I saw this bumper sticker as I entered the golf course parking lot. After the round, several friends joined Billy C. and me in the clubhouse. Now wealthy, approaching seventy and finally retired, Billy is gifted with a tremendous knack for telling jokes. He told us the inscription that he intended to have on his tombstone. It was quite a departure from the covetous bumper sticker and the entire room convulsed in nearly hysterical laughter.
But I couldn’t get that bumper sticker out of my mind. Every person I know, myself included, wants more money. I have read numerous biographies of men that climbed to the summit of financial wealth in an attempt to learn their secrets. I will share the results with you.
Al Capone regarded himself as a businessman and philanthropist. Because his business (bootlegging) also included murder as a management technique, he is not highly regarded as a role model. However, giving credit where it is due, he rose to the top of his chosen profession, organized crime. Big Al died alone at his mansion in Florida after suffering horribly for his last twelve years from syphilis.
A contemporary and sometime colleague of Capone, Joseph Kennedy, managed to legitimatize his image. During the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, Joe Kennedy became the Ambassador to Great Britain. He had plenty of toys, but lived his final years paralyzed by a stroke, unable to enjoy them. He survived long enough to see three of his sons killed and the fourth disgraced.
More respectable pursuits produced men like Charles M. Schwab. He was the first President of U.S. Steel and later founded Bethlehem Steel Corporation. This giant of American industry’s motto: “If we are going bust, we will go bust big.”
Go bust he did. After losing his money, Schwab dove out of a skyscraper’s window. As heady as the ride up must have been, the ride down was really exhilarating.
Anyone who has traded the stock or futures markets will recognize the name of Jesse Livermore. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, Livermore earned and lost more than ten million dollars four times. Livermore is still regarded as the king of speculators. His end was much more pedestrian than Schwab’s. He blew his brains out in the washroom of a seedy bar.
If any man has attained fame, fortune and the admiration of a nation, it was Howard Hughes. This dashing fellow lived the lives that Clark Gable portrayed on film. He was a daredevil pilot, a movie producer and, quite likely, the most astute and financially successful businessman of our era. His accomplishments included the Oscar winning movie WINGS, he founded TWA and his contributions to aviation are still evident today. His company, the Summa Corporation is one of the largest in the world.
Hughes, fearless as a pilot, lived out his last ten years in a hermetically sealed glass and steel penthouse. He was terrified of germs. In this prison of his own making, Howard’s only enjoyment was watching his toenails grow. Hughes kept his money but lost his sanity.
I am not the wisest man who ever lived, but I have to question the validity of that bumper sticker. One man who is esteemed as wise was Solomon. He penned these words in Ecclesiastes 5:13 and 15.
“I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.” And, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs.”(NIV)
There is no doubt that an abundance of money solves problems. You no longer worry about the light bill or paying the dentist. But a rational examination forces me to conclude that great riches unaccompanied by any spiritual base simply produce a new set of problems, bigger ones!
So, what’s the answer? Jesus gave us a good one. He told us in Matthew 6:19-21 to store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(NIV)
I saw another bumper sticker that said something about random acts of kindness. The Lord told us to love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves.
In his song, Three Wooden Crosses, Randy Travis put it this way. “It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It’s what you leave behind you when you go.”
Oh, and the inscription that will adorn Billy C.’s tombstone:
I read with interest and learned some things. At the end I was left with a smile on my face. The wonderful thing about your article is that the life stories you shared with us were true allowing us to see that truly, life after life after life without Jesus leaves us, in the end with nothing. I also like it that you didn't try to downplay the importance of money in this world. Your point was well made that while it is very important, it is not the most important thing.