Saturday, March 16, 2013

Standing On a Promise On Sinking Sand

If you use Facebook, I'm fairly certain you've seen the explosion of hundreds and hundreds of memes making the rounds on your newsfeed nowadays.  In fact, it seems Facebook has been taken over by the meme phenomenon - layering pithy sayings on top of a photograph to create a snippet of philosophy or humor. A great many of these memes are philosophical or religious quotations designed to support a particular point of view.   Many are funny, more are innocuous, most offering some sort of encouragement. The religious ones usually trod the middle of the theological road without stepping on too many toes, but occasionally one of them catches my eye and I just have to shake my head and wonder what people are thinking.

This one, for instance.

Think about it a moment.

John 1:16 says, " From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another."

Now, this is true, of course.  God lavishes his blessing on all His children.

Luck, though, has a connotation of "something fortuitous or especially in my favor".  Something especially good.  Something better, or more favorable, than whatever the next guy got.  A windfall, over and above the norm.  That's why, when someone gets something seemingly extra good, like a great hand in a game of poker, we exlaim, "lucky!!"

So when good things happen to me, when I am fortuitous beyond the norm, and the winds of fortune are propping me up with wealth and health - when I'm "lucky"-  its because I have God's favor?

There is danger in thinking this way about God's blessings because we don't always see the blessings: sometimes life just plain sucks and hurts and is miserable.  How is that a blessing?

As Christians, we stub our toes, we get fired from jobs, we get flat tires, the toilets over-flow, and our kids get sick.  We get in wrecks, our children get in a wrecks, our houses burn down, we break our legs, our homes get foreclosed, and our brothers and sisters and moms and dads and children get sick and die far too young.

I could go on and on, as you well know. Things that all of us have experienced at one point or another.  All these things we'd consider to be 'bad luck'.

When they happen, does God cause these things? Are we being denied "God's favor"?  Does God not  favor us today?  Is God's promise of "one gracious blessing after another" somehow null and void?  Because I'm not 'lucky' am I out of God's favor?

Or, what about  that evil, good for nothing neighbor down the street who always plays his music way too loud, drives way too fast up and down the street in his way too noisy hot-rod or on his bored-out Harley you can hearing coming from a mile away? What do we say when he hits the lottery, or finds out his long lost auntie died and left him two million dollars, or we see his wife walk out on him one week, only to see him three weeks later on the arm of an even younger, hotter, more beautiful woman who actually adores him (not that we say we care about such things, but we all know that we do)?

Or what about when your crappy co-worker who is always gossiping and stirring up chaos, gets a promotion where the boss tells everyone that she is "an exemplary employee! I wish we had more like her!"?

Do we consider them lucky? Is God bestowing them with 'one gracious blessing after another" that He promises in John?  Have they found 'favor' with God, even though they don't even believe in Him?  The answer, if we believe John 1:16, and I think we should, is yes.

God is blessing the heathen and the crappy co-worker.

I got a stubbed toe. My car got repossessed because I lost my job and couldn't make the payments.

According to the meme, though, this promise of God's blessings is for us, his children, right?  It's written to Christians who trust Jesus, not the heathen down the street! What happened to the promise? Why are they getting good blessings, but we're just getting trials?

Is it luck, or is it God's favor? What is God's favor, anyway? Hmmmmm......

Or what about when I pray fervently, asking for God to please allow Mitt Romney to become president - because I know in my heart that Mitt will do good for the country; then a good friend of mine who is also a Christian prays fervently for Barack Obama to be re-elected President - because he knows in his heart that Barack will do good for the country.

Lo and behold, Barack Obama wins.  My guy looses.

Now, we both love God and seek His heart and favor.  Why would God have more favor on my friend than me, if God lavishes his abundant blessing on all of us?  Why did he bless my buddy and not me? Does God love him more? Did he somehow please God better than I did?

Or what about when we pray with all our hearts for our kids to get healed, and they don't.  Sometimes they might even die. Does God not favor us anymore?  Is the promise void?

We play a dangerous 'religious' game when we say our good fortune is because God looks favorably on us - Christians -  and not on the other guy.  We run the risk of blaming God when our fortune runs bad.  God is never to blame for bad things that happen in our lives. We live in a spiritual war-zone, and the battle rages on.  We often get caught in the crossfire.

God is indeed the source of all good things, but we must realize He sends His good things out all over the world in character with His great love for us.  He sends his rain on the good and the evil, alike.  His sun shines on the good and evil, alike. His blessing are designed, in His perfect wisdom, to point to His grace and mercy in life.

It's not windfall grace.  It's not "I got something good, so God must look favorably upon me".  Its complete grace, offered to everyone, all the time.

I think to truly stand on the promise of John 1:16 is to say "whatever happens to me, I will view it through the framework of a God that loves me, as displayed by the outrageous act of love at Calvary. God wants the best for me, and His magnificent wisdom can weave all things together to bring about His good in my life if I will trust that God is abundantly blessing me, even when I can't see it."

John 1:16 indeed says, "From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another".  But we mustn't forget the following verse, which expands and explains the blessings.

The blessings are not always material or financial or healthful or emotional.  In fact Jesus promises his followers much trial and tribulation, and death is not an uncommon demise for Christians in this world, so to claim any "windfall" as God's favor is sort of counter to spirit of the promise.

Verse 17 explains the true nature of the abundant blessings: "For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ."

God is always abundant and gracious  Jesus is the ultimate display of that abundance and grace. Its in Jesus that the promises are fulfilled, and we can live lives of grace and abundance, even through trial and tribulation.

The hope of eternal life, the promise of abundant life, and the promise of freedom in Christ.  Those are the real, abundant, overflowing blessing God is pouring out on us, all the time.

That is a promise I can stand on!