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Points To Ponder/Affluenza
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
At bedtime, we gather in the bedroom of our 5 1/2 year old, Elizabeth. We’ll read a story or two, then say our prayers. Usually this involves me leading off with a recap of our day, giving thanks for the good food we have and the nice home God has provided. Also, I’ll ask God to provide for the homeless and the hungry.
Then it’s Elizabeth’s turn. She usually thanks God for the “wonderful time I had,” and says a few details about a classmate at school or a playmate. But on one Sunday night when we had had a particularly blessed day of good food and lots of playtime for her, she wouldn’t pray. Again and again, we asked her to say her prayers; but she said she didn’t want to- couldn’t think of anything. “You couldn’t think of one thing to thank God for today?, ” we asked. Silence.
Well what do you do with that? In our home a foundational principle is emphasized: RESPECT. We respect God as Lord (Joshua 24:15) and we respect others. It comes from the two great commandments as Jesus taught us; love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Respect means being thankful.
But in this culture we are so wealthy and for the most part comfortable, that we have become a nation of whiney spoiled brats. The folks who went through the Great Depression and World War II are almost all gone from the earth. They knew what real economic hardship was all about. Today we think being poor is having to eat macaroni and cheese. (No offense, we like mac & cheese too.) But, back then lots of people didn’t even have that.
My father’s mother raised her kids without Women, Infants & Children (W.I.C.), welfare, food stamps, or a church food bank. She worked in a factory all day and sold boxes of candy on the side. She budgeted to the penny, buying just enough to supply each of their plates at each of the meals. No multiple boxes of snacks, cases of soda, etc. She could only buy what they needed to live. If my uncle brought home one of his Navy buddies for supper, she quietly served her plate to him.
When I was growing up in South Baltimore, my parents were very poor. Dad worked three jobs, Mom stayed home with the kids. They would skip meals in order to have enough to feed the baby. Later when they started making more money, we could afford one weekend in Ocean City. We really thought we were living high when Dad was able to make enough to add a third day. Imagine saving (not charging it) all year to be able to afford three days in a third class motor court outside of Ocean City. But, hey, that was living! No one told me we were poor. All I knew was that we always had enough, never went hungry, always had heat in the winter and a window fan in the summer, and a functioning car. The radio and speedometer didn’t work, but hey, it got us where we had to go. (Dad just had to be careful how quickly he went there.)
So there we were in Elizabeth’s room, with a library full of books, a zoo of stuffed animals, a fully stocked toy room in the basement, the largest collection of “My Little Pony” pals (I know of) in Laurel, and lots of other “stuff. ” Even more importantly, she has two parents who love each other, are always there for her, and who have time to play and take her places. But, she can’t think of anything to thank God for; she just wants to go to bed. Okay, we said. “No desserts (sweets) and no T.V. tomorrow!!”
Howls of protest and tears came, but we held firm. Was this being pharisaical, legalistic to punish our 5 year old for not praying? What she was being punished for was her disrespect of God as her Provider and of us, the ones into whose care He has entrusted her. The Apostle Paul warned that “perilous times will come” (and are now here), when people will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful...” etc., those who love their own pleasures rather than God (II Timothy 3:1-4 NKJV). Does he not describe a culture of entitlement, a nation of spoiled brats? The character of every nation is home grown.
It is usually during times of deprivation that we learn how to be thankful. If you’ve always had, you always expect to have, and that can lead to forgetfulness.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, God admonished Israel that He had used the wilderness experience to test their faithfulness. But one day, wealth would be plentiful and they would begin to think it was by their own strength that they prospered. God warned that forgetting Him as their Provider was one step away from idolatry; and the next step would be destruction.
Wealth is a greater test than deprivation, because the deprived have nothing distracting them from seeking God. He’s all they have. Remember how much you grew when He was all you had?
The following night, without prompting, Elizabeth launched into her prayer, thanking God for her wonderful day, her wonderful friends AND her “wonderful parents who I love very much!” Marcella said she really just wanted her desserts back, but at least she was being honest about her mercenary attitude. Being thankful when you’ve had so much for so long takes intentional work. Our duty as a Christian Family is to see that that work is done.
If your child hates baths, do you stop bathing him? If she hates school, do you let her stay home until she feels like going? No, you press these things because they are essentials for life. Yet God’s word tells us that knowing Him is essential for eternal life (John 3:16-18; 17:3). If that relationship isn’t a priority to you, why should it be to them?
“...in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. Visit www.fumcl.org.
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