Sell Your Possessions!

Today, we find ourselves in the tenth chapter of Mark, verses seventeen through thirty-one. It is a story we know well. It is recorded, with minor variations, in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Combining all three gives us the whole picture. According to the three Gospels, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he is confronted by a rich young ruler. In other words, this man has everything this world has to offer. He is rich, so he can buy anything his heart desires. He never looks at a price tag or is concerned with sales. He is young, so his health is good. His calendar is not filled with doctor’s appointments and funeral home visitations. He is a ruler, so he has influence. He has friends in high places. He has everything this world has to offer, but he doesn’t have everything.

His soul is restless, so he goes to Jesus to obtain spiritual peace. Verse 17 is key. It says, the rich young ruler asked Jesus clearly, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answers the question with a question. The Master asked him if he was guilty of murder or adultery. Had he ever stolen, given false testimony, or defrauded someone? Had he always honored his father and mother? The man had kept all those commandments because the man had been sincere from birth. He was a true child of his faith. Jesus must have been impressed. However, this is the problem: Salvation is not obtained by what we have not done. Salvation is obtained by what we do. What does Jesus want this young man to do? The Master wants the young man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. That way, he will be free to follow him. Why would Jesus say such a thing? This is the answer: Jesus knows our possessions are often damaging to our spiritual health.Can I be honest with you?

It is my experience that we know the story of the rich young ruler, but we don’t like the story of the rich young ruler. The words of Jesus are too radical. Are you willing to sell all your possessions and give all money to the poor? If you sold all your possessions and gave your money to the poor, you would find yourself both bankrupt and homeless. Jesus’s words seem to be insane, so we dismiss them. Many believe this story is reserved for the truly rich, not us. It is reserved for the 1% of the American population that controls 38% of our nation’s wealth. He can’t be speaking to the 90% of the American population who own 78% of our nation’s debt. This is the problem: Jesus is speaking to us. I don’t want to sound like a preacher, but in comparison to most of the world, we are rich. We don’t consider ourselves rich because we compare ourselves with people who live at the same standard of living. You know the truth. We are much better at seeing the things we want and blind to the things we have. It isn’t just true of the youth going on a mission trip, it is true for all of us. Sometimes, we need to experience someone else’s world so we can appreciate our lives. We need to step out of our worlds to learn something about our world.

I live about fifteen miles from my childhood home. Every time I am in Warren, Ohio, I drive through the old neighborhood. I always liked driving through those east side streets and my wife likes listening to my silly stories about my childhood. The tour is exact the same every time. We drive by the location of my old elementary school, McKinley, which has been torn down. We drove by the location of my old Junior High School, East, which has been torn down. We drive my old high school, Harding, which is now torn down. (All my former school buildings are now torn down. They are trying to destroy the evidence J)  We drove by the homes of my childhood friends. Some are boarded up. We drove by my childhood home. My parents bought that house as their starter house in the early 1950s, but they didn’t leave it until I was out of college in the mid-1970s. The room that was my nursery later was the same room I slept in the night before I left for college. I do not want to sound critical, but the old neighborhood had seen better days. The street along with the rest of the city looks tired and worn out. When we get back to our home, my wife Kathryn always says to me, “Sometimes, I forget how nice our house is.” She is correct. Sometimes, when we step out of our world, we learn something about our world.

In 1996, my wife started making trips to Russia to help orphans who will never be adopted. We have traveled to the former Soviet Union several dozen times. Those trips changed me and the way I look at my life. One of the people we met during those trips was an orphan named Vlad. He lost his legs below his knees in a train accident in a Moscow rail yard. Kathryn brought him to America several times to get, and maintain, his prosthetic legs. We never legally adopted Vlad, but we did emotionally adopt Vlad. She communicates with him regularly. He is now thirty-four years old and lives in the city of Dmitrov, one and a half hours north of Moscow. Vlad lives with his girlfriend, Yulia. We took them out to dinner on our last trip to Russia. They have hard lives. Periodically, Kathryn sends them money to help. If you asked Vlad if Kathryn and I are rich, he would say, “Yes!” When I’m with Vlad, I feel rich. Sometimes, when we step out of our world, we learn something about our world.

Years ago, Kathryn and I were in Russia and stayed behind. The rest of the team flew back to the United States. We stayed behind to visit a United Methodist missionary, Matt Lafferty. He showed us his work and took us to a free medical clinic. That Russian medical clinic was filled with Africans. Their dark complexions caught me off guard, so I asked why they were there. Matt explained, Russians are extremely prejudiced against anyone of color. The Africans go to the clinic not just for their medical needs but for their social needs. I said, “No! What are these Africans doing in Russia?” He told me, many Africans have come to Russia because in Russia they have more opportunity than in their homeland. They see the Russians as rich. They see Americans as extremely rich. Sometimes, when we step out of our world, we learn something about our world.

I challenge you to discover just how rich you are. According to, the average person in the world makes $850 annually. The average American makes $70,930 annually. The average Ohioan makes $51,775. If you make $41,000 annual, then you are in the top 3% of the world’s richest. I know, I have gone on too long to make this point, but I want you to get it. When Jesus speaks to the rich young ruler, he is speaking to us. He is speaking to you! Like it or not, you are rich.

The rich young ruler walks away sad because he couldn’t sell his possessions. You really can’t blame him. Are you willing to sell all your possessions? The disciples are trying to understand. It is hard to comprehend. In verse 23, Jesus tells us why he said such a radical thing. This is why. Jesus said, it is hard for the rich to get into heaven. He did not say it was impossible for the rich to get into heaven. Jesus knows what we want to ignore. While money is a good thing in this world, money has a way of frustrating our spiritual growth. Spiritually speaking, how you handle your possessions and how you view your possessions are extremely important. They won’t just influence your time in this world. They will influence your eternity.

The Bible tells us four ways our money is retarding our spiritual growth.

  1. Money often leads to pride and arrogance. God hates pride and arrogance. God loves the humble.
  2. Money gives us a false sense security. Money can eliminate some of life’s problems but not all. It is God who has the final say.
  3. Money drains us of our compassion and mercy. We often think we deserve our money and judge those who don’t. Your money doesn’t make you right, but your money may make you hard-hearted.
  4. Money has a way of dividing our loyalties. Is money the driving force in your life? Or is God the driving force in your life?

Your possessions are a great test. Are you passing the test?

John Wesley (1703-1791) was the founder of the great Methodist movement. History tells us, he was aware of the influence of money on his spiritual life. He believed in making all you could so you could give more of it away. When he was a student at Oxford, his annual income was thirty British pounds. He lived on 28 pounds and gave away 2 pounds. Thirty British pounds then is worth about $6,500 today. Through the years his income grew. At one point, he made 60 pounds. Then, it grew to 90 pounds, then it grew to 120 pounds. What didn’t change was his living expenses, 28 pounds. He just gave away more all the time. Wesley was aware of the influence of money on his spiritual life. How aware are you?

Here is the good news for today: You are rich! Here is the bad news for today! You are rich! The way you handle your money, the way you view your money is a great challenge to your spiritual maturity. Remember, what Jesus said, “It is hard for the rich to get into heaven”, not impossible. The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) once said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”

What Is Money?

We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Luke, Luke 21:1-14. It is important that you know it is late in Jesus’s earthly ministry. By this chapter, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and cleansed the temple. The only things that remain are the events of Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. In other words, Jesus’s time is running out. Every word counts and not even one can be wasted. Of all things Jesus could have mentioned, he mentions money.

The Master is standing near the temple, as people gave their offering. Prior to the pandemic, we passed the plate to collect the offering. Now, the plate sits silently in the back. One thing has not changed. The envelopes are placed in the plate to hide the amount given. In Jesus’s day, the offering was more public. There were thirteen large coned shaped boxes to give your donation. It is assumed the rich gave the largest amounts. That assumption is often wrong. Sometimes the rich are rich because they spend or give reluctantly. Through human eyes, the biggest givers are the most generous. Through the eyes of God, the biggest givers, give it all. There is a world of difference between the two. That is the case of the women in the text. Through human eyes, she gave next to nothing, two copper coins. Those two coins will not pay any bills. However, through the eyes of God, she gave the most, because she sacrificed it all. In verse four, Jesus said she gave all she had. No one can question her devotion. That line fills me with shame. How does this nameless woman make you feel? I always save some for me.

There is no topic in the church today more sensitive than money. It is true of both the unchurched and the churched. Regularly, I read articles about why people do not go to church. They are all different, but they are all the same. has a list of why people do not go to church. It is typical. According to them, people do not go to church because:

  1. Church is negative
  2. Church is boring
  3. Church is exclusive
  4. Church is homophobic
  5. Church is organized religion
  6. Church is limiting
  7. Church is time consuming
  8. Churches are always asking for money

The unchurched do not want to hear about money! However, the churched, the people who do come to church, do not want to hear about money either. Experience has taught me why. Regular attenders do not want to hear about money because they like their church being poor. It is an excellent excuse for doing nothing. I know that sounds harsh, but it is true. Try to start a new ministry to help someone in need and everyone cries poor. There are countless questions. Try to raise money to buy something for ourselves, and the money suddenly appears. We care about the needy in our world, but not that much. Money is such a sensitive topic! Can I be honest with you?

As a pastor, I like talking about money within the life of the church. I do not really care about what the unchurched say. They will just find another excuse not to come. I do not really care what regular attenders say about money. I am not an activities director of a senior citizen’s center, where everyone must be happy. God has called me into the ministry, and I only care about what Jesus said. If Jesus talked about money, then I should talk about money. So, with that in mind, let us answer the question of the day, what is money?

Years ago, I found myself in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I have heard about it for years, but it was my first visit. It is located about fifty miles south of Tulsa and is the headquarters of the Creek Indian Nation. It was my mother-in-law’s hometown as a child and where she wanted to be buried. We did that sad job on that visit. We took that opportunity to explore the town. We drove by the empty lot where the family home once stood. We drove by the park where the grandchildren once played. We walked around the town green and reminisced at the church. Everyone had a story. Some stories made us laugh and others made us cry. The saddest story was about the death of my mother-in-law’s father. He died in his early forties of pneumonia. The family thrived until that day. After his death, the family struggled financially. He was not a husband or a father; he was the bread winner. Someone said, his wife, my mother-in-law’s mother, never smiled again. She died in a sea of depression. What is money?

Money is important! Do not tell me money does not matter. Money does matter! Just try to live without money and see how your life changes. In homes where there is a lack of money or in homes where the money is mismanaged, everything is a struggle, and everyone is unhappy. Guess what? The same thing is true at church. Where there is a lack of money everyone is unhappy. Let me ask you this difficult question. If everyone gave the same amount as you, would this ministry expand or contract? What is money? Money is important, but money is limited.

What do these people have in common?

          Michael Jackson

          Kim Basinger

          Mike Tyson

          Nicolas Cage

          MC Hammer

          Toni Braxton

          Ulysses Grant

          Willie Nelson

          Larry King

          Thomas Jefferson

The answer is each one of these successful people struggled handling their money. Each one of them either died broke or were forced to declare bankruptcy at some point in their life. This is the point. It does not matter how much money you make in your life money is limited. If you don’t believe me then ask Mike Tyson. He made $400 million and declared bankruptcy. If you do not believe me then look at Michael Jackson. He was $400 million in debt at the time of his death.

I talk to young people about their futures. Everyone tells me how much money they will make. The real questions are, how much money are you going to spend? How much money are you going to save? How much money are you going to give away? It is important to manage your money wisely. You are only going to make so much money in your lifetime. Do you think your money is going to last your entire life? After all, money is limited! What is money? Money is important and limited, so money is revealing.

Recently, William Shatner (born 1931) became to oldest person to fly into space. He is ninety years old. If you have the opportunity, would you like to fly into space? According to the Pew Research Group, 42% of Americans say they would be interested in traveling into space. The world of commercial space travel is heating up and it is expensive. Jeff Bezos (born 1964) won a raffle and got a seat on the Blue Origin. He paid $28 million. Virgin Galactic said their seats into space start at $450,000. So let me ask you the question again. If you have the opportunity, would you like to fly into space? How important is space travel to you? We are all agree money is important and money is limited. It is equally true. Money is revealing. We only spend our money on things that are important to us. So, what is important to us?

According to the Washington Examiner, American spend annually:

$93 Billion on beer

$77 Billion on the lottery

$12 Billion on Pornography

$6.7 Billion on Taco Bell

$6.7 Billion on Snacks

$5.6 Billion on College Sports Merchandise

What are you going to spend your money on? Don’t forget money is important. It effects every corner of your life. Money is also limited. You are only to make a certain amount. That forces us to admit that money is revealing. We only spend money on things that are important to you. How important is Jesus to you? How important is this church to you? Andy Stanley (born 1958) once said, “Greed is not a financial issue. It’s heart issue.”

When I was in seminary, I was more than a poor seminary student. I was a destitute seminary student. Through my years in Kentucky, I had all kinds of jobs. For a while, I cleaned office buildings late at night. For a while, I worked at the local newspaper. For a while, I worked maintenance at the school. Through all those years, I served as the pastor of the Pleasant Grove Christian Church in Lancaster, Kentucky. The church was dominated by one family, the Sharps. They hired me to work on their tobacco farm.

The farm was owned by the father, Allen. The farm was run by his three sons, Horace, Fred and Lee. I know more about burley tobacco than anyone else here today. I have seeded tobacco beds, pulled tobacco plants, set tobacco plants, sprayed tobacco plants, cut tobacco plants, hung tobacco plants and stripped tobacco plants. Several times, I went to market to sell the tobacco. It was hard work. Prior to the Civil War, slaves did that work. In my time, poor destitute seminary students were hired to do the work. I learned a great deal about burley tobacco, but one thing still amazes me. All the money that it took to raise the tobacco for the next crop was borrowed. They hoped to pay it back once the crop was sold. On the Sharp farm, all that borrowed money was held in checking account with a green checkbook cover.

I worked hard but I was still destitute. One semester, I could not pay my bill. I think I still owed $300 from the past semester. If I did not pay it off, I could not register for the next semester. My personal life was complex at that time. I did not tell my family. I could not call anyone within the United Methodist Church because they had not accepted me yet. (They still do not want me.) There was no one, I was alone. To this day, I still do not know how the Sharps found out, I never said a word. One day after church, Horace stayed behind. I was locking the door of that ancient church, when Horace said, “We want to give you something, boy.” He pulled out that green checkbook and pulled out a check. He handed it to me and said, “Here.” It was made out to me for the exact amount I owed. I said, “I can’t take this, it is borrowed money.” He smiled and said, “Shut up you stupid Yankee. Take it, study hard and make us proud.” That check saved by future.

Do not tell me money is not important. Do not tell me money is not revealing. Do not tell me money does not talk. That check told me the Sharp’s believed in me and it gave me the courage to face another day. If this church has deemed anything positive from me, it is because of them. How you manage your money says a great deal about you. Andy Stanley was not wrong. He said, “Greed is not a financial issue. It’s a heart issue.”