by the Night Writer
One of the characteristics of the dearly remembered housing boom was the sprouting of “McMansions” in former cornfields or alongside golf courses. These were very cool looking homes and we enjoyed touring these during the Parade of Homes, especially those listed at $1 million or more.
It made for an afternoon’s diversion and fantasy, but you had to wonder at some of the value represented. A salesperson was showing us around one $750k model townhome and as we were admiring the well-appointed family room the resident in the home that shared a common wall flushed the toilet. We knew this because we could clearly hear the water running through the pipes and the tank refilling. This is not an unusual experience when you live in an apartment or a townhouse, but not a big selling feature if you’re going to spend $750k. Other times we’d tour a million dollar home with Ben, who is an experienced carpenter, and watch as he pointed out subtle mistakes in fit and finish. In one case there was painted over evidence of a load-bearing wall not doing it’s duty, likely as a result of a problem with the foundation.
I think of these things, and foundations, in the burst residue of the housing and mortgage bubble as the entire economy sags like the wings of a great house falling toward the basement because the center-beam wasn’t set as well as you might think. It’s the latest demonstration of the Biblical exhortation to build your home on solid rock and not on shifting sand. Of course, the Bible is using the house as a metaphor, as am I. Let’s review Matthew 7:24-27:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar, and in more ways than one? Allow me to extend the metaphor into an analogy: today’s economy is the rain, and the effects of it in our lives are the floods, and the wind is the additional adversities that come to challenge our faith and make us doubt what we are standing upon, or whether the rock is enough to save us.
We have to build with storms in mind, an outlook almost completely lacking in the latest run-up as people seemed to assume that storms had become extinct and that those sets of conditions would continue in perpetuity (just as some now assume the current situation is forever). What is the housing bubble, or any bubble, all about but value driven by high expectations rather than intrinsic worth, or the greater fool theory? In those conditions you’re not building a foundation on a rock; you’re not even building it on sand which can at least be heavy — you’re building it on something as flimsy and as easily popped as a bubble. And great is the fall.
I’m not talking about “giving your way into prosperity” (if I was I’d probably try and sell it to you in a book) but a way of looking at life and how we interact with others, especially when times are challenging. Sure it’s easy to be generous when times are good, but in tough economic times don’t you want to hold on to what you’ve got? Yes, that sounds logical — but so did buying houses “knowing” that the prices would only keep going up and you’d be able to re-sell the home in a short time for a nice profit, or using the equity in your home to finance vacations or goods that don’t hold their value.
Maybe “logic” itself isn’t the key, or at least a certain type of logic. Proverbs 11:24 says, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”
We have seen this demonstrated over and over in our lives. Over the years my wife and I have trained ourselves to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open to the needs in the lives of people we come in contact with, and our daughters have followed our example. I’m not being boastful, and I won’t go down through a laundry list of things we’ve done, but we know we have been blessed many times over as a result of what we’ve given to others, especially when it didn’t look like a good time to give. Some of the most amazing things have happened when I’ve given the last few dollars in my pocket to someone with a greater need than I. (Another important key is that I gave because I wanted to, not because I “ought” to or because someone made me or took my money so they could give it to someone else.) And it’s not just money; we frequently give time and goods, or make room in our lives and even our home for others as the need arises. We’ve given in many different ways, and likewise “received” in many different ways. (Okay, one story: we once took a couple of bags of groceries over to a young man we had just met who really needed some food. Somehow or another that young man will now soon be marrying my daughter!)
We’ve learned and experienced a lot in this area and I could expound for quite awhile about it but all I want to do right now is simply remind you of this principle and exhort you that — whether you have a little or a lot — these days are not the time to hunker down and try to get by, but a terrific time for reaching out to others. It’s important to have faith and to wish others well and to pray, but it’s also as James says:
“Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well’–but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:15, 16 NLT)
Something we’ve long included in the grace we say before our meals is that God is able to give us everything we need to live life in abundance and to give into every good work. The point is not just to have the abundance, but knowing what to do with that abundance. That scripture is part of a little bit longer passage in 2 Corinthians:
Remember this–a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “Godly people give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will never be forgotten.” For God is the one who gives seed to the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will give you many opportunities to do good, and he will produce a great harvest of generosity in you. (2 Corinthians 9:6-10 NLT)
What this has helped us to do is to see that everything we receive is either bread for food (something to meet immediate needs we have) or seed (something that can be sown for a future return). In December I taught a message on giving to our Inside Outfitters men’s group. In particular I emphasized learning how to identify whether something is bread or seed when it comes into your life. The group included about 75 men from the Minnesota Teen Challenge Program, a faith-based residency program for overcoming drug and alcohol addictions. It’s a very effective program, but the guys don’t often get a lot of treats to eat. They also don’t have a lot of money while they’re in the program. In fact, they’ve basically got nothing (which is basically what many of them had before they entered the program).
I had asked the women of our church, however, if they would bake Christmas cookies for the guys coming to the meeting, and the ladies responded with 100 dozen which we bagged up. When the meeting was over each Teen Challenge guy received a dozen cookies to take back to their dorms. When the group got back together last weekend for our January meeting I heard a couple of interesting stories. Many of the guys had eaten their cookies before they even got back to Teen Challenge. One man, however, saved his because those unexpected cookies were the only thing he had to give his wife for Christmas. He gave them to her that afternoon and she was flabbergasted at his thoughtfulness and his self-control to hold onto the cookies for her. She said it was the nicest present he could have given her.
Another man, in the van going back to the program, asked the fellow sitting next to him if he could have one of his cookies. The second guy said, “Why don’t you eat your own?” The first man replied, “Because I want to give them to my son for Christmas.” Another man in the back of the van heard this and said to the first man, “But I know you have two sons. Here, you can give the other one my cookies.” Now that got me misty just hearing about that, but what’s really neat is that the two sons are living with two younger half-siblings. When they received the cookies from their father they, in turn, gave the cookies to the little ones!
At least three of the men who heard the message that day looked at the cookies they had unexpectedly received and asked themselves if those cookies were bread or seed, and when they got their answer these little cookies made a big difference and became a story that will live on in these families for some time. Similarly, the opportunities are all around us if we are alert and willing to take advantage of them when they come. Even the seemingly smallest things can make a difference. Don’t let tough times blind you to the opportunities that are around you.