Bread and Jeans

Are you thankful you do not have to bake bread every morning? I am. We take it for granted when we get up in the morning we can just grab piece of bread from the bread drawer and make some toast. Baking bread is something that is done for us and we are happy to pay for it. If the baker did not make a profit he would not bake bread, so we are happy to pay him more than his cost so he provides this service for us. What about when you need a new pair of jeans? Let’s start by planting some cotton plants…I think you get the picture! I am glad someone makes my jeans and happy to pay for them at a price that allows for a profit, because if their was no profit their would be no jeans!

The Hebrews had their worldview revolutionized by learning to plan for the future. Now it made sense that they could and should accumulate things for their families, and also to help the poor among them. They could make a profit by providing benefit for people. Their ability to solve problems, provide products or serve in some capacity helped both the buyer and the seller. From a Biblical perspective, profit is not obscene or profane, but a good thing and positively moral. In the Bible the occupation of business is both noble and worthy as noted previously in referring to the Proverbs 31 woman of virtue.

Scripture says we should love our neighbors as ourselves. We care about others so we seek to make a product or provide a service that will enhance other people’s lives. Since we care about our neighbors we do not want to make an inferior product that we ourselves would not be delighted to use. Since we care about others we do not want to abuse them as employees. We don’t want to steal from others because we want to be a blessing to them. A businessperson who is dishonest will eventually go out of business.

In his book Thou Shalt Prosper…The Ten Commandments of Making Money, Rabi Daniel Lapin states, “Jews became bankers to help others. Helping others succeed is a dignity enhancing task. Jews selected banking. It was because of their utter trustworthiness that they became successful bankers. Trust made commerce possible.”

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An African Entrepreneur Plans for the Future

Part of the Biblical Worldview is planning for the future. Even in our modern world there are still those that don’t plan for the future. This is true in the Western world as well as developing nations. One of my favorite examples from a developing nation of someone breaking out of this lack of planing for the future is a friend from Africa..

William Munyanya is in an African entrepreneur who lives in the Kitale region of Kenya. He told me the story of trying to teach some of his neighbors to think more prosperously by thinking long term instead of short term. Kitale is a rich agricultural area of Kenya and their biggest cash crop is corn which they call maize. The problem with selling the maize they harvest is that it is all harvested at the same time, and this creates a glut on the local market and drives the price of the corn down.

William explained to his neighbors that they could put their maize in storage for six months and then get twice the price for it. Of course it would cost them some money for storage, but they would still make significantly more than if they sell it at harvest time. William was ready to hire the storage space so they could all share that cost together. As he finished his proposal, his neighbors’ response was to laugh at him. In their minds they had never heard of such a stupid thing. They didn’t believe him because they were so used to getting all the cash right away at harvest. It didn’t matter to them that if they waited they would actually get more cash, almost twice as much. They couldn’t see it. There focus was only on today’s need. William ended up doing it himself to prove it to them. He wanted to demonstrate for them that long term planning is more prosperous thinking than just thinking for today.

Another example of this kind of long term planning for William’s neighbors to see is how he is prepared to get electricity to his house. He built a house in a rural area that has no access to electricity. In rural Africa, electricity is not available along every road but only comes where people pay for it to come. They knew when they built the house that the closest electricity was located miles away, and they didn’t have the money to pay for it to get there.

William’s plan was to research what kind of tree the electric company uses for electric poles, and he planted a stand of this kind of trees on his property. These tall slender trees grow fairly rapidly, however it still took 7-8 years for them to be large enough for him to trade or sell to the electric company for electrical service.

The Rest of the Story: On my recent trip to Kenya I found that William had the electricity at his house. His practical planning for the future worked out well. It took time but he got electricity to his home for his family.

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The Hebrews Learned to Plan for the Future

When God separated the Children of Israel from the rest of the world, he began mentoring them to think differently. God broke the Hebrews out of the cyclical, mystical thinking of the pagan world with the revelation and understanding of linear time and progress. If things in this world are advancing rather than cyclical, then people can plan, work, save and experience a better future. The Hebrews could now plan for the future with their family. It seems so simple to us now because it is assumed in the modern world, but planning for the future was not common in the ancient world and the primitive cyclical pattern of thought was quite crippling.

For an example of how God taught the Hebrews, we find this thinking early on in Joseph’s life. He had a dream of his brothers bowing down to worship him and he had a sense that this was in the future, partially because it didn’t seem likely in the present because his brothers despised him. Later, Joseph interpreted pharaoh’s dream correctly and knew from it that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of draught. To prepare for the seven years of draught, Joseph took the practical step of leading the Egyptians to store large quantities of food during the years of abundance. We read that Joseph had to store the food in the fields because there were no barns to store food. That is because up to this time people were fatalistic and just accepted that draughts came and when they did people would starve.

Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.                     Genesis 41:48-49

Joseph’s wise actions saved the lives of many Egyptians and elevated him to a place of authority in the Egyptian world where he would see his earlier dream concerning his brothers fulfilled. It also provided physical sustenance for the Hebrews during the draught. Because the Egyptians had stored up food when no one else did, they accumulated great wealth, which was later leveraged when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egypt.                      Exodus 12:35-36

God planned ahead so the Hebrews would have silver, gold and clothing when they left Egypt. They saw God planning for the future and realized he expected them to do the same. Thinking long term and planning ahead is crucial for the Christian to experience prosperity today.

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Linear Time and Progress…. The R.G. LeTourneau Story

As God was mentoring and teaching the Hebrews his economic system, he taught them to think differently than the fatalistic, cyclical thinking of the pagans around them. A concept he instilled in them is that time moves in a linear progressive fashion. In the ancient, mystical pagan world, this was a revolutionary idea that was unique to the Hebrews. The ancient peoples developed their cultures closely tied to nature and its rhythms. The sun rises and sets. The moon repeats its pattern each month. The seasons repeat over and over again. People are born, live and die. All things were thought of as trapped in endless uncontrollable cycles.

Harold Eberle notes how God intervened in this cyclical thinking, “Moses write a linear account of their history. Starting with creation he wrote about the first day, the second day, etc. The generations were recorded, fathers and sons and the accomplishments of both. At this time few others had such a sense of the linear unfolding of time. The Hebrews were the first to have a written record of their origins laid out in a chronological succession of events. Additionally…God gave the ideas of good things coming in their future: A promised Land they would own, a Messiah coming, a coming Kingdom that would continue to grow until if filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:35). All this pushed the Hebrews to think of the world as moving in a positive, God ordained direction.”

Now many years later, Christians take this concept for granted and advance as God leads them. One great example of this was R.G. LeTourneau. Having already achieved success in the earth-moving business, He explained to his pastor that he felt he could serve God better as a bona-fide pastor or missionary overseas. His pastor wisely responded, “God needs businessmen, too.”

Sensing the call to become “God’s businessman,” LeTourneau decided to use his God-given gift of innovation in the marketplace. He achieved 299 patents for his earth-moving and materials handling equipment. These inventions included the bulldozer, scrapers, portable cranes, rollers, dump wagons, bridge spans, logging equipment, mobile sea platforms for oil exploration, the electric wheel, and many others. Historians say approximately 70% of the earth-moving equipment used by the Allies to win World War II was manufactured by his company.

In addition to making disciples of Jesus through his business, using his spiritual gift of creativity, and adding tremendous value to the U.S. economy even in the midst of the Great Depression, LeTourneau habitually and cheerfully gave away 90 percent of his income toward the advancement of the gospel. He cared for his workers and the poor and needy…another aspect of the Biblical worldview we will examine in future blogs.

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Delayed Gratification

I was teaching on Biblical Prosperity in Kisumu, Kenya to a group of African pastors and leaders about some keys they could use to rise up out of poverty. At the break, Hesbone Odindo who is the apostolic leader of this region stood up and drew attention to this principle of delayed gratification as a practical key for Christian leaders in Africa to prosper in their finances. Delayed gratification is generally associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

It is hard for folks anywhere in the world who have been trained to expect things delivered to them instantly to choose to delay gratification. But this is the biblical way of self government and is one practical way to see prosperity in your finances. Sacrifice present pleasures for future gain. We see in Proverbs that God taught the Hebrews to be self governed:

A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. Proverbs 25:28 NLT

One way this self government manifests is delayed gratification. To plan for the future will make you more prosperous because it is thinking long range. The former smoker will pass on smoking cigarettes to avoid cancer and live a longer life. The African will pass on buying a new suit of clothes so in the future he can have more than one suit for him and his sons. Shoppers resist splurging at the mall so they can develop net worth by saving for a comfortable retirement.

Interestingly enough, modern research has connecting this principle of delay gratification with the ability to prosper:

More than 40 years ago, Walter Mischel, PhD, a psychologist now at Columbia University, explored self-control in children with a simple but effective test. He presented a preschooler with a plate of treats such as marshmallows. The child was then told that the researcher had to leave the room for a few minutes, but not before giving the child a simple choice: If the child waited until the researcher returned, they could have two marshmallows. If the child simply couldn’t wait, they could ring a bell and the researcher would come back immediately, but they would only be allowed one marshmallow. Preschoolers with good self-control sacrificed the immediate pleasure of a chewy marshmallow in order to indulge in two marshmallows at some later point.

When He revisited his marshmallow-test subjects as adolescents. He found that teenagers who had waited longer for the marshmallows as preschoolers were more likely to score higher on the SAT, and their parents were more likely to rate them as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self- control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted. American Psychological Association

As stated in the last blog, the Biblical concepts of savings and frugality are core actions to accomplish delayed gratification that allow for the accumulation of net worth for an individual over time. Make a decision today to delay gratification. You can do it. You will prosper.

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A Good Man Leaves an Inheritance…

When God chose and separated the Hebrews from the rest of the existing world, He mentored them to think in different ways than the pagan peoples around them. One way this became real to the Hebrews was God’s action of establishing them in their own land with each tribe and family given a portion. God did this to mold their thinking…they were forced to think about what they would pass on to the next generations. He taught them…and they saw that it was important to leave an inheritance to the next generation. This became such a part of the Hebrew worldview that it was expected of every person living righteously.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. Prov. 13:22a

If there was to be an inheritance passed on, the Hebrews had to become aware of savings and frugality. Both of these concepts were foreign to the pagans that were the Hebrews peers at this time. The pagans survived hand to mouth because their thinking was only about themselves and their survival. There was no long range planning for the future since they saw everything as determined by fate. Frugality and savings were foolish to the pagan mind. Since they saw no reason to accumulate anything for the next generation, using what they presently have to gain more (what we call capitalism) did not make sense to them. But the Hebrews were taught voluntary saving and frugality.

Go to the ant, you sluggard…it has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

Savings and frugality are the bedrock for developing wealth, and the concept of net worth which is how the modern world measures wealth. Next week we will build on these concepts by discussing delayed gratification.

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The Diligent Get a Better Reward Than the Lazy

In the last blog we discussed the concept that some are wise and some are foolish and this this leads to different rewards. The book of Proverb points out another key distinction in human nature and character that makes a difference in the rewards received. Some are diligent (hardworking) and some are lazy. Without trying to sound too simplistic, from a Biblical perspective the diligent get a different and better reward than the lazy. Let’s read Proverbs:

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. Proverbs 10:4

A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. Proverbs 13:4

Though today some find it difficult to admit this character difference in individuals, it is the truth. It seems silly to have to state what seems obvious but  many struggle to see this distinction. If a misguided, socialistic government tries to take the reward of the diligent and give it to the lazy in the name of fairness, then is short circuits God’s plan for the lazy to learn from the diligent and hard working. After farming for years and finding myself with 5 cows when my neighbor has 50…perhaps I should look at their work ethic and learn from them. The Biblical view is one of the lazy learning from the hard working….

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise…Prov. 6:6

Early on God taught his children the value of diligent work. Thus a person has incentive to work harder if they can enjoy the fruit of their labor with their friends and family…and voluntarily help the poor and needy. Mankind was intended to be a producer before a consumer, yet most modern economic theory is built on the understanding that man is a consumer. No…it all started in the garden when God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply.

Proverbs 31 describes a woman worthy of praise who “works with eager or willing hands (v13)” and “sets about her work vigorously (v. 17)” and “does not eat the bread of idleness (v27). This is a virtuous woman who also “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20)”. This hardworking woman has a heart for the poor…and also the means to help them.

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