When it all falls down…

This post is not for everyone, though I suspect at some points or another in our Christian life it will resonate with just about everyone. But for now, if you feel like life is going pretty smoothly, your prayers have been answered, your heart is full and you otherwise are experiencing a relatively satisfactory life, you might want to sit this one out.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this and it’s all fallen apart or it hasn’t worked out or its just not happening, in spite of the all the earnest prayers by yourself and intercessors, regardless of how noble and God-honoring the cause…

That loved one still died, that spouse still walked away, that miscarriage still happened, that marriage still ended in divorce, that adoption still fell through, that infertility or singleness still persists, that company still crumbled, that bankruptcy still happened, those family relationships are still fractured, or some other life desert or breakdown has occurred and persists.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve prayed. It doesn’t matter how many have prayed. When life dishes us a bowlful of disappointing lemons in spite of trusting God, and believing for his hand of goodness, the gap between making lemonade can seem like a chasm too far to bridge.

You have trusted in Christ as your Lord. You rejoice in your salvation, the redemption and forgiveness of sins. You know that God is sovereign and does as he pleases. You know you must bear the cross, that you are not your own and you serve a God who sees and who cares. You take this to heart and vow to keep trusting him, through the fog of bewilderment. Continue reading

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An Old Testament lesson in thorns and sufficient grace

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-33. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel find themselves in a tough spot. Their literal enemies came against them in battle. Of course, this is nothing new in the Old Testament. God’s people were perpetually the target of surrounding nations who wanted nothing more to conquer those people who had some strange thing going on. Hear Jehoshaphat’s response;

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord, from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assemble of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, ‘O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you–for your name is in this house–and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. (2 Chron. 20:3-9)

I have often considered this story in relation to those sudden calamities in life that befall us, where we feel cornered and need some divine intervention to save us from a desperate spot. Is that not what is going on here? And the response is even more incredible. Jehoshaphat, not knowing what to do cries out to the Lord, “we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (vs. 12)

But what about those areas in our lives that persist in sudden attacks, areas of grief and loss, the thorns that don’t go away. Surely this story is applicable for those sudden calamities but is it not also for the hard areas of life we may have experienced that prick at our soul when we least suspect it? Continue reading

The unintended prosperity gospel: why tangibility matters

god-touching-manIf you’ve followed me for any period of time, you know that I abhor the prosperity gospel. As I wrote about here in Should We Call the Prosperity Gospel Something Else?, the prosperity gospel has a deceptive nature in that it is not really about getting rich. Because of that, prosperity teaching flies under the radar because many who gravitate towards it would denounce that Christianity is about lining the pockets. What gets missed, is that wealth is just a by-product of the real foundation: material blessings are a sign of God’s favor. So we really can’t restrict the prosperity gospel to money but to any material blessing that we place our hope in. It’s peddler’s would have you believe that getting blessed by God in ways that make you look like you are winning (by the world’s standards) is a true mark of God’s favor. This is the very nature of the prosperity gospel, that favorable conditions are a sign that God approves of us.

And it’s not just about despising a doctrine for doctrine’s sake. But this distorted teaching actually impacts people’s lives. Either people can be lured into a false sense that God is on their side because they are “winning” in life. Or conversely, feel like God is opposed to them when suffering and loss occur and believe they are less loved by God, failed in some way to earn his favor, or basically just have insufficient faith. It’s easy to ridicule those who embraced such distortions and spurn the teachers of this dastardly teaching. After all, the Christian hope, trust and confidence is the work and person of Jesus Christ. Period.

But if we’re honest, there is something about receiving tangible results to life’s negative circumstances: the rescue from wayward happenings, the reversal of loss with a gain of something hoped for, the improvement of life’s condition with a better home, car, job or status symbol. Receiving material rewards, while not the basis of favor from God, can make us feel like God is on our side, that he is looking out for us. Continue reading

Christian, what if your hurt had a higher purpose?

crowd_cheeringLet’s face it, we live in a therapeutic culture. Billions of dollars are spent each year on self-help tools, psychologists and other fixes to make hurt go away from our history, mistakes, present realities or future fears.

The church is not exempt, especially where triumphalism reigns supreme. Yes, you can grieve for pre-approved purposes but that has time limits. Whatever, your issue the predominant expectation is to “let it go.” Get over whatever you need to get over so you can be healthy because that would be victorious living.

Now, I get that we don’t want to live in dysfunction. We don’t want the pain of the past controlling us but rather to be controlled by our spiritual identity in Christ. Certainly we want to reconcile whatever brokenness exists in our lives. And seriously, no one wants to hurt emotionally or psychologically.  There is nothing pleasurable about pain and our desire is to remove it far from us as possible.But I wonder if that means that we should work to remove all hurt.

I am coming to the increased realization that suffering comes in many forms and is not so easily remedied by our trite prescriptions. Some things in life, people just don’t get over even with the assurance of a new heaven and new earth where all things will be made new. I confess, that I admire those who can just flip the switch and move on unfazed from whatever has pained them. But for many of us, we feel the prickly thorns of loss, discrepancies, failures, histories, etc. It’s so easy to ride on a pollyanna puffy cloud. Continue reading

How Do you Know if You are Experiencing God’s Favor?

I came across this blog post today 4 Things Jesus Didn’t Die For. I found the first point, the American Dream, pretty compelling;

He didn’t die to make you healthy, wealthy, secure, and comfortable. This may be your current state, but don’t let that to lead you into thinking it’s a promise. God blesses those that belong to him, sometimes with temporal comfort but spiritual chastening, and sometimes with temporal suffering but spiritual flourishing.

However, there is a devastatingly harmful teaching present in churches across America, which claims that physical “blessings” are a sure sign of God’s favor. Not only does this fly in the face of the entire Bible, but it is also a grievous offense to those Christians going through immense persecution in countries all over the world, often in impoverished circumstances. There is only one sure sign of God’s favor: the death of his Son.

Christian, Jesus’ death means he has taken on your sin, in exchange for his righteousness. God has shown us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7) These are the only riches you are promised in this life; the joy and peace that comes with knowing that you have a good, loving God that has saved you at the infinite cost of his only begotten Son.

It’s taken a long time in my Christian walk for me to realize that we’ve kind of missed the boat if we think favor translates into my life looking pretty good. In fact, sometimes favor means just the opposite.

To be sure, this kind of thinking has some important ramifications for our Christian walk. When we are fooled into thinking that favor means things going great in our lives, we’ll think the Christian who is suffering or otherwise can’t cut a break is not experiencing God’s favor. This may result in a superior attitude against other Christians, especially if our life is going pretty good.  You can hear this in the “favor ain’t fair” mantra spoken with an attitude, as if we have anything to brag about. Or if we are the ones in that situation, we might wonder what we’ve done wrong, why is God mad at us or even worse, does not love us. These are all lies of course. Scripture is full of characters who experienced hardship and persecution by believing the promises of God and being obedient to his will. Continue reading