Wednesday, February 13, 2008

how and where and when do i spend my money

The Way Wednesday
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I know many really committed Christians who live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. I know many who live in times of plenty. I sometimes wonder how I justify my own material goods to the Lord, when I look around and see such abject poverty elsewhere. Has the 'prosperity gospel' caused some to revel and others to despair? The old adage of 'follow the money' probably tells tons about me. How and where and when do I spend my money?

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?
uncle jim
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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:

Luke 9:58

"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?

Matthew 19:21

"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 Nigeria and Mexico. By the same token, if we could cut our coffee drinking in half, much of Latin America would suffer.

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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Anonymous said...

Uncle Jim - are you trying to overwhelm us with questions? I think you have 3 or 4 posts here. *grin*

One thing I learned at Scott Hahn's Bible Study, "The Bible and the Mass" is what Poverty of Spirit is...I never really understood it before. God never said we couldn't have nice things. He questions us about where our priorities lie - do we rely on Him to get us through, or do we rely on our 'things' to get us through?

I have to admit, I like my car (Mazda 6) and the speed (okay, you got me there). But I have to ask myself, do I own my car or does my car own me? If my car was totaled tomorrow, would I be devestated or would I trust that God would get me through? I would miss it and all of the nice features, but it would not tear me away from my trust in God.

I believe that God will provide me with everything I will ever need. Some things I may have to work a little harder for in order to get, but in the long run, with God on my side, it's well worth it! What's humorous is now that I have this wonderfully and nicely equipped car, I will soon have to be selling it (or giving it away), as well as all of my other 'things'. Oh the price one has to pay to be a bride of Christ! YEAH! Lillian Marie

Buddhist, RN said...

I immediately thought of Dad when I read this. No, Jesus wasn't speaking metaphorically. However. If you're single, you can do whatever the heck you want, and that's cool. Dad always told me (he's the wisest man I know) that if you have a family, it is your duty to take care of them, and that means a roof, food, and medical care. It *can* mean other things in the form of material possessions that can help the kid grow. For example, books (a kid NEEDS books), an instrument, etc.

Being discontent is something everyone needs to deal with psychologically. It's not sinful, just as I personally don't believe feelings of anger etc. are sinful, it's how we choose to act on them that determines the sin or lack thereof. At least, that is what years of therapy taught me and it has served me well.

As I've said before, simply trusting God without taking any precautions is irresponsible (it's like having sex when you know you shouldn't have kids at that time). God gave us brains and resources and expects us to use them. Ever heard the one about the guy who asked God for help in a flood but denied the helicopter, boat, etc. and then died? Then God asked why he didn't take his help?

I don't believe in waiting around doing nothing while you wait for someone to appear at your door with money to save you from your debt. It could happen, but it's not something to rely on, no? I don't trust that God will provide me with anything material in the least, only that he'll be htere to help me through whatever problems happen. If I want material help, I go to friends, family, and organizations.

Stuff happens. Bad stuff. Clearly God allows people to be poor and starving. I'm not even sure what I think about the whole Elijah story. I read the entire OT with a grain of salt.

Living comfortably isn't a sin. Depends on what you think of yourselves, how well you still contunue to serve God and others whle still having digital cable. It can happen. It may not be unchristian to be in debt but it's still something to worry about and something one should not put themselves in danger of if they have a family to think of.

That's all I have for now. Most of this comes from my dad. He does a great job of having a comfortable life, helping support my brother and me in college, but makes sure we aren't too reliant on materials as a whole and does a good job beimg Christ to us and teaches us to do the same.

uncle jim said...

Lillian Marie,
Did I miss something?
Is there a firm decision on an order and time to enter?
Or is this still in the search for the right place for the 'wedding'?

You are spot on re our attitudes towards and our actions with money and material goods. Your dad is doing good teaching.

Anonymous said...

If the government returns money to me, what will I do with it? Lots of things happening in our family this year that will need extra cash to cover. But if the money comes the first thing we will do is take at least 10% and find a worthwhile organization to give it to. We are trying to seek first the kingdom of God - loving our brothers and sisters - and trust He will love (care) for us.

uncle jim said...

In the area of tithing, I might say two things about your comment.

1 - It is a wonderful thing you're suggesting ... to give 10% to a worthy cause.

2 - That would lead me to believe you do this as a regular pattern of your life with regard to your income. Therefore I would also presume you've given 10% already when you first earned this money that is now being returned to you from the taxes you have already paid.

Noble, indeed. I hope others will do likewise.

Adrienne said...

Well, that's more questions than I can handle all at once so I will just pick one.

Is there anything unchristian about being in debt beyond our ability to repay it?

Depending on the circustances it could show a lack of prudence. Other sins could also be attached to this such as pride (I'm nothing without all the stuff), greed (I need to have all this stuff) and so forth.

Adrienne said...

....and, we will probably bank any our own money the government decides to give back to us.

Our charitable giving is way beyond 10% already but it seems the more we give away the more we seem to get.

If the average retirement expert saw our "porfolio" he would have a stroke. By todays standards we have very, very little but we consider ourselves rich beyond measure.

uncle jim said...

I sure can identify with your portfolio comments. We've had just that happen. Have had a couple of financial advisers look at ours, and almost choke. Once upon a time I had a pension retirement plan through my employer. The company went out of business literally 2 days before my 20th anniversary [when I would have qualified for 3 wks vacation finally]. When the dust had settled, there was no pension plan ... the money had vanished years before. Good old Uncle Sam had insured that portion which I had contributed - not very much ... I was younger and hadn't thought much about saving for retirement way back then. I took that $17,000 and rolled-it-over into an IRA. There it sets these past 16 years. Do the math - there still ain't a whole lot there.
So maybe we'll just have to depend on the Lord a little more, heh? Strange how that works.

Adrienne said...

$17K for 16 years?? Hummm. Think we'll have to come and live with you:)

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