W.W.J.D.? (what would Justin Bieber do)?

My family has been enamored by the show Secret Millionaire recently. http://abc.go.com/shows/secret-millionaire

It’s a fantastic show for so many reasons. They find men and women who have been successful in business, own significant property and generally classify themselves as well-to-do.


The show re-locates a secret millionaire into one of the poorest, disenfranchised cities in the U.S., removes all funding, except for the equivalent of a weeks wages for a person on welfare in that city. They have to drive a beater car and survive on groceries that they buy with the $6/day provided for the week. One of the tasks of the week is for the millionaire to hide their identity and look for ways to volunteer and serve the community. It’s a touching show because after 4 days in that location, the millionaire has to be honest with the volunteer locations he/she has been serving and admit wealth. Then, with a stunning twist, they reveal a gift in the form of a check to each of the 3 or 4 volunteer non-profit centers in which they’ve been working.

Some of the millionaires will donate $10,000 to one group, then turn and give $50,000 to another. Each show, the millionaire tends to give away a total of $100,000 to unsuspecting community centers who are voluntarily making every effort to change their community from the inside out. I love this show, because I find myself so touched by the generosity and surprise element that the community volunteer hosts have to face in “receiving” such a gift. One of the last shows revealed that a married couple as the millionaires on the show, gave $400,000 away to various groups. I was in tears… and my kids are like, “Geez, dad, pull yourself together. It’s just a show.” It just grabs my heart every time, maybe because I can feel the heart of God wanting to fulfill His Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven… and this is a small picture of that.

But wait… something is completely wrong here.

Nothing’s wrong with someone who’s so wealthy learning a little something about what poverty feels like again, and learning that giving things away like time, housing, nice cars and money is actually one of the most fulfilling acts of humanity on this planet. Nothing is wrong with that wealthy person returning home to their luxury and getting the sense that owning “things” isn’t the GOAL OF LIFE anymore. It’s even a little bit exhilarating to see how some millionaires must finally go ‘home’ and begin to think… “Why in the world do I live like THIS, when the majority of the world has no idea what this feels like?” Maybe it will bring about real life change and then again, maybe it won’t.

My big issue with the show, that’s really only made itself real to me in the past week, is…

Why the heck is it ALWAYS the “rich, white male (or female in some cases)” that gets all the attention (a show in ABC) for taking a break from his/her lifestyle, only to dip into the lower regions of how people in poverty live, and then they get to “rescue” the poor by giving them money? Where is the ethnic diversity in helping one another? Why is it “us” and “them”?

Oh, it’s philanthropy Reid, who else is supposed to help “those” people?

(Digression) I fully realize my own setting. I’m typing this post on a wireless keyboard bluetooth linked to my iPad, while sitting at my 10 year old daughter’s lyrical dance practice with Justin Bieber blaring on the speakers… my iPhone on the table near me, ready to receive texts or FB messages as I type… and I’m talking about millionaires. It’s hypocritical, I know.

What makes the millionaire (or me, for that matter) the savior for the poor?


A little time away from the mansion?!

Getting our hands dirty as we volunteer on skid row in L.A.?!

Leaving our smart phone at home in a drawer for a week?!

We get to go home again. We get to leave the ‘uncomfortable’ temporary situation and return home to luxury, in which few, if any, get to experience.

The bigger problem with the show, and it’s not only a show in my mind now, it’s how the world works, especially in missions is … how do Christians really serve in mission to God’s Kingdom when we have the mentality of “us” and “them”, temporary “trips” vs. “a lifestyle of serving”?

If we ever have the opportunity to serve on a mission to another location in the world, what’s the general attitude we bring with us?

“I’m going on a vacation, I mean mission trip, to serve “those” poor people who need my help.”

“At least this is temporary and I get to return home after a week of getting dirty for Jesus.”

“God, please help me get through this week, don’t make it too hard, I just want to be safe.”

What’s the point of traveling to serve another community when we don’t serve like it at home?

Remember those silly rubber bracelets that had “WWJD” printed on them years ago? The fad sure faded quickly when people challenged “Jesus’ response” to every possible situation known to our culture today and we just didn’t know how to answer. Then we changed the J to other things, rather than what would Jesus do, it became anything other than Jesus and then began losing impact. What would Justin do?

What are YOU doing with your life as you serve God’s people?

You may be a millionaire (I secretly dream of it), or maybe you’re not. Maybe you think of others more than yourself, and maybe… you don’t.

Maybe you’re going on a mission soon, like the kids from Sacramento, CA who invited me to speak for their youth group in Soldotna, AK as they serve a native Alaskan community housing development of single moms and children. Or maybe you’re part of our mission to Guatemala this summer who are going down to carry bricks and mortar to construct a local church.

What are you going there for?
Why did you choose to serve?
Why did God choose you to serve?
What are you SPECIFICALLY going to contribute to God’s kingdom mission while away from home? While back home?
What kind of attitude are you going to maintain while serving others unlike you?
Are the people you’re going to serve really that much un-like you?
What kind of similarities do you share with people with whom you’re going to serve?

What is your specific purpose… seriously, what is God going to do THROUGH YOU while you’re there?

Esther began her life as an impoverished Jewish girl, drawn into (maybe forced into) a beauty pageant for the King Xerxes of the fortress of Susa including 127 other provinces in the area of Persia. After a year of beautification and being selected as the next reigning Queen, young Esther is confronted with the choice of how to serve her community. Her cousin Mordecai was exiled after his parents were killed, he adopted her into his family and raised her as his own daughter…

He revealed the impending peril of the Jews to Esther saying, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. What’s more, who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14). Mordecai called her out. She became the wealthiest female in the entire country, maybe even in her entire world, yet she couldn’t deny a calling from God to serve others.

Esther found a very specific purpose for her existence. Most biblical characters found their exact purpose for existence too. Noah – build a boat, saved the world. Moses – a baby in a basket in a river, sees a tree on fire, saves 2 million Jews from death in Egypt, speaks to God and receives the 10 commandments. Joshua – led those people into God’s promised land. King David – wanted a temple for God’s Spirit to reign on the earth, his son King Solomon built that temple. Mary – gave birth to the Messiah and savior of the world. Apostle Paul – wrote the letters which made up most of the New Testament teaching God’s people how to serve in this world.

Do you have a specific purpose in this world for God’s Kingdom? YES, you do.

Short-term missions is not a bad thing. Whether you serve as a lifestyle, or for a short time on a trip… your serving builds the Kingdom of God.

ABC’s show “Secret Millionaire” is not really a bad show… I’d like to see some ethnic diversity in the millionaires picked for the show, but it’s amazing really because it ultimately teaches those who participate, and those of us who watch it that “you were made for such a time as this”, like Esther.

Do you know who the real heroes of the show are? The real genuine heroes are the men and women who live and serve in community centers in the poor communities in which the millionaires come to visit. I think I’m brought to tears watching this show, not because of the money given, but because I see the true heart of Jesus lived out in the men and women dedicated to a life of service for those impoverished around them… while living there with them.

The man who gave up his dream of becoming a college basketball coach only to remain in the ghetto and volunteer to teach 8th grade girls how to play basketball so they might one day go to college. He’s amazing.

The woman who opens her home to special needs families that need housing, but can’t afford to pay. The guys on skit row who are committed to the street-league of 3-on-3 basketball for homeless to keep people clean and sober. The crew of men who drive their own vehicles to pick up trash in downtown Detroit so that the neighborhoods look cleaner.

These people have a specific purpose in this life… they have the heart of Jesus to serve and love their community enough that they bring “God’s Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

After the filming of the last show, ABC talked to Gary & Diane Heavin (owners of Curves) about their experience:

What surprised you most about your experience as a “Secret Millionaire”?
We realize that what we experienced for a week was just a very small sample of the difficult life so many people live day after day, with no end in sight. We didn’t think that living one week in rough conditions on a miniscule budget would transform us or even give us a better understanding of this life, however, it WAS a life changing experience and one that we feel blessed to have been a part of.

Has your life changed since this experience? In what ways?
We were so moved by the people we met and the courage they show, every day, that after the lights and cameras were gone, we slipped back into Houston over the holidays, with our daughter, to deliver Christmas presents and spend time celebrating the holidays with our new friends.

We saw firsthand, community in action. It takes everyone, using each of their gifts-resources, talent, time, support, love and good old fashioned kindness–to build a strong, healthy community. Everyone has something they can give, and the neat thing is, when you use your gift, giving is easy.


May you find yourself being more than a secret millionaire in your context as you serve people whom God loves. As you go on mission as a short-term or lifestyle, you are sharing the very heart of God, and that is your specific purpose in this life… and the next.

Published by Reid Olson

I was a pastor who still knows a personal connection with God and I like to share thoughts and insights to make God's Kingdom a little more tangibly, while sharing conversations on leadership insights. Now I'm a funeral director, still seeking to share about Jesus.

4 thoughts on “W.W.J.D.? (what would Justin Bieber do)?

  1. Hey Reid,
    I’m now a follower of your blog! I happened to catch about ½ of last week’s show (only one I’ve seen) and had mixed feelings about it as well. I totally agree it’s clear the real heroes are the ones serving in the trenches. And at the same time, it’s difficult to dismiss rich people who become moved by the plight of the poor and want to do something about it. We are all in that category, relatively speaking. When I serve at Bread of Life Mission or 1st Covenant breakfast, Compass Center, etc., I always come out of there feeling a bit overwhelmed by the need and what a tiny contribution I’m making. But something is better than nothing I guess. The world is a rough place for so many. I guess God knows everyone’s got different living circumstances, but everyone has to decide what they’re going to make out of those circumstances. Clearly, you can be rich in God’s eyes without being wealthy, and poor in God’s eyes while being materially blessed. It’s the heart that matters.


  2. Pastor Reid, Interesting! There are so many needs around our globe that I often see the overwhelming question of where to start. I trust that the answer lies in where God leads each of us individually. My heart has always been locally and I have wondered about the “vacation mission trips.” I trust that God uses that time to bring some to students to service and to Him while serving those in need where ever and how ever He brings us together. I had never seen this show until the week after reading your blog. Did you see the gal who was driven a few miles from home in California to serve? She expected to “go to the needy” and was struck that they were right in her community. I love that the producers showed that. We all have people in need right in our own communities…if only we look and take the time to serve.

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