Several years ago, I was preaching to a group of teenagers about stewardship and I unfortunately played the “feel guilty for spending money” card. I referenced the World Vision gift catalog, found out how much money it took to feed a village for a week (or buy a chicken, dig a well, supply diapers, provide health care for a needy child, build a school, etc.), then I proceeded to compare these amounts to the stuff teenagers love to spend money on. Things like music, cell phones, clothes, fast food, and video games. I even made a visual presentation that would have made the toughest dictator in the world cry. My goal was to get the youth to show concern for people other than themselves.
What on earth was I thinking?
My intentions were good, but I’m afraid I sent the wrong message that day. I essentially told these kids (whether I meant to or not) that spending money on themselves was selfish, especially when there are so many people in the world who are much worse off.
While all of us probably could (and should) simplify our lives so we can give more to the Kingdom, once we start heading down the road I was on at that youth group meeting, we risk putting people in bondage.
Besides, how do we define how much money is too much to spend on something?
Take my denomination, The United Methodist Church, for example. For the last two weeks, we held a quadrennial worldwide conference in Florida that by some estimates cost up to $10 million. As the conference moved along and frustrations mounted, I noticed people on Twitter criticizing how much money we were spending on the event. “How many hungry people could we feed with that money?” some wondered. Or how much could we have sent to help wipe out malaria, save the environment, provide microloans in the developing world, insert your favorite cause here.
Good questions, but I have a couple of others. Like... How many meals could you provide for the hungry if you got rid of your iPhone? Or your car. Or your Netflix membership. How much money could you save by downgrading your wardrobe from Banana Republic to Gap, or from Gap to Old Navy, or from Old Navy to Target ...to Walmart to Goodwill....
Remember what happened when the woman in Mark 14 poured the expensive perfume on Jesus?
Some grew angry. They said to each other, "Why waste the perfume? This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me." Mark 14:4-6 CEB
Do you get where I’m going with this? What some consider extravagant, we may see as basic or essential. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be better stewards, but we need to frame the discussion around our freedom in Christ, not around guilt.
We must never put a yoke on others that we can’t even handle ourselves.