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Soup and Buns

Should Introverts be expected to act like Extroverts?

“You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” This quotation from a tongue-in-cheek article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly summed up his premise that Extroverts do not understand or fully appreciate Introverts. Although I knew that I was an Extrovert, I found the actual definitions a bit surprising. Tiring… or energizing? Introverts are people who “find other people tiring,” who need to re-charge after a certain amount of socializing. They mull things over inside their brains and then talk about them. Being alone with their thoughts is as “restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” One suggested motto for them is, “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.” Rauch’s own formula is that he needs “two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” A Google search estimates that about 25% of people are truly Introverts, but in the “gifted” community they are a majority. Extroverts are “energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone.” They figure things out by discussing them with other people, and think by talking. They tend to dominate social settings with their “endless appetite for talk and attention.” Understanding is a one-way street Society in general views Extrovert behavior as more desirable, and this can sometimes be taken to a fault when Introvert behavior is criticized or not appreciated for its strengths. For instance, an Extrovert might be described as outgoing, happy, bighearted, vibrant, warm, and as a confident leader who is “a real people person.” Introverts are often described as loners, reserved, guarded, and taciturn (inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation). It is as though an individual’s worth is determined only by their observable interactions in a group. Rauch suggests that Introverts more often understand Extroverts because the latter put all of their thoughts and feelings out on the table. His concern as an Introvert, is that:

Extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through…. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.”

I wonder if any other Extroverts find themselves cringing and remembering times when they too felt offended because someone didn’t want their company. Other differences Extroverts tend to think that a lull in conversation is a bad thing, and they can feed off of small talk or deep conversation and enjoy large groups. Introverts need more time to think through what they will say and tend to dislike small talk while enjoying more meaningful discussion, especially in a more private setting. Extroverts feel a need to “draw out” the Introverts and get them to participate, because to them participation is essential. Since they cannot imagine that a person might enjoy sitting quietly off to the side, they take on the role of encourager. Unfortunately, it often comes across to the Introvert as controller instead. Smiley face :) Expectations exist regarding facial expressions too. Smiles are expected as part of good manners, so we give them whether we feel like it or not. Often if a person’s face goes to its default serious expression, people jump to the conclusion that he is upset or depressed, whereas he might just be pondering a weighty subject or listening to conversations around him. Rauch suggests that Introverts may be less smiley, but not necessarily less joyful. The differences are something to be considered in regards to church and family activities. As one Introvert explained to me, “At Ladies’ Bible Study, I often start formulating an answer to a question, but by the time I figure out what I want to say they have all gone on to a new subject or maybe even several subjects, so I rarely get to say anything.” Perhaps this is why some people feel more at home studying the Bible and praying with only a few friends. I wonder if our quick-sound-bite culture has lured us away from valuing long pauses with time to reflect? I’ve read that in some Japanese company meetings, they present the information and then sit in silence for a long time while everyone just thinks. What an Introverted thing to do! My friend went on to say, “The same thing happens when our entire family is together.” Some family members would prefer more two-on-two social activities and fewer or less lengthy whole group situations. It is possible to consider both the Extrovert’s and the Introvert’s preferences. Conclusion God tells us to love one another, and the more we understand one another, the more we will know how to keep this commandment. We may have lived our entire life thus far “not knowing what we didn’t know.” But now, we know.

This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact sharoncopy@gmail.com.

News

Dawkins on eugenics: evil uncloaked

Richard Dawkins has been called one of the “Four horsemen of atheism” and is famed, as well, for being one of Charles Darwin’s most ardent defenders. In February he got himself into trouble for this tweet:

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology."

While eugenics – controlled human breeding – has been popular in the past, its best-known proponents were the Nazis, and that’s an association no one wants. That’s why Dawkins’ atheist and evolutionist cohorts didn’t like his endorsement of eugenics’ practical possibilities – it made them all look bad. And they jumped on him. But on what grounds could they attack him? As Dawkins made clear in follow up tweets, he thinks eugenics immoral.

“For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy. I simply said deploring it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.”

“A eugenic policy would be bad. I’m combating the illogical step from ‘X would be bad’ to ‘So X is impossible’. It would work in the same sense as it works for cows. Let’s fight it on moral grounds….”

But there is a problem with an atheist evolutionist taking a moral stand against eugenics. As Dawkins highlighted in his 1994 book, River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, his worldview doesn’t allow for a wrong and right.

"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

If there really were no good, no evil, and nothing but pitiless indifference, then on what moral basis can we stand against eugenics? One fellow scientist, Dave Curtis, took a different tack, making the case that eugenics wouldn’t practically work, what with human being’s “long generational times and small numbers of offspring.” But this practical objection to eugenics doesn’t make atheist evolutionists look any better. Since when do we object to evil on the basis of how difficult it is to successfully pull off? What would we say of a man who objects to murder on the basis of how hard it is to dispose of the body? While his fellow atheists and evolutionists might not appreciate how Dawkins is sidling up to der Fuhrer, we can be grateful for the illumination he provided. As Discrn.com’s Peter Heck noted:

"It's one thing for Christians like myself to offer hypothetical illustrations to the world showing what happens to human ethics apart from God's moral authority. It is another for Richard Dawkins to actually demonstrate them personally."

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Children’s picture books

20 read-aloud suggestions…

I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and now that they are older we're still reading, ending each day with a chapter or two of something. That means for years now I've also been on the hunt for that next great book to read, talking to others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are and what they might recommend. If you're looking for that next book too, or maybe the coronavirus quarantine has you thinking about reading to your kids for the first time, here are some favorites that our family and others have sure loved. Many of these can be checked out electronically from your local library. Otherwise, considering buy the e-book version of one of the chapter books – it's an investment that'll pay off in the hours you and your family can enjoy these stories together. While there are 20 recommendations below, some are of books series, so the total number of books recommended amounts to well over 100, and all of them fantastic! PICTURE BOOKS All of these have big bright pictures on every page, and the first three are rhymed, which makes it a lot easier for a beginning Dad to get off to a good reading-out-loud start; these will make you sound good! A camping spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen – it has 2 great sequels The Farm Team by Linda Bailey – about a hockey-playing barnyard Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel  – a favorite of millions for the last 40 years Charlie The Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond – while the 10 sequels can't quite match the enormous charm of this, the original, your kids will love them too Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes – Shirley Hughes has dozens of other wonderful read-aloud picture books The Little Ships by Louise Borden – this is a stirring WWII account suitable for the very young, about the bravery of ordinary folk James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with 8 sweet stories for animal-loving children Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog - 23 books in all. Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – an Abbot and Costello-like duo of Piggie and Elephant getting into all sorts of antics. 29 books, most of which require from the reader only the ability to do just two different voices BOOKS WITH PICTURES There are pictures in these selections, but not on every page. These are slightly longer, more involves stories which your children will not be able to read on their own until the later part of Grade 1, or the beginning of Grade 2, but they’ll love to hear them a lot earlier than that. Bruno the Bear by W.G. Van de Hulst – one in a series of 20+ classic books that are impossible to find except here Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – it’s worth getting the big collected treasury to read and reread again and again The Big Goose and the Little White Duck by Meindert DeJong – a gruff grandpa wants to eat the pet goose! Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling – the gorgeous Jerry Pinkney adaption is the very best Prince Martin Wins His Sword by Brandon Hale – epic story, in rhyme - this is just so fun to read out loud, and there are 3 sequels! CHAPTER BOOKS Once the kids are hitting kindergarten or Grade 1 mom and dad can read books they might read for themselves only in Grade 5 or 6, or even as adults. That can make reading aloud more fun for parents, as the stories will be of more interest to them now. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is not the easiest read aloud – the sentences can be quite choppy – but girls everywhere are big fans, and there are 8 sequels The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 11-book Christian fantasy series is that each title leads into the next; it’s one big story with no clear ending in any of the books. But we've read all 11 so far and are eagerly anticipating #12! The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh out loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up), with 4 main books, and then a book of short stories too. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – much more of a children’s tale than Lord of the Rings and shorter too (maybe also best for Grade 3 and up) The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - the author is Christian though that doesn't come up directly anywhere; it's just good silly fun Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson – a clearly Christian grandma talks with her granddaughter, telling stories about way back when she was a little girl. This wouldn't work for boys, but our girls absolutely love it (and there are 3 sequels every bit as good). Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer – Brouwer has collected true stories about the amazing feats different animals managed while working in the trenches of World War I, and then told them as if they all happened in just one Canadian army unit. This is probably my wife's favorite book on this list, and the girls sure liked it too. There were one or two instances where I had to skip a few descriptive words, just to tone down the tension a tad - war stories are not the usual fare for my girls – but with that slight adaptation, this made for great reading even for their 5-9-year-old age group.

Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com.

Current Issue, Magazine

Jan/Feb 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: The great moon hoax of 1935 / "Seven Wondrous Words" book excerpt / Why we should be life-long learners / Complementarianism is not misogynistic / This isn't your parents' Katy Keene...or Archie Andrews / "The Gospel comes with a house key" review / The case for biblically-responsible investing / Canada has no "right to abortion" / When the Word of God is not preached / Christian fantasy fiction for teens and adults / What you should know to survive and thrive in your secular science class / Four films to see for free online / I started my business for the wrong reasons / and much more...

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Economics

A sad tale of a wealthy millennial’s moral confusion

A few years back my wife heard a young woman share that she had felt guilty for being able to go out to dinner with friends in Chicago. She knew her mother, still living in South Africa, wasn’t able to dine out like this. When she later told her mother about her feelings during a phone call, her mother was having none of it. She told her daughter that gratitude, not guilt was the appropriate response to God’s blessings. The young woman was told that she should thank God for how she’d been able to immigrate to America, and she could also pray and work for a time when South Africans, and others around the world, would enjoy blessings similar to those she was experiencing now in America. Is wealth immoral? I remembered that story the moment I began reading about Adam Roberts, a Millennial who in his Vox article “Is wealth immoral?” expressed his sense of guilt and injustice at having inherited over a million dollars as a child of wealthy parents. “As I got politicized around things like wealth inequality, climate change, war, and the forces connecting them, I didn’t connect it too much with my own family or history,” he wrote. But then he came to understand things differently. He confessed, as if they were sins, that his family had gained wealth through the oil industry, banking, and stock in companies that built things for the military. His parents had given him stock in ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron – another reason for guilt. As he became active as a “community organizer” in Boston, “no longer surrounded by wealthy peers,” it “felt absurd … to have access to so much when so many others didn’t.” “As a result,” he wrote, “I got real weird about money. I’d barely spend any of it.” He’d walk instead of taking Uber. Spending of $300 a month for prescription drugs for his mother-in-law was okay, but he was conflicted about putting down $30,000 on a house or spending $6.99 for a bag of popcorn at a theater. So he offset those two by contributing $30,000 to a land trust and declining to get a soda refill. But such things, he believes “are imperfect, individual actions.” The whole system that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle is “immoral.” Everyone, he thinks, should have a modest first home, but nobody should have a “$20M mansion in Newport, RI,” a second home if anyone else is homeless, or a third (or fourth or fifth). Nobody should buy a new $799 sofa when he could buy a used one, and nobody should have a yacht – at all. “Is it moral to hold any excess  private wealth under capitalism?” he asks – and later reveals that it’s not. “Does it matter how that wealth was accumulated?” He offers four examples: fossil fuels, medical doctor, useful invention, or stocks. He draws toward his conclusion by writing: “In a system that produces a handful of people with billions of dollars while hundreds of millions of people still lack access to basic human needs like health care and affordable housing … the question isn’t what billionaires should do with ‘their’ money. It’s how to enact policies that prevent any one person from concentrating that much wealth and power in the first place.” He recommends “taxing wealthy families like mine a whole lot more” because it’s “totally happened in the past,” it’s “part of the Green New Deal,” and it’s “widely supported.” At the level of individual choices, he reports that he’s donated roughly a third of what he inherited to charitable causes and intends to donate another third. “For me, it feels like part of becoming more connected and alive on this planet,” he says. Good motives; bad conclusions How should we respond to such thinking? Certainly not by condemning Roberts’s motives. It’s refreshing to see someone born rich who cares about those who weren’t. His charitable giving is to be commended, as is his self-restraint. And, frankly, as I read his article (accompanied by brilliant illustrations that drive home his points), my heart went out to him. Nonetheless, there are serious problems with his thinking. Is “wealth inequality” unjust by definition? Why, then, hasn’t he already divested himself of everything he owns except what would equal the average net worth of people around the world? How can anyone buy a used sofa – or any sofa at all – if nobody buys a new one? What constitutes a modest first home – something typical of Corinth, Mississippi, where median home value is $105,900? Or of Boston, where Roberts lives and the median home value is five-and-a-half times as much, or Manhattan at eleven times as much, or San Francisco (tack on another hundred grand)? Or – let’s get real now, and care about the whole world, not just wealthy America – is $1,000 a square foot, common in Boston, “modest,” or $99 (7,000 rupees) a square foot, common in Bengaluru (Bangalore), India’s “silicon valley”? Or next to nothing for the cardboard shacks in which millions of the poor of Africa, Asia, and Latin America live? And what’s the dividing line between a moral system and an “immoral” one that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle? Is personal net worth of $10,000 okay, but not $11,000? Or $250,000 but not $300,000? What objective standard justifies where Roberts draws the line? And what is “excess” wealth? Consider millionaires and billionaires – the sort of persons Roberts thinks “the system” should disallow. What do millionaires and billionaires do with their “excess” wealth? Well, they might buy stocks or bonds – providing the capital to pay workers, equip them with expensive tools that enable them to produce the food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits still other people need. They might buy a second or third house (or a yacht, or a private jet), construction of which employed workers whose wages provided food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits to themselves and their families. Maybe they’ll just stick it in a bank account – from which the bank will make loans to companies that will employ people to make things that benefit others. About the only thing they can do with it that will be of use to nobody is hide it under the mattress. (Let me know if you run into a millionaire who does that. I’m curious to meet such an eccentric.) It’s pretty clear that Roberts thinks there’s something particularly immoral about accumulating wealth from fossil fuels. Yet using those fossil fuels has lifted billions of people out of the poverty that breaks Roberts’s heart by providing not only energy but also plastics that prevent foods from spoiling; fertilizers that allow farmers to grow more food on less land to feed the growing human population while leaving land available for wildlife; pharmaceuticals that heal diseases; and literally thousands of other products derived from them. And when he bemoans fossil fuels’ contribution (however great or small) to climate change, does he weigh that against all those other benefits from them – plus the roughly $3.2 trillion in extra crop yields the CO2 emitted from them added to global crop yields (making food more available for the poor) from 1960 to 2012, with another $9.8 trillion expected by 2050? Medical doctors, whose method of accumulating wealth it seems Roberts favors over fossil fuels, would be severely handicapped without fossil fuel-derived medications (maybe including some his mother-in-law takes), not to mention the electricity that lights their operating rooms and powers their refrigerators to preserve their medications, their MRIs, and every other high-tech invention that enables them to restore people’s health and prolong their lives. How many of the things that raised human life expectancy at birth from about 27 or 28 years before the Industrial Revolution to about 70 today worldwide (and 80 in developed countries) would have been developed if no inventors, innovators, or entrepreneurs could have received any more rewards for their efforts than those who dug ditches (an honorable task but not highly rewarded) or just sat on their haunches? For some, wealth is a problem When a rich ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to obey God’s commandments – something the man says he has done from his youth up. “One thing you still lack,” Jesus says. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man leaves sad, prompting Jesus’ remark, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” – i.e., impossible. But, He explains, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:18–27). So does that justify Roberts’s feeling guilty about his inherited wealth, and demanding that “the system” be changed to prevent anyone’s amassing “excess wealth” while others struggle? Charity is good, and so is investment No, for in the very next chapter, when Jesus encounters a rich tax collector who says that he will give half his goods to the poor and restore fourfold anyone he has defrauded, Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:1–10). So which is it? Must one give everything away, or half? Or is there a different point entirely – wealth takes the place of God for some people, and must be given away entirely, but not for others. After that encounter, Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman (who represents God) who entrusts money to each of ten servants and instructs them to engage in business until he returns. On his return, the servants report their performance. The first has multiplied the investment ten times, the second five times. He rewards them proportionately. The third servant says, “Lord, here is your mina , which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” The nobleman, ignoring the obvious lie that he was reaping where had not sown, responds, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” Then he instructs others to take the money from him and give it to the first servant. “Lord,” they protest, “he has ten minas!” And the master responds, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Luke 19:11–27). God condemns injustice, not wealth The Bible has much to say about the need to protect the poor from oppression and to give charitably to help those who cannot help themselves. But nowhere does it condemn wealth. Indeed, some of the most important of God’s people were wealthy – Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, and wealthy women who provided for Jesus and His disciples. The Bible condemns greed, selfishness, and injustice – but it never equates injustice with inequality. Adam Roberts’s confusion is sad, for it means he encourages not only envy and resentment toward many whom God has blessed but also false guilt on the part of many, including himself, who are blessed. By all means, whether you consider yourself rich or middle class or poor, give to the poor, and work to protect the poor from injustice. But don’t condemn all inequality as injustice, and don’t feel guilty for the gifts God has given you.  Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, is author of Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel. Questions to consider How does God's "equality" as found in James 2:1-4, and Lev. 19:15 differ with the sort of equality that Adam Roberts wants the government to bring in? How does equal treatment under the law differ from being made equal by the law? (See the comic below). Roberts feels guilty for two different reasons: 1) for being wealthy, and 2) for how that wealth was garnered. As Christians, which of those two could be a legitimate concern, and which is not? Why? Each time money is exchanged for merchandise both parties become "wealthier." When I pay $5 for a book it's because that book is worth more than $5 to me and the merchant gives me the book because the $5 is worth more than the book to him (or else neither of us would make the trade). Amazingly both of us came off the better for the trade. Thus, money gained via legitimate means (piracy and money laundering are both out) represents good that has been done and wealth that has been increased. How should that understanding color our impressions of billionaires and millionaires? How much "good already accomplished" does their wealth represent? The 10th Commandment (Ex. 20:17) says we're not to covet our neighbor's stuff. Is it still coveting if we support a political party that has plans for our uber-rich neighbor's wealth? Explain. Lord Acton's most memorable quote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is based on a biblical understanding of Man's fallen nature. Is this adage a good reason to want to diminish the wealth – and thus the power – of the very wealthy? Or does the 10th Commandment apply even to their power? In Luke 12:48 we read, "...from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Is this passage a good justification for higher taxes on the rich? Is this God speaking to government about what the wealthy need to do, or God speaking to the wealthy about what the wealthy need to do? ...

Economics

A multi-level warning about multi-level marketing

Multi-level marketing’s end is nowhere in sight. Years ago, my personal ministry was. Yours truly accepted the invitation of another minister to jump into the multi-level pool. I stayed just long enough to nearly drown. During that time (and the drying off period which followed), I’ve done much thinking about the nature of multi-level marketing (“MLM”), with particular concern as to whether it is compatible with a lifestyle of devout obedience to the Christ of the Scriptures. My conclusion? There is a way that MLM is commonly done that conflicts at many points with Biblical values. So in what follows I submit several cautions – several lessons I’ve learned – for you to consider if you are involved in or thinking about joining one of these organizations. These points could be summed up as how we don’t want to do multi-level marketing. 1. Competing with the Church The first and deepest caution concerns multi-level marketing’s competition with the Church. From this one grand problem flow many others. This competition is undeclared but it is quite real. Consider, for example, how MLM literature is often liturgical in form. It contains praises for the company and/or its leaders, thanksgiving for its products, testimonies to the greatness of both, confessions of doubts, and even songs of adoration (no kidding). “Church” can meet in small groups (devotionals?) or large auditoriums. In the latter, the atmosphere is truly reminiscent of tent revivals in both program and intensity. Of course, you are urged to bring anyone you can. Every day is “Friend Day” in MLM. Furthermore, their agenda includes fantastic goals which, if truly representative of the organizations’ objectives, are frightening. They are out to “change the world.” Having made a “covenant with life” they are seeking to “infuse…lives with some measure of grace and beauty and purpose and joy.” MLMers are told that they are the “comfort and hope, promise and dream” of the world. Despite attacks or setbacks, these organizations will “survive and prevail(!)” Their enthusiasm is positively postmillennial in intensity. MLMers will often call each other “family.” They are urged to make a 100% commitment to the organization (something God alone can demand). They are encouraged to believe that the more they devote themselves to the plan, the closer they will be to tapping into “a life force of unlimited power.” People claim to have been “born-again,” either through the use of the company’s products or through participation in the multi-level program. They have been “set-free,” made “brand new,” delivered from fears, and are no longer able to hide their joy. Small wonder they can’t resist “sharing the good news”! The list could go on, but this tiny sampling of MLM rhetoric is sufficient to show the Messianic self-consciousness of many of these organizations. They are out to save the world. The problem, though, is that in their view salvation is primarily economic. People are unfulfilled or repressed or depressed because they haven’t got enough money. And this MLM organization will show you how to get it! Their method is (allegedly) guaranteed…but if you don’t get saved, it’s your fault. The impression is certainly given that the method is faultless. When I confronted one MLMer with the fact that he seemed to be saying that his organization was perfect, he quickly retorted, “Oh, no.” But in hours of talking, he yielded no ground. He could not (would not?) see any drawback or downside to his company. The Church should only fare as well when scrutinized by even her most loving critics! To review our first point, Christians need to be wary of MLM organizations that set themselves in competition with the Church by claiming the same mission (they are out to change the world – cf. Mark 16:15), by borrowing heavily from Biblical evangelical terminology (grace, born again, set free, covenant, joy, hope, comfort, sharing the good news, etc.), by pushing an economically-based soteriology (another gospel, my friends – Galatians 1:9), and by presumptuously arrogating to themselves invincibility (“we will prevail” – cf. Matthew 16:18) and possession of the keys to omnipotence (“a life force of unlimited power” – cf. Ephesians 1:18-23). It might be said that the organizations don’t really mean these things, that this is just the kind of hyperbole required to be competitive. But if they don’t mean these things, they should not say them (and they say them over and over and over again). If they do mean what they say, it necessarily makes it exceedingly difficult for Christians involved with the organizations to distinguish between things that differ. Sharing so much vocabulary necessarily cheapens the meaning of the words. When we remember that it is by means of some of these words that we are saved and sanctified, the precarious position of the Christian in such an MLM group becomes clearer. 2. Using friends and family A second concern for Christians involves how MLM can impact the way we view our social relationships. There would be little or no problem with the simple retailing of the products offered by these companies. They are usually as good, or better (though more expensive) than comparable items available in ordinary retail outlets. But, as you’re quick to find out, retail ain’t where the money is. No, the pyramid is climbed primarily through recruiting. You see, in MLM you get a cut of the sales of those recruited by you, and potentially of those recruited by them, and so on, ad pyramidium. Needless to say, you are at least as concerned to bring in the salesmen, as you are to bring in the sales. One Christian MLMer told me it was “just like making disciples” (there we go again). So the danger, then, is, that we start viewing everyone as potential timber with which we can build our little empire. Family members and close friends become the prime targets for you to “bring in under you.” Friends you have not called for 10 years, and casual acquaintances, who have to be reminded how they know you, come next. In MLM, propinquity = profit. But, by grace, the Christian MLMer will know he is in real trouble when, upon making new acquaintances, he doesn’t know which gospel he should seek to share first. If the company’s “support system” has indoctrinated him properly, he will consistently choose to first tell them about his new life in MLM. He hopes that it might lead to an opportunity to share God’s good news sometime in the future. The rationalizations one offers one’s self for this infidelity to God are myriad: “I feel led to share MLM first” / “If this person is among the elect he’ll be saved anyway” / “I’m going to use the money I make for God’s glory” (that was my favorite) / “If we share a business interest I’ll have more opportunities to witness,” etc. A prostitute can be very creative when comforting her conscience (see Proverbs 30:20). To review: MLM is bad news when: 1) it seeks to usurp the role of the Church 2) relationships become exploitation-ships. 3. The god of Mammon Greed can be a temptation in any business venture, but in MLM the amount of money you could make is mentioned again and again. That means covetousness is a real danger (see Proverbs 21:6, 16:8, Mark 4:19, Luke 12:15, 1 John 2:15). It is rather remarkable how few MLMers will be frank about this (though some are). The money can be significant, though – even astronomical, (for a few) – and it is possible to build a profitable business rather quickly. This is because MLM, when the people “under you” make money, you make money. The more they make, the more you make. Everyone is constantly “encouraging” everyone else to go for it. Of course, the difference between greed and simple financial success is not in the amount of dollars amassed, but in what one has exchanged for those dollars. One MLM convention or large rally would reveal what some poor souls have lost to gain what they now, temporarily, have. Superstars in MLM are often unabashedly ostentatious self-aggrandizers. Many of them, sorrowfully, have given up, or reprioritized (which is, after all, the same thing – Ex. 20:3) their first love for baubles, trinkets and the way of death. It is very sad. 4. Competing with the communion of saints A fourth concern is that MLM devotees are drawn into an independent subculture. For Christians, MLM involvement is, in some respects, akin to membership in a lodge. MLM is intrinsically and increasingly esoteric. The fellowship of the saints is usually seen as inadequate. A new club is formed and the password is not the blood of Jesus but the name of your MLM organization. Man is ever finding new ways to put asunder that which God has joined together. Conclusion There is a solemn warning in 1 Timothy that tore at my conscience the whole time I was involved in MLM. I actually avoided looking at this passage because it got too close, penetrating my soul, judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart. Rather than submit to this passage, I was considering leaving the ministry! Oh brothers, listen to the Word of God. Don’t give heed to the siren song, no matter how sweet, if its lyrics contain an invitation to disobey the tiniest commandment of God. The devil is seeking to devour us, but God has given us His Word for our good and for our protection. Obedience to God’s Word is life! “If we have food and clothing we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:8-11). Beware of giving heed to the voice of seducing spirits. God has called us to peace, which is found in the pursuit of Himself – not gold. By all means, work hard. By all means, bless Jehovah for the increase He grants the labor of your hands. But never make money your chief pursuit, or you’re dead. Abraham Kuyper was certainly correct when he said, “If you are truly subject to God, money will be subject to you and will not harm you.” But Kuyper demonstrated his balance and wisdom when he added, “If, on the other hand, you undertake to defend yourself against the fatal influence of…money and its seductive power, you are lost before you know it, and deeming that you are your own master, you have found your master in the money-power.” If you or someone you know is considering entering the world of MLM, wait. Before committing yourself to such a lifestyle (for that is what it is), take your time and pray. Consider the points made in this article. If they were made too strongly, modify them, but be sober and judge with right judgment. Look beyond surface claims; look for truth in the inwards parts. MLM organizations usually offer excellent products and most operate with a great degree of internal integrity. But product and corporate reliability, while important, are not the only factors which a child of the Living God should consider before biting at a ten-tiered carrot. If you’re not very careful, you may bite off more than you can chew. A version of this article first appeared in “Messiah’s Mandate: UPDATE, Volume 2, Number 2,” and is reprinted here with permission of the author. Rev. Steve M. Schlissel is the pastor of Messiah’s Covenant Community Church (MessiahNYC.org) in Brooklyn, New York. Questions to consider 1. This article presumes Christians want to talk about God with whomever we meet. But is that accurate – are we eager to talk about God? What stops us from talking about God? 2. How are the article’s four cautions applicable to other business ventures? 3. Pastor Schlissel says we should be wary of messianic, save-the-world language because it competes with the real Messiah, and the real Savior. So how should we respond when we hear it elsewhere? Like presidential debates? Or discussions about plastic straw usage? Where else do we hear this kind of language? 4. How would a Christian involved in MLM do it differently than non-Christians? What would that look like? 5. In a report posted to the US Federal Trade Commission website, Jon M. Taylor detailed how, in the 350 leading MLMs he’d looked at, 99% of sales consultants lost money. Taylor suggests that before you join any particular MLM you ask them for: “the average amount of money paid by the company in commissions and bonuses to participants at the various levels in the compensation plan.” If the organization won’t provide this information he suggests, “you should consider that a red flag.” While this isn’t a question, it is worth considering....

Economics

Sales as a noble calling

We might not think of sales as a good job for Christians...but we should ***** Many years ago, when I first arrived in Australia, I was working for a dry cleaner who soon realized that I would never make it as a professional dry cleaner. One morning he asked me what I really wanted to do. When I told him that my ambition was to sell, and preferably clothing, he spoke to a fellow businessman and arranged for me to start working for him. That was my start in the menswear trade. Take a genuine interest The man I started with was a very hard taskmaster, but knew his trade inside out. The lessons he taught me have stood me in good stead. One of the first things I learned from him was to take a real interest in the customer. Customers soon know whether you are interested in them or only in the money they will leave behind. Taking a real interest means listening - taking the time to hear their concerns so you can best meet their needs. For a teenage apprentice that was sometimes a little difficult, especially on a Saturday afternoon when the beach beckoned and you really wanted to shut the shop but the customer had much to share. If I got distracted, or started giving the customer only half my attention, my boss would soon notice and let me know his displeasure immediately after the customer left. So my first lesson was to take a real interest in the customer. Sell only what meets their needs The next lesson: make sure that you sell what suits the customer. Far too often people try to sell what they want to get rid of, or what they have overstocked. Or, they take the attitude anything will do as long as I make a sale. Well, the best way of losing customers is to sell a product for the wrong reason. If you are not a salesperson, you might think this is self-evident. But when the opportunity presents itself to make a big sale it can be rather tempting to sell the product regardless of whether it suits the customer. And lets face it, some customers are far too gullible for their own good, and will buy whatever the charming salesman shows them. So this can be a real temptation. But not only is it wrong, it is shortsighted. You might be able to sell anything to them, but when the customer gets home that night his wife, or his friends will be sure to tell him he got snookered. Once he learns he has misplaced his trust in you, he will no longer be your customer. To meet your customer's needs you need not only to take a genuine interest, but you need to really know your product. That means studying, reading, and listening to others to learn more about what you are selling. I learned the necessity of that especially during the time I was in the insurance business. The client may trust you, but then you better make sure that that trust is warranted. The only way to do that is to really know your product. And it makes no difference what trade or profession one is in. The customer is turning to you for your knowledge, and your experience. The latter comes only with time, but the first can be increased with good effort. Service, service, service My boss also taught me about service. Many people have no idea what service is. It means giving of yourself, and making the other feel valued. This can be worked out in big ways and small. Many in sales, when they answer the phone fail to sound friendly, or they do not announce the name of the firm they represent nor give their own name. Small things maybe, but important ones. It is even important to smile when answering the phone. You don't believe me? Try it with someone. I did. We had a fellow working for us who always answered the phone in the most serious manner. When I tackled him on this he replied that it should not matter as the other person couldn't see his face. We decided to do a test. I picked up my phone in my office and rang him. I spoke to him in various ways and asked him later if he had noticed the difference. He had. He could tell when I smiled or when I was serious. Many people forget that the phone is often the first contact one has with a firm. So yes, service starts even in answering the phone. In a shop or showroom it is important to welcome people in a friendly and sincere manner. Let the customer know that you are there to help them. Even when you are busy serving someone it is often takes but a little effort to recognize another person and let him/her know that you will be with them soon. Go the extra mile. If you don't have the item the customer needs, offer to get it. Sure this sometimes can cause extra costs, but if you put yourself out the customer will generally appreciate it and become a customer for life. You might not be the cheapest in town but if your service is better than that of others, customers will even accept that as the price to pay for top class attention. A real estate agent will tell you that there are only three things that matter when buying property: location, location, location. Well, there are only three things that matter in sales: service, service, service. If you don't want to give service – friendly, well meant, genuine service – don't become a salesperson. How do Christians do sales differently?  So far I have only dealt with matters that everybody can agree on. But is that all there is to it? What about the fact that you and I are Christians? Won't that affect the way we do things? That is a good question. The man I learned my trade from was not a Christian. The reason he did things the way he did was because he believed that it was the best way to build a business. So whether you are Christian or not, it is easy to see the benefits of having an honest, up front approach to serving the customer. Many salesmen do not use this approach, but the best will. What then is different about the way Christians might do sales? The difference comes down to why we do things. Our whole life should be lived in a Christian manner, to the honor of God and to the benefit of our neighbor. That means that we need to examine ourselves to see if we are doing our work out of a real desire to serve God and our neighbor. We need to remember it is not possible to wear one hat on Sunday and a different one during the rest of the week. You cannot be a pious godly Christian on Sunday and a hard, sharp businessman the rest of the week. Being a godly salesman means that even if no one will find out about a little untruth – some little subterfuge which can help to increase the bottom line, some little exaggeration, or some not quite honest spin – that can never be part of our thinking. People should know you claim to be a Christian, and they will watch you to see if you are true to your profession. Therefore it is imperative that a Christian businessman lives very close to the Lord and asks Him daily to direct his life, so that in selling, too, we may give glory to Him. A version of this article was first published in the January 2000 issue under the title "Salesmanship." Rene Vermeulen published more than 150 articles in the pages of Reformed Perspective from 1984-2010....

Economics, News

The $33/hr minimum wage?

As of January 1, the minimum wage in New York City was boosted to $15 an hour, a more than doubling of the $7.25 minimum wage of just six years ago. Three days later The New York Times published a piece with the provocative title: The $15 Minimum Wage Is Here. Why We Need $33 an Hour. Author Ginia Bellafante didn’t exactly demand $33 as a new minimum wage or at least didn’t set a timetable to reach that number. She did argue that the new $15 minimum wouldn’t do much to meet New York City workers’ needs and “the war” for an adequate living wage had to continue. Bellafante cited a report by New York’s largest food bank, City Harvest, which calculated that a “single parent with two school-age children…would need to make nearly $69,427 a year” which works out “an hourly wage of just under $33.” But is need a good basis for a minimum wage? If a single mom needs $33, a married couple with two kids could get by with just half that. So maybe $15 is a good number after all? But then what of that single mom? And what if, instead of just two kids, she had four? Then she would need a lot more than just $33, so should we be looking at a $50 minimum wage, or even higher? If you see a problem with that idea, you’re recognizing something that many minimum wage proponents do not – that the basis for wages isn’t employees’ needs. Consider our own buying habits. We don’t buy a car from Ford because Ford needs the money – that’s not a consideration. When we head to Safeway and find out that a dozen bagels are on sale for $5 we might buy them. But not at $10 a dozen – they aren’t worth that to us. So whether we buy them or not depends on what value they return to us for the money we have to hand over. It’s no different when employers buy labor. They aren’t buying our labor out of a charitable impulse – they are looking to get good value for their money. And like us, if something is overpriced, they aren’t going to buy. That’s why a minimum wage of $50 would be disastrous. Many of us aren’t worth $100,000 a year to an employer so if $50 were the minimum wage, we would be out of work. We would be unemployed because our labor was overpriced by government mandate. While $15 is a lot lower than $50, not everyone is worth that either. Unskilled workers might not be able to produce $10 or even $5 an hour of value, or at least not until their employer trains them. If the law says they have to be paid $15/hr that makes them unemployable. It may not even be the unskilled worker who pays the price. Take as example a business that employed high school students at minimum wage, and also employed a single mom who made a bit more. When the owner needed help running the business he began training the single mom to become a manager, and increased her salary to go along with the new responsibilities. Then the minimum wage went up and the owner had to increase the pay of all his high school students. That money had to come from somewhere and the end result was that the owner had to let his manager-in-training go, because he had to use her wages to pay the students. This government-mandated increase, legislated as a means of helping the poor, didn’t help her. High schoolers who had already been happy with their wage got more, but a single mom lost a good job. The government might have meant well, but they didn’t do well. There is a Christian case to make against the minimum wage and any number of verses could be cited. Prov. 14:31 tells us to be kind to the poor, and while that is the professed intent of the minimum wage, that is not its effect on the least skilled. Just as relevant is Prov. 27:14 which tells us that mere good intentions are not enough – we actually have to be kind. In the online discussions of this article Luke 6:31 was raised: "Do to others as you would have them do to you," as in employers should pay their employees what they would think fair, were their positions reversed. True enough, but this verse is applicable the other direction too. Don't want your job banned? Then don't ban other people's jobs. There are any number of reasons why someone might be happy to work for wages below a government-mandated minimum. Someone might want to work for free as an intern instead of spending thousands learning the same skills in university. Low-skilled or no-skilled workers might want to get a foot in the door so they can work their way up to higher paying positions. Some low-paying jobs have fringe benefits, like a parking lot attendant I knew who could do his university homework during his shift. Mentally handicapped people who can't do as much as others might still enjoy work. Elderly folks who can't move as quickly as they once did might appreciate a job that doesn't demand a high output. And students might prioritize flexible hours over big bucks. Do these sound like positions that need to be banned? Should it be the government's job to make working for less than $15 a crime? God warns against arrogance (Daniel 4:30) but when a government makes minimum wage laws it is making decisions for millions and presuming it can price the value of people's labor better than they can themselves, and better than individual employers can. Our governments are trying to manage our economy in a hands-on way that requires them to be near all-knowing and have miraculous powers. But they are not God, and they can not make everyone worth $15/hr. by government decree. In humility, our governments need to recognize that their powers and knowledge are limited, and they are simply not up to that task of running an economy. Is it any wonder, then, that God never asks them to? This article has been expanded by a couple of paragraphs to answer some of the questions the original version prompted. ...

Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On equality...

I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 years lower than that of females. This phenomenon must be properly discussed. What is a more valuable commodity than life? Nothing, I would say. And yet females habitually possess over 8 percent more of it than men. It is clear that when it comes to life, there is no level playing field in our society between males and females. I, therefore, call upon the government to take measures to empower men to overcome this glaring inequality. What we need is legislation, programs, and lots of funding. First of all the government should enact human rights legislation which will unequivocally state that males have the right to the same life expectancy as females. This legislation will empower the government to make proactive adjustments in Health, Social, and Education programs. I would like to share with you the following suggestions for such adjustments. An immediate transfer of medical research dollars from female diseases to male diseases. The inclusion of a mandatory life expectancy rights component to be taught in all our schools starting at the kindergarten level. The appointment of kommissars (also call commissioners) for each federal and provincial ministry who are to scrutinize all proposed legislation for life expectancy bias. Mandatory sensitivity training for all our judges to ensure that crimes against women are not more discouraged than crimes against men. Mandatory affirmative low-stress jobs action for all businesses employing more than 10 people to ensure that men will be employed in at least 50 percent of such jobs. The creation of Men's Issues Department at both the federal and provincial levels. Thus far my suggestions. If we do not want to lose the image of Canada as a caring and nurturing society we had better implement these suggestions regardless of costs. Of course, some naive people may suggest that it would help if men changed their lifestyle by smoking, drinking, fighting, and fornicating less, and by being more spiritual and less macho. However, though in the past this might have been a solution, we now know that we can only lead fulfilling lives if we are true to ourselves. Since institutions of education and our public media zealously indoctrinate the populace with this new gospel, it would be futile to appeal to "the man kind" itself to heal the wound of life expectancy; the government is our only hope. This post first appeared way back in the May 1999 issue, but doesn't it seems like it was written for today? As Christians we believe God calls us not to be partial to rich or poor, black or white, young or old – He calls us to equality. But what kind of equality does God call us to? Is it an equality – as is called for in this article – of outcomes? Or is the equality meant to be in how we treat people? The world says the former, but God is calling us to the latter (Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1-9, Acts 10:34)....

Economics

What makes a salesman good?

I didn’t know too many salesmen while I was growing up, so my perception of them was shaped in large part by the jokes made about them. I understood the jokes weren’t meant to be taken literally, but hear something often enough and you do get impacted. So yes, I knew used car salesmen didn’t always trick widows into emptying their bank accounts to purchase oil-leaking gas-guzzlers. But it happened more often than not, right? My own sales experience only reinforced this villainous stereotype. For a grand total of two weeks I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door. While the vacuums were remarkable our sales pitch was not. We’d bully our way into a home, counting on most people being too polite to throw us out. Then we’d give them a half hour demonstration, uncovering all sorts of hidden dirt and filth in the house – this machine could pull it out of even a newly laid carpet. Then we’d make an emotional appeal, asking parents how much their children mattered to them, and presenting the $1,500 machine as a way to save their children from sickness and allergies. I wasn’t all that good at this guilt-inducing plea, so in that two-week period I sold just one vacuum, and even that was only because my trainer clinched the deal. A few days later I was greatly relieved to hear that the couple had changed their mind and gotten all their money back. This brief foray into sales taught me that it was every bit as sleazy as I had imagined. Two contrasting ideas Some years later I started dating a lovely sales manager. If I’d been thinking it through, that should have challenged my perception of sales as a low-ethics field. Clearly it wasn’t true of all salespeople! But I didn’t put two and two together. I didn’t really think about how what she was doing – selling student agendas to schools across North America – was, in fact, sales. It was only later that year, when I had the chance to meet her company’s sales staff at their annual sales conference, that I was forced to re-evaluate. Talking with them made me realize it was possible to be a good salesman and still be a good man. It all came down to two very different understandings of what makes a salesman good. 1. Can sell anything to anyone? One of the first salesmen I met at the conference was a twenty-something-year-old who bragged he could sell ice to Eskimos – didn’t matter the product, he could sell it. He went on about how good he was at upselling, convincing principals to buy this and that add on. As he talked I noticed something he didn’t. His fellow salesmen were not impressed. I can’t remember now whether he was cut off, but he was answered. A more experienced fellow made it clear that this is not what a good salesman does. In the days that followed I had a few conversations with this second gentleman, and was able to dig into what he thought sales was all about. 2. Can meet his customer’s needs His understanding was built on his love for God and a love for his neighbor. He saw his role as a salesman as trying to meet his customers’ needs. That could be a complicated task: it might involve explaining to a customer that they have a need they didn’t even know about. The product he sold, student agendas, weren’t standard school equipment in the same way that pencils, paper, and rulers are. But he believed in his product; in a very real way he was in his job for the same reason a good teacher takes her position: they both want to help students learn. He knew that his agenda could help students be better organized by helping them manage their time and keep track of assignments. There were features that could help teachers and parents too, and all for the price of only a few dollars each. His sales pitch wasn’t dependent on pressure – he presented the features of the agenda in as clear and concise a manner as he could, respecting both the principal’s intelligence and his time. A couple key differences So what’s the difference between the first sort of salesman – the one who thinks he can sell anything to anyone – and the second sort who is trying to meet the customer’s needs? Attitude is the biggest part of it. Instead of being full of himself, the Christian salesman is thinking of others, trying to serve them by offering the opportunity to buy a valuable product. A second difference is that a Christian salesman can only sell a product he believes in. Christians wouldn’t want to sell sand in the Sahara, even if our powers of persuasion were such that we could pull it off. A Christian salesman needs to be doing his customer a service that is to the customer’s benefit. It was no coincidence that the sales staff at this agenda company also had a role in product development. They were trying to meet customer needs, and after talking with the same principals and superintendents year after year, the sales staff could give valuable advice to the product development team about improvements, and good features to add. Conclusion I was grateful to meet this second salesman and his many godly sales colleagues. They changed forever the way I understood sales, showing there is a way to honor God in this field too. Of course, there are still the sleazy sort, and lots of them. In some companies there could be pressures to overhype products, and to push customers into buying options they don’t really need. But that shouldn’t make us steer clear of the sales field. We do need to be aware that we might face such pressures, and understand that in standing against them we could even lose our position. But at the same time, the servant-minded salesman is going to be appreciated by all his customers – honesty and integrity are valuable “sales tools.” In fact, the godly salesman I talked to was later honored as one of his company’s top sellers. If you have that servant mindset, and a product you can believe in, then sales can be a God-honoring job indeed!...

Economics

What if selling could be a beautiful thing?

“I hate sales.” That phrase came up again and again while I was working with a group of Christian not-for-profit leaders. As we explored the issue together, it became painfully clear that worldly stinkin’ thinkin' had crept into their minds. For them, sales meant…. Prompting people to do something they didn’t want to do. Twisting people’s arms. Using people for your own good and not theirs. Images of cold-hearted, self-focused, not-for-the-good-of-others, coercive people dominated our discussion. It was time to move our stinkin' thinkin' to Kingdom thinking. Over my 25 years as an entrepreneur, business and sales professional, one of the bigger challenges to overcome has been the negative sales mindset many Christ-followers have adopted. In my experience, many see “sales” as a dirty word… a “necessary evil” to somehow make their business work. In their thinking, “wouldn’t business be great if I didn’t have to sell”! But consider these questions: What if “selling” could be a beautiful thing? What if we looked at engaging in the sales process as a gift of service to the one with whom you are looking to “make a sale”? What if  you could quit focusing on selling and, instead, help the potential customer buy? What is your response? How do you view sales? What follows are five very "Deliberate sales mindsets" I invite you to make your own. If you do, these could be game changers for you and your business! They were for me! Deliberate sales mindset #1: THE PROCESS OF SALES IS BEAUTIFUL! God created work! Yes, we corrupted it as part of the Fall into sin, yet in the original design work was beautiful. Therefore sales, done in a Kingdom way, is also beautiful. (Genesis 2:2, Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:5-9) Do you believe that selling can be a beautiful process? Why or why not? Deliberate sales mindset #2 FOCUS ON LOVE! A Christ-following sales leader is called to show Christ’s “love” to the potential buyer. This is non-negotiable for one who is committed to Christ. Either the “Great Commandment” is the “Great Commandment” or it is not. If this is so, an essential focus for the sales person is to ensure that they “love” (Matt 22:34-40). This kind of love is where I choose to extend myself for the highest good of another. Deliberate sales mindset #3 CHOOSE TO SERVE! Your mindset is to serve and not be served. Jesus in Mark 10:45 says it well: “For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And we are called to become imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Deliberate Sales Mindset #4 HUNT FOR VALUE! If “sales” is beautiful, and you are committed to loving the customer, then you are “free” to hunt for the value that will be meaningful for the customer. You are in pursuit of doing whatever you can to add value to your client’s world. Within the bounds of your well thought out business model you are free to listen well and ask thoughtful, meaningful questions. Pursue uncovering the value that may be hidden, just waiting to be discovered. Deliberate Sales Mindset #5 BE CURIOUS! Nothing will kill a sales opportunity faster than approaching it with a “know-it-all” attitude. Pride and ego are “show stoppers” for sales people (let alone everyone else). Think of the times you have encountered an arrogant sales person – I suspect not a great experience. Again, Jesus paves the way for us. He showed us, in His role, what it meant to operate with humility. (Phil 2:1-3 & 1 Peter 5:5-10) To bring authentic curiosity, where you are truly interested in what is best for your client, requires humility. Humility communicates that you are learning from this client; they will teach you what they need. You job is to offer a heart and mind that is keen to listen and learn from them. PERSONAL APPLICATION So let’s move our view of sales from stinkin' thinkin' to Kingdom thinking! Either by yourself or with the help of others in a group ask: Father, what are you teaching me about you, and your view of “sales”? What are you teaching me about my view of sales? How aligned is my view with yours? What actions would you have me take as I “sell”? And, is there someone you want me to share this with? Pete Kuehni is a partner at DeliberateU, a group offering business leadership mentoring for Christian business owners in their workplace, families and communities, with the goal of increasing their capacity to grow in both faith and business effectiveness. Their conviction is that God uniquely uses the marketplace to extend His kingdom purpose – to serve others while growing in faith, hope and love. You can learn more at DeliberateU.com where this article first appeared under the title "Tired of selling but you need more sales?"...

Economics

If work is worship, does that mean I just gotta be warm and fuzzy all day?

In an earlier article we peered into God’s design for business and how that changes one’s outlook on vocation and the marketplace. Our work done His way reflects God’s character and unleashes His beauty. Because faith and work are seamless, our work is worship. But some of us stand on the proverbial shores unsure, skeptically dipping our feet into these new waters. A first response is often, “So we’re gonna sing “Kumbaya” around the water cooler all day? Do you expect me to turn my business into some charity and not make any money? That’s all very nice, but it’s not the real world. We have to get stuff done here!” Do you feel the tension in doing your work as worship? Is there a strain between serving others and making sure that your business gets its needed results? Herein lies the false dilemma that often brings us unneeded guilt. But there’s hope! GOD’S MODE In His image, reflecting His beauty, God perfectly designed us for every aspect of work. He loves our work – because of its purpose. In the last article we learned that even our work is an expression of Him. God is deeply interested in every part of it. How we care for people, balance books, run systems, innovate, hire and fire and make healthy profit – it all matters to Him! He designed us to run our businesses with excellence, reflecting His character. That means He’s deeply interested, involved, and holds us accountable in our businesses’ customer service, sales, finances and operations. So yes, he even cares about your bottom line. It too is an act of worship! Proverbs encourages us in pursuing excellence and shows how honest gain is an outcome of God’s blessing on hard work. Competency and profits increase our capacity to do more good As we read in Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 22:29 tells us that if we are skilled at what we do, we’ll always be in demand. Bruce Ashford practically writes “God often works through our jobs to love his image-bearers. In other words, God uses the products of our work to provide for our fellow citizens. When God wants to feed a hungry child, He does not usually do so in miraculous manner; He usually does so through farmers, truck drivers, grocery store owners, contractors, electricians, plumbers and a myriad of other types of workers… In conclusion, our callings are our primary means to bring God glory by loving Him and our neighbour. If we are seeking to fulfill these callings faithfully and with excellence, we can multiply our faithfulness in every dimension of society and culture, and across the fabric of our shared human existence.” OUR MODEL So what does this look like in business terms? I work in a Christian leadership mentoring firm called DeliberateU, where we’ve honed the art of business down to three foundational pillars. Wrapped in a kingdom-focused culture these are: People: Creating a great place to work where people are growing and led by clear purpose and values. Sales: Serving others, not self. Creating a “wow” experience with a great product and service. Results: Building a healthy, sustainable business that is well positioned to grow and give back. When these spheres work in synergy something stunningly beautiful takes place! Rooted in the essence of the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:36-40 they unleash in us the capacity to reflect God’s creativity, excellence, grace and truth. They allow us to worship Him by blessing and serving our neighbor. But here’s the scoop: it always starts with people. Why’s that you say? Well, who has God made the pinnacle of His creation? People. So as business owners we are entrusted with God’s greatest creation. Whether staff, customers, or janitors, people like you and I are His craftsmanship made in His image. If we as Christian business leaders saw all people as our neighbors, how might that change the way we steward His most precious creation? What a privilege! How can we glorify God in the spheres of team and customer experience together with business processes, all while producing a healthy bottom line? In this 2013 video, Cardone Industries shares how it is trying to deliver on all three. When we intentionally lead the businesses entrusted to us in a God-focused way, to His design, our work is worship. Our work opens up opportunities to practically serve people while blessing them, their families, and communities. Is your business an act of worship? DELIBERATE APPLICATION: If work is worship, do I view my business as something I built or something God entrusted me with? How does that change how I view work as worship? Look in the mirror and ask yourself. “What primarily drives our business: People, Production, Profit or Pride”? If I’m to lead with “truth and love” do I care for people, carry people or care less for people? This is part 2 in the “Work is the Worship” series – you can find part 1 here. Darren Bosch is a partner at DeliberateU - leadership mentors for Christian business owners looking to grow in their workplace, families and communities. Their conviction is that God uniquely uses the marketplace to expand His kingdom purpose – serving others while growing in faith, hope and love. ...

Economics

The rich get richer by making us all wealthier too

Coveting is not only a sin, it's stupid. It's important we're clear on both points, because the Devil is willing to work any angle. He knows he's not going to fool us on the sin side – many of us hear the Ten Commandments read every Sunday again. But what if he could make the case that, sure, coveting is sinful, but it still makes sense? Oh, yes, looking over the fence at your neighbor's stuff may not be polite...but just look at it all! Does he really need all that stuff? Is it even fair that he has all that? To many, Christians included, this is an appealing pitch – fairness is a good thing, isn't it? Then comes the clincher: we're told all this ogling is okay because our neighbor’s wealth – well, a lot of it anyway – is really ours in the first place. The way the story is told, there's only so much wealth to go around, so our rich neighbor could only become wealthy by taking more than his fair share, leaving poor folk like us with next to nothing. So we're not coveting someone else's stuff – it's really ours. We have a right to it, and it’s about time that the rich starting giving it back! That’s a popular story in the world today. But as you might suspect, folks who tell us it is okay to do what God forbids (Ex. 20:17) don't have their facts straight. The truth of the matter is that, so long as our rich neighbor didn’t get their money from piracy or lobbying the government (did I just stutter?) – so long as he got his money by earning it – his wealth didn't come at our expense at all. In fact, if he got his money by selling something others wanted – whether it's iPads, cows, or his own labor – then this rich neighbor has already given back more than he got. As commentator John Stossel explains: "It is instinctive to think of life as a zero sum game – if I win, you lose. Politicians think that way because that’s how their world works. And lawyers who sue people think that way – you either win or you lose. "But in business, you only win if you give your customers something they want. If you make a big profit, it doesn’t mean you took it from the customer. The customer voluntarily gave you his money. He felt he gained something too. It is why you get the weird double thank you moment when you buy anything. If you bought a cup of coffee this morning, you gave the cashier a buck, and she said, 'Thank you.' She gave you the coffee, and you said, 'Thank you.' "'Thank you.' 'Thank you.' "Why both? Because you both felt you won. The same is true with even the richest people on the planet. We look at a Bill Gates and think that he must owe us something because he has so much. But how did he get his billions? By selling a product – Windows 1.0 – for $99. To Gates, the $99 was worth more to him than his product, and that's why he was happy to make the exchange – it made him wealthier. But here's the thing: his customers were happy to make the exchange too, because his product was worth more to them than holding on to their $99. Afterwards they felt they were better off too – if they didn't, they never would have made the purchase. So today's covetousness is as sinful as ever. But it is more than that: talk of "getting the rich to pay their fair share" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the good the industrious rich have already done. A rich businessman like Gates has made his billions by giving something even more valuable to his customers and in doing so, he is already spreading the wealth – billions and billions of dollars worth....

Economics

Work is Worship

Done right, it is an expression of God’s character and beauty **** There we sat under the starry skies, talking faith, family, fun and business. A familiar space. Like many of you, I get to enjoy some nice campfire-convos each summer. But this particular night challenged me. It didn’t take long for the business conversation of this committed Christ-follower and marketplace leader to leave me saddened. “We’ve tried investing in people for years, even hired consultants to help us! At the end of the day, nothing works. We’ve just resigned ourselves that there’s only one reason we’re in business: to make money. At the root of it, that’s what it’s all about.” Similarly, a Christian business owner recently told me the purpose of his business was to simply retire with a healthy nest egg so that he didn’t have to worry. It's a familiar business ploy by the great Deceiver. https://youtu.be/m06DYIAeCtU Skewed view See, many Christians hold a decidedly skewed image of work. Some view it simply as a curse post-Genesis 3. Others make a false distinction between what they perceive as the sacred (God), and the secular (everything else), separating Sunday’s worship from Monday’s work. The problem with these is that these views of work always disappoint. They force us to view God as an evil taskmaster and you just have to buck-up because “that’s your lot in life.” Or, when my identity is not a reflection of God’s character and design, that’s because I’m choosing to run parts of my life on my own, thank you very much. Both these approaches to work will leave you banging your head against the wall – we're hungry for something more, because we’ve left God out of the picture. Work is a gift Work is God’s gift to us. It’s not a result of the fall into sin. In giving Adam and Eve the job of cultivating and caring for the garden, He not only made them the first landscapers, He designed their DNA so that whatever they put their head, heart and hands to is a form of worship. The same is true for us. Made in His image, vocation is an extension of God's work of maintaining and providing for His creation, bringing Him glory and enjoying Him. Hundreds of times in the Bible the Hebrew word “avodah” is used to mean both “to work” and “to worship.” Our work is meant to serve God’s purposes more than our own, which prevents us from seeing work as a means to stock up our coffers, set ourselves up for retirement, or just plod away ‘cause it's a necessary burden. Simply put, work is worship. The Gospel actually gives us new lenses to see work through: we actually work for God Himself! Consider Eph. 6: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people...” Now there’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning! Why does it matter? Martin Luther said that you can milk cows to the glory of God. Why? It's your attitude that says, “God I'm doing it for you.” So whether you’re cutting flagstone or someone’s hair today, your handiwork, even with imperfection, is for God’s glory. Your and my work is an expression of His creativity, because we’re made in His image. That’s a calling. That’s worship! So why does having the right understanding of work matter? Because it is only when we understand it rightly that we can best use it to: GIVE GOD THE GLORY: a response of gratitude for what He did for us REFLECT HIS CHARACTER: made in His image, we get to display this to others SERVE PEOPLE: we are conduits for God’s grace and kingdom to extend GIVE: we earn so we can to give to others MEET OUR NEEDS AND INVEST OUR TALENTS: by exercising God-given gifts He provides for us So, the next time you arrive in your office, on the plant floor or at your client's site, remember who you are, and then consider what you are doing. Your spiritual life is being expressed through your work. Your work is worship. It’s life changing. Col. 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” It’s my prayer that you will see your work as significant and view that significance in the light of God’s favor and plan. We are created to intimately know God, glorify him and enjoy Him forever. Let’s do that in our work! Deliberate application: How does seeing work as a form of worship change my company’s purpose and values? If I begin doing everything "as though I’m working for the Lord and not for people” (myself or others), how would that change the way I work? Because God loves business and the marketplace, and because we are called to imitate God (Eph. 5:1) let’s consider, how would Jesus do my job? Which people would He serve? What would be His vision or S.M.A.R.T (or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time) goals? When we finish a job, can we say, “Thank you Father, for making me for this purpose”? https://youtu.be/oqxo3PiIYIU Darren Bosch is a partner at DeliberateU, a group offering business leadership mentoring for Christian business owners in their workplace, families and communities, with the goal of increasing their capacity to grow in both faith and business effectiveness. Their conviction is that God uniquely uses the marketplace to extend His kingdom purpose – to serve others while growing in faith, hope and love. You can learn more at DeliberateU.com where this article first appeared....

Economics

Two tales of trade: how free trade creates wealth

As Christians we know that man is prone to all sorts of evil, but we often forget that man is also prone to all sorts of stupidity. Much damage is done by well meaning people who embrace a bad cause – they aren’t trying to do evil, just the opposite in fact, but evil is done because these “good” people are acting out of their ignorance. In Economics this well meant ignorance often causes serious harm. One telling example involves child labor. We abhor child labor, especially when the alternative is sending these same kids to school instead. But some years back, when a compassionate campaign against child labor moved Nike and Reebok to close plants in Pakistan and lay off 50,000 child workers in Bangladesh, these children didn’t go to school instead. The reason they were working in the first place was because they needed the very basics of life, so when they were laid off, thousands of them turned to prostitution, crime or simply starved to death1. Compassion, coupled with ignorance, forced these children from a barely tolerable situation to one that was much, much worse. Youth maybe even more susceptible to doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Enthusiasm combined with inexperience results in an ardent teen who just wants to “Do something!” and off they go, in exactly the wrong direction. Christian youth might be even more inclined to this, since they know that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). That seems to leave them prone to a specific type of economic error – they are often deeply suspicious of the rich, and the rich First World countries, convinced that when a rich country trades with a poor country, if the rich get a good deal, it must have been at the expense of the poor. This in turn leaves them leery of free trade. The truth is, it is not through trade, but through the lack of it that rich countries victimize the poor. Yes, if there was only a fixed amount of wealth to go around, then any country that got more wealth could only have done so by taking wealth away from someone else. But wealth can be created – there can be more to go around. And trade is one important way to create more wealth. Create wealth via trade? How can that be done? Let me demonstrate by way of a couple of illustrations. How trade creates wealth One day, in his economics class, a university professor was trying to explain to his students the benefits of trade. After lecturing on the subject for an entire week he found his students were still unconvinced. Thinking about it over the weekend he had a flash of insight and headed down to the local dollar store where he bought a range of small inexpensive toys. He bought 20 different toys in all, ranging from a whoopee cushion to a bag of marbles. When the students entered their Economics 101 classroom that Monday they were each given one of the small toys. Most of the students thought their presents were kind of neat, all except for the girl who received the whoopee cushion. She wasn’t quite sure why, but she was offended. The professor then began the class by asking each student to rate their present on a scale of 0-5 with a 5 meaning they really liked it. The twenty students gave their presents a combined rating of 38. The whoopee cushion girl rated hers a zero. Then the professor allowed the students five minutes to trade their presents...but only with students immediately to the right or left of them. The unhappy whoopee cushion girl managed a trade with a frat boy to her right, for a pack of giant playing cards. She was much happier with the cards, and the frat boy was strangely ecstatic with his new possession too. Five minutes later the students were asked to rate their presents again, and the combined rating improved to 54. The frat boy gave his whoopee cushion a five. Finally the professor allowed the students to trade with anyone in the room. Once again the overall score went up – the combined rating after this exchange was boosted to 65. From round one to three, no new products were created, and yet people rated their toy more each round. To put it another way, after making trades they felt what they were left with was worth more than what they originally had. They were getting wealthier. And the freer the trade, the more students were able to obtain what they really wanted – or in the case of the whoopee cushion girl, it allowed her to get rid of what she didn’t really value. The professor was overjoyed because his students finally understood how trade could create wealth. He let out a contented sigh and dropped down into his chair…which then produced another, decidedly more rude, sound. The frat boy loved free trade. ****** When I first published this illustration in the Canadian Student Review some students still insisted that trade couldn’t help poor countries. They argued that the poorest countries have absolutely nothing of value to offer in trade. This objection simply isn't true. Whether it is natural resources, or simply cheap labor (even cheap child labor), every country has something to offer. It is true that wars, and corrupt governments may make it impossible for citizens of a country to engage in trade. But that doesn't underscore a shortcoming with free trade, but instead highlights the devastating impacts of wars and corruption. So, as a response, I ended up writing a second story to illustrate how free trade would help even when some countries have much less to offer than others. How trade helps even poor countries It was a regular lunch hour in Mrs. Embargo’s grade 6 classroom and the kids were trading their snacks behind the teacher’s back. One of the kids, Ulysses Sam Austin (USA for short) always had at least a hundred Oreo cookies. He had so many he didn’t value them like he once did when his mom only packed five or ten in his lunch. Canada’s mom (some kids have names like Dallas and Dakota, so why not Canada?) always stuck an entire banana bread loaf in his lunch. The other kids weren’t quite so well off, and had a variety of snacks ranging from a handful of chips to a couple of carrot sticks. The carrot stick kid desperately wanted some banana bread because his mom didn’t have an oven so she couldn’t make it. It took a bit of bartering but eventually he managed to trade one of his carrot sticks for a small slice. It wasn’t a lot, but it was more than he could have gotten any other way. USA was getting quite sick of Oreos and was practically giving them away. It wasn’t that he was softhearted – some even accused him of being the class bully – but he had a surplus of cookies, and they weren’t very useful to him. He traded ten of them to the carrot stick boy for his last carrot. The next day Mrs. Embargo decided to crack down, “You children are just going to have to eat what your parents packed in your lunch!” That made all the children very sad: USA because he was now stuck with only Oreos, Canada because he had nothing orange to eat, and especially the carrot stick kid, because Mrs. Embargo’s protectionist stance prevented him from trading for the banana bread he loved so dearly. ****** The truth is, it is not through trade, but through restrictions on trade that rich countries victimize the poor. In this illustration, without trade the poor carrot stick kid/country would never have gotten a slice of banana bread, as he was completely incapable of manufacturing it at home. In the real world poor countries in Africa can produce some agricultural goods at a lower cost than we can in the West, yet instead of allowing them to compete with us, we may well slap a tariffs on their goods, in addition to spending billions on farm subsidies. As columnist Elizabeth Nickson puts it, “these barriers dramatically reduce what poor countries can earn from farming, which is what most of their people do." She went on to note that, back in 2004, it was "estimated that protecting our markets from African produce costs these countries $100 billion US a year, or twice what they receive in aid.”2 Free, fair trade is a win-win prospect for both sides – the poorer nations wouldn’t trade at all if they didn’t think they were getting a benefit. And if we as Christians want to help the developing world in a substantial manner – far in excess of any material good we can do through our charitable giving – one of the most compassionate things we can do is tell our government to reduce tariffs and agricultural subsidies that, while helping our own farmers, do so at the expense of the poor. End notes 1 “Green power, black death” by Elizabeth Nickson, National Post Jan. 9, 2004 2 “Green power, black death” This article was first published in Feb. 2004 in Reformed Perspective magazine...

Economics

The rich keep getting richer… and they're not the only ones

Capitalism helps everyone. That might be hard to believe right now, with the worldwide economy in the doldrums, and with many fingering capitalism as the culprit. But before we jump on the anti-capitalist bandwagon, and before we ask the government to take over larger areas of the economy, it would be a good idea to look back and get a proper understanding of the good capitalism has done. The fact is, capitalism is responsible for lifting billions of people out of poverty and creating improved standards of living that previous generations couldn’t have dreamed of. Swedish scholar Johan Norberg has written a brief overview of this phenomenon in The Wealth of Generations: Capitalism and the Belief in the Future. Marx got it half right It’s likely that Karl Marx, the originator of Marxism, developed the sharpest anti-capitalist theory. According to Norberg, Marx believed “that capitalism would make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” If someone was making money in a free market situation, it must be at the expense of someone else. That is, somebody was losing money if another was gaining money. Thus over time the upper class would accumulate more wealth at the expense of the middle class and lower class. The middle class would be pushed into the lower class, and the original lower class would basically starve. Marx made this prediction during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. Despite its undeserved bad reputation, the Industrial Revolution resulted in a dramatic rise in living standards. “When Marx died in 1883, the average Englishman was three times richer than he was when Marx was born, in 1818.” Since that time capitalism has continued to raise living standards to the point that “the poor in Western societies today live longer, with better access to goods and technologies, and with bigger opportunities than the kings in Marx’s days.” Lenin got it all wrong Marx’s original theory was obviously a failure; standards of living rose rapidly for all classes due to capitalism. So Marx’s disciple, and Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin had to rework the theory to explain how workers in Western countries were doing so well economically. Lenin argued that the capitalist class of the Western countries looted the poor, undeveloped countries, and gave a portion of the loot to the workers in their own countries. The rich countries were made richer because the poor countries were made poorer. Quite simply, the rich countries took the wealth of the poor countries. But like Marx’s theory, Lenin’s theory contradicts the facts. As Norberg explains, the problem with Lenin’s view is: “all continents became wealthier, albeit at different speeds. Sure, the average Western European or American is 19 times richer than in 1820, but a Latin American is 9 times richer, an Asian 6 times richer, and an African about 3 times richer. So from whom was the wealth stolen?” Capitalism benefits every class, every sector of society, and not just one special group or certain exploitive nations. In fact, Norberg describes the success of capitalism in alleviating poverty in the last three decades or so as “the greatest untold story ever.” As Norberg writes, the proportion in absolute poverty in developing countries has been reduced from: “40 to 21% since 1981. Almost 400 million people have left poverty – the biggest poverty reduction in mankind’s history. In the last 30 years chronic hunger has been halved, and so has the extent of child labor. Since 1950 illiteracy has been reduced from 70 to 23% and infant mortality has been reduced by two-thirds.” This has occurred during a period where many countries around the world have shifted away from socialism and socialistic policies towards capitalism and free market policies. Using creativity to create wealth It’s common to think of creative people as being writers, painters, musicians, and others in the fine arts. But some of the most creative people in the world are entrepreneurs. These are people who use their creative abilities to provide products and services in new and innovative ways. By doing so they create new jobs for countless people and generate wealth where previously none existed. Capitalism allows the greatest freedom and opportunities to people whose creative talents are in the economic sphere. This is a key reason (perhaps the key reason) for the success of capitalism. A thriving economy requires entrepreneurs but socialism stifles and punishes entrepreneurs. Generally speaking, socialists consider businessmen to be the exploiters of workers, therefore these “exploiters” must be heavily regulated and controlled. Capitalism, on the other hand, unleashes the creative powers of entrepreneurial businessmen, and thus becomes a driving force for generating new wealth and economic development. As economic history clearly demonstrates, capitalism is the only system that leads to prosperity. Yes, the rich do get richer under capitalism but so do the poor! Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective. This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue under the title "The rich keep getting richer...and that's a good thing!"...

Economics

Counting our blessings: Ways the world is getting better

With all the bad news we read and hear about each day, it’s easy to miss the good news. But if we are to "forget not all His benefits" (Ps. 103:2) then we shouldn't overlook the many ways that today's generation is more blessed than we have ever been. The big news? Mankind's material well-being – our overall wealth – has increased rapidly in recent decades, and that's alleviating poverty and lengthening life-spans for billions of people. In terms of daily living, things are generally getting better and better. In fact, the twentieth century witnessed the greatest improvement in living standards in the history of the world. People today live better and longer than at any time in history. This is the theme of a book by economists Stephen Moore and Julian Simon entitled It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years. They demonstrate that by every material measure, human life has dramatically improved since the early twentieth century. The also explain why this occurred, and credit it to the drive for innovation that results from free enterprise capitalism. Health Moore and Simon's focus is on the United States, partly because they themselves are American, but maybe more so because the United States has long been at the center of innovation and technological development. The United States has led the world in improving the living conditions of mankind because of its entrepreneurial, free enterprise economy. So what sort of improvements do they highlight? One of the most significant of the twentieth century is in the area of health. “The health of Americans improved in ways during the 20th century that can only be described as miraculous. Death and infant mortality rates plunged; life expectancy rose by 64 percent.” Many diseases were almost wiped out. Cancer rates have increased, of course, but that is because people are living longer. Decades ago people generally died younger and therefore didn’t live long enough to get cancer. Food and recreation Today food is incredibly plentiful and inexpensive. “Never before in history and in no other society has the common working man been able to afford such a bountiful basket of tasty foods to put on the kitchen table as Americans can today.” Historically, one of the greatest challenges that most people faced was avoiding starvation. Now, in North America, one of the greatest challenges is avoiding obesity! Similarly, wealth is more plentiful: “It is amazing but true that more financial wealth has been generated in the United States over the past 50 years than was created in all the rest of the world in all the centuries before 1950." As a result, even the poorest Americans often own a car and a color TV, not to mention other conveniences. Another effect of the wealth is that Americans “spend more on recreation and entertainment than any other society in history.” Environment All of this progress has come at a tremendous cost, right? We all know the environment was polluted and ruined in the rush to create wealth. Actually, that’s not true. Moore and Simon state: “The fact is that one of the greatest trends of the past 100 years has been the astonishing rate of progress in reducing almost every form of pollution." Air pollution in the United States has decreased steadily since the 1970s. Water pollution in lakes, streams and rivers has also decreased substantially during the same period. Americans have been criticized for using a disproportionate amount of the world’s natural resources. With only about 5 percent of the world’s population, the USA consumes between 20 and 40 percent of the earth’s resources. But through technological improvements, the USA has been making ever-greater amounts of natural resources available for use. Resource scarcity is less of a problem now than ever before. As Moore and Simon put it, “The essential point is that Americans are not resource destroyers but resource creators, who will leave future generations with a greater abundance of nature’s bounty.” How did it happen? The dramatic improvement in living standards during the twentieth century demands an explanation. And why did the majority of these improvements began in the USA? The answer to both of these queries is rather simple, according to Moore and Simon: "Why did so much of the progress of the past 100 years originate in the United States? Our shorthand answer is, Freedom works. The unique American formula of individual liberty and free enterprise has cultivated risk taking, experimentation, innovation, and scientific exploration on a grand scale that has never occurred anywhere before." During the twentieth century other countries also had capitalistic economies, such as Canada and Australia. But the USA had somewhat greater economic freedom leading to greater economic growth. “America got rich at such a faster pace than other nations in the 20th century quite simply because no other place on earth cultivates the entrepreneurial, inventive spirit of human beings more than the United States does.” Of course, many people think that capitalism is evil and that prosperity will result from government direction through socialism. But the empirical evidence demonstrates that socialism does not lead to economic prosperity for the average citizen (although it may lead to financial prosperity for the socialist government’s officials). According to Moore and Simon, the historical record shows that “Nations that have tried to use central planning as a formula for creating prosperity have been miserable failures.” This means that as governments get bigger and bigger, as is happening in the USA today, economic prosperity is threatened. In other words, “when government gets too big and intrusive, it can kill the goose of private enterprise that lays the golden eggs.” The bad side of the twentieth century Of course, the twentieth century also saw some terrible events that led to the deaths of millions of people. Does this contradict the Moore-Simon thesis? No. Those great tragedies were mostly caused by governments. National Socialism in Europe, and international socialism (i.e., communism) in Europe and Asia, account for the bulk of human slaughter in the twentieth century through wars and attempts to transform society. Socialism is dangerous and harmful. In this respect the bad side of the twentieth century does not contradict the optimistic view of innovation and progress offered by Moore and Simon. It was not free enterprise capitalist countries that caused those great tragedies; it was socialist countries. This bolsters their case: “The enduring lesson of the 20th century is that the only real restraint on progress is a government that smothers the human spirit.” Troubling trends Moore and Simon also acknowledge that there are some troubling trends that put a damper on their enthusiasm. Interestingly, although they don’t realize it, most of the problematic trends they identify are related to the decline of Christianity in the United States: the increase in taxes and the size of government, the decline of the traditional family, the decline in educational quality, the increase in violent crime, and the increase in suicide. These trends all occurred during the twentieth century at the same time as material conditions for human living were improving, and they are mostly cultural rather than economic. It is worth noting that God warned Israel in Deuteronomy that material prosperity can lead to apostasy. He promised to make them prosperous and then stated, "Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God (Deut. 8:11-14). The USA (along with the other Western countries) has become tremendously prosperous, and in its prosperity it has turned away from God. Christianity is no longer the powerful cultural force over American society it once was. Affluence, in other words, can have a downside by making people feel self-sufficient and no longer dependent on God. Conclusion Nevertheless, the dramatic improvement in living standards that occurred during the twentieth century is clearly a good thing. There is less poverty, less starvation, and less suffering. Who would want to return to the bad old days? The innovation and technological development that results from free enterprise capitalism increases human wellbeing over time. There are bad things happening every day, for sure. But there are also good developments that should be recognized and celebrated. These kinds of improvements will likely continue as long as governments don’t get in their way through excessive taxation and regulation. Economic freedom is a necessary condition for the material progress that reduces poverty and raises the standard of living for people around the world. Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective. This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue....

Economics

BUSINESS IS BEAUTIFUL! How do you view your business?

If you are an average healthy, able-bodied North American you will spend at least half of all the waking hours in your life at work (which, for most of us, is a separate place and community from what we call “home”). You will spend the majority of the remaining available hours engaging the marketplace in some way. Given that level of involvement, it’s remarkable how negative our outlook often is of work, business and the marketplace. Work continues to receive a bad rap. The world of business is often characterized as a cold, calculating, sometimes cutthroat place where relationships are exploitative and largely dysfunctional. We might be tempted to think that, at its best, doing business should be nothing more than money changing hands. Terms like “work/life balance” indicate a prevalent notion that there is no life at work. Rather life is something we escape to after work. Similarly, a saying like “living for the weekend” would indicate that we view work as an unfortunate but necessary detour on our way to our real life. And if we’re fortunate enough to not be suffering through feelings of drudgery, perhaps we’re still at a loss as to the meaning of it all. In the Christian community especially – how many Christ followers haven’t had an inferiority complex about their work; as if church ministry was somehow a better or more faithful endeavour than whatever it is that they put their mind to from 8 AM to 5 PM each day? How many console themselves with the idea that the work they do provides funds for ministry which is where the “real meaningful” work in our world is done? A necessary evil? But is that really true? Is ministry the only way to really obey the Great Commandment and Great Commission? Is business only a necessary evil in the process? Consider what James K.A. Smith, editor of Comment magazine once wrote. When we spend our money, we are not just consuming commercial goods, we are also fostering and perpetuating ways of being human. To be a patron is to be a selector, an evaluator, and a progenitor of certain forms of cultural life. You didn’t realize that you exercised such power did you? Our entire lives, including the purchases we make and the businesses we patronize, tell a story. If we are impacting culture – if we are telling a story – as patrons, then wouldn’t we be doing the very same as producers? Our businesses are also an opportunity to impact the world around us. Consider the influence we can have in our business life with: our employees, customers, contractors and suppliers, the entrepreneurs we encourage the business leaders we meet the organizations we build, the products we develop, the work we produce, the services we deliver, the way we serve our customers and the way we cooperate with each other at work. All of this too, reflects what it is to be human. All of this too is “ministry.” Our work is a prime opportunity for us to create beauty. Not a superficial surface beauty but the kind of beauty that flows out of love. The kind of beauty that reveals something “other.” Business is an opportunity for beauty Makato Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement, says: Human beings cannot live for a long time in a place bereft of beauty. We hunger for beauty if we are robbed of it. True beauty nurtures our deepest longings. Our time spent at work and in the marketplace has an impact. All the time and all the resources available to us on the job and all the activities we engage in offer us an amazing opportunity to meet not just people’s physical needs but also their deepest needs and influences our understanding of what is to be human in the process. Fujimura continues… In our pragmatism, beauty and art have been exiled to the peripheral realities of our culture and our business environments. So we can approach work as something to be endured. Or we can see it as an opportunity to encourage something beautiful. Love transforms our businesses from cold, hard utilitarian structures into powerful catalysts for human flourishing. Our leadership – creativity – innovation – organization – resources and the power we’re each given, everything in the world of business tells a story. When love for God and neighbour is the driving force in our life – including our businesses – the story that that tells addresses our fellow man’s deepest longings. Because when love drives our business, “business is beautiful.” Jason Bouwman is the founder of Compass Creative (CompassCreative.ca).  Questions for further study How do you view your business? Do you see it as beautiful or a necessary evil? Why? Discuss your perspective of business with a friend or colleague. What is their feedback to you on your perspective of how you view your business? What steps can you take to help you and others see that, by design, business can be beautiful? ...

Assorted, Economics, Science - Environmental Stewardship

Manure into mattresses

Man can "create" resources! Economist Julian Simon's key insight is that man's creativity – his brainpower – is a resource that creates other resources. So while some view a rising population as a threat to limited resources ("We're going to run out of oil!") Simon viewed a growing population as a growing resource base. Our brains, when properly applied, could in a reflection of God's own creativity, turn nothing (or next to it) into quite something. For example, when copper – a key element in our phone lines – started getting very expensive, this motivated some smart chaps to develop a much cheaper alternative: sand! That's what our telephone lines are today: Sand (silicon) + Human Creativity = Fiber optic cables Making sand into something is amazing enough, but a much more impressive example of "resource creation" is the way some farmers have turned poop into bedding (or if you prefer alliteration, manure into mattresses). It is quite a story! Rising prices prompts creative thinking Down where I live, in the Northern Washington/Southern BC area, some dairy farmers used to use sawdust as a cheap bedding material for their cows. The cows could sleep in it, poop on it, and the farmer could then come along, clean it out, and put a new layer down. Sawdust clumped together, making it easy to scoop away, but perhaps its most attractive quality was its cheapness. Sawdust used to be viewed as a waste product from the lumber industry – they couldn't give it away and would even bury it. But then creative farmers created a market for this castoff. Or to put it in more mathematical terms: Sawdust + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Some time later, other creative folks started to see more ways that sawdust could be used, including as fuel. Because it originated as a lumber waste product it was cheaper than many other fuel options. So some greenhouses owners figured out a way to use it to heat their buildings, and started to outbid the farmers. This result was this waste product – nothing more than garbage before human brainpower got involved – had so increased in value that farmers could no longer afford it. They needed to find a cheaper option for their bedding! And then it happened. Some ingenious dairy farmer, probably sitting out on his tractor staring out across his manure lagoon, started thinking about the possibilities in all this poop. The result was a separation system that used the undigested fibers found in cow manure. This is fed into a rotating drying drum, where high heat kills the germs, and the output is fibrous bedding material for the farmer's cows. Poop + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Manure has been turned into mattresses! Conclusion Julian Simon was an atheist, so he didn't understand why we have this capacity – why we have a mysterious, awesome ability to use our brains to create something out of nothing. But Simon did recognize Man was more than his mouth; he understood that Man wasn't best understood as a consumer of scarce resources, but that instead Man has an ability (and Christians would add, a calling) to be a producer of plenty. So, in this limited way, Simon has a more accurate understanding of Man than any of his critics. So where does our creative capacity come from? It is a reflection of God's creative Genius. We can't create ex nihilo – out of nothing – like God does, but when we take what was once useless, and put it to productive use, we show ourselves to be His image-bearers....

Economics

What is "Equal Pay for work of Equal Value"?

Canada's Liberal government has announced plans to bring in “equal pay for work of equal value” legislation by 2018. It would apply to almost 900,000 Canadian employees, including not only federal employees, but also anyone working in federally regulated sectors like banks and airlines. To be clear, we're not talking about "equal pay for equal work." That's the idea that if two people are doing the exact same work, and to the same quality, and for the same amount of hours – if it is exactly the same – then the federal government should pay them the same. That makes good sense. But what we have here is the government deciding they are going to intervene in situations where people are doing very different work from one another. And the government is going to figure out how much their work should be worth, and whether they are doing work "of equal value." None of the newspapers reporting on this can spot the huge glaring problem with this - they talk of it as if it is simply a matter of administrating it right. So what is the problem? Who decides how work should be valued? Consider this: how valuable is the work done by a second string back-up goaltender on an NHL team? He might still make several hundred thousand, even a million or two, and yet he's not doing all that much. Meanwhile a good teacher is helping form the next generation of minds – what could be more important? Yet this teacher isn’t likely to make even one hundred thousand. Whose job is more valuable? A bureaucrat might decide it is the teacher. But are we going to start paying our teachers millions to even it up? What we have here is an example of the "diamond water paradox." While water is more important for life than diamonds (we can't survive more than 3 days without water, but we can get by a lot longer without diamonds) water remains much, much cheaper than diamonds. Why is that? As we all know, it's because water is far more abundant than diamonds. Or to say it the other way around, diamonds are more expensive than water because they are rarer...even though they aren't more important or more useful. So something’s price is not always determined by how useful it is. There are other factors involved, and when it comes to jobs, that may also include how ready a supply there is for this position vs. that position. Teachers are in a far more abundant supply than NHL players of any type. That's why the NHL player gets more. If we start arbitrarily deciding this job is the equivalent of that one, and so both should get the same pay, only bad things can result. In our example it would either mean bumping all the teachers' salaries up substantially (which we can't afford) or lowering the goaltenders' salaries to just a hundred thousand. But if these goalies are any good they could make more than that overseas. And so, suddenly, we've created a situation in which there is a shortage of quality second-string goalies because the government restricts what they can be paid. Of course, the government isn't going to restrict goalies' pay – this is a goofy example. But the principles are just the same – the government is going to set up some sort of system of deciding what work is equal to which. And because it's going to ignore simple economic rules (like scarcity driving prices up) it's going to be a mess.  ...

Economics

Let's not be the squeaky wheel

Fewer people are using VIA Rail, more trains are behind schedule, and the Crown corporation continues to bleed money by the millions: that’s what Canada’s Auditor General found when he took a close look at the passenger service this spring. In 2014 VIA had revenues of $280 million, but spent $597 million in operating costs, plus another $82 million in capital projects (putting down tracks, etc.). That works out to a loss of $399 million, all of it covered by the government. So what did taxpayers get for their money? Well, an economy ticket for a four-day trip from Vancouver to Toronto is roughly $500, but the true cost is $1,100, with the government chipping in the difference of $600.  Even with government subsidies of $55 million for the Vancouver-Toronto route, VIA Rail can’t compete on speed or price. In comparison an economy ticket for a flight on WestJet for the same route can be had for $300 and will take five hours. A bus ticket for a three-day Vancouver-Toronto trip is as little as $250. Government intrusion into the marketplace has left us with a business that is slower, more expensive, and costs hundreds of millions of Canadian tax dollars each year. Why, then, does VIA Rail still exist? Because every time they cut service on unprofitable routes, ticket buyers – those who get the bulk of their ticket price paid for by taxpayers – protest. And these squeaky wheels continue to get greased. What’s the takeaway for us? Let’s not be that sort of squeaky wheel. We can make use of VIA’s service for as long as they exists – we don’t need to feel guilty about taking advantage of their subsidized ticket prices. Why? Because so long as their trains are going to keep running whether profitable or not, our ticket purchases will amount to a small decrease in VIA’s overall losses. However, if VIA proposes cutting a money-losing route – even our favorite route – then we must not squeak! It’s one thing to make use of wasteful government services, and quite another to demand the government continue providing these services. On what biblical basis can we argue that others should be required to subsidize our scenic train trips? SOURCES: VIA Rail Canada Annual Report 2014; 2016 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada: Via Rail Canada Inc. – Special Examination Report - 2016...