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

Building a Legacy


Luciano Pavarotti died last week. I don’t know why, but the loss of the greatest opera tenor of the last century hit me hard. When I consider the sheer amount of music that overwhelms us, Pavarotti singing his signature aria, “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, still manages to claw through millions of musical pretenders as it ascends to that upper echelon of musical perfection. That last series of the legendary tenor’s sung notes still sends chills down my spine.

This morning, I listened to his rendition of “Che gelida manina” from La Bohème and I couldn’t stop the tears.

Maybe, on second thought, I do know why I’m melancholy. And it’s not just the thought of losing Pavarotti’s stellar voice. He represents one of my only remaining links to my father who died in 2000.

Dad would sit in his favorite chair and listen to Pavarotti for hours. He bought a high-end stereo system in 1970 just to listen to the Italian tenor sing. Dad could barely operate the thing, but all the fumbling with the controls was worth it when Pavarotti (just entering his prime) sang with so much passion and skill it made those Dynaco speakers weep.

You see, it’s about legacy.

Pavarotti not only left a tremendous musical legacy—he’s sold an astonishing 100 million albums—but he was known as a true humanitarian who raised millions of dollars for a variety of charities around the world. Remembering his humble days as a baker’s son, Pavarotti routinely used his fame to help others. In one celebrated gesture, he flew in a noted vet from Britain to examine a neighbor’s ailing dog.

More than 150,000 showed up to view Pavarotti’s body for the few hours it lay in state. Italian TV notes that at least five million in that nation watched the funeral on TV.

My Dad didn’t draw quite so many. His legacy won’t touch Luciano’s. Fact is, he didn’t leave much legacy at all except for a son who appreciates a good aria sung well. Dad focused on the wrong things and it showed in how he died. All this makes me sensitive to the issue of legacy.

When I’m in bed at night listening to the tinny strains of katydids outside, the issue of legacy creeps up on me. Legacy’s consumed more than a few sleep cycles, keeping me up late, wondering. Why? Because, in many ways, we Christians are defined by our legacies.

What are we leaving behind as entropy claws at us? Are we building a house of straw or one of gold encrusted with jewels?

Mention heaven and everyone will ooh and aah about how wonderful it will be, but they’ll never talk about the fire. As I’m thinking about my legacy, though, I can’t escape that purifying flame:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
—1 Corinthians 3:10-15

One of the main reasons that Detroit lost to Tokyo can be traced to legacy. Ford, GM and Chrysler opted to live for the quarter. Toyota and Honda went for the 50-year plan. The Japanese manufacturers understood the necessity of planning so as to deliver a legacy of quality and innovation.

My son and I do a lot of geocaching. Because the little treasure boxes they use in that sport/game are best stashed on public land, we find a lot of them in cemeteries. Gets you thinking, doesn't it?More than a few of those abut church property. Perhaps if every church went back to burying its congregants in a plot of ground the living would need to pass through every Sunday, it would do a lot toward getting us to think about our legacies.

Instead, we’ve buried ourselves in the present. In one moment in time, most of us met Christ, in an instant, in the blink of an eye. And we were changed. But now what?

See, just stepping into the starting blocks isn’t as important as finishing the race of life well. This is our training ground. Are we learning anything for the Kingdom? Are we doing anything for the Kingdom? Considering that most of us became Christians before the age of 21, we’ve got another 60 years of discipleship looking to build a legacy on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

It’s not just you and it’s not just me building, either. Together, we are building. That’s because Christ founded a community.

So what legacy is our community leaving as time passes? By most studies, the average church has 15 peak years before an inevitable decline. I suspect that’s largely due to the reality of Detroit Syndrome in our churches. We shoot to make our short-term goals, but what’s the long-range plan? Why is it that most churches don’t have a 50-year plan?

I think even a plan of that length doesn’t cut it. If more and more people live into their 80s and beyond, then we need a church plan that covers them from cradle to grave.

Now, let me see all the hands for those of you who attend a church with an 80-year plan? None? How about 50-year? Or say, 20? Ten? Man, I’ve feelin’ like Abraham here. How about a year plan? Okay, so you’ve got that. Oh, you say you don’t? Uh…

I can’t say that Pavarotti had a 70-year plan, but he was savvy enough to mine his talents for everything they were worth. That amounted to something.

But what of you and me and our churches? What legacy are we leaving behind?

Anyone here led more than ten people to Christ? Truth be told, that shouldn’t be so hard. What’s so hard about leading at least one person to Christ every year? Yet I’ve got believe that most of us have failed in this task.

So we’re actively discipling a dozen or more newbie Christians every year, right?


Do you ever wonder about your legacy? It matters to God. It also matters to people around you, both those who don’t know Christ and those who do. Your legacy can change the world because of Christ in you.

For most of us, life is easy right now. Better think about that legacy in the fat years because when the thin ones come, it may be too late.