Twenty-one years ago (May 1991) a book was published titled, “The Day America Told the Truth,” by James Patterson and Peter Kim, and one of the questions asked in an extensive opinion survey which guaranteed the anonymity of its participants was, “What are you willing to do for $10 million dollars?” The answers may or may not shock you (and imagine how much worse it is in our culture now, 21 years later). I’ll get to the results in a minute, but think about this seriously, folks. What would you be willing to do for $10 million?
The love of money and greed is at epidemic proportions in America today, even among those who call themselves Christian. One would almost think that 1 Timothy 6:10 wasn’t even in the Bible anymore with all the excesses available to us in America today and our craving for as much of them as we can get. Remember what 1 Tim. 6:10 states? “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Does anybody take this seriously anymore?
Exactly how far can greed take us? I found this really sad quote regarding billionaire Leona Helmsley written at some point before her death in 2007 on just how far she would go to get any amount of money:
“She owns a string of hotels. She owns the Empire State Building. She is a billionaire. Yet, in September 1989 Leona Mindy Rosenthal Helmsley was convicted of 33 counts of tax evasion, for which she spent time in prison. According to Time magazine, she emerged as a penny-pinching tyrant who tried to stiff just about everybody. No amount of money was too small to fight over. After the sudden death of her only son at age 40 in 1982, she sued and won the lion’s share of his estate, $149,000, leaving his four children with $432 each and his widow with $2,171” (quote source here).
Incredible, isn’t it? Or maybe not. Let’s read what Dr. Charles Swindoll has to say about it in his devotion titled, “Gut-Level Authenticity”:
In 1991 James Patterson and Peter Kim released “The Day America Told the Truth,” a study based on an extensive opinion survey which guaranteed the anonymity of its participants. And the truth was shocking! Let me give you a brief sampling of their findings: Only 13% of Americans see all Ten Commandments as binding and relevant; 91% lie regularly; both at work and in their homes; most American workers admit to goofing off for an average of seven hours–almost one whole day–per week; and half of our work force admits that they regularly call in sick when they feel perfectly well.
One particular question on the survey really grabbed me: “What are you willing to do for $10 million?” (Are you sitting down?) Twenty-five percent would abandon their families; 23% would become a prostitute for a week; 7% would murder a stranger! [Some additional stats from the survey: 25% would abandon their church; 16% would give up their American citizenships; 16% would leave their spouses; 10% would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free; and 3% would put their children up for adoption–source here. Something tells me the percentages would be even higher–much higher?–today.]
Now, a word of caution here. Sometimes it’s easy for Christians to feel a little smug–to look down our pious noses and sigh in pharisaical tones, “I’m a Christian. I would never do that.” Not so fast, my friend. You don’t want to hear this, but there’s not all that much difference between “us” and “them.”
Two other authors, both Christians, did their own sampling of the populace and built their own embarrassing case based on hard evidence. According to their book, “Keeping Your Ethical Edge Sharp,” (1990) Doug Sherman and William Hendricks concluded that “the general ethical conduct of Christians varies only slightly from non-Christians” (with some grand exceptions, of course). Believers, they said, are almost as likely as unbelievers to do such things as falsify their income tax returns, steal from the workplace, and selectively obey the laws.
No question about it, depravity is alive and well with non-Christians and Christians alike. Why? Because “inauthenticity” became the art form of the 1990s.
Want a challenge? Start modeling the truth . . . the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God. Think truth. Confess truth. Face truth. Love truth. Pursue truth. Walk truth. Talk truth. Ah, that last one! That’s a good place to begin. From this day forward, deliberately, consciously, and conscientiously speak the truth. Start practicing gut-level authenticity.
Do your own honest soul search. What would you do for $10 million?
It’s clear from the devotion that it was written in the 1990’s. Greed has only gotten worse, much worse, over the past 20 years. “Greed is the logical result of the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can however we can and then hold on to it hard” ~Sir Fred Catherwood, Evangelicals Now, September, 1994 (quote source here).
While I’ve never been particularly materialistic, I must admit to reaching a point a few years ago where I started to get sucked up into the whole “prosperity gospel” thing. It’s everywhere in our society today and can be disguised as simply (and as insidiously) as our seeking after “the good life” (in other words, a constant feeling of “discontent” with our current status in life and wanting “more”). After all, there isn’t one of us who hasn’t been influenced by the massive excesses available in our culture and the unrelenting messages from mass media that tells us we can and should “have it all.”
Let’s take a look at the lottery system in America and the millions who play it in a desperate attempt to “get rich.” In reality, they end up poorer by spending what money they do have on a dream that will never come true as the odds of winning are next to impossible. And for the incredibly few who actually do win, have you ever read what has happened to them? It’s not pretty. You can read about it in this article titled, “A Treasury of Terribly Sad Stories of Lotto Winners,” published on March 30, 2012 in The Atlanta Wire.
But back to my very brief experience with the “prosperity gospel.” I never thought I could ever get caught up in the shenanigans I heard from those who preach “prosperity.” I always made enough money to cover all of my basic needs in life (shelter, food, clothing, etc.) plus a few extras (e.g., technology, books, music, etc.). However, I must admit that by the time I hit my mid-50’s I was getting a bit concerned about my lack of any real retirement funds to prepare me for the time I could retire. I even went to a financial counselor and had her go over all of my very meager assets (a small retirement account) and what I would get from Social Security if I continued to work until I was 66. I had never made a lot of money in the jobs I held over the years so my social security earnings were dismal, to say the least. This financial counselor assured me that if I continued to put money into my retirement account and continued to work even at my current salary at the time (which was low compared to my years of experience in the field) that I would be able to make ends meet at retirement. Still, the worry was constantly with me.
In 2007 I started listening to a preacher on TV who espouses the teachings of the “properity gospel” but without all the hype (e.g., the hype that is a part of most prosperity gospel ministries that totally turned me off). Now, mind you, I consider myself to be a very conservative, non-charismatic Christian and even though I hate labels (even those labels) I’m letting you know so that you will understand my background. The “prosperity gospel” makes those folks teaching it rich, but those of us listening and believing it, not so much . . . but always hoping that it could happen to us “any day now.”
So I started listening to this fellow every Sunday on TV, and I started believing in very short order that maybe I had it wrong after all and that there really was something to this “prosperity gospel.” And my dissatisfaction with my financial situation at that time grew. So, I started “believing” that I could have more, just like the preacher said. Well things didn’t immediately improve and, in fact, got worse as several months later the division where I worked at the time was dismantled rather suddenly at the beginning of 2008; and while I didn’t lose my job (some did), I started actively looking for another one. In May 2008 I applied for and was offered the job (in August after an on-site interview process) in Houston at a starting salary that was $15,000 more than I was currently making.
At this point I thought, “Wow, maybe there is something to this prosperity gospel after all.” They paid me more than I’ve ever been paid in my life at any other job by a considerable amount. I actually started thinking about buying a condo once I got settled in the job and in Houston as I’d never really been able to afford my own home before now. “The good life” was finally arriving, or so I thought.
Well, if you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that that job ended up being the worst work experience of my life, and I lost that job a scant seven months after I arrived in Houston. Not only that, when my apartment lease was up, I had to leave Houston as I couldn’t afford to stay there on what Florida unemployment benefits paid and I came back to Florida. In the process, I lost 80% of my worldly possessions (all of my furniture, over 1000 books, and lots of other stuff) as I couldn’t afford to move them back to Florida, and here I am–3 1/2 years after losing that job–still unemployed from that whole experience. My unemployment benefits ended at the end of May 2011, and I have had no income since that time. And my retirement account that I was so worried about back in 2007? Well, it’s the money from that account that is keeping me alive financially right now. So much for it being there when I’m 66.
All of that happened to me because I was discouraged with what I had at the time and I didn’t know if I would eventually lose my previous job since the whole reason I went to work there had gone up in flames when the division was dismantled. And, the additional $15,000 in salary at the new job in Houston was definitely a strong lure and would change my financial landscape for the better.
So, folks, that’s what I did for $15,000 more in salary. And my life and most of what I owned at the time went up in flames because of it.
Now with all of that being said, the real issue is not about money. Surprised? Well, it’s not. It’s about where we allow our heart to go. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The NKJV states it like this, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
I let my heart go with the money, and thought it was God’s blessing on my life. In actuality, it eventually did turn out to be God’s blessing, but it had nothing to do with the money or the “prosperity gospel.” No, my grave error in judgment (by setting my heart on money) and getting caught up in the ensuing work experience that ended with catastrophic results was His way of taking the blinders off of my eyes and allowing me to see how far I had fallen (in a very dramatic and painful way). And, He let me fall, and when I hit bottom, He was right there to pick me up . . .
. . . and the journey has continued for four years now. I’m not sure where it will lead or when this particular trial of mine will end, but what I’ve learned during these past four years far surpasses any high paying job out there with it’s fancy title or prestige or prominence. What I’ve learned is that this life is not about us, folks; it’s about Him. And the question is, “Are we really willing to take our eyes off of ourselves and what we want in this life, and willing to go wherever He leads?”
So, back to the original question–“What would you be willing to do for $10 million?” What would you do for $1 million? What would you do for, say, $15,000? The point, as you can see, is not about the money, it’s about where your heart is.
And, if you’re willing to do anything for money–whatever it is–consider the cost. Greed is insatiable, and it destroys people, relationships, and eventually, your life.
And it’s not worth it . . . .
YouTube Video: “Money” by Pink Floyd from their CD, “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973):