December 2, 2013
They could all be wrong… but they can’t all be right.
When notable people have different opinions about the same thing, the listening world is faced with a choice. If the subject is abstract theory, it can be a game; if the point of conflict is a philosophy that drives choices and the actions that follow, it’s not a game; it’s life.
Welcome to December. A verb that is relegated to birthdays and random events moves to center stage: Give is the common theme, all month long. Employers debate bonuses; shoppers walk by Red Kettles at malls; neighbors who don’t know one another by name make bulk-buys of jams or chocolates to exchange on the porch. “ ‘Tis the season…”
The culture-wide focus on giving may be a year-end phenomenon, but the practice has become a continuing dialog among the well-to-do. Business moguls whose lifetime of earning and accumulating propelled their rise on the Forbes list of the most-wealthy are now debating the merits of generosity.
Bill Gates broke ranks when he – as the richest American – declared the end of his serious getting, and the launch of even-more-serious giving. Warren Buffett joined his philanthropy circle, and – together – they birthed The Giving Pledge: “…a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” (givingpledge.org)
Pointed principally toward billionaires, the Pledge asks their commitment to give at least half of their net-worth to charity, in life or in death.
Buffett spoke recently at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. His comment: “If you have trouble living on $500 million, I’m going to put out a book: How to Live on $500 Million.” (He might autograph a copy if you’ll sign the pledge). They’re working the crowd for sign-ups…
Scott McNealy – cofounder of Sun Microsystems, and recurring entrepreneur in the tech world – has responded as an Evangelist for Capitalism. He is unrestrained in his public disdain for philanthropy: “Imagine if they had taken their tens of billions of dollars, chopped it up into $5 million chunks and pledged it to a business plan, sponsored by an MBA graduating from an MBA school…” Carlos Slim – the world’s second-richest man – sings harmony with McNealy and the anti-giving choir…
For people with something to give, the choice of counsel is challenging. McNealy: Create Jobs. Gates and Buffett: Alleviate Suffering. There’s a third perspective worth hearing, from a Man whose birthday is the highpoint of December. His comment, about the billionaire debate: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8)
The well-funded are shrewd, but the Savior is even more strategic: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) Creating jobs and alleviating suffering are great… but, if someone misses the chance to go to heaven, what will you think 100 years from now?
When you have something to give, what should you do with your money? Once you’ve checked-off the personal holiday stocking crowd – the folks around your Christmas tree – how do you engage the world beyond? McNealy: Create Jobs. Gates and Buffett: Alleviate Suffering. The Lord Jesus: Populate Heaven. They could all be wrong… but they can’t all be right.
Most people are frozen in the face of competing counsel; they just spend on themselves what could have been invested (making jobs for the people who produced what they consumed).
I’ve heard the arguments, and I’ve made my pick. The Giving Pledge devotes 50%; the Gift of God was 100%: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16).
When you have more than you need, and are ready to invest: populate heaven by making God’s gift known to people who are waiting to hear. Give is a verb; this is the month to get busy…