This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” – Luke 14:33
In this year of remembering things God has taught us in 40 years of ministry with Mars Hill, we’ve already looked at some of the lessons learned during the economic downturn in Houston during the late 80’s. God has a way of using difficult times to teach us lessons. This is yet another lesson from that time.
The board of Mars Hill had gathered on a Saturday morning for the quarterly board meeting. At that time, our budget was much smaller than it is now, and facing a $25,000 deficit was a potentially catastrophic issue. As we prayerfully discussed our options, a thought came into my mind. Our camera is worth $25,000+. I didn’t share the thought, but immediately, as the board was discussing the situation, I began having an inner conflict over the idea of selling our camera.
We were a small media ministry with big dreams. And that camera was truly a high-end piece of technology. When other producers heard we had this camera, you could see it in their response, “Wow, you’ve got an Arri SR High Speed!!!” As I thought about my feelings, I realized my struggle was more about being the owner of that camera than it was about the camera itself. The Holy Spirit won the argument, and I jumped into the discussion, “We can sell our camera.” The room was quiet. There was somewhat of a miracle story behind the way we received the camera, and they all knew it.
Even before the board could finish processing the thought, one of our staff interrupted the meeting. “Fred, Mr. Smith is on the phone, and I think you might want to take the call.” I excused myself from the meeting. Mr. Smith told me he’d been praying about our work and had decided to donate $25,000 to the ministry. Walking back to the conference room, the story of the rich young ruler came to mind. It is recorded for us in Mat.19:16-26, Mar.10:17-27 and Luk.18:18-27.
The rich young ruler wanted to know what he had to do to have the kind of life Jesus was offering. He told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments. Jesus told him there was one thing more he must do, “. . . sell all you possess and give to the poor.” – Mar.10:21. This story resonates with Jesus’s teaching on the cost of discipleship when He said, “. . . none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” – Luk.14:33. At that very moment, I had a new appreciation and personal understanding of the truth being taught in these verses.
Jesus wasn’t telling us we must take a vow of poverty to follow Him and to experience the fullness of life He intends for us. He wasn’t telling us that possessions are bad. Notice in the Luke 14:33 verse (NASB), He says, “his own possessions.” That little word “own” adds a great deal of meaning to the verse. Some translations handle this Greek word (heautou) in a way that, in my opinion, diminishes its power in modifying the word “possessions.” Jesus used that word, I believe, to give extra strength to the idea He wanted us to get.
If we have a healthy view of the concept of “ownership,” then we understand that God is really the owner of all things. We are the stewards of all that God has entrusted to us, but we are not truly the owners. When you begin to believe that you actually own something, you are in fact usurping God’s rightful place of ownership.
In these passages, Jesus is addressing the “heart” of the matter (pun intended). These passages are not about whose name is on the deed of an asset. They’re actually about what possesses your heart. When we lose sight of the fact that God is the rightful owner of everything and begin thinking that we are the owner, then something very significant begins to change in our hearts. The possession begins to possess us. And when we get to the place of that rich young ruler, we are no longer free to say yes to Jesus, because we cannot say no to our possessions. The heart of a disciple of Christ cannot be possessed by anything other than Jesus.
We see this in Genesis 22 when God tested Abraham, telling him to prepare his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. This was not a test that Abraham would fail. God knew what was going to happen. Abraham was being tested to reveal the character of his heart as testimony to every power and person in heaven and earth to witness for all time, and even to Abraham himself. Sometimes we need to know what we’re made of in order to face what lies ahead. Abraham was being tested the way we test a precious metal or stone to determine its authenticity and purity.
Returning to the meeting, the whole group was able to see God’s hand in the timing of that gift. They were able to share in the blessing of it . . . and in the lesson I had learned in the process. God did not want us to sell that camera. We were blessed to use it for several more years. But He did want us to be willing to sell it, or for that matter, to do anything else in order to be totally abandoned to His leadership. He desires that we be responsive instruments in His hands, and that is not possible if our hearts are chained to things.
As Christ followers, we should do a regular inventory to discern what possessions have a grip on our heart. If you can’t let it go, then it will interfere with your availability to follow (and experience) Jesus. Nothing is worth that much!