Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reused Blessings

Reuse, recycle, and don't keep it for yourself.

How many of you are now familiar with the TV show "Hoarders"?
If you've never seen the show or are not familiar with the concept of hoarding here is your brief cap of the show what they deal with in an episode. Someone, a family member or friend, has reached out looking for help in this desperate situation. A person that they know and love has gotten into the habit of keeping everything and throwing nothing away. A hoarder is someone who does exactly what I just described. I have known a few over the years. There was an old man in the church I grew up in who had stacks and stacks of papers throughout his house (among other items). Newspapers, magazines, National Geographics. You name it, he had it. Why do people hang on to things for so long? Especially, if there is no pertinent use for it in their current situation in life, then the items just sit and take up space. I've known folks in their 80's and 90's even who have basements full of things, clothing, shoes, furniture, and won't let a single family member in to even look at the things they have collected. Usually, people have to wait until "so & so" has passed away before they can even begin to unpack and discover all the things collected in a person's home or garage or storage unit.

The idea of hanging on to what we have and not sharing it with anyone is what came to mind as I read into the 4th chapter of Ephesians. Paul will state in this chapter that he would "urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received". Paul would go one to describe all that we have been blessed with, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism". We have a lot to share with God and the world around us. But, what happens if we end up keep all of it for ourselves and not sharing with those in need? Well, by the time we get to v. 28 we hear a warning.
Ephesians 4:28
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

The emphasis is a not so subtle mention to the idea that we should work for what we have. Not just to do some pointless labor, however, but to do something useful. The idea of doing something "useful" is automatically a condition that extends beyond ones own self. I'm sure I heard the phrase spoken to me more than once growing up to "do something useful". The principle for the Christian to follow, in order to be useful, is to have Jesus front and center in our heart and life. Then we find something useful. We find a new relationship with our world based upon a new relationship with God in Christ.

Lets look at this fourth chapter and analyze it's contents.
This chapter is broken down into two sections and the headings are important.
"Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ"
"Instructions for Christian Living"

Back to this idea of hoarding for a moment.
When we are children, the concept of hoarding is not as relevant as it is to the adult life. As children, we have a problem with the simple premise of sharing. We are told when we are having those first few playdates with the neighbor kids that we need to share. Squabbles and fits break out over a certain toy or object of affection. We don't want to share. We want to control the flow and use of the toys in order to make sure nothing gets lost or taken. See the connection if you will from the childlike mindset for sharing to the concept of hoarding. Maybe "so & so" read an article in a newspaper and didn't have time to snip it out and put it in a scrapbook. So, the paper is folded up and put in a place for when we get around to it. The intention is to save those important memoirs and memories until there is time to properly place them in a special place for safekeeping. Next thing we know, there is a stack of memories we want to remember. Then a table full. And, then a room full. Family members are telling you that you should o something about it. Maybe they offer to help. No, you say, I'll get around to it eventually. Well, maybe there are items in there that others would find useful. No, you say, don't want anybody touching my stuff. You know where everything is and eventually you'll get around to sorting it all out.

One essential to having unity and maturity is to share what we have.
Listen to what Paul is saying in verses 14-16 here in chapter 4.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Under his instructions for Christian living, Paul would state that we "must not steal any longer". Now, the idea of stealing can go both ways. When we were children, we desired to "steal" the other kids toys because that kid didn't want to share with us. So, we took matters into out own hands we took what we thought we should have. The idea of not sharing can also be thought of as "stealing". Paul would speak in the second section of chapter four about not living like the world around us. He refers to the "Gentiles". (Anyone outside of the Christian/Jewish faith would have been referred to as a Gentile). He notes how people outside of their faith would live.  Thinking about themselves. Indulging in all kinds of sensuality. Taking care of their own needs. He wants his readers to hear this emphasis: this new life in Christ is directly opposite of that. We don't "hoard" things up for ourselves. We don't "steal" things so that others go without. We work so that others might have a blessings. We work so that we "may have something to share with those in need."

I was blessed this week with a reused blessing myself. Melissa wanted me to put a book she had read back in the Little Free Library outside our office door. Upon arriving at the church I thought I would take a look at what was in the box currently (as our 'inventory' changes consistently). I chuckled at a few titles that I picked up. There are a few narcissistic titles in there. "The Magic of Getting What You Want" by David J. Schwartz - the blueprint for personal fulfillment in the 1980s! Wow. The review at the bottom of the front cover says it all. "This is magic that really works!" - Denis Waitley, author of The Psychology of Winning. Well, birds of a feather... I saw a seemingly harmless title, "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie. Well, I'd like to quit worrying so much and focus outwardly. The problem with much of our self-help training given is that it turns us into exactly what it suggests. "Self" help. In the process of learning not worry, following the teaching a book such as this, the process leaves us focusing on ourselves constantly to make sure we're not worrying. I have seen first hand how self-help teaching leaves a perfocused inwardly instead of seeing the holiness of God and the freedom he offers. Even the holiness preaching I experienced in the 1990's while hanging around with the Nazarenes had this self-absorbed twist to it. We seemed to focus too much on keep our own holy garments white and unstained by the terrors and sin of the world. Instead of making sure we worked to meet the needs of others the emphasis seemed to be upon keeping ourselves separate from the world. I felt as if we took a self-absorbed twist on Romans 12.1-2.

We live in such an independence centered society and culture here in America, and it's no 'new' infatuation. The idea of  'independence' as presented in our free society keeps us separated from one another. We don't end up serving one another. We end up focusing on our own needs and then throwing a few dollars at this cause or that offering plate and just hoping that covers it. In the Little Free Library box I did find this title that caught my attention. "If You Can't Lose It, Decorate It" by Anita Renfroe. The idea she present of reusing items you have lying around finds it's way across the gambit of life. From the closet where our clothes are stored to the hold up of feelings you might have about your neighbor, the presumption is that we all have things we are sitting on that we cannot seem to let go of. As her title suggests, we should decorate those things we have trouble letting go of. If I could see that item or problem in a new light after redecorating it, maybe I could see it as something to be re-purposed and reused for something. It no longer becomes an issue to sit on or a belonging to stuff in an old drawer. How can I bless others around myself with what I have? Some people might suggest that have nothing to bless others with, and I want to walk into the 'house' of their heart and fling open the door of all the room and help them to see the many blessings they have. To often we act like hoarders. We have so much in our lives we could bless others with but it seems as if we are 'stealing' the blessings from others because we cannot let go of what we have.

Look around us. I'm going to bring it right home for all of us to deal with today.
Look at this sanctuary. Who owns this place? This church and all we see here. Does it belong to you? You might think that it does and I would suggest that you're sitting on a blessing and keeping it from others. It does not belong to you. It belongs to the One who gave to us. It was built by people who were here long before we were thought of and will stand long after we are gone. And, here's the real kicker - you can't take it with you. Same goes for the money in our pockets. You didn't pop out of your momma with a wad of bills in your hand and you can't leave this world with any of that stuff either. So, what do we do with it while we are here? We can hoard it all up and make sure we are taken care of - OR - we can use it to bless the ones around us. How could we bless others with this church? Think for a moment about the building we have. How could we use it? Take a long moment to really think about what you have in your life. What you can see and touch should be the obvious items for discussion. Go beyond the physical and think about what you like to do. Think about what you are skilled to do. The abilities you have and job you do. You might not like the job you have. Give that work to God and let him do what he wants with it. You might find something you actually like to do if God leads the way into it. "If you can't lose it, decorate it." Take that item and turn it on it's head. Make it a blessing to someone else. 

Listen to how Paul finishes this chapter.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We all have the capacity to be a blessings to those around us. I'm thankful for the example of those I have witnessed since I got to Thornville. I didn't get to know him personally, but I wish I had. Lester Anspach kept together a viable and personable history of his family and the town he loved. He could have sat on it. Kept it under lock and key. Never let anybody in to see it.  But, he gave it away. It's now a part of the our county's historical society so that others might know of our town and country's great history. Then there is Marie Worland. This lady would give her last dollar if you needed it. Even fighting through the pain of recovery after cancer surgery she finds a way to drive up here to the church and drop off some Velveeta cheese so we have the items we need to do our Comfort Food Ministry. Or, she goes and buys some styrofoam bowls or cutlery we need in the kitchen for a community dinner. Never thinking of herself first. Putting the needs of others above her own. Lester and Marie have seen hard times. You probably have too. Instead of being bitter or harboring ill will, they have found a way to be a blessing. Lester with his smile and humor. Marie with her wit and generosity. How can you and I follow that example and be a blessing to someone else?

God has blessed us with so much. It's time to quit hoarding it up.

You wouldn't want the local cop to arrest you for stealing.
How much more will the charges be severe if we wind up in front of our Lord with 'stealing' charges brought before us? Lets give it away and make our lives a blessing to others.

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