Stuff about Stuff
Stuff. Besides being an overused tool in the sparse verbal toolbox of students who are probably not doing well in Language Arts, stuff seems to have a dominant place in our lives. A man who influenced my life, and the life of my family, who now has intimate knowledge of the stuff of heaven, once wrote this stuff about stuff:
Every fall I start stirring in my stuff. There is closet stuff, drawer stuff, attic stuff, and basement stuff. I separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, then I stuff the bad stuff anywhere the stuff is not too crowded, until I decide if I will need the bad stuff.
When the Lord calls me home my children will want the good stuff — but the bad stuff, stuffed wherever there is room among all the other stuff, will be stuffed in bags and taken to the dump where all the other people’s stuff has been taken.
Whenever we have company, they always bring bags and bags of stuff. When I visit my son, he always moves his stuff so I will have room for my stuff — their stuff and my stuff — it would be so much easier to use their stuff and leave my stuff at home with the rest of my stuff.
This fall I had an extra closet built so I would have place for all stuff too good to throw away and too bad to keep with the good stuff. You may not have this problem, but I seem to spend a lot of time with stuff — good stuff, cleaning stuff, medicine stuff, clothes stuff, and outside stuff. Whatever would life be like if we didn’t have all this stuff?
Then there is all that stuff we use to make us smell better than we really do. There’s also all that stuff to make our hair look good, stuff to make us look younger, stuff to make us look healthier, stuff to hold us in, and stuff to fill us out. There is stuff to read, stuff to play with, stuff to entertain us, and stuff to eat. We stuff ourselves with food stuff.
Well, our lives are filled with stuff — good stuff, bad stuff, little stuff, big stuff, useful stuff, junky stuff, and everyone else’s stuff. When we leave all our stuff and go to heaven, whatever happens to your stuff won’t matter. We will still have all the good stuff God has prepared for us in heaven. -Fred Beard
It seems as if we never have enough stuff. It is the American way to gradually accumulate more and more stuff until we get so old that we can’t deal with our stuff. Then, still not ready yet to part with our dear stuff, we foist it off on our kids, who are busy gathering up their own stuff. Sometimes they may actually want our old stuff, but usually they are more interested in their newer stuff.
And stuff can become an obsession. I’ve known guys who are so fascinated with old machinery, that it often can be had at pennies per pound, that they buy, buy, buy; sweat the logistics of moving the heavy iron to their place, adding it to their collection of blue tarp-covered lumps in their back yard. But they have never invested in a facility where the machines can be serviced, set up, and put to work. So they rust away into nothing but archaeological curiosities with a scrap value that doesn’t justify hauling to the junkman.
Maybe you’ve seen those TV shows about hoarders, where people cram their living spaces with so much stuff that their ability to carry out normal life functions is severely cramped by walled-up mountains of stuff. Like me, you may think that there is something wrong with those people—and you are right.
At the tail of a list of behaviors and passions that followers of Jesus should consider as not part of their new lives in Christ, the apostle Paul pointed out with emphasis in Colossians 3:5:
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to…greed, which amounts to idolatry.
You see, idolatry is anything that is more important to us than God. Anything that
we seek to have or do that replaces God in our hearts. The reason we think our stuff is so necessary is we imagine it gives us security and happiness. Security in that, if we have enough stuff, we will never suffer want, and happiness in that every time we acquire something new (to us, at least) it gives us a thrill. But God is the only One in whom we can find true security and true happiness. Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, poignantly taught:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If our hearts are wrapped up in our stuff, they won’t be caught up in the soul-satisfying and security-solidifying reality of heaven! In fact, Jesus went on to show that idolizing stuff is incompatible with serving God:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth [stuff].
The almighty, universe-creating, Son-sacrificing God does not share devotion with houses, clothes, tools, cars, bank accounts, even family and friends. We cannot serve God and anything else! And when we try to replace the infinite God with finite stuff—any kind of stuff—we invariably get caught in an upward-spiraling inflation factor. No amount of stuff can take the place of God, so we keep piling up more and more while our souls get farther and farther from the only One who can truly satisfy.
So what should we do? Sell all our stuff? Our house? Our car? Our clothes? Our beds? Our toothbrushes? (Some people may never miss them.) Could there be a godly purpose in having some stuff?
A man well-known in Bible history as having a lot of stuff is Abraham. He even had 318 men, born in his household, trained in warfare, as a personal army! (Genesis 14:14) Early in his walk with God, the LORD said to Abraham:
“Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing…”
What is missed in the English is that there are two imperatives in those words: 1) “Go forth from your country…”, and 2) “…you shall be a blessing…” Abraham was not to just happen to be a blessing as he went through life. God was promising to bless Abraham and was commanding him to be a blessing to others. God blesses us with stuff so we can be a blessing to others who really do need stuff! Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to be a blessing to the needy saints in Judea:
2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9 as it is written, “HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”
10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
Being a somewhat mechanical guy, I like to think of stuff as tools. In the wisdom of Proverbs we read:
Proverbs 14:4(NIV 1984)
Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.
Tools, machines, money, talent, houses, are the stuff that, when used to serve God and bless others, will bring an abundant harvest of righteousness. Instead of idolizing stuff, which draws us away from God, we can use the stuff God has given us to bless others and actually become imitators of our Heavenly Father:
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
It is not accidental that followers of Jesus and their relationship with their stuff shows up in the life of the first church, the early Jerusalem church. Notice how being redeemed and born again, and being filled with the Spirit affected the way those passionate new Christians viewed their stuff:
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
“Common property” sounds like marriage, doesn’t it? All that I have is yours, because really it all came from God. So their stuff was available to be a blessing to the whole body of believers, not horded or protected, squirreled away for some hypothetical rainy day. As a matter of fact, they were willing to sacrifice their “nest egg” for the needs of the body:
For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses [investment properties] would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
Which set up the story in the next chapter of Acts about a couple, namely Ananias and Sapphira, whose greed motivated them to lie about the proceeds from their property, with the result that both of them left the church. Permanently. Feet first. God is serious about being transparent about our stuff!
And now we are heading into the season where our struggle with stuff can reach critical mass: Christmas.
I hope we are not buying useless stuff for people just so we don’t feel guilty about not getting something for them when we see them at the next family reunion. I hope we aren’t buying junk stuff because we can’t think of what to get for Uncle Harold, who has everything including the shingles. And I hope that we are not putting ourselves in debt just to further ferment some already spoiled kids.
Let’s give what we can, what we can give cheerfully, to bless others and demonstrate to them the love of the God who gave His one and only beloved Son, who gave Himself up to death on the cross, bearing the penalty for our guilt, so we could be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
That’s some stuff about stuff.