Thursday, December 07, 2006

Problems are normal

Paul’s letters often contain phrases like this one from I Thessalonians 3:3 about ‘no one being shaken by these persecutions’ and continuing with ‘that this is what we are destined for’. Yet some of us seem to believe that we as Christians will have lives of health and wealth and ease and comfort and if these don’t happen then somehow we’re just not faithful enough.

We Christians are on a journey, perhaps a journey through the desert. In that journey we experience scorching heat and dry mouths. Every once in awhile we come to an oasis and we can refresh ourselves, but then we pick up our bags (take up our crosses daily) and go back to the journey.

Kosuke Koyoma writes of this many times. The image that is most vivid for me is when Koyama suggests that it would have been much easier had our image been picking up our lunch box daily (in “No Handle on the Cross”). That’s easy to carry, compact and light weight, and business like. But we aren’t given a lunch. We are given a cross. And a cross is bulky, unwieldy and if we carry it we may collapse along the way. The one we follow is despised and rejected and condemned and, ultimately, saves us in spite of our actions.

Now this isn’t to say I don’t believe in miracles. I believe in miracles. I also believe that those same miracles are not about benefiting me – though they may do so – but about displaying the glory of God.

And that, too, display of the glory of God is what we are to be about as Christians. Looking for our own benefit is not something with which we, who are Christian, should be that concerned. Of course some worry about money and wealth is natural. Yet we should consider the birds of the air and the flowers in the field. They are clothed and fed. So, too, God will clothe and feed us. Ours is not to proclaim that our health and wealth are signs that God has blessed us, but to proclaim that salvation comes through God alone and the while wealth and health are nice, they are not as important as following the will of God.

Following the will of God and displaying the glory of God are the tasks of Christians. And doing such may lead us into fire and sword and into persecution and derision; into many places we’d just rather not go. We are called to lives of faith and love rather than to lives of health and wealth. We are called to displays of care and concern rather than to see how much we can accumulate. We are called to lives of labor and holiness rather than to excess and greed.

When we look to the example of prayers from Jesus we find the passages that have been turned into what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” as mentioning ‘give us our daily bread’. The point is not about bread for the morrow, but for the day. And other stories, such as the man who builds granaries and then dies right after they’re built, illustrate this point once again. We may need to take care of tasks today to prepare for the future, yet it is what we are doing today that is important and worrying too much about the future is not for the follower of Jesus.

Health and wealth aren’t in the forecast for Christians. Persecution and problems are. Let’s stop trying to get people to profess Christ out of greed and rather let them know just what to expect.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

[1] Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; [2] and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, [3] so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for. [4] In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know. [5] For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain.

[6] But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us--just as we long to see you. [7] For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. [8] For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. [9] How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? [10] Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

[11] Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. [12] And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. [13] And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

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