A Christian Philosophy of Things

My daughter-in-law recently shared a scenario I remember occurring with my own children. Her son, my grandson, accidentally broke something and was upset. In an effort to comfort him, his parents assured him it was all right, it was just a thing, it could be replaced.

Then the next time something broke, he nonchalantly said, “It’s okay, we can get another one.”

It’s been a couple of decades since my own were very young, and I can’t remember how I handled this with them. I think over time and experience, they learned that accidents are ok, but deliberate destruction is not; some things can be replaced easily, some things cannot.

I’m not prone to watch talk shows, but I caught part of one years ago in which a child said that when he got into trouble for jumping on the couch, it made him feel like his parents loved the couch more than him. I remember thinking, “It’s not unloving to teach a child to take care of property.” But perhaps the way the situation was handled added fuel to the fire. I remember a song my parents used to listen to told a story about a man getting after his daughter about not messing up the grass in the yard that he had worked so hard to maintain. Now he had a beautiful yard, but he was estranged from his daughter.

It’s possible to love our “stuff” more than we love people, or at least to give them the impression that we do. But teaching a child to take care of things in itself is not putting the things above the child. I’ve known adults with an “Oh, well” attitude towards things which they probably think is non-materialistic, but which seems careless.

How do we find that balance between not esteeming things too highly or too carelessly?

Here are some principles that help me.

Everything we have belongs to God. We don’t have anything that didn’t ultimately come from God. We’re just stewards of our possessions.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:11)

“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Even if we grew, carved, crafted, or assembled something, the raw materials as well as the ability to do anything with them came from God.

We can’t take it with us. “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand (Ecclesiastes 5:15). Ecclesiastes speaks often of the vanity of working for things and then leaving them behind to someone else.

We’re accountable for what we do with our things. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12). “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Good stewardship includes careful use of things. This verse always convicts me, and I like the way the KJV puts it: “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious (Proverbs 12:27). According to the Pulpit Commentary at the bottom of this page, this could refer to someone who caught game but was too lazy to roast it, so it went bad (that’s the part that convicts me when I clean rotted stuff out of the refrigerator), or someone who catches game but then doesn’t attend to it, so it escapes. Either way, the slothful, or lazy person, doesn’t attend to what he has, but “the substance of a diligent man is precious” (some translations say “prized.”)

I hate to see people throw out perfectly good items just because they don’t need or want them anymore. Sometimes people will come by and take for themselves anything you have on the streets to be thrown out. Some people like to “dumpster dive” for treasures. So maybe people who take their unwanted stuff to dumps figure someone might find it there. But our local recycling and trash center doesn’t allow anything to be taken out, probably for safety purposes. I don’t like to mess with sales, but I like to take any unused items in good condition to the local thrift store.

Possessions are not wrong. I fear that some in the minimalist camp equate what they consider excess as sin. There’s nothing in the Bible that says we have to live as starkly as possible. We shouldn’t be covetous, and we have to understand that things cost money and take up space and time to maintain. But different people have different tolerance levels for “stuff.” I used to wonder whether it was wrong to want to wear pretty clothes or decorate my home. But I realized that God could have made the world just utilitarian, yet He didn’t. He created a wonderful variety of vibrant colors, animals, flora, etc. Edith Schaeffer made a strong case for this in a chapter on Interior Decorating in The Hidden Art of Homemaking. One of her quotes there:

If you have been afraid that your love of beautiful flowers and the flickering flame of the candle is somehow less spiritual than living in starkness and ugliness, remember that He who created you to be creative gave you the things with which to make beauty and the sensitivity to appreciate and respond to His creation (p. 109).

Possessions are temporary. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Matthew 6:19-21). 

Possessions can be idols. Jesus called one man who laid up many goods but did not prepare for eternity a “rich fool.” He reminded His listeners “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The “rich young ruler” came to Jesus once to ask what he needed to do to get to heaven. Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Note: this is not something He says to everyone, but He knew that this man’s riches were an idol to him. The man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). Jesus went onto say that it is “only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). Paul writes to Timothy:

 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Possessions can be a distraction. Amy Carmichael told of a woman she was trying to share the gospel with in Japan. The weather was cold and Amy suffered from neuralgia, so she wore some fur-lined gloves. The women listened and seemed to be just about to turn to God when she noticed Amy’s gloves and asked about them.

She was old and ill and easily distracted. I cannot remember whether or not we were able to recall her to what mattered so much more than gloves. But this I do remember. I went home, took off my English clothes, put on my Japanese kimono, and never again, I trust, risked so much for the sake of so little (Frank Houghton, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, p. 59).

Similarly, in Isobel Kuhn‘s early ministry in China, she was a newlywed taking joy in setting up housekeeping. When a couple of Chinese women came to visit, she was thrilled to receive them. They were among the poorest people, and their culture was very different. One of the women blew her nose in her hands and wiped them on Isobel’s rug. The other held her child apart from her while the child wet on the rug. The women had dirt floors in their homes, so they were unaware they had done anything “wrong.” Isobel “managed to remain courteous” while the women were there. But once they left, “Hot resentment rose in my heart, and then there followed my first battle over things.” She concluded:

If your finery hinders your testimony throw it out. In our Lord’s own words, if thine hand offend thee, cut it off; He was not against our possessing hands, but against our using
them to hold on to sinful or hindering things.

So I faced my choice. In our first home—what was to come first? An attractive sitting-room just for ourselves? Or a room suited to share with the local Chinese?

Our engagement motto hung silently on the wall—God first. Mentally I offered that pretty rattan furniture to the Lord to be wrecked by the country peasants if they chose (Isobel Kuhn, Whom God Has Joined, pp. 21-22).

When they moved to their next station, she sold these items and bought easily washable furnishings like the Chinese had.

We’re commanded to be generous. It’s easy to look at millionaires and think, “Yeah, those rich people need to be generous!” But the Macedonians were commended for giving “according to their means” out of “extreme poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). We’re all richer than someone. What’s considered poor these days would be considered quite rich by people in some other countries or by people from a hundred years ago.

We only give back to God what is His. David and other leaders donated materials for Solomon to build the temple. David prayed before the assembly, acknowledging “all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours” (1 Chronicles 29:11-13)(See point 1). Then he said:

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you . . . O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. (1 Chronicles 29:14, 16)

We hold possessions loosely. Rosalind and Jonathan Goforth’s lost nearly everything not once, but four times in their missionary experience: through fire, flood, the Boxer rebellion when they fled for their lives, and damage when they were on furlough and others moved their things to a leaky storage shed. Rosalind found this fourth loss “the hardest to bear,” possibly since it came about “because ‘someone had blundered'” (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 210).

When, in the privacy of their own room, the “weaker vessel” broke down and wept bitter, rebellious tears, Goforth sought to comfort her by saying, “My dear, after all, they’re only things and the Word say, ‘Take joyfully the spoiling of your goods!’ Cheer up, we’ll get along somehow” (p. 211).

Jonathan quotes there from Hebrews 10:32-35, where the writer recalls some of the sufferings the Hebrews had endured:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

We trust God for things we need. “Daily bread” is one of the things Jesus instructs us to pray for (Matthew 6:11). He also said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). He pointed out the birds and flowers that our heavenly Father feeds and cares for. Then He reminded His listeners, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (verses 32b-33).

God often provides through honest work: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes say much about diligence, hard work, and reward. The New Testament condemns “idleness” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10) and commends work:

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

We not only work for our needs, but to provide for our families. In the context of the church providing for destitute widows, Paul writes, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

So, though God usually meets our needs through providing opportunity and strength to work, when no work is available, or it’s not enough for the needs, we’re not to worry. We seek Him and trust Him to provide. I heard one preacher say that when his car had a problem and he didn’t have the money to fix it, remembering that all we have belongs to God, he prayed, “God, Your car needs work.”

It seems the more I search, the more I find in the Bible concerning how we should think about things. Other aspects include not stealing other people’s things, covetousness, and contentment.

But these prevailing truths help me. Everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him. Some day we’ll give an account of how we handled what He gave us. Therefore we take care of them, use them wisely, hold them loosely, give generously to others, and trust Him to provide. He “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). It’s okay to enjoy the material blessings He provides. But we don’t set our hearts on them or esteem them more highly than we should. We understand that God, people, and eternal truths are more important.

(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

Philippians 4:13 is for losers, too

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens meTwo rival Christian school basketball teams get revved up for their annual match.

All day long they hear Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV).

Someone quotes it at the pep rally. Both coaches share it in the locker room. Some players repeat it to themselves. Some write the reference on their person.

Both teams hit the court trusting God to help them win the game.

But one will have to lose.

Did Philippians 4:13 fail the losers somehow? Did they not have enough faith? Did God not hear their prayers?

Have you ever read Philippians 4:13 in context? Switching to the ESV now, here’s the rest of what Paul said:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Notice, Paul wasn’t just trusting God for grace in abundance and plenty. He also relied on God’s strength when brought low, in need, in hunger.

Hunger? Wait—doesn’t God know we need to eat? He made us to need food. Why would He let people hunger for a time?

Well, in one case He said:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

So He might let us suffer need or fail in an endeavor to humble us. Sometimes not getting what we want or need causes us to do some soul-searching. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Perhaps a victory would have done us more harm than good.

He might be bringing sin to our attention. Israel faced a stunning defeat at Ai, which they should have won easily, because there was “sin in the camp.”

He might be working to make us more dependent on Himself. Sadly, when things are going well, we tend to forget we need him. We lean on our own strength instead of His.

He might be trying to help us remember that everything we have comes from Him. In order to strengthen our faith, sometimes God has to put us in situations requiring faith.

He might be teaching us to lose graciously. To honor others. Not to envy someone else’s success—especially when we think we deserved that success.

He might be spurring us to work harder or better. Our salvation depends on God’s work in us and not our own efforts. And He miraculously delivers us out of some situations. But in others, He wants us to trust Him and put forth effort. Someone said, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw food in their nests.” We can’t ace the test without studying. We can’t lose weight without exercising and making wise food choices. We can’t grow in grace without spending time in God’s Word and obeying what it says. Paul said, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

He might be drawing us closer in our personal relationship with Himself, reminding us that that’s more important than whatever it is we’re hoping for.

He might be reminding us that His Word is not a talisman or good luck charm.

There are a number of reasons why God might say no to our prayer or expectation.

I’m thankful Paul that he learned contentment in any situation. That tells me that contentment doesn’t come naturally, that it can be learned, and that it is a process.

Yes, it’s good to rely on God for strength, to remember that without Him we can do nothing. When a situation doesn’t come out like we hoped, when we have legitimate unmet needs, we can go to our good Father in faith, ask Him what He wants to teach us through the situation, and rest in Him to provide in His good time.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Legacy Link-Up,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s some noteworthy reads I’ve come across recently. Perhaps you’ll find something that speaks to you here.

With Thanksgiving coming up, naturally there are a lot of posts about being thankful and content. A few of the best:

Secret to a Contented Heart. “Satan doesn’t come at most of us with temptations to take drugs or rob banks. His main temptation is to rob our joy and rob God of glory by keeping a bunch of unhappy, complaining, whining women on the loose.” (Ouch—in a good way.)

Countless Blessings from a Generous God. “We’ve heard it said to count our blessings. But if we look at the shocking amount of blessings a generous God extends to us, they are hard to number.”

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in the Chaos. “I am tempted to cancel Thanksgiving this year…I toyed with the idea for a whole 10 minutes, and then I remembered escaping from reality is never a healthy decision. Plus, the Holy Spirit also reminded me that I am called to let my little light shine in dark places. Sometimes those dark places are at the dinner table with stuffing and cranberry sauce.”

What if You Lost What You Weren’t Thankful For. “What people would you miss if you hadn’t taken time to thank God for them? Not just the ones in your family, but the ones who grow your food, repair your car, treat your illness, and serve your coffee.”

Some Counsel for Christians Leaving Toxic Church Environments, HT to Challies. Unfortunately, this is becoming all too common a problem.

There Are No Extraordinary Means, HT to Challies. “What we want are extraordinary fixes to ordinary problems. In this desire we miss the reality that there’s always something else to fix, there’s always something else to do, and there’s always something we’ll miss. Looking for extraordinary means is a roadmap to variously intense levels of personal frustration. Ordinary means of grace are sufficient because our problems are ordinary.”

Don’t Confuse Spirituality with Righteousness, HT to Challies. “I cannot achieve righteousness without spirituality. But it is possible to be ‘spiritual,’ at least on the surface, without attaining righteousness.”

“Worthy?” also HT to Challies. This deals with the idea that we tend to come to God when we feel worthy and avoid coming when we don’t feel worthy. “Are you worthy? No. But Jesus doesn’t require fitness from you. You only have to feel your need of him. You only have to see that his worthiness is sufficient for you.

And finally, this is me in cold weather:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to share links to posts I found interesting, so this will be a bit longer than usual, but I hope you find something here of interest:

Wonderful Hope by Bobbi’s dad, who is facing a terminal diagnosis at the same time his wife is undergoing cancer treatments.

Advice On Seeking Answers to Spiritual Issues.

Becoming Christ-Like: The Goal of the Christian’s Life? There is a subtle but important point here that resonated with me.

God Does Not View Your Labors as Filthy Rags. We have this tendency to take one verse and run away with it.

Are Christian Missionaries Narcissistic Idiots? No. Here’s why.

The Risk of Practical Love.

The girltalk blog has had a series on training your children in dealing with their emotions. 7 Reminders When Talking to Your Teen About Emotions and Helping Children Handle Their Emotions were two that stood out to me.

Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt.

12 Strategies for Singles and Hospitality. The tips are good whether you’re single or married.

Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Flawed. Courtship vs. dating is a hot button debate and I am a bit hesitant to just post the link without discussing it further. I may come back and do so at some point. I may not agree with every little thing but overall he made some excellent points. I did read the book in question before my kids got to that age and pulled some principles from it but did not follow it exactly. We did feel dating – at a certain age and under certain guidelines – was a good way to get to know someone before taking the relationship further but we did want to avoid continued serious relationships and breakups one after another: we didn’t feel the latter was good emotionally nor good training for marriage.

Why Prison Isn’t Restful. We need to be careful about throwaway quips on topics we really know nothing about.

For the Quiet Child (And For Their Parents)…You Can Stop Apologizing For Who You Are.

Ten Things Your Husband Hates.

5 Myths You Might Still Believe About the Puritans.

On Writing Negative Reviews. Good reasons to do so when necessary.

Have a good weekend!