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I love all my stuff

By Charles Qualls

The old corporate icebreaker game goes like this. “If your house caught on fire, what five things would you try to get out the door with —- not including your family?” This is a quick way for people to get to know more about each other personally. So, with the easy answer of family set aside, how would you answer that?

Mark 10:17-22 brings us the concluding text in our June series, “I Put Away My Idols.” The story of the Rich Young Ruler, as many call it, causes us to examine our relationship with our possessions. Unwittingly, and especially in a consumer culture such as ours, our stuff can become an idol.

I have quoted this before, but let me remind you that someone once said, “The true cost of a thing is the amount of life you have to exchange in order to possess it.” Financial advisors can consult charts that will help a 25-year-old know how much their $75 fine dining night can cost them 40 years later in retirement dollars. That one hurts. A nice trip, taken while health still permits a robust experience, can create lifelong memories. But the expense of the trip comes in dollars you don’t have to use in other ways. How do you balance those decisions out?

Some of us collect things. Some of us like clothes. Some of us aspire to a huge house, so we buy one. Some pay more than they can afford in order to drive the latest and nicest car. One person likes to get their hair cut frequently, but will struggle to buy groceries. Another may like to get their nails done professionally, but occasionally comes up short with the rent.

A young man who was already wealthy came up to Jesus with a question. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As an aside, Jesus hid a revelation of his divinity right out in plain sight. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Probably no one picked up on what he was really saying. Then, he focused on the question the man had asked.

A good counselor will often answer a question with a question. That is, they will get the client to voice their own answer to a question they have just asked. So Jesus reminded him of the great commandments, in effect asking the wealthy young man if he had been keeping them. The response was, “Teacher, I have kept these since my youth.” Then, Jesus led the young man straight to what he may have already suspected was the true need. “Then you lack but one thing. Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. Come and follow me.”

Instead, the young man hung his head and walked away, for he had many things. We have no reason to think this person came to give Jesus trouble, as so many others with questions in the New Testament did. No, like us this young man seems to have reached a point where he thought there simply had to be more to life.

Jesus’ answer for him might not be the same answer Jesus would give you if you asked the very same question. For this person, his possessions were what he idolized. Some of us do, too. Studies reveal that there is one current generation, in particular today, that measures their own primary worth by what they can buy with their money. When we idolize our possessions, ironically we are never as rich as we could be if we sought still higher things.

For others, though, Jesus might say they needed to end their thirstful quest for status or achievement. For we will not be remembered, most of us, for what we became nearly as much as for who we truly were. Another person, Jesus might advise to cease their lustful pursuit of power. That is an endless journey which can never be satisfied, and comes at a high cost. Still others of us might hear Jesus say there is a need to release a strangling grip on anger or bitterness. For that is what is keeping us from true and lasting life.

When we put away our idols, including our possessions, we begin our real lives. When God is my God, rather than all the stuff I love, I have a chance to follow Christ.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.