The Pet Aisle

43 billion. That’s a lot. For the time being, stick that number in the back of your memory banks as I tell a little story:

A Kenyan family, let’s call them the Smiths (probably not many Smiths in Kenya, but just roll with it), was visiting a pastor here in the United States, let’s call him “James.” So, Julie Smith, the mother, goes along with James’ family to pick up the weekly groceries. Walking into Meijers (for those of you who aren’t familiar with Meijers, think a Hy-Vee/Super Wal-Mart hybrid), they proceed directly to the back of the store, walking down what happens to be the pet aisle. James gets to the end of the aisle and realizes that Mrs. Smith is no longer with the rest of the family. He turns and notices her staring blankly at the array of pet foods, toys, and supplies. There are flavored treats of all kinds, chicken, tuna, filet mignon, pork. Toys come in all shapes and colors, electronic mice, fishing poles, cat-nip this and cat-nip that. James surveys all that she is gazing at and then focuses his attention back on her. Tears are silently streaming down her face. Surprised and a little confused, James questions her as to what is wrong. Julie’s reply is this: “These pets of yours, they live better than most people in my country.”

Experts estimate that 1.2 billion people worldwide survive (or attempt to survive, tragically, they often do not) on less than one dollar a day. An additional 1.6 billion survive on two dollars per day or less. Recent estimates put the world population at around 6.5 billion…so that means that approximately 43% of the world’s population are living on less than two dollars per day. One child will die, from the effects of poverty, mostly malnutrition and preventable diseases, every three seconds. That’s about 10 million a year. The facts are overwhelming.

Now back to our opening number: 43 billion. That is the number of dollars Americans will spend this year on our pets. What about 110 billion? The answer: the number of dollars Americans will spend this year on fast food. Can you imagine what people living in severe poverty think of this? The fact that many cats and dogs have more money spent on them than human beings? That many of us spend more money on French fries each year than they will on their place of residence?

The Bible speaks frequently of taking care of the poor and needy. In Matthew 25, Christ tells us “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” In Luke 12, he tells his disciples to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, and in doing so, that they would be storing up treasures in heaven. Paul, in Galatians 2, speaks of taking care of the poor as if it is one of the high duties of the church. There is a consistent theme throughout Scripture summed up in Christ’s words, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One of the reasons the Bible makes a big fuss about being generous is not to simply set up rules to follow, but to expose where our hearts are. Do our hearts beat for God’s glory or for private possessions? Do they beat for Christ’s Kingdom or financial security?

Therefore, I ask, what are we doing as individuals and as a church to fulfill these commandments of Christ? Are we spending, saving, and giving in a way that shapes our hearts in a Christ-like fashion, in a way that shows we love Christ and his commandments more than our material possessions? What if each of us ate out one less meal a month? What if we cut our pet spending in half? What if once every five years we took the money for our annual vacation and gave it to an organization that fed hungry children or built schools in deprived areas? One organization, World Vision, says they can care for one impoverished child for 30 dollars a month. That includes feeding them, clothing them, providing them with health care, and providing education. How quickly could each of us find 30 bucks? Clean drinking water is a major problem in some parts of the world. And yet, experts estimate that one-dollar provides a year worth of clean water for one person in Africa. I bought a Gatorade today for $1.99. I could have spent that two dollars differently, filled up a water bottle in the sink instead, and possibly saved two lives.

I’m not saying that we, as people God has blessed with material things, should not enjoy those things. It is good to take a vacation, God often uses those times to recharge and refocus us. Pets are wonderful, I own a cat and often think of how much less enjoyable life would be without her. Eating out is a blessing, giving friends and family an opportunity to fellowship over good food and drink. I am not suggesting that we take monastic vows of poverty. What I am suggesting is that with minimal effort and minimal change we could make maximal differences in the lives of the poor. So, this week, when you spend money, just think about it. What small thing could you cut out of your regular spending, and instead help the poor, or help fund a ministry? I’m betting that if we viewed our budgets and credit card statements through this lens, lots of things would change. Now let’s hope I can practice what I preach.

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