What Are You Doing With God’s Gifts?
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Joe RigneyJoe Rigney is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He oversees the Theology and Letters program, an undergraduate major that focuses on the Great Books and the Greatest Book. He is the author of three books: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013), The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2015), and Strangely Bright (Crossway, 2020). Joe...more
What do we do with God’s gifts to us? Author Joe Rigney reminds listeners that these gifts are meant to be used as an act of worship and thankfulness to Him.
What Are You Doing With God’s Gifts?
Dave: Ann, I want you be honest with me—
Ann: I always am.
Dave: —I’ve been told I talk about this topic too much.
Dave: Yep. [Laughter] You already know! So that confirms—I must talk about it too much—do I?!
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
I know that you love football. I have just heard all of the stories, so I don’t know; you’ll have to ask somebody else.
Dave: Well, you know, it’s one of those things that, if you love something—it could be football; it could be the Beatles; it could be music—
Dave: —it could be food—
Ann: —you talk about it!
Dave: Yes; in some ways, you think, “Should I not enjoy those things and talk about them?” We started a conversation yesterday with Joe Rigney, who’s back in the studio with us about this very topic.
So Joe, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Joe: Always good to be here.
Dave: Now, Joe, many of our listeners know you’re a pastor.
Dave: I didn’t even mention that before. What’s the name of your church?
Joe: Cities Church; it’s in St. Paul.
Dave: St. Paul; so you’re up there where it’s nice and cold.
Dave: And you’re the president—the new president, actually—it’s recent—
Dave: —of Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Dave: You don’t like talking about that at all; do you?
Joe: I love talking about that! [Laughter] What do you mean?
Dave: Do you need people to come?
Joe: Do any high school students listen to this radio program?—[Laughter]—do their parents?—because if they do, we’ve got a school for them.
Dave: Alright. So are you—here we go—a Minnesota Vikings fan?—a Minnesota Twins fan? What are you?
Joe: Yes; so I’ve got layered loyalties. We are Vikings fans; we’ve assimilated. I’m from Texas, so I grew up a Cowboys fan. We’ve assimilated, and we are now Vikings fans. Baseball-wise, we actually are bigger Astros fans.
Joe: My wife’s from Houston.
Ann: And you have boys.
Joe: I do have boys. We love baseball; so we’re Astros fans—would be the first—Twins would be second.
Dave: Okay, and you’ve got sort of a baseball ancestry in your family.
Joe: That’s exactly right. My granddad, Bill Rigney, played in the Majors for the New York Giants; then managed the New York Giants; then, when they moved to San Francisco, he was the manager there. He managed the LA Angels/first manager for that team; managed the Twins.
Joe: There’s actually this really cool deal: for one year, he was the manager of the Minneapolis Millers; which was, before they were the Twins, they were the Millers. It was a Triple A club. So my dad lived in Minnesota. Now, my boys play travel baseball for the Minneapolis Millers.
Joe: So that’s kind of a fun little thing for our team.
Ann: Do you talk about baseball too much?
Joe: I talk about baseball all the time.
Ann: You do?
Ann: How do you know when something’s an idol?
Joe: This is a really good question; yes, so—
Dave: Well, you’d better know; because you wrote a book about it.
Joe: I did; I did.
Ann: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Dave: Let me tell our listeners—I love your title—Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? It’s sort of from the song—
Ann: —the hymn.
Dave: —you know, how much we love Jesus; and if we love Him so much, the things of this world “will grow strangely dim.” You’re saying, “No, they can become strangely bright,” including baseball!
So do you love baseball too much?
Joe: It’s possible to love baseball too much; that is possible. And I think—
Dave: But not for you?
Joe: No, totally for me! This is—you have to check yourself—it’s a real danger, because God designed the world to reveal Himself: what He is like, His invisible attributes, His character, His love, His mercy, His power. Everything that’s made is designed to reveal Him; and therefore, is an invitation to know Him. So everything is a display of God and an invitation to know Him; that’s what it’s for.
But that means they’re potent; they’re powerful. And therefore, that means they can become competitors. So this is where, when we think about, in that Romans 1 passage—you know: the invisible attributes are made known through the things of this world—and then human beings—the two fundamental sins—they neither honored God as God, nor gave thanks. So there are two fundamental sins: idolatry and ingratitude.
One of the ways that was a helpful clarifier for me is that God intends me to enjoy everything in God and God in everything. But it’s also possible for us to separate them. And when you do that—the Bible does this for us; it asks us questions—you put God on one side of the scales, and you put the good thing on the other side of the scales—whatever the good thing is—and you say, “Which is more precious to you?”
The only faithful answer to that question is: “God is.” He's the fountain of all goodness; He’s the joy of every joy. If you separate and have to choose, it’s Him or nothing! This is what Paul does when he says, “I count everything as rubbish—
Joe: —“compared to knowing Jesus.” That’s comparative; do you hear that?
Joe: So compared—the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life—so: “If you have life on the one hand, and you have the love of God on the other, which one do you want?” “Do you love Him most of all and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? No other gods before Him?”—that’s that question.
Idolatry is when you answer that question the wrong way: when you separate the gifts from the Giver, and you prefer the gifts over the Giver. Paul says the greatest evil, in reality, is when we say, “I would rather have these gifts—these things of earth—more than God.” It’s insanity! The Bible talks about this as insanity: “My people have committed two great evils. They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living water; and they have dug out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
And this is a great thing—this is a sports one—I do this all the time when doing a youth camp or something like that.
Dave: Why are you looking at me when you say “sports,” Joe? [Laughter]
Joe: Because I’ve heard that maybe you like sports! That’s what she told me.
Ann: I did.
Joe: You know, you’re out there on the football field; you’re talking to the kids, and you are saying:
“You know, when you’re running around out here, and you’re getting tired? It’s hot, and you come off the field; you come over, and there’s the big Gatorade®. What if you went over there with your cup, and you walked up, and you looked right at that Gatorade; and instead of filling your cup with that, you started digging in the dirt and shoveling that in your mouth?”
When you tell that to any kid, they go, “What!? That would be crazy! That would be insane!”
And it’s like: “The Bible says that’s evil; that’s the greatest evil. And that’s what sin is: it’s when we forsake the Fountain of living water for broken cisterns/for dirt. That’s idolatry: is when we separate the gifts from the Giver and prefer the gifts over the Giver.
Dave: And you know, it’s interesting, as you were using the Jeremiah passage—
Dave: —Jeremiah 2—when Jeremiah is saying that, who is he saying that to?—people who have tasted the Gatorade.
Joe: That’s right!
Ann: God’s people.
Dave: People who have experienced God as the Living Water.
Joe: God’s people; absolutely!
Dave: They know better! That’s why He says, “This is unthinkable that you do this.”
Dave: Now, a pagan; I get it!—they’ve never tasted—but if you’ve tasted it—
Dave: —and then we find ourselves—
Now, here’s the question, though: “How do we know when it’s an idol?” Because usually, when we’re worshiping an idol, we’re the last to know.
Joe: Yes; I mean, there’s a whole bunch of tests; I call them comparative tests. The Bible sets these up for us, I think.
- One of them is singing songs like: [Better Than Life]“The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life”; Jesus Is Better/Jesus Is Better. You should sing songs like that in order to orient yourself.
- One of the ones—and maybe we can talk about this at some point—is suffering. Suffering is when the gifts get taken away: “Do you curse God? Do you shake your fist at Him?” or “Do you say, like Job, ‘The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’” That’s faithfulness! It wasn’t an idol—it was painful; that’s important—but it wasn’t something/Job didn’t curse God over his loss.
- Generosity—we can talk more about that—generosity has a way of overflowing. I have received all of these good things from God; and now, I’m going to spread them and share them with as many people as I possibly can.
Those are ways that you can sort of determine: “Is it something that I must have in order to be happy?” Because then, the truth is, the one thing that you must have in order to be happy is Jesus. He is “the treasure, hidden in the field, which a man found and, in his joy, went and sold everything he had”—including football, baseball, and pumpkin crunch cake—“in order to buy that field.” Jesus is the treasure! But this is the sort of treasure that brings all the gifts back and says: “Now, you can enjoy them rightly,” “Now, you can be oriented to them rightly, as gifts, not as Giver,”—gifts, not gods.
Part of the way I test my enjoyment—you know, “Is this getting too much?”—I try not to think about “too much” in some sort of absolute sense; it’s always relative: “Does my joy in the gift increase my love for God?” This is where, again, that Romans 1 passage is helpful: idolatry and ingratitude?
The flipside of idolatry and ingratitude is worship and thanksgiving. In my experience, thanksgiving is an on-ramp to worship. So here’s the gift—“God’s been kind to me,”—“Every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights.” He gives you the gift. What should you do when someone gives you a gift? You should say, “Thank you.” From the low-down, bottom of your heart, you should say, “Thank you,”—you receive it; you enjoy it—“Thank you.”
And then, that thanksgiving then becomes an on-ramp to adoration and worship. You can see why: you’re chasing—“Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights”—it’s like a sunbeam. You’re supposed to follow the sunbeam where?—back to the sun; right? This is just an echo; this is just a little mini-revelation of what God is like: “What must He be like if this thing is this good?! What must He be like?”
So turning all of your enjoyment of things of earth into, first, gratitude on the way to worship of God Himself, for who He is—not for His gifts, ultimately—but for who He is. That’s one of the ways that you just cut the root of idolatry—because you’re not separating them and preferring the gifts over the Giver—you’re using the gifts, chasing them back to the Giver.
Ann: My thought is—this might sound crazy to you guys—but I’ve talked to so many wives who, when it comes to going to church, you’ve got these wives who are taking their kids and their family. So often, I’ve had women come up to me and say, “My husband/he says that he connects with God more on the golf course,—
Ann: —more hunting, more golfing, more watching sports; because he says church is boring.”
Ann: As you’re talking about all of these things, what would you say to that wife or, even, the guy?
Joe: You want to say two things: one is, “It may be that you are able to meet with God wherever, because God is everywhere”—right?—“that’s true.
Joe: “So when you’re out in the deer stand, or you’re at the fishing hole, and you feel like there’s just something right in the world, and you have a sense of: ‘God, thank You for this wonderful thing. I’m here with my son, and we’re hunting!’—or whatever—that’s a good thing. You should say, ‘Thank You,’ for it.”
But if all it is—is that—and it never leads you to the Word of God, which is sweeter than honey; and it never leads you to the worship of God/the praise of God—if church is dull, but the fishing hole is alive—there’s a disconnect in your soul; something is not right. What you need is to bring them together; because otherwise, they become competitors. The competition is the thing that the Bible teaches is so deadly—it’s the essence of sin—is when God’s gifts compete with Him for our affections. But if they become rightly ordered—by subordinated to Him—then it’s good, and it’s right.
I would say, if I’m dealing with a guy, who says, “I meet God on the golf course,” or “I meet God…”—wherever—I would say, “Is it really the Living God that you’re meeting with? Because the Living God did give you that as a gift, but not as a replacement/not as a substitute. And coming here, gathering with the people of God”—one of the regular things we do on Saturdays, and on the way to church on Sunday—is: “Boys, where are we going? What are we going to do?” “We’re going to worship God; we’re going to worship God with His people.” [Psalm 122:1]: “And I was glad when they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God.’” We want to meet God with His people! That’s something that I look forward to every week, and I want my kids and my wife to follow me in that.
If we’re honest, like you said, every week that’s not the case—we feel dry—but He’s the Fountain of living water, so come empty! Come to drink.
Dave: Joe, when you were talking earlier, like one of the signs that it is not an idol is that we receive it with thankfulness and, then, we’re generous. I would love to hear your thoughts on that. I know you pastor—I pastored for 30 years—you know, we know, as we lead a church, that most of the people in our congregation are giving a little bit, but not very sacrificially. I’m not saying I went and looked at numbers, but we just know. That’s generally true across America.
Dave: Do we love money too much? I mean, you know, FamilyLife is a ministry that’s supported by people, saying, “I want to sacrificially give to this ministry,” and thank God so many do!
Dave: But I think it’s a struggle for us. It’s a struggle for me; I’m not saying it’s just people sitting in my church. We all struggle with this; it could be close to an idol.
Joe: One of the reasons I love the Bible is how it speaks directly to us in these kinds of ways. In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age”—I’ll just pause there; you go, “That’s us,”—that is Americans/Westerners. We live in the wealthiest society in the history of the world; we are the wealthiest people who have ever lived.
Dave: Yes; and we read that—don’t we?—and think, “Oh, that’s for the rich people.
Joe: That’s right!
Dave: “I’m not one of those.”
Joe: “I’m not one of the rich people.” [Laughter] We think that’s not us; it’s like, “You have an iPhone,”—right?
Ann: “You have a car.”
Joe: “You have a car,” “You have indoor plumbing,” “You have air conditioning.” Solomon, the richest man ever or whatever, you know, would be amazed at the things that you have access to—the things that you can just snap your fingers and get now—so that’s us.
What does Paul say to them? He says, “Well, charge them not to be haughty,”—don’t be proud, because it’s easy to trust in wealth. You say, “I can do all things through wealth, which gives me strength,”—you can [wrongly] say that—“Don’t be haughty nor set your hope on the uncertainty of riches”; there’s a hope-setting.
I think one of the things, when I think about the way that riches, for me, is a temptation and a snare: it’s a security; it’s a hedge against risk.
Ann: You would say that, Dave.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Joe: It’s not luxury as much as it is a hedge against risk.
Joe: “I feel safe—
Joe: —“if I have—
Dave: —“a number in your bank account.”
Joe: “A number in my bank account makes me feel safe.”
Dave: Yes, yes.
Joe: Paul says that’s setting your hope on something that’s uncertain: moths can break in; thieves can steal; the stock market can tank—that happens to your wealth—don’t set your hope there, but set your hope on God.
That’s the third: don’t be proud; don’t set your hope on riches; set your hope on God, because He’s not uncertain, and He will humble you; but then, what’s interesting is how he describes God. Who is this God who we’re supposed to set our hope on?—“He richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Now, that’s a really strange thing to say to rich people, I think: “As for the rich, set your hope on God, who richly provides you with everything to enjoy.”
This is the theme of the book: “Enjoy the things that God gives.” But he doesn’t stop there. I think, if He did stop there, I think we are into worldliness; we are into idolatry territory. But He says there are four purposes why God gives you those things:
- He richly provides you with everything, first, to enjoy;
- but then to do good—to be rich in good works, to be eager and generous, ready to share—so that you store up treasures as a good foundation for the future, so that you can take hold of that which is truly life.
It’s these other three purposes: this generosity: “Be as rich in good works as you are in wealth, rich person.” “Where is your true wealth?”—it’s in your generosity.
So God—my hope is set on Him—He provides me with family, and friends, and food, and money for my enjoyment—but not just for that—if it stops there, it’s gone wrong! Instead, it’s meant to be a tidal wave of generosity, so that you fund FamilyLiferadio, and you fund Bethlehem College and Seminary. [Laughter] You know, in other words, you fund missions to the unreached peoples of the world. You give sacrificially in order to show that your treasure is not in your wealth but is in God.
Dave: It is interesting that, when you think about even the money thing—and I don’t want to camp here too long—but it is a big idol for, probably, all of us. When you think about that, when people hear a pastor or a ministry like ours say, “Hey, we encourage you to give to our ministry,” often we hear, “Oh, look; here they go!”—
Dave: — the ten percent tithe/whatever—“They want our money!” And the truth is, when we give, we break an idol.
Dave: It’s like, when I’m generous/it’s like it’s a move that says, “You know, I have a tendency to put my hope in this.
Dave: “When I give some of this away, it breaks that.”
Dave: And again, I have to keep doing that, because it tends to come back.
I remember a pastor preaching on that passage. I’ll never forget—he used a theme much like what you just said, Joe—he said, “Here’s your motto; go home and say this over and over: ‘I will not put my hope in riches.’” And he said “riches” like that [emphasized] to remind us [that’s] nowhere to put your hope. It’s almost laughable: “I will not put my hope in riches, but in Him who richly provides.”
Joe: Yes, yes.
Dave: I’ve never forgotten that motto, because I have a tendency to do this! I’m going to put my hope in Him, who richly provides. One of the ways I’ll do that is everything you just said: “I’ll be thankful,” “I’ll be generous,” “I’ll model this”; if I’m going to live this out in front of my kids, if I’m going to live this out with my spouse, it could easily [help prevent this from becoming] an idol.
Dave: I know you spend Saturdays on a baseball field with your boys.
Dave: That’s awesome!
Dave: Everything in me, even as a pastor, wants to say, “Go do it!”
Dave: But I know some are going to say, “No, no, no! That’s a waste of time,” rather than, “No, no, no! That’s enjoying what God has given me/the things of this world.”
Dave: It’s a beautiful thing; right?
Joe: Yes; there are layers there. One is: we don’t just spend money—we talk this way, too—“We spend time.” So when we think about generosity, it’s easy to think about money first; and we should,—
Joe: —because it’s a very concrete way. Mammon is a temptation and a snare. You know the parable Jesus tells about the soils.
Joe: That third soil, they choke the life out—the cares of this world and the desire for riches—that’s the thing that chokes the life of the Word. That really happens to people, so we want to give until it hurts.
I love C.S. Lewis—he’s one of my heroes—says, “How much should you give? It needs to pinch; it needs to hurt.” Like, in other words, there needs to be things that you say, “I can’t do that, because I am sacrificially giving to others. There are things I can’t do for myself.”
I think, when you think about your kids—I think this is a principle—on the one hand, I want to be generous to my kids. Jesus says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,”—even evil people know how to give good gifts to their children; that’s the baseline—so I want to give good gifts to my children in order to be this model of God to my children—“That’s how God is; He’s generous with me, as a Father to His son. I want to be generous as a father to my son.”
But then, I also want to invite my kids into: “Hey, we’re not going to do this thing; because we’re going to be generous to others. We’re not going to get to go to that, because we’re going to get to go do this.”
And then, I want to spend more than just money; I want to give myself: my time, my talents, my treasure. My wife is unbelievably generous with everything she has. And it’s not that she’s just writing a check all the time. The main thing is she is unbelievably skilled and competent. She comes up with amazing recipes. The number of times that she’s been like, “Hey, I’m going to make you a pumpkin crunch cake,” and then she makes two and gives one to somebody else: “Hey, I’m going to make it for you.”
She just makes all of these things, and she pours herself into it, and then she just wants to give it away: “I want to bless other people with these things that I have.” That’s not going to show up on a balance sheet; that’s not what that was. It’s just she loves to see other people happy; and “If this will help make them happy, I want them to be happy,”—ultimately so that they can be happy in God.
It’s an amazing and beautiful thing to think beyond—don’t just think “money,” narrowly—I remember, when I was a college student, and I was like, “I don’t have any money.” [Laughter] I say, “Do you have time? Do you have talents? Can you give those? Can you sacrifice those? Can you use those to be a blessing to others?” You do have something; and whatever you have, God has given it to you, both for your enjoyment and for His mission.
Dave: You know, I was thinking—I’m sure you have stories as well—of moments of seeing the face of God/experiencing the pleasure of God moments in my life that had nothing to do with sitting or standing in a sanctuary, opening the Word of God—you think that’s the only place—but being on a football field; or being on a baseball diamond with my kids; or being at a concert, where you’re so moved—not just intellectually, but even emotionally—at the very presence and beauty of Christ;—
Dave: —a sunset—
Dave: —a boat on the water.
Ann: Oh, being in South Africa at a safari; there are so many different things. It reminds me of the C.S. Lewis quote: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God.
Ann: “The world is crowded with Him; He walks everywhere incognito.” What a great quote.
Joe: Yes; wherever you go, He’s there. This is the point of Psalm 139: “This knowledge is too lofty for me.” What’s the knowledge that’s He’s too much for him? It’s like: “He’s in front of me; He’s behind me; He’s surrounding me; He hems me in, behind and before. If I go up to heaven, He’s there. If I go down to the depths, He’s there,”—[Paraphrasing] “If I get into a boat, and I go as far as I can across the sea; if I get on a spaceship and go across the galaxy—wherever you go—God is there; and He’s holding you,”—“Even there, Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold me fast.”
So wherever you go, God is present; and God is active; and He’s revealing Himself. He’s pursuing you, and He wants you. He doesn’t just want your stuff! Your stuff is an expression of you: “I’ve given you this. Do you know why?” And it’s because “I want to make you happy in Me, and I want you to then help others be happy in God. That’s why you have all of the things that you have.”
Now, with the sports thing, I think there are things that my boys, I don’t think, could have learned except on that field; because, what’s happening is—in both victory and defeat—you know, the passions are awakened—the desire/the competition: the “I want to win!”—and then, the disappointment sinks in. It’s like I want that roller coaster. I want them to experience the loss, and then be able to be there with them, and say, “This is practice; this is training for life. There will be hard things, where you will be crushed by reality, and I want you to feel God is here for you in this.” Or elation because you won the thing!—and then I want you to say, in the highest point of your joy—“God is better than this.”
My son’s little league travel team won their state championship last summer. My son hit a grand slam in the championship game, on a 3-2 count.
Ann: Come on!
Joe: I told him, “It’s only downhill from here, bud.
Joe: “Your baseball career can’t get any better. [Laughter] You’ve just hit the high point.” But it was like there was this swell of emotion afterward; and I’m thinking, “And that’s just a taste of what God is like! He’s better; He’s better,” and “I want that to be my flavor, but I want to give that to other people: ‘He’s better!’”
Ann: Well, and I think, too, as I’m listening to this, I’m thinking, as we’ve talked about even Psalm 139, God is shouting in His Word, in His creation, in things that we love: “I love you! You matter; you matter to Me!” The question is: “Will we see it?”
Shelby: That was Dave and Ann Wilson, talking with Joe Rigney on FamilyLife Today. If you’d like a copy of Joe’s book, Strangely Bright, you can grab it at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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You know, treasuring God sounds like such a nice phrase, but how do you treasure God when life isn’t going great? Joe Rigney will join Dave and Ann Wilson, again, tomorrow to talk about just that. We’ll see you then.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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