Tag Archives: God

Working the GPA

It was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  I don’t know which excuse to camp on:  that it was an 8:00 a.m. class and I had to drive 84 miles to get there or that the prof was a mediocre adjunct (or a combination of those two things).  Or maybe (here’s a thought) it was just plain old me being lazy and not doing the requisite work…but no…wait; that couldn’t be it.  Could it?

Anyway…it was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  Up until that point my seminary GPA (you know, Grade.Point.Average) had been cruising in the stratosphere.  And, since self-aggrandizing pride is a not very Christian thing to have, let’s just say I was…aw…the heck with it: THRILLED!  I was on my way to a semblance of academic notoriety and a possible award and all kinds of recognition that seemed (at the time) like it would have meant a great deal.

But that one quarter of Hebrew did me in.  It tanked my GPA.  Dropped me from the stratosphere to a mere 3.76 (I knew you were lusting after the actual number; so I complied).  That was back in the day when all you could earn for a GPA was a 4.0 (I don’t know how the “new math” allows for some GPAs to now exceed 4.0, but they are out there…weird…and just somehow wrong).

And that 3.76 made me miss the academic award by (hats off to Maxwell Smart) “thaaat much” (I know, outdated cultural reference; look it up; or maybe Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway will make another “Get Smart” movie [that would be fun!]).  The guy in front of me at seminary had a 3.8 something or some such nonsense.

I worked really hard for that number.  Lots of hours studying and juggling other responsibilities.  I worked really hard for that number and then I missed, by “thaaat much.”  It’s the way of the GPA world.  We can’t all be 4.0s all of the time.  Or, if we are, we are haunted by the time when we will inevitably encounter something out of our 4.0 reach…some endeavor other than the one in which we excel…some endeavor when someone else will steal the show and the award and walk away with “our” prize.

We live in a GPA world.  Everything about us is assessed and graded.  On those days when we make the grade, we feel OK…or maybe even spectacular…for a moment.  But then we know we have to get up the next day and try to trek into 4.0 territory again.

We live in a GPA world.  Most every encounter…with the school…at the job…with the family…with our friends…has a “graded” component.  Something that tells us we have to work really, really, really (yes, three reallys) hard.  Performance fuels our forward progress.  Performance saturates our souls.  Performance haunts us with the inevitability of missing the mark.  Because we will…miss the mark.

We are human; we are finite; we are less capable than we think.  Even if we are caught up in momentary acclaim; we know we will miss the mark.

And…when it comes to our relationship with God…we are sunk.  Even though we may work our hardest to earn the right to stand with Him and before Him, we know that our hardest is not enough.  The best that we ever do is inevitably tainted…and it’s certainly not 4.0.

And here’s the thing:  God is looking for 4.0s.  His abhorrence of sin stain means that He can only dwell in the presence of the 4.0s.  In the moment we ponder that idea; in the moment that idea reaches the core of our soul, we know we are sunk.  Because we know that a 4.0 by God’s standards is well beyond our reach.  Even a 3.9999 won’t do if 4.0 is the standard.

But what if you could, in all openness and honesty, submit someone else’s transcript rather than your own?  What if you could say to the “admissions committee” that you have a 4.0?   What if both they and you knew that it wasn’t your 4.0 but they were willing to accept it anyway?  Wouldn’t that be great news?  Wouldn’t that be the best news ever?  Wouldn’t that mean we could relax and savor a relationship with God?  Wouldn’t that mean we could pour ourselves into our work and our relationships and our recreation with the giddiness that comes with a lack of performance pressure?

Wouldn’t that mean everything?  Wouldn’t it?

Well you can.  Substitute someone else’s transcript, that is.  Jesus made the grade.  He always was a 4.0; He always will be a 4.0; and…if you trust in Him and His performance, then all the Heavenly Father ever sees when He looks at you is a 4.0.

If you are outside a connection with God, then let Jesus make the grade for you.  It’s a little humbling to admit that you will never consistently maintain a “life” 4.0, but once you do there’s a transcript with your name on it that has Jesus’ grade.  There’s no “good enough,” there is only “perfect” and only Jesus has reached that.  Let Him submit his transcript for you.  Just look at His grades:   Love…4.0; Forgiveness…4.0; Mercy…4.0; Grace…4.0; Everything…4.0.

If you’re inside; if you have a relationship with God through Christ, then you can quit trying to “make the grade” as a series of self-propelled, spirit-sapping efforts, “I sure hope God is happy with me today” kind of works.

Because…and here’s another thing…rather than making us lazy ingrates; substituting Jesus’ GPA for ours means that we are free to pursue an excellence of gratitude rather than an excellence of servitude…a pursuit that leaves us energized and “good tired” rather than exhausted and ever fearful that we cannot…will not make the grade.

I’ve always wanted a 4.0; I think I will take the one that Jesus earned and offers to submit on my behalf.  Then I can quit working the GPA and be freed to rest in Christ and be energized to pursue that excellence fueled by gratitude.

It was that one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


Blobs Anonymous

At the gym…on the treadmill…listening to some shuffled song on my iPod…sweating like a pig (sorry, Piglet)…feet hurting…back screaming for relief…trying not to feel intimidated by the guy on the treadmill next to me running REALLY fast…hoping he doesn’t look at my pace (or lack thereof) digitally writ LARGE in RED LIGHTS visible from the international space station…puzzled by how I let myself get to be such a blob. 

And…wondering:  “Why is it so easy to get out of shape and so hard to stay in shape?”  I have pondered this over the last several years as my waist size has expanded in direct proportion to the national debt.  It used to be that I could not comprehend a number in the trillions; now, when I shop for belts, I get it.

At each juncture during my journey into blobness, I have chastised myself for continued deterioration of physique.  I have actually sat there, on the couch, enduring Downton Abbey–my brilliant wife is a fan–I am not…how they manage to cram a 13 minute show into an hour is beyond me…and I know…this will cause some blogosphere angst…I am at peace with that)…but meanwhile, back on the couch, enduring Downton Abbey, crunching potato chips (I am more of a salty snack guy than a sweet snack guy), resting the chip bowl ON MY STOMACH, saying to myself, “You have to do something about this; it’s getting (gotten) ridiculous!”

Lately I have also endured additional, gently firm chastisement from my physician who, though not the Great Physician (but certainly a great physician), has done his best to warn me about the consequences of my lack of physical discipline.  High blood pressure, type II diabetes, back trouble, having to adjust the seat in the car so that I can barely reach the steering wheel, wondering about the weight capacity of office chairs, having the police say, “Break up that crowd!” when they see me walking down the street, etc., etc., etc.

Those of you with trim physiques and for whom this is not an issue are probably snickering at my lack of self-discipline and my pitiful penchant for chips.  Go ahead; your barely masked ridicule and disdain will never match my self-deprecation.  Not even close. [I had a friend in the military who once, in a staff meeting, chaired by the (ahem) general) meant to say “self-deprecating” but instead said, “self-defecating.”  Go ahead, take a few minutes to giggle; I still do.]

You see, it’s not that I don’t know that being a blog is unhealthy, it’s just that it’s so very easy to become a blob and so hard to deblobify myself.  And being a Christ-follower makes this doubly difficult because I am convinced that the power of God is available to me to assist me in overcoming every challenge–including blobness–to “carry [His work in me] on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  So again I wonder, “Why is it so easy to get out of shape and so hard to stay in shape?”

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only w few find it” (Matthew 7:13,14).

Jesus is certainly speaking in the salvific sense in this excerpt from the “Talk Up On The Hill.”  But the passage seems to have wider application to all of life’s “stuff,” even for one trying to follow Jesus.  It’s just so easy to become a blob when there are so many blob enablements around.  And it’s so hard to fight the blobness when there are fewer (or at least fewer self-promoting) counters to blob enablement.  This is not excuse; it’s simply fact.

Plus, to fight the blobness as a believer, I have to walk that curious path between the “self-control” that is the product of the Spirit of God in my life (Galatians 5) and the “self-control” that is a product of a turning of my will toward the things of God (bunches of places…look them up).

You see, it’s not merely the physical blobness that is troublesome (as troublesome as that is).  It’s my spiritual blobness that is so disheartening.  I want to be a believer who is so immersed in the things of God and the purpose of the Kingdom that all of those things that enable me to “run with perseverance” are not just “things to do” but “things in which to revel.”  But instead of reveling in the disciplines that keep my body and my spirit “in shape,” I rebel against them.

And, I have to be wary of turning my anti-blob campaign (both physical and spiritual) into another self-help project (“Let’s Build Something!”).  This is tricky biblical and theological territory.  This being “all in” with Jesus, looking to cooperate with His Spirit at work in my life, and yet realizing that it is ultimately God who enables my very feeble efforts in the first place.

The Apostle Paul, summing up his latecomer apostleship, put it this way, “I worked harder than all of [his apostlemates], yet not I, but the grace of God that was in me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

There too am I.  In my ongoing battle against the blobness within me, I throw myself onto the grace of God.  “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.”  I could not save myself, only Jesus could do that.  I could not even self-muster the faith to believe in the Jesus who would save me, only God could grant me that faith.  I could not “self-justify” any more than I can now “self-sanctify.”  And yet I, myself, am in it; I am an active and free moral agent with some (apparent) capacity to decide to cooperate with the Spirit of God within me.

What’s a blob to do?  Celebrate the reality of the presence and power of God.  Recognize that the “ability” to accomplish anything, is itself, a gift from Him.  Pray for the courage in every moment to open myself to His great gifts.  Be “at home” with the reality of the tensions in the Christian life.  Laugh…a lot…at my frailties and foibles.  Shake off the allure of the wide gate.  Step on the treadmill.  Pass by the chips.  Stop comparing myself to the guy running REALLY fast on the adjacent treadmill.  Thank God for each opportunity to say, “YES!” to His Spirit.  Thank Him again for forgiveness when I say, “No.”  Look for others who need some cheering on in the midst of their blobness (while resisting the temptation to call them “blobs”).  Perhaps form a chapter of “Blobs Anonymous.”  Oh, wait a minute, Jesus already did that.

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18)

 © All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


It’s Not Easy Being Green…

​Kermit the Frog, here.

Years ago Kermit, the only huggable frog (all others are prone to slime and hopping about), sang a song about his amphibian pigmentation problems, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”  [This was before the word “green” had been entirely swallowed up by the environmental crowd.] 

Here are the lyrics (sung to the tune of, ummm, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”):

It’s not that easy being green,

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.

When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold

Or something much more colorful like that.

 

It’s not easy being green;

It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things.

And people tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re

Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water

Or stars in the sky.

 

But green’s the color of spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like

And green can be big like an ocean, or important

Like a mountain, or tall like a tree.

 

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why

Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful

And I think it’s what I want to be. 

 

Kermit is humble and honest and, eventually, “at home” with being green.  Green is who he is and, even though his life lacks splash and sparkle and “standing outness,” he circles back to peaceful contentment.  It may not be easy being green for Kermit, but he wears the “ordinarity” (yes, I made up another word) of his “greenness” with poise and quiet dignity.

Oh how I wish I could be more like Kermit.  You see I wear a different green and it is decidedly not easy being so.  It is the greenness and the meanness of envy.

It is odd, in this Christian life, how easily I tumble into envy.  Greater gifts desired; larger crowds to hear; more cooperative saints to sustain; brighter lights to illuminate.  The discontent of green burrows its way deeply into my spirit and slaps leg irons on my will, crippling my capacity for service in the Kingdom, all the while pointing me toward others, more nobly and selflessly engaged in this thing called ministry. 

Envy strangles contentment; envy buries joy; envy blinds my eye to the beauty of the ordinary; envy misdirects me away from God’s plan for me and down the path of coveting His plan for another; envy derails my capacity to celebrate others’ work for the King.

Just today, in the car, en route to my “ministry central,” I was railing at God about His distribution of various things ministry.  [By the way, it is easy to rail at God in the car, as long as you are alone therein and occupants of the other cars don’t think you’re railing at them.]  I know I disappoint Him; I disappoint me.

Shakespeare, in Antony and Cleopatra, branded envy the “green sickness” and it is just that–a cancer, if you will, corrupting my “spirit cells” with its rapid advance and willy-nilly ravaging of my spirit’s health…taking no prisoners and offering no benignity.  Envy is pernicious and pervasive; it simultaneously winds me up and wears me out.

I’ve written before about John the Baptist and his capacity to diminish himself and point people to Jesus (John 3:30).  I have that all backwards.  I think, if I am honest (“TBH” in social media speak), I want Jesus to point people to me and have them fawn in awe and wonder.  Sigh…“What a wretched man I am.”

“Envy slays the simple” (Job 5); “envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14); “envy…defiles” (Mark 7).  Yep, it does.

I have to see, somehow, that God’s call on my life is not to be better than somebody else (or be someone else), but to be the best “me” as He empowers and enables.  This is not a Lowe’s, “Let’s Build Something,” self-help campaign (as much as I would like it to be).  No, this has to be an Apostle Paul type effort:  a “working harder…yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Corinthians 15:10) acknowledgement that only He can slay the green dragon within me. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me (Psalm 51:10-12).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.


The “Not So New Math” or When Does $29 Equal $1340?

Confession:  I am not a math whiz…adding and subtracting, simple multiplication and division; those operations pretty much exhaust my math skills.  I figure (get it? “figure”?) that, if God had wanted me to be a math whiz, He would not have overseen the creation of the MyScript Calculator app for my phone.  And, calculus?  Math with no numbers?  Why oh why oh why?

But, I am also not an idiot.  Stop:  put those hands down; I know you want to object to my self-descriptor, but you cannot.  Unless, of course, you post a comment; then I suppose you can…object…that is. 

So I was mildly (only mildly; I’ll unpack that momentarily) surprised when we were at the auto dealership last night.  My car’s lease had come up and it was time to make the dreaded decisions: purchase or lease; new or used; same make and model or different.  Some people love car shopping.  I rank car shopping down there with root canals (with or without Novocain) and expressing the slime from a MRSA infection.  [Yes, I know that was a gross mental image, but it’s truly how I feel about car shopping.] 

Meanwhile…back at the car dealership.  A nice chap (The Cheerful Car Chap or CCC) was very happy to see us when we arrived.  He held the door for us as we entered the showroom (partially to escape the ridiculous cold).  [On another note:  Polar Vortex, go back to the Pole or Poland, or wherever you came from; I’m done with the subzero wind chill.]  He asked us why we were there and that’s when I produced the ad his dealership friends had so kindly emailed:  the ad for a $29 lease!  I figured I could afford a $29 lease.  The CCC inquired as to our car preference. 

I shared with him that we were looking for something a little bigger than we’d had.  The compact I had driven for three years had been great: terrific gas mileage coupled with car doors that locked and unlocked electronically (that last bit is an entirely other story); that car had gotten me around town and up and down the East Coast. 

But it was a small car and I have, ahem, “girthed up” somewhat over the last few years. [Comments about my increased girth are not welcome and will be ignored.]  So I was looking for something with more ease of ingress and egress.  The CCC took us on a test run in a larger car and it seemed to be just the thing.  The CCC showed us the various available colors and we picked one:  blue (the lighter blue because the dark blue looks kind of purple in the dark under street lights; I know this because my friend has one and I had teased him about it.  Purple is fine for many people; just not me). 

We then sat down with The CCC to “do the deal.”  That’s when came the “math surprise.”  It wasn’t a complete surprise (as I mentioned earlier).  Unfortunately I have come to expect “car dealership surprises” packed into the fine print or hidden behind some obscure link on some not so crystal clear web site. 

The “fine print” (in this case) meant that $29 was just the beginning of the math problem.  To the $29, it seems, one must add:  the first month’s lease payment, dealer prep charges, documentation fees, taxes, tips, licenses, bonuses, flea dusting charges (threw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention), etc.  Final tally:  $1340 NOT $29. 

Since I had been half expecting additional fees and the final amount was in the price range we had anticipated, we went ahead and closed the deal.  My girthness now girths itself in a roomier ride. 

But the auto dealership is not the only place where very little can mean much, much more. 

When we come to the place where we recognize our need for Jesus Christ, we realize that we have very, very little to offer: broken and sin-scarred souls and a spiritual pauper’s faith (not even $29 worth, really…and…it turns out that the $29 we thought we gave Him, had itself been a gift).  He takes our $29 then does some Not So New Math:  grace “operations” that have been performed since eternity by a loving, Heavenly Father:  He turns our measly $29 into ever much more. 

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every familyin heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Not bad…our meagerness being turned by God into a life that is much, much more than we dreamed possible:  wider, longer, higher, deeper.  Not bad at all for $29.

I think I’ll hoist my girth into the new car and go for a ride. 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

 

 

 

 

 

 


God is Not an Elephant — But Most of the Rest of Us Are

My last time Zambia I had an interesting encounter.  After a couple of days work with some remote churches, my hosts and I were heading back to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city.  En route, we stopped at a roadside café for some tea and scones (delicious).  Looking out across the veranda, we saw an elephant loitering by the outside tables.  We learned that this elephant often hung around the café and had been adopted by the staff.  It seemed quite domesticated for a multi-ton animal.

Elephants are curious creatures:  their trunks, their tails, their big ears, their ivory tusks all contribute to the curiosity factor.  Plus…there is one reputed trait of elephants that makes them even more curious:  Elephants, we are told, never forget.

Researchers have scrutinized elephants to help understand elephantine memory and have confirmed that there is, indeed, something to it.   Elephants have been observed to follow the same migration pathways and apparently have a way to “hand down” memories of the wheres and whats of their annual trips.  Elephant clan groups have distinct burial sites to which they will inevitably head when “their time comes” and elephants have been noted for their high-level family affinities.

All of which is to say that elephants are quite unique creatures…which serves as a prelude to this grand theological statement:

God is not an elephant.

Having cleared that up, I wish you well.  No, indeed God is not an elephant.  Particularly with respect to memory:  where (apparently) elephants never forget, God can and does choose to forget…our sin.

This is a most wondrous aspect of life with God in Christ.  Not only does God forgive our sin (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9) but He has a supernatural ability, fueled by His great love for us, to forget our sin (“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” Isaiah 43:25).

This is a blog and not a theological treatise on the nature of God’s forgiveness.  For the moment, we will simply rest in this dimension of God’s grace and mercy toward us:  all the wickedness we bring before God, is forgiven and forgotten…no longer held against us…by Him.

But there, as they say, is the rub.  Because while God is not an elephant, most of the rest of us are.  

I was reminded of this when, in bolt out of the blue fashion, someone recently chose to remind me of one of my own most grievous, sinful, relational-fracturing, odious failures.  And, while clinging tightly to the fact of forgiveness from God, I was immediately transported (in my thoughts, emotions, and spirit) back to the place of that failure.  I heard the words I said and the way I said them.  I saw the looks of horror and hurt in others’ eyes.  I felt their anger and woundedness afresh.  I re-read the emails and notes and letters I had (yes) mentally filed away.  I felt it all (every bit of it) all over again.  It took me a while to climb back out of the subsequent “tar pit” of despair.  Even when I had gotten out, I still had sinful memory “tar balls” stuck to my spirit.  It hurt…a lot.  The hurt became anger; the anger became fury and then…well…

And then I was taken back to my own proclivity for doing exactly the same thing.  Because while God is not an elephant (with respect to memory), I certainly am.  Simultaneously blessed and cursed by what is (I am told) a better than average memory, I have the tendency to rehearse and repeat others’ sinful failures when confronted by the squeeze of relational circumstances.

It is so easy to dig out others’ failures and bring them to my mind (like a warped cable TV “on demand” feature) and then (of course) bring them to their minds when in skirmish mode.  It is a sad state and, with respect to memory of failures, I wish I was not an elephant…and yet it seems I am.

It’s as if the memories of others’ failures are balloons with very, very long strings attached.  We can (I can), it seems, let the balloon go until it is far distant, out of sight, and seemingly forgotten.  But like carnival balloons, I have tied the long string to my wrist and can pull the balloon back within reach anytime I choose.  I somehow cannot seem to choose untying the string and just letting the balloon go.

I have often struggled with these verses from the Apostle Paul:  “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14). 

For Paul, “forgetting” does not seem to be a memory wipe.  After all, he had just finished rehearsing his reasons for “confidence in the flesh” and counting them as “garbage.” It seems that Paul was making a conscious, Spirit-guided choice to not let the memories impact his forward progress in Christ.  And this is the choice I must make if I am not to be an elephant.

I must choose to not draw the memory of others’ sinful failures back into my presence…not to lord the failures over them nor to delight myself with my own relative “righteousness.”  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  “All” includes, well, all; and that certainly includes me.  And, as much as I would sometimes like to take out those memories of others’ sin and play with them, I must choose to not.

I have enough trouble not resembling an elephant with my carbohydrate-fueled physique.  I don’t want to be the elephant-like person who “never forgets.”  I want to forgive AND forget.  I want to “press on” unhindered by my own decisions and I want to let the balloons go.  And…it would be nice…if others on this journey with Jesus would make that choice too.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Have You Had Your Affluenza Shot?

​I trust that you have had your flu shot this year; I’ve had mine.  I’m hoping it works this time; last year’s was a “fail” (at least that’s what I thought while I was lying in the hospital with simultaneous double pneumonia and the flu–which I thought was entirely unfair–surely I could have shared at least one of the pneumonias with someone…anyone). 

The very wise, fifteen-year-old emergency room physician advised me that I had waited “too long” to get my flu shot.  She said that it needed to “cook” (her word) in my system for a while to be completely effective.  [Does anyone else mind that flu vaccine manufacturers are allowed to “cook” their anti-flu juice in our systems?]

But there is apparently another kind of “flu” virus at work out there.  It’s not Influenza; it’s Affluenza.  The most recent case of which was diagnosed and reported in Texas. 

Dateline Tarrant County, Texas:  A Texas teenager has been spared juvenile detention for four deaths he caused while operating under the influence.  The judge ordered probation and therapy.  The teen’s defense team argued that the young man had “been a victim of his family’s enormous wealth.”  

The psychologist who testified for the defense in the trial used the term “Affluenza” (from the 2001 book by the same title) to describe the teenager’s plight.  It seems that the sad, young man had been so often afflicted by his parents saying, “Yes,” to his every whim, that any notion of personal responsibility for his drunken driving was unreasonable.  His family’s “enormous wealth” degraded his moral faculties; the weight of Affluenza broke his “I shouldn’t do that” meter. 

This would be perplexing and heartrending if there was just this one instance.  But, sadly, I sometimes think our entire culture has fallen over and hit its collective head on a huge rock.  Because, truthfully, the “very rich” aren’t the only ones suffering from Affluenza.  We all, it seems to me, catch a touch of it from time to time.  Not everybody’s Affluenza results in traffic fatalities but it is debilitating nonetheless.  

Affluenza also seems to be horrifically contagious–striking irrespective of socio-economic status or Christian identity.   It can become deeply ingrained and doggedly take hold even among God’s people in the church.  Affluenza frequently appears in the form of entitlement that seriously derails our ability to be “all in” with Jesus and available to partner with Him in His purposes.

We live in times often characterized by not merely a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, but by a more sinister, “You owe me,” mindset.  Think about it.  Our government is increasingly the deep pocket for a massive array of knowingly labeled “Entitlement Programs.”  Even in (perhaps particularly noticeable in) the church there is a recurring plethora of self-centered emphases that can derail both genuine Christian community and the effectiveness of our witness to the wider culture. 

Of course, we tell ourselves, it’s not the wealth, per se, that is the problem; it’s our attitudes toward it (it’s the love of money, not money itself which is the root of all kinds of evil) and it’s what we do with our affluence (being good stewards not bad stewards) that counts.  But the simple truth is that, unless we take active steps to derail the onset of Affluenza, it can easily ensnare.  And wealth is so insidious that we can have Affluenza for years unawares.

I’ve previously posted about generational besetting sins and, therein, acknowledged that, irrespective of generational demographics, we share common sinful proclivities.  Have you heard any of these (spoken/thought any of these) church-related evidences of entitlement?  Wondering:  “How will they minister to me?” or “Will the preaching speak to me?” or “I hope I like the worship team,” or “Are the leaders ‘genuine’ enough for me?” or “I wonder if they have the right programs for my kids?”  You can dress up the cultural particulars in Boomer, Buster, or Millennial garb, but the questions, at their core, are the same ones–centered around self and in pursuit of the latest flavor of “You owe me.”  It’s Affluenza.  

Oftentimes inoculation doesn’t work for Influenza and I’m not pretending that it will work here, but I have to hope we can provide a way to prevent a pandemic of “Affluenza” and perhaps curtail its consequences among those already infected. 

So, here’s the Affluenza shot:  “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).  “Hang on,” you say, “that’s just another bloggily simplistic cure for such an insidious problem.”  I don’t think so.  Coming off the celebrations of Christmas (God’s great gift) and Epiphany (the Wise Guys’ response of gifts to the Newborn King), I think there is something to embrace about the simplicity of giving that can overcome our shared tendency toward Affluenza. 

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg develops the notion of material giving in this way: 

“First, if wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy, particularly with those who are largely victims of circumstances outside their control. Second, if wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it. Third, if stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives. Fourth, if certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of [Blomberg’s] book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world. Fifth, if holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances

‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ prayed the writer of the proverb; but, since most of us already have riches, we need to be praying more often, ‘and help me to be generous and wise in giving more of these riches away’ (Blomberg, Craig.  Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 247, 253–italics added). 

I would widen Blomberg’s summary of application related to material wealth.* In addition to reorienting our thinking about monetary giving, we can all, I believe, consider the giving of ourselves in more fully orbed ways. 

We can move toward a giving of ourselves that transcends merely money or stuff and that includes time and energy and a willingness to transition our questions from what’s owed us to what we can provide.  In the Body of Christ, questions like these can help reorient us away from Affluenza:  “How can I pray for those who minister here?”  “Who should I approach to see how I can pitch in?”  “Am I asking God to bless all those here in worship today?”  And, if we sense a ministry need (even one borne from personal ministry desires), perhaps we can ponder this thought:  “Since God has laid this ministry need on my heart, maybe He is calling me to help be part of its implementation.” 

Perhaps it’s long past time to stop worrying about what we’re due in order to more earnestly consider what we’re to do.

*************

*P.S.  I do not intend to imply that Dr. Blomberg’s application recommendations are somehow deficient or any less robust.  Please delight (and challenge) yourself with a read of his entire book. 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.


%d bloggers like this: