Bernie Madoff was born in New York City in 1938.  He was well known and respected in NYC as evidenced by the numerous positions he received at the important cultural institutions.

His prominence in the Jewish Community gave him star-power in the late decades of the 20th Century.

As his firm Bernard Madoff Investment Securities grew in size, he employed many of his family members, starting with his brother Peter and his sons Mark and Andrew. His personal reputation, especially in the Jewish community, was so great that he was nicknamed the Jewish Bond.

Madoff’s performance on behalf of his clients was extraordinary: he promised and delivered 10% annual distributions on their investment. Whether markets were trending up or dropping down, the reliability of his 10% dividend made his clients secure and comfortable. Until…

On December 11, 2008, Madoff was arrested by federal agents, accused of defrauding his clients and causing a shortfall of approximately $65 billion.  His company turned out to be a massive Ponzi scheme.  In the final days of his scam, the incoming investments from new clients were no longer sufficient to fulfill his promised distributions. Some of New York’s most prominent individuals were exposed as victims of Madoff’s model. Institutions, foundations and other well-governed investors were duped.

Using investor funds to acquire luxury houses in America and Europe, expensive cars, airplanes and cash reserves, he had created false security for himself and his wife; when the government finished their investigation, his 37,000 clients came out $65 billion short.

Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his violation of stewardship with his clients. He died in prison in 2021.

RG  LeTourneau was less famous but more faithful than Madoff.  Born in  Richford, Vermont in 1888, he dropped out of school in the sixth grade but became a prolific inventor of earthmoving machinery. His factories supplied LeTourneau machines which represented nearly 70 percent of the earthmoving equipment and engineering vehicles used by the Allied forces during World War II, and more than half of the 1,500-mile Alcan Highway in Canada was built with LeTourneau equipment. Over the course of his life, he secured nearly 300 patents relating to earthmoving equipment, manufacturing processes and machine tools.

When he was 30, LeTourneau made a commitment to God about the money that would come to him through his business activities: he was a simple but profound man with a single focus on the Kingdom. His vow with God came to be known as his “reverse tithe:” LeTourneau gave the first 90% of his earnings to the Kingdom and trusted God to give him enough – in the remaining 10% – to sustain him and his family. RG died in 1969.

Along the way, RG and Evelyn invested some of God’s money to launch LeTourneau University, a Christian institution intent on raising up young men and women – with an emphasis on business – to representing the Kingdom of God in all that they would do.

At Arizona Christian University, George Barna has just released the results of the study done over the last two years that exposes the frequency of a biblical world view among the pastors behind the pulpits and among the parishioners in the pew.

Their findings are sobering and touch on vital issues that ultimately expose the mindset of the current generation. Among Evangelical pastors, for example, around 43% said they do not believe that the personal accumulation of wealth is provided by God for the individual to manage those resources for God’s purposes.

Often, we find someone whose lifetime preceded ours and watch as their approach and outcomes mirror what we would aspire to replicate. Dead guys who were once in the headlines offer us examples that continue to be replicated today. If Madoff had been a Baptist rather than Jewish, he could have been viewed as a tithing member of the church board, while his squandering of the other 90% entrusted to him by God could have been overlooked.

Madoff left this life in 2021 and presented himself to be reviewed by the God of Heaven. He had no report of personal faith in Jesus; his evaluation was probably completed quickly as the most crucial question left him speechless. LeTourneau left 52 years earlier and was prepared through his embrace of the Gospel to be welcomed into God’s presence.

Two models; lived out in real-time over decades. One was far more enviable by our 21st Century culture; the other was resistant to self-aggrandizement and sought to practice Kingdom stewardship rather than self-elevation.

I’m working to stay in RG’s lane; he left the track with great examples that echo Paul’s ancient advice to the marketplace members of the congregation in Corinth: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1). 

2 thoughts on “Is famous a viable alternative to fruitful?”

  1. I’ve read RG LeTourneau’s biography “Mover of Men and Mountains” He was a remarkable man. Survived the 1906 SF earthquake, early auto racer, inventor of machines that used pioneering electric motors. Highway contractor that built roads where they said it couldn’t be done, California’s “grapevine” pass now Interstate 5, and on and on. When he encountered an obstacle he invented a machine that enabled the work to be completed. When Westinghouse purchased his company he gave 90% of the profits to the Lords work. An inspiration.

  2. RG’s story is captured so well in his book “Mover of Mountain and Men.” It’s actually my favorite book, and a pivotal book that changed my life trajectory as far as being kingdom focused out side of TMP.

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