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Br’er Bear & the Briar Patch

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Today’s top Chicago Tribune headline screams, “All signs pointing to panic,” and Matt Drudge crowns his webpage with the photo of a snarling bear. These are, indeed, tough bear-market times.

But I’m reminded of and encouraged by remembrance of another bear, Br’er Bear.

You know, the one in Joel Chandler Harris’s “Uncle Remus” stories, brought to the screen in the old (and, yes, racially embarrassing) Disney picture, “Song of the South.”

As you recall, Br’er Bear and his pal Br’er Fox had tricked Br’er Rabbit into picking a fight with a figure fashioned from tar. Before long, the rabbit was hopelessly stuck. While the bear was considering his options (including knocking Br’er Rabbit’s head “clean off”), the captive implored, “Do anything you want, but please, please, don’t thrown me into that briar patch!”

The reverse psychology worked — and that’s exactly what the fox did, only to discover that Br’er Rabbit loved the briar patch. After all, rabbits were born there. And so the clever hare made his escape, laughing all the way.

Now, it seems that Christians, along with their unbelieving friends, are being thrown into the briar patch of economic difficulty. And while shouts of horror fill the airwaves and printed page, the redeemed in Christ should have another perspective, even a spirit of happy anticipation.

Is this crazy? Not if we favor spiritual vitality over economic vitality, for Christians are at their distinctive best in tragedy and calamity. Where lost people are inclined to wail, “We’ve lost everything,” “He wrecked our lives,” and “My career is ruined,” healthy Christians are apt to say things like, “God is good,” “We know the Lord will provide” and “Sorry. Can’t talk now. Got to check on my neighbor.” In other words, it’s a great day for shining testimonies of trust and peace.

Furthermore, we may be on the brink of prayed-for awakening. It’s happened before in the face of financial collapse. Go back to the fall of 1857, when banks and factories were closing everywhere in America. The little prayer meeting started by Jeremiah Lanphier in the Reformed church on New York’s Fulton Street simply exploded. Starting with six, it topped 6,000 by late winter. And this was just in New York. Before than revival ran its course in 1858, a million people had been added to American church rolls. And that was with a national population of 30 million. In today’s terms, it would mean a 10-million-person gain.

As long as we’re fat and sassy, we tend to fill our lives with entertainments, the acquisition of material things and ethically questionable activities. But when our fortunes come crashing down, we’re more likely to seek God. We find ourselves in teachable moments, and Jesus has His lesson plans at the ready.

That’s why we speak of the “cycle of revival”: The truth and Spirit of God rescue people from self-destructive lives. Renewed, they prosper in every way. Prosperity undermines consecration. Hence, the need for a fresh revival, which God is gracious to send. Circle complete.

So maybe it’s time again. Maybe this current anxiety will turn many eyes toward the Bible. Maybe the obstinate will let down their guard. Maybe we will have opportunities to witness we never dreamed would open.

What a shame it would be to miss these chances. But we will miss them if we join the chorus of moaners and groaners or if we suffer spiritual paralysis.

Keep praising the Lord. Keep encouraging the brethren. Keep tithing. Keep scanning the town for people freshly ready to hear a saving word from God. Start sharing your stuff.

“Oh, please, please, Br’er Bear Market, don’t throw us into the briar patch of economic recession, depression, compression, contusion, and laceration.” But the church winks when it says this. After all, it was born and raised at the cross, in the Coliseum, in the Catacombs and through the Diaspora. What the world calls disaster, we call homecoming.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Mark Coppenger