Recession-proof living

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Are we preoccupied with money?

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Florida Governor Jeb Bush encouraged Americans and Floridians to do their part to help America: “We need to respond quickly so people regain confidence and consider it their patriotic duty to go shopping, go to a restaurant, take a cruise, travel with their family. Frankly, the terrorists win if Americans don't go back to normalcy.” Only two weeks after 9/11, Governor Bush understood civil responsibility as spending.

Eight years later, in response to a worldwide economic crisis, many Americans are suggesting quite the opposite. On a Today Show segment, a couple that is under foreclosure and struggling financially is asked what they should have done differently. Their response is simple—we should have saved money.

What do we do in a struggling economy: spend or save? That’s the question. Or is it?

As Christians, our relationship to money and the economy is different from the world’s. Jesus reminds us that money and wealth can be the thing that most distracts us from God and the kingdom values that Jesus promotes. How can we forget Matthew 19:23-24 where Jesus compares a rich man entering God’s kingdom to a camel going through a needle’s eye?

Our Confession of Faith (Article 15) puts it bluntly: “To confess Jesus as Lord transforms values. Jesus warns that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Preoccupation with money and possessions, self-indulgent living and eagerness to accumulate wealth for personal advantage are not in keeping with the teaching of Scripture.”

So what is the value difference between God’s kingdom and the world’s?

It seems that Jesus’ radical statements about wealth have more to do with our focus, our motivation, than they do with our account balance. While what we do with our money is important, our economic stewardship begins first in our hearts and minds.

I love the word our Confession uses: preoccupation. Preoccupation with wealth can occur no matter where our money lies. Preoccupation with money is a sin committed in many realms. It occurs when we’re saving for the boat or the bigger house. It occurs when we’re paralyzed by fear instilled in us by the media, and we bury our money as a response. It occurs when we give generously to the church, only to respond by seeking to manipulate the subsequent budget or the spending habits of the church.

Sometimes we are quick to call out the extravagant and selfish spender as sinful, while we ourselves have equally allowed money to take over Jesus’ previous reign as Lord of our lives.

In our denomination, I often wonder if preoccupation with money has become the largest economic sin we commit. Many of us Mennonites pride ourselves in saving money and being thrifty spenders and simple livers. Meanwhile, our focus seems to remain on money. Just like accumulation can allow money to take over as lord, so can the obsession with saving.

Just like the purchase of things can be a way of hoarding, so can obsessive saving. In a recession, the sin within the church often shifts from unbridled spending to self-absorbed saving. The net result in God’s economy is the same. This selfishness weakens our desire to give to the poor, to practice mutual aid and to give generously and sacrificially to the church and other ministries. Because we are part of God’s economy, we do not fall into the sin of selfishness where both spending and saving can potentially lead us.

Recently I was talking with a friend who owns a small business. He said that during a time of prayer, he asked God what to do about the recession. He heard God saying, “Don’t participate.” Don’t participate? Now we can take that to mean many different things, but I think my friend is exactly right. As followers of Christ, we do not participate in the economy in the same way as others.

If we are people who are not preoccupied with money, we are not driven by the same fear that drives others. Instead, we live with Jesus as Lord, and he says not to worry about what you will eat or drink or wear (Matt. 6:25). As people who put our trust in God rather than money, our emotions no longer ride on the Wall Street rollercoaster. As people who look at everything we have as God’s, we are no longer living within the world’s economy, but God’s.

This month, may we choose not to participate in the recession. May we give more generously than ever before, without fear. May we not fall into sinful and selfish traps on either end of the spending/saving spectrum. And may we experience shalom because we have made Jesus Lord rather than money.

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