So you wanna be a billionaire?

I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had.”  – Billionaire, Bruno Mars

Janet and I are slowly making our way up the West Coast towards Washington state, where our first sojourn begins next month. We’ll be attending a workshop and then working at Delano Bay Christian Camp, getting it ready for summer camps. Along the way, we’re taking long walks on beaches, visiting historic sites, and doing other touristy things that TripAdvisor tells us we can’t miss.

We recently stayed at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, southeast of Los Angeles. Before missiles and ammunition are loaded on Navy ships from the Pacific fleet, they are stored here. Surrounded by bunkers and other restricted areas, we were about as heavily protected as RV dwellers can be.

Being movie buffs and in the vicinity of Los Angeles, we signed up for the Warner Brothers Studio Tour followed by the driving tour of celebrity homes. Warner Brothers was amazing…a behind-the-scenes look at how movies and tv shows are made. We toured the Big Bang Theory sets, the massive movie props archive, and the fake outdoor neighborhoods which are transformed into something that looks real. We played Quidditch and rode Batman’s motorcycle against green screens and sat on the Friends’ couch. While passing Kathy Bates’ RV positioned behind a soundstage, I wanted to tell her, “Hey, we live in an RV too!”

Next came the celebrity homes tours. Most celebrities are well off the beaten path, protected by high fences and manned security gates. I suppose they are trying to avoid people like…us. I can’t blame them. Other homes are partially visible at certain angles, or fully visible but off in a distance. As we drove along Mulholland Drive, our tour guide rattled off a who’s who of celebrities…

  • “To the left is Sacha Cohen’s home…he’s better known as Borat.”
  • “Over there…Drew Carey’s home.”
  • “Off to the left and down, along the canyon, that’s where Katy Perry lives.”
  • “Up on the cliff…way up…with the American Flag flying…that home belongs to Capt. America…Chris Evans.”
  • “Look down this driveway. Oh, check it out! I think that’s her getting out of her car! Yep, that’s Charlize Theron!” (Upon seeing us, she ducked back into her car until our tour bus departed. That might have been her only chance to meet Fob!)
  • “Way down there in the valley…the big one…that’s Bruno Mar’s $18M mansion.”
  • “Up on that ridge, the big one on the left…Gwen Stefani’s mansion…used to be owned by J-Lo.”
  • “Off to the right…see those big gates? Behind that is the mansion where they tape The Bachelor.”
Larry Ellison’s daughters home (he founded Oracle)

This list went on and on…Tyler Perry, Adam Levine, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Warren Beatty, Sting, Justin Bieber, Donald Southerland, Jaclyn Smith, Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, etc. As we drove through Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and other high class neighborhoods, I was struck by the over-the-top luxury and million dollar views. Janet and I discussed what it would be like to live like that…with a personal staff attending to every need and millions of adoring fans. Lush gardens, multi-level swimming pools, luxury cars, fountains…the entire world at your fingertips.

Bruno, I’m in town…call me.

It was impressive, to say the least. For a moment, I got caught up in it. I picked out my home…sorry, Bruno, you gotta move. I imagined living the celebrity lifestyle and having what they have. I’d get a daily massage, for sure. I’d drive a different high-end sports car every day of the week. Or maybe I’d have my chauffer drive me. (I’d probably keep the Honda Fit as a reminder of my humble beginnings.) My personal chef would fix all my favorite meals (OK, so I kinda have that now). My clothes would be designed by Ralph Lauren, rather than Bob Dorsey. No wonder these people are always smiling on the Red Carpet, happy to be alive.

I know you’re in there, Charlize!

My fantasy celebrity bubble burst towards the end of the tour. Our guide reminded us that things aren’t always as they seem…

  • “That mansion to the left…that’s where Michael Jackson lived. When he overdosed and died, they took his body by ambulance right through those gates.”
  • “Behind that hotel over there, the Chateau Marmont…see the bungalow behind it? That’s where John Belushi injected a mixture of cocaine and heroin…it killed him.”
  • “See that purple awning over there? That’s the Viper Room. River Phoenix died there of a drug overdose. Collapsed on the sidewalk just underneath the awning.”
  • “Off to the right…the glitzy Beverly Hilton. Fifteen years ago, in room 434, Whitney Houston overdosed and drowned in the bathtub.”

Had we had more time, I suppose we could have morbidly driven by the homes of other celebrities who died tragically…Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith, Nicole Brown Simpson, Chris Farley, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, etc. An even longer list would include celebrity families ravaged by divorce, infidelity, and other issues.

I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with being super wealthy, or that all (or even most) celebrities will overdose on drugs or have messed up families. There are good and decent celebrities…Tom Hanks comes to mind. Many of them give large sums of money to worthwhile causes…a good thing. I’m also not suggesting that normal, middle class people don’t have drug overdoses or messed up families. These problems affect all classes of society.

My point is simply this: be careful who and what you idolize. God doesn’t call us to be rich, famous celebrities. He calls us to be humble servants, taking care of the needs of others. While it’s possible to do both, that’s no easy task. No wonder Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:23) He didn’t say it was impossible…just hard. With so many distractions and so much luxury surrounding you, I can see where it might be hard to find a need for Jesus. With so many adoring fans and so much seemingly going for you, it might be hard to turn your life over to Jesus and let him call the shots.

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, then perhaps you’ll consider the words of a mere mortal who has “been there, done that.” Jim Carrey once commented, “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they dreamed of so they can see it is not the answer.”

“The answer” is not found in an $18 million mansion on Mulholland Drive. The answer comes from Solomon, another rich man, in Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “Now all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

Big Steve


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