Why the Health and Wealth Gospel is, and is not, A Biblical Doctrine

The health and wealth Gospel will always be with the Church, because it is an authentic Biblical doctrine. It is, in fact, an aspect of the Old Testament covenant which God had with His people. Read, and ponder, the following passage:

aYou shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.” – Deut. 5:33

In the blessings and curses which God spoke over His people as they walked into the Promised Land, we have a pretty detailed and full representation of the health-and-wealth gospel. Basically, if you are faithful to God, you will be rich, healthy and happy: if not, you will be poor, sick and unhappy. Read, don’t skim…

Chapter 27

The Curses of Mount Ebal

1  Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying, “Keep all the commandments which I command you today.

2 “aSo it shall be on the day when you cross the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives you, that you shall set up for yourself large stones and coat them with lime

3 and write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over, so that you may enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, aa land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, 1promised you.

4 “So it shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall set up aon Mount Ebal, these stones, 1as I am commanding you today, and you shall coat them with lime.

5 “Moreover, you shall build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones; you ashall not 1wield an iron tool on them.

6 “You shall build the altar of the Lord your God of 1uncut stones, and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God;

7 and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there, and arejoice before the Lord your God.

8 “You shall write on the 1stones all the words of this law very distinctly.”

9  Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying, “Be silent and listen, O Israel! This day you have become a people for the Lord your God.

10 “You shall therefore 1obey the Lord your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”

11  Moses also charged the people on that day, saying,

12 “When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on aMount Gerizim to bless the people: bSimeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.

13 “For the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.

14 “The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice,

15  ‘Cursed is the man who makes 1aan idol or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And ball the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16  ‘aCursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17  ‘aCursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18  ‘aCursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19  ‘aCursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, 1orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20  ‘aCursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21  ‘aCursed is he who lies with any animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22  ‘aCursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23  ‘aCursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24  ‘aCursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25  ‘aCursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26  ‘aCursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Chapter 28

Blessings at Gerizim

1  “aNow it shall be, if you diligently 1obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God bwill set you high above all the nations of the earth.

2 “All these blessings will come upon you and aovertake you if you 1obey the Lord your God:

3  “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be ain the 1country.

4  “Blessed shall be the 1offspring of your 2body and the 1produce of your ground and the 1offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.

5  “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

6  “Blessed shall you be awhen you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

7  “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be 1defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.

8 “The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in aall that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

9 “aThe Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways.

10 “So all the peoples of the earth will see that 1ayou are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you.

11 “aThe Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the 1offspring of your 2body and in the 1offspring of your beast and in the 1produce of your ground, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.

12 “The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and ayou shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.

13 “aThe Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I charge you today, to 1observe them carefully,

14 and ado not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

Consequences of Disobedience

15  “aBut it shall come about, if you do not 1obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:

16  “aCursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the 1country.

17  “aCursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

18  “aCursed shall be the 1offspring of your 2body and the 1produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.

19  “aCursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

20  “aThe Lord will send upon you curses, confusion, and brebuke, in all 1you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until cyou perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.

21 “aThe Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land where you are entering to possess it.

22 “aThe Lord will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery heat and with 1the sword and bwith blight and with mildew, and they will pursue you until cyou perish.

23 “1The heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron.

24 “aThe Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.

25  “aThe Lord shall cause you to be 1defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will bbe an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

26 “aYour carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.

27  “aThe Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with btumors and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed.

28 “The Lord will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart;

29 and you will 1agrope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness, and you will not prosper in your ways; but you shall only be oppressed and robbed continually, with none to save you.

30 “aYou shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her; byou shall build a house, but you will not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you will not 1use its fruit.

31 “Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat of it; your donkey shall be torn away from you, and will not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you will have none to save you.

32 “aYour sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and yearn for them continually; but there will be nothing 1you can do.

33 “aA people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.

34 “You shall be driven mad by the sight of 1what you see.

35 “aThe Lord will strike you on the knees and legs with sore boils, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.

36 “aThe Lord will bring you and your king, whom you set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, bwood and stone.

37 “aYou shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the Lord drives you.

38  “aYou shall bring out much seed to the field but you will gather in little, for bthe locust will consume it.

39 “aYou shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you will neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm will devour them.

40 “aYou shall have olive trees throughout your territory but you will not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives will drop off.

41 “aYou shall 1have sons and daughters but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity.

42 “aThe cricket shall possess all your trees and the produce of your ground.

43 “aThe alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you will go down lower and lower.

44 “aHe shall lend to you, but you will not lend to him; bhe shall be the head, and you will be the tail.

45  “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you auntil you are destroyed, because you would not 1obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.

46 “They shall become aa sign and a wonder on you and your 1descendants forever.

47  “aBecause you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things;

48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, ain hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He bwill put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.

49  “aThe Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, bas the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand,

50 a nation of fierce countenance who will ahave no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.

51 “Moreover, it shall eat the 1offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish.

52 “aIt shall besiege you in all your 1towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your 1towns throughout your land which the Lord your God has given you.

53 “aThen you shall eat the 1offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will 2oppress you.

54 “The man who is 1refined and very delicate among you 2shall be hostile toward his brother and toward the wife 3he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain,

55 so that he will not give even one of them any of the flesh of his children which he will eat, since he has nothing else left, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will 1oppress you in all your 2towns.

56 “aThe 1refined and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicateness and 2refinement, 3shall be hostile toward the husband 4she cherishes and toward her son and daughter,

57 and toward her afterbirth which issues from between her 1legs and toward her children whom she bears; for ashe will eat them secretly for lack of anything else, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will 2oppress you in your 3towns.

58  “If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to 1afear this honored and awesome bname, 2the Lord your God,

59 then the Lord will bring extraordinary plagues on you and 1your descendants, even 2severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses.

60 “aHe will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you.

61 “Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the Lord will bring on you auntil you are destroyed.

62 “Then you shall be left few in number, awhereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not 1obey the Lord your God.

63 “It shall come about that as the Lord adelighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will bdelight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be ctorn from the land where you are entering to possess it.

64 “Moreover, the Lord will ascatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall bserve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.

65 “aAmong those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there bthe Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.

66 “So your life shall 1hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.

67 “aIn the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see.

68 “The Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

That being said, Jesus came to institute a new covenant with us, and to inaugurate a new dispensation or time. We are not part of a physical earthly kingdom anymore, but part of an eternal and spiritual one. The blessings to God’s people are no longer land, peace, wealth and happiness but – first and foremost – the inheritance of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), which is manifested in a change of character (Gal. 5:22-23), in freedom from sins (Rom. 6), in spiritual gifts for the building-up of the Church (1 Cor. 12-14), and in divine peace in the midst of the difficulties of life (John 16) – which is a foretaste of Heaven (Eph. 1).
The health and wealth gospel is not so much an alien heresy to the Bible as it is a misinterpretation of it. If you want to go searching for proof-texts where God says He wants to bless His people with money and health, just read anywhere you like between Genesis and Malechi and you will find plenty. Also, you can read many verses in the New Testament which speak of spiritual riches, and convert the concept back to cold hard cash, happy kids and good health.
You will know you have been infected by the Gospel of Health and Wealth when you begin thinking like a good Jew: like the disciples of Jesus who, upon finding a man born blind from birth asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born this way?” This is, after all, the logical consequences of the Health and Wealth Gospel: if anyone is sick or poor or unhappy, it ultimately comes down to sin – theirs or their parents – or else a lack of faith – theirs, or those who pray for them. But what is Jesus’ answer? “Neither, but [this happened] so that the glory of God might be revealed.” (John 9:2-3). In this case, Jesus God was glorified in healing the man who did not ask. But in the case of Job and of the Apostle Paul, God was glorified in not healing the man, even though he asked multiple times. God explained, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” And after his ordeal Job testified, “ (Job 42:5) Finally getting it, the converted Paul exclaims, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
God is glorified in healing, most definitely. But He is also glorified in the patient sufferings of His servants under physical distress. This is why Paul says that the secret of contentment as a Christian is to be able to do “all things through Christ, who strengthens” – to be able to make do with little, or with much, poverty or prosperity, abundance or suffering need. (Phil. 4:12-13).
Jesus promises His disciples that if they choose to follow Him, they will have a lot more of hardships to look forward to than they will have wealth and plenty: this is why Jesus told his followers and would-be followers over and over, “anyone who would follow me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mat. 10:38, 16:34, Mark 8:34, 10:21, Luke 9:23, 14:27).
God did not heal everyone who came to Him. First, as has been mentioned, there is the case of Paul. Secondly, there is the case of Jesus. Although we are never told that Jesus got sick – perhaps He was incapable of sickness, until He received the sins of the world onto Him at the cross – we do see that He pled with tears and sweat drops of blood asking to be spared the physical agony of the Cross. God said no. And God was glorified in His sufferings.
And this is the fundamental reason why Biblical – and especially pastoral/caring – Christianity is and always will be opposed to the Health and Wealth Gospel. Aside from being wrong, this “Gospel” hurts people. Specifically, weak people. Hurting people. Sick people. People like Jesus in the garden, Paul with his thorn, Job in his garbage dump. This gospel comes to the hurting in the church and – whether with words, as Job’s friends, or with voiceless accusations – this gospel trains people to seek out and condemn those who are poor, sick or unhappy.
“Oh, you lost your job/have an apostate son/got cancer, do you? And what do you think is the source of your misery? In a word: You are a sinner. you did this to yourself. God is punishing you. You deserve it. You’re not good enough. Not like us rich, healthy, happy Christians. God loves us. We have been chosen. But not you. You are sick. God is angry at you. Repent, and beg God for money and health – or else continue to suffer for your sins.”
That is the biting reality of the Health and Wealth Gospel: now tell me – does that sound like the Gospel of Grace to you?
But it simply does not follow that all rich and healthy people of the world are blessed of God, while all of the sick and poor people are cursed. Has Africa done something to offend God? Is North America and Europe God’s New Jerusalem? No. Rather, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,” (1 Cor. 1:27). And further, “God choose the poor 1of this world to be crich in faith and dheirs of the kingdom which He epromised to those who love Him.” (James 2:5)

So, is it a blessing of God to be wealthy in the New Dispensation? Perhaps, but God gives some Christians wealth so that they can give it away to needy Christians “so that there may be equality.” (2 Cor. 8:14).

Does God want us to pray for health, wealth, and “the abundant life” (aka the American Dream)? No, He does not.

“You ask and ado not receive, because […because why? Because they ask without faith? Because they ask in the wrong way? Because they have not given enough money to their church? no, but…] you ask 1with wrong motives, so that you may spend it 2on your pleasures.You aadulteresses, do you not know that friendship with bthe world is chostility toward God? dTherefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:3-4)

Far from being a blessed lifestyle, the American Dream is adultery, and enmity towards God: the true righteousness of God is not found in seeking after and glorifying health, wealth, and satisfaction in life: “For all of these things the heathens chase after. But seek first the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you – along with persecutions.” (Luke 12:31, Mark 10:30)

God wants to use your life. The good stuff, and the bad stuff. He wants to be glorified in it.

He wants you to enjoy all of the good things He has given you. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) and He wants us to enjoy them. It is not bad to enjoy life! God has created good things for us to richly enjoy: pleasure is not evil, but is sanctified when it is coupled with a spirit of gratitude (1 Tm. 4:3-5). But then, your sufferings are not evil either. Or, rather, they are evil but God knows how to make good come out of evil (Gen. 50:20) and He makes all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28).

And so, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;

13  but to the degree that you ashare the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the brevelation of His glory cyou may rejoice with exultation.

14  If you are reviled 1afor the name of Christ, byou are blessed, cbecause the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

15  Make sure that anone of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a 1btroublesome meddler;

16  but if anyone suffers as a aChristian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to bglorify God in this name.

17  For it is time for judgment ato begin 1with bthe household of God; and if it cbegins with us first, what will be the outcome for those dwho do not obey the egospel of God?

18  aAnd if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, 1what will become of the bgodless man and the sinner?

19  Therefore, those also who suffer according to athe will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:12-19)

 

How the Old Testament could stop the spread of Ebola

If we followed the Old Testament commands, the world would soon be nearly free of Ebola.

These commands are:
  1. Don’t eat bats, pigs, rats, selfish, etc.
  2. Don’t eat, or even touch animals that died of natural causes
  3. If an unclean animal (rat, mouse, bat, lizard, frog, etc.) – dead or alive – falls into your food, you must throw the food out. If it falls into a cooking pot, you must smash, wash, or sterilise the pot with fire (depending on whether the animal is dead, what kind of pot, etc.)
  4. Quarantine people with obvious, contagious diseases (such as leprosy – perhaps we could include ebola here, but that is an admitted interpretive addition)
  5. Do not touch dead people
  6. If you are in some way obligated to touch dead animals, feces, mould, or any number of other “dirty” (unclean) things, you are “ceremonially unclean until evening.” What that means is that you must: a) wash yourself immediately, b) avoid public areas, c) not touch anyone else (if they are touched, they too become unclean, and must wash and quarantine themselves until sunset) d) not touch any household items (utensils, beds, chairs, etc.): if touched, they too must be cleaned. Touching dead people makes one especially unclean, and must be avoided at all costs especially by priests (cultural leaders).
Of course, internet atheists are always delighted to read the Old Testament and mock at the commandments that they see as strange or irrelevant. But consider the following facts about ebola:
  1. Although there are outbreaks in humans, scientists believe the ebola virus stays alive in African bat populations
  2. Bats are brought close to humans by pig farms, as fruit-bats eat the pig feed at night, and may spread the disease to pigs
  3. Some tribes eat bats, contracting the disease directly (especially if they touch or eat bats found dead of natural causes – aka ebola)
  4. Ebola is not contagious until symptoms of high fever and vomiting appear
  5. Many African tribes gather around their sick, and practice communal care
  6. Many African tribes also mourn their dead communally, often touching, kissing, and wailing over their dearly departed
  7. The most effective defence against Ebola is still the simple bar of soap, water and a towel. When going to new cultures – be it in Africa, South America, or Oceana – missionaries and health-care workers often bring as one of their first and most life-saving message the simple rule: “Wash your hands before you eat.” Yes, that is common sense to us in our post-Christian society: but it is not common sense to the world. What could clean hands possibly have to do with a sick tummy? The two are so far apart!

 

As I said – the internet atheists may mock. But one doesn’t have to be too “bright” to put these two lists together, and to realise that if one avoided all unclean animals (especially bats, pigs, clams, etc.) they would rule out not only ebola but also limit contact with cholera, the bubonic plague, and the common cold. Sterilisation and germs were only discovered by Louis Pasteur in the late nineteenth century – and for years the scientific community mocked and derided his claims that tiny little germs, too small to see, caused sickness. But almost 3,000 years before, God revealed the basic principles for how to deal with and contain germs in His Law. Far from outdated, these are the very principles that the World Health Organisation and others are rushing to share with West Africa.
So is the Old Testament really so outdated? Or is it infused with surprising insights and medical advice which is millennia ahead of it’s time?

Teachers: the line-drawers of Christianity

The teachers are the “line drawers” of Christianity. Line-drawing is a stuffy, boring, black-and-white business: few people liked their systematic theology classes. But like moles in a field, us teachers go to our work. We cannot help it! And lines are important! If there were no lines, there would be no structure or form for the others to color in.

Of all the lines the theologians draw, the most important may be the line between “essential” and “nonessential” doctrine in their own minds. This perhaps the most difficult line to draw, because a teacher will be passionate about all truth, not just the essentials. However, this line is also the most essential.

This is a decision to draw with a firm line around christianity, and a dotted line throughout. This is not an admission that some doctrines are less important (an idea few teachers can tolerate!) All truth is important: but not all errors exclude one from the family of God.

A failure to make this differentiation will turn their a teacher’s ministry of building the church into a ministry of crippling her. Instead of giving her roots, he will cut her in pieces: and the more acute their reasoning and exegetical skill, the more deeply the lines will cut, and the more painful, long-term and live-stealing will be the divisions caused.

See also:

Essential and Non-Essential Theology: Who Decides Which Is Which?

 

What Comes First – Doctrine or Life? (A response to “Beyond Foundationalism” and “Velvet Elvis”)

 

Modernity and the Roots of Classical Liberalism

Original Sin in Genesis 3-4

In Genesis 3, in the perfection of the Garden, we see Satan coming in bodily form to tempt Adam and Eve. In Genesis 4, after the fall, we see that God warns Cain, “Beware! Sin is crouching at the door, and it’s desire is for you – but you must master it.” Now, sin is physically inside of Cain as an evil force seeking to gain control. This reality of the indwelling presence of sin is the doctrine of Original Sin. Biblically, there were only three people who ever lived without a sin nature: Adam, Eve, and Jesus. And it was only to these people that Satan appeared to temp them bodily. The rest of us have no such need. From the youngest age, we have a traitor within. Long before we could understand words, we know already how to be selfish, cruel and evil. But we know also that these things are wrong, and there is a part of us that wishes to do good – this is the remnant of the Image of God which still lives in us. God does not promise to deliver us from this tension: rather, the tension may grow stronger. As we enter into His family, and His Spirit enters into us and begins rebuilding the shattered Image of God within us – remaking us into the person we were made to be, from the inside out – the actual presence of sin in our hearts aught to decrease, but our awareness of it and our hatred of it to increase all the more. God does not promise us a this-worldly deliverance from this struggle, but rather gives us arms with which to fight it, and promises that “in the temptation, I will give you a way of escape.” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Trading my sorrows?

I don’t like critiquing Music publicly. It’s far, far too dangerous.

These days in the blogosphere it is open season on churches & pastors big and small, Christian culture, missionaries & missions, theologies (or theology itself), and pretty much anything else that a previous generation would have considered sacred or worthy of respect. The Bible, and even God can even be questioned or mocked so long as one assumes the correct demeanour of “a skeptic seeking understanding” or assumes the title “relevant evangelist.” But…lift an eyebrow towards Christian pop culture and WHAMMO! The hammer drops.

Suddenly, one finds themselves on the inside of a four-walled cell (also known as a pigeon-hole) with the letters emblazoned outside: “Danger! 1970’s King-James only Fundamentalist!! Handle with care!”

I used to have a controversial blog, with lots of discussion and anger and controversy. It was fun. But nowadays I just want to serve my work with my own hands and lead a quiet life, as I have been commanded.

And so I would invite you to think, question and reason calmly together with me as I seek to honour the God of the Bible over the sacred cows of our day.

Specifically, I would like to discuss the words of the song, “I’m Trading my Sorrows.”

I grew up with that song, but it has been a long time since I sang it. You know how it goes – as a kid you just mouth along to the words and mostly are interested in what the bassist or drummer is doing. But this line caught me, “He’s under my feat, he’s under my feat…Satan is under my feet.” Especially when it was repeated ad infinitum, (often with foot-stomping motions) I started asking myself, “Is that Biblical? IS Satan under my feet? I know Jesus has defeated him, but where does it say he is under my feet?” Call me legalistic, but I started humming the bridge.

The more I pondered, the more my humming rebellion broke out of the bridge, and into the choruses and verses. “Something this song just doesn’t sound right to me.” I thought to myself. “Are we really called to lay down all the hardships of life, and take up the joy of the Lord? Is this what we are called to do?”

Now, after five weeks on the mission field I just came back from an opening ceremony where this song figured prominently. Not only was I not singing (or even humming) along, my arms were crossed. The earth herself trembled under the fury of my silent rebellion, way back there in the back right corner of the packed auditorium.

But this time, I had more than theological reasons to dislike this song. Today, this song was salt in the festering wounds on the sores I have gained on my back, carrying the cross Jesus put there these past two years. I couldn’t help but ask, “What kind of life/deal/plan of salvation is this song offering? It’s not the package I seem to be signed up for!”

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I’m trading my sickness, I’m trading my pain…

Since coming here, in obedience to the call of God, we have been hit with no less than three bugs in under a month. First our baby got Rosella – a long drawn out affair with a five day fever, two day rash and non-stop clingy “I-refuse-to-sleep” mayhem. These all-natural parents were setting a personal record by dousing down the maximum allowable amounts of baby tylenol…and then finally even interspacing baby tylenol with baby Advil. Then the oldest got a 36 hour flu, and we were washing sheets and wiping up vomit. Then I got what is affectionately known as “runny tummy” and now my wife has it, but for her it is just one big, full-body joint ache. Of course disease can happen anywhere, but it doesn’t take a medical doctor to say that our bodies are not used to the viruses and bacteria here: our moving to a radically new environment and climate means our bodies have some adjusting to do. And yes, there will be some sickness, and some pain involved in that.

I’m trading my sorrows…

A pause. Head down. Where do I start? Shall I start with every day, when I log into Facebook and see all my friends staying close, together, in the land I love? Having babies and letting their kids forge life-long friendships as I was able to experience? Shall I talk about the depression that our oldest went through on our first move? (Apparently, a medical/psychological anomaly, because kids that young aren’t supposed to get depressions) Shall I tell of the tears spilled on school books, on grocer receipts, on phone calls, on bills? This one is too personal for me. I must move on.

I’m trading my shame…

At home, in my element, I was a chameleon. I fit. Nobody noticed me. Now, the entire world behind me, and the entire world before me sees this foreigner among them. Our lives are open to the judgement of many and the scorn of a few. It happens often that I feel ashamed of who I am and what I am trying to do for my king.

I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.

…and what is this joy? I have the peace of Christ in me, and I can testify that when we pray desperately for help, He is there with us. But I’m not quite sure I’m able to sing along with the old Hymn, “…it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” No, I’m not happy all the day. I’m not happy as I write this. I just drove through town, and was foolish enough to do as others and pull over in traffic to buy veggies from a roadside stand. I was halfway through the order when I got mobbed by vendors and beggars, all trying to get my money, all yelling things and pushing veggies or themselves into my car. I got out of there and got the veggies I ordered (I think) for kind of a good price (I hope). I am now wide eyed, frazzled, fazed and foggy. Not really especially “joyful” right now. This life is hard – one would need to be on drugs, or act like they were, to be happy all the time in this real world of serving God.

I say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord…(etc. etc. etc.) amen
.

Well, who wouldn’t say yes to that? A life of no sickness, no pain? A life of no sorrows, and no shame? Sign me up, please! You can find me on the first plane out of here, and back to my cozy home town and country where I belong, where nobody judges me, where I have free healthcare and a sanitary environment.

But that is not what Jesus has called me to.

First He said, “Follow me.” So I did. Then He said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” So I did. And it hurt. And just so we were clear He said, “Whosoever puts their hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of me.” And so I didn’t. Well, at least I try not to look back.

And He is good. And His mercies really are new every morning. And I can testify with honesty that no matter how hard this life is, I’d really rather be in a hard place with Jesus than in a good place without Him. He is all the world to me. But here’s the deal: it’s hard! So why do we tell our children that following Jesus will be easy? Even, that this is what He is calling them to?

What is a cross? It is shame. It is a cause of pain. It is sickness, it is death. Do we call our children to lay these things down? If so, we are standing in opposition to the call of Christ.

Jesus came to give us life, and life more abundantly. But then He added the little caveat: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot truly live. Those who gain their lives will lose them: but those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake will find them.

Why is there such a high rate of attrition on the mission field and in the ministry? We used to send out missionaries with their luggage stored in coffins, with sober words and services bordering on funerals: we did not expect to see them again, and we usually didn’t. Now we send out missionaries with promises of adventure, wholesome family times, fun and cultural experiences. And it’s just not like that over here.

Did you know that they had missionaries in the Bible? Of course you do. Peter was the first one, then there was Andrew, Thomas, and the most famous of all was Paul. They called their ministry the ministry of apostleship. (Small “a”…as apposed to The Apostles, of whom there were only 12) An apostle went were there was no church, or only very young churches, to plant a new work. Listen to how Paul describes what it is like to be an apostle:
…For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honour. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now…by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. (2 Cor 5 & 6)

A fellow missionary recently told Anne Jisca an Arabic saying: “Some days are honey, some days are onions.” She told me she has really been meditating on that saying. It so fits our reality here! Also, interestingly, Anne Jisca has made a “miracle-mend” caught syrup (hey, it really works well, folks!) whose main two ingredients are onions and honey.

I want to make it clear that I don’t have any particular problem with singing the song “I’m trading my sorrows.” I also mean no disrespect towards those who sang it today, as I myself have sung and lead it many many times. The song has some truth to it – as no doubt will become clear as people draw verses from Matthew and from Isaiah and post them in the comments below.

The song isn’t pure heresy. However, what it is is pure honey. It is in need of a bit of a rewrite. Would it be possible to incorporate some of the verses above? Something like:

“I’m taking my hunger, I’m taking my needs…
“I’m taking my weakness, I’m taking infermity…
“I’m taking my persecutions, I’m taking my shame…
“I’m taking them up, for the glory of His name!”

Another thing. The song aught to be sung in a minor key. Perhaps D minor. In the colour of purple. With the taste of onions and honey.

Because that is the savour of a life following after the crucified Lord.

Post-script:

When I wrote this I was not able to
get online to read the actual lyrics.

To be fair to Darrel Evan, the line “he’s under my feet” seem to be a regional variation of the song, that he didn’t write.

He also has a very good bridge (which wasn’t sung during the opening ceremony) which goes like this:

I am pressed but not crushed
Persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed
I am blessed beyond the curse
For His promise will endure
That His joy’s gonna be my strength

Though the sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning

…and so I stand corrected. It seems that Evans wrote some onions in along with the honey after all. I still think the song should be dropped to d minor: but now I’m just being nit picky! :-)

The one thing you should NOT say about ISIS and Christianity

I find it very troubling when people respond to the ISIS massacres by saying, “All religions are evil,” or “Religion only leads to violence.” It’s as though they are thinking like this…

1) ISIS is committing atrocities in the name of their religion
2) Therefore all Muslims are evil
3) Islam is a religion, therefore all religions are evil
4) Christianity is also a religion, therefore it is evil
5) Therefore, THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANITY PROVES THAT CHRISTIANITY IS AN EVIL RELIGION.
You may laugh and say, “Who would think this way?” But it’s the reality – whenever persecution of our brothers and sisters heats up on one side of the ocean, ideological persecution and “Christianity causes violence” comments increase on the other side.
I know these sorts of comments are very politically correct to make, but please consider that making them is very hurtful for those who are mourning the real atrocities committed against our religion in Iraq and other places.
Please be kind with your words and informed in your comments.
Thank you.

“Can You Tolerate Me?” Said the Conservative to the Homosexual

On the issue of homosexuality, we must remember that it is not Christianity that has changed to believe something radical, unreasonable or outrageous. Rather, it is our society which has moved suddenly and dramatically to affirm and approve something which as little as forty years ago was defined as “unhealthy” by secular clinical journals. On this issue, Christianity used to be a red rose among a field of poppies. In so short of time, the poppies were replaced by lilies and we are a sudden abnormality by resistance to change.

As society teeters along, pushed on by the opinions of rock stars and popularity of competing philosophical systems, conflict has always been inevitable with those who have anything like roots.

And Christianity has roots. We believe not only in a God who “is,” but a God who “speaks.” And because He has spoken, there is a tremendous amount of stability to our beliefs. We do not base our morality on what the philosophers and scholars say, but on what we believe to be the unchanging record of what God has said.
Like the tide coming in and going out, society seems continually at odds with Christianity over one point or another.
So long as Christianity stays true to her values, she will never be able to find total peace with a society based on the changing ideas of her leading thinkers, poets and advocates.
This issue is often cast as one of intolerance – and of course one can always find examples of Christians who seem cruel or insensitive towards Homosexuals. (Let us pause for a moment to note the passing of Fred Phelps). But usually, the stories center around Christians who simply “are” and who believe what they always have, and who are being attacked by a society which has changed and can no longer find space for them. This issue really is one of tolerance. But from where I am sitting, it really seems to me that the question is really, “Will society find it in it’s heart to tolerate a segment of society which does not agree with them?”
We were here first, we have not changed. And further, we cannot change. To ask a monotheistic religion to change on such a point is to demonstrate complete ignorance for how our religion works, or else to call into question how deeply we believe in our God. What is Christianity if we do not believe the Bible to be God’s Word, is more important than the competing and conflicting voices of our society?
In brief, the demand for Christian institutions to become “open and accepting” towards the LGBT community is in essence a demand for us to reject or cripple our religion. It is a demand which is unreasonable, which is impossible for a conservative to accommodate. When it is accompanied by social, legal or financial pressure – as it often is – it is nothing other than religious persecution.
“Persecution” is a big and potentially loaded word. But follow my logic and read what I have written here slowly. I do not simply have a martyr complex. This is a topic upon which Christianity cannot bend. To try to force a religion to bend on a central doctrine by some form of external pressure is the very essence of religious persecution. Therefore, demanding that Christians change or hide their views regarding traditional marriage could be called nothing less than religious persecution.

Essential and Non-Essential Theology: Who Decides Which Is Which?

The question, then, is not so much, “Will Christianity tolerate homosexuality?” Just about even Christian I know tolerates Christianity. As with the topic of fornication, most Christians I know have no problem tolerating homosexuals. They say simply, “They believe differently than we do,” and they get on with their lives. Christianity is surrounded by people – virtually every person in our society – who either practiced fornication before marriage, currently looks at pornography, or engages in what Christians would call “lustful thoughts” on a regular basis. All of these people – all of them – know that what they are doing is no acceptable to the Christian faith. They also, by the way, know that eating beef is not acceptable to the Hindu faith. And drinking alcohol is not acceptable to the Muslim faith. And that working on Saturdays is forbidden for Jews.

And yet, shockingly, life goes on. People in our society are surprisingly tolerant. Most people in our society are quite well aware that at most of the religions of the world disagree with his or her lifestyle. Most people are just fine with that. Why should they care that others think they are going to Hell, or going to be reincarnated, because of their actions? They are not part of those religions, they get by with life the best they know how. This is (North) America, and we live and let live over here.

We do, at least, on every topic except for Homosexuality.
On homosexuality, it seems, it is not enough for Christians to keep
And that is all that we ask of you, our dear culture.
You are already so very gifted at toleration. You can tolerate every form of religion. You can tolerate every vice and evil practice in print and video. You who revel in songs and stories of liberty, rebellion, and escape from the norm. You can tolerate diversity, divergence, deformity and decadence. But can you tolerate me, the Christian who is trying his best to serve a Holy God?

My dear homosexual friend, can you find it in yourself to tolerate me, the conservative Christian who believes differently than you?

RELATED POSTS:

How the Persecution Will Arrive in an (Overly) Tolerant Culture

Driscoll on Homosexuality

What Do Homosexuality, Women in the Church & Home, Fornication, Divorce & Remarriage, Emergent & Hell All Have In Common?

The Campolos on Homosexuality

Reflections on the Interview, where Jennifer Knapp “Comes out of the closet”

Sin Lists and Why We (Should) Love Them

The “Homosexuality Issue” as a Litmus-Test of Orthodoxy