Status Update on the Flesh – #3: Finances and Christian Culture

Posted on June 21, 2014

I came over to their house because their hearts sounded broken. I could hear both babies in the background over the phone and I felt the pain in their situation. If nothing changed for them soon, they would have to give up their house just months after their twin daughters were born. This couple both had good jobs, a relative miracle in this current recessionary period. But they had accrued a veritable mountain of debt, and no amount of income was going to clear off the red ink.

They had four credit cards maxed out to a tune of $60,000. They owed another $45,000 in student loans, $350,000 on their house. Their car loans, furniture loans and other sundry responsibilities added another $40,000.

I agreed to counsel them in their home so I could assess their attitude toward money. Coming up the driveway, I noticed a cable television truck in front of their house. I felt better knowing they were already taking the initial advice I gave them over the phone and disconnecting the TV.

We met for 15 minutes at the kitchen table as they poured out their tale of woe and fear. I had my calculator ready at hand to begin making cuts with them. That’s when I noticed the television man. He was running cable from their t.v. set to the front entrance. He was RUNNING cable, not disconnecting it. I asked them what he was doing there. They explained that each of them had a favorite program that came on at the same time on Wednesday nights and they were getting tired of taking turns recording it. They were getting a second DVR to solve the problem. (Obviously this is before whole house DVRs…this is the problem with writing anything in the age of constantly changing technology…it will be out of date the moment the book is finished).

I pointed out the ludicrous nature of this purchase, considering the weight of debt they faced. They both looked at me blankly. They didn’t have a clue what I was getting at.

“You’re in a lot of debt” I finally said. “Why are you still spending?”

The husband answered for them: “Oh that. That little DVR thing isn’t going to make it any worse, is it?”

That “little DVR thing”, multiplied by 200 other little purchases, is why they had such debt. All they could focus on was the macro-picture. They couldn’t fathom how life had wrestled such control out of their hands. In many ways, they looked and acted like someone had robbed their house. Truly, they were the ones that handed over the keys to their financial future.

The bad news is, Christians have as much debt as non- believers. The non church-going family in 2006 gave 2.5% of income to charity. The church-going family the same year gave 2.5% of income to charity, including their local church. Where is the difference?

The items Christians buy are not markedly different than the items the secular world purchases. We would expect that people who hold to a different value system would see that value system dramatically affect their spending habits. The only conclusion we can reach is that Christians in America have the same value system as their neighbors. Perhaps they call it by different names, but the statistics tell us that Christians are just as self-absorbed in our use of money as the rest.

Being self-absorbed with how one spends money is called The Flesh.

 

 

Christian Culture

 

My friend operates a Christian bookstore. I dislike going in there, even though I am a self-admitted book addict. The place is full of Christian trinkets, costume jewelry and spiritual paraphernalia. Occasionally I ask him about this crass Christian commercialism and he reminds me of the answer he always gives: “This stuff sells Mike. I couldn’t stay in business if it wasn’t for the Jesus t-shirts and the nativity snow-globes.” He’s probably right and I don’t fault him for staying in business.

What disturbs me is that Christian counter-culture is only veneer thick. Essentially, we have slapped a WWJD bumper sticker on secularism and called it God’s Stuff. Perhaps that’s why book distributors and music companies are buying up Christian labels at a rapid pace. We may be very close to the day when not one Christian recording label is ultimately owned by a Christian company.

This may seem hokey, but proof of this Christian Culture façade is found on the local freeway. If I see a person driving a mini-van with more than one Christian bumper sticker, I am assured of two things:

  1. At some point, they will cut me off without looking.
  2. They won’t be any more thoughtful or kind as the rest of the drivers. In many cases, they may be worse.

I can hear someone saying, “Now he’s just looking for things to find wrong with Christians.” But really, I’m not. There is something about a vehicle that brings out the “real” us. In a vehicle, none of the other drivers know who we are. In most major cities, the ordeal of going from point A to point B is nerve-racking at best and also reveals our inner nature. When anonymity mates with stress, reality comes forth as the wretched spawn.

Perhaps the real measurement of Christian culture is not what we say at a funeral or how we vote in elections, but how we treat our dogs and how we act on the Interstate. Whatever a person is in private, that’s really all they are and nothing more. If our private actions are the true measurement of Spiritwalking, then perhaps Christian Counter-culture is just a clarion bellowing out “the Flesh is winning.”

I was in line at the Splash Mountain ride in Disneyland. Remember, the happiest place on earth? This was ride #4 for my boys and I since 9:02 when the park opened. Each time we returned to get re-soaked, the line got longer and slower. But we didn’t care. It gave us time to dry off.

The fourth time through was hardest on me. A cadre of twenty in front of us was a youth group from some church. They must have been a church whose culture closely approximated our church, for they were singing Christian songs at the top of their lungs – and I knew every song. In that grotto, the voices did not carry with soothing tones. Instead, the echoes made us all want to rip our ears off and throw them at the singers. This group of teens were plain old, unadulterated obnoxious. They were in-your-face, see-if-we-care Jesus followers with no conscience about what they were doing. This wasn’t counter-culture, it was counter-productive.

As the line snaked back and forth, I found myself beside a guy who looked like he might be the youth pastor. I quickly identified myself and gave him my feedback on this noise they were making. His answer floored me: “If you are so ashamed of Jesus that you can’t stand to hear his Praise, you shouldn’t be a Christian leader.”

Wow. I backed off and wondered if they actually believed this was wooing people into the loving arms of a Creator. I think they did. More to pity, more to pray for.

Annoyance Evangelism: It ranks right up there with picketing military funerals as egregious manifestations of Christian counter-culture. And it stands as one more evidence very few of us are really walking in the Spirit.

From this point on in the book, we will leave behind the bad examples and the failures and press on to see the promised land – a tribe of believers who Spiritwalk and do not gratify the desires of the Flesh.