Just a Little More

moreThe Edmonton Oilers traded star left winger, Ryan Smyth, to the New York Islanders in February of 2007. Every sports trade has its multifaceted reasons. This one was about money—yet about so much more.

Ryan Smyth ranked among the National Hockey League’s elite skaters. He was adored by the hockey-crazed Edmonton fans for his work ethic, courageous heart, and fundamental hockey skills. Smyth was also among Edmonton’s most respected citizens. Exemplary in behavior, winsome in demeanor, and revered for his charitable contributions to the community, Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers seemed to be a match made in hockey heaven.

A native Albertan, Smith had been drafted by the Oilers in 1994—the team he idolized as a child. By 2007, his wife and two daughters were happily settled in Edmonton and the 31-year-old’s career was winding down. In reach was the rare opportunity to finish with the team that drafted him. The Oilers management wanted nothing less for “Captain Canada.” Then new contract negotiations started.

Smyth’s agent, Don Meehan, insisted the Oilers pay their star $27.5 million over 5 years. He reasoned this was a mere $250,000 more per year than the contracts two similarly gifted players, Alex Tanguay (Calgary) and Simon Gagne (Philadelphia) had recently inked with their clubs. Whether to feed Smyth’s ego or to line Meehan’s pockets, making a pittance more per year than Tanguay and Gagne became paramount.

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The Aspirations and Illusions of Wealth

Reprinted with permission from Paraklesis, Fall 2011.

“What am I going to do now?” Challenges arising from our current economic crisis such as unemployment, under-employment or such crises as the death and disability of loved-one, rebellious children, or a prodigal spouse raise this challenging question in pastoral ministry. At times, however, this question arises from the opposite extreme—that of unexpected wealth. Sudden abundance of natural resources (such as the Marcellus Shale natural gas revenue in the Northeastern states), occasional estate settlements and business transactions also raise this question.

True worth

The Scriptures provide a number of principles regarding the illusions and influences of wealth. First and foremost is the principle that our intrinsic value and worth lies in our being image bearers of God (Gen. 1:26). We do not look to a percentage of assets to establish worth. As someone has said, we are persons and not percentages!

James 1:27 and Deuteronomy 14:29 reinforce the biblical view that each person has intrinsic worth irrespective of status. In Genesis 1:26, Moses writes that we have “been created in His image.” God stamped His moral likeness in each person regardless of gender, ethnic background, physical appearance, intellectual capacity, wealth, status, etc. Humanity is defined in terms of being created in God’s image. If we were not created in God’s image, we would not be human. Intrinsic worth is derived from our Creator and not from wealth (Ps. 139:13-15).

Jesus taught that those who define themselves by their percentage or pursuit of worldly goods would be sorely disappointed (Matt. 6:25-34). He emphasized the dangers of being consumed by wealth as He told the parable of the rich businessman who built bigger and bigger barns to store all his crops. The parable ends with this man dying having not laid up any treasure for himself in heaven nor used his wealth to help others. Jesus concluded by emphasizing the need to be rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21).

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