Sep 25, 2006

the poverty gospel - pt. 1

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)

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?
- Required.
- Grace.

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 l
ess 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 G
od’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.


Heather said...

Intellectually, I completely agree with this post. But what I want, is... (the list is long - can I be published? can we have a more stable income? can we travel?)
C.S. Lewis said something to the effect of not being afraid that God wants the best for us, but we are afraid of how much that will hurt.

Tony Myles said...

Wow... great stuff, there. Just yesterday I learned of Lewis' journey as a child to lose his mother to cancer when he was only nine, shattering his trust in God's goodness. In combination with the later loss of his wife, too, here is a guy who writes from the raw places.

bjk said...

All exactly where I'm struggling....the whole wants versus need....this is timely for me ...

Cory said...

I'm intrigued (sp?) at where you're taking this. My guess is you are driving at the fact that even when we think we have something we really don't own anything. I have experienced so many people who thought they had a lot only to loose it all. It seems to run rampant (again sp?) around here.

Maybe at the end of it all it's not about what we have or don't have but rather about a God that is in control. The goal for me is to get to where neither position is any better or worse than the other. It's the whole concept of Mana, as well as the verse in Phillipians where Paul says he's ok with or without. That's where I want to be.

DJG said...

Sounds like exactly what I need right now. Looking forward to your future posts....

Tony Myles said...

Cory -

I agree that the goal is to be pliable so that neither side of the spectrum matters. The trick is doing that in the world we live in and as guys who feel the need to provide for the needs and wants of family. What a cool opportunity we have, though, to figure it out. So many people in other countries don't even have that option.

bjk & djg: Glad to hear these thoughts are helping you, too.

Tanner Ridge said...

I love the verse from Acts 4:32 and try to remind myself of it whenever I am asked if something can be borrowed from me:
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."
I look at my stuff as Gods and I'm just taking care of it but none of it belongs to me. The last two items I was possessive of were my motorcycle and video camera, not wanting them to be scratched or damaged. I've let those go too.
Its great when we can share what God has given us, even if its not material and just the ability to share what God is teaching oneself to other people through a blog :)
Nice post Bro- Tanner

Tony Myles said...

Speaking of that camera... can I borrow it this week? :)

momma, poppa & THE boy said...

Okay, so you had me at "wanting one more episode of LOST." :)

I need this. Need to desperately apply it to my life and my situation right now. I'll admit here that I'm afraid of letting go and opening up my hands. I kinda like the feeling of holding on, thinking I am in control.

God is teaching me big stuff here, in this place, at this blog.

tanner said...

Don't ask unless your serious... if your serious then yes

Bryan Riley said...

If people would let go not just of their stuff but also of their lives, we might see more going out into all the world. I don't mean to say that all would. God calls many to work in all sorts of career fields, but I do wonder if there would be more in the harvest...

BarBarA said...

This was good. Too good. I have an apt. to get my hair cut/highlighted tomorrow and it's going to cost way too much $$$.
I have been rethinking for days (going natural so as not to spend that money) and then I read this and

Joseph Cartwright said...

Found your blog while searching for stuff on gospel poverty. Good job Bro! Sharing your thoughts and sharing the journey. Good to find you.