I went to Meijer in Hartland this past Friday, and while making my way to the hardware section to find a replacement bulb for the lamp on my desk, I overheard a rather animated child begging his mom with tantrum-like sounds to buy him a particular item he’d discovered on one of the end caps. I don’t know what the item was, but from his insistence, it sounded as though he might die if he didn’t own it.
I’m guessing it was some sort of fantastical device—like a teleporter—because at one point he called out something like, “I saw it on TV, and it’s the coolest thing ever!” Indeed, a teleportation device would be the coolest thing ever.
But whatever it was, I couldn’t help thinking I was experiencing the male version of Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and that this child’s exuberance was likely triggered by commercial advertising. In a passing moment between mind-numbing segments of his favorite TV show, the emptier compartments of his developing cerebrum had been stirred to entrancement by the possibility of owning a product the TV had convinced him he needed for experiencing true joy. And here it was in all its glory, well within reach of his Wonka Bar-stained fingers.
But Mom said no, and then continued, “Now you know what to ask for from Santa for Christmas.”
The child’s response was by no means subdued. He wanted it, and he made sure everyone within earshot knew it. As for me, I grabbed the lightbulb I needed and walked away wondering how she plans on wrapping the kid’s gifts. I hear it’s challenging to wrap coal, not only because it’s lumpy, but because it’s so dirty. The dust alone prevents the tape from adhering to the paper as it should. Ask my kids. It’s always the easiest of their gifts to unwrap.
The funny thing is, for as much as any of us may have wanted to chastise little Veruca, none of us is immune to the psychology of advertising. It was Stephen Leacock (in my humble opinion, Canada’s version of Mark Twain) who said something about how advertising is pretty much the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to squeeze some money from it. If you think about it, he’s right. We all have items in our homes to prove those moments of arrested mindfulness—those things that demonstrate just how powerful the world can be for reaching into our lives to convince us that what it offers can be our all-in-all for joy.
But now, admit it. Many of those things the world sold you are now consigned to miscellaneous junk boxes littering the shelves of the basement storage closet.
Digging a little deeper into this, I get the sense that for many, impulse buys aren’t the only proof that the world has reached into our lives in this way. Far too many in our world appear to base the value of their lives on whether or not they get the new car or the new boat or the new furniture, or whether or not the kids have all the right fashions and all the latest tech. So many are living their lives and measuring their personal value according to the seemingly infinite (and yet false) promise of joy that the world labors tirelessly to attach to things.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a new car, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with your kids having nice things to wear. The problem emerges when these things become the sole source for our identity and happiness. When this occurs, the old saying becomes true: “God sends the meat, but the devil sends the cooks.” God is the giver of everything we have, but the devil has his ways of making us see and interpret these gifts according to very different standards. These things become less representative of the kindness and generosity of a God who loves us, and more about our deservedness or our supposed self-made successes.
Again, don’t get me wrong. God gives us our reason and our senses in order that we would use them to their fullest potential, and by them we should seek to do our best in all things. You certainly won’t accomplish anything unless you act. And odds are you won’t be successful unless your acting is born from genuine effort. In fact, I have a piece of paper taped to the bookshelf beside my desk that heralds this very point in its extreme. It bears a quotation from Calvin Coolidge, and admittedly, much of what I do in life is in subscription to the basic premise of his words. Maybe I’ve shared it with you before. The quotation reads:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
To be clear, Coolidge used the term “omnipotent” in a hyperbolic sense. What he meant in context is that when it comes solely to man’s capacity, persistence is where the bulk of our muscle is to be located. And as I said, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Still, as Christians, we know and do all of this acknowledging the One who is the giver of both the tangibles as well as the intangibles. We rest in the mindfulness that all we have is from God, and no matter how hard we may work to get it, He was the one who gave us everything required to do it, even the drive. In the end, the source of our joy, even as it may be interwoven with certain things or abilities, is always located in Him alone.
And so, it is to Him we are thankful at all times and in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
But deeper still, this has me pondering something else.
As we’ve already established, everything that we are and everything that we have is from God. The Word of God declares this (Romans 11:36). But as we examine that same Word and we find ourselves getting into the grittiest, most molecular details, we realize that of ourselves the only thing we ever really bring to the table in any circumstance is the Sin-nature (Psalm 51:5; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10). That’s not so great. And yet, far too often it’s the Sin-nature at the steering wheel when it comes to the handling of God’s gifts to us—namely, what we give back to Him in thanksgiving. In other words, we often find ourselves giving back to God the pittance that remains from everything else we first gave to the devil, the world, and ourselves. That’s not so great, either.
I know I may be a little ahead of myself, but for those of you who know me, you’ll know I’m the kind of guy who finds value in making New Year’s resolutions. As I’ve written in other places, resolutions for personal betterment are by no means a bad thing. In fact, I commend all willing to try. Even Saint Paul encouraged Christians to practice reaching higher in their Godliness (Colossians 3:1-4). The New Year is on the very near horizon (thankfully), and with that, I’m already making plans to reach higher. One of the things I intend to do (which I do pretty much every year) is to re-evaluate my stewardship. I want to get better at it. I want to be more mindful.
I don’t know where you fit into this discussion, but I’m pretty sure that all of us could reach higher in this regard, too. As a pastor, I certainly know some long-term, impactful ways for giving back to God in thankfulness for His loving kindness. They’re not necessarily things you’ll find on an end cap at Meijer, and yet they’re the coolest things ever. I say this because they will provide greatly when it comes to securing the Church’s borders in a time of increasing persecution, while at the same time they’ll serve to extend the Gospel to that same persecuting world in desperate need of hearing the Good News. I’m here to tell you I’ll be taking aim at and ramping up my efforts to support those kinds of efforts here at Our Savior in 2021. Maybe you could think about doing so, too.