It has been almost ten years since Nicholas Carr posed the question, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” in the much talked about front cover of the Atlantic, (July, August 2008). This intriguing article was followed two years later with his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Maryanne Wolf endorsed Carr’s work with the following observation: “Ultimately, The Shallows is a book about the preservation of the human capacity for contemplation and wisdom, in an epoch where both appear increasingly threatened. Nick Carr provides a thought-provoking and intellectually courageous account of how the medium of the Internet is changing the way we think now and how future generations will or will not think. Few works could be more important.”
This week’s topic, “Stewards After Eden,” arrives early in 2018 when globally many are experiencing a new digital eco-system utilizing connected devices such as smart phones, laptop computers, and now smart watches that facilitate social media, the everyday transactions of e-commerce, online payments, and for those who like advertisements, they too are woven into the fabric of society with digital advertising.
Today, global consumerism is influenced by market intelligence that gives insight in forecasting and predicting consumer attitudes and behaviors two years in advance as well as noting and deciphering the new emergent people behavior driven by new technologies. For example, how many of us have changed our own behavior with on-line banking (should I mention Facebook)?
The trend-setting business of consumerism reveals that many global retail and industry specialists also make use of trend experts and global data scientists to influence mindsets, behavior, and to drive cultural shifts.
In view of this context, I would like to focus attention on a special age group within our society and church, those between the ages of 25–40 who have experienced for a major part of their life the context that has just been noted, with the consequences that Nicholas Carr put forth in view of the Internet and how it is changing or has changed mental and social outlook. Many in this age group are simply unaware there is a choice in how we respond to the reality of the eco-system that many of us live in. Significant questions might be posed: how do we convey a Christian worldview that is inclusive of stewardship and how do we communicate the power of money with language and concepts that bring about understanding, insight, and spiritual discernment?
A primary step is to recognize that some of the Generation X characteristics are generally pervasive throughout this group: they dislike pretense and inauthenticity; they are not motivated by guilt or institutional loyalty; with many experiencing absent parents, they learned to care for each other; they are skilled in diversity and value irony, mystery, and paradox.
This week’s Memory Text, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, is placed within a pericope that seems that Paul is speaking to an audience who may have shared some of the same traits as he states,
So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery. For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we are not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else….We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too (verses, 3-8, NLT).
In the book Blue Like Jazz, author Donald Miller describes his journey of grasping and understanding the meaning of giving to God. It was a conversation with his pastor that initiated an attitude change as he depicted his need to buy things.
The thing about new things is you feel new when you buy them, you feel as though you are somebody different because you own something different. We are our possessions, you know. There are people who get addicted to buying new stuff. Things. Piles and piles of things. But the new things become old things so quickly. We need new things to replace old things. I like things with buttons. (Miller 192).
His pastor continued the conversation with him and challenged him to place God first and to become more intentional and deliberate in his giving to God, and a change began to take place in Miller’s life. Miller shared this:
The best part is what tithing has done for my relationship with God. Before, I felt like I was always going to God with my fingers crossed, the way a child feels around his father when he knows he has told terrible lies. God knew where I was, He didn’t love me any different when I was holding out on Him; it’s just that I didn’t feel clean around Him, and you know how that can affect things (Miller 198).
Miller’s transformation and growth in giving to God was a result of a relationship and conversation with a deep level of trust that existed between Miller and his pastor. It was the authenticity of the pastor’s faith in Jesus that led Miller to trust, and from that point forward, Miller was prepared to listen, even if it meant that it was a challenging message about giving of his money to God. Tough conversation that is rooted in trust and authenticity as demonstrated by Miller’s pastor’s authentic Christian living is significant with this age group.
What worked in communicating stewardship for previous generations will not work with younger people in this cultural context. Therefore, new concepts that are meaningful need to be incorporated. For example, in the quest for authenticity, one might look at the cultural myths about money and unmask its power by focusing on what Jesus said about it, showing just what money is and what it can become in our lives.
Jesus stated, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24). The word translated "money" is capitalized to intentionally show that Jesus used the Aramaic word "mammon" in a very specific way that responds to the question, “What does God say about Money?” First, money is personified as something that is deified. Jesus gives this power a name, Mammon, a false god with the power to enslave us. This view unmasks our culture’s portrayal of money as an object that serves us and can be put to work for us as many financial institutions proclaim. Jesus portrayed the power of money in a very different way. Jesus was describing a power that tries to be like a god that could become our master and has specific goals as if operating in a spiritual realm that seeks to use us for its own purposes. Note what was said earlier about global consumerism and market intelligence as it also targets young-adult culture movements.
Jesus observed (Mark 12:41) and commended the widow bringing her gift, giving all she owned, and placing it in the treasury. In this action, she clearly trusts more in God than in money for she was giving all she had to God and reserving nothing for tomorrow. Our test question consequently is this: “Are our lives lived with trust in God’s faithful graciousness or by our trust in money?”
Countercultural to our objective view of Money, the story of the widow demonstrates that giving and belief in God’s faithful graciousness is what destroys the power of Mammon over us. Therefore, what does it look like for this generation to unmask the power of Money and choose to serve only God? How can this generation cultivate instincts that discern the influence of the Internet, social media, consumerism, and Money as a godlike power? How can they cultivate instincts that interpret culture from a Biblical perspective? The best way to cultivate those instincts is through practice, just like learning to drive and learning how to instinctively check your mirrors before changing lanes.
A primary practice is beginning the day with Scripture and learning to hear, discern, and respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings who calls us to Jesus and who sends us into God’s mission in the world. Does your church incorporate media such as a text or a podcast to help cultivate this Christian practice for this generation? Technology is now a normal way of life for this generation. However, providing means for cultivating Christian practices such as Bible study, prayer, and stewardship are essential to enable this age group to live a life that communicates that the consumer culture of Money has no power over their lives; instead, they choose to serve Jesus and live by His power.
That might mean that they pick up their smart phones first thing in the morning to read their Scripture text for the day. . . .
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