Tag Archives: Economy

One Word: Believe

[Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:5-6 (NIV)

Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers there has been an initiative in recent years to choose one word as sort of a spiritual theme for one’s life each year. It’s a very informal thing. Most people pray about it and seek some divine guidance in what their “one word” should be. It becomes a tool for asking, seeking, and knocking on the spiritual door of what God is doing in your life in the particular stretch of your spiritual and/or life journey.

My word for this year is “believe” which I consider to be the active form of “faith.”

One of the subtle themes that I find Mark weaving into his Jesus story is that of faith. Those who had faith experienced the miraculous. In today’s chapter, the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t believe that Joseph’s boy, Jesus, was this teacher everyone was talking about:

“He’s the carpenter. You know! Joseph and Mary’s boy. The one who abandoned Mary and the siblings this last year to become this traveling prophet. Who does Jesus think He is? If you ask me, that boy should get these silly notions out of His head, get back to the carpenter’s shop, and help provide for the family.”

Mark records that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Few miracles were performed, not because Jesus had less power but because the people had less of the activating ingredient of the miraculous: they didn’t believe. Their limited faith in Jesus limited what God could do among them.

Later in the chapter, after Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish and walks out on the Sea of Galilee to meet the disciples who are struggling at the oars of their boat, Mark records that #TheTwelve were still amazed and struggling to understand what Jesus was doing. Their “hearts were hard” Mark records. Their faith had not caught up to what they had been witnessing. They were struggling to believe it all.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to what Jesus said a few chapters back:

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

Jesus also used the Mustard Seed as a metaphor for how much “faith” is required to move a mountain.

I find it ironic (or is it a divine appointment?) that my “one word” for 2020 is “believe” and it’s the year that the COVID-19 virus upends life as we know it and, according to the press who screams it 24/7 to anyone who will listen, threatens to tank the global economy and take my business with it (if we all don’t die first).

Have you ever seen a mustard seed?

In the quiet this morning, Holy Spirit is whispering to my spirit. I imagine it was the same message Jesus was whispering to #TheTwelve on the boat after he walked out on the water and climbed in the boat.

“Yep. It doesn’t take much. Just believe.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9 (NIV)

Over the past few years, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been focused on the phrase Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Over a three year cycle, we have contemplated the meaning of God’s kingdom within each of us, God’s kingdom in our community with others, and God’s Kingdom as we are sent to interact with the world around us.

In my own personal contemplation, I’ve found myself meditating on the fact that God’s kingdom operates opposite of the world I live in.

The world I live in encourages me to acquire more and more, while Jesus said that if I really want to be rich in God’s economy I should practice radical generosity.

The world I live in encourages me to hate my enemies, be suspicious of those who are not like me, and fight against those who have a different worldview than mine. Jesus said that in God’s kingdom I am not to repay evil for evil, but bless those who curse me.

The world I live in encourages equitable pay for equitable work. Jesus said that if I want to be part of God’s Kingdom, I have to be willing to walk further than what’s expected, to give more than has been asked, and to be content if and when I see others who seemingly have it better off than me.

The world I live in worships and rewards audacity, wealth, celebrity, and ego.

The prophet Zechariah lived and proclaimed his prophecies during the period known as the Babylonian exile. Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and torn Solomon’s Temple into ruins. Seventy years later, Zech’s messages and prophecies concerned the rebuilding of Jerusalem and God’s promises of restoration.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah prophetically envisions the “coming king” arriving in a rebuilt Jerusalem, not with the pomp of a royal parade, but humbly riding on a donkey. And, that’s just what Jesus did. Jesus’ followers thought that Jesus was going to wipe out the Romans, give the corrupt religious leaders their just desserts, and set up an earthly kingdom in which they would have positions of worldly prominence. Instead, Jesus suffered cruelly and died violently at the hands of His enemies. After rising from the dead, Jesus reminded His followers of what He’d been telling them all along: They would experience the same fate.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the economics of God’s Kingdom, which is so opposite the way my world operates. It’s so different than the way I’ve been taught to operate in this world. The media has already trended a million different ways since two weeks ago, but I can’t help but think about Brandt Jean forgiving his brother’s killer in public, then going the extra mile to ask the judge if he can give her a hug.

At that moment Brandt Jean brought God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. He gets it.

God, as I enter this new day, help me to do the same.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!

When Generosity Becomes Compulsory it Becomes Something Else

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Paul continues his encouragement to the followers of Jesus in Corinth to be generous. Paul was specifically asking them to give to an offering that was being collected to support impoverished fellow believers in Jerusalem. Paul wanted all believers in Greece and Asia Minor to give so to help their fellow believers in Palestine and it was a significant personal undertaking that had social as well as economic implications. If believers in the “gentile” world gave to the predominantly Jewish believers in Judea then it could only help tear down the walls and prejudices between the two groups.

Yesterday morning Wendy and I were discussing Paul’s encouragement to generously give to their fellow believers in need. Our conversation deepened from the subject of yesterday’s blog post on generosity to the section of Paul’s letter about equality. Paul argues that those in plenty should give to those who have little so as to bring a level of equality between all.

The conversation between Wendy and me quickly meandered into the fact that the early church is often seen as a shining example of socialism. Based on the evidence, there is no doubt that the followers of Jesus in the first century, connected by a common faith, supported one another financially and were encouraged to do so. As our conversation progressed, Wendy and I surfaced what I believe are some important distinctions in the contemplation of today’s chapter.

The giving and sharing among early Christians was not uniform system but an organic one. It looked very different in varying locations and times. During my life journey I’ve personally become weary of the way our culture (the institutional church in particular) loves to turn everything into a repeatable, marketable formula. We love to try and package what Holy Spirit did at church A and market it in a cool new program so that churches B through Z can easily replicate the experience. It usually creates popularity but I rarely see it result in a replication of spiritual power.

I’ve learned that there’s a reason why God gives us wind as a word picture of Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit mysteriously blows here and quickly moves there. Holy Spirit waxes for a time in one place then inexplicably wanes. You cannot manufacture it or replicate it at will as much as we try.

Paul’s offering was never made compulsory. Money was not demanded of the believers in Corinth. Rather, they were encouraged to be generous and the decision of what and how much was to be sourced in their own hearts. I find this a critical distinction. In Paul’s paradigm each believer was to give as each believer determined and was led personally by God’s Spirit. Paul certainly gave a full court press of encouragement explaining that generosity was a part of spiritual maturity and provided examples of other believers giving. There were, however, no formulas or discussion of percentages of income. There was no larger governing authority demanding it of the Corinthians, nor were there material consequences to be doled out if they chose not to give.

This leads to a final thought. The giving and sharing between believers in the early church happened on a micro-economic level. This was a  relatively small societal sub-culture connected to one another by a loose system of communication and a common faith. It wasn’t an authoritative institutional system trying to provide for all of society. There was no governing authority compelling believers to pay a percentage of their wealth and income to be redistributed to others as that particular governing authority determined. My experience is that things which work on a micro-level in small groups, especially things which are spiritual in nature, are rarely successful at being systemized and institutionally applied at a macro-level across society.

I hope no one will read what I’m not writing this morning. I am not arguing for or against socialism as an economic or governmental construct. I’m not arguing for or against any economic or governmental system or another. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and thus we experience the never ending debate around our globe.

The conclusion my heart is coming to this morning is this: As a follower of Jesus, no matter what the societal economic system I find myself living in, generosity is an essentially spiritual act. My free choice and willing decision to give of what I have been given to others in need is, and should be, an act of loving kindness. What’s more, as a follower of Jesus the measure to which I give should be personally motivated by the measure of love and grace I have received from Christ Jesus.

As soon as my generosity becomes compulsory, it becomes something else.

Cost-Shifting

Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor.
Nehemiah 5:14 (NRSV)

I have witnessed a change in the culture around me during my life journey. As a child, I learned by example that making your own way and being responsible for your own provision was of great importance. There were a few basic principles that were part of the fabric of the culture around. Living by these principles not only said something about your character, but they also benefited society as a whole:

  • Earn your own way.
  • Don’t take what you haven’t earned.
  • If you borrow in need, pay it back quickly (and before spending more for yourself).
  • Avoid needing any kind of financial assistance. If you need help, then get back on your feet and off assistance as quickly as possible.

What I have observed in increasing measure is a shift towards the acceptance of cost-shifting. I receive something and the cost is paid by someone else. This was once considered dishonorable and immoral, but I see it accepted by more and more people without question.

A few years ago I overheard a young married couple talking among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. They were highly educated, healthy, and capable people of middle-class midwestern upbringing. I listened as they proudly espoused their creative ability to “work the system” and get all sorts of welfare and entitlement money from the government. They eagerly encouraged their friends to do the same, explaining how the money and assistance they received from from the government allowed them to work less.

It’s just out there,” they said of the government entitlement programs. “It’s free money. It’s going to go to someone. It might as well be me.

I continue to be bewildered (and angered) by my friends’ misguided thinking. They were blind to their cost-shifting. The money they received were tax dollars others earned. They were quite capable of working harder and earning their own way, but they chose to work less and accept assistance they didn’t really need. The more people cost-shift, the more an economy and a culture struggles.

Nehemiah was dealing with a similar situation in today’s chapter. The people left in Jerusalem after the city had fallen to the Babylonians were cost-shifting in different ways. They were taking whatever they could extort from one another. The leaders were taxing people in exorbitant excess of the King’s minimum in order to live high off the hog. Nehemiah calls a community meeting and confronts the people about how wrong this cost-shifting was in God’s eyes, and how bad it was for themselves as a society.

Nehemiah then led by example. He chose not to take everything to which he was “entitled” by his position and power. He actively pursued a spirit of contentment. He consumed what he needed and was generous with his blessings. He flatly refused to adopt the “take what you can get” mentality he’d observed in his people.

It’s Monday morning and I’m grateful this morning for growing up in a culture that valued hard work and earning your way. I’m thankful for the blessing of my job. I’m grateful for the opportunity to earn a good living, provide for my home, pay my tithes and taxes, and to be generous with what I have been given.

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured image by Kevin Trotman via Flickr

Neither Reactive nor Dismissive

STUXNET - strayed from its intended target (No...
(Photo credit: marsmet481)

[The beast] also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. Revelation 13:16-17 (NIV)

“Do you have any cash?” Wendy regularly asks me as we prepare to go on a trip or out for the evening. I get it. Wendy and I are perhaps the last generation to even think about asking this question. I always laugh inside when she asks. Sometimes I do have cash on hand. Often, I don’t. My silent retort when she asks the question is, “What do I need cash for?” The world is increasingly operating on a virtual currency exchanged via cards, smartphones, and electronic transactions.

In nine years of being together I can only remember one instance of being burned by not having cash on hand. It happened a month or so ago when Wendy and I went to an event in downtown Minneapolis and for that event the parking garage took cash only. I happened not to have cash that night. Wendy certainly had her “I told you so” moment though she was very gracious. The fact remains that it has happened once in nine years which suggests to me the greater truth that hard currency is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

I have long rolled my eyes at the many fanciful theories I’ve heard over the years regarding connections between the visions of Revelation and particular current events. I’ve long since given up on trying to make such conclusive exclamatory connections while choosing to remain alert and discerning about the spiritual implications of what is happening around the world.

This said, I do find it fascinating that John’s end-times vision alludes to a global economy based not on paper or coin currency, but on a “mark” required for monetary exchange. For nearly 2000 years such a thing was ludicrous, yet in my lifetime the possibility of such a thing is not only possible, but some economists say is probable. I’ve seen several news reports discussing such a thing in recent years.

I find it equally important to point out that the very next words John writes are “this calls for wisdom.” So it does. It calls for wisdom to be neither over reactive nor dismissive. I feel no compulsion to build a backyard bomb shelter and fill it with supplies in anticipation of the apocalypse. At the same time, I grow more and more certain that history is the unfolding of a story that God has been authoring since the beginning and will, I believe, bring to prescribed conclusion. I hear Obi-wan Kenobi’s aged voice warning: “We must be cautious.”

Ultimately, no matter what I read in Revelation or see on the news feed, my role does not change. I am to faithfully traverse the journey laid out for me as it is revealed on a step-by-step, day-by-day basis. I am to love God and love my fellow human beings with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Everything else will take care of itself.

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Eternal Investment

English: Image of an Saracen king of West Afri...
Mansa Musa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 49

Those who are wise must finally die,

    just like the foolish and senseless,
    leaving all their wealth behind.
The grave is their eternal home,
    where they will stay forever.
They may name their estates after themselves,
     but their fame will not last.
    They will die, just like animals.
This is the fate of fools,
    though they are remembered as being wise.
Psalm 49:10-13 (NLT)

Can you quickly tell me anything about the following people?

  1. Mansa Musa
  2. Richard Fitzalan
  3. William de Warenne
  4. Alan Rufus
  5. Osman Khan

I’m pretty good at trivial knowledge, but these names were completely lost on me when I saw them. The truth is, these five men were among the richest men ever. While they lived they amassed vast fortunes to rival and even surpass names you do probably have heard of such as Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt. I say that they were rich, because like everyone else, they died and left their fortunes behind. As the old saying goes, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-haul.

That is the point of this morning’s chapter. Jesus said that there will always be poor people around. I guess that means there will always be rich people around as well. Death is the great equalizer. Time and time again God reminds us not to invest our hearts and minds in material things which will rot, rust and be left behind when we die. The economy in God’s Kingdom bears little or no resemblance to the economy of this world. Citizens of God’s Kingdom invest in things of eternal value which all flow from Love: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

FYI:

  1. Mansa Musa: rule of Malian empire, at one point he personally owned more than half the world’s supply of commodities.
  2. Richard Fitzalan: English nobleman.
  3. William de Warenne: Norman nobleman.
  4. Alan Rufus: fought next to William the Conqueror.
  5. Osman Khan: last ruler of Hyderabad. Owned a 184 carat diamond which he used as a paperweight.

Day 8: Something You’re Currently Worried About

Historical government spending in the United S...
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30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 8: Something you’re currently worried about.

I have a feeling that I’m not alone in worrying about the economic state of our nation and the world. Out of control government spending, stifling escalation of government regulation, an ever increasing debt load, and a culture of unbridled entitlement feels like a molotov cocktail ready to explode into chaos.

And yet, with each pang of worry comes whispers of affirmation deep in my spirit. Times of great difficulty are often the only way we are motivated to make necessary changes. We have seen darker times than these and come out of them. We have the ability and opportunity to vote for change and alter our course.

 

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