When the Pendulum Swings

About a decade ago I was working in the donation processing department of World Vision U.S.   I worked in a small office area with a group of other women.    In our office were people from a wide range of denominations, worship styles and peripheral doctrinal beliefs.  In this building were people from all walks of life,  races, and numerous different nations.  It was a melting pot of beautifully diverse Jesus followers.  We loved each other as we served the Lord with our everyday tasks.

One day I was sitting with my usual group of about 6 or 7 women in the cafeteria eating lunch.   A man, a temp worker, sat down at our table and started talking to us.  He went on and on about how any affliction in this life, illness, loss, financial problems, disease..even allergies was all a direct link to sin in a persons life and were linked to a specific spirit.  He went onto boast that he had not had so much as a cold in years.
 We just sat quietly stunned.  I couldn't believe he was serious.
According to him an afflicted person was proof that they not only lacked faith, but that they were living in sin and couldn't possibly have God's blessing.
None of us could eat, we all just sat there staring at him.
What this man didn't realize was that at this table, in my group of sisters, was a collection of illness, loss, disease and affliction.  We were each others support group that year as we shared our pain, loss, doubts, fears, and raw faith.  I believe God placed me in that office, with those women, to help me through the darkest pain in my life. They gave me perspective.  I doubt it was coincidence that this group of women worked every day in the same small cubicle together.

One woman suffered terribly with a degenerative disease called Scleroderma.  She lived in severe debilitating pain everyday.    She was also one of the most hilariously funny women I have ever known.
One woman was battling cervical cancer.
One young woman's husband ,who had been a police officer,  had recently suffered a stroke (at about 40yrs old).
Another young mom's husband had his leg amputated because of a gun shot wound.
I was the young woman who had just buried her only son.

We were a ragged, raw, real bunch of women.  All phoniness, illusions of self sufficiency, or arrogance had been burned away in the fires of suffering.   Each one of those women taught me about what REAL faith looks like.  They trusted God even when the story that God was writing in their lives involved pain.   They worshiped in Spirit and truth.  They laughed.   They lived each moment.   They LOVED the Lord with everything they had and it showed.

They  had enough wisdom and restraint to let this man finish his lunch and leave without blood shed.
When I think of the "name it and claim it" preachers,
when I picture the personal jet flying, money begging, televangelists promising healing for a hefty check,
I think of poor deceived men like the one that sat down at our table.

 With his theories he made the accusation, without even realizing it, that my unborn son had somehow sinned prenatally and deserved to have a broken body...or that I had done this to my child and was somehow being punished.   Once I realized he was sick it was my own lack of faith in healing that allowed my child to die.

I feel sorry for him that man.  What a horrible, fearful, delusional, guilt ridden way to go through life.  He will forever be assuming that if he isn't healthy , rich and trouble free he doesn't have God's grace.

Maybe that's why I don't drink this particular kool-aid.   I've lived the flip side of "health and wealth" and come out with a deeper relationship with Jesus because of it.

Strong words.

I have held my own dead child in my arms.
I have good  friends who live in shacks we wouldn't keep our garden tools in.
There are children I know and love living without enough to eat.
I've seen passionate followers of Christ, worshiping joyfully in cardboard and plywood churches.
There are believers who's faith put's ours to shame living on the brink of survival in Haiti.
Believers are sitting in prisons, being tortured and executed for their faith.
God's faithful ones are living through tornados, tsunamis, and earthquakes....and still finding the strength of Spirit to stand and sing songs of worship to the Lord.

Do they lack faith?   If they only believed it harder, decreed it louder, and declared it more fervently...maybe cash would come falling from the sky for them too.

That's why the whole "health and wealth " mentality baffles me.

The above video may have left you speechless, convicted, confused or even offended.
It does cut straight to the heart and gets straight to the point.

From where I stand,  prosperity gospel is one of the many pendulum swung too far the wrong way messages being spread as truth and tragically exported to other countries.
There are many good hearted, well intentioned Spirit filled believers that lean toward the declare and decree whatever your  heart desires philosophy.  The danger is in letting that pendulum swing too far over into making the Bible your personal self help book instead of God's story.  

In order to really buy what  the prosperity gospel sells, you need only to take  a few verses out of the Bible  and repeat them as a mantra.   The problem is , you need to skip the gospels, the book of acts and Paul's letters to the early church.

Cutting out chunks of the Bible, and using verses out of context, seems to be a trend in Canadian Christian circles.   North America is full of :  long-list-of-rules-legalists,  watered- down-social-gospel-liberals,  and  pasted-on-smiles-pockets- full-of- money -televangelists.....who pick out their favorite verses and skip over all the rest.

It sometimes makes me wonder where are all the Christians described in the book of Acts?  A minority for sure.  Where are the boldly passionate, Spirit empowered, love filled, truth speaking, culture engaging, uncompromising, scripture loving, grace tempered, servant hearted, self sacrificing disciples of Christ?   I suspect many of them are in  places like South America, Africa and Asia where they know the true cost of following Jesus and the word of God is still too valuable to be butchered.

Unfortunately for us in America, preaching a biblical dying to self message doesn't sell a lot of books, or win a lot of fans...so few do it.

In each of the three camps that I used as an example, there are nuggets of truth, points to be made, and glimpses of merit but so often the  baby has been thrown out with the bath water.  I believe in truth.  I believe that we should seek truth.  Not to be confused with public opinion,  wishful thinking, or warm fuzzies.   I suspect truth is lost once that pendulum swings too far in any direction.   We start to loose sight of Jesus and replace him with something out of someones imagination.

  So many times people over compensate.  They are repelled by  lifeless, loveless dogmatic religion and then swing way over to truthless, doctrineless, oprahfied love worship.

Where is the simple childlike faith Jesus referred to?   We don't have to re-write the Bible to regain balance....we just need to read it.

I believe in a terrifyingly awe inspiring holy God, and I firmly believe that he is loving beyond comprehension.  I believe that good doctrine is essential and I also believe that an intimate relationship is what defines my faith.   I believe that God sometimes allows affliction and brings beauty out of suffering...but I also believe in God's power to heal completely.   I believe in absolute truth as revealed in scripture and  I also embrace unfathomable mystery.  I love both classic hymns and contemporary worship music.  I enjoy vegetarian food and I love a good hamburger. (that one was just for fun)  I love diversity of believers and I don't sweat the small stuff of differing peripheral doctrines (I'm firmly non denominational) and I also believe in discernment, accurate interpretation and the truth of the gospel of Jesus.   The Bible is full of glorious paradox that can be embraced rather than divided up.

  I truly believe in the Holy Spirit that empowers, guides, convicts, comforts, and can give gifts displayed by wonderous works, visions, healing, and all the things listed among the New Testament believers. These things are happening everyday among believers around the globe.   God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  I believe that Jesus came to give us life lived abundantly, joyously and triumphantly!
But God is not a divine slot machine, working on our whims and desires.  Sometimes he responds with a loving "no" to the most fervent, noble requests.    We can't twist his arm with a big check, and loud chanting.

Even though I strongly disagree with the man that was sitting at our lunch table who has an almost mathematical formula for avoiding any kind of ailment... I do think there are consequences to breaking God's laws and crossing established boundaries.  A dysfunctional toxic person can wreak havoc on their families, relationships, and their own bodies.  That is not God honoring by any stretch of the imagination.   God doesn't desire for us to live addicted, oppressed, raggedy, defeated lives.  If we live a life of hatred, unforgiveness, deception, bitterness, offense, and destruction in our spirits eventually it will manifest itself in our physical bodies as well,  I've seen it happen....but a person can take that  truth and bend it to the extreme.  That extreme is the prosperity gospel that promises us health, wealth, success, and prosperity if we have enough faith.

The above video explains the problem with the health and wealth mentality so well I really didn't even need to expand with my own thoughts.

It  bugs me when people look at their own little kingdoms, their stored up wealth and say with satisfaction...look how God has blessed me.    I'm such a swell guy, such a righteous woman, that God has given me my due reward.  The focus is "me".  I deserve the best in this life...others don't.   Little by little we kill our conscience and blind our own eyes while the world around us dies.

Money doesn't make a person unrighteous just like being poor doesn't make a person holy,
but riches shouldn't be what we pursue.  Jesus should be the object of our affections...not what he can give us.  Being sick doesn't mean that God has forgotten you, or that you are being punished, it means that maybe we can't see the bigger picture right now.

With any preacher, teacher, or writer....take the meat and leave the bones, don't swallow it all without chewing it over or you just might choke.  If all that you're left with is a plate of bones...you might want to get your nourishment elsewhere.  

Again...it's all about that pendulum swinging too far.  Hype without foundation...it's a dangerous thing.

"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  (Just a little quote from Jesus)

 As Christians we need to live out the lives God has purposed for us...passionately, radically, lovingly and transparently...whether that means a big house or a shack, a healthy body or one inflicted with disability...all the while trusting that God is faithful to carry us through to the finish line.


Jenn said...

Amen! Thanks for sharing!

Marcy said...

Oh my! You seriously have me slapping the table and shouting AMEN!! Ok, I am actually mentally doing it because I cannot wake up sleeping children. BUT PREACH IT SISTER!! Words of truth.

Hope you don't mind me sharing this 'cause I just did.


Amber said...

Wow Carla, you are so amazing. I know you think that you "ramble" but you have so many wonderful truths to share. I think you could preach.. or write a book. I love your point of view. I sooooooo agree with everything you said in this post!

carrie church said...

Powerfully and beautifully written! Truth abounds in your words and I pray that they continue to resonate in each of our hearts and in the actions and words we live out each day.

Shannon said...

Great post!

canadianchika said...

i remember being at the mission while a visiting pastor came and told us the same thing...that desease, illness, sight problems were all directly related to sin....and i was really upset and stunned by these words....but like every other christian, i think he is trying to find a logical explination for hurt and suffereing. If you look at it in broader strokes i do believe that most pain and suffering is directly related to sin...but not necissarily at a personal level. God wants to pour out blessings, but as a society...we( as a culture, not as indivduals) are the ones injecting our food with steriods that cause cancer, we are the ones who go to war over things like oil prices and let innocent people die so that our gas is affordable. But in suffering also brings perseverence and faith that God wants something better for us, and that he will come and right the world one day...and untill that day, as Jesus says, BLESSED are the humble, the weak, the poor, the lonley...for thiers is the kingdom of God (extreme paraphrasing i know!)