Monday, July 27, 2009

Touchdown Jesus Leads Us To The Promised Land?

If I follow Jesus, will I get a promotion at my job? If I trust in God, will my company make more money? Will I be successful in what I do here on Earth, if I am obedient to God's calling?

The other day, I was reading a Sports Illustrated article on Tim Tebow. Tebow is the Heisman Trophy-winning Quarterback of the Florida Gators. He is one of college football's best and most recognizable athletes. He's famous. He's also a Christian, a guy who is outspoken about what he believes. He goes to prisons and talks about Jesus. His father is a missionary in the Dominican Republic.

I'm a huge fan of world-class athletes that also are willing to talk about Jesus. Kurt Warner does it. Reggie White. A.C. Green. Orel Hershiser. There's an abundance of professional athletes who have talked at length -- and even written books -- about their faith.

I'm also a fan of players and teams that reach out to the community, and to each other. Many teams have a chaplain, and many clubhouses have Bible studies and church services that are well-attended. People like Tebow take the time to work in third-world countries or to meet with guys on death row. That's awesome.

So I read the SI cover story with great interest. The story focused on Tebow's Christianity. Two thirds of the way into the article, I read about how before last year's BCS title game, Tebow called 15 players into his hotel room and read a passage from Matthew to them. The words of Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

How can you not love this guy?

Then Tebow told his teammates that they would beat Oklahoma "not because we're the better team or because we've worked harder," although he believed those things were true. "We're going to win because we're going to handle it the right way, we're going to be humble with it, with God leading us."

That sentence made me stop and think. What? Is that really how God operates? "We're going to win, with God leading us"?

I'm used to seeing players point to the heavens or even kneel for a moment in prayer after scoring a touchdown. Practically every player you see in a post-game interview thanks God for the win. Kurt Warner, at one point, said that "The Lord has something special in mind for this team."

In fact, most of our churches preach a similar mantra. Obey God, and he will bless you. The Prayer of Jabez idea seemed to blow up into an entire institution. Enlarge your territory! Increase your impact! After all, the more football games we win, or the more companies we own, the more people we can help and win for Christ, right? Why WOULDN'T God want us to have all of that success?

Hmm. I think about Stephen. Peter. John. Pretty much all of the apostles. Ignatius. Justin. Origen. Jim Elliot. Millions more people crucified, stoned, burned at the stake, boiled in oil, ripped apart, or eaten by lions. Man, weren't THOSE guys missing out on "Christ's blessings!"

I wonder if Paul's tentmaking business really took off, and he ended up owning a whole string of tentmaking franchises. He probably just never mentioned it.

All of this makes me think of one of my favorite passages in the Bible, three kids on death row, speaking to the king, in Daniel 3: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Did he say "even if he does not"? What's that supposed to mean?

One could easily find scriptures saying that God will bless us if we follow him. But what exactly does that "blessing" entail?

If we follow Jesus -- a homeless guy who was jailed and then killed by the time he was 33 -- should we expect a life of successful earthly endeavors?


Christi R said...

Ok, I'll start... I can't believe no one has posted on this yet...

For me one of my greatest struggles and (I admit) aggravations is that I find God very rarely gives me what I want; that's not to say he doesn't give me what I need, but that's not the same thing.

I don't believe that God doesn't want us to have successful lives (although sometimes it feels that way), but I think His idea of success and my idea of success aren't necessarily the same thing - God doesn't care what kind of car I drive or how much money I make or what part of town I live in... He cares about HOW I live my life. I don't think He cares if the Gators win or lose (although who knows He might be a Gators fan).

I think we trick ourselves into believing that if we just are faithful enough or pray enough or go to church enough, then God will do it OUR way... then we often find ourselves disappointed and we either blame God or we believe we haven't done enough (which is probably true). But the fact is God doesn't make deals - I have learned this the hard way.

So, I guess for me the question isn't about whether we should expect "successful earthly endeavors". It’s about figuring out what true success is and understanding what God wants me to do for Him and His people, not what I want God to do for me.

Silence Dogood said...

WOW !!!! Did I need this. You know, this concept has been in the back of my mind for some time now. This whole notion of making deals with God.... I didn't do "x" (insert sin here)today and so, OK God, when are you going to give me something that I've been wanting.

As I stop and think about this - it's absolutely absurd. I agree with Christi, we trick ourselves in to believing that God's just trying to get a little more out of us by dangling that blessing out in front of us and then once we've "done enough" he reluctantly gives in.

As part of my prayer time, from time to time, I do say the prayer of Jabez... and, honestly, there are some days that I do expect to get blessed because of's the whole ask and ye shall receive thing. Hey, if you never ask, you may never get "it". I do believe that God wants to bless us and I do believe that he does so in so many ways we could never believe or imagine.

Unfortunatly, we are selfish creatures and regardless of how much we hear that we should have a servant's heart and serve others first.... our very sinful nature is creaming out "ME FIRST, ME FIRST"!!! God has given us everything we need - and everything He had.

Enough is enough!!!

Joe B said...

Christi R, how wonderfully unChurchy! Good stuff

We cannot rule out that God may wish to do such a thing, nor that we should pray for such a thing and "believe, nothing doubting." The kid could have been speakng wouldn't be the first time.

However a generalized notion that our success is what God is all about is pretty pagan. And pretty common.

I think that there is reward for serving God, and that some of that reward is often, but not necessarily, paid forward; eternal blessings do slosh over into the earthly realm. But to use earthly blessing/success as a yardstick of divine approval is a HEE-OOGE mistake.

Joe B said...

Silence Dogood? No WAY!! I feel like I've seen Bigfoot or something!

Silence Dogood said...

I see bigfoot down at the lodge every Thursday night....I'll tell him you say Hi.

Joe B said...

So Dogood, have you created any widespread panic lately?

Scott said...

I agree with Joe's thoughts that God may want to have us succeed in these kinds of things, or even that Tebow could have been speaking prophetically. I have no doubt that, in some cases, God may have a hand in blessing people through success in finances and football games.

But on the other hand, sometimes, the better team will win a football game (to keep using that metaphor). Could very well be a team full of Godless heathens. What does it mean for all of the people that say that type of thing to their teams -- "God is on our side, and we're going to win because of that" -- and then they lose? What's it mean if we say "God is on our side, he'll help us move into this multi-million dollar church building," and then the bank forecloses on it and takes the building? :-)

I'm still thinking about all of those people that I listed that lived poor lives and met horrible ends. Did Jesus or the apostles ever pray that they be blessed financially, that their empires and territory might grow?

And, Joe, if we truly believe that "eternal blessings do slosh over into the earthly realm," how are we supposed to tell people NOT to use earthly success as a yardstick of divine approval?

It IS aggravating to me when God doesn't help my house sell or help me get a better job. But, like Christi said, It’s about figuring out what true success is and understanding what God wants me to do for Him and His people, not what I want God to do for me.

Going back to the Daniel passage, I love how they essentially said, "God CAN help us. I hope he does. But he might not. Even if He does NOT help us out, He's still God, and I'll still serve him 'til I die."

Joe B said...

No matter how successful you are, you still wind up dead. Smart as humans are, we seem unable to make the connection: temporary wealth is of limited importance.

We all die once, and life is short. What's the difference, whether you starve to death in a dusty hut, or you die coughing blood on your satin bedsheets?

I wanna play for all the marbles. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

Craig said...

Sorry, I've been gone all week. But hey, looks like y'all have done just fine without me to get the ball rolling. . . ;)

I love that 'Even if not. . .' passage from Daniel, because it so gets at the essence of what it means to follow God. And I keep thinking of what Mother Teresa always said about God not calling us to be successful, but rather faithful. . .

There is a sense in which lving our lives according to God's design and plan for our lives ought to make our lives go better. But I generally think of that in terms of what's inside of me - my character, and how I respond to the life circumstances that God gives me - rather than the specifics of my external circumstances. You know, it's not what goes 'into me' from outside that makes me holy or not, it's what 'comes out' from inside of me. Can I 'be abased' and still know that my life is in God's hands, and trust Him for my life? Or do I need a large bank account and lots of cool toys, in order to think myself blessed by God?

See, that's always been my biggest beef with the 'prosperity gospel' - I can't imagine preaching that to 'third-world' Christians without them wondering what the heck I'm talking about. . .

Joe B said...

I think in terms of "Christian Technology", this is an endlessly confusing question. "How does it all work?" Or "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Or "Why do the wicked prosper?" But as is often the case, if we pan out to the bigger picture, to the whole Big Story of God, it is really not a problem.

Consider again Jesus' theme that Craig reminded us: "It is what comes out of us" that matters."

As long as out thinking is driven by the questions "What shall I eat" What shall I drink? With what shall i be clothed?" we will first of all be hopelessly confounded in our understanding of God's ways, and secondly we will be prone to continual lapse into sin.

Followers of Jesus are Manna Eaters. Lunch sharers. Grains of wheat that rejoice to be buried alive. Joyful sheep awaiting slaughter on the altar of this world, so that others might live.

And if we miss the big story of the victory of God over the "present evil age" through our faith...well then, I don't suppose it much matters which team wins the game anyway.

Anonymous said...

I have always been uncomfortable with the prayer of Jabez and the whole theology of God wants us to be rich. I will admit that I think that way from time to time, but that is my worldly self speaking. I constantly fight my inner self with this. We set ourselves ( and God) up for failure when we expect God to bless us with success if we do good enough. If we expect God to work like that then we have made him a wishing stone. Sometimes I think it is harder for us to understand what true blessings are because we usually put a dollar amount on blessings. I just returned from a week in Mexico working amongst some of the poorest folks out there. I will say that many of them know more about blessings from God than do I. They have learned to rely on God, because that is all they have. I certainly don't begin to understand the mind of God. God doesn't want our money, but our hearts. We have to learn to appreciate were we are in life. Not always easy. It has already been mentioned here that this life is very temporary. The real blessing is forgiveness of sin and life eternal. Paul said it best when he said, "Your grace is sufficient.."

Joe B said...

Good Anony-words, Anony-mous.

If we think God ever blesses us because we do something (or become something) good enough, we're head-screwed.

We follow in Christ's office of blessing the world. Whether that is by sharing abundant wealth he gave us, or by pouring out the life-blood he gave us, that is up to him.

Abraham is our example of faith: The guy willing to sacrifice everything is the guy God made filthy, filthy rich. And even so, he never built a house for himself: "He lived in tents, for he was looking for a city whose builder was God."

God had told him "Wherever you place your foot, the land will be yours." So he just kept on moving, like a nomad, even though he was mightier than kings.

DominoDebi said...

In keeping with the sports thing, I've always been troubled by the thought of praying for victory before a sports event. Not that I think one shouldn't, necessarily, but even a small child can start to wonder, "If both teams are asking God for a win, how does He choose? Isn't that playing favorites? I thought God didn't play favorites?"

For me, the answer lies in a different focus. Maybe instead of praying for a win, one ought to pray for nothing more than to play like a winner. At least that's how I'm explaining it to my 7 y/o. If you truly want to capture God's heart, forget about capturing the flag. Ask Him to help you play for Him for His delight.

Jesus will delight in a game played with joy, in the good sportsmanship that must naturally follow "love one another." And if you play with that objective - to delight the Lord - you win. You may not win the game, but you win the bigger prize of joy and satisfaction that arises from delighting the Lord. (I've delighted the Lord a few times, and I know of what I speak - a high like no other!)

And if this is true of a sporting event, how much more so of one's daily life?

I mean, the reward is not all those status symbols and conveniences and really cool toys (although I've got as big a "I Want" list as anybody). The reward is going to bed at peace with yourself because you really did your best to delight the Lord that day. You may not have had a very successful day, but your heart and intentions were there - and THAT is what delights the Lord. That effort to please Him.

I mean, that is what He wants, right?

Scott said...

We need to add a "recent comment" widget to this blog, as there has been some good comment activity on a couple of older posts recently.

Praying for victory might sound a bit odd, but it's not that different than people that pray to get a job they interviewed for, or a house they are trying to buy. There is a limited supply of those things compared to the number of people who might be praying for them.

We could probably get into a much bigger discussion of how much God is willing to intercede in our lives for these types of things, and whether he plays "favorites." (It sounds overly simplistic to say so, but there's plenty of Biblical backing to suggest that he does, in many cases.)

However the main focus of your comment is right-on, in my mind. Jesus is looking at the love and what we do, not so much the worldly success of what we accomplish.

Joe B said...

For all those who have heard my extended rant of "Evil & the Justice of God", you may recall my foundational belief that what entered the world thru sin (at the Fall) was scarcity (read the "curse" text in Gen 3.) Thru scarcity all the evils of the world compounded: Scarcity > Competition > Domination > Oppression > Sadism.

A game is "faux competition", not real competition. A game is trivial, but competition is not. Competition is the life and death struggle for survival served up one teaspoon at a time.

The larger question that this discussion raises deeply rooted in Jesus call to "Come, follow me."

sac1066 said...

It seems as though there is confusion between what God wants me to do and what i want God to do. Am i a follower of Jesus or a follower of man? Is "life liberty, and the pusuit of happiness" congruent with what Jesus commanded me to do? What is success? Maybe it's acheiving a goal- that's what Websters seems to be saying.

So, what are my goals. hmm...get a girl...have a family...have a a house...2 NICE cars in the off to college...nice retirement...very american. It seems as though there is nothing wrong with that. What if i lived in Mexico, as anon wrote about? Their goals are much different that mine, i bet. All of my Americanisms? are just comforts, right? I personally have none of that (a decent car in the driveway, yes) yet i am content. None of that makes me happy if it is just about pursuit. (bigger house...better car...younger wife) That's pursuit. Pursuit will drive you mad and to mall. Maybe it's part of the American dream.

Zinger alert: i don't think God is in the bidness of giving stuff out. i think some get stuff, some don't. There are people who can start and grow businesses and some who only know how to waitress, or drive a truck. So who is better than who? Is my minister better than me? NO! "No one is righteous, no not one."

Solomon had it all, Job lost it all, in a test. Abraham was rich beyond measure, Jeremiah had nothing. For every Joseph, there is a poor Bartimaeus. i think i would rather be one of the prosperous ones than not, thank you please.

I don't believe prosperity (the way Americans see it) is in God's plan for me or anyone else. If i am good at something, then hurray. Following Jesus isn't about being Bill Gates. If it was, wouldn't everyone go to church and rub the genie? i sure would!

Someone great once said, "No matter how successful you are, you still wind up dead." (actually that was Joe B earlier in this blog) So whatever i acquire, means nothing.

As an American, I get caught up in what's good for me, or, how does this affect me? It doesn't sound very follower of Jesus'y, does it?

To start answering all of my questions, i believe what God wants for me isn't what i want for me: unfortunatly. Do i need the next big Do i need deliverence...yes- to see others' needs...yes- to actually follow...ouch, er yes. For some reason, Jesus wants me to help those less fortunate (widows and orphans, or maybe single parents? the spouse-less, the parent-less)

To break from the first person for a bit: i believe we are a nation of people who when disaster strikes, rise and help those in trouble. It shows me a glimmer of hope for us.
Jesus said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle gate, than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. Why? Because they are usually in pursuit, and it gets in the way of God. I can't gather wealth if i am always giving it away! Jesus told a rich dude to give it all up and follow. But he couldn't, because they are not congruent. (twice!)

Maybe my prayer should be: [show me the need] instead of [it's for a lexus a plead.]