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I took my son to the auto show for the first time this year. Best in show was a tough call for an eight-year-old. It was a toss-up between the street racing Lamborghini Aventador, a Nissan NSX and the Lego Batmobile that included over 334,000 pieces and took three months to put together.
The Batmobile “Speedwagon” didn’t have any speed and wasn’t even mobile, but that was beside the point. What is it about us as humans that causes our eyes to get big and our excitement to build so that when we see something we like, we immediately think “I want that.”
Personally, I would have gone for either the Chevy or Ford crew cab pickup. I’m not picky! I was listening to a sermon recently from a man who I would consider a mentor. It was a beautifully challenging homily on the book of Ecclesiastes. He referenced a psychotherapist named Jessie O’Neill who wrote a book entitled The Golden Ghetto. In her book, she details a sickness that is found in every single human soul. It’s what makes our eyes get big. It is the relentless voice that is constantly whispering and sometimes even shouting, “YOU NEED MORE!”
And it drives us because that same voice also says to our hearts, “YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH!” Over and over and over again. “YOU NEED MORE!” “YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH!” “YOU NEED MORE!” “YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH!”
Jessie O’Neill creatively calls this obsession and drive to get more “affluenza.” It’s the disease of incessantly pursuing affluence. A sickness that drives our pursuit of earthly treasures.
There is nothing inherently wrong with getting excited at an auto show. The issue is what is going on inside of us. We spoke about it recently from Matthew 6:19-24. Jesus concludes three sayings that have to do with our relationship with money by saying, “You cannot serve God and money.”
It’s interesting that the word for money is “mammon.” It means wealth, property, possessions, money … “treasures.” Jesus is personifying mammon as a god. And he makes it abundantly clear, “Either the god of mammon has your heart or the God of all.” He leaves no room for a divided spirit. He leaves no room for partiality. He does not allow the hearer to conclude, “God has most of me and the god of mammon has just a slice, a small percentage, a piece.”
See, the thing about “affluenza” is that it does not discriminate. Whether you have plenty or are poor, it is still whispering “You need more and the god of mammon will provide you with what you really need.” It’s a subtle idolatry. And it’s a deadly disease.
Unfortunately, from the youngest child who just wants that one more Lego set to the oldest visitor at the auto show, we all still occasionally get those big eyes, we all are at the least mildly infected. And millions are chronically infected without even knowing it.
The irony is that while the god of mammon is perhaps the greatest idol of our society, those who come to worship and hear from God often get squeamish at the thought of hearing a message on money at church.
I get why. All the abuses, all the mistakes, all the mistrust, but none of that removes the fact that we MUST deal with this issue. And we MUST deal with it as Jesus did since it is Jesus whom we are following. His view of money was so pragmatic and simple. It wasn’t complicated. Money was something that was necessary and that could be leveraged to make an impact for his real mission – to do the will of the Father.
There is only one remedy for affluenza – it is the Gospel. It frees our hearts from the desire for more because in Christ we know we’ve been given all things! It frees us from the sickness of pursuing more and more on earth because we know that there is more that we are living for than what we see.
We have been given a purpose, an identity and a mission that truly satisfies our souls. The Gospel has the power to fulfill our longings permanently. The Gospel never gets old and never loses its glitz. It brings a deeper joy than that new flat-black F-250 crew cab truck or that Batmobile Speedwagon.
Just wait a few years. Go back to the Auto Show or into the Lego store and you’ll notice how tired and old those toys have become. A quick 35-minute sermon will not do – this one needs more of our attention. It requires deep meditation and prayer.
So, I must ask, are you sick with affluenza? Is your allegiance tied to the god of mammon? Where is your heart? With a thing? A person? Or, in the care of our glorious heavenly Father who rescued us for a reason bigger than simply the salvation of our own soul?
What we have – all of it – means NOTHING! It is simply a resource to help us with what really matters. Jesus didn’t despise possessions. He despised the sickness that causes people to be controlled by their possessions. He hated the god of mammon because he knew this god was a false god.
The possessions were never the point. The point was the allegiance of our hearts, the recipient of our trust, the identity of who it is that can provide what we need. Offer him all of who you are and offer to him all of what you have. Confess where you feel torn. Let’s allow the Gospel to heal us this year from the disease of affluenza.