Sunday, July 20, 2014
“Shocked at this statement, the man went away sad, because he had many possessions.” ― Mark 10: 22
You all know this story, but I think that Mark didn’t get it quite right. I know what the original Greek says, and this is a good translation, but I don’t think it should have been put this way. I think it should have been “he went away sad, for his many possessions HAD him.” Everyone has possessions and Christ never preached not having any, but the question is do you have possessions or do your possessions have you? We cannot explain to Tanzanians why Americans pay for storage rooms and sometimes never even see the stuff for years. The picture today is an apt one for far too many people. If you can’t walk away from your stuff, then your stuff owns you. After every tornado, it seems there are always families happy that everyone lived through it and could care less about the loss of stuff because it can be replaced, and there are always families in tears because all their stuff is gone even though all the family lived through it. When we lived in Los Angeles there was once a fire in a nearby town house. The man who lived there rushed back into the burning building and came out with his dissertation notes, made sure they were safe, and then went back in to save his three-year-old son. He was not alone in thinking that there were things that were more important than the lives of his loved ones. I once read about a Buddhist who preached that you must give away seven things every day to improve your soul. I’m not sure that seven is a magic number or that you have to do it every day, but I know that there is more wealth in giving than in amassing. My grandmother once visited us in California and I took her to Beverly Hills to show her where the rich people lived. She corrected me, “You mean where the ‘moneyed’ people live. I am rich, just have no money.” I have known men who were very rich by society’s standards, lost everything, and just started over again with a shrug of their shoulders. I have also know men and women who defined themselves by what they owned, wore, and drove. What if when you get to heaven, you have to swim across a lake dragging all the stuff that you loved so much while you were alive. Hard to swim, towing a below zero, stainless steel freezer, for example. Jesus knew all about us. He told us in Matthew 6: 21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It’s not a secret that I was a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys back in the Emmitt Smith days. What most people don’t know is that Emmitt Smith, who made millions in salary and in wise investments, only lived on 20% of his income and gave the rest to the church and charities—and still does. He was given an award a couple of years ago for his incredible charity work. At the ceremony he said, “My mom and dad always told me, 'Never forget where you came from,' and that there are always people less fortunate than you are. I've been given quite a bit. It would be quite selfish of me not to give back. In terms of giving back, it's a great way of staying humble and staying thankful for your blessings." It’s not about how much you have, it’s about what you do with it and whether you own it or it owns you. I suspect most of the people who know you, know into which category you fall, but do you? I knew a couple in Arkansas who intentionally did without air conditioning so they could give more to Hispanic ministries. My stuff defined me for almost forty years, and I am so grateful that I lived long enough to live past that. My father had nice things but was never defined by them and was known as a most generous and loving man. Even in death, he left an endowed scholarship to Hendrix College but put it in the name of a minister that he admired. Will you be remembered by what you amassed or by what you gave away? It’s a question you have to ask yourself. Giving of yourself is just as important as giving things away, maybe even more important. The main thing is that the thrust of your life is outward not inward and in giving and not in taking or piling up. I pray that you do not leave this world sorrowing because your many possessions had you.