A young man who is part of my internet watch forum and lives in Northern Europe recently stopped posting anything. I had really enjoyed reading his posts especially since he was buying almost a new watch every week, and I missed his upbeat posts and pictures of new watches. He and I had communicated on more than one occasion. I didn’t know his email, but I was pretty sure that if I sent a private message to him, it would show up in his email. So I wrote and just let him know that I was missing him and hoping that he was all right. After several days, he sent me a private message. There had been a death in his family, and it had hit him very hard. He realized that life was about a lot more than a new watch every week and he had backed off from his hobby and was thinking about what was really important to him. I knew exactly what he was feeling. While I like my small watch collection, I could walk away from it in a heartbeat, but sometimes, we need a slap up-side the head to get our attention. The death of someone close to my friend had done just that. He wrote me that life was about more than possessions. He was so right. Read the story of the rich young ruler in Mark.
You all know the story, but I think that Mark didn’t get it quite right in the quote above. 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 cannot park their cars in their own garages and pay for storage facilities like the one in the picture—sometimes never even seeing their stuff for years. 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, I just have very little 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 huge, stainless steel refrigerator, 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 he 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—not in his name but in the name of a minister that he admired. Will you be remembered by what you have amassed or by what you have given 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 and not inward and in giving and not in taking or amassing. I pray that you do not stand in the judgement of Christ sorrowing because your many possessions owned you.