The Blessings of Housing Bust and Wall Street Meltdown

9 10 2008

The year 2008 is turning out to be a memorable and sober year for everyone. Starting with the housing bust earlier this year and the domino effect of financial meltdown around the world, it seems like the foundations of the American and the Western societies are shaken to the core. It is clear that we are in for a recession for years.

We have been affected by the bust. My mom’s home, which is under my name, lost almost 25% in value and my 401K also depreciated about 25% from the beginning of this year. Although these are money I have never seen or touched, it doesn’t feel good to know that I’ve lost a quarter of my assets. It also makes it even more difficult trying to raise support for missions when people are struggling financially. So I’m left to wonder, “God, what do you want me to learn from all this?”

Owning a house is the ultimate symbol of the American Dream. Everyone wants to have one: the bigger the better. We call it, “Keeping up with the Kims,” here in L.A. where there are a lot of second generation Korean-Americans who are well-to-do. The people’s mentality wasn’t just owning a house, it was seen as the best way to invest your money. Regardless of the affordability, if you bought it and sold it in a few years, you would still make a profit out of it because the house value always went up. Wall Street, the symbol of American capitalism and the free market, withstood the tests of 9/11 and Katrina and came out booming. But this time, it wasn’t to be. Despite the government bailout, Dow Jones dipped under 10,000 and it continues to fall by the hour.

When two main sources of our earthly security start to lose value and collapse around us, it is the moment of truth for our faith. On what does my faith rest? The God who would not stand the Tower of Babel nor the Gold Calf of the Israelites reminds us that both our houses and Wall Street are like a house built on sand. Pope Benedict aptly put it yesterday, “Our financial system is built on sand.” God loves us so dearly that He wants us to be awaken to the reality of where we place our hope and security.

Matthew 6:19“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus reminds us that the treasures of this world do not last because they can either be destroyed or be stolen. There is no security. In fact, security is a perception, or even more accurately, an illusion. It can be taken quickly by natural elements or by people. The only lasting and secure treasures are stored in heaven. Jesus’ main reason for this teaching is not so that we will have the most secure treasures but rather it is because our heart follows what we most treasure. Unfortunately, we so often place our hopes on the same things that unbelievers rest on: our abilities, possessions, bank account, and health. It’s no wonder that people around me don’t ask what I hope in, because it looks like my hope is in the same things that they are hoping in. So there is no curiosity or bewilderment.

I am reminded in Mark 10:21 when Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor and follow him, the Scripture says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Those were his loving words and not critical words.

Mark 10:21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus teaches us what it means to lay up treasures in heaven in this passage. When a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” he initially tells him to do the last six commandments of the Decalogue. The rich ruler confidently replies that he has kept them since his youth. Notice how Mark portrays Jesus’s reply to the ruler. It says, “He loved him and said to him.” Jesus was not trying to point out the weakness or to ridicule him. He loved this rich ruler enough to point out the most obvious. The first four commandments of the Law summed up in, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” His heart was not with God but with his possessions. He merely wanted to do enough to be saved so he kept the last six commandments. The one thing he lacked was the one thing he absolutely needed. So Jesus tells him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor which he translates as laying treasures in heaven.

I often wondered about Jesus’ command to this rich young ruler. Is this challenge only for him or for everyone? We obviously know that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to sell everything they have and follow him. So we conclude that it was only for this rich young ruler whose wealth was his god. But I wonder sometimes for those of us living in a materialistic age, one of the most loving things that Jesus can say to us is, “Sell all you have and follow me.” No other time in history have wealth and possessions been accumulated like the American society that we are most often so unaware of our source of faith and trust. Therefore Jesus’ radical command for us to sell everything and give it to the poor is the clearest way to see if our faith rests on Him alone or Jesus plus our earthly possessions. In closing, when we face these trying times, it may be God’s way of saying, “I love you. It’s time to take away the distractions. Do you hope in me?”




One response

10 10 2008

The Blessings of Housing Bust and Wall Street Meltdown…your perspective is right on! I really liked the last line about seeing this as an opportunity to take away the distractions. Now is the time to find out if our hope is in God or in the material things we have been holding onto. Thank you for taking the time to put forth such an important message. God Bless You.

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