Whack! The ax slams against the log with such force that it sends vibrations up into the man’s arm. He raises it for a second blow. Whack! The log collapses into two smaller pieces, sending splinters everywhere. The ax is lowered onto the ground. Grunting, the man raises the wood onto his shoulders and brings it to his shop.
He shivers as he slips his coat off. Turning to the cold embers of the fireplace, he blows gently on coals. Ash puffs up into the air. The fire is dead. As wind blows through the air, the roof creaks. The man takes one block of wood, piling smaller bits of leaves and wood chips around it, and soon a fire is bursting into life. Warmth spills over and tumbles out of the fireplace and around the room like a child at play. Shivers vanish as the craftsman turns to a workbench.
The second piece of wood is carefully laid out. He stretches out his rule. Every action is precise and deliberate. Marks are made on the wood before it is cut. Slowly and carefully, cut by cut, the wood transforms into an image. Pieces fall away, revealing the gallant figure of a man.
It’s done! The figure is taken and stood on a place of honor. While the fire burns one piece of wood, warms the man’s house, and cooks his food, the second piece of wood is honored. And with his eyes lowered, the man bows before the figure and worships it.
The same log. The same wood. But one is an object of use, something necessary for life. The other is idolatry, stealing the place of God.
In Isaiah 44:9-20, God presents a story. Although I’ve presented a different picture of the story (I encourage you to read the original for context), the same concept is true.
A man takes a tree. With part of it he creates something useful for life. It bakes his bread and prepares a roast. But with the other the man makes an idol for himself. He worships it, although it also is merely ash if put into the fire.
I’m not going to talk about idols necessarily, although that is a very important issue to discuss. What I want to present is this: God created wood for a purpose. But we can take that good thing and turn it against Him. It can take the glory due His wonderful Name.
Let’s turn that around slightly. God has given us other blessings. Look around you – what do you see? From where I sit writing, I see my bed, my sisters' violet and mint-colored room, a bean-bag, a Bible, a laptop, and many other gifts. They are all useful. But do they take possession of a part of our heart that is supposed to belong to others?
Several months ago, I read an impacting book that opened my eyes in this area. Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn addresses many topics such as prosperity, money, debt, and more. But one stood out to me – materialism.
Before you turn around and dismiss this word, let me give you an idea of what materialism really is. In a simple definition, materialism is taking something material (even something useful) and giving it too much emphasis and importance. Randy Alcorn writes,
“Materialism is first and foremost a matter of the heart. God created us to love people and use things, but materialists love things and use people.” – Money, Possessions and Eternity
Materialism related to God (something taking God’s place) is called idolatry. But during the month of July I want to focus on relationships in the family. What does materialism look like in a household context?
I’ll give you an example. *ouch…examples*
I was researching for my novel when my 3-year-old sister walked into the room. She exclaimed with a huge smile, “I thought you would be here by yourself!” With that, she proceeded to chatter away doing what 3-year-olds do. (aka, playing with dolls) I was left with a decision: either love my little sister by paying attention to her and smiling in return or turning back to my computer and continuing what I was doing.
Dun, dun, dun…
I kinda did both. I listened to her and responded for a while…but then turned back to my computer to work on my research.
Do I love my little sister more than my book? Absolutely! But, at that moment, was I loving her more than my book? Did her little mind see me as a "loving" or a "busy" sister?
Living with siblings (especially those of us with large families), we have so many temptations to embrace materialism.
- Not allowing a sibling to borrow something (just in case…)
- Being upset when a sibling messes up your bed, a craft, etc.
- Getting frustrated when a sibling makes a mess or ruins something you own
- Being selfish and not letting them touch “your” things
So what’s most important? Your sibling…or your stuff?
I want to share another example, this time of someone who responded the right way.
One of my siblings has a green thumb and loves plants. He had collected some rare ones, and, one in particular, was on his mind. Why? After at least a year of waiting, it was about to bloom! He was so excited. At any moment, the long period of waiting would be over.
Alas, the next day an equally excited baby sister walked in. She had just learned how to use scissors. A beautiful flower lay on the porch, cut away from its stem. My brother’s expectations were crushed along with the wilting blossom.
Now he had a decision. He could lash out in anger (wasn’t it his right?) or he could forgive the unsuspecting troublemaker. And, because God had been working in his heart and giving him a spirit of humility, he chose the right answer.
It’s your turn.
This month we are going to zoom in and focus on relationships within the home. What do yours look like? Do you love people and use things? Or do you love things and use people?
Let’s make sure that the things we own are put into their proper place. Unlike the man in the book of Isaiah, we need to keep our eyes focused on what really matters – loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength and loving our neighbors (siblings?) as ourselves.
Materialism is an issue of the heart. Where is your heart?