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Brian Rapske Ph.D.

Dollars and Sense

You can’t get away from it. Everyone’s talking about profits and losses.

The global economy is moving into a deep recession–perhaps even a depression–some say. Others are just as convinced that the markets are moving through a period of "turbulent correction" trying to find "a bottom" from which they will eventually "power upward" again to new highs. Gold bugs are counseling flight from the markets, prophesying an "end of the world" economy and advising a haven in the yellow metal which they predict will reach $3,000 per ounce shortly. Value investment counselors say, "Hold tight. Don’t panic. It looks very bad, but keeping a steady grip will eventually see profitability return to your holdings." The anxious are bailing out of plummeting stocks while their steely opposites are salivating on the sidelines waiting to pick up the ripe economic plums from the panicked.

It’s all very personal too.

Young homeowners are wondering how they’ll be able to manage their mortgage payments. Their jobs are just not that secure in this climate and perhaps they shouldn’t have gotten into the skyrocketing real estate market despite the confidence of their agents and the ready availability of credit. The drop in real estate prices, foreclosure news and bankruptcy statistics only increase their sense of dread. Seniors are deeply frightened by the fact that the whipsawing markets are wreaking havoc upon their retirement nest eggs and threatening to overturn their careful financial plans. How will they survive?

If there is a single truth in all of the above, it is that uncertain economic times intensify the great drivers of greed and fear.

Obviously, believers shouldn’t be ignorant of the dollars and cents realities that are a needful part of wise living. But Christian generosity should not become a casualty either.

Jesus told a difficult parable about a rich man who accused his manager of wasting the money entrusted to him. The manager was called to give an account of his dealings before he was let go. Here was a financial crisis. The manager reasoned that he was too weak for heavy manual labor and too ashamed to beg. He hatched a plan. In the little time that he still had oversight of the rich man’s possessions, he would show great generosity by a significant write down of each of the rich man’s debtors’ accounts. The manager apparently reasoned that the rich man would not peel back the write downs because they made him look very good. But, more importantly, the action would favorably dispose the rich man’s debtors to the manager so that they would show him kind hospitality when he lost his job.

Jesus shocks the hearer by his initial analysis, "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." (Luke 16:8-9)

Obviously, Jesus is not commending the falsifying of books or engaging in illegal behavior. What he is interested in doing is rooting certain truths deeply into our consciousness about a God-honoring attitude toward things: First, we cannot hold onto them–the things we hold are not permanent possessions but a transient entrustment from God. It’s obvious that "you can’t take it with you," but how easily we forget! Second, we should be generous in the face of others’ needs. Such acts of generosity redound to the credit of God’s good name whose managers we are.  That kind of behavior is a powerful witness and may be God’s means to open people’s eyes. Third, God is watching to see if we’ve encarnated the first and the second truths. If so, that’s the demonstration that we’re serving Him and not just slaves to stuff.

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