“Your wealth has rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up treasure in the last days.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I still remember moving from seminary to my first church job in Church Road, VA. We had some good friends help us load a 26-foot Penske to capacity, along with both cars, and we headed east from Denver, CO. Nearly nine years later we did it again, this time to where we are still. Maybe you’ve experienced this. We knew we had accumulated more stuff in that nearly decade span, but we weren’t prepared for how much more.
In the weeks prior to leaving we got rid of a lot. Several boxes of books. As many clothes as we could comfortably spare. Kitchen gadgets. Exercise equipment. Beds. All the nursery furniture. Nearly all of our living room furniture. And yet, when it came time load up again, that same 26-foot truck filled up a whole lot more quickly than we planned.
It was full. Our two vans were full. We spent the evening frantically trying to locate an extra trailer to rent that was enclosed and not too far away. It was full. We had already taken all my office books down a few weeks earlier which filled both vans. I had to go back a couple of weeks later to do a funeral at which point I filled the van to capacity again. And there was still a little bit more that I had to leave for our friends there in VA to simply get rid of for us.
I felt like we could have been featured on one of those episodes or Hoarders. Our house certainly hadn’t looked like that. I wondered a bit if someone hadn’t snuck some extra stuff in our to-go piles when we weren’t looking!
Once we moved into our rental, after we unpacked, we started getting rid of even more. For eight months we got rid of everything that we either didn’t use or else stayed in a box too long. Then we moved again. It must have all come back. Lord willing we’ll stay where we are now until they’re ready to ship us off to a retirement home, but I pity our boys on that day.
Do you know what gives me some comfort in all of this? I know we’re not alone. In our culture, having stuff is the name of the game. In our neck of the woods in particular, there is always a house nearby with at least four unused and probably dead cars sitting in the yard. And that’s just the beginning of it. Why do we need so much stuff?!?
Well, the short answer is that we don’t. But then why do we have it? It’s just as I said before: In our culture, stuff is the name of the game. We have some stuff because we genuinely need it. We have more stuff because it gives us a sense of control and security. We can handle what life may throw at us because we have the stuff to handle it.
It’s why homeowners often build collections of tools. Most of them sit collecting dust most of the time, but when you need them, the dust collecting feels totally justified. We do the same thing with clothes. We have closets full of clothes we don’t wear because we may have that one occasion sometime when we need a particular outfit.
And some of this is okay. Wise planning for possible future situations is okay to do. But at some point, we have to ask the question of at what point we’ve crossed the line. James’ words here demand it.
The fact is, while stuff will certainly make our lives easier here and now, it won’t do anything of lasting value for us. It definitely won’t save us. And yet sometimes we cross that line to where our behavior suggests at least a tacit belief that stuff will indeed save us. We behave as if our thinking on the apocalypse is more in line with Hollywood’s vision of a dismal post-apocalyptic future on earth rather than John’s vision of one in Heaven.
This fallacy of belief suggests something deeper than a mere over-accumulation of stuff. It suggests a lack of trust in God. From a purely natural standpoint this makes sense. We can see the stuff. If something bad happens, we can grab the stuff we need and we’re set. If we don’t have it, we’re up a creek without a paddle. We can’t see God, though. We just have to trust in Him.
The problem, of course, is that stuff is temporary and He is not. Stuff has no power and He has all of it. Stuff cannot do anything and He can do everything.
That just means it’s question time: How much stuff do you have? How much is too much? Do you have stuff just collecting dust for that what if situation that probably isn’t coming? Do you have junk that needs to be recycled or passed on to someone else? What do you trust in more? Jesus or your stuff? How would someone know? James’ words here aren’t comfortable, but they are a necessary reminder that there is more than our stuff to this life. We forget that at our peril.