Did you ever really want something? I mean like really want it? I can tell you what that something was for me as a kid. I really wanted a pair of Michael Jordan sneakers. I mean I really wanted them. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. See I grew up in a time where we were shifting from sneakers just being something you cover your feet with, to sneakers being something you had to have to be cool. Commercials were pushing in on us, with our favorite athletes and we all wanted to be like them right? Gone were the days of Kangaroo’s (which by the way, I still think was cool that we could carry our lunch money in our shoes, pure genius if you ask me) and Converse, “Chuck Taylor” sneakers, and even, Brooks were becoming a thing of the past. We now needed shoes to be cool in school. I mean really cool, not only cool but I would play basketball so much better if I just could have these new Air Jordan’s. With these Jordan’s I could jump higher, play better, and don’t get me started about what it would do for my street cred. Here’s the funny thing though, my parents weren’t excited about the Jordan’s. They had a rule, we will pay the first $30’s after that you are on your own, and these new Jordan’s were retailing for $125.00! I know it sounds crazy, think about how crazy it was back then! Back in those days I would ride my bike to Oak Grove Poultry farm and work during the summers, and I loved it. I told you before in this series that I was great at spending money, and usually spent most of the money on baseball cards and stuff like that, and with basketball season now upon me, I wanted those Jordan’s. I had to have them. I emptied my entire bank account to get them and do you know what happened? They had a clear rubber bottom so you could see the Jordan logo underneath, and they were so slippery that when I stopped on the basketball court I would slide. If you know basketball, that is called travelling and I travelled over, and over, and over in my first game wearing them. It was awful. I got benched and at halftime my coach, took a wire brush and scratched the bottoms all up so that I could have traction to play. When he took that wire brush over them, I just felt sick. I wore them for one game. I was devastated. My bank account drained and they didn’t make me a better basketball player at all, in fact they made me worse. These new shoes were all I could think about, I was sure they would make my life so much better, and it just was not the case at all. I was still 5’ tall. I was still well, me. I think about those Jordan’s all the time. I got so caught up in wanting them…that I didn’t care what came of it. I saw all my friends with them, and wanted what they had, and I eventually did it, I got them, and it was nothing like what I thought it would be like.
What a learning experience for me. You know what, those stories are kind of cute when it’s a kid with $90’s in the bank, and a dream of being Michael Jordan and a NBA basketball player (I’m still waiting for that call by the way) but it isn’t so cute when it’s grown adults doing the same thing over material possessions today. It isn’t so cute when families fall into crisis, when debt piles up and begins to add stress to your life and to your marriage and God is blown off over our stuff. Then it’s not so cool.
Today this series is going to shift a bit, and we are going to begin a discussion on materialism. This is a very big deal topic and it’s something that Kim and I really want to engage with you today. Materialism is the tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. This is a very common issue in the world of today is it not? We are blessed to live in the culture we do where we have more than enough to live on each day of our lives but because of that fact we often get sucked into the trap of materialism. We see it at home, at work, on TV and in the media we are constantly being shown more and more stuff, and the world tries to convince it that we need it, that we have to have it…I mean can you imagine living without a smart phone today? It wasn’t too long ago that we actually did survive without them!
“Well here’s the thing Sam, I know what you are about to say. Material possessions are terrible and I’m supposed to be ok with less, and not have nice things.” No that isn’t what I’m here to say at all. I am here today to warn you, that materialism is something that can hit us all. Listen I have a news flash for you, you are not the only person on the planet who likes nice things! We all like nice things. I always like when someone tries to tell me that they alone have this terrible curse that they have been afflicted with…when someone says they struggle and you hear that, you are like really bracing yourself to hear the terrible thing they are afflicted with right? I know I’m like wow, ok lay it on me and we will pray this out together…I’m waiting to hear about an addiction to pornography, drug abuse, or some terrible disease, some horrible emotional issue, and then they lay it on me. “Sam, here’s my curse, I just like nice things.” I always think to myself in that moment, wow, that is tough…because you know the rest of us, we like really crappy things!” WE ALL LIKE NICE THINGS! And frankly, there is nothing wrong with you having nice things. Again money, and material things are not wrong, but when they consume you, when you find your identity and value in these things…it is wrong. We have to be careful in our culture to not get stuck in the trap of materialism, because when we do we can really end up doing some pretty rough things to get whatever it is that we want.
God created us to love on people and to use things. Materialism actually says the opposite, it says that we were created to love things and to use people to get what we want and here’s the deal God knows that we have an incredible tendency to take advantage of others when it comes to money and stuff.
Leviticus 25:14 “‘If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other.” NIV
God understands that we have an amazing ability to step all over each other to get the things that we want. He understands it enough to put it in our scriptures! But people just couldn’t listen. Here’s God speaking through the prophet Isaiah…
Isaiah 3:14 The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. 15 What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty. NIV
Wow, that seems a little extreme I mean who would ever do such a thing right? Well the fact of the matter is that we all can fall into this, because when we slide into this trap of wanting things and valuing them more than others and God…we can very easily do this too.
Jesus really gives us a strong warning against this very thing found here in Luke 12:15…
Luke 12:15 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.” NIV
Ok so let’s settle in on this verse for a moment. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Jesus is saying hey guys, your value is not in your stuff. It isn’t about your earthly things. It is all about the fact that you and I are children of God. Ok, so she may wear the nicer clothes, and he may have a nicer car than you, but you and I, we are royalty. We are God’s children and our identity must stay in that one fact. But that is very hard to do in the world that we live in that is constantly showing us more cool stuff that we just have to have! Then do you want it to really hit your heart, have your kids come home when they start noticing all the cool stuff everyone else has that they don’t…then what are you going to do! We all want nice stuff. It isn’t a curse that some are afflicted with and others aren’t but we have to be very careful that we don’t fall into this trap. Jesus is very clear here, our value isn’t found in our stuff…so we must stay on guard against all kinds of greed!
The reality is that there is nothing wrong with having things, but we have to be very careful, because when we get caught in this trap we can often end up in a world of chaos, with our finances in disorder, needing more all the time.
Do you remember me reading Colossians a couple weeks ago? Paul says that greed is a very serious sin, and he lumps it in with many really rough things here…
Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. NIV
Paul is saying that greed is idolatry. These are really strong statements in our scriptures, they are putting a lot of weight on this subject of materialism. This is a bigger deal than we realize and I will tell you why. It’s because when it comes to greed it will consume us.
We become possessive where selfishness takes over and we aren’t willing to share and bless others. It also leads to us becoming jealous and coveting, when we covet something we become preoccupied with it, we long for it, we need to have it and we begin to be consumed over our need to have things that aren’t ours. These are not pretty things at all, and you may think that scripture is being a little dramatic here right? I mean it’s not like we are that creepy dude from Lord of the Rings rubbing the ring…right? I don’t see any of us running around like Gollum, rubbing our ring saying “My precious” in really creepy voices but I think if we could step back and view it from God’s vantage point it would look very similar. It is that big of a deal from a spiritual perspective, and from an eternal perspective, and I will tell you why. It’s because of that recurring theme that I tell you will keep coming back into play in this series, it is because our material possessions become an enormous distraction from what really matters…and what really matters is God.
Our stuff is an incredible distraction:
Whether you realize it or not our stuff takes from us. It takes our time and it puts it places we may not even want it to go. There are only 24 hours in a day, and that isn’t changing. What is amazing is that our stuff can take our time from us and put it on things rather than where we may want to put it! Think of it this way, how many people tell you they just don’t have time for God? We all struggle in this area at one level or another, and our stuff takes more of that time. It takes time that we could be spending growing in our relationship with God. It takes our time that we could be spending praying and reading scripture. Our stuff takes the time that we could be spending with our families…or caring for others in need, or sharing Jesus with others. Think about it this way, every time I add a possession it is one more thing that I need to think about. One more thing I need to talk about, clean, repair, maintain, replace when it goes bad, and well use too!
Our stuff has an amazing ability to redefine our priorities, and the shame of it is that when we run out of hours in the day, and we have no margin typically the first thing that we take off the schedule is God and the Kingdom work that we have been created to do! Here’s an example, say you buy a boat. If you have a boat I’m not trying to single you out, but what happens when you buy a boat. You need to use it! So hours go to it, you don’t buy a boat to just have it sit in the driveway right? So you find water and your weekends go to the boat, cleaning the boat, repairing the boat. Sunday, we could go to church but we have this boat, and you know it needs to be used and hey, it’s good family time right? It is good family time but it is rearranging your priorities…and taking chunks of your 24 hours in each day. Do you see it? Our stuff becomes an incredible distraction, and it takes away from the things that really matter. This happens really easily. Now quick timeout here…there is nothing wrong with boats, but think about any major thing you have, camper, cars, pools, whatever it may be it takes from you in more ways than just your wallet. Again stuff isn’t bad, but when it begins to take from what really matters we are sliding into a very dark, sneaky trap of our enemy.
Jesus actually spoke about this very thing in the parable about the seed. It is amazing when you listen to this parable with the context of materialism in your mind…
Matthew 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop-a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” NIV
Jesus told stories and spoke in parables a lot, and right at this moment as the people leave he talks to his disciples about why. It is pretty amazing that he didn’t explain the meanings to everyone, He just gets up and walks away with this proclamation, if you have ears…hear. I bet people were so confused? No explanation to this huge crowd or anything. His disciples didn’t get it. The people probably all gave him a courtesy hand shake, and said good message to him, but they didn’t get it. Then later after the crowds were gone and he and his disciples were sitting around a fire talking, he explains the meaning of the parable.
Matthew 13:18 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. 19 When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.20 “The seed cast in the gravel — this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. 21 But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.22 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.23 “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (MSG)
Let’s really focus on that seed that fell among the thorns for a moment. Jesus is saying that the seed is thrown to them, but and look how clear this is, the weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle out what was heard and nothing comes of it. Do you see it?
Jesus lived in a time where if you ate twice and had oil to turn on a lamp after dark you were pretty well off, and materialism was a problem for them. This warning absolutely transcends time, and is more important in our culture than it ever would have been back then. The world is pushing in on us all the time about wanting more. The media, our friends, our families…at school, at work, and sadly even at some of our churches there is a push for more stuff. We want more stuff. We see what others have and we want it too. We want to fit in, we want to be cool, and look good and somehow we have decided that happens when we get the next great thing, and the scary thing is that with each new thing we add, it is taking our time, our energy, and our focus off of what really matters.
So really, what is wrong with wanting nice things? Nothing, we all want nice things. I wanted those Air Jordan’s so bad back in the day I couldn’t think about anything else until I had them. I drained my bank account, I worked for weeks to get them, and the brutal thing was, it didn’t make me a better basketball player, they actually made me worse. You are going to be shocked by this, but they didn’t make me cooler in school either. It’s amazing how we view life in our teenage years. The scary thing is that a lot of us judge success and the value of others the same way we did back then, decades after we leave high school and frankly that isn’t as cute as it is as children…it’s pretty sad.
I’m not trying to be offensive here, I just love you enough to try to show you Jesus’ warning. Don’t fall into the trap of materialism. Don’t think you are the only person that likes nice things, we all do. Don’t allow your things to take from you, just like the seed that fell amongst the weeds and the thorns. Remember, there are only 24 hours in a day. You don’t get to add to the margin of your life, when you use it all up there is not more. With no margin comes stress, comes debt, comes living each day to just survive each day, which just isn’t what God wants for you.
We have got to view things from that eternal perspective and realize that whether it’s a pair of Air Jordan’s, or a boat, or a new camper or whatever…it’s just stuff, and if we aren’t careful that stuff can take things from us that we never thought an inanimate object could take, and we love you too much not to try to expose this monster for what it is, so that you can center your life around the only thing that matters and that is God.