anymore. Sometimes, the darkness has to be complete before we realize how dark it is and look for a light.

The system has been broken for years, and now there’s no use in pretending it’s not so bad anymore. And only now that we can’t ignore it can we begin to look at how to repair it.

I drove the same car for 16 years and, when asked when I would get a new one, always responded, “Why? It’s perfect.” It wasn’t perfect, had many warning signs it was on it’s last legs, no heat, no air, I couldn’t use lights and wipers at the same time, but they were minor enough that I could look the other way. Then it turned itself off while I was driving. Now I have a new car.

So, I’m sad and hopeful. The car not only turned itself off but burst into flames and exploded. And now maybe we’ll get a new car.

It’s a huge mountain to climb. Where do we start? How do we start? Do the actions of you and me amount to anything? Who knows, but what I’ll do in the meantime reminds me of a joke (more like a story) that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” What I’ll do in the meantime is take bites. I will Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” AND I’ll love you like crazy. Agape love. Kindness. Gentleness. Peace. Patience. I believe love is way more contagious than any virus, so soon we’ll all be Philippians 4:8-ing and loving each other as if we were made to do it, which of course, we were.

The other way hasn’t worked, we’ve tried it for sooo long, and it is now obvious to everyone. My friend in her heartache reached out to/for me to see how I was, “How are you?” She has a son and that son who is growing up with her, watching her, will see this empathy, this compassion, this care. He will see a new design for life, which isn’t new at all, it goes all the way back to Genesis 1 & 2. But this “new” design will be the one he uses to craft his life and his life will “storm the rotunda” of every building we’re lucky enough for him to enter. It’s this design that can change history.

Maybe it won’t, maybe there will be no reversing our downward spiral. But what empty tombs and Sundays prove to me is that it can. And that is more than enough to eat another bite.

For This

I’ve been reading these novels by Fredrik Backman that are incredibly moving, heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time in the same measure. You know the things that are so beautiful you know you could never in a bazillion years create something so lovely AND make you want to try? These novels are like that.

Anyway, in the one I started today (Britt-Marie Was Here), the title character says, “I want someone to know I’m here.” Those words and that emotion dismantle me because I know how many Britt-Marie’s there are in my town, on my street, alone and invisible. Alone, in crowded rooms and offices as well as empty houses. Invisible, moving in total anonymity, never knowing or being known. I know that sometimes I’m Britt-Marie. That we’re all Britt-Marie, sometimes.

We all need to be seen, known. We all need to be accepted, to belong. We all need to be loved. And how many of us go to bed with that need unmet?

This season is usually among the most depressed, presumably because the cold gray short days spent alone against the backdrop of other families gathered around a warm fire. What if I don’t have a family? What if the family I do have is broken? What if there’s 1 less around that fire? What if I don’t have a home, much less a fire? It’s no wonder the depression we barely keep at bay all year gets amplified in November & December.

We’re a culture that largely walks with our heads down, on our way to the next thing, saying “How are you?” as a greeting, but not at all interested in the answer. Even without a global pandemic and quarantine, we had been increasingly disconnected for years. This leaves us like those copper pans where nothing sticks. And we call it survival, but it’s not. Instead, it’s killing us. We’re invisible and we were never meant to be invisible.

We are meant to be together, sharing the moments of our lives. We are meant to ask how you are and to wait for the honest answer. We are meant to cry together, to celebrate together, to care for each other, to be our brother’s keeper.

There are too many Britt-Marie’s, and this is a fact that is simply unacceptable. My dream is that we are all seen, accepted. That we all belong. That we are all loved. That the reality of Christmas, of the love of Jesus, become a reality in practice, that it’s not just a story of fairy-tale hope we tell in churches on Christmas Eve.

I want someone to know the Britt-Marie’s are here. And I want us to be the ones that know.

At my old church, the pastor, Barb, used to implore us to action by calling us “Church” as if it were our name. It is our name, and it’s long past time for us to act. The Child came and His name is “God With Us.” He calls us to put hands and feet and hearts to His love, to put flesh to His ‘With.’

Christmas is desperately needed this year, on the 25th and every day thereafter. Christmas can be a way of life, “with” can be our purpose. We are here, all of us. Jesus came and “moved into the neighborhood” (The Message translation) so that we would know, without a doubt, exactly how much we matter. This Child, this Savior, changed our lives, transformed us with His boundless love. And for what? For this, Church; to be the ones who know.

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday.

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be.

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart.

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage.

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right?

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor.

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside.

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms).

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community.

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

119

Psalm 119 (which is a really really loooong Psalm) says:

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your Word (v. 37)

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow Your statutes (v. 59)

Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (v. 106)

As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in Your commands (v. 143)

Those who love Your law have great peace (v. 165)

We’ve been talking an awful lot about commands on Sunday mornings, which can easily be understood as a gospel of works. This sort of gospel is not “good news” at all because it’s based on us getting it right, on us doing all the things, checking all the boxes, earning and climbing higher and higher. How high? Who knows? Just higher. 1 John 5 continues in this vein, so what do we do with that? It sounds like a “have-to” situation.

It’s not a “have-to.” John refers to it as a “proof” of faith, an outward representation of an inner reality. If we get a nice new coat on Christmas morning, we’ll wear it. The wearing is the proof that we have it. I can say all day that I have the best new coat ever, worth more than all the money in the world, but how will you know if I never wear it? Why wouldn’t I wear it? That would be odd.

I bought a new sweater 2 weeks ago and it’s thick and soft, what my mom would call cozy warm. I haven’t worn it yet because it hasn’t been cold enough in those 2 weeks, but I can’t wait to put it on and show it to you. It seems strange to have this awesome sweater and ask, “Do I have to wear it? How often? Around who? What if I don’t?” I am looking for any excuse to wear my new sweater. I’ve been checking the weather every night.

This coat or sweater is our gift, it’s free, and whether we wear it or not, it’s ours. BUT it gets cold. John and Psalm 119 (maybe, probably written by Ezra, the priest) make it sound like following these commands is pretty integral to the kind of cozy warm life we’d like to have. I like peace. I sometimes feel pressure and stress bearing down on me. We all do, it’s 2020. It would be cool to have joy in 2020 instead of upset stomachs and headaches.

This Psalm stood out me because I’ve been pondering my life quite a bit lately. This isn’t very unusual, I am a ponderer, and when I do, I look for practices that line up with the values that carry more weight with me. For instance, I go to the gym most days. If not carefully monitored, ‘most days’ easily turns into ‘every day’ and my body and spirit suffer. One of my core values is to be a healthy man (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually), and no rest days compromises that. So I turn and add some structure to help me pursue that particular value.

These commands are our coats and sweaters, our rest days. They are the tangible bricks that build the walls of our lives. We put on Love. We put on honesty and Sabbath and not wanting our neighbors donkeys (which is another way of saying, we are grateful for what we have). These things aren’t the point, Jesus is, but 2020 has been very cold and we’ve been so distracted by that cold, we’ve been missing that BIG point. Maybe remembering our coats and our rest days, maybe some Psalm 119-ing, would be just the thing we need to focus again.

The Spectacular Us

Last week in this space, I mentioned the “just” fallacy. There is no “just” anywhere, no “just” anything, certainly no “just” anyone. Everywhere is sacred, charged with meaning and potential, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Every other Wednesday, we are studying a terrific book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.

(I love that her name is Held. There is a song called “Held,” too, that is gorgeous. I have no idea if her middle name is Held or if it was her maiden name or if it was her name at all. Or maybe she took the name as a constant reminder of her place in the arms of God. It’s easy enough to find out, but I don’t think I want to. Like a song, I think I’ll live with the story it is to me.)

The last 2 meetings we have been in chapter 7: Fish Stories. It’s an exploration of the many miracles throughout the Bible and belief/faith. Initially reading it, I couldn’t really find much for discussion, which was ok, because I wasn’t this chapter’s facilitator. I didn’t need to find much for discussion. It was somebody else’s problem. I simply needed to show up.

As it turned out, our time was lively and full of the fantastic in each of our lives, those occurrences that can’t be explained in words or reason, like car, train, and tree accidents, amazing coincidences, forgiveness, and love.

This book is wonderful, but the real draw of the group are the people in it. I suspect it’s that way with most groups and communities. Where it might be an activity, event or shared interest that brings us together, it’s the relationships that keep us there.

It’s a trendy idea that I can follow Jesus on my own, in my bed or living room, by myself, privately, just me and God. I really don’t know how that started. I do know how and why it’s trendy – the independence and arrogant self-reliance is very modern. The more I think about it, it’s not really modern, it’s human. But the point is, this notion didn’t start in the Bible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the fall, it’s only the man and God, and God specifically deems it “NOT good.” It’s the only thing that isn’t good. So He takes a rib and makes another person.

We’re made to be together. (Not all the time, of course. We all need a break from each other from time to time;) This group makes me remember, and sometimes the learning comes outside of the explicit lesson. We were talking about miracles, trying to explain our way into loaves & fishes or walking on water. But as I looked at the Zoom pictures of each of our faces, brought into the space by a mutual love of our Creator and nothing else, sharing the extraordinary stories of our lives, I understood. This was the miracle, this safety, this connection, this love. We were God’s miracle. And it isn’t confined to this particular book study group or any particular group, not confined to the religious or spiritual, not confined by anything at all. I guess we miss it, or are looking for a parting of the sea, when it’s right here in front of us all along. It isn’t “just” a small group, not “just” a local church, community, football game, gym, class, office, grocery store, not “just” you or “just” me. It’s the breathtaking, spectacular us.

Misunderstanding

Last week, the wedding I was scheduled to do was cancelled (citing “Family Drama”) so I gave a surprise special message on Facebook. The material fell like the water in the shower, piercing my skin on Tuesday morning, and I was compelled to follow. It was a foot note on the 2nd test (Obedience) of the 1st chapter and a half of 1 John. I didn’t record the audio, so for a quick minute I considered writing it out here. I won’t, you’re only going to find it there, like an extra track on an album, but there is an observation I don’t want to get lost.

The message was about why obedience is important, considering the grace that wholly transformed the story. On the surface the two ideas sound conflicting – the Big Point was that they’re not. We do anything and everything in the context of faith and spirituality as a response to our love for Jesus and gratitude for the tremendous gift we have been given. There was a sentence I’m pretty sure I stole from a guy named Darryl Dash: “True love requires a response.”

That’s right, isn’t it?

Now, the cavalier nature that we toss around the word ‘love’ can make this confusing; loving my jeans or pizza doesn’t require any sort of response. I don’t have to be faithful to baseball or my car, don’t have to buy them a birthday present or show them I love them. But actual true love is different.

To love Jesus means certain things…(we’ve been talking about these certain things and will continue next time, but the question I want to repeat is:) doesn’t loving you? And here we are: Doesn’t loving you translate to respect, kindness, safety, attention, care, faithfulness, integrity, honesty, and one and on? The problem is, too often it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t here now for us everyday, it becomes harder to understand when we talk about responding to God’s love. If a response isn’t a natural expectation, it’s not a natural expectation – neither here nor there.

But the splinter in my mind (to quote the great philosopher Morpheus) is, “why doesn’t it?” Why do we settle when it comes to loving us? When did we learn to accept so little? Maybe it’s so difficult to give all of us to God is because we’ve believed the lie that love doesn’t require that level of sacrifice? (Maybe sacrifice is the wrong word…it’s more like a gift or offering, isn’t it? Because when you LOVE someone, it doesn’t feel like sacrifice at all.) When did faithfulness fade out of the norm? When did honesty become extraordinary? And when did disrespect, neglect and (horrifically) abuse become something we could excuse?

I now see the commands of the Bible not as little grabbing hands designed to steal our fun, but as a vehicle to affirm the dignity of being human, the honor of being children of God, reminders that we are worth far more than we had noticed and acknowledged as fact.

He is worth more, His love is worth more, we are worth more, and our love is worth more. Everything, all Truth, is inextricably linked. If our love hasn’t required a response, it absolutely should. Maybe our definitions need an overhaul, maybe it wasn’t love to begin with, and maybe in reclaiming the beautiful reality of love, we would be set free to respond to this gift of our lives with our lives and finally fly.

Dancing

Last week, I said we were going to “talk about obedience and sin in this context” and I’m not sure that was the best idea because I have no idea what that conversation was supposed to be. Maybe this comes with age – I’m older than I used to be, you know.

Anyway, this series began with this:

“May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.” – Cyn Morgan in her excellent book Misericorde

In this gorgeous prayer, the first implication is that we notice and appreciate the many blessings we have been given, the second; that we are thankful. The big question is, do we? Are we?

Or are we simply entitled consumers?

I think the Bible is ordered the way it is because without the condition, the gift means nothing, it’s our birthright/what we deserve, and what response could that demand? Besides shopping for more, I mean? What can it, or you, do for me? The wise philosopher Kurt Cobain once famously screamed, “Here we are now, entertain us.” I wonder if he ever knew how right on he was, or would be 30 years later. That song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) was released in 1991 and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment or a characteristic of a lived well lived, but it seems that’s how we took it.

I don’t have to tell you I love that song. Once, I played the iconic music video at our Sunday service. I’ll never forget watching an elderly man exit his car to visit the Bridge that morning, knowing what he would hear & see, so far from what he was expecting (surely much farther than he would be willing to go)…and 1 hour later watching him hurry away without a word to anyone, never to return. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about that. I do know exactly how I feel about the song, though.  

So. How do we perceive our lives or the groups & communities to which we belong? As products that have a duty to satisfy us? Is the purpose of everything only found in what benefit it can provide or how it makes me feel?

And if those answers are ‘yes,’ what do we do when those products inevitably disappoint? When our spouse or partner or supervisor or group leader or pastor;) or coach or neighbor offends us or makes us uncomfortable or makes a decision we don’t agree with or takes a tone of voice or doesn’t return our call or disciplines us, then what? Of course, we move on. We take our talents and expectations down the road to the next new model. And then the next. And then the next. You get the point, nothing on earth is perfect. Nothing on earth will always satisfy. (Except maybe “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”)

In the Genesis account of Creation, the people are given many responsibilities (work, tend, care for, reproduce, etc) – as far as that goes, the plants and animals are given the ability to do the same. This is before the ‘fall’ in chapter 3. That’s interesting because in a state of shalom (peace, harmony), the point was never for us to sit idle and be entertained or passively stimulated. The point was active participation, then as it is now. Maybe the ideal role of my wife isn’t to feed me grapes or quench my every thirst, as much as I might like it to be. Maybe my church isn’t supposed to be a tv program or rock show. Maybe the people in my life aren’t just commodities to be used up and abandoned. Maybe all of these things were intended to be much closer to actually dancing (instead of just watching from the sideline), all of us sweaty and exhilarated because we’ve all lost track of who gave what (because we’re all giving and receiving all we have) and we’re too busy truly living to even stop to consider if we’re ‘satisfied.’

What Would You Say?

Last time we discussed the prosperity gospel ‘if-then’ proposition, and the opposite ‘if-then’ that the actual Gospel invites us to experience. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we are free to respond in love. But what does that response look like? We’ve been rescued, given an incomprehensible gift, now what??

This can easily (mis)lead us into a ‘what do I have to do now?’ posture, which is evidence that we’ve missed the point. It’s not a ‘have-to,’it’s a ‘get-to.’ So, what do we ‘get to’ do now? If you were truly free to follow your passions and gifts and dreams, where would that lead you? If you could plug into those things that give you life, what would those things be?

Some of the saddest moments I’ve ever had are when I ask those 2 questions with wide eyes and breathless anticipation and they are met with silence.

There’s a story in the Bible (and probably countless more not in the Bible) where Jesus asks a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?” I think probably we’re in one of 2 places. The first is where we don’t realize we’re blind, or where it’s just “what it is” and we can’t even conceive of any other reality. The second is when we know our condition very well, but we have believed the lie that we aren’t worthy of anything better, certainly not the best-case (in this case, sight), so we ask for a cane or a walker or new sunglasses or a better attitude about our blindness.

If I were to ask you, what would you say?

I have this friend I’ve known since I was 7 years old (who is becoming a much better friend now), who wrote this to me in an email: “Rendering Physical Therapy services is one of my love languages. Encouraging people who are hurting to help themselves by restoring strength and function is a gift I love to share over and over again. I truly feel called to this profession (even if that sounds hokie), it’s about making personal connections with people, figuring out what is important to them (not me or the doctor) and developing a plan to achieve their goal- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” What a gift, for her and her patients. How many of us would say that about our jobs and careers? If not, why not?

I recognize that there are never shortages of reasons why we stay – some of them are very very wise and important and some aren’t. I’m simply asking the questions so we can hopefully tell the difference.

We have been given this gift of life and to treat it so cavalierly that we don’t consider how we’d answer Jesus is, frankly, pretty dismissive of the gift.

The Bible also says the human heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t put our desires first, without question and without the guidance of the Spirit. I’m just suggesting that we are often asleep in and to our own lives and the question “Now what do I get to do?” is pointless without an examination of our own hearts and a deeper understanding of the way He “created my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb,” respecting the the way we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We’ll talk about obedience and sin in this context next week, but give an honest second to Whose you are, who you are and what you’re about. I already know you’re beautiful – I bet you will, too.

the gospel of me

I promised we’d discuss the “prosperity” (or “name and claim” or “health and wealth”) gospel his week, so here we are. This ideology is, as the Great Theologian Wikipedia writes, a “religious belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.

The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be blessed. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession.”

The first obvious questions are if God’s definitions of blessing, well-being, success, security and prosperity are the same as ours? Even a casual reading of the Bible would suggest there is a better than average chance that they are not. Maybe God’s primary hopes for us aren’t exploding bank accounts and increasing mountains of material possessions, maybe the blessings are not quite so temporal. And the next batch of (admittedly cynical) questions revolve around the shockingly consistent penchant for human religious systems to tie spiritual giftedness to monetary donations. 

It’s not these questions we’ll talk about here, now.

It is the inversion of the Divine order of condition/grace/response into a simple if-then equation. If we give enough money, do enough, have enough faith, then He will give us whatever we want. If we put in the proper amount, say the right words, run fast enough, we will get what we order; a sort-of spiritual Amazon.

But what’s the proper amount? What is enough? 

I was visiting in a church once where the congregation laid hands on a member with a late-stage cancer and proclaimed if he had enough faith, he’d be healed. If he didn’t…well, he wouldn’t. He died within the month. Since he didn’t measure up, I wonder how much he needed? 

No wonder we’re all riddled with anxiety. We’re all trying to be good enough (of anything, of everything), but it’s a rigged game. Where’s enough? Where’s the bar? How will I know if I’ve reached it? If we don’t get our notion of prosperity or success, then it’s our fault, we’re guilty, overcome with shame. That’s terrible, but perhaps even more damaging is if we do, then it’s also our fault. We did it!!! We ARE that awesome!! 

This is ultimately a gospel of ME. The Gospel is Jesus. Jesus alone. This gospel is Jesus plus me and my work, my trying, my earning, and that is no gospel at all. The word gospel means “good news” and this isn’t good news, it’s the same news. It’s exactly how your job, your country and your world, work. This isn’t even news. 

On if-then equations: They are very often practically useful and true (If I do more push-ups, then I will get stronger. If I eat more cake, then I will gain weight), but I think we misuse them in a spiritual sense. The Bible is full of commands and if we follow them, then we will benefit. If we stop lying, then we will be free of the consequences of those lies. We won’t drag that baggage around, we won’t have those broken relationships, we won’t carry the worry that they’ll find out or endure the wrath when they do. We live a far more peaceful life. So we naturally think there are strings attached. IF we follow His commands, THEN He will love us, accept us, and bless us.      

This is pretty understandable, but the Gospel gives us a different if-then scenario. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we will WANT to respond in love towards Him and everything that is His. Given that He loves, accepts, rescues, blesses us, that reality releases us from all of the anxiety that comes with climbing The Ladder Of Enough and we are free, truly free, to do what we’ve been created to do all along; give everything to Him and fly.