Thursday, July 26, 2012
Parents, Teach Your Children to Hate Stuff
I think my generation may end up being known as the Wal-Mart generation. There are a lot of things that define us, but at the end of the day, the growth of Wal-Mart might end up being the one thing. Now, this will not be a rant against Wal-Mart. I shop there, often. I did last night actually. But I think the explosion of Wal-Mart over the last 20 years says something about our society, and particularly our generation, that is frankly, quite disturbing.
We have become the most consumerist society in history. Getting stuff has become, for many people, the most important thing in the world. And none of us are immune to it. We in America have more money, more things and more time to do what we want with them that any place in the world, or any time in history of the world. Most of us have more stuff in our closet collecting dust than the average person in the world actually has. The desire for more and bigger and better stuff has captured almost everyone in our society. Our commercials tempt us with stuff. Our friends praise us for our stuff. Society honors those who have the most stuff. But it never satisfies. It never gives us what we want. Still, all too often, we Christians have both literally and figuratively bought society’s lie; hook, line and sinker.
I’m not sure how this ever happened. The Bible is full of warnings about the deadly dangers of stuff. Jesus told us we could not serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24) Paul was even more explicit in his instructions to Timothy. Read what he says here, and tell me this does not describe our society today:
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1st Timothy 6:9-10)
In verse 8, the verse directly preceding this passage, Paul says that if we have food and clothing, we should be content. So that’s the baseline. Then he goes into the dangers of wanting for more and more and more. Notice what he says. Those who desire to be rich fall into a temptation, a snare. He doesn’t say some of the people who want to be rich fall into this temptation. He says those, all of those, who desire to be rich, fall into this temptation and snare. What kind of temptation, what kind of snare is this? It’s the trap of “senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” These are strong words. They are meant to convey strong meaning. So if we had no more than that, we would understand that desiring to be rich is a dangerous desire, a desire that is not worth the trouble. But Paul goes on further. It is this desire to have more and more and more that has led many people to wander away from the faith.
So what is Paul getting at here? I think it’s simple. The desire to be rich is the first step in a journey away from Jesus; a journey that, if not checked, will eventually lead to destruction and death and eternal punishment. This is the fear we should have of the desire for riches, the desire for more and more stuff; that they would turn us away from Jesus. Now notice, everyone who wants to be rich falls into a snare. Some of those who want to be rich walk away from the faith. So the desire to be rich doesn’t automatically lead to a rejection of the faith, but it could very well lead to such a thing.
Now, let me step back for a moment before I go on. The Bible does not condemn being rich. But it speaks over and over again about the danger of the love of money, the danger of wanting more and more. In other words, money is not inherently evil, but it inherently dangerous. It’s like fire. Used correctly, it can do great good. But if it gets out of control, it will destroy. And frankly, that’s where too many of us, including myself sometimes, find ourselves. We are eaten up with the desire for more and more money, and more and more of the stuff that money can buy. And these things will never ultimately satisfy us. Money makes a terrible God.
So what’s the solution? Is it too late for our generation? I think the answer to that is yes and no. It’s never too late for us to repent of our materialism and greed and Mammon-worship. But I fear that, because of the society we live in, and because of the depth of the trap that we have fallen into, for most of us, this temptation to have more stuff is one that will stay with us for all our lives. We may make progress toward defeating it, but the temptation will never go away. At best, we’ll be like the alcoholic who gives up drinking, but never goes a day without wanting a can or a bottle or a glass in his hand.
But here is what we can do. We can teach our children differently. We must begin now letting our children see the dangers of money and stuff, and showing them how to properly use it, and how to avoid using it. We can let them see us fighting against materialism every single day, battling the temptation of stuff-collection, however imperfectly. And we can not give in to their every demand, not think that they must have everything that we did not have, not believe that to love our kids, we must give them more stuff. More importantly, we can show them a better way. We can show them and teach them that life with Jesus, the Jesus who died on the Cross for their sins so that they could have relationship with him, is infinitely better than anything money can buy, and is worth giving up everything we have to possess. It is the treasure in the field that the man sold all his possessions for. It is the pearl of great worth for which the jeweler pawned off all his worldly goods to get.
The question is this: do we really believe this? Are we really willing to do this? Or do we want to raise another generation that just falls deeper into Mammon’s pit? Do we really want to see our children gain the whole world, and lose their souls? If you don’t answer that question now, your children will likely answer it later.