Let’s begin with a quick pop quiz review from the last post:
1) If God exists, who ultimately gets to define who he is?
- We do.
- He does.
2) If God exists, what does he owe us?
- Everything we want.
- Nothing at all.
3) If God exists and he chose to give us anything, what would that be?
About a month or so ago I was talking with my wife and the subject of our how tight our finances have been over a long while came up. That being the context, the conversation went like this:
Person 1: “…but God surely doesn't mean for us to live in poverty.”
Person 2: “Why not?”
Person 1: (pause) “What do you mean?”
Person 2: “What if that is part of carrying our cross? Or what if God is going to humble us to not be able to pull in our own finances and have to meekly rely on others?”
Person 1: “Hmm.”
Since that conversation we have come to more clearly realize the truth that the “abundant life” Jesus spoke about is less about American or economic prosperity (if it is even that on the smallest level) and more about following a very unpredictable God whose heart is good and trustworthy. Unfortunately, realizing this often requires a collision between “how you think God works” and “how God actually works.” When that happens you end up sorting through all sorts of questions you never dared ask before.
If you are sulking over what you don't have, you just might miss out on the eternal thing God wants to give you through your current "poverty."
Sometimes being a Christian is just hard… and according to Jesus we shouldn’t expect it not to be. There are changes we can make at times, such as giving up money we spend on vices and the complaining we don't have any to spare. Yet sometimes, even after we've made those changes, we find that in the midst of every promise He gave for a blessed life is a warning that it will contextually take place in a lost and broken world that lives against the grain of Christianity (not to mention the opposition we will experience from satan):
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34)
So the question isn’t if God’s heart is good or if he wants to bless you. Rather, the questions are “What does that look like in a broken world?” and “What will it look like in a perfect kingdom on day?”
There may be times when there are many digits in the checking account, while on other occasions the bank may be calling you about some bills that are past due. In a world often driven by economy and purchases it can be hard to not get lost in the circumstances of life and wanting “just a little bit more” than you currently have. This can be about money, but it can also turn into an unhealthy mindset as a whole.
One more dollar. One more CD. One more bush. One more car. One more taco supreme. One more dog. One more kid. One more tool. One more weekend at the lake. One more house. One more muscle. One more episode of Lost. One more relationship. One more outfit. One more backyard toy. One more hair cut/highlighting/style. One more couch. One more gig of memory. One more job. One more pat on the back.Then this begins to infiltrate our spiritual life, especially the way we think of success for those of us who spend a lot of time in the church.
One more dollar I give. One more good deed. One more class to attend. One more group to lead. One more person who I win a debate with. One more building project. One more time I raise my hand during music. One more notch on my evangelism belt. One more story I get to tell about my church versus the one next door.Interestingly, the opposite can be just as deceitful.
One less dollar I have because I don’t want to become like the rich. One more trial I endure for God because I don’t want to have it easy. One more person I turn off because they just couldn’t handle being around the Truth. One more good thing I've turned down because God wants me to suffer for him.So, um… why?
Why do we do this?
Are we to measure success by the religious acts we get to feel a little prideful about? Could it somehow be all about how our pain defines us? Do we characterize life by the accumulation of stuff or by the degree of “hardships we endure for God?”
Maybe we’ve gotten lost along the way of what the Gospel is all about.
What I'd like to suggest over the next few days is not an antithesis to the Prosperity Gospel or the Happy Gospel. I want to share with you my understanding of what I'm calling the Poverty Gospel, but please don't read into the title too quickly. This is not a theology that calls us to be "without" for some sense of false nobility but rather one that realizes that our hands are always empty... even when there is something in them.
More to come tomorrow.