Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Advertising here?

So almost every time I log in to this site, blogger (the host) is encouraging me to install some advertisements. I have mixed feelings about this.
On one hand: it feels a little cheesy and commercialized. I guess it technically would be a "commercial." I'm uncomfortable combining advertising with spiritual content, especially when I encourage folks from my church to check out my site. It could make it seem like I'm asking them to go to my site just to boost my readers numbers for the advertisements.
On the other hand: I might be able to limit my advertising to select causes, like world vision, ONE, etc. That might be just a way to help people connect with meaningful organizations. Also, it could potentially be a little free money.
What do you folks out there think about this?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some Unexpected Help

On Saturday, there was a huge KOTESOL (Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference in Seoul. KNU requires us to go to one of these every semester. They're actually pretty fun, and we get some good teaching ideas. For the last few years, Sarah and I have brought Emma along and made a family day of the trip. We take turns watching Emma during lectures.
During one of the lectures, Emma had to go to the bathroom, and I was on duty. Just as we got to the bathrooms, I ran into Aaron Jolley, one of my old soccer buddies. While we were talking, Emma went into the girls bathroom to do her business. After a few minutes, we heard Emma calling out for help, "Daddy, I went poopoo. Come here." The thing is, she can go to the bathroom by herself when she's just going potty, but she hasn't quite mastered the behind the back clean up task yet.
I had just seen another woman walk into the bathroom, so I figured I could just wait until the coast was clear and rush in to help Emma while Aaron stood guard. I called into the bathroom, "Just wait a minute Emma. Don't get up. Daddy will come in when the other ladies leave."
Bad luck for us. Some other women decided that this was their time also. It looked like a long wait was ahead of us.
But suddenly Emma was coming out drying her hands on her shirt and pulling up her suspenders. This was a little disturbing to me. I thought I was going to have a pretty good mess to clean up.
I asked her, "Emma, did you wipe off?"
She answered, "No, a lady did it."
"A woman in the bathroom helped you wipe off?"
"Uh-huh."
So Emma invited some woman whom neither she nor I had ever seen before to enter her stall and wipe her bottom. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I still don't know who that lady is, but I guess I'm grateful for the help.

Coming Soon: Financial Peace 5: The Joy of Giving

This week is the last week in our Financial Peace series, and I have to say that I am relieved. Although I have enjoyed preaching this series, and although I feel it has been extremely necessary and relevant for us, I have rarely felt more stress in the process of preparing sermons. Churches just have such a bad wrap for talking about money too much, and most people don't like to be told what they should or shouldn't do with their money. I have wanted to avoid triteness or just repeating the same old church messages about money, but I have also wanted to offer a real and serious challenge to consumerism, individualism, foolishness, and flat out selfishness - and all of this hopefully without offending anyone too much.
But alas, the final sermon, on giving, is the one for which I have felt the most stress. In a sense, this is where the rubber meets the road. If we don't give, all of the getting out of debt and saving and investing for the future is just developing a better strategy for selfishness. If we don't give, all of the discussion of how God has blessed us to bless others and how our world should be more economically just - all of that is just pious talk, without giving.
If this discussion about finances were an ancient Roman archway. The stones on the left would be right beliefs about money. The stones on the right would be right actions with money. The capstone would be giving. Giving is what holds it all together. Without giving it all falls down into a messy heap of riches and poverty, foolishness, selfishness, enslavement, etc.
I feel a desperate need to challenge our people to give more. I think most Christians have been recklessly and intentionally avoiding the directness of the Biblical calls to tithe, and I feel the need to point out that this is still the Biblical minimum standard for giving (even in the NT).
However, I don't want to shake a finger or a stick at the people. I don't think that will do much good in the long run.
So I have chosen the title and the theme "The Joy of Giving." I hope to address the hard stuff (tithing and more) and the reasons for giving and the incredible joy that results from giving.
Give me your thoughts. How have you engaged this process of giving or thinking about giving? How have you experienced the joy of giving?
When you think of a pastor preaching on giving what is the first thing that comes to mind? What fears do you feel?
What should I say? What should I definitely not say?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Expat Kids in Cheonan

Within the last few weeks, I've received a few emails from 2-3 different ex-pats who are living in or moving to Cheonan with their small children. This can be a pretty scary event if you don't already know people in Cheonan. Both families were pretty nervous about finding childcare and English speaking children for their children to play with.
We didn't have quite as much nervousness because we were coming to KNU, which has a fairly large community of ex-pats and a strong support network. However, lots of these families are coming into isolated situations where they are the only ex-pats at their job site. Many also expect that they are the only ex-pats with kids in Cheonan. Over all the feelings tend to be fear, isolation, and helplessness.
Our friend Elena started a mom's play group, where parents with small children can gather and speak in English and let the children play freely. We have recomended this to the families who have called.
However, I am starting to wonder if we need a more organized network for ex-pat or multi-ethnic families living in Cheonan. Maybe we need some more support networks and opportunities for socialization and discussion of how we do parenting here. Maybe we need some education about how to raise kids in another culture. I don't know what's next, but I'm beginning to think we need something more. Is anyone out there interested in helping with this?
One other interesting point, over the last few week's I've met several ex-pats who are working in Cheonan as engineers. This is a new crop of ex-pats for us. Until now, almost all ex-pats in Cheonan have fit into other categories: spouses of Koreans, English teachers, factory workers, and students. We still don't have the last category: US military.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Financial Peace 4: The Marshmallow Plan for Financial Freedom

KNU International English Church

Matthew 25:14-30; Ecclesiastes 11:1-2;
Proverbs 6:6-11, 21:5, 21:20, 31:10-12, 16-21, 25

Super-Lotto Video: http://media.premierstudios.com/nazarene/media/super_lotto.wmv


If you want to be financially free, you’ve got to have a plan. Super-Lotto and Vegas just aren’t going to cut it.

Today I want to present to you “The Marshmallow Plan for Financial Freedom.” To help you remember this, we’re going to give you all one marshmallow. (Ushers, can you help me out here?)

Now, you may be wondering why marshmallows and money have anything in common. There is a story behind these marshmallows.

In the 1960’s a researcher at Stanford University conducted the marshmallow experiment with a group of 4 year olds (5 Korean age). They gave each kid a marshmallow and said, “I have to go out for a few minutes. If you still have that marshmallow when I come back, I’ll give you another one.” Then, the researcher left the room for 20 minutes, and they watched what happened.

Some of the kids ate the marshmallow right away. Some of the kids waited for the reward.

Here’s the really interesting part. They did a follow-up study 14 years later when these kids were graduating high school. The kids who had waited for the extra marshmallow were “better adjusted and more dependable.” Amazingly, they were also better students. On the SAT (the USA’s college entrance exam) the kids who waited scored on average 210 points higher than the kids who couldn’t wait![1]

Most of us know that we should save money. We know that saving money will help us in the future. We know that saving money will help us in the future. We know this, but most of us don’t save – at least not very much.

I like how Dave Ramsey explains this:

Saving money is not a matter of math. You will not save money when you get that next raise. You will not save money when that car is paid off. You will not save money when the kids are grown. You will only save money when it becomes an emotional priority.

We all know we need to save, but most people don't save like they know they need to save. Why? Because they have competing goals. The goal to save isn't a high enough priority to delay that purchase of the pizza, DVD player, new computer, or china cabinet. So we purchase, buy, consume all our dollars away or, worse yet, go into debt to buy these things. That debt means monthly payments that control our paychecks and make us say things like, "We just don't make enough to save any money!" Wrong, wrong, wrong! We DO make enough to save money; we just aren't willing to quit spoiling ourselves with our little projects or pleasures to have enough left to save. I don't care what you make - you can save money. It just has to become a big enough priority to you.

If a doctor told you that your child was dying and could only be saved with a $15,000 operation that your insurance would not cover and could only be performed 9 months from today, could you save $15,000? Yes! Of course you could! You would sell things, you would stop any spending that wasn't required to survive, and you would take two extra jobs. For that short 9 months, you would become a saving madman (or madwoman). You would give up virtually anything to accomplish that $15,000 goal. SAVING WOULD BECOME A PRIORITY.

[What is] the secret to saving? FOCUSED EMOTION.[2]

How do we get this “focused emotion”? What we are saving for has to feel more important to us that what we are giving up. We need a vision of why we are saving and investing. We need a clear picture in our minds of what is going to happen with this money that we are saving. The idea of just putting money in the bank is not going to stop us from buying that latte or movie or trip to Jeju. Bank – boring! Jeju, latte – fun! We need a clear picture of where that money is going. What do we want that money to do? What do we want our lives to be like in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?

I believe God wants us to save money and to invest it wisely so that we can do three things.

  1. Provide for ourselves and our families during hard times.
  2. Become financially free, so we can serve God without concerns about money.
  3. Help others.

Imagine being free. Imagine what your life would be like if you had zero debt. Imagine what your life would be like if you had enough money saved up so that you could pay your expenses just from the interest. What would you do? Where would you go? If you didn’t have to make money, what kind of work would you do? If you had enough money to pay your own way, where would you go and what would you do?

Imagine being free. Not free to spend all your money on yourself. Not free to play golf all summer and take cruises all winter. Imagine being free to give your life to God, free to give your life to the world. Imagine being free to give all of your time and energy to changing the world, making our world a better place. What would you do?

Take a few minutes to talk about with your neighbors. Get into groups of 2-3 and answer these questions: “If you had enough money saved up to support yourself and your family for the rest of your life, what would you do? How would you try to help the world? How would you serve God if money didn’t matter?”

---

Imagine being free. Imagine if you could do these things. Imagine if we could all do these things. Imagine a whole generation of 40, 50, 60 year olds – experienced leaders, teachers, doctors, managers – who are financially free and ready to change the world! Imagine if we all had enough saved up so that we didn’t have to worry about tomorrow. Imagine what would happen if we were all financially free and ready to work for economic justice, peace, reconciliation, and connection with God and humanity! Imagine what we could do! Imagine how we could change the world!

THAT is why saving money is important! That is why spending less is important. That – changing the world, in radical, new, full, never before, ways – that is why we need to save more and invest it wisely. That is our vision. That is why we should say no to that game of golf, that new shirt, that new computer. We can change the world! You can change the world! You can become financially free and give your life to changing the way our world works. Imagine that!

Before we go on, though, we need to address some popular money myths. So here goes.

Money Myth #1: Money is the root of all evil. Some Christians say that wanting to get rich is bad. Some Christians say that saving money is bad and shows a lack of trust in God. I understand where they are coming from. Money is a dangerous blessing, and it can easily become a curse to us.

But that verse from 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money is amoral, neither good or bad. It’s like a brick. You can throw it through a window, or you can use it to build a hospital. How you use money can be good or bad. Your attitude toward money can be good or bad.[3] If we save money so that we can get rich and have nice things, that’s bad. If we are saving money so that we can become free and participate with God in blessing the world, that’s good.

Money Myth #2: Only rich people need to think about saving and investing. This is not true. If you live like this, you will always live from paycheck to paycheck, or at best from year to year. I love what Dave Ramsey says about this, “Do rich people stuff, and you get rich. Do poor people stuff, and you get poor.”[4] If you want to build wealth, you have to do the actions that build wealth. That means saving and investing in wise ways.

Money Myth #3: You have to have money to make money. This is technically true, but what we usually think when we hear this is, “You have to have A LOT OF MONEY to make money.” We usually think that people who have average incomes are stuck with having low or average wealth. This is simply not true. What you do with your money is far more important than how much money you make.

Let me tell you about Anne Scheiber. She worked her whole career with the US tax office (the IRS), and when she retired in 1943, she was earning only $3,150 a year. When she retired, her total savings were only $5,000. However, she managed to live on her small pension and retirement benefits without using her savings. She spent very carefully, and she invested very wisely.

When she finally died in 1995, at the age of 101, she donated all her money to a Jewish university in New York. How much were her savings worth then? She started out with just $5,000, but 50 years later she had $22 million![5]

Behold – the power of compound interest! Compound interest is what happens to investments or debts over time. They grow and grow and grow and grow! Compound interest can be a Beauty or a Beast. If it’s working for you (like in investments), compound interest is a beautiful, wealth-building thing. But if it’s working against you (like in credit card debt), it is an ugly, beastly, poverty-inducing thing. The higher the interest, the higher the impact.

Consider some of these numbers. (I’m going to use US dollars, because the math is easier than Korean won.):

  • $1,000 invested at 6% interest for 40 years becomes $11,000.
  • $1,000 invested at 12% interest for 40 years becomes $119,000.
  • $1,000 invested at 18% interest for 40 years becomes $1,300,000. That’s a whole lot of marshmallows!

What’s the moral of this story? If you put your money in a good investment for a long time, a little becomes a lot.

Money Myth #4: Expensive vacations, expensive food, and expensive stuff are worth the price. You have to consider the opportunity cost here. Is that vacation really worth a million dollars to you? Would you really trade a few dozen pizzas for half a million dollars when you retire? I’m not saying, “Never go on vacation. Never buy something new.” I am saying do something cheap. Be careful. Spend less, and save more! You’ll be glad you did.

OK, so now that we’ve busted a few myths, let’s get on to the planning. What is The Marshmallow Plan for Financial Freedom? How do we actually make this happen? How can we really become financially free?

It starts taking one little step at a time, baby steps.[6]

Step #1: Save 1 million won ($1,000) as an emergency fund, ASAP (as soon as possible). Put this money aside in a separate account, and save it only for REAL emergencies (not a new pair of shoes or a new TV that is on sale).

Step #2: Pay off all consumer debts. We talked about this last week. Remember that $1,000 invested at 18% interest that grew to $1.3 million. There are some excellent mutual funds that will earn that rate most years. But there is one guaranteed way to get this kind of return for your money. Pay off your credit cards! Credit cards usually charge at least 18% percent interest, and if you are ever late on a payment, some cards jump to 25% or 30% interest! That’s a lot of marshmallows going down the drain.

Step #3: Increase your emergency fund to 3 to 6 months of your expenses. Money Magazine predicts that with in the next 10 years 78% of people will have a major negative financial crisis (5-10 million won problem).[7] Be ready. Those aren’t good odds. Keep your emergency fund in a Money Market Account or, in Korea, a Cash Management Account (CMA). That way it will grow a little, but you can use it any time you need it.

Step #4: Invest for retirement. Most developed nations have some kind of tax-protected retirement savings account. Use it! If you save just $100 a month, every month, and you invest that money at 15%, look at the results.

After 30 years: total contributions = $36,000 à total value = $701,000.

After 40 years: total contributions = $48,000 à total value = $3,140,000.

If you invest wisely, a little bit for a long time makes a lot! Just double those numbers if you save $200 a month. (That’s about what Sarah and I are trying to save.) I highly recommend investing in mutual funds. They diversify your investment so that you have less risk. If you need help investing, get connected with a reliable investment agency and do some homework.

And you need to do this as soon as possible, before you pay off your low interest loans. Saving $100 a month for an extra 10 years makes the total value move from $700,000 to $3.1 million!

Step #5: Pay off low interest loans. Take your extra money (the money you’re saving by spending less), and pay off those school loans and home mortgages. For Sarah and I, our goal is to completely pay off our school loans by the end of 2008. That will mean using 100% of Sarah’s income for our debts.

Step #6: Save for education and big expenses. This week I realized that if we are going to pay for 100% of Emma’s university education, we will need to save about $5,000 if we start saving in 2009.

You can also save for big expenses. If you want to buy something that you can’t pay for right now, don’t go into debt for it. Save up for it. Let compound interest work for you not against you. This way you will also have time to think about whether you REALLY want to buy that expensive thing. There is an old saying in marketing: “a purchase delayed is a purchase not made.”[8] After 6 months or a year, you may decide that you don’t really need that thing you are dying to have now.

Step #7: Keep saving, keep investing, and keep blessing others. As we become financially free, the real danger is to keep the blessing from becoming a curse. Remember that financial blessing is a dangerous blessing. As we save more and more and make more and more, we can easily decide to keep more and more and to spend more and more on ourselves. We can forget that God is blessing us to bless others. Remember why we are saving and investing. It’s not just so we can have more and see more and eat more. We are saving so that we can be free to join God’s mission of blessing the whole world.

Look at those marshmallows. This marshmallow represents all of those things you want to buy now but don’t really need. Look at it. Are you thinking of that stuff? I’m thinking of a new pair of pants, a coffee grinder, a new laptop, a blooming onion at Outback. What do you see? All of that stuff is in this marshmallow.

Now think about our reward. If we don’t eat this marshmallow, we can pay off our debts. We can save for the future. We can become financially free, totally free to follow God without concerns about money. Imagine what you could do if you were financially free. Imagine what we could all do together if we were financially free. Imagine what would happen if we could all join God’s mission of blessing the whole world without any concern about money. That’s a whole lot of marshmallows!

Don’t eat your marshmallows. Wait for the reward.



[1] “Deferred Gratification,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impulse_control, downloaded 10.25.07.

[2] Dave Ramsey, “The Secret to Saving Money,” http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/cms/the_secret_to_saving_money_4996.htmlc, downloaded 10.25.07.

[3] Dave Ramsey, “Super Savers,” Financial Peace video series.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 21-22.

[6] This is a modified version of Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” in “Investment Philosophy,” http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/cms/index.cfm?intContentID=4635#babySteps, downloaded on 10.25.07.

[7] Quoted in Dave Ramsey, “Super Savers.”

[8] Morgan James, “Delayed Gratification and Money (or, Marshmallows and Your Financial Health),” http://ezinearticles.com/?Delayed-Gratification-and-Money-(or,-Marshmallows-and-Your-Financial-Health)&id=237818, downloaded 10.24.07.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Money Myth #2: America Can't Feed the Whole World

So I had a conversation with a family member last week, and she is concerned about my newish plan to vote Democrat instead of Republican in the US elections. I told her that my primary motivation for this was that the Democratic party is more likely to help the poor in the USA and around the world. One of her responses is characteristic of the response of many Americans and rich Christians. She said, "But Josh, America can't feed the whole world you know."

This is a myth. If America, or any of dozens of other rich countries, wanted to, we could easily feed the entire world (10 billion dollars) and give everyone in the world clean drinking water (18 billion dollars). Billions of dollars might seem like a lot, but it's just small change in terms of the budgets of most large governments. The USA's total budget for 2007 was estimated at 2.4 trillion dollars. For a mere 1.2% of our federal budget, we could feed the entire world and give clean water to the entire world.

25,000 people die every day because of hunger related causes. 6,000 people die every day because of lack of clean water or lack of efficient sanitation. That's 31,000 a day, and 11,315,000 people a year. 11 million people are dying every year because they lack food and water. We CAN stop this injustice.

What is more, we could do it next year. We have the resources. We have the technology. We have the political means. We simply don't have the desire. We would rather buy junk and build our military strength and build more buildings and institutions for ourselves. America, and most developed countries, could feed the world and save millions at any given time with a simple bill through their parliamentary offices. We just don't want to. That's the simple, ugly truth.

It is time for us to stand together and say, "No one in our world will die of hunger. No one in our world will die because they don't have clean water. Our basic humanity prevents us from allowing this to continue."

Watch this video:
http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00260

Monday, October 22, 2007

Coming Soon: Finance 4 - Planning for the Future

So this week's sermon is about planning for the future, specifically saving and investing. Here's a rough sketch of what I'm thinking of so far.
There are three basic kinds of savings: emergency fund (for genuine emergencies like losing a job), purchase funds (like saving up for a car or an appliance), and long term savings (like retirement or college funds).
We need emergency funds to stay out of debt when crises come. Crises will come. The only question is - "Will we be ready?"
We need to utilize purchase funds as a better option than debt. If we will just wait until we can pay cash, we'll save a lot of money and heart-ache.
We need to save for the future, and capitalize on the benefits of compound interest. This is the old graph of how saving a thousand dollars a year will make us millionaires by the time we retire. It's a little trite, but it's true. Here's where the rubber meets the road though: when we consider current value verses opportunity lost. Young people especially often feel like they don't have the money to save for retirement, but we do have the money to spend on other things. Was that $1000 computer or vacation really worth the $750,000 we could have earned with it by putting it into a good mutual fund in a retirement account?

How do I keep this from being trite?
How do I keep this from focusing on building wealth, and more of the me-me-me culture, with simply a longer-term more prudent perspective (Save a little now, and you can be as selfish as you want when you retire.)?
What is the balance or difference between saving and hording?
How much should I talk about my personal finances?

Money Myth #1 - All Debt Is Bad

So my friend Matt is pretty upset that I said we should "loan poor people money." From his perspective (and the perspective of some big-name Christian financial advisers, like Dave Ramsey) all debt is bad. The main verse cited for this argument is Proverbs 22:7 "Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender." So Matt says, "Wouldn't it be better to just give to poor people rather than make them slaves?" The idea here is that any kind of debt makes the borrower a slave to the lender. Ramsey and others suggest that this is the "biblical" perspective.

I want to challenge this perspective on several points.
1. You cannot simply quote a verse from Proverbs and say, "This is what the Bible says about that." Proverbs are collected saying of the wise. However, they must be applied in the appropriate context, and they are sometimes contradictory. There is no claim that every proverb is true 100% of the time in every circumstance. Consider for example Proverbs 22:4-5: "
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Huh? How can they both be true? Well, the wisdom here is not in quoting the proverb. The wisdom is knowing when to apply verse 4 and when to apply verse 5. Sometimes verse 4 is appropriate, and sometimes verse 5 is best.
Proverbs cannot simply be quoted as the perspective of God. They are collected bits of wisdom which also require wisdom in appropriate application.

2. When we look at the Bible as a whole, we get a broader more flexible view of debt than simply, "Debt is dumb, stupid, and wrong" (Dave Ramsey). The Old Testament encourages us to lend freely to the poor on several occasions (e.g. Deuteronomy 15). Jesus himself recommends lending to the poor, even to those who cannot repay (Luke 6:34-35). Within this context, the warnings against debt in Proverbs 22 and other places, are warnings against the dangers of debt and especially the dangers of foolish debt.

3. From a Biblical perspective, especially the OT, charity is given to the poor to help them meet their immediate needs. However, we give loans to the poor to help them gain the means to provide for themselves. This is like a small business loan for a family who has a specific plan to better their lives. In this case giving a (low or no interest) loan and not a gift helps them to maintain their dignity. As their business succeeds, they will be able to pay off their loans. The loan is simply giving them the capital (money and maybe knowledge) to get started. This kind of loan actually frees someone from slavery rather than putting them into slavery.
Microfinancing and college loans are perfect examples of this kind of freedom-giving loans. In my home country, the USA, probably more than half of the university students would have to drop out of school if college loans were eliminated. Then only the rich kids would be able to get an education. That would further the gap between the rich and the poor. It would also decrease the quality of free education because huge portions of students would know that they had little hope of going on to university.

Yes, absolutely, some debt is enslaving (like "Pay Day Loans" or high interest loans to plant seeds). Yes, debt can be a dangerous trap. We can become so overwhelmed in our debts that we become slaves to our lenders and to our employers. I am definitely not saying we should just walk out into poor neighborhoods and say, "Hey, who wants to borrow some money?"
But some careful, prudent loaning can actually give freedom rather than take it away.

Thanks Matt for your comments. Because of your questions, when I actually preached the sermon, I made a point to clarify what I was trying to say.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Video of The Amazing Emma

Here is a short movie I (Sarah) made with Emma taking the starring (and only) role. The movie teaches verb phrases for my middle school classes.
video

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Financial Peace 3: Dumping Debt

“Consuming Culture” – Rene Padilla video (Watch the video by clicking this link, or read the italics text below.)

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00314

We are captivated by the idea of having things and giving more value to things than to people. And I think that is dangerous – very, very dangerous.

What is the place of things in your life? Do you live in order to possess, or do you possess because you need to live? People buy because – you know – they feel good about buying, whether they need the things they buy or not. And, of course, a lot of people get into big debts because of this, and they become enslaved to work because of a consumer society that forces them to buy.

And that is for this country – consumption is a sort of ideology. In fact, there is a sociologist, Les Disclaire, who talks about globalization, and he says the ideology of globalization is the culture of consumerism, the cultural ideology of consumerism. People seem to be very much captive to this kind of ideology, often times without realizing it. They are responding to the way in which society conditions them to consume.

Also, very closely related to that is individualism. People isolate themselves, and they protect their privacy. And they fail to realize that you can never be a fulfilled human being without social relations. Social relations are so much more important than things and so much more important than having a lot of money. But if you are an individualist, you protect your privacy and also your freedom. But what kind of freedom? Freedom to do whatever you please – you know – “No one should get into my privacy. I mean, no one should prevent me from doing what I think I should be doing. I am free. I am free.”

Well, I say the response, the answer, to consumerism is the recognition that we are created in the image of God, and the value of life has to do with that kind of design that God has made for us to live a life that is very much in relation to God, to God’s creation, and to other people.

We live in a culture of consumerism. Our culture tells us to buy, buy, buy. We are constantly bombarded with encouragement to spend. Advertisements are at the bus stop, on taxis, on buses, in elevators, on TV, on the internet, on the radio, in magazines. Everywhere we look someone wants to sell us something.

The basic message from our societies and even from our governments is that buying more will improve our lives, help our families, and even help our nations. Our global culture has become captive to the ideology of consumerism. Our entire culture – including the church, including you, and including me – we have bought into this philosophy of consumerism. We always feel like we need more, more, more.

This is a big problem in my home country. The American dream is financed by the American nightmare.

  • About 43% of American families spend more than they earn each year. On average, Americans spend $1.22 for every dollar they earn.
  • Average American households carry $8,000 in credit card debt.
  • Personal bankruptcies in America have doubled in the past decade.[1]

Unfortunately, this is not just an American problem. Citizens around the globe are spending more and more and borrowing more and more.

  • New Zealanders are now spending 143% of their disposable income.[2]
  • The people of the UK owe more money than the entire nation makes in one year.[3]
  • Here in South Korea, the average debt for each household has tripled in just 10 years.[4]
  • And with all of this debt, more and more people around the world are going bankrupt.[5]

We are living in a culture of consumerism. It is driving us to spend too much and to borrow too much. And we are following the crowd of consumers around the world into hard times.

But God gives us a different challenge:

Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world.” Don’t let the world drag you down to its level of immaturity. You might say, “But everybody’s doing it.” Remember what your mom used to say, “If everybody was going and jumping off a cliff, would you do it, too?” God is calling us to be counter-cultural – to go against our cultures – in many ways, but especially in this philosophy of spending and consumerism.

If God is calling us to do something different, to live in a different way, then we need to ask some basic questions. What does the Bible say about debt and spending? How does God want us to deal with debt or to use our money?

Dave Ramsey, a popular Christian financial advisor who has a lot of good stuff to say, claims that “debt is dump, stupid, and wrong.”[6] He argues that the biblical plan is no debt ever, for any reason – no loaning, no borrowing, no cosigning loans for other people – no debt at all. This is very clean and simple and easy to understand, but on this point Ramsey is wrong.

We read last week that debt is sometimes a good thing:

The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you. But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. (Deuteronomy 15:6-8)

This passage tells us a few things about debt. First, God’s desire is that we will have an abundance so that we will not need to borrow. God’s basic desire for us is that we will not have debt.

Second, God wants the economic systems of loaning and borrowing to bless us not to hurt us. He wants us to be lenders, not borrowers. We’ll talk more about this next week when we discuss saving and investing.

Third, God wants us to help poor people meet their needs through meaningful loans. In today’s world, there are two great examples of helpful, biblical-style debt: micro-financing and college loans. Micro-financing is loaning a very small amount of money to a poor person so they can start or improve a business to care for their families. College loans help many low-income students gain an education and the tools for success.

OK, so debt can be good, sometimes. However, God’s basic desire is that we will not have debt. Why? What’s the big deal with debt? Why is spending too much so bad?

We can get a picture of dangers of spending too much from something Jesus said: You can only enter God’s Kingdom through the narrow gate. The road that leads to destruction is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow, and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

When Jesus said this, he was talking about all of life. Going with the flow of our culture is always easier, but that path leads to destruction. Going against the flow of our culture and living God’s ways is usually pretty difficult, but it is the pathway to real life.

When we think about this especially in terms of finances it makes perfect sense. Foolish spending and taking on debt is easy at first, and the gate is wide. Lots of people are doing it. “Hey, just go with the flow.”

After a while though, this path gets harder. All of that spending starts to catch up with us. The bills start coming in the mail. We start to worry about our finances. Will we have enough money this month? What about our future? Do I have enough money in the bank for this? Pay day becomes more and more important in our lives, and we begin to live from paycheck to paycheck. “This path often leads to strained relationships, headaches, stress, and discontentment.”[7] In fact, financial problems are the number 1 cause of divorce in my home country.[8] That wide, easy path is starting to get confining and difficult.

If we don’t get out of this foolish spending and debt cycle here, we will find ourselves trapped. Listen to what Proverbs 22 says about this:

3 A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. …

5 Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road;
whoever values life will avoid it.

7 Just as the rich rule the poor,
so the borrower is servant to the lender.

Foolish spending and collecting debt is like a traditional bamboo fish trap. It’s nice and easy at the beginning, but if we keep going in, we get stuck. A wise person will see the danger and get out, but if we keep going, we’ll end up stuck like slaves. If we let debt overtake us, we start to run out of choices. We can’t save. We can’t give. We can’t help others. We can’t do what we want to do. We could even face bankruptcy, losing our homes, and losing our reputation.

This is really easy to do. Debt is like a chain. We usually start out small, maybe with some school loans. (I know, some of you are thinking, “My school loans weren’t small.” But they’re manageable.) Then, maybe we buy a house or an apartment that’s bigger than we need, just because everyone else is. (It may be low interest, but it’s still a burden of debt.) Along the way, we had some emergencies – like a new pair of shoes or a night at the movies. Maybe we buy a computer or some furniture that is “90 days - same as cash” – yeah right. We’ve got to get to work, so we buy a car … or two. Then, there’s that vacation that we just had to have because we were so stressed out about all our debts. Before you know it, we’re all chained up in debt, enslaved to the consequences of our foolish spending. Then, we say, “OK, God, here I am. I want to serve you. Use me please. Uh, what’s that? You want me to help someone? You want me to give to the poor? You want me to help the church? OK, um, ughh! I’ll try.”

God wants to use us to change the world, but we keep getting trapped in debt and foolish spending. We are chaining ourselves up and wasting away our opportunities. God has a plan for our lives. God has marked out a race for us to run. For us to run this race to the fullest, freest extent, we have to get rid of the chains of debt and foolish spending. Like it says in Hebrews:

Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily entangles [or wraps around us]. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Remember what Jesus said about that wide, easy path that leads to destruction. Well, that’s not the only option. There’s another path:

But the gateway to life is very narrow, and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:14)

This path starts out hard. It will probably feel constrictive or uncomfortable at first. New things always feel difficult or awkward at first. Also, living God’s way will mean saying “No!” or “Wait” to some of your desires. That never feels good. Most of all, though, this path feels narrow because it is counter-cultural. Lots of people around us will always be spending freely and stacking up debts. It will feel hard at first to be different.

The good news is that it gets easier. Just like we developed bad habits that became natural and easy, we will also develop good habits that will also become natural and easy.

When the good habits of wise spending and careful saving become a regular part of our lives, we will become financially free. We won’t have the stresses of financial problems. We won’t have to worry if there’s money in the bank. There’s always money in the bank. We won’t have to stress out when the pastor starts talking about giving. We have room to spare. We aren’t chained to the same old job just to pay the bills. We have freedom. We have peace. We can follow God without worry. Working toward this kind of financial freedom really is part of a faithful spiritual life.

So how do we do it? How do we get out of debt? How do we break free from foolish spending? Let me suggest 5 simple steps to living a debt-free, financially wise life.

1. Get closer to God. I know, I know, I sound like the TV preachers: “All you need to do is pray more. God is the answer to every problem. Jesus is the answer to every question. Are your bills late? Get down on your knees! Is your kid sick? Talk to the Father! Bring it all to Jeeeeeezuuuussss!”

But hear me out. Think about the reasons why we spend too much money and get into debt: envy (“I want what she’s got.”), impatience (“I want it now!”), lack of contentment (“This will make me happy.”), selfish ambition (“I want to look important.”), and lack of self-control (“Before I know it, my money is gone.”). I think we can all agree here. These are the basic reasons why we spend too much.

Well, listen to what Paul says in Galatians 5:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. … 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

It’s amazing! When we “let the Holy Spirit guide our lives” he makes us the kind of people we’ve always wanted to be: loving, joyful, full of internal peace, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. This will naturally decrease our desires to spend money foolishly on junk, and increase our ability to use our money wisely. Getting close to God has a side effect that we begin to use money more wisely.

2. Stop! Stop borrowing money. This is common sense. If you want to get out of debt, don’t take on more debt. If you can’t pay off your credit cards, don’t buy another thing on credit until you’ve paid everything off. If you are struggling with debt, STOP! Stop using debt.

3. Spend less! Last week when we talked about biblical economics, I told you to spend less. This week, when we’re talking about debt, I’m telling you to spend less. Next week, when we’ll talk about saving, I’ll tell you to spend less. Do you see a trend here? The single most important thing all of us can do to be more financially faithful and free is to spend less money. Get a smaller apartment. Buy a cheaper car. Take a cheaper vacation. Eat at cheaper restaurants. Proverbs 22:20 says, “The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get. Don’t be a fool. Spend less.

4. Make a budget! Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” John Maxwell, a leadership wise-guy, says, “Budgeting is simply telling your money where to go instead of asking where it went.”[9] Make a plan for how you will spend your money. Be sure to include one time expenses, like dentist visits and vacations. Also make sure to plan some spending money. You’re going to spend some money on junk, so go ahead and plan for it and set a limit on how much. If you need help making a budget, go to www.daveramsey.com and search for the “Quickie Budget.”

5. Create a “Debt Snowball”! This is another Dave Ramsey idea. Make a list of all your debts, everything you owe to anyone. Put them in order from the smallest to the largest. Then, pay the minimum payment on everything else, and devote all your extra money to paying off the smallest debt. When you pay off that first debt, throw a little party, and devote all your spare money to the next debt. When you pay of that debt, you throw another party, and move on to the next one. You keep this up, getting little wins first, and celebrating along the way, and you build some emotional momentum. This helps you when you are at the beginning of the “narrow” path.

Here’s the irony, the paradox, the mystery.

If we follow our culture on the wide and easy path… if we spend freely and without a care now … if we keep going with those credit cards and bigger apartments and nicer cars … we will end up stressed out, worried about money, and trapped in our debts.

On the other hand, if we live God’s way… if we slow down and wise up … if we stop spending so much… if we make a plan and stick with it … this new way of life will be hard at first, but it will lead us to stronger character and real freedom, including financial freedom.

If we spend freely, we lose our freedom. If we spend carefully, we become financially free. Live the mystery, and be free!



[1] Kim Kahn, “How Does Your Debt Compare?” downloaded Oct. 18, 2007.

http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/SavingandDebt/P70581.asp.

[2] Mike Tait, “Working Harder for Less,” http://www.iso.org.nz/section.php?Section=SR&id=194,

downloaded Oct. 18, 2007.

[3] Rob Mackrill, “UK Consumer Debt More than GDP,” The Daily Reckoning, UK Edition, Aug. 23, 2007,

http://www.dailyreckoning.co.uk/article/ukconsumerdebtmorethangdp0438.html, downloaded Oct.

18, 2007.

[4] National Australia Bank, “South Korea: Housing Boom Fuels Debt Growth,” December 2006,

http://www.nab.com.au/vgnmedia/downld/SouthKoreaDec06.pdf, downloaded Oct. 18, 2007.

[5] Johanna Niemi-Kiesilainen, et al (ed.) Consumer Bankruptcy in Global Perspective, (Hart, 2003), 1-2.

[6] Dave Ramsey, “Dumping Debt,” Financial Peace University video series.

[7] This quote and this entire section are from Victorious Christian Living International, My Money, Seven Areas of Life Training series, (Phoenix, 2006), 26-34.

[8] “Why Money Is the Leading Cause of Divorce,” Jet, Nov. 18, 1996, downloaded Oct. 18, 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n1_v91/ai_18930297/pg_1.

[9] Dave Ramsey, “Cash Flow Planning,” Financial Peace University video series.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Free Rice through a Free Game

My friend Joe just sent me this link: www.freerice.com. There is a fun little vocabulary game, and every time you get a right answer, they donate 10 grains of free rice to hungry people somewhere in the world.
I played today. If you get 3 right answers, you advance to the next level. One wrong answer sends you down a level. It's pretty fun. There are 50 levels, and I made it to level 34 in about 5 minutes or so. In that time I donated some 600 grains of rice to charity. That's not all that much - maybe half a cup, but like Joe said - it's better than minesweeper or hearts. During that down time between projects, we can actually do something good for the world.
Check it out.

3 New Buildings

So today I was invited at the last minute, in perfect Korean style, to attend the ground breaking ceremony for two new buildings: a dormitory for international students and a building for our Childhood Education department. There were a few songs that I recognized ("Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was one.), but mostly I just sat there politely and listened to several speeches in Korean. I could pick out about 5-10% of the words, which I guess is an improvement of the 1-2% of a few years ago, but I still didn't get much of the meaning. Once I think I understood a whole sentence. That's quite an accomplishment for me.
It was quite a ceremony, with several dignitaries and university leaders joining in on the ribbon cutting and ground breaking (with a dozen goldish shovels!). After the ceremony, one of the KNU leaders tried to pull me up front to join the picture - I think kind of as the token whitey. Luckily he quickly moved on to others, so I had the opportunity to opt out of that. Instead, I had a very interesting conversation with President Im's wife SeJun Oh. As we talked about her kids and her part-time job as a counselor at a Junior High school, a light went on in my head. We are always having people who need counseling of one sort or another, so I asked her for some advice about who might be able to help. She referred me to the counseling prof at KNU, who apparently speaks better English, but said she would be available for any Korean speakers. Just one of those little victories for a pastor without a lot of community resources.

And the 3rd building, I haven't mentioned yet. This one is apparently going to be a mammoth Rehabilitation Center. I think the ground breaking will be in 2009. If you don't know, rehabilitation is KNU's premier major and claim to fame in Korea.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Debt Week - Focus on Virtues?

So this week is week 3 in the Financial Peace series, and the topic is "Dumping Debt." Here's what I'm thinking so far.
1. Talk about the culture of consumerism.
2. A short take on the Bible's perspective on debt. (It doesn't actually say all that much, so we have read between the lines for debt issues in our 21st century economy.)
3. Problems with debt can be symptoms of our lack of virtue: patience, self-control, faithfulness, contentment, peace, (not to mention wisdom, which may or may not be a virtue). Interestingly, most of these virtues are listed as "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5. My hope here is to strike at the root rather than simply attacking the symptoms. We can work all our lives to get out of debt, and we might actually be able to do that, but still never deal with the internal issues which lead to high debt loads. (Granted: this whole sermon is pointed toward people in high income countries who accrue high interest debt or expensive mortgages simply as a personal choice. This is not to degrade those in poor countries who are forced into high interest loans each year to purchase seed for their farms.)
4. Basic strategies for getting out of debt.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

sickness, quizzes, and friends staying over

So on Wednesday, Emma played hard with her friends in the afternoon. Sarah thought she looked a little sick, so she put her down for a nap about 5pm. Emma slept straight through until 8am, for a full 15 hours of sleep! The next evening she still seemed a little sick. On Friday, we could definitely tell she was getting sick, but we gave her some medicine and sent her on to school. By Friday night, she sounded like a 55 year old smoker. It's a pretty odd thing to hear a 4 year old speak in a deep husky voice. Saturday we took her to the doctor - nothing serious, just a cold/cough. She stayed home on Sunday and again today.
But that means that either Sarah or I will have to stay home from work today. I'm giving quizzes today, so I called Adam, another prof at KNU, and asked him to administer my first quiz. Sarah will be home by the time my second class starts.
Other news, our friend KyungRan and her daughter SuHyun (also 4) spent the night at our house. Their new apartment is ready, but their furniture won't be moved in until noon today. It's been nice having them here. We wish YongGi could have come, but he has to work today in another city.
Also, yesterday, we had our last Advisory Council meeting for this church year. We had a lot of decisions to make, but the discussion flowed freely, and the mood was very positive throughout the meeting. We really are learning how to do this. That feels good.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

basketball, tooth-pulling, running, ballet, and soccer

Well, here's a short update on what's been happening here.
1. This week was "Student Festival" at KNU. Every semester the universities in Korea cancel classes for a few days to let the students party and play sports (forming teams from each major). It's really a great idea. Everyone has lots of fun, and the students develop a lot of camaraderie with the other students in their major. This is my 7th semester, and so far the foreign profs have been quietly on the sidelines during this time, or more likely, at home enjoying the day off. However, this year, with an abundance of young adult profs, we decided to challenge the winning student basketball team to an exhibition match. We probably would have lost this in a fairly competitive game, but somehow, the plans were changed, and we played the KNU Basketball Club team - basically the KNU all-stars, who practice together twice a week. Oops, not so good for a bunch of 30 something, moderately in shape whities who have never played together before, and many of whom aren't so great at basketball anyway. They destroyed us in the first half, but in the second half they went way easy on us, so the final score was a seemingly respectable 38-34. Anyway, we had a good time and got to do something "unprofessional" with the students.

2. A few weeks ago, Sarah went to the dentist. He told her she needed to have 9 small cavities drilled and two wisdom teeth pulled, for a total price of $1,000. We decided to opt for a second opinion. The husband of SunMi in our small group is a dentist, so Sarah visited him on Friday. He said the cavities don't need to be filled now (don't really understand that, but OK), but he did pull a wisdom tooth. And we got quite the discount - It was free! We just need to do something nice for his wife. Sometimes there are bonuses for being foreigners here.

3. So today was the 5th annual Cheonan Marathon and the "1th" annual KNU Hope Marathon - no kidding, two names and that spelling. Here they call any major race a marathon. There were three distances: 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon. Sarah and I were both signed up for the 5K. Sarah was a little worried about running, since her tooth is still bleeding, but she has been training for it for months. She decided to go ahead and run. Emma has a little cough, so I stayed home with her. Sarah had a good time running with our friends Julene and Kim.

4. Immediately after the race, we went over to Emma's preschool for her first ever Ballet recital. It was really more like a public practice session, with the walls of the little room lined with parents aiming countless cameras. Emma looks so cute and grown up in her little ballet costume. Hopefully pictures and/or videos will be forthcoming soon. She seemed to have a hard time understanding the instructions at times, but over all she did well and had a good time. Near the end, she started to lose her focus and started talking to us or to the other kids. I was immediately reminded of my C's and D's in conduct when I was in elementary school. Uh oh. We took her out to McDonalds to celebrate (her choice) and to the doctor afterward for some medicine.

5. Tomorrow night, I'm planning to play soccer with a bunch of foreigners at a nice turf practice field near the Cheonan Stadium. I played last week and had a great time. Hopefully, we'll have enough people turn out this time to make our own team. Last time we filled in our gaps with groups of middle school kids who seemed to be more interested in chatting than playing. Despite our scolding, broken Korean, and gestures, we always had 3 right defenders (instead of the usual 1) who moved in a flock and swarmed anyone who came on that side of the field while leaving players on the other side of the field in lots of green open shoot like crazy space. Alas! Still lots of fun though.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What's Your Expense Ratio?

I invest money in mutual funds. In fact, I invest all of our savings in mutual funds. I don't feel lucky or gutsy enough to play the stock market straight out. I don't have time for real estate. I just invest in mutual funds and let the professionals choose the stocks or real estate for me.
But professionals have to eat. They have families, and they make very good salaries. In fact, they are paid with my money - mine and the other investors. Most mutual funds have an expense ratio of 1-2%. Out of any $1,000 invested with them, they'll spend $10-20 taking care of themselves and trying to figure out how to invest the rest of the money.
I don't mind giving them this money. They are good investors, and they are helping the rest of my money grow and a very nice rate so that the little bit they get is fully offset and then some.

What is your expense ratio? God has invested money and talents and education in you. How much of it do you keep for yourself? How much of it do you spend on yourself? How much of it do you invest in Kingdom causes that produce good returns? I don't think God minds us having expenses. We have to eat and have to live. Some entertainment is good for us. On going education will hopefully improver our ability to serve God. But I think God expects us to keep our expenses at a minimum and our investments in his causes at a maximum.

I remember talking to a Wal-Mart clerk from Africa. Somehow right there in the checkout lane we had an in depth conversation about his living situation. (I know, I know, I'll ask people just about anything.) This man worked 2 jobs, for a total of 80 hours a week. He was making money to send home to his struggling family in Africa. By living cheaply and sharing a home with 10 other people, he was able to send home 90% of his earnings to his family. His expense ratio was only 10%.

Most of us struggle to have an expense ration of less than 100% percent (to stay out of consumer debt). Even a 90% expense ratio, giving 10% of our income as a tithe is a real challenge for most of us. Yet this man from Africa, who was working low paying jobs, was able to give away 90% of what he earned and live on just 10% of the money that came in his paychecks. Why is there such a great difference between us and him? I expect there are two main differences. 1) Our expectations for our standard of living are very different. 2) He felt like poverty was a very personal issue, in his family even. We, however, feel like poverty is very far away and feel no deep desire to help those in poverty.

How can we become more like him?

Finacial Peace 2: Biblical Economics

Prayer for Understanding: (Based on a Traditional Franciscan Blessing)

May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships
so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

McClaren Video – “Domesticated Jesus”

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00335

Marx is right – at least partly right. “Religion is the opium of the people.” Religion can be something that puts us to sleep, something that calms our pain without healing our disease. Religion – even Christianity – has often functioned simply as a tool of unjust systems. Religion has often helped the rich people feel better about being rich and the poor people feel better about being poor without ever challenging the systems and choices which make some people rich or poor.

Religion really is like opium. We do our religious duties, sing our religious songs, and give to our religious charities, but we don’t really expect to change the world in a meaningful way. This is one of the great failures of Christianity. In fact, this is possibly the number one reason why nonChristians reject Christianity. We have become more concerned about our religion than we are concerned about justice.

So what happened? How did we domesticate Jesus and the Bible? How did religion become our social opium? What are we missing here? We are missing three basic things: truth, hope, and obedience.

Let’s start with the truth of the Bible. What does the Bible say about economic justice? When we look at the Bible, what kind of vision do we see for a just and fair society? The basic picture of Biblical justice is that we will be a whole community in which we live together faithfully and responsibly.[1]

1. Communities of justice recognize the dignity and value of all people. Listen to how Genesis explains the creation of human beings:
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God's nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
(Genesis 1:27-28).

God has created us to be like him. Every human being is representative of God in the world. We share his likeness. We are participants with God in the ongoing creation and management of our world. God has given us the power to create steel and computers and airplanes. God has given us the power to develop farms, fisheries, and libraries. Every human being has dignity and meaning in God’s plan for the world. A community of justice gives every person the real opportunity to live out her God-given destiny.

2. Communities of justice meet basic needs. Listen to how Deuteronomy describes justice:

For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

The minimum standard of economic justice is that everyone has the basics: food, shelter, and clothing. We can’t have a whole and healthy community while people among us are starving or freezing or homeless. Some people – like widows and orphans – simply can’t care for themselves. A healthy community cares for the helpless.

3. Communities of justice give people the opportunity for meaningful work.

We are designed to work. We are participants with God in the creation and management of the world. After God made Adam, “he placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). Even when the prophets talk of the ideal kingdom when God restores everything, the people still have work to do. Listen to Isaiah’s picture of the restored community:

21 In those days people will live in the houses they build
and eat the fruit of their own vineyards.
22 Unlike the past, invaders will not take their houses
and confiscate their vineyards.
For my people will live as long as trees,
and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains.
23 They will not work in vain,
and their children will not be doomed to misfortune.
For they are people blessed by the Lord,
and their children, too, will be blessed.
(Isaiah 65:21-23)

In a community of Justice, everyone will have the opportunity to work, to provide for their families, and to make a meaningful contribution to the community.

4. Communities of justice give everyone access to capital. Capital is whatever we use to make money. Today capital is usually money and knowledge. In ancient Israel, where farming was the main business, capital was land. To keep things fair, God assigned an equal amount of land to each family. Listen to what the Leviticus 25 says about how a healthy community manages land as capital:

8 “In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. 9 Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. 10 Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan.

14 “When you make an agreement with your neighbor to buy or sell property, you must not take advantage of each other. 15 When you buy land from your neighbor, the price you pay must be based on the number of years since the last jubilee. The seller must set the price by taking into account the number of years remaining until the next Year of Jubilee. 16 The more years until the next jubilee, the higher the price; the fewer years, the lower the price. After all, the person selling the land is actually selling you a certain number of harvests. 17 Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God. …

23 “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me. …

26 In this way the original owner can then return to the land.

28 In the jubilee year, the land must be returned to the original owners so they can return to their family land. (Leviticus 25:8-28)

Due to bad choices or bad luck a family might have to sell their land. This would mean they would have to become hired workers, slightly better than slaves, for their neighbors. However, this unfortunate situation should not go on forever. The children should not be punished for the parents’ mistakes or problems. Every 50 years, the capital was redistributed, given back to each family group. Every 50 years, every family got the basic capital to make a decent living again.

In a community of justice, the whole community shares capital (land, money, knowledge) with every family so that every family has a fair opportunity to make a good living in the world. In a community of justice, children are not permanently held back by their parents bad luck or bad mistakes.

5. Communities of justice help people get out of debt and start again. Listen to how God asked his people to deal with debt in Deuteronomy 15:

1 At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. 2 This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived. 3 This release from debt, however, applies only to your fellow Israelites—not to the foreigners living among you.

4 There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.

7 But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. 9 Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. (Deuteronomy 15:1-10)

God asked his people to forgive all debts every 7 years! I’m not sure exactly how we’re supposed to live this out. Our economic systems today are very different and more complex, but I think the basic principle is this: Don’t let debt become a burden that crushes the poor.

6. In communities of justice, the government works to protect the poor. The Bible consistently charges governments with the responsibility to do good for all their people, especially the poor. Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king of Israel. Listen to how it begins:

1 Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
and righteousness to the king’s son.
2 Help him judge your people in the right way;
let the poor always be treated fairly.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
and may the hills be fruitful.
4 Help him to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy,
and to crush their oppressors.

A good government will share the wealth of the nation with everyone by caring for the poor and needy.

OK, so let’s review this biblical picture of a community of justice. The foundation is respect for every individual as one made in the image of God. From that foundation, we make sure that everyone’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are met. Beyond those basics, we adopt three basic strategies to help the poor: 1) helping them get good jobs, 2) helping them get the money or knowledge they need to be successful, and 3) helping them get out of debt. Finally, we develop a government which actively supports and protects the poor.

If we live as a community of justice like this, God promises to bless us. If we don’t live like this, we are working against God, and God has no choice but to work against us. If we oppress the poor, or if we simply keep our blessings and don’t share generously with the poor, we will find ourselves in trouble with God.

Now let’s take an honest look at our world. To do this, we’re going to need help from all of you. Our world has 6.7 billion people, but that’s a hard number to work with. For the next 5 minutes, let’s just say there are 6 billion people in the world. Let’s divide this room in to 6 groups representing the 6 billion people in our world.[2]

Now, over here, on the left, are the people from high income countries(like Korea, Japan, the USA, New Zealand, or Canada). An average person from an average high income country spends about 80,000 won[3] a day on things like food, housing, transportation, and entertainment. About 1 billion people live like this.

The next two groups are the middle class. About 2 billion people are in the middle class, and they make on average less than 10,000 won a day.

The next two groups are the poor. About 2 billion people are poor, and they try to survive on less than 2,000 won a day. They eat, but they don’t eat well or enough. They have homes, but maybe not clean water or working toilets.

The last group is the desperately poor. This group is struggling to stay alive on less than 1,000 won a day. There are many days when they don’t eat. Their water is dirty and diseased. Their children are sick. Seeing a doctor is not an option. They live in garbage dumps, shacks, huts, and on the streets.

Look at these statistics: 5/6 (83%) of the world lives on less than 10,000 won a day! ½ (50%) of the world lives on less than 2,000 won a day. 1 out of 6 people in this world lives on less than 1,000 won a day.

Let’s take one more step to help illustrate this. I need one volunteer from each income group. Let’s imagine that each of these people are going shopping today with their daily income.

Mr. Desperately Poor, with your 1,000 won, you can buy 1 roll of kimbap. That’s your breakfast. No lunch. No supper. Be sure to save the aluminum foil. You might be able to use that for something.

Mr. and Mrs. Poor, with your 2,000 won, you can buy an apple for breakfast and a roll of kimbap for lunch. No supper.

Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class. You are doing a little better. With your 10,000 won, you can buy several rolls of kimbap, some milk, an apple or two, and a book for your kids. They can probably go to school.

Now, Mrs. Rich. You are having a great day. You woke up in a nice, warm apartment. For breakfast, you stopped into McDonalds for a sausage egg McMuffin and a coffee. You took your vitamins and some medicine for your cold. You enjoyed a nice lunch at Outback with your coworkers. In the afternoon, after your big lunch, you were starting to feel a little tired, so you bought a 3,000 won cup of coffee (spending more than half the world spends all day). After work, you went shopping and picked up some groceries. You also grabbed a CD you’ve been wanting and some shoes you found on sale. Out of your 80,000 won, you had a few thousand left over, so you put that in the bank to use for later.

This is a picture of our world. Does this look fair to you? Does this look like a community of justice to you? Does this look like the picture the Bible describes? Is this what God wants for us?

Once upon a time, I met a millionaire (a man who owned a million dollars worth of cash and property). He said to me, “But I am not rich. My neighbor is a billionaire. He is rich.”
Let no one among us ever say again, “I am not rich.” This is a lie. This is a bold and terrible lie. It dishonors God. It dishonors the poor, and it deceives us all. Every person in this room is rich – very, very rich. In real life, all of us are in that far right category, spending more than 10,000 won a day. Most of us are like the average rich person, spending around 80,000 won a day. We are very, very rich, and half of the world is very, very poor. This is reality. Let’s not lie about it.

Once upon a time, I met a woman was sitting on the ground crying. She was concerned about the poor in the world, but she said to me, “Because I can’t do everything, I will do nothing.”

We have talked enough about the truth. What we need now is hope. We can’t do everything, at least not right away. But we can do something. We can do some things that will make a real difference in our world. I want to take a few minutes to share some success stories of how people have improved our world in real and significant ways.

Largely due to economic growth in developing countries, the percentage of chronically undernourished (consistently hungry) people in the developing world has fallen from 35% in 1970 to just 17% in 2002.[4] We are improving.

In the 1990’s, Tanzania (Alfred’s home country) began a nation wide nutrition program. In just three years, they cut the rate of severe malnutrition in half.[5]

“During the 1980’s and 1990’s a few inexpensive actions saved the lives of millions of children. During that time, the immunization levels in the developing world rose from 20% to about 80%.” In the early 1980’s 2.5 million children died from measles each year. By 1999, only 800,000 people got measles worldwide.[6]

The list goes on and on and on and on. We are making a difference. Together, our governments and our social agencies are changing the world.

One of the biggest things you can do to participate in this change is to vote. Vote for the people and the parties who are most likely to help the poor. Make fighting poverty your #1 voting issue.

Another big thing you can do along these lines is to connect with an organization in your home country that is working to get your government to help the poor. The best organization like this in my home country is called: “ONE.” Through the ONE organization (www.one.org), I have written several letters to my congressmen asking them to vote in favor of bills to support the poor around the world. Most of the bills or amendments we have supported have carried, despite some close votes. Politicians really do listen when people speak.

These are good, but most of us need to do something smaller and more personal as well. Let me suggest three simple ways you can live a more economically just life.

  1. Limit your spending. Most of us do one simple and very unjust thing. We spend way too much money on ourselves. 1 billion people are starving, and we’re eating out and going to movies and shopping for things we don’t need. Try setting a spending limit for your entertainment or eating out. Sarah and I are using a monthly “Date Night” budget. Every Friday night when we come home, we’ll write down what we spend and make sure we don’t go over-budget.
  2. Think small. Maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can change one person’s whole world. In a few weeks, Amanda will be talking to us about how to sponsor a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (www.ncm.org). That changes the entire future for that child. If you have a business mind, you might want to check out micro-financing. This is loaning small amounts of money to people in poor countries so they can start their own business to provide for their families. This is a perfect example of sharing capital in a biblical way. Probably the best organization for this right now is Opportunity International (www.opportunity.org).
  3. Give here. This may sound like a shameless plug to get your money, but I want you to know that we are changing the world together. With the money you have given this year, we have built 4 houses for poor families in Indonesia, fed children and families in North Korea, given food and seeds to people in Africa, and given kimbap to homeless people right here in Cheonan. We are changing the world, and you are helping.

So what happened? How did Christianity become just another religious opium? What are we missing? Do you remember the three things I said we are missing? Truth, hope, and – what was that third thing? Oh, yeah, obedience.

The truth of the Bible is that God longs for us to be a global community of justice in which we care for the poor and help them to care for themselves. The truth of our world is that we aren’t doing very well at that. Half of the world lives on less than 2,000 won a day.

The hope is that we can make a difference. Recent history is showing that large scale governments and small-scale organizations and individuals are changing the world and helping the poor in significant and meaningful ways.

And what was that third thing again? Oh, yeah, thanks – obedience. That’s up to you.



[1] These points depend heavily on Ron Sider, Just Generosity, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 49-75.

[2] The numbers that follow are rounded and estimated numbers (for the sake of illustration) from Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, (W Publishing, 2005), 2-5.

[3] 1 US $ is roughly equal to 1,000 Korean won.

[4] Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 3.

[5] Ibid, 8.

[6] Ibid, 14-15.