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Advent Economic Indicators

Read Amos 8:4-6

Back to the economy…

“Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

I just can’t shake this one. God is incredibly angry at Israel for … well, can I just say it? For doing business like Americans have done business for years.

Business is quite simple: Spend as little as possible in the creation of your product, and sell it for the highest possible cost. That’s good business. Supply and demand. Taking advantage of whatever the market will bear.

Two things come to mind this morning. Black Friday, and the Dodgers.

Image result for unbelievable black friday pricesBLACK FRIDAY: To paraphrase 8:5, “When will the Thanksgiving holiday be over, so we can sell our stuff?” The heart of the “good” businessman is to take advantage of every opportunity to make a buck … even if it means running roughshod over sacred traditions.

And we all know that these stores make a killing on Black Friday, even with the lowering of their prices. How can this be? Because their products, when sold at “retail” or “suggested manufacturer’s” prices are marked up at incredibly high levels. To paraphrase 8:6, “We make the value small and the price high, hide the products’ true worth, and control the market, forcing the poor to overpay for their food and clothing.”

THE DODGERS?: Speaking of overpaying for value received … here in Arizona, tickets are on sale already for spring training games. For my family to go to one of these exhibition games (featuring scrubs and wannabes), it would cost $64. Plus parking. Plus, if we’d like a bite to eat. exorbitantly overpriced food. In short, well over $100. Honestly, we can’t afford that right now.

Why do the Dodgers charge so much? “Because they can.” Someone will pay it. And that “someone” is a well-off person. Because the rich can, the businessman will, and the poor can’t. 

And, of course, this isn’t limited to baseball games: it’s true of good food, housing, health care, transportation, you name it. When the rich work the system, lining their pockets at the expense of the poor, God calls this “trampling on the needy”, and “bringing ruin to the poor of the land” … all for a bit a growing pile of silver, and a closet full of shoes.

What kind of economics do you think Jesus wants to find being practiced by His people when He returns? Shall we be found helping the poor, or exploiting the market? If the whole system is fraught with greed and selfish ambition, how do we rise above it?

Pow Wow

“Produce on Wheels – Without Waste” at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church, Gilbert AZ

Perhaps, instead of spending $10 on a grossly overpriced, disposable, “Made in _____” product for a “loved one”, maybe we should spend that $10 on some truly needed and valuable farmers’ market goods, and give them to some “loved ones” … or, as Jesus calls them, “the least of these” (read Matthew 25:31-46). That would fly in the face of Amos 8 economics … and be gifting Jesus.

– EO

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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Christianity

 

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Snapshot of a Decaying Culture

Advent Friday 1

Read: Amos 2:6-16

Today, Amos, the Judean bumpkin, turns to his primary audience: the northern Kingdom of Israel. God is not pleased with them, and it is Amos’ job to tell them so. Israel had grown confident in its prosperity, its politics, and its spirituality. But God sees things quite differently. What was going so wrong?

(By the way…do you love your country? If so, are you even open to critical assessments of your country? How about when they come from a representative of your bitter rival across the border? And when they meddle with some of your dearest values?)

Economics: Like the U.S. Christmas shopping season, buying and selling had become paramount for the Israelites. They were vigorously richpoorchasing after their gift lists (precious metals, shoes, clothing, wine). And their minivans were full (v. 13). This may have seemed innocent enough … except that the upper class had become rich at the expense of the poor. They had “sold” them, “trampled” them, “pushed” them, “fined” them. They didn’t do these things literally, but were victimizing the poor through their selfish economic policies. But, hey, it’s a free market right? Aren’t they entitled to whatever prosperity they can engineer for themselves? If the poor want things to be better, they should just work hard and work the system like the rich, right?

Social Issues: Standards of appropriate sexual conduct were unraveling. The parameters of “family” were being redefined based on gratifying desires of the flesh. And the people didn’t realize that their conduct was a slap in God’s face. But we should be free to “love who we want”, right? If I feel like doing something, who is this “God” to tell me how to live?

worldly-christiansSpiritual Things: Worldly standards had crept into their faith, and they had taken to dabbling in all kinds of disparate religious practices. Their spiritual gatherings looked like Happy Hour. And they simply didn’t want to be bothered by the traditional truths of the faith that was supposed to identify them. “You command the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy!’” Enough of this God-talk, especially if it cramps our style. We’re free to choose whatever faith we want (they all point to the same God, right?). We like what we like. And we prefer a faith community that makes us feel good (is that a cab or a merlot?).

Through Amos, God essentially says, “Remember me? You were lost, and I saved you! All those impossible victories I gave you? And this unlikely prosperity you now enjoy … you know that was my gift to you, right? I established you as an upstart colony! The land, the freedom, the spiritual revival … Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”

They had forgotten, and gone astray. What will be God’s response?

Very interesting. Not an invasion. Not economic collapse. Not a pestilence. Instead, God promises internal decay. Israel will lose its strength, its speed, is skills, their heart.

When I look at life in our contemporary, post-Christian, western culture, I get very pessimistic. We’re off the rails just like the Israel of Amos’ prophecies. We too have some bumpkin voices crying in our wildernesses. But those shouts are growing fewer and fainter. And our godlessness increases with incredible brashness.

Is there any chance we’ll listen to the Amos among us? Advent would be the ideal season to do so.

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Uncategorized

 

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The Poor … Where Are They?

I can’t shake the fact that there’s a hole in my gospel … and that I need to seek out the poor.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Luke 4:18-19, John 20:21).

So, my Lenten journey has me wrestling with a long-standing conviction: It’s not that I should care about the poor if I happen to bump into them. It’s that I am anointed by God to target my proclamation and emancipation to the poor and oppressed. It’s not up to them to find me … it’s up to me to obey the Lord, and get His ministry done. 

But, I’m going to be honest here (and VERY open to follow-up comments). I know the poor are out there. But I don’t see them in my circles. Where are they, and where do I go to find them?

I live in Arizona. Releases from the U.S. Census Bureau have shown that Arizona has the 6th worst poverty rate in the nation.  The percentage of people living below the poverty level in 2011 was around 20%, representing over 1.2 million Arizona residents.

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20%? It doesn’t seem like that to me. But that’s because I don’t live in an among the poor. The reality is that poverty in Arizona is primarily found in the American Indian or Hispanic communities.  The poverty rate on some native American reservations is as high as 47%. Nearly to 30% of the Hispanic population of Arizona lives in poverty … and that’s 30% of Arizona’s 6.4 million residents … 1,920,000 hispanics living in poverty.

ImageI guess I could try really hard to find some easier-to-deal-with, culturally accessible poor people who are more like me. But I think that would be pathetic. I’m kidding myself to think that I can “fill the hole in my gospel” by remaining in my antiseptic, white, middle-class ghetto. If I’m to bless the poor, I’ve got to get out of my world, and venture into others.

I’m blessed that the Christ did this for me. I was the poor, blind, oppressed captive, and it was all my fault – the cause and affect of my sin. But Christ left the comforts of His community to enter mine. And it didn’t go well for Him, physically speaking. He has told us, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me,they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). I think that means …

You’re anointed to go. I send you like the Father sent me. They persecuted me…they’ll persecute you.

Who’s in? (They didn’t tell me about this at the Seeker Sensitive church … ) I’m not at all sure how I might do this, but it’s my Lent. Hmmm.

 
 

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Our Need for a Full Gospel (Not a Holey One)

ImageAt our Ash Wednesday service earlier this week, our Vicar challenged us to “fill the hole in our gospel” this Lenten season.

Now, he made it clear that THE gospel has no holes. THE gospel, found in the life of Jesus and the pages of the New* Testament, is perfect, complete and wonderful.

But OUR gospel … the one that we practice … is often incomplete. Insight into these holes was given by the Old Testament passage Micah 6:6-8:

 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

In other words, shall I be over-the-top in my religious expression? The bigger the personal religious sacrifice, the greater the pleasure of God, right?

 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
  but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Do, love and walk. These aren’t “don’ts” these are “dos”. What good works the Lord requires of us are not activities of denying ourselves, but of blessing others.

The New Testament reading from the Ash Wednesday service, James 2:1-9, also brought clarity to this truth. Here are some excerpts:

Image“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place”, while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there”, or, “Sit down at my feet”, have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Virtually all of my friends are rich. Most everyone who attends my church is rich. In the example James uses above, at least the sinful man is speaking with the poor person! We have sterilized our church environments so thoroughly that the poor feel unwelcome, and we feel no pang of guilt that this is true. God has chosen the poor … but we have not.

We do have a “hole in our gospel.” We do pretty well parsing our theological words and proclaiming our creeds. But James goes on to tell us that our beliefs, without accompanying works, are dead beliefs (Js. 2:17,26), and that real religion involves not only personal holiness, but an active life of serving the helpless and afflicted (Js. 1:27).

In short … I don’t need to stop eating sugar, as much as I need to start loving my poor neighbor. Not a Lent of not-doing, but of doing. I need do the full gospel, not a holey one. I believe that’s the Lent the Lord would have of me.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Lent

 

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