Monday, May 31, 2010

Prayer and Authority (13) Resisting Evil

The New Testament method for dealing with evil is to resist it.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith (1 Pet 5:8-9).
The Greek word for resist is the word “stand” with a prefix meaning “against” attached. When we resist the enemy in prayer, we are standing on ground that legally belongs to us and forcing him to leave it. When we resist evil, the Holy Spirit comes in beside us like a bailiff, and forces it to retreat. Our resistance give the Spirit authority to apply his power against the powers that oppose us.

The forces of evil have no authority on earth, but they will refuse to give up their ground as long as they can get away with it. The role of the church is to enforce the victory of Jesus against the principalities and powers.
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph 3:10).
This promise is for “now”. A key task of the church is to put the victory of the Jesus into effect by resisting the forces of evil and forcing them out of the territory they have lost. Prayer established Jesus victory in the world. We must persist in resisting the forces of the enemy until that enemy is complete.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Prayer and Authority (12) Source of Authority

The devil can gain authority on earth in three different ways.

  1. When people with authority on earth fall into sin, they surrender their authority to him. Kings and politicians are doing this all over the earth.

  2. If Satan can deceive Christians into believing that he has not been defeated, he gains huge authority in their lives and spheres of influence. This has been a very successful tactic, as many Christians believe that the devil still rules on earth. This terrible lie has paralysed the church.

  3. Satan will often just squat in a place where he has no legitimate authority, and wait until someone with legitimate authority in that sphere forces him out. This has been a very successful tactic too.

Christians cannot deal directly with the first problem. The solution is to pray for them to come to faith in Christ. When they believe in Jesus, their authority comes with them. They will have authority to release God’s power in their sphere of influence and Satan will have lost his ground. Until that happens, a lot of praying for cities and nations will fail, because the people with the real authority in these places invite the forces of evil back in by default, quicker than we can boot them out.

The solution to second problem is for Christians to have their eyes opened. When the church understands that the devil has been truly defeated, his ability to operate on earth will collapse. Great things will happen.

Prayer is the solution to the third problem. Since the cross, Satan has been a trespasser with no legitimate authority on earth. Prayer is standing together with other believers to force him to flee from places of authority where he is squatting as a trespasser.

Squatters and trespassers are not intimidated by court decisions. They will usually stay where they are, until the police come with a court order and force them to leave. Prayer is enforcing a court order against the enemy. The cross was a legal defeat for the devil. Praying Christians enforce an eviction notice against the evil powers in places where they have no legal right to be.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prayer and Authority (11) Dealing to Evil

Dealing with the spiritual forces of evil is another aspect of prayer and authority. Human sin gave the devil authority on earth. It also seemed to give him some authority in heaven. He was able to go into the presence of God and make accusations against people who sinned.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them (Job 1:6).
Satan did not have authority to attack Job because he had not sinned, but if anyone had sinned, Satan could accuse them and demand the right to do them harm (his name means accuser).

Jesus death on the cross eliminated the accuser’s authority. If he accused any of God’s people, Jesus can say, “My blood covered that sin, so it does not count”. Satan lost his authority and was thrown out of heaven.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:7-9).
This is not a future event. These things happened when Jesus ascended into heaven (Rev 12:5). The cross destroyed Satan’s power and Jesus ascension into heaven confirmed that victory. He can never go into the presence of God and accuse people again.

The devil was thrown down upon the earth, but he has no legitimate authority there. Unfortunately, Satan is a cheat. Whereas God respects human authority, Satan has none and will seize power, even if he has no authority.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Prayer and Authority (10) Essential

Authority is more important than numbers for effective prayer. Here is another important principle.

We can only give God permission to act on earth
in situations where we have authority
Every Christian has different levels of authority in various spheres of activity. This affects their authority in prayer.

Christian parents have authority in their family, so they can give God permission to work in their family. Employers have authority over in their business, so they can give God authority to work there. Managers have authority over their staff, so they have can give God authority to work in their lives. A king has authority in his a kingdom, so he can give God permission to work in his kingdom. Elders have authority over people in their care, so they can give God authority to act in their lives.

When people ask us to pray for them, they are giving us authority in their lives. This gives us authority to speak to God on their behalf. Hannah had submitted to Eli, so he had authority to agree with her prayers. If she had not submitted to him, his agreement may not have meant anything.

Two or three people with earthly authority over a situation will be more effective than hundreds who have no authority. This is a reason why Christians should take up positions of authority that are offered to them. Being given authority in the world, gives a Christian wider and broader authority in prayer.

Much of the prayer for cities and nations is wasted, because the people praying do not have much authority over the political systems they are praying for. If the rulers of a city are not Christians, they are by default, continuously giving the forces of evil authority to act in their city or nation. Christians can bind these principalities and powers and command them to leave the city, but they do not need to depart, if they have been invited to be there by leaders of the city, because the leaders have more authority in the city than the people praying.

Christians should be careful about submitting to political authorities, because when we submit to them, we re vulnerable to the principalities that control them. If we are standing to together in unity with other Christians, that may not be a problem, but if we are isolated from spiritual support, we might came under attack.

To read this full series of posts go to Prayer and Authority.

Economic Scarcity

I have just put up my full article on Economic Scarcity at my Kingdom Watcher website.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prayer and Authority (9) Declaration beats Babble

Understanding the nature of prayer will change the way we pray. First of all it means we can stop babbling on. Long prayers change nothing.

When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matt 6:7-8).
Babbling on in prayer is a waste of time, because God already knows what we need. We do not have to persuade him. We pray to give the Holy Spirit freedom to act.

After making this statement, Jesus gives an example of the way that we should pray. The second clause of the Lord ’s Prayer is not a petition or a plea, but a declaration of what should happen. Translated literally it reads like this.
God’s kingdom, Come!!
God’ will, Let it be done on earth!!
These words are closer to a prophecy than to a prayer. They are a declaration calling the Kingdom of God into existence. This is how we should pray. By declaring God’s plans, we give the Holy Sprit permission to bring them into being. By announcing the kingdom, we allow him to do God’s will on earth.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prayer and Authority (8) Angels

Our prayers also release the angels to do God’s work. Angels are spiritual beings who can pass between heaven and earth. They are limited physically, because they can only be in one place at a time. They receive their instructions from heaven and carry them out on earth. Once they come to the earth they can lose their connection with other angels and become uncertain about what to do. In this situation, they listen to the prayers of the saints to find out God’s will. When they hear Christians praying God’s will, they are able to implement it.

We should not pray to angels. We do not need to address them directly, because they are listening to our prayers and rush to do God’s will when we pray it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Prayer and Authority (7) Keys to the Kingdom

Jesus spoke to Peter about the Keys to the Kingdom.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and
whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matt 16:19).
Jesus was not giving Peter authority over the church, but was explaining the way that prayer and authority works.

He repeated these words, so they must be important.
I tell you the truth,
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth
agree about anything you ask for,
it will be done for you by my Father in heaven (Matt 18:18-19).
The additional sentence makes the meaning clear. Two or three people on earth agreeing on something gives the Father in heaven authority to do it. This is the key to the kingdom. We can bind up heaven by failing to pray, as without our authority, God cannot act. On the other hand, by praying correctly, we can release the powers of heaven to work on earth.

In the next verse, Jesus confirms the number of people needed release God’s power on earth.
For where two or three come together in my name,
there am I with them (Matt 18:20).
Two or three people in agreement can give God authority to act. We do not need hundreds of people praying to persuade God. We just need two or three people who agree with what God wants to do. They have sufficient authority on earth to release him to accomplish his purpose. Simeon and Anna had sufficient authority to allow God to send Jesus as messiah. Eli’s agreement with Hannah gave God authority to open Hannah’s womb for Samuel to be born (1 Sam 1:17).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Prayer and Authority (6) Prophets

Prophetic people have an important role in supporting effective prayer.

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7).
God does speak to prophets to make them feel good. He reveals his plans to get faithful people praying for his plans. This gives him authority to implement his plans on earth. Like Anna, Simeon was a prophet.
The Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. (Luke 2:25-26).
God have Simeon this revelation, so he would pray for the coming of the Messiah. His prayers gave God permission to do fulfil his plans, and Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph. Simon saw his prayers fulfilled when they took baby Jesus into the temple.

Prayer is finding out God’s will and giving him permission to act on the earth where we have authority. Understanding this will strengthen our faith. If we know we are praying for something that God wants to do, we can be confident that he will do it. This confidence should inspire us to pray with great faith.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prayer and Authority (6) Hannah and Samuel

The birth of Samuel is a marvellous example (1 Samuel 1:1-20). Hannah, a faithful women of God had cried out to God for a son for many years, but without success. The problem was that she did not understand what God was doing. This was a critical time in Israel, because the people would soon want a King, so God needed a prophet to speak to the nation. This prophet would eventually anoint David as King of Israel. However, God could not act, because there was no prophet and the priests were corrupt, so no one was giving him permission to act.

After some years, Hannah changed her prayers and cried out for a son who would be a man of God. This was what God wanted, so her prayers were answered immediately and Samuel was born. He went on to be one a great prophet during a pivotal time in Israel’s history. This was not just a lesson about seeking God’s will. The incident demonstrates that God needs praying people to give him authority so he can do what he wants to do.

Hannah’s prayer was quite vague. This is a reminder that we do not have to be totally precise when we pray. God will use whatever permission, he can get.

This pattern is repeated throughout the scriptures. Before God acts in a powerful way, faithful people will be praying and giving him permission to act. This even applies to the birth of the Messiah. Jesus was able to born as a baby, because people like Simeon and Anna had been praying for God to send his Messiah (Luke2:25-38).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Prayer and Authority (5) Partnership

God has given authority over the earth to mankind. Despite man stuffing things up, God keeps his word, so he will not act on earth without getting permission from a human with legitimate authority on earth. This is an important principle.

God will not act on earth
unless a human gives him permission to act.
Jesus has defeated the enemy and given God’s people authority on earth. When we pray we are not asking him to change his mind, we are giving him the authority that he needs to take action on earth.

To give God permission to act, we need to know what he wants to do. The first part of prayer is listening to his voice and finding out his will.

Once we know what he wants to do, we can give him permission to do it. This is the second important principle.
Prayer is finding out God’s will
and giving him authority to do it.
Prayer gives the Holy Spirit permission to do God’s will. He cannot act without getting permission from a human with authority on earth. When we pray for something, we give him the authorization that he needs to act on earth to accomplish God’s purpose.

Prayer is a partnership. The Father has many things that he wants the Holy Spirit to do on earth. The Holy Spirit has immense power, but no authority. We have authority on the earth, but no power. When we give the Holy Spirit permission to use his power using our authority, we can do great things for the Father together. Without him we can do nothing. Without our permission to act, he is constrained. By joining together his power with our authority, he can do great works on earth.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Prayer and Authority (4) Jesus

God could not go back on his word, but had another solution. Only a human has authority to sort out the problems on earth. So God sent his son Jesus to earth as a man. Because Jesus never submitted to Satan, he did not come under the authority of evil. Because he was truly man, he was able to take back the authority that God had given to Adam and Eve that they had given to Satan. His ministry and death destroyed the authority of the devil.

He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil (Heb 2:14).
Jesus had to share our humanity, because that gave him authority to defeat the devil. The power of the devil came through human disobedience and sin. By paying the penalty for sin, Jesus destroyed his authority.
He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code…that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:13-15).
Forgiveness of sin translated into defeat of evil powers and authorities. Therefore, when Jesus had risen from the dead, he was able to say,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matt 28:18).
Jesus always had authority in heaven. He now had authority on earth. He had completed his main task, by recovering the authority that God had given to mankind and evil had stolen.

Jesus did not give this authority back to God. He gave it to those who would choose to follow him (Dan 7:27). But that is another story.

Authority is important. Jesus died on the cross to recover stolen authority for the people of God. Once we understand the importance of authority, we will know why prayer is important.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prayer and Authority (3) The Problem

When God created the world he gave dominion over the earth to mankind.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion….” (Gen 1:26).
God gave mankind authority over every living thing upon the earth. This was an amazing gift. Creating something wonderful and beautiful and giving authority over it to someone weaker was a risky decision, but this bold act transferred authority over the earth from God to man. The earth became our domain and sphere of control. This is confirmed in Psalm 115:16:
The highest heavens belong to the LORD,
but the earth he has given to man.
God has full control over the heavens. The angels do his bidding without resistance. He has given authority over the earth to us.

Adam and Eve soon surrendered their authority to evil, by disobeying God and eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. To understand the seriousness of this action, we need to understand an important principle.
When we agree with someone,
we give them influence in our lives.

When we submit to another person,
we give them authority over our life.
By agreeing with Satan’s lies about the tree, Adam and Eve gave him influence in over them (Gen 3:6). When Adam and Eve submitted to Satan’s advice, they gave him authority over their lives.

This transition dramatically changed the working of authority on the earth. God had given control to humans. The representatives of humanity had given authority over the lives to the devil. This gave the forces of evil significant control over the earth. From that day forward, humans only have partial authority, because the spiritual powers of wickedness have usurped substantial authority. This is why Satan could boast when he was tempting Jesus.
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to (Luke 4:4-6).
Although he is a liar, especially when boasting, in this case he was close to the truth. He had authority over the kingdoms of the world, because it has been given to him, by those who had been given authority by God.

This transfer of authority created a huge problem on earth and explains why evil has often been rampant on earth. It also created a huge dilemma.

God had the power to put things right, but he did not have authority to act, because he had given authority on earth to humans. God is trustworthy and faithful, so he does not change his mind or go back on his decisions. He does not say one thing and do another. His promises are irrevocable, so despite humans making a mess with their authority over the earth, God could not just take it back and intervene on earth.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prayer and Authority (2) God's Will is Best

Yesterday I posted about the futility of changing God's mind.

A possible exception is Abraham arguing with the angels about Sodom in Genesis 18. God seemed to give into Abraham’s persuasion by agreeing not to destroy Sodom, if there were ten righteous men in it. However, it is not clear that God did change his mind. Sodom was still destroyed, although the angels saved Lot and his family. It is possible that God agreed with Abraham, because he knew that there were not ten righteous men in Sodom. God did not change his mind, rather Abraham was persuaded to agree with the justice of God’s action against Sodom. Their may be some debate about this interpretation, but anyway this incident does not give me much confidence that I can change God’s mind.

The truth is that we should not want to change God’s mind. His will is good. He only wants what is best for us, so a sensible person will not want anything that is not God’s will. Something that he does not want to do can only lead to second best. We get the best by seeking God’s will, so we do not need to change his mind.

Praying to change God’s mind is generally a waste of time. This does not mean that prayer is a waste of time, because prayer is about assigning authority, not about persuading God to act. To understand the purpose of prayer, we must understand the way that authority works in this world, and to understand that we must go right back to the beginning, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Prayer and Authority (1) Changing God's Mind

Christians spend put a lot of time and effort into a prayer, but sometimes this can often seem like a waste of time. Unanswered prayer is a huge source of frustration for many believers.

Part of the problem is misunderstanding about the way that pray works. Misguided prayer is a major cause of distress. One of the most serious problems is that Christians often pray as if they were trying to change God’s mind. They are concerned about a problem in their society and ask God to act to change the situation. If nothing happens, their prayers turn into pleading.

Most would not admit this, but their prayer style implies that God is stingy and miserly. Something good needs to be done, and he is able to do it, but has chosen to nothing, but some pleads fervently, he might change his mind and act. Getting other people to pray might help. If enough good people beg God to take up this cause, he might be persuaded to act. If some of those praying are really godly people, that might help swing him around.

Under this approach, God is all powerful. He can do anything, so if prayer is not answered, it must be because he is reluctant to answer it. The purpose of the prayer is to change his mind and get some action.

The underlying idea behind this approach is that prayer changes God’s mind. This is a dangerous principle, because changing God’s mind is just about impossible. The scriptures are quite blunt on this topic.

God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind (Num 23:19).

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind (1 Sam 15:29).
Humans change their minds all the time, but God is different. He does not need to change his mind.

To read this full series of posts go to Prayer and Authority.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scarcity (9) - Wasted Wealth

The huge increase in wealth that we have seen over the last few centuries has resolved the production problem that constrained the subsistence economy. Productive efficiency no longer needs to be the overriding economic driver. Other goals can now be achieved without risking economic security. This increase income and wealth could have several different impacts in the Christian community.

  1. An equivalent increase in consumption of goods and services. This is what we have seen in the Western World, but it has not produced increasing contentment. In fact the more we have, the more that we seem to need.

  2. Massive accumulation of capital. This would make the economy even more productive in the future.

  3. An increase in leisure time. There been some increase in leisure, but most people work as much as ever. Women are probably working more.

  4. Outpouring of generosity. The New Testament churches were very generous. They shared with each other and supported people and communities that faced poverty. However, their generosity was limited by their own relative poverty. They just did not have the capacity to support a dramatic economic transformation.

The situation is now different. We have experienced a massive increase in income and wealth that could be used to fund an equally massive generosity and deep sharing. Christians living in the West have the potential to support an enormous transfer of wealth that would lift large number of people out of poverty. We could do this without needing to sacrifice a satisfactory lifestyle.

The modern world has chosen option 1 and 2 with a little bit of option 3. That makes sense for the world.

The Church could have stood apart from the world by choosing option 4, but we have not been that enthusiastic. A wonderful opportunity to transform society and advance the Kingdom has been dissipated in a property boom and a frenzy of consumption.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Scarcity (8) - Christians Should Be Different

We should not be surprised that many people are not satisfied with what they have got, but Christians should be different. Paul demonstrated a different approach to life.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Phil 4:12-13).
Paul did not need more and more goods and services to be content. He found satisfaction in the one who gave him strength.

The Proverbs of Agur say something similar.
There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, 'Enough!':
the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, 'Enough!' (Prov 30:15,16).
Some things are never satisfied, but God’s people are not on the list. We should not be in the group that is never satisfied and never has enough.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scarcity (7) - Imagination Unleashed

Supply and demand are not fixed. The supply of goods depends on our ability to combine energy, intelligence and stuff from the earth to produce things that people want. Supply can increase gradually over time, but cannot increase dramatically unless new technology emerges.

Demand depends on our attitudes and desires and is only limited by our imagination.

A strange thing has happened in the modern world. The supply of goods has increased steadily. This would normally cause prices to fall, except that demand has grown even faster. Our needs and desires have expanded radically. If a poor man from Jesus time were offered the lifestyle of a person living on welfare today, he would feel incredibly rich. The lifestyle of a rich person from Jesus time would be seen as inadequate today.

This has a strange consequence. Although we are the richest generation that has ever lived, we are also the most dissatisfied generation that has ever lived. We have gone into debt, so we can have more stuff now, but we still want more. This is a different scarcity. An unbound imagination can never be satisfied.

Scarcity now derives from demand rather than supply. In traditional society, scarcity was the consequence of severe limits on the ability to produce. A subsistence farmer or hunter often needs to work all day, just to produce enough food to live. He had no time to dream about luxuries. Scarcity arises out of technical constraints on the ability to produce.

In the modern world, pressure on scarcity comes from the demand side. Free market capitalism has largely resolved the problem on the supply side. A modern economy can easily produce food and shelter for all members of society. In the Western world, scarcity arises more out of the insatiable demand for more and more goods and services. The problem is that there are no physical or technical limits on what people can desire or want.

Scarcity arising from the demand side cannot be resolved by producing more, as desires and wants can grow faster than productivity capacity. The only solution to pressure from this side is for people to be happy with what they have got.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Scarcity (6) - God’s Abundance

Although the concept of scarcity makes from the perspective of economics, and although I disagree with the political approach of Jim Wallis, I have some sympathy with his thoughts on scarcity and abundance. During the last few centuries, the western world has experienced a massive increase in income and wealth. A number of thing have made this prosperity possible,

  • Increased specialisation and division of labour

  • Expanded trade and globalisation

  • Huge accumulation of capital

  • Massive technological advances

  • Relatively stable legal systems

These factors have combined together to produce previously unknown prosperity. Many people in Jesus times really worried about how they would gather enough food to survive for one more day (Matt 6:31). In the modern world, most people do not have to worry about where their food and clothing will come from.

What is surprising is that this substantial prosperity has not increased contentment. As people have gained more they want even more. Compared to the past, we seem to have a massive abundance, but most people are still dissatisfied and want even more.

An even stranger thing is that Christians are no different. Jim Wallis is right to put his finger on this disconnect. It does not undermine the foundation of economics, but it does show that something is wrong with the way that Christians understand the world.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scarcity (5) - Zero Prices

Some goods are abundant. There is more available than people want. When a good is abundant, anyone can get more it at no cost, so the sign of economic abundance is a price of zero. No one bothers producing more of an abundant good, because they will not get a return.

Air is a good example of an abundant good is air. There is more air available than people want, so there is not market for air. Air is abundant, so the price is effectively zero.

Water is abundant in most places, so it is usually available for free. However, as the population has increased and uses for water have proliferated, it has become scarce in many places and people now have to pay for it. Markets for water are emerging.

If everything were available in abundance, markets would disappear. In the idealised paradise described post (3), markets cannot exist because the price of every good and service is zero. Nothing has any cost, so everything is free.

The continuing existence of markets for many goods and services is evidence that scarcity still exists. Although we live in a prosperous society, we have not yet reached the place, where scarcity has disappeared. In a developed economy, basic food and clothing are fairly abundant, so their prices have fallen quite low, but new goods and services want have been developed that people now want. Although old needs have been well and truly met, new needs have emerged that have not yet been satiated. The existence of prices above zero means that economic scarcity still exists.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Scarcity (4) - Solutions

Societies have dealt with this problem of scarcity in different ways.

  1. In traditional societies, the king or chief did most of the allocation of goods and services, and they did fairly well from it. The ordinary people usually lived a life of object poverty, but they were expected to provide the ruling group with everything they wanted whenever they wanted it.

  2. During the Second World War, coupons were use to allocate a limited supply of consumption good. Essential goods like petrol and fabric could only be bought with a coupon. This limited the demand for scarce goods.

  3. In the Soviet Union, the problem of scarcity was solved by queuing. The supply of bread and meat was hardly ever sufficient to meet people’s needs. Most of the time the shops were empty. When supplies came into the shops, people would queue to make their purchase. Those who were to slow to get into the queue would miss out.

  4. In market economies, the problem of scarcity is solved by prices. The price of every product reflects the supply and demand for that product. If the demand for a good increases relative to the supply, the price will increase, which will reduce demand. If the supply of the product increases then the price will fall, encouraging more people to buy the product. Prices adjust up and down until the demand matches supply.

The first three options leaves one group of people dissatisfied. The market option, also leave some people dissatisfied, but it does help people to adjust their wants to what is available, because prices allow them to quantify the costs of their choices. If a person wants a high definition television, they can work out exactly how many hours they will have to work to pay for it. They can see in advance the cost of satisfying this need.

Prices have the affect of reducing the demand for goods to a more realistic level. For example, if high-powered sports cars were free, everyone would want one. Because the price is actually well beyond the reach of almost everyone, most of us just take sports cars off list of things we might want. The high price means that we rarely think about the possibility of owning a sports car. Prices enable us to focus on choices that are more realistic for our situation.

Market prices do not eliminate scarcity, but they help people make choices that match their consumption and saving to their earning capacity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Times Square Financial Analyst

Last month Wall Street financial analysts were the source of evil. Now the Times Square financial analyst has struck fear in people’s hearts.

The state regulators did not do very well against the Wall Street evil. They did not do much better against the evil in Times Square. While the authorities were hassling the street vendors and buskers in Times Square, a financial analyst had travelled to Pakistan, trained with the Pakistani Taliban, removed his wife and family from the US, and prepared a bomb.

The Department of Homeland Security has thousands of agents and a budget of billions, but they were unable to prevent him from placing his bomb in a heavily populated area. The FBI lost him and he nearly escaped the country.

Fortunately, this financial analyst was a thwarted by an alert street vendor who had not been run out of town by the state authorities.

Some of these guys must be in the wrong job.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Scarcity (3) - Perfect Plenty

In an idealised paradise, everything I want would be immediately available. As soon as I wish for something, someone would bring it to me. Without scarcity, there would still be no choices, but every choice would be costless, because I would never have to give up anything to get something else.

Economics would be pointless in and idealised paradise. If there are no choices that involve costs, economics has no role. Decisions about allocation of effort and resources would not be needed.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we do not live in this idealised paradise. (The paradise of the Christians hope will not be like this.) We all have to deal with a tendency to want more than we have. Societies have to find ways to deal with the reality the demand for goods and services is greater than supply. John Couretas is correct in saying that one of the fundamental realities of economic life is scarcity of everything from raw materials to money to the very time we have on God’s green earth.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Scarcity (2) - Choices

Scarcity requires choice. Whenever, we want more of something, we have to choose to have less of something else. If I decide I want to earn more money, then I am choosing to have less leisure. Since I am finite, I cannot choose to do more work and have more leisure at the same time. The book of Proverbs reminds us of this truth.

A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest-
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man (Prov 6:10-12).
This verse must be really important, because it is repeated word-for word in Proverbs 24:33-34. Scarcity is used here in a different sense, as a synonym for poverty, but the verse is a clear statement that we face a choice between leisure and poverty. Likewise, if I want to spend more time preaching the gospel, I will have to spend less time at work or relaxing.

Most of our choices we face involve a cost. The cost is whatever we have to give up, when we choose to do something else. If I choose to buy a television, then I will have to postpone buying a new laptop. That is the cost of my choice. Even giving has a cost. If I give money to the poor, I cannot use it to buy groceries.

In a money economy, choice at a personal level takes four forms.
  1. I have to make the choice between work and leisure. This choice determines my income. The cost of my income is the energy I expend at work and the loss of leisure time.

  2. I have to allocate my income between consumption and saving. The cost of increased consumption is a reduction in savings, which may close out some future options.

  3. I have to decide how much of my income, I will give away to others. The cost of giving is the consumption that I will have to forgo.

  4. I have to allocate my expenditure on consumption between a multitude of goods and services that are available for purchase.

We are constantly making and revisiting these types of choice. Economic is really a study of how people make choices. The economist attempts to understand how people weigh up the cost of the choices they must make and how they allocate their time and energy between the infinite number of choices that everyone faces.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Scarcity (1) - Economic Term

The market’s fear of scarcity must be replaced with the abundance of the loving God. And the first commandment of the Market: “There is never enough,” must be replaced by the dictum of God’s economy: namely, there is enough, if we share it (Jim Wallis, Sojourners).
You cannot wish scarcity away. It is one of the most fundamental realities of economic life, involving everything from raw materials to money to the very time we have on God’s green earth. Still less can you wish away scarcity with shallow sentiment and decree that all of humanity will have enough if we follow the “dictum” of “God’s economy (John Couretas, Acton Institute).
The concept of economic scarcity seems to make theologians and economists grumpy with each other. One reason is that these two groups tend to use the word scarcity in different ways.

Scarcity is a basic concept in economics. It applies to both individuals and the economy as a whole.

At the personal level, scarcity is the corollary of human finiteness. There are limits on what a person can do, even in an entire lifetime. There are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week. If I want to spend more time sleeping, I will have to give up some of my leisure activities. If I want more time for leisure, I will have less time for paid work or work around the home. If I want to spend more time doing art, I may need to spend less time growing food.

Time is limited, so people must make choices about how they spend their time. If I choose to spend more time on one activity, I will to spend less time on some other activity. Life is full of choices about how we will spend our time.

Humans are not omnipotent. One person will not have the strength and energy to build a new house and run a marathon in the same week. Our finiteness places limits on what any person can produce. Everyone must make choices about what they will make and do. The economic term for this is “scarcity”.

Similar limits apply to an economy as a whole. The labour, capital, technology and other resources available in an economy are limited. Air, energy from the sun, and sometimes, water are the only resources that are available in unlimited amounts. The earth contains huge of volumes useful minerals and metals, but much of it is not easily accessible. Labour and capital are needed to extract it.

Human technology is limited. We do not have the technology do everything that we want. We might prefer to use energy from the sun to power our motor vehicles, but we do not have the technology yet and if we put further efforts into developing it, we will have to put less effort into other technologies that might be more useful.

Capital is also limited. Capital can only be obtained by forgoing consumption or leisure, so an increasing use of capital to be more productive, can only be achieved by increased saving. Every economy faces a choice between saving to make the economy more productive and consumption to increase well-being.

In the short-term, every economy has a limited population and therefore a limited labour force. Furthermore, there will be limited supplies of some of the skills that are needed to produce certain types of things. The reason is that when people decide to obtain a certain type of training, they choose not to develop other skills. People can only develop into one or two professions and they can only develop a limited range of skills.

In every economy, limited resources (labour, capital, technology and natural resources) place a limit on what can be produced. The technical name used by economists to describe this state of affairs is scarcity. It is not a perfect word for this purpose. “Finite” might be a better word, but we are stuck with the common practice.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Earth is Groaning

The great thing about having an MP3 player is that I can download messages and lectures and listen to them when I go for a walk. The best talk I have listened to this year is a message by Kris Vallotton called The Earth is Groaning.

When Bill Johnson his fellow pastor at Bethel Church wrote a book about Heaven Invading Earth, my main response was, if heaven really has come to earth, it is inevitable that this truth will lead to a reconstruction of eschatology. Bill has not really pushed it, so I am pleased to hear that Kris is now on the case.

His initial point is that earthquakes are not a warning of judgment, but a sign that the Holy Spirit is breaking out on earth. He ends the talk some of the key principles that shape his approach to eschatology. There are several really important principles.

  • We must not allow eschatology to re-empower a disempowered devil.

  • He will not accept a view that sabotages Jesus command to make disciples of all nations. The great commission is too often turned into making some disciples in all nations.

  • We must avoid an eschatology that pushes all the good stuff in the scriptures into the millennium and bringing the nasty stuff into the present.

  • He will not accept ideas that change the nature of a good God.

  • He will not accept a mindset that celebrates bad news.

I am really encouraged by the testimonies coming out of Bethel Church in Redding CA. The way I take it is that if the Holy Spirit can heal cancer in this age, then everything is back on the table. If cancer can be defeated, then the devil can be defeated in every place where he is currently working. If the Holy Spirit can heal the sick, then he can do all the other things that Jesus promised that he would do, like convicting the world of sin and drawing all people to Jesus. If the healing promises are confirmed as true, then all the biblical promises that Christians have sort of written off are brought back into play.

The healing signs we are now seeing are a deposit guaranteeing that all the other stuff can happen too. That gives a completely different outlook on the future. It is a source of enormous hope.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Colossal Division

The other interesting insight from A Colossal Failure, in the light of the current Goldman controversy, is that throughout 2006 and 2007, clever people within Lehman Brothers were intensely divided about the housing market.

As early as June 2005, Mike Gelband, the global head of fixed income, had warned a meeting of traders and analysts that the housing industry was pumped up like an athlete on steroids. He argued that the massive leverage was not grounded in any definition of reality. He said that the huge numbers of CDOs masked a huge problem of thousands of mortgages had been issued to people that could not afford them. Mike eventually resigned from his position over concerns about the high debt levels and leverage.

Alex Kirk the global head of high-yield and leveraged loans and Larry McCarthy the head of distressed trading gave a similar warnings. On the other hand, Dave Sherr, the head of global mortgage business, was adamantly staunch in the opposite view.

So Lehman was a house divided. Some leading people considered that mortgage-based CDOs were the way of the future, while others believed just as strongly that they were a disaster waiting to happen. This division fed through into the way the business operated. One part of the business was earning millions of profits by bundling mortgages and issuing CDOs hand over fist. At the same time, the distressed debt division was “shorting” many of the business involved in sub-prime mortgage debt.

The various divisions of Lehmans were free to pursue conflicting business directions. The CEO did not care what they did, provided each division turned a profit. Unfortnately, Dick Fuld gave more power to the bulls, so Lehmans backed the wrong horse and eventually the losses far outweighed any gains by those who had gone short on the market.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Colossal Failure of Common Sense

I have just finished reading a book called A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence McDonald with Patrick Robinson. Although called an “inside story”, this is probably not totally true, as McDonald only worked for at Lehman Brothers for a couple of years, so he did not really have full insight into all aspects of the organisation. As a consequence, he is very supportive of the people that he worked with, while negative about many others. This is not a balanced view, but it is still very interesting.

McDonald’s major theme is that Dick Fuld the CEO of Lehman Brothers Fuld was isolated from reality on the thirty-first floor of his ivory tower, so he was unable to hear warnings from people that things were not right. Fuld rose to the top of Lehmans on the coattails of Lew Glucksman. When Glucksman was joint CEO with Peter Peterson, he had ousted Peterson and seized control of the company. McDonald suggests that Fuld feared the same thing would happen to him, so he surrounded himself people who were not a threat.

Fuld’s isolation meant he was unchallenged as he made numerous mistakes that eventually led to the demise of a healthy business. Several opportunities to sell the business at a high price or to expand the capital base were rejected by Fuld. When the pressure eventually came on, Fuld floundered and failed.

This is a common pattern. Arrogance and isolation lead to failure.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Resurrection (7) - Inauguration of the Kingdom

Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth, as it is in heaven. The resurrection marked the inauguration of this Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not something that he will return to establish at the end age. That Kingdom was inaugurated when he was raised from the dead.

The LORD says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet." (Psalm 110:1).
Jesus would sit at the right hand of God until the Holy Spirit and the church has defeated all his enemies. He will then return to receive the completed Kingdom and hand it over to the Father.
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:24-25).
The resurrection was the great turning point in history. It marked the inauguration of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

For this full series, see the Resurrection.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Resurrection (6) - Power of the Spirit

The resurrection empowered Jesus to ascend into heaven and pour out the Holy Spirit on his people on earth.

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear (Acts 2:33-33).
If Jesus had not been raised, the Spirit would not have come.
The coming of the Holy Sprit changes everything. In Old Testament times, the activity of the Holy Spirit was intermittent. He move through a few people and was not active. Following the resurrection of Jesus, he is active in every believer in a much deeper way.

The full implication of the coming of the Spirit is hard to grasp. The church often lives as if the Holy Spirit is still only sporadically active on earth, much like in pre-resurrection times.

Paul prayed that the Ephesians would have the eyes of their hearts enlightened to understand what it meant.
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know… his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead (Eph 1:18-20).
The resurrection was accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who have received the Holy Spirit have the same power working in them as the power that raised Jesus from the dead. That changes everything.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Resurrection (5) - Political Power Futile

The power of political empires is sustained by the spiritual principalities and powers that work behind them. The defeat of these spiritual powers should have led to the disappearance of the political empires that dominated the ancient world. Daniel understood this because the angel had explained the implication of the rising of the Son of Man.

Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him (Dan 7:27).
The resurrection of Jesus made him Kingdom of Kings. This undermined the status and power of kings and rules everywhere. The resurrection is a sign that human political powers will eventually fade away.

We live in a compassionate age, when people really care about the suffering in the world. Most people want to see poverty eliminated. They want the handicapped to be helped. People want the suffering of animals to be ended.

This compassion and caring is good. Unfortunately this caring is mostly channelled into the power of the state. People are concerned about unnecessary suffering, but most just assume that if governments are given enough money they can remove suffering from the world.

This confidence in the power of the state is unfounded. Governments can make some improvements, but they can never provide a total solution to the problems of the world. The resurrection demonstrated the failure of state power and signalled the victory of the Kingdom of God. Those who are concerned about the problems of the world should focus their hope on the Kingdom of God.

Fort Hood

I have read that the US Army is pressing for the death penalty for the Fort Hood gunman. I suppose that will be a victory in the war on terror, but I really cannot understand what was going on overthere.

Fort Hood was full of military personnel, but a psychiatrist with two a handguns was able to kill thirteen people and injure thirty others, before someone intervened. What is wrong with these people? No wonder they are being beat up by the Afghanis.

The woman who eventually dealt to the psychiatrist was a traffic cop. Why do all the tough, ruthless people in the world end us becoming traffic cops?

Instead of sending another hundred thousand troops to Afghanistan, Obama should send a team of psychiatrists and traffic cops. They would soon sort out those rumpty Afghanis.