Monday, March 12, 2007

every good and perfect gift

I try to be careful with criticism on these reports. There can be some good and/or truth in everything I suppose. Even the bad or goofy stuff.

But having walked (or still traveling) through “the desert”, and having so few (if any) resources at my disposal, and rarely having more than a couple of bucks in my pocket at any given time...

...and having been kicked out of a church system that openly preaches some form of health/wealth type message (you are royalty, children of the king, he wants the best for you, etc)...

...I actively have to hold back my turrets syndrome whenever I hear anything vaguely resembling a “god wants you to be rich” gospel.

There are so many opposing angles to take on this. Like...

1) What is “rich”? Spiritually rich? Financially rich? And what’s the definition on financially rich?

(currently, a family of four living on less than $20k a year is considered poor by the US government. I estimated that we ended up with around $6-$8K last year. The US thinks I’m poor. But I’m ranked in the top 13% of the wealthiest people worldwide. Guess I’m rich.)

2) And where does it say god wants me to be financially wealthy? Especially in light of the poor widow and her two coins, that camel through the needle thing, and “the son of man has no place to lay his head”?

3) And how does this all add up to Jesus’ wandering vagabond life?

However, I am not ready to throw in the towel on this completely. I’m a big believer in the source of “every good and perfect gift” (see James 1:17).

I credit “good things” to the CEO. Even insignificant-looking ones. The party last week: a good thing. My family’s three-week all-expense paid vacation to Canada last Christmas: a good thing. The guy on the west coast who sent me a free pound of coffee beans: a very good thing. I credit the CEO for these good things.

A few months ago, I had an hour to kill in Little Dallas (south side of the fair mother city) with our infant Agent Offspring #2. The weather was nasty for being outside. I hate window shopping as it’s pointless. And I had no money to spend on myself. So I went to, of all places, Starbucks. I had an old gift card in my wallet with less than $2 on it. So I went in with AO2 and a book, bought their cheapest coffee (plain black coffee in a mug) and sat down.

It was good. But for some dumb-ass reason I longed for the days of yesteryear when I could plop down almost $4 for some froo-froo nonsense drink, and it be no big deal. As selfish as it sounds, I’m tired of being broke all the time and wish for once I had money again.

I didn’t think of it as praying, but right there I muttered to the CEO, “when can I have money for one of those $4 gay drinks again?”

And I swear, ten minutes later some chick in a green apron walks up holding a tray with some drinks on it and says, “hi sir, would you like a free iced mocha frappa crappa blah blah whatever??”

“Yes. Yes I would.”

“OK. Let me get you a straw. We accidentally made too many”.

I don’t know if that was the CEO being cute & funny, or if I was just in the right place at the right time. But a free $4 coffee is a good thing, none the less. Thank you CEO.

The cynics would ask why the CEO would give me a $4 coffee drink while 2000 people starve daily and tsunami’s wipe out hoards of innocent people. That can be theologically bantered back and forth. I assume the answer lies within “good things come from the lord above”. Since people dying is not a good thing, I guess he’s not the direct cause. I don’t know.

But I think it’s important to thank him for good things. And not blame him for bad things.

But I don’t think the good things should ever be our reason for being.

And the televangelists who claim that the CEO wants you to be rich have gone after one such by-product of the CEO’s goodness.

I think.


miller said...

great post...

i think it should be named the "prosperity anti-gospel"



Anonymous said...

They taste pretty good at $4, but they taste a whole lot better at $0! I got a free drink at Starbucks once too. I dont think it is that big a deal. Next time you are in there, ask them if they have a free one and see what happens.

I used to get a thingy called a Chai Shake at a little coffee joint there in Atown when I was in school. Not too often, because they actually charged a left nut, and then a right one and then (well, that was all I could afford). But the stupid thing was soooo good to me.

Then I spent a summer in Seattle. I went to the starbucks and asked if they had something like it. They did not, but were eager to try to make one for me. I described it as best I could and they whipped out a drink that was ... well it fell short, but it was kinda like the chai shake. They said it was on the house.

Nevertheless, this was a God thing, I think. And you are right to give him thanks and praise for it. He blessed you. And now me too for telling the story.


Agent X

Mark said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this. Very thoughtful. I have some family invested in the healthy/wealthy/Chelsea Clinton Gospel, and this got me thinking about both sides of the god-given coin.

Matthew said...

"The cynics would ask why the CEO would give me a $4 coffee drink while 2000 people starve daily and tsunami’s wipe out hoards of innocent people."

Yeah, that's probably what we'd ask. Although we prefer to be called "realists", and might stoop to referencing a scenario closer to home, like "losing one's legs".

I've about come to the conclusion that this is an issue of morality for me: I think we have a moral obligation to only worship a good deity, and I don't see how the word "good" can be used to describe a miserly God who consistently delivers on coffee beans and lattes but not on legs and lives.

This isn't meant as a personal attack on you, I'm just trying to argue that my problems with "God got me a parking space" are legitimate ethical problems, and not just the whining of someone who didn't get his pony for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I see what you are saying, Matthew. And I am inclined to chaffe at such a post too. But there are a couple things that give me pause on this one. For starts, it is B making the post. He has already proven to me many times over that he is not of the "god got me a parking space" crowd. And that is not to say that God cant or wont get him or anyone else a parking space. Just that B does not live in that cloud.

Secondly, I think that God is advancing his own agenda, not ours. And that agenda sometimes involves a huge cost and other times small blessings. It is not fair to all. And to my mind, there is a lot more to B's tale than getting a free drink. There is this prophet of God sitting in the temple of mammon and feeling really dry about his calling. God responds with this small but significant blessing that creatively and pointedly reaffirms his calling. And thus advances his agenda through B for another day.

Agent X
Lubbock office

Matthew said...

"I see what you are saying, Matthew."

No, I don't think you do.

A God whose "agenda" includes miraculously delivering coffee to Agent B, but not rescuing children trapped under tons of rubble is, to put it simply, evil. I don't worship that God. And I ought not.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I spoke so directly. I ment to say, I THINK I see what you are saying. I understand that perceptions are usually flawed. I apologize for misstating myself.

As to the evil god thing, I highly recommend a look at N.T. Wright's book -Evil and the Justice of God.

I think Wright offers some fresh perspective on the issue, and avoids framing it in the classic PROBLEM OF EVIL dilemma. It wrestles with the issue direction and does not flinch.

Back to the drink thing, I usually dislike such stories, but B's is an exception in my book.


Agent X

miller said...

i only have a couple of things to say here...

1st, "the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him."

if God wants to give b a coffee when he needs it, who the hell are you to question it?

2nd, you are assuming you have some clue about what is good and what is evil. you are forgetting that God allows tragedy to happen and little children and infants to be killed. why did he allow only Moses to be saved?

does it trouble you that of all the apostles only John was not martyred?

this kind of thing just bugs me. why does anybody assume that God must be evil is he doesn't treat everyone the same?

why is it that anyone believes that they can impose their own skewed ideas of fair play on the Lord God of heaven?

i'm sorry for the rant, but i think its time to thank God for every gift we receive and honor him even if our sense of fair play isn't fulfilled.


Agent B said...


"we prefer to be called 'realists'"

C'mon, man. Everybody thinks they're a realist. I know I do. To me, you guys are cynics.

And cynics are most always joyless, especially in simple things. Hope I'm wrong about this.

A free $4 gay drink is something to celebrate (in a way).

I assume Obi-Wan's leg is the result of our fallen world status and thus, the fact that our bodies don't last forever.

He's almost 90, has diabetes, and a host of other medical problems. But he's the most joyful of anyone I know because 1) his pain is now gone and 2) he's happy to be alive.

I use to be a cynic (it runs rampant in coc culture). I refuse to go that route anymore. Now I experience miracles, even if it's a free starbucks coffee.

I never had miracles when I was a cynic.

Coincidence? maybe.

Matthew said...

@Agent B:
"Everybody thinks they're a realist."

Yeah, that was tongue-in-cheek. Guess the tone of voice didn't quite come through. =P

"I never had miracles when I was a cynic."

I have nothing against praising God for the goodness we experience. I can even stomach someone calling something a "miracle" in the same sense that a grape plant turning water into wine is a miracle. I just have problems suggesting that God did something out of the ordinary to arrange for your coffee. That seems like its own little prosperity gospel.

Really, I'm baffled when people can't seem to see, much less feel, the problem with a God who delivers coffee but fails to save suffering children.

Matthew said...

"you are forgetting that God allows tragedy to happen and little children and infants to be killed."

No, I'm not forgetting. That's exactly what I'm getting at.

"if God wants to give b a coffee when he needs it, who the hell are you to question it?"

There are people in the world who think Christians are full of shit, because they say, "God got me a parking space", or "God gave me a coffee", and don't have any good answer why God would do those sorts of things but let kids burn in Auschwitz.

If it helps, you can pretend that I'm just relaying their questions. Don't shoot the messenger and all that.

Matthew said...

@Agent X:
"I apologize for misstating myself."

I do the same thing all the time, so I understand. No apology is necessary.

I agree that B has more cred than most people when it comes to attention to God. I just think he needs an occasional reminder about the implications of the claims he makes about God's providence. =P

Anonymous said...

Looks like its on. I had a feeling about this one.

Agent X

Agent B said...

"I just think he needs an occasional reminder about the implications of the claims he makes about God's providence. =P"

You occasional voice of doubt that god does not provide anymore and all that goopy bible stuff ended with the apostles in Acts??

I ain't twisting your arm to believe me, but THIS is my life and miraculous provision is happening.

I go through struggles too. I'm going through one now. But past examples show that god provides since I'm more important than grass or birds.

Please keep adding to the discussions here. I like your input. But I cannot doubt the provision of my god.

Agent B said...

And oh yea...

"I just have problems suggesting that God did something out of the ordinary to arrange for your coffee. That seems like its own little prosperity gospel."

Yes. That is the point of this post.

I do not believe in the prosperity gospel. I live with poor people and (some would say) I AM poor, so I think it's crap.

Yet I see prayers answered and goofy provision given. I'm trying to figure all this out.

But I'm convinced that the focus of faith should NOT be these provisions (or wealth, etc).

Anonymous said...

I had to jump in as someone who has recently lost her own child and is closely related to B. Every day I live is by grace. I am glad that B can find joy in little things. Sometimes it is the little things that help us to keep going. I do believe that God showed us how to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn in his son. I don't think that B is making God small or making him fit his 'own little prosperity gospel.' (I think)B is simply giving thanks and wondering/ marvelling about HIS workings. I try to do that every day.
Lil' Sis

Anonymous said...

One other thing...B the trip to Canada to visit in December was indeed God-sent/meant! I desperately needed to hold AO1 and AO2 and hug you and agent wife.

Lil' Sis

Matthew--I like the discussion.
I do believe that statements B makes here are not without thought to implications about God's providence. Because he lives this everyday! And yet we should struggle and be uncomfortable at injustice...I think that is why B is an "undercover agent." There is no issue in giving genuine thanks.

(I think if B had just said "thanks for the coffee God" it would have been regarded as saying "grace" at the table. He called it a miracle. God gives to us. God intervenes. Is this a semantics problem with the word 'miracle'? I know I have a harder time with this word because of my own history)

Do we give thanks enough? Could it be that that coffee was a bit of manna that day for B--crazy as it may seem? What IS at issue is believing in a god who gives to our greed. THAT does not fly.
Lil' Sis

Anonymous said...

I think Anon/Lil Sis raises an important tangent to Matthews concerns about evil in the world. I do not think Matthew hit the thing head on when he first chimed in, but rather scooped up the issue into a larger one, thus changing the subject to a degree. And I think Lil sis has likewise hit a tangent to the tangent too. So it seems to me, that though all of this discussion is related to the coffee, it has taken on a different life really.

Anyway, back to the point at hand, she speaks as one who has lost a child and yet finds worthwhile grace in this small gesture/miracle despite the evil she has suffered. I am reminded of the time I spent ministering to convicts on F wing in Seg at the Robertson Unit when I lived in Abilene. I would go down to the most secure part of the prison to visit with men where I had to stand at the door and talk through an iron mesh grate in sweltering heat. This tiny gesture on my part was met with such great enthusiam from the offenders. One guy had a small fan that he would hold up to the grate so a small amount of the breeze would waft through the hole in the door and cool me off while we visited.

He was an evil man living an evil life in evil conditions. And my visit surely did not change everything for him, though it might have "planted a seed" as we say sometimes. But amid all this evil, this small act of kindness was received as a huge impacting grace in the lives of these men.

I went back and opened the Wright book I recommended yesterday on Evil and the Justice of God. Wright says to atheists that the classic Problem of Evil can also be termed the Problem of Good. For if there is not a Good God who loves his creation, then any GOOD we find in it is as much a problem as any Evil we find in one we Posit a GOOD GOD over.

Food for thought.

Agent X

Matthew said...

@Agent X and Lil' Sis:
I agree that small pleasures should be appreciated. Absolutely.

I disagree with Wright, though. If we claimed God was perfectly evil, and powerful, and knowledgeable, then we would have to deal with the problem of good. But we claim God is good, and so the problem we have to deal with is that of evil.

Really, though, discussion is kind of pointless if people don't agree that there *is* a problem of evil.

Matthew said...

@Agent B:
"I ain't twisting your arm to believe me, but THIS is my life and miraculous provision is happening."

Maybe you have to believe that. I, on the other hand, have to believe that God isn't doing anything special for you ... and God didn't do anything out of the ordinary for folks in Acts ... because if God is, or did, then God is not love, but a monster.

And that's one thing I am incapable of believing.

Agent B said...

I don't have to believe it, Matt.

I choose to.

miller said...


you said, discussion is kind of pointless if people don't agree that there *is* a problem of evil.


I, on the other hand, have to believe that God isn't doing anything special for you ... and God didn't do anything out of the ordinary for folks in Acts ... because if God is, or did, then God is not love, but a monster.

i'm gonna have to say discussion is kind of pointless if you don't accept the scriptural accounts of the little things God has done for his people all through the ages, including Acts.

why is Moses the only boy that lived? why did elijah and widow have plenty to eat in the midst of a famine? why did Paul survive when other christians were horribly butchered? why did Jesus heal some and ignore others?

you say God doesn't work that way and never did?

am i hearing you right?

you talk about the children who suffer needlessly...

i say they get a pass into heaven... only the guilty miss out.


Anonymous said...


your address does not make sense of Wright. It is you who is saying the God I believe in is a monster etc. Thus, if you believe that way, any Good you find in his world is a conundrum. How can that be. It is tit for tat.

Of course, Evil is actually more complex that this scenario allows. But in a universe where evil and good are equal, then the tit for tat analogy makes sense. And atheists, or people holding the position you seem to be portraying here, have to explain the anomaly of good to the same degree that people who hold my position have to explain the problem of evil.

BZZZZZZZ thank you for playing... try again.


Matthew said...

@agent B & miller:

I'm afraid we have a massive difference in worldview. My guess is that we're pretty much talking past one another. I read the bible differently, I understand providence differently, yadda yadda yadda.

For example: based on experience and reading a little about neuroscience, it seems to me that people don't choose what they believe. If I told you I have a pink elephant in my backyard, could you simply choose to believe that was true? I don't think so. You believe what you believe because (among other reasons) the evidence compels you to believe it.

Basically, I'm not seeing any resolution here. I'm going to keep screaming about suffering people, and you're going to keep insisting that God can slap a heaven band-aid on the situation and make it all better, and we're not going to get anywhere.

@Agent X

The problem of evil is not simply, "why is there evil"? It is, "given that an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God exists, why is there horrible, unjustifiable, soul-crushing evil?" The atheist has no comparable conundrum, because if you invert the question (given that God does not exist, why is there good?), the atheist simply answers: there is good for the same reason there is evil; that's just the way the universe works.

Feel free to rebut, but I'm getting tired. Maybe we can bookmark the conversation here and come back to it the next time that B says God brought him a latte.

Anonymous said...


The one thing you said that I agree with is that I am tired. Me too. And you are right about going round and round. I see no point in it. You have heard what I said. You either did not understand or did not agree. Saying it again will not change that. Unless one of us can say something new to reinvigorate the engagement, it is stuck here. And I for one, hate going around the loop like that.

I appreciate that you are a thoughtful person. I appreciate the challenge you bring to my thinking. You have my appreciation and respect. I have not neurotic need to beat the dead horse with you. So I appreciate moving on too.

Adios for now...

Agent X

mike said...

i left a lengthy rambling comment but it isn't here so blogger must have taken a dump.

but what i want to add to all of this is...

i am ok with you saying that god gave you a coffee if it is also true that god continually screws me over.

see, i don't believe that god acts in a fair way. or even a "just" way according to how we define just.

what irks me is when folks think it is true that god gives them parking spots and mochas but when i want to credit god with the shitty stuff then that isn't acceptable.

and no, i don't think that there is always a lesson in it or that it is for my own good.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any lessons for it, or any Bible verses that come to mind, but from experience I gotta say I am with Mike on this one. Only thing I would add to his addition is that I don't think this means it is all random to God either though. It sure may seem that way to me or you, but in the big picture (at a level we may not be able to see today) I am sure these things play into His Kingdom agenda.

(Makes me wonder if it was Blogger that dumped on you)