Sunday, February 03, 2008

In not of

This morning in Sunday school I sat next to a young mother, she and her husband newcomers, "visitors," to our class. Her husband had to leave before class concluded so he could walk--yes, walk--to his job at a local fast food restaurant.

In fact, the whole family, mom and dad, with two preschoolers and a baby, walked to church for both services.

I wanted so badly for her to feel welcome among us. Our class is fairly homogenous, nearly all of us living a very comfortable upper middle class existence, none of us finding it necessary to walk anywhere except for exercise, and then not very often, at least in my case.

I wanted her to know that here, among God's people, houses and jobs and cars and stuff like that don't matter, not really. I wondered if she would tell me that of course they don't matter from our perspective, as we have all that, and more.

I wondered what she thought of us and how we appeared to her. Was she as conscious of the material differences as I would have been had I been in her place? Part of me foolishly wanted to confess to her that my pants, though new, were on clearance for $7.99, and my shoes were 70% off, and that, really, I have too much stuff, so much that sometimes I almost hate it all and most times would gladly give it away.

Then I remembered sitting in the home of my friend the other night, gazing up at her smooth ceilings and feeling that pang of envy and the prick of discontent. How easily the pang and the prick festered, and suddenly I hated my ceilings, my house, my life.

What would my new friend think of such a petty trifle? What are ceilings, smooth or popcorn, to her? What about to believers in Sudan facing torture for their faith or the underground church in China meeting in the dark of night to avoid detection? Suppose I were to tell them that I believed God really wanted me to have smooth ceilings...or fill-in-the-blank with whatever material temptation and subsequent rationalization I face...how ridiculous would that seem to them?

Materialism is a pervasive and deadly disease and I see its sickness in me. I want, I want, I want--more, more, more--these are the by words of our culture. Even in us, God's people. We envy, we covet, we want, we rationalize, we excuse and ultimately, we get. Nearly without exception. Can you remember a time you went without something you really wanted? What about something you needed? Me neither.

I'm not saying we shouldn't have new clothes or new cars. I am saying we need to look carefully at our wants and what we do with them. Is my life marked by self indulgence...or self denial? What rationalizations am I employing to justify my selfish pursuit of material things? However subtly, am I effectively advocating some form of the propsperity gospel as I convince myself that of course God wants me to have smooth ceilings, whatever the expense?

The issue isn't smooth ceilings. Don't hear me say so. But we must see that we as God's people walk a fine line between being in the world but not of the world. Paul claimed to be crucified to the world and the world crucified to him.

Crucified. Like dead, as in executed. Not enamored with or influenced by or even fascinated with and certainly not identical to. Crucifixion, not addiction nor immersion.

What marks my life? Do others look at me and see my stuff? What consumes me, getting more and getting ahead, or taking up my cross and dying to self? How much of my stuff that I claim to be blessings are really indulgences? What if I lost it all? What if I had to walk to church in the rain to sit in class with a group of people who had much while I had little? How much of me is defined by what I own? How much of my faith?

I wonder if my new friend would be offended by my words here. Does she see compassion and friendship in me? Underneath my stuff, does she see Jesus? Or, better yet, over and above the stuff, as Lord and Master of it all, does she see Jesus reigning as the true Treasure of my life?

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
~Gal. 6:14

9 comments:

  1. Wow. I think we are all guilty of thinking of our stuff as blessings, when really it doing nothing more but making us comfortable and complacent. Great post, beautifully written.

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  2. Yes, yes, yes, Lisa!! This is something I have so struggled with, and still do.

    If only we realized that what we perceive as the blessings of our "wealth" are really afflictions when they become our focus.

    Your thoughts, as usual, are so on target. Thank you for sharing them. I pray that they will penetrate beyond our minds to the depths of our souls.

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  3. Beautifully written, Lisa. I appreciate your honesty and openness. I feel this way and then maybe I should be aware of this more often. Excellend reminder to begin my week!

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  4. WOW. you said what I've been struggling with exactly. How easy it is to thank the Lord for all His blessings while we sit in the lap of luxury. How thankful would I be if the roles were reversed? What would my attitude be?

    I too have looked at other's stuff and felt this feeling of discontent come over me. It's like mold, it creeps in little by little and suddenly I'm grumpy and unhappy.

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  5. The other commenters have already said it all...thanks for a wonderful, thought-provoking post...and SO right-on!

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  6. Having just purged much of my house and the "things" that I thought would lead to content, I wholeheartedly agree with this post. I found that the stuff of life was merely burdensome to me. I may want to have my house completely finished so that it looks like a showplace, but is that God-honoring?

    My man just came back from building a home for a family devastated by Katrina. Hearing his stories, how can I honestly think painted crown molding matters?

    As usual, you & I are much on the same page.

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  7. Lisa,
    You have made me think about some things here. "What marks my life?"

    I sometimes look around the room at church at all the different people God brings through the doors and wonder who is amongst us.

    Do we only notice those that look like us, and give very little attention to those who seem different? I have asked the Lord to give me eyes to see those who need to be seen and not swayed by anthing else.

    Great post!

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  8. Lisa,
    You have made me think about some things here. "What marks my life?"

    I sometimes look around the room at church at all the different people God brings through the doors and wonder who is amongst us.

    Do we only notice those that look like us, and give very little attention to those who seem different? I have asked the Lord to give me eyes to see those who need to be seen and not swayed by anthing else.

    Great post!

    ReplyDelete