Monday, January 27, 2014

I'm Blessed! How are you?

Yesterday at church, I ran into a guy and his boy who we attend small group with. I said the usual, "Hello, how are you?" He responded, "I'm bl-E-ssed!! How are you?" I was taken back. His comment came across to me as artificial and inconsiderate. I responded with, "Oh, ok, well I'm...good". I mean honestly, what can compete with that, right?! This has happened to me before in church with church people. In fact, the last time I heard "I'm blessed!" was from a pastor in passing as he was walking passed me in the church office. Strangely enough, this guy from my small group grabbed my husband just moments later after talking to me and began venting about how NOT BLESSED he actually feels because his life is chaotic and stressful right now. This makes me shake my head. He was being dishonest and misrepresenting reality, for what? The pastor I was talking about earlier that was also so "blessed" has recently taken a long break from his preaching/ministry because of a "health issue" that is not physical sickness. Hmm. I guess he was living quite the same situation as my small group friend,feeling NOT blessed. Both of these men suffer from a debilitating sickness that breeds within the culture of Christ's Church, it's called the prosperity gospel. This is a belief that if you are a Christian then you should live happy, prosperous, stress-free, without conflict, neutral on social issues, without any health issues or relational issues,never suffer in any way, and most of all not having to CHOOSE when choices present themselves and not having to WORK HARD to get to prosperity. Because becoming a Christian is ALL about making your life better and happier, right? Sound strange? Maybe it doesn't sound strange but, if I was to ask this question to many Christians they would answer, yes. And if you or I happen to NOT be "blessed" at the time we are asked how we are, we should NEVER answer with the truth because that would mean that we have no faith. To have no faith is shameful to a Christian. It has taken many years for the prosperity doctrine to trickle down through Christian circles. This doctrine's amazing foothold in Christians' hearts has not been without the influence of worldly practices such as the entitlement society, the growing practice of undisciplined children/not saying or hearing 'No', and the practice of attempting to remove all suffering from persons. These are just three influences but there are many others that have contributed to church goers buying into this idea of always happy and always "blessed". Living real life doesn't supply any illusions about suffering. We ALL go through tough stuff. We all have people in our lives that struggle and suffer. One day we can feel great and the next find out we have cancer. One day we can be successful and make great money and the next we can lose our job and our spouse with no warning. How about having a person in our life that just doesn't get their "crap" togethor and they just make life continually frustrating. This doesn't provide fodder for "happy" and feeling "blessed". There is a process of grief that everyone goes through no matter what the suffering and loss their experiencing. But I can tell you from experience that I don't feel "blessed" when I am suffering. For awhile I just deny I am suffering. Depending on the situation this can last hours or days or weeks. I just go about my life with intensifying pressure on the inside. Then when the pressure gets too much I get angry and fight back against the wave of negative emotions the situation and/or person is creating in my life. Then I come up with an action plan and begin to put it into practice in order to alleviate my suffering. Sometimes this works completely and sometimes it doesn't work at all but more often my actions work to some level for positive outcomes and also don't work in some aspects in any way or very little. I am then left with a choice about my situation or relationship--Am I going to move forward WITH this thing in my life and learn to live above this thing or am I going to live focused on this thing and how I can't be totally rid of it and rid of my suffering? I typically tend to be the person who chooses to move forward with the suffering in my life. I walk with it and look to God to help me carry it. This is where we can either deny we are in fact human and are still suffering or we can say, "No, I'm blessed!" Which means, "I don't want anyone to know that I am struggling because then I don't look super-spiritual and if I'm not super-spiritual then I can't remain aloof and above them because they'll know I'm human!" Oh no, right?! Not human. That wouldn't fit the Hollywood script out there and the media/social media script of a perfectly happy life. Plus, all my talking hasn't mentioned the fact that suffering is almost constant to some level. If we go around boasting that we are blessed then that denies the fact that every human experiences internal pressure that's mostly manageable everyday. Boasting about being blessed is itself a denial of the reality of human life. People do not live on a continuous mountain top experience but typically we live in the travel time moving up to the top but having to turn around and go back down to the valley and then back and forth with a once and awhile mountain top in there that doesn't last long. There are many in America and many more out in other countries that live most of their lives in the valley of life where they must look to God for comfort, provision, and help. Scripture tells us to glorify God when we are experiencing suffering (1 Peter 4:12-16). In other words, talk about how great God is and how He is working in you in the situation. Scripture also teaches that the rewards we are promised are in, GASP, heaven (Matthew 5:12). Scripture also teaches that Christians were each called TO suffering in Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Christians are asked to suffer FOR one another by giving up their lives for one another (1 John 3:16, John 15:13). The Bible teaches that all the creation was subjected to futility and groaning and that it will be when Christ returns that our joy will be made complete in Him (Romans 8:17-23). Scripture teaches that we will experience weakness and will need God (Romans 8:26). Christians have been promised in scripture to be misunderstood, persecuted, rejected, and to, gasp again, suffer for Christ but to be looking for consolation when and in Christ's return (1 Corinthians 4:12-14, 2 Corinthians 1:7). We are taught that because we will experience these heavy things we are to look to what is to come to enable us to not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1). The idea of doing certain things to be "blessed" or "cursed" appeared in the Old Testament Law. As we know none of us can keep ourselves totally pure in heart and behavior so we fall desperately short of the Law's demands and the criteria for "blessing" which then in effect makes us fit the requirements for a "cursing". In short, this is the whole reason we need Jesus. Not for a happy, prosperous life. Not so He can take away all our suffering. Not so we can walk around carefree and "blessed". We need Jesus because we break God's law everyday of our lives and because of this we are seperated from God and live with that on our consciences but not just a heavy conscience but according to scripture we are dead men and women without Jesus. Without Jesus's sacrifice fulfilling the requirements of the law we cannot receive the blessing of heaven and eternal life. Ray Comfort, a well known author and speaker teaches on this subject of the modern gospel message of happiness and prosperity as a myth. It is impossible to stay in Christ if we come to him in order to change our lives and get happier and more blessed. And if we believe that if we are in Christ we should be happy and blessed because that's what salvation brings then when life brings its realities of stress and suffering we may easily misrepresent what we are experiencing to our co-Christian friends or those outside of Christ because in essence we are defending our own belief that Christians are supposed to be happy darn it and our phony happieness is what somehow proves that Christians are better off and will ultimately attract non-believers to us and our faith! R-i-gh-t...the thing is people see right through that, or they should. If we tried to glorify God without revealing our suffering it wouldn't make any sense. It's a given then, to glorify God means to first reveal your suffering and then talk about who God is in it and where your faith will stand through it. I will never forget that comment from my small group friend. It imprinted such a strong emotional reaction in me that I know not to ever cause someone else to stumble because of those type of words. I hope I have given you something to think about as well and if you are a believer be sure to be careful of the words you speak and the doctrines you keep. Check out: God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message by Ray Comfort.

The In-Between

Have you ever experienced the in-between? It's like being in a large building with many floors and existing only in the stairwell with no knowledge of what's behind any of the doors that you could possibly open. The other day, the director of the program I am interning at asked me what I plan to do once I finish my internship and graduate. I told him that I did not know because my original vision I had for what I was going to create with my education has slowly lost its life and expression in me and now I am in the in-between. The in-between...a place of insecurity and lack of direction. A place where I have many passions, a place where I can see so many populations who need support and help, a place where I can see so many injustices in the world around me, and a place where I have strong needs and desires for myself and my family as well. How do I know what direction to take? Maybe God is allowing me to stand back and see all the options so that I can choose who I want to invest my heart and my life in. Maybe the in-between is the deep breath, the calm before the storm. The storm being a new mission with new demands on my and my family's lives. Maybe this is time to re-group and be strengthened by God and the love of my family and friends. Honestly, I think that the in-between is a time for all of these wonderings but possibly more purposes than I am aware or can perceive. This makes me remember and smile about God. I am so glad that ultimately I do not have to worry about all the "why's" and the "what if's" and the "when's". He will take care of me. He knows my needs and has a mission for me. I must keep moving forward. I must keep praying, stay close to Him in relationship, and be faithful to my commitments. I must open every door until I open a door where something says "go in". I know God will lead me. He has never abandoned me in my struggles and I trust that He will be there in this one as He has been in the past.