Rethinking The Promise of New and Improved
Everyday we are bombarded by marketing of different products and services. Which makes sense because we live in a country where you can buy 36 different types of olives. We have an entire industry that is dedicated to grabbing your attention, and making their product stick in your mind. In a few weeks, it will be time for the Super Bowl, and in that span of 4 hours companies will spend over $370 million dollars on commercials alone all in an effort to get you to think that your life would be better if you only had a new…..
But’s not just done through commercials; companies are always trying to tell you this message that things will make us happy. And not just the stuff we already have, but we have to get the stuff that is new and improved to be happy. Let me show you what I picked up this week from quick visit to Wal-Mart. First of all, I picked up some Peanut M&M’s, and right on the bag it says New Look. I Thought that’s pretty great, but how do you change the look of an M&M? maybe it’s square? or a circle instead of oval? Then you open it up and it looks just like an old M&M. It tastes exactly like a M&M. But it's a new look. They put old M&M’s in a new bag and that is supposed to motivate us to purchase it.
IBC Root Beer is new, actually these have been around since I was a little kid, or according to the boys at least 100 years. But this says it’s new now made with real sugar, or actually it’s back to the way that it was made originally. So it’s back to the new original, or the way it used to be.
Everywhere you turn everything is new. There are new Chocolate Pudding, and new prizes in my cracker jacks. This is my favorite, a new black ink pen. Which is what I have been waiting for my entire life, a black ink pen. New Clear hand soap, unless you look real closely and you discover that it’s just a new handle, or new packaging on this shampoo. And if it’s not new it’s improved, like this improved tasting ranch dressing. It seems that everywhere you look everything is new, or improved. Do these hangers look new and improved to you? Is there something I'm missing here?
We are taught in our society to idealizes this idea of new and improved. Everywhere we go we're told if you have new stuff, if you have this improved item that life will be so much better. Marketers know it’s easy to tempt us with this idea of new and improved, even if it’s just the packaging.
We love this idea of the new, but if we are not careful we get all of this new stuff that we don't really need and we charge it on this little piece of plastic right here. Maybe you are different than I am, but I have noticed that this plastic card doesn’t feel like real money. I mean you just swipe it and get new stuff. I am told, the average purchase on a credit card in America is $82. Then you get the statement at the end of the month and it doesn't feel like $82. It's just numbers on a page that get us into all kinds of trouble. Trista and I have friends that went to an amusement park, somewhere in the south, and they told me, "We charged that vacation." They went on this once and a life time 7 day vacation that they were still paying off 3 years later.
Every year when Trista does our taxes, she will bring me a receipt or a credit card bill and asks me what I bought at Sears, or Target or Amazon. And honestly there are things I have spent money on and forgotten all about. I mean if I am looking at it I know I bought it, but if it is not in my line of sight I have no idea that I even own it. So I am left paying for stuff that I have forgotten about. We get so enthralled with this idea of new and improved, and we get stuck with the pay later part.
In the last quarter of 2016 (October, November, and December) it was reported that Americans racked up $21.9 Billion Dollars in Credit Card Debt, and in the state of Alabama the average person racked up $5,548.00 in Credit Card debt. That’s a lot of pay later.
Really quick let me answer a question I was asked this week; the Bible never says that debt is a sin. It is not a sin to borrow the money to buy a house, or buy a car, or go to college. Deuteronomy 15:8 says: Lend money to others that need it. The Bible wouldn’t command us to do something that would make another person sin. But it does remind us again and again, whatever debt you incur you have to pay back as quickly as you can. Paul says in Romans 13:7-8: Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that!
As we close out this series about today, let me remind you that your situation is not hopeless. We all desire new and improved, so let me give you two more suggestion how to have a new and improved financial life. The First thing you must do to get out of this debt trap is admit there is a problem.
If AA has taught our culture anything, they have reminded us that if we want to get better we have to admit that we are broken. That’s true with your sobriety, in you relationships, your spiritual life, and in your financial life. The first step is to admit how we got in this credit mess. And let’s be honest. The basic reason we get into debt, is that we are enticed by this idea of new and improved. We are not happy with what we have, we want more than we can afford. And don’t think the financial world doesn’t know our weakness.
That’s why every time you go to the mail box you get at least one piece of mail that is offering you another credit card. After all, “What’s in your wallet?” Apparently, credit cards! And I don’t want to brag, but they tell me I am a preferred customer! I qualify for double black, platinum big old pile of debt credit card. It’s all hype, and it seems to work. Credit card companies know that if they can get a credit card in your hand that you will spend more, because we live in a buy now pay later society. And we just keep buying, and buying, and buying.
Michelle McGagh is a woman living in London who has worked for the last 10 years as a personal finance journalist. She admitted in 2015 that despite her occupation she rarely paid close attention to her own spending habits. So in conjunction with London’s Daily Telegraph, she chronicled how she was going to spend 2016 only buying the necessities: rent, electricity, and food. On December 31st they calculated that she saved $27,798.93.
Just like everything else in life, our debt problem is rooted in our desires. James 1:13, we are tempted when we are drawn away and trapped by our own desires. In my own house, we get in trouble because I am tempted by the new and shiny or the bigger and more powerful. Our desires trap us making us believe that we need more and buying more stuff than we can afford. That’s why the first step to getting out from under the lie of new and improved is to admit the real problem……. It’s us and our desires.
Secondly, we need to change the way we think.
While not necessarily talking about money, I think Paul's charge to the churches in Rome has some application here. In Romans 12:2 Paul says Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We are constantly bombarded with these false ideas and views of where we can find real happiness and contentment. The world tells us if we can have new and improved then we will be happy, but soon something else comes out, we no longer have the newest and our joy fades. Or that new car has to go to the shop, or new dress gets a stain and our enjoyment fades. We have to change the way that we think, we have to quit believing that stuff is going to bring us fulfillment and happiness. We must stop thinking that the creation can bring us the peace that can only be found in our relationship with the Creator.
Luke tells two stories close together, about two men who had very different mindsets about money. The first one is found in Luke 18, and I would imagine that he was an intelligent, well-educated, rich young man whose life is on the upswing. He probably graduated at the top of his class, was promoted quickly, and became a wealthy leader. When he meets Jesus, he asks, Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever? After a short conversation about what is good, Jesus cuts to the chase and tells him, There is still one more thing you need to do. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.
Jesus challenges this young man to rethink about how he views money and possessions. He does not tell the young man that money and possessions are bad things, but is merely trying to get him to this about what place of authority these things have in his life. In other words, Jesus tells the young man to choose his master. What happens next is one of the most tragic passages ever written: when the young man heard this, he left sorrowfully, because he was rich. This young man had to make a choice, was he going to be enamored with God or chase after the fake peace and comfort that money and things offer? He made his choice and Jesus allowed him to walk away.
I understand that everyone of us, in this room and on the internet would stand up and say that there is no way that we would ever reject Jesus like that. But let’s just be totally honest with ourselves for a moment, because I think we might be guilty of making similar choices every day of our lives. Two weeks ago I asked you to start charting your money. I think you are to the point where you are starting to get a good feel where your money is going. I don’t want to pry, but I need to ask, how many of us spend more money on coffee and drinks than we give back to God? How many of us regret missing our favorite television show more than missing your daily Bible reading? When you wake up in the morning, are your thoughts about how you can make more, or how you can give more?
I don’t want to make you feel guilty, I am not a huge purveyor of guilt. But, after the young man had left, Jesus continued the conversation with His disciples: "I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven." (verse 24).
Honestly, for years I read that verse and never applied it to myself. I didn't see myself as rich. You probably don't either. There's always someone richer. But instead of comparing ourselves with our neighbors, we need to compare ourselves with the rest of the world. According to the BBC, more than half of the people on earth live on less than two dollars a day in conditions that are filthily and lack the basic necessities of life, like clean water. The reality is that most of us in North America are filthy rich. And unfortunately, our wealth and culture has the ability to cloud the way we think.
We rich people, people who make more than the global median wage of $1,225 a year, have a hard time trusting God because we trust our money instead. Do you remember that part of the Lord’s Prayer that goes, Give us today our daily bread? What does that actually mean to you? I am the first to confess that I have never missed a meal because I couldn't afford it or didn't have any food. I have always had accessibility to clean water. Yet even though we're rich, most of us don't feel rich. And since we don't feel rich, we want more of the very thing that is crippling us spiritually. We're doubling down on the sickness instead of looking for the cure.
Luke mentions a second rich guy in Luke 19. The second rich guy Jesus encountered wasn't nearly as moral as the first. His name was Zacchaeus and he was despised by everyone who knew him. Because he served as the chief tax collector for the Roman government, he basically had an implied license to steal. Whatever he collected above what a person owed, he could keep for himself.
One day when Jesus came to town, Zacchaeus scrambled up into a sycamore tree. We know that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but I am not so sure he wanted Jesus to see him, yet Jesus kept His appointment. As Jesus was walking along the road, He looked up in the tree and invited himself to Zacchaeus' house. The crowd was stunned, and I would imagine that Zacchaeus was a bit stunned as well. Have you ever noticed that Jesus just invited Himself over, He never mentions money or tells him to give any money to the poor, like He did with the rich young ruler. But as soon as Zacchaeus stands in front of Jesus, his mindset changes. With an instinctive spirit of repentance, said, I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times more. (Luke 19:8).
When Zacchaeus came face to face with Jesus, he immediately believed that Jesus was the Messiah. His act of repentance changed his mind and that was seen in his actions. Zacchaeus was a changed man, there was a time when he was only about money, about the new and improved. But when he truly saw and met Jesus, money no longer had a grip on his soul
The rich young ruler truly believed that Jesus was lucky to have him on His team. I mean he was a righteous man who believed he had kept the whole law. And when he was faced with the reality of who he really was, he left unwilling or maybe unable to change the way he thought about money and possessions.
Then there was Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector who didn’t have the same hang up’s about his own self righteousness. He was so hungry for salvation and fellowship with Christ that he easily released his hold on worldly wealth to grab something far more valuable. Jesus declared, Salvation has come to this house today, because this man also belongs to the family of Abraham. The Son of Man came to find lost people and save them. (9 - 10).
I understand Zacchaeus. His story is my story. There are days that I forget what is really important in this life. My mind is not where it needs to be and I take my focus off where my true security lies and I start looking for the new and improved to provide for me what only God can truly offer. You understand that as well. I want you to think back to the last thing you really wanted. The truth is that when you finally purchased it, it felt good. I wonder if it still does? What about the possession before that one? And before that one? The farther back you go, the less precious those things feel. Where does it end?
Until we can learn to change our minds, and learn to trust in God alone, we will never find real peace and security. Most of us never have the discussion about debt and stuff. We never ask ourselves, if what we are looking to buy is necessary, or will bring us the level of satisfaction we are looking for. We would benefit from the words of Solomon in Proverbs 15:16 where he writes: It is better to be poor and know the Lord than to be rich and live without him. Lasting satisfaction comes from our relationship with God and not a new television, leaf blower, or another pair of black shoes.
God is the one who provides us with what matters and lasts. Only when we come around to that way of thinking, will we be able to break free from the earthly possessions that grip our minds and hearts. Until we see what we have as a gift to manage from God we will never get to experience the really cool part of God’s story, the part where God calls us to be truly free indeed.