Let me give you some startling statistics:
- People today are on average four-and-a-halftimes richer than their great-grandparents at the turn of the century.
- Percentage of college freshmen who reported thinking it is essential to be well off financially:
- 1967: 44% 1987: 76%
- Median size of a new house built in the U.S.:
- 1949: 1,100 sq ft. In 1993: 2,060 sq ft
- Number of Americans with two or more homes: 10 million, yet there are a minimum of 300,000 homeless Americans.
- Year in which the number of shopping centers in the U.S. surpassed the number of high schools: 1987
- Average time spent shopping per week is 6 hours, yet the time spent playing with children per week is 40 minutes
- The waste generated each year in the U.S. would fill a convoy of 10-ton garbage trucks 145,000 miles long — over half-way to the moon.
- Amount of motor oil sent to landfills or poured down drains in the U. S. each year: 180 million gallons — the equivalent of 16 Exxon Valdez spills
- Percentage of Americans who say they have achieved the American Dream:
- Those earning less than $15,000 a year: 5%
- Those earning more than $50,000 a year: 6%
- Highest income group in U.S.: doctors and doctors comprise the highest proportion of professions with unhappy people.
- Percentage of Americans who would like:
- to “slow down and live a more relaxed life”: 69%
- a “more exciting, faster-paced life”: 19%
- Percentage of the world’s population comprised of Americans: 5% yet, 30% of the world’s resources are consumed by Americans: 30%
- Percentage of fossil fuel used annually that is consumed by the U.S.: 25%
- Percentage of all humans who own a car: 8% yet 89% of American households who own one or more cars is 89%
- Average annual income of the:
- 3.3 billion people in the global “middle class”: $700-7,500
- 1.1 billion people in the global “consumer class”: over $7,500 and it takes home 64% of the world’s income.
- Percentage of disposable personal income in U.S. allotted to savings: 4.2% and 83% is spent on personal debt
- Percentage of American workers ages 25-49 who believe that keeping up with the Joneses does anything for the keepers-up: 2%
- Percentage of American workers ages 25-49 who would like to see a return to a simpler society with less emphasis on material wealth: 75%
What does this have to do with the church? More specifically, what does this have to do with The Wesleyan Church? And even more so, what does this have to do with us?
It probably comes as no surprise that we live in a consumer mentality culture. The statistic regarding personal debt leads us to believe that. This is a very personal sermon in that over the past few weeks, we have begun packing. Matter of fact, we are well on our way. However, I realized this; I am a rich man. I can’t believe how much stuff we own. I can’t believe how much stuff we’ve saved. I can’t believe how much stuff we’ve given away and thrown out in the past few weeks. Perhaps if you were to take a personal inventory this morning, you would find yourself in a place like we are. Perhaps, you would ask yourself this question, “Do I really need all this stuff?” The fourth thing that I believe James would tell the Wesleyan Church and its congregations is to simplify, simplify, simplify. We really have much more than we can really use.
What does James tell us regarding this? Let’s take a look at James chapter 5.
1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
One of the things that you will find out if you look carefully at the book of James is the incredible parallels to the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. This should come as no surprise if we accept that the writer James is Jesus’ half-brother. Before we go any further, let’s take a look at another very familiar passage that happens in Luke:
18A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[b]”
21“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
28Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
29“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
These two passages should be disturbing to us in 21st Century America and even more disturbing to 21st Century American Wesleyan Christians. We in America have been greatly blessed by God, if we believe what James says: 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.You’ve heard me say this before, everything that we have belongs to God and is from God and we have been greatly blessed. Unfortunately, we have taken that great blessing and kept it to ourselves. As I was researching this message, I saw a statistic that defies logic. The less someone has, the more likely they are willing to give to charity and charitable organizations. The more money someone has lessens their chances that they will be a charitable giver.
This has really hit home with me lately. I was thinking about the statistic that 83% of the average American’s disposable income is spent taking care of debt. It’s no better when we consider our national debt. A baby born today will be responsible for $15,000 of that debt. We cannot continue to spend and spend and spend.
I take James’ and Jesus’ words seriously here. Jesus says it will be difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, not that there is anything wrong with riches or the pursuit. What is your desire for riches? Is it a desire to accumulate riches for yourself or is it a desire to gain all you have, save all you have, so that you can give all you have for the sake of the gospel. We are responsible for this generation. Obviously we can’t reach them all so we send missionaries and workers to reach places we can’t. If we are in debt up to our eyeballs or just keep accumulating things how does that advance the Kingdom of God.
Listen to this thought about the rich, young ruler:
No matter how much wealth he had, he could not—ride in a car, have any surgery, turn on a light, buy penicillin, hear a pipe organ, watch TV, wash dishes in running water, type a letter, mow a lawn, fly in an airplane, sleep on an innerspring mattress, or talk on the phone, If he was rich, then what am I?
John Wesley was a man of great wealth, yet died a poor man, not because he squandered it all away, like the prodigal son, but he earned all he could and he saved all he could and then GAVE AWAY everything he earned to advance the Kingdom of God.
What can we do? Is there any hope for us? Yes, there is. I have made some personal decisions over the past few months. I realize that there are things that I can do without. I realize that there are things that our family can do without. As I told you earlier, over the past few weeks, we have given away a tremendous amount of stuff. We’ve given it away to various organizations, almost all was given away here in our community. I am making it my goal to simplify, simplify, simplify so that I am not burdened by things or by the lack of money to build and advance the Kingdom of God.
What am I challenging you with this morning? I want to challenge you to take a look around you. How can you simplify your life? Maybe you need to de-clutter your house. Maybe you need to get rid of some things, so that you can advance the kingdom of God. Maybe you need to simplify your time. Maybe there are things you need to get rid of time-wise so that you advance the kingdom of God. Perhaps, God is challenging you to get out of debt so you can advance the Kingdom of God. I challenge you to SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY.
What are some practical ways we can do this?
- Don’t start collecting things
- Say no to spending
- Give things away
- Have a garage sale – we are having a church garage sale this weekend, perhaps you could simplify. The great thing is that all the proceeds received will go to Global Partners (what you used to know as Wesleyan World Missions)
- Get rid of leftovers from your last move
- Plan a backpacking trek
- Begin downsizing