Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Cult of Wealth (Nov-Dec 2001)

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by Larry Bridgesmith
November – December, 2001

His tears were real. But they were very much out of character for a business leader of his stature. As he confronted his associates, he urged them to follow his dedication to the firm and cited the depth of his own sacrifice as an example to emulate.

He spoke of his years of service and his total devotion to the firm’s customers. He told of how his children knew that customers always came first, even on the weekends.

One weekend in particular was a compelling reminder of how business success demanded everything. His college aged daughter learned of a free weekend when she could spend rare time with him and made arrangements to do so. She came home to be with the father she loved and to share every precious moment she could extract from his extremely busy schedule. She arrived only to be disappointed to learn that “something had come up” and the free weekend had once again become consumed by “business.” As she drove back to college late that night, she fell asleep at the wheel, ran off the road and was killed.

“That,” he reported to his colleagues years later, “is how each of you should be prepared to give yourselves to the success of this business.” One can only wonder if the story was told to convince others or himself that his unimaginable loss was worth it.

Whether told in such stark relief or acted out in less dramatic fashion, similar stories can be recounted day after day in our success driven culture: marriages dissolved, children alienated, relationships sacrificed for the next level of economic success. Victim after victim, our culture of wealth claims victory over values that are transcendent and relationships which should be protected forever.

Finding oneself in the top one percent of the nation’s income level cannot satisfy the need for more wealth. There is always someone who has more. The one who has the “most” must fight to keep on top of all the others who would vie for the “richest person in the world.” The addictive character of wealth is that there can never be enough of it.

Jesus’ words to the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19 sound so cruel to our ears. “To have eternal life, you must sell your possessions and give it to the poor.” The young man embodied the American dream. His was religiously well situated, socially upstanding and extremely wealthy. He wanted to be assured that the primacy he gave to his economic standing would not interfere with his forever.

Jesus knew that the young man’s duality could not survive the need every person has to choose the one thing which is more important than anything else. He professed his allegiance to things eternal. But Jesus knew the man’s heart. Out of the deepest compassion, Jesus forced the young man to choose. The man was disappointed that he had to choose, and went away in sorrow because he chose today over forever.

Only one thing can occupy the altar of our hearts. Money comes and then it disappears. It cannot reciprocate the worship we choose to give it. Jesus tried to prevent the young man from having to later tell the story of a lost wife, daughter or soul because his pursuit and retention of wealth demanded everything he had to give.

When the sole object of our worship is the Living God, money and wealth can take their proper place. Wealth can accumulate or diminish and we can know that eternity is found in a person, not a pocketbook.

As the stock market flourishes or declines, we can rest confident that God will outlive the longest bull market in U.S. history. Nor is our real worth linked to our Dunn and Bradstreet rating.

If only the young man could have responded, “My money cannot sustain me and I would give it freely in service to the King.” If only the young executive could have responded, “My daughter is more important than the next deal.” With God, “all things are possible.”

The culture of Christ places a perspective on each of our daily decisions which calls us to value that which lasts over that which cannot. How we choose when Christ puts the question to each of us in the context of each day’s business decisions determines whether we choose life over death, forever over the temporary.

If we can only worship one thing, who or what will it be?New Wineskins

Larry Bridgesmith


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