Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pondering Prosperity

I've been thinking....about the blur of sacred and secular. So easy to "spiritualize" and feel all the right stuff on Sunday and Wednesday...to easily express thoughts and attitudes of praise and sentimental worship when sitting in the church building. But man o man, it's that grind, that GRRRRIIIINND, that takes place in between those visits to the church house. That's when all the things that I say I believe are supposed to kick in...and make me an example of God's grace. I confess, I fall so short. Day in and day out, when life's crushing circumstances rush in and do their best work, I give in way too easily to the discouragement. And if not to that, then just to the ambivalence...like I'm not really seeking for the excellent. But I am working on these things. To that end, the chorus of a song has been running through my mind all afternoon. I spotted a church steeple through the clouds and trees...and the words of David Phelps song came,


"Life is a Church
These are the sacraments
This is the altar,
Love is the Spirit
Making this blue world turn
Life is a Church."


I know there may be some arguability(is that a word?) in that statement. But I think the point of the song struck me in a new way today: there is no sacred vs. secular. To us who believe, we can make the sacrifice of praise wherever we are, altar or no altar. We can revel in the broken body of Christ, with or without the traditional sacrament. Not that we would do away with our steeples, altars, and "wine"....heavens, no!...just that I'm seeing that "life is a church" wherever and whenever I still my heart to worship. Hope that made sense!


Been thinkin' on something else, too: There is a prevailing message in our culture today...this "prosperity gospel", it's called. Take the time to listen to some of it and it can really set your mind reeling. Some preach the message so well, that it becomes quite convincing, and then you're stuck with the question, "what's wrong with me?!" The more I have pondered this enigma, between a "prosperity" gospel, and a gospel of "suffering with Christ", I have come to an irritated conclusion. For one thing, just that exactly...where did we get the idea we could live lives of comfortable Christianity? On our worst day, most of us will still never actually suffer for the cause of Christ. But have troubles and valleys of discouragement....ah, yes....that we will know a thing or two about. Doesn't mean we're not prospering in the grace of God, though. At least that's how I'm viewing it these days. And then secondly, and most irritatingly, I stopped short when the thought hit me that those who preach this so-called 'prosperity' or 'self-enhancement' gospel are in effect making the message be one of an AMERICAN GOSPEL! No where else on the globe, especially places that are inherently prone to hardship, could they get away with preaching this message to people! This gospel leaves out half the population....no way that can be the right message. That's when everything Kimberly was saying regarding Katrina issues, etc., finally made sense to me. I get it now.

A message of ease, comfort, wealth, health, favor(the new buzz word), and blessing sure does sound like a mighty fine life. Mighty fine. But, if it's not TRUE, if it doesn't lead me to my ultimate destination, and if it doesn't line up with the whole picture presented in the Scripture, then in reality it's a message of disillusionment. Reminds of the parachute example I shared with you previously; you put on that "parachute" expecting prosperity, and find a quite different life indeed....well, then you'd just throw it off altogether. I know I would.

So for me, the challenge is to really expect better of myself in how I view the nasty circumstances that life throws my way at times. Hold my head up anyway, trust God anyway, praise Him anyway...and believe that relief is in sight somewhere down the road. It's time to hold myself to a higher standard.


In an un-related note: I wanted to put out a word to everyone who would feel led to pray for this need. My parents made friends with a young couple while they were living in Kansas. Beautiful family, five children...and the wife/mother is battling aggressive cancer. Updates on her condition can be found on this blog. If God brings her to mind, would you pray for her? Her name is Sandy. I'm praying for God's will....but also asking for His miracle healing touch on her body. Thank you!

16 comments:

Kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Making Memories 1999 said...

Very good post!! I thought of the "poor" Apostle Paul. Where would he have fit into the whole prosperity message? :-) "for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal . . ."
Thanks so much for your good thoughts!! And I join you, as I desire to reflect Jesus better!! Recently, I've been reminded of that song "Will you love Jesus more, when we go our different ways?" I've thought, will people love Jesus more by knowing or being in contact with me? I do want to reflect Him well!! And I have much growing to do!!

Also, thank you for putting a link to the blog for Sandy!! We, too, are remembering her to our loving Maker!!

Kimberly said...

Tara..you'll notice I have "amended" this comment a bit..thought I must:)

Oh, it's good to be "gotten":) This might be your best post yet...(and not just because you're speaking my language:)..thanks for doing it! So good to hear such honesty..as we strive together to truly live in a holistic way..I'm not knocking "clear guidelines and boundaries" (as I get older I realize how much my personality loves them)..but that's one of the overemphasises I see from the past..there can't be "distinctions" made in areas of our life, and that's what "rigid" but nonintersecting or confusing guidelines encourage. What I hear you encouraging is that "perfect love" that so envelops our lives that we live in a humble and complete way.
But....that's a very high standard and we "perfectionists" can beat ourselves up..I am learning that the key is in giving up on my strengths and relying on His. Today I heard someone say, in essence, that one of the "disciplines" is allowing ourselves to "struggle" in the faith...not always looking for perfect solutions to our questions..realizing that living a life of faith isn't necessarily supposed to be "easy". (obviously we must ultimately be ruled by His peace and I know you know I believe that!)

And since I'm rambling on here...won't even get started on the whole stupid prosperity stuff..so negative, and that's what it does...discourages people. And lest we think it's only TV evangelists doing it, I don't think so....I'm afraid anytime we seek a safe little life/family/church by our own perfect behaviours, we fall in the same camp...(guess I did get started)

We've known Sandy a long time..she and her whole family definately need our prayers!

Sonja said...

I echo thanks for your thoughts. Is it not true that if we abide in Christ, everything is sacred? The presence of the Father sanctifies everything it encounters. Oh that I might affect my surroundings in that way!

As you know from my previous posts, I am wholeheartedly with you on the "prosperity gospel" nonsense. God forgive us for our skewed views.

Anita D said...

Tara, I'm so so so glad you posted a blog on this topic. You've just posted a subject that has been really getting under my skin of late.

All you have to do is live in another country (not even a third world country) and you start noticing that the symbols of Christianity (the cross, the Bible) are in the same painting/picture with the American flag. It sends the message that Americanism and Christianity are the same. Now, I understand the appreciation that our American heritage is rooted deeply in Christianity. But, I'm thinking more and more that Christianity should not be linked so closely with a nation or a political party...for when that nation or party does something wrong....the rest of the world gets the message that Christianity has gone all wrong.

I've also known missionaries to go to 3rd world countries and while preaching the gospel also try to Americanise them. The first church I started visiting here in England was pastored by a missionary from Missouri. Every Sunday he wore a tie that had the cross and American flag and also an American flag pen on his lapel. I sometimes wondered if he knew what country he was in. Needless to say...I stopped going there.

Whenever I turn on the tv to the Christian channels I hear these American Evangelist blairing out the gospel of prosperity. It saddens me. There's the idea that if you are not somehow "blessed" with wealth or healed from all your diseases something is wrong with your faith or you are living in sin.

My husband (who is British) can't stand the saying, "God Bless America". I got him a t-shirt with saying just for a laugh. He said he thought about writing underneath God Bless America....and God Help the rest of us.

kayla said...

One thing Harold alway says in our services is that even the poorest person here is far wealthier than over half the world's population. It is so easy to feel so persecuted in our set of circumstances that we forget what our brothers and sisters are suffering around the world. The call is still "Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth" no matter how Americanized it seems.

jenny said...

Oh Tara, I am so with you! I long to truly worship God in the daily GRIIIIIING as opposed to only during "worship" times at church. I'm not there but I'm praying God will get me there!

Yes, if we think prosperity gospel is only sold by tv evangelists, we've bought into a piece of it ourselves. Look at most successful church plants in the last 10 years, suburbia)...Christianity "sells" best in upper middle class, predominantly white suburbia.

jenny said...

That would be "GRIND" sorry about that kinda funny typo!

Tara said...

Kimber: no need for the "amendment"! But I appreciate your thoughts. Really good point on "struggling for the faith"..I really like that.

Becca: I have every confidence that you are that reflection of Him that you seek to be. Glad I could provide the link for you. I would love to see God provide a miracle for this family.

Sonja: thanks for your thoughts, my friend; so true...His presence DOES sanctify the ordinary. Great thoughts!

Anita: your comment is much appreciated...had me thinking a little! I really didn't know that our flag and symbols of Christianity were so intertwined...at least internationally. That is bizarre. As for the "God bless America"...thing...I respectfully submit that I don't find that presumptious in the least. It is the right of every citizen of every country to seek to invoke the blessing of an Almighty God. The fact that Americans have been doing it since the very foundations of our country's founding doesn't preclude others from doing it! Just speaks to who we have been historically. Like "God Save the Queen"...or whatever. But I did get your hubby's joke on the shirt....it's funny! Thanks for your input here. It's good to have some international perspective on this!

Kayla: Harold is so right! And don't forget about "Jerusalem"! ;)

Jenny: I'm so not there yet, either. And Satan knows it...and does his best to keep me from moving in that direction. Keeping my shoulder to the wheel though. And I agree with you and Kimber: it's not just a televangelist epidemic, though they are probably the primary offenders. Even those of our "heritage" can slip into these behaviors subtly.

Thanks to all for the good comments and discussion...does me heart good!:)

Anita D said...

Thanks Tara for your response. I know most American Christians don't have any intentions to cause the message to come across it does to so many who live elsewhere in the world. But, to many who live in 3rd world countries this is how it adds up in their minds.

Christianity + America = Prosperity

I fear that many who hear the gospel in these countrys, say the sinners prayer in expectation of this. That is why it is very important that we make sure the Christian gospel does not come across this way. God doesn't promise a bed of roses but what is more likely is suffering.

Jenny, you are right...it's not just tv evangelist. What you said, "Christianity "sells" best in upper middle class, predominantly white suburbia" is so true.

The Canfield Family said...

Just wondered if Hillary Clinton can count on your vote in the upcoming election?????

Tara said...

Ah, Mr. C! (I'm assuming that's you): we meet again!
I would answer your question, but I will need further elaboration...are you campaigning for Hillary these days?!

kayla said...

I think I should start commenting first thing in morning or before I post something myself. Blonde roots are coming out.

jenny said...

Good discussion between Anita and Tara!! Good points on both sides. As Americans we so need to truly pray for God to bless us but not in any exclusive or heirarchical (sp?) sense. Being part of the worldwide Trinity (TEDS) seminary community here has shown me the points Anita brought up. I know I'm going to sound like a flaming liberal but I think we truly need to pray that "God bless the world, no exceptions". Regardless of our great historical foundings (and I mean that in no way dismissive)I have no more right to God's blessings than any of my brothers and sisters around the world...many of which truly experience God's richest blessings in ways I cannot fathom in the most unprosperous of countries.

jenny said...

I think I'm setting a record for most comments on a post...I liked this one, Tara!! I came back this morning to say that I will be praying for your friend Sandy. This hits close to my heart as you know my friend Jenny is fighting that same battle. Good news that one of Jenny's tests came back very encouraging. Let's boldly go before the Healer and not let go of the hem of his garment!!!

Ladyluck said...

OH, This has been rolling over and over in my mind! So many christian books are so focused on this prosperity gospel--even if they don't come out and say it. buzzwords (like you mentioned "favor") such as "powerful" and "victorious" don't necessarily mean what they meant in the churches I grew up in. There are teachings telling us to "speak the scriptures" and "claim" our power...
I've been thinking on this SO much, I'd love to put together some actual questions and post them and get all ya'lls comments back.