Friday, February 22, 2008

Guarantees Conclusion

For the past twelve postings I have written about some common beliefs that many Christians, at least the ones in my circle of friends, hold to. They even claim them as promises saying that the Bible guarantees that God will do that certain thing for them. They even, very often aggressively, insist on saying they know what's best and claim promises for others.

I wrote my posts hoping to encourage the many who have been hurt and disillusioned by such teachings. It's difficult to make the case for the fact that there are no guarantees in scripture except the ones expressly stated. In my reading I can only find two that are stated clearly and repeated often in the New Testament, meaning in the new covenant under which we now live. Those two are simply that God loves us and God will never leave us.

Some people I've shared these truths with are adamantly opposed to my interpretations. Others are a little shocked since it's so different from what they're hearing from TV evangelists and from most pulpits. A few others are greatly encouraged. For the first time they are able to believe that what's happened to them is not because God is punishing them or because they're not one of God's favorites.

I'm currently reading The Shack by William P. Young and the author has this same premise. I'm going to finish reading this book and then go back and highlight the great one-liners I've read. I think this might be the subject of my writing on the next few posts, using the one-liners that are so good and that provoke my own thoughts and ruminations. We'll see.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Guarantee #12: Quiet Times

Back in January on one of my posts I posted 12 guarantees that many people see in scripture. I have addressed eleven of those and today I'm writing about the last one which was listed as:
If I have a quiet time in the morning, I will have a good day.

This guarantee is held by many. They might not say they hold it as a guarantee but their many phrases would indicate that they do:
  • I wasn't surprised that happened to me today. I didn't have my quiet time.
  • It was such a bad day. I didn't have my quiet time.
  • The devil got to me today because I didn't put my armor on in my quiet time.
  • I goofed. I read the newspaper before I read the Bible. My bad.
  • God lets me know that He's disappointed in me when I don't have my quiet time.
  • If I don't have my quiet time in the morning, it doesn't count.
  • Oops. I forgot to pray for so-and-so in my quiet time. That wouldn't have happened if I had prayed. I've apologized.
  • If I don't spend at least thirty minutes in bible reading and prayer, I'm not spiritually ready to meet the day.
Those are just a few of the comments I've heard over and over and have had many of them said to me and taught to me as scriptural truths.

None of the above are guarantees. In fact, if you look closely at most of them, you will see that the emphasis is on what I do so that I can guarantee a result. That's just not true in scripture. The New Covenant teaches me that because Christ has done it all, I can be free and enjoy all the benefits.

The day that I realized that if I never have another quiet time the rest of my life that God will still love me and be close to me and never leave me and that was one of the most freeing days of my life. Then I could have a quiet time because I wanted to and enjoyed it and if I missed having one, nothing changed. Wow, what freedom is that?

There's a big difference in you have to or you are invited to. Another way to say this is this is an opportunity, not an obligation. 

I use this often even in my business office. When we're gathering donations for something, I write the information and conclude it with: remember, this is an opportunity and not an obligation. You are invited to participate and you do not owe an explanation if you choose not to.

I suffer just a tad from ocd (obsessive compulsive disorder) in a casual way. If I hear I should do it, I will do it. If I start something, I have to finish it. I have to do the right thing. Are you surprised if I tell you Monk is one of my favorite TV shows? I laugh a lot at that because it's so funny and I so identify with the basic premise of that show.

My personal freedom comes from releasing myself from the have to's. One of the most freeing things in my Christian life is to realize God loves me and nothing I do will make Him love me more, and nothing I do will make Him love me less. It's settled: He is Love and He loves me and accepts me as I am. 

I now think of a quiet time in my spiritual life as something like vitamins in my physical life. (I also take vitamins.) Do vitamins help me? I think so. Does taking vitamins guarantee that nothing bad healthwise will happen to me? No. Does taking vitamins guarantee that I will do better in my physical life? No guarantee, but maybe so.

No doubt that believers benefit from spending daily time in communication with God, through Bible reading and prayer. But to hold up that time as a guarantee that God has to honor and do what we think He should is to misuse and abuse the teaching of scripture. Of course, that's my opinion only. But, I think that's why you're reading this blog, right? You expected to see my opinion. ;-)


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guarantee #11: Pray Hard, Get Healing

The next guarantee I posted earlier that people are taught and believe: If I pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will heal the one I'm praying for.

I've seen so many abuses of this teaching. 

One I remember from back in the seventies. A well-loved believer died, even though large numbers of people were praying for his healing. Well, he couldn't die! That couldn't happen! So, they unlawfully kept his body in a home for many days, and prayed hard. They were sure he would be raised up. Yes, that's what I said. Raised up from the dead. He wasn't. And many disillusioned believers were discouraged.

The other example of the misuse and abuse of this teaching is quite personal with me. Our granddaughter was born in 1988 and was severely, physically handicapped. The attending pediatrician said she wasn't human, that she was a thing and to let her die. She is a wonderful human being and she turns 20 in a couple of weeks.

She had surgery at a hospital in Dallas and the part of her spine that was outside her skin had to be removed, so she is paralyzed from her mid-chest down.

Through this most difficult time for our daughter and our family, many well-meaning believers told us many lousy and religious (not scriptural) things, such as:
  • Your daughter didn't pray enough for her daughter prior to birth.
  • If you would get a lot of people to pray, your granddaughter could walk!
  • God never intended this. Sin made this happen
  • What sin did your daughter commit to make this happen? (They were serious!)
  • This is a wonderful opportunity for God to work a miracle. Just pray and believe!
This was not encouraging, but very discouraging. 

We're all strong believers. We would not have wished this to happen. I don't believe we were sinful or that this is any kind of punishment from God. I don't really know why this happened, and it's very difficult to look into your granddaughter's eyes and answer her when she asks you why she can't walk like others. It's hard to help her know how much God loves her. This also brings up some hard questions from her hurting heart. Very hard to try to answer.

However, God is good and God works and God loves us and God never leaves us. We've never had a "word" that our granddaughter will be healed or will walk. What we have had are wonderful lessons on a whole new world of handicapped people. Are we better for having had this in our lives? Absolutely! Are we more loving? Yes. Are we more sensitive? Yes. Are we more accepting? Yes. Would we prefer a physically "perfect" granddaughter? That's hard to answer. I want to say no, but then I would love for her to know what it is to not be teased and pitied. That's difficult.

I now wonder if praying, believing, and getting healed isn't the easy way out. It's much more difficult to accept what is yours and to give God the glory through it all and still trust and believe that He loves and cares, which He does. 

Does God heal? Yes, I know of instances where He has. Yes, current instances of this, not just long ago in the Bible. Should we expect it and should we claim physical healing as a guarantee in the scripture? I think not. Just some thoughts.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Guarantee #10: Because I Have, He Will

The next guarantee that many believers read into scripture and claim: If I am a good Christian and do everything I think God wants me to, He will always take care of me and mine; I am safe and will not suffer.

Have you every heard questions like:
  • What is God trying to teach me?
  • Why is God letting this happen to me (or mine)?
  • Why do good people suffer?
  • Couldn't God have prevented this bad thing from happening to me?
  • Why should I serve God? Look what's happened to me.
  • I've been faithful to God all these years, and look what He's done to me.
  • I gave up everything to serve God. Why is He allowing these things?
Many teachers, preachers, and believers think, say, and teach that IF you do this, this, and/or this, GOD WILL (fill in the blank). And they quote many verses to prove this. 

Two of my personal experiences helped me learn this from the inside out.

One was our experience at a church. We had always been fairly popular at our pastorates and enjoyed a wonderful ministry. We came to a very large, prestigious church and the ministry went well, but the leadership was antagonistic. This threw me for a loop. And I began to ask many of the questions listed above. How could this happen to us?

The second experience was a question asked me by a friend when a mutual friend's second wife died. My friend asked the above questions about our mutual friend. I was able to write back to him what I had learned.

Where in scripture are we promised health? Where are we promised wealth? Where are we promised anything except that God loves us and will not leave us? Where does it say that our mate will not die? Where are we promised our children will be healthy? God does provide and God does care for us and God does watch over us, but does He guarantee? Does it mean you are favored of God if nothing bad ever happens to you?

Seems like many believers have a really hard time realizing that there are no guarantees in scripture for believers other than the two basic ones that God loves us and will never leave us.

And one of the major shifts that many do not make is realizing that we are living under the New Covenant, not the Old. The Old Covenant (Old Testament) has many instances when God says." If you will, then I will." But the New Covenant emphasis is, "Because I (God) have, you can..." That's an entire paradigm shift.

I can what? I can love others, I can trust God, I can have confidence that God loves me, I can know that He will never leave me, I can do what He asks of me.

Many of the questions I listed above are on the basic premise of because I have, then God will. And how many times have we heard, "I've been faithful to God. I go to church every Sunday, I read the Bible, I pray. I'm a good, moral person. Why would He let this happen?" Or, how many times have we heard someone tell another, "If you would just get back in church, God would bring good things to you." Many parents longingly wish that for their children thinking that church attendance will guarantee good things in life for their loved ones. 

Some might ask, "Why should I become a Christian or live to serve God if He's not going to do for me all the things I've been told He will do?" Good question. That brings to light why many people have confessed Christ, and then it also shows why many leave the faith. They become disappointed because they don't get what they expected. 

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, aren't I? Wonder what it would be like if we got back to the basics: share the simple gospel of Christ; i.e., God loved us and sent His Son to pay the price for our redemption, and He calls us to follow Him and tell others of His Gift of His Son. What else? Well, that He loves us with an everlasting love and that He will never leave us. Go forth with that knowledge and assurance to live your life. No more, no less. 

Fun to think about. What an interesting group of believers that would be. 

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Guarantee #9: Ask and Get!

The guarantee reads: If I can get another Christian to agree with me, then I know God will give what I ask.

There are many verses that would seemingly support this guarantee, two of the most popular are:

Matthew 18:19-20: Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Matthew 7:7: Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 

Are these scriptures true? Yes. Are they guarantees? I don't think so, but they're often taught as such. What's the difference? 

Might it be: Is the believer using these verses as some kind of magical formula to get what he or she wants? Or, are these verses part of the believer's belief system along with the entire teaching of scripture and the basis for his or her faith? It makes a real difference.

I've been in many church groups where the group is told that the leaders prayed about it and God told them (fill in the blank), and that ends it. Again, it seems this truth might be being used to control a group or to get what is wanted. How often have I heard "God told me…" and anyone who speaks after that is going against God's Word (so it seems).

I ask myself why am I writing this post? My answer (to myself ;-) is to address the misuses and abuses of promises in the scripture that are true. 

Yes, these scriptures are promises, but they need to be taken in context and applied within the scope of the entire scripture revelation. Many say to just believe the promises, have faith. But the scripture says that faith is the victory; i.e., faith itself, not what belief brings. I don't hear that quoted or taught very often.

There are books and pamphlets that list all the promises of scripture and it seems you can use these references as you would a dictionary. Just look up your need, find the promise, claim it, find someone to pray it for you, and you have it. Voilá! Who wouldn't buy into this? Is this really the teaching of scripture?

I close with the verses in Hebrews 11 that I've quoted before–at the beginning of the chapter of the heroes of faith verse 13 "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, …" and then again at the end of the chapter verse 39 "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:…" But, remember these people are listed as heroes of faith.

Our heroes of faith did not receive what had been promised, but they are known for their faith.

So what does this mean for us? Am I to have faith? Am I to claim promises? Am I to trust God? Am I to pray believing God hears and answers? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Just don't say it is a guarantee that God will deliver. 

What the scriptures seem to teach overall is that God is in charge and He knows what's best for us and He is with us and He loves us. Trust Him and live your life with that knowledge as foundational.