I’m just finishing the biography of John D. Rockefeller, the richest man – EVER! Rockefeller with his Standard Oil Company began his march to monopoly as a very young man. This was what Mark Twain called the gilded age. A time where men like Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and others amassed huge fortunes while turning America from an agrarian society to an economic and industrial super power.
Did you know for the first 35 years of the oil business they did not know what to do with the waste product from refining kerosene? It was a good thing cars came along in the mid-1890’s so they could stop throwing that by-product, gasoline into the river
Rockefeller may have been the most villainized man in America, but as Paul Harvey used to say “Here’s the rest of the story.”
Rockefeller didn’t have the best start in life. His grandfather was an alcoholic and his father was a con-artist, bigamist who regularly abandoned his family. He traveled the northern States (including Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakota’s) calling himself a Dr. and selling his “cure all”.
He studied hard, but wasn’t naturally brilliant. He quit school right before graduation so his younger siblings could go. He didn’t strike oil; but he found a junior partner who knew how to refine it. His secret was he learned the shipping business working as a 16 year old bookkeeper in a transport company.
Have you ever heard the saying behind every successful man there’s a woman? In Rockefeller’s case it was 3; an amazing grandmother, mother, and wife.
John D. Attended church 3 times a week. He was the Sunday school superintendent for 27 years. He chose a Baptist church with a poor and lower middle class congregation, not one fashionable with the rich and upwardly mobile. He always mapped out his church attendance before he traveled.
He shunned yachts, the polo grounds, and the parties and clubs of high society. He raised his children as paupers so they wouldn’t be spoiled. He didn’t drink, smoke, or swear. He treated people in all stations of life with respect.
One of the reasons he may have been villainized is because he never defended himself, or lashed out in anger when attacked.
John D. was the richest man ever, but he was also the most generous man – EVER! His generosity didn’t start when he had abundance. As a young teen he gave away a high percentage of his meager earnings from odd jobs. He was convinced God had blessed him so he could bless others. His favorite causes? Education and healthcare. Education, especially of women, blacks, Baptists and the poor. He funded medical research, hospitals, healthcare for the poor, and medical education.
Its in-calculable how many people’s lives were positively impacted by his employment, by his support of education, or cures to come out of his research funding. For all his philanthropy, Rockefeller didn’t want plaques, or statues. He didn’t want to serve on boards. He didn’t even want stuff named after him.
I admit not knowing much about him, I probably had a preconceived jaundiced impression. Now I think I like him. I even identify with him. Like him I have an abnormally slow pulse, love golf, and bicycling, I’m into fitness, and I’m rich.
Oh, I don’t mean I have immense resources, thank goodness no. Rockefeller’s money became quite a burden. First with every business opportunist, scammer, and legal threat. Then with infinite requests for charity. The biggest burden? Before Bill Gates said it, Rockefeller believed that “with great wealth comes great responsibility.” Giving away his fortune in ways that would effectively impact mankind weighed on him heavily. He was crushed by an ever growing avalanche of money and his belief he needed to disperse it for the best use.
I’m wealthy though, and so are you. Do you grasp how ridiculously wealthy American’s are? America’s poor are wealthy compared to the rest of the world.
Here’s a few facts:
Someone at the poverty level in the US is in the top 14% of global Income.
More than 1 billion people globally live on less than $1 per day. Tried to live on $365 a year lately?
We are 4.5% of the world’s population but 30% of GDP.
We possess over 40% of the world’s wealth.
Americans are in the top 1% compared to the rest of the world.
Sadly we also have the greatest internal wealth inequality. If you’re reading this, you’re rich. With great wealth come great responsibility. This holiday season be a Rockefeller, recognize you’re wealthy and take very seriously your responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone in need.
Psalm 145:8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
Proverbs 22:2 Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.
I Timothy 6:18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.