Genesis 13 – Prosperity Theology?

An exercise in acceptance.

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

What do you all think about Prosperity Theology?  You know, Joel Osteen and preachers like him that say God wants us to be prosperous, and we can do so through a faithful attitude, positive thinking and prayer, and donations to the church.  I ask because this chapter, and the chapter immediately preceding, are strong arguments for it.  We are told right at the beginning of the chapter “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and silver and gold.” (13:2) “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever,” God says to Abram in 13:15. And last chapter, God blesses Abram “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great.” (12:2)  That’s a three-fold blessing, people, that’s serious stuff.

I’m uncomfortably comfortable with much of Prosperity Theology, if that makes any sense.  Yes, I definitely think some of it is exploitative and asking those with very little to donate more, more, more when the preacher’s second house is worth almost three million bucks (that’s right, Joel Osteen’s second home is worth that much, his first home is worth over ten million). Also, I think it ignores or tries to gloss over a lot of the bad things that happen-not just in the Bible, but in everyday life.  No one needs to feel like cancer is a personal failure on their part, that they just weren’t faithful enough.  Sometimes cancer, or other shitty situations, just happen. Even to good and faithful people.

All that being said, I hate it when people go all sour grapes on what others have.  No doubt Joel Osteen got a leg up in life, but he’s devoted his life to his work, and built a brand up around himself through not only preaching but books and promotional deals. Also, he’s increased his church membership to 40,000 people.  From a purely business perspective, I have to respect that.

And I do agree with one of the core messages of Prosperity Theology: that God wants us to be happy.  Perhaps the major difference is how followers of Prosperity Theology and I define “happy.”  I do not want a yacht, or a mansion, or even a pool – I know how much upkeep those things take and that’s not how I want to spend my time or money.  But maybe someone else does want those things, and who am I to judge?

So where does that leave us? I’ve talked an awful lot in the first two months of this project about the importance of acceptance and understanding – mostly from a left-looking-right standpoint.  But acceptance is just that – accepting people my have viewpoints that are not in line with my own.  As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, then I can’t be overly critical, right? But what do we define as harmful?  I think the followers of Prosperity Theology are doing themselves a disservice by missing some of the wonderful subtleties of the Bible and trying to force God into a “magic genie” role that falls far short of what I believe God to be.  But, is that harmful? Should I try to dissuade them?

I wish I could wrap this up with a neat little answer, but I don’t think I can.  There are so many other problems that I think are larger than any issues I might have with Prosperity Theology, so until they do something truly exclusionary, I’ll table any misgivings.  I think that might be my larger takeaway from this reading: a reminder to pick which battles are worth fighting, and being able to live with decisions others might make that I don’t like, but that have no bearing on me. For now, the best course of action I can think of is to just keep living an example of what I think is the best way: Enjoy life, tread lightly upon the earth, and find joy in giving back.  Most days I fall far short of what I think my best should be.  Seriously, every disposable snack pack of pudding or applesauce I give the girls feels like a moral failing for this regenerative farmer, but sometimes it’s the only way to get calories in them.  But every day I try, and I hope I’m getting better as I get older.  And, I hope, that those little changes, and my own little examples are enough, with time, to spread the change I wish to see in the world.

Genesis 12 – Assessing your Spiritual Gifts

Knowing your spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

I got deep into some home improvement projects while the girls’ were with grandparents, and the blog fell by the wayside.  But now the house is put to rights, the girls are back, and so am I.  A note on the readings: I’m going to keep reading Genesis this month, and with the start of Lent (March 6 this year) I’ll be reading Job.

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The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister,so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

My last post was about using our gifts to do God’s work, and here we see God calling upon Abram to follow His path.  Like, really follow His path: leaving your family and wandering out into the unforgiving wilderness to foreign lands is scary enough now; back then it was a real act of faith.

I (only half jokingly) say that I hope I never hear directly from God.  If I hear the voice of God, I’ll have to follow whatever he commands me to do.  How can one ignore the direct voice of God? I never want to be Abram, who uprooted everything and moved away.  But, with that being said, I constantly question if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m on the right path.  Perhaps some of this is normal and healthy, but I do tend to be an over-thinker.  This past week or so I’ve noticed a lot of reminders in my life about finding your purpose, or your own special place in God’s plan, so I decided to take the Spiritual Gifts Assessment offered by the United Methodist Church.  There are others, but this was the one recommended to me, and you don’t have to sign up for anything to take it, so it’s the one I went with.

For those curious, I scored highest in “Interpretation,” i.e., I’m good at bridging the gap between different groups of people.  I also scored well in Sheperding, Healing, and Servanthood, which makes sense as I do those things on a daily basis with my kids.  I scored really low in Faith and Helping, which kind of bums me out, but I guess gives me something to work on.

But now that I know my strengths (and weaknesses) I can compare my efforts to them.  I’m feeling good about this blog – at least today, like I said, I’m a classic over-thinker -because it fits solidly into the “Interpretation” strength. I can weigh other potential endeavors, such as joining church committees or taking up volunteer work, against these strengths to see if I’d be a good fit and more likely to stick with it.  That’s not to say that sometimes things won’t fit neatly into the mold.  I ran the art committee at my previous church and I don’t really think that played to my spiritual strengths, but more to my love of art. But still, this test and these strengths are a nice starting point.

If you’ve felt like you could be doing “more,” or if you feel like your faith could be doing more for you, I encourage you to take this test.  We may not be Abram going through the strange lands of Canaan and Egypt, but we are, each and every one of us, going through this strange and wondrous life without a guidebook.  Knowing our spiritual strengths is another tool in our toolbox to make the most of it.

Genesis 11 – What Amazing Gifts

How high can we dream? Straight up to the heavens.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

10 This is the account of Shem’s family line.

Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. 11 And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah.13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber. 15 And after he became the father of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg. 17 And after he became the father of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and had other sons and daughters.

18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu. 19 And after he became the father of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and had other sons and daughters.

20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug. 21 And after he became the father of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and had other sons and daughters.

22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor. 23 And after he became the father of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and had other sons and daughters.

24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah. 25 And after he became the father of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and had other sons and daughters.

26 After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahorand Haran.

27 This is the account of Terah’s family line.

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. 30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

What amazing gifts our God has given us! Look at our creativity, our ingenuity, our tenacity.  No rocks for building? Let’s make bricks.  No mortar? Let’s use tar.  And how high can we dream? Straight up to the heavens.  God himself says in verse six, that when working together “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

Our problem is our pride.  We did not build the tower of Babel to serve God, but to serve our own pride.  “Let us make a name for ourselves,” the people say in verse four. This pride is what caused God to thwart us – not our creativity, not our industriousness – our pride.

What would have happened, I wonder, if we had asked for His blessing before building the tower.  What if we had expressed a yearning not for our own fame, but a yearning for a way to be closer to Him?  It’s just an idle thought about an allegorical story, but it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?  What if God had blessed the tower and city of Babel instead of cursed it?  What if those people had lifted up the lowly in their community and said “Here, this we build for you and the glory of God, so that all might know Him.”  Who knows?

I truly believe God wants to see us happy.  Happy, creative and creating, constantly learning and discovering.  But not in a way that forgets Him or at the expense of others.  This past Sunday my pastor spoke to following God’s path and not your own.  It can be difficult to determine which one you are doing.  I’m a worrier and over-thinker by nature, so I second-guess almost everything I do on a constant basis.  But I think avoiding our own modern-day Babel’s can start with a simple prayer.  One of my favorite mealtime blessings includes the line “Bless this food to our use and our use to thy service.” It acknowledges our own work as well as the work of God.  If we keep asking, keep praying “God, lead me down the right path,” we become open to the answer, and more receptive to following it, as well.  So go forth, work, cook, create, and dream as big as you want to, but just don’t forget to ask for God’s blessing, as well.

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That was a very short meditation as I’m pressed for time today.  I believe Sarah, Milcah, and the rest of Abram’s family is mentioned again later in Genesis, so I hope to talk about it more then.