Banking on God: Crisis, Part 2

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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.

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Banking On God: Series Compendium

11 thoughts on “Banking on God: Crisis, Part 2

  1. Just an FYI,

    A reader who lives in one of the South American nations informs me that his country is struggling to balance its currency against the dollar, leading to rapid inflation, particularly of food items.

    So the ripples in our economy are causing problems the world over.

  2. Diane Roberts

    Dan,

    Thank you for making my case for the faith teaching of Healing in the Atonement. I don’t know why American Christians cannot see that the health care system as well as health insurance is collapsing around them. So many of them have the “Oh well, I will just trust the Lord. But they don’t really mean trust the Lord. They mean, “I hope God comes through.”

    I haven’t had health insurance since 1990 because I cannot afford it. And even if I could right now, at 64 years old, it would cost me around $10,000 a year, and almost that even with an HMO. And further, who is going to insure me (although I am in good health as far as I know) at 64? Oh……no one?….LOL.

    Here is another question you should ask..although I think you have kind of asked it. WHY aren’t our church elders (not the pastor–it says elders–plural) obeying James 5:13-15? It says IF they pray the prayer of FAITH the sick will be healed (raised up) and their sins, if any, forgiven.

    Oh…I forgot…it says the prayer of FAITH and IF that is prayed…..hmmmm.

    • Diane,

      My son’s last dentist visit, which included a panoramic X-ray, cost $150. Our dental insurance refused to pay the entire amount, even though they approved the X-ray. We got stuck paying $80 out of pocket. My wife had decay under an old crown and needed the crown replaced. Though the insurance did pay some, we still got stuck with several hundred dollars of out-of-pocket expenses for the work and spent months paying it off.

      We’re not carrying dental insurance at present. I can’t see what it was giving us. We’re also being forced to postpone dental visits because a single checkup visit costs more than $100. It’s not hard to understand why that is (dentists get nickled and dimed to death, too), but still.

      We’re praying that, like the Israelite’s shoes, our teeth don’t wear out!

      I don’t know how anyone gets by anymore, frankly. I don’t.

    • Diane,

      One last thing.

      The truly sad part about health insurance is that the system is setup that if you ever stop having an unbroken streak of coverage, your likelihood of getting covered again is nil.

      Companies are disqualifying normally healthy people for what used to be considered the old nagging injury or illness. You got a bum elbow? Forget coverage. Allergies? No, the insurance companies say. One of your parents died before retirement age? Well, that’s a problem now. Have a doctor recommend a diagnostic procedure just to be on the safe side (and you turned out fine anyway)? Ooh, that looks suspicious. (And doctors have to make those obscure diagnostic procedure calls to cover their butts so they don’t get sued should the illness turn out to be that one in a million bizarre—and serious—disease. Thank you, lawyers!)

      It’s utterly ridiculous, but if you break that unbroken chain of health insurance, you may never get it re-established again. And that’s truly scary!

  3. Dan –
    This series (the survey and your follow-up posts) are some of the most important and provocative information I’ve read in the last year. Rather than stating the obvious – that the evangelical church has a giant blind spot when it comes to our addiction to materialism – you are discussing the consequences of this idolatry in ways that echo the kinds of things John the Baptist said out there in the desert.

    God is using this series to call me to repentance. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

    Thank you.

  4. Leta

    Brilliant, Dan. This may well be my favorite post you’ve ever written. Bravo.

    I did my thesis on the problems in the current U.S. health system, so I’m right there with you, and let me tell you this: All, and I mean ALL of our current economic woes, can, in one way or another be tied to the health care crisis. (Even energy, but that one gets a bit sticky and I don’t want to get up on my soap box in your backyard, so I’ll leave it alone.)

    The only factor? No. The biggest one? Yes.

    I live in Michigan, in one of the least hard hit areas, but the vast majority of my family and friends are down in the rust belt, south of Grand Rapids and Flint, all across the bottom of the state, and let me tell you, they are suffering. People who would otherwise go to church, people who love it and miss it, are working three or four jobs per household- not to buy Nikes and pay for cable either, but to pay galloping health care premiums, sky-high energy bills, more expensive groceries (thanks, ethanol!) and gas that’s soon to be $4 per gallon. These are folks who shop at Goodwill and drive old cars, and to maintain a lower-middle class lifestyle, work through worship services and church activities. It’s sad.

    My only beef (and it’s a small, possibly semantic one, at that) is, why does it have to be an important, or cornerstone church member? I’m a nobody special sort of parishoner, so do I count for less? Or did you just mean “important to you”, not neccesarily important to everybody at church?

    • Leta,

      No doubt, the healthcare issue is a huge one.

      However, I’m not one to call for government-run healthcare. That’s it’s own debacle and worse than what we have now.

      Litigation forced up medical costs, so the first thing to be done is stop the ridiculous payouts on lawsuits, and cut the teat to these lawyers who make it their business to drain money from doctors and hospitals (*cough*, John Edwards, *cough*). Those leeches ruin it for everyone, and where they congregate, they drive good doctors out of that area making it harder for everyone. My regular doctor once referred me to a specialist and it took more than three months of waiting before that specialist would see me, and that was for what was possibly a bad condition. (Turns out I was okay, but still.) I blame lawyers for that wait.

      In that same vein, it’s ridiculous that each doctor in this country has to carry an individual boatload of malpractice insurance. Frankly, I’ve always thought the AMA should pool funds from all their registered doctors and administrate malpractice insurance privately. Put it this way: if the AMA had to run it, doctors would be better supervised and certified! Plus, the rate charged doctors for that coverage would be dramatically reduced.

      Anyway, I could talk on this issue forever….

  5. George

    I am coming to realize (the hard way, of course) that we are the seed scattered amongst the thorns of Luke 8: the worries, riches, and pleasures of life which preoccupy us at the expense of producing fruit.

    I had focused my career on increased responsibility, more influence for the purpose of imposing value (i.e. what I perceive to be value) on the organization, and with the expectation of more income. I also expected to have perks that reflected what I believed to be my importance. Wealth, future wealth, and certainly healthcare coverage were taken for granted as things my employers would provide because my value earned them.

    This, I now believe, is not God’s way. It is the way the world works, but it’s not the way God intends, it seems to me now.

    God intends for us to work and in doing so glorify Him. Glorifying Him would entail reverence, certainly, and also blamelessness before men (as Noah was) and loving our neighbors (as Christ taught). Certainly contributing value is essential — since Adam was sentenced to toil to get sustenance that has been God’s intent. But that toil is expected to be performed in the context of harmlessly loving our neighbors.

    If we focus on glorifying God in our work, God will take care of our needs in accordance with His purposes.

    I came close and could rationalize the differences between the two strategies. But the reality was I was pursuing my agenda as I attempted to accommodate God’s agenda. I was not pursuing God’s agenda wholeheartedly and therefore I was not relying on Him to meet my needs.

    In my small group, at different times people have presented their beliefs about work. One rich guy insists that everyone should be working and that work should be fun. If you’re not working, or if you are and it’s not fun, you should just take a job even if it pays less and is fun. Of course this is annoying when your previous job was fun and your present one pays about a third of what the prior one did. But most people assume the purpose of work is to make money. I’m just no longer convinced of that by either scripture or prayer.

    For me, anyway, this perception helps me to understand both wealth and poverty. God is not favoring the rich nor punishing the poor. He allows both circumstances and in both we have the opportunity to serve or neglect Him.

    When we’re rich, we can either focus on sharing or self-indulgence. We can become increasingly self-indulgent in the belief that we earned it and God rewarded us, thanking Him for His good judgment. Or we can use what we need and share the rest with those who cannot repay us, thanking Him for the opportunities.

    When we’re poor, we can trust God for His sovereignty and accept suffering as a current but ultimately temporary condition to endure. We may be helped by the rich who follow Christ (as well as by those who want to feel generous) or we may not — that is up to the rich. We may find ways to become rich or we may not. But regardless, if we remain faithful to His sovereignty, he will remember.

    • bob p

      George,

      Thoughtful and wise comments.

      As I got my unofficial notice of my job termination due my factory closing (this is my second), I could fill this webpage of examples of efforts to make things better going sour to the point of blaming God. (Maybe I did like Him more when life was better.)

      Of course, I’ll just hold my breath in the transition when there is no health insurance.

      I’m glad i wasn’t in that group with the happy-go-lucky man who LOVES his job. He needs dressing down.

      • bob p,

        Been in your shoes way too many times.

        Anyone who says the economy is great needs to step back to 1995, I think. That was a great economy, even if it was all illusory.

        I prayed for you just now.

  6. I am going to attempt to answer the first five questions, and if I have time later I will answer the other five:

    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?

    There are a number of innovative solutions to this problem. First, you pray that God would provide a miracle, but as Metropolitan Anthony of the Eastern Orthodox Church notes praying to God also means that you will do everything within your power to make sure the work is done. Second, a church could begin renting out the church to another small church looking for a home and allow them to meet after your church gets out. This rent should help pay for the staffers. Third, you save money by going “brown (i.e. stop watering the lawns). Fourth, you run church-wide participatory fundraisers like a BBQ or a Krispy Kreme donut sale to raise more funds for the church.

    Obviously, these four options are temporary and may not save the church from a financial crisis. If this is the case, you must begin the painful process of firing all the staffers you cannot afford.

    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?

    This is the problem with programmatic and strategic visions. What we need to be teaching is how families can live together communally. My suggestion for a long time has been that families within the church need to live together to save money. I am not talking about “commune hippie style living, but real Americans working jobs but shouldering the burden of a mortgage, food, and other necessary items together. That is to say that two or three families within a church should live under one roof. If my calculations are correct this could save over $100,000 per family (even more in some parts of the country). In these communal families, bible study, discipleship, and other such events could happen at a deep level without all the organizing. We don’t need things like a lay-leader for small groups, we need small communities to really be existing 24/7 within the church. We also need to be teaching parents how to properly disciple their children. In this way, youth ministry will be a tool alongside what parents have already taught their kids.

    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?

    See my answer to #2.

    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?

    Your model assumes that we have a fairly large church that can afford to pay for a fairly large full-time staff. Many churches don’t function on this model. The churches that do function on such a model have many other problems they have to deal with before dealing the problems that you are asking about. For instance, why do they have so many full time positions? Do we really need all these full time positions? Your model also assumes that the adage of 20/80 is correct. I don’t think it has to be this way. I think this a pessimistic way to look at the church, and it is not helpful for motivation.

    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?

    The church should first pray for a miraculous curing of this cancer. I’m assuming that the question implies this man only works part time. I think we would be surprised by the amount of help will come to a person in need. We underestimate the power of the human spirit. Just recently a good friend of the family at the church had a stroke, and the church and the community raised $30,000 to help her get a wheel-chair accessible van. Beyond this, we have to consider the nature of the church. The church is primarily a communist structure. People take what they need and contribute what they can. If it costs $500,000 for chemotherapy I believe that at a church of 500 it will cost each person $1,000. But if they are practicing communal living and good stewardship, that should not be a problem. Perhaps certain people can’t afford to give the $1,000 and others can give more, then people will give what they can, and take what they need. The nature of the church is not capitalistic, fair, or equitable.

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