Monthly Archives: April 2013

Believing in God & Helping Others, Luke 10:25 – 37

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 10:25-37, about the connection between believing and helping our neighbors, from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”  27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Much of the time we think about money, it has to do with what we want. Someone once said; “I am not capable of a selfless thought.” I think this is probably true for everyone. When we read the Bible, are we looking for some kind of verse that may promise some blessing for ourselves? Some Bible scholars say that in a way you can read between the lines when you read the Bible. Reading between the lines of the New Testament, I can’t find any promises for wealth for me personally if I will only do this or that.  When you read through the Gospels you can see people throwing questions at Jesus all the time; people on the street, teachers in the temple and his Apostles. I am confident that when the question about having a life of wealth was on the minds of bystanders, they either asked him and he didn’t answer, or people kept the question in their mind and didn’t want to look rude or silly. Read between the lines, Jesus often talked about promises he made to followers, but they never had to do with their obtaining wealth, possessions and power- in this life.

On the day that Jesus was asked about how to obtain eternal life by an expert in the law. Pre-Jesus experts in Biblical law, had a terrible task of searching the scriptures, trying to both understand the mind of God, and understand all of the many laws about dozens of things, including simple tasks of eating, cleaning and money. Part of what these experts were trying to do, was to know what would bring them a particular blessing or curse, both to individuals and people groups. This expert was trying to get that nice formula for achieving the inheritance of eternal life. Don’t we do the same thing today?  We want to have the checklist for our personal well being both today and in eternity.

In the Bible there is no example of the “pray-the-prayer,’ for eternal life. This would have been a great opportunity for Jesus to provide that. Most Biblical scholars though do agree that there does come a time, a point of demarcation, when we choose to walk with Jesus from now on, and that marks our permanent salvation. A sign of believers doing this, is a life not focused on selfish ambition, according to Jesus.

In this parable, the signs of eternal life were (Luke 10:27-28):

  • “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 
  • Read between the lines: don’t love yourself with all of your effort and thinking

Jesus described the neighbor as

  1. A naked, bleeding and dying man by the road (Luke 10:30)
  2. A man that wasn’t liked either because of race, ethnicity, religion, station in life or town, city, state or nation he was from, or someone other people avoided (Luke 10:31-32)
  3. Someone needing first aid medical care (Luke 10:34)
  4. Someone who needed transportation (Luke 10:34)

The believer was someone who:

  1. Was inconvenienced
  2. Gave money for caring
  3. Traveled with
  4. Stayed nearby for a while after getting him to his destination

Reading between the lines: not someone who asked for something in return from God or the man that was helped, or praise from friends

In conclusion: There are many important lessons to learn here, about all kinds of various subjects. However, there is a strong financial teaching here. The believer’s heart is for others long before ourselves- even when it comes to our time and money. Lastly, when we call out to Jesus, or when we search the Bible for answers to questions about our financial dreams and needs, where do our concerns for our own financial wants come into play? It is always good medicine for God to search our hearts about this, Psalm139:23.

*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 thirty sixth post in this series.

Weekending Financial Scorecard

Here’s the most important financial data that you need to know to be fairly well informed. Each week I post the weekending scorecard of data for 8 financial markets and 10 economic indicators. As of 4/26/2013:

The week stocks, crude oil futures, and gold came up a little, while interest rates slid some. US Recession Watch*  We are enjoying a sluggish recovery, led by low jobs and income growth. There are several things to be positive about, such as slightly good manufacturing output, a little uptick in consumer spending vs last year, and better sales in real estate and automotive. On the negative side GDP increased only 0.1% last quarter and we still have a high Federal deficit and debt and unproductive Federal government to pass a balanced budget.

  • Mortgage Rates  DECREASE: 30-year last/this week: 3.51%/3.47%, 15-year 2.74%/2.71%
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average INCREASE from 14,547 to 14,712
  • S&P 500 INCREASE from 1555 to 1582
  • US Treasury’s DECREASE: 2-Year Note from .234% to .233%, 10-Year Note from 1.720% to 1.668%
  • Crude Oil Futures INCREASE from $88.70 to $92.78
  • Gold prices INCREASE from $1435 to $1,462 (High $1,895 9/6/11) per ounce
  • Euro DECREASE from 1.3048 to 1.3028 (all time 1.59 7/2008)
  • US Dollar Index DECREASE from $82.78 to $82.47

RECESSION WATCH SCORECARD: *

FINANCIALS:* 4 NEGATIVE vs 3 POSITIVE 🙁

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – Negative, real GDP had a small increase of  0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The economy grew 2.2% in 2012 up from 1.8% in 2012. We really need to see GDP in the 4% – 6% range to fuel an economic recovery. From 1947 – 2012 it has averaged 3.23.
  • Manufacturing output – Positive, for the first time since the first part of last year, we are starting to see some positive change in US manufacturing output. This is a good indication of how industry is doing; it was modestly increasing a year ago, leading to some guarded optimism, but for the balance of 2012 it decreased.
  • US Consumer Spending – Positive, is currently at 88 compared to 72 one year ago. Generally overall the past 12 months has not been strong, holiday spending was down; however, this year we are definitely seeing an uptrend. Economists watch consumers’ spending trends to try to track their confidence in the economy. The more confidence consumers have, the more willing they are to spend money.
  • US Household Debt Service – Positive, as a percentage of people’s disposable income is at 10.69% (June) and has been steadily decreasing from its 10 year high of about 14% in the 3rd quarter of 2008. We are keeping a watchful eye on this number, since early indicators are showing an uptick in consumer debt.
  • The Federal Deficit – Negative, is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be $1.1 trillion for 2013; this will make 5 years in a row it has exceeded $1 trillion, and this doesn’t include all the money our Federal government borrows.
  • The US National debt – Negative, exceeds $16.7 trillion.
  • Consumer Price Index – Negative, U.S. consumer prices jumped by 0.7 percent in February, the largest increase since June 2009 due to the increase in gasoline costs last month. Annualized growth rate through December for the CPI in 2012 was 1.70%, compared to 3.0% in 2011. The long-term average annualized rate of 3.63%. The CPI is the most common indicator of inflation.

JOBS: 1 POSITIVE, 1 NEGATIVE 😐

  • Monthly change in non-farm payrolls – Negative: Just 88,000 jobs were added in March, compared to 236,000 added in February, 157,000 in January, and 155,000 added in December.
  • Unemployment – Positive: Marches rate of 7.6% is a four year low, compared to February’s rate of 7.7%, and December’s 7.9%. This is better than some months in 2012 of over 8% – showing a 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 – Neutral: The four week average was hovering around 340,000 but is now back in the 350,000’s. Looking back 52 weeks it averaged about 370,000,  we are seeing a slight improvement in this number. 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.

*For an overview of GDP, Unemployment and Recession indicators, see previous article A primer on recession indicators, Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment.

Long-Term Car Loan Insanity

It has been reported that 7- and 8-year car loans are becoming the norm. This isn’t surprising, when you consider that the cost for a new mid-size family car, mini-van, hybrid, or small SUV can easily be $25,000, and it is not uncommon that if nice features are added they can easily cost $30,000 – $35,000. Full size models with a lot of features, or more luxury brands can kick the cost to above $40,000.

Many people look at the monthly payment, and they buy based on what they think they can afford. However, I find that most people don’t do a budget (nor live by one) before making a final decision based on monthly payment amount.

Before purchasing, it is not uncommon for new car purchasers to:

  • Fail to calculate what their real budget is: They often think they can afford something but in reality there isn’t enough room in their budget for the new car payment.
  • Fail to calculate the overall cost of buying a car: The cost includes final purchase price, which includes title and other dealer fees they add on. Secondly, most states have a sales tax.  Assuming someone purchases a $27,000 car, pays 6% sales tax and $500 in other fees: The purchase price is $29,120. This doesn’t include rebates or dealer discounts.
  • Fail to know how much total interest they will pay: Using this example, lets assume they put $2,000 down; they will borrow $27,000 at an assumed interest rate of 5% (this will depend upon credit rating and arrangements the car dealer has with lenders), and they will finance it for 7 years. The total interest paid on the loan would be $5,055.
  • Fail to know how much they will be upside down when they drive their car off of the lot:  That new car will depreciate about 10%. That new car purchased for $27,000 will now only be worth about $24,300, even though they owe the bank $27,000.
  • Forever upside down: Especially with a long-term car loan, because of the interest you owe, the car’s depreciation, and a small down-payment, you most likely will owe more than the car is worth for the entire term of the car. If you run into financial problems, such as becoming unemployed or underemployed, and you run out of savings, you might not be able to sell the car if you owe more that it is worth. So now you have a car you can’t afford, and it will be difficult to sell it! Hello repo-man.
  • Fail to calculate the impact to their financial net worth: On their balance sheet, on the asset side they can add the car’s value of $24,000; however, on the debit side, they have a $27,000 debt plus $5,055 in interest, for a total liability of more than $32,000. So their net worth has decreased by $8,000 ($32,000 – $24,000).
  • Fail to consider fuel and maintenance cost:  Some people are really savvy buying high MPG and hybrid vehicles; however, many people don’t compare that at all to other models, nor do they compare it to their current car, and they buy a car that is more thirsty on gas.
  • Fail to consider that debt is bondage. It is actually feeling like you are a slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
  • Debt is betting on the future.  It assumes that you can afford the payment for a long term, even though your employment, health, and overall financial situation and economy could worsen. It is spending tomorrow’s income before you even have it. It is taking many things for granted, including the Lord’s blessings.

Those who are really economically minded buy used cars with cash or short-term loans. They also calculate the total cost of ownership: purchase price and cost, interest, fuel, insurance and maintenance. Short-term loans have higher payment, making them not as affordable for many car-buying consumers. This tempts many people to lease instead of buying. Most financial experts though, like Dave Ramsey, recommend not leasing–Dave calls leases car-fleeces. Some very well healed people lease cars, and they get a new lease every few years, but for those on a tight budget, working hard to minimize debt and build wealth, if they have to borrow, short-term loans are the way to go (with large down-payment). Patiently buying good used cars with cash and maintaining them well is usually the best way to go financially.

The Cost of Following Jesus

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 9:57-63; is the cost of following Jesus.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus did a lot of walking. Today, we drive cars or ride public transportation to quickly get where we are going. Jesus was on a journey from one town to the next, as it seemed he was doing most of his ministry days. Telling him to wait while you went to take care of personal affairs would be a little hard, because Jesus didn’t have a house he was headed to. He wasn’t operating out of a particular operations center or worship facility. Jesus was on the go. Planning a trip can be complicated; there is the business of getting your affairs in order before departure, planning the finances for your home while you are away, finding someone to take care of the pets. Planning flights, hotels, car rental and food can make travel costly and stressful. Imagine following Jesus in this day and age, leaving it all behind at the drop of a hat–funerals to attend to, inheritances to procure, family and friends to say goodbye to, no Cell phones or Facebook to stay in touch. To be an apostle in those days carried quite a cost.

Following Jesus today, we often do it with deliberation. We consider what Jesus might be saying to our heart, where he might be calling us, who we should be helping, checks he wants us to write. Do we say, “Interesting, I’ll think about that later, but right now my favorite TV program is on”?

However, Jesus is talking more seriously here, isn’t he? People were considering if they should follow him on HIS journey, and go his way, at whatever the cost to their personal lives. Jesus said those who wanted to contemplate the cost–the ramifications to life for quite a while–were not worthy of the Kingdom of God.  That is a pretty serious consequence. These were people that probably not only wanted to put their houses in order, but also wanted to really think about the decision, perhaps even float it by their non-believing friends and relatives.

To consider the cost of ventures is okay; to plan one’s affairs accordingly makes sense.  However, to live our lives following Jesus, yet fail to respond to his call on a daily basis to do this or that, and to weigh his will against our wants, our finances, or what it is going to mean to our friends and family is not good, not good at all, entirely not suitable to the character of Christ that he wants for us, and for the Kingdom.

The decision to follow Christ must have a cost. We are fooling ourselves if we think that it might not cost us a lot of money in terms of career choices, money given, friends and family that might not like us as much if we are radical followers of Christ. It might cost us dreams we have for ourselves as we give them over to what his dreams are.  Following Jesus must have a cost. Salvation is free, something we get without making payments. Living a life with him today has a payoff in joy and peace that is more mind blowing than anything the world can promise and deliver on, free gifts because Jesus loves us. There is cost, a consequence to following Jesus on his path; however, as eternal citizens of God’s kingdom, we will be richly rewarded.

*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 thirty fourth post in this series.

Weekly Financial Scorecard

Here’s the most important financial data that you need to know to be fairly well informed. Each week I post the weekending scorecard of data for 8 financial markets and 10 economic indicators. As of 4/19/2013:

The week was bumpy in stocks, crude oil futures came down quite a bit, as did gold and other metals, as fears of inflation eased, and lower estimates of economic growth in China. US Recession Watch*  We are enjoying a sluggish recovery, led by low jobs and income growth. There are several things to be positive about, such as slightly good manufacturing output, a little uptick in consumer spending vs last year, and better sales in real estate and automotive. On the negative side GDP increased only 0.1% last quarter and we still have a high Federal deficit and debt and unproductive Federal government to put forth a balanced budget.

  • Mortgage Rates DECREASE: 30-year last/this week: 3.54%/3.51%, 15-year 2.78%/2.74%
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average DECREASE from 14,865 to 14,547
  • S&P 500 DECREASE from 1588 to 1555
  • US Treasury’s MIXED: 2-Year Note from .266% to .234%, 10-Year Note from 1.697% to .,720%
  • Crude Oil Futures DECREASE from $90.95 to 88.70
  • Gold prices DECREASE from $1485 to $1435 (High $1,895 9/6/11) per ounce
  • Euro DECREASE from 1.3115 to 1.3048 (all time 1.59 7/2008)
  • US Dollar Index INCREASE from $82.29 to $82.78

RECESSION WATCH SCORECARD: *

FINANCIALS:* 4 NEGATIVE vs 3 POSITIVE 🙁

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – Negative, real GDP had a small increase of  0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The economy grew 2.2% in 2012 up from 1.8% in 2012. We really need to see GDP in the 4% – 6% range to fuel an economic recovery. From 1947 – 2012 it has averaged 3.23.
  • Manufacturing output – Positive, for the first time since the first part of last year, we are starting to see some positive change in US manufacturing output. This is a good indication of how industry is doing; it was modestly increasing a year ago, leading to some guarded optimism, but for the balance of 2012 it decreased.
  • US Consumer Spending – Positive, is currently at 79 compared to 76 one year ago. Generally overall the past 12 months has not been strong, holiday spending was down; however, this year we are definitely seeing an uptrend. Economists watch consumers’ spending trends to try to track their confidence in the economy. The more confidence consumers have, the more willing they are to spend money.
  • US Household Debt Service – Positive, as a percentage of people’s disposable income is at 10.69% (June) and has been steadily decreasing from its 10 year high of about 14% in the 3rd quarter of 2008. We are keeping a watchful eye on this number, since early indicators are showing an uptick in consumer debt.
  • The Federal Deficit – Negative, is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be $1.1 trillion for 2013; this will make 5 years in a row it has exceeded $1 trillion, and this doesn’t include all the money our Federal government borrows.
  • The US National debt – Negative, exceeds $16.7 trillion.
  • Consumer Price Index – Negative, U.S. consumer prices jumped by 0.7 percent in February, the largest increase since June 2009 due to the increase in gasoline costs last month. Annualized growth rate through December for the CPI in 2012 was 1.70%, compared to 3.0% in 2011. The long-term average annualized rate of 3.63%. The CPI is the most common indicator of inflation.

JOBS: 1 POSITIVE, 1 NEGATIVE 😐

  • Monthly change in non-farm payrolls – Negative: Just 88,000 jobs were added in March, compared to 236,000 added in February, 157,000 in January, and 155,000 added in December.
  • Unemployment – Positive: Marches rate of 7.6% is a four year low, compared to February’s rate of 7.7%, and December’s 7.9%. This is better than some months in 2012 of over 8% – showing a 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 – Neutral: The four week average was hovering around 340,000 but is now back in the 350,000’s. Looking back 52 weeks it averaged about 370,000,  we are seeing a slight improvement in this number. 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.

*For an overview of GDP, Unemployment and Recession indicators, see previous article A primer on recession indicators, Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment.

Jesus and Small Business Owners

fishThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 5:1-11 ; it is about Jesus calling Simon, a small business owner into ministry.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

The apostle Simon was a small business owner, in this case a fisherman. The world is full of people that operate and own a small business. Drive down any street in a fairly prosperous area, and you will see all kinds of commercial establishments- most of them small businesses. Go into any office building, there are thousands of them in every city, and they are jammed pack full of them. Small businesses are those that employ fewer than 500 people, and according to the Small Business Administration they:

•    Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
•    Employ half of all private sector employees.
•    Pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
•    Generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.
•    Create more than half of the non-farm private GDP.
•    Hire 43 percent of high tech workers ( scientists, engineers, computer programmers, and others).
•    Are 52 percent home-based and 2 percent franchises.
•    Made up 97.5 percent of all identified exporters and produced 31 percent of export value in FY 2008.
•    Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.

Many people think that huge companies like General Motors and General Electric employ the majority of people, but in reality they only employ about 1/2. Not only do small companies employ a lot of people, the value they generate to our economy in terms of output in goods and services, patents, exports and new jobs is enormous.

At times the media and politics is negative towards business, blaming their greed for many of the ills of society, and wanting to increase their taxes to solve our country’s problems for everything from health-care to bailing out government pension plans. However, the owner of a small company is under tremendous stress. Everyday he or she fights to stay profitable, increase sales, and combat increasing expenses. Christian business owners toil quietly, and constantly cry out to God to help them stay in business.

Jesus pictured in this verse isn’t preaching to the media and politician it seems, but to the common man on the street, many of which are business owners, like Simon. Simon had a really successful day of fishing; finally after catching nothing, fishing all day. Jesus told them to go back out once again, and where to fish- and they caught so many they needed help from others to haul it in. Business owners dream of having successful days like that; landing the big account, making the big sale, or harvesting a bounty crop.

Simon did what Jesus told him to do, and he was successful. Following Jesus in business is no promise for business success, sometimes Jesus leads us in a direction that is more about our spiritual growth and less about making us rich. However, praying for business success and prosperity and personal growth is a great idea. Success is only part of the mission of business owners. They are an excellent witness when they produce a good product that helps people, and treat employees and customers well. They also bless society when they employ people, provide good benefits, pay taxes and pump money into the local economy.

It is interesting that Jesus choose small business owners like Simon to be some of his apostles. People that own businesses are often very hard-working, industrious, smart, multi-talented and results driven people. They are perfect people to work in ministry, when the hours can be long, the work difficult, pay modest, all with unknown success.

Jesus spoke Simon’s language when he demonstrated his power through Simon’s trade, and an abundant harvest.  Sometimes Jesus calls successful people out of large companies and self employment, even at the height of their financial success into full time or volunteer ministry. Sometimes he calls people to start businesses too, leaving the security of regular employment, to stretch individuals and to bless society. Small businesses and owners need our prayer and support, we need and value their contribution to society, and for ministry.

*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 thirty fourth post in this series.

The Eternal Significance of Sharing Possessions

smuckThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 3:7-11; it is about sharing our personal possessions and food.

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

John the Baptist had just finished teaching about big things, such as the kingdom of God and salvation. The audience it seems were Jewish, since he is making a reference to the children of Abraham. Many of the Jewish people of that day thought that they would be saved when they died, since they were children of Abraham. It was both a religious and cultural belief system they were abiding by. In those ancient times, people placed a very high value on family and where they were from. Throughout scripture you see references to what village or town someone was from (see John 1:46). It was a big deal back then to be from a specific family or lineage: village and family were bragging rights.

Being associated with a particular family might mean that you could inherit wealth.  I used to work with someone who had the last name Smucker.  People would often ask him if was related to the Smucker’s family of jams and jellies, sold at most grocery stores. He would always reply with “By name but not by money!”  To the Jews of that day, there was even greater significance: they believed since their spiritual and ancestral father was Abraham, they would be saved when they died, and live in heaven and not hell for eternity, with their many-times-great grandfather Abraham. Interestingly, Smucker’s trademark includes “With a Name Like Smucker’s it has to be good®.”

Those cultural beliefs are quite a bit different from today’s. Today we value individuals and what they can accomplish in their professions. We often place a higher value on doctors and lawyers than on members of other professions. We admire the amount of money people can earn, their place in society; and we admire celebrities, even those who have been made famous by silly reality TV programs. Often our modern western society links people’s value to money, and we personalize this notion by thinking that if we amass a large fortune, we can endure most calamities that might come our way.

We don’t value family and parents as much as they did either. It seems to be rare that people brag about their family names, or even respect their parents much. In antiquity, it was shameful and perhaps financially unwise to disassociate ourselves from our parents; perhaps this is why honoring our parents is one of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:12). High value is placed today on the great job you have or the college you are from–almost everyone is impressed if someone has a Harvard degree. High value is placed on the clothing emblem, brand of car and country club membership.

Looking back at Luke 3:7-11, we see John the Baptist not only hinting that their lineage and religion would not save them, but also mentioning the works of giving away extra shirts and food as evidence of God’s fruit in their lives. I can’t imagine only having two shirts and giving one away. It is difficult to imagine living in that day, with no grocery stores or cold and canned food storage at home. It is hard to believe that if I had enough money for lunch, I could give away some of my food with dinner several hours away. John the Baptist might have been using hyperbole, or exaggeration, to make a strong point. That said, maybe our closets and garages need cleaning out, and maybe we need to give away our clothes to the point of pain, to hold off buying new clothes unless we really need them, or to buy less rich food, and instead to donate money to the poor. I am reminded of a couple of quotes of C.S. Lewis, the best Christian apologist of the 20th Century.

  • Charity–Giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality…I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. Mere Christianity, bk. III, chap. 3, para. 7, pp. 81-82
  • The limit of giving is to be the limit of our ability to give. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Introduction, para. 53, p. 35

Jesus totally ties our faith in him to obedience (John 14:23-24), and one of the few things Jesus directly says to do (such as loving God and our neighbors–Matthew 22:36-40), is to “invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me, —Matthew 25:31-46” followed by eternal ramifications. Now don’t get me wrong, we cannot tie works to salvation, but the fruits of salvation will be demonstrated in our love for him and God’s kids, and not in our own lives.

Jesus was a Jew, but he referred to his father as God–he didn’t tie his works or salvation to Abraham or anything else: 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things (healing) on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:16-19

Can we sometimes be like the folks surrounding John the Baptist two thousand years ago, feeling secure in our wealth, comfortable with our church attendance? Thinking of all of these Bible verses and the C. S. Lewis’ quotes, it seems as if our lifestyles should be less than they are because of our generosity, and we should be working for him in response to the love of our Father God, who indeed will save 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 ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the thirty third post in this series.

Be Content With Pay

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 3:12-14. It is about being content with our pay and not overcharging or extorting.

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

This is an account of John the Baptist teaching about stewardship and integrity. He had just finished teaching about big things, such as the kingdom of God and salvation, and he had baptized a number of people, but just then a tax collector and some soldiers inquired what to do next after repenting.  John didn’t waste any time. He cut to the quick, and he hit them where they were most vulnerable–in their personal pocketbooks, wallets or money purses. Isn’t it a little surprising that after a lofty sermon, John brings it home and speaks to their hearts?

When you pray, maybe this is a good thing to consider. In prayer, you might go through the Lord’s prayer: praising his holy name, thanking him for blessing you so much, asking for his kingdom to come and his will to be done, and for your daily bread. You might forgive others and ask for forgiveness and protection from sin and Satan. Then you might go through a list of things you want for yourself or for others.

Before completing your prayer, consider getting your wallet or pocketbook out and placing it before you on the table in front of you–you know, that beat up thing with wrinkled money and plastic cards, driver’s licence, old business cards, and an odd assortment of receipts, important ID cards and photos.

With that in front of you, offer it to God and pray, “God, this is yours. Guide me to use it wisely and responsively. Help me to have integrity, and to live a life of contentment.” Ask God to speak directly to your heart about your job and money, as he spoke to people who were baptized years ago.

Chances are, if you do this, you may find that God talks to you about contentment, just as he talked to the tax collectors and soldiers. He was teaching them a timeless message, one that can apply to us today, because even after we decide to follow God, our hearts yearn for “more!”–more possessions, money, influence, political power, free time, rest, and getting our own way. This message was critical for John the Baptist to preach. He told them that one day the time of yearning for more will be gone, because Jesus is our more, he is our contentment. There were a lot of needy people at the banks of the river with John, people who were searching for more life or a new life.

While  the Apostle Paul was in prison, he wrote:  11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13  Other verses to consider: 1 Timothy 6:6-12, 2 Cor. 12:9-10, Romans 8:28, Job 36:11, Proverbs 19:23, Psalm 34:10, and Romans 12:2.

Does God want you to have a more abundant life as he promised in John 10:10? Yes, but he wants it to be more abundant in him. You want more money, perhaps a spouse (or just one that shows more love), or maybe you want a promotion. God often wants us to relax and be quiet where we are; he wants us to learn to wait on him, and to learn contentment. God is more about preparing us for eternity than about letting us have our own way. He may indeed give us “more” things, maybe a lot of them, but in the meantime he wants us to dig deep, not to take shortcuts to what we want by sometimes doing things we shouldn’t be doing, or by whining and complaining.

Like Paul, we need to learn to the secret of contentment, even when things around us are not perfect and we are still striving for more. The workers that Jesus really smiles about are those who work a few minutes more than the normal eight hours, not those trying to cut corners. He probably also smiles about those who get back from lunch a little early instead of late, take fewer breaks, and do not speak ill of their employers, or participate in office gossip, or misuse benefits and sick leave–those who show in their demeanor an appreciation for their jobs and their pay.

*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 thirty second post in this series.