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

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

Banking on God: The Crisis Poll


Today’s poll is the last one for this series! If you haven’t already, please vote on previous polls. Each one is vital for the commentary I’ll be providing next week! You’ll find a list of polls at the end of this post.


This week at Cerulean Sanctum, I’ve been gathering polling info for a look at how American Christians view money issues, both personal and in the Church. Most polls will run for about six days. So please vote. After the polls close, I’ll offer the results and my commentary on the issues and answers related to the poll questions and results.

Thanks for participating!

(Note to those reading by RSS: to participate in this week’s polls, you’ll need to come to the site to vote. Thanks!)

Crises will come, the Bible says. We all endure the little ones, though it’s sometimes hard to tell if the one we’re in is the beginning of the Final Crisis or not. Even now, the United States is facing some turbulent economic times if the news media are to be believed.

How set are we Christians to manage through crises? And how does our view of crises influence how we live?

To vote on the nine questions below, simply log your responses. This poll runs through 6:00 PM, Wednesday, March 5, 2008. A day or so after, I’ll tally the votes and post them with my commentary.










Thank you for your answers!


If you’ve not voted already, please vote on the following polls:

The Tithing Poll – Open until 6:00 PM, Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Church Finances Poll – Open until 6:00 PM, Monday, March 3, 2008

The Theology Poll – Open until 6:00 PM, Tuesday, March 4, 2008