Summary: If we want to grow we must enroll in God’s core curriculum of rejoicing, perseverance, character and Holy Spirit Hope.
Finding Joy in the Junk of Life
Rev. Brian Bill
Have you ever noticed how often the Bible is misquoted in everyday conversations?
• “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Sorry, moms, but this verse is not in the Bible.
• “God helps those who help themselves.” That didn’t make into Scripture either. In fact, this is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches. God helps the helpless.
• “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy.” This certainly sounds good to us Americans and is propagated from many pulpits and popularized by TV preachers but it is not found in the Bible. Time magazine did a cover story on this topic recently, pointing out that of the four largest churches in America, three of them teach the “prosperity gospel” or follow “name it and claim it” theology. Thankfully, Rick Warren, pastor of the fourth mega church was also interviewed: “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy…there’s a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty.”
• “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I hear this saying a lot but I can’t find chapter and verse for this one either. God does promise that He will provide a way out when we’re tempted in 1 Corinthians 10:13, but He never says that He’ll shield us from struggles. In fact, sometimes we can’t bear things on our own, precisely because God wants us to run to Him. Paul often was overwhelmed according to 2 Corinthians 1:8-9: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” Watchman Nee once said that “God’s great purpose is to reduce us.”
In the event you need some more convincing that Paul did not preach the prosperity gospel, listen to his personal experience in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28. He actually advocated the adversity gospel: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked; I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
When reflecting on some of the hits he had taken, King David wrote these words in Psalm 6:2-3, 6: “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long...I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”
Some of you are in anguish right now. In this congregation I’m aware of…
• several people living with unbearable stress
• some living with the uncertainty of not having a diagnosis
• many people flooded with financial distress
• a woman living with cancer
• parents grieving the loss of a daughter
• a woman who is struggling to recover from surgery
• a family that is barely hanging together
• several teenagers who are going through extremely difficult times
• a man who just had major back surgery
• several people who are unemployed
• several parents who wonder what happened to their kids
• some single men and women wishing they were married
• some married men and women wishing they were single
• several who are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction
• many teenagers grieving the death of a classmate
• a man with heart problems
• a couple trying to have a baby
• a man recovering from surgery
• someone living with chronic pain (me)
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of you are suffering silently right now because you can’t even talk about the trials you are going through. Sadly, there are people who have given up on God because they feel like He’s let them down. While many of you are struggling to hang in there; at least you’re here today. Others don’t come to church any longer because of their disappointment and disillusionment. I often go for a run early on Sunday mornings and I’m amazed at how many people are up early reading the paper and watching TV. I don’t think most people ditch church because they’re not awake; rather, some unplug because they’re in agony. Many of them don’t come to church anymore because of unmet expectations or pain that just seems unbearable. I’m reading a very eye-opening book right now called, “Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation” by Sarah Cunningham. She makes the observation that disillusionment occurs when real life doesn’t live up to our expectations.