Monthly Archives: January 2013

Financial Miracles and Prayer, Mark 6:35-44

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is to consider financial miracles and prayer from Mark  6:35-44.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Five thousand men, and many more women and children were fed that day. One of the apostles wanted to send them away, because it was going to cost about half a year’s wages to feed them, perhaps something like $25,000 in today’s money.  Jesus took the 5 loaves of bread and two fish and made them turn into enough quantity to feed everyone. They could have taken a collection, or borrowed the money. They could have asked the bread makers and fishermen to donate food. He could have sent them away hungry to fend for themselves in the village, or he could have sent them back to their homes to eat.

This verse demonstrates a lot  of things:

  • Jesus cares not only about the spiritual aspects of life, but also about the physical things.
  • Jesus has the power to multiply things by taking small things and growing them miraculously and quickly, as, for example, when he took a couple of pounds of food and turned it into several thousand pounds–already cleaned, cooked and ready to eat.
  • Jesus wants to feed us physically and spiritually, because he loves us.
  • Jesus wants to encourage us by showing what he can do
  • Jesus works with us in his miracle process by giving us work to do, such as the work his disciples did when they went around feeding everyone.
  • Jesus likes to take care of those who don’t have enough resources to care for themselves.
  • Jesus cared for those who were listening to and following him.
  • Jesus cared for the flock in a community setting.

Maybe you need a financial miracle. Maybe the ministry you are involved in that takes care of others needs a miracle too. Jesus can stretch our money to go farther than it should mathematically. Jesus can stretch our resources, such as the food in our cupboard. Jesus can stretch your generosity to help others who are running short, so that you are more inclined to give food or money to friends, to food pantries, or to other charities that help people.

It is important for us to play our part too. Scripture commands us to work hard, budget, tithe, save, live well below our means, seek the counsel of many advisers, and borrow little. He wants us to live in a close community environment of attending church and being involved in small groups, so that we can receive ministry for our emotional needs as well as our physical ones if we run into trouble. Ask God to show you any of these things that you need to do.

Maybe we are doing our part–all the right things–and we are still running short. Pray for miracles so that your money and resources will stretch. Pray for the material things you own, like your car and house, so that things don’t wear out and need expensive repairs. Pray for your job, for raises, or for God to show you how to be a better, more effective worker. Pray for wisdom and self control when it comes to personal finances. Pray for ways to pay for or to get free or low cost needed medical care or prescriptions. Pray for God to help you repay all your creditors. Pray for discernment so that God will show you who needs your help.

Pray for discernment, raises and business growth so that you might help others more. Seek to have a heart like King David, one that is after God’s own heart, seeking Jesus’ Kingdom- (I blogged about this a few weeks ago), and so that your finances are not consumed by worries or wearing yourself out to get rich.

Pray for your daily bread, as the Lord’s prayer commands us to. Pray for miracles. Pray for God’s grace, for second chances, for miracles, even when you haven’t been faithful.

Conclusion: Good financial stewardship often requires these elements of doing our part: getting help from others, helping others and miracles–so it must be wise to pray for all of these things.

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty fourth post in this series.

Getting Financially Fit For Life

The past weekend my Pastor, Rich Nathan, of Vineyard Columbus preached an outstanding sermon about money, called Getting Financially Fit for Life. Click the link to watch, listen to, or read it. You can easily download it onto your device for podcast listening too.

He taught quite a bit out of Matthew 6:19-21, 24-33. I particularly liked how Rich pointed out the “your” in 19 and 21. I find it encouraging that Christ is talking about how much he is concerned about what treasure he wants for us.

19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money

25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Does Jesus Want Us to Buy Guns?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is to look at if Jesus Wants Us to Buy Guns to Arm Ourselves? in Matthew 26:52.

Curious to see first hand, a couple of days ago I walked into a gun store near our home, and handguns, and military looking rifles (semi-auto non-machine guns) were being purchased at almost a frenzy pace. I talked to a nice employee, and said they can’t keep 9 millimeter pistols on the shelf, they sell out as quickly as they come in. He said every time a politician opens their mouth about gun control, sales go up. It was a little strange seeing people who have never handled guns before, buying any model they could get their hands on. Americans like their guns and freedom, and many hold those two ideas pretty close together. As followers of Jesus I wondered how are we to think of all of this as it relates to our personal budgets?

Stewardship: I firmly believe that God blesses us with resources, and he commands us to be good stewards of those resources. We have time, talents, material things and money to steward over, and one day we will be called to give an account of our life, including how we spend money (see Matthew 25:23). So I wonder if it is good stewardship to take His money, and buy a gun to arm ourselves for self-protection, or to protect our family.

In Matthew 26:52, But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. He doesn’t say to get rid of the sword, but to put it in its proper place. I believe he is indicating the scabbard, to physically keep it. This could be at home or strapped beneath one’s cloak, concealed to be used for protection. In Luke he encourages the apostles to buy a sword, the most common weapon of the day: He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36. It seems it is okay for some people to own weapons for the right reasons. For others the police may be enough, or having a good alarm system, staying out of unsafe places, and good knowledge of personal defense.

The same verse in Matthew could also mean the proper place is for war or for a style of living.  By style of living, I mean one that is focused on violence and aggression. It is clear that Jesus doesn’t want us to live that way, but if we do it, that kind of lifestyle will catch up to us, and will cause us to perish: But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Matthew 26:52

Furthermore Jesus wants his followers to be different than everyone else in some things, he doesn’t want us to live in fear. Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt 10:28. When considering what to do with our money, I think it is important that we don’t do anything out of fear, but seeking His counsel.  We can be fearful of a bad car accident and buy the safest, biggest, most expensive car or SUV on the market. We can be fearful of health problems and spend all of our money and time on healthy eating and exercise. We can be fearful of what will happen to our children and shelter them from everything potentially bad. We can be afraid of the flu and hide in our homes for the next few months. If we allow fear to drive our impulses, we could end up broke. Buying out of fear is bad stewardship, but intelligent, wise, prayerful purchasing with a calm heart is how we should live.  That person makes better financial decisions, and a better owner of weapons if he or she so decides to buy one. That person walks humbly, not fearful  but calmly, in wisdom, making good decisions, with his eyes open: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16  I fear many people don’t consider their own anger quotient either. If someone loses control easily or is not stable emotionally, they’d be better off for themselves and for others refraining from a purchase. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.Ephesians 4:26-31

One of the greatest self protection things is prayer. We can pray for protection to the God of the universe, to put his power and angels over us. I pray for this everyday for myself and family. If I feel God doesn’t want me to buy a gun, I can be confident and not live in fear, I know he will protect me, and deliver me through every situation. This is huge!

A lot of people don’t consider the cost of gun ownership “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Luke 14:28. There is cost to purchase the gun itself and ammunition. You may have to purchase range time to practice, lessons, a cleaning kit, trigger lock (especially if you have children), and a gun safe (guns are one of the most stolen items).

In conclusion; without wading in to the political war, I think it is wise stewardship to bring all purchases, especially ones that are several hundred dollars, under His direction.

What do you think about all of this?- please comment below.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty fourth post in this series.

Car Power Plants Reviewed: Electric, Hybrid, Gasoline and Others

Have you thought about buying an all-electric vehicle, or hybrid with the costs of gasoline being so high. Maybe you are ecologically minded, and think electric power is better for the environment. Before you run out and buy an alternative fuel car, I thought it would be good to cover the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of engine systems that power cars.

Within the next 10 – 20 years it is quite possible that all-electric plug-in vehicles will be the majority of cars being purchased, yet today they represent less than 5% of new-car buys. Hybrids are really popular today, and plug-in hybrids are gaining in popularity, but if you are confused by all of the options read on.

  • Traditional gasoline powered, internal combustion engine. Within the last 30 years this reliable power has gotten very efficient, light weight and low polluting. The improvement in engine technologies have been aided with lower weight chassis to expand the miles per gallon of all trucks, cars and SUV. Contrary to conventional wisdom, and media criticism, gasoline engine vehicles use a very efficient power plant.  I’ve read articles about the science of them, and they convert power from fuel very efficiently considering all the things they do. In addition they are low in maintenance, accelerate quickly and can go nearly everywhere. Their biggest advantage over any all-electric vehicle is that they can go for hundreds of miles before needing a fill up. The worst SUV may still get less than 15 miles per gallon, but the best subcompact may obtain MPG ratings in the high 40’s. The world wide supply of oil seems to be adequate to meet the demand for the balance of this century, however the ecological and political issues surrounding its use, exploration, extraction and its increasing costs make gasoline and diesel power problematic for some.
  • Diesel powered engines also have come a long way in the last dozen years. They don’t pollute nearly as much as they used to, accelerate faster than the diesel powered cars of the 70’s and 80’s. They have tons of torque, which is very helpful if towing or trucks carrying a lot of weight.  Diesel powered cars get better gas mileage than their gasoline brethren, however since most diesel powered cars cost more than equivalent gasoline models and the price at the pump of diesel costs about fifty cents more per gallon, it may take 5 years or more to recoup the additional cost. Some maintenance is less for diesel cars, but it seems diesel is best for those putting very high mileage on their cars every year, and keeping them for a very long time, such as 10 years or more.
  • Natural Gas powered vehicles are on the road today, but mainly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) power fleets of city vehicles. Natural gas costs less than gasoline, doesn’t get as good miles per gallon, however unlike diesel, the increased cost of the vehicle and the less MPG is more quickly offset by the reduced price of natural gas.  There are not many CNG or LNG fueling stations in the U.S. to make this a viable alternative for most people. The supply of gas in the U.S. seems to be strong, however the controversy over fracking puts gas in question whether it will be the fuel answer in the coming years.
  • Hybrid powered cars and SUV’s are a blend of internal combustion and electric engines, using sophisticated systems for the efficient balance between both plants, and some extract energy from braking. In my mind there are two types of hybrids; one I call dedicated hybrids, for these the entire vehicle design and construction was built to highlight the advantages of these mated technologies, like the Toyota Prius or Ford C-Max. The second type takes an existing platform, such as a Toyota Camry or Ford Escape and swaps in the hybrid components- I call these modified hybrids.  Clearly the price of  modified hybrids can be several thousands of dollars more than the non-modified version of the same model, again like diesel, the increases costs of modified takes many years to recoup, making them a bad deal in my opinion.  The dedicated hybrids get a lot better gas mileage than the modified, because they were designed around that technology from the ground up. Dedicated hybrids still cost more when you compare cars of similar internal space and trunk size, such as if someone were considering a Toyota Corolla verses a Prius, but if someone usually purchases a car in the price range of a Prius, they are attracted by great gas mileage and well thought out design that makes their smaller space seem roomier and with hatch back’s great use of space. Prius owners love them. The other draw backs besides space and price, are the price of battery replacements if owned for a very long time. I am not a fan of modified hybrids, but like the dedicated hybrids a lot, especially if you can a great deal on one.
  • All Electric Plug-In vehicles are wonderful because you never have to buy gasoline. If you have a convetional car getting 25 miles per gallon, you can easily spend $200 or more per month on fuel, depending on the length of your commute.  The cost to recharge plug-ins are about $3, so if you drive it 28 days per month, and have to give it a full charge, your electric bill will go up by $84, maybe more if you recharge it twice a day, maybe less if you recharge it every other day, or only need partial charges. Individual buyers will need to calculate the costs for themselves. The drawbacks are they all run $30,000 – $40,000 or more for most all electrics, more than double that for a Fisker or Tesla. The Federal government provides $2,500 – $7,500 in tax credits, which helps to make them more affordable. Plug-ins are very small- not good for those wanting more space or safety of large cars. The biggest draw-back of plug-ins is their range. Most can only go 60 to 100 miles per charge, so unless there is a charging station where you are going, plug-ins are best for shorter commutes and around town driving, making them a good thing to consider if you have a second vehicle used for longer trips.  Plug-ins may not be good for apartment dwellers and condo owners who are not able to find an easy place to recharge them. One last thought- within the last several years we have had several multi-day power outages. During such times, my local coffee shop didn’t mind my camping out there to recharge my phone and laptop, but I think they would draw the line with an extension cord out to the curb. Not having a reliable gasoline powered car available could be problematic for  some.
  • Hybrid Plug-ins combine the long range and efficient capabilities of dedicated hybrids to achieve all electric use for low cost shorter trips, yet gasoline power for acceleration and longer trips. The Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-In, and Ford C-Max Energi provide these types of power plants. These cars don’t have quite have the range in all electric mode as the all electric plug-ins, since they have more weight to carry with the gasoline engine and heavy fuel on board. Expect a range in the neighborhood of 11 to 50 miles depending upon the model, for electric-only mode. However when using the combination of gas and electric, the range will be as far as many cars with just gasoline engines, and some much farther. Hybrid plug-ins seem to offer the best of both worlds, however the costs can be high for these models even after tax credits, usually making the increased cost of the purchase of the vehicle in excess of the energy saved.

Conclusion: If someone is considering the purchase of a car, I think it would be best to decide what they want in a car, such as performance, space, safety, purchase price and reliability first. Once they have arrived at that, then consider what cars are available in that price range.  If one the non gasoline-only cars fall into consideration, then calculate the fuel savings and overall features for what you are looking for- always doing the math to decide if the increased costs of the hybrid will be offset by the fuel savings. In other words don’t just look for efficiency and forget safety and price, in the end you might not be happy with the performance.

Betraying What We Know, for What We Want, Matthew 26:14-16

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about  betraying what we know, for what we want in Matthew 26:14-16.

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

No one truly knows the motives for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Some have said he was possessed by a demon, or that he didn’t believe Jesus was who he said he was. Others say that Judas was the group’s treasurer, and was greedy and self serving. Some defend Judas saying he was tricked by the chief priests, or set up by God. Theologians and historians have debated many theories for centuries, but we can see later in Mark 27, Judas realized his sin for betraying an innocent man, lying and bribery; so we know that he was a man with a conscience and in control of his faculties.

Some people wonder how Judas could do such a thing to a friend that loved him so much. Do we do the same thing today? Jesus’ plans for his apostles were to bless them after he left, and that they would do even greater things than Jesus, and give them a glorious eternity (John 14). While Judas ate with Jesus in the upper room, his pocket held the 30 silver coins, some say that would be worth 4 months wages in today’s money. The median household income is around $50,000 today, quite possibly that would equate to $12,500 U.S. dollars, about the price of a good used car, perhaps a horse in those times.

Judas betrayed Jesus, and his fellow apostles for the price of a horse, what else did he relinquish? In those days the most valuable things were reputation, friends, a place in religious society and Roman citizenship, livestock, personal property, and money. The forethought of Judas was for a better life- not the one Jesus was ushering in. Judas’ afterthoughts were that he probably wouldn’t have either the world or Jesus, and in his remorse he took his own life.

Judas wasn’t the only one doing things like this, for example Peter committed a really bad act when he denied knowing him on three occassions, right after the betrayal, and Jesus also referred to him as Satan once in Matthew 16:23. That was a pretty heavy word of rebuke.

What does this have to do with money, besides the reference to 30 silver coins? What can we draw from this for today for our own personal finances? Once again money can be the litmus test for life. Judas had fear about what Jesus was up to, the direction he was headed, he didn’t trust him. Judas took matters into his own hand and took took a different route, and made a trade for money. Peter didn’t want to be associated with Jesus, he feared how harm could come upon him if he claimed to know him. How do we make financial decisions today? Do we weigh the temporary costs and benefits, questioning what might be the plans of Jesus?

Taking the route of Jesus isn’t the safe way out, it just happens to be the best way. Following Jesus may not always lead us to financial success, and a comfortable retirement, although for some it might. Being associated with Jesus, or being known as a Christian may not always bode well in business dealings, or in climbing the social or corporate ladder. Doing the right thing with life’s plans, regular budgeting and financial management, isn’t always popular and sometimes you can’t do all the things your friends are doing. Following Jesus in our finances is sometimes saying no to what we want- sometimes it is increased generosity.

I love the promise of Jesus in John 7:38; Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.  Peter and Judas were not believing in Jesus at those moments, there eyes were on their surroundings and them selves. Following Jesus with our finances is tough sometimes, but when we do often we expierence peace in our hearts, a release of the fears that shackle us, and a bubbling up of real living in our hearts that flows out to others around us.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in his selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty-third post in this series.

Where are our hearts? Matthew 26:6-13

I took a few weeks off from writing the financial devotional due to a death in the family, and the Holidays, but I am back at it today. This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about  extravagantly loving Jesus in Matthew 26:6-13.

jar 36 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

When talking about Christian stewardship of our gifts and talents, time, resources, and money, we often think about being good and wise managers. We have all heard that God owns everything, and that we are temporary stewards–so we try to not be wasteful, and we try to be good budgeters. We try to track income, expenses, tithing, and planning for rainy days. However, this verse seems to be juxtaposed to being wise. The perfume poured on Jesus’ feet was worth a year’s wages for a laborer, probably something like $35,000 in today’s money, I would guess. That is a lot of money and it could have been sold to feed the poor. Why is this a good thing? Don’t countless scriptures talk about taking care of the poor?  Yes they do, but there is more going on here.

I’m the curious type, so I did a little internet searching. It appears that Clive Christian is the most expensive perfume, not counting the bottle; you can pay $865 for a 1.6 ounce bottle. If you want the diamond and gold encrusted bottle, expect to pay $435,000. Until today, I didn’t know you could pay $1,000 or more for a bottle of perfume. If Clive Christian is too expensive for your tastes, stroll on down to Sacks 5th Avenue and consider Thierry Mugler Angel Superstar Eau de Parfum–15.2 oz. for only $2,000. Using that as our example, Mary’s jar held about 2 gallons of Angel Superstar. Kind of fitting for Jesus’ scent, huh?

Was Mary (identified in John 12 as the sister of Martha) being wasteful when she took an expensive jar of perfume and carried it to anoint Jesus?  Mary wasn’t just walking along the road with this jar casually. Imagine her in her home, looking at her jars; she probably had several. These jars, also referred to as amphora by historians, were very common in the Middle East for thousands of years. Archaeologists find them all the time at digs and on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Imagine Mary at home, eagerly going to be with Jesus. She wanted to bring something to Him to show her appreciation, adoration and worship. Can you see Mary walking around her home, looking at her amphora of grain, oil, and perfume? I envision her face lighting up with delight and anticipation when she thought about being able to come before her savior.

Mary probably wanted to bring all of her jars, but the amphora were too heavy to carry. Made of clay, or marble-looking alabaster, these jars would have been heavy by themselves, let alone full of liquid. Water weighs about 8.5 pounds per gallon, so I’m guessing the vessel and contents could easily have weighed 15 pounds or more, or maybe less if the jar was small. People in those days were stronger than we are today; they carried nearly everything, including their water to their home, in these jars. I can see Mary running through the streets in her sandaled shoes, across rocky and dirt streets, trying not to trip. She is getting sweaty, and her arms are tired, but she hurries, not wanting to miss Him.

Taking even more editorial liberty here, I picture Mary coming into the room and not wanting to wait and rest from her journey. She toiled as she ran. She humbled herself through the crowds in the market place and in the room. As she ran, I believe she both smiled and cried at the thought of greeting Jesus with her gift.

Mary’s heart was in the jar. We hear Jesus speaking as recorded in Matthew 6, that where our heart is, our treasure is also. Mary cast her heart humbly to Jesus, at his feet in repentance, worship, and adoration. Mary’s jar today might be our wonderful home, our treasured 401k that we anticipate for retirement, wherever we place a lot of hope or security. Mary was banking it all on Jesus, and was spending it all on Him in just one temporary act.

We still talk, read and preach about this occurrence. It was huge. Flash forward 2,000 years. To put the message of this scripture from Matthew into perspective, think about this day of the Notre Dame and Alabama National College title that is all the talk of  the land. The game will be fun, but it will soon be forgotten, even though millions will be watching it. From this instance of Mary’s anointing Jesus with precious perfume, which happened about two thousand years ago, picture Jesus kindly asking us today, “Where are your hearts?”

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in his selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty-second post in this series.

Unemployment Numbers Update, December

Unemployment, New Jobs, and Jobless Claims Statistics*

  • Monthly change in non-farm payrolls – Flat: 155,000 new jobs were added in December, compared to 146,000 added in November, and 171,000 in October.
  • Unemployment – Flat: December’s rate of 7.8 matched the revised November rate of 7.8% (previously estimated to be 7.7% – which would have been the lowest since December 2008). This is better than some 2012 months over 8% – showing very little improvement. However, keep in mind this ‘Official Unemployment’ rate only tracks those who are without jobs and have actively sought work within the past 4 weeks. Since this statistic does not track all people who are not working, some websites report that the ‘Real Unemployment’ rate is about 15% when all able-bodied people of working age are considered. For a historical perspective: The unemployment rate during the Great Recession peaked at 10.10% in October 2010. In 2012 it has varied in the range of 8.10% – 8.30%, so we are not seeing a lot of change this year. It could be worse when you consider that during the Great Depression it peaked at about 25% in 1933.
  • Initial Jobless Claims for Unemployment Insurance – Positive: The four week rolling average, remained the same at 360,000 as last week. Looking back 52 weeks, the four week rolling average, averaged about 374,750, so we are seeing slight improvement. This number is much better than it was in 2009 when it peaked at over 650,000, better than 2010 when it went from nearly 500,000 to the the low 400,000′s and for 2011 when claims were in the low to mid 400,000′s. The lowest we have seen this rate in 10 years is 282,000 in January of 2006, and the earlier part of the last decade we saw the average similar to what we are seeing now. During the Great Depression from 1929 – 1941 there was not the same level of unemployment insurance that we have today, although unions may have had some. It wasn’t until the Social Security act encouraged it in 1935. Today we have the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax to fund state agencies.

*Unemployment statistics are an important indicator of how our economy is doing; more people employed points to stronger business growth and to fewer people receiving government entitlements. However, this is a little difficult to track, since the government doesn’t really publish a combined statistic that truly indicates what is happening. Most people who study this issue follow these three indicators: percentage of people unemployed, monthly change in non-farm payrolls, and jobless claims for unemployment insurance. The most discussed statistic is the unemployment rate; reading the explanation above illustrates how this number falls short.

The Fiscal Cliff Deal, Winners and Losers & What It Means To Your Personal Finances

The showdown in Washington over Federal taxes and spending ended with an agreement signed into law this week. Here are the losers and winners that we can see at this point. Further analysis is forthcoming of H.R.8 – American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and will be reported to you later this month.

Winners

  1. Overall Taxes: Joint filers with incomes below $450,00, individuals with incomes below $400,000 and heads-of-households with incomes below $425,000 WILL CONTINUE to enjoy tax reductions put in place by George W. Bush.
  2. Alternative Minimum Tax: Tax payers with incomes below $50,600 (individuals) and $78,750 (married couples filing jointly) respectively, WILL NOT be faced with the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). It was set to go to $33,750 (individuals) and $45,000 (married couples filing jointly). This will be indexed for inflation.
  3. Unemployment Benefit Recipients WILL have benefits EXTENDED this year.
  4. Entitlement Recipients of things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid WILL NOT face reductions, however expect battles over this one in the coming year, and changes affected by Obama Care, as the economy continues to struggle and deficits increase.
  5. Investors owning stocks that pay dividends, or the long-term sales of stock WILL NOT face increased tax on dividends and capital gains if their income is below the above amount.
  6. Itemizers: Tax filers with incomes below $250,000, heads of households below $275,000 or married joint filers below $300,000, WILL CONTINUE to enjoy the same itemized tax deductions for things like home mortgage interest and contributions to charities.
  7. Politicians benefit by not having to reduce spending for entitlements or cut back on special deals made to specific industries, thus enabling them to continue to receive political support from those groups and entities – in the short run.
  8. Pork Recipients: About $70 billion worth of special tax breaks were written into the bill.

Losers

  • Employees: Anyone paying federal payroll taxes will see an INCREASE in the amount withheld from their paychecks from 4.2%  to 6.2%. If you make $50,000 expect your pay to decrease by 2% or approximately $1,000 for the year, or about $83 per month. This restoration of a tax holiday was inevitable to pay for current and future Social Security and Medicare benefits.
  • Self-employed people will see an INCREASE in their payroll tax from 8.4% to 12.4%, or an increase of about $2,000 if making $50,000.
  • High Incomes Earners with incomes above $450,000 will see an INCREASE in their top tax rate to 39.60% from 35% (individuals with incomes above $400,000 and heads-of-households with incomes above $425,000).
  • High Income Investors owning stocks that pay dividends, or those that sell stock (held long-term), will face INCREASED tax on dividends and capital gains to 20% from 15%, if their incomes exceed the levels described above.
  • Large Estates: Individuals dying with estates in excess of $5 million will see the tax on their estates INCREASE from 35% to 40%.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Payers: Tax payers with incomes above $50,600 (individuals) and $78,750 (married couples filing jointly) respectively, will CONTINUE to be faced with the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Many have hoped to see the AMT go away completely, or income minimums increased substantially.
  • High Income Itemizers: Provisions of the Bill will REDUCE itemized deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions to those with incomes $250,000 and above, $275,000 for heads-of-households or married joint filers above $300,000.
  • Those served by charities: Anyone who benefits from not-for profit enterprises that rely on charitable contributions, may see less benefits being provided to them, or increased costs.  This is due to some limits now being placed on tax deductions given for contributions made to these institutions, from higher income people. Charities and non-profits may be faced with shrinking budgets due to lower contributions.
  • Charities MAY LOSE income due to the reduction of itemized tax deductions for high income donors.
  • Politicians on the right may LOSE political clout, since they relinquished some of their goals for reduced spending. Politicians on the left may LOSE political clout in the long-term, if the the economy fails to recover or we go through another recession. Most US citizens overall opinion of all political leaders continues to decline amidst poor leadership.
  • All US Citizens and succeeding generations will suffer from poor federal leadership when it comes to current economic policy of run-away spending and lack of balanced budgets.

Summary observations from a Christian perspective

I covered this in the article linked in the next paragraph some, but I wanted to add an observation from a friend and top stewardship leader. While we were discussing various issues such as increases in taxes and entitlements… and church giving. He recalled that if every Christian who receives an income tithed 10%, that the revenue would exceed the annual cost to provide Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Federal unemployment benefits. I don’t recall where he got this number, or if this is true, but I’d bet it would be close when you consider the payroll tax rate. Also Barna reports that a small percentage of Christians of all denominations tithe 10%. Imagine the resources the church would have to care for the poor, infirm, widows and orphans if all Christians tithed. My friend commented that when the church fails to give and provide, then the government is put into the position to tax and provide. Not saying that is the best solution, but doesn’t it seem like this is what has happened?

This battle took so long to remedy, due to major philosophical differences, that I wrote about earlier this week, “Do you want to know what the fiscal fight is really about.” Expect the battle to rage on in the coming year. This information should not be relied upon for your individual tax situation: consult your tax, legal and financial advisers.