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Thursday, August 4, 2016

prosperity gospel upside down

Judges 6-7-8 "the time of Gideon/Jerubbaal" makes a mess of our commonly held beliefs about God's blessings. Called in a time when the punishment on sinful Israel had brought her "very low because of Midian", Gideon emerges as a reluctant hero. As chapter 7 begins his army stands poised to attack the enemy, but YHWH says the army is too large. So the process of reducing continues until 32,000 is pared down to 300. God wants to show He has done it, not allowing humans to take credit for His salvation. This got me to thinking about church decline and the numbers of folks who have stopped attending. Is the people of God likewise being pared down? In our culture the draw to bigger and better is unmistakable. Churches resemble malls with their assorted offerings of food, drink and entertainment. The measures of growth and prosperity seem to drive our willingness to say "God has blessed us!" I certainly view blessings as growth and prosperity.

Yet here stands the Gideon cycle from the Book of Judges. This turns it all upside down. For as the story continues, we hear that the 300 are told to shout "For the Lord and for Gideon!" The shared billing with YHWH reveals the changing heart of the humble man. Success, even success broadcast as God's miracle, can go to our heads. Gideon overestimates his own significance. And I wonder about church leaders and our center-stage life style. Being humble is easy in the face of failure and discouragement. The realization that "I cannot make anything happen on my own" brings its own special mix of peace and anxiety. It drives us to our knees and like the ancient tribes of Israel we cry out to God "Save us! Help us!" God sees, He hears, He remembers, and He comes down to save.

Then the paradox of prosperity. Gideon delivers Israel as God's tool, but the people want to acclaim him king. Gideon refuses the honor, so it appears all is well, until we learn that he asks them to gather up gold. Lots and lots of gold (Exodus' golden calf echoes in the background) which is then melted down into an ephod. This ephod becomes a snare to Gideon, his family and the people. And as a subtle warning, we hear Gideon has 70 sons by his many wives but the son born of a harlot is named. Abimelech. "My father is king." Aaahhh, the rest of the story? Does Gideon aspire to replace YHWH as king? We do not know, but we know stories of harlots and babies are often symbols of Israel and God (Hosea!) and we know that success breeds corruption, abundance drains focused trust in God. It is why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom.

So as the Gideon saga pummels the middle class Christianity which too often trusts material well being with proof of God's blessings, it was another story, this one from Acts 3, which took my reflections deeper. Peter and John come out of the Temple and a lame beggar cries out to them. He wants, needs, alms. They respond, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you; in the Name of Jesus walk." The greatest riches we possess is the Name of Salvation (Jesus/Joshua-YHWH saves).

The Satan whispers alternate standards in the church-person's ears. Human, earthly measures of success. Huge. Big. Silver and Gold. Wealth! Our culture is in love with such things; our faith is a baptized twist on the same thing. How can we not be what we were born into and live amongst each day? Simple life of faith and love? Where? And who trades financial wealth for the Name of Jesus and belief in His power to heal? It can be all too confusing.

Yet Gideon stands as a stark reminder of my own willingness to share in God's honor and glory. ("Father, hallowed be our names, you and me!") Our humble tone and words cover over the hearts desire, which finds a way to express itself in our "children", literal and figurative (daddy is king). Our embrace of the wrong kind of wealth is a snare that causes us to stumble and fall. Still, there is hope. Perhaps a divine paring down will occur (did I mention it is painful and terrifying, that it loss and means being out of control) and we will find some day, possessing neither silver nor gold, we will rely solely on His Name. Jesus. YHWH Salvation. Then we will know the Kingdom abundance for which our overstuffed lives really seeks. Hope.

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