Thursday, June 03, 2010


I have never travelled outside of the United States (except Canada which isn’t really a separate country anyway) but I have to believe that no other culture has the same fixation on stuff that we do. We love to have stuff and to display our stuff. We have stores full of stuff to replace the stuff we already have which is probably still perfectly good stuff. With the advent of Wal-Mart we can get tons of stuff really cheaply and all in one store. Not only can we buy lots of stuff, we can buy other stuff to display the stuff we bought. We work and work and work to buy more stuff and I have to say that most of the stuff we buy is far from a necessity. America is all about getting stuff, protecting your stuff from other people who don’t have as much stuff and doing everything you can to make sure your kids can get a “good job” so they can afford to buy more stuff than you did. Having lots of stuff in your house and raising kids who have more stuff than you is the American dream.

This hit home for me this week. We were asked when we gathered with the church last Sunday to collect books for a missionary distribution center. Missionaries back in the states can get books, Bibles, commentaries, homeschool materials, etc. from this center. What a great opportunity to help! I have lots of books that I have already read that might be a blessing to others. So I got out a box, turned to my very nice bookshelves that are handmade by my dad to store and display my books and…hesitated. Why did I hesitate?

Here is an example. Along with a copy of The Purpose-Driven Life (it was a gift), an extra copy of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and a couple of books on pastoral ministry written by Ergun Caner (that I was required to buy for a class at Liberty and I was frankly embarrassed to have on my books shelves), I put a couple of commentaries into the box. Now I am not talking about my complete set of Calvin’s commentaries. I am talking about a couple of old commentaries that I got via eBay a while ago that I haven’t opened in years, likely will never open again and which contain information that is readily accessible for free online. So why in the world would I hesitate to get rid of them? Because they are mine. My books are the biggest source of “my stuff” for me and I am a lot more of a book collector than I am book reader. Don’t get me wrong, I do read a lot for someone with eight kids. I don’t read anywhere near enough to be in danger of running out of unread books to read and since I buy several new books on a regular basis and have started getting advanced review copies of books, I am in not going to have to reread books anytime soon.

When we look at the church, the place we see inequality the most poignantly is in stuff. Many Christians have a lot of stuff. I mean a LOT of stuff. Lots of other Christians don’t have nearly as much stuff and there is a substantial population of our brothers and sisters around the world who don’t know what stuff even is because they are too busy worrying about feeding their children to consider stuff accumulation. It reminds me of Paul’s chastisement in 1 Cor 11: 20-22

When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Cor 11: 20-22)

Paul is not upset because the church in Corinth failed to observe the supper with the proper liturgy or because it was served on a table without “Do this in remembrance of me” carved on the front. What he seems most upset about is the division of God’s people, some eating and drinking to excess while their brothers and sisters go hungry. Paul is not calling for socialism where the government enforces equality of misery on everyone. Having said that, there is a very real and at least partially unnecessary inequality among Christians. I am not talking about one guy having a 50” TV and the other a 55” TV. I am talking about a situation where many Christians are struggling, through no fault of their own, to make ends meet while other Christians live lifestyles that would be considered luxurious anywhere else in the world.

So I clearly struggle with this. I have a hard time reconciling my conservative, free-market political philosophy with the self-sacrificial life a disciple of Christ is called to. American culture says raise your kids to be successful, make their mark, look out for number one. Christ calls us to deny ourselves, to love others and put their needs ahead of even our own. I need to learn to let go of my stuff because all it is doing is weighing me down with the concerns of the world and when we are focused on the concerns of the world we cannot be focused on the Kingdom of God. I need to remind myself that it is just stuff and it is OK to let it go.

I am still not giving away my set of Calvin's commentaries.

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