Thursday, October 10, 2013

Use What You Have; Have What You Use

Today is the fourth day in our 40th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Jeremiah 22-23, 26; James 2; Psalm 77.

I believe it's important to use what you have, and have what you use.

Here's what I mean.  Just before we moved here, several dear families from my last church chipped in to purchase me a going-away present.  I had posted earlier about the perfect Bible, referring to the features of this particular edition.  The Cambridge ESV had everything I wanted in a wide-margin Bible, except that I couldn't justify spending the money on it.  (I'm notoriously cheap when it comes to spending money on myself.)  The folks at Antioch had seen my post, and decided that it would be a perfect going-away gift.  But they didn't get the hard cover edition, or even the cowhide.  They popped for the extremely expensive goatskin edition--something that I would never have bought for myself.  It's going to be a Bible that I will cherish for the rest of my life--one that I use in the pulpit, one that I will pass on to my children.  

Now, some people might say I'm vandalizing this wonderfully designed, immaculately crafted, terribly expensive, and lovingly thoughtful gift.  What am I doing?  I'm writing in it.  All over it.  Why?  Because that's what a wide-margin Bible is for.  It's for note-taking.  I don't preach with pages of notes anymore.  Instead, I still spend hours in sermon prep, generating those same pages I used to take into the pulpit.  But then I whittle it down into key words and phrases that will jog my memory while delivering the sermon.  These go into the margins of my Bible, so all I take into the pulpit is the Bible itself.  Here's a picture of one of my sermons, written in the margins of my beautiful Cambridge ESV Wide Margin Bible.

What would be the point of having something like this, that's designed to be used, and putting it on a shelf just so that it could be admired for its inherent beauty?  I mean, it is a beautiful Bible.  It's one of those Bibles that's a pleasure to hold.  The goatskin cover feels and smells great (don't you just love that leatherbound book smell?).  It's aesthetically pleasing.  But it would be pointless to have it and not use it.  Using it only increases its beauty.  What a beautiful inheritance it will be for my children one day!

Speaking of inheritances, I'll probably come under fire for actually using this next thing that I want to show you, because it's an antique and an heirloom.  My Granddad left me his knife collection.  This collection isn't of great monetary value, but it is a sentimental treasure.  When I was a child, Granddad used to take me to his closet, where he would pull out a beaten-up suitcase that contained his collection.  Granddad grew up in the Philippines, and sailed with the Merchant Marines in World War II.  Throughout his travels, he picked up some very interesting knives (maybe I'll show you the whole collection later).  He used to go through each knife in the collection with me and then say, "Boy, this collection is yours when I die."  Yeah--it's morbid, I know, but it's what he always told me.  It took a while after his death to get the collection into my hands, but now that I have it, it's priceless to me.  There is one knife in the collection that's not exotic by any means.  It's this WWII vintage Marine Ka-Bar knife.  Before my last camping trip, I'd been thinking about buying a Bear Grylls survival knife, but then I thought, "What do I want that for, when I've got this great old knife right here?"  You can see from the photo that it's been very well-used, which means it's a great knife and can stand up to abuse.  In other words, it's been proven.  So, even though it's a family heirloom, it's now part of my regular camping gear.  

You see, I believe it's important to use what you have, and have what you use.  If it's not something you're going to use, it's probably not worth having.  
There are some other items that I'd like to show you pictures of--except that I don't own them anymore, so I can't take pictures of them to show you.  My mother's still upset with me for giving away two Bibles that she gave to me.  One of them was a King James Version Bible that I got when I was eight, and another was a Bible with specialized notes for counselors, that she had bought for herself and then passed on to me because she wasn't using it.  Because I wasn't using these Bibles, I gave them to others who needed them.  I had no sentimental attachment to these Bibles, so it wasn't difficult for me to part with them.  But Mom wishes I'd kept them, even today.  I say, "Why keep something you're not going to use?  Why not share it with someone who will use it?"

Here's the thing.  I believe it's important to use what you have, and have what you use.  This means that instead of amassing lots of extra things you don't need, you should just be content with what you have, and use it.  It means that if something is special to you, like the good china, then you should use it instead of keeping it locked away in a glass display case.  It doesn't do you any good to have it, if you're not going to use it.  It also means that if there's something you own that's not blessing you anymore, it's time to get rid of it.  Share it with someone for whom it will be a blessing.  Otherwise, you end up like someone on that TV show, Hoarding: Buried Alive

Good stuff wants to be used.  Just like faith wants to be used.
Right now, the church I'm serving is in need of going through some of our storage spaces and cleaning out what we don't use.  We have a Heritage Room, which is like a miniature church museum, to display those historical artifacts that are of sentimental value to the church.  But we don't need to keep a hundred old hymnals that are falling apart and not being used.  We don't need to keep decorations from the 1960s that made their way to the back of a closet in the 1990s because they were outdated then. Whoever put them in the closet in the 1990s should have sent them to the Salvation Army or the dumpster, instead of keeping them, anyway.  It's best to get rid of those things, and then use the space you have in a productive way, rather than holding onto things you can't use.  If it's useful, use it.  If it's sentimental, share that history with others (the Heritage Room is useful, because it maintains the church's connection to the past).  But don't keep stuff that's unused in storage for decades.  That doesn't make any sense.

So...what's this all about?  James 2:14-17 (ESV) says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Good stuff wants to be used.  Just like faith wants to be used.  It doesn't do you any good to keep your faith on a dusty shelf somewhere, where it's just going to gather cobwebs.  Stuff that's not put to use is worthless, just as faith that's not put into practice is also worthless.  What good does it do you, to say you follow Jesus, if you're not going to do what he said?  Use what you have; have what you use.  Put your faith to good use; if you're not going to use it, get rid of it.

Recently, I met a woman who attends another church in another city.  She asked asked me to pray for her church, because of its declining attendance.  That church represents an upper-middle class, white demographic, but the neighborhood around the church has been changing for years.  Gradually, poorer and more ethnically diverse people move into the area. Church attendance has declined because old members have died, and other members have moved out of the shifting community.  I told this dear Christian that her church needs to learn how to shift its focus, and minister to the needs of their new neighbors.  She said that the church doesn't want to do that, because "people in the church are saying, 'If we bring those people in, they won't become regular givers to the church.  They'll probably just throw a dollar or two into the plate.'"  

Without saying a word, this church is telling its neighbors, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled."  James asks, "What good is that?"

I say, let them sit in their dusty attic of a church, clinging to the faith that they say they've got (that they're not using).  Let that church's attendance dwindle down to nothing--because a church like that is dead already, even while it still breathes.

And let a church arise in that community that will use what it has (faith), and have only what it needs (hope and love, and that which springs from these two things) to minister to God's people.

In the end, you can't take it with you.  So you might as well use it up or give it away--all to God's glory.

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