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Just after Christmas, I was visiting my parents in Nashville and got to go to the Music City Bowl.  It was a rare treat to see my Tennessee Volunteers play, as I seldom get to catch one of their games because I live 900 miles from their home stadium.  The timing worked out perfectly; they were playing in Nashville during the week I would be there.

The game itself, however, was not so perfect.  Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time with my dad and my fiancee.  But it was cold.  The refs were awful and pretty much took away a win (this isn’t a sports blog, so I’ll spare the details).  We were sitting by a drunk guy who acted like a moron the whole time.  UNC fans acted like complete jerks after winning a game they didn’t deserve.  I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

One other thing also bothered me: the cell phone reception.  Few things get me thoughts rolling like football, and I was hoping to share them on Twitter throughout the game.  The Tennessee marching band performed their world-famous “circle drill” and I wanted to post a video (I did end up tweeting it when I got home if you’re interested).  Especially during the controversial ending to the game, I wanted to speak my mind on the Internet.  I couldn’t, though, because the AT&T network was completely jammed.

It makes perfect sense: when 70,000 people file into a small area, the nearby cell phone towers may not be able to keep up.  Part of the reason a loss of reception becomes frustration, though, is because one of AT&T’s main marketing points is its supposedly superior network.  For awhile, the company slogan was “more bars in more places.”  Their current advertising campaign touts the faster speed of their network (see their recent “Taco Stand” and “Funny Email” commercials).  They even have advertised to stadiums and other venues their ability to install WiFi networks within them.  One would think that their commitment to network speed and consideration of large venues would mean they would plan ahead for busy areas.  After all, the point of having a stadium is to fill it with people, so it will either be empty or packed.  If the cell tower is to be used at all, it will be used by thousands at once.  Right?  This has proven not to be the case, however, as I have had similar results in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville (home to UT’s football team and the third-largest stadium in the country, seating well over 100,000) and at the Texas State Fair/Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  AT&T hypes their network speed, but the actual results have at times failed to perform as advertised.

Before becoming too critical of AT&T, though, I wonder how many of us have done the same thing, especially in relation to our faith.  A growing number of misguided Christians proclaim the “prosperity gospel” or a message of “health and wealth” – the idea that believing in Jesus removes all trouble from one’s life.  This simply isn’t true, and the truth of the matter is that Jesus never taught such a message.  Even those who do not formally accept the prosperity gospel often err toward it, though.  Have you ever seen someone in need and heard someone say,”They just need Jesus,” or ask, “Are you praying about it?”  Yes, I believe in prayer and I believe it is amazingly powerful, but prayer isn’t some sort of Harry Potter spell that magically gives people what they want.

Jesus never said, “Believe in me and all your problems instantly vanish.”  However, the Bible does say, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV).  Jesus never said, “Believe in me and life instantly becomes easy.” The Bible does say, “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials… because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3, NIV).  Jesus never said, “Believe in me and you’ll get whatever you want.”  He did say, however, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NIV).  The Bible doesn’t teach safety, simplicity, or security but instead sacrifice, selflessness, and suffering.

Tonight I taught our high school group at church on Ecclesiastes 4.  The chapter begins with a candid look at oppression and violence: victims with no one there to comfort them; a mess so bad that it would be better to be dead or even never born than to be alive and see such evil in the world.  As we discussed these verses, students began to share their stories and the struggles they face.  Life for many of these students is not at all easy, yet they follow Christ in the midst of the madness.  Those who proclaim the prosperity gospel not only are at odds to reality, but they also slap those who suffer in the face.  Every day, people are persecuted or even killed for their faith in Christ.  Believing in Jesus in no way equates to an easy life, but it’s far too easy to water down our faith until it becomes something entirely different.  Doing so is nothing but a mockery to those whose experiences do not match with to the false expectations of the prosperity gospel.

If you’re a follower of Christ, don’t be afraid to tell it like it is.  Life doesn’t suddenly become “easy” when someone chooses to follow Christ and telling others it does only encourages them to abandon ship as soon as something goes awry.  If you’re not a follower of Christ, I hope that you are able to see a clear picture of Jesus through all the misleading messages that society, culture, and even Christians can give.  Jesus doesn’t take away all your problems, but He will be there with you through them all.  Jesus doesn’t give you everything you want, but He offers eternal life, more than you could ever want.  Jesus doesn’t make life “easy,” but He gives you hope and a purpose for living.

In what other ways have you seen Christianity misrepresented?