Original Article February 2009 (updated April 2011)
Since July 2008, fear and alarm has spread around the globe as the world economy has experienced a severe shaking. Stock markets have plummeted, banks and companies have failed, and tens of millions of jobs have been lost. Millions of people feel helpless and fearful of the future, but in this article I would like to encourage Christians with the fact our help and confidence should not be placed in the economy, but in Jesus Christ. We do not know what the future may hold, but if our lives are in the hands of God, the peace of the Holy Spirit will flood our lives, regardless of how dire circumstances around us may get.
Having studied economics, none of these events have come as a surprise. In fact, it is a surprise that things managed to go so long before the inevitable collapse took place. It is funny to me when I hear a politician or economic "expert" express amazement at the events of recent months, as though it was something completely out of the blue which nobody could have predicted. In fact, many economists and financial experts had been issuing dire warnings for years, but those men and women were invariably written off by the mainstream as being kooks and alarmists. Their predictions, however, were not based on some kind of mysterious set of beliefs or weird worldview, but rather they were based on a simple analysis of the available economic data. Some of these economists, ironically, now find themselves held up by the media as geniuses!
Indeed, the Christian financial advisor Larry Burkett, who often appears on James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio program, wrote a book way back in 1991 entitled, The Coming Economic Earthquake. In this book, Burkett warned readers of the dire economic meltdown which is now upon us, 17 years later. Several times in the book Burkett noted that he "is not a prophet," but that he was simply basing his predictions on basic economic and financial principles - if you spend more than you have, you are heading for trouble.
Dark Clouds on the Horizon
On a recent trip to the United States, many Christians engaged me in conversation and, as it seems to be the topic on everyone's mind at the moment, the conversation soon turned to the economy. Most people seemed completely oblivious to the problem, believing it to be a temporary glitch that will soon fix itself, and life in America will return to normal. Others just can't grasp all the talk going on. They are unable to fathom what a 'billion' is, let alone a 'trillion' so they just tune out and continue their life as normal. With 600,000 people joining the unemployment line every month in America, however, life may never return to "normal" as the meltdown continues. It will soon affect everyone to one degree or another.
Firstly, let me say that I would much rather talk about the Lord Jesus, and about the wonderful things God is doing throughout Asia. He continues to reach the unreached, and love the unloved. The kingdom of God continues to advance, and thousands are being won from darkness to light every day. Jesus is my passion and the expansion of His kingdom in Asia is my call.
Briefly, however, let me provide some links to those who want to learn more about where I believe the economy of America (and the Western world, and indeed most of the whole world) is heading in the near future. I believe that the unbridled taking on of personal and national debt, and the unashamed printing of money out of thin air means we are heading towards an inevitable 'hyper-inflation.' Hyper inflation is something you would want to avoid. It has occurred in about 70 countries in the last 100 years (Germany in the 1920s, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe right now, etc). During a hyper-inflation, currencies become worthless and society ceases to function as we know it. I am not talking about normal inflation. Normal inflation is when a meal at your favorite restaurant costs $9.95 last year, and $10.95 this year. Hyper-inflation is when you need to bring a wheel-barrow of cash with you and negotiate the price up front, because by the end of the meal the price may have increased from when you sat down!
This may sound far-fetched, but it is exactly what has happened in numerous places around the world. During the German hyper-inflation of the 1920s, people found their money so worthless that they used it to light their fires, as pictured in this famous image from the time (right). Those living in the United States should not feel that their great nation is immune to hyper-inflation. Indeed, the curse of hyper-inflation already ravaged the US, from 1861 to 1865. During those four years, the average price of commodities in the Eastern Confederate states increased 90-fold and cash became near worthless.
I believe the US government's current action of printing and borrowing more money in a bid to get out of the current crisis is doomed to failure. Inflation by definition is the increase of the money supply. By increasing the money supply at a rate never before seen in the history of the world, terrible results are sure to follow. It may take a while before the excess liquidity works its way through the system and shows itself in runaway inflation, but it will come. The two things that got America into its current predicament were overspending and excessive debt. They are now trying to get their way out of the mess by spending more, and taking on board even more debt.... Go figure. For those readers who live outside of the United States, there is no reason to feel smug. The money supply is also being increased at a massive rate in the UK, European nations, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere.
Before we all criticize the governments of the world, many of us should also realize our personal responsibility and errors. I have met numerous Christians who, even though they work hard, were pursing a lifestyle far beyond their needs, and beyond their means. Statistics show that the average worker in China is able to save 30% of his or her wages, while in America and several other Western nations the average saving rate has plummeted to zero. I believe the Lord wants His children to live reasonable lives, staying completely out of debt and to live within our means by not wasting the resources God has placed in our hands. Governments and economists think they can stimulate the economy by getting people to spend and borrow even more, but God's way for handling money is for us to give, save, and invest.
John Williams is a respected economist who used to work for the US government and knows a thing or two about inflation. Back in April 2008 (before most people knew there was an economic storm on the horizon), Williams posted a "Hyperinflation Special Report" on his website. If interested, you can read his report here: http://www.shadowstats.com/article/292. The report is quite long, but if you just read the first few pages you will get the main idea of what he wrote.
If you are somewhat confused by the whole world of economics (you are not alone!), yet if you have the desire to at least get a grasp on some basic principles that will help you understand the causes behind what is happening, then I strongly recommend you view economist Chris Martenson's 'Crash Course': http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse. The entire course will take you about 3 hours to watch (which you can spread over as many days as weeks as you like). It is free, and presented in such a simple and clear way that most people will have no trouble understanding what he is talking about. A warning however: if you have no idea that we are at the start of a massive financial upheaval in society, you may need to take your time and try to slowly assimilate what you will learn bit by bit.
What about Asia Harvest?
Several years ago a colleague and I visited the headquarters of Overseas Missionary Fellowship in Singapore. OMF was founded as the China Inland Mission by Hudson Taylor in 1865. For decades they were the only Christian organization forging ahead with the Gospel in interior areas of China, and many Chinese church leaders to this day consider the current revival sweeping their nation owes much to the efforts of those faithful missionaries and their Chinese coworkers.
The staff at OMF kindly allowed us to spend as much time as we needed going through their library and archive room, copying old books and magazines, which we have since used to produce several books on Christianity in China. As I read through these rare documents, I realized there were several times when the economic climate of the day deeply affected the mission’s work. Donations dropped dramatically during World War I, and the missionaries in China had to adjust their lives and budgets accordingly. Some returned home. The same happened during World War II. In between, the Great Depression of the 1930s ravaged the world’s economy, and the mission’s income fell to just a fraction of what it had been previously.
During all these times, the leaders of the China Inland Mission didn’t complain. They weren’t running a business, but were serving the Lord in a ministry that He had established. During times of plenty, they served as the Lord provided. During times of difficulty, they continued to serve faithfully, even if it meant personal hardship.
A number of people have contacted us and asked how the present economic developments will affect the work of Asia Harvest, and whether we are taking any preventative actions.
To begin with, we are thankful that 2008 was a record year for giving to our projects, and we have been able, by God’s grace, to print more Bibles than ever before, support more evangelists, conduct more free surgeries for children in Vietnam, etc. We thank the Lord Jesus Christ for every person who has helped His work through their prayers, participation and giving. Secondly, from the very start of Asia Harvest more than 20 years ago we have been acutely aware that it is God who must be the motivator, empowerer and leader of this organization. We have never gone out to actively fund-raise or anything like that — our goal has always been to simply serve as a link between the Church in Asia (especially those unreached and more difficult areas), and Christians around the world.
We present certain strategic projects in our newsletter which we feel the Lord would like us to help with, and people give as they sense the Holy Spirit prompting them to get involved.
For these reasons we hope people who support our work do so because they want to be involved with a great opportunity to help expand the kingdom of God in the unreached areas of Asia, and not from any sense of obligation. For the Apostle Paul wrote, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).
Our philosophy is quite simple: If the Lord provides, then we pass it on to the front lines in Asia where resources make a great difference. If the funds dry up in the future, we will continue to serve to the best of our ability. We believe this kind of outlook helps us not to worry about what tomorrow may bring, and enables us to serve with peace and joy in our hearts now.
A Christian Perspective
What I have written so far probably doesn't encourage you too much. It is actually much worse than what I have written here! There is no space here to mention that even if the current recession/depression does come to an end after a number of years, several other massive storm clouds are gathering in the distance, ready to sink the system. These include the unfunded liabilities of the US government (i.e. they have already spent the $85 trillion needed to fund Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). The 'baby-boomer' generation is set to reach retirement age in the next few years. When Social Security was started in 1940, the ratio of workers to retirees in America at the time was around 20 to 1. That is, for every one person planning to retire and receive Social Security benefits, there were 20 tax-paying workers providing for it. In a few years, the demographics will have changed so much that for each retiree in America, there will be just 1.7 workers! You may try to imagine what consequences this will bring.
In summary then, I think you will have the impression that from a worldly perspective I think the outlook is extremely grim.
However, as Christians our hope is not in this world! There is another perspective that we should cultivate and possess.
Now that the stock market and other investments look like they will continue on a downward spiral, and people have seen their savings, investments and retirement funds shrink before their eyes, there are many people in the financial world claiming to know where people can put their money for a sound return. Many claim that gold and silver will protect them, but while these may guard against inflation in the short-term, Jesus warned, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).
Friends, whether you have any money or not, there is a place to invest where the most amazing returns are guaranteed! While we have time, let's invest our prayers, energy, and resources into the kingdom of God, especially in those areas of the world still waiting for the Gospel light to come for the first time. Believe me, there are still many such places where the Name of Jesus Christ has never been uttered. These should always be our priority.
Nobody can predict exactly what the world’s economy will do in the future, but we do know that Jesus is in control of everything! As Christians we should not fear, but should trust in His unfailing love. Don’t be depressed by what you hear on the news. Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus, who said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4). Paul taught that our attitude should be like, "those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:30-31).
A Christian friend, Roger Hertzler, has written a short book entitled Through the Eye of a Needle, which presents where Christians should invest their lives and finances, and reveals the Biblical attitude Christians should have towards using those resources God has placed in our hands. Roger has graciously allowed us to put his book on our website in pdf form. Please click here if you would like to download and read it.
The Ultimate Economic Meltdown
Only the King of Kings knows exactly where the present economic crisis will end up when it is all said and done. Perhaps it is the start of what many Christians believe is the end, that the present problems will lead to a one-world currency, one-world government, the arrival of the Anti-Christ, and the glorious return of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps the present crisis is just another foreshadow of events still to come at a later time.
We can be sure of this: the Bible talks about one ultimate economic meltdown, when the great city of 'Babylon the Great' (which many Bible scholars believe is symbolic of the world financial system) will totally collapse in just sixty minutes! When this economic system collapses, "The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more—cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men." (Revelation 18:11-13).
Friends, have you ever noticed what the response was from the people to God to this catastrophic collapse? What is a healthy Biblical response for Christians to have when these events unfold? Should we tremble and feel totally useless like the people of the world will do on that day? No! If our focus is on God and our confidence is in His loving care and protection, then we should not fear that which the world fears. After the collapse of 'Babylon the Great,' the Apostle John records,
"After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants' ...
Then a voice came from the throne, saying: 'Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!'
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
'Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Revelation 19:1-2, 5-8).
Between now and this great and glorious day, when the Lamb comes for His Bride, let’s not focus on the world’s economies, but let us heed the words of Jesus: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:32-34).
Update April 2011:
More than two years have passed since this article was written. In that time many countries, in particular the United States, have avoided (or rather, delayed) economic calamity by inflating their money supplies. Debt levels are now out of control and unsustainable, as citizens struggle to comprehend the size of the looming disaster. A large part of the apathy that many people still have is due to a lack of numerical comprehension. Talk of "millions" has become talk of "billions" and now "trillions." Such numbers are meaningless to the average guy on the street, and so the government and Federal Reserve continue to create the illusion that the economy is improving and things are getting better! It is like someone who has fallen out of a high-rise building. At the start of their descent they are worried, but after falling 50 stories they start to think, "Well, this is not as bad as I thought."
In the last few months, monetary velocity has started to pick up. People are noticing their money is not going as far as it did just months ago. Prices are up, gas is up, and package sizes are shrinking in the stores! Inflation is coming, and is here. Economic historians point out that there is always a tipping point which triggers hyper-inflation. This tipping point occurs when people lose confidence in the value of their money, and they flee it for hard assets. It could get ugly.
Here are a few things to ponder, which illustrate the size of the debt of the United States...
The US national debt is currently at $14.3 trillion ($14,300,000,000,000). Let me ask you a question, and please contemplate an answer before reading on... Let's say a miracle took place and the nation's leaders suddenly decided to not borrow a single dollar from today. If America paid back $1 million per day of it's current debt (not counting interest), how many years do you think it would take to pay off the debt? ...... The answer is .... 39,178 years!!! If you don't believe me, find a large calculator and see for yourself.
If you include the US Unfunded Liabilities (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security etc), the debt currently stands at $113.4 trillion. At a million dollars a day, it will take a mere 310,684 YEARS to break even!!! (A link you might find useful to keep track of this mess is: http://www.usdebtclock.org/ )
We share this message not to bring fear into your life, but to encourage you to seek the Lord like never before, and to consider ways you might respond in your own life to the coming collapse. While America (and probably the world economy) is on the brink of going off a cliff, the leaders continue to play silly games and ignore the problem. We believe it is already too late to turn around, and is only a matter of time before a lot of pain will be felt by all of us. It is also our prayer that you will not go into the bunker, but will continue to be salt and light to the world. The harvest is ripe. Thousands of people are becoming citizens of the kingdom of God every day, especially in those parts of the world where they had never before heard of Jesus.
Recently, a sincere Christian asked me, "Do you believe the Bible teaches that the end times will see a revival and a huge harvest of souls for the kingdom of God; or will the end times see a mass falling away from the faith?"
My reply was... "Yes!"
Both things are indicated in the Scriptures, and both are happening right now. Those parts of the world where Christ has not been named are now hearing the Gospel and multitudes are embracing Jesus as their loving Savior. On the other hand, all or most of the long-term "Christian" nations around the world are experiencing a turning away from the faith, as secularism, humanism, atheism, and a host of other "isms" erode people's faith, harden their hearts, and lock them in a prison of unbelief and sin.
In the meantime, we should continue to serve the Lord with all our heart and strength, while we have the opportunity. At the same time the world seems to be unraveling with new earthquakes, tsunamis, floods seemingly weekly. The Scriptures continually exhort us not to be afraid. The Lord Jesus clearly stated these things would increase in frequency just before His return. He said, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28). The return of our King is a horrible day of wrath for those who refuse His rule, but those of us who trust in God for salvation are called to "wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thess. 1:10). Let's continue to serve the Lord together, until every person God calls to salvation has come into His family. We only have this life to reach souls for Him.