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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Reflections on the economy

What is the most significant issue facing us today? The news polls would indicate that it is the economy.

What is a significant issue facing the church today? Some would say it is the lack of money to do ministry. Many congregations, judicatories and national church offices have needed to cut back on important work due to the lack of funds.

Our culture has much advice to give about money matters:

• We need to cut taxes. We need to raise taxes.

• We need to spend more. We need to spend less.

• We need to again invest in stocks. We need to invest in bonds.

• Things are getting better. Things are getting worse.

Christianity also has much to say about money. Some of the teachings challenge our secular understandings. I share with you five thoughts.

First, money is not just a secular matter. It's also a spiritual matter. In fact, I believe it is first and foremost a spiritual matter. The Bible is full of teachings on the use of money, from the ethical accumulation of possessions to the generous sharing of possessions, to the faithful stewardship of possessions to the potential temptations posed by possessions. It is said that Jesus teaches on the subject of faithful stewardship of money more often than almost any other topic.

Second, a budget is not only a management tool. It's also a theological document and a statement of faith. A budget is an indication of our priorities in life, of what's important and what's not. This applies to churches as well as families. It's no wonder that background checks for important jobs often involve a thorough analysis of spending patterns of individuals as a reflection of their character and life priorities.

Third, God provides abundantly for our needs. This is in direct contradiction to what we are bombarded with every day when we hear that we live in a time and place of great scarcity. While we do definitely have people who are hurting because of our high unemployment rate, compared to most places in the world we are still a very wealthy people. The apostle Paul encourages the Christian to give thanks in all circumstances, especially during challenging times. This practice of giving thanks for what we have rather than pining for what we don't have goes a long way in changing our attitude about how blessed we really are.

Fourth, the culture refers to us as consumers, but the Bible refers to us as stewards. There is a huge difference between the two. The consumer is all about devouring things, using it up. It's like pigs at the trough, pushing and shoving to make sure we get our fill with no regard for anyone else. Whereas the steward knows that God is creator and owner of all, and therefore cares for and preserves the creation so all may be fed.

Finally, it is said by some that greed is a good and even necessary part of a capitalist economy. We recently saw the result of such a philosophy with the near collapse of the world financial system. Christianity teaches that greed is never good because the greedy person can never be satisfied. The more one has the more one desires. Christianity teaches that giving is good. Giving is the mark of the Christian and that which brings joy to both the recipient and the giver, as we read in the prayer of Francis of Assisi: " ... for it is in the giving that we receive." 


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