Obviously this juxtaposition of photos is meant to evoke an emotional response. I’ll bet your response was one of the following:
Despair: “This is sad, but it’s not like we can ever really change things. There’s too much greed in the world.”
Offense: “This is unrealistic. It’s Christmas— are you really going to be a Scrooge and tell me I can’t get my kids presents because there are starving kids in Africa?”
Detached Guilt: “Ugh, that’s so true. People (not me, of course, but people in general) spend too much money on so many silly things.”
Overcompensating Guilt: “Ugh, that’s so true! Sorry kids, no presents this Christmas!”
Pride: “Yeah, that’s sad, but I work really hard for my money so I can spend it how I want to. And I donate to some charities each year so that evens things out, right?”
I realize people are convicted in different ways about what to do with their money, but in a season that is undeniably marked by overabundance and greed it is good for each of us to take a hard look at how and why we spend our money the way we do, to pray about what our convictions should be (not just what we’re comfortable with or what seems “normal”), and to reflect on whether we’re living obediently to how God has convicted each of us.
The other day I watched a sermon by Chris Seay which offered some perspective on our culture’s norms in consumerism. You can watch the whole thing here, but if you fast forward to the 11 minute mark he really drives the point home describing a conversation he had with a friend:
“Just imagine you being the father of your children as God is our Father looking down on us, and if your son Solomon made a lot of money… but your other children don’t have clean water. The reality in this world today is that one child dies every 15 seconds because they lack clean water… Imagine if Solomon had all this money and Trinity didn’t have clean water and her children didn’t have clean water and Hannah didn’t have food and her children didn’t have food, and at Christmas Solomon would come home and lavish gifts upon you, but you knew that your other children were dying. How would you feel? I’d be pissed. I would be pissed at my son if he didn’t take care of his brothers and sisters and their children when he had so much.
“Imagine God looking down on us at the worst time of year for us with consumerism, which, ironically and sadly, is when we celebrate the birth of Christ, the birth of the savior that came to save us… There are people that get on Fox News and they’re really mad because when you come into Wal-Mart they’re mad that they don’t tell you ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’m just the opposite— that is the worst place on the planet that you should invoke the name of Christ at Christmas time.
“And we look out at these problems in the world… and realize these problems are solvable. In America every year we spend 18 billion dollars on makeup… Perfume, we spend 15 billion dollars… You begin to realize for 5 billion dollars we could solve the problem of universal literacy; for 10 billion we cold get clean water everywhere on the planet— we wouldn’t have one child dying every 15 seconds… For 19 million we cold eliminate hunger and malnutrition.
“At Christmas, what if we asked families to participate in the birth of Christ in a different way? Instead of spending so much money in honoring one another, what is we tried to honor Christ? What if the gifts really were for Jesus, and if they were for Jesus surely they were for all of His children.”
I think part of our overspending is a detachment from reality and a myopic view of the world. $30 doesn’t seem like much, until I realize how much $30 a month does for Sebenele, our little girl in Swaziland who we sponsor through World Vision. That tends to put things in perspective. What can you remind yourself of to help broaden your vision and put things in a global, Christ-centered perspective?
Yes, things cost differently here, but we also shouldn’t live as though here is the only important place in the world. And here, there are also a lot of needs— USA Today recently reported new statistics that show 1 in every 45 children in the US are homeless, an increase of 33% since 3 years ago. If starving children in Africa seem too far away and hard to wrap your mind around, realize there are also needs right here at home, down the street from you. There is no shortage of people needing help, only a shortage of people willing to change how they live, willing redefine their needs in order to help meet the needs of others.
Where in your city can you make a difference by spending your time and money in a way that doesn’t just serve you, but your whole community? How is God telling you to reorganize your resources, to redefine necessity in your own life so you can stop simply doing what’s “normal” and live to serve God and others as you are called to do?
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46)