The Money Meltdown: A Need for Wisdom, Not Just Knowledge
- Wednesday, October 15, 2008
As you may know, I’m the fellow who teaches the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar. Over the years I’ve shared this message at more than 320 congregations, colleges, and conferences nationwide. So, maybe you will understand when I tell you that these are very frustrating days for me. I’m getting questions from Christians all over America about the current economic crisis — but, I’ve been benched! Due to a bleeding vocal cord, the doctor has me on total voice rest. So, to re-phrase an old truism, let’s see if the pen can be mightier than the tongue.
The questions tend to fall into three broad categories:
1. What has happened?
2. Who’s at fault?
3. What does this mean for my family’s future?
While there's plenty of blame to go around, it probably started with politicians who tried to buy votes by establishing the Community Reinvestment Act. The CRA (goaded on by neighborhood activist groups) pushed banks into lending mortgage money to people who shouldn't have borrowed money. Then those banks dumped the bad paper on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. While hiding the true nature of these loans (aided and abetted by rating agencies who pretended that all was well), Mac and Mae re-packaged the junk mortgages into respectable-looking bonds. Then they sold those bonds to every imaginable investment firm—some of whom were showing them at 100%+ of value on their books—and also leveraging those amounts by as much as 30/1 (i.e. Lehman Brothers). Then, insurance companies like AIG insured these bonds—without having enough money to cover their guarantees. When home prices began to sink—the handwriting was on the wall.
But at the heart of it all was the belief that God was wrong -- that, in fact, the borrower is not the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22) As we embraced this kind of thinking, we began to believe that by digging an ever deepening hole we could eventually build a mountain of wealth.
We are a culture that is saturated with “stuffaholism.” (I think Jesus referred to this as “loving the things of this world.”) And, we have fallen for the lie from the pit that says: Stuff, sex, money = Happiness. If that were true, it would stand to reason that the happiest families would all be in Hollywood!
Sadly, many Christians (who are called to be the “salt of the earth”) have lost our savor. Many of us are in the same mess. Even Christians normally critical of those who abuse drugs and alcohol think nothing of anesthetizing the pain they feel when the credit card bill arrives -- by going back to the mall.
There are three lessons that might turn this very difficult experience into a fruitful learning and growing opportunity for God’s kids:
1. James, put a high premium on wisdom. (see James 1:5) Today, there seems to be confusion between wisdom and knowledge. They both have their place, but they are not synonymous. Knowledge is what tells one that tomatoes are a fruit. Wisdom is what tells us not to put a tomato into a fruit salad. Today’s world has plenty of knowledge, but a dearth of wisdom. The smart people of today’s financial world have had their turn at things, and we are in trouble. Maybe it’s time to re-think the fundamental tenets of our beliefs. Wisdom speaks to this. Wisdom says whenever one gets something for nothing, there will eventually be a disproportionate price to be paid.
2. King David’s number one son was fond of saying, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It seems to me that there is nothing “new” about this present predicament. But you say, “Oh, this is different than anything before — including the Great Depression.” While I would agree that the names and players are different, the root cause is the same. It pivots on the three things that John warned the early Christians to be on guard against, “Do not love the world, nor the things of the world…For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15,16)
3. We would serve ourselves well to remember that the best financial teaching is in the Bible itself. I call it “Money 101.” It comes from a man who knew how to live with prosperity and without. Paul told his protégé, Timothy, the secret to dealing with money in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
Note the three things Paul tells rich Christians to do. (By the way, if you have a bath tub in your home—you’re a rich Christian.)
First, he tells us not to be prideful and arrogant. Wealth doesn’t make one person better than another. Second, the Apostle tells Christians not to trust in their 401(k) plans. Yes, plan for your future but always be ready for things to change. As we’ve all seen, dollars in the bank do not guarantee anything. Third, the wealthy are encouraged to enjoy their wealth — but be ready to share at the drop of a hat. Too simple for our complex world? I don’t think so. It gets back to appreciating the difference between knowing a lot about wealth, and actually having the wisdom to use our wealth properly.
I would submit that what we are experiencing may not necessarily be a bad thing. Most humans (Christians, too) only look up when they have been sucker-punched, and are lying on the floor looking up. That’s when we tend to see the eternal through the temporal.
Will we as a nation get through this? I suspect we will. Over the last one hundred years, stocks have gained value in every ten year period—including during the Great Depression. Will there be pain in the meantime. I suspect there will be. The question laid squarely at our feet is How will we respond to this tempest in the teapot of eternity? What if this caused Christians to again become salt? What if we led by example? What if we bought fewer “extras?” What if we paid off our credit cards and bought cars we could afford — and saved more than we spent? What if we always had money to give to others — and were truly ready unto every good deed?
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