Today’s Mega Millions jackpot has reached a record $540 million. If the lucky winner chooses the cash option, he or she would receive a lump sum of $389 million before taxes. The annuity option would pay out more than $20.7 million for 26 years before taxes. How would that much money change your life?
Not necessarily in ways you might think. Consider Jack Whitaker, who won $315 million in 2002. The West Virginia businessman was robbed of $545,000 at a strip club; his granddaughter and daughter were later found dead; and he was sued by an Atlantic City casino for bouncing checks worth $1.5 million to cover gambling losses.
In 1996, Jeffrey Dampier and his wife won $20 million in Illinois’ lottery. Nine years later, Dampier was targeted for money by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend, who kidnapped and killed him.
Ministers are not immune from the lottery curse. Billy Bob Harrell, Jr. was a preacher who won $31 million in Texas’ lottery in 1997. Some 20 months later, after divorcing his wife and buying a half-dozen homes for relatives, he took his own life with a shotgun.
If the Dalai Lama won the Mega Millions, he would apparently handle his winnings differently. Yesterday he received the Templeton Prize and its $1.7 million award. His response: “I am a simple Buddhist monk, no less, no more, after receiving this award. Of course more people may pay some attention about my talks, my thoughts, so in that sense, I think, [it is] very very helpful.” He joins Mother Teresa as the only two people to receive both the Templeton and the Nobel Peace Prize.
I’m tempted to respond by warning you about the perils of wealth, but it occurs to me that I’m too late. If your total income exceeds $38,611, you’re above average in America. Over 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day; over 50% lives on less than $2 a day. Compared to most of the world, most of us are wealthy. What will we do with what has been entrusted to us?
Our culture measures success by where we live, what we drive, how we dress. But the Dalai Lama is right: our possessions are a means to an end, tools to use in advancing the ideas and principles that matter most to us. I am committing myself anew this morning to use the time and resources God has given me today for eternal purposes. Visiting my parents’ grave last week reminded me that one day my net worth on this planet will be a small parcel of dirt. But everything I do for God’s glory in the power of his Spirit will bear harvest for eternity.
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” What will you do for him today?