Thursday, June 28, 2012

Producing Consumers

A significant calendar date passed us by earlier in the week.  Another June 25th has come and gone…  Why is this date significant?  Well, it is half a year past Christmas Day; in light of this reality… 

How many “favorite toys” on Christmas morning are still in daily (or regular) use by your children? 
How many of these (new) favorite toys are broken? 
Was new debt incurred to purchase toys, clothes, etc. for Christmas? 
If so, how much debt is paid off from overextending yourself to purchase these (new) favorite toys? 
Was additional debt incurred (or payments put off) while paying for this past “Christmas”?   
Should we get something more significant from the Christmas Season besides debt and "new favorite toys" that will be replaced in next years cycle of consumerism?  

Our culture is quite successful in making consumers of us.  If you doubt this, then why do advertisements work?  If you doubt they do, then why do companies pay millions of dollars for seconds during the Super Bowl?  I realize you may not be as caught up in the consumerism of our culture as the next Joe/Jane...  

However, the success of our culture in making consumers of us can be seen when gifts are given.  As my beautiful wife Melissa and I were discussing recently; who has not seen a small child enamored with either the paper or the box used to give a new gift?  Who has not seen a well meaning parent, sibling, relative, or gift-giver take away the paper or box and basically say, “No no, here, play with this (expensive) toy I have bought for you; isn't it great?!?!”  Why do we do this?  Are we not content with letting a child find enjoyment in something that is less than our ideal for them?  Do we have to justify giving the gift?  

In light of this, and in light of how we are now half a year removed from the Christmas Season, I wonder if God ever looks at us and basically wonders/says, "No no, quit playing with the cheap toys of this world yearn for true treasures I have made available to you!!!"  What would the true treasures be?  Well, an abiding and growing relationship with Him, which He so clearly showed us He wants through the miracle of the Incarnation (the Christmas Season), is certainly an aspect of it.  

Keep in mind, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ celebrate the “birth” of John the Baptist on June 25th.  While it may sound a bit odd, it is a great concept.  After all, the "birth" of the forerunner to the Messiah reminds us this world is not right.  This world is not how God desires it to be.  Proof of this reality is seen when we reflect on how God sent His Messiah into the world to reestablish His Kingdom...which will culminate in God re-creating everything “new”.  

Yet we need to remember, John the Baptist himself did not fully understand Jesus (cf. Mt11:1-19).  Therefore it would behoove us to humbly admit we need to be ever growing in our awareness of Jesus' Identity.  The miracle of and the implications of the Incarnation certainly help us.  If only we could put away the cheap toys and imitations of fulfillment this world puts forth as worth our time...  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bucket List [2]...

Cultural expectations, assumptions, desires...and the Bible.  Our tendency to look out for ourselves and make plans in order to make life easier and more enjoyable...and the life of Jesus.  The list could continue, but I think you get the idea it is one of contrast - stark contrast.

Yesterday the issue of a "bucket list" was raised.  A bucket list is a list of things a person desires to do before they die.  Quite often it includes seeing places and/or doing a variety of things.  To be certain, viewing God's creation and having a good time are certainly not wrong.  Yet to muddy the waters a bit we looked at an action of Jesus on the way to His impending death.  In other words, we might ask ourselves, "What was on the "bucket list" of Jesus?"  By the way, the Bible tends to muddy a lot of waters we would rather be clear with smooth sailing.

In summary of yesterday, Jesus sought out a man of great wealth (Zacchaeus) whose response to Jesus was stunning.  With literary beauty Luke sandwiched a lot of people held captive and mastered by money between two (Levi in Lk5:27ff and Zacchaeus in Lk19:1ff) who finally cast off the shackles of deception and were no longer a slave to it.  Jesus' bucket list revolved around expanding the Kingdom of God.  What can we deduce from all of this?

We ought to deduce being a Christian in our culture is not easy.  Granted, we do not face physical death like many brothers and sisters around the world.  Rather, we face persecution (a great tribulation) of a more sinister kind - seduction by our culture.  It is easy to think we are simply "making a living" when in reality we may be in danger of "gaining the world and losing our soul" (Lk9:25).  After all, a married couple with one child living at the U.S. poverty level ($19,090) is more wealthy than 88.65% of the people in the world.  I am not saying it is easy or enjoyable to live at the poverty level (I and we have been there), but I am saying something is wrong with the reality of such disparity.  We live in a world where Weight Watchers is a prosperous company "here", while countless others die of starvation "over there" (and I realize a lack of food is also a problem "here").  What do we do with things like that?  I do not know.  There are not easy answers or quick fixes.  But I do know we do live in a culture of unparalleled wealth and it impacts all of us.

We ought to also deduce that we must not gloss over a biblical use of wealth.  Far too often money is viewed as a tool to get the things we want in order to somehow enjoy life more fully - in the here and now.  Yet Luke tells us we should leverage our money in the here and now so more people can enjoy the abundant life with God - both now and in eternity (cf. the "dishonest" steward in Lk16:1-13).  Indeed, it is easy to be blind to the reality that quite often money is really controlling us and we are serving it as a master.  This should never be.  We should use our wealth as a tool to make God famous.

We ought also concede that on His way to an excruciating and humiliating death Jesus purposefully sought out an individual who would use what the world values (money) to bring glory to the One of infinite worth (God).  It appears Jesus' "bucket list" included making sure the crowning point of God's creation (humans) knew the One who created them and spoke this world into existence loves them.  How high is that on your bucket list?

I must confess there are a variety of places I would like to see and go.  There are many things I would like to do.  There is something special about sharing experiences with those you love.  I do not think there is anything wrong with that.  Yet I find it ironic we live in a culture where a vacation is a necessity due to the frenzied pace at which we live.  Then, while on vacation, many fall prey to our culture and the incessant need to consume (e.g., to see and do, view and experience, etc.), and it takes a toll.  More than one person has returned home desiring a vacation from their vacation...

In sum; whether or not you have a "bucket list" or not is not the point.  What is at least a point to consider is something like; Does your bucket list reflect a high value on the crowning point of God's creation over traveling to a few choice destinations or experiencing a few cheap (or expensive) thrills?  In other words, are people more important than a place or experience?  I think the new heavens and new earth will be far grander than anything we can visually see or experience now.  Put another way; Does your bucket list look any different than someone not following Jesus as their Lord? 

Does your bucket list include...

  • family and friends entering the Kingdom of God?  
  • serving those less fortunate than you - be it in a "soup kitchen", through your own creative idea, or on a short-term missions trip? 
  • reconciling with people you have hurt and offended...or who may have hurt and offended you?  
  • "adopting" a child in the neighborhood who does not have a father, or grandparents, and showing them unconditional love while giving a single Mom (or Dad) a bit of time to themselves?  
The list is small and incomplete.  And I may be wrong, but I think a bucket list with items like these just might be more thrilling than something else you may desire to do.  Yet I am certain I am correct in the assumption that they can lead to many being eternally grateful.