Sunday, October 14, 2012


I want to talk to you today about “Affluenza.”  It’s something that is very, very prevalent in our culture today.  I’m going to begin with a little knowledge quiz.  OK?  So take a look up here and see what you think.

1.       Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three car garage?
a.       a basketball court
b.      a McDonald’s restaurant
c.       an AV or recreational vehicle
d.      the average home in the 1950’s
What do you think?  The answer is “d.”  Many of today’s three car garages occupy about 900 square feet—just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950’s.  Many people use the extra space to store things.  Often we hear that Americans have lost ground economically and have less purchasing power, but American are buying more luxurious items partly by working more and by deeply into debt.  The homes we live in today and the cars we drive today are often bigger and more technologically advance than those purchased by our parents. 

2.      The percentage of Americans calling themselves very happy reached its highest point in what year?
a.       1957
b.      1967
c.       1977
d.      1987
When were Americans the happiest?  The answer “1957.”  The number of very happy people peeked in 1957, and this is interesting, has remained fairly stable or declined ever since.  Even though we consume twice as much as did in the ‘50’s, people were just as happy when they had less.

3.      True or false?  Americans carry 600 billion in personal debt, not including mortgages or real estate?
Is that true or false?  It’s false.  Americans carry 2.4 trillion dollars in personal debt--approximately eight thousand for every man, woman and child not including real estate and mortgages.  On average Americans save only 4 percent of their income in contrast to Japanese who save about 16 percent. 

Now I’m going to take you back a few years. 
4.      Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?
a.       graduate from college
b.      declare bankruptcy
The answer in 1996 was “b – declare bankruptcy.”  In 1996 more than one million Americans declared bankruptcy as in 1986.  More than a billion credit cards and less than 1/3 of the credit card holders pay off their balances each month. 

I did a little checking on some of my statistics, and actually I found that the bankruptcy rate has gone up to 1.571 million bankruptcies in this past year.  Now what’s interesting is college graduates have actually caught up, but the college graduates are not getting good jobs anymore.  They’re not getting jobs that equal their education, so the economy is getting tough.

This is the last one.
5.      Of American who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said that they are happier as a result?
a.       29%
b.      42%
c.       67%
d.      86%
What do you think?  The answer is “d.”  86% of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result.  And by the way, voluntary reductions in consumption are actually growing.  More and more people are deciding to live with less.

Now, I want to talk to you about “affluenza” because in looking at what is “missional” over the next couple weeks I want to talk to you about “missional momentum”--the idea that God wants us to take the love, the grace, the fellowship, and the forgiveness, that he has given us, and move it out to the world with continuous momentum.  You’ve seen this diagram with arrows that point out from a growing heart, a growing faith.  So the idea is that in the next couple weeks we’re going to talk about the momentum that the mission needs.  But truth be told, there are things that weigh in on our heart rather than going out.  These are things that affect us all—money, houses, cars, life style.  These are things that we desire to have in our lives, to put around us, to make us feel good.  It results though, in a self-focus—stuff that just gets into our hearts and make us love and desire things more than what should be the object of our affection and our walk with God.

So, what is “affluenza?”  Actually it is something that psychologists have begun to study in America, because we’ve really got a problem in this country.  I’d like to illustrate that by talking about three factors that mark this condition.  One is the “LOAD.”  The load that we have put on our lives is an amazing.  Our stuff, the things we have around us, costs us dearly.  It’s costing us in terms of financial stresses, of relational stresses, and real physical stress.  We have to try harder to accumulate more stuff.  And it’s harder today than it was twenty years ago to make yourself look affluent and good.  So the load on us is incredible.  It’s big; it’s a burden. 

A second factor is the “HEAD.”  We are striving to keep our head above everybody else.  We are striving to push ahead of others, and it’s resulting in a lot of pride and a lot of difficulty in competitiveness—keeping up with the “Joneses”—certainly a well-known phrase.  Affluenza is going to our heads.  We are trying so hard to stay above everyone else.

The third factor is the “DISORDER.”  The research for most recent revision of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual or “DSM” psychologists use to diagnose mental abnormalities, began to look at the psychological impact of those who are making themselves sick in pursuit of affluence or even, just the appearance of affluence.  So… there’s really a sickness out there, and it’s gripping America today.  A “disorder” is a confusion of what is normally right.  Eventually affluence, like any form of idolatry, can put us out of place in our relationship with God, and that’s the worst disorder we can ever get ourselves into.

Now, this is a sermon in a church.  It’s a church message so I’m not here to talk to you about the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of psychology.  God’s Word has plenty to say to us about conditions that our spiritual lives face.  It talks a lot about our struggle with sin and temptation.  It talks a lot about the stuff that clouds our lives where God belongs instead.  When you heard the Gospel Lesson today you heard about a rich man who came to Jesus.  He said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said, “Well you know.  Do what you’re supposed to do.”  It was a setup.  Jesus knew he couldn’t do all the things he was supposed to do.  This young man said, “I’ve kept all the Laws.  I’ve been a good boy.  My whole life I’ve done well.”  And Jesus said, “Well, then go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then you’ll have treasures in heaven.”  The Bible said that he went away very sad, because he had lots of stuff.  Do you ever wonder what that might be like today if Jesus said, “You’ve got too much stuff!  Get rid of it.  Come follow me.” 

I’m going to continue reading from Mark 10, where we left off.  Because after this young man went away, Jesus looked at his disciples and he said to them:  “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”  The disciples were amazed at his words, but again Jesus said, `Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.’  The disciples were even more amazed and said to each other, `who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, `with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” 

Now, when you read a verse like that we come to the realization that either we need some really, really big needles or we need some really, really tiny camels.  Right?  How in the world are you going to get camels through an eye of a needle?  It’s impossible!  So, how does this work?  What is Jesus possibly saying in this text?  I want to introduce you to something very, very common throughout the world and especially in ancient cities and building.  It’s called a “needle gate.”  A needle gate was a gate that was open after dark when the big gates of the city or the building or the castle were closed.  A needle gate was big enough only for a person—one person—to pass through.  Here are some pictures of needle gates.  This one in the upper left is actually a needle gate in a wall in Jerusalem.  It’s just big enough to squeeze on through.  Isn’t that interesting?  So, my question for you is:  Can we get a camel through a needle gate?  That’s a great question.  Some needle gates it’s possible to get a camel through.  Other needle gates I’m afraid not. 

Let’s take a look at “affluenza” from the stand point of a camel trying to get through a needle gate.  OK?  We’ve got three big problems with that.  First problem we have is this LOAD.  The camel usually has too much stuff to get through the gate--too much stuff.  So when it’s dark I can just see the caravan driver saying, “Come on, come on!  They’re going to close the gate!  They’re going to close the gate!  We’ve got to get in!”  You can just see them looking at their watches and trying to get through the city gate in time, because if they had to get the camels through the needle gate, that load had to go.  It was just too much.  So, to get the camel through the task of lightning the load was really critically important. 

But that’s not the only problem you had getting a camel through the eye of a needle.  Second problem you had was his HEAD.  Just like people’s whose heads are held high in pride, camels love to keep their heads up.  I don’t know if you noticed that, but even when they’re resting their heads are up.  They’re up all the time.  And when they’re trying to get a camel through a needle gate, one of the toughest things to do is to pull that head down so that head can get down low enough to get under the top of the needle gate.  It’s difficult to get a camel through when its head is held high, just like it’s difficult for people to walk closely with God, when their heads are so high in the clouds, with their own self-importance and pride.  It’s not impossible; it’s just really hard to get a camel through a needle gate with that head.

And, there’s still another problem, because even if you’ve got the head down you had to do something that was completely unnatural for a camel.  You had to deal with the DISORDER.  And that is… you had to get the camel on its knees to go through the needle gate.  Load off, head down, on the knees!  If a knee will not bow in humble order before the God of the Universe, there’s a very serious “order” problem.  Yet we bow before so many idols.  God have mercy on us when we get our lives so out of order!

It’s just such a hard thing to get a camel through the eye of a needle, but it’s not impossible—is it?  It’s not impossible.  I think the young man went away very sad because he had so much stuff.  The challenge for us today is to ask:  If we’ve got too much stuff, if our self-importance has inflated our heads so much, if we’re so naturally inclined to worship ourselves rather than our Creator we may as well be a big, old camel, with a great big load approaching the city wall after sundown. 

Now, it could be that Jesus was talking about the needle gate. I don’t know.  It could be that he was juxtaposing the biggest animal that people knew in Israel with the smallest opening they could think about.  Whether Jesus was actually referring to a needle gate and a real camel or the impossibility of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, the reaction of the disciples was very much the same.  They said, “Lord, who then can be saved?”  The young man went away really sad, because he had so much stuff.  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Jesus dealt with the LOAD, not the load of our stuff, but the load of our sin.  Every lustful, compulsive, consuming thought that we’ve had, every covetous idea, every stolen good, whatever it is, Jesus took that load for all that sin on himself.  It was a bigger load than any camel could carry.  It’s a bigger load than you and I can bear.  But that load went to the cross with Jesus.  I love the Old Pilgrim’s Progress story where that Christian pilgrim with that big pack on his back.  He comes to the cross and it falls off.  The load of sin is gone at the cross, because of Jesus Christ.  His HEAD, his sacred head, was wounded for us.  He didn’t consider his standing in heaven to be something that would be grasped, but he made himself nothing the Bible says and took on the form of a servant.  He was obedient onto death, even death on the cross.  That’s what was in his mind.  The Bible says, “But for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame.”  He got his mind around the fact that he wanted to live with you and me rather than in God’s kingdom.  We talk about DISORDER.  There is none bigger than the disorder in the relationship between broken humanity and the living God.  Jesus put order back into our lives and into our eternity.  Jesus dealt with things that were out of whack.

So, I don’t know how you feel, maybe you’d be discouraged like the rich, young man.  Thinking, “Oh, I’ve got too much stuff!  I’ll never get to heaven because I’ve got too much stuff, if not the physical stuff, there’s certainly the sinful stuff.  Does the Bible make heaven seem as out of reach for the sinner as well as the rich person?  Jesus said, “No, it’s not impossible.  In fact, rich or poor, man or woman, slave or free, with God, the Kingdom of Heaven is open to each one by the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  I’m sharing this “affluenza” message with you to tell you it’s not such a good idea to keep pursuing stuff rather than pursuing God.  Our drive and desire for the affluent way of life can keep us from giving it to others and growing the kingdom.  It pushes our focus in toward ourselves and not out to the world.  I believe that’s what Jesus was trying to say to the rich young man and to you and me.  Thankfully, the message of the cross deals with the LOAD, the HEAD, and the DISORDER when we trust in the finished work of Christ for us all.  He gives us peace and hope!