Threading the Eye of the Needle: The Imagined Rest of the Rich Young Ruler’s Story



(Luke 18) The Rich Man

18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. 20 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.”
21 The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.
24 When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
26 Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?”
27 He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”
28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”
29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.

Was That the End or the Beginning of the Story?

I have often wondered what happened to this rich leader after his encounter with Jesus? Did he ever make it to heaven? We are not given his name, so let’s call him Jonathan. We do not have any Biblical evidence of how Jonathan’s life was altered by his initial conversation with Jesus. Was this the end of Jonathan’s story or was it only the beginning?

Personal adversity has had me thinking about Jonathan’s plight. After 17 years of achievement and advancement in corporate America, doing a job I truly loved and was highly compensated for doing, I was unexpectedly released due to a restructuring. At 51, I was unemployed for the first time in my life and I had no idea what to do about it. With time on my hands and in need of some hope and direction, I turned to deepen my faith. As a result of my adversity, I began to really meet this person called Jesus. Just like what I hope happened to the rest of Jonathan’s ancient story.

I would like to think that Jesus was not writing Jonathan off as a lost cause because of his love of money and materialism. Perhaps Jesus’ initial challenge to him in verse 22 …”Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” continued to work its way deep into Jonathan’s soul, as life’s caldron of adversity began to heat up for him.

When Having Everything is Still Not Enough

Jonathan, like many of us, had it all going for him. He was probably handsome, respected, educated, wealthy and by every worldly measure successful. But something was missing. He had heard of a carpenter who some claimed to be the promised Messiah and decided to check him out for himself. Afterall, why not see if he could buy a little favor with this up-and-coming leader? He was always interested in expanding his network of influential people and who knows, what if he is who people say he is? Jonathan was game to meet this Jesus person and try to win some face-time.

Jonathon was living the good life from his perspective but perhaps felt something was still missing. Jesus’ words stung to Jonathan’s core and made Jonathan very sad. How could this dirty tradesman turned prophet expect anyone with any common sense to give up everything he had worked his whole life for and give it to the poor, and then follow him? It must have seemed both ridiculous and crazy at the time to Jonathan. He liked his cash and stuff. The problem was, he probably liked his stuff so much that he had put his whole trust in his abilities and wealth. With a big sack of gold, who needs to ask God for anything, let alone rely on Him for everything. It’s ironic that even today we have something called a “trust fund” to provide for someone’s welfare. The initial longing for something more meaningful, but relatively safe and comfortable spiritually, was still causing Jonathan to sense a lacking in his life. Many of us who put our trust in personal achievement, worldly success and wealth, can relate to our 1st Century rich young ruler friend. We can have it all by the world’s standards and yet feel like it’s all meaningless and unsatisfying. The harder we try to build our own success elevator to heaven, the faster we will meet a humbling adversity.

In my imagination, Jonathan leaves his brief meeting with Jesus and returns to his palatial home. He is served a glass of wine and stares out over his vast estate. Who could give all this up? He was living a life most people dream of having…that was until a hurricane of adversity hit full-force and demolished his sense of control over his life.

Welcome to the University of Adversity

While this is purely hypothetical fiction on my part, I don’t think God was done with Jonathan. I like to believe God was determined to save Jonathan and redeem him for His own purposes. This would require severe discipline and like any loving father, God was going to use it to give Jonathan a chance to come around to His Son’s way. God’s most powerful teaching tool that would break through Jonathan’s pride, self-reliance and false security based on his wealth was ready to hit home. God would allow adversity to reshape Jonathan into a true kingdom worker.

Perhaps it came in the form of a false claim made against Jonathan by a rival landowner. The court found in favor of the rival and Jonathan’s estate was unexpectedly ordered to be cut in half. Next word of the judge’s ruling spread to Jonathan’s friends and co-workers. They believed the judge’s wisdom and turned away from Jonathan. Jonathan was fired from his leadership role for his false ethical lapse.

Jonathan would have been furious at the injustice and sudden devastating change in his social and financial status. Just when he thought the worst was over, a tax collector knocked on his door and demanded payment of past taxes. Jonathan was forced to give up his home to pay the taxes.

With time to kill and no one to turn to, a broken and dead broke Jonathan, sat under a fig tree and read some scrolls which were his sole remaining possessions. He read the book of Job, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and prayed many Psalms. Why would God punish him so? He was one of the good guys. Had he not been faithful all these years? Why would God treat someone like him, who was righteous, so poorly? What had he done to deserve this? Those are the same questions many of us demand God answer while we are enrolled in the master’s level classes in the University of Adversity. Maybe he found a bit of solace in Job 42:12, “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”

Marketplace ministry leader and author, Os Hillman wrote in his devotional TGIF: Today God Is First Volume 2, Jesus once said, “No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). In the original language, the word translated “money” was an Aramaic word, Mammon. This does not refer merely to money as a medium of exchange but also to a demonic spirit designed to promote a mindset of ambition for riches, power and worldly gain. The word is capitalized in the original text because the people of Jesus’ day thought of Mammon as a false god. Jesus was saying that those who spend their lives seeking worldly gain are idolaters. No one can serve two masters. No one can worship both the true God and a false god.

We cannot experience the grace that God gives to His children because we are too busy striving for riches and enslaved to Mammon. The only way we can be free is to turn away from Mammon and allow the one true God to transform us into a different person.

Dr. Charles Stanley preaches that storms have a way of teaching us four life lessons:
1) God is in total control. Trust Him.
2) God loves you as His adopted child. Trust Him.
3) God knows and will provide all your needs according to His will. Trust Him.
4) God is with you through every trial you face. Trust Him.

Where Do You Place Your Trust?

When our own resources and abilities to cope are overwhelmed, we will finally in desperation and despair, cry out for God to save us. And if we believe, then He will. But not until we have learned His lessons and our character has been refined by enduring the fiery trial. It’s a class few people would ever willingly sign-up for, but the experience is eternally life altering.

In my fictional story of Jonathan, I like to think that after a time of struggle in the desert, perhaps tending a flock of camels or goats, a humbled and God-dependant Jonathan came across a somewhat familiar stranger one day sitting by a well. A dirty and tired Jonathan might start watering his flock when the stranger says, “Jonathan, aren’t you going to say hello to a good teacher?” Jonathan might exclaim that it is impossible for Jesus to be here. Jesus might reply, “It’s no more impossible for me to be here than for you to be here. What is impossible for people is possible with God.” And after a loving conversation, Jonathan decided to follow him.

Live From the Back of the Bill

Many of us invest much of our lives collecting dollar bills face up. We count the president’s faces and value the numbers on each bill. We stack them tall in our trust funds and retirement accounts and the more we collect, the more successful and secure we believe we are until we are not…

Once one is a graduate of the University of Adversity, we live more from the back of the bill, just above the ONE, where is printed in bold believable letters, “In God We Trust.”

I like to imagine Jesus not giving up on Jonathan and waiting for life to prepare him to follow. I know I thank God He did not give up waiting for me. He won’t give up on you either. Where are you placing your trust? Are you willing to pass through the impossible eye of a needle? He’s waiting for you.

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Reframing Being Pruned as an Opportunity for New Growth


Razor sharp pruning shears make a quick, crisp, whisking sound, as they surgically snip a grapevine.  A career pruning, makes a sound like, “I’m going to need your keycard.” Both are quick, clean cuts, that leave the newly severed, no longer attached to the plant or to the organizational grapevine. The question is, will it whither and die, will it be grafted into a new vine, or will it find a way to root and grow its own vine? Is pruning the end, or is it necessary to bring about new growth?

Maybe those of us, who have experienced professional career pruning, can gain some meaningful insights from a vinedresser.  

When one researches vinedressing,  s/he learns the secret to a bountiful grape harvest, is knowing that grapes are produced on one-year-old vine shoots, often called wood or cane.  Older vine wood, tends to mainly produce grape leaves and non-flowering shoots. The flowers turn into grapes. Each winter a vinedresser must prune off nearly 80% of a vine’s growth. Pruning maximizes the amount of year-old wood on a vine.  Vines that are not pruned grow masses of older wood with many leaves and little fruit. Overly woody and leafy vines suffer from poor air circulation, resulting in deadly fungal infections.

Corporate pruning is often a necessity to spur new organizational growth, or to make the company more financially fruitful.   Old wood jobs are pruned by senior executives, so new jobs can be created, or so that profits can be yielded.  For those of us who have been of the short end of the vine, the snip can feel like the end, when really it maybe the beginning of new growth.

If you’ve ever experienced being pruned from your role, you know it can be a confusing and painful time.  One day the predicable stability of your career path, meets HR’s pruning shear’s snip.  Suddenly you are cut off and cast out.  It’s easy to feel discarded and disciplined.  You ask, What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? You may get stuck for a while asking, Why me?  

When a 12 minute conversation ended my 17 year, upward career path, in a firm I was hoping to remain with for the rest of my career, I was bewildered for a long time.  It would have been easy to become bitter. It was tempting to feel victimized.  Fear and uncertainty produce Oscar worthy nightmares.  Like a sailboat with a cracked mast and shredded sails, the corporate castaway, drifts without a clear course or destination.  They become one of many job seekers who are lost in a sea of emotions.

What I didn’t know then, but I came to understand and appreciate a year later, was I had not been punished.  I had been pruned.  This realization of being pruned, dramatically changed my outlook for the better. It gave me strength and hope to get growing again.

Here’s what I learned while I was stuck in my career doldrums:

1. Life goes on.  You get up. You create a routine. You choose to make your routines healthy, like exercise, religious study, volunteer work, hobbies, or unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol, endless binging on TV and snack food.  

2. Some former co-workers, who you were close to, will stay with you, in a new form of relationship.  Others, will not and you will lose touch with them.  You will meet new people.

3. Losing your title and role, can allow you to find out you always have the only title that no one can take away… called “Me.”  You are more than what you do.  What you do is not who you are. You are the only person on this planet exactly like you.

4. You will choose to put your hope and faith into something.  Choose wisely.

5. Life will never be the same as before you were pruned.  You get to decide if it will be better or worse.

6.  It will take time for a new “what’s next” normal to unfold. What you do while you wait is critical.

While on a 24 hour spiritual men’s retreat with 60 guys from my church, we took a deep dive into the 15th Chapter of Gospel of John.  Jesus and his disciples have just shared the Passover dinner together. He continues to teach them as he knows he only has a short time left with them.  Chapter 15 is where Jesus teaches about the vine and the branches.  He says that God, the Father, is the gardener and He prunes unfruitful branches.  This makes sense to me.  God is justified in cutting off what he judges to be useless branches.  But the second half of verse 2, says that He prunes the branches that do bear fruit, so they will produce even more.

This insight was my personal turning point in accepting what had happened.  I was not being judged and punished.  I had been lovingly pruned, so I could grow again.  What seemed like the end of my professional career, was a chance at age 51, to grow into what God had planned for me. All I had to do was submit to His gardening.  He wasn’t done with me yet.

During that retreat, I realized I had been so driven to find a way forward, that I had not asked God to heal the painful wound where I had been pruned.  As soon as I did, He gladly did. Now I was prepared for new growth and to produce fresh fruit.

There are three options for a severed vine:

1. Be grafted onto the trunk of another vine and start producing as a part of that root system.  This means finding a new job with a new company and fitting in.  For some, this is what the Gardner has planned, and He will greatly bless those laborers.

2. Propagate a new root system so the vine can prosper on its own.  Entrepreneurs are often pruned propagations.  This was what I felt was what the Gardener had planned for me.  It took a year and a half to root my sapling company, AD Growth Advisers Inc..  It was a long hard winter, but by summer, I bore my first fruit.  The work I produced was the best and most rewarding of my professional career. It would have never have happened unless I had been pruned. Pruning is an opportunity to get rid of one’s professional deadwood and unfruitful habits and spur some new growth. 

3. Dry up and die.  I hope you don’t choose this option.

When you find yourself severed, I hope you will trust in the Gardner, and recognize His intention to spur new growth. He will make you more fruitful through painful pruning. Growth takes time and cannot be rushed. Grapes grow on the new growth of year old wood.  

Each year the vinedresser must prune up to 80 percent of a productive vine to ensure productive growth and fruit next season.  Perhaps we should expect to be pruned more often and more deeply.  I don’t know if we will ever welcome pruning and its uncertainty, but if you put your faith in the Master Gardener, you may learn to accept it as normal and appreciate its necessity.

Growth is the surest sign of life.  Here’s to your new fruit!

Yielding for Reconstruction 


Winter’s busywork of creating potholes has been highly successful this year.  Reconstruction crews are hard at work on what seems like nearly every road I drive.  One street I travel daily, was scraped bare of all of its pavement and the underlying damage to its concrete roadbed was repaired, before it was finally repaved and made like new.  

Winter’s freezing and thawing has a way of breaking up even the sturdiest of foundations.  Reconstruction means unexpected detours and delays as the road ahead is made safe and smooth again.

Trying to travel through a reconstruction zone can be maddeningly slow as traffic is backed up by the crew worker with the sign on a pole.  We all wait for the moment when the Stop sign flips around to Slow, so we can make progress again on our journeys.  When we get stuck in reconstruction, all we can do is yield and wait.

I’ve come to understand the Holy significance of yielding and waiting while life is scraped down to its foundation for repairs.  God can start a life reconstruction project without warning.  Your normal habitual route is suddenly blocked or closed.  You are forced to accept the wait and yield your progress and plans for the promise of a smoother ride or better future destination.  

Do you have the patience to yield life’s progress to allow the Creator of the Universe to strip away what is broken and make repairs?  Does your foundation need shored up and not just patched?  Maybe the road ahead is permanently closed and you are being rerouted to a new, unplanned destination.  Can we trust and yield as the work is done?  The promise is for our paths to be made smooth and straight.  All we must do is wait while the work is being done and stay alert for the signs ahead…Caution, Slow Down, Detour, Stop, Yield.

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