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I certainly cannot judge others - God will do that. I certainly can look inward and judge myself. Do times of recession really get me down, or do I just work harder and trust the Lord? When my friend has his electricity turned off, how do I respond? When another cannot stay on medication because of costs, what do I do to help?
Have I failed if, at retirement, I don't have a million dollars in my IRA or 401K or savings? Some financial planners say that is what will be needed to retire and live a 'life worth living'.
Many have nice retirement plans available to them for their later years - others have no plan at all - many have lost them when companies have closed their doors and all the money is gone. What are they to do? Is God's provision enough?
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Recession Spurs Work on Economic Stimulus Package
The Wired Word for February 10, 2008
In the News
The latest data on the economic front, released just this week, revealed a loss of jobs overall in January and the largest monthly decline in service jobs on record. This information, coupled with the meltdown in the housing market and soaring energy prices, increases the likelihood that the United States is in, or will soon fall into, a recession.
Defined variously as "A significant decline in activity spread across the economy, lasting longer than a few months, that is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade" or as "A decline in business activity, with two consecutive quarters with a real fall in gross national production," a recession is economic bad news for the nation in general and working-class people in particular.
Because economists do not agree on a precise definition of "recession," and because different economists watch different economic indicators, some are not ready to declare that the country is actually in a recession yet, but most agree that conditions are right for a recession to occur if current trends continue.
As one response to the economic slowdown, Congress and the White House are working together on an economic stimulus package that would inject some $161 billion (amount from the House version of the bill) or as much as $200 billion (amount from the Senate proposal) into the economy by granting tax breaks to businesses and putting some extra cash in the pockets of Americans who earn less than a specific income level, yet to be agreed upon.
The House recently passed its version of the package, but the Senate has postponed its action on the measure until next week when Senators on the presidential campaign trail can return to Washington to cast their votes. If the Senate version ends up having differences from the House version, the two versions then have to be taken to a conference committee to reconcile them.
Most observers say that economic stimulus works only if people who receive the money actually spend it on new purchases, thus creating a positive ripple effect through the economy. If people use it to pay down debt or simply sock it away, the benefit to the overall economy is less.
More on this story may be found at these links:
The Big Questions
1. Assuming the economic stimulus package is passed by Congress, it is likely to be most effective if individuals actually spend the money it grants them. Christ, however, never blessed the pursuit of possessions. So based on Christian theology and the example of Jesus, what guidelines would you suggest Christians consider when the money arrives in their mailboxes?
2. What would be the effect on the national economy if all Christians actually purchased only the necessities? What would be the effect on their families?
3. In reality, even the most frugal Christians have to be consumers to some degree. How should we balance our consumerism with our charitable giving?
4. What would it mean to our standard of living to reduce our consumption in favor of addressing issues of global poverty, world peace and addressing rampant illness in Third World countries? What would it mean in terms of our standing in God's eyes?
5. In general, what should be a Christian's relationship with money? Why?
Confronting the News with Scripture
Here are some Bible verses to guide our thinking:
"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (For context, read 9:57-62.)
Jesus wasn't speaking metaphorically when he said that he had nowhere to lay his head; he was essentially a penniless street preacher whose possessions amounted to little more than the clothes on his back. And he told his followers to lay up treasures ... but only in heaven. As a result, Christians ever since have had an uneasy relationship with money and possessions.
Question: To what degree should the financial situation of Jesus of Nazareth guide how we use money?
"If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (For context, read 19:16-26.)
This is the advice Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. But followers of Jesus have often taken this as an instruction for Christians in general rather than limited to advice for this specific rich man. Members of some religious orders have taken poverty as one of their vows. And we often look askance at religious leaders who make large salaries.
Yet consider what would happen to the world's economy if everyone followed Jesus' advice to this young man. In the 1970s, after realizing how dependent we in the United States were on oil, there was a conscious effort to reduce our oil imports. In the process, we very nearly wrecked the economies of
Question: How do you personally handle this advice from Jesus?
1 Timothy 6:6-8
" Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." (For context, read 6:2c-10.)
"We will be content with these," Paul wrote to Timothy. But will we really? Paul is saying that having adequate food and clothing are sufficient for contentment, but in fact, isn't our entire consumer-driven economy driven by discontent? We "need" the newest model of this or that because the one we have is so last year! Advertising constantly plays to our feelings of discontent about our appearance, our status, our possessions, our fulfillment and so on.
Question: Is discontent with what we possess or how we look simply a standard part of what it means to be human, or is there something inherently sinful in it? Explain your answer.
1 Kings 17:14
"The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." (For context, read 17:8-16.)
This is God's promise to the widow of Zarephath, who sheltered and fed the prophet Elijah during a time of drought. Though she had only enough food for one more meal, God made it sufficient for all the days until the rain came.
Question: It could be argued, certainly, that this provision was a special case because God was protecting Elijah, who still had a mission to fulfill as God's spokesperson, and therefore it cannot be applied to the situation of Christians today. But insofar as a recession is an economic drought, is there any application of this promise that can be made to people who trust God?
Questions for Further Discussion
1. We know it can't buy happiness, but we also know that a severe lack of it can cause serious problems and pain. Given that, is there anything wrong with wanting to have enough money to live comfortably, but not necessarily fabulously?
2. Is there anything unchristian about being in debt beyond our ability to repay it?
3. Comment on this (heard in a sermon): "We may live in a mobile home, but half the world lives in mud huts and cardboard shacks. We may drive an old car, but nine out of 10 people in the world have no car at all. Our pension may not support the lifestyle we'd like, but many people in the world live from hand to mouth and cannot consider retirement. They will have to scrounge for a living until the day they die."
4. Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by a tribe in South America to whom he was trying to take the gospel, once said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." What do you think he meant?
5. How is consumerism related to caring for our planet and its nonrenewable resources?
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