“But I would take a little cash over your very flesh and blood” – Derek Webb
I remember the first big real estate deal I ever did. I was in way over my skis. I had stumbled upon this amazing investment opportunity. It was a homerun, an easy deal and the man who owned it really wanted to sell it to me. I clearly couldn’t afford it on my own , but I already knew who my partner would be. He was a trusted friend and a man of great integrity who was always in my ear asking me to bring him a great deal. I made one call and it was done. He had four other buddies who would all partner up with us and I would run the day to day management of it while they put up the bulk of the cash.
All of these partners were so well put together financially. Most of them were tried and true successful in oil and gas. I , on the other hand, was younger and trying to make my way in real estate. I’ll never forget presenting my personal financial statement to the bank in effort to obtain financing. It must have been like a great game of “ one of these does not look like the others”. For those of you who may not be familiar with a personal financial statement, it is simply two lists of everything you own and everything you owe with a given monetary amount for each item. The idea is to own more than you owe, and the difference between the two is your “personal net worth”. Banks use it to analyze who they are lending money to and business men and women often pride their existence upon it. These guys were all worth multi-millions and I was basically a break even at best financially on paper. I must admit from that point on in my career in real estate I became very obsessed in my personal financial statement. I updated it often and I kept it on my desk to look at for inspiration. Grow rich, become financially secure, make something of yourself. I am embarrassed to say that a large bit of my treasure here on earth during my real estate career became what was on that personal financial statement. How sickening.
Go find that field!
One of my favorite places in all of scripture is Matthew 13:44. In it contains the shortest, yet most pound for pound effective reflections of all time. Jesus seems to strip away everything and present the gospel to us in its most basic form. He says so clearly “ the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field.”
I love this passage for so many reasons, but perhaps the main reason is the mention of this man’s joy. Did you catch the emphasis Jesus places on joy in this summon? The man isn’t guilted into selling what he has. He is not shamed into what he has. Jesus doesn’t even tell him he needs to sell all he has. The man simply, and apparently pretty quickly, and with great joy realizes that Jesus is far better than everything else he has in his life. Jesus is better! Jesus is better than his plans. Jesus is better than his 401-K. Jesus is better than his security, his retirement, his money, and his possessions. Jesus is better. So often we find ourselves running around pursuing things other than Jesus. Some of us will spend a lifetime pursuing these things and we convince ourselves that they are not keeping us from Jesus and from building his kingdom. That is a sad reality for me to write. Do you think the apostles in the early church or any of the great saints spent their lives accumulating things on earth? This man gladly trades it all with joy and he is not even asked to do so. How I long to emulate this man. How I long to have so much joy in my heart for Jesus and his kingdom that I could follow in this man’s steps. For this man Jesus is the treasure and he wants nothing else at all.
That first real estate deal set me on a course. It was a course of accumulation and a pursuit of financial security and treasure. I kept updating my personal financial statement, kept looking at it, and kept focusing on it. Many people will tell you that this type of life is no big deal at all. In fact we have essentially labeled it “The American Dream”. Accumulate the home and items that make you happy while preparing to secure treasure for your retirement that way you can sleep easy at night and hand something on to your children and grandchildren when you die. Many of us buy into this like it is the treasure in the field. Our lives reflect this type of belief. We work and live for financial treasure and security, but isn’t it intriguing that these things are not really of interest to Jesus in the gospels? Read them thru again with the American Dream in mind. Is Jesus calling us to the American Dream or is he calling us to something far greater?
Most days I am up early in hopes to pray and read. I am so easily distracted and so prone to wander off that I have to do this in order to stay connected to God. The world is enormous, some seven billion plus huge, and the spiritual and physical needs of people are even greater. I live in one small corner of this world, but it is an important corner of the world. How will I spend my days and nights? Our lives are extremely short. In just a couple of hours children’s stomachs will be growling once again in Asia while their parents are living lives apart from knowing the greatness of Jesus Christ. As I type these words early this morning Jesus is inviting many of us to abandon all and build his kingdom so that those who hunger and thirst for him but do not know him would be able to receive him. But we are so tied up in our own little dreams and we are so caught up polishing our own little treasures.
In just a few moments my children will arise and the day will start. There will be knocking at the door with people in need. No food, no mattress to sleep on, no job, drank too much cerveza last night, had no water to drink last night, need money for the bus, no home, no shoes, and on and on it goes. If I don’t rise early to pray and read scripture, then I have absolutely nothing to give. I must rise early and be reminded who and where my treasure is. If I don’t speak with God early and often then I lose sight of my treasure.
Apostolic Witness and treasure
Each one of us, by virtue of our baptism is called to bear apostolic witness. That is, we are called to bear witness or example to the truth and goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that is passing and fading. In short, we are called to make it known to the world that Jesus Christ is our treasure. That Jesus is better… than everything else. The prophet Isaiah states it this way “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26:8). Do we desire for the name of Jesus to be great among those we live with? Do we desire his name to be great and renowned among the nations?
Saint Pope John Paul II gifted the Church with an undeniable evangelical witness as he managed to log more miles traveling and preaching the gospel than any other pope in our church’s history. It was he who so wholeheartedly began his letter Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer) with the following words “the mission of Christ the Redeemer , which is entrusted to the church, is still very far from completion. As the second millennium after Christ’s coming draws to an end , an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning.” (Redemptoris Missio 1). Imagine that, more than 2,000 years removed from the life and death of Christ and we are only just beginning as a Church. This is great news and terrible news at the same time. It is great news because it declares to us once again that now is the time to bear witness to the world and you and I are still alive to be a part of it. A world that is hurting, longing, and lost. Now is the time to show the world our true treasure, Jesus. It is terrible news because it also sheds light on the truth that personally as a church we have turned inward and failed in many ways.
Often times we have failed to point people to this treasure that is Jesus Christ. Somehow, in a world of constant broadcasting and streaming, we have failed with our lives to fruitfully broadcast Jesus Christ to the nations who do not know him. We have failed in so many ways to identify Jesus in the lost, poor, and hungry. It’s baffling. For St. John Paul II the evidence of his life’s treasure was made immensely visible throughout his twenty-six-year papacy. The selfless shepherd traveled to 129 different countries and logged more than a million miles making his treasure known to the world. For him the name and renown of the Lord was a sole priority.
What and where is your treasure? In Matthew 6:20 Jesus declares, “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” What consumes your heart each and every day? What consumes your time and your money?
One day, about a year before I got out of business, I was shown a feature on my smart phone whereby I could track every single mile I logged each day so long as I had my phone on me. I was shocked and my treasure came into perspective. I could see many familiar places on my daily route: my home, do I really eat at that restaurant that much, my children’s school parking lot. But there was an undeniable pattern I could trace in my daily routine. The routine was to my office in the early morning, to several properties that we owned and managed, to the bank to make deposits and payments, back to my office, and back home. These were my days. Of course, I did other things and there were other location pings each day, but these locations formed a giant square. These four locations showed me where my treasure was and no amount of rationalizing could change that fact. I was a little embarrassed honestly. There weren’t many locations on there that did not involve some sort of exchange of money (hopefully) in my favor. Money had slowly become my treasure. I wouldn’t have considered myself greedy per se, but my smart phone revealed evidence otherwise.
So what consumes your days and nights? Is your smart phone record going to look more like Saint John Paul II’s or like mine used to look? I am not saying there is anything inherently bad with going to work, making money, and supporting a family. These are good, necessary, and noble pursuits. But the question we must constantly (as in every single day) ask ourselves is: Is Jesus Christ my sole treasure? Am I anything like the man who out of joy sold all he owned to find Jesus and his kingdom in that field? The world will continue to see right through our American Prosperity version of Christianity until we are willing and able to joyfully trade all we have for Jesus Christ.