The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:9-10)

17 12 2010

Proverbs 3:9-10

9Honor the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

These verses remind me of the prime texts some preachers would use to preach a Prosperity Gospel that doesn’t really honor God. Their sermon or lesson begins off as something legitimate but then quickly turns into something that exerts “God has to fix your credit”, “God will give you a check in the mail”, “God shall eliminate your debt” and the list goes on and on. These things aren’t entirely bad and I’m sure they are the wish of every single person who has some sort of school loan or mortgage to pay (I have gone through periods where I literally prayed that God would send me a check in the mail to cover this or that. But over time I realized that this type of testimony is most likely the exception more than the rule which says something awesome about our God that God doesn’t do the same thing for everyone). Trusting God to be present and active, working out our problems is not a bad thing at all, but the misrepresentation of God and the misunderstanding of our purpose through our misunderstanding of God is a bad thing, a moral mistake.

If our hearts are so consumed with stuff like debt, aesthetics, or buying the best Christmas gifts so we can get praise and feel good about ourselves for five minutes, then we’ve succeeded at honoring ourselves but we haven’t done a good job in honoring the Lord. Sure, we can argue that our concern and love for our appearance and the material well-being of others is not about us, but it’s about making others happy. But at best this is a weak argument avoiding the deeper layers of true motive and honest intention.

Where Prosperity preaching goes wrong is the order in which they approach the text. They speak about God first. To be fair, it doesn’t always begin with money. In fact, it begins with exploring God within the text, but then what God does for us takes over and becomes the focal point of being God’s child, worship, church, tithing, etc. God doesn’t remain the focus but we place ourselves as the focal point of God’s word.

With this text even the Prosperity preacher would engage God first: “Tithing is a form of honoring God with our substance. We pay respect to, we worship the Lord fully through what we have. Giving to, supporting, and upholding the church should be your first priority if God is first in your life. And even if you’re new the faith or church hasn’t clicked all the way for you yet or if you’re still learning the word of God, tithe now and God will build up something in you in time. God will honor your sacrifice.”

And this is legitimate, but it is ultimately a set-up for our reward, what we receive as a result of honoring God. The rest of the sermon may entail exhortation that “Tithing opens up the floodgates for financial reward! You will be blessed with more than you can imagine! You will receive material and financial blessing that only God can give! God multiplies spiritually so that we reap those rewards when we honor God and give ten percent! God sees the little that you are willing to give and multiples it beyond what you can count. God will turn that seed you sow into the church into a plant that you can feed off later. Like the widow who gave her last in 1 Kings 17, God will not let your oil and flour run out!”

And this is true, but again, this is not the focus. When we praise God for what God is going to do more than we praise God for just being God, something is amiss. When we question that God has randomly provided $100 for our electricity bill rather than sending a check in the mail to pay our $15,000 credit card debt, something is wrong. We are not the focus. We need to remove ourselves from the center. We need to get off the throne and reposition ourselves at the foot of the throne. The text says that if we honor God with our substance, the stuff from us, what lies at the heart of our cherished things, and give God the best of it, then we will have plenty. If we give the best of our time, writing, art, singing, cooking, administrative skills, business savvy, warmth, smiles, hugs, prayer, love, and even stuff like clothing and money, then we will get enough to eat and drink, enough to live off of. We will get enough, we won’t always get it all, but we will get enough.

Perhaps we need to shed the “exception” mindset and preaching that we wish for and thus place within God’s word and embrace the “rule reality”. The reality is, God works amidst our working and 9 times out of 10 it won’t be with what we dreamed of.

God gives enough. If we ask for a 3 story house, God gives us a three-bedroom one story condo. If we ask for a Mercedes-Benz, God will give us a Honda we can name Mercedes. If we ask for $200,000 to pay off loans, God will give us a job that makes enough where we can begin to pay off those loans over the course of time. If we ask for a husband or wife, God will keep us single another 10 years to be sharpened and made wise, kind, loving, and ready for that person (if that is what God even intends for us…maybe we should ask God to show us what we are supposed to be doing and get busy doing that instead).

I think pastors who make hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year are an exception; they are like kings who owned tons of land and money and had influence were. Perhaps this pastor-king parallel provides a warning of us moving away from God towards governance by people (let’s learn from Israel).

I think that true prophets and prophetesses are exceptions; they do not claim their title with joy but remorse for their life is a continuous cycle of rejection because of the message they not only give but carry within themselves. Their office isn’t one that was designed to be exploited for conferences, but their office imprints on their lives loneliness and pursuit. As they pursue God, they are pursued. They are chased, hated, stoned, and killed. They aren’t accommodated, they are exiled. Modern day exhorters claiming to be prophets should consider this; the prophetic office is not one to be utilized for fame or feeling that you’re finally existing within a “purpose”. We have to be very careful about this…  

I think that checks can come in the mail, but that they will most likely come as a salary reimbursement God withheld from you until you needed it. I think that your debt can be paid, but that it can be done the old-fashioned way, with a job. I think that you can get a nice car or house if God gives you the wisdom to save and pay for it yourself. God holds, changes, draws from and utilizes things we first step out and do. God blesses our commitment to live faithfully, not lazily. God blesses the foot we put forward by giving us more stable ground to walk on. But we must walk, sometimes run, sometimes limp, but it is us making the decision and taking the action to move forward. I believe that God never lifts us up on a cloud to fly above and way from our problems; we’re not Elijah. And we don’t want to be. Elijah received this rare event after a life-time of fulfilling his difficult prophetic calling. Hard work is involved in the blessing, heck, work is involved in the blessing.

I know what I’m describing isn’t exciting blessing, but it is the blessing of “plenty and bursting”. God gives us plenty and this plenty bursts forth so that others may see what God has done and inquires about our God. And God is introduced as a faithful Father, a loving Provider, and a Keeper of our minds and bodies so that we may honor God with our beings. God is not the debt-eraser, but the sin-eliminator. God is not the house-giver, but the mercy-granter. God is not the love-doctor, but God is love.  

Don’t get me wrong, God owns everything. I’m sure God could give us money and a comfortable lifestyle, but I’m not sure God would want to. If getting what we want means that we look to God as Provider only, that we curse God to be Jehovah Jireh alone, we’ve moved away from the purpose God created us for, to worship God. Our purpose isn’t to exist comfortably, but to be God’s, not to belong to money or comfort. If getting what we want implodes a religious pluralism within our beings where the money-god and comfort-god take root alongside God, then it’s not worth it. God can’t be limited to financial healer or “blesser” alone. God is too God to be limited. So I ask that God not give me what I want, but only what I need. I ask that God give me “just plenty” so that I may burst forth with joy and gratitude that a loving God who already did it all in dying for me and my sins loves me enough to still give me anything at all.

I guess it’s about perspective. But I’m afraid that humanity is too fickle to promise not to worship what we get. Therefore I don’t want us to get it all, but just some of it. I want us to do what we are supposed to do anyway giving God our substance and produce: our time, family, and talents and anything else that means everything to us. I want us to give back to God what God has already blessed us tremendously with.

Maybe we would preach a Prosperity Gospel that emphasizes tithing 100% of our best qualities, our best abilities, our time, our love, our concentration and attention. We would preach a Gospel that sees our best as unable to be enhanced with money, but with and through God. We would preach giving God us first and foremost and what it would feel and be like to experience this; what joy, happiness, love, and kind-heartedness we would not simply feel but be. We would be like God. What if Prosperity was a process of becoming God-like? One thing is for sure, there would be enough for everyone.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that our transformation to be like and look like Jesus doesn’t come to us through the mail or a debt cancellation or a tummy tuck, but that it comes quickly and slowly all in the same moment into our hearts, a peaceful and painful process that yields a different kind of wealth unhindered. Lord, may we rejoice in enough. It’s in the name of the Savior who is enough and more than enough, Jesus the Christ, Amen.

I’m interested in confessions. They are real. No holds barred. That’s why I say bold stuff.

29 07 2010

I’m interested in confessions. They are real. No holds barred. That’s why I say bold stuff.

Because confessions reveal not “slap-on-the-wrist” injustices but mighty acts of stupidity, bad judgment and colossal damage. And after they are tossed carefully into the center of the room, into full view, they become the fuel for God’s bonfire of grace. Burned up by the Holy Spirit into ashes. Ashes we mourn with. And ashes we hold dear as reminders of our humanity and God’s divinity.

Our humanity believes in false things, including divine privilege.

I think we sometimes mix our privilege with God’s blessing. When we think our privilege is God, and in this we not only do the brothers and sisters who don’t receive what we do, an injustice, but we do God an injustice.

We place God in our box of wealth and opportunity and assume that our god can be their god, all the while singing praises to God for the things that we have done.

But happenstance helps our case. Of course, God allowed our happenstance to happen, and we were fortunate to stumble upon middle class parents, our a sharp mind, a knack for math and science, the genes for a model’s body or voice for professional singing, the legacy for succeeding in business, and church, and houses and mindsets that sincerely believe that if people don’t get what we’ve been handed, that they’re not blessed.

But what is blessing?

Maybe we have the definition wrong. Or maybe we have it right.

I just assume that blessing doesn’t highlight another’s misfortune but God’s goodness. Too many things we call blessing pits the haves against the have not’s (within and without racial boundaries).

But I wouldn’t call that blessing but the misnomer, divine privilege.  

And sure, I understand that many times a blessing doesn’t happen without election and selection. But blessing lifted one up in God. The only thing it bragged about was God’s power and control, not self-imposed hierarchy of importance.

 Ramble over.


24 06 2010

I may be a little naïve.  Okay, a lot naïve.

 I thought a job was the ultimate form of service.  I thought they represented these sacred cycles and moments and motions of love, renewal and repetition towards each one of us. Kind of like, “I work and in my working I am serving someone.”  When you work you are ultimately a paid servant towards someone else’s good.  We both are paid to offer one of the greatest gifts that one human being can offer to another, service.

But then I grew up about a decade in an instance to understand that even if jobs began as “the ultimate service” concept that that notion has almost died off completely.  Many companies and corporations only serve others in order to offer their best self-service.  Churches acting as companies and corporations, sometimes the corporation named, “Pastor [you fill in the blank] Ministries” sometimes serve others only to reap the benefits that a child of the King should have: houses and riches and wealth.  There’s nothing wrong with that right? It’s Biblical.  God gave them that three-story house and you should be expecting one too because by virtue of you being saved by God’s goodness and grace, goodness and grace should beget gold.  Goodness, grace and gold. See the alliteration?  [Oh, that’s a blessed sermon title! Or as a lot of people love to say, “That’ll preach!”]

The innocence, holiness and the richness of service has slowly been choked out of what it means to serve.  And I’m not completely naïve: I know we have jobs to pay the bills.  I understand that jobs are ultimately self-serving.  But I guess I wonder how does serving someone else for the majority of your day transform into a strategy to best reward yourself by ultimately dis-servicing others? Where is that I-love-you-so-much-that-I-give-up-my-time-my-heart-my-resources-for-you type of service?  The corporate world I can never figure out, so I guess these questions are being asked of Jesus’ body.  What happened to the service that doesn’t expect an exponential return?  Or what happened to the idea of invisible crowns that we gain not on this earth?   I would love to see us serving others not because it will get us a job, a promotion on a job, connections, networking opportunities, something Christian to put on our resumes or everything else selfish-minded.  I would love to serve just to serve.

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