By most standards I wouldn’t be considered a particularly materialistic person. I don’t own very many nice clothes, except what I need for my job. And what nice clothes I do own I tend to wear until they are threadbare and my wife refuses to let me step outside the house wearing them. Our house is very modestly decorated, some might even say austere. None of our bed linens match. Same for our coffee cups. My last car, a 1996 Toyota Camry, I bought used and then drove it for 13 years until the head gasket blew in rush hour traffic on the freeway with 225,000 total miles on the engine. I replaced it with a 13-year old Ford Ranger.
But if I’m honest, then I have to confess that there are a couple areas of life that I struggle to not be materialistic. I can’t stop by The Home Depot to pick up a box of nails without walking through the tool section and drooling over the latest $300 plunge router. Although I am totally lacking in any skill, I love working on houses, my own and others, especially when carpentry is involved. Most of the tools I own were either given to me or purchased used. So I find myself more often than I care to admit dreaming about new tools.
The other area I have a stuff problem is with outdoor gear. Thank the good Lord that I don’t have the income to support my desire for new gear, because I’d probably give more tithes and offerings to REI than to my church if I could. Sometimes my boys and I, craving an adventure but lacking the time to get out of the city, will spend an hour at REI dreaming about how cool it would be to go camping with the latest GPS watch or climbing helmet or -20 sleeping bag or 10-piece mess kit or… As an infectious disease researcher, I call this “REI syndrome”: the obsession over outdoor gear that we don’t really need to enjoy the outdoors but just because it’s cool all by itself. Heck, it would be cool just to have a $200 climbing helmet on my shelf, even if I never got to climb in it!
But you see, there’s the rub. Sometimes the stuff, the adventure gear or the tools, somehow becomes the end goal rather than the adventure or the project. My good friend Dave Bruno wrote an entertaining and convicting book called The 100 Thing Challenge1 in which he describes how our society, the church included, has bought into this crazy notion that value and success in our lives consists of our possessions. Talking about his own stash of outdoor gear he writes, “My desire to live a meaningful life was getting forestalled by the petty, day-to-day demands of all my stuff. As I stood in my garage, I realized that it was not just that all the stuff created a mess, requiring valuable time to clean up. That was true, but that wasn’t the worst of it. I realized it was not the clutter, the overaccumulation of things, but rather the things themselves that were taking my attention away from what mattered in my life. Camping gear was getting my attention, not being outside.” (emphasis mine)
In Matthew 5 and 6, Jesus scolds us for allowing ourselves to become addicted to stuff.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them…
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (excerpts from Matthew 5 and 6).
What are these treasures on earth that Jesus is referring to? And how do we store them up? Your earthly treasures are going to be anything material that you place a high value on. For some people it’s their house. For others it’s all the stuff they cram into their house. It can be an RV, a boat, desert vehicles, hunting and fishing gear, camping equipment, clothes – anything that is made from the stuff of this earth that you love to own.
Questions for thought
What material stuff do you treasure in this life? If you’re not sure, walk around your house or go step into your garage to have a look.
Do you own your stuff, or sometimes do you suspect that maybe it owns you?
What does your particular treasure say about your heart?
Father, help us to match up our treasures with our heart. If our heart truly values eternal things, let us hold only loosely to the things of the earth. Amen.
1 The 100 Thing Challenge, Dave Bruno (2010) (ISBN-13: 978-0061787744).