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Faith: I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden

My first truck was a very old Chevy. It had a cassette player, and included was an old cassette tape titled "Country hits of the '70s" or something like that. That is how I was introduced to Lynn Anderson's "Rose Garden."...

My first truck was a very old Chevy. It had a cassette player, and included was an old cassette tape titled "Country hits of the '70s" or something like that. That is how I was introduced to Lynn Anderson's "Rose Garden."

At that time, it was the only cassette tape I owned, and soon I knew the song by heart. Its chorus goes: "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden." In it, the singer is reminding a lover that she never claimed things would be perfect, so that he should not be surprised if and when things get rocky.

Today, we live in a culture focused on comfort and ease. A culture of ergonomic handholds, lumbar supports, cushioned insoles and hands-free operation. Today, unless a product can adapt to the newest technologies and be packaged in the latest trendy color schemes, it will become as outdated as my old cassette tape.

As Christians, eager and ambitious to witness, the concern is that we need to adapt the Bible to fit into today's world. We soften it where it seems too rough and incompatible with the world today.

Like a salesman with a gold chain, we do what it takes to close the deal. The best salespeople become the best evangelists. We point out the features and benefits of becoming a "Christian." We show how Jesus can be used, like we use AAA to fix a flat tire or for a 15 percent discount on a hotel room.

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After all, what kind of evangelist would say things that would continually turn people away? And so was born this era of "prosperity preaching."

The problem is, that is not the Gospel at all. As perfect as Jesus Christ was and is, he was not a good salesman. He continually turned people away with hard truths. He never promised an earthly prosperity of any kind.

Now, when I think of Lynn Anderson's 1970s song, I think of Jesus looking at us today when as followers of his, we are surprised by hardship or persecution. "I beg your pardon," he would say, "but I never promised you a rose garden."

What does he promise then? Multiple times throughout the Gospel he promises that following him will be costly. He tells us following him will make us hated by many (Matthew 10:22). He tells us to deny ourselves and live for him (Luke 9:23). That this course will be tough (Mark 13:11), uncomfortable (Luke 9:58) and lonely at times (Luke 9:62).

Whoa! With these verses in mind, Christianity loses much of its appeal. But let me finish. Jesus may not promise us an earthly prosperity, but he does promise us many other things. Things that even those with earthly prosperity are ultimately seeking after.

He promises to those who follow him an abundant life (John 10:10). He tells us for all the riches we voluntarily forgo on earth, we will receive back in heaven (Matthew 6:20), and, after again warning of trouble in this world, he promises us a peace through him (John 16:33).

It is a temptation to say anything it takes to draw someone to the kingdom of God. But promising that following God's path will be an easy, gold-paved street is not only unbiblical but unrealistic. If someone chooses to follow God for the sake of comfort, do we think they will stay the course when they are surprised by tribulation and hardship?

Instead, Jesus wants us to honestly and realistically weigh out the costs of following him, so that we are not caught off guard by some of the harsh truths and abandon our walk (Luke 14:28). He must have known that this evaluation would scare some potential followers off, but those that chose him would be in it for the long haul.

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"I could promise you things like big diamond rings,

"But you don't find roses growin' on stalks of clover so you better think it over." - Lynn Anderson

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