All posts by Sean Jefferies

Balancing the books

You’ve probably heard the name: Bernard L. Madoff. It’s been in the news but maybe you’ve forgotten the salient points; Bernie Madoff was born 29 April 1938 and is about to mark his 78th birthday while serving year seven in custody in a 150 year sentence.

Bernie is in prison because his fraud was profound, and frankly unprecedented. When time came for his sentencing the federal guidelines had only envisioned fraud amounting in the millions of dollars. Bernie had committed fraud to the tune of $64.8 billion, over 40 times what legislators had envisioned as the maximum that a fraudster would filch. The investment management division of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which was founded in the 1980s, received investments from individuals, other funds, banks and companies and promised a return of 10%. Such good returns – even in years when the markets did poorly – could not be replicated by other investment firms who wondered how Bernie was managing to do it all.

Most people just thought he was awesome at investments and did not question things too much. Bernie however was engaged in a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions and probably didn’t intend for things to get so out of hand. But it all came crashing down on 11 December 2008 when he was arrested, and if anyone had to guess they might imagine that Bernie knows by now – if he knew anything – that it simply wasn’t worth it.

The financial toll was staggering for the countless investors who trusted Bernie; some couples and families were literally wiped out, and there are people who literally lost millions. Those investors who were flimflammed proverbially put all their eggs in one basket. This idea doesn’t make much sense in this savvy and risk-averse culture however there are always people taking big risks for a potentially big reward. As long as there are people with money there will be schemers with a way to re-distribute the wealth their way.

You have to have money to make more of it. It doesn’t grow on trees and certainly didn’t in the Garden of Eden. Genesis records that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had seeds and that Eve considered it good for eating, which is how we know it wasn’t a stack of $100 bills. Traditionally, wisdom means that we mitigate risk and manage it, hence investment firms, stock brokers with portfolios, long and short term insurance. Whole industries are predicated on the idea of risk management and risk-aversion.

How different this is in the Kingdom of Heaven, which seems to make little sense in the light of our daily, worldly experience. The Kingdom of Heaven says in sum that we should put all our eggs in one basket if that means that we trust God with everything. In the Kingdom, diversification is bad and the economy works very differently.

In the Kingdom, the first will be last and the last first. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit know that they are in need and that this world’s economy could one day Madoff them, but God’s economy never will. It may seem foolish to trust God that much and to extravagantly ‘waste’ one’s life doing his will but those who do are blessed. Do you remember the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar of perfume and poured it over Jesus? What that woman did was profound and Jesus understood the gesture, and the disciples did not, and that woman is remembered for the right reasons. It seemed wasteful, however to that woman, the contents of the jar were worth a lot and that made it a sacrifice. Another lesson here: you can’t worship Him enough.

Jesus told a parable of the Master who came to settle accounts as recorded in Matthew 18. This illustrates that the Master’s accounting is precise and what is more, fair and balanced in accordance with the degree of skill of the servant.

The world’s economy is vastly different from God’s economy however the principle of debit and credit can be applied to the keeping of books. His books always balance and where there is a debit – as there is from time to time – He uses his Grace account to wipe out the debt.

Bernie Madoff owes a moral debt for the crimes he committed and in the economy of God – if Bernie Madoff wants to appropriate it – that moral debt can be wiped clean.

Matthew 6: 19 – 21

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As they say in the classics

I remember as a very young Christian attending Edgemead AoG before it became trendy to do so. Before Powerpoint presentations and sound systems and Hillsong (that’s how far back I go), there was Pastor Noel Cromhout and John Martin as elder in the congregation.

We would sing ye olde classic hymns that didn’t need drums and electric guitar and I think everyone was pleased with the arrangement. And though I never really spoke with elder John Martin, just from his demeanour at the pulpit and his general smoothness, I considered him a rock star and wanted one day to be like him.  He has since fallen asleep and yet the memory of him remains to this day.

There’s something about experience in life and the perspective of having been through it that is genuine and timeless. Just this past weekend I was reviewing the singing scenes from ‘The Sound of Music’ with my daughter, who has yet to enjoy some of the classics that I intend to introduce her to.  In one scene Fraulein Maria is dancing with Captain von Trapp and the subtleties of their reaction to each other speak volumes. She gets red-faced dancing with a man that she has feelings for. How demure, how realistic if you compare it with the ham-fisted, overbearing and over-the-top way of telling stories in movies nowadays.  Bad writing, CGI and near-porn is not art, no matter the budget. Several films spring to mind.

I reckon that’s why people love the classics. They have stood the test of time and date well. I also think of Clint Eastwood’s classic, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ where the script writer came up with pearls that are quotable today, and so much more appropriate than our rap culture type of language today that relies on profanities beginning with an ‘s’ or an ‘f’.

From the movie:

Senator: Fletcher, there’s an old saying, to the victors belong the spoils.

Fletcher: There’s another old saying Senator. Don’t [pee] down my back and tell me it’s raining.

-*-

Bounty hunter #1: You’re wanted, Wales.

Josey Wales: Reckon I’m right popular. You a bounty hunter?

Bounty hunter #1: A man’s got to do something for a living these days.

Josey Wales: Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.

-*-

Grandma Sarah: This Mr. Wales is a cold-blooded killer. He’s from Missouri, where they’re all known to be killers of innocent men, women and children.

Lone Watie: Would you rather be riding with Comancheros, Granny?

Grandma Sarah: No, I wouldn’t.

-*-

The 1993 movie ‘In The Line of Fire’ feature’s Eastwood’s character trying to get his law enforcement partner to bring back an old-fashioned word: cockamamie. Everything about Eastwood in that movie is classic.

I appreciate very much the old timers that have been through it all and have heaps of experience but almost zero the arrogance; I could only hope to be as wise some day.

Proverbs 4 advises that wisdom is really important (and from my limited experience, superior to mere knowledge):

My children,[a] listen when your father corrects you.
Pay attention and learn good judgment,
for I am giving you good guidance.
Don’t turn away from my instructions.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
Love her, and she will guard you.
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
Embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will place a lovely wreath on your head;
she will present you with a beautiful crown.”

Of course the acquiring of wisdom comes at a cost of life experiences; failures and first chances squandered so that second chances take on new meaning, learning the lesson that only He is really in control, that our ability to manipulate things is illusory.

He is the one we should always look to…and I’ve found that the old timers are great reflections of the fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom;

As Fraulein Maria says: When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.

As for me and my house

Today is one of those days when I look at the news and almost lose hope for the human race. In addition to my own personal sinful proclivities, I learned that Islamists have reportedly crucified a catholic priest over the holy weekend, along with the news that 70 or more Pakistani Christians were murdered by ‘suicide bomb’ as they were celebrating the Easter holiday in a park. Never mind the attacks in Brussels last week that took the lives of more than 30 Belgians.

It’s difficult to be able to look beyond that and connect with God in the midst of this context. How much more difficult must it be for the Christians who are directly suffering?

From an article by Joseph Scheumann on www.desiringgod.org, the author says that suffering:

  1. Is multi-faceted and complex (there are more ways of suffering than Smartie colors)
  2. Happens in a context of community; we seldom suffer alone, church is about sharing the load with fellow believers,
  3. Prepares those who have suffered to minister to those who are going through a similar crucible,
  4. Is a battleground where there are two options (a lesson learned from Job): curse God or praise Him in the midst of suffering,
  5. Prepares us for glory; after all, this world is not all there is.

Scripture says in the book of Isaiah that Jesus himself was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.

Try and picture the following verses as Believers looking back on the times they may have doubted God and felt overwhelmed with their mortality and now in heaven can say the following:

Isaiah 25:8-9New Living Translation (NLT)

He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
against his land and people.
The Lord has spoken!

In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

As for me and my household we will praise the Lord…

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