Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The cult of success

Jehovah witness, Mormons, Seventh day Adventist, universalism, unity doctrine, new age, the list of cults, according to the scholars is increasing drastically. A great amount of time and effort has been spent on scrutinizing them and bullet proofing the original ‘Christian’ doctrine. I am not a cult specialist, but I observe a not-much-addressed cult called – the cult of success.

Child care, old age care, health care, education, church and pretty much everything in this materialistic world is coming under the category of enterprise and success is measured on the scale of money, profit, building and head count. And as a result, we lose the sweetness of relationship, authenticity and love in all these aspects.

The ‘success demon’ enters our brain during the childhood of our life. Parents give us the first dose of pills to make up our mind to succeed in education, then in career, in family life and so forth. In the Christian ministry, the phrases such as ‘successful minister’ or ‘successful ministry’ or ‘successful author and speaker’ are not uncommon at all. How do they measure success? By counting the people, equipments, buildings, media coverage, circulation of books etc.

Tomas Merton once said, "Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks,... but at all cost avoid one thing: 'success'." We live in a depraved world where our success is determined by the type of car, size of home and title of job.

I used to get excited by news such as Bible is America's favorite book , but not anymore, even if it is considered as a Christian or Evangelical success. I can very well get a doctorate in Biblical knowledge and still live without any clue what the Gospel of Jesus Christ really means. So why are we boastful that Bible is still the best selling book in the world? That means nothing, unless we understand the meaning of Bible passages and find the Person it points to, not just the history, literature, poetry, moral standards and principles. We have countless number of seminaries all around the world, which are supposedly producing ‘disciples’, but the sad truth is that we seldom see such kind. Instead we see puffed up knowledge and intellectualism and an increased desire to use godliness as a means of financial gain (1 Timothy 6). Brennan Manning once said, "as systematic theology advances, the sense of wonder declines."

During the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were considered as successful people. They were successful in keeping the law of God and imposing it on others. They earned the respect and admiration of society which ultimately made them the most prideful people who ever lived on the earth. Their success mesmerized them and they kept the unsuccessful people (tax collectors, prostitutes, gentiles) distant away.

Living selflessly may not necessarily bring the ‘success’ as the world sees it. The early church did not measure up the success by the size of their gathering. They were in authentic relationship with God and others, considering ‘everything in common’ was their way of life. Jesus said, do not store up your treasures here on earth because it is destined to perish. At the end all we can brag is about the size of the pile of ashes. Look, I have more ashes than you! What a pathetic situation! Jesus taught the simplest act of love and friendship which would transform people in an exciting way. Somewhere along the line we lost that, we have learned to consume and compete, but forgot to ‘live’. Schools teach us to compete in academics and win the competitive job market. Churches teach us to compete in singing, bible quizzes, scripture memorization, observance of law etc. They brag about their 'disciplined' members who can recite the entire book of Bible. I am like... So what?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” If you and I see a group of little children playing in a play yard, would we ever think ‘how successful they are’? I would say to myself, how cute, innocent and playful they are. That’s how God loves to see us, His children – simple, innocent and joyful. He cares only less about our finance, career, possessions, discipline, religiosity etc.

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

That’s the problem of wealth and success. While accumulating it we wouldn’t realize how hard it would be to lose it sooner or later.

According to Wikipedia, Alexader the great was one of the most successful military commanders in history, and was undefeated in battle. By the time of his death, he had conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks. Alexander died after twelve years of constant military campaigning, possibly as a result of malaria, poisoning, typhoid fever, viral encephalitis or the consequences of alcoholism.

As a final wish, he asked his officials to put his hands outside his coffin, for people to see that he came to this world in empty hands and now leaving the world in empty hands. The story of a king who conquered major parts of the world ends there!

Apostle Paul warns us wisely in the book of Timothy, For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.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.

King Solomon had pretty much everything many wish for – wealth, power, fame, wisdom, beautiful girls (thousand wives) around him. Bible describes how the fame of Solomon's wisdom and wealth spread far and wide, so much so that the queen of Sheba decided that she should meet with him.

He searched for meaning in life from hedonism, materialism, intellectualism, and ultimately finding a lack of fulfillment from all of these “meaningless” pursuits.

He said:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless."
What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

Lets be careful not to take delight in all our 'work'. Lets realize that there are people who have had everything under the sun finally said it all meaningless. 'Nothing was gained under the sun' said Solomon and I find wisdom in it. Let's not be fooled by the futility of filthy success. It counts nothing to God. As Brennan Manning, one of my favorite author said, the only question we will ever be asked on the day of judgment is, 'Did you believe that I loved you?'. We all like the pleasure of achievements, compliments and praise; and many of us have moral superiority complex. It's my prayer that I want to lay it down, I want to stop entertaining my flesh, I don't want false humility either. There is pride in false humility which alienates and isolates us from real people. It is better to live as a 'failure', than living as a successful impostor who trick people and themselves to impress, achieve and posses.


Joel Brueseke said...

Bino... you've gone and done it again! You must've had a lot of practice with a hammer to keep hitting the nail so squarely on the head every time. :)

Matthew said...

I'll say. I still encourage you to write a book!

lydia joy said...

I can almost imagine hearing the passion coming from you as you write....Good post!

"We have countless number of seminaries all around the world, which are supposedly producing ‘disciples’, but the sad truth is that we seldom see such kind. Instead we see puffed up knowledge and intellectualism and an increased desire to use godliness as a means of financial gain (1 Timothy 6). Brennan Manning once said, "as systematic theology advances, the sense of wonder declines."

Amen! Where is the wonder in the church today? It's truly grievous - but, the good news is GOD is preparing a bride for His Son, one that will be totally in love with Him - He who began the good work will be faithful to complete it! GO GOD!

As for Brendan Mannings quote, a good one by the way, a conscience searer, and heart jerker..."Do you believe that I love you...." - I think that those who do believe it, will live it and share it and spread it - those who don't right now, why don't they? - they are either unaware of the Gospel, unbelievers or they are Christians living under the law (which leaves a lot of people not living in revelation of God's love) How does this change, how do we who truly believe and know God's love, by revelation, how do we share it?????
Okay sorry, I feel like having a conversation I guess....Thanks for your thoughts and passion, compelling, really!!!

Bino Manjasseril said...

Joel, Mathew and Lydia,
Thank you all for the encouragement!