Adventures in Faith

Conversations with Billionaires: Why Extreme Wealth Can Be A Curse

Over the past few months I've sat and talked with a few billionaires and centi-millionaires. And, I was surprised to hear more than once that such wealth is a curse. And so recently, coming out of one such meeting, I posted this on Facebook:

The comments on this post went back and forth with some identifying with the great challenge of wealth, and others saying that, in fact, wealth itself cannot be a curse with some suggesting ways to handle it. 

Without trying to make a case one way or the other here, I'm going to give more details about where these people were coming from, which will hopefully be of some use to us all.

1. First, keep in mind I was speaking to them about their philanthropy, and each of these folks gives away massive amounts of their wealth, some up to 50% per year. So, by any standard, they are extremely generous, far more than the average person, which is not typical of the extremely wealthy.

2. The principal wealth holder's I met weren't necessarily concerned with their own handling of their wealth, but rather how their family would handle it. In fact, one billionaire said to me that massive wealth almost automatically changes their kids and how they approach work, and not for the better. Statistics show that 70% of wealth is lost by the second generation, 90% by the third, which seems to support this concern. 

3. Even if the principal wealth holder believes that he can handle the wealth, there's a sense that it's not always easy to discern if one is doing so. And, the Bible speaks quite a bit about the heart being able to be deceived with regards to wealth. Does one's resources start to provide a sense of security, provision, and joy in place of where God ought to be? With the onset of massive wealth, this becomes difficult to discern. One pastor, Francis Chan, upon learning that his book would net him millions, set up a trust to ensure he couldn't use it for his personal lifestyle for this very reason (read the story here). 

4. People of extreme wealth are very concerned about their values, and primarily about their values not being upheld by their successors or those they give money to. I've heard this many times, and people have pointed to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as examples of wealthy families leaving money to educate students with certain values, which are now mostly lost. 

5. The nature of relationships automatically change, where most conversations seem to have a hidden agenda and/or lead to a financial transaction. This dynamic can quickly lead to guilt, family infighting, and abandonment by friends and family who become upset when requests aren't met, and ultimately, a lack of trust and deep loneliness.

6. Everyone seems to have an opinion about how one could or should handle the wealth. Even in the Facebook post I put up, people, complete strangers, right away started providing solutions about how they would handle it, and how they most certainly would not be cursed by such wealth. When one is extremely wealthy, it's almost an invitation for open criticism, whether they give it away or not, just by virtue of them being wealthy.

7. Giving the money away doesn't always feel all that helpful to the recipient. Some folks I'm talking to literally can't give the money away fast enough, and wrestle with the issues that come with giving it away. Individuals and organizations receiving funds sometimes seem worse off than before they got the funding. These kinds of unintended negative consequences are commonplace, and it soon becomes clear that giving money away is, in fact, difficult to do well.  

8. In the USA, we are in a society that values and has more wealth than any society before it. Even within the church, it's often the financially successful who are put on stage. We've witnessed the rise of the "prosperity Gospel" and yet, while the Bible uses the word "blessed" 112 times in the New Testament, it never once refers to material wealth. So, with great wealth in the US comes a certain fame and favoritism that would certainly pull away from, not towards, the key tenants of Scripture. 

9. Keep in mind that, most people who will read this post are actually very wealthy. In fact, if there were 100 people in a line representing the world's population, everyone reading this post would be in the top 5 wealthiest people in that line. Don't believe me, check the stats here at Global Rich List. For example, I'm in the top .08% of all humans! So while it's easy to point to "that millionaire or billionaire," for statistical purposes and from a global perspective, you might as well point to yourself. 

Now, all this having been said...

Is there a way to have wealth and still walk closely with God? Yes. 

Would such a walk be difficult and require one to hold onto that wealth very loosely. I think we can agree that, yes, this is true.

Given that I am primarily interested in building up the Church and providing solutions, do I have ideas about how to do this? Indeed, and if you're interested, you should sign up for my email list to be sure you don't miss out on the principles, tools, and resources that are coming very soon. 

Adventures in Faith

Rich Kids See God Too

A couple months back I attended a pretty swanky affair at the United Nations. Most of the attendees were either very wealthy, accomplished, popular, or all three! Seriously, George Soros' son was walking around, so to Meryl Davis, and many others. It's not clear why they let me in...

Nonetheless, in a room with smart, rich, young people, I had a notion that I'd be hard pressed to find anyone wanting to talk about faith in God. After all, if you read the reports, those are precisely the factors with a high propensity for disinterest in religion. Boy was I wrong.

I wasn't there a full day when I started to hear conversations about God. In fact, that first night on my walk back from dinner, I ended up having an hour long conversation with a mildly practicing Jewish woman about Jesus. It was remarkable and had me literally choked up to tears. 

Night two, I spoke with the leader of a major movement in Mexico--this guy literally has a million people following him on social media and in other places. I asked him what drives him and was floored when he replied that it's when he's ministering to people, that's where he meet's Jesus. Again. Ryan. Choked. Up.

A Saturday evening soiree I stopped by was called "Shabbat Unplugged." I had no idea what it meant, but as soon as I entered I was greeted with a blessing by a woman who seemed to be the host. In the hour or so event, the hosts of the event, a husband and wife duo, stood on a couch and the husband prayed over the wife. We all raised our hands to pray with them. They broke bread and then passed it around the room to the 100 in attendance. A guy jumped up and recited an amazing poem. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought I was in a lively church fellowship and worship session right there in Trump Plaza!

There was a special breakout session specifically to explore religion and how the world religions could get along. I thought I'd be one of a few to show up, again, wrong, it was standing room only. At lunch I sat with a table with a Hindu, Atheist, Universalist, and some other kind of -ist. To start the discussion, we prayed in four different traditions. 

What really blew me away though, was a series of questions they asked the crowd. First, raise your hand if you identify with only one religion. Only about 25% of the hands went up. Then, they asked, raise your hand if you have had some experience with "the other" that you cannot explain, but which is central to your faith. Almost every hand went up!

People are being touched by God, that much is clear. They just don't know what to make of it, that sense that there is something bigger doesn't easily line up with what they see as the available options of religion around them.

Now I was soaring high, really sensing God move in and through this crowd. Why wouldn't He, for Scripture says in Proverbs 21 that God controls the kings of this world. 

It kept growing, the reality that God and faith and Jesus were all around New York City and among this group. One night, on a yacht sailing around the Harbor, I got to talking with a wealth adviser from California. I don't remember how faith came up, but when it did she revealed to me that she was beginning to get inquiries from her clients about how faith should be factored into their finances. She was uncertain about how to respond, especially since some of them feared an "end of the world" scenario, and so I offered to be of counsel to her anytime.

Another guy I met raved about his start-up, and how it enables people to find each other to do service projects much easier. Curious, I asked him what drove his vision for the whole thing. He leaned in and he told me that, secretly, it was a vision from God, and that he'd love to tell me more if we could set up a call for a week later. 

This was all a great encouragement to me, and also, with it there was a real weightiness. The realization that in this world there is not a battle against flesh and blood but against principalities of evil. Realizing that where there is good, there is an enemy that seeks to destroy and to devour around every corner. How will people come to know these truths?

In the days after the event, I got a flurry of emails from folks I had met who intended to keep in touch. One such email included a hint about the faith that sustained the sender, a young man. I checked his LinkedIn profile for clues, and then when I replied that I was a believer, and was praying for God to use me for the good of this group, I was quickly introduced to a handful of others who had found each other and were already praying and planning seeking to serve the community with grace and truth. 

In closing, I'll tell you about a documentary film maker I met at the event. A super personable guy, we hit it off and he beamed about how he had shot 19 videos, that we set to air on a major network about this movement. His job was to capture it and tell the story. I replied to him that there was an unseen current beneath this movement that he has to capture, and that is the faith of these people, and the very hand of God. Just then someone got up in front of the room to pray.