I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. (Luke 12:18-19)
I got a little dose of conviction Sunday.
My wife met me at church Sunday afternoon with a story. She and our 5-year-old son had been playing with Lincoln Logs. (Anyone still remember those?). Well, the set Josh has contains an old west fort, complete with an army officer and a Native American. It also comes with a tepee for the Native American. From somewhere — another play set, I guess — Josh came up with another tepee and included it in the story that he and my wife were telling. But, he had an explanation for it, and that's where I got my little dose of conviction.
"Look," he said to Laura. "The Indian's grandmother made him another tepee for all his stuff."
Spoken just like the only grandchild on either side of the family.
And while I laughed, I laughed just a bit uneasily. I have to wonder just a little where he came up with the idea that if you run out of room for your stuff, you just make more room. Maybe it was just a throwaway remark that actually has nothing to do with values that he's already developed in his short life. Or maybe it signifies the first encroaching step of the culture, the first influences of a materialistic world. Or, worst of all, maybe he got it from me.
We're all weaned on it. We live in it. Marinate in it. It soaks into us and becomes such a part of us that we don't even think about it. We're fascinated with stuff. Possessions clutter our homes and garages and sheds and closets and drawers and basements — and our hearts and minds. We convert bedrooms into closets to hold it all. I live in a century-old house, and its quirks give me a little glimpse of what life was like a hundred years ago. The walls are all plaster. There are plates in the ceiling that still conceal gaslight fixtures. And, maybe most significantly, there isn't much closet space in the oldest part of the house. So when the attic was finished, more closets were added. We're adding one in the basement. Things have changed in a hundred years. We need more tepees for all our stuff now.
Jesus told a story about a rich man whose crops did very well one season. So well, in fact, that he didn't have enough room to store what he harvested. So he decided, reasonably enough it might seem, to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He would have plenty of room for all his wealth then. Plenty for retirement. He could just taste the good life. It was right around the corner. All he needed was more room for all his stuff and then he could relax, kick back, and enjoy life. Big house and yard in the suburbs. Winters in the tropics. Nice clothes. Expensive car. Good food. Private schools for the kids. "Eat, drink, and be merry."
The twist in the story, of course, is that he gets to enjoy none of his stuff. He doesn't get a chance to build those barns, buy his house and car, or impress everyone with his country club membership. God tells him that he won't live through the night — "Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" The answer to that question isn't important; what matters is who will NOT get all that stuff. That's why the rich man is a fool. And the punch line, says Jesus, is that a lot of us aren't much different: This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:21 TNIV)
Maybe in this area more than any other — more than sexual immorality or divorce or entertainment — the church is most influenced by the world. We accumulate our wealth — or wish to accumulate it — with no thought of God as its source or how his generosity to us should drive us toward generosity with others. We fill up our barns and build bigger ones, or look enviously and covetously at those who do. All the while, as our want for more grows and our barns get fuller, our spirits get empty and dead.
One day, what happened to the rich man in the story will happen to us. Our lives will end, and it'll be up to our family or friends to sift through all that stuff that in life seemed so important. When that day comes, you'd trade every possession you've accumulated for the assurance of a smile when you see God's face.
So right now, thank him for all the stuff he's given you. Reflect on how generous he's been, how all your possessions are touches of grace from him that bring extra joy or comfort or security to your life. And then reflect on how you can be a source of that grace for others, especially those for whom building bigger barns is not an issue at all. Reject the world's assumption that we should do whatever we need to do to accommodate as much stuff as we can get. Instead, think about ways to simplify; to break the hold of materialism by becoming less concerned about stuff and more concerned about godliness.
Big barns stand out too much in most neighborhoods, anyway. Tepees too.