Tag Archives: Economics

Compelled

For Christ’s love compels us….
2 Corinthians 5:14a (NIV)

I’m shaking my head with a smile this morning. I returned from a week’s hiatus and had to double check where we left off in our chapter-a-day journey. It’s a bit of synchronicity for me to read the five words pasted at the top of the post in this morning’s chapter because Wendy and I spent a good part of our journey home from the lake yesterday discussing them.

A number of weeks ago my fellow mystics at the Center for Action and Contemplation made a fascinating word connection in their daily meditation. The root of our word “mercy” is from an ancient Etruscan word, merc, which is also the root of our English word “commerce.” Over the past several weeks I’ve been quietly meditating on the transactional nature of relationship with Christ. And, it is definitely transactional in nature:

  • “Give, and it will be given unto you.”
  • “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
  • “Christ paid for sin, once for all.”
  • “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt of love.”

The problem, Wendy and I discussed yesterday, is that there are stark differences between the economics of this world and the economics of God’s Kingdom. In this life journey we are so ingrained with the concept of earning everything. Most of us earn our allowance as children, earn our grades and our diplomas as students, earn our paychecks and retirement as adults. Our entire lives are predicated on the notion that you get what you earn. This is a core piece of the curse of Adam when God said, By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” It’s even at the core of our justice system where you “get what you deserve.”

[cue: Cell Block Tango]

It is no wonder that we so easily we misunderstand the economics of the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to reveal. We often mindlessly (and heartlessly) twist Christianity into the transactional system we know by making it all about earning God’s favor and proving ourselves good followers of Jesus by what we do to earn the title. We reduce relationship with God to a daily transactional paradigm in which I’m blessed if I do good things and cursed if I do bad things. In so doing our spiritual death begins to take hold because “God’s ways are not our ways.”

In the economy of God’s Kingdom we are motivated not by our need to earn, but by the experience of freely receiving what we haven’t earned, of having an irreparable debt paid off. We are not required to earn a thing because we’ve already been freely given all we need and more. The transaction that earned us salvation had nothing to do with us at all apart from being the object of God’s sacrificial love. It was all done by Christ Jesus on the cross.

In today’s chapter, in five words, Paul gets down to the crux of this small but essentially crucial difference in transactional spiritual paradigms. Why did Paul turn his cushy, well-respected life upside down? Why did Paul endure endless hardship and continually risk his life? Why was Paul willing to be persecuted, beaten, whipped, prosecuted, imprisoned, and have his head chopped off? He was compelled.

Christ’s love compels us.

This morning I’m thinking about my thirty-some years as a follower of Jesus. I think about messages I’ve given, blog posts I’ve written, resources I’ve given, and choices I’ve made along the path. Why? I’m compelled. I’ve got to. It’s the point Dumbledore made to Harry Potter about having to fulfill the prophecy. There’s a difference between “‘I’ve got to” and “I’ve got to.”

Which is where the conversation meandered between Wendy and me yesterday, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Have a great day.

“Enough” With Which to be Faithful

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
Matthew 25:22-23 (NIV)

A wise counselor once asked me to name my pain. “At the depth of your soul,” he asked me, “what would you label the core ache that feeds your strongest feelings of sadness and inadequacy?”

I pondered the question, but it didn’t take me long to come up with an answer: “Not enough.”

I came to realize that most of my life I have had to actively work to overcome an inherent sense of never being enough, giving enough, doing enough, loving enough, caring enough, sharing enough, serving enough, or achieving enough. Addressing “not enough” is a  large part of my spiritual journey.

In today’s chapter Jesus tells a parable that has grown increasingly powerful to me as the years have gone on. As with most of Jesus’ parables, it is quite simple. A master gives each of three servants different amounts of his money and goes away for a long time. The master returns to find that two of the three have invested his money and earned a return on the investment. The third buried his master’s money out of fear and returned just what he’d been given.

Two lessons from this parable have become quite important to me.

First, the master does not evenly distribute his money among the servants. One was given five bags, another two, and the other one. This is another reminder to me that a seemingly fair and equitable distribution of anything in this temporal world has never been part of the economy of God’s eternal Kingdom. I have been given more than some and less than others. The question has never been what I’ve been given, but what I do with what I’m given.

Herein lies the ying and the yang of my core pain. I must learn to be content with what I’ve been given, but also accept that I am responsible for it. I must learn to accept that I have been given “enough” and that God knows I am capably adequate to faithfully invest it wisely.

The second lesson I take from this parable is in the master’s compliment to his servants. “You have been faithful with a few things” he says. The servants were not burdened with the entirety of their master’s affairs. They were given a relatively small amount and were rewarded simply for being faithful with what they’d been given.

Sometimes my feelings of “not enough” grow to epic disproportion in my heart and mind, fueling all sorts of unproductive thoughts and paralyzing fears (much like the third servant in the parable). I quite literally blow everything up in my mind until its completely out of proportion to the truth of the situation. In these moments the master’s compliment helpfully reminds me to boil things down to the simplicity of being faithful to the tasks right  in front of me.

This morning, that means serving my client well in a day full of meetings. If you’ll please excuse me, I have a few things to which I must faithfully attend. And, that will be enough for today.

Have a good day.

Featured image courtesy of AZQuotes

Our Physical Lives Frame Our Spiritual Perspectives

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Matthew 19:16 (NIV)

Late last week I received notice that one our clients was terminating our company’s services. Public records show that their company is facing significant financial losses, so their move is not unusual nor entirely unexpected. The news, however, is never pleasant to receive. This company had been a faithful client. We had done good work and provided good value to them through our ongoing quality assessments. The loss of income from the project will temporarily pinch the budget for Wendy and me, and I confess that our moods around the house have not exactly been buoyant since I received that notice.

On Monday afternoon I had to leave on a scheduled business trip and got the mail just before I headed to the airport. In the mail was a letter from a young girl named Joyce. Joyce is a girl in Africa whom Wendy and I support financially through Compassion International. Joyce is a young girl going to school and hoping some day to be a doctor. In her letter she thanked Wendy and I for our gifts and asked for our prayers as a drought in the region had destroyed the crops that her people depend on for survival both economically and physically. Despite the dire circumstances, Joyce expressed trust in God’s provision. As I finished reading the letter out loud to Wendy, it was obvious to us both that Joyce’s letter was a well-timed dose of needed perspective.

Our earthly lives frame our spiritual perspectives. In the chapter today a rich man comes to Jesus and asks, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” I noticed as I read that the man was approaching spiritual matters like an economic transaction. His life was likely dictated by daily transaction. Do this and receive a fee for service. Pay this and receive this in return. He was approaching his spirituality with the same transactional paradigm.

“Let’s make a deal, Jesus. You’ve got eternity on your side and I want a piece of that. You know what? I’ll even be gracious enough to let you start the negotiations and set the price. So tell me what you require. What one thing, what good deed, do I need to do to punch my ticket to heaven? Give a tenth to the church? Be nice to a Roman? Volunteer for my company’s United Way campaign? Give a week to help build a house for a poor family? Pay tuition for a girl in Africa? What’s it gonna be? You just name it. “

Our earthly lives frame our spiritual perspectives. Life had skewed the man’s perspective to see his relationship with God like everything else in his temporal paradigm. Jesus’ answer cuts immediately to the heart of the matter. Salvation is not a transaction, Jesus tells him, but a liquidation. Jesus Himself provided the example:

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (emphasis added)

This morning I must confess that I’m humbly mulling over my own skewed perspectives. How easy it is for me to talk about trusting Jesus when I don’t really have to think about where I’m going to lay my head tonight, or whether my family will have enough to eat.

Have mercy, Lord.

A Simple Act of Integrity

“You shall purchase food from them for money, so that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, so that you may drink. Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”
Deuteronomy 2:6-7 (NRSV)

Many years ago I did a short stint as youth pastor of a fairly good sized youth group. I would often find myself taking large groups of kids on various outings throughout the year. There were mission trips, ski trips, camping trips, trips to conferences, trips to concerts, trips to sporting events, and trips to the amusement park. It was common for me to lead a bus full of middle and high schoolers into a restaurant for a meal while we were on the road.

I made a point of talking to my kids about the integrity of not only paying for what you eat and drink, but also paying the human beings who served us in restaurants. I could see the look of agony behind the counter as my little nation of teens poured into Pizza Hut. My kids and I talked about putting ourselves in the shoes of our servers, the integrity of paying for both what we consume and the service we receive from others.

One evening I had a my usual throng of kids in the city for I can’t even remember what event. Knowing that their hunger was voracious as always, I herded them into an all-you-can-eat spaghetti joint and we loaded up on carbs Italian style. It just so happened that our server that night was a girl who was in my high school youth group when I had been part of the herd a few years earlier. After the meal, as I was rustling my kids out of the restaurant, my old friend from high school tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to receive a warm hug.

With tears in her eyes, she admitted to me that she swore when she saw our group coming in. She knew from experience that a group of teens meant she was going to work her butt off for a bunch of rowdy adolescents and then get stiffed for the effort. She told me how kind the kids had been, how well they had conducted themselves, but most of all she couldn’t believe how well they had tipped her.

Along my life journey I’ve observed our culture increasingly given to cost shifting. As long as something is free to us, we ignore the fact that someone else has paid the price for it. I was struck this morning by the very simple command God gave to His herd of Hebrew children on their trip to the sea: “Pay a fair price for what you eat. Pay for the water you drink. Don’t take it. Don’t expect someone else to pay for it or incur the cost of it.

This morning I am reminded of a waitress weeping over a couple of bucks that she both earned and deserved by her good service. I’m reminded of the simple integrity of paying for what you consume.  More than ever, I find it a differentiating mark of character in this world.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo:  global panorama via Flickr

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.

A Small Detail of Culture and Economics

healing of maryAfter this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)

I mentioned last week that I appreciate Luke for the small details he researched and added into his telling of Jesus’ story. The opening of today’s chapter is an example. Luke is careful to point out that Jesus was accompanied, not only by the twelve, but also by some women whom Jesus had healed. When reading “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household,” Luke’s contemporaries would have read that description and immediately understood that Joanna was a woman of means. Herod was a regional king ruling under the authority of the Roman Empire, and managing Herod’s household would have been a well paying position. Luke points out that the women were traveling with Jesus and helping to support Jesus ministry financially. This little detail fascinates me.

In Jesus day, women in Palestine had very low social status. The Jewish culture at that time, it can be argued, was misogynistic. Women were treated with contempt and good Jewish men could be heard reciting ritual prayers thanking God that they had not been born Gentiles (non-Jews), dogs, or women. I can’t imagine how that made women feel when they heard their husbands reciting such a thing.

Jesus, however, cut against the grain of the contemporary culture. He spoke with women in public which scandalous in that day. He socialized with broken women of ill-repute and treated them with love, compassion, and forgiveness. He did not discriminate in performing miracles. He was not only seen publicly healing men, but also touching and healing women of their infirmities both physical and spiritual. Jesus didn’t fear wrath and ridicule for these things, and He received a generous dose of both. Jesus did what was right in the face of popular culture and treated women with the love, honor, and respect that is due to all daughters of Eve. THAT is the Jesus I follow and strive to be like.

In giving us this detail, Luke also clues us in to how Jesus’ traveling ministry operated financially. At least part of the funds required to support Jesus and his followers came from the financial means of his followers, women of means in particular. The principle here is simple. Jesus followers and those whom He healed gave out of their gratitude to support Him and His ministry. It should be no different today. I give regularly to the on-going work of Jesus, not out of blind obedience, guilt, or shame, but out of gratitude for what Jesus has done in my own life.

Another thing this little detail makes me think about is the case of Joanna. Her money was coming directly from Herod’s palace. Herod was a corrupt, evil, murderous tyrant. I can hear the conversations of Jesus’ followers around the fire at night arguing whether Jesus should accept such “dirty” money. Doesn’t that come from evil means? Isn’t accepting that money just a vote of support for Herod and his evil ways? There is no mention of Jesus having any qualms about accepting Joanna’s gifts, despite the fact that it flowed from Herod’s coffers.

There is a timeless, on-going debate about the financial inequalities among peoples and social groups. Financial inequalities existed in Jesus’ day. In fact, it can be argued that the inequalities were even more extreme than what we experience in modern western culture. Yet Jesus’ own ministry would not have been possible were it not for the financial support of followers who were among the rich of that day. I find it interesting that while Jesus taught constantly about money, the teaching was almost always focused on the spiritual connection between individuals and their finances. Jesus never spoke out about the corrupt Roman tax system, but He spoke to individual tax collectors about not using the system to extort money from others. Jesus did not condemn the rich for having money, but He did warn individuals that their love of money was leading them down a spiritual path to condemnation. The only time Jesus made any kind of broader statement was with regard to the extortion racket being carried out by the religious leaders in the temple.

This morning I’m thinking about Jesus, who showed love and compassion to those His culture did not love. I’m thinking about Jesus, who was not as concerned about the macro economic and political issues of this world, as He was about the micro-spiritual connection between our money and our hearts. I’m thinking about Jesus, whom I want to emulate in my thoughts, words and actions this day.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 25

from dnas2 via Flickr

O Lord, I give my life to you.
Psalm 25:1 (NLT)

I spent the past few mornings on the dock in conversation with my friend, Matthew. As is always the case with Matthew, the conversation meandered like a trail through the woods. We ducked in and out of different subjects and took turns leading. As I look back across the terrain of words that we traversed in our communication, it seems to me that there was a theme that rose out of the constant give and take which was this: the kingdom of God runs opposite of the kingdom of this world and we often miss the most obvious of differences to our detriment.

Perhaps that’s why David’s opening lyric in today’s Psalm jumped off the page at me. It is such a blunt statement of commitment: “I give my life to you.” How often do we approach God about what we expect God to give us?

“Give me safety.”
“Give me health.”
“Give me wealth.”
“Give me a spouse.”
“Give me a child.”
“Give me a job.”

Don’t get me wrong and hear what I am not saying. God makes it clear that He wants us to bring our requests to him. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” I believe, however, that David understood an important principle of Kingdom economics. There is a relationship between giving and receiving. The more we give ourselves completely to God, the more capacity we have to receive the fullness of what He has for us. If we are miserly towards God with our heart, soul, spirit, body, and possessions – then we will be so full of ourselves and the stuff of this world as to have little or no capacity to receive anything God has to give us out of the fullness of His Kingdom.