I have watched the “Occupy Wall Street” and similar Occupy movements with some bemusement. I believe I was able to sort through the garbled messages to find the primary point. I think the main point is that the system to make and grow income should be fair and equitable to all. I concur.
But the part that really puzzled me was the self-righteous anger toward the demonized 1 percent. We are the 99 percent was the recurrent chant. But I kept thinking that there is a really awkward truth being ignored by many if not most of the protestors. We have a very different expectation as Americans for what we are “owed.” An article I found at Yahoo News was sobering.
In America, the top 1 percent earn more than $380,000 per year. We are, however, among the richest nations on Earth. How much do you need to earn to be among the top 1 percent of the world?
That was the finding World Bank economist Branko Milanovic presented in his 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. Going down the distribution ladder may be just as surprising. To be in the top half of the globe, you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20 percent, it's $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10 percent with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1 percent requires an annual income of $70,000.
So if you make more than $34,000 a year you are in the top 1 percent income level in the world! That information stirred up one of my biggest frustrations with the churches and with Christians in America. For the most part, we do not give according to our riches. And that is what Jesus is trying to teach us concerning money and possessions in the Gospel of Luke.
“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Luke 12:29-34, NLT).
This is an excerpt from my book When Bad Christians Happen to Good People:
Where is our treasure? That is the question all of us must address. For it is surely true that our heart will be there also. Empty Tomb is an organization that studies giving in the church. They reported that church giving in 2007 had declined to an average of 2.56 percent of income. This giving percentage was lower than it was in 1933 during the depths of the Depression. That, my Christian friends, is pathetic!
And it gives us an unfortunate clue as to where our treasure might be. Sylvia and John L. Ronsvalle (The State of Church Giving Through 2007, Empty Tomb, Inc.). The Ronsvalles’ report states that “leadership in the church is committed to institutional maintenance and is abandoning church members to an agenda of a consumer lifestyle.” What that means is the preponderance of church budgets are going to salaries and buildings while church members pile up credit debt and material possessions. Because the money left over for outreach and missions is shrinking, the church is becoming more and more impotent outside of the church structures.
The report suggests that if current trends continue, the church will be “spending little to nothing on others by the middle of this century.” God forbid that we allow that to happen. If churchgoers had given an average of 10 percent in 2007, another $161 billion would have been available for the Lord’s work. You don’t have to look far to see how much that could help in a world where people are dying for lack of life’s necessities. Even worse, they die without experiencing the message of God’s love, which Christians could likely provide with even modest sacrifice. But we must be willing to relinquish at least a little bit of our American dream, which has somehow morphed into an American right to possessions.
It takes so little sacrifice to make a difference. But it will take the whole body of Christ to really impact this globe. A few years ago I gave up a daily beverage at an omnipresent coffee franchise. That freed up enough money to sponsor a child in need. A couple of years ago my sons gave me a goat. No, I didn’t wake up to find a goat nibbling on the Christmas tree. They gave the gift of a goat in my name to an impoverished community through World Vision. I will not know this side of eternity how God used my Christmas gift. But I bet it was more useful to those struggling souls than the motorized cooler that goes 13 miles per hour to deliver cold beverages would have been for me. Are you kidding me?
If you live in North Texas you can feed a hungry person for $1.92 at the Union Gospel Mission. I just now got the ball rolling by donating to that wonderful organization. Whether it is the Salvation Army, Angel Tree, Samaritan's Purse or whatever … just do something!
I often encounter people who say God is judging America because of this sin or that sin. I always tell them I don’t know if that is true. But I do tell them that I suspect that God would more likely judge this country because of the incredible wealth and influence His people have squandered. You can make a difference this Christmas. One coat or goat or gift or meal at a time. I am only asking you to give if you are in the top 1 percent of wage-earners in the world. Are you in?
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