Monday, June 18, 2018

God and the Lessons of Money

We are at the beginning of the second decade of the new millennium. In the first few years of the new century, we have witnessed some of the greatest accumulations of wealth of all time. The stock market was raging, real estate markets were rising and even after the Internet Stock bubble burst, it seemed that all America continued to sing that old song from the 30's, "We're In The Money".

But as time went on, the real estate market as well as the stock market showed themselves to be the Emperor with no clothes. As companies went from having defined benefit pension plans where retirees would know how much they would get when they retired, to defined contribution plans where the employees took on the market risk, what seemed to be a great idea suddenly has become an albatross, a sign of evil and foreboding of bad times ahead.

No matter what index you look at, the markets have all dropped beyond anyone's worse expectation. But what is worse is the effect that a loss of 28, 35 or 40% means to people who have no other liquid asset base.

The top 1% of the wealthy in America control 33% of all the privately held wealth in the country. The next 19% which consists of professional, managerial and small business owners control 51% of the wealth. That leaves the remaining 80 percent of American workers to share a paltry 16% of the wealth of the nation's economy. That means that salaried and wage employees, while making up the largest portion of the American workforce, have very little control of their own destiny.

This is the reason that I have chosen to use the Book of Ecclesiastes for our text today. The timelessness of the Bible speaks to all generations about the realities of life and what is truly important in the larger scheme of things.

We twenty-first century Americans can learn something from the ancient Israelites. By using the principles of the Bible as a baseline we can understand how the current situation can be overcome on an individual basis. Because just as in Israel, salvation is made of the individual not of the nation. And like Israel we must learn how to live, what things we can control and what things we can't.
In spite of what prosperity preachers teach, the Bible does not say that everyone will be rich. The Smith-Barney brokerage commercials tells the message of what many churchgoers believe about money AND salvation. "We make money the old fashioned way; we EARN it."

God's message is quite different than what is said on Wall Street-He provides to those who don't deserve it, giving to them something they have no capacity to earn and gives it to them without expectation of repayment. He has adopted us into his family as joint heirs with all the privileges of being a natural-born child.

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