Posts Tagged ‘health and wealth’

“God has a wonderful plan for your life!”

Have you ever had someone tell you that?  Have you ever said it yourself?  In what context?

That phrase came up today in Sunday School.  We’re talking about evangelism and how so many use that as a way to introduce the gospel.  (The series we’re doing, on the other hand, focuses on the call to righteousness, the reality of Hell and the need for salvation.)  On the video they asked us if we would say “God has a wonderful plan for your life” if speaking to a group of people we knew would experience a violent death within the next 24 hours.  That phrasing doesn’t work well for that situation, so why then would we think it’s what the gospel is all about?

But the thing is, we hear and say that line frequently.  When talking about the gospel, when talking about suffering or trial and in new phases of life.  Case in point: graduation.

For years it has been a pet peeve of mine how every May thousands of products suddenly show up on the market containing Jeremiah 29:11.  “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”

It’s over-used.  It’s out of context.  And it’s become trite.

Now, am I saying that God doesn’t have wonderful plans?  No.  Am I saying God wants to bring us harm?  Absolutely not!  Am saying that God doesn’t give us hope or a future?  By no means!

But what I am saying is that in context these things look very different than how we tend to understand this verse.  We think of wonderful plans in terms of good education and good career and being well-paid and married and having good kids and a healthy body.  We tend to think “not to harm you” means nothing bad will ever happen to us.  Our hope tends to be centered on those “wonderful plans” and our future is limited to the here and now.

Go read Jeremiah 29.  Read the whole chapter.

Verse 11 was part of a letter written to the exiles in Babylon.  They had been captured by the enemy and their country (and their temple) was falling apart.  They were there because the nation was being punished.  And it wasn’t about to end any time soon.  70 years was the time set for their punishment.  70 years of exile.  There were “prophets” giving people a “health and wealth” gospel of sorts – that God would rise up in just a year or two and destroy their enemies and bring them all back and everything would be good and rosey again.  And in the midst of this comes verse 11.

God’s plans weren’t given for an individual, but for a nation.  The hope and future wasn’t immediate, but 70+ years out (and some of them would be dead before they saw it)!  And “not to harm” didn’t mean no suffering or shame, it meant that He wasn’t going to totally destroy them but that their punishment was for their good… so that they would call on and seek their God again.

God does have a wonderful plan for His people.  And it hinges on that unbelievable, incomprehensible moment when Jesus died for our sins so that we could be saved from Hell and have a relationship with Him!  And it includes bringing as many to Himself as will have it.  And it concludes (or does it then begin again) with making all wrongs right and making all things new – a future, eternal, hope!

And I will dare to say that God even has a wonderful plan for my life and for yours – and by that I mean full of wonder.  Wonder that God loves us and forgives us.  Wonder that we can go through beatings and stoning and shipwrecks like Paul and still live on to spread the Good News!  Wonder that we can be transformed into new creations.  Wonder that we have the courage to stand up for Him and face death like martyrs, past and present, have all over the world.  Wonder that in our sufferings He is with us, even when we cannot see Him.  Wonders.  Lots of wonders….

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A decade ago I read a book for my teaching class in college.  In it the author explained how one time he had made the comment that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” to which a tall West Texan had replied, “you’re wrong, son.  You can feed him salt.”

That has forever stuck with me.  I thought about it last week in Sunday School.  Before class started we were discussing our current book/curriculum (on evangelism) and how some people (who don’t believe in or follow Jesus) seem to have their lives so together that they don’t seem receptive to the message we are trying to tell them.  And I mentioned how too often we feel the pull to create a false need so that we can provide the answer.  Like we will dig around their lives for some bad aspect or look for bad news so we can share the “good news.”

And that metaphor of feeding salt to horses came to mind.  And I shuddered.  For to me, the metaphor was beautiful and wise.  And the thought of trying to create  a need in someone’s life so my “good news” can fill it is ugly and dishonest.  It did not sit well with me…

So today in Sunday School we were watching the video part of this next lesson.  And the guys were talking about how we wrongly focus on trying to share the good news by telling others how God has a wonderful plan for their lives and that if they say a prayer to receive Jesus they will be at peace and find contentment and be happier than they can imagine.  They pointed out how this doesn’t work because many people already feel at peace or content or happy.  Then they brought up that same metaphor I’d heard long before by suggesting we can “salt the oats” in order to get the horse to drink.

Oh, no! I thought. They’re not going there are they?  After the weeks they spent pounding into us that the “health and wealth” gospel is not the true Good News and that we tend to go about evangelism all wrong, I got a bit confused and concerned.

But they weren’t talking about happiness for salt, they were talking about righteousness!  See, it is true that knowing Jesus will bring us peace and joy and that in Jesus we can find contentment.  But it is also true that Jesus promised us trouble in this world and that those who really follow after Him not only frequently face similar struggles (losing jobs, getting sick, being hurt by others), we also can expect ridicule, persecution and even death for our beliefs!  So in addition to a true, deep peace (one that often doesn’t make sense) and a true, deep joy (that encompasses even suffering) we need to also remember that Jesus brings His presence and His righteousness and His justice to our lives and saves us from Hell and eternal separation from God!

And that’s when it really hit me.  Righteousness is salt.  Happiness is sugar.  Sugar will dehydrate the body and create a thirst, but pure water doesn’t seem to quench that.  It almost takes a sugar-water (kool-aid, fruit juices, soda, etc) to do that, but they then create more thirst and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Salt, on the other hand, can be quenched by water.  Salt is distinctive and, if nothing else, highlights the need for water.  It brings it to the fore and makes it obvious.  If we are trying to get people to see and understand the Good News, we need to be showing them the salt of righteousness and not the sugar of happiness!

Aren’t we as Christians, after all, supposed to be the salt of the earth?  But if the salt loses its saltiness – what good is it?

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