Affluenza


Affluenza (1997) is an hour long documentary about the dangers of greedy consumerism. One scene features the Potomac Mills Mall in Northern Virginia (near Washington D.C.).

First, let me confess I have been there, more than once. The place is huge, it actually is divided into neighborhoods to help shoppers keep from getting lost. In a state with Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, a number of key Civil War battle sites, the Eastern Shore, and Virginia Beach; Potomac Mills Mall is noted as the top tourist attraction in Virginia.

Second, I want to share two quotes from the documentary caught my attention:

The narrator says, “Seventy percent of us visit malls each week—more than attend churches or synagogues. On average we shop 6 hours a week and spend only 40 minutes playing with our children.”

A Potomac Mills TV commercial is referenced where an announcer says, “Shopping is therapy. Listen to that little voice in your head. Shop. Shop. Shop. Shop. You can buy happiness. Just don’t pay retail for it.”

I close my thoughts today with three passages of scripture that came to mind as I was reading about this documentary in an Preaching Connection email I received yesterday.

“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).

“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need”
(Acts 2:45).

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Affluenza can be deadly. I pray God will purify my heart from whatever greed may be lurking.

Living More Simply

Life has become too complicated for some people. So they are taking steps to live more simply. One group of friends met together for a potluck dinner one night and made a pact to buy nothing new except for food, medicine and toiletries for the next six months. Turns out they were able to extend their agreement for another six months. They made it an entire year without buying anything but necessities.

Their story got out and before long there were groups springing up across the country. Seems a lot of people are tired of how complicated life can be when in response to the seductive messages of our culture we become consumed with consuming. Judith Levine even wrote a book (which I have not read) chronicling her experience Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping.

Sometimes my life is just too complicated, too. While I am not ready to sign a pact, I feel the need to ask God for a renewed sense of perspective. How can I simplify without letting the process make me more rather than less focused on things? What do I really need? How do I find the balance between being grateful to God for material blessings and becoming attached to them? When does saving become hoarding? What stuff can I do without?

God, please give me renewed perspective.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Swallowing Money

I recently read the following in Preaching Today:

In the January 12 Turning Point Daily Devotional, David Jeremiah writes, “CNN recently carried a story of a sixty-two-year-old man who was rushed to Cholet General Hospital in France, suffering stomach pain. His family told doctors the man had a history of mental illness and a penchant for swallowing coins, but nothing could have prepared the doctors for X-rays of the man’s stomach. It was filled with 350 coins he had swallowed. The doctors performed surgery to remove the mass, but the man died of complications twelve days later.

“Few men swallow coins, but millions of people are gorging themselves sick with money and materialism. The Bible warns that the love of money is a primary root of all evil, causing people to stray from the faith in their greed and pierce themselves through with many sorrows.

“Take inventory of your life. Are you sacrificing much time away from your family and church because of money? Are you losing needed rest for the sake of a job? Are you working too hard for material gain?

“God wants us to be faithful to our work, and He gives us the power to gain wealth. But He doesn’t want you to wear yourself out to get rich. Have the wisdom to show restraint.”

Working to Set An Example

“Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that our expenses would not be a burden to anyone there as we preached God’s Good News among you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NLT).

Paul took extreme measures to avoid being a burden to the Christians at Thessalonica. Paul and his team worked day and night to prevent being financially dependent on the church. Preaching by day and laboring by night? Laboring by day and preaching by night? We are not told the details we would love to hear. Paul just shares his desire to support himself and the resultant moonlighting. Elsewhere we learn Paul was a skilled tentmaker (Acts 18:3, 20:34-35). Perhaps that was how he earned his living in Thessalonica, bringing in enough money to pay for his room and board with Jason so that he would not be a burden to these already poor people (Acts 17:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

Paul made it clear he had the right to ask for financial support from the church (2 Thessalonians 3:9). Paul makes a similar, extended argument to the Corinthians (complete with a quotation from the Law) in which he asks some thought provoking questions (1 Corinthians 9:3-12; Deuteronomy 25:4).

  • Don’t we have the right to food and drink?
  • Is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
  • Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?
  • Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the grapes?
  • Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?
  • Doesn’t the law say the same thing?
  • If others have the right of support, shouldn’t we?

On some occasions Paul accepted support from the church. For example, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks the church for their generous support of his ministry. He lets them know that he has learned to do without if necessary, but he has also learned to live appropriately with the blessings of their generous gifts. The Philippian church repeatedly sent Paul gifts, even when other churches did not. Paul goes so far as to describe these gifts as worship offerings given to God. “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (see Philippians 4:10-18).

So why does Paul sometimes refuse financial support and other times welcome such?

Paul never viewed ministry as a job for which he was paid a wage. Paul never views support from the church as a way to supplement his income. When he accepted pay, he received it as support so he could devote his full-time to ministry. The idea of ministry as an 8-5 job is completely foreign to Paul. Paul was passionate about ministry as a lifestyle, not a profession. He never clocked-out. Thankfully, when he did receive financial support from the church, he didn’t have to clock-in at another job that would divert him from his passion.

Other situations called for Paul to work in order to support himself. Sometimes the people were in extreme poverty and he refused church support. Another time the church was struggling with members refusing to work and instead becoming busybodies. Paul could have asked for support. Instead Paul worked in order to provide a model for the people to follow; after all, if you refused to work, you didn’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:15). One of my heroes is a brother who has worked his entire life in the coal mines of West Virginia to provide for his family. He has actively worked in ministry and preached for a congregation for years – not to use the church for financial gain, but to serve the Lord in a way called for by the circumstances in the community.

Ministers who receive support from the church should be very grateful and realize those gifts are an offering to God. May God help us never view our support as professional wages and our job as 8-5. May God help us be filled with a passion to minister to people for God. Not clocking in and out, but giving our life to the ministry.

Leaving My Stuff

“Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you.”
Hebrews 13:5 The Message

According to a recent article in Florida Today, people are leaving their stuff everywhere. Cab drivers find all kinds of items left by fares. In just two weeks, Denver International Airport collected 74 cell phones and 96 laptops forgotten at security checkpoints. Florida airports report people forgetting their jackets there, perhaps due to the warm weather. People even forget to reclaim their shoes after an evening at the bowling alley.

God wants us to enjoy blessings He provides, but maybe we just have too much stuff.

Why?

Why do we seem to have a constant thirst for more and more?

Could it be that we have forgotten God’s words of assurance that He will never leave us.

Maybe we ought to leave behind some of our possessions. Intentionally. Purposefully.

Simplify and learn to be content with God.

What do I need to leave behind?

Lottery Fever

An acquaintance looked at me with disbelief when I told him recently I was one of the biggest winners ever in the Tennessee Lottery. He had this “I-can’t-wait-to-tell-this-to-somebody” look on his face. I quickly explained to him I had never bought a Tennessee Lottery ticket so I was, in effect, one of the biggest winners.

My good friend has had a very different experience with the lottery. (S)he has scratched hundreds and hundreds of tickets looking for a winner. In fact, his car is covered with scratch dust from lottery tickets. He has played every combination of numbers imaginable looking for a big payday.

Sometimes when he is driving down the road he will look at the license plate on the car in front of him and the numbers will leap off the plate and into his mind. “7-9-1, 7-9-1, I have to play 7-9-1!” Sometimes hearing a telephone number triggers a run to the store. Other times he hears the scores reported Sports Center and has to jump in the car and run to buy tickets based on number from the Steelers versus Chiefs game.

Perhaps most disturbing is what happens when scripture is read at church. Can you guess what happens when my friend hears someone say, “Today I will be reading from Colossians 1:28.”? He has been known to leave church, right in the middle of “worship” and go to a store to buy lottery tickets.

The more I think about it, the more I really do feel like one of the biggest winners ever in the Tennessee Lottery. I don’t mean to have a holier-than-thou attitude. God knows in my heart I am fighting the works of the flesh just like everybody else. But I am really glad that I do not struggle with the compulsion of my friend. And I really hope that one day, he will overcome.