A Horrible Illness Is Going Around
By John Stallings
There’s an illness going around. You’ve definitely heard of it, even if not by the name used here. It’s not the bird flu. It’s not the regular flu for which many have already gotten flu shots. It’s not one of the more notable illnesses, like AIDS, or HIV. But I’m sure you’ve heard of it. In fact, everyone has seen its devastating effects.
Some have seen it up close and personally. Some have experienced it themselves, or seen a loved one devastated by it. Some are plagued with this illness, perhaps a mild case only affecting a part of their life, but infected nonetheless.
The scary thing is how contagious it is, and how susceptible all of us are to this illness. Any of us can get the illness, and all of us have to take ongoing precautions against getting it. If we let our guard down, and don’t take illness prevention steps, it’s likely we’ll be infected.
Though we’ve heard many warnings about how this illness can affect us, we tend to think: No, not me; I won’t get this illness; I won’t be affected.
Let’s look at a passage of scripture that gives a warning about this illness, and then I’ll share with you a modern-day name for it.
Then He said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15; NIV)
Here’s our warning against this illness: “Watch out, be on your guard,” said Jesus, “against all kinds of greed.”
This illness is called “Affluenza,” and our culture is sick with it. Americans are infected with an all-consuming virus that threatens our well being. Affluenza is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of shopping fever, anxiety, waste, bankruptcies, family upheaval, bulging closets, cupboards, shelves and drawers particularly if they are stuffed with unworn clothes, unheard CDs, unread books, rarely used toys, equipment, electronics and other gadgets. Attics, basements and garages packed with same. Bloated credit card bills. The feeling that you’re forever catching up but never getting ahead. Not being able to remember the last meaningful conversation you had with close friends or loved ones. The sense you are stuck in a repetitive cycle of working harder, spending more, while enjoying and resting less.
If any of these are sounding too close to home, you’ve probably caught the affluenza bug. If so, you aren’t alone; most Americans have it.
The symptoms are everywhere, the causes not so mysterious and the treatment is available. But sadly there is little evidence that many Americans recognize they suffer from affluenza and even less evidence that those who are aware will actually take significant steps towards recovering from the disease.
Affluenza is a nifty little word that a clever sociologist created by mixing two different words together. The word affluence means having a great deal of money. Influenza is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease. When you put these two together, you get affluenza, which is a useful word for describing the problems generated by a rich consumer culture that has an endless hunger for more stuff. Affluenza is the disease of greed. The metaphor of disease is used to describe the damage being done to our physical, spiritual and mental health, by the obsessive, often unquestioned quest for material gain.
It’s the materialistic mindset that says getting more money and possessions is the ultimate aim of life. Affluenza is the spirit of our age and this dogged quest for more has infected all of us.
Let’s drill down further into the nature of the disease and its diagnosis:
- A dysfunctional relationship with wealth or money that can strike anyone, regardless of economic level.
- The bloated and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses.
- An epidemic of overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by an unrelenting pursuit of the American Dream.
I wonder if anyone has ever seen a warning label on money, like we have on so many other things?
Interestingly enough, Affluenza is a widely used word. Even outside the church, people recognize how getting caught up in materialism can be a real sickness. It can ruin lives. It can destroy families. It can debilitate and cripple us.
Some might say, “I can’t have affluenza, because I’m not one of the affluent.” But affluenza isn’t a disease of the upper class. It can affect anyone. In fact, sometimes it’s greatest in those who have not achieved the financial status in life to which they have dreamed.
Let me give you a short true-or-false quiz for determining if you have the disease:
- I’m willing to pay way more for a T-shirt if it has a designer’s name or logo on it.
- I feel the need to own a 4-wheel drive Sport Utility Vehicle even though I never drive off the paved road.
- I believe that if I buy a party dress, the party invitation will come.
- I have a shoe collection Imelda Marcos would envy.
- I’m willing to work 40 years at a job I hate so I can buy lots of stuff.
- When I’m feeling sad, I love to go shopping and treat myself.
Scriptures are replete with warnings concerning affluenza. Listen to First Timothy 6:9-10 (NIV):
“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Here are some more facts about affluenza. Affluenza is characterized by:
- an inability to delay gratification and tolerate frustration;
- a false sense of entitlement;
- loss of future motivation;
- preoccupation with externals;
- rampant materialism and consumerism.
I think an example of affluenza is our society’s infatuation with the lottery. Again affluenza is not just a rich people’s illness. Most of the people who play the lottery don’t have the money to waste. But they’re infected with this illness, which apparently also makes you stupid, because, against all logic, against incredible odds, those with affluenza seem to think that it could happen to them — that they could be that big winner, and never have to work again a day in their lives.
Unfortunately, for many, there’s a huge cost to this illness — this get-rich-quick mentality. Instead of lifting them out of poverty, it only worsens their financial situation.
Of course, the lottery is only one example of affluenza. Even the world recognizes that something’s wrong with this picture. Even the world knows, almost instinctively, that money and things cannot buy happiness, though so many seem bent on trying to buy it anyway.
People of all economic levels buy into the overriding value within our culture that money solves all problems, thus denial of money-related difficulties is supported by society. Many sufferers of affluenza hesitate to seek help. As a nation, we have developed the false sense of entitlement which is characteristic of affluenza. Far from guaranteeing happiness, wealth or the single-minded pursuit of it can destroy happiness, or — at the least — increase existing problems.
Before the fall of the Iron curtain, a leader in the Romanian church, which suffered persecution under communism, said: “In my experience, 95% of the believers, who face the test of persecution, pass it. 95% of the believers who face the test of prosperity, fail it.”
The Test of Prosperity
Prosperity — having a lot — is a test of our faith. It’s a test of where we put our treasure. The parable that Jesus told immediately after the warning we read talks about this.
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21; NIV)
Jesus tells us at the beginning of this parable that the good life has nothing to do with things, or with being wealthy. Because that’s true, we have to be on guard. We have to take precautions in our lives and in our spirits, against — greed, which would be a Bible word for affluenza.
A big part of our problem in dealing with this illness is that being on guard against greed is the exact opposite of what we hear in our society. Take, for example, some of these familiar advertising phrases: “You can have it now!” “You can have it all!” “You deserve the best!”
Advertisers spend millions of dollars enticing us to let our guard down against affluenza.
If we take the illness analogy, and there was an outbreak of the flu, it would be as if advertisers said: Don’t wash your hands. Don’t worry about being around someone sneezing. Drink from the glass of someone with the flu, and be sure to share their food, too.
Advertisers tell us that if we buy more and more of their products, we’ll be happier, more fulfilled, more comfortable, maybe more popular, and definitely much cooler. There’s no hint of the warning of excess, and no hint that having the things they’re selling will not make us happy.
34% of Americans polled in 2000, ranked shopping as their favorite activity? 70% of Americans visit malls each week — more than attend churches or synagogues. On average, Americans shop six hours a week, and spend only 40 minutes playing with their children.
By the age of 20, the average American has seen some one million commercial messages. How much do you think these million messages are balanced out by messages from the Word of God? If you figure that the average hour-long TV show has about 20 minutes of commercials in it, then all you have to do is watch two hours of TV, and you’re told during those hours to indulge yourself in exposure to affluenza for a period of time just as long as this article will take to remind us of the scriptural warning to be on guard against it. And that’s only counting TV commercials, and not the hundreds of other ways that encourage us to indulge ourselves, because we’re worth it, at least according to those trying to get us to spend our money on their products. The sheer weight of these messages on our spirits is overwhelming.
Advertising accounts for two-thirds of the space in newspapers, and 40% of our mail. The average American spends one year of his/her life watching TV commercials.
We all acknowledge that when you have children, they’re usually the first to bring an illness into the house. Then everyone else in the house gets that cold or whatever. Well, children are the fastest growing segment of the consumer market. In 1995 alone, companies spent $1 billion marketing their products to young people. In the messages we get from our culture, if we hear something often enough, we start to believe it.
How about these ideas from this commercial onslaught:
If you use this product you will:
- Join a wonderful group of people.
- Feel appreciated.
- Be rewarded.
- Be held in high esteem by others.
- Have more love gratification in your life.
- Enjoy the adventure or escape that you want.
- Be more like famous or wealthy people.
- Be associated with success, humor, or tradition
- Find deep satisfaction.
And, if you do not use this product you will
- Face social isolation or career failure.
- Face failing health or death.
In other words, if you don’t use this product, you’re a real loser. All of these things conspire to spread affluenza. But the Bible says: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34; NIV). That verse is just a few verses beyond the parable we read above. It’s how Jesus concludes his remarks on trusting Him for our needs, reminding us that the Father knows what we need and is more than able to provide.
It’s interesting that an overwhelming majority of everything the gospels record Jesus said relates to this topic — money and possessions. There’s more about money in scripture than Christ’s teachings on heaven and hell combined. So: why did Jesus put such an emphasis on money and possessions? Why is there so much in scripture about wealth?
It’s clear there’s a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money. We may try to separate our faith and our finances, but God sees these things as absolutely inseparable.
Only the Great Physician Can Diagnose the Disease
Affluenza is an illness of the heart. It may be a little harder to hide from others than worldliness, but still, God is the only doctor capable of diagnosing and healing the human heart. That’s true if the ailment is worldliness, and that’s true if the ailment is affluenza.
Materialism is not primarily what you have, it’s an attitude. You can have a lot and not be afflicted with affluenza. You can have very little and have a very bad case of affluenza. As an attitude, only God can truly know what’s going on with us. Only God sees the heart.
This article wasn’t written to encourage readers to look around us and wonder who might be a carrier, or who might suffer from this illness. The only thing
we need to do in response to this subject is ask: Am I susceptible to affluenza? And the answer to that is: Yes! — we’re all susceptible. We must ask ourselves, are we afflicted with affluenza — in any part of our lives? We must look at our own heart, not the hearts of others.
BETTER Homes and Gardens
Have you ever read a copy of the magazine Better Homes and Gardens? The magazine is not called Homes and Gardens. It’s called BETTER Homes and Gardens. Better than whose?
So, we have these warnings. They’re seen throughout the Word of God. But they’re for each of US, not for us to diagnose the other person.
Friend, can you see the problem? Can you see the difficulty with affluenza? Maybe we can even admit that we’re at least susceptible to it, if not outright afflicted.
Lying and Dying
Chapter Five of Acts contains one of the darkest moments of the life of the early church. A husband and wife team, Ananias and Sapphira are sitting down, trying to figure out what they are going to do as part of this community called the church. They decided to sell some property. But they also connived and they decided to lie about how much they were paid for it.
Here’s what they decided; “Whenever anyone asks us how much we sold it for, tell them it is this much and we’ll keep the rest. Just lie about it.” And so they did. And one by one they both come to Peter and Peter asked them “Is this how much you made?” They both lied, and said, “Yes,” and the result was they died.
Scripture says that great fear seized everyone who heard about it. Well no kidding! Of course, it did. The question we ask as we look at that passage is WHY?
Why did they die? Was it because they didn’t give it all? No. It goes a lot deeper than that. The Message translation puts it this way:
The whole congregation of believers was united as one – one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus and grace was on all of them.
And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.
Joseph, called by the apostles “Barnabas” (which means “Son of Comfort”), a Levite born in Cyprus, sold a field that he owned, brought the money, and made an offering of it to the apostles.
But a man named Ananias — his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him — sold a piece of land, secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.
Peter said, “Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field? Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got into you to pull a trick like this? You didn’t lie to men but to God.”
Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard of it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.
Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, “Tell me, were you given this price for your field?” “Yes,” she said, “that price.”
Peter responded, “What’s going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you’re next.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with.
It’s clear from this story that affluenza can kill.
The Rich Young Ruler
He was a wealthy man. His eyes were set on religious things — on teachers, eternal life, and good deeds. He was a seeker: he seemed willing to listen and eager to learn. He seemed to be a disciple-in-the-making. It was he that inspired Jesus’ famous words “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” But his story has a sad ending.
Often it’s only one thing that keeps a person from accepting Christ. This was true in life of the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus said: “One thing thou lackest…” He lacked the willingness to put Christ first above all in his life. That’s what God requires of all of us. One little thing, but it was too big to surrender. Many people have only one thing: lust, money, popularity, fame, possessions — one thing keeping them from surrendering! “What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul…” (Mark 8:36).
Look at what the Rich Young Ruler was offered.
- He was offered a Savior — who would save his soul.
- He was offered a Cross — that would lead to a crown.
- He was offered a home in heaven.
Look at what he refused. He refused it all.
Watch Jesus as He begins to lead this young man step-by-step into what he must do. The young man passes all the requirements so far. If he will but take one more step he’ll be saved. Everything else is done. If he will but surrender his all, the angels will sing, and the Kingdom of God will be richer for all time. If he will just step over that line and surrender, what joy for time and eternity would be his.
He came, but he went away. It’s shocking to see how a person can climb to the very door of heaven and yet fall into hell. See how much we can know and yet be foolish. See how much we can do and yet do nothing.
It’s possible to talk to Jesus face-to-face and yet go away. We can live with Jesus and not know Him. Judas did it.
Where did the Rich Young Ruler go? Did he go to his friends? He had not found in his friends what satisfied, or he would not have sought out Jesus.
Where did he go? Back to his pleasures? I doubt if he found satisfaction there.
Where did he go? Did he go to Heaven? No! — he left Heaven Behind when he left Jesus behind!
If you could climb the steps of gold, enter the gates of pearl, walk the golden streets, and search for him, your search would be in vain. If you could cross the landscapes of eternal bliss in the city four-square you would not find him. If you looked in the procession of the saints, you would not find him. If you looked through the many mansions or among the multitude that no man can number, you would not find him. HE IS NOT THERE!
Jesus put His finger on the spot — the man loved his gold. How sad that in the fires of eternal judgment dwells one who once ran to Jesus, fell at His feet, and asked, “Master, what must I do that I might have eternal life?”###
John Stallings is an award-winning Southern Gospel songwriter, who wrote numerous classics such as: Learning To Lean, Love Grew Where The Blood Fell, Touching Jesus, One Day I Will, You’re All Invited To My Mansion, Blessing After Blessing, Light The Light, Angels Camping All Around Me, God’s Gonna Do It, and many more. His songs have been recorded by many well-known Gospel artists, including, The Blackwood Brothers, The Speers, The Stamps Quartet, J.D. Sumner, Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Wendy Bagwell, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, among many others. His singing career was launched at the young age of six in a citywide revival at famed Soldier Field in Chicago. At the age of sixteen he began preaching. John was Nashville’s prestigious Dove Award recipient in 1977, as well as many other awards over the years. He’s also a veteran pastor, evangelist, church-planter, and travels internationally with his wife, Juda, as singing evangelists. They reside in Altamonte Springs, Florida. John’s twin-daughters, Mary Alessi and Martha Munizzi, are both award-winning Gospel recording artists and songwriters in their own right, who with their husbands co-pastor churches. John’s blog, Wisdom and Wit of John Stallings, is a featured column here on Spirit Life Magazine (see left sidebar).
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