I call it the Green Pepper Price Index (GPPI).

Just two and a half years ago, I could buy a green pepper in my local grocery store for $0.59. Sometimes the price even went down to $0.49. This last Saturday, that same green pepper was $1.29.

People can’t seem to connect the rising prices of food in their grocery stores with the cost of fuel to truck it there. They can’t see that when a big farming operation goes through as much as 2,500 gallons of diesel a day, $4.59 a gallon diesel fuel (up from just $1.29/gal. in my area a few summers ago) drives up the cost of that green pepper.

And why are gas prices that high? Oil speculation. When you have to cover the costs of bid-up oil futures as one rich multi-millionaire after another plays the speculation game, you’ve got to raise prices. When a billionaire like Mark Cuban, owner of The Dallas Mavericks, says that rich guys are squeezing the little guys like us in their no-holds-barred gambling in the oil speculation market—and that it has to stop for the sake of our country (though the scoundrels behind this show no sign of easing up)—you know we live in unprecedented, self-centered times.

Every study out there shows the middle class losing ground. (Here’s an eye-opening analysis.) Meanwhile, the top 2 percent of wage earners in this country have never been richer. flytrap.jpgThe CEO of UnitedHealthcare made $1.2 billion in compensation in 2006. That’s billion. Yeah, with a b.

It’s not a word we use too often anymore, avarice. The continued dumbing-down of our vocabulary excludes it in favor of the more common greed. But avarice is a more compelling word, with a ferocity that greed lacks. Greed is snatching a slice more pizza than you deserve. Avarice is buying the pizzeria and forcing it to make pizzas for no one else but you. Avarice doesn’t merely want one more; it wants to change the structure of reality at a deeper level to feed that greed.

The problem with the kind of avarice I’ve highlighted so far is that it’s easy to spot. Some CEO runs his company into the ground and walks away with 9-digits of golden parachute exit money…well, only the CEO and his board of directors consider that a rational response.

But avarice goes much deeper, affecting the common man, too. Sometimes, we even see it in our churches.

The kind of avarice I’m talking about finds it’s revealing in these verses:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me —practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
—Philippians 4:8-9

I believe that at its core, avarice is an inability to consider the inherent good in what God has created or done for us and be satisfied with it.

Avarice cannot think on what is good or pure because they aren’t good or pure enough, at least as the person stricken by avarice thinks. Such a person sees a beautiful, verdant forest filled with the Lord’s good gifts to us and thinks, If we cut down all the trees, we could put in a strip mall. That shrunken soul finds no excellence in the forest. Such a mind is warped to only see what it believes is good, whether that “good” has any grounding in God’s good or not. Such a mind would pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.

The avarice of the average man and woman in America (a “Christian nation,” mind you) has led our country into a dark place. To that average person, no good exists save that it provide him or her an immediate, self-centered gratification. This even extends to our American heritage. Today’s Americans value freedom so little that we are willing to give it away for perceived personal gain, even if the wholesale barter of American guiding principles  destroys the country in the process. We have become people adrift on a tiny ice flow in the middle of a vast ocean, looking for ways to start a fire because “it’s a little chilly on this ice.”

And what about our churches?

Avarice in our churches means that we will moan and whine about our pet issue until it splits the church in two. No matter that the church goes belly up and fellow believers are hurt. No, it’s better to “stand up for the truth” (even if that truth isn’t) than to do a little self-discovery and realize the world doesn’t revolve around us and our pet issue. Better that we leave our sacrifice and be reconciled with our brother and sister in Christ before we might offer it.

Avarice in our churches precludes teachability. When our hearts swell with avarice, no room is left to grow in grace.

Avarice in our churches means that we won’t be satisfied with the speed at which God is doing good things in our midst, so we’ll find some man-made way to stoke that fire, ultimately burning everything up, including the good we started out with.

Avarice in our supposedly Christ-centered lives will force us to distrust the Faith of our Fathers and explore every newfangled Christian fad that comes down the pike, even if such fads derail our journey with Christ. That inability to appreciate the good for its inherent goodness only wrecks our faith as we seek to add to what is already perfect in Christ.

Avarice cannot meditate on the good because it perpetually searches for something better, even if that supposed better mauls everyone it touches. Woe to us if we are on the receiving end of that mauling! We’ll find that our “better” turns to devour us.

God, how we need to purge our lives of avarice!

In My Little Kingdom (and Yours)


In my little kingdom, I ride my little pony over my little rainbow. Every day is my day, every event my event.

In my little kingdom, we build on a foundation that is me. We do this because only I am worthy.

In my little kingdom, I never have to sacrifice, though you do. You’re a peasant, remember, but I’m a king.

In my little kingdom, the easiest way to make things happen is to throw a tantrum. My castle in my little kingdom. Isn't it fab?Because nothing beats a spectacle when attempting to prove one’s royal lineage.

In my little kingdom, the littleness of it all means there’s just enough room for me. Let’s not even consider making room for those people.

In my little kingdom, nothing is more important than making me feel good about myself. Of course, this means that I will have to make other people feel bad about themselves. (That’s just the way it works. Sorry.)

In my little kingdom, we do what I want and not what you want. In fact, in my little kingdom, as far as I’m concerned, there is no you.

In my little kingdom, I’ve heard peasants talk of being “the bigger person.” I have no idea what that means, though.

And sometimes, the best place for me to pull out my little kingdom for all to see is when I interact with other people. Funny thing is, when I’m with others, it seems like each person has his own little kingdom. Except those other little kingdoms don’t matter as much as mine.

I once heard of a place where another Kingdom reigned.

In that other Kingdom, everyone is a servant, yet no one complains. In fact, people serve gratefully.

In that other Kingdom, people aren’t peasants, but children of the King. And the children treat each other as if each is the most important person in the world.

In that other Kingdom, no room for little kingdoms exists. That’s not because the Kingdom is too small, but because it’s too large.

In that other Kingdom, in times of lack, all lack together, and in times of plenty, all enjoy plenty together. The children even believe that giving their blessings away is better than keeping them all to themselves.

In that other Kingdom, it isn’t about living, but about dying. And no one would have it any other way.

In that other Kingdom, when one rejoices, all rejoice. Also, as unbelievable as it may sound, when one hurts, all hurt.

In that other Kingdom, all can become children of the King. Even those people.

In that other Kingdom, helping others become part of the Kingdom drives the children. Some even die so that others might come to live in the Kingdom.

In that other Kingdom, the foundation is the King. And He is love.

In that other Kingdom, one glimpses true meaning. Some even say that eternal life is found in the King of that Kingdom and in surrendering all to Him.


Sometimes, when all is quiet and I have to be alone with myself, I think about that other Kingdom and mine doesn’t seem so wonderful anymore.

Being the Body: The Necessity of Community in the American Church


But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
—1 Corinthians 12:18-27 ESV

I hated the Army’s slogan, “An Army of One.” While it may have been true that the threadworn “Be All That You Can Be” begged to be updated, the answer was not in trying to convince recruits to better hone their individualistic lifestyles on the battlefield.One team

Chaos would reign if every soldier were left to be “An Army of One.” The Army knew that, so it’s a mystery why they went with that slogan. Perhaps they simply caved to the zeitgeist of “every man for himself.” Still, no organization on the face of the planet should be less focused on the individual self than the Army.

Well, perhaps there is one organization….

The older I get, the more I see that nearly every problem in the American Church today can be traced to our damaged understanding of what it means to be self-less. Everything in our culture screams “Me, Myself, and I.” Our government documents assert the “rights of the individual” and we’ve taken that to the extreme, justifying the rights of the individual over community. No verse in the Bible better illustrates our times than this:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way….
—Isaiah 53:6a KJV

Everyone goes his own way. No one tells us what to do. We can do it ourselves. In fact, we must do it ourselves in order to preserve the American civil religion of self-sufficiency and bootstrapping. In many ways, the motto that best describes the way we Americans practice our civil religion is not “In God We Trust,” but “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”

For this reason, when we talk about community in our churches, we make a mockery of the word. True community creates a mindset that sees the world in terms of “us” and not “me.” But what we exalt in so many sectors of the American Church are our individual rights.

  • We worship God as individuals, not as a community. Our worship songs rarely refer to our standing before God as a community, instead choosing “I” or “me” over “us.”
  • Though God has ordained our work to be holy toward Him—and by extension to the Body of Christ—we think of our work lives as having no bearing on anyone else’s.
  • We do not think of our possessions as being always in play for the Lord (Acts 4:34-35), but instead cling to damning concepts of individual ownership.
  • We practice our benevolence as individuals, talking about “my ministry” or engaging in ministries we do outside of our local worshiping body.
  • We interpret the Scriptures as individuals, not as a community, increasingly the likelihood of error and heresy.
  • We worship at the altar of the nuclear family, even though Christ says our family is wider than that, encompassing all those who do His will (Matthew 12:49-50).
  • We believe it is fine for brothers and sisters in our churches to suffer want, excusing our lack of help by claiming we might interfere with God “disciplining those He loves” or with His sovereignty.
  • We vociferously defend our right to private lives, though the Gospel explicitly states that we must die to self, and that we are not our own. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a)

It all goes back to the self.

For all the talk of the cross in the Godblogosphere, I’m not sure most people who defend the cross understand what it means to our practice of the Faith. We’ve developed this mistaken notion that putting self to death at the cross of Christ grants us rights to new, improved selves.

But Christ didn’t die to form an “army of one.” He founded a Church, the Communion of  Saints, that this side of heaven is called The Body of Christ!  If you’ve ever witnessed another person dying, you’ll understand that each organ supports the whole. If the kidneys stop working, the brain—and everything else—soon follows. A loose affiliation of Christian loners will not accomplish His will. Those stragglers will be picked off one by one and die the wrong kind of death. If we can’t see that already happening in our churches, then we’re blind.

No, when we die at the cross, we’re reborn into Christ and the community of faith He established. We no longer live to ourselves, but to the Lord. We express the servant heart of Christ by dwelling in unity within the communion of the saints, lovingly serving the brethren and reaching out to the lost.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
—John 12:24 ESV

No one is meant to live alone. Even God is a Trinity. The fellowship of believers has its image in the fellowship the person’s of the Trinity experience. Jesus explicitly stated His communion with the other persons in the Trinity numerous times.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
—1 John 3:16 ESV

Too often we tend to think of laying down one’s life merely in terms of physical death. I think that sells the idea short, though. Laying down one’s life means that we do that which is selfless so that others benefit. In the harried times we live in, laying down one’s life may consist of as little as doing without something we would like to purchase so that others might have their needs met. The truth here is that we lay down what we want so we can grow in humility and service. When a community of believers lives this way with each other, all needs are met and no one goes without. This is the way of Christian community, and it is sorely lacking in our churches.

The Bible has much to say about community:

1. Love for the Lord accompanies love for the community of faith, and vice versa. 

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…
—1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints… —Ephesians 1:15 ESV

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
—1 John 3:10-11 ESV

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
—1 John 4:20-21 ESV

2. The Lord not only dwells in the individual, but also within the community:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
—Matthew 18:20 ESV

A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
—Psalms 133:1-3 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
—Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

3. Community = unity: 

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
—Romans 15:5-7 ESV

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
—2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
—1 Peter 3:8 ESV

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
—Acts 2:44 ESV

4. Community testifies to the truth of the Gospel:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
—John 13:34-35 ESV

5. Community fosters spiritual maturity: 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
—Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV

6. Community encourages the elimination of societal distinctions: 

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
—James 2:1-4 ESV

But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
—Mark 10:43-45 ESV

7. Community calls for less judgmentalism: 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
—Romans 14:13 ESV

8. Community meets needs:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
—Galatians 6:2 ESV

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:34-35 ESV

9. God desires the community to meet regularly: 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
—Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

10. God crafts us into a community of Faith:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
—1 Peter 2:4-5,9 ESV

Those are just a few verses that come to mind that testify to the preciousness of community. Hundreds more exist. If you have an electronic version of the Bible, search for the phrase “one another” and see how many community verses come up for that phrase alone.

Why have we not learned this lesson?

Just this month, the Army announced the end of the “An Army of One” ad campaign. The new slogan? “Army Strong.” A tad basic, but better. How about us? How does “Church Strong” sound? I like it. A Church built on the strong community that Jesus Christ intended will naturally be “Church Strong.” If we die to self, replace “I” and “me” with “us,” I think we might grow into “Church Strong.”

But we’ve got to start believing it and living it.

In the days ahead, this series will look at ways we can stop talking about community and truly live it out. With all my heart, I believe that this is the starting point for revival among God’s people. If we truly live out the kind of community that the Lord desires of us, we will see no end of revival and empowering for service in our churches. Then maybe we will live like this:

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
—Acts 4:31 ESV

Posts in this series: