So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wealth And Poverty: The remarkably marketable Joseph

            Before we start talking about this subject, I’d like to focus on a couple of terms, always a good place to start. Lots of people equate money and wealth, and of course they’re not the same thing. Wealth includes cash, of course, but it’s so much more than that. Materially it includes things like your house, your car, your computer, TV set, any stocks you own, any real estate, etc. But we can also talk about immaterial wealth. This refers to assets you have which can’t be immediately traded for cash, such as intelligence, training, education, degrees/certifications, drive, ambition, work experience, a strong work ethic, etc.
            The reason I bring this up is because people tend to only count their cash on hand, and maybe their material possessions when looking at how wealthy they are and their prospects at a better life. Why is this important?
            Because if you’re stuck in a position or job where you’re not making the money you want or think you deserve, you need to make yourself more marketable. People talk about raising the minimum wage because “No one can feed a family on seven dollars an hour.” That’s absolutely right. But if someone (probably a teenager or someone with little marketability) starts a job at $7/hour and they’re still making that amount a year later, something’s wrong. If their boss isn’t offering anything better than that after a year of service, then they need to either find a better job or increase their marketability so they can get one. Go to night courses to get a degree in something that is--you notice I'm repeating myself?--marketable (not a degree in women’s studies or 18th century French poetry).
            Does the Bible say anything about this, or am I pulling this out of nowhere?
            To answer that question, let’s take a look at one of my favorite Bible characters in all the Bible: Joseph. He was waylaid by his brothers and sold into slavery and ended up in Egypt. There he was bought by a man named Potiphar (see the story here if you’re not familiar with it). What happened to Joseph? Did he whine and moan and refuse to work under his master? No. He worked and made himself more and more valuable to his master (boss).
            Now, granted, the Bible says that the Lord “gave him success in everything he did” and gave Joseph “favor in [Potiphar’s] eyes.” This means that he made Joseph attractive as an employee to Potiphar, which made Potiphar inclined to promote Joseph, because the Lord prospered everything that Joseph touched. Yes, the Lord made Joseph favorable to Potiphar, to the point that he put Joseph in charge of everything, “not [concerning] himself with anything except the food he ate.” I think it was Matthew Henry who said something to the effect of “How blessed is the employer who has an employee like Joseph, but he’d better make sure that employee is like Joseph before he hands everything over to him like Potiphar did.”
            But does this mean that Joseph was a slovenly, incompetent, dishonest employee and the Lord just overrode all that and made Potiphar like Joseph anyway? Of course not. Obviously Joseph was an honest employee, not wanting to harm his boss in any way, based on his response to the wife’s advances. The Lord used Joseph’s qualities of honesty, competence, diligence, creativity, etc., and undoubtedly made sure that Potiphar noticed these qualities and was able to overcome any innate prejudices he might have had concerning the Hebrew, along with sovereignly blessing everything that Joseph touched. On a purely human level, the reason he kept getting promoted was because Potiphar noticed that the more he put Joseph in charge of, the richer he (Potiphar) got. 
            And of course this pattern followed Joseph everywhere he went in Egypt. He was put in prison, and rose to the top position under the warden. He was taken before Pharaoh and became the 2nd in command of the entire nation. And once again the Lord sovereignly influenced events and people’s hearts to carry out his plan, but he accomplished it using Joseph’s qualities, not in spite of them.
            Jesus spoke of this principle as well: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”  Granted, his application is spiritual. If you’re faithful in handling “worldly wealth,” (which is fleeting) then God will entrust you with “true riches” (which are eternal). And naturally the converse is true: If you’re not faithful in handling a “little,” then no one (especially God) will entrust you with “much.” But the principle is applicable in the business world as well as in God’s economy, and you need to take it to heart. Your greatest assets are immaterial, not material. Qualities like integrity, honesty, hard work, etc., aren’t things you can literally take to a bank and trade for cash, but if an employer sees those in you, he’ll be inclined to promote you. Remember, Potiphar might have personally liked Joseph (he probably did), but the reason he promoted Joseph was because the more he put Joseph in charge of, the richer Potiphar got.
            Now, a great business ethic is great, but there’s more to being promoted than just personal character. A plumber might be the most honest man on earth, but there are other requirements I need to see before I let him perform dental work on me. Does the Bible address that? Well, if we need to discuss a topic regarding money or wealth or economics from a biblical perspective, you’d expect Solomon to have something to say about it, and you’d be right. Prov. 22:29 says “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank,” or “ordinary men” as the NLT renders it.
            Why would a person serve before “kings” instead of “officials of low rank”? Because talent and skills and experience are valuable. If you want to advance, you need to make yourself more valuable to an employer, and that means more skills, experience, training, etc. If you’re  stuck in a low-paying job, then you need to increase your marketability. And on the flip side: Prov. 14:23 presents the general principle (not ironclad promise) that “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”  No one ever improved their financial situation by talking about it.
            The common problem I see, quite frankly, is that people focus waaaaay too much on supposed “macro” reasons (really excuses) as to why they can’t advance in life, why they’re stuck in a low-paying job that stinks. Let me ask you a simple question, and please answer it honestly. If you’re not where you want to be financially and you can’t seem to improve your standard of living, can you honestly say that this has absolutely nothing to do with what we’ve been talking about? Really? You’ve been financially responsible, you aren’t addicted to anything, you’ve been faithful in your giving to the Church, you’ve taken positive steps to improve your marketability, and after years of all this you've made absolutely no headway? In modern day America? Seriously?
            If so, then you're the outlier, not the norm. According to the Left-Wing Brooking Institute, there are three things you can do to stay out of poverty: 1) Graduate from high school, 2) Wait until you're 21 to get married and don't have kids until you get married, and 3) Have a job. Here's a quote from City Journal (again, not a conservative publication):

Former Clinton advisor William Galston sums up the matter this way: you need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty—finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.

            Let me quote Jonah Goldberg, who in turn is quoting Nicholas Eberstadt:

The “actual living conditions of people counted as living ‘in poverty’ in America today,” Nicholas Eberstadt recently explained in the Weekly Standard, “bear very little resemblance to those of Americans enumerated as poor in the first official government count attempted in 1965.” He continued:  By 2011, for example, average per capita housing space for people in poverty was higher than the U.S. average for 1980, and crowding (more than one person per room) was less common for the 2011 poor than for the nonpoor in 1970. More than three-quarters of the 2011 poor had access to one or more motor vehicles, whereas nearly three-fifths were without an auto in 1972–73. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and many other appliances were more common in officially impoverished homes in 2011 than in the typical American home of 1980 or earlier. Microwaves were virtually universal in poor homes in 2011, and DVD players, personal computers, and home Internet access are now typical in them—amenities not even the richest U.S. households could avail themselves of at the start of the War on Poverty.  Further, Americans counted as poor today are manifestly healthier, better nourished (or overnourished), and more schooled than their predecessors half a century ago.

            I realize that if we looked hard enough, we could find someone who can answer “yes” to the questions I asked a couple of paragraphs above. But I’d submit that that person (if basically able-bodied) is really really rally rare in America today. As I said before, the free-market system naturally tends to reward you for being valuable to an employer. It’s certainly not perfect, and it can seem cruel at times, but it’s the best system humanity’s ever come up with to allow people to advance out of poverty and improve their situation.
            And it seems to me that this is what we want to see, right? People getting out of poverty?

P.S. I can't recommend highly enough that you read my four-part mini-series on money here 

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