Thursday, July 31, 2008

Keeping up with the Joneses or Jesus?

Okay, I have a question. We all know that people choose to spend their money in different ways, depending on what's important to them. Some people just love shoes. For others, it's clothing, haircuts, knick-knacks, wine, cars, etc. As a follower of Christ, I try to be conscious of what I'm spending my money on and evaluate (especially when I'm making a larger purchase) whether I'm being a good steward of what the Lord has blessed me with.

But does it get to the point that spending "that kind of money" on an item is just wrong? No matter how much you justify it?

I was thinking yesterday that I just cannot see spending $1000 on a pair of shoes as being a good steward of my money - not that I was considering a pair.

I would say that if an item is available for $200+ less than what you're considering paying, there should be a very good reason why, such as safety issues, quality (within reason), or possibly an auction where the extra money is donated to charity.

What are your thoughts on this?


Lance said...

Ok, I'll bite because you're asking another great question and I wish I'd thought of putting it on my own blog.

If my name were not Lance Poole but Lance Armstrong and I was a world-class cyclist it would be logical to assume my bicycle would cost more than almost anyone else's normal bicycle. The purposes for his bike and mine are different, though. At home I have a simple computer that some would consider obsolete - but since I don't do high-powered computer work I haven't seriously considered replacing it.

When Paul writes about contentment in 1 Timothy 6:8 he says "if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." Sometimes that has brought a major challenge to my view on buying and stewardship, because I have food and clothing. So what gives me the right to say "I need a new computer". Nothing yet in my opinion.

Since Lance Poole is not paid to ride for Discovery Channel and is not endorsed by Nike it would be foolishly extravagant to buy a fancy two-wheeler for $7000.

I guess one question I ask before buying is: Will I use this to advance the Kingdom of God (and how?) or am I just trying to keep up with the Armstrongs (who just happen to be the really fast neighbors of the Joneses) and thus prop up a false identification of self via materialist ambition?

Since I'm sure you'll get other comments I'll leave some room and see where the conversation goes. I could have more to say on this...and you may have more to ask if I missed the drift at all.

The Greene's said...

Just wondering if there is a specific reason you chose $200, or if it was arbitrary?

Sarah said...

I guess not a specific reason...if you're going to carry the principle all the way, the argument could be posed that spending even $20 more than necessary would not be a good use of resources.

Lance said...

The arugument could be posed that way, but I guess it depends on your starting premises. I'm not sure if we've defined specifically what it means to keep up with Jesus vs. the Joneses?
If you're buying a pizza that could be $10, yes I'd say spending $30 is probably bad stewardship - unless you're generously tipping the driver.
And I don't know anyone who tips 200%.
But if you're buying a house who could judge the value so accurately that you spent $20 too much? It's such a small fraction of the actual price.
So hypothetically I get approved for a loan and go offer a bank $99,000 for a foreclosed house and they come back and say, "No, we'd like at least $99,020." I guess I could walk over to the ATM and get $20 on the spot and then hope they take the original offer. ( And this is entirely hypothetical - not to mention absurd - I chose $99,000 because I graduated in 1999)

I guess I'm wondering if I'm understanding your point with spending $20 more than necessary, so I'll refer to an example. In Genesis 23 Abraham refuses a free offer on the land he wanted to buy for Sarah's burial site, and instead he pays the whole price (400 shekels of silver, about 10 pounds). For simplicity, if shekels were dollars, are you suggesting that Abraham was right to buy the land at the named price instead of buying it for 420 shekels? Or, was he silly to pay at all since it was offered to him free? I realize there are different cultural bartering principles happening here, and maybe the land example doesn't really fit our discussion because one plot is different from the next and you can't just shop for the same 'item' somewhere else like we can hunt for clothes or groceries.

If we pose the argument that spending $20 more than necessary is not a good use of resources we haven't really solved the issue because it just opens up the question, what is necessary? We could go back to the food and clothing standard in 1 Timothy 6, but in our prosperous country today we'd still have the choice of what food to eat and which clothes to wear.

sean said...

What are you going to do with the extra $200?

Sarah said...

First of all, I want to say that houses are in a totally different category because of the much larger sum of money involved.
Second of all, I am not making a hard, fast $20 rule. I'm just saying that you should always consider how you're spending your money. With the example of Abraham, of course there are other issues involved, not just spending for the sake of spending.
Let's try to avoid the nitty gritty for now and respond to the broader argument: Do you think it's wrong to pay a large amount on a "thing" when a thing of lesser value would more than suffice?
Let's say, for example, as stated earlier, that I really, REALLY wanted a pair of $1000 shoes. Can I justify getting them? Come on, give me some justification!
Oh, and "the extra" $200? Why is it extra? Because it wasn't spent? Put it where it should go I guess. Give it to your friend who wants the $1000 pair of shoes.

Sarah said...

So I was thinking...
Me and my desire to keep things cut and dried - you know, $1000 is wrong, absolutely wrong, but $500 might be okay...for the sake of example.
But really, our finances belong to Jesus, just like everything else. Or they should. And because we serve a personal God, He delights in our making those personal choices: to honor Him, or to honor ourselves. For many believers in our society, thanks to a culture where we can have what we want even when we don't have money, we are not used to denying ourselves much. If we really want it. And I will admit that I get waves of that desire to live "like the other half lives" on occasion. Oh if I could afford to shop at that store...
But my life has been redeemed, therefore my finances are not my own - by MY choice.
I just encourage you all to live under the canopy of His will in the area of wanting things. We could live with so much less than what we have, let alone what we want.
And that extra money?
Well, it was common thought in Jesus' day that when a pious person was rich, it was because he was amazingly blessed by God. This idea is taught today and also believed (even subconsciously) by a very large group of Christians.
How about thinking instead that the Lord has blessed you with a job where you earn a considerable amount more than necessary - for a purpose other than to add to your collection of things? For a kingdom purpose.
Sorry, my previous comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek and slightly baiting. Here is what I should have written in the first place.

Lance said...

Bait is what Blogs are all about, so don't stop doing that.
And I didn't rush to a conclusion because I was pretty sure where you'd end up anyway and since it's your blog I figured you's state it best anyway.

God owns all things.
He entrusts me with some of His resources.
I am responsible for how I manage those resources.

Therefore, when it comes to money and spending I think my considerations should boil down to tending to the needs of my family and also the needs of others.

I fully agree that God does not make people rich for their own earthly gain or comfort. And whatever type of job I have, it's a blessing from Him to be able to work and provide for my family.

There are so many ways to eternally invest what God has given us. Living with less, trusting God with our needs, and subjecting our wants to His will is a worthwhile goal for all of us.

Anonymous said...

I drive a $200 car. I keep $150 worth of tools in the trunk just to keep it going. Now that I think of it, I've almost always driven old cars.

I am seldom embarrased driving an old car. I never worry about parking in a bad neighborhood. I don't worry that somebody would steal it or break in. I often leave it unlocked. It gives me a very free feeling, except when you're breaking down far away from home.

If somebody made me choose between the car and the tools in the car, it would be a tough choice. Maybe they have become my idol of self-sufficiency. "My tools, I will always have with me, but I won't always have this particular car." The street of self-sufficiency is a dangerous place to live.

Sometimes, I get prideful in my ghetto ride. I imagine cool bumper stickers:
"WWJD? What would Jesus Drive"
"My other car is a fiery chariot."
"Real men 4 Jesus fix their own cars."
This is arrogance. I repent as soon as I realize it.

One time I bought a $7000 car. I didn't like driving it. It felt too luxurious. I felt like a money worshiping yuppie, just like all the drivers around me. This too was arrogance.

Many years ago, I bought a $240 pair of wingtip shoes. I even spent $75 for the matching belt. In fact I bought a bunch of expensive clothes that weekend, under the direction of one who knew fashion. When I wore those nice clothes, I felt important, I felt better than those around me. As time went on I realized this was also pride.

So... I ask myself, "Who's my God, and when?" With many possesions or few, one can serve God or fall to pride. Personal experience tells me that the path is more difficult with many possessions. Just ask any backpacker...

Jesus tells us, what anyone owns is utterly worthless when compared to one's soul. Yet how much time do I spend thinking about my possessions vs my soul? To my shame, the ratio isn't very good.