The World’s Wealthiest

Credit:  Sufi Nawaz

Credit: Sufi Nawaz

The January 21, 2014 Austin American Statesman published an article by Matthew Schofield citing a report issued by the British-based anti-poverty charity Oxfam. It stated that the richest 85 people in the world own half the world’s wealth.

The report’s observation was that “the world’s poorest 3.55 billion people must live on what the richest 85 possess.” It also reported that “the wealth of the one percent of the richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.” That number looks like this: $110,000,000,000,000.

In addition, a March 3, 2014 report by Forbes Magazine identified the world’s richest people, stating that there are 1,645 billionaires in the world, “with an aggregate net worth of $6.4 trillion.” You know what that number looks like. There are 172 women billionaires, up from 138 last year.

A net worth of $31 billion was needed to make the top 20, up from $23 billion last year. The U.S. had the most billionaires with 492, followed by China with 152 and Russia with 111.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, 58, topped the list with an estimated net worth of $76 billion. As of May 16, 2013, Gates had donated $28 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, established “Globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, 29, “was the biggest gainer in 2013, with his fortune jumping $15.2 billion to $28.5 billion.” Reports are that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, were the most generous American philanthropists in 2013. They contributed 18 million Facebook shares worth $990 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which its Web site says exists to “build and energize a community of philanthropists who strengthen the common good.”

If you or I had anywhere near that level of wealth, we might choose charitable recipients quite different from those noted above. There are many charitable endeavors with both temporal and eternal impact. They are worthy of our generous support!

Six truths come to mind from these two reports:
1.  Many people in the world live in abject poverty. A few possess unimaginable wealth.
2.  Everything we have comes from God and really belongs to him, not to us. (1 Cor. 10:6)
3.  We brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it. (1 Tim. 6:7)
4.  We are simply managers of whatever God entrusts to our care. (Matt. 25:14-30)
5.  Jesus tells us to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked. (Matt. 25:31-46)
6.  He also says, “To whom much is given, of him much is required.” (Luke 12:48)

Some of the world’s wealthiest understand these truths. Others probably have no clue. The same could be said of most of us whose wealth is measured not in trillions but in other treasures from our heavenly Father’s bountiful hand. Some of us understand our privilege and responsibility. Others don’t. May God help us to increase the numbers of those who do!

Alcohol!

Beer 1Country and western singer Brad Paisley sings a song titled Alcohol. Here are some of the lyrics:

I can make anybody pretty, I can make you believe any lie; I can make you pick a fight with somebody twice your size. I’ve been known to cause a few breakups and I’ve been known to cause a few births. I can make you new friends or get you fired from your work.

I got blamed at your wedding reception for your best man’s embarrassing speech, and also for those naked pictures of you at the beach. I’ve influenced kings and world leaders; I helped Hemingway write like he did. And I`ll bet you a drink or two that I can make you put that lampshade on your head.

I got you in trouble in high school, and college, now that was a ball. You had some of the best times you’ll never remember with me! Alcohol! Alcohol!

Although I often listen to C&W music, that song is far from one of my favorites. Perhaps that’s because during my ministerial career I’ve seen havoc wreaked by and horrible results come from misuse and abuse of alcoholic beverages.

A headline from this past Sunday’s Austin American Statesman puts an exclamation mark on this topic. The article is titled Does Austin have a drinking problem? It was no doubt at least partially prompted by a drunken driving episode late last Thursday night in downtown Austin. Attempting to evade a police officer’s flashing lights, the driver plowed into a crowd of people, killing three innocent bystanders and inflicting serious injury upon a score of others.

This tragedy occurred during South by Southwest, a huge event bringing tens of thousands of people to Austin every year. Much good is received by those who attend the helpful parts of SXSW. While a significant percentage of attendees are not from Austin, lots of booze is consumed that week, adding to our community’s growing reputation as a city with a drinking problem.

To that point, the Statesman article states, in part: “In the five-county Austin metro area, almost $5 billion worth of alcohol was sold at bars and restaurants in the past 10 years … which doesn’t include sales at liquor or grocery stores. Statistics clearly show that no city in Texas spends more per capita for drinks than Austin.”

While the Psalmist praises God for bringing forth “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15), the author of Proverbs adds: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1)

What’s the bottom line? “Do not get drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit … making music to the Lord in your heart.” (Eph. 5:18-19)

As some alcoholic beverage advertisements advise: “Drink responsibly!” Had the driver late last Thursday night in Austin heeded that counsel, the lives of innocent people would not have been ended. And his life would not have taken the irreversibly wrong turn it has taken as a result.

Light in Darkness

Lighthouse 1The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”

Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”

The captain was angered! His command had been ignored! So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am the captain!” Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a seaman third class.”

Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am a battleship!” Then came the reply: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a lighthouse!”

There are plenty of voices shouting at us through the fog. We need the clear and solid voice of a lighthouse in our lives – someone with the right advice about where to go and how to get there.

Terry Pratchett in Reaper Man said, “Light thinks it travels faster than anything, but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds darkness has always gotten there first, waiting for it.”

William Shakespeare said in The Merchant of Venice, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

John the Baptist came to “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, to give light to those who sit in darkness.” (Luke 1:76-79)

Jesus said to his disciples and to us: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)

In this world of darkness, let your light shine, reflecting the source of our life and light—Jesus!

The Nine Toughest Leadership Roles

Leadership 1

Credit: Craig Parylo

An article on Leadership by Rob Asghar in the February 25 Forbes Magazine ranked what in that author’s opinion are the nine toughest leadership roles. These are not scientifically evaluated, just offered in the words of the author as “one educated guess.” Here they are, in reverse order:

9. Corporate CEO

Cons: Angry shareholders, low employee morale, media scrutiny, and an impossible task of balancing long-term goals with quarterly ones.

Pro: A generation ago CEOs made 25 times what the average worker made. Now it’s over 250 times. So one really cares what the cons are.

8. United States Congressperson

Pros:  Even though Congressional approval rates hover around 15%, incumbents get reelected 90% of the time. Even a monumental scandal may not drive a congressman from office. And generous donations from special interests give you a clear map for how to vote on even the most complicated issues.

Cons: Every so often you wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a clear sense that you’re the cause of the nation’s problems.

7. Editor for a Daily Newspaper

Pros: You’re at the cutting edge of change within the global communications revolution.

Cons: It’s mostly you that’s getting cut.

6. Mayor

Pros:  Chance to ban large sodas and/or deport citizens who picked on you in grade school.

Cons: Unlike most politicians, you actually have to make sure that garbage gets collected, snow gets shoveled, and things get done. And worse yet, you often can’t fire the people who are getting in your way.

5. Pastor, Rabbi, Mullah or Other Holy Leader

Pros: You’re seen as a man or woman of God and what you say gets taken seriously, at least momentarily.

Cons: “Being a pastor is like death by a thousand paper cuts,” says Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California and a program director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. “You’re scrutinized and criticized from top to bottom, stem to stern. You work for an invisible, perfect Boss, and you’re supposed to lead a ragtag gaggle of volunteers towards God’s coming future. It’s like herding cats, but harder.”

4. Football Coach

Cons: You never see your spouse or kids.

Pros: You never see your spouse or kids. And it’s your chance to finally get that 24/7 attention you crave, usually from bitter, underpaid sports “journalists” and psychopathically unhappy callers to AM radio shows who blame you for 4,037 things outside your control.

3. Second-in-Command of Any Organization

Pros: As the company’s #2, you’re insulated from much of the searing heat that the top position faces. And many people flatter you by telling you (out of earshot of your boss) that you should be the real #1.

Cons: You’re less ready for the #1 job than you think. Even though you think you’re doing the true hard work while your insufferable boss basks in all the glory, you have no idea how much more complex, lonely and pressure-packed the #1 position is.

2. University President

Pros: People are pretty sure you’re super-smart.

Cons: People don’t like know-it-alls. And in addition to managing a huge and complex physical campus, you have to manage a thousand unmanageable constituencies—including picketing students, partying students, zealous alumni, Nobel laureates, hundreds or thousands of highly opinionated tenured professors that you can’t fire, and 10 to 15 separate sports franchises that would drive any NFL owner insane. And bear in mind that public university presidents have all the problems above, while additionally needing to wrestle with governors and state legislators and political groups.

1. Stay-At-Home Parent

Little known fact: While there are some 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the U.S., the number of stay-at-home fathers has tripled in recent years.

Pros: Comfortable, stretchy sweat-pant uniforms. Showering is optional. Freedom from water-cooler gossip and office backstabbing.

Cons: Condescending tone in the “Oh, staying at home is a very important job” statements that others make. The knowledge that, if you do your job badly, you’ll be raising the next generation of psychopaths and U.S. congresspersons. While it’s been calculated that the value of your work is a whopping $100,000 a year, your overpaid CEO spouse flaunts his or her paycheck as a way of showing that he or she doesn’t plan to help around the house. Even if you do your job right, the little ingrates move on and leave you with an empty nest.

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Obviously the author is prone to a bit of stylistic sarcasm. In my humble opinion all the leadership roles listed in his article are legitimate expressions of Christian vocation that have significant value and are at least potentially important for the good of society. There are many more such beneficial leadership roles and vocational callings than the nine in this article.

Regardless of the level of difficulty or sacrifice of the vocational calling of God in your life, I pray you find meaning and fulfillment in that calling. As St. Paul writes, in an admittedly different context: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

And Martin Luther adds this little note about Christian vocational calling: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”