Lydia – Seller of Purple Cultural Insights for Apostolic Mission

Lydia - Seller of Purple

Lydia – Seller of Purple

Acts 16:14 speaks of a woman named Lydia who was a “seller of purple” who responded to Paul’s preaching and offered to host Paul and his team in her home. Lydia’s gender, her being a “seller of purple,” and her means to be able to accommodate Paul and his band are significant to understanding the implications of this passage.

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The Four Talons of Mammon Mammon is More than the Love of Money

The Four Talons of Mammon

The Four Talons of Mammon

Many scriptures can be difficult to understand and apply. However, the mutual exclusivity of serving God and mammon is not one of them.  Jesus was clear:

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, “You are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”  – Luke 16:13-15

No worker can serve two bosses: He’ll either hate the first and love the second or adore the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and the Bank. When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch. So Jesus spoke to them: “You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance. What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.” – Luke 16:13-15, The Message by Eugene Peterson.

Just what is “mammon?”

Mammon isn’t a common term for us. Historically, it’s an old Syriac name given to an idol worshipped as the god of riches. Ambrose Bierce called mammon “the god of the world’s leading religion.” The pursuit of money is the religion of this present world, and mammon is its god. Why? Because, as the old pun on the Golden Rule goes: “He who has the gold, makes the rules!” When it comes to money, too many Christian fingers are coated with Super Glue, rather than Teflon. I do not believe there will be any large scale “wealth transfer” until we develop  “Teflon fingers.”

Mammon is any controlling, coercive, dominating power (church, legislation, economics, military, etc.), fueled by money: “controlling” my own life, or through force controlling others. When we are in control, we are lord, not Jesus. There can only be One King. That is why Jesus was so stark on this matter.

I believe mammon is the prevailing principality/prince in the West, and the claw of mammon has four talons. Every believer intent on growing into the full stature of Jesus Christ will have to face and overcome each of these in his or her life.

Religion

The church long ago sold the birthright of spiritual riches for the allure of money, control, and power. The church played the harlot with Constantine, and has yet to fully recover. Preaching “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, I give you . . .[1] will not get you invited to this year’s “Keys to Success” conference! Between the influences of the modern “prosperity gospel,” “self-help/self-realization” teaching (masquerading as the gospel), and the control factor in many institutional constructs, it has reached the point in the West that preaching the acquisition of wealth is considered the very essence of what it means to be a Christian, and it is a sad, sad situation.[2]

Wherever money, control, and power aggregate, a spirit of mammon is at work, yes, even in the ekklesia of God, living room or sanctuary! Dealing with a mammon problem is like bad breath and body odor: it’s always  “the other guy’s issue!”  It is more like hypertension: my problem, but I just don’t recognize it! It can be neutralized quite simply: practice giving all three away! The kingdom of God is built upon scattering a death and resurrection seed, not the aggregation of resources. God’s family is built by releasing resources, not hoarding them.

There are many who find themselves in various forms of “de-churched expression” who feel they have extracted themselves from the grips of the machine-like control of institutionalized religion. Perhaps, they have. There can also be a sense of naïve superiority in these climates, thinking being extracted from institutional religion is of itself, some great spiritual triumph. It is not. Merely being extracted from institutionalized religion is not an end in itself. It is the removal of but one of mammon’s talons from our soul, and the easiest one! If I have been set free from a coercive tithe to an institution, and my kingdom giving has dried up or vanished, all that is proven is that one talon has been removed from me. At least one of the other three remain deeply entrenched in my soul while my posterior is entrenched on a sofa.

Politics

Jesus is Caesar[3] is fundamentally a confronting political statement. The apostles were not martyred because of how nice they were as people, or because of their teaching about what one had to do to go to heaven when one dies. They were killed because they advocated a king and a kingdom in opposition to, and exclusive from, what Caesar had to offer. Jesus and Caesar are incompatible.

When it comes to politics, I know there are no simplistic answers for a people who live in a representative democratic republic (something that did not even exist in Jesus’s time). Teddy Roosevelt wrote a book called: Fear God and Do Your Part. That seems reasonable to me, and is about the extent of my political fervor. My concern is for the illicit wedding of the church in America to right-wing politics, and the venom that often accompanies the ungodly union.

Apparently for some, it is alright to act like the devil to represent Jesus! Russell Moore said: “American Christianity has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”[4] I agree. We will never “change the culture” or “win a nation” by trying to out-Caesar Caesar with Caesar’s resources, values, and methods. Force in any form—money, militarism, consumerism, authoritarianism, morality, legislation, etc.—is not Jesus’s method for cultural transformation. The power of Jesus’s kingdom is about a life laid down for enemies, even unto the death.

Finances/Commerce

If talons had toenails, commercialism and materialism would be two. We make rationalizations to ease our conscience, but very few of us in the West are able to be content in either abounding or abasing when it comes to money. Few would consider themselves “blessed” in a season of dire economic distress, a condition that is abounding these days.

It’s easy to believe one is free of the influence of mammon when the checking account if full. It’s wonderful to talk about the “Lord providing” when we are drawing a government unemployment check or other benefits from the hand of Caesar.[5] It is a different matter when there is no paycheck, and the impossibilities of this life are looming over your financial solvency, and Caesar is nowhere to be found, or asking something of you that will compromise your worship. Who is Father then?[6]

I have a good friend who taught “faith” and “financial faithfulness” for years. When the church he led closed, and the paycheck he had been receiving ceased, he had a nervous breakdown. When he got on the “resurrection side” of this issue, he candidly confessed to me that what the Lord was trying to teach him through it all. In all those years that he had been boldly proclaiming “faith,” and “giving and trusting God,” etc., his own faith had been in his bank account and in his biblical principles of finances, not in the person of Jesus. It took him hitting rock bottom to discover that mammon had a death grip on him and he didn’t know it.

Few in Jesus’s kingdom know how to make money a servant. In most cases, money is Lord[7] (in spite of all our denials to the contrary). You make money a servant by practicing liberality—by giving it away.

Health and Medicine

Power has been defined differently throughout our nation’s history and culture. A generation ago it was defined by the equation: military + industry = power = control.  That’s no longer true in modern Western societies. Today’s power equation reads: information + capital = power = control. There is an emerging power structure that has the potential to control our very existence by creating physical dependency upon it. The formula is: medicine + money = power = control or more specifically: pharmaceuticals + healthcare + government + money = power = control.

Because of the collusive elements of the above equations, and the skyrocketing cost of medical care and insurance premiums, there are literally millions of people who cannot afford to be sick. The choice for these is either complete financial ruin or dependency on the state. The day is coming for many believers, when we are either going to have to experientially know Him as Healer, sell our soul to the gods of this age, or die. The whole matter of the gifts of the Spirit will move from the fringes of Sunday morning enthusiasms into life and death realities.[8]

When it comes down to it, we will know what we really believe, we will know the fabric of the reality of our belief systems, we will know who our god really is, when either our health or our finances is put to the test. If our God is God only when we are well and wealthy, we have no god other than our own self-interest.  A veneer of Christianese, applied with a Bible brush and some systematic theology glue, on top of an iron self will, is not the faith of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Jesus’s kingdom is not fueled by mammon. It’s fueled by love, forgiveness, and death and resurrection. The precious indwelling Holy Spirit, the power He brings, and the daily disciplines of the cross, are the means by which the believer can extract each of these talons from his or her soul.

I’m not saying it’s easy. On the contrary, it is costly. Dying daily is always costly. Nor am I saying that having legitimate, temporal needs met through finance is outside of God’s economy. It’s not . . . when He is truly Caesar of that economy and not us!

I know in my own life, the hold of these talons in me is being exposed and challenged . . . for my benefit and maturity in sonship. My flesh hates it, but the new creation man in me can only rejoice that my Father is so faithful that he ignores my cries as they are being extracted, and heals and fills the place they once occupied. To be truly free from these talons is to be free indeed. Ultimately, it is about worship. These four talons represent the major arenas of what it means to be alive as a human being.  Whoever rules those arenas in me, and over me, is Lord, and a Lord is worthy of worship.

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[1] Acts 3:6

[2] The quickest way to transform a city is to buy it.”  Rich Church, Poor Church. Unlock The Secrets of Creating Wealth and Harness the Power of Money to Influence Everything. Chester: gateKeeper Publishing, 2007, 65.  Somehow, I just can’t picture Jesus sitting under a fig tree in Galilee, scratching His head saying: “Gee, I wish I had thought of that.” For more discussion on this topic, please refer to our title: Wealth Transfer, www.stevecrosby.com. I personally know of another so-called apostle who teaches that you cannot be a true apostle unless you are a millionaire. That is a disgusting doctrine of demons.

[3] English KJV: Lord. Greek: Kyrios. Latin: Dominus. Caesar was their “lord,” Master, ruler, king, etc. The name Caesar has worked it’s way into language as the equivalent of Lord: Russian -Tsar, German-Kaiser, etc. Short version: the one who gives the orders and the one to be obeyed.

[4] Quoted in Brian Zahnd, Beauty will Save the World. Lake Mary: Charisma, 2012, 13.

[5] No condemnation is intended. I have drunk from the government trough myself. I am just confessing I am not in denial about my true state, and about there being no viable economic alternative among God’s people in a Western, independence, and privacy-based culture.

[6] Caesar was referred to as both Lord, God, and  “father” of the state, and dependency on him as the great benefactor was encouraged.

[7] In spite of our denials to the contrary about “money is just a tool to accomplish ‘ministry’ ‘for Jesus.’”

[8] The previous two paragraphs are excerpted from our title: Healing: Hope or Hype? If interested in a more thorough treatment, it can be obtained at www.stevecrosby.com.

Copyright 2012, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

The Economic Responsibility of Agape

Everything that matters in God is relational.

His Triune Being is relational in fundamental nature.[1] The Great Commandment[2] (that fulfills the law and prophets) and the New Commandment,[3] are both relational in essence. When any legitimate biblical topic looses its mooring in relationship, it will inevitably be unhealthy in application, regardless of how well-intentioned the attempts might be. The manifestation of the life of Jesus in us, and the exchange of His life between us, will never be realized through enthusiastic implementation of spiritual mechanics based solely upon revelation and conviction from the Scriptures. Everything is relational.

This applies to the topic of giving, finance, and money. At the present hour, this issue needs relational realignment.

Millions of believers around the world are being set free from the coercion of a mandatory tithe, or the extortion of a “seed-faith” cosmic lottery. However, many seem to be missing the middle road of joyful, disciplined, regular, Spirit-led giving. This causes God’s kingdom advance in and through human vessels, to suffer stagnation and loss.

It is appropriate to resist abusive extremes. However, if in our liberty our giving dries up, we need to reexamine the exercise of our liberty. Spiritual lethargy is not gospel liberty. It is not enough that we reform our thinking, doctrine, and meeting forms. Our giving must also be reformed in this present hour.

Rather than argue proof-texts back and forth for various points of view, I would suggest that the foundation of the conversation needs to shift. We have to look deeper at foundational values. I suggest that the context of our understanding needs to change

FROM:

TO:

organization

relationship

church

purpose

tithe

family

position

need

ministry

heart

authority

love

pastor

service

vision

generosity

God’s family is a relational community characterized by grace and gift exchange between people. It is up to each of us to recognize the relational lines of attraction, the bonds of Holy Spirit-birthed relationships, the “direction” of the flow of Holy Spirit love,[4] and allow finances to flow along those lines based on love, opportunity, and need.

It’s possible to be in a “place” organizationally, geographically, and situationally and have no relational bonds at all, other than the commonality of experiencing a Sunday lecture together. Sharing a pew (or a sofa!) with someone neither establishes, nor proves, any God-ordained relationship. God unites hearts in love, not heads in doctrinal accord.

Some might argue that past practices appear to have been blessed. I believe God’s redemptive grace covers all our fumbling and corrupt past efforts. If it were not so, none of us would have any hope for the present, or the future. His grace always sustains us, not our spiritual rectitude on any topic at a given moment. However, flowing in His redeeming grace does not mean that we should not educate ourselves along the way and abandon or change defective or deficient practices. Excelling in love does not require the entrenchment of ignorance.

Too much of the financial status quo is simply based on fear: fear of the loss of cash flow that sustains salaries, rents, mortgages, and community prestige. Rather than the perpetual maintenance of our own spiritual pleasantries, perhaps the most loving thing God would have us do for our communities is shut down our church or organization, and bring all the human resources to bear in ways that genuinely and directly affect our community for Jesus. That is a legitimate possibility. There is nothing in the Scripture that says that any of our groups or organizations are divinely commissioned to exist for perpetuity. Hardly. His increase in a community may be directly related to our decrease: individually, corporately, and “organizationally.” If I am married to the cultural financial status quo within church systems, such a thing is not even a consideration. “Jesus is Lord,” is more than a creedal confession!

I really doubt that the “revival” we seem to beg God for, will ever happen when all the dogs in the pound are scrapping for the same piece of meat, trying to outdo each other by the consumeristic leveraging of religious desires in a human soul. The love of God does not abide in such exercises driven by cultural definitions of “success.”

There is an Economic Responsibility of Agape—God’s E.R.A. if you will, and it summarizes my “theology of giving.” It is simple:

I love, therefore . . . I give.

If you find yourself removed from more traditional expressions of the faith, and if you formerly were a tither whose regular giving has virtually dropped to zero, I urge you to seek God to resurrect your regular, disciplined, giving along relational lines, as a simple matter of the overflow of a loving heart.

Fat notebooks and shriveled hearts and wallets, are kingdom incompatible.


[1] Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in interpenetrating, covenantal communion, one-ness, and love.

[2] Matthew 22:37-40.

[3] John 13:34.

[4] Rom 5:5 – the love of God is poured out, through our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. We need to recognize His presence, where it is flowing through us, and cause our finances to follow His lead!

Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

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Kingdom Economy

The Greek word for the KJV, “household,” is oikonomia. Literally, it means the rule, or law, or order of the family/household: “How the family is run.” It is also exactly the same word from which we derive the English word “economy.”

God’s economy is based on the exchange of love and charis (gifts) in a family of relationships. It is not based upon money. Without functional relationships in which love and charis are exchanged, there is no kingdom economy, nor can there be.

In God’s economy, finances and material resources follow upon the exchange of love and charis.  Gift exchange in the family is the economy of God.  It is possible to have lots of finance and never touch God’s economy because the genuine relational infrastructure of love and gift exchange is absent. Rather, in its place are the mechanics of money and the strong arm of human determination to build something for God, even using “biblical principles of finance.”

The flow of finance is the logical fruit of an economy based on the exchange of love and charis. A lack of finance for legitimate kingdom efforts is not a lack of money. It is the fruit of a lack of love, and a lack of the understanding of the financial responsibilities of “one-anotherness” in a functional relational community. Love expressed has an economic element.

There are those today who think that a more “faithful” approach to the “stewardship” of money and finance, if overseen by “governmental apostles,” is somehow the magic key of the hour to open up untold kingdom opportunities in the present day. God’s economy is much more sublime than the “release of marketplace ministries,” as valuable as that may be. I submit to you that Calvary’s plow must go yet much deeper than that if we are to even approach a semblance of a  “kingdom economy.”

Everything . . . and I mean every practice, belief system, theology, value . . . every precious “conviction,” up to and including our right to be “right” in our views, must be on the table for radical reassessment and reconfiguration to Christ.

If we get the cart of spiritual money mechanics ahead of the horse of loved-based family economy, we will experience the logical end of that order of things: nothing.

Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

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