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.

Spiritual Abuse Recovery: The New Jezebel: 'How to Identify and Recover from Spiritual Abuse - You Are Not a Jezebel'

recovery from spiritual abuse

spiritual abuse recovery

Thousands around the world have been damaged by bad church experiences and are in need of spiritual abuse recovery. A church atmosphere of spiritual abuse normally has definable elements. An insular and isolated leadership culture is one of those elements. In doctrine, many of these cultures have the theology and language of servanthood. In practical expression, their leadership culture is one of hierarchy, elitism, secrecy, immunity, and privilege.

Many who have had a bad church experience, and are in various stages of spiritual abuse recovery from the hurt of that bad church experience, have to come to grips with a common ploy used by agendized leaders. That ploy is to label anyone who disagrees with them and their “authority” as a Jezebel. It is a persistent problem in many expressions of the body of Christ.

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Permissibles versus Essentials

There are many practices within a typical church for which the scriptures (especially the New Testament)  have nothing or little to say. Scriptural silence is not scriptural prohibition.  In the spirit of gospel liberty, many things are permissible such as Sunday school, worship teams, men’s ministry, youth ministry, women’s ministry, nursery, etc.

However, when permissible things become essential things, we are in deception.

For example, do you think Paul had any “anointing” at all in his ministry and meetings without 45-60 minutes of “worship” preceding his preaching? Do you think the Spirit “moved” in his meetings without a worship team, a dance team, a banner team, and a team of prophetic intercessors? It may be an offensive shock to some, but these things are not gospel essentials. They are not necessary for an “anointed” meeting to occur. They are permissible, perhaps a blessing, perhaps a “help,” and perhaps utterly irrelevant distractions.

When we give disproportionate time, money, and resources to permissible things, at the expense of essential things like care for widows, orphans, the poor, and our neighbors (whose names we probably don’t even know . . .  so much for “love your neighbor”) . . .  we are deceiving ourselves.

Preaching Christ crucified, risen from the dead, and our transformation into his image and likeness in this life (which is our worship: see Rom 12), loving one another and the world, are some essentials.

Our values, methods, and priorities–what we do with our life, time, talent, and treasure–should reflect gospel essentials, not permissibles. Permissibles are meant to be enjoyed. Essentials are meant to be committed to with all our being.

Your devotion belongs to Jesus in His person, and His essentials, not peripherals and permissibles.

The Good Side of the Wrong Tree

God’s purpose in humanity is not behavior conformed to biblical standards. It is transformation into the image of Christ, and the two are not unequivocally the same. Transformation is a faith appropriation process realized in us through death and resurrection, not a behavior modification process realized through the acquisition of layer upon layer of correct biblical information.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes when someone is teaching something biblically true, imparting a “great revelation,” or trying to implement something biblically accurate, that the end result is often spiritual death? It doesn’t matter how “biblical” the topic is—authority, family, marriage, government, finance, honor, submission, leadership, “accountability,” repentance, forgiveness, revival, worship, prayer, etc.—or how great the revelation is. The animating power and spirit behind it makes the difference between life and death. It’s possible to be deeply “revelational” and biblically accurate in one’s doctrine and practice, and touch nothing of the life of Jesus in the process.

There were two trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The promise the serpent made to Adam and Eve was not, “Eat of this tree and it will make you a bad person.” The promise was God-likeness. God is good and you will be like Him, only without God. The serpent wasn’t joking. He delivered on his word. Unbelieving humanity resembles God in human “goodness.”  There is a good side of the wrong tree. The good side of the wrong tree has a striking resemblance to the tree of life.  The only problem is, it is a form of goodness and God-likeness, separated from Life, and the end result is, and always will be, death.

The tree of life and the good side of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are like identical twins—you have to be close to notice any difference. Imagine two identical quarts of milk in the fridge. Neither has been opened. You cannot tell from a distance and by outward appearance if they are really identical or not. You have to open them, and check the expiration date. Though they look the same, the aroma will tell you which you want on your cereal. So it is with the good side of the wrong tree. It stinks. Biblically conformed behavior, of itself, means nothing.

There are many legitimate principles and precepts in the scripture. However, when any biblical precept is implemented or energized from the good side of the wrong tree, its effect will be death:

Accurate Bible doctrine + good side of the wrong tree = death.
“Prophetic” revelation + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Well meaning intentions + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for Scripture + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for prayer + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for the kingdom + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for soul winning + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for moral purity + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Governmental order + good side of the wrong tree = death

A life built solely upon adherence to biblical principles is designed by God to fail. A life built precept upon precept, line upon line, was the judgment God put on a leadership that was acting like babies, drunken in their own vomit. It is designed to cause those who try to build their life that way, to fall backward, be broken, snared, and taken. Precept upon precept, and line upon line was the punishment God laid upon Israel for refusing Him in His Person and the relational rest that is in Him. (Please read Isaiah 28 in context.)

It is possible, and common, to have one’s outward behaviors morally conformed to a biblical standard, and to be at the same time, relationally alienated from God and humanity. We can be blameless according to the “scriptural standard of behavior,” and be relationally toxic at the same time. According to Paul’s own testimony, his behavior was blameless according to the standard of God’s law. Yet, he was the chief of sinners, alienated from God and humanity, and he counted all that moral conformity as excrement compared to the excellency that is in Christ.

That is why a new convert whose behaviors are . . . well, consistent with being a new convert . . . can experience life-changing transformation into the image of Jesus, and know very little about the Bible. Freshness of love and relationship begets life, not mastery of the Bible. It is a matter of right relationship, not right doctrine. Knowledge puffs up . . . yes, even “Bible” knowledge. I can be “wrong” in my doctrine, and “right” in my relationships, and thus enjoy the manifest life and blessing of God. I can be right in my doctrine, and wrong in my relationships, and enjoy neither.

Since Jesus was explicitly clear that the fulfillment of all the law, and all God’s moral expectations for humanity were relational not behavioral in essence,[i] morally conformed but relationally alienated behavior that is from the good side of the wrong tree is still sin, and the fruit thereof will always be death.

The Adamic nature in us—the propensity to live life without consideration of God and His ways—has a death sentence on it, not a mandate for self-improvement through the exercise of biblical principles. We all would rather “try to live right,” than to die daily and experience His newness of life.

The unredeemed, natural, soulish, Adamic human nature can, from a base of sheer will power, conform itself to the mandates of biblical principles. This is especially true if there is some incentive of esteem or reward that the Adamic nature will receive from being conformed to biblical principles.

The life we have been given in Him is like an artesian well.  We do not have to flail the Adamic pump handle trying to make Christianity “happen.”  It cannot be coerced to manifest through the application of biblical principles.  If yielded to through faith appropriation of Christ’s finished work, and the experiential process of death and resurrection, it flows freely.  It is in the nature and design of an artesian well to flow. It doesn’t need any help.

The problem is, Adam would rather flail than die.   Professional pump-men earn the respect and admiration of others in the Christian community: “Look at how hard Brother Pumps-A-Lot is working for Jesus.”  “Look at his earnestness!” “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone were as devoted as Brother Pumps-a-Lot?”

There is just a small problem. Brother Pumps-a-Lot may not be converted.  You cannot tell by his activity what kind of water he is bringing up, just like you cannot tell if the milk in the fridge is good or sour by looking at it from a distance.  Religious activity in the name of Jesus is not the same as having a life-source change.  Adam in a tuxedo and clean fingernails or Adam in grimy rags is still Adam.

Adam would prefer to pump in the noonday sun until the sweat is rolling off His nose like water over Victoria Falls, than to embrace the death sentence he has in Jesus, yield to the Spirit of Christ within, experience unspeakable deaths, and be brought up again in His newness of life.  Adam will always choose the pump handle over the grave.

The yoke that is easy, the burden that is light, is the yoke of His rest. The familiar Psalm 23 states: He makes me to lie down . . . (Not try harder!)

Makes me . . .

 That sounds to me that we are not inclined that way!

The essence of the Christian life, the life we have been promised, is not the arduous acquisition of virtue through human discipline. It is the unfolding of the life that is in us, that has been given in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through faith—relational trust—learning how to appropriate moment-by-moment, the ever sufficient, eternally emanating life of Christ in resurrection. Through cycles of death and resurrection, all the days of our mortality, you and I will be transformed into the image of Christ: God gets many sons, and Messiah gets the nations!


[i] Please see the Great Commandment and the New Commandment. They are both relational in essence, based on love, not behavioral conformity.

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.