Wealth, yours or Gods? What’s the smart choice?

I worked in corporate finance for 20 years, I worked for some really great companies, Chase Manhattan, Motorola, Entex (bought out by Siemens), Fleet National Bank (bought out by BofA) and well, some not so great. Eh, we all have our experiences. I’ve been downsized, rightsized, merged, bought out, sometimes hosed over, but quite often knowing some great people, doing interesting travel and having some great experience.

I’m reading a book (on Kindle, believe me I love books, nothing like the feel of a real book, but boy Kindle makes studying easy), anyway, a book by  David Miller God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement. He observes: “Whether conscious or unintended, the pulpit all too frequently sends the signal that work in the church matters but work in the world does not.” He further observes: “there has been a turn toward a negative critique of work in general and the business world in particular, accenting its problematic aspects and ignoring its constructive and creative dimensions.” To be frank, I noticed a bit of condescension on the part of clergy, but frankly it goes both ways. My suggestion to both? Knock it off! The clergy need to get over themselves, they do not, by any stretch of the imagination have a corner on piousness. Business people need to get over themselves and quit treating clergy like they’ve just fallen off the tuna trolley. There are challenges that clergy have to deal with that would inflict great discomfort on the average lay person. You all need to lose the superiority attitude, neither one of you are all that and a bag of chips. I find it especially amusing when some corporate type treats me like I’m fragile and naive. I will match my resume and experiences with anyone’s in corporations or clergy. So let’s have some mutual respect for each other, because both do great things. If I come off as somehow patronizing or wagging my finger at either, please feel free to give me a good thrashing. Cuts both ways, I have great respect for many in either vocation and there are many who, well you just have to wonder. And believe me I do.

I just wanted to establish that because we are all simul justus et peccatore we all need to have some mutual respect. Also I hope that I don’t come off as accusatory in the following. Forbes Magazine does a “Forbes 400” issue every year, an in-depth view at the 400 wealthiest in America, those who have multi-billions of dollars. Yeah, must be nice, but well money isn’t everything. (Just keep telling yourself that Jim). Jesus certainly had His opinion, “Again I tell you, 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.” (Matt 19:24). Jesus is not saying that there is something intrinsically evil about a rich person, but He is saying that it is so easy for a rich person to be caught up in all their riches, privileges, perks, that he/she begins to think it is all about them. Having said that, and I know there  will be some raised eyebrows, but even the poorest among us in the United States would be, if not rich, very comfortable. The vast number of Americans have plenty to eat, have, at least a decent motor vehicle, a decent place to live and things such as cable/satellite TV and other luxuries that for the rest of the world is staggering. So if anyone wants to point their finger at the “rich”, well frankly you have three fingers pointing back at you, think about it.

So this issue of Forbes has different takes on the issues of the mega-wealthy. One of the articles is talking about people who are now billionaires but started with nothing. Larry Ellision of Oracle Computer (interestingly there is a biography about Ellison titled The Difference between God and Larry Ellison: God doesn’t think He’s Larry Ellison by Mike Wilson.) Yeah, much could be said of many of the very wealthy. According to Forbes Ellison contracted pneumonia and was give up for adoption as an infant. John Paul DeJoria of John Paul Mitchell Systems was told by his mother that at one point they had 27 cents between them. Shahid Khan of Flex-N-Gate, and of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars emigrated from Pakistan and started working as a dishwasher earning $1.90 per hour. Oprah Winfrey born to a single, teenaged mother, eventually ran away from home, now produces television programming and publishing books, magazines. Howard Schultz of Starbucks was raised in a housing project in Brooklyn, his father lost his job after an injury, leaving his family destitute. There is no question that these people have achieved great things and there’s no reason not to admire someone who has accomplished so much, so long as it’s with honesty and integrity.

David Green, number 90 on Forbes’ list, is a case in point of a Christian who honors God and knows that God has given Him what He has. Mr Green is the founder and owner of Hobby Lobby. Forbes writes: “Preacher’s son started business with $600 loan in 1970. The company now has 559 locations, all closed on Sundays. Has given out nearly 1.4 billion of gospel literature in more than 100 countries mostly in Africa and Asia.

So now we go to an article in the same issue (Oct 7, 2013 pp 101 – 114   ) on Mr Stewart Rahr. Mr Rahr is the extreme example of what most of the very wealthy are much more subtle about. The gist of the article can, in my humble opinion, be boiled down to I do “good things” so I can do whatever I want with the rest of “my” money. As Steve Bertoni writes: “What happens when a man has more cash than he can ever spend and no rules on how to spend it? Stewart Rahr’s answer: an unhinged, hedonistic bender, filled with girls, guns, sex tapes – and a lesson in whether money really can buy happiness.” Rahr makes a $10 million  gift to Make-A-Wish Foundation, that’s a good thing. Then receives a very public award for same. Matthew 6:2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2)

At age 60-something he abruptly sells the business he inherited from his father, albeit building it to much greater heights. He certainly did grow his net worth, but seems to gloss over the fact that his father installed an already sturdy foundation. He went on to end his 43-year marriage in a similar manner. “Cause I wanted to be me – do my own thing, says Rahr. ‘Wake up in the morning, not have to be responsible, just go and be happy.'” Oh how so adolescent of a sixty something year old. “…Rahr forwards FORBES an e-mail exchange  with the Robin Hood Foundation to show off both his giving and his relationship with his ex-wife. In 2006  Rahr and Carol donated $1 million to help build schools. A plaque has been erected in their honor on a building in Brooklyn and Rahr confirmed that he’d like to take Carol to see it for her birthday.” Ok, sweet, but of course have to have that ego feeding plaque. But Bertoni goes on to write: “In the same e-mail, though, Rahr discussed the plaque soon to be installed at a second school, in the Bronx. On this one, he said, Carol should be left off.” Oh how perfectly petulant. Especially when it seems like his wife Carol is the innocent spouse here. Have to give some credit to Rahr, Carol will never be hurting for money and judging by the article she’s probably better off considering some of the things he’s made public such as a sex tape with three prostitutes in the back of a limousine, oh yeah, real class act.

So please don’t think that I’m some kind of clerical crank, bitterly wagging my finger at the ultra- rich, there are many I respect. In my corporate life, I came to know and genuinely respect many. I was part of the Marketplace Network in Boston, largely made up of some very senior corporate execs (how I slipped through I’ll never know). Being a part of a group of Christian men and women trying to live their Christian life in the corporate world was a great experience and I would very much like to duplicate the group here in York. But let’s be honest, for far to many in the corporate world, there are, albeit subtler versions of “Stewie Rah Rah” and believe me, in my corporate life, that was the predominant mode of life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind. Those who have been successful, have anything and everything they need in terms of the material, once we’ve met our needs for sustenance, security, love, we then come to expect respect and even adulation, recognition, we expect ego strokes and reward. Why is it that Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than a rich man enter heaven? Because when they become rich, and that can mean pretty modest sums compared to Stewie Rah Rah, then it’s all for their gratification, their recognition. They somehow believe that they are entitled and when they do good things, they forget the source of their wealth, and feel that they should be recognized. They can deny it, but that is what is called worship, self-worship and worship from those around them. They’ve made the call, it’s all about them and not about God. Remember Lazarus and the rich man? “19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” (Luke 16: 19-31) According to legend the rich man’s name was Dives, he had the gall to try and give Lazarus orders from hell. He had never done anything for Lazarus, but it didn’t matter it was all about him, Dives. That is why he is in hell, because he honestly thought it was all about him. God’s pretty explicit, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When you make yourself god, you dictate your own fate and God allows it, like it or not that is the attitude of most Americans today.

Go ahead, be rich, enjoy life, buy me a, uhmm, I mean you, a new Mercedes, but remember the source of your blessings and that God surely intended for you to remember the least among us and to use your gifts to glorify God.

There won’t be a Coffee Break Bible study Wednesday, but we meet on Wednesdays at ten am, First St Johns 140 W King St downtown York, Pa.

5 thoughts on “Wealth, yours or Gods? What’s the smart choice?

  1. katebortell

    Well Jim ive had my issues with the wealthy also. Even those who brag about giving so much away. Youre still bragging! Ughh!!
    But you bring up a valid if not somewhat stinging point. Those of us who are not wealthy but doing fine just the same must take a hard look at ourselves.
    Are we doing enough?
    Hmmmm……

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    1. Pastor Jim Driskell, Lutheran Church Post author

      Amen sister, wow you’re up at 4am, you gotta sleep! Anyway, I know, mind my own business. But thanks for picking up on that point, it did end up kind of being a shot at the genuinely rich through that guy. Wasn’t necessarirly intended to be, but more in terms of kind of idolatry of self, we want what is ours to honor ourself and when we don’t share God’s gifts we’re giving ourselves gifts, me too, Jesus tells us when we serve the least of us, we serve Him (how come I didn’t refer to that?) But yea, amen, sistah, I have to take a hard look in the mirror too. God bless and thank you, it’s always such an encouragment to see your comments, you’re wonderful.

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    2. Pastor Jim Driskell, Lutheran Church Post author

      Aw isn’t that cute my first snarky message. Anyway when adults appreciate each others work they let them know so that we can continue to do better work and build each other up. That’s a good thing. So what’s with the bitterness. Come on, I’m sure you’re better than that. God bless brother. And yea being a pastor could be described as “glamorous” I kind of switch back and forth, but when you’ve been something for 29 years, yea, guess it kind of sticks with you.

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