Ultimate values

January 15th, 2016

The third Monday in January has been labeled by some as “Blue Monday,” considered to be the most depressing day of the year. It turns out that the formula that was used to calculate that “most depressed” date was all pseudo-science. I suspect, however, there may be a kernel of truth. Next week is around the time that many Americans will begin to receive their January credit card statements, revealing in stark black and white print the spending excesses of the Christmas season.

Collectively, Americans owe over $800 billion in credit-card debt. If credit-card interest rates average between 13 to 15 percent, and many are higher, you don’t actually have to do the math to know that the interest charges are astronomical. In fact the average American household with unsecured debt has over $15,000 in credit-card debt alone. So, how did we reach this point?

In part it is because it is so tempting for us to confuse imagined needs with real needs. The prophet Isaiah cautions us,

"Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” — Isaiah 55:2

Jesus warned repeatedly, “‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’” (Luke 12:15). Jesus was prophetic even for the 21st century in his admonition to keep one’s guard up. If I have been “window shopping” online, the next time I open Facebook, the retailer whose site or product I had perused repeatedly shows up as a sponsored ad on my newsfeed, sometimes with a tailored ad featuring the exact product I had been looking at. The next time I perform a search on Google, the search-results page jumps in on the action as well.

We have allowed ourselves to be sucked into the consumerism vortex and can soon convince ourselves that almost all of our wants are needs. We live in a crazy world in interesting times. Americans spend $370 million a year on pet costumes. We spend $5 billion a year on entertaining ringtones. Perhaps ringtones and pet costumes are not your area of weakness. I suspect you could name something that is, something that may very well be considered as foolish in the eyes of others as a dog dressed like a princess for Halloween seems to you.

There is no clearer indicator of our ultimate values than our financial priorities and practices — how we spend, how we live, how we save and how we give reveal the true altar of our hearts. In Jesus’ own words, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters; either you’ll hate the one and love the other; or you’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:21, 25).

If you have identified money matters as a challenging area in your life in 2016, I would invite you to read my newest book that I wrote with Karen Perry Smith, The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving & Living with a Conscience, available later this month. The Christian Wallet asks difficult questions about morality and money, exploring the issues at play while acknowledging there are no easy answers. It is my prayer in this new year that you and I will wrestle with these questions together, making the necessary choices to transform our lifestyles, experiencing true transformation in the process. There is hope! Let’s grasp it.

Mike Slaughter is the author of Renegade Gospel and The Christian Wallet. He blogs at MikeSlaughter.com.

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