Rich Toward God: Long Term Investment (1)

. 6 min read

2013 Nov 3, Christ Church, All Saints, Holy Communion


Axiom: You get what you measure.

Corollary: You might as well measure what you want to get.

But we aren’t always good at knowing what we want to
get.  So, well intentioned leaders make
boneheaded decisions.  The coach wants to
protect a lead by keeping the other team from scoring, but becomes so
conservative that his team can’t keep possession.  Society wants “proficient” children, so we
create a test to measure that and teach to the test.  Because we get what we measure … only we
forgot to actually measure what we want to get. 
Business wants to “right size”, but ends up eliminating their most
profitable people … because they are measuring the wrong things.  In the language of Luke’s gospel:

Warren Buffet, the “Oracle of Omaha”, says, “I try to buy
stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them.  Because, sooner or later, one will.”

Most of the time, the general scorecard for success is
clear.  You win the game by scoring more
than your opponent.  You succeed in
school by getting A’s.  You get into
college, or, “the right college”, you get a job and you make money.  We’ve got a market economy, and we use market
valuations (such as net worth, or “net income projected over time” [Reeb, 34])
to define a life, to determine success. 
And, the one with the most toys wins. 
The measuring is easy, but what if we are measuring the wrong things?

Luke 12:15  Be
on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in
the abundance of possessions.

            Making a
living is not the same thing as making a life (Bob Buford, in Reeb, 31).  Do not confuse the measurement of one for the

Luke 12:18  I
will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my
grain and my goods.

            This rich
fool was confusing the measurement of one thing for the existence of
another.  At the very pinnacle of
success, when he had accomplished more than he had imagined, he loses
everything and has nothing left.

            Lloyd Reeb,
a former real estate developer and now the director of Halftime Ministries,
tells the story of a friend, Rob, whose company was growing hand over
fist.  Rob told him over coffee that “he
could easily continue growing his company at exponential rates, but he also
[knew] in the end it will be just like Monopoly: ‘All the pieces go back in the
box’”.  Reeb’s conclusion: “Many of us
spend much of our time driving the next quarter’s earnings, even while our potential
impact on eternity slips past us on all sides” (22).  Foolishness.

Today’s Scripture contains two stories: First, two brothers
are arguing over the inheritance and one of them wants Jesus to make the other
divide it more fairly.  Jesus
declines.  Not, I think, because he wants
to avoid what is patently an impossible situation to satisfy, but because he
wants to push the man deeper: “Be on your guard against ALL kinds of greed.”  “One’s life does not depend upon one’s
belongings, even when they are more than sufficient” (trans by Fitzmyer,
967).  The brother wants what he does not
have, believes that having it will make him more secure than he already
is.  How much does he need?  Just a little bit MORE.  But “more” is deceptive.  It promises but can never deliver “enough”.  “More” is easy to measure, “enough” much more
difficult.  And we routinely confuse the
two.  Foolishness.

The second story is told by Jesus to unwrap the deceptive
craving for more.  A rich man – already
rich, already with large barns – has a harvest greater than he can
imagine.  He recognizes it as surplus,
but it quickly becomes what he needs, it quickly is transformed into
security.  But wealth, no matter how
great the surplus, can never be a true security.  Next year, we’ll need bigger barns.  Or, tomorrow we may die.  Surplus is easy to measure, security much
more difficult.  And we routinely confuse
the two.  Foolishness.

            This rich
man has an interior conversation, a talk with his own soul.  But he forgets that we have an eternal soul.  He confuses time, a long time by the
measurement of his surplus, with eternity. 
So, he never reckons on death, and never reckons with God.  He never heard the old saw, “I never saw a
hearse pulling a U-Haul.”  And the
meaning of his life can be found in what he tells his soul to do: “Eat, drink,
and be merry”.  It is a quote from
Ecclesiastes 9.7, a book on meaninglessness. 
Meaning in Ecclesiastes 9 is simply being alive: “A living dog is better
than a dead lion” (9.4). 
Foolishness.  In the traditional
language of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities”.

            We know
meaning is more, but meaning is so hard to measure that we substitute other
things for meaning.  George Murray said
that the rich fool was foolish because he confused surplus with security, time
with eternity.  The problem is a
universal human problem.  All of us
struggle with it.  There are a couple
reasons it is important for us to recognize our saints: One, it provides us
with models of people who have learned to be “rich toward God”, whose life is
so much more than “the abundance of possessions”.  Two, it reminds us that we must all deal with
death, that life is fatal.  And, if we
begin to deal with death, we just might begin to deal with God, with eternity,
with true security. 

Four practical steps toward being “rich toward God”:

Develop a rich prayer life. 
Resolve to take a small step to expand your prayer life.  For the past few years, I have worked to
expand my prayer life in some simple way every year.  Simple is key.  There’s no sense in booking a guilt
trip.  Perhaps you will resolve to pray
for people when you wait in line at the grocery store or the bank.  Or pray for your children every night as you
brush your teeth.  Or set aside a block
of time weekly, or smaller chunks daily. 
Take one step at a time.

Give thanks.  It is
interesting that the rich man of the story never acknowledges God or the people
who have made his success possible.  When
we succeed on a grand scale, when we achieve our dreams, there are always
people who have made a difference and there are always a few instances where –
despite all our work to control the outcome – the ball simply bounced our
way.  Despite this, the man never gives
thanks to God and certainly doesn’t offer bonuses to his staff.

Pour yourself into other people.  It is implied in the question to the rich
man, about to die: “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  People are eternal.  Stuff passes away, ending up in a garbage
pile or archaeological dig, and what is still around when we die doesn’t come
with us.  Invest in people.  Go out to lunch with a friend.  Bake cookies for the new neighbors.  Volunteer at the school.  Visit some of our older adults.

Give.  We have enough
not by having more but by giving more. 
By orientation I am miserly. 
Building bigger barns?  I totally
get it.  I pinch pennies, save all I can,
but no matter how abundant my savings I still sense scarcity rather than “the
abundance of possessions”.  I don’t know
about you, but my barns aren’t big enough yet. 
The Scripture teaches us that it is generosity that releases abundance
in our lives.  Not that giving leads to
having more.  It actually leads to having
less.  But once you figure out that you
don’t need more, you suddenly find that you have more than enough.  Generosity – and Robin – broke me from my
dependance on more.  In my case, tithing
wasn’t, and isn’t, enough.  We had to
give away more – cars, a dining room suite – good stuff, not junk.  And it breaks me of my addiction to stuff,
helps me live in the abundance, the richness of all that we have been given.


Warren Buffet quotes, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance,
11/2013, p 32.

Lloyd Reeb, 2004 uncorrected proof, From Success to
Significance: When the Pursuit of Success Isn’t Enough,
Zondervan: Grand Rapids.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, 1985, The Gospel According to Luke
Anchor Bible 28A, Doubleday: Garden City, New York.
George Murray, a sermon from the late 1980s at Columbia International University,
used the language of surplus and security, time and eternity.