Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stuff and More Stuff

Shortly before we announced that we were moving to France, someone asked me about a passage from the gospel of Mark.
  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' " "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

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 a rich man 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." Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:17-30 NIV)

They wanted to know if Jesus meant selling everything literally. Are we supposed to sell everything to follow Jesus? Most preachers would say that we must be willing to sell everything. But why is the response to "just being willing to sell everything" almost universally a sigh of relief? And why didn't Jesus explain that he meant it figuratively?

Our move "from one river to another" has caused me to ponder this passage again, because it will require us to sell or give away almost all of our possessions. Shipping is expensive and the cost of storage is high, so we are having some huge garage sales this spring. We are selling our house. We are selling our three cars, our two boats and our canoe. We are selling our lawn mowers and our four-wheeler. We are selling our knick-knacks and our furniture.

At the start of the process it was incredibly painful. At first I thought it was because of the memories tied up in our possessions. There is a picture that hung in my father's office, a piece of furniture that we have had our whole married life, and the fishing lures that have been with me since childhood. It is hard to give those things up, but that is only a small part of the pain. As I have worked through the pain I have realized that it came from two main sources.

The first was pride. Our American culture trains us to equate a person's value with what they possess. Important people have a lot of stuff. Cool people have the latest technology, the trendiest clothes, and new thing-a-ma-jigs, unless one is part of some hip counter-culture group, but even they strive to buy the same "vintage" things. We define ourselves by the things we possess. 

The second source was that "things" have a tendency to become a place of refuge. Inside the walls of my castle I have a lot of things that give me comfort. I can always retreat to my favorite chair and sip freshly ground coffee out of one of my many mugs. I can lose myself in my library of books or an endless variety of shows on television. I can head out onto the lake on my pontoon and escape. Things become a source of refuge, peace, and security.

As we get rid of our stuff an interesting thing is happening. It feels like freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of things. Freedom to enjoy life. Freedom to really trust Jesus to meet our needs. Freedom that comes from finding our identity in Christ. Freedom that comes from truly grounding our security in the rock that is Jesus.

Many years ago I heard a story about a well dressed silver-haired man who slipped into a church and sat down next to a jeans-clad teenager. Apparently the man felt compelled to share some of his wisdom. "Young man, when I was your age I remember being down to my last dollar. I had nothing but the money in my wallet. I put it all in the offering plate and asked the Lord to provide for me. Son, I want to bear witness to you that the Lord has provided beyond my wildest dreams."

The teenager looked at the man's shiny shoes for moment. "Sir," he said locking eyes with him, "I dare you to do it again!"

The gospel is a radical thing. It goes to the root of how we live our lives. It asks us to order our lives around the values of the Kingdom of God rather than the values of the world around us. Jesus may not call you to literally sell everything to follow him, but it is hard to say that "things don't matter to me" as we consume and hoard more than we really need. For most of us it would take an act of God to get us to just get rid of our excess! So let me suggest that you take a moment to read this blog and then start the process of living with less. 


  1. Karl, thanks for the link! Awesome resource. AMEN to ALL of this! God has yet to call us to leave this comfort zone. In fact, just as He called you to the northwoods, I believe we are called where we are. But we are Christians, and I affirm with you that it means being ready at all times to do whatever, go wherever he asks. Living simply makes that so much easier!