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What Needs to Arise from the Ashes of the Emerging Church

March 4, 2014

RipIn 2006, I wrote six articles on why I was not a part of the Emerging Church. Here is the final one, and all you have to do is read backward to find the rest. At that time, I predicted that the Emerging Church movement would fall apart and cease to exist in the years to come. I didn’t say that out of animosity or a desire to curse them. Unfortunately, the Emerging church movement was decontructionist in nature, and thus subject to the same inertia of all deconstructionist movements: They fall down with their own tendency to self-criticize.

In other words, once you start throwing stones as a group, you inevitably start throwing stones at each other. Decontructionist movements always devolve into bickering.

A few years ago Dan Kimball–who wrote the book “The Emerging Church“– wrote an article where he admitted the movement had splintered and was no longer a viable entity. Others such as Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones (a.k.a The Tall Skinny Kiwi) also have lamented and written about the fragmentation of the movement.

But all three men have one thing in common: They still believe in the principles of the Emerging Church even if they no longer believe the movement is viable. The problem is, every one of them recognizes a significantly different set of principles that embody their view of the Emerging church. Perhaps this is another reason it has come to an end.

But since I was a bellringer for this movement’s demise, perhaps it is time to admit some of the things I learned from reading, meditating and participating with some of the leaders of this movement. This is not an homage to something I didn’t believe in–I’m not Cassius Brutus or his kin–but rather this springs from my desire to acknowledge the good things the Emerging church was trying to do.

1. The Evangelical Church Has Become Shallow: As with any retrospective, my analysis of all things related to churches will be painting with a broad brush. Not all evangelical churches are shallow. But there is a pattern which goes back over twenty years in prominent Evangelical churches of emphasizing style over content. Let me just give a few examples:

  • Dominance of bass boosters, fog machines, expensive lighting systems, electronic keypads etc. in large megachurches.
  • Pastors buying the sermon series of other preachers instead of digging into the Word on their own (thank you Rick Warren for that egregious error).
  • Christian bestsellers are all penned by superstar pastors since these pastors can guarantee that their congregations will buy the first 50,000 copies. Therefore, most Christian books are ghost-written and designed for marketing instead of teaching..
  • Worship services are designed to sound like concerts instead of providing a place for the congregation to have communion with the Holy Spirit.
  • Tendency to mirror conservative political buzz instead of being a prophetic voice.

The Emerging Church desired to have more intimate gatherings of people instead of the consumerist approach we buy into. In this, they are correct. As I wrote in this series on the Walmartization of the church, this trend will not stop as long as people desire little commitment to a local church. I am sorry the Emerging Church was not able to make more of an impact on these practices.

2. Social Justice: If you look back ten years to the messages preached from Evangelical pulpits, you didn’t hear much talk about climate change, recycling, feeding the poor, sex trafficking, backyard gardens, gender equity, GMO proliferation etc. The Emerging Church dedicated themselves to social justice and their voices convinced many in the Evangelical world that this was true and undefiled religion. Now you can hear them being preached everywhere. I am concerned that as the Emerging Church loses its soapbox, we may forget these critical emphases.

3. Narrative Theology has one great result: Narrative preaching seeks to understand where each book of the Bible can be found in the larger  story of God. That is to say, all Scripture was penned as a partnership between God, the writer and the culture to whom he was writing. Evangelical preachers have sought to understand what God was saying in each passage, keeping in mind the human elements of the writers while not really paying much credence to their personality. For instance, we recognize the difference between the Gospel written by Doctor Luke and the one that comes from the mouth of the peasant John. Their language is different as is their focus. But that’s as far as we go. We rarely, if ever, parse the cultures to whom books were written. This is a serious error and I thank the Emerging church and their emphasis on reading the original culture as well as reading the original language. It helps to know that culture’s views on poverty, slavery, sex, women, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, church leadership etc. before we finish up our study. Evangelicals are too inclined to only look what God might be saying and not enough to the ideas of the author and the contextual culture. I suspect that as the Emerging Church disappears, we may go back to only one side of the Scriptural partnership. Hopefully writers like Tom Wright and Roger Olson can help us stay on a good interpretive track.

4. People Are Leaving Church Because We Are too Institutional: This past year, well-known writers such as Rachel Held Evans and Donald Miller have admitted they rarely go to church. CNN ran a series of articles three months ago suggesting that children who grew up in Evangelical churches are leaving those same churches when they hit their twenties. Everyone has proposed a different reason for this, but I think the Emerging Church identified the reason better than all the rest: The Millennial Generation doesn’t perceive real community in their home church and this is what they yearn for more than anything else.

Recently, our church decided we need to buy a building so our current ministries don’t die off. We are meeting in 7 different locations around the city doing the work we are called to do. As I met with various members of the church to discuss a move, I asked them one question: What do you value about our church? The answer was consistent and overwhelming: People join our church because of its sense of genuine community. We actually know each other. We are involved in each other’s lives. The biggest fear that people expressed about owning a building is that we would get too big and lose that sense of belonging to one another. This response has made our leadership team sit up and ask tough questions. Primarily, we want to know if we can do this and stay close to each other. If at any point we decide that is not possible, we will give up trying to have a building.

Today’s Evangelical church  must come to grips with the movement of young people away from the “Show” and the “Celebrity Pastor”. If we are not intimate, genuine, relational and humble, our churches will die just as surely as the Emerging church.

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What Does Work in Marriage Counseling

March 1, 2014

I won’t bother giving them fake names to protect their identities. I don’t have permission to share the details of their story and I’ve lost touch with them. But it really doesn’t matter; their story is universal these days. He worked too much and distanced himself from his wife over many years of being married. Every year, she grew more angry at him. She let that anger color her decisions and, as a result, she easily entered into another relationship. Her husband found out she was cheating on him and she freely admitted it. I do know the details of that initial fight and I don’t really have to share them here. It wasn’t any more dramatic than the confrontations in a million other relationships. Both of them spent a sleepless night wondering if they should contact a divorce lawyer. They both cried. They spent that night in different places, both physically and emotionally. But for some very unusual reasons, their story did not turn out like millions of others.

Though each of them did go for counseling at some point, they never went together for marriage counseling. And they never got a divorce. They eventually solved the problems in their marriage (for the most part) even though they both unveiled other secret sins. By telling their story I am not saying they are better than other people. But their choices do shed light on an alternative approach to marriage counseling.

I can just picture many of you waiting breathlessly for the formula to their solution. I want to be cautious at this point. Though they stayed married, it cost them way more than either would have  agreed to pay that first “fight night”. The rest of this article is not for the faint of heart. There: You have been warned.

I don’t remember if they practiced all these principles in their desire to change, but I know they at least embraced the first two. These are five things I see in  marriages that overcome problems like abuse, adultery, neglect, hatred and substance abuse. I list them in order of importance and the first ones are the most difficult.

[Disclosure: Other than from the Bible, I learned most of these principles from a series of books by William Glasser on the subject of “Choice Theory”. I mention this because several readers of this blog are MFTs and could really benefit from Dr. Glasser’s observations and practice. I am also beholding to Dr. Ed Smith and the therapy method taught in “Healing Life’s Hurts” and the practice of TPM.]

Here then are five principles that will yield the healthiest motivations to preserve a marriage:

1. Choose THIS marriage. The most poignant question Dr. Glasser asks in his first counseling session is “Do you really want to be married to your spouse?” If either spouse hedges on their answer – or comes out and says “no” – he ends the counseling relationship. He contends that no one will convince a person to be married to a particular person if they really don’t want to be. Here is what I add to that. Many people who don’t want to be married to a particular person still want to be married. They like the thought of marriage: the comfort and companionship that it can have, the intimacy it seems to promise, the stability of a family. God created the first marriage and said it was not good for man to be alone. But he also knew that once a couple are joined for any length of time in marriage, they form bonds that only death can truly separate. Therefore, people may like the idea of being married, but loathe the thought of being  married to THIS person. That has to change if the marriage will work.

In the Bible, when Jesus talks about divorce, his primary concern is remarriage. His teaching on marriage goes right back to Genesis. He recalls for them that a man is to leave behind his birth family (father and mother) and cling to his wife. In our traditional marriage vows, we say “forsaking all others”. The “all others” means mentally dismissing the idea of a future spouse as well.

Divorces happen…there are many people who decide they cannot live with that person any longer. But would people change their approach and attitude if they believed this was their only opportunity to get married? What if this is your only chance and there are no real alternatives? Would that make a difference at how you worked at solving the problems in this marriage? Of course it would. But that is not how most people live. We live in a world of “alternatives”. If you don’t like what you have, there is always an alternative.

The couple I referenced at the beginning of this article decided if they didn’t make this marriage work they weren’t going to get married again. Waking up to that reality motivated them to get things fixed. For those who accept a biblical format for marriage, the best motivation for working on marriage problems is a choice to stay married to THIS person…not just a commitment to marriage as an institution.

2. Soften the Hard Heart: In the last article, I mentioned the pastor who used our counseling appointment to announce his intention to divorce. After I reined in my anger, I asked him to explain his motivations. He cited chapter and verse to justify his biblical grounds for divorce. That’s when I told him: “Those are reasons you want a divorce. But as far as the Bible is concerned, there is only one ground for divorce. You have hardened your heart”. Jesus teaches us why Moses allowed the people of Israel to get a divorce. As far as we know from historical documents, the nation of Israel was the first culture to develop a concept of divorce. Why? Jesus explains: “Because of the hardness of men’s hearts, Moses permitted divorce”. That’s it in a nutshell. There are many things that break a covenant between a man and a woman. Adultery, violence, molestation of children, lying, abuse, neglect, abandonment, yelling, belittlement, substance abuse, eating disorders, withdrawal of sex, lack of passion, workaholism – they all contribute to huge rifts in marital closeness. But with all that, there still is only one reason people divorce: Hardness of heart.

I can give examples of every one of the above problems that people have endured only to stay married and to prosper. I know a woman whose husband molested their two oldest daughters. He went to state prison for his actions and her church insisted she divorce him to protect the kids. She did not want to. She refused to hate him or to give up on him. He even filed for divorce at one point, but she resisted. Her oldest daughter refused to speak to mom again unless she divorced her dad. Was she being an idiot? Some people think so. But she had compassion, love and acceptance of him. She wasn’t denying his crime or his sin. He paid for what he did and he still carries the weight of how he hurt his girls. My point in mentioning this is that no one could fault her for getting a divorce. And she really isn’t a co-dependent person or weak-willed. She just didn’t want to harden her heart that far.

How do you deal with a hard heart? You soften it with two decisions. These are what I spend most time working on with counselees. First, let go of the bitterness for how you have been treated. Stop reserving the right to feel wounded, victimized and in emotional pain. Let go of the right to enact emotional revenge. Second, forgive the person. This does not mean  you excuse them. You simply choose to say they do not have to “make up for” their failures and sins.

3. Confront your own story: We all have aspects of our marriage story that focus on how we have been hurt. But if that is all you can see when the marriage is failing, then you are missing the other part of the story. Don’t rely on your spouse to tell you either. They are carrying their own hurt, so they will not be all that accurate in describing your problem. No one wants to hear the statement, “do you know what your problem is?” But we all need to hear what our problem is. As a counselor I have great hope for the person who comes to me during marital difficulty and says “I need to fix me”. Those people are the ones who stay married. The ones who say “I want you to fix my partner” do not stay married very much longer.

4. Give Yourself Time to Reconcile: As with most “solutions” in life, we spend way too much time causing the problems and allocate so little time to solving them. As I watch the clean-up going on in the Gulf from the oil spills, everyone legitimately wants the oil to stop flowing this second. British Petroleum’s stock is plummeting because people expected the flow to be capped overnight. Revelations are coming out about how many things went wrong to cause this disaster. This won’t be cured for a while yet. The clean-up will take years. By that time, most of us will have mentally moved on to the next disaster and the next one after that. That is often how we treat marriage counseling. We want it fixed today!

If you have 20 years of problems, it won’t get fixed today. We vastly overestimate what can change in a week. But conversely, we completely underestimate what can change in a year. I even recommend in the most serious marital problems that people creatively separate and start dating from scratch. I highly commend the book “Reconcilable Differences” and the suggested time chart of putting a marriage back on the right track. Don’t rush things and don’t despair. Rushing and despair only muddy the waters more.

5. Ask God for “perspective”, not “rescue”. As I said last time, God cannot save your marriage. That is your job. But if you want God to partner with you in this, you must let him do what God does best. God sees the inner heart of every person. That includes our own heart. Just as in the third step we must see what attitudes and beliefs have caused us to act improperly, so we also need to see our spouse as God sees them. Why does God forgive them? Why does God appreciate them? Why does God spend time with them? What does God see in them? This is so crucial at that point where you cannot say anything good about your marriage partner.

My wife and I have times of struggle like every couple. This is not the venue to give examples of that. But one solution we have found is when we are feeling stymied by the bad course our marriage takes, we sit down separately and ask God to show us the good qualities of the other person. I do remember that horrible day when Kat came up with 20 things and I only had five. That only meant she was listening with more conviction than I was. I was still bitter and used my time to tell God how rotten she was being to me. God didn’t agree, so I wasted my time. But if you come to counseling with the attitude of hearing God about your spouse, things will change. They really will.

The couple who saved their own marriage at the beginning of this article did so over a period of several years. I don’t know all the details and I don’t have any idea how many times they wanted to give up. But now they both help other couples find the same path. These principles work much more effectively than the confusing and ineffective process of three-way counseling.

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Revealing the Hidden Motives Behind Couples Seeking Counseling

February 28, 2014

While waiting for my flight to be called in an airport, I checked my cell phone. I dialed the voice mailbox and found there were three urgent messages – all from the same man. He was the husband of a woman I had been counseling and he told me he needed to talk that afternoon. Of course, he had no way of knowing I wasn’t even in California at that moment, so I forgave his presumption that I would be able to drop everything to see him. As I was listening to his last desperate voicemail, he called in live time.

“Mike, I’m glad I finally got you on the phone. I need to see you immediately.”

“Bill, I’m in Arizona right now. Can you tell me what is going on…perhaps one of my co-workers can help you with your problem.”

“Mike, it really has to be you. I’m sorry to be so insistent, but no one else can help with this”. I should stop and say I already knew what this was about and that this was no emergency. Bill’s wife had asked him for several years to go for marriage counseling. He refused, for a number of reasons, and absolutely would not admit there was anything wrong with their relationship. So she decided to seek out help for herself instead. After seeing a couple of other counselors (and physicians) she also came to see me to help her with the marital problems. After working together for a month, she found a place of mental peace, rest and inspiration. She committed herself anew to her marriage, but she also committed herself to not going back to the way things had been for years. Even though she was doing emotionally and spiritually well, Bill did not like the “new Patricia” and became belligerent and verbally abusive to her in front of their two children.

I contend that you can change a marriage by modifying the perspective of just one member of that relationship. When people leave behind their lies and walk instead in peace and truth, that transformation changes the dynamics of their marriage. But these changes are not always welcome by the spouse who is not in counseling. Sometimes, bringing health to one person in a marriage will upset the equilibrium so much that the marriage status may become critical. This is exactly what was happening with Bill and Patricia.

“Mike, Patricia just left me and our marriage. She has taken the kids and gone to live with her sister for now. I need to see you. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Perhaps you’re thinking this was the perfect opportunity for me to counsel Bill as I had his wife. But this was not why Bill was phoning. I could tell immediately when he refused to talk to anyone else but me. He didn’t want me to help him change his life. He wanted me to convince his wife to move back in with him. Probably he assumed he could win me over to his “side” and that I would want to convince Patricia to go back to Bill. In essence, he wanted to do with me what he had been doing with his wife for years. He had no idea when he called that I have no commitment to save his marriage.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I have no intention of helping anyone save their marriage. It doesn’t work and it isn’t even a biblical concept. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer to save people’s marriages. He does offer to save our souls and our lives, transform our passions, decisions, morals and beliefs. God certainly grieves over divorce, but never does he offer to save someone’s marriage. For years, I tried to convince people to stay married. It never worked: not once. Unless a person wants to be married, no one else will change their mind. Marriage is a free choice and not even God will violate that.

Good counseling with people who have marital problems will focus on who the person is, what they believe and why they react the way they do. I only seek to help a person get closer to the God of Truth and then let them decide if they want to stay married. Since I started to practice this kind of counseling, I rarely see the kind of marriage break-ups I saw when I was desperately trying to hold couples together.

As Bill and I talked, I made it clear I wasn’t going to help him save his marriage. That was his job, not mine. He became angry with me over the phone and started to accuse me of being part of the process to end his relationship. I waited out his diatribe and then asked him a question: “What were you expecting me to do for you today?” He blurted out his answer before thinking: “I wanted to start counseling with you so I could call Patricia and tell her”. In summary, he wanted leverage to pressure his wife to do what he wanted. This is a common motivation for people entering marriage counseling – but it is certainly not the only one.

Though many people say they go to counseling to save the marriage, that is almost never the real goal. Let me lay out the more common reasons people choose to engage a marriage counselor as a couple:

  1. Story-Telling: When a person has endured pain, grief or difficulty, they desperately want others to both understand what they have endured and to be sympathetic to their hardship. When there are marriage problems, each person wants their spouse to understand what they have been through. I find that people seek out a marriage counselor to provide a safe place where they can tell their story. Most spouses no longer hear any version of the marriage story other than their own. When couples come to me for marriage counseling, they hope my presence will force their spouse to listen to their version of the “story”. What they don’t realize is I cannot make a person listen to something they don’t want to hear. Even if I restate what the person is saying, their partner rarely hears what I hear. Marriage counselors I know who do this sort of three-way counseling spend so much energy attempting to sync the stories so it represents some semblance of the same marriage. Unfortunately, it is most often a fruitless task. Neither party listens nor budges from their version of reality.
  2. Recruitment: I rarely meet anyone in marriage counseling who say “It really is my fault.” As I mentioned in the last article, couples expend a great deal of energy convincing the counselor why they are the injured party. The worst part is that almost all counselors do draw conclusions somewhere along the way, revealing their own weaknesses, prejudices and gender preferences. This is the most heinous motive for going to marriage counseling.
  3. Closure: Dave came into my office for another marriage counseling appointment. I had made an exception with Dave and his wife, helping them because they were in ministry. Not much was accomplished so far, but this appointment started out differently. Dave listened intently and allowed his wife to talk as much as she wanted. Normally, he interrupted her at every turn. He seemed to understand and showed empathy and compassion. I was satisfied that real changes were happening with them. That’s when I gave Dave an opportunity to talk about how the marriage was going from his perspective. Instead, he dropped a bomb on me. “Mike, I wanted you here so I could say what I need to say to my wife: I am getting a divorce. I no longer want to be married.” I felt like punching him in the face. I was simply a witness to his selfish, hard heart and the hurt he wanted to lay on his wife. Many, many people agree to marriage counseling so they can be satisfied they gave their doomed marriage every chance. I can often tell by body language and attitude that one or both spouses have already hardened their hearts. Perhaps you are asking “Why would someone want to go to counseling when they have already given up?” Perhaps we all fear failure and we don’t like to see ourselves as quitters. As a result, many people use marriage counseling to assuage guilt over a failed marriage.
  4. Concern for Children: Many couples couldn’t care less if they stayed with their spouse, but they feel an obligation to their children. They don’t want the stigma of a divorce attached to their kids. Though this sounds like a noble motive, it is also doomed. Ultimately, marriage counseling cannot keep a couple together when neither spouse focuses on their own problems. They may stay together longer to help the kids, but ultimately they will leave when the kids leave. The counselor really has no impact other than agreeing the family needs to stay together at all cost.
  5. Leverage: Every person in a troubled marriage believes their spouse is a controlling person. There are very few exceptions. For the most part, everyone is right. Most people live out their marriages as a “zero-sum game”. What that means is when one person wins an argument, the other loses. When one person gets their way, the other does not. Very few people in bad marriages work cooperatively or seek compromise. The worse the marriage gets, the more each person fears losing control of the situation. To compensate for this fear, they try and control their spouse, whether actively or passively. If they still cannot control their spouse, they seek a counselor to help them get back in control. Both men and women do this. This is what Bill was trying to accomplish by contacting me. He wasn’t the least concerned about anything I would say. He was confident in his ability to convince anyone to support his point of view. As soon as he found out I wanted to give him to another counselor, he wasn’t interested. Another counselor would have no leverage with his wife and that went against his real motive.

Next time, I will present a better rubric for solving the crises of marriage.

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Hidden Motives for Marriage Counseling

February 27, 2014

Time to put up this series again…it is one of the most requested series of marriage helps I have published. Part 1 of 3

The Gates are Open

I sat with my wife at our assigned table for the graduation reception with other students and professors of the nursing faculty. I quickly learned I was the only spouse in this group, and therefore the only “civilian” in medical terms. Graciously, they ignored me, knowing I had little to add to their discussions and plans. They spoke of going on to Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates, the profs trying to convince the students to continue on at the Alma Mater. I threw in a comment occasionally, content to let my wife carry the conversation .

Then she left to run an errand. At that moment, they all noticed me simultaneously.

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Dealing with Grief When You Still Have to Work

February 27, 2014

griefI highly recommend this excellent article by Paolina Milana. Very few people can get enough time off from work when they’re dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. This article has some practical and accurate advice. But one thing she says is something I see often when counseling people with recent grief.

Milana remarks,

“The urge to change may hit hard. You always wanted to study gorillas in Rwanda—should you quit your job and go? You never imagined you’d be working 24/7 as cook, maid, babysitter, home improvement maven, and financial manager, without even a dime to show for it—should you divorce your spouse and abandon your kids? Is it too late to run away and join the circus? Know that all of these thoughts are normal. Know, too, that experts strongly suggest not making any major life changes during periods of grief.”

My experience is that during seasons of grief we believe it is time to change everything. This helps to acknowledge that nothing will ever be the same now that this person is gone; but it causes way more problems in the long run. The best idea is to change some minor things and leave one year before any major life changes. Read the entire article for some other great advice.

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Things Charismatic/Pentecostal/Renewal Preachers Do

February 25, 2014

This begins with true confession time. Hi; my name is Mike, and I’m a charismatic (“Hi Mike”). That is, I believe in the existence of and proper practice of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I speak in tongues occasionally. I have prophesied. I get down with Jesus, I have danced, laughed and laid prostrate in the Spirit, and I know what it is like to be preaching one sermon and have to stop to preach a totally different one.

I say all of that to say this: all of what I will say next applies to my tribe. This is an insider’s view, not a sniper’s shot from on top of the hill.

Unfortunately, I have come to my upper limit on being able to listen to podcasts by Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wavers, Renewal speakers and Holy Ghost Here-We-Go Anointed individuals.

It is not the content per se. It is not the ministry time at the end (well, maybe a little bit of that, but we’ll let that slide). It is the gimmicks that the preachers use in our circles that have got to stop. Guys and gals of the Holy Spirit persuasion: don’t you know they’re making fun of us, and not for the good reasons?

For the sake of bringing this whole shabang back to sanity, I propose we call for a permanent moratorium on some of the things charismatic preachers do. I have done three of these and I repent in dust and ashes. And no, I’m not admitting which three I have used. My friends know.

So, here are the most egregious practices of our tribe:

1. Simon Says.  This is where the preacher likes the point they’re making and tells the audience to “Say ____________”. Then the whole group repeats whatever the key phrase is. Let’s say the sermon is on Jesus raising Lazarus and the preacher wants to get across the point that Lazarus smelled bad after three days of putrification. The preacher might order the congregation, “Say, ‘smell bad‘” and then “Say, ‘Lazarus come out‘”.  And then it’s “Say ‘Take those stinky clothes off'” … and on and on. Some teachers do it so much that it is a constant litany of Simon Says repeat-after-me’s that you end up losing the point of the preacher. I suppose that Aimee Semple McPherson probably started this and since she was anointed, it became the acceptable way of hammering home the point. But to me, after 50 of these in a message, I actually get belligerent and say to myself, “I’m not saying that”. And then I have to deal with a spirit of rebellion.

2. FYI Moments.  If you listen to any charismatic preachers lately, you’ve heard this one. It all starts with the preacher saying “How many know…” and then it divulges some charismatic buzz concept that is making the conference rounds. As in “how many know the enemy only has a short time left” or “how many know that these are the Days of Elijah” etc. The problem here is that anyone who doesn’t know this meme feels like an idiot and most people will just agree even if this is a new teaching to them. Who wants to feel left out? In addition, I suspect a lot of teachers do this to let the congregation know that they are part of the latest instruction and listening to the Spirit. Let your congregation off the hook. They don’t need to get hooked on novel theories that will not be spoken of ever again. Fortunately, no one asks any more “How many know there’s a Jezebel spirit around these days?”

3. This Just In From Holy Spirit. You know the big gimmick that Fox News and CNN practice several times an hour. They know that everyone has been watching for a couple of hours and they need to make it interesting. So they pop up the words “Special News Alert“. It isn’t just the news. Preachers are now doing it all the time. They’ll be in a teaching message and they have to stop and tell us that Holy Spirit has just moved them to say something important. What I struggle with is not that Holy Spirit breaks in on their message or that they share it. But do they have to announce what they’re doing? Just do it. I can’t imagine Jesus stopping on his way to heal the Centurion’s son and then looking at the crowd and saying, “Wait, Holy Spirit just showed me someone may have touched me. And oh yeah….power just went out from me. How many know that power goes out from you sometime? Say “power goes out” people.” No, Jesus just turned around and said “Who touched me?” The mechanics behind his ministry in the Spirit stayed with him.

4. Hit Like on My Good Point. This next habit has been around for a long, long time. I can tell you as a conference speaker and preacher that we are some of the most insecure people on the planet. And small wonder: We are constantly putting out ideas for others to critique and comment upon. That would reduce a macho man to jello. The problem comes in when the preacher is fishing for “likes”. It sounds like, “can I have an amen at that point?” and then goes on from there. The preacher who always needs the crowd to agree with them lives in the same camp with the Facebook person who checks every ten minutes to see how many likes his latest observation has scored. Preachers even have their own particular phrases designed to garner these likes. “Can I have a witness?” “Am I alone in here?”, “Is anyone with me?”, “Amen all by myself?” etc. ad nauseum. You know, most of the prophets preached with an expectation that stones could start flying at any moment. The crowd in that day was saying “I’ll give you an amen brother…right between the eyes.” Man up and stop asking every twenty seconds for affirmation. It’s a little weak.

5. Lucky Lexicon. I am all for a teacher doing good background work. Get into the Greek, Hebrew, the lexicon, the bible dictionary and so on. That’s not this problem. I am pained lately at the preponderance of charismatic preachers who are discovering the original languages and when they find an unusual option for the interpretation, grab a hold of it. If your interpretation can’t be found in any of the translations, you are not ‘probably wrong’ you are ‘most definitely wrong’. This mistake is made because there is a mad dash these days to be an original voice in the wilderness. That is just not possible: There are too many teachers around to be the only one saying anything.

6. Where Was I?  Any teacher doing most of the above is going to run into this problem. They’ve taken so many side-excursions to play Simon Says and FYI and “This Just In” that they can’t remember the point they were trying to make. Believe me teachers, if you can’t remember where you are, the congregation got lost a long time ago. There is no virtue in starting in one direction and having no idea where you went only to have you arrive at a strange conclusion. Call it the “leading of the Holy Spirit” all you want, it is just bad teaching. And the only ones who will remember it are the ones who “fake it until they make it”, ashamed they don’t recall all your finer points.

7. Ritalin Aids. Let’s assume in this information age that the average person gets distracted so often we have a national crisis of ADHD. None of us can pay attention for that long. This may explain why so many charismatic leaders are constantly telling us that the good part is coming. “You’re going to love this” they promise. “Listen carefully, this is where it gets good” they predict. “You don’t want to fall asleep and miss this” they warn. Recently, I heard a guy everyone is calling today’s Prophet preach on 1 Corinthians 12. It is a difficult passage and one needs care in going through it. I actually thought he did a decent job of teaching, but then I had to stop listening. I counted 27 times where he told the listener about something coming that was critical. I finally just lost all credible ability to keep focusing. If everything is important, then nothing is.

That’s the danger of all of these. They pollute and dilute the truth of God. Nothing is worth doing if that is the result.

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Causes of Class Envy

February 17, 2014

The class warThe man pounded on the trunk of this woman’s car repeatedly. He was yelling something incoherent but his angry volume made my wife and I turn around to see what was happening. We were on vacation last week and went into a department store to pick up some essentials we had forgotten at home. We were walking back to our rental car when we heard the commotion.

From what I could determine from his tirade, the woman had come close to hitting his little daughter as they were crossing the road. I could understand why he was angry. But what he said next went way beyond anger and got Kathy and I thinking and talking about it the rest of the evening.

As the woman got out of the car to address this angry man–not a good idea by the way–he started to go crazy. He pointed at her and let her know getting out of the car was a dumb idea. That just made her angry and she stared at him, almost daring him to say something. That’s when he made a statement which came from somewhere beyond anger.

“Get back in your b***** Lexus, you rich b*****. Get back in your rich Lexus car and leave us poor slobs alone. Drive away in your rich Lexus and live your privileged life and leave the rest of us alone.”

He went on in this venue for a minute. Finally, the woman drove away and the man started to address the small crowd of onlookers, regaling them with this woman’s rich smugness and her obvious wealth, which apparently he believed led her to almost run over a little girl in the parking lot of Target.

On the way back to our hotel, Kathy and I mentioned how unusual that scene was. Where did his vitriol against the “privileged” class come from? The answer to that may shock you.

Numerous recent studies (such as this one and this) have determined that the gap between rich and poor is expanding every year and has been since the early 1990s. You don’t have to have a degree in Economics to understand this. You can feel it every time you go to the grocery store and realize you have less buying power than the month before. You feel it every time you look at the cost of educating your children in a university setting and realize they will be paying up to 20 times as much (in real dollars) than you did in college. You see it every time you enter certain parts of town and wonder “how does anyone afford a house like that”. The gap is real.

When the “99%” movement tried to occupy many different locales two years ago, people involved didn’t know what they were protesting or what they demanded, but they felt the problem nonetheless. This is called “Class Envy” and is becoming more real every day. What we witnessed in the Target parking lot is felt, even if not expressed, all over our country. Let me count the reasons we have come to this place.

1. Wealth is now produced, not earned: President Obama, in a December 2013 speech talked extensively about income inequality. In real dollars–figuring inflation and devalued dollar–90% of all Americans are making less money than in 1980. But 10% are making more. And lest you think you know who these people making more money are, you probably don’t. Doctors are making less, so are dentists, therapists, teachers, nurses, small business owners, entertainers, musicians, writers etc. Professionals are making much less in real dollars than they did in 1980. So who is making more money? Investors. And we’re not talking about the guy with a 401(k) either. We’re talking about stock market gurus, investment brokers, commodities traders, mortgage executives, real estate investors, oil executives etc. It used to be that the harder you worked, the more money you made. That is no longer true. You have to make money by investing in some kind of derivative. Even the physician who puts in 80 hours a week has trouble paying off student loans. Wealth is no longer earned, it is produced by learning the secrets of taking the money of other people and placing it on “the winning horses”. Therefore, there is less incentive in the general public to work.

2. The largest stake of money ever passed from one generation to another is now happening. The generation before the baby boomers amassed more capital through saving and buying property than any other generation. That transfer of wealth is happening now. The reason this adds to class envy is that it is only happening for about 25% of our citizens. The other 75% are inheriting nothing. And in the past 10 years, many of these same children are now having to spend money to care for their parents. So even though more wealth is being transferred between generations than ever before, it is concentrated on a few.

3. Class Envy Makes Great Television. Admit it; most of you watched the protests and had an opinion on them. When our nation heard that 1% of the population had increases of 275% in wealth over the past ten years compared to 18% growth for all the rest of Americans, this made for entertaining sound bites. Many people would rather watch Jerry Springer guests spouting off how the rich are exploiting them than look at the reality of each person’s situation.

4. Class Envy is endemic to almost every civilization. In other words, we inherited this from our ancestors. It is only in the 19th and 20th centuries that successive generations were better off financially than their parents. That made us expect it would always be that way. We are angry that it has ceased to be that way. Less than two centuries ago, Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo showed us how the rich and poor really lived. Even in the 1960s, the “Projects” built in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago created instant ghettos from which subsequent generations never emerged. The only thing that insulated the Average American from seeing poverty was the emergence of the suburbs. But now the suburbs are full of foreclosures and television makes it hard to escape the realities of class differences. The point it, class disparity has always been with us. We just found a way to ignore it for awhile. Guess what–it’s back.

5. Advertising is designed to make us envious. The Lexus “December to Remember” campaign is shameless. They know that very few people could afford to go out and buy a car for Christmas. They are flaunting the ability of a few to do it. But they also know that the idea of buying that luxury car will eat away at many who can’t afford it. I constantly see people driving way more car than they can afford. Advertising makes a living out of fomenting envy.

6. Political parties love to stir up the class-envy crowds. You can get any group to listen to you if you can make yourself look like the “party of the people.” Just blame the other guys as being “elitist” and you’re halfway there. Denounce the wealthy and the majority will jump on board with you. Right or wrong, it’s a proven political strategy and both major parties have used it consistently over the years. What is ironic is it is usually the party that appeals most to the poor who have the largest donors among the wealthy. It is easy to be cynical about the process.

7. There actually is a class struggle and it has always been there. We just don’t like to admit it. Though Communism is a colossal failure, Marx and Engels were identifying some real problems with their society. Very few people are paid what their labor is worth. And the ones making the most money often do not work anywhere near as hard as the rest. Even Jesus said “you will always have the poor with you.” He was not endorsing that state, simply observing a fact. Life is not fair.

In the next article, I will delineate some biblical and practical ideas that can help any person stay out of the emotional state of class envy.

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