Earthly Riches

(originally published in Aug 2006 in Chokmah) "Stuck with a winning ticket" read a front page article of the Houston Chronicle, August 14, 2006. lt was a story about Juan Rodriguez- just another Texan eking out a living as a drilling rig "floor hand" until he won an $18 million lottery jackpot in February 2000.Today, he’s lost his friends. "Booze and the four dogs he keeps chained outside (his single wide mobile home) are his main companions." "To tell you the truth, I wish I didn’t win," he said, from his living room one evening, nursing the first of the nine Michelob Ultras he would consume by 10 p.m. The article said, "... with no need to earn an income and no set routine, he (Juan) has little to occupy his day." "The rule of thumb we use is sudden wealth will ruin people in three to five years," said Robert Thompson, president of Sage Financial Design, a Connecticut-based company whose clients include instant millionaires. (The article did contain one example of a "winner" who didn't become a loser versus several winners who did become losers.) As l read about some of Juan’s experience the "one good deed' I saw was his $20,000 donation to the St. Rosa of Lima Catholic Church in Charlotte (where he lived as a boy) for a new parking lot. What you don't see, as you read the article, is any purpose in his life. The parking lot donation probably felt good for a moment but because he didn't invest any of "himself", it had no meaning. The article also included Jack Whittaker of West Virginia, who, in 2002, hit a $315 million Powerball jackpot. "Consider his life today. He was convicted last month of assaulting a bar manager and in May he settled with a woman who also accused him of assault. Two casinos are suing him for allegedly bouncing checks in excess of $1.5 million, and the father of a teen who died of a drug overdose on his property in 2004 is suing him for wrongful death. His beloved 17-year-old granddaughter also died in 2004 of a drug overdose, prompting his wife to remark to USA Today while the girl was still missing that had she known what lay ahead, "I would’ve torn up that ticket." All of which reminds me of the Apostle Paul's words in l Timothy 6:6-10. "But godliness and contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (If you would like to contribute to's newsletters please contact Michael Smith at church or email