Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

 From: Money Sex and Spiritual Power by Keith Drury
(c) 1992 Wesley Press

Chapter 4

The Seduction of "Nice Things"

I like nice things. I know, Preaching and writing against materialism is one of my specialties. But, still, I really do like nice things. I like quality, excellent, even luxurious things much more than simply adequate things.

For instance I like nice cars, especially new ones. I love to ride in one of those high quality automobiles with leather upholstery and deep carpeting. What luxury! And the smell of a new car... heavenly! I enjoy feasting my eyes on a brand new car sitting there with gleaming still-unmarred paint. Just think how nice it would be to have it. I like nice cars.

I like nice houses too. For years our family rented a tiny 900 square foot house. Then we settled into a comfortable house quite a bit larger. Best of all, it had a nice 2-car garage complete with a large workbench. After years of repairing my car on an open driveway during frigid Indiana winters, having a warm garage was... well, nice. The we moved again. As we were planning to build our own house I discovered a basement was "cheap space." I have always wanted a basement where and I could play ping pong with my sons, maybe even have a work bench where it's warm. So we added a basement in our new house. I like having a basement. It's nice.

I like nice books too. I'm a preacher, so it is part of my job to read and study. When I started out I had three or four shelves of books, mostly my college textbooks and a few used ones I bought from a retiring preacher. Over the years I've accumulated quite a nice collection of religious books, especially on the holiness movement. I especially like the feel and smell of a brand new set of commentaries, to say nothing of how impressive they look on my shelf. And, though I know a paperback book is quite as good as the hard-back edition, I much prefer the feel of a nice hardbound book. I love buying books -- even more than reading them. Books are nice.

I like nice motels too. In my work I travel a lot. I've stayed in plenty of second rate motels -- the kind where you do your own dusting before you unpack. I've even carried my own can of Lysol a few times. But sometimes I get to stay in a first class hotel. Oh, I do love it! Everything sparkles so. The towels are so thick and rich, and the beds so firm. No leftover hairs on the bathroom floor, and even the tub is so fresh and clean. And I love those two little bottles of stuff for your hair. I always keep that cute little sewing kit, and sometimes even the courtesy shoe horn. It's all so... well, nice.

Perhaps most of all, I like toys. I'm a sucker for the things that light up a man's eyes: canoes, chain saws, pick up trucks, electronic gadgets, and power tools. It's hard to explain to my wife how it feels to go down to my workbench and have exactly the tool I need for the particular job at hand. A few times I have even purchased tools purely on the premise that "someday I'll certainly use that." Men's toys are nice.

What's wrong with liking nice things? Is it wrong to buy a new house, a new car, or some new books? Is it sinful to stay in a nice hotel, or buy a gadget or tool I think I might need?

I wish I had a clear answer to these questions. I struggle with them just about every week. Sometimes I wish there were a list in the Bible of exactly what standard of living was "adequate" and which purchases were luxuries. Sometimes I feel I win over materialism, and at other times I feel I have failed miserably. I wish there was a definite standard of living I could be sure was OK with God. Where's the list when you need it?

There is no list. In the Bible or anywhere else. In fact, anyone who makes a list for anybody other then themselves is out of bounds. Jesus gave us principles about possessions and left us to apply them ourselves. While those principles do not directly mention things like houses, cars, books, hotels, and gadgets, they were specifically meant to be applied to just such everyday choices.

While I struggle with decisions I make about "nice things" my family has agreed on some guidelines about these matters. Maybe these will be helpful to you as you hammer out your own family guidelines to resist materialism.

1. Guard Against Rationalization.

It's interesting how my mind works If I really want something, I can usually figure out a very spiritual reason to get it. So, in our family we bounce purchases off each other to bring us back to reality. If I can get my wife to agree that a new power tool really necessary, then I know it really is! The same is true for her when it comes to an electric dishwasher. We keep each other honest in this respect.

2. Watch The Trend.

Wealth itself is not wrong. Its just dangerous. Likewise, liking nice things is not sinful, but it can quickly lead to sin. Nice things are seductive. They tend to draw us away from God in tiny baby steps. It is not wanting much that is sin; it is wanting more. This is materialism -- a constant treadmill of acquisition. Getting more only to want still more.

The trend of most families today is toward accumulating. In fact, to most the idea of having less at the end of a year than at the beginning seems un-American at best and insane at worst. But it was Jesus who said "Do not pile up treasures on earth." He didn't say "Be careful as you pile them up." He simply said "do not pile them up."

When the trend in our family drifts toward adding more to what we've got (as it periodically does), then we begin making some decisions about giving away both money and possessions to bring us back into obedience with Christ's command. I don't mean to suggest we are constantly doing this. We seem to gradually pile up stuff for a time, then recognize the trend and unpile a bunch of it, only to eventually gradually pile up some more. The point is recognize these trends early and do something about them.

3. Watch Big Ticket Purchases.

When you are just dying to buy a big ticket item watch out. We have a family rule that all decisions to buy big ticket items must "marinate" a few weeks. During this time we try to answer these five questions: 1. Why do we really want it? 2. How it help us serve Christ better?
3. Could we borrow or rent it? 4. Will it serve us or will we serve it? 5. What will it cost us to keep it? It's interesting how some things lose their initial luster under such close examination.

4. When something nice falls into your lap, enjoy it!

I am not calling us all to a life of pain and suffering. Neither am I saying that a life of self denial will somehow make you godly. Christians are to be joyous celebrants as well as mourners and sufferers. So if you are generally heading away from a materialistic life enjoy the trip! If someone gives you something nice, enjoy it. If you've got a nice house, enjoy it. If God sends you a power boat take it, then take a friend water skiing. When God serves you the fatted calf, eat what's set before you.

Please don't get the anti-materialism message mixed up with asceticism. Life is celebration! There are some anti-materialists who would make you feel guilty for every possession or pleasure you enjoy. Don't listen to them and ignore their lateral guilt. They are more like Judas, who criticized the waste of the perfume for Jesus' feet -- "Oh, my," they grumble, "that could have been sold for thousands of dollars and given to the poor." Poor? Sure, poor Judas, that is. So, if you are swimming upstream against a materialistic culture, enjoy the stuff you've still got left with no guilt. God has not called all of us to a life of asceticism. If you are carefully watching the trend of your life, and are constantly increasing both the amount and the percentage of your giving, then enjoy what you've kept for yourself without a big burden of guilt. This joy is a special reward which comes to those who have settled the issue of materialism in their lives.

5. Remember the purpose.

And, don't forget the purpose of the simple life: giving. I have a friend who has a marvelous gift of making money. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. He once told me "Money is poison, the more I make the more I'm being poisoned. If I don't keep sending it out the back door as fast as it comes in the front, it would kill my spiritual life."

This is the purpose of all this talk about living on less. It is so we can give more. Give to the needy. Give to those just starting out. Give anonymously. Give to your neighbor. Give even when you get no tax credit. Give to your kids. Give to your friends. give to some college student. Give to your church. Buy a couple of Pizzas for the youth group. Give to your Christian College. Give toward some teen going on a missions trip. Give to help plant a church. Give to keep your camp going strong. Give to support a missionary. Give a new dress to your pastor's wife. After all, it's only money.

Do you like nice things? I do. But I can resist the urge to get them sometimes. Why? So I can give to others. Ironically, there's more joy in giving than in having.

 From: Money, Sex, and Spiritual Power by Keith Drury
(c) 1992 Wesley Press
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