Monday, December 31, 2007

Affluenza: Part 3-6

Affluenza, Part 6: Spending and Materialism


By Josh Harris @

We continue looking at ways to be vigilant against the deception and destruction of greed, considering Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. The last 2 posts of the series suggested we recognize our unique vulnerability, and guard against all kinds of greed. Here are numbers 3 and 4:

3. We need to get our financial house in order.

It is not greed to carefully think about, manage and budget your money. If you're not planning how you're going to save, what you're going to spend your money on, how you're going to give, then you are more—not less—susceptible to the impulses of greed. And an important part of avoiding slavery to money is making sure that you are managing your money, and that your money is not managing you.

An important part of making sure that we are not living for money and being driven by greed is making sure that our financial house is in order—we have a plan; it's in alignment with God's priorities; and we're sticking to it.

4. We all must push back against materialism.

In today's world, we face a constant onslaught of advertising and enticements to believe the lies of greed.

Parents, our children are being targeted at younger and younger ages. Think about this: From 1980-2004, the amount spent on children's advertising in America rose from $100 million dollars a year to $15 billion a year. We live in a culture that is built on and sustained by greed. This culture has a vested interest in making sure that you and your family continue to be ruled by wanting more.

In light of this, we can't be passive. We can't just stand still and try to resist the pull. We need to push back. We need to examine our lives, examine our homes, and find ways to push back against the lie of materialism that is ever-present. Where can we make do with less? Where are we senselessly going along with the consumer "more is better," mindset of our culture? Could we be more rich and generous toward God and others if we were willing to be more restrained in our spending habits?

Guarding against greed involves a tension. We are to enjoy what God has given us—God's Word tells us he gives all things for us to enjoy—but at the same time we must be watching for the presence of affluenza. That takes work. We need to get used to that work; we need to get used to that ongoing tension. We are not safe in this world from greed until we reach our eternal home, and until then we can't let our guard down.

Parents, are you training your children to have discernment about greed in their own hearts? Are you helping them understand how this culture wants to manipulate them? I want to encourage you to sit down and talk about these issues as a family. Do you operate with the mindset that you have to spend money to have a good time? Do we have to pay for someone else to entertain us? How can you push back against that mindset?

Also, are our conversations filled with discussion of what we want to purchase for ourselves? Let's seek to make our focus how we can be rich toward God instead. When you're driven by greed, you enjoy all the stuff you have less. When you turn your eyes to see God's generosity and when you begin to look for ways to express that same generosity, you're suddenly more aware of God's goodness and all the blessings that you have.

God is not trying to spoil our party. Do you think God is looking down and saying: "They've got too much stuff; I want to take it away from them; I want to make them unhappy?"

No. God wants our eternal joy. That's why he calls us to push back against materialism.

Affluenza, Part 5: Guarding Against All Kinds of Greed


Today we return to our series on the deceitfulness and destruction of greed, based on Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. In the last post, considering how we can be vigilant against greed, I wrote that we must recognize our unique vulnerability. A second way is this:

We must guard against all kinds of greed.

We need to remember that there are all kinds of greed. The NIV translates Jesus' words in Luke 12:15 this way: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed." The ESV says, "all covetousness."

If Jesus had wanted to just say, "be on the lookout for greed and covetousness," he could have done that, but he goes out of his way to say, "all kinds of greed." He wants us to understand that greed takes many forms. We have to remember this, because I think our tendency is to create a caricature of greed. We draw this picture in our mind, this extreme version of what greed is, and then we look at that and we say: Well, that's not me; that doesn't look like me at all. But greed is not just an old miser counting coins in a basement. We can all say we've never done that.

Greed takes many forms. You don't even have to be rich to be greedy. Sometimes people think: I'm not greedy. I don't have enough money. You can be broke and greedy. It's not as much fun, but you can do it.

Our problem is that we often focus on the greed that we see in others. And we love to identify that place in our lives where we're frugal. We each have some place in our life where we practice restraint, where we are not materialistic. And we hold that thing up as the shiny example of what we're truly like, all the while ignoring all the evidences of greed in our life.

For example, I've never really cared that much about the car that I drive. Now, I drive an okay car, but it's nothing fancy. Cars are not that important to me; I'm not materialistic when it comes to cars. And I like to remind myself of that. I like to congratulate myself about that. I like to pat myself on the back and think, Josh, you're not materialistic. You don't care about cars. Good for you.

But I own three iPods. Now, that's ridiculous. That is completely unnecessary. But I don't drive around thinking, I own three iPods; I am a greedy person. No, I drive around thinking: "I could drive a nicer car, but I don't." I wonder which iPod I should listen to.
Obviously, I have an iPod issue that I need to deal with. What is your issue?

For one person, greed might take the form of wanting more stuff. You're always thinking about the next thing that you want to buy, the next thing you want to get.
For another person, it might look different: You don't buy tons of stuff, but when you buy something, you have to have the absolute best. It's got to be the top of the line, and you won't settle for anything less.

For another person, greed is expressed not in a lavish lifestyle but in a craving to have a huge amount of savings that gives you a sense of security. Someone couldn't look at your life and think: Oh, they must be greedy because they have all these possessions. But if they could look into your heart and soul, they would see that you put your faith in the money that you've put aside for your future. You're trusting in money instead of God.

For another person greed might be expressed in a lack of joy in sharing with others. So you don't buy stuff for yourself, but you don't buy anything for anybody else, either.
Greed takes many forms. That's why Jesus said: Watch out for the many different ways that greed will deceive you.

Affluenza, Part 4: Our Unique Vulnerability


As we have been looking at Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 and discussing the deceitfulness of greed and how it ultimately destroys us, let's now look at how we can guard against greed. There are at least four ways that we should be vigilant. The first is this:

We must recognize our unique vulnerability.

We live in the red zone of the affluenza pandemic.

In a book entitled Affluenza, the authors note that in 1986 there were more high schools than shopping centers in our country. Just 20 years later, there are twice as many shopping centers as there are high schools. We spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than we do on higher education. When you think about how much higher education costs these days, that is a lot of jewelry, clothes, and watches.

And we can't get enough. Americans have a billion credit cards. We carry over a trillion dollars in debt—not including mortgages and real estate—because we can't get enough, because we want more, because there's all this great stuff to fill our big houses with.

If you live in California, you face the reality of earthquakes. You don't pretend them away. You plan for them; you know they're going to happen. If you live in south Florida, you do the same thing for hurricanes. You prepare. To ignore either is utter folly.

In the same way, as Christians living in America at the start of the 21st century, we have to face the great spiritual danger of materialism and greed. It is the air that we breathe. It's obvious from Jesus' words in this parable and in other passages of the New Testament that greed is a serious spiritual problem for every Christian in every generation, but we need to recognize that it is uniquely our temptation.

If Jesus spoke this solemn warning to Jewish men and women in the first century, many of whom lived from day to day, how much more strongly would he speak it to us today, as Americans living in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world? Suppose we could, from heaven's vantage point, identify the greatest spiritual peril that Christians in each nation face. Don't you think heaven's "greatest challenge" verdict over American Christians would be the danger of loving the things of this world more than God himself? Is there any question that our greatest peril is having the possessions and the wealth of this world cling to us so much that we take our eyes off the heavenly city to which we're called? Those of us here in the States must acknowledge our unique vulnerability to affluenza if we are going to be vigilant against greed.

In the next post, I'll share another way to be vigilant...

Affluenza, Part 3: Greed Destroys Us


In the last post, looking at Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12, we considered two things about the deception of greed: that it lies to us, and that it blinds us. Point number three is this:

Greed ultimately destroys us.

It might be tempting to think that the worst consequence of greed is a few too many days at the office. That doesn't sound that bad. For some, greed might seem like the one sin with variable consequences—you do those other sins, you get into trouble; but if you slip up when it comes to greed, you just wind up with cool stuff.

But it's worse than that. Greed doesn't just lead to regret in this life; it ends in eternal loss at the end of life. Greed operates on the assumption that all that matters in this world are the rewards that it can give us. But in the story that Jesus tells, he shows us that this is not true. He gives us a glimpse into what comes after death for this rich man. He lets us see beyond the grave.

This rich man had a perfect plan. He was going to end his life being rich, fat, and happy...but then God demanded his soul. And in an instant, all that he had amassed was worthless. And worst of all, God calls him a fool. In the Bible the title "fool" is given to those who live their lives without reference to God—those who fail to fear God and his judgment.

What is God going to speak over your life when you die? The rich fool lived for money and ignored God. He overlooked the needs of others and lived for himself. He prepared the ultimate retirement, but he neglected to prepare for eternity. What a tragedy—and only death opens his eyes to the lies and the blindness brought about by greed. But it's too late for regret, too late for remorse. The rich fool had gained the whole world and lost his soul.

Jesus closes his teaching with the sobering words, "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." When we understand the eternal consequences of greed, it's little wonder that Jesus warned us so strongly to be on guard against greed.

What is it worth if you die, and the world looks at your life and says: "What a success—look at his barns; look at his grain; look at all that he gathered for himself?" If the world says that, and God looks at your life and says, "you fool," you will have lost eternally.

So how do we guard against greed? There are at least four ways that we should be vigilant against greed. We'll begin to explore them in the next post.

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