In the last 40 years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet – and, in numerous instances, spend time with – people whose fame, like Bill Gates, makes them distant. That helps to insulate me from the risk of being star-struck. Questions like: “With whom would you like to have lunch, one-on-one?” bring a short-list to my mental desktop. My answer, these days: Bill Gates.
It isn’t his long-time standing in the top-ranks of the Forbes 400 list that puts him high on my roster. His clarity about personal faith is nebulous, at best: “I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don’t know.” Wife Melinda was raised in the Catholic tradition and their kids have been exposed by her to that culture. Bill has attended with them, but holds no conclusive declared convictions that would qualify him as “Christian.”
My fascination with his story grows out of my respect for his pilgrimage from tech entrepreneur to venture philanthropist, without the compelling incentive of spiritual urgings.
While growing his corporate identity at Microsoft, he was already venturing off the tech grid into parts of the world where the baseline of life was shockingly inferior to the land of privilege – and the billionaire bubble – that was “home” to one of the new era’s most accomplished innovators.
The first iteration of Gates’ intentional philanthropy was the Wm. H. Gates Foundation in 1994. Six years later, that initial effort advanced to become the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in 2000. In 2006, Warren Buffett made his first commitment to assist in funding the BMGF humanitarian efforts. In 2008, Bill Gates retired from his active career involvement at Microsoft to devote his professional energies to the work of the BMGF.
In 2010, Gates and Buffett announced the launch of the Giving Pledge. The organization’s stated goal is to inspire the wealthy people of the world to give at least half of their net worth to philanthropy. In the earliest form, the Pledge challenged the distribution during the pledgers lifetime; as time went on, the time horizon expanded to include contributions from the donor’s estate. Today, the Pledge has 204 signatories – individuals and couples – from 22 countries. The aggregate net-worth of those families currently exceeds $1 trillion.
How can Bill & Melinda Gates talk affluent wealthy people into divesting half their lifetime accumulation for the benefit of others? The best answer: they’ve modeled that commitment.
About 1960 years ago, the Apostle Paul challenged Christians in Rome to make an even more challenging pledge: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2).
Our capitalist culture uses net worth to identify the higher-ups; the Christian culture uses our progress to holiness as the mark of maturity. Paul knew that the progression toward holiness was the proof of discipleship, but arriving at that spiritual status was not the end of the journey. What’s next?
Once you’re “holy and pleasing to God,” what’s next? “Offer your body as a living sacrifice.” What value would that represent to the one making the decision to give-it-up? “Then, you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Short and Sweet: God’s will for us is what we call our “Kingdom Calling;” God withholds that revelation until we’ve said “yes” to the invitation to be “all in.”For Capitalists, it’s the Giving Pledge from Bill, Melinda and Warren. For Christians, it’s the Living Sacrifice Pledge from Paul. Capitalist leaders commit 50% of their money, from their estate. Christian leaders commit 100% of all they are and have, starting now. How could Paul ask that? He modeled that commitment; he was – himself – all-in.
Lunch with Gates, during my lifetime? Not much chance for that. Lunch with Paul, during my Eternal lifetime? I’m counting on it…