Tag: rich young ruler

Sermon: Who Can Be Saved?

My sermon for October 11, 2015, from the Gospel reading. This is a familiar story of a very rich young man who finds out that he has to turn from his life of privilege to following Jesus if he wants to experience the kingdom of God.

Who Can Be Saved?

Mark 10:17-31 NIV

17 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?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 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.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” 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 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

An Important Question

We know this story — the story about the “rich, young ruler” — because we have heard it since we were  children. It’s the story about a young man who seemed to have it all, and yet this young man also had wisdom beyond his years.

So despite his wealth and social standing, which were without dispute, this young man comes to Jesus and asks a very important question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That is a very important question. And we have to applaud this rich, young, and powerful man for being concerned with spiritual things, and not just his material wealth and social standing. So far, so good.

But, Jesus treats him rather badly. First, Jesus upbraids the young man for his courteous address. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asks. “No one is good except God alone.” So much for courtesy. Can you imagine how this rich and powerful young man must have felt to be corrected like that publicly by this itinerant teacher named Jesus?

But whatever his feelings, Jesus doesn’t give him the chance to start over. Rather, Jesus then begins to answer his question. “You know the commandments,” Jesus replies. And Jesus, just to make sure the young man does know them, begins to name them: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’

Okay, right here we need to stop and really listen to what Jesus has just said. Jesus points the young man to the commandments, but curiously when Jesus begins to name the commandments that are necessary to have eternal life, he starts halfway down the list. Jesus totally skips the commandments that have to do with God: Don’t worship other gods, don’t make idols, don’t take God’s name in vain, and keep the sabbath.

Instead, Jesus lists the commandments that have to do with our relationship with our fellow human beings: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony, don’t defraud (which actually should be don’t covet, but that’s a discussion for another time), and honor you father and mother. So, Jesus covers all 6 of the Ten Commandments related to how we deal with others, but none of them about how we deal with God. Isn’t that curious?

Maybe Jesus knows that this young man is scrupulous, as are all Pharisees if he is one, about attending to his own personal, spiritual life. He prays, he goes to Temple, he offers sacrifices, he dares not utter the four letter, unpronounceable name of God, he certainly doesn’t make or worship idols or attempt to render God’s image in physical terms. His personal, spiritual life may be so in order that it bears no perfecting. I doubt it, but there is a reason Jesus says what he says.

I think Jesus is probing to see what the young man’s self-assessment is going to be? So, he lists the six things that govern how we deal with each other. Of course, Jesus redefines the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says, “You have heard it has been said….but I say unto you.”

Using this formula, Jesus reinterprets the commands about murder, adultery, truth-telling, and love for enemies. Maybe Jesus wants the rich young ruler to do a bit of self-examination on the spot.

Whatever the test is, the rich young man fails. He reveals his own blindness to his spiritual condition by saying, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Wow. Sounds pretty arrogant now, but imagine how it sounded to Jesus. For with his self-justifying statement, the rich young man just told Jesus everything he needed to know. This man is unaware of his faults, his failings, his weaknesses, his shortcomings, and thinks he has already done all he needs to do.

So, maybe the rich young ruler’s question about “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was really a veiled, passive-aggressive attempt to get Jesus to compliment him. I imagine he had already set the scene in his head: He asks Jesus a question. Jesus replies with what he needs to do. He assures Jesus he’s already done it. Jesus pats him on the back and tells him, Well then, you’re just fine!

Only, that is not what happens because then Jesus drops a bombshell on him. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. The come, follow me.”

And with those words, the young man’s world comes crashing down. All his piety, all his ritual, all his social standing, all his own self-perception, all of it was wrong! Jesus kicks the props out from under his pseudo-spirituality.

Of course, this sounds harsh to us, too. But, what Jesus was addressing was the long-standing idea that if you were rich, that in itself was a de facto indication of God’s blessing.

Which is why Jesus’ disciples are astounded that Jesus says that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. “If the rich can’t get in,” the disciples are thinking,”then, who can be saved?” If there’s no hope for the rich — the people God is obviously blessing — then there’s no hope for anybody!

Another Wrong Answer

Jesus replies to the disciples’ concern about who can be saved (if a rich man can’t), with a strange answer — “With man this is impossible, but now with God; all things are possible with God.”

Peter, ever the one to pretend he gets it first, thinks he gets it. And, characteristically he blurts out, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Of course, Peter skips over the part about selling everything they had and giving it to the poor, but he wants to get Jesus’ approval, so he gives his version. And, he and Andrew, and James and John, and all the Twelve had left their families (although they still saw them frequently), had left their business of fishing (although they would return to it from time to time), and had left their homes (although they still own them). But, of course, Peter hopes Jesus overlooks the technical details and praises him for his sacrifice.

But, Peter doesn’t get the reply he wants, any more than the rich young ruler got the reply he sought. Jesus says,

“Truly I tell you,” 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 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

So, the disciples who have given up some things, will receive those things back 100-times in this present age — brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields!

Wow. So, even if you give up something, you get much more in return. In this life. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye, this is real stuff here and now.

Oh, with one addition — persecutions! Ouch and wow. Couldn’t Jesus have left that out?

Oh, and in the age to come, eternal life. Finally, we get to the answer to the question the rich young ruler asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

So, Peter’s attempt to justify himself backfires.

Who Can Be Saved?

All of this brings us back to the rich young ruler’s question and the question of the disciples — Who can be saved?

Here’s the answer: many who are first (here and now, in religious practice, in social standing, in Forbes’ list of billionaires), will be last; and, many who are last (in wealth, in social standing, in outward religious practice) will be first.

This first-will-be-last, last-will-be-first stuff has been called “the upside-down kingdom.”

So, let’s answer the question, Who can be saved?

When I was a kid, my mother read to me the story of the Little Red Hen. The Little Red Hen. Remember that story? It goes like this: The little red hen planted some grains of wheat. When the wheat germinated and grew, it came time for harvest.

“Who will help me harvest the wheat?” said the Little Red Hen. “I won’t” said the dog. “I won’t” said the pig. “I won’t” said the cow.

“Very well,” said the Little Red Hen, “I’ll do it myself.”

And, the story goes on like that for the grinding, and then the baking. Nobody wanted to help the Little Red Hen.

But when the bread was baked, the Little Red Hen asked, “Who will help me eat this loaf of bread?” Suddenly, the dog, the pig, and the cow had different answers. “I will,” said the dog. “I will,” said the pig. “I will,” said the cow.

But the Little Red Hen had a surprise. “No one wanted to help me plant the seed, or harvest the grain, or grind the flour, or bake the bread. So, now you don’t get to help me eat the bread.” And the Little Red Hen ate the whole loaf all by herself.

Now, this is a Russian folktale, which might explain the harshness of the Little Red Hen, but here’s the point:

Jesus wanted the rich young ruler and his disciples to know that 1) whatever you give up to get to God is nothing compared to God; and, 2) whatever stands in your way of wanting to get to God will keep you from God.

Or think of it like this: If eternal life is existence in the presence of God, maybe we ought to get ready for it now. So, if we value (and cling to) anything other than the presence of God, then we’ll miss it.

No matter how much we do other stuff, no matter how much we think of ourselves, no matter what our standing in life, no matter what others think of us — none of that matters.

What matters is how much we want to know God. And our willingness to give up everything that keeps us from God.

What are those things? Well, for the rich young ruler, it was money, status, power, and prestige. We still struggle with those things today.

For the disciples, it was their own self-righteous because they thought, “We’re not like the rich young ruler because we gave up everything to follow Jesus” — except their egos, and their pride, and their arrogance.

Conversion Means Turning From One Thing and Turning To Something Else

So, again, who can be saved?

Well, the answer lies in the idea of conversion, which is at the heart of our Christian faith.

Jesus’ call to any who would be disciples was always a call to leave one way of life and turn to another way, the kingdom way. The Greek word is “metanoia” which means to “change one’s mind.” For those interested in knowing God, we have to change our mind about ourselves, our lives, the lifestyle we are participating in — we have to decide to leave all of that and turn to Jesus.

The rich young ruler’s problem was that he just wanted to add something to what he was already doing. His opinion of himself and of his own life indicated that he thought he was self-sufficient spiritually. It wasn’t about the money. It was about his unwillingness to give up one thing for something even better.

But, that’s too hard, you might object. It is hard, and that’s the point. What God calls us to is not the easy way of no sacrifice.

God called Abraham to turn from his homeland and the possibility of family, but God promised him so many descendants he wouldn’t be able to count them.

God called Moses to give up a life of obscurity in the back country to lead his people out of bondage into freedom, and promised to be with him.

God called David to be king over Israel, leaving the pastoral life of the shepherd which he obviously cherished.

Whatever we leave, give up, abandon, turn our backs on, in order to follow Jesus is nothing in return for what we gain — with persecution!

Don’t we wish that Jesus had just said, “You’ll get 100-times more in this life and in the life to come.” And that he had stopped there, without throwing the idea of persecution into the mix?

Why does persecution go with this life of turning from our old life and turning to Jesus? Because then we’re not like other people. We live a different life for different reasons devoted to a different purpose than the world around us.

It’s the spiritual equivalent of the sick chicken that gets pecked to death by the flock because it’s different.

Who Can Be Saved?

Back to our original question: Who can be saved? Let me tell you first who can’t be saved.

Those who depend on themselves without recognizing their own shortcomings can’t be saved.

Those who do not want to be transformed, can’t be saved.

Those who believe their life is god enough for them, can’t be saved.

Who can be saved?

Those who turn from self-sufficiency to God.

Those who recognize that God is God, and we are not.

Those who understand that the Creator of the universe has a better plan than ours.

Those who know that they need to change, to be changed, in order to know God.

The Bible tells us that Jesus loved the rich young ruler. He loved him for his piety, his interest in the kingdom of God, his desire to live a righteous life. But the rich young ruler himself went away sad because he knew, too, that simply adding something to his life was not the way to enter the kingdom of God.

Who can be saved? All who turn from life without God, to life in the kingdom of God.

Sermon: Materialism–Why Do We Have So Much Stuff?

Here is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow.  This is the 4th in a series of 8 sermons under the theme — Seven Cultural Challenges Each Church Faces.  I hope your Sunday is wonderful!

Seven Cultural Challenges Each Church Faces
Materialism: Why Do We Have So Much Stuff?

Luke 18:18-30
18A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'”

21“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22When 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.”

23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, 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.”

26Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

28Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

29“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

Has Jesus Lost His Mind?

Okay, imagine you live in the first century and you pastor a new church in Jerusalem.  So far the only members you have attracted to your congregation are 12 guys who, to say the least, are not the cream of the crop.  Several of them are fishermen, which is a smelly, messy business.  One is a tax collector, or rather former tax collector, because he left a fine source of income to follow you.  One is a domestic terrorist, Simon the Zealot, and he’s on the “no fly” list at the Judean Department of Homeland Security.  One of them, Judas, is a self-taught accountant — at least that’s the story he told every one.  Actually, all of these men, all 12 of them, are technically unemployed.  They all left their jobs — fishing nets, tax collection booth, accounting, what have you — to follow you.  Which is great, except the offerings have been down for some time now.

So, one day a really nice looking, extremely well-dressed young man comes up to you.  He addresses you in polite and polished Aramaic, not the slanguage of the fishing village that most of your guys speak.  And, he graciously calls you “good master.”

But, it’s his sincerity in asking his question that really gets to you.  “What must I do to obtain eternal life?”  So, this is a serious young man, too.

Here is a prime candidate for discipleship.  He’s rich, young, and he’s a leader.  Luke calls him a “certain ruler,” which probably meant he led a synagogue or was a leading member of a religious party with authority over others.  In any event, he’s the best looking, wealthiest, and most articulate person who has questioned you.

That’s the situation that Jesus found himself in.  Mark’s Gospel says everything that Luke’s does, plus it adds that this man “ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him.”  So, the young man was not only rich, and powerful, but urgently seeking some answers to his spiritual questions.

Jesus replies by saying, “You know the commandments,” and Jesus begins to recite them:

  • Do not commit adultery,
  • do not murder,
  • do not steal,
  • do not give false testimony,
  • honor your father and mother.

Now, what do you notice about this list of commandments that Jesus quotes?  Well, first, these aren’t all the commandments.  Jesus only quotes 5 here.  There are 5 more, which is why the original list is called the Ten Commandments.  But, why these five?

You might remember the Ten Commandments, but if not, let me give you a quick run-down from Exodus 20.  Here they all are:

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

2.  You shall not make for yourself an idol…

3.  You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God..

4.  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

5.  Honor your father and your mother…

6.  You shall not murder.

7.  You shall not commit adultery.

8.  You shall not steal.

9.  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet…

The first 4 commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and the next 6 have to do with how we treat others.  Jesus totally skips over the first 4, and goes right to numbers 5-9, not in the exact order, but he gets them all in there.

Isn’t that interesting?  Wouldn’t you, if someone asked you how to obtain eternal life, wouldn’t you start with stuff about God, especially the first 4 commandments — no other Gods, no idols, no taking God’s name in vain, and keep God’s day holy.  I would, but Jesus doesn’t.

Jesus, instead, focuses the young man’s attention on 5 of the 6 commandments that are pretty straight-forward, and that deal with how you relate to other people.

The young ruler’s answer is — I’ve done all that since I was a kid.  He had honored his father and mother, hadn’t killed anybody, hadn’t committed adultery (obviously he was not the governor of South Carolina), hadn’t stolen anything (after all he was rich), and hadn’t lied in court.

Now, Jesus probably knew that he was a good guy, and that this was going to be his answer.

Because then Jesus says, “But you’re missing one thing.”

At this point, all eyes and ears are on Jesus.  The rich young ruler especially is completely captivated.  And I am sure the look on his face is a mixture of both relief and expectancy.

He’s probably thinking at this point — “Okay, only one thing, that’s good.  Just one more thing, and I’ve got this in the bag.”

Then, Jesus says, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Silence.  Dead still.  Nobody moves.  They’re all in shock, not the least of which is the rich young ruler.

The Bible says “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.”

The young man turns his back on Jesus and walks away.  End of story.  But not quite.

Because the disciples are stunned.  “If this guy can’t make it, who can?” they ask Jesus?  Why did they ask that?  Because first, he was a righteous man.  He took the law seriously and thought he kept it.  Jews in the first century did not have our false humility about “nobody can live up to God’s law.”  They fully expected to keep the law, and to do so developed thousands of rules to explain exactly what the law meant, and how far you could go and still be “keeping the law.”

Of course, Jesus blew all that nonsense away in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said over and over, “You have heard it has been said…but I say unto you.”  And he reimagined what it meant to keep and break the law of God.  But, that’s a sermon for another day.

But, even more than the young man’s righteousness, was his wealth.  If a person was wealthy, others assumed God’s favor on him.  God blessed him with wealth, therefore God smiled on him.  He was one of God’s favorites, and his wealth was the sign of God’s blessing.

Now we know that wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s favor, but there are still thousands of folks who today think so.  The so-called “Prosperity Gospel” movement is built on the idea that God will bless you materially, if you do certain things.  Most of those things involve sending money to your local television evangelist, who promises you that your “seed faith” sown in trust will reap you a great material harvest.  So, the idea that lots of money is a sign of God’s blessing is still with us.

The disciples are stunned.  How can anybody be saved if those whom God has blessed can’t be?  Jesus reply, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Then, Peter sees an opportunity to score some points, and he blurts out, “We have left everything to follow you!”  In other words, “Hey, Jesus, look at us — we’ve left everything just like you told the rich guy to do.  Pretty good, huh?”  Jesus is not impressed, and doesn’t commend Peter, but he does say that “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”  So, you are going to be rewarded in this life and in the life to come no matter what you give up.

But, back to our story.

If We Were Jesus

If we were Jesus, here’s how this conversation would have gone:

Rich young ruler:  What must I do to obtain eternal life?

Us:  Keep the commandments.

RYR:  I’ve done that since I was a kid.

Us:  Great!  Sounds like you’re our kind of people.  By the way, that’s a stunning tie you have on? Did you get that at Brooks Brothers?

RYR:  Why yes I did.  If you like it, I could get you one.  They’re only a $100 each, so not really expensive.  As a matter of fact, take this one, and I’ll get another one later.

Us:  Well, thanks.  Say, let me tell you about our plans to build the largest synagogue in the world.  God has given me a great vision for reaching people, and you can play a big part in that.  Here’s a donor card.  Could I put you down for a lifetime membership for only $10,000.  Of course, for just $5,000 more you could be in the Pastor’s Circle, a very special group of those who support the ministry.

RYR:  And that will get me eternal life?

Us:  Actually, no, but we can talk about that later.  Of course, God will be very pleased with you if you’re a good steward of the things he’s blessed you with.  Could I put you down for a gift today?  Our books close on June 30, so you’ve only got a couple of days left.  Oh, of course, it’s all tax-deductible.

RYR: Well, I was really looking for eternal life today, but sure, why not.  Maybe this is a first step in the right direction.

Us: I’m sure it is.

Okay, you get the point.  If we were Jesus, we would not have told this guy to sell all he had.  Or if we had, we certainly would not have told him to give it to the poor.

Have you ever thought about how he would give it to the poor?  Would he had out 100-drachma coins on the street?  Would he build a new homeless shelter in downtown Jerusalem?  Would he have people sign up, and make sure they qualified by filling out a lot of paperwork?  How would he actually give this money away to the poor?

And if he gave all his money away, he would still be young, but would he be a ruler?  Probably not.  Why, because money is power.  Always has been, always will be.  The rich young ruler knows that money is power, and asks “how can I obtain (get, purchase, acquire) eternal life.”  He’s been able to parlay his wealth into position and prestige, now perhaps it will help him get a guaranteed ticket on the Heaven Express.

The Way We Handle Money Matters

I’ve heard preachers say, “Did Jesus really mean for him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor?  Absolutely not, Jesus already knew he wouldn’t and so this was the young man’s ultimate test.”

And here’s where I’m going to disagree with those preachers.  Jesus usually meant what he said.  I think he meant for the rich young ruler to sell everything he had to follow Jesus.  After all, why would he need it.

  • Jesus had already told his disciples that the birds have nests and the foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
  • He had taught the disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” reminding them of God’s feeding the nation of Israel with manna while they were on their 40-year journey to the Promised Land.
  • Jesus had shown them the power of God to provide by feeding 5,000 people with a boy’s lunch.
  • Jesus had sent them out 2-by-2 and commanded them to take nothing with them, and the disciples returned amazed at how God had provided.
  • Jesus had already told them to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
  • Jesus had healed people for free, fed people for free, cast out demons for free, and preached to the crowd for free.  In God’s economy, God is the source of all supply whatever the need.

Suppose Jesus were to ask us, “Sell this church and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Our insurance company tells us the buildings and furnishings are worth about $3-million.   Not a small sum, even in today’s economy.  We could do that.

I read recently of a church in California that abandoned plans to build a multi-million dollar building and instead began to meet in homes.  All the money they were going to spend on building and maintenance they decided to give to feed people, clothe people, and help people.

The decisions we make about money cannot be hidden under the “we’re doing this for God” excuse.  God doesn’t need our money or our buildings or our wealth to accomplish his purposes.  God needs our obedience.

The Current State of Our Economy

According to the American Almanac, even though the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 26% of the world’s energy.  Well, of course, we do.  We have to in order to run our air conditioners, our washers and dryers, our TVs, our DVD players, our computers, our hot water heaters, our microwaves, our refrigerators and freezers, our electric lights, our stereos, our cell phone chargers, our answering machines, our electric razors, hairdryers, curling irons, treadmills, and soon our electric cars.

So, our economic status separates us from the rest of the world.  Because we use 26% of the world’s energy, we are leaving only 74% of the world’s energy to the remaining 95% of the world’s population.

And, do you know what the developing world tells us when we say to them, “Wow, we’ve made a mess of this planet, let’s all cut back and conserve energy.”

They say to us, “We want the same thing you have.  No fair cutting off the power before we get to have our own cars, microwaves, TVs, computers and so on.”  In other words, they want to be just like us.

I was in Shanghai, China very close to Christmas one year, and I was amazed.  The Chinese malls and shopping districts were decorated for Xmas.  Santa Claus was pictured, presents were wrapped, Christmas songs like “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer” played over the PA systems.  It was just like being in the US during the Christmas shopping spree.  Of course, no Jesus, but hey, they had everything else!

The United Nations last week announced that now over 1-billion people are officially listed as being hungry, not having enough to eat.  1-billion, while we battle obesity here in the United States.  Forgive another China story, but Americans eat such large servings, Dan Ryan’s restaurant in Hong Kong has a disclaimer that says, “We serve American portions.”  Translation: you’re going to get a lot of food!

The Church World is No Different

But, you might say, those are all stories and statistics of the non-Christian world.  Unfortunately, the church world is no different.  Michael Spencer quotes the Charlotte World as saying,

Examples of the Christian-Industrial Complex are easy to see. The Women of Faith conferences, for example, rake in more than $50-million per year and are part of a for-profit, publicly traded company. The Christian retail industry topped $4.5-billion last year. (A bit of context: $30 per month can support many pastors in developing countries. That means that Americans spend enough annually on “Jesus Junk” to support 250-thousand Third World pastors — for 50 years.)

As they say in the ginsu knife commercial, “But, wait, there’s more!”  Beliefnet, which claims to be the world’s largest spirituality site, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp.  Zondervan, one of the oldest and largest evangelical publishers, is owned by Harper/Collins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp.  Beginning to see a pattern here?  Obviously, Rupert Murdoch, an Australian billionaire and media mogul, believes there is big money to be made from the Christian market.

But suppose we quit buying “Jesus Junk” as Michael Spencer calls it.  That would free up $4.5-billion annually for hunger relief, education, medical missions, and anything else you could think of.

Suppose our call to “sell all you have” just means quit buying useless stuff, even if it’s Christian useless stuff?

Economics divides the world into haves and have-nots, and the have-nots are usually not courted by our churches because they can’t contribute financially to the church budget.  Years ago, I heard Rick Warren talk about the type of church member that Saddleback Church went after.  Warren called him, “Saddleback Sam” and his complete demographic included the following profile:

“Saddleback Sam” is a well educated young urban professional. He is self-satisfied, and comfortable with his life. He likes his job and where he lives. He is affluent, recreation conscious, and prefers the casual and informal over the formal. He is interested in health and fitness, and he thinks he is enjoying life more than 5 years ago, but he is overextended in time and money, and is stressed out. He has some religious background from childhood, but he hasn’t been to church for 15 or 20 years, and he is skeptical of “organized religion.” He doesn’t want to be recognized when he comes to church.

I am happy to tell you that since Rick Warren’s runaway bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, Warren has turned his attention to the world’s poor, particularly those with HIV/Aids.  But “Saddleback Sam” is the kind of person almost every church wants — young, rich, professional.  A modern day rich young ruler.

But are we telling these rich young rulers that Jesus says to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him?  Nope, we’re asking them to give to our budgets, our mission programs, and to buy our Christian products.  In short, we who follow Jesus have forgotten that God’s economy is not the world’s, and that Jesus came to make all things new, including how we handle possessions and money.

We who follow Jesus must model a different economic reality for the world to see.  An economy that is based on trust in God, care for God’s children and creation, and a new sense of what is enough in light of the need of the world.  An economy where there is an abundance of resources, and those resources are shared with others so that no one is lacking.

Our new economy must reach out to those who struggle and bring them along with us.  Our new economy must build lives, not monuments to our own pride.  Our new model must put possessions in proper perspective, and we must see the “stuff of our lives” not as material to be hoarded, but as a blessing to be shared.

Our new model must reflect our belief that whoever gives up “home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will not fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”