Tag Archives: Materialism

Of Spirit and Paperweights

Of Spirit and Paperweights (CaD Ecc 5) Wayfarer

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NIV)

I still remember a big, glass Skippy jar that belonged to my brother, Tim. The lid was wrapped tight with athletic tape and a slot for change was snipped into the tin lid. It was filled with change (Note: a Skippy jar full of pocket change could go a long way in those days). It sat there. For years it served as a paperweight on my brother’s desk. For years I saw that thing just sitting there…years.

During those years. I didn’t have a piggy bank or any such change jar. There was no point. If I had a dime I spent it.

That’s a parable, by the way.

It’s also a confession that I was not great with money for much of my life. It was a lesson that ended up being a long, hard stretch for me on both the spiritual and physical levels. But learn it, I did. As a sincere follower of Jesus, I couldn’t get around the fact that money and the spiritual implications of it, was His number one subject.

Not sex.
Not drinking.
Not drugs.
Not politics.
Not church attendance.

Money, wealth, possessions and their spiritual implications was numero uno on the Top Ten list of subjects that Jesus talked about. And, for anyone reading this who has not read Jesus’ teaching on the subject yourself, please know that it’s completely opposite of those televangelists who twist His teaching in order to pad their own pockets.

Yesterday morning I had the honor of kicking-off what will be a six-week series of messages about the economy of God’s Kingdom (it’s on the Messages page, btw). Talking about economics is always a tough subject from a spiritual perspective because money and economics are so intertwined with my life, my mind, my heart, and my spirit. I believe that’s why Jesus talked about it so much. I can live a good, religious, morally pure, upright life, but if I don’t get the spiritual lessons of economics right, then I’m still hopelessly stuck in spiritual kindergarten.

It felt like a little spiritual synchronicity that the Sage who authored Ecclesiastes is talking about this same subject in today’s chapter. What fascinated me is how it dove-tailed what I spoke about yesterday, and what stuck out to me in the chapter was an interesting contrast.

In verse 10, the Sage warns of the spiritual trap that wealth creates because there’s never enough, and the dissatisfaction and discontent of the perpetual more will eat a person’s soul.

In verse 11, the Sage warns of the spiritual trap of limitless consumption because it is also never satisfied. It leads to life as described in the movie Wall-E.

In verse 12, the Sage observes that there’s a certain simplicity of life and peace of spirit the comes with having very little, while having much only adds increasing layers of complexity and anxiety. This robs life of sleep (and peace, and joy, and goodness, and contentment, and etc.).

Wealth and consumption are spiritual traps that lead to bad places.

Then at the end of the chapter, the Sage observes what appears to be the exact opposite: “when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” 

But I couldn’t help but notice the key ingredient in this latter observation. The wealth and possessions flow from God, they are received and held as the gift from God that they are by a person who manages those resources with a sense of gratitude, contentment, and spiritual discernment.

In my message yesterday I spoke about the spiritual lesson that I’ve learned (and learned the hard way) which must precede any conversation about money itself. Interestingly enough, Jesus told one wealthy man that selling all his possessions and giving it to the poor was the one thing he had to do. But Jesus had other people in his life, like Lazarus and his sisters, who were wealthy and Jesus didn’t ask them to do the same thing. I find this an important distinction that the Sage is revealing in today’s chapter.

The wealth isn’t the issue. The issue that precedes the money conversation is one of heart, eyes, and worship. You’re welcome to listen to the message if you’re interested in unpacking this more.

By the way, on my dresser sits a large coffee mug full of change. It basically serves as a paperweight. It’s been there for years.

I’m learning.

The Value of “Another”

The Value of "Another" (CaD Ecc 4) Wayfarer

There was a man all alone;
    he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
    a miserable business!

Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago I happened upon a post on LinkedIn. It was one of those heart-warming stories that almost sounds too good to be true. It made me curious. I dug into the story. I’d like to share with you what I learned.

Dale Schroeder was an Iowan from my hometown of Des Moines. He grew up poor, and couldn’t afford college. After high school he got a job as a carpenter and showed up at work every day for the same company for 67 years. It appears that retirement wasn’t something he considered worthwhile. Dale lived simply. He owned two pair of jeans. He had one pair of jeans for work and one pair of jeans for church.

One day, Dale showed up at the office of his friend and attorney. He told his friend he’d been thinking. He didn’t have the money to go to college and he’d like to give kids who couldn’t afford it the opportunity he never had. He wanted to set up a fund and invest all his savings for the project.

“How much are we talking, Dale?” his attorney asked.

“Oh, just shy of three million,” Dale answered.

Dale’s fund paid for the college education of 33 young people before the funds ran out. Calling themselves “Dale’s Kids” the strangers, who are now doctors, therapists, and teachers because of Dale’s gift, meet periodically to honor his legacy.

A simple man, Dale asked only one thing in return for his generosity. He asked that they pay-it-forward. “You can’t pay it back,” his attorney would explain, “because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him.”

If I pull back and look at today’s chapter from a distance, I find that the Sage has divided his wisdom into two parts. In verses 1-6, the Teacher describes the cold futility of self-centric lives and the tragic fruit of living lives of envy, greed, and hatred. In verses 7-16 the focus shifts. Verse 8 describes Dale sitting on his three million in the bank, asking himself “What am I going to do with all this money I’ve stored up my entire life?”

Verses 9-12 describes the value of living, not for self, but for another.

“Do something for someone else,” the Sage proposes as he whispers to me in my soul. “Invest the fruit of your labor into someone else’s need. Step out of the chill of self-centered isolation and warm another person with your kindness, then feel the warmth of their gratitude take the chill out of your own soul. Tom, if you look below in order to reach down and lift another person up your gaze won’t be fixated enviously on the height of other people’s stacks of stuff.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering Dale Schroeder showing up to work every day in his work jeans for 67 years in order to invest everything into the lives of 33 strangers. It’s an act of extravagant generosity that has not only changed the lives of those 33, but also their families, patients, students, and descendants. Who knows how it will be gratefully paid forward to affect the lives of countless others that you and I will never know about.

The Sage has me silently asking myself this morning:

“What is truly valuable in this life?”

“What does my life reveal about what I truly value?”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Enough

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
2 Kings 4:2 (NIV)

Many years ago I was pushing into my spiritual journey and trying hard to understand my feelings of shame, the deep, abiding sense that I was worth-less to the core. I have shared before about my friend and counselor who asked me to label my shame. He wanted me to give my shame a name tag; A moniker of my shame that would allow me to pick up my Sharpie and write on the my name tag at church: “Hello, My Name Is…” and write my shame right on there.

Not Enough” was the label I gave to my shame.

As I’ve continued on in my spiritual journey I’ve come to have more than a few head-slapping, eureka moments as I mull over my “Not Enough” shame moniker. Of course I feel “not enough” because it’s what culture and marketing have whispered and screamed to me so regularly since I was a toddler that I don’t even recognize it anymore.

You’re not athletic enough. Eat your Wheaties.
You’re not manly enough. Smoke a Marlboro.
You’re not beautiful enough. Wear brand “X”.
You’re not good enough. Work 24/7/365.
You’re not rich enough. Climb that ladder at all costs.
You’re not suave enough. Act like James Bond.
You’re not good enough. Stop sinning.
You’re not Christian enough. Only listen, read, and consume things labeled and marketed as “Christian” and sold by an acceptable, orthodox supplier.

You get the picture.

In today’s chapter the ancient prophet Elisha is approached by a widow who is in a desperate situation. Her husband died and was indebted to another man in the town. In ancient days, if you couldn’t pay your debts the creditor took whatever collateral the borrower had. Because the widow was left with nothing of real value her two sons were going to be taken from her to become the creditor’s slaves.

When Elisha asks the woman, “What have you got?” she replies that all she has is a small jar of oil. Elisha tells her to get all the empty jars she can find and borrow and pour the oil from her small jar into all the empty jars. Miraculously, the woman keeps pouring and the oil keeps flowing until her house is packed full of jars of oil. She is can now sell the oil and pay off the debts. And, there’s enough left over to provide for her and her sons.

What does this remind me of?

Oh yeah. Jesus fed the crowds (more than once) with just a few fish sandwiches that Peter and the boys could scrounge off a little kid whose mother packed him a sack lunch. The woman and her oil jars is kind of like that. In fact, it’s just like that.

I love it on my chapter-a-day journey when I begin to see patterns, themes and dots to be connected across the Great Story. This endless jar of oil is just like Jesus’ endless baskets of filet o’ fish sandwiches.

So, what is the point? What’s God trying to tell me?

In each case, God took the little that they already had and provided all that was needed. In fact, in both cases there were leftovers. The point is that what they already had was enough for God to work with. God can take what I am and what I have and it is enough for Him to work with to be all that I need, all that He needs, when it’s needed.

I don’t believe this means God is giving me an excuse to be complacent and slothful. It doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to be foolish and stagnant. God wants me to keep progressing, keep pressing on, and keep pushing further up and further in. It’s important, however, to think about what I’m pursuing.

I’ve found that shame always calls me back. I constantly find my heart slipping off on paths that mindlessly pursue unreachable destinations. The more money I make the more I realize that there’s always someone richer, and I’ll never stop chasing after “just a little bit more.” No matter how skinny, ripped and ruggedly handsome I can make myself with wardrobe, workouts and organic male beauty products, I will still look in the mirror and fail to see Daniel Craig.

This morning I’m reminded that when I stick to the path in pursuit of God and God’s wisdom I find that what I already have is enough. It’s enough even if God has to, once in a while, miraculously stretch my enough to cover what’s needed in the moment.

Devoted to a Bread Maker

Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.
Isaiah 2:7-8 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I were on the couch watching the Cubs game when we were surprised by the doorbell. There was a small group of high school youth from one of our area churches who were on a “bigger or better” scavenger hunt. They had with them a stuffed snowman they had procured from a previous, unsuspecting neighbor.  “Do you have anything that’s bigger or better than this that you’d trade for it?” the young people asked.

Our basement storage room (which is quite sizable) is filled with things we are not using and may not even remember we have. So is the garage attic, and the back of the garage. The answer to the young people’s question should really be: “Yes! How many options would you like us to give you among the infinite number of boxes, totes an bins full of things we own but don’t use?”

Then, as Wendy scoured the basement storage and I scoured the garage, the more nagging question became a reality. “What thing, of all this junk I don’t use and forget I even own, am I willing to part with?” It is so intriguing to find how much value we place, not on the object itself, but on the possession of it.

We offered the excited group of young people an old bread maker I found sitting in the garage, and Wendy put our new stuffed snowman with our stack of Christmas decorations. Everyone enjoyed a laugh and we wished the young people well on their scavenger hunt. I wonder what they ended up with.

I thought about last night’s experience as I listened to the prophet Isaiah (I listened to this morning’s chapter being read as I returned from a breakfast appointment this morning) describe the neighboring nations. He described their wealth, their riches and their possessions. They made cast idols and then bowed down “to the work of their hands.”

If find that we in 21st century western culture are quick to be dismissive at the thought of idolatry as described by the ancient prophets. People bowing down to a golden calf or a statue of some animal seems so silly. But, I’m not sure I’m really willing to see the point. What is “worship” but the act of being devoted to something? And what is “devotion” but the giving of time, attention and energy to something?

“…they bow down to the work of their hands.”

How much time, energy ad attention do I devote to the acquisition, maintenance, upkeep, renovation, and storage of “the work of our hands?” Perhaps I am devoted to things made by human hands. Perhaps what was called “idolatry” in 700 B.C., I simply call “success” in a consumerist culture.

This morning I am rolling my own eyes at myself, and the discomfort I feel with the questions I’m asking myself. I don’t like asking myself, “Am I willing to part with this old bread maker sitting in my garage which hasn’t been used in years?” and acknowledging that there’s a small voice in my soul that balks at giving it up. At the same time, I am feeling really good about giving it up and having it out of my garage. Perhaps it’s a mustard seed of change.

Lord, have mercy on this poor soul that bows down to things made with hands.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 24

1998ish - Clint's room - screens & clutter - 1
1998ish – Clint’s room – screens & clutter – 1 (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
    The world and all its people belong to him.
Psalm 24:1 (NLT)

My brother has lived what I would describe as a nomadic life. Having spent most of his adult life going to and living where the work is (which for him has been all over the world) he has by necessity scattered the stuff of life around at various places. There are a few things of his that are in my keeping. In some cases, they have been in my keeping a good long while. I use the phrase “In my keeping” deliberately because while they are not mine I am responsible for them while they are with me. In my keeping implies that I’m taking care of them for him.

Ownership and possession are interesting concepts. If you’re like me, you don’t take time to think about them very often. Perhaps it’s because as a people we’ve become so addicted to owning things and possessing things. We enjoy the luxury of ownership for so much that we easily dismiss irresponsibility and as both a right and privilege.

Throughout God’s Message we are reminded that possession and ownership are an illusion of this life. In God’s economy we own nothing. It all belongs to Him – every thing – everything. In God’s economy, I no more own any single thing I possess than my brother’s guitar which is in my keeping. But, like my brother’s guitar, every thing I possess is in my keeping. I am responsible for it.

Today, I’m grateful for all of that God has allowed to me have in my keeping. I am humbled to think how irresponsibly I have handled much of it. I am so blessed that the amount of things in my keeping is almost entirely up to me. I am reminded that the responsibility of having too many things in my keeping can take up so much time, energy and mindshare that I neglect more important, personal and eternal matters of my soul.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 3

“All the fat belongs to God. This is the fixed rule down through the generations, wherever you happen to live: Don’t eat the fat; don’t eat the blood. None of it.”  Leviticus 3:16-17 (MSG)

Many years ago I had a traffic accident and suddenly found myself without a car for a short period of time. A compassionate neighbor offered to let me have one of his cars while mine was in the shop. It was a kind gesture, but I was rather surprised when he handed me the keys of his new luxury sedan. He had a couple of older vehicles he could have given me, but he gave me the best he had to give. I was humbled and grateful. I’ve never forgotten his extravagant generosity.

In acient days, when Leviticus was given as the law, the “fat” of an animal was considered the very best part. When setting up the sacrificial system, God clearly wanted to the people to cheerfully and freely give the best portion of a pure animal to God. While the sacrificial system is difficult for us to wrap our cultural minds around, the word pictures given within the system are just as relevant for us today.

When we give to God, when we give to others, are our hearts open to giving the best we have to give? Or, do we hoard the best for ourselves and parcel out what’s left if we’re forced to do so? It is really a litmus test which reaveals the condition of our hearts. Can we let go of the temporal, material things of this world, or are we clinging on to to things for dear life, and so revealing where we find our treasure?

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 22

Hamster wheel
Image by sualk61 via Flickr

Climb the Abarim ridge and cry—
   you’ve made a total mess of your life.
I spoke to you when everything was going your way.
   You said, ‘I’m not interested.’
You’ve been that way as long as I’ve known you, 
   never listened to a thing I said. Jeremiah 22:20c-21 (MSG)

The further I get in the journey, I perceive with greater clarity how blind I am to the entire concept of needs and wants. Life can be so materially easy, that spiritual need doesn’t even register with me.

When it comes down to it, we really are a people of wants and needs. And, we always mix up the two. Our needs are so well covered that the only thing left is wants. Because we have no concept of what it truly means to be in need, we feel our wants and tag them as needs. And so, our basic needs met without conscious thought, we spin in our little wheel of the rat-race cage, chasing after want after want after want.

How deaf am I to God’s still, small voice trying to speak truth to me while I, like a silly rodent, endlessly rattle on inside my little spinning wheel? How blind am I to the true needs of my soul and the pile of discarded acquisitions that lay broken and rusting in my wake? How am I going to see my true spiritual need, and the true needs of those around me when I am fixated on the perceived “need” of my next “want?”

Lord, have mercy on me. Help me discern clearly my true “needs” and selfish “wants,” and grant me the wisdom today to make choices accordingly.

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Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 25

But Amaziah said to the holy man, “But what about all this money— these tons of silver I have already paid out to hire these men?”

“God’s help is worth far more to you than that,” said the holy man. 2 Chronicles 25:9 (MSG)

Over the past year I have observed a man who has a lot of money, but has very little peace. He appears to, materially, have everything he could possibly want; he seems to be void of what he spiritually needs. His portfolio must be in great shape; his family is in ruins.

I thought of this man as I read Amaziah’s story. The holy man’s message was really quiet simple. Don’t look for security in what you possess or own. Don’t trust in riches. It is a false sense of security. Don’t ask your bank account for that which only God can provide.

Today, I’m thinking about the areas of my own life where I place misdirected trust.

Lord, have mercy on me.

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Chapter-a-Day Micah 6

Not all that glitters is gold. No matter how much you get, it will never be enough— hollow stomachs, empty hearts.No matter how hard you work, you'll have nothing to show for it— bankrupt lives, wasted souls. Micah 6:14 (MSG)

Materialism is a jealous lover. She commands every thought. She demands incessant desire. Pursue her; seek after the latest, the newest, the shiny thing that everyone must have. Reach, stretch, claw to get that one thing. To touch it, to possess it will feel so good, she says. Then, I will have arrived. Then, I will be satisfied. Materialism. She rewards with a fleeting orgasm of satisfaction. It feels so good for a moment. Then it quickly fades. Emptiness and hollowness creep back into the vacuum of a vacant soul. The cycle starts over. My lover, she points to the new conquest. My eyes gaze upon the next object of desire to be pursued in the cycle of never enough.

God, teach me to be content.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and myklroventine