Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

Banking on God: Crisis, Part 2


The people will wander through the land, discouraged and hungry. In their hunger and their anger they will curse their king and their God. They may look up to the sky or stare at the ground, but they will see nothing but trouble and darkness, terrifying darkness into which they are being driven.
—Isaiah 8:21-22

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most familiar passages of the Bible. As much as each of us has probably prayed it a thousand times over in the course of our lifetimes, one portion stands out in these times:

Give us this day our daily bread.

If you’re like me, you have no idea what it means to live that verse. Most of us have some sort of fallback position that prevents us from ever being in a condition to truly need “our daily bread.” We open our pantry and the food practically bulges out. The refrigerator can’t hold any more than what we’ve already packed in. Daily bread? What the heck does that mean?

And does it extend beyond food?

A few years ago, my wife and I were carrying a private insurance policy not paid for by an employer. It had a high deductible and was intended to get us through a period of unemployment. Bread line, soup line, unemployment line...During that time, I got a sinus infection and the doctor strongly recommended I get a series of X-rays taken to judge the severity of the infection. When I found out how much the X-rays would cost, I passed on them.

That was the first time in my life I wondered what it would be like to be poor and have to forgo medical care. In the years since that time, the reality of being unable to afford basic medical care hits home harder and harder. Less and less is covered by increasingly costly insurance. Now the majority of employers offer no group plans at all. What’s amazing is that even with insurance, many people can’t afford to pay what their insurance will not. (Ask me about my family’s out-of-pocket dental outlays in the last few years.)

The Wall Street Journal today said that hospitals are now checking people’s credit histories before treatment. The way things are going (especially if RealID comes to pass, as it looks it will), you may one day be turned down for necessary medical treatment because your credit score is too low. That the hospitals are being granted access to your credit history is bad enough, but if things go as they are, it might get worse than that.

What does it mean for us to pray Give us this day our daily bread ?

I once went on a five-day, water-only fast. Most people don’t handle a single day of fasting well. Try five. The strange thing about fasting is the euphoria you begin to feel around day four. It’s a bizarre sensation. Oddly enough, by the time you reach day four, driven by that fasting “high,” you could probably hold out for another week or so before physical damage sets in. The hunger that gnaws at you those first few days passes. A giddiness replaces it.

I don’t want to think we’re at a point where more and more people will acquaint themselves with the strange rush of starving to death. But I’m nevertheless convinced that any time we had to buttress our positions against such an inevitability may have come and gone.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Here’s the questions an unprepared church must face:

  1. Companies lay off workers and giving goes down. Now how do you pay for your building and staff when the collection plate is half-filled and you budgeted for a full one?
  2. The bastions of the church start discovering that they need an extra job or must take service industry jobs that work strange hours, hours that overlap most church activity times. Suddenly, your lay leaders aren’t available to lay lead because they are busy making ends meet any way they can. Who is left to run all your discipleship programs?
  3. Churches that bet the farm on small groups, hoping they will sustain the flock during the week, now find that most people are busy trying to make a living and have no time for small groups. Now what?
  4. The most vulnerable people in the church start suffering. Who will care for and comfort them when you’ve been forced to reduce paid staff numbers and lost to job-related issues the 20 percent of non-clergy who do 80 percent of the ministry?
  5. When people lose jobs, they lose employer healthcare benefits. When they take part-time jobs (if available), they don’t get health insurance. What do you do when one of the cornerstones in your church tells everyone he has cancer and will need at least half a million dollars for a course of therapy?
  6. Scared people start making runs on banks and grocery stores. The ones who still do have some money clean things out. How will the people in your church eat?
  7. People in misery do stupid, desperate things. How do you react when an important person in your church goes down in flames and possibly goes to jail for it?
  8. What network connections has your church forged with churches who may have anticipated this trouble and planned better than yours did? Were you castigating their theology all these years, only to have to go to them for help now?
  9. People start losing homes. How will you shelter them?
  10. People start moving out of the worst areas to find work in better areas. Your church isn’t in one of the better areas. What do you do when you start losing people to nomadic lifestyles, or worse, to a falling away because of hard times and persecution?

Give us this day our daily bread.

We need two things: the faith to pray Give us this day our daily bread and the clear thinking to address terrible issues with radical answers rooted in the Gospel.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll offer some ideas of what we can do to better weather bad times and be a Church that is not only prepped for battle, but knows how to live by Give us this day our daily bread.

Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

When You’re Tired


'Sleep' by Salvador DaliI’m so tired right now, I can barely type. I wasn’t going to blog this evening (I’m writing this around 10:30 PM on Sunday), but as I sat here bleary-eyed, a couple thoughts came.

We’re barely into a new year and the big “R” word—Recession—blares from the front page of the newspaper. The economy in my area is already on the downswing. Companies have frozen hiring in most cases. A quick look at for my area shows a depressing increase in junk jobs (“Make Millions from Home Licking Stamps for Envelopes!!!”). Folks have that flinty stare, the kind of look reserved for bothersome teenagers blasting hip-hop out of their cars. Except folks stare off into nothing, as if to warn away life itself.

Everyone talks about the price of gas (“Yeah, but waddya gonna do?”), the out-of-touch presidential candidates (“Yeah, but waddya gonna do?”), and that nagging fear that things really ARE not as good as they used to be (“Yeah, but waddya gonna do?”). The voices all reflect two states of being: helplessness and tiredness.

And it does seem to me like people seem stricken with tiredness, as if we could all hibernate and sleep through whatever it is that’s afflicting us right now. A Rip Van Winkle sleep. The sleep of the not-quite-dead, yet not-quite-alive.

But that’s the sleep of the damned, if you ask me.

We are the Church of the Triumphant Lord Jesus. It’s not time to be drowsy. It’s time to trim the wicks and check our supplies of oil.  The world may be in the throes of somnambulism, but we Christians can’t sleepwalk through life. We cannot allow the enemy to lull us to sleep through materialism, through the threat of losing all the cheap junk we’ve accumulated for ourselves, or through the threat of threats. The gates of hell were not built to withstand the onslaught of even one wide-awake Christian on fire with the Holy Spirit.

Do we believe that?

Tired? How can we be tired when we’ve been asleep for so long!

The old Christian band Harvest had an album called Only the Overcomers. If the times are threatening, it’s time for the overcomers to stand up and be counted.  It’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

I asked last Friday about the pressing needs you all felt at your churches. I ask now: “What’s your next step?” How will you overcome that issue? How will you be the source of change for the better in your church?

Because the days aren’t growing any brighter. The Bible promises that darkness is coming. And we also know that when darkness comes, the tendency is to sleep. It’s natural. That’s what the world will be doing, just more so.

What will the Church be doing?