It’s All Gonna Burn

The real estate business is booming these days. It has been exciting going through the winter covered up with busy-ness and, of course, I’ll not complain. But with lots of opportunity also comes lots of disappointment – you’d be surprised how many times a deal falls through. Just a couple weeks ago I had two go up in flames within days. One, a $275,000 transaction, was set to close when my buyer unexpectedly lost his job. The other, a $575,000 deal on a lake house, fell apart when the sellers refused to do any repairs (and the house needed them) so my buyers walked. Unlike those of you with an actual job there was no saving grace for me – put simply, I just didn’t get paid for many, many weeks of work. I have become philosophical over the years and learned to brush it off. It’s only money, after all, and I don’t want to be this guy:

Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

“Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’ Luke 12:16-20 The Message

Ouch. I guess my failed deals weren’t so bad.

The week after that fiasco I had a pair of tickets to a concert and an evening to enjoy the brilliant work of The California Guitar Trio was just the diversion I needed. My friend Jimmy offered to pick me up in his new Corvette. Not just any Corvette either, but a brand new, twin supercharged, Torch Red, 650 horsepower beast. A car so powerful and dangerous that Chevrolet actually sends the new owners to driver school to learn how to drive it safely. When I was younger I would have been thrilled at the acceleration I experienced and the speeds (what happens in a Corvette, stays in the Corvette) we hit but now it’s kind of terrifying, like the view out the windshield of the Millennium Falcon entering hyperspace, as the superchargers howl and the V8 spins, pinning me to my seat. Impressive indeed and every American guy’s dream supercar come true. But these things don’t come cheap and I asked Jimmy if he was worried about parking it on the street downtown. His response? “It’s just a car.”

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
Psalm 20:7 NKJV

And they say the Bible is outdated – obviously the Psalmist knew about fast cars.

HiFi Buys in Atlanta is a regional mecca for the audiophile community, so I recently did an audio pilgrimage down to ‘audition’ (as they say) a new amplifier. This was a big step up in my audio hobby and I wanted to hear what I was buying before committing my hard-earned money. My stereo-buddy Andy went along for the ride and we spent three hours listening to exotic gear that we could never hope to buy. The room with the $100,000 system was truly impressive but then we settled into the purpose of our trip and I was able to compare some models before making a decision (that did NOT cost $100 large). And then the real fun began as we were ushered into the inner-sanctum of audio nirvana, the over-the-top, cost-no-object, Katy-bar-the-door room. Residing there was gear worth a combined $400,000. Amps as big as a coffee table, speakers of enormous complexity, a turntable that sported a phono cartridge (‘needle’ to you non-initiates) that cost more than my first four cars. Combined. The sound, as you can imagine, was spectacular, and as I sat there soaking it in I tried to reconcile the absurdity of that much cash in a system to play stereo records, of cables as thick as my arm, of the need for a 4” diameter jewel-like volume knob. Who buys this stuff? Well, people with loads of money, of course. And as we left the store after those hours of audio heaven we drove through a neighborhood where the houses all had walls and gates, houses of 10,000 square feet plus, houses worth many millions. That’s who buys that kind of gear. And then they build a wall and a gate and set up cameras and security so you can’t take it from them.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Matthew 6:20-21 NKJV

The houses, the cars, the stereos all remind me of a story. I was on a trip and was invited to stay at the McMansion of someone I had never met. It seems my benefactor was in Europe with his family and he always let folks stay at his house, sort of Airbnb before there was such a thing. And at no cost. I approached the lovely home on a quiet street and rang the doorbell. I was kind of disappointed it wasn’t a velvet rope that activated a gong, but soon enough the house sitter appeared to let me in. I stood in the foyer (not a Foy-er but in this case a FOY-yay) and, as my eyes followed the two-story space upward I was struck by a large oil painting. It was an impressionist representation of a fire raging. But the important thing about this painting were the words: It’s All Gonna Burn. Talk about disarming. If that was the host’s attitude then I was getting onboard. Instead of wandering around in awe all weekend I made myself comfortable in this manse I could not afford. It was, after all, just a house and the owner had his priorities straight, both in not being overly attached to his possession and in sharing what he had with others.

I’m not writing this to criticize anyone’s house, or their car (however red and fast it may be!), or even their obscenely priced stereo. I am for all those things and I do enjoy my house, car and stereo, although they are a little humbler. Like most things in life though it’s all about the heart attitude that accompanies the things we do and the stuff we own. I do not think the quantity or quality or cost of the things you own matter a bit to God and, while it is popular sport to attack the wealthy, there is not basis for hating wealth in my Bible. As long as the person has a heart that is beating in time with some important truths. Like this one:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Isaiah 58:6-7 NKJV

The folks buying the lake house, my friend with the fast car, my fellow audiophiles with their expensive gear all have a commonality: they own stuff but it does not own them. They spend their money on things they can own but they also share their wealth with those who own nothing. They have learned the important lesson that I learned from that painting all those years ago:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.2 Peter 3:10 NKJV

It’s all gonna burn.

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