Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Dangerous Theology

There is a dangerous theology in the church today that is blinding believers. It teaches that if you only have enough faith you as a believer will not ever experience sickness, poverty, hardship, or suffering. I say this teaching is dangerous because it sets the believer up for disappointment and heartache, when hardships do come along. It makes the believer either think that there is something wrong with his/her faith and that God let them down. Some have walked away from their faith because they were never able to come to grips with the tragedies that struck their lives. They felt God had cheated them and let them down. Imagine the added pain that their God had betrayed them.
I have searched scripture to see where this health, wealth, and prosperity theology is. However, I could find no evidence to back it up. What I found said just the opposite. Scripture promises that we will be persecuted, to consider ourselves privileged to be persecuted, and that persecution does not have to separate us from the love of God. This is quite the contrast.
I remember the day vividly. Less than a month earlier my husband has his first grand mal seizure, then two weeks later we found out that I was pregnant. Then the pregnancy started having problems and our car was not working properly. I was on my way back to the doctor’s office when the overheated light came on and smoke was coming out from under the hood. I did eventually make it to the doctor’s office. The doctor and I discussed that I was probably going to lose the baby. My heart was broken and I was alone. Victor was at work, my family was two states away, and I could not drive the car home. I did not know what to do. I was having trouble getting a hold of someone to come pick me up. Someone to listen to me and understand how devastated I was because I wanted to have that baby more than I wanted my next breathe of oxygen. Eventually I got a hold of Vic’s friend Curt. While I was waiting for Curt to arrive I decided to read a little. The verse popped out at me that day. A verse that expresses the truth about suffering. Jesus was talking with his disciples when he said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. Jesus told this to his disciples just following him telling them that he was going to leave them.
Jesus did not want them to have false expectations. He wanted them to know reality. The realities about their grief and suffering are true for us today. It was as if at that moment Jesus spoke to me saying that I was going to have trouble and heartache, but to hold on to him because he had a plan for this pain in my life. I also noticed something else in that verse. It did not say we could have trouble, or that we might have trouble. No, that verse says that we will have trouble.
If we stop there then we only get the bad part and miss the good. “Take heart I have overcome the world.” See this is where the disillusioned believer that has lived by the health, wealth, and prosperity misses out if he chooses to walk away instead of growing. She misses the good part—the overcoming part. The Bible speaks to this in Matthew 13 where Jesus is telling us the parable of the Sower. In this story Jesus tells of a farmer who scattered seed. The seed landed on four different types of soil. The first seeds landed on the path and birds came and ate them. The second seed landed on rocks and when the sun came up the plant was scorched and died because the soil was shallow and had no roots. The third seed landed amongst thorns which choked the plant. The fourth seed landed in good soil, developed roots, because a strong plant, and produced a high yielding crop.
When Jesus interprets this parable he compares the seed in the path to be those who hear the word of God and don’t understand. The enemy comes and snatches the seeds that were sown. The seed amongst the rocks is a believer who immediately accepts the word of the Lord and receives it with joy. However, he builds no roots. So when troubles come he falls away from the faith rather quickly. The seed that lands in the thorns can be compared to the believer who accepts the Lord, but the worries of life and over concern with wealth choke her faith and make it not productive. In fact in John 15 it says that unfruitful branches will be pruned off the vine. The seed that lands in the good soil is the believer who hears the word, accepts it, develops his faith, and produces a good harvest. The problem with believing that Christians do not suffer is that first of all it is not Biblical; second of all it hinders us from growing roots to establish our faith so that we can withstand suffering when it comes. Otherwise we are like the seed that lands among the rocks.
The Blessing of Suffering
If we look closely at scripture we also see that not only does Jesus promise that we will have trouble, he says we are blessed when we have trouble he tells us to rejoice. He tells us that the prophets that came before us had trouble and so will we. Jesus had trouble and so will we.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would accept you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19
Once again we see Jesus promising that there will be suffering in this life. I can understand that there will be suffering in this life, but when I see that we are blessed when we struggle or that we will encounter suffering because we follow Christ. Those can be hard facts to swallow. What does it mean to be blessed because we are suffering? Why would a loving God allow us to suffer particularly because we are following him? Imagine the new believer who has been taught that he if he will just have enough faith he will have no sickness or financial issues or that he can name that Mercedes and claim it in the name of Jesus. Think about the disappointments when he comes to this part of the faith when suffering has intruded into his “perfect” life that he believes God has promised. Now imagine he comes to Matthew chapter 5 where it says we blessed when we are persecuted or John 15 that says the world will hate us. This believer has come to see that the Christian life he thought he signed up for is not at all what he thought.
If we look at the parable of the sower we can see that one of the blessings of suffering is that we develop a root system to strengthen us when we are suffering. We become stronger and produce a good yield with our lives. We need to be teaching this to new believers. We need to let them know that the life of faith is going to include heartache, but that we have something that the world does not—we have a loving Lord that will go with us through our suffering. He will work it out for good in our lives (Romans 8:28). He will not separate us from his love (Romans 8:35). We will have a reward in heaven.
I remember my struggle with this issue not long ago. Suffering has a way of bringing the lies we have believed to the surface for correction. Let me take you back to that day at the doctor’s office. I did not know that this was the beginning of many years of deep suffering for my family. That very night after I left the doctor’s office, I did indeed lose the baby that my husband and I named Robin Lee Vanderhoof. Then that car took more money then we had to fix it, but with a bit of creativity and some help from family we fixed it. Then for the next six months that car broke down every other weekend until we sold it. Then for the next five years we had— an average of 3 grand mal seizures per week, 3 bouts of unemployment, a business failure, rejection from our church, financial ruin, three surgeries, post-partum depression, had to sell our house before it was foreclosed on, but the Lord did give us two bright lights Caleb and Simeon were born. I was emotionally exhausted. Somewhere in the middle of all of this I had a night of seeing some problems in my own heart that the Lord ministered too. It was a Thursday night and I was in my office at the Williamson County Jail working on paperwork. My radio was on to WayFM (one of the Christian radio stations out of Nashville, TN). Then the song HELD by Natalie Grant came on.
Two months is too little.
They let him go.
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Is appalling.
Who told us we’d be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We’re asking why this happens to us who have died to live’
It’s unfair.

This is what is means to be held.
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what is means to be loved and to know
That the promise was when everything fell
We’d be held.
At that point I was still angry over losing Robin Lee even though years had passed and the other struggles. So this song hit home for me. I began to cry. Here I was working on client files and then this song catches my attention and I started crying. I remember asking the Lord “Why should I follow you when all you seem to be bringing me is heartache? If I am not protected from some suffering then why would I want to follow you anyway?” God did not strike me down with lightening or get angry with me. It was as if at that moment he said to me that he loved me and had been waiting for me to ask him that all along. At that point I began to realize that somewhere along the way I started to believe that God had put a cap on our suffering. I knew that suffering was a part of the Christian life, but I thought God had some mark that said “only this much” when it came to how much a Christian suffers. Now I was at a point further than I thought that mark was. As I broke down it was at that point that I was able to experience the comfort that the Lord gives us as we suffer. However, until I was honest with him I was not going to be able to experience that comfort.
Where are you at in your life? Maybe you are realizing at this point that you have believed the lie that says Christians don’t suffer or there is a limit to how much they suffer and you are not suffering. If that is you I challenge you to talk to Lord about this now. There are only three types of Christians when it comes to suffering—those who will suffer, those who are suffering, or those who have been through suffering. If you are not suffering right now then there will be a day when you do. Have the Lord give you a proper perspective on suffering beforehand so that you will be better equipped to accept his comfort as you go through suffering. Maybe you believed the lie that Christians don’t suffer or that there is a limit to their suffering only you are in the middle of suffering right now. You are so confused and do not know what to do. You are trying to have more faith, read more scriptures, and pray more so that your faith can remove your suffering only it is not working. I encourage you to get before the Lord and be honest about your thoughts and feelings. I can not tell you how long you will suffer or that your suffering will go away when you do this. What I can promise is the Lord will meet you right where you are, hold you in his arms, comfort you, and tell you how much you are loved. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. So hold on to Christ as you suffer, you are establishing roots in the process so that your faith will be bigger.

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