On May 7, Bill McGee wrote in a USA Today article about the crashed Aeroflot plane that killed 41 of the passengers onboard: “Reports from people on the plane indicate the evacuation may have been slowed by passengers grabbing their bags. Videos show passengers taking their carry-on bags with them as they exited the plane,” the AFA said in a statement. “We will never know if more lives could have been saved if the bags were left behind” (online edition, “Were lives lost at the cost of carry-ons in Aeroflot plane crash that killed 41?”). It’s outrageous and unbelievable that people would care more for their luggage than human lives, but that appears to be the case.
In Luke 12:15, Jesus taught, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” The NASB translates the first part of the verse, saying, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed….” Watching video footage of those passengers making an emergency exit with carry-ons in hand is a rather graphic, unmistakeable illustration of Jesus’ point. Unfortunately, we can have a harder time seeing ourselves doing the same thing in the prioritization of our lives. We may be aghast at the thought that their seemingly greedy decision came at the expense of some people behind them being able to escape the flames, but Scripture teaches the devastating effect greed can have on our own lives and the lives of those we influence.
Paul teaches that such can be a “snare,” “harmful desires,” plunging men into “ruin and destruction” that pierces them “with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10). It’s interesting that Paul’s inspired counsel is to “flee from these things” (11). We should consider that an inordinate desire and pursuit of material things may hurt not only ourselves, but the people that come along behind us. That includes our children, grandchildren, and the other people who are guided by our influence and example. They are watching what we value most and what has our greatest attention and affection. We may not be caught on camera, but God sees it with perfect, all-seeing eyes.
Let’s be careful not to allow this world to cloud our judgment, making the things of this world more important than souls or the will of the Lord. The stakes are higher than whether we exit an airplane alive. It’s about how we leave this world and enter the next one.
One of the most recent lottery winners, Jesus Davila, Jr., has an interesting backstory. He once spent 12 years behind bars for the manufacturing and selling of cocaine, a felony. This week, he claimed $127 million after taxes. Sounds like a rags to riches kind of story, doesn’t it? It is interesting, and not a little sad, to read about some past winners of the lottery:
- Ibi Roncaioli was murdered by her husband after giving $2 million of her $5 million dollar prize to a secret child she’d had with another man (businessinsider.com).
- Evelyn Adams won twice, in 1985 and 1986, winning a total of $5.4 million. She gambled it away in Atlantic City and lives in a trailer park today (ibid.).
- Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in 1989, but spent it all on a horrible crack addiction, divorced his wife, lost custody of his children, and was charged with attempted murder (ibid.).
- Victoria Zell won $11 million in 2001, but went to prison convicted of a drug and alcohol-induced car collision that killed one and paralyzed another (theatlantic.com).
- Abraham Shakespeare won $31 million in 2006. He disappeared in 2009, after having spent most of his fortune. He was found under a concrete slab in 2010, a woman accused of fleecing him for nearly $2 million charged with his murder (ibid.).
- Jack Whittaker, already wealthy when he won $314 million in 2002, suffered too many calamities to mention here, but they include the death of his granddaughter and daughter and being sued for writing bounced checks to casinos. He was quoted as saying, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up” (ibid.).
- Bud Post won $16.2 million, but squandered it. His brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to try and kill him. He died of respiratory failure in 2006, living on $450 a month and food stamps. He once said, “I wish it never happened. It was totally a nightmare” (cleveland.com).
- Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in 1996. In 2005, he was kidnapped, robbed and murdered by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend (ibid.).
To say there are mountains of additional, equally pitiful stories is to understate the matter. Certainly, not every one who wins the lottery winds up on skid row or in the morgue because of it. Yet, neither is it the panacea one might believe it to be. How many others, who can ill afford to play, squander money on a regular basis in the hopes of striking it rich? The overwhelming majority will never achieve that, but even many that do wind up worse than before they won.
In the ever-elusive search for happiness and satisfaction, mankind will come up empty when looking to material things for the answer. Jesus taught that it’s a hollow pursuit (Mat. 6:19). Paul says not “to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Jesus warned that your life does not consist of your possessions, even if you have an abundance of them (Lk. 12:15). The good news is that there is a true treasure, one that never disappoints, that never depletes, and will never go away. Peter calls it “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Pet. 1:4). Strive to “win” that!
Melissa Smith contacted KGTV in San Diego, California, to make an interesting report. She had watched a pregnant woman and her little boy beg for money at a local shopping center. Many people gave the woman money. Melissa happened to watch the woman, who held a sign reading “Please Help,” get into a car with a man driving a Mercedes Benz. A follow up story, a few months later, found what appears to have been the same couple driving a brand new Mini-Van that still had dealer plates. The address for the Benz owner was an upscale apartment that rented for $2500 per month (10news.com). There are many people in legitimate need of financial help, and there are many more legitimate ways to contribute to their assistance than handing money out of a car window.
Yet, there’s an application I want to draw from this extreme case. As incongruous as it is for a Benz owner in a fancy apartment to stand on a corner and beg, there is something more out of place. In Colossians, Paul describes Christians as those qualified to share in an inheritance (1:12), attaining to all the wealth attached to that (2:2), partaker of all treasures (2:3), and owners of an unparalleled prize (2:18). Do we ever live like spiritual paupers? We do when we allow worry, doubt, immorality, fear, guilt, or any similar thing to cause us to live like and act like the impoverished world who has no access to these wonderful spiritual blessings. We have a place in glory reserved with Christ (3:4). We have no need to beg for the scraps the world can offer. Let us live like the rich children of God that we are!