Friday, January 8, 2016

American Affluence

American affluence, for the family of Ethan Couch of Fort Worth, TX it offers a diagnostic tool for decriminalizing behavior that resulted in criminal charges being leveled against the “alleged” victim. American affluence prompts global residents of all colors, creeds, and cultures to utilize any behavior necessary to gain public access into the United States. That American affluence prompts a multitude of Americans today to “politic” for whatever means necessary to preventing those same global residents from accessing American soil, except under very controlled circumstances. Simply stated, American “affluence is a major problem today for all Americans.

Meanwhile, David Callahan makes the very legitimate observation that we the American people are “a country filled with VIP lounges, personal assistants, chartered jets, exclusive restaurants, luxury hotels, and private golf clubs; a country where super rich celebrities and sports stars reign as demigods, where the wealthy engineer superior looks and health through expensive medical intervention; a country soaked in poisonous envy spurred on by a $250 billion advertising industry; and a country where millions of affluent people live behind guarded gates.”1

Our affliction has resulted in a huge political battle that consumes America today and causes some to charge others with envying the extravagance of “the top 1 percent of households (that) control more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent combined.”2 My reaction to this struggle is to ask both sides this question:  “Honestly, just how much would it take to meet your emotional and spiritual expectations?  That question needs to be answered by both the 90 percent who continue to lobby for even an even greater share of the gross wealth, as well as by those who are simply trying to carve out a rightful share of their piece of the pie.

Truthfully, we can make a strong case for poverty contributing to corrupt character, social disengagement, and political suicide. It must also be argued that economic abundance does not truly measure happiness, health, and wholeness.  It seems that both sides of this political issue need to ask: “Is our American dream of peace and prosperity a practical reality, a vain illusion, or mere Madison Avenue marketing?”  Whatever your answer, it remains for each Christian Disciple to discern for themselves what is a “Christian attitude” about personal wealth as a follower of Christ?

An old letter, found in the Bible as John III, offers insight into this issue of affluence.  A certain friend challenges the local church leader for refusing hospitality to certain church visitors.  The recipient of this letter, named Gaius, apparently received the guests anyway.  Extending hospitality and ignoring the admonition of the friend has led to the dismissal of Gaius from the congregation--by one identified only as the inhospitable Diotrephes.

The author of the letter, John, seems to imply that Diotrephes accepts no authority but his own; i.e., he pleasures himself before others, all of which is a common problem in today’s American church. But note how the Prophet John prays for Gaius to “enjoy good health and that all may go well with” you, even “as your soul is getting along well” (III John 2 NIV).

The Public shares a common interest in prosperity as we enter 2016.  Nonetheless, hucksters of every persuasion pander to public persuasion while peddling their particular brand of “success gospel.” Creflo Dollar remains but one of a host of social and religious “Prophets-for-profit” who equate success and wealth with God’s blessing. On the other hand, a multitude of needy people occupy the global focus today and there are those who hesitate to relate this material prosperity and spiritual blessing to any kind of spiritual equation,.
Truthfully, some of us have learned that life does not always bring equal proportions and we wonder whether or not much comfort remains for one so sorely tried as Gaius. Perhaps John’s prayer for his friend can bring it into clearer focus for all of us.
John brings a divine dimension into prosperous living. By offering “soul insight“ he implies that the balance sheet of any individual or institution has justifiable correlation one with the other. Thus, we join Gaius in better understanding that soul prosperity means that inner personal prosperity that we should all strive for, first and foremost. 

John is consistent with other Bible teaching that elevating affluence, and freedom from annoying poverty, above soul prosperity often depletes the inner self and denies life’s higher values. Accumulation of money, possessions, and status has little real bearing on one’s true soul prosperity. Of course, this contradicts the ideology that as humans we even have a soul, as separated from the things of this material world. It may be noted, however, that preoccupation with such may result in an overdose of what America is afflicted with today, which is “extreme individualism, obsession with money, and social Darwinism, or survival of the economic fittest.”  
It seems that Gaius has conducted himself, as one “walking in the truth,” and John suggests that Gaius has internal abundance in both precept and practice. Not to believe in the right brings spiritual bankruptcy before one ever begins. Building one’s life on less-than-essential truths impoverishes the spiritual self. Consequently, John’s commendation of Gaius suggests “you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers.” This only further reaffirms what John heard from Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. 
This suggests that how we act or behave assesses most accurately what it is that we most truly believe. Quantity and quality of life intersect here with our belief and our behavior. Practicing soul prosperity implies that whatever material blessings and physical benefits we may possess; they are all subject to whatever divine purpose guides us. Gaius prospered spiritually, John suggests, because he followed the rules of the inner person rather than the outer self.  He possessed himself and his circumstances, rather than being possessed by his circumstances.

On the other hand, self-reliance and radical individualism can morph into selfishness and self-absorption, as has happened today in the political arena of Western Capitalism and the free market economy. When the bottom line wins competitiveness most often sinks into the cesspool survived by only the most financially fit.

God casts contempt upon neither material prosperity nor physical health.  Neither does he predetermine one person to health and wealth and other individuals to poverty or poor health.  How much wealth or health we have is never a question with God. The gift of life and is accumulations all come as an undeserved gift from God, and it all remains a vehicle for serving others in the name of God, regardless of one’s circumstance.          

William Temple, the noted British church leader and essayist concluded that believing Christianity is the most materialistic religion in the world.  He understood that true Christians take life’s material side of life seriously.  That being the case, as disciples of Jesus we intentionally subject our search for affluence and security to the scrutiny of our inner values, i.e., soul prosperity.
When John prayed for Gaius, he confidently affirmed for Gaius and for us that whatever the day brings, joy and blessing will result when we receive it in faith.  The faithful steward will see the hand of God behind every blessing. This personalizing of faith, enables us to prayerfully practice true “Christian stewardship” by submitting all our accumulations to Christ’s lordship as Kingdom assets rather than personal assets. 

When the haves share with the have-nots, God blesses each in accordance with their need. So: does this speak to the affluent victim of “affluenza?” How does this apply to current discussion of emigration politics, and to other political views? Well: just how strongly do you insist upon practicing true spiritual values as the true basis for the good life as you know it?  The prayer of John for Gaius is that your days may “prosper according to the prosperity of your best self.  May truth guide you eternally, as you walk in the truth enlightens our journey.

Whatever level of prosperity you enjoy, or suffer; can God trust you to use his gifts wisely, as coming from Him?  Can God trust Americans to share with the world that he truly wants to bless?  It is in giving life that we discover new life--like Gaius. Or, as another oft-quoted early Christ follower wrote, “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing” (Ephesians 2:10 NCV).
            1 David Callahan, The Cheating Culture, (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2004, p62).
            2 Callahan, 18.

From Warner’s World, I am

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