Banking on God: Crisis, Part 1


Woe unto the grasshopper!That I’m still under the weather makes today’s post all the more apt. Feeling lousy may be a state many of us will better understand in the days ahead.

The fifth largest investment bank in the United States collapsed Monday. Please read that again.

Now read this: 60,000 homes in my state of Ohio are in the process of foreclosure as of last quarter. That’s the worst in the nation.

When I first read a nondescript, well-hidden article in The Wall Street Journal last May concerning problems in the sub-prime mortgage industry, I told my wife, “This is it. The ripples are going to be devastating.”

Long-time readers of Cerulean Sanctum know that this is one of the few Christian blogs out of thousands that talks about economic issues facing the Church in America. I’m no prophet, but it didn’t take a seer to read the handwriting on the last recession’s wall. My church’s number one prayer request was for meaningful work. Number one. Sadly, many of those who lost jobs in the last recession could not find jobs that paid as well as the ones they lost. This is a serious concern that many people, including economists, ignored.

The chance that we would suffer another economic meltdown worse than the one that hurt us for nearly five years seemed lost on all the stampeding bulls when the US economy supposedly turned the corner sometime in 2004-2005. Sadly, though, that corner turn didn’t trickle down to many people. Every economic survey known to man showed that real wages only improved during the last “rebound” for those in the top one or two percent of wage-earners. The rest of us could not keep pace with inflation. But those dour, yet real, numbers got lost in the giddiness over the fact that the ultra-rich got ultra-richer, and their continued ultra-richness drove up all the positive economic figures disproportionately.

Now the greed of many of those ultra-rich, particularly those who drove ludicrous speculation in investment sectors, is threatening the entire world economy.

Once again, the question must be asked: How has the Church prepared for any of this?

Perhaps this poll figure will show us:


Answer? Not at all, it seems. Once again, we’ve been caught napping.

And this is patently sad, as I see it. One can’t read the Bible and not note that God blesses people who are prepared. Imagine a world where Noah failed to build the ark. Think on Joseph ignoring God’s counsel, leading to an Egypt ill-equipped to handle seven years of famine. Scratch those and there is no story of salvation, folks. The world grinds to a wet, watery end. Or it starves to death.

So which of our churches stored up for seven years of famine during the few years of “plenty” we supposedly just experienced? Just two percent by the poll responses. As far as I see it, every “unknown” response might as well be a “false,” because if it’s not obvious we’re preparing (and our preachers aren’t talking about it), then we haven’t been.


Half of us said we could help a family in need up to a month’s worth of groceries. I figure that’s good for a one-time gift of $200-$300.

My concern here, though, is whether this will be enough when the need moves from being a lone family in your church and mine to dozens. Or in the case of some megachurches, hundreds.


While it looks as if this poll shows a drop in what respondents thought would be the largess of their church versus what they would give themselves, it balances out because some believed their churches would handle more expensive needs. That’s a positive answer. Let’s all pray that it reflects reality.


The last recession lasted three to five years, depending on which economists you read. The news for this poll question, though, deals with the increasing length of time it takes job searchers to find decent jobs lost during an economic downturn.

On average, the last recession saw the unemployed enduring ten months of nada before finding replacement work. Considering that most unemployment payments end after six months, it’s a four month shortfall on income. That’s all that half the respondents had set aside. God help us if things should be worse this recession.

About five years ago, I sat in a church amid 2,500 or so people and raised my hand when the pastor asked how many had at least six months income set aside. I looked around that massive auditorium filled with people and a grand total of six hands were raised. My wife and I counted for two of those hands.

This was not a throwaway poll by that pastor, either. He beseeched people to be honest. What was most scary was I would deem the majority of people sitting in that church that night to be middle to upper-middle class. These weren’t poor people already scraping by, but the ones who should know better.

How is it that we are not better savers? Why is the savings rate in this country in the negative numbers? I was playing a trivia game a couple weeks ago and a question asked, “What percentage of Americans spend more in a year than they earn in wages?” I guessed around 30 percent. The answer? Closer to 75.

Yeah, you read that right.

Folks, we Christians need to be better prepared than that and far more serious about money than we appear to be.


If this answer were truly the case, then why are our churches unprepared to take care of people, both members and outsiders, if and when the economy tanks?


A CNN poll today said that three out of four people believe we’re in a recession. I wonder what the poll above would show today versus three weeks ago if I re-ran it.


In the church finances poll, most respondents said that staff salaries comprised the largest chunk of financial outlay for their churches. Fortunately, clergy positions are exempt from payroll taxes. Same for property taxes for churches.

Now imagine if those were removed on a church on thirty acres of land that had a dozen exempt-clergy positions. That’s a mighty big resulting ouch.

I would not be surprised if in my lifetime churches lost their tax exemption. Increasingly, city governments are fighting harder to keep churches out of any area deemed business-worthy. Why? Because the locality can’t draw taxes from that church, and the church keeps one more business from locating on prime, taxable turf. You can bet that sooner or later someone, somewhere, is going to run the numbers on all that uncollected tax money and somebody’s not going to be happy with failing to get a cut.

This issue becomes even scarier when we realize that the Fed position on church tax exemption considers it a privilege rather than a right. A series of court rulings in the 1970s formalized that “privilege, not right” position legally. And what is labeled a privilege is typically taken away when it seems most expedient to do so. Like in a deep, protracted recession. Just the kind that economic experts at the University of Michigan claim we now face.

Wouldn’t it be dispiritingly ironic if the American Church lost its tax exemption in order for the government to fund social services the Church should’ve been handling anyway?


Pascal’s Wager is a famous apologetic that states it is far wiser to believe that God exists than to bet that He does not and be forced to pay the consequences of His existing. In other words, if God doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter who believes in Him or not, the end of all humans is the same. But if He does exist (and particularly if the Bible establishes His rules for living), then those who don’t believe in Him are in one world of hurt when they die. Better then to believe in Him.

Describing the Church’s position on the End of All Things poses the same problem, except for Christians. It’s nearly impossible to gather a room of noted theologians and get them to agree on issues like the Rapture, the millennial reign of Christ, and the meaning of the symbols and events of Revelation. Eschatology divides more Christians than just about any other issue.

In that case, would it not behoove Christians to prepare for the worst possible end times scenario rather than the least? If so, the worst would be that the Church goes through the entire Great Tribulation. If the Church gets raptured out of here at the first sign of trouble, then great! We avoid the Great Tribulation altogether. But what if that’s not the way it works? (And no one thought it worked that way until the late 19th century, so what does that tell us?)

Where then is our preparation? How will our churches handle persecution? What alternative economic systems are church leaders developing so Christians can exist outside the corrupted world economic system? Have we identified people in our churches with specialized skills? Are we doing anything at all to weather even a few months of the storm? Anything?

We simply are not ready and have no excuse for our lack of preparedness.


Almost a third of poll respondents said they believed that Jesus would return in the next 5 to 25 years. That’s a pretty astounding number, though not unusual. I believe that most Christians throughout history have believed that the Lord’s Second Advent would come in their lifetimes.

Still, if one person out of three believes this, where is the evidence of our preparation for His return? One out of ten of you believe Christ will not only return soon, but that the Church will persist through the Great Tribulation. Where then is the evidence that one church in ten is prepping for that reality?

What we say we believe and how we live that belief MUST align or else we deceive ourselves.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but it’s hard not to see today’s Church in America as the grasshopper in Aesop’s tale. We need to be more like the ant—or should I say that we needed to be more like the ant. Because if winter is indeed already upon us, it’s going to be a brutal and savage cold like we’ve never experienced before.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

The Church of “Tomorrow? What Tomorrow?”


In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”

“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”

“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:

It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
—Aesop, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”

I lost my faith in American business years ago. The reason? I started working in American business.

In no time at all, the average worker (like I was) will pull back the curtain and confront the engine that drives American business: expediency. Today, mention long-term planning at a shareholder’s convention and you’ll get hoots from everyone. They’re only thinking about next quarter. Business summons its finest wise guys who know how to massage the numbers to please shareholders, and when another quarter goes by and everyone’s still got a job, they’ve been successful—at least until the next quarter.

No better indicator exists that the American Church has been wholly corrupted by business practices than the fact that we’ve lost our eternal focus. We’ve become the Church of “Tomorrow? What Tomorrow?” If we can keep the shareholders—pardon me, “congregants”—happy through Forty Days of Purpose and then another fifty sailing on that high, then we’ve had a successful quarter. The offering plates are full now, the church is growing, the youth group is still bright and shiny, and we’ve got good buzz in the neighborhood.  Everything’s spiffy!

Or is it?

Laser-like, we concentrate on that moment of justification, but aren’t certain how to address the sixty or so years of sanctification and discipleship that come afterwards.

We set people up for experiential spiritual highs, but when we can’t maintain that warm fuzzy feeling forever, we watch them drift off to whatever Church of the Moment thinks it can.

The Ant and the GrasshopperWe throw ourselves into ensuring Our Best Life Now and not our Infinitely Better Life to Come.

We pour all our energy into trying to train up our children to be good Christians, but we’re not sure exactly what the end product should look like anymore because we’re not so sure we’ve got our own faith down pat.

We build multi-million dollar edifices we call “church” that can burn down in an instant, but we don’t seem to be preparing the next generation for any sort of deeper life than to be consumers that build multi-million dollar churches.

We’re increasingly dispensational and premillennial because God knows we’ve got no plan if we’re not Raptured out of here the second things get a tad bit nutty.

The only time we think about the future is when we repeat our pseudo-Christian mantra of “Some day I’ll tell my neighbor about Christ. Some day I’ll go on the mission field. Some day I’ll volunteer at church. Some day I’ll read through the Bible. Some day I’ll stop committing that sin I can’t stop committing. Some day I’ll visit the sick, feed the poor, and clothe the naked. Some day….”

Expediency. As long as we feel fine about ourselves at the end of the quarter, we think we’ve done well. It’s a hard habit to break because many in the Church can find verses substantiating living only for the day. Consider this widely quoted one:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
—James 4:13-15 ESV

But that passage isn’t about living for the moment. Look at the context:

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
—James 4:12-17 ESV

That passage argues against haughtiness and judgmentalism by showing the lack of humility in the lives of those who are presumptive. Wise planning is not being presumptive. On the contrary, it’s required of us. If anything, God considers those who fail to plan foolish.

Consider the following parables of Jesus:

The man who built his house on the rock

The five wise and five foolish virgins

The talents

The wedding banquet

The persistent widow

All of these carry with them the idea of preparation for the future, be it the Lord’s return, being ready to face the storms of life, or persevering even when the moment doesn’t look promising. Jesus is not against us thinking about tomorrow. His only correction is that we let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day by not dwelling so much on the future that we ignore the present. Again, like so many things in the Christian walk, balance is needed.

Last weekend, I was in a small group meeting discussing marriage when I brought up one of my pet issues: starting marriage and family classes for children as young as ten in order that they be better prepared to be godly husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. My pastor is a part of that group and he immediately noted that parents would object to the church usurping that responsibility.

And he’s right. Some parents would complain. But by backing off completely, we open ourselves up for the same disappointments that expediency always brings. Kids in the youth group start having sex, a couple girls get pregnant and may even have abortions, and we’re left picking up pieces from shattered lives that may never have been broken had we thought long-term.

We can see the issue of God’s sovereignty creeping into this can’t we? Some would argue that long-term thinking attempts to play God or force His unforceable hand. But I’ve read the Bible and none of the Psalms begins, “Que sera, sera….” We have not because we ask not. Some kinds don’t come out except with prayer and fasting. Slay lambs and spread their blood over the lintels. Noah build an ark. Freely we have received, freely shall we give.

God doesn’t rain down manna from heaven to feed the poor, the orphan, the widow; He asks the Church to do the feeding or else it may very well not get done. Our godly plans and our earthly actions matter. We are the Body of Christ to go out and do, and that going out and doing involves planning, both short-term AND long. It is what God in His sovereignty has asked of us. If the Church had no reason to think beyond tomorrow, then God in His wisdom could have taken each of us up to heaven in a flaming chariot the moment we believed.

Nothing good comes to a church that thinks like Aesop’s grasshopper, yet so many churches have lost a vision for tomorrow’s generations, so lost are they on their own selves.

Winter is coming.