Tag Archives: Possessions

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.

Casing the Joint

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon.Nothing will be left, says the Lord.
Isaiah 39:5-6 (NIV)

Over the past handful of years, I’ve twice had the experience of being robbed. Thieves broke into our house at the lake and took a lot of things with them. Then my hotel room was robbed while on a business trip and the thieves got away with a lot of my electronic gear.

I learned in being robbed that some things are easily replaced. Televisions, computers, and electronic gear can be quickly acquired, set up and functioning as normal. The things that I still think about are personal items with sentimental value; The things that can’t be quantified for your insurance company.

As I read in today’s chapter about Hezekiah showing the Babylonian envoys all the treasures of his kingdom, I just knew in my gut that this was not going to end well. Perhaps being victimized has made me a tad more cynical, but I didn’t need Isaiah’s prophetic word to know the dudes were essentially casing the joint.

I’m reminded this morning of Jesus words:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

This morning I’m thinking about the difference between possessions and treasures. The further I get in my journey the greater desire I feel to rid myself of the former and be more discerning in my definition of the latter. I’m thinking it might be time for me to case my own joint, with an eye towards emptying what is unnecessary, unimportant, and not useful. One of the quotes that has stuck with me through adulthood comes from the artist and designer William Morris: “Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

chapter a day banner 2015

 

“Give Me Land, Lots of Land…”

So they finished dividing the land.
Joshua 19:51 (NRSV)

When I was in college I took a semester off and worked as an abstractor. It was tedious, monotonous work. In the morning a stack of property abstracts sat on my desk in the Polk County Office Building. One by one I would walk a legal history of property around the Recorder’s Office checking various land and tax records for buyers, sellers, and the property itself to make sure that the abstract was accurate and no one was trying to pull something (on at least one occasion, I caught people attempting to do just that).

That semester my acquaintance with property records and their arcane legal descriptions gave me an appreciation for the value and importance we humans place on land.

“Give me land, lots of land, with the starry sky above!”

I finished my college career and a few years later found myself leading a congregation in a small Iowa farm town of 300. As a city boy, this was my first real exposure to the way farming exists for so many in my home state: legacy, business, family, inheritance, and life. It is hard to appreciate just how inseparable people become with the land they and their family possess.

Every Sunday there two old farmers who sat in the back pews as far away from one another as possible. The two had a long standing dispute over a boundary line and fence between their adjacent properties. They never spoke to one another.

As I read through today’s chapter, which is basically an ancient abstract, I had all sorts of thoughts about land and the value we place on it. The property descriptions laid out in these chapters are so black and white, but you have to believe that there are all sorts of stories and emotions that the book of Joshua does not record. Families feeling cheated that another tribe got more land. A tribe thinking they should have such and such a village, river, well, forest amidst their property. Tribes disputing exactly how to interpret what it meant that the boundary “touched Tabor.” In time, these tribes would end up in a bloody civil war. How much bad blood was rooted in resentments hidden in these property descriptions.

This morning I’m thinking about God’s original admonishment that we should “subdue” the earth, and how we may have misinterpreted His intent. History teaches me that we’re really good at misinterpreting things. I’m thinking about Jesus who owned so little and encouraged his followers to hold on loosely to the things of this earth (including, I imagine, the earth itself). I’m thinking about Iowans intimate relationship with the land from which we make our livings and feed the world. I’m pondering the ways that possessions, including that same land, can end up coming before and between relationships.

I’m happy not to be an abstractor.