Jeremiah’s Lament, By Proxy


Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
—Jeremiah 12:1b

It’s a good question to ask concerning those who wickedly prospered at the expense of others, knowing they were doing wrong but letting expediency and the lure of a quick buck be their guides. Righteous or wicked?The present economic disaster rests largely on the shoulders of the treacherous and deceitful, doesn’t it?

What makes it all the worse is that those who made millions selling derivatives of derivatives of derivatives, who knew it was all a house of cards that would doom other people,  are off enjoying the beaches of Nice on the Riviera while you’re in tears because you can’t find your tattered box of grocery coupons.

Monday was one of those days that amounts to a troika of tragedy, bad news coming in threes, one of those days that has you questioning everything, especially a verse like this one:

No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.
—Proverbs 12:21

When it seems to be nothing but ill for the supposedly righteous, while the supposedly wicked prosper, well that’s one of those theologically low days, isn’t it? Makes you wonder just where you stand on the righteousness-wickedness scale.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who said to me that it sure seemed to him that people who are closer to God appear to have more trouble in life than those who could care less about the Almighty.

Do those righteous folks always end up like Joseph, who went from the bowels of Pharaoh’s dungeon to the seat at his right hand, along the way becoming the savior of Egypt? Or are they more likely to be like this fellow:

There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man.
—Ecclesiastes 9:14-15

Starting the week off on heavy topics may be par for the course around this blog, but I’m holding onto hope anyway.

What is your take on this? Is it true that people who are more devout seem to suffer more than the clueless pagans around them? Regardless of how you answer that, why do you believe that way?

Who’s to Blame for the Prosperity Gospel?


The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
—1 Samuel 2:7-8a

Yesterday, a reader left this comment:

It’s even worse, it seems, on the black gospel music stations where most of the teaching and much of the music is infected with the widely popular health/wealth/prosperity “gospel.”

I’d like to comment on this by asking why it might be that so many black Christians find prosperity teachings attractive. Money, money, money , money...moneySadly, that’s not a question too many opponents of the “prosperity gospel” dare ask because the ultimate answer strikes a little too close to home.

Consider a similar scenario. Evangelicals who went ballistic over the Emerging Church lacked the nerve to ask why the Emerging Church existed. Many times here, I discussed why: It was a reaction against Evangelicalism’s many blinders, especially on issues of nonexistent community, a lack of social justice for the oppressed, and rampant consumerism.

Yet rather than consider the possible truth of even one scrap of the Emerging Church protest, the loudest voices in Evangelicalism let loose with a tirade about the bad theology in the Emerging Church (and hey, let’s be honest, it was atrocious theology in many cases). Rarely, though, was there any Evangelical self-examination.

I find it both dispiriting and amusing that the very same Christians who idolize the Reformation revert to Catholic theology when it comes to these types of battles.  It’s always their own sins that are venial, while their opponents’ are the most vile, wicked, mortal sins imaginable.

And the same is true of this battle over the so-called prosperity gospel.

It’s not for no reason that the prosperity gospel exists. This may only be my experience, but it seems to me that the loudest voices crying out against the prosperity gospel come from those people who never wanted a day in their lives for anything. They never went to bed hungry. Never saw all the other kids get nice toys for their birthday while they got busted up junk those others threw away. The people who complain loudest against prosperity teachings are most likely to be the same people whose money could buy them out of every problem, and whose lifestyles define prosperity, God or not.

You see, it’s darned easy to come down against someone’s misplaced hope of escaping poverty when you’re already prosperous. In many ways, that viewpoint is the same one that seeks to keep “those people” down, lest “those people” rise up and end the party. And that’s reprehensible self-righteousness and pride.

However, it’s equally reprehensible that many of the proponents of prosperity teaching get rich off the backs of their poor followers. Those false teachers and leaders deserve a special place in hell and may actually find that their hoped for heavenly mansion of gold ends up looking more like a lake of fire.

Yet for all the anti-prosperity-gospel talk out there, the Bible contains more words about prospering this side of heaven than the opponents care to address. The patriarchs were not a poverty-stricken lot. The Lord promises hundreds of times that He will pour out plenty on those who are obedient to Him. He rewards those who seek Him, and not just with spiritual gain, but also material. God leads His people into a land of milk and honey. The reaper overtakes the plowman.

I’m not going to try to proof text this point. If you must, just look up the word prosper in a concordance. God prospers his people both spiritually and materially. It’s there, really; I’m not making it up.

On the other hand, people who put all their trust in the material, who build huge barns to store all their accumulated worldly wealth, often run into an impoverishment of the soul. And that’s a state of being God is none too happy about.

Whether you’re a prosperity gospel fan or foe, whether you can trot out battling Bible verses to bolster your position, the solution to this theological war is found in an achingly simple response. You see God already shows us how to live in a way that satisfies both sides of this issue:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:41-45

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:32-35

Folks, the point is moot. When the Church is living this way, no matter which side you are on in the prosperity gospel battle, you will find your answer here.

But you see, we don’t want to deal with those two passages in Acts because they stand as an indictment against how we live, whether we’re rich or poor. The greed and hard-heartedness that keeps us from fulfilling these passages in Acts today afflicts both those with and those without.

When I mention these verses and ask why we’re not living this way, a million excuses come out. I know; I’ve heard them all. It gets a little depressing.

So maybe in the eyes of God it doesn’t matter if we’ve gone off into “Lord, I name and claim a Lexus—a gold-colored one with goatskin leather seats,” or into the rich, young ruler’s perfect theology framing a heart of cold selfishness. The answer to the problem of the prosperity gospel is staring us in the face.

We simply don’t want to obey God and live it.




Banking on God: Crisis, Part 2


The people will wander through the land, discouraged and hungry. In their hunger and their anger they will curse their king and their God. They may look up to the sky or stare at the ground, but they will see nothing but trouble and darkness, terrifying darkness into which they are being driven.
—Isaiah 8:21-22

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most familiar passages of the Bible. As much as each of us has probably prayed it a thousand times over in the course of our lifetimes, one portion stands out in these times:

Give us this day our daily bread.

If you’re like me, you have no idea what it means to live that verse. Most of us have some sort of fallback position that prevents us from ever being in a condition to truly need “our daily bread.” We open our pantry and the food practically bulges out. The refrigerator can’t hold any more than what we’ve already packed in. Daily bread? What the heck does that mean?

And does it extend beyond food?

A few years ago, my wife and I were carrying a private insurance policy not paid for by an employer. It had a high deductible and was intended to get us through a period of unemployment. Bread line, soup line, unemployment line...During that time, I got a sinus infection and the doctor strongly recommended I get a series of X-rays taken to judge the severity of the infection. When I found out how much the X-rays would cost, I passed on them.

That was the first time in my life I wondered what it would be like to be poor and have to forgo medical care. In the years since that time, the reality of being unable to afford basic medical care hits home harder and harder. Less and less is covered by increasingly costly insurance. Now the majority of employers offer no group plans at all. What’s amazing is that even with insurance, many people can’t afford to pay what their insurance will not. (Ask me about my family’s out-of-pocket dental outlays in the last few years.)

The Wall Street Journal today said that hospitals are now checking people’s credit histories before treatment. The way things are going (especially if RealID comes to pass, as it looks it will), you may one day be turned down for necessary medical treatment because your credit score is too low. That the hospitals are being granted access to your credit history is bad enough, but if things go as they are, it might get worse than that.

What does it mean for us to pray Give us this day our daily bread ?

I once went on a five-day, water-only fast. Most people don’t handle a single day of fasting well. Try five. The strange thing about fasting is the euphoria you begin to feel around day four. It’s a bizarre sensation. Oddly enough, by the time you reach day four, driven by that fasting “high,” you could probably hold out for another week or so before physical damage sets in. The hunger that gnaws at you those first few days passes. A giddiness replaces it.

I don’t want to think we’re at a point where more and more people will acquaint themselves with the strange rush of starving to death. But I’m nevertheless convinced that any time we had to buttress our positions against such an inevitability may have come and gone.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Here’s the questions an unprepared church must face:

  1. Companies lay off workers and giving goes down. Now how do you pay for your building and staff when the collection plate is half-filled and you budgeted for a full one?
  2. The bastions of the church start discovering that they need an extra job or must take service industry jobs that work strange hours, hours that overlap most church activity times. Suddenly, your lay leaders aren’t available to lay lead because they are busy making ends meet any way they can. Who is left to run all your discipleship programs?
  3. Churches that bet the farm on small groups, hoping they will sustain the flock during the week, now find that most people are busy trying to make a living and have no time for small groups. Now what?
  4. The most vulnerable people in the church start suffering. Who will care for and comfort them when you’ve been forced to reduce paid staff numbers and lost to job-related issues the 20 percent of non-clergy who do 80 percent of the ministry?
  5. When people lose jobs, they lose employer healthcare benefits. When they take part-time jobs (if available), they don’t get health insurance. What do you do when one of the cornerstones in your church tells everyone he has cancer and will need at least half a million dollars for a course of therapy?
  6. Scared people start making runs on banks and grocery stores. The ones who still do have some money clean things out. How will the people in your church eat?
  7. People in misery do stupid, desperate things. How do you react when an important person in your church goes down in flames and possibly goes to jail for it?
  8. What network connections has your church forged with churches who may have anticipated this trouble and planned better than yours did? Were you castigating their theology all these years, only to have to go to them for help now?
  9. People start losing homes. How will you shelter them?
  10. People start moving out of the worst areas to find work in better areas. Your church isn’t in one of the better areas. What do you do when you start losing people to nomadic lifestyles, or worse, to a falling away because of hard times and persecution?

Give us this day our daily bread.

We need two things: the faith to pray Give us this day our daily bread and the clear thinking to address terrible issues with radical answers rooted in the Gospel.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll offer some ideas of what we can do to better weather bad times and be a Church that is not only prepped for battle, but knows how to live by Give us this day our daily bread.

Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium