Investing in Japanese Fruit or Christlike Character: A Note on Priorities

       “How much would you be willing to pay for a piece of fruit? In Japan, someone paid more than $6,000 for one Densuke watermelon. Grown only on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, this beautiful darkgreen sphere looks like a bowling ball. The nearly 18-pound watermelon was one of only a few thousand available that year. The fruit’s rarity brought an astronomical price on the market.”

       Reflecting on over twenty-five years of consulting and fundraising, these words of Dennis Fisher’s devotional ring true in my experience. When discussing church giving or supporting a ministry project, the number of times people from all income levels have said to me, “I am extremely committed but just can’t afford to give,” is more than my age (Feel free to guess!). One church leader earning a yearly six-figure income said, “I can’t afford to tithe.” After outlining the mortgage of his mansion, the monthly car payments on his two BMWs, the hefty costs of his sons playing year-round in premier sports leagues, and the family vacations at high-class resorts, I had to agree. He had committed every cent of income and more to pursuits that left little to give to ministry and other things of eternal value. The basic issue was not whether he had adequate resources to respond to God’s urging, but rather the priorities he made. In over 45 years of ministry I have seldom found individuals and institutions unable to afford supporting opportunities in life that God offered, even when they are below the poverty line. The issue is really in setting priorities. Over 75% of the people in an urban church in CT I knew were below the poverty line, but the church budget of these 60 people was more than the giving of my congregation, all 55 of whom were more affluent suburbanites. The difference was the priority that dedicated urban church members placed on ministry to “those in need.” Their highest priority was anything to bring Christ to their neighbors. The priority of my congregation was to enjoy the comforts of all God had given them.

       The issue for we parents revolves around prayerfully setting priorities with regard to the lives entrusted to us, educating our children to live Godly lives. My son is sending my grandson to the most prestigious hockey league in Colorado, but the child’s athletic days will end in twenty years or so. The most important thing for my son’s children is the education and mentoring in character received in the Christian school they attend, forming their lives for God’s journey the rest of their lives. Fortunately, my son can afford both, but if there were a decision to be made, I pray he will choose the education.

       As Rev. Fisher shares, “A rare and delicious fruit may bring a premium price in the marketplace, but Christlike character is of far greater worth.” As decisions are made for the education of our children, I suggest it is seldom a matter of economics as much as it is the setting of priorities. How much is too much to provide an education in Christian life that can extend through the ups and downs of life? We spend more on coffee, eating out, or clothing than the total income of most of the world.

Research by Empty Tomb, Inc in 2010 stated:

  • "Pet owners spent $43.2 billion on their animals in 2008, according to the American Pet Products Association."
  • "In 2008, Americans spent more than $1 billion on over-the counter bleaching products...[one teeth whitening company founder] predicts the market for teeth-whitening products and services will reach $15 billion by 2010."
  • "U.S. consumers spent $16.8 billion on bottled water in 2007, according to the trade publication Beverage Digest. That's up 12 percent from the year before."
  • “Count how many TV sets you have at home. The average is now 4 per household, plus another ten electronic devices. Are they all needs or wants?”
  • If we spend at least $3 to $4 a day, times five, which is $20 a week, it is anywhere between $80 and $100 a month on coffee (in 2010). Today it is closer to $5-$7 per day, or $35 a week.

      I wonder what these kinds of statistics tell us about priorities. What would God have to say about our decisions?

       As one who has spent most of my career encouraging and challenging parishioners to thoughtfully and prayerfully grow as disciples and allow God to guide their every decision in life, I find myself still asking similar questions as HOS. Is there anything more valuable or worth more than investing in our children so they will know God’s love and His call on their lives? That is why UCA exists; to support families to grow children in ways more valuable than any alternative activity can offer.

Rev. J. Loring Carpenter, Interim Head of School