Monday, September 10, 2007

All Things For Our Good

A few years ago, I made a decision that would change our lives, at least for now. We sold our 3-bedroom home with a nice, low mortgage payment and moved into a 5-bedroom home with an office and a mortgage payment that more than doubled the former. Some might say that it was, in the long haul, a good investment. I have often been kicking myself for rashly making the decision to purchase this home, but I will admit that it could just be because I am immature and am looking at the "now."

Don't get me wrong -we use our home. We are in it all the time. I am thankful for it, and it really is a blessing to enjoy. We can have people visit us. We can shack up people who need a place to stay for a little while. We can practice hospitality with the local body of Christ. There have been many great benefits.

But sometimes I think, "we could have done so much more and so many different things with all that money... savings, college accounts, giving, etc." This attitude, which hinders my thankfulness and sours my enjoyment of this blessing, is primarily what I want to write about, here.

Whether you think we made the right move in buying a big home or not, I am starting to see how God works all things for our good even in the midst of our (sometimes) foolish choices. See, if we did not have this home, I would perhaps not have seen the degree to which I bank my security on things -on my financial situation, on the economy, on the job market, etc. I have come to see just how these things have, and still do, rule me. This is idolatry, for only God is meant to rule my life.

Is it bad to want some degree of financial security? Is it bad to plan for the future? Is it bad to make prudent financial decisions? Of course not. However, recently I listened to part of a message by C. J. Mahaney about idols. He spent a lot of time unpacking a very important concept: idols are often things that are, in themselves, perfectly good. They aren't just wooden statues or things like pornography. They are functional gods made out of things that are usually good things.

John Calvin said:

"The evil in our desires usually lies not in what we want but that we want it too much."

That is what makes it an idol. You want it too much -to the degree that it rules your life, even for a moment. It ultimately drives your decisions and reactions to people and situations. It rules over your joy or lack thereof. It becomes the basis for things like security and identity. In these ways, the desire, even with a perfectly good object, takes a place of lordship over us which is reserved for God alone. The act is sinful and the results are sinful.

Anyway, I see how I have been making an idol out of things like... wanting to preserve the investment in our property (keeping things nice), wanting to be financially secure, etc. We have had the benefit of having water seepage underneath the garage, having the whole driveway dug up, having things sink that aren't supposed to, having tiles show hairline cracks, having the dogs dig up all the new landscaping we had put in last year... you name it. We have seen the economy and the housing market basically head down the toilet. We see more and more homes go on the market, right in our neighborhood. We have had the benefit of having crackpots live near us with their doomsday prediction of the end of the U.S. economy.

As crazy as much of this is, all of these things have been used for my good, I have to say, because they have been used to squeeze this idol in me so that its head would be exposed in plain sight. If we stayed in our old home, I probably wouldn't have such a benefit. It isn't relatively that hard to get rid of a lower-market home, if you have to, and it wouldn't be all that hard to cover a mortgage less than half of what it is currently, if I lost my job and had to find a new one. Thus, I would probably have continued to live in comfortable idolatry.

I don't think idolatry should ever be comfortable, so I am thankful for the stresses relating to our home. They have shown me just how much my heart has been ruled by things other than God.

It is a house. It may be gone tomorrow, for all we know, but it is ours. God has given us a place to live in, clothes on our backs, money for food, etc. Even if I think my decision a few years ago was a bad one, He still has consistently provided for us. Hence, I ought to be thankful for His provision, no matter what it is, rather than being ruled by what ifs and desires for financial stability.

I am reminded of the teaching of Tim Keller. When God is in His rightful place, when Christ is our security and identity, then money is just money, a house is just a house -all gifts to be thankful for, temporal things to be enjoyed, but things nevertheless that will rot, fade, rust, and dwindle. John Piper reminded me, recently, that our battle is a battle to rest where we ought to rest, and not in all the things the world tells us to rest in. May our hope and security and identity be built on the Rock, and may we flee from those idols.

6 comments:

Bumble said...

But then what are you to do when you already sat upon that 5 bedroom mortgage?

Can you just remind yourself (as Tim Keller would say) that, "I am already accepted before God even more than I dare hope"?

Wouldn't idolatry is a matter of the heart first?

I am sitting here, on a 5 bedroom house in the suburb which I purchased 10 years ago. And how we long to be able to move closer to the city where we minister.

The problem is we cannot afford it right now with the current real estate market. For a house half the size we have right now in the city, we would have to pay 3 times more than what we bought 10 years ago.

Sigh...

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

Bumble,

I appreciate those comments.

I do very much need to remind myself of my full acceptance in Christ, more than dare hope. My tendency, like all of us, I believe, is to forget this and think in terms of self-improvement.

*sigh*... still working this out, yet it is God who works in me, know what I mean?

What's your take? What do you do once you identify a "heart idol?" How do you "apply grace," as some would say? Is there a process to follow, or is it more supernatural than this? Is it as simple as, "Oh, well my sins are paid for, so yeah..."?

My current thought is that identifying an idol is good because it strips the heart bare and leads to a change in mind (repentance), but that the gospel is necessary as the basis upon which we live and how we move foward (Christ died even for that idol), which is the whole point.

Where do you minister? It reminds me of Boston. Suburbs are expensive, still, but you will pay as much for a parking space in the city. :'(

Bumble said...

Hi,

Glad to come back and continue the conversation.

I think the light came on when I heard Keller talked about the problem Paul had with the 10th commandment of covetedness (I think it's in his 2 sermons on Romans 7), Basically he said that Paul realized that the covetedness of attaining righteousness by the law becoming idolatry as well.

I think we are in the same place all the time as we strive "to be better". Then we become neoPharisee in a more subtle way.

The repentance after identifying a "heart idol" is repenting of the "sin beneath the sins". Simply my unbelief that Jesus's righteousness has been imputed to me (Double Imputation).

Keller also has a paper called "All of Life is Repentance", which he has some processes one could go through (as spiritual discipline) - you might want to check that out. Better yet, the 13 Bible Studies PDF from Galatians from TK on Redeemer.com will help us understand the Gospel much better.

At any rate, it would never be "Oh, well my sins are paid for, so yeah..." since that attitude just reveals the lack of understanding of the tremendous cost of the Gospel.

I work in Orange County, California. House prices here are pretty bad...

Tim said...

That is good stuff. Thanks for your comments. They ring bells, for me. I do remember hearing Keller mention some of the points you named.

I remember hearing him talk about when the "lights went on" for him, too, as he was reading Luther's Larger Catechism. Luther tied the 1st commandment basically to believing the gospel. Christ is our righteousness, our identity, our hope, our refuge, etc. So, as Keller said, all sin and "idolatry" basically boils down to some kind of self-salvation system.

Thanks for the resources. I remember the "All of Life is Repentance" piece, though I will need to dig it up again. I'll check out the Galatians studies, too.

You are right, the remedy really is "believe the gospel."

Tim said...

or... more propertly... the gospel.