On Sunday I had the chance to speak to the children at our church. I started by asking them which of them liked Mental Maths? (not many hands went up, but a couple did…which threw me!). I then asked them which of them got pocket money? A few more hands went up and I asked them how much they got. We realised that if we added up all their pocket money we might get to £10. Now, how much money would we have if we all saved our pocket money for a whole year? You guessed it…£520. Now I asked how many children there were in their schools. A couple said around 50 and two said they went to a school of nearly 500. I asked them to imagine all of those children in that school, all saving up their pocket money for a whole year. What a lot of money that would be! Then imagine losing that amount of money…and how sad you would be?
I then explained that this was the amount of money (£10 x 52 weeks x 500 people = £26,000 = $40,000) that someone lost last week in America. But also imagine how you would feel if you found that much money? What would you do with it? Well, amazingly the man who found it didn’t keep one penny (or cent), but gave all of it to the police, who returned it to its owner. This was despite the fact that he had been homeless for the last 8 years. Wow! Imagine that! All that money instantly arrives, more money than you have ever seen in your life, right there in your hands, and you give it all back.
The man in question was Glen James. His honesty earned him an Award from the Boston Police Department for this actions. In response Glen James said:
“Even if I were desperate for money, I would not have kept even a penny of the money I found”, he said. I am extremely religious and God has always very well looked after me. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone – every pedestrian stranger – who has given me spare change. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
I told the kids that Jesus also spoke about money and how it should never be your master. Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” I then explained how people had been so moved by Glen’s honesty that they had donated more than twice the amount that he had found to him. So God rewarded his honesty and gave him more than he gave up.
As I reflected on this Sunday School talk I thought that sometimes it takes a person who has absolutely nothing to turn his back on a fortune for the rest of us to realise how we love money too much. If he had been well off we could have consoled ourselves by saying that “well he probably didn’t take it because he already has a nice house and a good job”. But when a man who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from turns his back on a fortune, only because it is not rightly his, then we see something of the depth of his true character…and it provokes us to question our own motives. Only when everything is striped away and we are tempted at our point of need, do we truly see the power of the Spirit of God.
So I ask, “What can a man who has nothing teach the whole world?”
- Our personal integrity is worth more than any amount of money. How easily we succumb to temptation, how little it takes to get us to compromise. If we prized our integrity and personal holiness as highly as Glen, we would turn away from many of the things we so easily allow to entangle us.
- The more desperate the need, the deeper the self-denial. Many of us think we are denying ourselves things, but we exhibit restraint from a position of relative comfort. The person in dire straits when faced with an easy (but dishonest) way out is the person who is really tested. The opposite is also true – the greater the abundance, the deeper the sacrifice to give it all up.
- Sometimes we get the very thing we have renounced. If we are desperate for money God may well keep us from it, if we deeply long for a position of status, God may well keep us in humble circumstances. If we have truly renounced our desire for power, prestige and money, then he might just be prepared to give them to us – when he is happy they will not corrupt us. Or he may not, either way we will be content.
- Some denials will only be returned in the life to come. The promise of Matthew 19.29 to receive abundantly more than we ever gave up for Christ is ultimately to be fulfilled in the life to come. However, that we might not give up hope of the depth of God’s kindness, he sometimes gives us tasters of his generosity in this life . Glen’s new found abundance is an example of the overflow of the coming kingdom into this present age.
There are similarities here with the other man who lived his life with nothing. He gave up divine glory and majesty, willfully making himself nothing – a much greater sacrifice than any of us could ever make. This man was tempted at the point of starvation to make bread from stones and resisted. He was tempted to trade future glory and present suffering for present dishonest glory – and resisted. This man purposefully set his face to serve others not rule them, to deliberately renounce his right to be God. In return the Father gave him a name above every other – the very thing he was willing to sacrifice. This man never saw the fulfilment during his life of the fruit of the sacrifices he made, but will one day see every knee bow before him, and the children of God perfect in holiness. He only calls us to do what he himself was willing to do – lose his life, so he may find it. So the next time you walk past a homless guy on the street, just think…it might be the next Glen James and he might have something to teach you.