How Much Does Heaven Cost?

shutterstock_127418594

I often heard people say that you can’t buy your salvation and while that is true it is also somewhat inaccurate. Jesus put a price on the kingdom of heaven when He gave us two parables to describe what it is like.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

There’s a legitimate point that my parents and other elders had and I get it. But my economic training tells me that we have to qualify that statement. While you can’t buy heaven you can put a price on it. I know. I need to explain.

There are two economic principles that we need to consider. First, the Subjective Theory of Value says that something is only worth what a customer is willing to pay for it. It has no objective price that applies to everyone.

Opportunity-Cost

The next economic principle is opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a resource is the next-most-valued use of that resource. For example, you are spending your valuable time reading this blog when you could be doing something else. Whatever you could be doing is your opportunity cost. Since you’re still reading this that tells me that your alternative options are not more valuable to you, at least not at the moment.

We now see some things in Jesus’ parables that weren’t apparent at first glance. When the man found the treasure he sold everything he owned to buy the field. He was also willing to give up any alternative use of his time and the field to acquire that treasure.

The same is true for the merchant who found valuable pearls. He was willing to part with everything he owned to get that pearl.

costsbenefits

How many stories can you think of about people who take drastic measures to pursue a dream? There’s Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc. They all were on the verge of financial ruin, some even bankrupt, at one point but they took big risks to succeed.

There’s no doubt about their commitment. If we can risk it all for something as fleeting as business then we can see the value in the everlasting kingdom of heaven. Jesus is clear: in exchange for the kingdom He wants all that you have.

Jesus said that those who look back when they put their hand to the plow are not fit for His kingdom (Lk 9:62). For those people the opportunity cost is greater than following our Lord so they prefer the alternative. He wants followers who prefer the kingdom more than anything.

If someone looked at your bank account would they see that your priority is the kingdom? How about if they looked at your schedule? What’s the kingdom worth to you and is it obvious to anyone?

Jesus wants disciples who’ve decided to follow Him, no turning back. The cross is always in front and the world is always behind them. Even though none go with them they still will follow. No turning back, no turning back.

Advertisements

Property Isn’t What You Own

Solo Snatch Consider a peaceful lake. You can go there to water ski, canoe, or just lay on the beach. What you don’t see is the potential energy that is stored in that massive body of water. That is, until an engineer builds a dam. I use this example because it’s a great way of illustrating what capital is. The lake represents an asset like your home or car and the electricity generated is the surplus value, or “capital.” That dam is the mechanism which turns a dormant lake into power that you can use to watch TV or read this blog. Likewise, our legal system of property takes assets and extracts surplus value.

Moreover, property, like energy, is a concept; it cannot be experienced directly.

Economist Hernando de Soto writes in his book, The Mystery of Capital: “Moreover, property, like energy, is a concept; it cannot be experienced directly.” It’s easier to understand property as the physical item that you own rather than as an abstract concept but it confuses the two. The house is what the property refers to but property is about the house’s legal representation. Let’s look at a concrete example. In the cities of Tunisia, where the recent Arab upheaval began, millions of people live and work outside of the legal system. Merchants occupy stores in the market and sell goods but they have no license or title linked to their business. On paper, the businesses don’t exist. So what? I’m glad you asked. The biggest problem is that they have no access to credit because they have no collateral to put up. No one can trust you because they have no way of verifying who you are, what you do, and what you own. You can’t expand your business and thereby increase your income. So you’re stuck and most likely poor. We can see that it’s a social institution because it shows everyone what belongs to you. It provides a way for all of us to know who owns what. I can invest in a firm without ever seeing any of the employees because I can trust the public records. So what does this have to do with the Bible?

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders)…

Numbers 34:1,2 God provided a “deed” to the land for each tribe of Israel. If the people had been faithful to the covenant then they would have been secure and prosperous in the land. Instead, they violated God’s law and each other by stealing from their neighbors. If we also are righteous in how we assign property and obey the rules of that system we will be blessed. Indeed, we know that through free enterprise system billions of people have been lifted out of crushing poverty over the last 200 years. Property is not just about money but also justice and God is certainly just. These laws ensure our well-being. They don’t oppress. Likewise, God’s laws don’t enslave us but liberate us.

I do not turn aside from your rules,
    for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.

Psalm 119:102-104

Stewardship Is Economics, Stupid!

BiblicalStewardship-1200x600

Stewardship is not about tithing or managing your money well. It is about the decisions you make regarding the resources God has entrusted to you. Those resources include time, talents, labor, knowledge, assets, spiritual gifts and people, as well as money. God has provided you with these blessings and you are supposed to use them in a way that pleases Him. When you have a biblical understanding of stewardship you will be able to surrender yourself to the will of God. You will see that stewardship is as much a spiritual exercise as it is a temporal one.

Stewardship ties in with economics because the latter is the study of how we allocate scarce resources. On the first day of Econ 101 you learn the fundamental problem that resources are scarce and our desires are insatiable. That means we have to set priorities and make budgets to gain the most satisfaction from the use of our time, money, and any other resource. This goes far beyond credit cards, retirement accounts, and how you save for a new home or car.

Christians need to understand economics then to be good stewards but they need to study it from a biblical worldview. There are a few principles we need to lay down as a foundation for a proper understanding of economics.

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 24:1

Biblical stewardship is based on the principle that God owns everything. He has ownership rights over all creation and over us. An owner has the right to decide how to use his own property. He can use it however he pleases. The Lord created us for His good pleasure, to know Him and enjoy Him. All of creation is designed towards the ultimate goal of giving glory to God.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

God commanded Adam and Eve to populate the Earth and exercise dominion over it. He wanted us to use our abilities to harness and exploit the maximum value from creation. Since the fall of Adam and Eve God has worked to redeem creation. In these latter days He is working through His church.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matthew 25:21

Stewardship is important because it comes with responsibility and accountability. God calls us to live according to His will. We also know that a day of reckoning will come wherein we must give an account to Him of what we did in this life. In the various parables that Jesus told the master or lord always came back and took account of what the servants had done. Jesus will come back and judge our works. We need to be prepared for that day and be ready.

What Does God Think Of The Minimum Wage?

bible-and-taxes-300x199

You’ve probably heard about the “living wage” in the minimum wage debate but you probably don’t know what it means. If you do know what it means then it’s likely that no one else defines it the way you do.

The idea is that workers need wages to support their families and only the government can mandate. Increasing the minimum wage will combat the inequality that God condemns in the scriptures. Christians, in particular, will make passionate arguments that appeal to our desire to help those less fortunate.

But does the Bible support this notion of a living wage? Is it really the kind thing to do? Why are we forced to choose between doing something, even if it may not work, and doing nothing?

Those who argue for a minimum/living wage will quote passages of Scripture such as James 5, Deuteronomy 24, Amos 8, and so on. In these verses, and many others, you will see that God is concerned with justice for the poor, needy, and vulnerable. He especially condemns the rich landowners who don’t pay their workers. What we don’t see is any guidance regarding the minimum wage.

The idea of the living wage sounds simple enough but how do you determine the amount? It’s easy to see how much the cost of living changes as you move from San Francisco to Omaha, Nebraska but you can also see it drop if you move an hour east of San Francisco to the Central Valley. A minimum wage in large states is difficult to do, to say nothing of a national wage.

To make things even more difficult we have to consider that no two workers are the same and so any given wage may support one worker but not another. A worker who has a wife and children will need a higher wage than someone who is single and childless. Someone who has a poor credit history may also need a higher wage to pay off debts. How can you mandate one wage that will work for everyone?

Another shortcoming is that minimum wage increases do not help the poor because the majority of poor Americans do not have jobs. This is the reason why most economists do not view this policy as an effective weapon against poverty. The 28 states that raised their minimum wage above the federal level between 2003 and 2007 did not reduce the level of poverty.

When I worked as a security guard for a year I started out making minimum wage ($8/hr) and a year later I was at a different company making $11.40/hr. I wasn’t a statistical anomaly. This happens all the time. We all know that no one ends up where they started and it would raise questions to hear of someone stuck in such a job. A normal life includes such hard beginnings and rites of passage whether it is work, college, or even marriage. What matters more than our current circumstances is the possibility of improving them.

Good intentions can lead to bad consequences. A proper understanding of the Bible teaches us to be concerned about justice for the poor and vulnerable but also compels us to recognize the complexity of the issue of wages that goes beyond simplistic prescriptions. To avoid God’s judgment we have to make decisions based on the right motives. There’s no law Congress could write that can compel us to love our neighbor.

Why The Minimum Wage Can’t Be Biblical

mcdonalds exploitation

At the risk of being simplistic I would say that the argument in favor of raising the minimum wage is that it alleviates poverty and fosters an opportunity society. The main problem with this is that it is demonstrably false.

Not only is the minimum wage evil but it’s also stupid, and neither are biblical. It is an evil means to a righteous end which is to say that it is counterproductive. Christians need to get beyond the emotions and evaluate these issues with a clear head lest we do damage in the name of helping people.

Thomas Sowell, an economist with the Hoover Institution, has spent decades illustrating the consequences of stage-one thinking. It is where you do not think about the effects of a proposed solution to a problem beyond the immediate consequences. The minimum wage issue is a perfect example of this and it is especially problematic when Christians support such a law.

One of the basic principles of economics is that people tend to buy less of something at higher prices and more of it at lower prices. For some unexplained reason we are to believe that employers, the consumers in the labor market, will hire more labor as its price increases. If we are trying to help the poor then I do not see what is compassionate about making it harder for them to find a job.

The advocates for the minimum wage forget, if they ever knew, that you can legislate higher prices for labor but you cannot legislate higher productivity. That would be analogous to proposing a law setting a minimum price of gas at $10/gallon and expecting to see higher gas mileage. Goods and services don’t become more valuable simply because the law requires higher prices.

It is tragic to see the effects of government intervention in the black community. In the immediate years after World War II the unemployment rate among black teens, around 10%, was slightly less than it was among white teenagers. Since 1970, the unemployment rate for black teens has only dropped below 30% for a couple of years. Young black men between the ages of 18-25 are prime candidates for prison, especially when they have a lot of idle time on their hands and numerous bad influences.

Most advocates seem to be unaware of the history of minimum wage. In the U.S. and other countries, including Canada, South Africa, and Australia, the law was used as a means of excluding racial minorities to protect a privilege group. It made it difficult to hire Japanese workers who were willing to work for relatively lower wages in British Columbia, or blacks in South Africa.

Christians should know that the minimum wage can be used as a weapon of discrimination and ask themselves who is being excluded today. If people in the past saw this is a means of oppressing people then we have to ask if it is having the same effects today.

Pricing labor so high that it makes finding a job difficult is not the best way to help the poor. It keeps people out of the labor force at precisely the time they need to develop experience so that they can find better paying jobs later in life. No one ever got rich on a minimum wage job. It is condescending and cruel to tell people that they should expect to do no better. We can be more compassionate than that.

Around The Web

Is it good news that cohabitation rates are falling?

There is good news here though, I think. The good news is that this is one more indicator that the sexual revolution is, ultimately, boring. Marriage and family can be discarded, but, in time, their proposed replacements become the new norm, and it’s time for the revolutionaries to rebel again. That can only go on for so long before a broken and bored people begin to wonder what else is there out there?

Growing trend in pastors working for free

That’s changing, however, as churches face declining numbers and look to new ministry models to make ends meet. Thumma sees more mainliners cutting back to halftime or one-quarter-time packages for clergy, who increasingly work second jobs. The unpaid cleric model is gaining traction among Episcopalians. In the mid-1990s, for example, the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming had few if any unpaid clergy serving its 49 congregations. Now, 20 priests in Wyoming – more than one-third – are unpaid.

Russian Orthodox Church on the rise

Orthodox academics have also been contributing to the insurrection against the church hierarchy. In the Soviet period, scholarship had to be couched in crudely Marxist terms, and the Orthodox Church was mostly excluded from any scrutiny. But since 1990, sophisticated scholarship on contemporary religiosity has been a growth industry. Conferences on, and studies of, religion abound. And, as with the religious mass media, the striking thing is the Orthodox academia’s refusal to commit to the party line. A growing number of scholarly publications emphasize the diversity among Russian spiritual beliefs — what the religious life of believers actually looks like (many Russians claim spiritual rewards from buying organic produce from Orthodox farmers), as opposed to what sociologists or clerics think they ought to look like (say, praying or going to church). Sociologist Nikolai Mitrokhin, who has studied the contemporary Orthodox Church in the greatest detail, goes furthest in criticizing the church-state alliance — including what he calls the “gay mafia” in the church hierarchy. But even those scholars who do not support an explicit political agenda have helped to undermine the church’s claims about a single “true” Orthodoxy.

Thomas Aquinas on property

This seems straightforward enough, but things become complicated when the question is asked: How is property obtained? First, Aquinas refutes the idea that man individually or corporately gives and takes away property: “God has the chief dominion over all things. And he in his providence has ordained some things for the material sustenance of human beings.” Property is a gift from God. All things belong to the Creator who graciously gives man material goods.

Millenials’ changing priorities on marriage

Now, after several semesters of discussing marriage with my introductory ethics classes, I’ve heard these concerns expressed enough times to conclude that, for all their righteous zeal concerning sexual freedom, undergraduates do actually know that they are confused about marriage. This is interesting, particularly since the young people in question are not particularly religious or conservative. My students represent a fairly standard cross-section of middle-class American 20-year-olds. They can talk all day about the evils of global warming and homophobia, but the decline of marriage is, for most of them, a fairly new subject. Nevertheless, they are easily convinced that our society has a marriage problem, because they know that they have a marriage problem, which their teachers and parents have done little to help them resolve.

What Does The Bible Say About Income Inequality?

income inequality

And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Matthew 25:15

I wanted to take a detour from my journey to discuss something that has been on my mind regarding the nexus between the Bible and economics and morality. This will happen often so do not be surprised or puzzled.

The parable of the talents is a story that I have always looked to for an indication about what the Bible says about income inequality. I believe it shows that it is not the problem that people make it out to be. However, I think that the Bible does show that it can be a symptom of a problem that we do need to resolve.

Our theologically and/or politically liberal friends view income inequality as a social injustice that must be rectified. They have been very successful in that it seems natural for us to view such inequality as unfair. We believe in the equality of men and that no one is inherently entitled to more than anyone else because of their birth, race, gender, other arbitrary characteristic. But there is one fatal flaw in the argument.

The problem with this perspective is that it confuses equity with equality. It says that inequality is necessarily, and inherently, wrong. Since all men are created equal they must all be equal in terms of material wealth. While we would like everyone to enjoy a quality of life that meets certain basic necessities and provides some physical comfort the Bible does not go as far as those on the Left go.

This parable shows, among other scriptures, that God does not distribute His gifts equally to all His people. We are not equal in many respects. Everyone is not equally skilled in athletics, academics, art, or strength. And not everyone is equally wealthy. We can easily think of examples of Godly men and women who were both wealthy and poor. Abraham and Solomon were very rich and Jesus and John the Baptist were poor.

We must keep our focus on a person’s spiritual condition. For those who do not believe the most pressing issue is their salvation, more important than their physical needs. Among believers the main concern is whether we are using the gifts that God has given us to be fruitful and produce a return on His investment. God also shows us that our tendency is to neglect the vulnerable among us which include the poor, orphans, and widows. To deny them justice and even to take advantage of them is an evil that God will avenge.

Jesus taught us to seek the kingdom first, and His righteousness, and trust that God will provide for our physical needs. He may call us to a life in which we are blessed financially or He may call us to a life of poverty. We have to be willing to follow the Lord in either scenario and be content. That is by no means an easy thing to do but the Holy Spirit enables us to do the will of God and please Him. And by pleasing Him we discover our true purpose and joy in this life.

Are You Thinking About Your Family Legacy?

duggar family altar

We live in a relatively affluent time compared to prior generations. One of the consequences of growing affluence, it seems, is the decline in birthrates and the size of a typical family. The industrialized countries of the West tend to have birthrates at or below replacement level, which is two children per mother. When we look at Third-World countries the birthrates are higher and the families are bigger.

For this reason economists think of children as an inferior good. There are normal and inferior goods. Normal goods are those things we buy more of as our income increases and inferior goods are those things we consume less of as our income rises.

There are various reasons why people have fewer children as they make more but one of the consequences of this trend is that people tend to think of children as a burden more than a blessing. Small families have become normative and big families are often seen as odd, if not disturbing.

I think there is an underlying set of expectations about maintaining a certain standard of living which is difficult to do when you have many children. The problem with this is that it encourages us to be selfish and short-sighted.

Over the last few months I have asked myself what it is in life that is worth my highest commitment and I keep coming back to the kingdom of heaven and family. I think of these because they are the only things I can invest in whose return will pay off for time and for eternity. I think that if the main reward is in this life then it will ultimately disappoint.

I find confirmation of this in the stories of people who have accomplished great things only to be left empty inside. George Foreman tells of the disappointment that overwhelmed him the night he won the heavyweight title. He worked so hard to climb that mountain only to be left wondering if there is anything more to life.

The biblical alternative is a multi-generational vision in which you are part of a continuum that traverses the generations. It is a vision in which your family is your kingdom and you are aware of the impact of your decisions in this life on your descendants several generations into the future. It is based on an understanding that your children are the only record that this world will have of your existence.

In his book, What He Must Be: …In Order To Marry My Daughter, Voddie Baucham shares a fascinating anecdote about Jonathan Edwards and his descendants:

Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the most influential American theologian of all times. Born in 1703, his books are still a mainstay in Christian colleges and seminaries. More importantly, his collected works are featured prominently in many pastors’ libraries. However, far too few people know the other side of Edwards’s story. Edwards was not only a remarkable preacher, professor, pastor, and prolific author. He was also a loving family man. He was devoted to his wife, Sarah, for thirty-one years until his death in 1758. He led in regular family worship and oversaw the education of his eleven children. Moreover, his was a multigenerational legacy seldom seen before or since.

‘In 1900, A. E. Winship studied what happened to 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah by the year 1900. He found they included 13 college presidents, 65 professors, 100 lawyers and a dean of a law school, 30 judges, 66 physicians and a dean of a medical school, and 80 holders of public office, including three US Senators, mayors of three large cities, governors of three states, a Vice-President of the United States, and a controller of the United States Treasury. They had written over 135 books and edited eighteen journals and periodicals. Many had entered the ministry. Over 100 were missionaries and others were on mission boards.’

Winship also wrote this concerning the legacy of Jonathan Edwards and his impact on America:

Many large banks, banking houses, and insurance companies have been directed by them. They have been owners or superintendents of large coal mines… of large iron plants and vast oil interests… and silver mines…. There is scarcely any great American industry that has not had one of this family among its chief promoters…

When I read this it makes me covet that kind of achievement, and I think it is the kind of thing God wants us to desire. We often appreciate the connection we have with our ancestors but we rarely think about the people who are yet to be born after us, especially after our death.

What if someone told you that 100 years after you die you will have over 1,000 descendants, people who are alive because of you? What if a similar story was told about your descendants being scientists, engineers, and political leaders? Edwards led the Great Awakening but I think he had a much bigger impact on the world after he died through his family.

It takes faith to see the appeal of a blessing that you won’t enjoy because you are not around to enjoy it but there is a joy in the hope that you will be reunited with tens of thousands of brothers and sisters in the Lord who were the fruit of your multiplication.

4 Things That Make People Happy

Dr. Arthur Brooks discusses the four things that he’s found in common among happy people: faith, family, community, and meaningful work. These factors are the key to happiness. In his recent book, The Battle, he explains that people are happy when they earn their success, that is, when they work for something and then receive their reward. This is in contrast to winning the lottery or getting an inheritance.

Why Pastors And Economists Need To Talk

In this vignette AEI President Arthur Brooks says that pastors and economists need to learn from each other about the other’s field of expertise in order to advance an economic viewpoint that rests on strong moral grounds. For several years now Brooks has been making the moral case for free markets, an argument that has been neglected for too long. We can bring our biblical worldview to the discussions of economic issues and we must if we are to make a compelling case.