November 4, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity
All Saints Sunday
Enough: When Dreams Become Nightmares
In 1892, at the age of 53, John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil in Cleveland, was the world’s only billionaire, earning about a million dollars a week. Someone once asked Rockefeller, “How much money does it take to satisfy a man?” Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more than he has.”
That seems to be our dream in the American culture; to have just a little bit more. If I can have just a little bit more then I will be happy. Well, Solomon, in our scripture today from Ecclesiastes argues that that may not be true.
I am excited about this month. It is that time when we all get a chance to think about our wealth, and we all have wealth, and our relationship to God based on that wealth. When I say we all have wealth, we do, because wealth is a relative thing. We determine our wealth based on what we see others may have or don’t have, but we all have wealth. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing, so what we have in between those times is our wealth. Solomon says in verse 15, As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. This also is a grievous evil – exactly as a man is born, thus will he die.
But I want to tell you today, that you have a greater wealth than anything money can buy or the possessions you can amass. As we listen to the messages through this month, I hope you will discover the wealth that you truly have beyond the material and discover personal joy through simplicity and generosity. Besides the Bible, I will be basing my sermons on Adam Hamilton’s book “Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity.” Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
He says this: “For most people, the American Dream has to do with a subconscious desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. It is the opportunity to pursue more than what we have, to gain more than what we have, and to meet success. And we tend to measure our success by the stuff that we possess.”
A European philosopher who once came to America in the nineteenth century made this observation: “Americans are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material pleasures and are always discontented with the position that they occupy…They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it.” (Alexis de Tocqueville)
That is not so bad; however, consuming, acquiring, and buying have become the American Dream. The love of money and the things money can buy is a primary or secondary motive behind most of what we Americans do. We want to consume, acquire, and buy our way to happiness – and we want it now.
But the “American Dream” has become the American nightmare for many of us. It is due to two distinct yet related illnesses that impact us both socially and spiritually. More about those in a minute, but first, would you pray with me?
As I was saying a minute ago, the American Dream has become an American Nightmare due to two distinct yet related illnesses that impact us both socially and spiritually.
The first illness is called affluenza. Affluenza is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff – as well as the effect that this need has on us. It is the desire to acquire, and most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree.
It’s no secret that shopping is one of Americans’ favorite pastimes. Shopping has become an American way of life. In fact, I don’t even go to stores much anymore, I just sit down at my computer, order what I want, and it is delivered to my door! Every newspaper we pick up and every television show we watch is filled with advertisements hoping to convince us that we need something else.
An article on Slate.com noted that according to the National Homebuilders Association, the average American home went from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,598 square feet in 2013 and yet we still have to rent storage space to hold all of our things. Self-storage space in America is continually increasing, and today there is estimated to be 1.9 billion square feet of self-storage space in America. An entire market has developed for storing the stuff we’re enticed to buy – often with money we do not actually have. And that leads us to our second disease that goes along with affluenza. It’s called credit-itis.
Credit-itis is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification. Our economy today is built on the concept of credit-itis. Unfortunately, it has exploited our lack of self-discipline and allowed us to feed our affluenza, wreaking havoc in our personal and national finances.
It didn’t used to be that way. When I was growing up, my mom would take us kids every August to J. C. Penney’s to try on our fall and winter clothing, including our winter coats, for school. I would think, “Why are we trying on winter coats when it is so hot outside?” But we would try them on anyway and then Mom would put them on layaway. And then, when it was so cold outside you could hardly stand it, Mom would finally make the last payment on the coats, we would get them out of layaway, and finally wear them.
What an odd idea; to actually save up the money and pay for something in full before taking the item home! More and more Americans today are going deeper and deeper in debt in order to have what they want now and pay for it later.
The average credit card debt in America in 1990 was around $3,000. Today it’s over $9,000. The average sale is around 125 percent higher if we use a credit card than if we pay cash, because it doesn’t feel real when we use plastic instead of cash. Remember, credit-itis is not limited to purchases made with credit cards; it extends to car loans, mortgages, and other loans. The life of the average car loan and home mortgage continues to increase, while the average American’s savings rate continues to decline. The average college student graduates with $19,000 in student loans and $2,200 in credit card debt. We have become a credit-crazed society.
Many of us are now living the American nightmare, and it leads to debt collectors, foreclosures, and personal bankruptcy – not to mention tremendous stress. In fact, the number one cause of divorce is financial issues. Personally and as a nation we are suffering the consequences of our addiction to consumption and compulsive buying. This is because there is a deeper problem – one that is within us.
There is a spiritual issue beneath the surface of affluenza and credit-itis. Adam Hamilton says this in his book, Enough: “Inside us there is a brokenness; the Bible calls it sin. Our souls were created in the image of God, but they have been distorted. We were meant to desire God, but we have turned that desire toward possessions. We were meant to find our security in God, but we find it in amassing wealth. We were meant to love people, but instead we compete with them. We were meant to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but we busy ourselves with pursuing money and things. We were meant to be generous and to share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves. There is a sin nature within us.”
Solomon saw this when he went to the city hall and the market. Verses 8 & 9: 8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. Solomon knew the human heart and said don’t be surprised by what you see. There is corruption all around. He saw corrupt politicians oppressing the poor. He saw government officials violating the law by using their authority to help themselves to the possessions of others. He saw various officials pocketing the money that should have gone to the innocent poor.
Solomon wanted a government that was both honest and efficient, but man’s heart being what it is, the temptation to dishonest gain is always there. Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I ask you, “Does any of this still sound familiar?” Our deep spiritual issues with affluenza and credit-itis tend to rob others, but they also tend to rob us. That is what Solomon is writing about in verses 10-20. And because of that, the devil plays upon this sin nature, those weaknesses in our souls. Satan’s delight is to undermine our effectiveness as Christ’s people, replacing our joy with misery.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The devil doesn’t need to tempt us to do drugs or to steal or to have an extramarital affair in order to destroy us. All he needs to do is convince us to keep pursuing the American Dream – to keep up with the Joneses, borrow against our futures, enjoy more than we can afford, and indulge ourselves. By doing that, he will rob us of joy, make us slaves, and keep us from doing God’s will. Paul wrote this to Timothy: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10).
Some people treat money as though it were a god. They love it, make sacrifices for it, and think that it can do anything. Their minds are filled with thoughts about it; their lives are controlled by getting it and guarding it; and when they have it, they experience a great sense of security. What faith in the Lord does for the Christian, money does for many unbelievers. The person who loves money cannot be satisfied no matter how much is in the bank account – because the human heart was made to be satisfied only by God. Verse 10: Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
Hamilton says this: “Here’s what the devil knows: If he can get you in debt, he can make you a slave. If he can convince you to spend all you have, you’ll never offer your tithes to God, never help the poor as you could have, and never use what you do have to accomplish God’s purposes. If he can tempt you to become a slave to creditors, you will not know simplicity, generosity, or joy. Satan will have neutralized your effectiveness for the Kingdom and choked the gospel out your life.”
Folks, those are harsh words, but they are truthful words. You and I can become a slave to our own debt and then we can no longer have the joy of contributing to God’s work and kingdom. But there is good news. The Bible offers solutions to our diseases of affluenza and credit-itis. We will learn more about these solutions in the coming weeks. You will want to invite your friends to worship next week to learn about the six financial planning principles that will help us to manage our money with wisdom and faith.
When you and I accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, we received a changed heart. Over the years you have heard testimony to that right here in this church. But in a real sense we need a heart change every morning. Each morning we should get down on our knees and say, “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there, and help me be single-minded in my focus and my pursuit of you.” As we do this, God comes and cleanses us from the inside out, purifying our hearts.
A key part of finding financial and spiritual freedom is found in simplicity and in exercising restraint. With the help of God, we can
- simplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more
- live counter-culturally by living below, not above, our means
- build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit
- build into our budgets what we need to be able to live generously and faithfully.
In the closing verses of our scripture today, Solomon tells us that the ability to enjoy your work and accept our lot in life and to enjoy life’s blessings is a gift from God. If we rejoice in God’s daily blessings then we should never have any regrets about the life we have lived. We don’t need more; we just need to appreciate what we have, what God has given us. We need to be good stewards of God’s gifts to us.
Listen to Solomon’s closing words once again: 18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.