October 21, 2016 • Life for Leaders
“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
I want to tell you a story that illustrates the complexity of following Jesus as westerners. As you’ll see, it doesn’t have a neat and tidy moral, which is exactly the point.
Back in the 1950’s, my parents owned a small house in town, and for a few years they rented it to a young couple. At one point, the couple fell several months behind on their rent, so Dad asked Mom to drive over and find out why. A harried-looking young woman holding a crying baby answered Mom’s knock. When Mom explained the reason for her visit, the woman began to cry. They had no money, she confessed, even though her husband was looking for work, all day, every day. She pleaded for a bit more time to scrape the rent together, and then blurted out, “I don’t even have money to take my baby to the doctor, and she’s burning up!”
Mom reached forward, only to flinch when she touched the girl’s hot forehead. The baby should have been taken to the hospital hours, if not days, earlier. Mom started to ask if they’d seen a doctor, only to be interrupted again by the mother in a small sheepish voice, “But I don’t even have a car!”
Mom immediately bundled the unhappy woman and her screaming baby into the back of whichever rebuilt junkyard car she was driving at the time, and the three of them raced to the hospital. Paperwork was followed by an unpleasant wait, but at last they were ushered into the doctor’s office. The baby would probably be fine, they were soon told, but just barely—any more delay and there would have been a tragic ending.
Mom paid the hospital bill on the way out the door, naturally.
Later that day, when Mom was back home, Dad asked about the rent check. Mom answered with a description of the sweet young family, along with a blow-by-blow account of saving the baby’s life. “I was able to give that poor young lady a few parenting tips too,” Mom concluded, a sense of awe and accomplishment in her voice.
Dad couldn’t believe it: he’d sent her to collect rent, and instead she’d ended up spending money! That was the last time Dad ever sent mom to collect rent from one of their tenants.
In so many ways I’m the son of my parents.
I want to collect rent and to help people in need. I want to create wealth and to give it away. I never want to be taken advantage of and I always want to be available to listen and help.
If this all sounds complicated, that’s because it is! Being a follower of Jesus and a wealth creator means signing up for a lifetime of tension. For decades of praying and soul-searching, of evaluating and re-evaluating. It means being flexible, creative, and willing to follow the Holy Spirit into places near and far. It might mean making people in your church uncomfortable, just as it might mean making business and cultural peers uncomfortable.
This is why I call it wrestling. Following Jesus isn’t a multiple-choice test. We’re given deceptively simple instructions—“Love your neighbor as yourself,” for example — that takes a lifetime to follow. Every time we meet someone new, we’re invited to love that neighbor in a particular way, just as Jesus uniquely loved each person he encountered.
When I was a boy running loose in Dad’s junkyard, my current life would have been unimaginable. Yet much of who I am — how I think, where I’ve been, the way I act — is a direct consequence of spending my formative years in close contact with the rough-and-tumble characters at my dad’s business. One downside of the junkyard mentality, though, is that it doesn’t care much about the complicated solutions to complex problems. In the junkyard, things tend to be simple. You see a car and you pull it apart. You see a customer and you swap a part for a payment. If an employee isn’t working out, you fire him. In that world there just isn’t a lot of time—or even need — for nuance or reflection.
So what’s a Jesus-following junkyard kid supposed to do with things like generational poverty and child trafficking? Or environmental degradation, lack of educational opportunities, racism, exploitation, homelessness, and hunger? These things are exceedingly tough to tackle.
There’s the problem: those things aren’t things.
We’re not talking about “conditions of our world” or “regrettable consequences of political corruption.” We’re talking about people. Some next door, and some across the globe. Men, women, and children, created in God’s image, loved by their Creator, and infinitely valuable. I can’t comprehend their pain, let alone fix it.
But I can try to keep my eyes and heart open. And I can try to keep the call of Acts 1:8 as the primary guide for using my wealth to build the kingdom. Will you join me in the lifelong, joyful wrestling match? Let’s go into all the world, near and far, knowing that we will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit for whatever surprises God brings our way.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever caught yourself seeing people as things or issues?
What about your upbringing or training makes it harder to enter real relationships with needy people? Easier?
What opportunities might following Acts 1:8 provide you?
Pray through the following scripture and ask God for guidance and wisdom as you wrestle with these issues:
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10)
Portions of this series were adapted from Roy’s book Junkyard Wisdom: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts. You can connect with Roy at www.junkyardwisdombook.com.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Understanding Life in Christ (Galatians 1:6–4:31)
Roy Goble grew up working in his father’s junkyard, where he learned to take apart absolutely anything and to evaluate everything for the value of its parts. After studying economics and business at Westmont College, and marrying his high school sweetheart, D’Aun, he joined his family’s growing real estate business. As the business flourished, he experienced the complexity of creating wealth while following Jesus. He began to wrestle with what he knew about business and what Jesus was calling him to be and do, beginning a decades-long quest for a way to understand his place in God’s kingdom and in a global society.
Click here to view Roy’s profile.
I really enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing this story. It was so moving. I have received the kindness of strangers and hope to be able to spread it around any way I can.
I appreciate the way Roy explains the very nuanced difficulties of so many relationships. I direct a relief/development project in Uganda targeted at the very poor. We work with hundreds of families. Everyone we come into contact with has his or her own story. How to honor God and value the dignity of each individual is a huge challenge. It’s also a primary calling of our lives as Christ-followers. I appreciate the encouragement to keep trying to do both the best of our ability.