Affluenza: Something Worse Than Anthrax

Ken Gurley

TYPE: Stewardship

TEXT: I Timothy 6:3-10

DATE ORIGINALLY PREACHED: October 21, 2001

COMMENTS: In the year 2000, I made a promise to myself: I would preach a message on stewardship just prior to the Christmas shopping season of 2001. We as Christians know that Christmas, is all about Christ, yet, we too get caught up in the materialism of the season.

On the heels of September 11, an anthrax scare hit. Terrorists caused all of us to appreciate the once-innocuous things we’d taken for granted: commercial airplanes and the mail service. I borrowed from a
current theme to alert hearers to a greater threat than uncertain anthrax, that certain disease known to affect all who come in contact with any measure of prosperity: “affluenza.”

[Not found in the notes that follow is a missing element of this message: the Plastic Quartet. A few guys in the church dressed up as reindeer and made a grand entrance into the sanctuary after my introduction to the message. Interspersed throughout this message on stewardship were adapted holiday songs such as: Buy and Sell (a.k.a., Silver Bells); Uh Oh, We’re in the Red Dear (a.k.a., Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer); and Slow Down ye Frantic Shoppers (a.k.a., God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen). This brought light-heartedness to a message that could easily become very heavy. The lyrics to these songs as well as the
bulk of the statistics cited in this message can be found at the Center for a New American Dream website.

AFFLUENZA: SOMETHING WORSE THAN ANTHRAX
TEXT: I TIMOTHY 6:3-10

I. INTRODUCTION

In the past few days, our nation has been held hostage to a bio-terrorism scare. Anthrax-laced letters assaulted our nation’s mail system and a number of people affected as a result. Orders for antibiotics, sales of gas masks, and other quarantine mate-rials are in vogue. A few months ago, local flooding created a market for portable arks. Now, bio-terrorism has created a market all of its own.

There is, however, a more serious disease running rampant in America. This disease has gone virtually unchecked since World War II. It goes by different names: the “Great American Dream”; or “Keeping up with the Joneses”; or one-word descriptions like commercialism, consumerism, or even materialism.
Only forty or so have contracted anthrax. At this time, only one has died. But, the apostle Paul describes this other disease as something far more serious:

I TIMOTHY 6:3-10
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw
thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The disease is very old, but has recently resurfaced. The old bug has a new name: “affluenza.”

II. MATERIALISM IS RAMPANT IN OUR WESTERN CULTURE

A. THE CHRISTMAS SEASON IS INUNDATED WITH MATERIALISM.

The Christmas shopping season grows longer. From Halloween to the beginning of the New Year, Americans are inundated with the single message: Buy, buy, buy!

– 73% of parents would like to limit their children’s television viewing, but the single most requested gift for children eight to twelve years old is a big-screen television set.

– It takes an average of four months for people to pay off their holiday bills from credit cards. Credit card debt in these United States now stands at a trillion dollars.

But, there’s still a lot of money out there. Nearly seven million US households now boast assets worth more than a million dollars. For those finding it difficult to find that perfect gift, here are a few suggestions:

– A Jet-Share. This is an eight-seat aircraft that you can share with others. All you have to do is put up a million dollar deposit, pay $6,000 a month, plus $2,500 an hour while it’s in use. Not bad! Complimentary coasters included!

– A Boeing 737. These private jets are configured to hold ten to thirty people. They come equipped with private gym, office, and dining room. You can even buy one on-line. Sweat socks included!

– His and her submarines. This is the offering from the Neiman Marcus catalog. Snorkels included!

Some people might be on a budget however. Merchandisers recognize this and have made accommodations just for you.

– A bargain Bentley. Yes, Bentley has an economy car that goes for $140,000 to $170,000. Tires included!

– A cheap Cartier. Cartier now offers a stainless steel watch equipped with a black rubber band for a “won’t break-your-piggy-bank” price of only $2,450. Batteries included!

– Sony’s Robot Dog. Like pets, but don’t like the hassle? Sony has a $2,400 robot dog. Remote included!

– Pooch Perfume. Like pets, but don’t like the smell? How about this $40 a bottle pooch perfume? Bottle included!

I guess if you can’t find anything to buy, you could always give your money away. That doesn’t seem to be vogue in America. In Silicon Valley where the highest per capita of America’s millionaires reside, those
with a net worth over one million dollars gave an average of less than two-tenths of one percent of their income to charity. Oh, well. I guess it’s the thought, or the artificial intelligence, that counts.

Here’s an interesting sampling pulled together by the Center for a New American Dream. Of the Americans polled last year:

– Eighty-four percent would prefer a less materialistic Christmas with more emphasis on those things that money can’t buy.

– Seventy-six percent feel that excessive holiday marketing to children is taking the joy and meaning out of the Christmas season.

– One out of every with children under eighteen years of age work more hours to earn money for holiday spending.

– Fifty-five percent of those surveyed plan to spend less money or otherwise simplify their holiday celebration this year.

We know something has gone wrong with the Christmas season. It is the high-water mark for all consumer spending. A disease worse than anthrax has gripped our country by the pocketbook.

B. AFFLUENZA IS THE SICKNESS OF THE AGE

1. Affluenza’s Definition and Description

Uncle Sam visits the Great Physician. His symptoms are a curious, miserable condition of bloating and emptiness. His sickness hasn’t been cured by prosperity, low unemployment,. tax cuts, or even low interest
rates. The sickness is in a serious stage. The Great Physician shakes His head and gives His diagnosis. “It’s affluenza!”

Affluenza is an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebt-edness caused by the blinded, dogged pursuit of the American Dream. It strikes those with great possessions and those who wish they had great possessions.

It can strike the secretary who spends her grocery money at the shoe sale. It can strike the minimum-wage worker who dreams of winning the lottery. It affects the rising star of the corporate world that becomes
a stranger to his family that he might ‘succeed.’ It impacts the teen that shoplifts to support a lifestyle.

It’s easy to pick out others who have this disease, but self-diagnosis is rare. After all, we usually define a rich person as any-one who has more than we do.

2. Affluenza’s Seven Warning Signals

Just as cancer has seven warning signals, so does affluenza. One or more of these could indicate a problem in this area:

a) No life outside of work.
b) Working longer to get more things you don’t have time to enjoy.
c) Feeling of emptiness and depression.
d) Crushing consumer debt.
e) Buying things to make you feel better about yourself.
f) A preoccupation with how you look and how others perceive you.
g) Measuring your possessions against those of others.

No one is born immune to affluenza. We are born in this world grasping and groping for things. We are never so happy as when we gather things about us in heaps. We feel rich, increased with goods, needing nothing. We are trained to think that buying things makes us popular, happy, loved, successful and at peace.

3. Evidence of Affluenza’s spread

Did you know that today’s three-car garage is about the average size of an entire home in the 1950’s? Compare this to the fact that the number of Americans describing themselves as “very happy” reached its peak in the 1950’s. Bigger homes don’t translate into greater happiness.

Today, the average American only spends forty minutes a week playing with their children. The average working couple only speaks with each other about twelve minutes a day. Better jobs don’t mean a better home.

In 1996, more than one million Americans filed for bankruptcy. That’s three times the number who filed in 1986. More people file for bankruptcy each year than the sum total of those graduating from our nation’s colleges. Spending is up, personal debt is up, bankruptcy is up; but happiness is missing.

Stuff is an American religion. The mall, open twenty-four/seven, serves as Stuffs Temple. Credit cards are the sacraments and the beeping noises of price scanners are the hymns of praise. Stuff worship even has Ten Commandments:

The Ten Commandments of Stuff Religion

1. Money is God.
2. Stuff is happiness.
3. The best things in life are very expensive
4. He who dies with the most toys wins.
5. Buy and others will admire you.
6. Only pay minimum balances on credit cards.
7. Charge to your heart’s content, you’ll feel better.
8. Name brands are important.
9. Wearing last year’s fashion is a sin.
10. If someone preaches against stuff, shop for another church.

We’re infected by “stuff-religion.” 93% of America’s teen girls say that shopping is their foremost activity of choice.

Affluenza affects our speech. Rather than “love” we “invest” in a relationship. We’re not “patients,” but health care “consumers.” At some point in time, we ceased worshipping God and started shopping for churches.

Could the apostle Paul have had our day in mind when he penned his letter to young Timothy?

III. TEXT & APPLICATION

A. THE MOST MISQUOTED SCRIPTURE IN THE BIBLE

We commonly misquote Paul when we say, “money is the root of all evil.” Granted that it is more difficult for a prosperous person to see their need of God. The root of evil is not money, but the love of money is the
root of evil.

There is no greater righteousness in having nothing than there is in having much. Having money doesn’t mean that money has you. In the same sense, the lack of money might be more than compensated with an
abundance of greed. It’s a question of priorities.

Priorities. Riches stood in the way of a young ruler and Jesus told him to dispose of his riches and give the proceeds to the poor. Priorities. In another instance, the poor didn’t fare so well. Judas Iscariot objected to Mary’s lavish, fragrant display of worship to the Master by saying that the spikenard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Priorities. Jesus knew the hearts of both of these men. Each of us must determine what or who are the priorities are in our lives. Each of us must determine how much is enough. Paul found that it was possible to be content with little or much.

PHILIPPIANS 4: 1 1- 13
For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to
abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Contentment can’t be bought in a mall. It can’t be purchased at a midnight madness sale. It can’t be built into the home of our dreams. A lottery windfall doesn’t bring happiness.

I read a report recently about lottery winners. Within two years, many have either spent or given away their winnings. Before such a person comes into wealth, there is a tendency to say, “All rich people think
about is themselves.” After the lottery windfall, the common thought of the winner is, “People are trying to take my money.” The problem is not without, whether you don’t have or do have money. The problem is within.

I ask you a question: Are you content? Each of us has great wealth according to the global standard. A roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and enough food to eat place us ahead of some 90% of the world’s
population. So, to whom much is given, much is required.

B. THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD GROUP IN THE BIBLE

If verse ten in our text is the most misquoted verse of the Bible, then verse nine might be the Bible’s most misunderstood group. What Paul didn’t say is as relevant as what he did say here. He didn’t say that
the “rich fall into temptation,” but “they that will be rich fall into temptation.”

What people have is less important than what people seek. Few people ever sit back and say, “Enough. I have enough.” No, people keep reaching for more; they are never satisfied.

The rich are easily identified; the would-be rich are not. They can be found anywhere and everywhere. They can be mammon worshippers and utter some of the sacred phrases of the would-be rich: financial independence and security. They can also be among the have-nots who glorify their poverty and seek to make merchandise of others.

C. THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION IN THE BIBLE

Jesus said we choose to trust in God or to trust in riches (Matthew 6:24). This choice is perhaps the most important decision each of us must make. Those who trust in God repel affluenza as if they’ve been
inoculated from childhood. Those who trust in riches will never find healing for this cursed disease.

Let me ask you three questions:

1. How infected with affluenza are you?
Most of us would like our children to have things better than we did: to wear nicer clothes, boast of a better education, live in a nicer home, and drive a nicer car. Many of us work so hard for this that we never
realize how bitten by the affluenza bug we really are.

It’s okay to enroll in the best schools and colleges, IF
It’s okay to live in a nice home that can grow with your family, IF
It’s okay if you can afford to be a member of this or that, IF

IF God comes first, then all these things will be in the right order.

We preach against alcohol, but the love of alcohol isn’t the root of all evil. We preach against promiscuity, but sexual immorality isn’t evil’s root. The root of all evil is the love of money. Some people are as addicted to this as others are to cocaine and immorality.

2. Whose dream was it in the first place?

Awhile back, I made the acquaintance of a young couple who have three children. A few years ago, they built the “house of their dreams.” They bought the land, built the house, and spared no expense in furnishing it. Like most, they thought, “This will make us happy.”

I saw this couple recently and discovered a true contentment. They were happy. The reason for their happiness was soon apparent. The husband wasn’t working as long hours as he had been. Both were spending more time with the family. They had sold their dream house and moved into a smaller, more afford-able house.

When I asked them why they did this, they smiled and said, “We’re following the New American Dream.” That’s what we need is a new dream. Rather than keeping up with the Joneses, we should exit from this rat
race and enjoy our time together.

In the moral purity classes I teach, I frequently tell teens who have their priorities out of whack to go on a “dating fast.” This restores their perspective. I wonder if we shouldn’t go on a “buying fast,” until we get our financial priorities straight. Perhaps, the nightmare of out-of-control spending could turn into a new dream for us as well.

3. Whose birthday is it anyway?

Yes, we’ve returned to Christmas, the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Affluenza steals much of the celebration from this Holy Day. According to Madison Avenue, our role model during the holidays should
be Santa Claus and not the Grinch. According to God’s Word, our role model is the Lord Jesus Christ who came into this world to give (II Corinthians 8:9).

IV. CLOSE: ANTHRAX IS SO LIMITED

Anthrax can kill a body; affluenza kills the soul. Anthrax is a quick death; affluenza is a gradual disease. Anthrax isn’t contagious; affluenza spreads far and near. Anthrax requires a doctor; affluenza requires the Great Physician. Rather than fearing anthrax, we should watch out for affluenza. During this Christmas time, why not immunize your children against this dreaded disease? Teach them the joys of giving rather than receiving. Teach them the privilege of sacrificing for a greater cause.

Let’s give this Christmas to Christ. Rather than worshipping mammon at the mall, let’s worship Christ in His church.

The above article, “Affluenza: Something Worse than Anthrax” is written by Ken Gurley. It was excerpted from the twentieth chapter of Gurley’s book, Preaching for a New Millennium.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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