I recently came across some thoughts I wrote down in February of 2000, shortly after we moved to Oregon from London and were living out in the forest 30 miles southwest of Bend. I’ll put those thoughts here, then tell you how I’m thinking about them now:
I’m sitting in my chair in the living room of this house in the mountains of Central Oregon with windows on three sides. The early sun is coming up from behind the house and shining its rays across the forest before me. It was cold last night (0F/-18C) and there is about a foot of snow on the ground and heavy frost on the pine trees.
As I look out at Pistol Butte with the rays of early morning sun hitting the frost on the pine trees and the snow on the ground, I realize that what I’m seeing looks like an immense wealth of diamonds! As the slanting rays of the sun creep down from the tops of the trees, incredibly bright jewels appear in the branches. I can see them clearly from over 300 yards away and when I look at them with the binoculars, they become even bigger and brighter. On the snow outside my window and on the nearby trees, the frost jewels are small and they sparkle like a scattering of small diamonds. On the far trees they are big, bright, and look like diamonds the size of my fist. They shine like car headlights! How many carats of diamond are we talking about here?
These jewels appear, they gleam and sparkle, and then in a few minutes as the frost crystal melts or the angle of the sun changes, they’re gone. But while they are there, for that few minutes, they’re mine! I enjoy them and I marvel at their beauty, brighter than diamonds, more than many millions could buy. If the weather stays cold and clear, they’ll be there again tomorrow when I’m sitting in my chair, cup of coffee in hand, doing my daily Bible Reading.
I can’t own these precious jewels, but they are mine for the few brief moments they exist. I can’t collect them, hold them, mount them in gold or silver, or put them in a box. But I can enjoy their beauty and even share them with you by my words or show them to you if you were here. I can share them with you and I still have them. The precious jewels of the sun-on-snow are gone in minutes, and yet I still have them. They are mine in my memory on a dull cloudy day when the sun’s rays don’t light the distant peaks or creep down the trees from top to bottom. I can’t keep them and yet I will always have them.
To Have or to Hold… Stewardship or Ownership?
First Nations People in North America found it absurd that the Europeans who came here believed that you could own the land. The land is there. You are born, you live, you die. The land is still there. Each tribe may have established boundaries for the land that they will use, but to “own the land” was a concept that they simply didn’t have!
Years ago when Jean and I were still in business in Richland, Washington we knew a couple named Paul and Joan Dionne. Paul and Joan were customers at our Texaco garage and occasionally they would stop in and say, “Aren’t you about due for a break? Please take a few days and go stay in our cabin on the lake.” Several times over a period of a few years we did that. We would go for a few days or a week and stay in their lakeside cabin, ride their motorcycles on forest roads, and paddle their canoe across the lake. We didn’t own a cabin or any kind of vacation home, but thanks to the generosity of this Christian couple we had the use of a lovely place. We went there with our children, and we were able to take friends there with us. The memories we made staying in Dionne’s cabin, riding their motorcycles, and paddling their canoe across the lake will always be with us, will always be part of who we are and who our children are.
During our years in London of starting and developing East London Bible Training Centre we never owned a building for the school. But through the faith of Pastor Mervyn Tilley and the generosity of the Leytonstone Elim Church, we had the use of Wadham Hall, a building that was ideal in design and ideally located for the purposes of the Bible Training Centre.
Through the years there have been so many gracious people who have blessed us with the use of things we needed for a season! I think of friends who loaned us vehicles on a number of occasions when we were in the US and needed transportation for a time. I think of people who hosted us in their homes during our travels. I think of the couple who provided the house we are presently living in outside Bend and who have made such provision for us in many ways here. Their generosity has helped us to see a completely new side of God’s provision and has helped our faith grow in tremendous ways. END OF February 2000 THOUGHTS.
NOW flash forward to 2021. The pattern has held. We’ve never owned a beach house, but a couple in our local church did, and for a period of several years they made it available to us and others to use. So many memories made there! And even more recently another Central Oregon couple made their vacation cabin in the Mt Hood area available for our use for a while. More blessing! More memories made! And now Jean and I own a home here in Bend, after all those years of living in rented accommodations in Jamaica and the UK. It’s nice to have a home of our own! I can tell you that there are a lot of memories made under this roof as well!
To Have or to Hold…Ownership or Stewardship?
I’m not saying that ownership is wrong or that anyone who owns things is materialistic. Someone has to own the stuff to make it available to those who need the use of it. I own some stuff (a lot of stuff, actually!): Home, car, furniture, computer, clothes, normal stuff a person has to have to live a “normal” life here in the USA. So I’m not saying it’s wrong to own things or to have “stuff.” I’m saying that there are different kinds of stewardship.
God is El Elyon, The Creator and Possessor of Heaven and Earth (See Genesis 14:18-23). That means all the stuff actually is God’s. That means all the stuff we have is entrusted to us by the One who actually owns it. If you “own” something you have the privilege to make it available for God’s Kingdom. If you use something you don’t own you have the privilege to make yourself and the benefit you gain from its use available for God’s Kingdom.
Look at this description of how the first generation of Christian believers dealt with issues of Having or Holding:
44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. (Acts 2:44-46 NLT)
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. (Acts 4:32-35 NLT)
Perhaps the key to this incredible season of unity and community was this attitude; All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.
I don’t think that a systematized approach to this kind of unity and sharing actually is what God has in mind. In fact, I don’t think a systematized approach really works! The first Christians were having problems with it in no time! (story in Acts 5:1-11). I do think such a way of living in community is good in some times and some situations. We saw various forms of this in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the Jesus People Movement. (All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.) But as soon as it moved from being a heart attitude to being structured, systematized, and loaded with expectations, it began to fall apart, to be abused, and to create strife and conflict.
I don’t believe that it is inherently better to have little or to have much. I believe it is a matter of seeing God as the source and owner and seeing yourself as a responsible steward of the things you possess.
To Have or to Hold…Ownership or Stewardship?
Right values are not determined by whether we possess a little or a lot. The person with few possessions may be more bound by materialism than the person with great wealth. Here are some indications of an unhealthy attitude towards material possessions:
- Greater concern for possessions than people. Working long and hard to achieve financial success to the detriment of family. Owning valuable things but not using them or making them available for use. Do you love people and use things, or use people and love things?
- Excessive debt or chronic debt. Some debt is incurred because of crisis. Some debt is incurred because of investment. Some debt is incurred by spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like!
- Selfish attitude. When toddlers start to play with other children often the first thing you hear is “mine!” Could we infer from this that selfishness is an indication of immaturity?
- Pride of possession. Feeling superior because you own things that others don’t have; bigger house, newer car, more exotic holidays. Showing off by flaunting wealth or possessions. Keeping score by measuring against others.
- Inability to give, share, or let go of wealth or possessions. The need to hoard money or things due to feelings of insecurity or fear. Could it be true that if you own something you can’t give, share, or let go of, that it actually owns you?
- Desire to accumulate things I know I don’t need. When I have enough, what is it that pushes or pulls me to keep getting more?
To Have or to Hold… Stewardship or Ownership?
This article is not intended as a simplistic “give it all away” kind of tirade.
- It’s intended to provoke some thoughts about issues of ownership and stewardship.
- It’s intended to help us think about what really is valuable in our lives. What really matters?! How much is enough?!
- It’s intended to help you think about what has true value. To help shift the focus from the material (which will pass with the using) to the eternal (which will never pass away).
I hope that this post hasn’t sounded “preachy” to you. It’s just that I found out that the trees in the forest are full of diamonds and I wanted to share them with you!
Life is full of precious treasures that we may overlook because we can’t put them in the bank or “own” them in some way!
One thing to remember about diamonds in the trees is that you must take time to enjoy them while they are there. You can’t lock them up and wait for a convenient time to take them out and enjoy them. If you don’t enjoy them while they are there, you’ll never have them. If you do enjoy them while they are there you’ll always have them. Can you see the diamonds in your trees?
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.