Monday, April 26, 2010

The Value of a Single Life

newborn_baby What is the value of one single life? I think that is a worthwhile question to ask. In a society which seeks to put a dollar amount on everything, it certainly seems that we are placing less and less value on human life while increase the value of the temporary trappings which surround us. So, let’s try to put a price tag on a human life.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to ask, “On whose life are we placing this value?” Is it your life? Is it your spouse’s life? Or one of your children’s lives? Or a friend? A coworker? A neighbor? Or is it just a stranger across town or on the other side of the world? Face it, most of us would apply a different price tag based upon our relationship with the person to whom we assign the value. Is there any amount that would be too much to spend to save the life of your spouse or child? Would you assign the same value to a friend, co-worker, or neighbor? Probably not.

Ugandan orphan But, for the sake of this article, let’s assume that we are talking about a person whom you have never met who lives in a remote village in Uganda. And, for further consideration, we will say that it is a little girl name Charinda who is eight years old. How much is her life worth? Ten dollars? Fifty dollars? One hundred? One thousand? Come on… push has come to shove and you have been contacted and informed that Charinda is sick and will die without medical treatment, and you are the only source of funding. How much would you be willing to spend to save this little girl’s life? Would you be willing to spend anything at all? Would you be willing to send $20.00 or $1000.00? Would you be willing to empty your bank account?

I ask these questions because the value we place on the life of a stranger is the true value we place on life in general. It has nothing to do with the value we place on our spouse or children. It has no bearing on the price tag we assign to friends or co-workers. Those things are determined by the value we place on the relationship which we have with them, not life. So, what is Charinda’s life worth to you, and how do you decide that price tag?

For most people the answer would be, “The amount that I can give without making a significant sacrifice.” They may not say this out loud, but the way they live shows it. That explains why recent fundraising efforts for The Red Cross’ work in Haiti was so successful. The drive was based upon giving $10.00 by using the text feature on your cell phone. Who could not afford to give $10.00? And who would choose not to, especially when you don’t even have to mail a check? So, help was sent and lives were saved because millions of people gave so little that they wouldn’t miss it. And that is fine, I guess. But what happens when millions aren’t ready to respond? What happens when the response depends of the sacrifices and giving of a few?

Which brings us back to Charinda. What would you give and give up to keep her alive? Is she worth a night at the movies? Is she worth your cable television? Is she worth a decision to swear off name brand clothing and shoes? Is she worth settling for a smaller home or older car? Is she worth denying your children a few luxuries so she can have a few necessities? 

These questions are challenging, even haunting. I have been asking them of myself a lot recently, and I think it would be valuable for every believer to ask and answer them. Because the simple truth is that the answers we give to these questions determines the real value we place on life.

So…how much is a life really worth to you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Cure for More…and a Dare

hypodermic-needleWhenever I write or speak about materialism, I am frequently asked the same question. “So, are you saying we should give everything away and live in poverty?” And the answer to that is, “Yes, some of us should.”

There is no doubt that scripture indicates that is a viable option for some people. That was Jesus’ instructions to the rich young ruler in Luke 18 because he was owned by his wealth and Christ longed to see him set free. However, I don’t believe that is the prescription for most American believers. Rather, I believe the answer for most of us is found in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15:

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."

There is no doubt that here in America most of us have more than we need, even if the typical person does not think so. Credit spending and the drive more more stuff has brought many families to the brink of financial collapse, but it is usually not because they did not have enough. Instead, most of these desperate situations were created out of the desire for more and better possessions. In other words, if the typical family could learn to live modestly off their income they would have more than enough. And much of that excess could be used to provide for others in need.

How do we do this? By asking a couple of basic questions:

  1. Do I really NEED that? – As our family has been preparing for our move to Guatemala we have sold a large amount of our possessions which we are now living without. And we realize that, at some point in the past, we really felt that we needed those things. We now realize that we did not. Even now as we wait for our house to sell we find ourselves confronted even more directly by the question of needs verses wants because we realize that most of what we buy now we will be unable to take to Guatemala with us. As a result, we are now working hard to purchase only consumables such as food and personal care products. This question has actually been a source of liberation for us, forcing our family to focus on what is really important.
  2. Do I really need THAT? – This sounds like the same question, but the focus is not on what we need but instead on what we choose to purchase once we determine it is a need. In other words, we may determine that we need to purchase new jeans due to the deteriorated state of our old jeans. (This is an example for our older folks as the deteriorated status of jeans would raise their value for teens.) But when choosing what jeans to purchase do we really need the $50 - $120 name brand pair, or will the $20 off brand meet our need. (Or better yet, can we find a pair at Goodwill for $3.79?) Do we really need to use our limited resources for that little cloth label or stitching on the pocket? Often just by being smarter consumers we can save large amounts of money which could be used to make an eternal difference.

In the spirit of these two questions, I would like to present you with a dare to a type of spiritual fasting. I dare you to ask and live by these questions for the next month with the following commitments:

  1. If you are planning to purchase something, first stop and ask yourself if your really NEED it. If the answer to that questions ends up being “No” then take half the amount you would have spent on it and give it to a ministry that will use it to make an eternal difference.
  2. If you determine that you really do need it, before your purchase stop and ask if you really need THAT. Do your really need the name brand? Do you really need that large of a TV? Do you really need the pre-packaged meals? And if the answer is no, set aside half the savings to give to a ministry.

I dare you to try it for just one month. It might be a life-changing experiment for you and a life-saving experiment for someone else.

malnutrition Guatemala

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Poverty of Abundance

possessions I have recently had a chance to spend time with a rather materialist person. Of course, they would deny that they are materialistic. In fact, I have yet to meet someone consumed with obtaining “stuff” who would admit that they are materialistic. Their consumerism is always wrapped neatly in excuses and justifications in order to allow them to continue to purchase and obtain possessions while convincing themselves that they are not shallow and self-absorbed. Yet the symptoms are there and the disease is evident.

Materialism - ma·te·ri·al·ism - \mə-ˈtir-ē-ə-ˌli-zəm\ - a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things.

As I spent time with this person it was very evident that she was seeking to fill emptiness in her life and bolster her self-esteem through her possessions. And my heart broke for her because I know the emptiness of her pursuit. I know that no matter how many electronic gadgets and toys she obtains and no matter how expensive and abundant her wardrobe becomes she will never fill the hole in her heart. In fact, the more she fills her life with stuff the emptier she will be.

One of the greatest things God has taught our family over the last year is the joy of sacrifice. As we downsize our lives in order to follow God’s call and touch a dying world we are finding freedom, peace, and joy. Contrary to the mindset of the materialist, the more we give up the less we fear and the happier we become. I believe there are several reasons for this negative correlation:

  1. No matter how hard we work to convince ourselves otherwise, we all know in our hearts that longing for and obtaining physical possessions is investing in the fleeting and temporary things of life. The fancy new I-Pad of today will become the obsolete, archaic device in the garbage in a short while. The greatest fashions of today will one day end up in a yard sale or Goodwill tomorrow. The brand new beautiful car of today will one day sit in a junkyard somewhere. And when that happens we can never regain the work, time, and money we spent to obtain those things. God created us to be people of eternity and we will never be happy as long as we are spending most of our time investing in the temporary.
  2. Our possessions tend to isolate and distract us from the needs of the world. We surround ourselves with toys, gadgets, clothes, vehicles, and homes and pretend that most of the world is like us. We use these things as distractions to keep from seeing the world as it truly is. But God made us to be world changers. So when we insulate ourselves from the world and invest in our own comforts instead of loving and helping a dying world, we will always end up feeling empty. And we will eventually end up resenting the very things that we thought would bring us peace and happiness.
  3. Possessions take a lot of time to obtain, maintain, and manage. The more we have the more time we spend keeping up with the work those possessions bring. Soon, we find ourselves becoming slaves to our stuff. Romans 1:25 says that mankind “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…” That sounds like an accurate description of a materialistic person. God created us to be people of relationships. Yet the more we want and have, the less time we have to invest in the relationships we need.

And while we spend our time amassing and serving our possessions the world dies around us. So we waste huge portions of our lives and miss the mission for which God created us.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can change, one step at a time, with God’s help. We can step off the hamster wheel of more, bigger and better, realizing that it is not getting us anywhere. We can say no to the counterfeit and temporary and embrace the real and eternal. We have to. The consequences to ourselves and the world are too great not to.

(More to come on this topic)