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Perilous Purchase

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Christmas has come and gone again. It is my favorite season but can I be honest? I don’t like shopping, it has never been all that much fun! What I actually like is walking around looking at Christmas lights, going to get hot chocolate, riding on the horse and buggy, singing Christmas carols and having my family home for all of our silly Christmas time traditions. In fact the gift buying is my least favorite part, followed by the Christmas Eve wrapping all-nighter we seem to find ourselves pulling every year. Just like me, my husband is a super shopping-procrastinator. As usual we finished the season in a whirlwind and we are now breathing a sigh of relief that the Christmas shopping frenzy is over.

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In fact I think everyone is breathing a little sigh of relief. The holiday bustle will start to settle now. Soon the news stories will turn away from consumerism. You will no longer hear about record sales and record returns. But the season of purchasing has not come to its end just yet.

While the end of the Holidays brings about a certain final run for those clearance sale purchases. The beginning of a new year will set into motion a whole new frenzy of buying. Any regular gym goer knows, new year resolutions often go hand in hand with gym memberships. Of course there is the purchasing of new gym sneakers, water bottles, running pants, headphones and work out gear to help motivate those membership owners to actually use their membership. For all those at homers who hate the gym, there’s a plethora of home gym equipment, work out videos and online trainers.
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I’m as guilty as anyone. My husband and I took our gift cards out and got breakfast. Then we headed to one of the busiest stores in our state, stood in the return line for an hour and exchanged his present for something that fit. After that I kick started my new fitness goals with a juice fast and planned week of vegetarian meals.

After meal planning I took a moment to think about why we do this every year. In fact if you had asked me a week ago I probably would have answered, “Because it’s part of the Holiday fun.” But after some serious thought and hunger driven clarity, I realized that’s not why we do it at all. It seems to me that all this buying is a habit marketing companies have encouraged us to hone. In fact when I started looking up why we buy I came across an interesting perspective full of insight.

A French philosopher named Denis Diderot described a similar observation in his essay, Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown. Diderot describes receiving the gift of a scarlet robe from a friend. Once receiving his gift he begins to compare everything to his beautiful new gown. He soon realizes his old chair is not stately enough for his new royal robe which leads to the replacing of all of his old worn items. Eventually he realizes that his new gown triggered unnecessary purchasing of higher-end items but not before he finds himself in great debt. In retrospect he states, “My friends, keep your old friends. My friends, fear the touch of wealth. Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.” Since all retrospective insight is lauded for the wisdom it contains, this became known as the Diderot Effect.
The Diderot Effect is truly something we as Americans have become victims to. How many times have you heard the saying, “They don’t make them like they used to.” To some extent I believe it is true. It seems everything is disposable these days. We are much less conscientious of the things we use and the things we throw away. Since we are so quick to replace old items with new we don’t realize that there was a time when things were only replaced because they needed to be and not because it is no longer in style.
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This reminded me of another wise insight in Proverbs 28:22 ESV “A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him”. Poverty can come in many forms, including the using up of resources. While on our trip to Africa this summer, nothing stood out more starkly than the resources we have available to us that others do not. So I thought I would share this lesson, as a gentle reminder, to think about the returns on your investments for 2018. It’s caused me to think, am I just using up resources? Or am I making purchases in which I will get a good return?

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Acts 8:20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”

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