I grew up in a huge hundred-year-old red brick house. Our attic had rooms with closets that landed you in Narnia if you walked in at the right time. The house was magical. So, it made complete sense when one day my oldest sister Carrie found a treasure map tucked beneath the corner of an antique hutch. It was wrinkled and torn, with burned edges from the cigar of some scallywag who leaned in too close to read it in the dark. I couldn’t make out all that it said, but there was a giant red X in the corner, and I knew what that meant. There was treasure buried in our backyard! My sister April seemed skeptical, but Carrie insisted that she found it under the hutch and with this old house who knows. Anything is possible. I didn’t have time to ask questions. I already had an eye patch on and was ready to go.
The four of us kids set out on an epic treasure hunt. The map had us counting our steps, looping and zig zagging around familiar landmarks all over the backyard, ending at the foot of an apple tree. There we set to work tearing the yard apart with our little spades and trowels. I felt it first. My heart pounded as I pulled up a rickety wooden box. I pried open the lid to find shimmering lumps of gold. My brother Brian and I were jumping up and down. My sister April was rolling her eyes, and my sister Carrie could not stop laughing. We had just become filthy rich.
I showed the treasure to my dad, and asked if I could call my mom at work and tell her that she could quit her job. He called her and gave me the phone. I told her all about the map with cigar burns, and the big red X. Then I told her about the gold that I found, and that she could come on home. When I had finished, all that she said was, “That’s great. Can you put your dad on the phone?”
I did, knowing that he would explain it all way better than me, and he did. I heard him explain,
“No. No. What? Oh, come on. We were just having fun. Look, I found some fool’s gold laying around at work and so I sent the kids on a treasure hunt. You should have seen their faces.”
Yes. You should have seen my face. I found out later that Carrie knew the whole time, April didn’t buy any of it, and Brian was just happy to go on an adventure. I had completely fallen for it. I thought I had found something life changing, and it turned out to just be fool’s gold.
Honestly, I have had that same experience so many times in life. I have chased after false promises and false hopes. I have followed someone else’s false map that only led to false treasure. Maybe you have too. Sometimes we put our faith in the wrong people. We put our trust in some teacher, friend, family member, pastor, or politician. We believe all the promises, but in the end it’s not what we thought. We thought we’d found something life changing, but it turned out to be fool’s gold.
This is why so many Christians can claim to follow Jesus and live unchanged lives. The treasure they thought they found wasn’t real treasure. They just found another church to attend, or another religious system, or another social club, or another community center, or another well-polished highly entertaining show.
It would be easy to call out the fool’s gold and walk away from a life of faith and into a life of cynicism, and not look back. I know I felt pretty jaded after that fake treasure hunt when I was a kid, but I’ve also realized something. You can only fake what’s real. There wouldn’t be such a thing as fool’s gold if real gold didn’t exist. We wouldn’t have counterfeit money if there wasn’t real money. Or false teachings and false gospels, or fake Christians, or false kingdoms if there weren’t real ones out there. The kingdom of God is real. Jesus wasn’t exaggerating, or making false promises. The good news is real. The treasure that we have been searching for our whole lives is real. And it’s for all of us. It’s for you and me.
Finding the kingdom is finding out that we are loved after all. Despite all that we have done, and all that’s been done to us, we are loved, chosen even, forgiven and made new. Finding the kingdom is finding peace in the middle of our pitch-black darkness, and joy in the middle of all of our problems and pain. It’s finding hope when we are heartsick, and meaning in the madness of this life. It’s finding a family where we can kick off our shoes, let our guard down, and belong. It’s finding life instead of death and beauty instead of all of the ashes we have lived with. Isn’t that what all of us are aching for?
What fool’s gold are you holding close today? What – or who – are you calling treasure, in the place of the true Treasure?
You can only fake what’s real.
This is your invitation to drop the fool’s gold and take the treasure.