Tag Archives: Commerce

Money Trouble

When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.
Acts 16:19 (NIV)

I’m writing this morning’s post in the airport. Having wrapped up a week-long business trip I’m headed home. I spent the week serving a client in the financial sector. As I meditate on all that I’ve done this week, the teams I’ve worked with, the managers I’ve mentored, a common theme has been money.

  • Agents leaving their jobs to go to another company to make more money.
  • A manager who told me she’s turned down multiple job offers, including one that promised to double her pay, because she was happy in her job and her father taught her that more money was a foolish reason to leave a job you loved.
  • A young man telling me about his job scrutinizing the flow of money for potential threats.
  • A manager struggling to find new hires because most applicants have such poor credit histories from the way they handle their money.
  •  An agent at a restaurant with his boss, an award he’d received for his exceptional customer service, looks at the menu and then asks how much money he could spend.

All these little moments come back to me as I think about today’s chapter. Until this point in the history of the early Jesus Movement the conflicts (and there has been a lot of conflict) have been theological in nature between the Jewish tribe from which the Jesus movement sprang, the orthodox Jews who viewed the Jesus movement as a threatening heresy, and the explosive growth of non-Jewish believers who had no interest in holding to Jewish traditions.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that there had been an inflection point, and today’s chapter begins to hint at the differences that are beginning to emerge. Paul and his companion, Silas, are in the town of Philippi sharing the Message of Jesus. A conflict arises in which Paul and Silas are accosted, beaten, threatened, accused, and thrown into the local jail. The conflict wasn’t about theology, however, it was about money.

A young slave girl, possessed by an evil spirit, was a capable and profitable fortune-teller because of the presence of the evil spirit indwelling her. She was also so annoying that Paul commands the spirit to leave the girl in the name of Jesus. The spirit leaves. You’d think that this was a good thing, but not for the slave girl’s owners. No spirit, no fortune-telling. Paul and Silas, these out-of-town street preachers  had effectively screwed with the business and cash-flow of an upstanding member of the Philippi Chamber of Commerce.

You want to stir up trouble for yourself? Visit a strange town and mess with a local businessman’s cash-flow. As my week conducting business with my client reminds me this morning it’s always about money.

I sit this morning amidst the hustle and bustle of business travelers scurrying about in a major international airport. I’m reminded that Jesus said more about money than almost anything else. He used stories of money in parables because he knew that everyone could relate. He compared the spiritual desire we should have for the Kingdom of God to the frantic search of a poor woman for her lost savings. And of course, there’s that uncomfortable bit Jesus had to say about money being the number one thing that distracts us from that which is of eternal value.

This week as I sat in mentoring sessions with managers and supervisors, I found it fascinating that most of them came to our sessions with things that they wanted to talk with me about. For one it was the break-up of a long-term relationship, for another it was managing conflict within a personal relationship, and for another it was about a struggle to remain sober. Funny, the things with which they were ultimately concerned were not about business leadership and finance, though we did talk about those things. What they were frantic about was not about money, but about life and relationships and matters of Spirit.

Me too.

It’s been a good business trip, but now I’m headed…

Home, where my thoughts escapin’
Home, where my music’s playin’
Home, where m’love lies waiting silently for me.

Have a good weekend, my friend.

Religion, Commerce, and the Soul

cover-Time-19870406-66703A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.

A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business.”
Acts 19:19, 24-25 (NRSV)

Back when I was in high school and college there was a crazy period of time when there was no shortage of scandals centering around a group of prominent American televangelists. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the couple that the media couldn’t seem to get enough of, but there was also Jimmy Swaggart and others who leveraged their television ministries into personal profit machines and media empires. A closer inspection of these ministry moguls produced plenty of odd and salacious fodder for the tabloids. Many televangelists fell in a strange train wreck of disgrace that was too compelling to look away.

I was reminded of the uncomfortable tension between faith and commerce this morning as I read today’s chapter. There were two groups of people described who stood in stark contrast to one another. I had never really noticed this in my previous journeys through the Book of Acts.

First, there are those who had vocationally practiced different types of exorcism, magic, and spiritism who became followers of Jesus (v. 18-20). Upon their choice to place their faith in and follow Jesus they abandoned their spiritually dark professions and burned down their old lives. This, of course, meant that would have to begin new lives and careers. This is a picture of Jesus’ consistent admonishment for people to repent (literally, to about face and go the opposite direction) and follow. Old things pass away, new things come. There is a spiritual rebirth evidenced by their willingness to experience a huge financial loss and, in faith, walk away from that which was spiritually dark to begin a new path following the Light.

Next, there is Demetrius and the guild of silversmiths tied to the temple of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and Artemis of Ephesus was a popular fertility idol, her long body covered in breasts (or perhaps their bull testicles, scholars aren’t quite sure). Not unlike the media empires of the televangelists, the Temple of Artemis was a tourist attraction and a lucrative, religious cash cow. With the trending of Jesus, His message, and His followers the business of Artemis idols, trinkets, and souvenirs  was taking a huge financial hit. The local metal workers union was not happy. The response of Demetrius and his fellow merchants was to create a public riot and threaten bodily harm to the followers of Jesus along with their forcible expulsion from Ephesus.

I consider one group has a spiritual transformation that results in a willingness to suffer financial and vocational loss. Then I think of the other group who are hardened to preserve their finances and vocation at all costs. Finally, I think about the disgraced televangelists from my youth. I’m not sitting in judgment of them, rather I ponder if spiritually I’m not more like them than I’d care to admit. I wonder if they didn’t start out with sincere hearts that were hardened over time by their lucrative, religious cash cows and personal empires.

Today, I am doing some soul searching. Which example in today’s chapter am I more like, and what is the condition of my heart? Am I willing to suffer temporal loss for eternal gain, or will I cling tightly to that which is temporal at the sacrifice of my soul?

Ezekiel’s Leading Market Indicator

1929_Black_Tuesday

Your wealth, merchandise and wares,
    your mariners, sailors and shipwrights,
your merchants and all your soldiers,
    and everyone else on board
will sink into the heart of the sea
    on the day of your shipwreck.
Ezekiel 27:27 (NIV)

Reading the newspaper (the actual paper and ink newspaper) is a old school habit that has become a little luxury for Wendy and me. Growing up as a “Paperboy,” I learned early in life to enjoy taking a few minutes each day to read through the news. I long ago grew tired of the way our regional newspaper, The Des Moines Register, became little more than a giant circular advertisement with regurgitation of syndicated content from the AP wires. Wendy and I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and enjoy reading and discussing the news of the day with our breakfast each morning.

One of the things Wendy and I have come to observe about “the Journal”  is the laughable way that economic indicators grab headlines. One day the front page signals that we’re back to the economic glory days of the Roaring ’20s and the next day the headlines scream that we’re teetering on the brink of another Great Depression. There is little doubt that the paper caters to its core constituency of business and investors who tend to look at everything in life through the lens of commerce.

In today’s chapter, Ezekiel continues his prophetic message of doom for the ancient city-state of Tyre. The prophecy, however, takes a sudden turn worthy of a front page mention on the Wall Street Papyrus of their day. Ezekiel, whose prophetic messages centered around religion and idolatry, turns his prophetic lens on Tyre’s economy.

Situated on the Mediterranean coast, Tyre was an important harbor of trade back in that day. Ships from northern Africa, Greece, and southern Europe regularly sailed in and out of Tyre. The trading ships of Tyre had a strong reputation. Ezekiel, however, prophesies that their ships and their economy are about to sink.

My high school history teacher once told us that if we really wanted to find out what is really going on in the world we should “follow the money trail.” I have never forgotten it, and have found it sage advice. Greed is a powerful force, and economics regularly gets the better of our strongest moral principles and religious virtues. Ezekiel’s message in today’s chapter seems to tap into that knowledge of the human condition. Business often scoffs at religion and politics. Commerce seems to think that it will always find a way to escape and make a buck off the suckers in the world. If you want to strike fear into the heart of the business class simply threaten their bank account. Which is exactly what Ezekiel was doing.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 19

ROMAN EMPIRE, ANTONIUS PIUS 138-161 b
ROMAN EMPIRE, ANTONIUS PIUS 138-161 b (Photo credit: woody1778a)

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!” Acts 19:25-27 (NLT)

A few years ago I read a book about the history of Dutch culture. Having come from Dutch heritage and living in a town steeped in its’ Dutch past, I thought it would be an interesting read. It was.

The author argued that Dutch culture sprang from three intertwining influences. On one side there was the influence of the great Dutch Catholic  philosopher, Erasmus who instilled in the Dutch the culture of education and the humanities. On the other side was the Protestant Dutch Calvinists who instilled strict morality and a strong work ethic. When the opposite poles of Catholic and Protestant influence conflicted with one another (and they always conflicted), it was the third major influence that became the tie breaker and trump card: Commerce. In other words: believe what you want across the spectrum of Catholic and Protestant doctrine, but don’t mess with business.

In today’s chapter we see a similar issue boiling to the surface. Paul’s missionary exploits were having the desired effect. Many people were putting their faith in Jesus and becoming followers of this new Christian religion called “The Way.” The idolatrous Greco-Roman culture with its dizzying array of gods did not seem to care much about this upstart religion, until it started to have an effect on the bottom line. Paul’s teaching about turning away from idolatry to the one true God created an economic recession for the local idol makers. Call the local chamber. Organize the Smith’s Union and start a rally. Don’t mess with business.

When spiritual truth is having maximum earthly effect, the spiritual transformation in individuals and communities creates systemic disruption in family systems, cultural systems, economic systems, political systems, and systems of commerce. Disruption creates anxiety. Anxiety creates fear. Fear creates strong, emotional reactivity.

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” – Jesus