October 26, 2005


1544 page6 caphe collection of wise sayings in the book of Proverbs contains this observation: "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!': the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, 'Enough!'" (Prov. 30:15, 16, NIV).

To that inspired list we might add: Anyone who lives in a society in which materialism is one of its core fundamental values. That includes most of us reading this page.

The media regularly focuses on entertainers, professional athletes, and corporate executives who receive seven- or eight-figure salaries per year. With lotteries that promise multiple million-dollar jackpots in 48 states and provinces in the United States and Canada, the fantasy of being an instant millionaire tempts many.

Even us "common folk" find it hard to resist the quest for a higher standard of living that can never be satisfied: To live in a bigger home, to drive a nicer car, to have the latest electronic gadget or entertainment system, to visit some exotic or upscale vacation spot. For many, Christians included, this could very well be described as "the age of our discontent."

1544 page6It may also be why we almost never hear sermons or read editorials about greed or covetousness; we're too consumed by the consumer mentality.

Still, the natural disasters of the past few months have taught us that we can be reduced from living the American Dream to carrying all our worldly belongings in a bundle in our arms, as many survivors of last summer's hurricanes learned firsthand. In the days following those disasters countless survivors told news camera crews: "What we lost is not as important as that we're all safe."

One of the problems with covetousness, besides its insatiability, is that it reduces our earthly existence to something measured in dollars and cents. We esteem ourselves and we judge others based on standards as ultimately insignificant as the neighborhoods we live in or the cars we drive. The values of God's kingdom hold us to a higher standard.

It may be that in a world of indescribable suffering, materialism is a narcotic that dulls our awareness of the wider needs of the world at large. It may also be that the sheer size of humanity's material needs leaves us immobilized, unable to see how the little we can contribute will benefit anyone significantly.

But insulating ourselves from the world's needs doesn't make them go away. And a number of Bible stories testify of the usefulness of small gifts, given unselfishly: Abraham's hospitality to the three strangers (Gen. 18:1-8); the widow's gift to Elijah at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16); the five loaves and two fish that fed 5,000 (Matt. 14:13-21); and others.

We are stewards, managers of the resources God has given us. Unless we play professional sports, have a multimovie contract, or own a computer software company, we have limited means. So we have to be wise about how we use God's resources: first, how we satisfy our own material needs, and second, how we use God's resources to benefit others.

We already know about tithe and offerings. But global news releases have also made us aware of basic material needs in far-off places as well. And the truly marvelous thing for Seventh-day Adventists is knowing that in nearly all parts of the world where suffering is the greatest, Adventist institutions and ministries are serving those who are most at risk.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA)1 has a network of employees and volunteers that supplies material aid for both the short- and long-term. In North America Hope for Humanity2 (Ingathering) partners with Adventists around the world to provide people with hope both for the present and the future. The Office of Global Mission3 supports Global Mission pioneers, who model Christian discipleship while teaching people in their towns and villages about Jesus and His gospel. Adventist World Radio4 (AWR) broadcasts in a variety of formats to countries closed to traditional outreach methods. These ministries operate with very low overhead or administrative costs.

But to support them, we have to say "enough" to the cult of consumerism so that those in need can have enough.

1 www.adra.org.
2 www.hope4.com.
3 www.global-mission.org.
4 www.awr.org.