The Secularization of American Christianity

you-cannot-serve-two-mastersGiven the number of “Christian celebrities” that dot the landscape of America, I wonder how many of them have less than a million dollars? I’m thinking that not very many fit into that category. In fact, I would estimate that most are multi-millionaires, and some may even be billionaires by now. And for all of the Christian celebrities out there, which of them endorses a humble lifestyle or encourages others to live a lifestyle free from “the love of money”? I imagine there are a few, but their lifestyles are hard to ignore while living in a country obsessed with money and all it can buy.

The love of money has grown exponentially in the Church in America in the past several decades as it has in society at large, and a lavish lifestyle has followed many if not most of those who possess large quantities of money with an ever insatiable desire for more. And those attached to the church in America will tell you in any number of ways why it’s A-okay with God to be so focused on money, but, of course, they don’t put it in terms quite that clear. No, it is disguised as “prosperity” to make greed more palpable for a Christian audience. Of course, God states just the opposite, but who really pays attention to God when it comes to the love of money? Jesus made it quite clear in his Sermon on the Mount that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Still, Christians try to do it all the time.

Before I go any further, this post is not written to be a slam on rich Christians or Christian celebrities in America. Money, in and of itself, is not the problem. But when money, and making money, is our primary focus in life, whether rich, poor, or somewhere in between (and for a whole lot of folks it is, regardless of what we say), we are building our house on sand. And we have made money our god. And a bad economy can take it all away in a heartbeat.

The apostle Paul, when writing to Timothy, a young pastor, emphasized to Timothy the importance of preaching truth in all things and the error that is found in the love of money. Let’s read it from I Timothy 6:3-10 (NIV):

These are the things you are to teach and insist on.If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

you-cannot-serve-two-masters-matt-6v24Contentment is rarely found in America today. We are always striving after something . . . a better job and/or a fancier title, a bigger salary, more possessions . . . the list is endless. And this is absolutely the opposite of what Jesus Christ stood for and taught as well as all of the others writers of the New Testament. It seems that nobody in America is content to be a “nobody.” And it also seems like no one is content with serving others without some kind of pat on the back for ourselves. No, we want the accolades, and if money is a part of that, all the better. We all want to write the latest “New York Times” bestseller or whatever equivalent there is for our own dreams of success.

The apostle Paul also had a few words for Timothy to give to the rich (I Timothy 6:17-19, NIV):

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

The writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 13:5 to “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Contentment, as I noted above, is very hard to find in America today, no matter what our socio-economic status happens to be. We always want more. We are never content with what we have, and that says a lot about our faith in God if we claim to be Christian. What is says is that we have no faith in God, and we have put all of our faith in money.

We need to ask ourselves this question. What would we be willing to do for the promise of money? The amount doesn’t matter, although the larger the sum the more willing we would most likely be to do just about anything (even illegal) to get it. Would we leave our spouse, abandon our children, screw over a family member or a relative or a friend or a coworker; and would we be willing to destroy the life of someone we don’t even know and lie about them (after all, lying is commonplace in our society today even among Christians)? And what if we did all of that and the promise of money disappeared into thin air? And what if we ended up destroying our own life in the pursuit of money at the cost of anyone who got in our way? And if we are Christian, how do we square all of that with God? And how do we justify our actions before Him?

Again, I want to stress that money, in and of itself, is not the issue here. Greed is the issue. And greed has taken over large portions of our society and the Church at large has done very little (if anything) to stop it as greed has taken over much of the church, too. The quickest way I know in America today to throw Christianity out the window is to offer money or the promise of money to folks who claim to be Christian and see how they respond. When the focus of our lives is on money and how to get more of it, we no longer depend on God who has clearly stated that if we keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have, He will never leave us or forsake us.

We are destroyed by our greed and then blame God with the mess we’ve created . . .

How far we have fallen . . . .

YouTube Video: “Money” by Pink Floyd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Threats to Liberty

life_liberty_the_pursuit_of_happiness_posterOn July 4, 1776, these words were written by representatives of the original thirteen United States of America in Congress as part of the Declaration of Independence“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .” (quote source here).

America was founded as a “republic” and not as a “democracy” (as it is commonly referred to), and there is a major difference between the two. “The difference between a democracy and a republic is not merely a question of semantics but is fundamental. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin res publica — which means simply ‘the public thing(s),’ or more simply ‘the law(s).’ ‘Democracy, on the other hand, is derived from the Greek words demos and kratein, which translates to ‘the people to rule.’ Democracy, therefore, has always been synonymous with majority rule” (quote source here).

“The Founding Fathers supported the view that (in the words of the Declaration of Independence) ‘Men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ They recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch. In fact, they recognized that majority rule would quickly degenerate into mobocracy and then into tyranny. They had studied the history of both the Greek democracies and the Roman republic. They had a clear understanding of the relative freedom and stability that had characterized the latter, and of the strife and turmoil – quickly followed by despotism – that had characterized the former. In drafting the Constitution, they created a government of law and not of men, a republic and not a democracy (quote source here).

America is governed by laws and not by majority rule. Does that come as a surprise to you? It’s true. American citizens have the right to vote for their representatives in government, but it is the laws created and passed by that government that rule over America and its citizens, starting with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers “recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch” (quote source here).

Did you catch that? The Founding Fathers “recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch.” In other words, “an unrestrained majority” or an “unrestrained king” (in our case that would be the president), or both, have no right to trample the rights of any citizen in America as long as that citizen is a law-abiding citizen and has done no harm to anyone nor violated any laws. And as citizens of America, the Declaration of Independence clearly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That means we are all equal. No exceptions. None.

No_LibertyIn America, we all have the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and that means every single one of us. When that right in trample on and/or gets taken away from even one of us, all of us lose out. There’s a line in the movie, The Pelican Brief,” (1993) by Thomas Callahan, a Tulane law professor (played by Sam Shepard), where he states to his class, “Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.” Let’s look at the definitions of these three words from

Passion: “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.”

Self-interest: “regard for one’s own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.”

Liberty: “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc., power or fight of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice; freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.”

If we allow the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (not to mention the right to privacy) to be taken away from even one American citizen who has done no harm nor violated any laws because of hatred, greed, and/or self-interest by any person or persons, majority, or government official, liberty no longer exists for any American citizen, and that is a slippery slope we will never recover from. And if it is allowed to happen to even one citizen, it can happen to all of us.

And let’s take a look at the “right to privacy.” Did you know there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It states that a right to privacy is explicitly stated under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

The following quote comes from (link here):

The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion . . . . An article in the December 15, 1890 issue of the Harvard Law Review, written by attorney Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and entitled “The Right To Privacy,” is often cited as the first implicit declaration of a U.S. right to privacy . . . . Most states of the United States also grant a right to privacy and recognize four torts based on that right:

  1. Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
  2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
  3. Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
  4. Appropriation of name or likeness.

Do we as citizens of America take seriously the threat against allowing any person or persons, majority, or government official(s) to take away our basic human rights and rights as U.S. citizens? Do we just sit back and ignore it because it’s not happening to us at the moment? Well, it WILL happen to us eventually if we allow it to happen to even one U.S. citizen who had done no harm or no wrong to anyone nor broken any laws.

And if we don’t think it can ever happen in America, think Nazi Germany, and read that history. “Under Hitler’s rule, Germany was transformed from a republic into a dictatorship using the process of Gleichschaltung (coordination)” (quote source here). Systematic coordination . . . . Germany was transformed from a republic (which is what we are, folks) to a dictatorship, and it was done systematically over a very short period of time.

So, if we don’t care what happens to our own citizens as long as it isn’t happening to us at the moment (and if we are so ignorant as to believe that it won’t happen to us), don’t be surprised when we wake up one day to a transformed America where we have no rights anymore.

“Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty . . . .” We need to wake up and smell the coffee, folks . . .

Before we aren’t allowed to drink the coffee anymore . . . .

YouTube Video: “Takin’ It To The Streets,” by Michael McDonald (The Doobie Brothers):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Psalm 27 for the Weary

Please waitThis morning as I fired up the laptop one more time, a familiar blue screen appeared as it always does right before the login screen appears. The message on the blue screen states, “Please wait . . .”. Sounds like the story of my entire life, especially these past four plus years of unemployment (and I am now eleven days into my fifth year). I’m beginning to think it means, “Please wait . . . until Heaven.” Somehow, seeing those two words again on my laptop screen this morning sent a wave of discouragement over my soul. Can anybody please tell me the meaning of “wait” at this point in time? It seems as if my entire life has been an exercise is waiting . . . . defines “wait” as:

  1. to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens: Waiting for the bus to arrive.
  2. (of things) to be available or in readiness: A letter is waiting for you.
  3. to remain neglected for a time: A matter that can wait.
  4. to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed: We waited a week and then bought the house.
  5. to look forward to eagerly: I’m just waiting for the day somebody knocks him down.

Some of these times of waiting have been very active, such as these past four plus years of unemployment in which I finally stopped counting at 500 the number of jobs I’ve applied for (and I still keep on applying for jobs although the effort seems quite futile at this point in time). And also the very, very, very long term time of waiting (like 40 years and still waiting)–well, that particular result is not up to me and I can do nothing to hurry it along. Therefore, it fits within definition #1 listed above. And now that I’m much older (I’ll be 61 at the end of May), I can relate well to definition #5–to look forward to eagerly–when my faith will finally become sight.

While I’m “up” 98% of the time, occasionally I have days like today . . . wondering when it will ever end, and if it will ever end, and if anybody “out there” even cares. Anybody? I suppose a little bit of self-pity is mixed in at the end of that last sentence. However, as John Donne’s famous poem states, No man is an island,” but there have been times I’ve felt like I’ve been forced to live on this island called unemployment for a very long time now, and I can’t get off of it by myself. I always thought Americans helped each other, but when I’ve really needed help–like right now–nobody has shown up to help.

weary heartOne of the verses I read (well, actually, the entire psalm) when I’m down and feeling like this very long time of unemployment is never going to end is Psalm 27:13, I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I have always felt that “the land of the living” means right here on this earth, and not just meaning later in Heaven. Here’s the entire Psalm 27 written by King David:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.

Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

King David had many foes chasing after him even before he was appointed King (and, of course, many foes chased him while he was King, too). Yet he never took his eyes off of the Lord to provide the help he needed when circumstances looked desperate. In our day, “foes” can represent many things, like long-term unemployment and, obviously, people, too. Whatever the particular obstacles (people, circumstances, or both) we may be facing in our lives that seem to us to be unconquerable and immovable, if we truly believe in Jesus Christ He can and will deliver us from those foes if we keep our eyes on Him and rely on His help for us in any situation, no matter how long the particular trial we find ourselves in may last.

Days of discouragement come to all of us, but for those of us who truly trust in the Lord as the source of our help (Prov. 3:5-6), I hope the words in Psalm 27 give comfort to those who are weary in heart today. The struggle won’t last forever, even though it seems like it will never end. And I’m saying that as a reminder as much to myself as I’m saying it to you. I need to hear it, too.

So no matter what you may be going through, or how long it has been going on, remember to look up and pray . . .

And don’t lose heart . . . (Luke 18:1-8).

YouTube Video: “Hold On, Help is On the Way” (1997) sung by Whitney Houston:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here