Sell your possessions, and give to the needy… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:33-34
The parable of the rich fool is, I think, a difficult lesson for the American church…a bit like teaching personal hygiene to a rodent…where do you even begin? Let’s be honest here, the American church has taken material wealth to levels never even dreamed by the founders of the New Testament church. “Give us this day our daily bread” was a genuine, heart-felt prayer reflective of a deep-seated daily need by the early church. My church, on the other hand, raised $1.5 Million last year for a new air conditioner in our Sanctuary. I’m not saying God wasn’t in that…I absolutely believe it will bring honor to Him…I’m just saying there is a bit of a cultural divide between the American church today and the early church in matters of material wealth.
There are a lot of benefits which come with that wealth. Churches all over the world pray every day for some of that kind of wealth. It has its perks. But there are some pretty clear downsides as well. And, at one level or another, the biggest downside is its impact on our faith in God. The sad truth is, we just do not need God to meet daily needs when we have material wealth. And when people outside the church look in at us and at our huge buildings and large staffs and extravagant Christmas pageants and decorations, one inescapable question arises:
What, exactly, does our church need God for?
If your church’s answer to that question is not plain…if it is somehow hidden or illusive…then you are not yet finished with your church’s communications strategy. I certainly believe this is true on the …
A large, popular church asked Jesus, “As the head of the church, tell us what we must do to make sure our institution lasts forever?” Jesus said to them, “Why do you call me the head of your church? Isn’t that God’s place? You know what you should be doing…teach your people to tithe, train up your leaders, have a good strategic plan, be culturally relevant.” And the church said, “We have done all these things for years now.”
When Jesus heard this, He said to them, “One thing you still lack. Sell your property and your buildings and everything in them and give all the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in Heaven. Then come and follow me.” But when they heard these things, the big church became very sad, for they were extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that they had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for a big, wealthy institution to change its direction and follow me! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a big church to give up its comfort and really begin to pour into people who have little or nothing to give in return.”
Other churches who heard this said, “If that church can’t effectively minister to the poor, then what chance do we have?” But Jesus said, “If preserving your institution is your highest value, then you will never really make a difference…but if following me is your highest value, you won’t believe what becomes possible!”
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Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:21-27
The story of the rich young ruler always convicts me. I suppose it should convict all of us in the American church, because we are so unbelievably wealthy, whether we know it or not. We all take our turns as the rich young ruler from time to time.
So, as I read this message with new found conviction, and as I start the process of genuine transformation this time around, what happens next in my mind is almost comical. It reminds me a little of this scene from the old Steve Martin movie, The Jerk:
That is exactly the conversation that goes through my head when I start “giving up” stuff for the Lord. When I look around and see how FILTHY RICH I am (by the world’s standards) and start asking myself what I would be willing …
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21 (emphasis added)
I honestly do not remember why or when I went to the trouble of circling all the personal pronouns in this passage in my Bible. I suspect it was a sermon somewhere sometime. But the circles are all still there, and it really does paint a clear picture. The “rich fool” in this parable was totally self-absorbed and focused first and foremost on his own comfort level. This point seems to be central to Jesus’ parable…and to God’s perspective on giving.
I cannot think about the concept of “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, etc.” without thinking about the seagulls in Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Remember these guys?
I suppose there are a lot of ways to measure how much you or I “give” to something. For example, maybe you have a boss who expects you to give “one hundred, ten percent” and measures you that way. Or maybe you had a coach in school who wanted you to “leave it all on the …
Step 1: We admit we are powerless over our addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:22-25
I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.
You want to know another reason why it is so difficult for me to admit that I am powerless over my addiction to self-reliance and that my life has become unmanageable because of it? It is because I am an American Christian…in other words, I am the “rich young ruler” to whom Jesus says, “give it all up and just rely on me, then we can talk.”
We, the church in America, are SERIOUSLY wealthy, not only in material things but in human resources, giftedness, skills, abilities, ingenuity, innovation, strategic thinking, and in almost everything else one might imagine to be helpful in building any organization. Moreover, we have virtually all the freedom in the world to build our churches and to thrive, free from government interference or persecution. We have entire libraries full of books written by our pastors. We can flip to any of hundreds of …