james ray johnson

Is winning and owning really living?

My childhood home was about a mile away from the Ohio State Fairgrounds.  I have some crazy memories.  I could sit in my back yard on a pleasant summer evening and hear the relentless, ferocious crashing of cars.  The fairgrounds hosted an annual demolition derby. 

During the fair season, my friends and I would pool our money and buy one ticket.  One of us would enter and get his hand stamped. He then exited, spit on the stamp and rubbed it onto the rest of us.  We then trickled in through the gate by showing our reentry stamp.  We did this every day – until they caught us and made us muck the horse stables.    

We learned how to feed ourselves at the fair by deliberately walking into the low hanging vendor signs and then moaning and holding our heads.  It was always good for a sympathy hot dog from a worried vendor. 

Golly we were bad! 

My best fair memory, however, took place in the Lone Star state.  I took our youth group to the State Fair of Texas.   Soon after we arrived, Mike (the athlete) got fixated on winning a stuffed animal from one of the carnival games. 

He threw darts, pitched baseballs at milk bottles, and tried to ring a soda bottle.  He spent it all trying to win a prize. 

He finally did it.  He won a sad looking overstuffed green alligator, which he tucked under his arm and proudly carried around for the rest of the day.

Don’t be so quick to judge.  There may be something tucked under your arm as well – something that you competed for and sacrificed to get – maybe it was an academic award, or a passport filled with stamps.  Maybe it was a fixer upper showcase, or a bass boat or perhaps a manicured yard that was the envy of the neighborhood -not necessarily bad things.    

But we thought that winning and having and owning was the stuff that made life worthwhile.

Solomon sure believed it, until he got older. Then he wrote, “When I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless— like chasing the wind! There is nothing gained from them on earth.”   Ecclesiastes 2:11 – NET Bible ®

Solomon amassed more wealth and accomplished more on the world stage than 99.9% of the rest of us.   Yet, the somber thoughts of this aged man tell us that most of it was meaningless in the end. 

About 10 p.m. we made our way back to the church van.  Mike was walking just in front of me when he happened to notice something bulging from the top of a big trashcan.   He went over and pulled it out.  It was a gaudy looking stuffed green alligator – exactly like his. 

The street light illuminated the shock on his face.  “Who would throw this away and why?” 

He reflected for a moment and then caught up with the rest of the youth group.  However, instead of instead one alligator, he then had – none.  He had laid his cherished prize right on the garbage heap along with the other.

Mike had come to understand that he had wasted his time and energy and money on something that belonged in a trashcan. 

He eventually aligned his heart with Solomon’s who concluded his book by saying, “So remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  Ecclesiastes 12:1 – NET Bible ®

Mike began to pursue Jesus.  He married a fine Christian woman, raised his kids to love the Lord, and he has served Jesus for many years by leading worship and as an Elder in his church.  He and his wife have recently planted and are leading a church to reach the unchurched.   

He is happy and fulfilled and the satisfaction he has found in Jesus has never faded.

So, what do you have tucked under your arm? 

As for me – I still have those 2 gators I plucked from the trashcan!     They must be worth at least $1.19 by now. (just kiddin!)