Richard Exley Ministries

The White Elephant
Posted on July 29, 2008

I don’t like to think of myself as a materialistic person but driving away from the Highway 12 East storage complex last week I could hardly come to any other conclusion. For nine years I had been paying almost $40 a month to store things I hadn’t used in nearly a decade. Still I continued to hang unto them. Not because I had any attachment to them but because I had no way to get rid of them. We donated several things to people we knew could use them. For instance we gave a newly wed couple a dining room set and a chest of drawers. A few months later I invited a pioneer pastor to meet me at the storage facility to see if there was anything he could use in setting up his church office. He selected a desk and some office equipment. We loaded the things he had chosen into his pick-up but I had no idea what to do with the rest of the stuff. It was junk mostly – a couple of battered book cases, a metal storage cabinet, and several boxes of things that we had carted all over the country in our forty-two years of marriage. There was no organization in our area that would take the stuff so I kept paying rent to store it. Brenda finally decided enough was enough and called a dumpster service to come out and haul it off. That cost me $290! Add it up – nine years at $444 a year comes to $3,996 in rent plus the $290 to haul if off. $4,284 to store and dispose of junk! Now that’s a true “white elephant” and hardly what I would call good stewardship.

Thinking about it as I drove home three things came to mind. The first was the parable that Jesus told about a rich man. He said, “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).

What a tragic picture and a prophetic one at that! The rampant consumerism of the twenty-first century is unparalleled in the history of mankind. People live in huge houses with three car garages but have to park their cars in the driveway because their garages are overflowing with things they can’t get in the house. Our addiction to things is further evidenced by the fact that one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States is storage rental. More and more people are renting off site storage to store all the things they “own” and for which they have no place and often no use.  “...But God said to him, “You fool!’”

The second thing that came to mind was an incident related by an East German refugee.  Her name was Sigi and I’ve never been able to get her words out of my mind. She told of being relocated to a detention camp by the Soviet Army as World War II was drawing to a close. Each family was allowed to take only what they could carry and if they lagged behind they were shot.

This is where her story took its most tragic turn. Scores of people simply could not part with their possessions. Rather than discard a single thing, they fell behind and were gunned down mercilessly.

“That’s the danger of materialism,” she said, with a conviction that left no room for debate. “You start out owning things, but before long they end up owning you! Sometimes it gets so bad that you can’t give up a single thing, not even to save your soul.”

Opening her Bible she read, “Then he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15).
More than thirty years have passed since I heard Sigi speak, but I have never forgotten her words. I found myself replaying them in my mind as I drove home last week. Without a doubt they are more relevant today than they were the day she first spoke them. We are literally working ourselves to death to possess things for which we have no use in order to impress people we don’t even like.

The third thing I thought of was something Dr. Richard Swenson related in his book, “A Minute of Margin.”  He wrote:  “Years ago in Siam, if the king had an enemy he wanted to torment, it was easy:  give him a white elephant. The receiver of this gift was now obligated into oblivion. Any gift from the king obviously had to be cared for; it could not be given away without causing offense.  Additionally, a white elephant was considered sacred and thus required the best nourishment and protection.  Soon the extreme costs of caring for the gift drove the king’s enemy to destitution.”

Recent studies indicate that we use about 20 percent of our possessions but we maintain 100 percent of them. Maybe it’s time to get rid of the “white elephant” so we can get our lives back. The only way to combat this ever expanding consumerism is to deliberately buy less and give more away. Remember, “...godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6).

This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.

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Category: Life