Our Poverty And Affluence

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2015 by jcwill5

We are awash in material things.

We are the super-affluent of the earth.

We are blessed with the most technologically advanced devices and social interfaces.

But we are miserable and bored and in terrible need of real love.

We are spiritually lost and have our heads full of spiritual nonsense and are stuffed with the self.

We live in virtual world connected through social media but are profoundly alone and unknown.

We put ourselves in the highest place and at the center of the universe, and wonder why we are so troubled, out of control, stressed, and alienated from all that is right and true and good.

In other words, we who are hyper-affluent are also spiritually impoverished.

Our aridity of soul, apostasy of spirit, and apathy of heart mark us as a society and as individuals.

What we pride ourselves in, our stubborn independence and argumentativeness, are actually signs of great wickedness.

But we think we’re right about everything, know best, but are utterly blind to our spiritual condition before the Living, Infinite, Perfect Person we call God.

There is a verse in one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament where God allows His people to have the alternative to a relationship with God that they crave but sends them leanness of spirit along with it.

Is that not precisely our condition?

We have so much, but are shriveled within, dissatisfied, always craving more, and insatiable.

We have so much, but are in a frenzy to acquire more, experience more, break boundaries more, and live at a breakneck pace.

It’s become a compulsion, a driving urge, a relentless slave-driver that never lets us rest, be at peace, or stop long enough to open our eyes and understand what’s happened to us.

We are worn out, exhausted of soul, and unable to stop or find an offramp.

And God is waiting, waiting ever so patiently for us to come to the end of our self and stand still.

He is waiting for us to be so sick of the frenzy, the sad isolation, the dryness of soul that we will stop and look up towards Him for a deliverance.

The Solution

To the empty affluent souls, to people tired of chaos and loveless control, Jesus says these words:

“Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:18-20)

Hand control to Him.  Let Him pull the weight and the freight.

Walk in tandem with Him, as the weaker animal beside a mighty ox.

Stay close beside Him and take all your directional and speed cues from Him.

Let Him be the leader of your life and it will utterly refresh you and fill you in ways affluence never will.

This is how I escaped the dead-end of affluence, control, and addiction.

This is where I found oceans of life, vitality, and love with my name on them.

The irony is our toxic condition–affluenza–is also our gateway to hitting bottom and surrendering control from a position of powerlessness and enslavement.

And as the years march onwards and as layers of the onion are peeled away and exposed, this is where I return again and again and again for fresh refreshment and re-orientation of soul.

There is a solution!

Money and Abandonment

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by jcwill5

One of the hardest things about our ongoing, deep recession is how long it has taken for many people to “recover” their finances.

And, in a culture that equates spending with love, it is easy to see how these sufferers could feel financially abandoned by society.

But there is a deeper, more spiritual angle to this issue of money equaling the withdrawal of love and poverty equalling abandonment.

Abandoned to Poverty

I think, for some of them, they feel financially abandoned by God.

God, in their minds, has abandoned them to poverty and their poverty signals the withdrawal of God’s love.

He is a miser, withdrawing financial favors for the slightest reasons and dispensing poverty as much as possible.

Only those who know the secret of being on this monstrous God’s good side can buck the trend.

God, in their minds, is akin to the town villain “Mr. Potter” from It’s a Wonderful Life.

Such thinking is preyed upon by the “health and wealth” churches and televangelists.

Their credo is God blesses through financial riches, and the rich are therefore evidently blessed by God.

They teach that God’s will is financial wealth for all who understand the magic system and tap into it.

But the only person getting rich is the big-shot leader who lives in opulence and flaunts his or her wealth.

And because the magic doesn’t happen for the impoverished, they end up feeling doubly abandoned by God.

Many of these same folks play the various lotteries in a quest for instance wealth and elevation out of poverty.

If only they could get rich suddenly, all would be well again and people would like them.

My Own Story

I grew up in a family catching the wave of 1960’s affluence and my parents sought to leave the Great Depression of their childhoods as far behind as possible.

Their primary love-language was thus gift-giving and financial largesse–what they missed the most growing up in poverty.

So they accumulated possessions and lived by “if you have it, spend it because you don’t know what tomorrow might bring.”

And they gave my sister and I many, many material things–for which I am grateful.

Fast forward several decades to a protracted struggle in a difficult, financially-overspending church populated by a faction that used withholding money as a weapon against me and my family.

It was financially stressful for us and set us back in many ways.

When God finally called us to leave that church in order for me to care for my health-impacted elderly parents, I began a two year descent into unemployment, underemployment, and watching our savings be drained.

As difficult as all the above was, there was a heaviness and an oppression of spirit that has been with me every day and every night all through this time.

Connecting with God’s love and presence has been challenging at best and not happening at worst.

Disturbed sleep, insomnia, attacks of fear right before bedtime, and feeling pressured when waking up have been signals that something deeper has been at work.

But I didn’t understand why.

This morning I finally connected the dots:   there’s a deep, unspoken connection between financial provision and love in my mind.

Filing a tax return the other day, and seeing the lowest income figure of our almost 30 year married life, was grievous and dispiriting.

But as difficult as our finances have been, I think God has been trying to use extraordinary means to surface and break a false connection deeply embedded in my heart:  affluence equals love.

The Truth

In fact, Jesus outright says, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 6).

Paul says, “For consider your calling, brethren….that there were not many rich…for God has chosen the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

In fact, God’s plan is not to lavish His people with the temporary, material things right now, but rather “He has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  (Eph. 1:4-11)

In His plan, He has given us the best part first–the things that last forever like a new heart and a new relationship with Him enriched in all manner of blessed ways forever and ever.

Poverty and financial difficulty, in other words, are not tell-tale signs of His displeasure, disapproval, or cursing.

In fact, He loves the poor and reserves a disproportionate number of places in His kingdom for them.

In fact, He loves the spiritually poor as well, people who are sinners.

And His plan is to lavish sinners with oceans of everlasting mercy and redemptive kindness forever and ever.

I have my work cut out for me.

Breaking a deep connection going back to one’s childhood is never easy.

I suspect learning to receive His love while impoverished is going to be a long process full of ups and downs.

But disconnecting God’s love from material wealth will be worth it.

And I suspect I’m not the only one with this issue.

There is a solution!

Recovering from Cheapness

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2015 by jcwill5

Discovery is the first step towards recovery.

It means we realize that what we used to brag about, being cheap, is actually a sin against the all-generous God.

It means we realize we’ve denied the very generosity of God, repaid His grace by withholding it from others, and contradicted the very gospel we claim to uphold.

And having our eyes opened means it touches our hearts.

We begin to feel sad and sorry about how blind we have been, how badly we have failed God and how deeply we have broken His generous heart.

At such a place, we know we need to turn around and deeply change.

So we do what the Bible calls, “repenting”.

More than remorse and feeling bad, we acknowledge that we not only have a problem, we are the problem.

We need a change only God can arrange.

Only God can transform a miser’s heart.

Only He can widen a narrow, cramped, withholding soul.

Only He can open a clenched, grasping fist and open our wallets and open our bank accounts.

Then God works.

And then we begin to work it out and take those first steps towards a free, generous life.

We begin to give ourselves away to others, to open our hearts to them and open our ears to them and, if right, open our wallets to them.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, we discover it’s fun to be generous.

It puts a smile back on our face and acts like Draino to unclog our souls.

The generosity of God flows into us, overflows within us, and is poured out through us to others.

We’re having fun again.

Our formerly narrowed faces stop looking like we need to take a Tums.

Our open countenance and joyful expression mark us a Jesus kind of person.

Our joy and generosity become infectious, prompting others to wake up and get with God’s program.

Generosity becomes a part of who we are, the way we operate and conduct life.

We don’t think about it so much–it’s the aquarium we’re swimming in as a fish.

What might happen….

If even one believer in each church repented, woke up, and became a free conduit of God’s grace-giving generosity, it would drastically and blessedly change the church greatly for the better!

And if small groups within church woke up and became grace-filled grace-givers, it would change the culture of the church and “King Miser” would be replaced by “King Jesus”.

And if whole churches and groups of churches were to be so infected with God’s generosity, I think we’d stop reading so many articles about the declining church in the USA.

It would become a magnet pulling rather than repelling people.

What a blessed transformation that would be!

But remember, it begins with me and it begins with you.

It starts with us having our eyes opened and realizing how far we’ve fallen and having a broken heart about it and turning back to God in repentance to seek a miraculous transformation.

In other words, we each need a fresh miracle to happen in our innermost being to become open-handed, opened-souled, open-hearted grace-givers as Christ was.

How about asking for one?

Cheapskate Religion

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by jcwill5

I think most of us have seen the report that asked waitresses which group of patrons at their restaurant they least liked to wait upon.

They answered, “the Sunday morning crowd!”

When asked why, they replied with answers like, “By far the worst tippers!”, “The most demanding group!”, “They complain a lot more than other people do!”

Cheapness In My Own Life

Fast forward to my own life, where I realized the error of compulsive penny-pinching and doing things like driving 30 minutes away from my own neighborhood to shop at Walmart.

I realized that I could have been spending a little more money each month to buy gas at the neighborhood gas station, eat at the local coffee shop, and shop at the local grocery store.

For a little more money, I could have become a regular customer and become known by name while knowing them by name.

Yes, I saved a few dollars but I had grossly impoverished myself in other ways.

Sometimes the least-expensive way of life isn’t about frugality, it’s about being miserly and about trying to control money instead of using it as a tool.

We’re sanctimonious cheapskates, religious misers, and spiritual hoarders.

It’s acting like an big-shot owner instead of a temporary steward of Another’s wealth.

Miserliness is a kind of narrowing.

It’s a kind of impersonal taking and withholding that, when unchecked, cuts us off from building relationships with others.

Why? Because relationships are expensive.

The fact is all relationships will cost us, even financially.

We invest in mutual funds and stocks and bonds and commodities, but to what degree are we investing in people–especially people who don’t benefit us personally but who need grace.

Frugality, the wise management of one’s money, isn’t an end in and of itself.

We say no to wasting money so that we might use it for better, higher purposes–like generosity.

But frugality can and has been taken too far in circles influenced by the Protestant work ethic.

It’s been taken to an anti-Christian extreme.

Notice that God is a God of free, unimaginable generosity towards the undeserving.

He lavishes sinners with grace-giving, redemptive, Christ-costing love.

Generosity is God’s kind of fun.

He delights to radically transform sinners by pouring out His generosity on them.

All heaven claps and cheers and parties when even one such sinner repents and turns from death to life.

At least in my Bible that’s who God is and how He responds.

Contrast this with what happens at so many Bible-believing churches.

Pastors are paid poorly and kept in poverty–which, I can tell you, does not impress their non-Christian extended family members at all.

(The Bible says pastors who work hard at preaching and teaching are worthy of double pay!)

So many well-to-do Christians give the bare minimum but expect the church to cater to their every whim.

(The Bible says of Christ, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9))

Then they go out to eat and treat servers and hostesses and grocery clerks and gas station attendants in the same cheap, miserly way.

It’s a terrible contradiction to the very character of Christ Himself and a really poor witness of their faith.

But they just don’t see it.

In fact, they pat themselves on the back for being so frugal and congratulation themselves on withholding every penny they possibly can.

And few if any in our circles will ever call them on it, let alone preach about the sin of miserliness.

But miserliness with money isn’t the root problem.

A cheap, crammed and cramped, narrow and vicious spirit is.

The world is crying out to see the sheer generosity of Jesus Christ fleshed out in the lives of His people.

Let’s not keep them waiting any longer!

Awful Good Friday

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2015 by jcwill5

It’s an annual tradition of mine to reflect upon Christ’s experience on Good Friday.

But in the Jewish mind, each day began at sunset and lasted until the following sunset.

So “Good Friday” for Christ was the entire period from sitting down to a Passover meal on Thursday evening until His body was laid in the tomb the following day.

What a day!

He instituted a ceremony of remembrance for His followers so they would never forget His death on their behalf, and the forgiveness and freedom it brought them.

He washed their feet as the lowest slave would in order to teach them true greatness.

He commanded them not just to love their neighbor as they love themselves, but to love each other as He loved them–raising the bar exponentially towards redemptive self-sacrifice.

Love was no longer defined by how we wanted others to treat us, but by how He treated us all when we were at our worst!

Terrible Predictions Quickly Fulfilled

He predicted His betrayal by one of His closest followers, then gave the favored place and richest morsel of food to His betrayer:  Judas Iscariot.

He predicted they would all fall away and run away–leaving Him to face His fate alone.

And when they all insisted they would never do it, He informed their leader, Peter, that Peter would deny Him three times before sunrise.

He disclosed His most intimate instructions to them about how to live life without Him after He left earth (John 14-16), promising to send the Holy Spirit to fill the void.

He prayed the most amazing prayer as our High Priest, opening the door a crack to show us the eternal relationship of love and unity the Triune Godhead enjoyed and predicting His followers would enter into their rare fellowship (John 17).

The Suffering Begins

The whole party less Judas left the upper room and travelled to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was overcome with such an intense agony that He sweat drops of blood.

The three disciples He asked to stand watch with Him all fell asleep repeatedly–leaving Him profoundly alone in the hour of His greatest human need.

So intense was the suffering that He asked His Father for another, less painful way, while surrendering to the Father’s will that the present way was the only way to complete our redemption.

Shortly thereafter, He was betrayed with a kiss, abandoned by all His followers to His fate, and endured several different sham trials before kangaroo courts.

It culminated in a round of being punched in the face, having His beard pulled out, and cumulative rage towards His person.

And that was just Thursday night!

At the crack of dawn, He was led away to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who was drug out of bed to deal with their complaint against Jesus.

What followed was a series of trials before Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again, each of them finding Christ not guilty but none of them letting Him go.

So Pilate, looking for an easy way out, tried to appease the angry crowds by having Jesus scourged (whipped with a whip with embedded pottery pieces in it) within an inch of His life.

His vicious Roman soldiers dressed Christ up in royal robs, placed a crowd of thorns on His head, then beat him with the mock scepter they provided for their little game.

Need I remind us that, when they ripped to robe off of Him, all the dried blood on His hamburger back would have been ripped open–causing incredible pain and much more blood loss.

Then Jesus was brought out as a spectacle but had to watch as a murderer was chosen over Him to set free in honor of the holiday.

Then Pilate ordered Him crucified–the most agonizing, prolonged form of torturing someone to death in the Roman world.

It was like slowly suffocating to death while hanging on a wooden cross, nailed in place through the wrists and ankles.

Each breath was a torture, and Jesus could only speak short sentences like “I thirst” and “It is finished” as He gasped for air.

Instead of leaving Him alone to die, His enemies stopped by to mock, jeer, and heap shame on His head–gloating in the success of their plot to commit judicial murder against Him.

The Worst Part of All For Him, and the Best Part of All for Us

But the worst thing of all was how His Father turned His face away and poured out all the accumulated divine wrath against the totality of human sin upon Christ.

Instead of an infinite duration of Hell, Christ bore an infinite intensity of Hell over six hours.

Finally, when every drop of holy fury against us was spent and every spiritual crime we did was fully and finally paid for, the job was done and He gave up His spirit and died.

Even after death, a soldier pierced His body to make sure He was dead.

Only then did some of His followers act to receive His body and only then was He buried in a rich man’s grave with luxurious, oily spices.

What a day!

And what a price to pay!

But what undeserved love needed and given!

Which is why such a horrific day is called, “Good Friday”!

Triple Cure

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2015 by jcwill5

There’s more than one savior within the church.

There’s more than one lord over the church.

There’s more than one spirit at work inside the church.

Our Contradictory Witness 

Multiple petty monarchs are vying for control and seek to dominate all others, subverting the Lordship of Jesus Christ and dispossessing Him from His throne.

Their obsession with control inside and outside the church drives others away and keeps the church frozen, brittle, and at war with itself.

It’s destructive to our gospel witness–making it harder to see the real Lord, Christ.

A multitude of fixers and wannabe heroes are taking sides, taking over other people’s problems, appointing themselves avengers, and creating untold divisions between “sides”.

They divert people from the one and only Savior because they try to protect themselves and others from all pain.

It’s destructive to our gospel witness–making it harder to see the real Savior, Christ.

A false spirit of religion drives people relentlessly under its lash, choking out all upwelling life, joyful liberty, and gospel grace–quenching the Holy Spirit.

Disguised as super-commitment, hyper-rigor, and fanatic devotion, it is the furthest thing from God because self-righteousness is the gravest sin against God.

It’s destructive to our gospel witness–making it harder to see the true Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.

So what is one to do?

In a word, repentance.

Repentance involves forsaking false roles and quitting false jobs.

It means I admit I cannot fix, solve, or save people from their problems.

Instead of displacing my own pain and using the problems of others to fix myself, I admit I am beyond self-fixing and desperately in need of the true Savior.

And that admission is painful, deeply painful.

It means I admit I have no control over anyone else, am not the boss or the king, and am small, vulnerable, and far underneath the authority of the Almighty.

Instead of displacing my loss of control by trying to control everything and everyone else, I admit I am out of control, enslaved, and powerless.

And that admission is painful, deeply painful.

It means I admit that working a religious formula, laboring under a religious system, requires no trust in God and is therefore a sham.

Such a spirit is not the Holy Spirit who liberates and matures, but a false spirit that enslaves through guilt and fear and thus keeps us in immaturity.

And that all my self-punishing, self-hating, guilt-compensating behaviors are in vain.

And that admission is painful, deeply painful.

Therefore repentance is painful.

No wonder we avoid it, bobbing and weaving and swerving and side-stepping it as much as possible for as long as possible.

Repentance means we admit we are broken and beyond fixing, we are out-of-control careening towards self-destruction, and that the spirit of religious self-improvement will not avail us.

But once we hit bottom, and realize we’ll never be anyone’s savior or anyone’s lord–including ourselves, the spirit of religion loses its chokehold over us.

The positive part of repentance is returning and coming home to Christ.

We see Him as supremely sufficient to save us, supremely compassionate and good, and place ourselves entirely in His hands.

We see Him as supremely authoritative and in control, and take shelter under His ultimately good Lordship.

We turn control of our lives over to the Holy Spirit, and He fills us afresh and begins His ministrations within our soul.

A new overflow of reconnection with Christ, restoration to Christ, and alignment with Christ and His will displaces the fierce, all-consuming compulsion to seek our own will and our own way.

We find ourselves in His loving arms–safe, well-governed, set free, brimming with desires to do good towards God and others in His name in the Spirit’s power.

Grace becomes our hallmark, and extending and escorting others to the grace of Christ becomes our mission.

We become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Repentance is therefore the triple cure.

It reunites us with our Savior, repositions us under His loving Lordship, and opens the gateway for the Holy Spirit to work wonderfully without puffing us up or re-empowering our fallen ego.

We stay vulnerable and small, but are so dearly loved it doesn’t matter anymore.

What the American Evangelical church needs isn’t more rituals, more political power, more formulas of success, or more magical miracles done by larger-than-life celebrities.

What we need is the triple cure of repentance–and where we return from our wanderings is Christ Himself.

There is a solution.

Two Lords

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by jcwill5

I decided to add another “two” to the ongoing discussion, before seeking to discuss our return to God and thus our cure.

And this add-on has to do with control.

There are two Lords in contention in most American Evangelical churches:   Jesus Christ, or some human or group of humans.

In earlier blogs, I have done my best to expose and treat what I’ve termed, “personal control religion” that masquerades as biblical Christianity but isn’t.

The Question of Control

One of the key questions to ask our own soul, to ask about any religious group we might join, and to discern the true from the false way is this:  who is actually in control?

A control idolatry is the master idolatry behind all other idolatries, for the false god promises us magical benefits while leaving us in control.

A control addiction is the master addiction behind all other bondages and enslavements, for all addictions function to bolster our sense of control when life is out-of-control and we are stuck in soul pain.

It is human nature, therefore, to pursue control, to hold onto control, and to fight for control when our illusions of control are threatened.

The Hell of Control

How hellish are marriages marked by control battles between husbands and wives!

How hellish are families marked by control battles between parents and children!

How hellish are societies marked by control battles between factions, interest groups, ideologies, and parties!

And how hellish and miserable are our own souls when we fight a life-long battle to preserve the illusion of controlling everything and everyone else in life!

We can’t even control ourselves, and so easily lose control to the very things we rely upon to give us control.

Monstrous Pretending

Control is therefore an illusion, a kind of denial and pretending that avoids and evades the terrifying truth: we are powerless and out-of-control and can’t stop it!

To keep this simple, each of us has a wannabe “god” or “goddess” inside of us.

We have a control monster always lurking within.

We have this budding little tyrant that is hell-bend on deposing God, crowding Him off of His throne, and running the universe as His replacement so the universe conforms to our will and our way.

It’d would be a sick joke if it wasn’t so horrific in its consequences.

A Reaction Against Painful Chaos

Particularly in chaotic, dysfunctional families (and the best family is only 70% functional), people who suffer under family chaos as unprotected, abused, or abandoned children are marked by a quest for control as adults.

They are trying to compensate, to never be hurt like that ever again, and personal control at all costs is their solution.

And we can therefore pity them, understand them, and mourn for them–their fate is the chief tragedy of our times.

But their childish solution, to gain and keep control at all costs, only sets them up to repeat the very horrors in their own lives and families–because that was the problem with their own parents.

Bad Imports

Most of the time, controllers never darken the door of a church and disdain any need for God.

But when they do come to church, expect them to import all-of-the-above control thinking into cherished truths like “family of God”, “church family”, and “community”.

Unchecked, unexposed, and untreated, church becomes their base camp and their private reserve.

If a small cliche of long-timers are in control of the church, if a pastor or other larger-than-life persona is in control of the church, if the monied interests are in control of the church, then we all know who isn’t in charge–Christ!

Diagnosing and Practicing Surrendered Control

That’s why it is always revealing to ask:   if there was a choice between disappointing the interests of Jesus, and disappointing the interests of someone or group of someones in the church, who wins?

Whose will prevails? And who gets their way in the end?

Whose mission is carried out and whose say-so has the last word?

Who, in other words, is Lord of the Church, Head of the Church, and King of the Church?

Not just in theory, but in actuality

Is Christ’s lordship affirmed not just in lip-service, but in functional decision-making, money spending choices, and priorities and efforts?

Are our prayers just token, just-checking-in prayers we perfunctorily say before we go ahead and discuss, decide, and do whatever we already think is best?

Or is there an active waiting on Christ until He reveals His will out of a sense of deep communion, intimacy, and mutual love?

Is our corporate praying unhurried, marked by listening, and more lengthy than our verbal deliberating?

Are our Bibles open and are Scriptures where He has spoken cited in a search for His will on the matter?

I believe God is winnowing the American Evangelical churches right now.

He is sifting out those who follow a spirit of tradition-bound legalism instead of the Holy Spirit of the gospel of the grace of God.

He is sifting out those who are trying to be all-important saviors from those who merely point others to the Savior.

And He is sifting out false lords, deposing them and emptying their pews to ready us for the day when He takes back actual possession of His Church as its one True Lord.

So He starts where He always does:  with us, to fight and win this ongoing, never-finished battle within each of us each and every day.

There is a solution!

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