By Paul Bawden
I understand that Alana Semuels wrote a recent article in the Atlantic (8/21/18) entitled, “We Are All Accumulating Mountains Of Things.”
The article pointed out that in 2017, Americans spent $240 billion—twice as much as they’d spent in 2002—on goods like jewelry, watches, books, luggage, and telephones and related communication equipment, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which adjusted those numbers for inflation.
Over that time, the population grew just 13 percent. Spending on personal care products also doubled over that time period. On average, Americans spent $971.87 on clothes last year. They bought nearly 66 garments, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. That’s 20 percent more money than they spent in 2000. Last year, the average American bought 7.4 pairs of shoes, which was up from 6.6 pairs in 2000.
At the same time, the number of self-storage units is rapidly increasing as well. There are around 52,000 such facilities nationally; two decades ago, there were half that number.
Why is there this rise in the accumulating of stuff? It was suggested that before the internet people went to stores and took time to shop. Now, with the internet, people can shop anytime, anywhere. We can even tell Alexa that we need something new and it will arrive at our door in a few days.
Not everyone, though, is into accumulating stuff. Samuels’ article pointed out that about 29 percent of households with incomes under $25,000 are members of Amazon Prime, according to Kantar Consulting. Some people are embracing the zero-waste movement.
So what does this hoarding of stuff tell us? Certainly, Americans like stuff, and they will spend money to even purchase or rent storage units to store what they may not need.
But in the midst of this hoarding, we are reminded that stuff does not satisfy. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus told the story of the man who needed more space to store his crops. He said to himself that he would tear down his barns and build larger ones to store his produce. His words to himself were, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, drink and be merry.” God replied, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared? So is the man who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
Jesus is not saying it’s wrong to have material things, but God should be acknowledged as the Source of all one has, and Savior as well. Specifically, though, Jesus is teaching to accumulate beyond what one needs, and to trust in that for lasting satisfaction in life, that person will discover stuff leaves him or her in the balances and found wanting. Even if one doesn’t hoard stuff, but trusts in one’s stuff, or in one’s own wisdom, ability, even religion, that person is also left in the balances and found wanting.
Jesus is saying that to be eternally rich in life is to know Him personally, regardless of one’s situation in life, for only He can provide us what we all need – His forgiveness and eternal life, based upon His death, burial, and bodily resurrection. That’s why Jesus also taught that life consists not in the abundance of what one possesses. The bottom line is this: We can trust in our stuff, even in our religion and ideas, but none of them can provide us eternal forgiveness and life. In whom have you deposited your faith? Jesus Christ is the only true and eternal Object for your faith (John 3:16). If you have deposited your faith in Him, seek first His kingdom and all your needs will be met (Luke 12:22-34).
Paul Bawden is married and served in the pastoral ministry for 45 years, retiring in 2011. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in Speech and attended Dallas Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Theology. He has taken counseling courses at Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois. Paul is a lifetime member of the Evangelical Free Church of America, as well as being a member of Interim Pastor Ministries (IPM), which serves churches during their time of transition in searching for a new pastor. He writes for Union Gospel Press, as well as being a volunteer writer for GotQuestions.org. Paul likes to write, read, bike, and work in the yard. The Bawdens have had the privilege to travel to Mexico and Romania on mission trips and visited various countries in Europe.
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