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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.
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.