Posts Tagged ‘greed’

(Excerpt from The Twisted Cross:  Distortion of the Gospel)

There was a crooked man,
And he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence
Upon a crooked stile:
He bought a crooked cat,
That caught a crooked mouse-
And they all lived together
In a little crooked house.

What has become of the humble country ministers who lived in little cottages next door to the church, and received allowances for their travel and other needful expenses so that they could go to the jails and hospitals, and visit the elderly members who were confined to their beds?  They sought out every opportunity to further God’s Kingdom within their communities, and worked for little or nothing because they wanted to finish all of their work on Earth before they departed.

Charles Finney writes in his autobiography that after his conversion in 1821, he left his career as a lawyer to “plead the case for Christ.”  He writes of how he lost all interest in worldly pursuits:

…I had no desire to make money.  I had no hungering and thirsting after worldly pleasures and amusements in any direction…Nothing, it seemed to me, could compete with the worth of souls, and no labor, I thought, could be so sweet and no employment so exalted as that of holding up Christ to a dying world.

So, when did the Gospel become such a highly profitable business in America, and the churches so corporate and greedy?  What makes religious leaders today feel entitled to get rich when Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, did not abuse His position for personal gain?  Does anyone truly believe that Jesus lived as a poor man and suffered and died on a cross between two thieves so that Christians can drive a Mercedes Benz?

A year or so ago, I watched one of the senate hearings regarding mega-churches and tax-exempt status, and one senator confronted a wealthy preacher, saying “Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  So why do you feel entitled to have so many cars and private jets?” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

I know a church mother who told me that her husband often said, “Ever since people found out that they could make a lot of money off of Jesus, they have made a shipwreck of the Gospel and the church.”  I have also heard people say they can’t afford to join a church.

One Sunday I was asked to speak at a church, and I remarked that God is not going to pay us if we keep getting paid by people for every service we render, because Jesus said that we only have one payday- on Earth or in Heaven. After the service was over, the secretary approached me and offered me some money for speaking. I told her that the Lord would bless me some other way. I knew that the leaders wanted to catch me in some hypocrisy.

The following Sunday, the minister approached me at the altar in front of everyone, and put his hand on my head and said, “Lord, break that rebellious spirit.”  I knew then that he wanted to undermine me and what I had said the week before.

When the recession had really become serious in 2008, I clipped an article from the religion page in the newspaper about how the churches were dealing with the financial “crunch.”  It said that one church had cut out all of its outreach ministries.  Another church started a “Kingdom Seeds” program to try to get people to raise more money for them.  But one lone priest in a Catholic church said that he would not accept any money for his services until his congregation had stabilized financially. I found it shocking that most churches were trying to keep the income of their leaders intact, while cutting out the ministries that represented the whole purpose of the Body of Christ in the community. It seemed strange to me that the leaders did not simply pray and trust God to bless the business of the Kingdom.

One church I attended threatened to publicly humiliate those who were unable to afford the offerings, by listing their names or having the financial reports read out loud.  They knew that many contributions could not be accounted for, because many members only gave in cash without envelopes.  Jesus said not to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing, and not to brag about what we do for God, but this church was pressuring people to disobey His teachings.

I have also seen people forced to stand in front of the church to request financial help for their household. I suspect this is to discourage people who need assistance. No one should have to be publicly humiliated because they are in need of money.

Religious leaders are quick to accuse people of robbing God, when they themselves have no accountability and seem to have no shame about it. One common practice in some churches today is for a preacher to start off an offering with, for instance, a twenty-dollar bill of their own, and to ask each person in the congregation to match the amount they put in.  They don’t reveal that a large percentage of that same offering is being given back to them behind closed doors, and that they are receiving instant returns. Technically, they are giving nothing, and they promise people hundred-fold blessings for giving to the church. Why do leaders ask their congregation to trust God to take care of their bills, when they don’t trust Him to take care of the church and its ministries?  That is hyprocrisy in its purest form.

If I give ten dollars, and immediately receive back one hundred dollars, have I paid my tithe?  Why is it necessary to lie to God’s people, instead of just collecting a love offering at the end? And why is there so much secrecy about the money? It obviously is more profitable to be deceptive.

An elder that I know once told me that he has seen preachers put money in the offering and tell the usher to give them back their money after the service is over.

Years ago, at a church I attended, a missionary couple trusted God to supply their financial needs so that they could go to Africa to spread the gospel, and they refused to take up offerings or ask anyone for money.  They just talked to friends and prayed and money started coming in their mailbox.  The pastor of their church heard about it, and said, “It is true that God supplied the money that you needed without any manipulation on your part?”  They were dumbfounded that their pastor had so little faith in God’s ability to provide for someone who was seeking to do His will.

Nowadays, many religious leaders will do whatever it takes to keep themselves comfortable while others suffer, and they never seem to have enough.  The money-raising goals for pastor appreciations and conferences get higher every year, because many leaders expect a pay raise every year, regardless of the struggles of their congregations.   If they were at a regular job, they might have been laid off or gotten a pay cut, but they think that the money should continue to flow no matter what.

Everyone questions why the church is so ineffective today, why miracles and true revivals don’t happen anymore. It’s really quite simple. God is a Holy God, and He cannot dwell in an unholy place.

It is time to return to the old ways, so that we can see miracles and spiritual power as we did in times past.  I would like to see this in my lifetime, but first we need some good old-fashioned humble country ministers.


[1] The crooked man and other rhymes, from Aunt Mary’s Little Series

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(Essays)

Now and then, I just need to speak my peace about something, and I hope you don’t mind if I detour from my stories every once in awhile. 

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There is a woman that I see occasionally at McDonald’s and we have some pretty lively discussions about religion in America.  Sometimes she will laughingly remark that she hopes I brought my boxing gloves, because we disagree on many issues.

Once she told me she had been looking for a good church.  She visited one that had several thousand members, and she remarked, “They must have something right, because they wouldn’t have so many members, true?” She loves to see what I’ll say.

“Not necessarily,” I said.  “Truth isn’t found in the crowds, unless Jesus is there. Kierkegaard said that the crowd will always lead you in the wrong direction, that the crowd is the opposite of truth.”  Then I went on about how any great speaker or musician can draw a crowd, and that they need not be spiritual-minded at all.  I told her that this is why we must have spiritual discernment, and listen carefully to what leaders are saying, so we will know if it goes against the teachings of Christ.

This same woman told me one day that she visited a church on a Wednesday night, and a fantastic charismatic speaker came, and talked about giving being the key to our blessings.  He raised more than fifty thousand dollars that night in a small church by persuading each person to give at least a thousand dollars in order to be prospered by God.  After counting the money, he said he wanted to come back on Sunday so more people could be blessed. The woman told me how wonderful she felt, and that she wished more people had been there to get their blessing. She often says that she thinks people are poor because they aren’t doing the right things.

I said that it made me angry that no one in leadership seems to be accountable for what they do with God’s money. She said that it didn’t matter to her as long as she was being obedient. I said, in that case, the next time she wanted a blessing she could just give me enough money to buy a new car. She looked at me in a strange way, as I said that people with money love to give to organizations, but they don’t enjoy giving to people.

I told her that it was no coincidence that the first four words Jesus spoke to the crowds were “Blessed are the poor.” I told her that the only one who got a blessing at that church she visited was the speaker, who twisted the gospel for his own personal gain. Corruption and greed is what I called it, and robbing the poor. I was livid because these silk-tongued con artists are making the poor even poorer. And then they dare to raise the question of who is robbing God!

I met another woman who told me that some people from her church often went out dancing at the local bar, and they persuaded her to come along.  When she objected to it, they told her that Jesus wanted us to have fun. She decided to go dancing with them, and that is where she met a man who became an abusive force in her life for many years. It didn’t sound like the kind of fun Jesus would have wanted her to have. She still regrets having listened to the crowd instead of following what she felt in her spirit.

That man set her house on fire before he left her, and it burned halfway to the ground. She has no money to repair it, and insurance won’t pay because it was arson. Her church rakes in a fortune and has never offered to help her repair her home which is freezing cold in the winter because of the damaged wiring. When she gets sick, no one calls or comes to visit her. She says once she saw her pastor open his wallet, and she was stunned by the sight of it, bulging with hundred dollar bills.

I am sorry if any of you are offended by what I’m saying, but I needed to speak my peace. I have learned not to be afraid to walk alone for what is true. If you party, the world will party with you, but if you pray, you will pray alone.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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(From “The Twisted Cross:  Distortion of the Gospel”)

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“…I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zechariah 13:6)

I will never forget when I first realized that religion had become a highly profitable business.  I had been attending a large evangelical Friends church for a long time, and I had grown very close to many people there.  I loved my church.  I loved the leaders and the teaching and I started outreach ministries in the name of the church.  I put my money in their offerings, and dedicated my children in that church.  I went to prayer meetings and every service I could possibly go to. I was immensely smug about myself and my church.

But after Juan Carlos Ortiz spoke at our yearly conferences, the “scales fell off of my eyes,” and I saw things in a new way. I stood up in the sanctuary the following Sunday, and announced to my dear friends, “I just want to let you know that I am not the same person that I was one week ago.  I am a changed person.  I have claimed my identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, and I will never be the same.”

That is when my spiritual battlefield opened up before me, and I first saw my enemy.  What frightened me was that he was operating through my church.

Soon after my public statement, I was sitting in the sanctuary of my church and the executive minister said that they were starting a new program called “Kingdom Seeds”.  In those days, these phrases about seeds had not been coined like they are now.  Our pastor began to explain that the ushers were going to pass out dollar bills which were the “seeds” in special envelopes.  He said that the general idea was that people were to take the money and “plant it” and “make it grow”.  Then in a few months, after it had grown, they would bring it back for a special offering at “harvest time”.

I had promised God that I was going to be obedient to Him in whatever He led me to do.  Anger began to rise in my heart, and a voice broke into my thoughts, saying, “They have turned my house into a den of thieves.”  I knew I was supposed to speak up, but I began to argue with the Spirit inside of my mind, saying, “Why me?  They won’t listen to me.”  The Voice answered, “You said you were my obedient child.”  This hit me hard, because I had two young children at the time.  One of them was more obedient than the other.  When I needed something done in a hurry, I knew not to ask the disobedient one.  In a situation that required quick action, I knew to call upon the obedient child.

A few minutes later, the minister announced that it was time for “open worship.”  I rose to my feet and said, “Friends, we need to face the fact that we are tithing to ourselves in this church.  We are not tithing to God, but to man.  At least ninety percent of the money in our offerings stays within this church building to pay salaries, clean carpets, do building repairs, and such.  Very little is used for missions and outreach.  The gospel is being used as a cloak for covetousness, which Paul warned about.  Paul also wrote, ‘We are not like many, peddling the Word of God.’ People were selling the gospel then, and they are still doing it today. If Jesus came in right now He would come with His whip, because the moneychangers are still in the house of God.”  I was in the back row when I stood to speak, and people were turning around in astonishment, some with anger in their eyes.

When I sat down, it fell silent for a few endless moments.  Then our lady minister stepped to the microphone and turned to the executive minister and asked, “Do we still want to proceed with this?”  He nodded firmly, and the lady minister prayed and the ushers came forward with their hands full of envelopes.  The piano and organ began to play softly, as the ushers carried handfuls of envelopes to the end of each row, and everyone seemed uneasy.  The people in the congregation began shaking their heads or sweeping their hands at the ushers to refuse the money.

When the lead pastor saw it, he went to the microphone and asked the ushers to pass the whole stack of envelopes down each row.  I watched in surprise as the people passed the whole stack from one end of each row to the other, and no one wanted to take them.  It was an act of civil disobedience which startled me.  I never dreamed that these people would listen and act. I thanked God, but I knew I was in trouble.

A little later in the church service, the offering plate was passed around, and can you guess what happened next?  People were not putting money in the offering either.  Then I knew I was deeply in trouble.

After the service was over, many people approached me and thanked me for being the “voice of prophecy” in the midst, for telling the truth when no one else dared to.  I knew that God had used me that day, but I knew that it was not over.

The next morning, I got a phone call from the executive minister.  He said that we needed to talk, and that he wanted to arrange a time.  We planned his visit later in the week.

During that week, I began to receive thank-you cards from people in the congregation.   To my surprise, one of them was from the chairman of the financial committee.  Two missionary friends of mine asked if they could come to our house when the minister visited, because they wanted to provide moral support.

Then came the meeting with my husband and two missionaries present, and the minister asked me how I could do such a thing without clearing it with someone first, such as the elders.

I explained, “The Spirit asked me to speak, and I could not wait and get permission.  I had to be obedient.” He asked, “How do you know how this affected people?”  I answered that I had been receiving notes from people in the congregation, and I walked to my desk and pulled them out.  I will never forget the look of dismay on his face as he looked at the notes, particularly the one from the financial committee chair.

Then my missionary friend Susan spoke up and asked, “Why can’t Olive tell the truth?  Is it because she is a woman or because she doesn’t have a PhD?  Other people have said similar things in jest, and nothing was said.  Why can’t Olive say these things?”  The minister said that he just felt that I should have asked him first.

Then he quizzed me about whether I tithed regularly.  I explained that we spent much more than ten percent between our outreach ministry in the community and the offering plate.  I expressed surprise that he should even ask this question, since he was more than aware of the costs of the ministries that we did in the name of the church with no donations from anyone.  It was evident he was simply trying to undermine me.

After that, he told me that I needed to respect the authorities in the church, or find another church to attend.  I asked him, “Who is the head of the church, you or Jesus?”  He became very quiet, and said that he had a lot to do that day and needed to go.  We all said our farewells and the minister left first.

After that, I continued to attend the church, and watched the wheels of greed and corruption in motion.  I saw the programs and newsletters pleading for people to give money to the church.  I saw an abrupt change in the character of certain people that I had respected.  One woman approached me at church and told me ever so nicely that if I didn’t calm down, I might “go over the deep end”.  I told her it was much more satisfying than the shallow end and walked away.

The whole landscape shifted from spiritual to political, and I suddenly felt that this church was not the place that I thought it was. I felt a sense of resistance from the leaders towards the purposes and agenda of God.

There was good deal of financial trouble in that church for several months, because people were questioning things for the first time.  I kept getting calls from the child care department that they needed help on Sunday mornings so I helped with the children many times. I knew that the minister did not want me in the services until he could repair the financial damage.  I felt disillusioned, and betrayed by this man that I looked up to and trusted, and it hurt me a great deal.

But my faith grew because of this experience.  I learned to trust Jesus more, and man less.  I saw that all people have flaws, but Jesus doesn’t.  It ended the idolatry that had been going on in my heart.  It revealed to me that many people are idolizing religious leaders instead of looking to Jesus.  Because of my obedience and the ostracism I encountered, I grew closer to Christ and shared in His suffering, and that gave me great joy.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me…”  (Exodus 20:3)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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