It’s a human condition, it’s a church condition, and it deals with truth and lies, errant expectation, and deception. We expect something to be so and it’s otherwise. It occurs both in poorer cultures and richer cultures and is centered on the things of this world. It contributes to the depression we see today in numbers the world has never seen. Jesus spoke to this human condition by revealing to us how we should focus our hearts. He taught that we were made to find our joy in Him, not in the things of this world. Have you experienced the expectation of joy from something in this world and been left wanting? I can’t count the number of times! Maybe it’s just my problem?! Jesus’ focus on what would fill Him was beyond this earthly existence, on His relationship with his Father. He encourages us to focus similarly.
But on what does today’s church focus? What do we expect from this life (as a "Christian")and what do we teach that one is to expect? The early church grew like wildfire while experiencing absolutely no earthly gain in following Jesus. The early church is an incredibly fascinating study of contradiction in human nature. By all accounts, many died for their faith and this was the reasonable expectation for following Jesus. Many, many others received beatings, rejection from loved ones, mockery, imprisonment, loss of employment, starvation, etc. They were all "fools", believing in a god that they couldn’t see and who was so "powerless" that he couldn’t prevent the above. This is what Paul referred to when He said that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but power to those who believe. Power resulting from a changed focus, one beyond this temporal existence to a heavenly Kingdom and a heavenly Father, now unseen. There was little disillusionment in those early Jesus lovers. Their focus was Jesus’ focus, and not on the things of this life. They could see that His message centered on a kingdom not of this world and they wanted to be a part of it, regardless of the consequences in this life. Their expectation of reward was the inner joy of a relationship with their Father and the "after" of this life. Their Master, their Savior, their God lived an abbreviated life, was beaten, stoned, laughed at, mocked, imprisoned, crucified, and murdered… and they expected no less, with joy. Why? Because of where they placed their focus and because they had realistic expectations from this life.
These saints are likely quite embarrassed by the health and wealth "gospel" that is being preached today in the U.S. and in Brazil, one that disillusions many. It teaches that Jesus’ followers should expect happiness, health without illness, and material prosperity. If you are not experiencing these things, you can go to Jesus because His priority is that you experience the "abundant life" (this being defined, of course, as abundant earthly "blessing"). These preachers have no sense of historical reality and are superficially blinded by the comforts they experience in the modern western world which has not been experienced by 99.99999% of all those who have lived since the garden. This gospel sadly puts the focus of Jesus’ kingdom on this life, where He never put it. "My kingdom is not of this world"?
This is the disillusionment that we face in this Amazon culture, mainly because of these preachers and television, which portrays nonreality as quite real. Everyone here has a T.V. and they watch it often, and they watch and listen to these preachers. I would love one of these health and wealth preachers to explain to me what "biblical" prosperity is to a woman born in the bush, who carts water home from the contaminated river, doesn’t read, battles mosquitoes, malaria, stingrays, snakes and hunger daily, loses her first two children to diarrhea, and whose furniture consists of a tree branch stacked on a chopped stump. This is, of course, how ALL people had lived up to about 200 years ago and how the majority of people in the world still live! I have seen, however, a woman such as this find joy in the love and forgiveness of her Father and the assurance of life forever in the Kingdom of God (a joy that was not accompanied by ANY earthly gain or prosperity).
But the "health and wealth" message of these "preachers" is heard in the jungles of the Amazon rain forest. "Jesus" either represents a god who promises health, wealth, and happiness (like that on T.V.) or a religious slot machine where if you put in good works, money, church attendance, sacraments, etc, good things will happen to you. Of course, this type of thinking is not isolated to this culture. How long has it been since you read, "If you forward this to ten people…"
Disillusionment is a human condition and having unrealistic expectations is a temptation faced by children, parents, couples, employers, employees, etc. We are encouraged to "dream" and to develop desires and expectations. I have yet, however, to meet the person whose reality actually matched their dreams. Our preconceived ideas about reality are consistently errant and the sooner we realize this the healthier we will be. Preconceived ideas about God are many and need dealt with, as well. How do we do this? One effective tool in this regard is humility. Humility is such a beautiful characteristic in a pursuer of God and truth and one that is typically accompanied by lower, realistic expectations. If we are honest, we are all still learning. None of us have arrived, though many portray that they have it all together. This is why an open-minded study of God’s word (his self-revealing letters to us) and open conversation with Him and other seekers are so very important. We need to always be learning. The God that so loves us will lead us as we allow Him. Along the way, our perception of God will change with time and increased intimacy as my perception of Bets (my wife) has changed with deeper intimacy and time.
We are constantly challenged in our work here to not be critical of false views of our Father but to love, love, love and instruct, while not being disillusioned ourselves. Errant views (and unrealistic expectations) of God, life, people, and self abound and we are to pursue truth while loving those who have a different view. Grace is still God’s primary tool for reconciling people to Himself. We are called to shrewdly recognize errant beliefs but to graciously love those who hold them, treating them just as we would like to be treated. We’ve all been there!
Disillusionment and unrealistic expectations kill joy and prevent a heart of gratitude. A thankful heart with a realistic view of this life and sustained hope for the next will create a healthy perspective and provide the joy that we so desperately long for, whether we live in a jungle or in a U.S. suburb.
1) Banana trees are abundant in the Amazon. To seek bananas in the woods of Ohio is silly. To pick and enjoy a fruit, one must search for the tree that produces that particular fruit, where it grows. Happiness is the fruit of healthy relationships and work well done. Both "grow" in regions that take significant effort to access.
2) To seek one’s value in the praise of men is to seek nourishment from chocolate.
3) Physical exercise benefits the mind as much as it does the body.
4) To hear God’s voice takes practice and effort. Anything of value requires the same.
5) More resources (money, connections, knowledge, etc) require more decisions.
6) The opposite of intolerance is not tolerance, but love. Josh McDowell
7) Religion promises God and delivers self.
8) To seek love and fulfillment outside of God is to dig wells where there is no water. Danny Meyer
9) Grace and mercy, purely given or received, are miracles of healing on the level of giving sight to the blind.
10) A self-worshipping man transformed and worshipping Jesus is a far greater miracle than a paralytic walking, yet which would more excite most "Christians"?
11) Success in God’s kingdom is not about results or achievement. Success is walking humbly as a son/daughter, with an ear to what the Father is saying, and obeying.