The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Things that Don’t Save us

Last week I posted some quotes on generosity, as a part of the annual stewardship season.   I find it impossible to consider my own, personal stewardship without considering my relationship to “stuff.”  An honest, 1st world Christian will have to admit that a major factor in a decision about what we give to God is: how much will I have left for “stuff.”  Very few American Christians are not affected by materialism.  Clarence Jordan used to refer to the problem as “the deceitfulness of riches.” The material temptations of this consumer life often tempt us to think that they contain the secret of happiness.  Here are a few annotated quotes that remind us otherwise.

In The World Within, Quaker writer Rufus Jones says, “There is a remarkable saying in the little Book of Obadiah that, in a happier coming time, “the House of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”  It sounds like tautology, but there may be a fresh depth of life in this ancient saying.  It isn’t everybody who actually possesses his possessions, and we may perhaps discover that this is a live issue for us today.  (p. 38)

It is amazing how the need for “stuff” controls our lives.  Nearly everyone I know has a story about something they wanted desperately, purchased, and, in short order regretted it because the item didn’t make them happy beyond the break in period.  The item might be as large as a car or as small as an iPod.  But, it was as if the item forced us to buy it.  The iPod sat on  store shelf or the car was parked on a dealer’s lot and called a Siren song to our hearts which we could not resist.  We had no control.  We did not possess our possessions; rather, they possessed power over us.  And why didn’t these items provide long-term satisfaction?

Peter Kreeft, in Heaven:  the Heart’s Deepest Longing, gives us a clue.  “Since an idol is not God, no matter how sincerely or passionately it is treated as God, it is bound to break the heart of its worshipper, sooner or later.  Good motives for idolatry cannot remove the objective fact that the idol is an unreality.  You can’t get blood from a stone or divine joy from nondivine things. (p. 21)

A congregation’s annual stewardship emphasis shouldn’t be an annual hit for money.  Rather, it should be an annual opportunity to determine if my possessions own me, or if I own my possessions.  It should be an annual opportunity to determine where I search for the touch of the divine in my life.  If the material goods surrounding my life (the ones I own and the ones I crave) dictate how I use my money, I reserve more for me and give less for God (or anyone else).  I buy more things, which in the end, provide no divine joy.  I am in a vicious cycle and don’t understand the angst which surrounds my life.

Material things are not bad.  Neither is money.  But scripture teaches us at a number of points that they are deceitful, seeming to promise divine joy, but instead offering slavery to them, both in obsessive desire to own them and in a payment schedule which keeps us bound to them long after any joy is gone.  I once heard it said the only thing worse than the feeling we have paid too much for an item, is the sense we bought the wrong thing.

If I am a steward of my goods, I possess my possessions.  I control my desires for them.   I make conscious decisions when I will buy them and how I will use them.  I decide what I will give away based on my love for God and others, instead of out of the fear I won’t have enough to buy the products that promise happiness.   If I am a steward, I also see clearly that it is in my relationship with Christ that I find divine joy, not in any electronic device or clothes, or vehicle.  I see the truth of Kreeft’s comment:  “You can’t get blood from a stone or divine joy from nondivine things.”  If only I had known that was what I was looking for.


 

 

 

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Quotes on Giving and Generosity -2013

This is the season when many congregations look at stewardship and generosity.  The peripheral member thinks pastors use words like these to w hide the fact that they are just asking for money.  Perhaps some do.  A long time ago I cam to the conviction that giving is one pathway to a happier and healthier life.  God encourages us to give because it is good for us.  So here are a few quotations that I have collected that speak about how the goodness of generosity makes live better.

 

Rufus Jones in New Eyes for Invisibles:

There is a remarkable saying in the little Book of Obadiah that, in a happier coming time, “the House of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”  It sounds like tautology, but there may be a fresh depth of life in this ancient saying.  It isn’t everybody who actually possesses his possessions, and we may perhaps discover that this is a live issue for us today.  p. 38

Evelyn Underhill in The School of Charity:

We believe that the tendency to give, to share, to cherish, is the mainspring of the universe, ultimate cause of all that is, and reveals the Nature of God: and, therefore, that when we are most generous we are most living and most real. p. 10

 

A. T. Pierson:

How little can I spare for God and satisfy His claims and my conscience?  We should invert the terms and ask, How little can I expend upon myself and yet satisfy my actual needs, and how much can I thus spare for God?  The missionary imperative affords new opportunity and incentive for the culture of this supreme grace.  Giving will bring its true blessing, its greater blessing only when systematic and self-denying.

 

Douglas LeBlanc, in Tithing – Test Me In This:

When you give of yourself, to a faith community and to others, that’s one of the places where you get to discover the image of God that is within you.  The essence of God is always to be giving.  God is a giver.  God is a giver of life; God is a giver of health; God is a giver of forgiveness; God is a giver of mercy and compassion; God is a giver of energy to transform the world to be a just and peaceful place.  I think that there is a spiritual phenomenon that goes on when you give generously.  The by-product is joy and happiness, but the deepest thing that is going on is that you’re expressing the image of God within you.  I think that people feel connected with God in a way that’s as powerful as having a mystical experience during prayer or while gazing at the sunset.  p. 116

 What I always say to people is that if you take the standard of 10 percent and say God required it of the poorest people in Old Testament Israel, and now that we’re under the grace of Jesus and we have the indwelling Holy Spirit and we live in this incredibly affluent culture, do you think he would expect less of us?   p. 64

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