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The Tension Between Gifts and Guilt

On the verge of Black Friday, in the throes of online Christmas gift shopping, hoping that delivery will be on time for our stuff to arrive.

Every Christmas the great battle in my soul is focused on the question, “How much is too much?” It seems as the years go by, that definition shifts and changes. Our life in Africa was simple, we didn’t have much. The mud hut was small, there wasn’t room for extras and with the rats and termites, anything could easily be destroyed.

The contrast of life here in North America now, is obvious, hence the battle with the question in the face of a longing to give my kids ‘good gifts’ to enjoy. Returning home after a Christmas gathering as the car is packed full. There’s a guilt that begins to weigh in, it seems too much.

The created things in life are not meant to take the place of highest importance in our life. We surely continue to battle against greed, pride and selfishness, but the things of the world aren’t meant to detract from God, they are meant to point us to Him. Joe Rigney unpacks this tension in his new book, “Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World?” Here are some of his main points.

The Declaration of the Heavens

The heavens declare the glory of God; His attributes, His plan of redemption, because “made things make invisible attributes visible.” This is the wonder of what God has created, because it reveals the One who made it, so that “in showing us what God is like, the world beckons us further up and further in so that we can know him and love him and enjoy him through the things he has made.”

3 Categories of Pleasures

He tells us about 3 categories of pleasure: Things we enjoy, people we love, activities we do. We don’t have to reflect long on our own lives to put our enjoyment into these categories! From the garden of Eden, in the very beginning, we can see that God gave the garden for them to enjoy, He gave them each other and He gave them work to do.

Although we often think about God’s first command as don’t eat from the tree, His first instruction was, “you may surely eat of every tree of the garden” (Genesis 2:16) and goes on to say “but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). So his first command is not the prohibition, but the permission, to enjoy what He has already placed for them.

Enjoyment When Jesus Is Better

It can be hard to reconcile the joy we find in stuff, when we feel like we ‘should’ love God more. There is this tension of experiencing gratification in something we have, and loving the Lord. But,“the pleasures of this world – whether sensible, relational, or vocational – are given to us by God for our enjoyment and as a means of accomplishing his mission in the world.” God gives us good things to enjoy, for the purpose of His mission in the world to make disciples of all nations, and to know Him more.

Surely the danger in enjoying things is that they can become idols, becoming the central focus of our life. Facing, “the two fundamental sins that human beings commit: idolatry and ingratitude” he explains that, “idolatry, then, is the separation of the gifts from the giver and then a preference for the gifts over the giver.” Our response to God’s good gifts has more to do with whether we separate our good things from God, instead of enjoying them together with God. So, we ask the question, how then do we enjoy God’s gifts without them becoming idols?

By giving thanks, and honoring God in our pleasure.

You can love the cake and eat it too, enjoying it as a gift from God, experiencing a taste of the joy that Jesus offers.

A Life Guided by Christ

In Colossians 3:1-4, we read, “set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” and we often interpret this to mean that we should only be thinking about God. However, earthly things does not mean created things, but rather sinful things. It is an invitation for us to seek a heavenly mindset, because “Christ is the North Star, the fixed point that helps us to navigate our ship through life. To be oriented by the glory of Christ means, first, that Christ is the supreme object of our desire.”

Our outward lives, how we speak, live and practice our faith, demonstrates to the world around us the great hope and joy we have in Christ. We practice self-control and generosity, setting our hope not on riches but on God.

In the Face of Suffering

God’s good gifts can be lost. We experience a natural suffering, such as sickness and disease, where we suffer both loss and longing where, “in the suffering of loss, we know the sweetness of what we no longer possess.”

He offers encouragement for us in our natural suffering, to press into Jesus and press into people. For, "nothing good will ever finally be lost. Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal."

As we prepare for the Christmas gift-giving season, may you be encouraged to share in the joy of created things, with a keen awareness to any idolatry and ingratitude, and may we continue to use his good gifts toward his mission in the world.

"What does supreme and full and expanding love for God look like when it meets one of his gifts? Glad reception and enjoyment of his gifts."

How will you respond to God's good gifts to you this week?

*Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book and an opportunity to post an honest review.

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