Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bulk Action Revival

Many Christians are looking for revival. Unfortunately, they do no understand what they need, so they are looking for the wrong thing. Most expect a bulk movement of the Holy Spirit in which millions of people will be touched by God in an instant. One reason that Christians like this form of revival is that it comes spontaneously from the outside without us need to do anything. That last point may be the reason why it has not happened.

The Holy Spirit sometimes hits a big group of people altogether at once, but that is relatively rare. The Day of Pentecost is one example. The Holy Spirit fell on 120 people all at once, but that is not normal. God was kicking of the age of the Spirit with lively start.

The other bulk ministry is described in Acts 10, when Peter was preaching to the family and friends of Cornelius. The Holy Spirit hit all the believers at once, but this situation was unique, because God was trying to “kick start” the apostles to take the gospel to Gentiles.

Seeking for a revival in which God does bulk action will lead to disappointment. It probably will not happen.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Problems in Jerusalem (3) Property Prophecy

Many citizens of Jerusalem had heard Jesus’ prophecy that Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt 24:1-35, Luke 21). The outpouring of the Spirit showed that Jesus was in heaven at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-33). This confirmed the truth of his prophecy (Matt 24:30).

After Pentecost, many Christians living in Jerusalem heard of this prophecy and sold their land. They understood that the day was coming when their property would be worthless, so they sold out while the market was still good. They used their money to provide food for people the visitors living in Jerusalem during a tumultuous time.

Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45).

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales… and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 24:34-35).
Selling property was a sensible response to Jesus prophecy, but some people misunderstood his warning signs and sold to soon. This left the Christians living in Jerusalem without land, which was the main form of capital in those times.

Without capital, Christians were not economically productive. The end result was that the Jerusalem church continued in poverty up until AD 70. The Jerusalem church continued to be dependent on donations from other Churches in Asia. This was not an ideal situation.

These factors mentioned in the last three posts mean that the Jerusalem Church cannot be used as an ideal on which to base a Christian approach to economics. The unique situation in that city means that the very Jerusalem church does not provide a model that can be directly copied.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Problems in Jerusalem (2) Christian Overstayers

Although they should have taken the gospel back to their home towns and villages, people from all over the world stayed in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost, thousand of people were still in Jerusalem, after coming their to celebrate the Passover.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven….Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; Cretans and Arabs. (Acts 2:5,9-10).
Many of these people responded to the apostles preaching and received the gospel. Some of these people, like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:39), immediately took the gospel back to their home as God intended.
This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every nation under heaven. (Col 1:23).
However many more of these foreign Christians remained in Jerusalem. I presume that they remained, because the Apostles remained, making Jerusalem the centre of the action. New Christians naturally wanted to be close to the action, so they stayed to see what would develop. This slowed the spread of the gospel.

The large number of visitors staying on in Jerusalem after they received salvation caused a serious economic problem, as the church was committed to providing them with food. It meant that the church was always short of money and needed donations from other churches.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Problems in Jerusalem (1) Apostles at the Centre

The church in Jerusalem is not the perfect model for innovative churches or Christian economists. Many wonderful things happened in Jerusalem, but several serious problems arose, despite the glorious blessing of the Holy Spirit.

The first problem was that the apostles stayed at the centre, when they should have moved out to the cutting edge. The word apostle means “one who is sent”. That means a true apostle must be sent out. Apostles should always be out at the cutting edge of what the Holy Spirit is doing. When apostles sit at the centre and give orders and direction, things start to go wrong. They quickly morph into modern day bishops, and the expansion of the church collapses.

Jesus had told the apostles to go out into all the world.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:47-49).
Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised… in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit….But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4,8).
Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem, but they were to wait “until”…. They were to wait until the Holy Spirit had come. Once they Sprit had come, the waiting should have ended. The apostles should have been sent out into Judea, Samaria and then the rest of the world.

Jesus had taught his apostles how to go out and stay in a village with a person of peace and preach the good news and heal the sick. Although they had practiced this method (Luke 9:1-6) and understood that it worked, the first apostles seemed to be reluctant to adopt it.

Peter and John just did not get it. God had to send persecution to get his disciples to move out in obedience to his commissions.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).
This is amazing. The disciples moved out, but the apostles did not get the message. They stayed in Jerusalem, despite their calling and Jesus’ clear commands.

The Holy Spirit had a dreadful job getting Peter to go to Caesarea to share the gospel with Cornelius and his household. Luke takes a whole chapter to describe the incident. Peter had a vision. The Holy Spirit spoke to him. The prediction of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled (Acts 10:19-21). Even after all that, Peter launched into his sermon by saying that it was against his law for a Jew to associate with a gentile. While Peter was preaching, the Holy Spirit interrupted and filled the people so they spoke in tongues.

Peter did not have a clue about what the Holy Sprit was doing in Caesarea and struggle against. He just did not want to go there and he did not stay, when the Holy Spirit started moving. Peter went back to Jerusalem and an opportunity was lost.
Paul initially made the same mistake and went to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had to put him into a trance to get him to understand that he should be getting out of Jerusalem.
When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. “Quick!” he said to me. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me”….. Then the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:17,18,21).
Paul left for Tarsus and then went on Antioch. The apostolic ministry he launched demonstrated that Jesus method is effective (Acts 28:1-10).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Eschatology and the Kingdom

The increasing interest in the Kingdom of God is exciting, but we cannot focus on the Kingdom of without a change in eschatology. A vision for the Kingdom will gradually move us away from the Jesus is Coming Any Minute teaching. While we believe that Jesus is returning in the next decade, we will not get serious about the Kingdom.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Trendy Adjectives

Christians should be careful about using fashionable adjectives.

A number of years ago, “prophetic” was the trendy adjective, as in prophetic leadership conference, prophetic evangelism.

More recently, “apostolic” became the in adjective, as in apostolic anything, eg apostolic reformation.

Now “Kingdom” is the adjective that is being used everywhere, as in kingdom economics, kingdom government, etc.

We need to be careful that we do not devalue these words by just attaching them to any idea that we think is trendy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


We should be careful about saying an action is mandatory, without further qualification. Mandatory often means different things to different people.

  1. God requires this action from all people

  2. God requires the action from all Christians

  3. The state can penalise those who fail to comply with the standard and compensate those who were aggrieved.

  4. Active state action to make people take particular actions.

  5. The state can take action to achieve a general goal, eg taxing people to achieve inequality.

When saying something is mandatory, we should be more precise about what we mean.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Price Indexes (13) Shooting the Messenger

Some economists are pretty hard on statisticians. They see them as a government tool for manipulating the masses. This statement is a little unfair. Most of the statisticians that I know are very independent thinkers determined to measure the economy accurately. Most have an obsession with detail and a fixation with doing things accurately (other personality types find the work boring). They put enormous effort into producing correct estimates.

Statisticians actually have a prophetic role. They are often the only ones who can expose the full impact of government’s monetary policies. The central bankers are the ones who inflate and devalue the currency. I suggest that we concentrate on getting rid of them, rather than attacking those who measure the damage they do. Until we have sound money and inflation disappears, we will need statisticians to measure the impact of monetary manipulation.

I agree that a government monopoly is wrong and dangerous. The best way to get reliable statistics would be to have various providers competing in an open market for statistics. This is what economists should be arguing for, rather than undermining the practice of statistics.

Developing measures that are as accurate as possible is not easy, and there will always be debate about methods. Statistical journals are full of debates about the merits and problems of different methods, including hedonic adjustment. Rather than complaining about the work of statisticians, economist should be glad that they are exposing the damage done by monetary inflation.

Another good example of the prophetic role of the statistics profession is the manual for Government Financial Statistics. This is a system developed by statisticians for measure government income and expenditure. This system exposes the multitude of sins that are hidden by the cash based accounts kept by most modern governments. If all governments adopted these standards, there economic management would be much more transparent.

To those looking for a conspiracy, I am sorry guys, but I don’t think it is there. You should about be careful about the way you use statistics, and make sure that you understand what they measure, but encouraging conspiracy theories adds more heat than light. Statistics and statisticians actually expose the consequences of politician’s actions.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Price Indexes (12) Statistical Monopoly

One reason for the concern about the validity of price inedexes is that we do not have a free market for statistics. Monopoly governments have crowded out most private operators, so users have very little choice.

If the government stopped producing statistics, there might be a market for privately produced statistics. If inflation of the money supply continued, I suspect that there would still be a demand for price indexes and measures of GDP estimated by private suppliers.

Private production would be preferable, as any incentive to cheat would be removed. However, we would still need independent private experts to monitor the work of the private statisticians to assess the quality of their work.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Price Indexes (11) Deflating Output Measures

Economists are often concerned about the impact that quality adjustment or hedonic adjustment might have on the measurement of real GDP. Given a certain nominal GDP (in dollars or any other currency unit), the number for the price deflator determines the size of real GDP and its real growth rate. If the measured inflation rate is low, the real GDP will be higher and vice versa, and along with that one also gets higher or lower numbers for productivity changes.

This statement is correct, but misses an important point. When applying a deflator, if improvements in quality are not adjusted in the deflator, they will not appear in real output measure. The best way to explain this is to consider a Ford factory that produced a million Model T Fords in 1920. The same factory is now producing a million Ford Mustangs. Say the price of Model T was $300 and the price of a Ford Mustang is now $30,000, the value of the output of the factory has increased from $300 million to $30 billion. However, the price index of these cars has risen one hundredfold.

If this price index is used as a deflator without any quality adjustment, the real value of the output of the factory will be.

30b/300m*300/30000 = 1
This result indicates that the output of the factory has not changed. If the number of people working at the factory was the same, no increase in productivity would be recorded. Most people would find these results hard to accept and claim that developing a Mustang took a lot of research and development and provides greater utility to the car owner. Although the factory is still producing a million cars, it is producing better quality cars.

The reason that output does not change is that all the quality improvements were captured in the price index. Although part of the increase in price from 300 to 30,000 is the result of an improvement in quality, no adjustment was made to the price index. Because all the quality improvement was captured in the price index, it is excluded from the resultant measure of real output.

The only way to feed to quality improvement into the real output measure is to quality adjust the price index. If it is assumed that a Ford Mustang is ten times better than a Tin Lizzie, the price index will show a only tenfold increase (rather than the hundredfold used above). The factory will now show a tenfold increase in real output. This is a more sensible result.

A good way to make this clear is to think about a Russian factory that was producing a million Ladas and a United States factory that was producing a million Ford Mustangs. Is their output equivalent? I suspect that most Americans would think that the American factory had greater output. The difference is a difference in quality.

So in general we expect improvements in the quality of products to be included in measures of real output and real GDP. But as already shown, this can only happen, if a quality-adjusted price deflator is used. It follows that if the quality adjustment in the price index is biased then the resultant measure of real GDP will be biased.

If the measured inflation rate is not adjusted for quality change, the real GDP will be too low, and along with that one also gets lower numbers for productivity changes.
Much of the drive for improving the methods of quality assessment used in price indexes has come from National Accountants who want better deflators for their estimates of GDP.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Price Indexes (10) Quality Adjustment

Some will say that the problem is with quality adjustment, full stop. They argue that the problem is not with the hedonic method, but with all quality adjustments, however they are made. To answer their concerns, I will explain why quality adjustment is necessary. The best way is to look at some examples. These will show that the adjustments made by statisticians actually reflect the way that consumers think when they are making purchases.

The most basic form of quality adjustment is an adjustment for a change in “quantity”. A good example is breakfast cereal. A common trick for cereal manufacturers is to keep both the size of the cereal carton and the price unchanged, but reduce the weight of cereal in the box. Many consumers will not notice, but the astute consumer will consider that the price of the cereal has increased. Some people take a calculator to the supermarket, so that they can get the best deal calculating the price per kilogram. The statistician makes a similar adjustment to the price to allow for the change in volume. If this were not done, the index would not record increases in cereal prices.

Now consider a more difficult example. Suppose a manufacturer of muesli or granola leaves the dimension of the package, the weight of cereal and the price unchanged, but changes the recipe by putting in less high quality grains and replacing them with low grade flour. Some consumers might not notice the difference, but those who do will choose a different product, because they think that the value for money has changed. The price of the granola is unchanged, but the consumer is getting a different product. In practice, these small changes might be impossible to measure, but the principle the statistician should make an adjustment to the price to reflect the change in quality.

These two examples show that the quality assessments made by price statisticians are similar to those make by consumers deciding which product to purchase. With other products the process may be more complicated, but the question is still the same: What value does the change have to consumers? Quality adjustment reflects the behaviour of consumers.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Price Indexes (9) Limited Use

In practice, the hedonic method is difficult to use, as statistically valid results are difficult to achieve. In general, the hedonic method has only been applied to cars, electronic good, and houses, because the different features are relative standard and a large sample of models are available in the market. Four important points should be noted.

  1. A quality adjustment is only done when one product in the matched sample has to be changed. This will only be a small percentage of the total sample. Most products have remained unchanged for many years. For example, electricity, meat, milk, toilet soap, haircuts, bus travel have not changed much from when my grandfather purchased them.

  2. Overlap Pricing is used in most situations where substitution is necessary. The only subjectivity is in deciding where Overlap Pricing is not possible, because both the old and new products are being sold in significant numbers.

  3. The Hedonic Method is only used for products that need direct quality adjustment, so only a very small percentage of prices are adjusted this way. Some critics state that an hedonic adjustment is made to every price collected. This is a great exaggeration.

  4. Hedonic adjustment may result in a smaller or larger adjustment than the traditional method. This means that the common complaint that hedonic adjustment method will reduce the increases in a price index is unfounded. The introduction of the hedonic method may actually increase the price index.

Given these four points it is hard to see what all the fuss is about.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Price Indexes (8) Hedonic Methods

Direct Adjustments for quality change are difficult to make without introducing subjectivity or bias. Consider an example. If the only difference between the old and the new car is a catalytic converter, a direct assessment of its value to consumers must be made.

Most information about the cost and perceived value of the catalytic converter will come from the manufacturer, who is likely to have a biased view. This is why statisticians prefer not to make direct adjustments. Contrary to popular opinion, hedonic adjustment has been introduced to make direct quality assessments more objective.

To apply the hedonic method, index statisticians collect the prices of as many cars as possible that are available with and without catalytic converters. A regression is then used to calculate how much difference the addition of a catalytic converter makes to a car.

In principle, the hedonic method is more objective than direct adjustment, because information from the market place is used to estimate the value of a so-called quality improvement. Using information from the market will generally be better than depending on the judgments of statisticians and information from suppliers. For example, critics often argue that statisticians place too higher value on things like extra memory on a computer.

The hedonic method deals with this issue by attempting to use market prices to assess how much consumers are willing to pay for extra memory. If extra memory is of no value to consumers, this should be reflected in the hedonic measure. This should be better than a subjective “direct assessment” by a statistician.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Price Indexes (7) Overlap Pricing

The most common solution to the problem described in the previous post is to make the change before the old product disappears. Then the old product and new products can be surveyed in a cross-over period. A price relative for the old product is used to calculate the price movement up to the crossover period. A price relative for the new product is used to measure the price movement going on from the crossover period. This ensures that the matched sample used to calculate the price change between any two periods actually matches. This method is called Overlap Pricing.

This is where quality adjustment comes. A noted, the old and new products will quite likely be of different quality. The Overlap Pricing method assumes that because the two products are selling in the same market at the same time, the difference in price between the two products reflects the difference in value to consumers between the two products. If this were not true one, one of the products would stop being sold.

The Overlap Pricing method is the preferred method where the sample of prices has to be changed because the market decides the value of the difference between the old and new item.

There are some situations where the Overlap Pricing method is impractical. Sometimes when a new model is introduced to the market the old model is completely sold out before the new one is introduced. Or if the old one is still available, it might be so unpopular that it has to be massively discounted to clear the old stock. This is generally the situation with cars, stereos televisions and computers.

Statisticians cannot assume that the difference between the two products is reflected in their price difference, so they have no choice but to make a judgment about how much of the difference in price is the result of differences in quality and how much is genuine price change. This method is called Direct Adjustment.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Price Indexes (6) Changing World

The problem with the matched sample is that the world is not static. The range of goods and services available is constantly changing, and people are constantly changing what they buy. The best solution to this problem is to update the basket as frequently as possible.

Households are constantly searching out the cheaper outlets for the goods and services they by. Since this shift to cheaper outlets and brand is not captured by the price index, most fixed basket indexes have an upwards bias. In other words, they overstate the level of price change.

Some economists get agitated about chain-linking of price indexes, but chain-linking is just a practice of updating the sample basket and weights more frequently. This partly removes the upward bias that comes from leaving the basket unchanged.

The ongoing challenge faced by price statisticians is that some of the goods and services in their matched samples go out of production or become redundant. When this happens the redundant product must be substituted with a different product. In some situations the substitute might be quite different, so a price relative with the price for a new product in the numerator and an old product in the denominator would distort the price index.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Price Indexes (5) Choosing a Basket

The choice of the basket is really important, so the selection process is usually based on a family or household expenditure survey. This ensures that, as far as possible, the basket is representative of the goods and services that households actually buy. This expenditure information is also used to ensure that each good and service is assigned a weight that reflects its importance in household budgets.

Choosing the basket of goods and services and list of outlets to be included in price surveys is the most difficult part of designing a price index. Any bias that is introduced will reduce the accuracy of the index. If price statisticians really wanted to fiddle the index, this is where they would do it. Selecting samples gives far greater opportunity for mischief than the much maligned hedonics.

The BLS attempts to reduce bias by using random samples of goods and services in all price surveys. Most other countries cannot afford this expense and use purposive sampling, which may introduce bias if care is not taken. However, the issues around designing robust random and purposive samples are well understood.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Price Indexes (4) Scope of Measurement

Most price indexes measure the change in the price for a fixed basket of goods and services, because that is all that can be measured. Because the world is not static, this means that the price index will not a perfect reflection of Statisticians are generally clear about this, and they focus their energies on measuring what the index purports to measure accurately, rather than trying to measure something else. This is why the matched sample is important. Price statisticians put a lot of effort into ensuring that the basket of goods and services is the same in each period.

If the quality of the goods or services being surveyed is allowed to change from period to period, the index will no longer be measuring a fixed basket and no one will no what it is measuring.

For example, a CPI measures the change in price of the goods and services that households buy. It does not purport reflect the experience of any household, because everyone is different. It cannot measure the true cost of living, whatever that is. All it is designed to do is measure the change in prices of the goods and services that households buy. People do not need to use this measure if they do not like what it measures, but it should not berated because it does not measure something that cannot be measured. I do not take my new car to the dump, because it cannot fry eggs.

Jesus is Lord

The early Christians were persecuted by Rome because the Roman Emperors did not like the gospel. They did not care about the church.

The Christians were persecuted because they refused to say Caesar is Lord. They declared that Jesus is Lord. The Romans understood the implication of this. If Jesus is Lord, everyone must submit to him. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is just an impostor.

Our declaration must be the same. Not “Let the people decide” and not “Parliament is Sovereign”, but “Jesus is Lord”. If Jesus is Lord our modern political powers are no more legitimate than Caesar.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Price Indexes (3) Level or Change

Economists are interested in measuring the overall price level. Unfortunately, measuring the price level in an economy is impossible. This is an important point that underlies the design of all price indexes. The prices of a pint of milk and a Ford V8 cannot be averaged because the units are different. However, we can measure the change in the price level, by converting the prices to price relatives, that all have same units. The assumption behind this practice is that variability in price change will be less than the variability in absolute prices. Lower variability reduces the sampling error.

The basic method for calculating a price index is to choose a representative basket of goods and services. The prices of all the goods and services in this basket are measured in the current period and a previous period. This is referred to as a “matched sample”. The change in prices recorded for this matched sample is used to calculate the price index.

With a matched sample there is a standard unit. The current price for each good or service is divided by the previous price. This ratio is called a price relative. If there is no price change, the price relative equals unity. So there is a common measurement rod, as all changes are measured relative to unity. The price index shows price change relative to unity (or a base of 100 or 1000 to show more significant figures).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Price Indexes (2) Estimates and Approximations

The difficulties of price index measurement have been well understood for almost a century. Statisticians have always understood that price indexes, like all statistics are estimates.

Statistics are different from accounting. Unlike accountants, who add up every transaction to produce detailed accurate accounts, statisticians make estimates based on partial information. There is nothing wrong with making decisions based partial information; we all have to do that all the time. Statistics is just a way of systematising partial information to clarify what it means.

All statistics are estimates or approximations. The hard part is determining if these approximations produce something useful. Statisticians put a lot of effort into measuring the accuracy of the statistics they produce. Users of statistics and economic commentators can then decide if the approximations are good enough for their purposes. Serious problems arise when they treat statistics as if they were exact measures.

This issue becomes clear with respect to price indexes, when we remember that in any economy, billions of transactions take place every day. Millions of different goods and services are sold in different quantities at different prices. Recording and measuring all these transactions is impossible. Calculating an average price of all the transactions that occur in the economy in one day just does not make sense. The only way to measure prices is to do what is done with most statistics and that is to take a sample.

This is not an unreasonable course of action. Supermarkets generally charge all customer the same price for a size and brand of baked beans, so it is not necessary to observe every single transaction to understand what is happening to the price of baked beans. However, sampling does introduce sampling error so a price index can never be an exact measure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mark of the Beast

The Kingdom of God is the will of God being done.
Democracy is the will of man being done.
The Kingdom of God and Democracy are opposites.

The Beast of Revelation is the culmination of a
democratic empire.

If democracy is the beast, then this photo shows the mark of the beast.

Price Indexes (1) Hedonic Histrionics

From time to time I come across articles about the use of hedonic methods in price indexes. The topic is popular among conspiracy theorists and the Consumers Price Index (CPI) produced by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) seems to draw the most heat. Changes in the methods used in the CPI are often portrayed as part of a government cover-up.

Economists get quite stirred about this issue too and often perpetuate confusing ideas about something they do not fully understand.

The PPI has clearly been insufficiently adjusted with hedonics, chain-weighting and rental equivalence (Stefan Karlsson).
Then, when one adds in hedonics, which strips out many price increases by assuming they are quality improvements, and when one factors in the substitution allowances in the data, it is clear that the CPI is not going to flash any sort of alarm bells (Bill Fleckenstein).
One problem that makes the discussion confusing is failure to distinguish between two terms: “quality adjustment” and “hedonic adjustment”. Quality adjustment is a practice used in most price indexes. Hedonic adjustment is just one among a variety of methods used for quality adjustment.

The BLS did not introduce quality adjustment when it started using hedonic methods in the 1990s. It has used quality adjustment as long as it has produced price indexes (I will explain why in a later post). The change made in the 1990s was to introduce hedonic methods to quality adjust a few commodities, where the BLS was unhappy with other methods of “quality adjustment” (Brent Moulton).

More on this in the next few posts.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blessing the Jews

Christians are called by the scriptures to bless the Jews.

They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings (Rom 15:27).
We have received spiritual blessings from the Jews, so we are required to share our material blessings with them.

Blessing the Jews is a tricky challenge. Many Christians just assume that this means that we should bless the state of Israel, but the two are not the same. Romans refers to a group of people, not to a national state.

Blessing the Jews is not the same as blessing the Israeli state. The latter is controlled by men and women who have more faith in military power than they have in God. Many are atheists who will do anything that will work, rather than what is right. They are currently making political decisions that are contrary to God’s law of their covenant, so they are placing themselves outside God’s blessing. We should be careful about blessing a state system that God is not blessing.

The other challenge is knowing who are the Jewish people. With the passing history, the genealogical links to the descendants of Israel have been broken. Several problems make the identification of the descendents of Judah difficult.
  1. When the ten northern tribes were exiled to Assyria, most never returned. The result is that there are people all over the world who are descendants of one of the tribes of Israel, but do not know it. I assume that some of my Christian friends, who are really passionate about the Israel, are actually descendants of one of the ten tribes that were exiled to Assyria. I have often wondered if Christians who have a strong need to visit Israel are actually descendants of Israel without knowing it.

  2. During the five or six hundred years after the birth of Christianity, Jews continued to proselytise throughout the different parts of the world where they were spread. Large numbers of people who were not ethnic Jews converted to Judaism. This means that some of the Jews living in Europe or Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century were not descendents of the Judah, but descendents from other tribes who had converted to Judaism. This means that some people who call themselves Jews are not ethnic Jews. This explains why many people with an affiliation to Judaism have no urge to return to Israel.

  3. The Romans did not expel all Jews when they destroyed Jerusalem. They scattered the political, business and religious leaders to the four winds, but many of the peasant classes remained in the land of Israel. The descendants of some of these Jews are still living in Israel, but at some point there predecessors may have converted to Islam and stopped calling themselves Jews. This means that some of the Palestinians living in Israel may be descendents of Judah, without knowing it. This may explain why some Palestinians have such strong connection with their land, and others do not.

After two tumultuous millennia, the descendents of Jacob are hard to identify. Only the Holy Spirit knows who is a Jew and who is not. Therefore, the best way to bless the Jewish people is to be led by the Holy Spirit.

For more on this topic see Nation of Israel.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pyrrhic Victory

I have never understood why the British went to war against Hitler to protect a bad regime in Poland, but were quite happy to go into and alliance with Stalin. Hitler was removed, but Stalin gained hegemony over the whole of Eastern Europe, while Britain lost its empire and was relegated to being a second-rate state. A pyrrhic victory.

I found the answer to this puzzle in Richard Overy’s book, The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars. He explains how British thinkers had become very pessimistic. They believed that civilisation was collapsing throughout the world. Hitler was the agent of barbarism, so the destruction of Hitler would save civilisation.

This pessimism was tinged by arrogance. The same people believed that Britain was the bastion of civilisation. The world crisis was Britain’s crisis, and only Britain could set the world to rights. They believed that the British people had responsibility for restoring civilisation.

Going to war against Hitler was a suicidal attempt by an arrogant nation to save the entire world.

The result of the war was different from what they expected. Hitler lost. Stalin won. Civilisation stumbled on.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

What Daddy Did

While Jenny’s was suffering, her father did do something about the situation. One of her friends told him what had happened, so he went to Mr Saddum and bought the house from him and transferred it back into his daughters’ name. He had to pay a big price, because Mr Saddum drove a hard bargain. Jenny’s father was happy to pay any price, because he loved his daughter, even though it made a hole in his son’s inheritance.

Jenny’s father sent numerous letters to her saying that his solicitor now held the title to the house on his daughters’ behalf and that the solicitor also held a cheque to pay for the cost of restoring the house. Jenny never received the letters because the tenant’s destroyed them or she refused to open them. The tenants did not move out, because Mr Saddum never told them that he had sold the house, and they had never paid any rent anyway. Poor Jenny continued to suffer alone.

After many years, her sister, Julie, arrived back from overseas. She had called on their father on the way home and had another letter for her sister from him. Imagine Jenny’s amazement, when she discovered that she and her sister still owned the house and could afford to restore it.

The two sisters gave the tenants immediate notice. They had to get the police to evict them, but they soon had the house to themselves. The house was soon restored back to the place of beauty it had been, when their father first gave it to them. They lived there together for many happy years, which was just what their Father wanted.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Julie and Jenny - A Parable

A rich man had two daughters, called Julie and Jenny. Julie was the oldest and Jenny was adopted. When they grew up to be adults, they wanted their independence, so their father bought them a house to live in. They enjoyed the independence for a while, but they still felt constrained, because their father owned the house. He was a kind man, so he arranged for his solicitor to transfer the legal title for the house into the name of his daughters.

He said to them, “I want to you to be totally free from my control, so I have transferred the legal ownership of the house to you. It is now your house. You are free to do what you like in it. However, you need to understand that you are also responsible for it. Enjoy your freedom, but guard it carefully.” He knew there was a risk, but he had taught them about life and money, so he trusted them.

The two daughters really enjoyed their freedom, but after some time Julie got bored and decided to leave home and travel overseas. Jenny was left with a house to herself.

One day Jenny heard Mr Banker advertising on the radio, “You will have just received the new government valuation for your property. I can show you how to use the increase in equity for your benefit.” Jenny thought that this sounded pretty good, so she contacted Mr Banker. He agreed to loan her $500,000 and took out a mortgage over the property. Jenny had a great time with the money and lots of friends, but eventually the money was gone. Jenny was unable to pay her interest, so Mr Banker foreclosed on the mortgage and sold the property in a mortgagee sale.

The new owner of the property was Mr Saddun. He could have forced her to leave, but he said she could continue to live in large hall cupboard. He then rented the rest of the house to three families of gang associates.

Life for Jenny was soon absolutely miserable. Her new neighbors invited all their friends around and gradually started wrecking the house. Jenny was stuck with people she hated in a house she loved that was being trashed.

When Jenny’s friends heard what had happened, they were shocked. Some said that Jenny had been stupid; but that would not be a very good ending to a story. Some said that Mr Saddun was cruel and mercenary, but everyone knew that already. He said that he was generous, because he could have thrown her out of the house.

Many people said that Jenny’s father should have done something to prevent the tragedy. “Why did he allow it?” they said. But what could he do? He had given legal title over the house to his daughters, so he had no legal right to prevent the mortgage or the sale. Some might say that he made a mistake in giving the girls their freedom. Perhaps he should have retained legal ownership of the house, but then his girls would not have been totally free.

When Jenny’s father heard what had happened, he wept, because he loved his daughter. He had known the risk when he gave her the house that things could go wrong, but he had chosen to give her freedom, so she would grow to maturity.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Why Did God Allow It? (2)

When tragedy strikes, there is only one honest question we can honestly ask. “Why did the church allow it?”

Unfortunately, we believe in all sorts of lies to wiggle out of this responsibility.

  • Bad stuff happens all the time.

  • That’s life.

  • His sickness was genetic.

  • The devil will not be defeated until Jesus returns.

We accept these lies to avoid facing the truth that God has equipped the church with everything it needs to defeat and destroy evil. Evil does not just happen. It happens when we have failed to take up all that God has given us.

Given that God has given us such a beautiful world, and his people all that we need to clean it up and make it into the beautiful place that he intended it to be, we have a bit of a cheek to blame God when it gets into a mess. When we ask “Why did God allow it?” we are saying that Jesus did not do enough on the cross, or the Holy Spirit is not powerful enough, to clean up this world. We are blaming God for our mess. That is a dangerous game to play.

If a Christian man dies young, it is never God allowed it. It is always because the church allowed it. There are many ways that we might have allowed it to happen.
  • The Church did not take the gospel to the people who allowed evil to grow up in their midst.

  • The church did not put sufficient spiritual protection around the person that came under attack.

  • The church did not press in to obtain healing for the person who died.

  • The church did not adequately resist the attack of evil that came against him.

  • The church allowed him to go into battles that he was not trained to deal win.

  • The church allowed him to stand alone, when he need people around him providing protection.

  • The church let him forget that there is a battle going on.

So when tragedy strikes, we should stop asking why God allowed it. We should be asking how we allowed it to happen. We should be asking God to teach us what we need to do as a church, to make sure it does not happen again.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Why Did God Allow It? (1)

Christians often ask this question when something goes wrong. I hear it frequently. When a baby dies in accident, or a Christian with an influential ministry dies young, you guarantee that Christians will be asking, “Why did God allow it?” I understand their grief and confusion, but I hate the question. It is an insult to God. It casts aspersions on his character that he does not deserve. Every time that I hear someone ask the question I cringe.

The question that Christians should be asking when tragedy strikes is this: “Why did the Church allow it?” More on that in the next post.


We need to be clear about one thing. God does not allow things. He does not even allow evil.

God created a beautiful world. There was no tragedy and no trace of evil in it. He gave this beautiful world to mankind. He gave us full control over it, without recourse.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they invited sin and evil into the world. God did not allow it. He could not stop it because he had given authority over the world to humans, so hands were tied. This means that humans are responsible for everything that happens on earth. When a tragedy occurs, we should not be asking why God allowed it. We should be asking why humans allowed it.

But there is more. God did not just sit back and watch humans make a mess on earth. He sent his son Jesus as a human to deal with sin and evil. Jesus death on the cross paid the penalty for sin. His death and resurrection destroyed the power of the devil. His death and resurrection destroyed the power of evil. Jesus poured out his Holy Spirit on the church, equipping us with the authority and the power we need, to eliminate the influence of evil on earth.

God has given the church everything that it needs to destroy the power of evil. Therefore, when something bad happens on earth, we should not be asking why God allowed it. He didn’t. He actually gave the church the power and authority it needs to prevent it from happening, so we cannot blame him.

We cannot blame the devil either. The devil is a destroyer and killer, but his rights on earth were destroyed by the cross. Whereas God obeys his rules, the devil is a liar and will cheat on the rules whenever he gets the opportunity. He will poke into places that he has no right to be, if the church allows him. If he is able to do evil, it is because the Church has allowed him.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Electronic Communication

I get frustrated when I get a text form some one asking me how I am. I cannot convey how I feel in a text. I just assume that when people ask the question that way, they sort of care, but are to busy listen to the real answer.

I sense that facebook, twitter, and texting are forms of communication that appeal to people who do not expect any better form of communication. These tools are fine for transferring information, organising a meeting, or tracking down lost acquaintances, but they are less useful for helping me to know anther person.

When God spoke to Moses, he spoke to him face-to face, not by facebook, twitter or sending a text. Well that is not quite what it says,

When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face (Num 12:6-8).
The interesting thing is that visions and dreams are really good methods of communication. God has often given me some information that I need through a dream. Because I do not have control of the process, God can really cut through and get something to me that I did not want to receive.

Dream and visions can convey information, but they lack one thing. You cannot get to know God through dreams and visions. Moses had become God’s friend. He knew God, because he had spoken to him face to face.

The same applies to our relationships with other people. Electronic communication goes so far. It is good for organising meetings, spreading information, or telling the latest news, but to really get to know someone, we have to meet and talk face to face. We need to see their emotional response and read their body language. I can learn from facebook that a friend has climbed a mountain, or had a cup of coffer, but I cannot get to know them.

Moses knew God:
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel (Ps 103:7).
Israel was acquainted with everything that God had been up to. They could have learned that from facebook. Moses understood the ways of God, because he had met God face-to-face and knew his character and personality.
Facebook friends know my acts and deeds.
Face-to-face friends know my character.
Facebook has downgraded friendship. Acquaintances are now called friends.

Communication has to be two way. I can follow Brad Pitt on Twitter. I may feel that I am part of his life, but that is an illusion. He is not sharing in my life, and I do not really know him.

I suspect that many twits on twitter and status reports on facebook are from a lonely generation searching for people with who they could have face-to-face contact. They are not happy with just being acquaintance. Most people are still looking for friends and wanting to be known better.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Financial Support for Local Apostles (3) - Pay It Forward

When an apostolic team is sent out to plant a new church, the church that sends them out will often provide financial support. Because this apostolic team will have established the sending church for free, they will pay it forward by supporting their apostles on their next venture. When Paul was in Thessalonica, the church in Philippi provided support for him.

You sent me aid again and again when I was in need (Phil 4:16).
The key to this support is person-to person relationships. Paul had lived in Philippi as an apostle. He had an excellent relationship with them. They could put something back into his ministry by providing him with financial support. Modern apostles will often receive help from the people they have discipled in churches where the previously exercised their ministry.

Giving to apostles must be voluntary. Apostles cannot enforce giving by the church that has sent them out. They do not have authority to require financial support from their sending churches. The sending church will support the apostles they send, because they love them and are committed to the apostolic task.

In the New Testament Model, money flows through relationships, not institutions. Person-to-person giving feeds on trust. Deacons will have a key role in building relationships between those in need and those who can give.

If churches go back to meeting in believer’s homes, the overhead costs involved in planting a new Church very low. All that will be needed is a team of apostles and a home in which to meet. Often they will meet in the home of the first person converted, so there will be almost no expenses at all.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Financial Support for Local Apostles (2) - Tent Making

The Take No Purse approach would work in traditional cultures where providing hospitality is a normal part of life. It would not work in our Western culture, so apostles would need a different means of support. One option is tent making. Paul used this option in Corinth.

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth… and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath (Acts 18:1,3,4).
Paul stayed with the tentmakers with similar skills. This gave him credibility while witnessing to them, while allowing him to be independent financially.

In the Western world where part-time work can produce a good income, this will be the most common form of financing. Paul was quite staunch about people working for their living where they could.
We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this.. in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow…we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge…. to settle down and earn the bread they eat (2 Thes 3:7-12).
In a world whether many religious leaders have fleeced their flock, this is an example that we need. Modern apostles should look at using their skills to earn their living by seeking part-time work.

Some apostles will encourage the development of neighbourhood businesses. This will provide financial support for other apostles and people in need. These businesses will come into their own when globalisation collapses in the future. They will be able to produce things that can no longer be imported. Some will be family businesses.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Financial Support for Local Apostles (1) - No Purse

Locality-based apostles will be moving frequently, so they will find it difficult to hold down permanent employment. They will receive their financial support in three different ways. The common factor is strong relationships.

When Jesus apostled the twelve and the seventy, they took no purse.

Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep (Matt 10:9-10).
These apostles were not to take money from a central purse. Jesus specifically told them not to take a wallet. Instead, they were to rely on the hospitality of the people in the town or village they were going to visit.
Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave (Matt 10:11).
These Christians would bring healing to the people in the town. This would create tremendous good will. They would stay with the person of peace until the work in that village was complete. Being dependent on the person of peace made the apostle vulnerable, but it had a huge advantage. The person of peace would be discipled quickly, because the apostle’s life would be transparent to them.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Governmental Apostles (10) No Authority

The ministry of an apostle is relational, not positional. Once the apostle has moved on, they can influence the leaders left behind, because they nurtured and mentored them, and then released into ministry. Apostles do not have governmental authority, they have relational influence.

Apostles do not have the authority to decide how much money will be given to another church. The decision about how much should be given to Jerusalem was decided by the individual givers in the churches in Asia Minor.

The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea (Acts 11:29).
Paul had no authority to tell the Corinthians how much to give. The size of the fund was decided when the people who gave the money tagged it for that purpose.

An apostle does not have authority to allocate money to particular needs. Paul could draw Jerusalem’s need to the attention of the Corinthians and facilitate the giving, but he did not control any funds that he could just allocate to Jerusalem.

Paul received financial support from several of the churches which he had helped the Holy Spirit to establish, but this was always voluntary. He was always gave thanks for their generosity, but he never instructed them to give him money for his support. Paul knew that an apostle did not have authority to demand money from a church he had helped to plant.

Paul was careful not to usurp authority that did not belong to him. If he had asked for money for his support, many people in these churches would gladly obey him, because they loved and respected him. Paul wanted the elders in the new churches to grow in confidence, so he refused to undermine them, by imposing his authority on the Christians under their oversight.

Centralised financing does not work. This is not surprising, because the core problem is not financial, but with the modern implementation of the apostolic ministry. The solution to the funding problems to push the fivefold ministries down to the local level, where they can be supported locally.