Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stuff Lust

It's that time of year when we're all thinking about "things."  White elephant exchanges, Christmas morning (or eve depending on your tradition), after-Christmas sales: they make us think about things.  Some things we have too many of; some things we want; and some things, when we see others buy them, allow us to feel awesome about how we can resist marketing campaigns.

Contrary to some perspectives, women struggle with lust.  We struggle with sexual lust, power lust, attention lust, and more.  The one type of lust I want to talk about today is stuff lust, mostly because I think it can flare up at this time of year.

Stuff lust, in my mind, has a few different layers.  Some stuff lust is the wanting of stuff simply to have it, not because it is needed or enhances life.  But to have it simply because it is there to be had: that's one type of stuff lust.  Another type of stuff lust seems less intense, but is perhaps more destructive: wanting stuff that you are convinced you need when you, in fact, do not need it.  With that type of stuff lust, you believe that your life will be enhanced by acquiring a certain item or two, which you are currently lusting over.  And then there's the good-old-fashioned "I want nicer stuff than other people" lust.  While stuff lust often manifests itself through acquiring items, it is predominantly a heart and mind issue.

I remember the first day back from winter break in grade school.  Some teachers would ask us to go around the room and share our favorite present.  This, of course, revealed some gross disparities within our classroom.  Some of my classmates received bikes, stereos, gameboys, etc.  Others did not receive such big-ticket items.  And while I wasn't usually the richest kid in the room, I was definitely blessed with very generous and financially-stable parents.  As such, I usually had great Christmases, from a "loot" perspective, at least.  But, still, as we went around the room, I wanted those 2 or 3 cooler presents once they had been named and seemed within reach.  It didn't matter that some parents were going into debt to buy these presents, I wanted them.  It didn't matter that I wouldn't really use the items, I wanted them.  I wanted them because I saw other people in possession of them.

Unfortunately, I think stuff lust has become expected and even encouraged.  I have lived in Manhattan, which is perhaps the capital of excess.  In Manhattan, it is expected that you stay current with fashion and art, both of which require money.  And now, I live outside of LA, where luxury cars and million dollar homes are expected.  What?!?  Let's all get a grip!

I have discovered some things (many through wise friends) that have helped TREMENDOUSLY with my stuff lust:

-Unsubscribe from as many marketing emails as possible.  I am currently subscribed to one store, although I'm about to go unsubscribe from it right now because I've been putting it off.  Okay, there: unsubscribed.

-Do NOT look at catalogs that come in the mail.  Recycle them as soon as they arrive.  The same goes for circulars in the newspaper.

-Do not go shopping unless you are going for pre-determined items.  When out, do not meander.  Go in, and go out.

-Meditate on the life of Jesus and on his teachings regarding "stuff."  See especially Luke 10:4 ("carry no money, no bag, no shoes"), John 19:23 (Jesus last piece of clothing was torn and He was left naked), and Mark 11:15-16 (Jesus cleans the temple of industry and stuff).  He became nothing, so that we could have Him.  He is all you need.  HE IS ALL I NEED.  (Say that to yourself.)  Ask yourself, "Am I content with what God provides for me?"

-Value giving above receiving.  When you are tempted to buy something, think about giving that amount of money away to advance the Kingdom of God.

On the last point, I think a large part of why we spend our money on stuff is because we fail to see the power and potential of our money when invested wisely.  Perhaps we are only accustomed to being around others who "have," so we fail to see how valuable our money can be to those who "don't have."  While we know we can always give more to church and various charities, our dollars simply seem like drops in the bucket to them.  So, we keep those few extra drops to ourselves.  But, if we know of a specific need, and a specific amount that we can give toward meeting that need, perhaps we'll be more inclined to give our money away.  (Is this true?)  If you know of a neighbor who cannot pay their electric bill, it is rewarding to be able to slip them an envelope with some cash.  If you know of a missionary needing $1000 to make their budget, it is rewarding to be able to give $100 and know they are closer to their need.  If you know of a student who needs $330 more to pay tuition, closing that gap for them feels possible.   So, I think half of the battle is simply being open and honest enough with each other to know about the needs in and around our community, our family, and the world.

All of that being said, I am here to repent of stuff lust.  My stuff lust is particularly high in certain areas, namely kitchen items, bathrobes, vacuums, real estate, and diamonds.  (Wow, I sound like such a 1950s housewife.) But I am intent on letting the Gospel influence not only how I spend my money, but also how my heart and mind spend time.  Stuff lust is not about actually buying those items; stuff lust is about the wanting, and the time and energy spent on the wanting.  I want to spend more time dreaming big about the Kingdom of God and less time dreaming about the nice things I might one day have.

And for the record, I am posting this from the comfy sectional of a $2 million home in one of the nicest neighborhoods of San Diego.  The irony is not lost on me.

I would love your thoughts on stuff lust.  How do you see it in your life?  In others?  How do you battle it?  Do any particular Scriptures help?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Word Became Flesh

The Gospel of John, Chapter 1 provides much of the foundation upon which we build our view of God's Word.  At least, it provided the foundation for many of the men and women from whom I have learned.  During Christmastime, it is particularly worthy of our meditation:


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


Now, John 1 is HUGE theologically.  I think if I had to pick my top 10 most vital chapters of Scripture, John 1 would be a contender.  So, if John 1 is unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to stop reading my paltry little words right now and go read John 1 instead.  But, if you are like me and John 1 is always in the back of your mind when you think about the importance of the Word of God, this post might be for you.  


In the babe Jesus, John tells us, the Word became flesh.  Now, I could get into the Greek here, but I don't want to do that.  What I want us to think about is the type of relationship we each have with the Word of God.  These are some beliefs I have about the Word, which shape the way I read it:


-I should not think about opening the Word and reading it, but opening myself to the Word and letting it read me.


-The Word is living and active by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They are not simply words on a page, but the words can come alive to us, stirred in our hearts by God Himself.


-The Word is like a long letter from God to us, and we come to know Him by reading His words.  Though it was written by dozens of men (and perhaps a woman or two?), the ideas and truths within it are the ideas and truths of God.


-Reading the Word is as essential to the Christian life as eating food is to the physical life.  We don’t always have to have super big feasts, but we shouldn’t go too long between meals.  And we shouldn’t just eat the food and then not dosomething; we’ll become fat.  The Word is meant to be fuel for the active Christian life.


(I am not claiming these are truths necessarily, just things I believe.  They may in fact be false.)


But, one belief about the Bible that I want to begin a discussion on is the concept that spending time in the Word is equivalent to spending time with God.


Now, can I say right off the bat that I HATE the phrase “spending time with God?”  In my view, one cannot spend time without God.  You can ignore Him, but He is there.  The phrases “giving my attention to God,” “quiet time,” and “spending time alone with God (TAWG)” are preferable to me, purely for accuracy.  They all still sound dumb.  I understand, however, that I am nit-picking in this regard.  (If you have other fun phrases, I’d love to hear them.)


That being said, how do you begin to spend time alone with God?  More often than not, my guess is that you open your Bible like me.  Now, let me be clear in saying that it is right and wise to begin our TAWG in the Word.  The Word is effective in setting our hearts right in many ways.  Bonhoeffer said, “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart." 


But, is it possible to have too high a view of the Word of God?  I believe it is.  I believe that we can spend time in the Word and fail to give our attention to God.  And I also believe that we can spend time with God without opening the Word.  Perhaps this is only true of seasoned believers who know the Word well enough so that it is written on their hearts.  When you have memorized, meditated upon, and studied God’s Word, it is always within you to mediate upon and be convicted by.


Perhaps this just comes out of my Presbyterianism.  For the past 8 years, I have gone to a Presbyterian church.  And while that has included 4 different churches (although 3 were sister churches), they have all highly valued deep knowledge of the Word.  I LOVE this about families of faith.  But, I believe it can be misconstrued so that people believe that if they know a lot about the Word then they know God in an intimate way.


The point of this: Go find your Bible.  Pick it up.  Say to your Bible, “You are not God.” Then sit down and read it, remembering that God is inside you, your friends, and in creation, as well as in the Word.
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