I am one of the richest men in the world

Community well in Burma
Community well in Burma

Lately I have been thinking about poverty and the gap between the wealthy in this world and the poor. Oddly enough, I am actually one of the ‘wealthy’ pretty much by virtue of where I happened to be born. So here I am, wondering how we will manage to pay the bills this month, with Christmas and about 6 family birthdays looming, and an economy class summer holiday to scrape some dollars together for, wondering how I happened to get classified as ‘rich’?

Realistically, it costs a lot to live even a modest lifestyle in this country, yet people on the poverty line here are still considered to be among the wealthiest 20% of people in the world! That seems a bit screwy.

Where is our wealth?

Our family has a car. It may be 10 years old and have a few dents in it but it is reliable. However, a car is not much use without roads to drive it on. There is a network of roads from my house to any place in the country that I would like to go. These roads are maintained by thousands of workers using very expensive equipment. All paid for by taxes.

When I want some water I simply turn a tap and there it is, fresh, clean water piped into my house. The city council ensures that the water is of good quality and free from microbial contamination. This is paid for through the combined rates of all property owners in the city. New Zealand has good water supplies, we even have schemes funded by central government to assist in providing good quality water to small communities (though some politicians have taken an axe to the scheme’s budget!). Nobody here has to carry water for hours from the nearest well.

At night our family sleeps in peace. Fortunately our politicians have kept our nation free of conflict internally and have provided us with good international relations such that there is no significant threat of invasion. We have a police force that mostly keeps on top of crime and is largely free of corruption. I can go to work, even on night shift, confident that my family will be safe.

I have several tertiary qualifications, my wife also has a degree. My children are all being educated well at little personal expense to me. They learn their own language, are taught science, art and mathematics. At primary school the kids are even taught to swim because our nation is an island and kiwis love to be on, near and in the water. In addition, one of my daughters has been learning violin for 5 years in classes subsidised by the Ministry of Education.

This is only a small sampling of the riches I enjoy simply by being a citizen of this particular nation.

So even when the bills are mounting up and I grumble at the unrelenting costs of living, so long as I have even $1 in my pocket not urgently needed for basic necessities, I am rich. Our society likes to makes us think that everyone should have vast reserves of discretionary money to spend in order to be ‘happy’. The perfect dream for many is to win Lotto and have millions of dollars to spend as they like. That sort of ‘happiness’ is of little value according to Jesus:

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

673) More than enough food to eat.
674) Water at the turn of a tap.
675) Clean water, with no pathogens in it.
676) Hot water.
677) A water filter to remove the chlorine from and cool my clean water!
678) Electricity reliably provided to my home.
679) The ability to pay the electricity bill
680) Shops where I can buy what I need.
681) Phone and internet connections.
682) Choices in what I want to eat.
683) Freedom to worship God without harassment.
684) Bibles for sale in the local bookshops.
685) Enough clothes to be warm and comfortable.
686) Access to healthcare when I need it.
687) Good dental care, even if it does cost a lot – when necessary I manage to find the money.
688) A vote of equal significance to everyone else in elections.
689) Warm shoes.
690) Abundance of what I need.

Image of well in Burma: Vision Beyond Borders

Netted recently, April 8

It seems to be a trendy thing for bloggers to post a weekly (or daily in some cases!) list of links to items on the internet that have caught their interest. Being a very untrendy person myself I have avoided this, but am beginning to see the usefulness of it as a way to empty my email inbox (yeah, I’m one of those old farts who uses email instead of Twitter, RSS or DIGG or whatever else is new that I can’t keep up with). Point being, I have collected a large number of reminders of stuff I think is interesting and would like to comment on but simply do not have the time to write a full blog post about. So I’m going to begin consolidating some of these into a roundup of miscellaneous ‘possibly of interest’ links. They may not always be recent articles, just stuff that got me thinking in one way or another. Frequency of such ‘Netted recently’ posts may vary (as with all posts on this blog!).

Netted recently (and not so recently):
  • Poverty versus wealth, which is more spiritual? Trevin Wax has written a thoughtful article about a discussion between David Platt and James MacDonald debating sacrifice and generosity. The really good stuff is after his summary of the discussion when Trevin discusses his own experience of wealth shock living as an American in Romania as a missionary. His conclusion that “a radical, unshakeable commitment to all three principles” [that money and possessions are a good gift from God, can become idolatrous, and we are called to exercise stewardship of our finances in a way that pleases the Lord and furthers the spread of His name] is more likely to encourage me to give more than telling me to be ‘radical’ and give away all I own.
  • This one is from five months ago, Digital Discernment –  from John MacArthur: our concern should not be, “How many people can I get to follow me?” but rather, “How can I bear witness to the wonder of following Christ?” He also makes some good points about the need to think deeply about our faith: believers must not allow blogs, tweets, and status updates to become their primary source of theological education or spiritual input. If they do, they will inevitably become doctrinaly shallow and spiritually malnourished. Overall a thoughtful, albeit slightly negative, consideration of social media encouraging Christians to think about how we engage with it.
  • Unmasking Burma’s ‘Democracy’(link broken):  “I was aware that if I had been Burmese, I would have been treated far worse. Undoubtedly, the late-night knock on the door would have been far more frightening—I would have been hooded, beaten, tortured and jailed. It is possible that I might not even have survived.”

Diamonds in my pockets

My computer stopped working last week. It is now going again but for a time it joined the bulk of my possessions in the category of ‘broken’ (which pile seems to also include my body!). The fact that much of what I own is old and broken reflects the modest income our family has, the computer breaking drove this home to me because we simply cannot afford to spend money on repairs, let alone a new one. The thought of no computer made me feel like an inferior citizen in a society that assumes ‘everyone’ has a computer and internet access (which in fact is just not true in New Zealand).

So I plunged into feeling despondent that I’m poor, considered selling my soul to get a higher paying job, then because it was a fine day began painting the wall that I had been procrastinating on. As I slopped paint onto roughcast and listened to music loudly (by Third Day, on my iPod – are you getting the irony of this sob-story!), God gave me a resounding kick up the rear-end.

Allowing my thoughts to wander and hearing song lyrics reminding me of the free gift Jesus has given me, I realized that the difficulties (even if relatively minor) of life are not something to avoid. It is when I feel like I cannot cope, am unable to fulfill my responsibilities, feeling left out of the good things in life – this is when it is the Spirit of God who keeps me plodding on, when my own abilities ran out long ago.

It is impossible to experience the strength of God when I feel strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I only experience the consolation of Christ when I am not coping. The riches of knowing Jesus come as I am cast out from the fellowship of the successful in this world. In those times I am the beggar dressed in rags… with pockets full of diamonds! You cannot eat a diamond, they don’t keep you warm, but if you have pockets full of them you are unbelievably rich even while going hungry, cold and rejected.

So what are those diamonds? I will list a few, if you think of others please add a comment.

  • The hope of heaven — having the best possible life on earth is not important when I know it is for a limited time and heaven is forever (Revelation 21:2-4).
  • The King of Kings has prepared a place for me in His kingdom! (John 14:2-3).
  • I cannot be snatched out of the hand of my Lord and Saviour (John 10:27-30).
  • All my shame will be taken away (Isaiah 54:4, Romans 10:11).

If a man were to offer money for any of these he would be laughed and scorned off the face of the earth (see Acts 8:20) because the cost to buy a single one is billions of dollars more than anyone could ever pay (i.e., they are beyond price). Yet I have all of this in my possession, right now!

Should we have a turn being poor?

My 8-year-old daughter was watching news footage of the catastrophe in Haiti with me this evening. Afterwards, while eating dinner she commented that it’s not fair that people have to always be poor, in her words, “they should get to be rich and we should have a turn being poor.” I was very proud of her. She did qualify this by stating that, “we should still have clean water and some food to eat, but not much.”

In my heart I was thinking that it wouldn’t be at all nice to be poor, but I am also pleased that she thinks like this. It seems that currently every passing day convicts me on how affluent I am, how desperately poor most of the people in this world are and that God loves the poor.

I would like to give more than I do, but I do have bills to pay and a family to feed – we are struggling to pay our own living costs. There is no easy answer, I cannot bring myself to make my wife and children have less, I need to find ways to spend less myself if I want to give more. I also need to work on becoming a more giving person from the heart, less selfish in other words.

Still, I cannot get Luke 16:19-25 out of my head – what if I have already had my chance?