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Consumerism and the Lottery: What They Can't Get You

Did you see the YouTube video of a Maryland man discovering that he won over a quarter of a billion dollars in the recent Powerball lottery? That man, wearing a yellow work coat, excitedly checks his numbers at a convenience store and then basically goes berserk. The title of the video clip is “Video reveals life-changing Powerball moment.”

Now I don’t want to throw cold water on his celebration. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a quarter of a billion dollars richer? But I question how life-changing winning a gigantic jackpot really is. More money — even a lot more money — doesn’t make us happier deep down inside. Rather, it reveals the trajectory our lives are already on with respect to material things.

I learned this during the year I spent in Jamaica right out of college. Jamaica is an incredibly poor country dependent heavily on tourism, and I saw there two approaches to money. Many tourists, especially the annual spring-breakers, saw debauchery and excess as a way of really living it up.

Many Jamaicans, on the other hand, viewed these tourists, even as they served them, with anger and resentment. Why? Because they could never have the so-called “good life” they believed was only available to those with lots of cash. In both cases, however, money was viewed as the ticket to happiness.

This is exactly what our consumer culture, especially at this time of year, tries to tell us: that we have this “Lexus-shaped hole” in our heart that only a new IS 250 can fill. This is more than materialism -- the worldview that says only material things matter. It’s consumerism -- a view of life that says everything is to be evaluated on whether it satisfies my desires and makes me whole.

As Skye Jethani, author of The Divine Commodity: Discerning a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity, notes, consumerism is not really a worship of stuff. At root, it’s a worship of self at any cost.

Skye is my guest this weekend on BreakPoint This Week. I hope you’ll tune in or click on “This Week” at BreakPoint.org. Skye says that consumerism encompasses far more than our shopping and spending habits. The consumerist belief that the essence of existence is the fulfillment of our desires touches everything, from our relationships to our choice of churches. If our husband or wife doesn’t “meet our needs,” we get a divorce. If we don’t “get anything” from our local congregation’s music, ministry or preaching, we go “church shopping.”

It becomes very tempting to approach all of life as a consumer, where Christ becomes just one option among many, rather than the One who redeems and transforms the broken self and the broken world.

In The Divine Commodity, Skye tells of the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh’s love-hate relationship with the church. Actually, we have good evidence that Van Gogh was deeply committed to Christ but couldn’t stand the church, which he saw as captive to the culture of the day — as many of our own churches today are.

In Van Gogh’s amazing painting, Starry Night, all the world under the pulsating night sky reflects the brilliance and glory of the Creator — all, that is, except for one little church, which remains dark and without the divine presence. It is a damning indictment, and a warning worth heeding today.

On “BreakPoint This Week,” Skye admits that it is impossible for us Christians to separate ourselves from the consumer culture, which is, after all, the very air we breathe as 21st-century Westerners. But the good news is we don’t have to retreat from the world, but we need to find new ways of seeing it so that we can begin to live differently.

It’s a tall order, but Skye’s excellent book, The Divine Commodity, which we have for you at the BreakPoint online bookstore, offers spiritual practices that will help you escape cultural captivity. And in our interview he gives ideas about how to live intentionally against consumerism this Christmas.

While money might change our lives and buy us a little bit of worldly happiness, especially if we beat the odds and win the lottery, it comes at a cost that none of us would ever want to pay.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: December 7, 2012

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