The Radically Normal Christian
Part III: Possessing Possessions
September 25, 2011
* Clippings from bottom of 173
SCRIPTURE READING: Matt 19:16-26
IS STUFF BAD?
I began our series reading this from David Platt, author of “Radical.”
“You and I have an average of about seventy or eighty years on this earth. During these years we are bombarded with the temporary. Make money. Get stuff. Be comfortable. Live well. Have fun. In the middle of it all, we get blinded to the eternal. But it’s there.
You and I stand on the porch of eternity. Both of us will soon stand before God to give an account for our stewardship of the time, the resources, the gifts, and ultimately the gospel he has entrusted to us.
When that day comes, we are convinced we will not wish we had given more of ourselves to living the American Dream. We will not wish we had made more money, acquired more stuff, lived more comfortably, taken more vacations, watched more television, pursued greater retirement, or been more successful in the eyes of this world.
Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.”1
Q Does this mean that it is WRONG to make MONEY and have STUFF?
Q That every dime I spend beyond the BARE NECESSITIES is a GODLESS WASTE?
I have a deep longing to take my daughters to DISNEYLAND while they are still young enough to experience all of the magic.
Q Is that LESS HOLY?
Q Am I teaching my DAUGHTERS to OVERVALUE this temporary life?
Like some of you, I grew in church and there seemed to be this underlying thought that SPENDING MONEY on YOURSELF was less than HOLY. If you were really righteous, you’d take a VOW of POVERTY.
PRINCIPLES TO LIVE BY
When I first read that piece by Platt, I said that it SOUNDS BIBLICAL, and that most Christians don’t have a broad enough Biblical understanding to refute it. NOW YOU do.
* I am teaching you to read the Bible well – I want a HERMENEUTICALLY ASTUTE congregation.
In the first two sermons, I gave more PRINCIPLES than practice, but now we get to use those principles to change how we live.
* There will be a total of FIVE PRINCIPLES but I will introduce them in the context of applying them.
1. God wants us to be MOSTLY NORMAL and this makes Christianity attractive, as it says in Titus 2:10.
It doesn’t mean we can’t be QUIRKY – it is ironic for me to talk about being normal. The idea is that that we don’t emphasize looking different for its own sake.
* This doesn’t mean try to OFFEND anyone, but that we emphasize the common ground.
2. The OT and NT are both EQUALLY the WORD of GOD; the OT emphasize earthly and temporal realities, and NT emphasizes spiritual and eternal realities.
* If we ignore either one, we will have an UNBALANCED FAITH.
If we take the entire Scriptures seriously, things are a lot MORE COMPLICATED than earthly stuff is temporary and we should care more about eternity.
TRUE, BUT MISLEADING
Back to the TOPIC: To say SELLING ALL your stuff and radically following Jesus is the gold standard sounds true, but does it line up Biblically?
* Yeah! That’s what JESUS SAID!
Yes, but it is very possible to say something that is TRUE, but MISLEADING out of the bigger context.
For example: DISCIPLINING my DAUGHTERS is an important part of my job as a parent, but what if you took everything time I had to speak harshly to them or punish them, and make a MONTAGE and present that as how I parented?
* You would miss the entire OVERARCHING THEME of love, compassion, and tenderness.
And if you made a VIDEO of only THOSE times, it would seem to CONTRADICT the first one. You need to see the whole picture.
We do this will SCRIPTURE all the time:
* The CATHOLIC CHURCH took two statement about the value of being single for God, but ignored hundreds on MARRIAGE.
* As I said last week, we take a few Scripture about the 2ND GREAT COMMISSION and ignore the ones about the 1ST COMMISSION.
A BIBLICAL VIEW OF STUFF
And we do the same thing with what the Bible says about possessions and money in the NT:
* Jesus tells one man to SELL EVERYTHING he has.
* He tells all of us to sell and GIVE AWAY some of our stuff.
* Paul warns that the LOVE of MONEY is the root of many evils.
* JAMES and JESUS CONDEMN the ungodly rich.
But then we IGNORE all that the Bible has to say in the OT about MATERIAL BLESSINGS being a GIFT from God, about enjoying what he gives us, and the rightful place of riches. The Bible is full of that; just spend a few minutes in Proverbs.
The way I see it, there are TWO POSSIBILITIES:
1) God thought material possessions were a good thing in the OT, but then in between the testaments he CHANGED his MIND.
2) Or, he didn’t change his mind in the NT, but had to WARN about some the DANGERS of POSSESSION, especially in light of an eternal perspective.
I think it is #2. And it’s incorrect to say the WARNINGS only happen in the NT. The OT is filled with warnings by example:
* King SOLOMON is lead astray by wealth.
* The TEACHER in Ecclesiastes sees the emptiness of wealth.
Nor is wealth seen as SOLELY NEGATIVE in the NT: The first Christian convert in Europe, LYDIA, was a wealth merchant. And wealthy Christians provided for the work of the Gospel.
* The rest of the NT also assumes Christians will keep their NORMAL LIFE, though adding to it generosity.
RADICAL, NORMAL, OR RADICALLY NORMAL?
To bring it back to the DISTINCTION between NORMAL and RADICAL:
1. It is NORMAL to spend all of your energy to ACCUMULATE more and MORE STUFF.
This is in fact how most of the world lives, MATERIAL GIRLS and BOYS in a MATERIAL WORLD.
“Living the AMERICAN Dream,” acquiring more and more, trying to give our kids everything they want, and GIVING the LEFTOVER to a GOOD CAUSE, if there are any leftovers.
* The idea is that “I BOUGHT a LITTLE and it made am a little HAPPY, therefore buying a lot will make me a lot happy.”
We know it is not true, but yet we keep on PLAYING that GAME.
2. It is RADICAL to live a life of COMPLETE SIMPLICITY, to live on as little as possible to pour all of your resources into PREACHING the GOSPEL and CARING for the POOR.
The HOLIER you are the LESS you will SPEND on TEMPORAL THINGS and the more you will INVEST ETERNALLY. That is the LOGICAL CONCLUSION of Platt:
Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.”
Give more and more and more and more...
WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
Most Christians believe that the RADICAL way is the TRULY GODLY one, but that it is only for SUPER-SPIRITUAL CHRISTIANS, so they live the normal one.
Q Where do YOU FALL IN with all this? Which one do you think is more correct?
Q Which one better describes your life?
But what is RADICALLY NORMAL? Taking the ENTIRE SCOPE of Scripture, the POSITIVES and NEGATIVE things it says about possessions, the WARNINGS and the PROMISES:
* It is radically normal to ENJOY earthly possessions without letting them POSSESS you or DISTRACT from ETERNITY.2
OWNING OR OWNED?
The danger of stuff is that the NATURAL PROGRESSION goes from you owning stuff to stuff owning you.
You went from a cell phone so you can call your family “in case of EMERGENCIES” to a multimedia device that you are locked into with a two-year contract at $80 a month per line.
* And now instead of using it to CONTACT your family, you are using it to IGNORE them!
And it works that way with everything you buy – a new HOUSE means working on a house. A CAR means maintenance. An XBOX means paying for xBox live.
* Enough is never enough.
These things are not necessarily bad, but if we aren’t careful, they take our TIME and ENERGY more and more away from GOD, our FAMILY, our FRIENDS, and the CHURCH.
Jesus warned us:
Luke 12:33-34 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:24 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Stuff of their world has this huge ATTRACTION that pulls us away from the THINGS of HEAVEN. When you have treasure, it naturally pulls your ALLEGIANCE away FROM GOD to it.
EASY WAY OUT
Frankly, the radical route of a VOW of POVERTY is EASIER – not fun but easier. Just like being EMASCULATED is the most effective route to sexual purity.
* I am not being crude – that is an APT ANALOGY; God’s plan is not to remove desire, but to direct to the right purpose.
Q So how do we ENJOY earthly possessions without BEING POSSESSED by them?
I have two practices that help, one which is directly from Scripture and the other which is from observation and personal experience.
LESS IS MORE, TO AN EXTENT
While I don’t have specific Scriptures to pull out, I have found SIMPLICITY if a great way to be less possessed by my possessions. Marilyn and I have been trying to LIVE not just ON LESS (we have no choice on that due to pay cuts), but WITH LESS.
* The LESS CLUTTER we have, the freer we feel.
LAST CHRISTMAS, we decided to only get our daughters one present each, plus stocking stuffers, as well as a few gifts from family members. We did this both because of finances, but also because we didn’t want them to have so much stuff.
* It was very impacting to later hear our daughters excited about how much they got for Christmas!
We are all “HOARDERS” to an extent, and most of us would be happier with less.
DON’T GO TOO FAR
The problem is that radical Christians take that GOOD IDEA and run with it: If less is better, than a LOT LESS is even BETTER. We just have such a tendency to go to extremes.
* EG: Clerk who made Magda in “Something about Mary” look natural – if a little is good, a lot is better!
This RADICAL view of SIMPLICITY sounds good, but doesn’t line up with the BIGGER BIBLICAL PICTURE.
A RADICALLY NORMAL WOMAN
In Proverbs, the “VIRTUOUS WOMAN” is a great example of being radically normal:
Proverbs 31:20-22 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Because of her INDUSTRIOUSNESS, she has LUXURIES (linen and purple were luxurious in that day – High-end designer clothes) and that is applauded. Yet she is also GENEROUS to the poor.
* Neither NORMAL nor RADICAL – radically normal; HAVING and ENJOYING, but GIVING.
I don’t want to spend too much time on giving, because that is NEXT WEEK’S topic. But it is radically normal to balanced.
Directly related to simplicity, but separate is the Biblical principles of CONTENTMENT:
1 Timothy 6:6-10 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Notice what Paul says – once we have our BASIC NEEDS FULFILLED, we are CONTENT. Think about that for a moment: Can you say “I have what I need, I am content.”
* My HOUSE is a little small, but it is enough – I am content.
* My heater on my CAR doesn’t work, but it runs – I am content.
* I am not EATING gourmet, but I am eating – I am content.
* My CLOTHES are last year’s style, but they fit – I am content.
Once your BASIC NEEDS are met, CONTENTMENT is possible at that point. And if you AREN’T CONTENT there, you NEVER will be.
But also notice what is not saying – once you have your basic needs met, you CAN’T HAVE more and must give it away. He doesn’t say that, nor (as we’ve seen) does the Bible ever promote that.
* Anything beyond the basics is the ICING on the cakes.
There is a huge difference between PURCHASING out of CONTENTMENT and out of DISSATISFACTION. If you are purchasing out of DISSATISFACTION, you will NEVER have enough, you will be stuck back in the world’s normal routine.
WHY DID YOU BUY THAT?
Of course, as my friend JOSH KRAUSE would observe, we have to go deeper: WHY are we DISSATISFIED?
What makes us RADICALLY NORMAL is that on the SURFACE we look like our neighbor – we HAVE and enjoy stuff, but BELOW the surface, our motives are RADICALLY DIFFERENT.
Q Ask yourself is “WHY do I spend money on THAT?”
If CLOTHES are really important to you, it could be because your CAREER requires that you dress well, but it may be because you are trying gain APPROVAL.
Maybe you EAT OUT a lot because you were POOR, and now that you have MONEY, it is your right to eat out.
Maybe you spend your money on ELECTRONICS and games because you are afraid of developing RELATIONSHIPS with real people, or maybe you are just LAZY and are avoiding real work (cf. “Ideal day” t-shirt).
FULFILLED BY GOD
Contentment is possible when you TRUST God, when you know that he will take care of you. This isn’t even an IRONCLAD promise that you will always have enough – CHRISTIANS DIE of STARVATION.
It is trusting that God LOVES you and is TAKING CARE of you no matter what the CIRCUMSTANCES.
To sum it all up:
It is NORMAL to live for stuff and NEVER be CONTENT with what you have.
It is RADICAL to GIVE UP EVERYTHING and seek to be CONTENT ONLY in GOD.
It is radically normal to ENJOY STUFF as GIFTS from God, yet not be POSSESSED by your possessions, to be CONTENT and TRUST GOD.
PRAY and ask the HOLY SPIRIT to show you your own heart:
Q Are you CONTENT or are you always striving for more?
Q Do you need to SIMPLIFY?
Q Do you need to GRATEFULLY ENJOY what God has given you?
* PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A
Of course I leave a lot of vital topics untouched:
* Doesn’t the OT PROMISE WEALTH if you are GODLY?
* How can we keep ANYTHING when others have NOTHING?
* Isn’t God supposed to be EVERYTHING I WANT? “Riches I head not...”
We will hit these topics in future sermons, for now focus on being content with what you have...
1 David Platt, http://www.radicalthebook.com/movement.html
2 I want to add that it is only because the grace and the Gospel that we can avoid the “Radical” choice – if it were all up to us having to earn a relationship with God, having to give everything up would make sense.