Daily Proverbial, 28 November 2011

He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor. Proverbs 28, verse 8.

Did you know that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have already made arrangements to give away the vast majority of their billions? I don’t know about the spiritual beliefs of either man. I simply know that such behavior can be evidence of God’s Spirit at work. You and I don’t have billions, and we probably won’t ever become billionaires. Did either of those men charge exorbitant amounts for their products, one being software and the other being investment vehicles (or investment in businesses)? No comment other than to say that the market affords what it will based on what people are willing to pay.

In my humble opinion, America is both the most generous and most greedy nation on this planet. No, I’m not going to use my words here to guilt-trip you into thinking we are such an awful country. We aren’t. Cite Messers Gates and Buffett for an example. Or Andrew Carnegie who gave away his entire fortune before he died. Or Milton Hershey, the profits of whose company go not to his cousins or distant relatives (he had no children) but, instead, to a school for indigent kids. John Rockefeller gave away a millions of dollars one dime at a time and still left a vast estate for his heirs. The list of charitable wealthy could go on and on and yet the strangest thing is that the vast majority of investment wealth in our country, namely the retirement investments and 401Ks, isn’t held by the one percent of super-wealthy people. No, the vast majority of wealth in the nation is held by people like you and me. It’s people like you and me who donate to churches, food drives, and needy causes. Large grants from the John D and Katherine T. Macarthur Foundation may fund programs on PBS, but PBS still gets most of its funding from donations out of the pockets of John Q. Public. You and I still give of our time and treasure to others in amounts the super-rich can’t possibly start to compare.

And yet, this verse still tells the honest truth of how people amass wealth by sticking it to the little guy. Bill Gates owned a company that makes usable, relatively inexpensive software that people can use…but Microsoft didn’t give that away for free. Warren Buffett owns companies that build businesses and provide jobs…that is, unless you’re a competitor who is run out of town because of Buffett’s undeniable market advantages. Big Oil may only make two or three cents profit on a $3.00 gallon of gas, but it also allows the price of gas and oil to fluctuate according to a hyper-sensitive and somewhat greedy commodities market. Great wealth is amassed at great cost. That great cost is paid by you and I.

The verse also reminds us that rich and poor alike meet the same end in this world, and that God doesn’t factor wealth into His equation of whether or not we will die. When Paris Hilton, George Soros, and I stand before God’s judgment seat, I’m sure he won’t ask any of us “how much did you make?” He might just ask, though, “how much did you love your brothers and sisters?” One way to show love is to share. I’m not a fan of the saying that we should “give back to society,” especially since we live in a society that seems increasingly depraved and since the government confiscates more and more of our time and treasure for expenditures with which I disagree. I am a fan, however, of saying “give freely” of our hearts because, even in the hardest of times, we are still richly blessed in ways our forebears could not ever have imagined. Messers Carnegie, Gates and Buffett seem to have realized that because, as I mentioned, they all made arrangements to disburse their great wealth.

Maybe you and I can do the same. I seriously doubt I will ever leave my kids a fortune; indeed, I haven’t earned one yet. But perhaps there are other ways in which I have amassed wealth that I can leave for others. Perhaps the verse cautions that wealth need not only be monetary. Maybe our wealth is in collectibles, belongings or even people. Maybe there are intangible things we amass in life such as knowledge, political capital, abilities, or even love. If we aren’t careful – if our motives aren’t Godly and Spirit-led – then we might amass those kinds of wealth in ways that take advantage of others. Don’t believe me? Try collecting things at the expense of your spouse’s’ time, or studying and reading and pursuing higher education at the expense of time with your kids. Think about that when you’re collecting friends on Facebook, or going from casual hook up to casual hook up. What will those things mean to you when you and I stand before God and He asks us how we used the many gifts with which He blessed us?

Who will our legacy be left to, and what will that legacy be?

I’m middle aged now and still in pursuit of the American dream. I wrote this missal from the cramped coach seat of a jet bound for Michigan because that’s where I’m working this week. When I land in Flint, I will work a full day helping transform and update an insurance company’s business so they can comply with Federal regulations. None of this happens for free. Tonight, I will write another Proverbial, and perhaps work a little more on one of the books I’m writing. Just this past month, I spent large sums of money paying bills, buying food, enjoying time with my family, and buying Christmas gifts that I couldn’t afford only a few short years ago. It’s important to earn a living, and I’m using the talents God gave me to do so; it’s one way He provides for my family, allowing me to meet my responsibilities and enjoy life. If I’m not careful, though, it could also be how I take advantage of others. Thank God He uses His Word to remind and shape us so that staying on the straight and narrow is an enriching walk in ways beyond the checkbook.

No, chances are that I won’t ever be super-wealthy; I may not ever make enough money to ever really get out of debt or do the kinds of things I dream about. Perhaps that doesn’t matter because money and possessions simply go to someone else when I die anyway. Perhaps real treasure is in how I can serve God in using my talents. I can influence others in these words; I can use time at work to befriend, to work in God-serving ways that make others’ duties more efficient or easy. I can give a smile and a laugh instead of grumbling when I’m in the TSA line. I can be nice to the guy sleeping in the middle seat beside me by keeping my elbows off the armrest. Christ said it best: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. No interest is charged for loving on our brothers and sisters, but good interest is given and God is glorified one smile or kind gesture at a time. That’s wealth worth building and a legacy worth sharing.

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