A very dear friend of mine is celebrating his birthday today down in Florida where he lives with his wife and daughter. Mark is a terrific person. We have known each other for thirty years or so and met in the corporate world. At the time, Mark worked for a large, well known Indianapolis based organization and I owned a temporary help service company. It was back in the mid eighties, and I was wearing out shoe leather trying to make sales calls in an attempt to continue to grow our company.
I made a cold call on the firm where Mark worked and when he saw that I was the Founder and President of the company, he came out and agreed to speak with me. After all, he said, any owner who got out from behind his desk and made personal sales calls deserved to at least get a short audience. Mark eventually ended up doing a fair amount of business with us and it wasn’t long before we started to develop a friendship – one that has withstood the test of time and has continued to grow for more than three decades. However, we ceased doing business together a long time ago. We both moved into different disciplines and yet, our friendship endured.
Mark and I were both far more materialistic back in those days than we are now. Mark was always getting new cars and I was busy spending money on whatever my hobby was at the time. As I look back on it, we were unlikely friends. We came from far different worlds and I was a serial entrepreneur while Mark was clearly a corporate guy. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, it just worked.
I should point out that neither of us were very strong in our faith back in those days. I clearly had a leading to attend seminary while Mark moved through promotions, mergers and company hierarchies. We were so close that Mark asked me to be the best man at his wedding. I remember that day like it was yesterday…
And Mark was a much better athlete than I was. He was an awesome bowler in his earlier years and he loved to play golf. By the way, he also served our country in the military – something I never did.
Aside from our periodic lunches, Mark was anxious to get me out on the golf course. Now, Janet and I are both pretty lousy golfers and so I never even went out on a course with anybody else, concerned that I would embarrass myself – which was a well founded fear! Believe it or not, I had NEVER taken even a part of a workday off to play golf. I thought I should be working as hard as the others in the office and the day that Mark asked me to play, I confess that I felt guilty… but I had a great time.
I knew from the start that Mark was far better than I was, but something about the day, and the course, and Mark’s presence made it all seem okay. On one particularly long hole, we were discussing strategies to get to the green and Mark made the decision to “lay up” in front of a creek to avoid the possibility of a disaster. When we reached the place where his ball had landed, we couldn’t help but laugh at both of our shots. On hindsight, I don’t think that there was any reason to worry about “laying up.” There is no way in this lifetime that I could have ever hit the ball far enough to worry about the creek hazard.
Since that time, “laying up” has become a private mantra of ours. Whenever one of us falls short of our best effort, we, in good humor, fondly remember the first day we chose to “lay up.” Little did I realize that we were making memories that day and it still brings a laugh to us whenever we relive that afternoon.
As we finished and got ready to head to our respective homes, I felt a strong urge to pray for Mark. It must have been divinely inspired because I had never had anything like that happen before. And I honestly don’t know if Mark had ever had anyone pray for him before, but that night, in the car, I prayed for my friend. We have both experienced an increase in our faith since that day. Eventually, I entered seminary and Mark got invested in a church. In fact, to this day, he sits on the board of a non-profit I founded, named Chaplains at Work.
We are separated by distance but we stay in touch regularly. And as I said earlier, we are both far less materialistic than we were back in the day. That truth brings us to our verse for this evening. Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us where we should be concerned about truly “laying up” our treasure. He tells us, in Matthew 6:19-21, “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.”
My encouragement tonight is that at times in our lives, we all have the desire to acquire stuff here on earth. But God wants us to take the long view, to go all in. He doesn’t want us to take the safe path, but to take the bold approach and to bet on Him. My prayer is that we will all have the courage to take bold steps of faith and to do those things that will help us lay up our treasures in heaven – that’s where the real reward is. Happy Birthday, Mark, and I thank God that He put you into my life so many years ago. And to all of you, have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…