I'm a contrarian. I'm blessed with friends who display grace after grace. I'm blessed to have a wife who puts up with more than she deserves.
Don't ask me to the movies and expect me just to have a good time. And if you do, don't ask me what I thought about the movie. I'm always critiquing culture in light of the story it's telling and the movie theater is one of my favorite places to do cultural exegesis.
I know, I know. I should learn to have fun. Our family is having a blast on our Intentional Fridays...because I've set aside a time to have fun. I'm a tortured soul.
And my criticism often moves into the world of Christian bookstore trinkets. I don't know who creates these items, but they don't usually have a stake in understanding the context of the verses they put on their wares.
It's not that these verses are any less inspired. In fact, these are two of the most important verses in all of Scripture.
But taken out of context, these verses lose their incredible impact. These aren't verses meant to go on the graduation announcements of upper-middle class students hoping for a bright future. These verses are written at a time of trouble. These verses are written for people who find themselves in times of trouble.
These verses are meant to comfort the afflicted rather than to promise success to the successful. They won't guarantee you the Mega Millions prize.
The apostle Paul writes Philippians 4:13 while in prison. Paul isn't writing successful business tips from a corner office. Paul is writing to encourage those who are down on their luck to find contentment outside of their external surroundings. It's about finding a joy and contentment rooted more deeply than one's circumstances. Paul has learned to do all things, including finding contentment in prison, through Christ who strengthens him.
That's a powerful word for those who are in trouble.
It's not a word for the star of the high school football team who hopes to score a touchdown on Friday night. It's a word for the kid who didn't make the team and can't imagine ever finding life on Friday night.
It's not a word about overcoming First World Problems. It's a word about having joy as a third world, HIV-infected, orphan girl in Nairobi, Kenya.
The context of Jeremiah 29:11 isn't any more hopeful.
Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon promising them that God knows the plans he has for them in exile. He wants to prosper them rather than harming them as they might suspect.
But the news can't be all that comforting to its original hearers in exile. It's not exactly a promise of health and wealth. It's not even a promise for the readers of the letter. God's promising a future beyond circumstance. Most of the readers of the Jeremiah's letter, if not all of them, will die in exile. They won't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
God's going to save them...IN SEVENTY YEARS!!! Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. Not even next decade. After they are long gone and buried, God's going to do a new thing. It's not exactly the most inspiring message to put on your bathroom mirror from the lovely people at Family Christian Bookstores.
Context is everything. Yet, while these verses are two of my least favorite verses today, there will be a day when dwelling on these verses might just be the glimmer of hope that is needed.
So, if you see me venturing into Mardel for a religious trinket, don't ask me how my day is going. I can assure you, it won't be the best day of my life.