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Tomorrow is Black Friday south of the 49th, the biggest consumer bender known to humanity. Called black because merchants’ books finally crossover from the red into the black, it’s an apt adjective for other reasons. And it would be so easy to watch the spree and smugly gloat, believing I’m free from that, above it all. Truth is, what separates me from a Black Friday binge is merely opportunity.

In the past few weeks, since stepping down as Sr. Pastor at River Park Church and stepping into a time of pared down living, I’ve spent a fair bit of time simply scraping away the accumulated clutter of life. I find myself surprised, wondering where all this stuff came from? I’m developing a theory about the reproductive capacities of inert material things, certain that my books, the children’s toys, electronics and clothes are all mating with each other, my desk drawers, filing cabinets and closets their dimly lit breeding grounds, with Barry White playing somewhere in the background.

I’d happily settle for that convenient explanation but the uglier truth hitting home is that for all this stuff, I saw it, I desired it, I justified its importance to my life, I had to have it, I pursued it, and in the end, I bought it. Here’s an illustrative event, the moment a box of books (my drug) arrives from Amazon (my dealer) – the immediate hit is like a drug entering the bloodstream; I’m flush with excitement, feeling a boosted sense of identity (just having “that” book or clothing item/gadget/outdoor gear/music/artwork/whatever makes me feel smarter and savvy, well-read and in-touch, manly and
spiritual). And yet the same unbelievably boring cycle repeats itself, that in weeks, if not days, the gleam is gone and whatever it was I saw and wanted now becomes what it really is – stuff that clutters my life, needs to be maintained and cared for, and gets stored away somewhere, forgotten, stumbled upon, then hauled off and either sold, recycled or tossed.

I’m struck scared by how deep the demon is in me (the evidence is strewn all about me), how my life has been discipled into this consumer way of living without me really seeing it happen at all. Consumerism has become an alternative but dominant religion in our world, hawking meaning, identity and purpose for our lives. Count up all the time, energy, and hope, let alone money, that get invested in researching, ogling, desiring, pursuing, purchasing, enjoying and acquiring stuff – then tell me how free you are from this thing.

Arguably, the problem is not the stuff itself, it’s the wantings. It’s your heart, my heart sick with desire, the wanting for something that an Ipad, sweater, new house or Chia-pet will never fill. Something has us and how we need healing.

Which brings me to needed beauty, a shot-to-the-heart song of confession from the Avett Brothers. If you’ve never heard of them, Seth and Scott Avett are two Jesus looking dudes with raw, beautiful music that heals and brings life. They blew me away this summer in a fantastic festival show and now they’re on repeat in our Ipod at home. And I can’t think of a better anthem for Black Friday than Ill with Want.


And here is the video link from the Avett Brothers

Thanks Phil ~ you articulated precisely the ambiguity I felt deep inside when my wife proposed that we hit the stores for a few things tomorrow.  The problem is indeed not the stuff, but the wanting of it that runs so deep in me.  

...Lord, I know that YOU told me and YOU are right in reminding me that my life does not consist (or improve) with an abundance of possessions, but everything in my flesh still cries against this truth.  "My heart & flesh cry out"  - but they cry different things.  My heart cries out to be a man of integrity and simplicity... loving you & others more... but my flesh cries out for the next great app, the perfect docking solution for our collection of iGadgets, and for an answer TODAY to where we're going to be living 7 months from now.

I believe, help my unbelief.  Amen.

I think you make some good points Phil, but at the same time your post is a bit hyperbolic when it equates "buying stuff" with an "alternate religion" (consumerism).  A few thoughts:

   1) In this country and many others, our efficiency in producing "truly necessary" goods and services has increased to the point where not so many people can produce all of it for themselves and everyone else.

   2) So if #1 is true (and it is), how can the economic cycle be "broadened" so that more people than just those producing "truly necessary" goods and services are involved in the economic cycle?  Option one is to have government take some necessary good and services from those producing them and simply give them to those who aren't.  Option two is that other people produce NOT "truly necessary" goods and services and exchange them for the necessary goods and services from others.  I'd go for the second option.  In fact, I sure hope that people who have enough money to buy NOT "truly necessary" goods and services don't stop buying them just because they think so is bad.  If enough people do that (stop bying), a lot of other people will have to find another way to get the truly necessary goods they need (in other words, they'll lose their jobs).

   3)  Speaking of goods and services that are NOT "truly necessary," we are exchanging thoughts via a software system, running over some pretty complex hardware, connected via an pretty complex national network, to computers in our homes and offices.  Lots and lots of money to build all of this, and none of this is even close to "truly necessary" but yet good stuff.  I noticed you did bemoan these things.  (I don't either, BTW).

   4) Speaking further of that NOT "truly necessary," you recommend us to the Avett Brothers, who apparently are engaged in providing NOT "truly necessary" goods and serviceds, just as are the authors and publishers of all the books you get (which I personally don't think is bad).  And then you tell us the Avett Brothers are playing your Ipod!?!??  Your having that doesn't bother me but you?

I guess I'm just not that negative about making, selling, or buying lots and lots of NOT "truly necessary" stuff.  Doing that is not, per se, worshipping the idol god "Consumerism."  I do agree wanting the stuff too much is a problem.  Even more, I think good old fashion selfishness is a problem.  Some people buy things for their EXCLUSIVE use.  I really love those people who become materially rich in an honest way and then choose to buy lots of things (and so keep jobs from disappearing), but then share what they bought with others.  And actuallly, I see a lot of that from people in my church, locally and otherwise.  And for that I think we can be thankful.

By the way, I think you could solve your too-many-books problem by simply giving them to other people who would appreciate them when you are done.  That way, the folks putting those books don't lose their jobs, and you haven't been, truly speaking, worshipping at the alter of Consumerism.

Thanks for your thoughts Doug.  I think I was trying to make the point that the "stuff" is secondary; I truly appreciate the computer I'm tapping away on.  My ipod is an important spiritual renewal tool.  The point is my sick heart (our culture's sick heart) which I don't think we honestly see it.  It's the air we breathe so we hardly recognize it, which makes it all the more dangerous.  But I do wonder, could a practice of  not buying the "stuff," not visiting the mall, could that be a way to chasten and tame the consumer demon?

Phil: I do think I understand the point, but I wanted to suggest that the perspective CRCers typically have about spending money on stuff we literally "don't need" is actually wrong.  We feel guilty when we shouldn't, and we often do so just because that's the message we constantly hear from others (CRCers especially but other "anti-materialism" folk as well).  It's ends up a sort of self-deprecating, I-need-to-confess perspective that happens to be wrong.

Yes, we do BADLY when we:

    - Spend more than we have on non-essential stuff so that we run out of money for essential stuff and so become someone else's burden.  And indeed that is a problem that Americans have generally (credit card addition), but not so much within the CRC.

    - Spend on things that society shouldn't produce.  Easy examples: porn, gambling, prostitution, etc.

    - Keep all that we have to ourselves, but this is true whether we spend a lot or a little.  If I have a garden tiller and my neighbor doesn't, I do well to offer to share it.  If I have books I've read, I do well to offer them to others (that one for you).  If I just have tons of money (maybe milk prices have been really good), I do well to buy a new piano the church needs, or chem lab equipment the school needs, or playground equipment for the neighborhood park, or kitchen equipment for the local UGM, or the tuition that pays for students who otherwise couldn't go to Christian School, etc.  If I have a large house (and kids are out), I do well to provide housing to church visitors, or international students, or use the space for neighborhood gatherings, etc.

    - Do NOT spend money we can afford to spend.  What!?!?!?!  That's actually selfish, whatever we might intend it to be.  What is money after all, except for economic votes.  What is the good of not using those votes.  Those dollars are literally "talents" God gave us to use wisely.  OK, if you decide your children are better vote casters then you, then fine, hoard the votes and give them to your kids when you die, but before you do that, at least teach your kids that dollars are just votes for them to use as talents given in the parable.

But we do WELL when we:

    - Spend money to produce good and useful thing for society (could be food, education, cars, tools, information, or a billion other things).  Using money to produce good stuff is doing good, that is, using the talents God gave us.  By the way, some people refer to this as "capitalism," which gets a bad name too, but that's another post.

     - Are mindful that if you don't spend your money, others are denied opportunity to use your money to provide for their themselves and their families.  Money being economic votes, we do well when we give some votes to others so they can vote as well for their needs.  For this reason, I encourage people to shop at businesses owned by local people instead of Walmart.  Walmart doesn't really need the votes.  On the other hand, if the local people make bad products or charge outrageous prices, I won't necessarily cast my votes in their favor.

      - Realize we are stewards, receivers of talents in the form of economic votes.  And this means, in a way that the parable of the talents taught, that simply not spending money is not good.  This is a bit confusing to CRCers taught to spend minimally, but I suspect the parable of the talents is confusing to them as well, at least if they are honest  about it.

I'm part of a downtown association.  Most are retailers who serve the community with their businesses, and are good people who do good things for their schools, neighborhoods, churches, etc.  Black Friday spending can make a lot of difference them.  Way too often, we equate spending money buying stuff from them as serving the idol god "Consumerism."  Just ain't so, and I'd like for us to consider adjusting our thinking on that.

By the way, the denomination sponsors a "simple life" push via the Office of Social Justice.  Lots of "anti-consumerism" talk, some also wrong headed because it isn't thought through.


   Wealth and consumerism for narsisistic reasons is a strong pull away from God. It is unfortunate they we in our fallen nature can rationalize that spending money that will fill the wealthy persons till faster than average working mans seems inefficient and I question where you scripturaly can support your ideas. That being said I to am a hypocrite. Lord forgive me!

Doug Vande Griend on November 25, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ken:  I agree that "wealth ... for narsisistic reasons" is a strong pull away from God, but the narcissism is the pull, wealth only the temptation.  Similar temptations can be found in health, or intelligence, or children, or many other gifts/abilities that one may have.  I listed "selfishness" as one of the "bad things."  "Selfishness" basically equals "narsisistic reasons."

But economic wealth, per se, is not a "bad thing" as evidenced scripturally by the accounts of Abraham (a very rich man, called blessed by God, who handled his wealth as a steward) and Jacob (whose flocks increased quite directly at the hand of God).

Again, dollars are just economic votes, and people with more votes or less votes are both required by God to cast them (which means, literally, spend them) responsibly.  I don't know how the parable of the talents could be more pointed.  Which means merely avoiding the spending of money does not necessarily equal "good."  Indeed, the servant in the parable was extremely tight-fisted (typical Dutch frugality) and was condemned for it.

I realize this could be a thinking paradigm shift for a lot of CRCers especially who are prone to whip themselves for having money, or are moving to the "simple living" philosophy.  I just believe those perspectives are, in some ways at least, very wrong.  I recall the servant who hid his talents was surprised to discover what the Lord had wanted from him.

Doug, you have made some very good points which made me think.  Dollars as votes is an interesting and valid concept, for example.   I agree with your summary of things we do badly and things we do well. 

I would just like to add one concept, and that is to discover the difference between spending and investing.   Buying things for oneself to simply consume and enjoy (although yes we can share these things with our neighbors), compared to investing in innovation and employment opportunities.   Both aspects have an influence on what is produced (due to dollar votes), but in one case you can be pro-active, having a greater influence on the outcome.   Buying siding for your house is different than investing in a company that produces siding, and buying movies is different than investing in a Christian movie company.  

I particularly like your point that spending can be too much when it is irresponsible and beyond your means.   If you spend so much on consumer goods that you have nothing left for retirement, that is probably not a good way to balance your financial life. 

Doug Vande Griend on November 25, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

John: Your distinction between spending and investing is right on the money (pun intended).  I tend to refer to those as "consumption spending" and "produc tion spending."  Each category needs to be analyzed by different criteria. 

When we engage in production spending, we really are being the makers of stuff, in which case we need to analyze whether we should encourage others to buy what we are producing (is this good for society or not so good, are other people producing this or not), how much we should be willing to risk (sometimes, we produce what people won't buy, for good or for bad), whether we are producing in ways that create jobs, or not, and for whom, etc.

When we engage in consumptive spending, we need to focus more on the beneficiaries of the spending (if we only spend for ourselves personally, we may be merely selfish gluttons), realize when we are being wasteful (already have that, why more?), and realize we are casting votes for producers to produce more of that good/service (if we buy pizzas, we are voting for more production of pizzas; if we by music by an artist, we are voting for that artist to do more).

Since 2008, I've been praying into "God's economy", which i think will look a lot different than what we are seeing in our culture, even our "Church" culture.  I encourage you all to pray asking Him to show you His ecomony.  I think it would be amazing to share insights rec'd through the Holy Spirit and put the pieces together that He might give to different people in His body, for what He intended for His economy.  I believe one of the scriptural insights is Malachi 3:10-12.  Our family has experienced this many times over, where we have been gifted with far more than we need!   We're not buying it!   "stuff"/food just pours in from people/friends/family giving and we do not have enough room to hold it (which is another discussion).

An interesting "fast" that I had several years ago, was a buying fast, where for an extended time,  i would only buy basics, food, gifts for others and 1 book/month that would feed the soul (now for some of us, the book realm might be where we need to fast =).  Only my husband knew about the "fast" at the time.

Anyway, the second day of the fast, my sister brought me 2 bags of her clothes, that she didn't fit in.   I'm still wearing them, even though some have holes now, so i call them my holy pants, because they represent a shift in our family's spending and giving.

Then a few days later, a sister in law brought 4 bags of kids clothes.  I saw these "gifts" as confirmations of the fast.  There were other confirmations as well, and i would have to go find my journal, because I don't remember them all.

Ok, I'll  share some ideas from an email we rec'd, encouraging us to think about how we can "invest" our $ a little more locally over this Christmas giving season, with tomorrow being support local, small business day. 

Give gift certificates for: hair cuts, lawn mowing, house cleaning, vehicle detailing, or oil change, golfing, gym membership, locally owned restaurants or coffe shops, computer repairs, local theatre or bands, local high school sports, plays or other activities, locally grown flower baskets,  local garden businesses and landscapers.  these are just a few ideas that will support business right in our communities. 

Add your own thoughts.  I'm sure we could have some very creative Spirit led ideas.  One suggestion I will share would be to hire a house cleaner for someone (maybe your wife =).  I know a lot of moms, that this is the extra they make so they can keep their kids at Christian school.  (i see this idea is mentioned in the email)  and one more thought, support your grandkids with Christian school tuition =)... now that's investing. 

I am not anti-walmart, God has giving me some beautiful insights/epiphanies there, so I'm not sure what that means about His economic view on Walmart ;), but He has had me in tears with thoughts He has shared while I was shopping there - and that's an entire discussion again. 

I believe we (America -  including Canada) are blessed so we can bless others.  I think that was one of the concepts we had mostly missed prior to 2008.  so with tithing/contributions at about an average of  2-3% of income, somewhere i read this was true for Christians as well, we have some work to do =).  So I encourage us all to think about how we are investing our resources for Kingdom purposes.

This is reminding me also of the book "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan, and he challenges us/Americans to live the Acts 2:42-47 way.   So what would that look like for us today?  Is it possible?  Is that part of God's economic plan for us still? =)  

I encourage you all to share some stories/testimonies of how God has worked in your life when you did "economic"/financial things God's way, instead of leaning on our own understanding.  I will share some more of ours, if you share some of yours!

janet schuurman on November 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Bev,

Last Lent I wondered what really was too important to me and would be good to give up for Lent.  I decided that I liked shopping...finding bargains, resale, etc.  I found too much of my mental energy was involved in hunting for a buy. So I didn't buy anything except gas and medical co-pays for all of Lent.  My husband paid the electric and other bills so we didn't get our power shut off :)   It was truely freeing not to have to look through the flyers in the Sunday paper or stop to pick up specials at stores.  We never ran out of anything we really needed.  The only staple we ran out of was salt.  When I went to visit my Dad in another state the first words he asked me were if I needed some salt.  He had gotten some packets with an appliance he bought.  That is the only time anyone has ever offered me salt.  Another time I voluneered to make pie for a party and my crust burnt.  Being unable to go to the store to get another crust I just figured God was telling me we really didn't need pie.   Right after that  walked outside and met a friend who out of the blue asked if I wanted a pie they had just was much better than mine would have been.  It took a few weeks to feel the freedom from shopping but it freed me up for more important things.     

Bev Sterk on November 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Love it!  Those are very fun confirmations =).  I just get a huge kick out of imagining how He divinely positioned and timed both of those "events" to coincide with your "needs" right then in an obvious way that there was no doubt it was God.    I mean who goes around carrying a spare pie =)  hahahaha....  and no one has ever offered salt to me!  I'm still chuckling =)

Thank you so much for sharing.    These testimonies help build our faith and encourage us to take whatever the next step of faith might be!  It is freeing to know that the God of the universe cares whether we have salt and a pie or not =)...  ah, He knows every hair of our head, goes before us and behind us- yes, so freeing...  Thank You LORD!    We don't understand it, but He works in sync with our free will when we choose to be obedient to what He's putting on our hearts. Janet, bless your heart, for being obedient.  May you continue to grow closer to Him and experience (and testify of) His goodness multiplied times over as you walk in step with Him!

I think Bev Sterk has a great idea, and appreciate her sharing how she decided to live economically in a way that derives from her faith.  I suspect each of have different "economic" lives, and different strategies for living "faithfully." Here are some of the things I've done.

The most important/fundamental decision I've ever made about living faithfully "in an economic way" is to not move.  We live now where we moved to 30 years ago.  I'm an attorney.  All attorneys in my City live in the South area of the City, or the West.  A few in the North.  I live in the East.  Decades ago, the East end was middle class or a bit lower, but over time, many of the middle class moved (South, West or maybe North) and lower class or Hispanic immigrants (legal and illegal) moved in.  When we decided (about 10 years ago) to either upgrade our house or move, we decided against all the advice anyone gave me.  We stayed. 

Fast forward to today.  I've spent quite a bit of money on lots of stuff.  Kubota tractor, loader, tiller, etc.  Two John Deere rider mowers, two push mowers, a Dodge RAM pickup with a Cummins engine and a heavy duty dump trailer, a chipper, blower, hand tillers, edgers, hand tools, ladders, you name it.  Maybe $40,000 worth of this sort of "stuff" -- no, closer to $60,000.  We also bought two rental houses near our house (yep, East end).  One we bought at the peak of the market (aargh).

Our immediate neighborhood was really degrading.  Owner/occupants not keeping things up, let alone Landlords that were becoming slum lords.  The 4 acre neighborhood park belonged to gangs, literally.  All fences grafitti'd all the time. Everything in disrepair.  Grass never mowed.  Weeds all over.  Literally, no one came to the park except Hispanic gangs.  Mothers wouldn't let their children go there and they didn't go there either.

Beginning July 8, 2008, I decided to adopt the park -- and started buying stuff.  My wife and I decided to start with the park because it was public space, thinking its restoration would be the biggest bang for our buck in terms of the neighborhood.  Today, the grass is always mowed.  The weeds gone.  There is no graffiti on any of the fences.  Horseshoe pits are restored.  Basketball court is restored.  Bushes are trimmed, and front areas weeded and kept with a compost cover.  Kids play there -- all the time.  Adults take walks and walk their dogs there.  A big Pacific Islander group regularly has volleyball and food parties there.  Neighbors have picnics.

We decided then to help neighbors too, whether owners and renters -- neighbors who don't have tractors, tillers, mowers, blowers, trucks with dump trailers, edgers etc..  I've mowed perhaps 10 neighbor's yards this summer (older people, people who don't have mowers, tenants who hadn't thought of mowing because their neighbors don't either, etc.)  My wife and I have redone front and back lawns for about four places beside our own.  I have a pending renovation request from another neighbor for next spring.  Lots of other stuff.

Other neighbors are now improving their places on their own.  I like to think its because of what they see going on around them, and I think I'm right.  One of my rentals was surrounded by neighbors who sold drugs just four years ago.  Now, none.

None of this would have happened if: (1) we hadn't decided to stay living in an neighborhood that was becoming the bad side of town; (2) spent a lot of money on a lot of stuff; (3) spent a lot of time not watching TV or going out for dinner.

I really don't like the idea of "caring for the poor" by advocating for government to tax rich people and give that money (what's left of it at least) to "the poor."  Being "poor" is just a lot more complicated than "being poor."  To me, when goverment "takes care of the poor," it actually accomplishes very little that is good and does quite a bit that is bad.  It keeps people dependent and reinforces bad habits.  I'd rather tax myself (buy stuff) and use that with my own time, living there, looking my neighbors in the face and talking with them.  And they're not just poor.  Some are but others are elderly, divorced, or just don't have a clue.  Again, it's more complicated than government can deal with.  And my life is richer for it.  Not a bad return for buying a lot of stuff.

If there is anything I'd like to see our denomination encourage, as a "social justice" matter, is living with other people, without regard to wealth or class, and to be salt in ways that will become pretty obvious because you live there.

Bev Sterk on November 26, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks for sharing that Doug!  That is so encouraging and a beautiful picture of God's economy, using our blessings to bless others  =) !   I love that you went against all the advice  =) and stayed.   I can just imagine the advice, as we've heard probably heard some of the same.  We too live in what some consider one of the less "prestigious" areas of town, but God has used that to help us look at where we live and our neighbors from a different perspective, as well as to help out where we can.   One of the scriptures the LORD put on my heart for our neighborhood was that we are to please our neighbors, not police them (Rom 15:2). 

I totally agree, that as the neighbors see others putting effort into making their places nicer, that encourages/inspires them and others to put more effort into keeping their places nicer as well.  This is one of the positve sides of "keeping up with the Jones".  But it also sounds like you are building beautiful relationships with your neighbors.

I find it very interesting that it was July 2008 when you started... just curious, why then, and why you remember it to the day? 

I'll share another fun story, but I want everyone else to share too!  These are powerful testimonies.

Early this year, I started mentoring a gal I had connected with via the prayer center and the healing prayer ministry i pray with.  In March, when she came over, she shared that the roommate situation where she was living wasn't healthy or safe.  The roommates were messing with witchcraft.  So we invited her to live with us and stay in our guest room...  but in order to move her (& stuff) in, we needed to do something with the king size bed in the room.  We thought about storing it, but then decided we would post it for free on Craig's list.  It never made it on there!  Another family from her church helped our friend move in, and for whatever reason, felt prompted to ask them if they needed a king size bed, and they responded, Yes, they did!.  I remember thinking even as I was asking, what is the likelihood they would happen to need a king size bed?  What a crazy question to ask!  But they did, and it was a cool story of why they needed at that point in time =).  So, I believe it was the Holy Spirit prompting me to ask, even as my rationale was not in sync with my mouth!  It was also a fun confirmation that she was suppose to live with us.

So our friend still lives with us, became a part time intercessory missionary at the prayer center as well as works with disabled adults, and by staying with us, she doesn't have to raise near as much support for living expenses.

Doug I am glad you are such a giving Christian man. But most people don't think like you or incapable of thinking like you. God gave you a gift but don't be mistaken into thinking that God gives the same gifts to everyone. They can still be saved but on different walk. The un Christian people need our relational love not our judgement. I think that is Bibical paraphrase. God is a God of absolutes. None of us measure up or deserve Grace. We have got to get back to the Gospel in the way we think. The Gospel is Christ's fufilllment of the old testement and His self declaration of defining the :"New Covenant". Love God first and your neighbor as your self. That thought has to be governing parameters of our thoughts. Helping a neighborhood is great. Degrading any of God's children is not. Remember we have only God's truthes and rightousness. He does need our help he occasionally asks.

Hey Ken... good to see you back on here...  thanks for pointing us back to the basics of loving God 1st, and then neighbors.  Amen, Amen!

I loved Doug's comment that he was "richer" for staying, and obviously not referring to his portfolio value, but richer in relational love for his neighbors and richer in experience (I'm thinking in trusting God and His ways is part of that), and in being obedient to God's call for his family.  That's God's economy.   It's eternal treasure.

I think what Doug shared is one way Acts 2:42-47 looks in today's culture.

I also had to think about going against everyone's advice some more.   I got a kick out of it because it is going against conventional "wisdom", and it made sense in a higher than the heavens God way (Is.55).  But it was also interesting and unusual because generally (but not always) the Holy Spirit will confirm significant decisions like that through other (generally Spirit led, but not always the case) people.  So as I'm studying guidance by the Holy Spirit, and His ways of confirmation, I will admit that that is unusual, and I'm glad you felt compelled enough to follow through.  I am curious about the process of your decision 10 years ago as well.  that fascinates me!  That helps me understand how the Holy Spirit "prompts"/guides us in many different ways.  I know what I've experienced, but i enjoy hearing and learn from listening to the "process" others went through as well.  Again, the 2008 timing is very interesting to me as well!

I know each of these specific testimonies are not what everyone or even many are called to, but I hope that by sharing them, it will inspire other believers to take that step of faith, whatever it might look like in their life that the Spirit is putting on their heart at this time, and these stories and God's goodness through them, will encourage whomever it might be, to possibly be a little more (do i dare say) "radical" about their faith and lifestyle.  =).   To go beyond human wisdom, man's understanding (Prov. 3:5-6) and walk in step with His Spirit, to follow that prompting that you are pretty sure is from the LORD!



Bev:  Some background on 10 years ago and 7/8/2008.  I'm a Dordt grad, philsophy/history major.  Kuyper's "not one square inch" resonated with me--changed my life and my thinking really.  Moving out of the area would be good for the family in many ways, but the idea of moving out of an area because the people weren't good enough really bothered me.  What about "not one square inch"?  The other thing that had happened some years earlier--not my doing--was that a "neighborhood association" our house was a part of had gone defunct, but it owned some "parkette" land behind our house.  Evenutally, the association, having gone defunct, didn't pay taxes and the property was sold at the courthouse steps.  The economy was bad at that time and I ended up the only bidder.  $1800 expanded my lot size from a "normal" size to over an acre.  Again, I had nothing to do with that, but then when decided we needed a bigger house, the option of building on our current lot, and staying on the East end of the city, was a possibility just because we had the larger lot size.

So at that point, we had a decision to make.  We didn't have the excuse of "needing a larger house" because we could make that happen where we were.  Ultimately, I just couldn't make the decision to move out of the neighborhood.  People doing that had been what made neighborhood deteriorate in the first place.  If "not one square inch" really did mean something, how could we decide to move?

Of course, an additional benefit of the increased lot size was I had room for equipment. :-)  You can just see this coming--one thing leads (or we are led) to another.  We bought our first rental because a longtime neighbor (elderly woman) that we had helped take care of over the years was getting getting to the point of needing to go to a care facility.  To make a very long story really short, we helped her sell it to a couple of guys who were in the "fix and flip" business so she could move to a care home.  They in turn renovated her old house so well (and the house was so close to house anyway--almost literally in our back yard), that we bought it from them.  We then rented to college kids from the local Christian college (Corban).  OK, so the rental was across the street from the neighborhood park and surrounded by a meth house and other likely drug dealing houses.  And the county (owner of the park) had pretty much just given up on the park because of the deteriorating neighborhood.  Because we now owned a house on a different street that was across the park, we just became more acutely aware of how bad things were (we were on a court, somewhat isolated).

And all of this coincided in time with my kids growing older and leaving the house (for college and beyond).  I was no longer coaching baseball (I had at the Christian high school for seven years), and so I had some time on my hands.  At a point, just observing what was going on around our rental--especially the public park which seemed the embarrassing and telling public icon for the neighborhood degregation--I just got angry, literally, and once again remembered "one square inch."

With a door opened that wide, how could I not walk through it?  Besides, I grew up on a farm and I knew how this kind of stuff was done.  So I bought my Kubota (B2920) and a 3-pt hitch finish mower (Woods) and, with the county's permission, mowed the foot-tall grass (and weeds).  It took more than one pass.  Looked a bit like a hay field after that but it was a start.  I remember it was July 8, 2008, just because it seemed like the beginning of something and I remembered the date.  That was the start and then we couldn't stop with lots of park improvements.

One of the unexpected delights of this has been getting to know a lot of the park neighborhood kids.  The first were Jordan (a girl) an her brother Nicholas.  Then others.  The kids thought I owned the park. :-)  Obviously, it's taken a lot of time -- probably 1000 hours or so over the last 3+ years, but that's been a blessing too.  I got exercise, needed at my age with my job (and no longer coaching).  Couldn't get it in a better way.  Another delight is I've gotten to know the neighbors by our house more, and the neighbors to our rental, in large part because, well,  I had equipment to share and had the need.  A few of the neighbors are Christian, but I usually find out after a while.  Most aren't.  I don't push.  I'm a Calvinist, believing I need to be faithful and God will take care of the rest.  So far, he's done pretty well, over decades of time, plotting and scheming in ways I hadn't even recognized until after the fact--to open a very wide door.

As to our house, which is bigger but then the kids left, we now have three international students (boys) from the local Christian high school to fill that space, one Japanese, one Chinese, one Vietnamese.  Who would have thunk?  Of course, they have a big back yard, nice park close by.  Hmmm.  That seems to have worked out too.  And again, we are richer for all of it, as are our neighbors and our new boys.

In terms of the future, I figure I have at least ten good years left in me.  Am planning for more park improvements--now with other neighbors involved as well--and some coordinated neighborhood improvements.  We'll see what happens.  :-)

John Zylstra on November 28, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Doug, your story is encouraging and uplifting.   I also attended Dordt for a couple years, Philosophy/English, prior to your stay there.   It was a great way to begin the educational journey that ended at secular university.   It provided a lot of analytical tools. 

Your story shows the possibilities of urban living, of making an impact, instead of just being impacted upon.   Of letting God use you, rather than us using God for our own purposes.  In my case, I haven't done anything near what you have done.   We live in a rural area, and people are quite self-sufficient, where the municipality even plows out rural driveways in winter for free (after the roads are cleared).   Other than ocassionally taking my snow blower to the local outdoor ice-rink, and taking my 80 inch mower to the church lot (2.5 acres), we have not done a lot.   We did put a new roof on a low-income neighbor's house recently with donated labor, but that's all I can recall.   Okay, I just remembered that I use my snow-blower to clean out a neighbor's drive last winter so that the water truck could bring in water.   And this fall, I sprayed another neigbor's garden since she had surgery and could not keep the thistle controlled last summer.   Can you imagine Canada Thistle about seven feet tall?  

Sometimes it seems easier to just do things yourself.   But I am thinking more lately about how we might make an impact by actually employing people, especially people who do not always have highly employable resumes, or accomodating schedules and personalities.   I'm finding this a much more complicated and tricky endeavor;  I really appreciate the business people who seem to do this so easily and automatically.   I wish I had learned to do this.   Employment is in many ways the best way of helping some people, but is often more difficult than just doing things for them.   And then maybe for us to find ways of making employment more holistic, so that people do not just get paid some low wage for providing a certain number of hours of work, but rather that we can become interested in their whole life, giving some guidance and extra assistance where it is needed (and presumably appreciated). 

Doug, I can't tell you all the thoughts that are wandering through my mind after reading this series of posts.  Thanks so much.  What you are saying is a story that is very dear to my heart - God's people committing to neighbors, neighborhoods, for the sake of the Gospel.  I love your story.  I love it that you decided to stay, and figured out how to use your resources for the sake of the neighborhood.  I love it that you invested - in many ways.  I love it that you love "stuff" so much, have so much fun with it, and get such a kick out of using it to express your deep inner Dooyeweerd.

I'm wondering if you and Bev would be wiling to share some of this exchange in other ways?   It would be a great story to accompany the Faith Alive book Don't Invite Them to Church.   Makes me wonder if there are others who've committed to neighborhoods as you have, and especially whether there are congregations who have committed to support members who've made this kind of commitment.  

I have a hunch your story resonates with many of the CRC church planters who are working in the city of Seattle too!  

Again, thanks for telling your story, and thanks for being "there" for your neighbors for Jesus' sake!

Karl: I'm quite sure there are lots of CRC folk who are a lot of salt in their neighborhoods.  Probably don't hear about it much just because CRC folk tend not to trumpet that sort of thing about themselves.  Doing that sort of this is one of the cultural strengths of those in the CRC from that "old Dutch" stock.  Not trying to be "racist" (or culturalist), but the Dutch tradition includes an unsual amount of industriousness, high production (have enough to share), and a willingness to share, not to mention exposure to "not one square inch" thinking.  But they also tend to be quiet, certainly not showy about it.

I do love the title, "Don't Invite Them to Church."  An obvious corollary to "not one square inch" I think.  I suspect I'd be happy to "exchange in other ways" and I suspect Bev would too, right Bev.  :-)

Doug, again, thanks for sharing!  Like Karl shared, your post(s) continues to triggers thoughts =) for me as well!   I'm chuckling as I think of Ps. 37:4 - Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart in connection with you (a farm boy)  having the "opportunity" to buy a tractor and then using it for Kingdom purposes =).   I get a kick out of God's sense of humor =) and giving us a win-win opportunity.   I know how much fun I have driving tractor in our berry field after being in the professional "field" for about 20 years.    Oh, LORD, open the  eyes of our hearts to see how You want us to use the abundant blessings/talents you have given us for Your Kingdom purposes.

Another testimony that I was reminded of was, how the LORD has given my husband jobs where the people he is working for pay him almost immediately.  We have a construction business, and since 2008 (and before too, but it has been much more obvious since then), we  have seen God do amazing things with lining up work for him, and bringing clients that pay within minutes of getting the bill.  Every person we have worked for since last summer has paid in less than 2 weeks, and usually in less than 2 days, and several times the same day!  Since 2008, when construction businesses took a significant hit, he has been without work for only 1 hour (which was our fault).  We have not advertised, it has all been "word of mouth" so to say.  We have seen God's incredible provision and have experienced the wealth God tells us about in Prov. 3:13-18 through living Prov. 3:5-6.  Having said that, I think the next several months we are going to be tested again, on whether we will continue to trust in God with all our heart, or be tempted to lean on our own understanding.    As many of you might be experiencing yourself, cash flow has been a bit more difficult over the last several years, and we have been at the end of our liquid resources several times, after several years of decreased profitability .  Last fall, when we are at a similar place with cash flow concerns, (as I was re-reading this, I just caught the connection, that was about when we had a significant cash flow concern and it was about since that point everyone (construction related) began paying us in less than 2 weeks, thank You LORD! - hindsight is amazing =), anyway, when we were at a similar place with cash flow concerns last Sept., i remember telling God, "I can make cash flow happen 7 different ways" and so we went through my list, and each one was in some way leaning on our own understanding.   So, I shared this with another believer and the question was, how do you know that God doesn't want you to use any of those ways?  I replied, because each of the reasons He "gave" me trumped mine, and His made more sense in a super rational way.  But, as I walked away from that conversation, I prayed, "LORD, if these thoughts are really from You, please confirm it in some way."  That was about 4:30 in the afternoon.  At 6:30 I received a call from my husband.  His parents had just blessed us with a sizable gift to help with the kids' tuition!  That was our confirmation.   in 2 hours!

So, here we are again, about 14 mos later, looking at a cash flow concern.  Somehow God has helped us get through these last 14 mos, and we are going to trust Him to do so again, but my mind is already thinking, well if He doesn't, we can always do "my cash flow plan"....  Arghhh!!!  I think the LORD is helping me remember how He has come through again, and again, (and I haven't even shared some of the best ones with you yet!) to give us the courage to continue to trust Him with all our hearts! 

ok, the other concept that I keep going back to from Doug's post, is that he went against all advice.  Because of several other "conversations" I had in the last month and the concept of intentionally seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance being something the LORD is putting on my heart over the last several months, I went to Acts to read about Paul's "decision" to go to Jerusalem.   I had been thinking about this story for several reasons,, and thought  Paul had to be very compelled to go against prophetic warnings, knowing he would be arrested and possibly killed.  So Saturday, I read several chapters of Acts in the NKJV, and the phrase "Paul purposed in the Spirit" (Acts 19:21) caught my attention.  This phrase " happened' to catch my attention in a segment of an online sermon i "happened" to come across about 4 weeks ago.  That is the only time I recall every having heard this phrase before.  I mentioned it  yesterday  to a believer who has been a part of the crc for 60+ years, and they didn't remember ever hearing it before.  Another version stated he was "determined in the Spirit" and one was "compelled" by the Spirit.  So, not sure how that ties in with "stuff", but I always find it interesting how the LORD will use someone's thoughts to trigger other thoughts that He wants us to possibly pursue =).  A rabbit trail or the Spirit?  So I would love to hear anyones' thoughts on intentionally seeking the Spirit's guidance or what "purposed in the Spirit" might look like for today!   As well as more testimonies and insights on how Acts 2:42-47 looks like for us today!


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