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.




How the Haves and Have Not Evangelize—Or Don’t


Yesterday, I mentioned the E-word: evangelism.

That’s not a fun word in a lot of American Christian circles. In the secular world, the fear of speaking in front of a crowd of people scares the willies out of more people than anything else. Obviously, How will they hear the name unless we tell them?no one is polling Christians on fear of evangelism or else you’d see 90 percent of believers’ knees knocking together at the mere mention of the word.

In America at least, I see the issue of our lousy attitude toward evangelism breaking down into two camps, the Haves and Have Nots.

If you are a Have, then life treats you well. You applied your nose to the grindstone and not only came away with your nose intact, but a two-car garage full of nice things as well. You’re healthy and so are the rest of the people in your family. As they say, it goes well with you. People point to you and say, “There goes a success.” And you are a success, at least as far as the world goes. You have the material gain, the nice semi-upper-level job, and the 2.3 children in an exclusive private Christian school to prove it. Your money gets you out of every jam you might find yourself in. And some Sundays, when you remember, you thank God for all the stuff He has given you.

If you are a Have Not, you look at those who live in the tony Have planned community down the road and pray that, for your sake, they discover Freecycle—and soon.Your car is ten years old and visited the shop one time for each of its years last year, each visit bringing a different mechanical ailment. You suffer from a vague unease that perhaps you have hidden sin in your life that prevents you from being a Have, yet you can never discover what that sin might be. The bills never seem to stop piling up. When your family talks about its situation, the phrase “make do” comes up a lot. In church on Sunday, you worry that people are thinking your nice church clothes are looking a little threadbare.You sometimes wonder if God plays favorites.

For the Have and the Have Not, the mere mention of evangelism brings on an attack of hives.


In the case of the Have, evangelism forces reckoning. It brings to the surface the reality that you claim to follow an invisible god-man who died and rose from the grave. You talk to this god-man through something called prayer. You eat his body and drink his blood. You use lingo found only within that group of people who do the same. That god-man asks things of you that “normal” people aren’t required to do, like take care of the naked and the prisoner. Evangelism is the means by which you want others to live that same way and follow that same god-man.

When you’re a Have, doing just that is a little unnerving. Because it makes you look weird. It casts a pall over your otherwise normal American life. It reminds you that the things that god-man said make other people uncomfortable, people who can make or break your career, people who can send you back where you came from, and you just don’t want to go back there because it wasn’t even a shadow of the life you enjoy now. Losing your Have-ness would be the same as dying—or worse.

So you leave the evangelism to others.

In the case of the Have Not, evangelism reminds you of failure. How many have come to Jesus because of your direct involvement in their lives? Not many. And why would they? You don’t have much. You’re not the shining example of the American Dream. There’s a vague unease that perhaps God is not blessing you as much as He is blessing others. Your pastor tells you that evangelism is nothing more than telling someone else what Jesus has done for you. Yet by the normal American standard of blessing, you’re not doing that well. Your pagan neighbors are, so why would they want to come down in the world? Why would they want to be a Have Not when they may very well be a Have right now?

When you’re a Have Not, you sometimes feel like an embarrasment to the Kingdom of God, the red-headed stepchild, the third wheel. Your Have-Not-ness disqualifies you from evangelizing because who really wants to be like you? Why would someone want to follow a god who has such a mediocre disciple working for him? Who wants to tell prospective followers that they may come down in their station in life if they follow Jesus? Or that devils may try to attack them more fiercely so that they’ll face discouragement in a way they never have before, discouragement that threatens to send them back to where they were before coming to Jesus but with all of the former things of that life now lost.

So you leave the evangelism to others.

The funny thing about the Haves and Have Nots here in the American Church is that it’s the Have Nots that are the most deluded. Truth is, most everyone in America is a Have, while most of the rest of the world is a Have Not. And oddly enough, the greatest revivals and most effective evangelism are coming out of those places in the world that practically define what it means to be a Have Not. Except that those Have Not Christians in those Have Not countries could not have more joy because they are Haves in the one thing that truly matters, having Jesus.

For the Haves, there is one thing they lack. If they were to read their Bibles, they would know what that one thing is. The problem for the Haves is that they love their Having more than they love their own souls—or the One who can save those very souls. Evangelizing others reminds them of this truth. It’s why they avoid it like the plague.

Times are coming and may already be here when the Haves will find themselves having less. Maybe that will change their attitude toward evangelism. Or maybe it will just make them bitter. That’s hard to predict. Sliding into the Have Nots is a foreign feeling. The Haves won’t know the language or customs of what it means to dwell in the Land of Have Not. I suspect some may find God’s grace in that Land, though.

At least, that’s what I’m praying.

No matter which camp you fall into, it’s time to live differently. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. And if you look closely enough, you can see that today is a shade darker than yesterday.