The Story of the Three TVs

I have wanted to tell this story for years but have hesitated because I was afraid that it would reflect badly on me and make me appear superficial and immature. I was afraid that others would think that the gospel could be reduced to just God granting wishes and providing prosperity. I think those versions of the Gospel are dangerous and have done great harm. Still, this story did happen to us and I did learn great lessons from it and maybe you will too.

I wanted a HD TV and I had started to stop in at Best Buy on a weekly basis to look at and price small HD televisions. I started to try to justify the expense and figure out how to fit it into our budget.

At the same time, I was reading Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity. In the book, Foster discusses the hold that material things can have on us and how practicing frugality develops our trust in God. Foster has some very practical ways to approach these material wants that we have. One suggestion is if you think you need to purchase something to wait 24 hours and see if that desire or need is still present. This way, you shake off the impulse buys and bring a more measured response to your purchases. Another suggestion is to actually ask God for the item and wait to see if he will provide it for you.

Even though I wanted to sweep in and buy that TV, I decided to take Foster’s suggestion and ask God for it. If he provides then great, if not, I have my answer on whether we should have the TV or not. I did force God’s hand a bit when I asked for a TV for Christmas that year. This is where the story starts to get crazy.

That year, my side of the family decided to have a White Elephant exchange. Through faulty game management on my part, I failed to obtain the giant item in the corner and ended up with a hat or something while my 19-year-old nephew walked away with a large HD TV. I was so irritated. This is what I had been asking for and my parents put it in a White Elephant exchange? And my nephew gets it? OK God. You don’t have to provide a TV for me but do you have to rub it in my face? But, after I calmed down, I took the hint from God and resigned myself to quit obsessing over it and move on.

Even though I wasn’t pleased with the results, I felt like I had approached my wants with a level of maturity and some faithfulness and learned that God does want to be included on the day-to-day workings of our lives and has something to say about our use of money and our attachment to material things. Though, I wasn’t going to get a new TV, I had learned an important lesson and felt closer to God in the process. I was glad that I hadn’t jumped the gun and, instead, had tried to let God be in charge for once. But then March came and everything changed.

First, my Mom, who does great interior decorating, came to work on our bedroom. The entire room got an overhaul and the sad, small, boxy CRT TV we had sitting on a dresser was not going to work with the new decor. My mom decided to buy us a new small HD TV for our room. Wow, this just happened. I didn’t ask for it but I had finally gotten the TV. We were now enjoying our TV and I learned that God provides in ways we wouldn’t expect.

But then, a few days later while I am at work, my wife calls me and ask, “Did you order a TV?” I told her no and asked why? She said that there was a TV that had just been delivered to our house. We thought it was a mistake and I tried to check to see if this was something that was delivered to the wrong house and whether I needed to return it. My efforts were not fruitful and the customer service guy just said, “Well, it looks like you have yourself a new TV.” Someone had anonymously ordered a TV for us and had it delivered. I just laughed at the comedy of this;  that in the matter of days, we had gotten two TVs as gifts. God was having fun with this one but he wasn’t done.

The following Sunday, I was walking our dog while one of our daughters was riding her bike. I got to a corner house and I see two big screen TVs laying by the curb (in our community you lay out stuff by the curb for garbage collection or for anyone that wants it). I tell my daughter to stay with the TVs while I went and got my car to haul these TVs back to our house. I got both of them home but I didn’t know if they worked or not. I plugged them both in and sure enough one did not work but the nicer one, a Sony Bravia HD 46”, worked great. Though my wife wasn’t pleased with me bringing home other people’s garbage, I convinced her to let me bring it in to our living room. We now had a big screen TV that the whole family could enjoy and I just found it on the side of the road! Every week, I think about how God gifted us with not one, not two, but three TVs in a matter of days.

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The TV found on the curb in our neighborhood

The ways these things showed up were absurd and were hard to believe but yet I knew what was going on. God was teaching me that he not only wants to provide what we desperately need but sometimes he wants to provide what we don’t need simply because he is loving and joyful and likes to show his power in creative and even humorous ways. I learned, when it comes to material things, I don’t have to rush out in haste to make a purchase. Most of the time, that is not the right course of action. I also learned to include God in all of my decisions, big or small, and to give God space to work. Sometimes he might convict us of our materialism and greed but other times, he might just provide three TVs in 7 days.

Book Review: Freedom of Simplicity – Richard Foster

fosterRichard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity was written more than 30 years ago. For a book that discusses money, materialism, and possessions, there is not much that needs to be updated.

What strikes me is that so much of what he touches on in this book – moderation, simplicity, and generosity – has not become mainstream 30 years later. Why haven’t Christians embraced a more simple existence? Why is materialism as rampant in the church as it is outside the church? Foster’s words remain timely.

Foster always manages to keep three elements in play when he writes – the biblical, the historical, and the practical. Every book I have ever read by him keeps this same pattern. It is strange to hear occasional critics of Foster describe him as operating outside of Biblical emphasis ; these people must not have read any of his books. In this one, he spends entire chapters on the Old Testament view of money and simplicity as well as the New Testament.

Additionally, I probably know more church history from reading Foster books than just about anything else . This book is full of examples of the Christian church’s effective approaches to money and possessions.

Finally, Foster shares practical steps to removing what is unneeded in our lives and ways to approach a life that is not wanting but is full of what truly matters – God and his kingdom.

The Need For A Spiritual Vacation

I spent last week traveling and relaxing with my family. It was a classic summer vacation with beaches, interstate rest stop picnics, and

Lazzy Feet on a Blue Ocean Beach vacation

Lazzy Feet on a Blue Ocean Beach vacation (Photo credit: epSos.de)

peculiar road sign sightings.

Should I have used the additional down time and scenic locales for more intentional spiritual exercises and thought? What should my spiritual life do while my vocational life is on retreat? I made the decision to let my week off be a week off from my usual routine of spiritual growth and training. I slept in instead of getting up early to read my Bible, I brought along a book that I knew was heavy on story and lighter on spiritual seriousness, and I let myself soak in the moment instead of planning my every move. Am I a slacker? Did I give the Devil a foothold?

I don’t think so. I remember Richard Foster telling a story once about listening to prayer expert Agnes Sanford talk about her love of reading murder mysteries. She encouraged her listeners and readers to be serious about prayer but then take a break and do something you enjoy. The point is to find balance in your life and vacations are designed to bring balance. Spiritual vacations can have the same effect.

I don’t want to suggest that we should all become less devoted, but just as our bodies and minds need breaks from work, our spirit needs a break from its training as well. As I returned to work this week I have had a renewed energy and have been able to focus on the tasks at hand. I seem to be, for the time being at least, less easily distracted and more aware of what really matters. The same is true with my spiritual life. When I opened my Bible today, I realized how much I missed reading it and I sought out a deeper connection with God through it.

If you have been pushing hard through spiritual disciplines or intense studies, give yourself a break and let your life flow for a time. Take up your practices again soon and you will find that they have a more meaningful effect.

It may be time for a spiritual vacation.

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 28

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus by Gary W. Moon. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 28:  Eating A Balanced Diet: Six Streams of Christian Spirituality

–   There are six great Christian traditions and their emphasis can be traced back to Jesus and his practices. The six traditions are: Contemplative (prayer filled life), Holiness (virtuous life), Charismatic (spirit empowered life), Social Justice (compassionate life), Evangelical (Word filled life), and Incarnational (sacramental life).

–  Just as we need a balanced nutritional diet, we also need a balanced spiritual diet drawing from all of the traditions.

I came across the idea of the six great traditions about ten years ago when I was just beginning this spiritual formation quest. Richard Foster’s book Streams of Living Water details how a believer in Christ should cultivate all of the traditions and not just the one that they are most familiar with based upon their spiritual heritage or personal tendencies. Each tradition has a great gift to offer Christians and it has enriched my life to not only cultivate all of the traditions but to learn about them and how God has impacted the world through them. You will not be able to have a full Christian spiritual life if you do not have an understanding of  the life changing power of all the traditions.

Apprentice Activity: Eating a Balanced Diet

–  {I am going to modify Moon’s activity a bit for the purpose of this blog} Visit this site set up by the Renovare organization. Click on each of the six traditions and read the brief summary of the tradition.

– As you read the descriptions of each tradition, find the two that you least identify with and read one of the additional articles provided under that tradition. If any ideas or activities are mentioned for that tradition, make a decision to practice those this week.

– Read Colossians 3: 1-17 and then ponder verse 14 –  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

In this section of the book, Moon provides a scale, along with a description, for each of the traditions. The reader is asked to identify on a scale of 1-5 where they fall for that particular tradition. Surprisingly, based on the descriptions given, my two lowest scores were for the Evangelical tradition and the Social Justice tradition. I say surprisingly because I come from an Evangelical background and have spent many hours in a Social Justice ministry. Still, the emphasis on Bible reading in the Evangelical tradition is something that I struggle with and could improve upon; and the intentional acts of service to those less fortunate is something I often do not make time for. I am going to seek out ways to work on these two areas.

What is Jesus teaching me? There is just so much to learn. No wonder the disciples seem so dull and out of it half the time. They were having to learn so much in such a short amount of time that they missed the mark on some key items along the way. I am learning to be patient with my growth and to be in expectation as to what grand things I will be able to learn next. Frustration and impatience is not going to make me more like Christ. Trust and patience is the best approach to spiritual formation.

Do you ever think that you are making little progress with your spiritual life? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is working around you and drawing you towards Christ?