Threading the Eye of a Needle

Written by Agent B : July 17, 2008

For years I have pondered what following Jesus meant, because somehow, just attending the Sunday morning social club didn’t seem to be it for me. The social club can have some good aspects on occasion, like being with people and so forth. But in the end, all the stuff we read and studied on Jesus in our club meetings didn’t seem to reflect the actual lives we were living. Or at least, my actual life.

Examples have been pondered by many. Things like, if Jesus taught us to give our entire life, why do we only give a fraction (ie: money or tithe)? And why is that fraction given to a church or non-prof for them to decide how injustice can be alleviated with those pennies? Why are North American Christians encouraged to give the fraction while maintaining a status quo life at home and throughout their community?

Many wealthy business people are on the influential boards of ministries and non-profs that benefit the poor. I always thought that was funny…that we look up to those who do well making money for our leadership. Maybe these boards should be made up of people who benefit or once benefited from that very non-prof. But that’s an entirely different subject.

The other day I thought: what would it be like if the influential business people who governed these non-profs left their board positions and channeled their benevolent, injustice-altering energies into other avenues? Like perhaps within their daily sphere of influence and expertise.

The fair mother city (that is, the town of my dwelling - Abilene, TX) has one of the lowest pay rates for the average worker (fifth lowest in the state of Texas out of 20+ cities. The first four lowest are border towns). My conspiracy theory about Abilene’s pathetic wages is that church-going Christians owned the majority of local businesses. And often, local Christians have a bad reputation of being tight-wads. Ask any local wait-person what the worst shift to work is: Sunday lunch. The church crowd is notoriously lousy tippers with high demands. Sad, but true.

So the other day, I thought: what if these local business owners who happened to be church goers started paying their workers better wages with actual benefits (like health coverage for crying out loud). I think that would be better use of their Christ-likeness as opposed to calling the shots at some agency to the poor, where they are comfortably insulated from the actual lives they try to serve.

You might respond: “Oh, but B…you don’t understand how small business works.” Yeah, I understand how it works, man. Pay yourself better than your employees. Live on the nice side of town, take time off for high-dollar vacations, buy your kids nice Christmas toys, and buy your family health insurance while your workers make $8 an hour with no benefits. Somehow, I don’t think that’s very Christ-like.

Take note, I am not accusing business owners in order to judge and point fingers. I am, in fact, asking myself these questions these days as I ponder my own future ventures that could employ others.

So, would I have the right to earn and live far better than those who work for and along side me? I don’t know.

Jesus taught that the Lord provides and in a roundabout way, we have no rights.

Maybe that’s why he got killed.

Author Bio:: Agent B, his wife and children live and operate as faith-based, self-supported undercover missionaries embedded within the poverty culture of Abilene, Texas.

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Viewing 15 Comments

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    Ladies and gentlemen, we have a secret agent in our midst!

    I had to ask myself a similar question while I was working at a non-profit. A lot of our board members wanted to help our clients, meet their basic needs, help them find safe and affordable housing, etc. These are good intentions. But I had to ask myself, how many wanted to live beside them, be a neighbor to them, invest in relationships with them, share backyard bbqs with them, give them a ride when their car broke down? (In all fairness, some of them did try to do some of these things some of the time).

    And then I had to ask myself, am I willing to leave beside them? Am I willing to share family nights with them and birthday celebrations and Sunday pot roasts and late night firefly catching? Am I willing to be the bridge that doesn't burn when they fall prey to their addiction again? Am I willing to model what a healthy, day-to-day relationship looks like? Am I willing to surrender my own anxieties to the Father so that I'm even able to have so-called healthy, day-to-day relationships?

    It comes down to us, and how much we are willing to allow Jesus to be enough, and our dreams to fall in line with His heart, so we can care and not grow faint, give and not grow weary.
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    Loved this accurate in way too many ways.
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    I totally agree. The people who do the work get less than the owners, investors, etc. It seems like the people who do the labor should be the benefactors of that labor, not someone else.
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    i've always been confused as to how throughout history farmers seem to be abused. its always the "wealthy landowners" and what not. the actually workers, whether it is a family or two, southern slaves, Latin American peasants, or whomever, dont get paid much. Today, even in the face of agribusiness and factory farming I wonder what would happen if a lot of farmers and their farm hands would demand higher pay, better prices and what have you.

    Now i know that prices (at least in most of the world) are highly misconstrued because of so many different subsidies from various sources. but im just saying. what would happen if the lowest payed stopped doing their low work? collapse i think.

    hmmmm. this is a little of topic maybe. but regardless, ill agree, sunday after-church crowds are terrible. poor tips, snide and snotty communication, over all unpleasantness. bummer
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    It's easy to criticize the guys with all the money. Is it better to hire fewer people and pay each more than to hire more people and pay each one a little less? If you hire fewer people then what about the guy without a job?

    Living with the poor often means living with a lot of dysfunction. You would have to be Christ if you could cope with all of it and not become part of the problem. Even Jesus took breaks. Living in a different neighborhood can be (but not always) for some a way to rejuvenate, have some peace and order and a sense of security from all the pain and suffering and chaos that comes with ministering to the poor.

    I am very grateful to those business men who lend their management and financial expertise to non-profits. I'm doubtful how successful a non-profit could be without that kind of knowledge and integrity at the helm. Maybe if we complimented the businessmen more they wouldn't feel the need to advertise their success with more worldly displays. I've read enough biographies of successful driven persons to know that a lot of them suffer from never feeling like they measure up. Then instead of trying to prove to themselves that they've done well they can put their energies and money into other things that have more lasting benefit.
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    Maria - I know it's easy to criticize. But this is not a random, drive-by finger-pointing.

    I have lived these examples in the fair mother city. I have worked for the local business owner (more than one) who lives quite nicely while his workers struggle. So I ask, is that of christ?

    I have been a director of a local non-prof (the operated amongst the working-class poor & homeless). I know the board-member types all to well. Not just from the non-prof I was with, but many others throughout town.

    And I too use to believe it was possible to live in an insulated, middle-class retreat while spending my days in "the hood". That double-life could be justified for a while. But thankfully, missionaries who have gone before us (Jackie Pullinger of Hong Kong, orphanage establisher George Muller of UK in the 1800's, dozens of LA Dream Center & Blood-n-Fire folks I met in 2000) didn't think this works in the long run. I tend to agree now.

    Thanks for engaging.
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    Yes, I agree that there are business people out there whose Christianity is rather self-centered. And I know about people who have given up everything to minister to the poor and hurting. What they do is very commendable. But not all Christians are hands or feet. Some are fat cells. A healthy body needs some fat. Fat has a purpose too.

    Christian maturity comes slowly and not in a straight line. A poor person might mature quickly in faith or generosity, but slowly in perseverance or stewardship, where as someone who grew up in a middle class family or upper class family might have the opposite problem. You mentioned how you used to live the "double life". God has a way of leading us step by step in the direction he wants us to go. He opens our hearts a little crack at a time. A "double life" can be a good transition stone.

    The problem isn't so much that a person isn't mature, it is whether a person is stuck in a particular stage of maturity. It is easy once you have matured past a particular stage to look back and wonder why didn't I see that before, or how come everyone else can't see what I see now? When you train an animal, criticisms don't usually help. It works much better if you can praise the animal when it does the behaviors that you desire. But that takes a lot more patience.

    I would like to challenge you to think of ways that you can praise the business people, middle class Christians, or others who you find lacking in their Christ-likeness in such a way that it will encourage them to be more engaged and thoughtful of the people they serve, or the people you would like them to serve. How can we be encouraging bridge building between socio-economic groups? How can we encourage humility -because this is ultimately what it's all about?
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    There is some wisdom in what you say, Maria. But something about it still falls a little flat for me. My brain can't help but go back to the examples of Jesus interacting with the wealthy. For the most part, his interaction was to say "follow me" with the general expectation that they were to become downwardly mobile.

    There are, however, some notable counter examples to this trend: Mary and Martha and Lazarus seemed to have means and they were partners in ministry. Later in Acts we read about Dorcas and others with means being very hospitable with their resources. They seem to provide the best example of middle or upper class folks serving Jesus. And each of them is singled out for hosting ministry, providing for ministry, and being hospitable. This could seem to indicate that they were hands on in creating space for dynamic ministry. I don't think that could adequately be described as "fat cells."
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    We would all be worse off in this world if we all lived like St Francis as much as I admire him, what he did, and what he stands for. We need people with the resources to build Cathedrals, hospitals, hire virtuosos and Michelangelos, buy paintings done by elephants, create national parks, build race cars, travel hither and yon, buy theater tickets, go to rock concerts, the list is endless. God called one of the richest men of the middle east to be the father of three faiths.One of the greatest books on suffering is about a wealthy man named Job. Most of the early churches met in the homes of the wealthy. Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth being an example. In more recent times, the man who invent electric hair trimmers did so with inspiration from God for the purpose of being able to support missions work. It's not an issue of having wealth or even trying to achieve wealth. The question becomes is this my wealth or is it God's, am I being a responsible steward, is there a better way this wealth can serve the kingdom of God? God gave the servant who had earned five more talents the talent of the servant who buried his. Jesus commended the dishonest servant for the way he created a future for himself by reducing debts.

    Fat cells give us the energy we need when we are under stress, when we need to exert ourselves for the second mile. Fat cells keep us alive we have to endure the hardship of fasting (either voluntary or involuntary).

    Just like most people want a break from the problems of poverty. The poor need a break too. I could see a real ministry of suburban families who hosted urban families/kids for a day or two on a periodic basis. Visa versa, the urban families could host the suburban families and they could take in the cultural sights together.

    When the wealth is God's, then there's not as much concern about will it get stolen. Those who have can become like the priest of Les Miserables. And that grace can be rain in the dessert of the soul.

    I believe that God wants to bless us spiritually as well as materially. But that blessing only becomes complete when we pass it on to others, whether it is through generous gifts, creative inventions, venture capital, selling products or services that benefit others, or investing in the future. The more times wealth God gives us can bless others, the more times we will find satisfaction in Christ. God gives us wealth to build his kingdom, take friends to concerts, build homes for hospitality, make products that save a life or a planet,... I could go on, but I suppose I've said enough.
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    I agree that there isn't an intrinsic problem with making lots of money. But there is a problem that often occurs when people believe that they are therefore entitled to keep a lot of that money. I think that one's lifestyle should be determined by things other than mere income. In other words a millionare and someone who makes 50k a year, if they are both Christians, shouldn't NECESSARILY live differently based upon income alone.

    You say: "We need people with the resources to build Cathedrals, hospitals, hire virtuosos and Michelangelos, buy paintings done by elephants, create national parks, build race cars, travel hither and yon, buy theater tickets, go to rock concerts, the list is endless."

    Why? I'm not saying that those aren't beautiful things. But just because I appreciate them doesn't mean that they are necessary...nor is it to say that I would be worse off if some of those never had existed. There is a lot of beauty in the world even without luxury.

    These things that you mention are almost all emblematic of Western affluence. Do we really believe that Western Civilization is better off because of these things? Does taht mean that resource poor societies are aesthetically impoverished or lacking?

    Part of me thinks that I already know the answer to these questions. But the other part is willing to explore the implications of these questions with an open mind.
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    I would agree with you that entitlement attitudes make money a problem. If money is considered a responsibility, particularly one that is supposed to bring blessing to others, then I think that many of the problems with affluence would diminish.

    I would expect a millionaire and someone who make 50k a year to live differently. I'm not saying that the millionaire should necessarily live in a posh house, have lots of servants, etc. But I think the millionaire would manage his time and resources differently than a person earning 50k because the potential of what he could do was different. Agent B had an excellent example on his website of a corporate guy who went and diffused bombs for 60+hrs/yr because he had the resources to do so. A person earning 50k would not normally be able to do this.

    Grace isn't about necessity. God gives generously because he is generous. When we buy things we don't necessarily need we are participating in God's generosity. If we keep those things, then they are like presents from God. If we give them away, it becomes a present several times over. Sometimes the present needs a care taker, like a house. As we share our home with others, it becomes a blessing to others as well as ourselves. If we buy property and rent it out to those who can't buy a home then that can bless those who rent, those who own, those who provide maintenance for the property, and those who might inherit it. Freshly painted walls aren't a necessity, but they give pleasure to those who dwell there.

    The beauty of flowers isn't a necessity. There can still be pollination without flowers. But flowers do so much for the soul. Money can buy flowers, but it can't do for the soul what flowers can do.

    While being poor does not equate with a lack of aesthetics, there is a lot more opportunity for aesthetic display, and a lot more variation available to a more affluent market. To make things of beauty is to walk in the image of God the creator of beautiful things. Living without beauty is worse than living without money.

    Beauty (natural or otherwise) is one of the reasons I believe in God. I live because of his generous grace.
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    Thank you! I just discovered this site and I'm very glad I did.

    I think you raise a LOT of valid questions we should all ask ourselves. And they are questions I DO ask myself.

    Of course it's always dangerous to judge others, but I certainly think it's fair to pose some tough questions.
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    I realize that you have no point of reference as to who I am or what I do other than the above post, which may come across as overly negative and cynical. So it goes.

    Here are two examples of where I've already engaged in this challenge of yours to praise business people:

    the corporate manemployer spotlight

    Thank you.
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    Good work Agent B! There is a real need for business people to see examples of other business owners living by faith and treating the resources God has entrusted to them as opportunities to bless others rather than as entitlements for savvy dealings. I hope you can continue to praise and encourage those around you, no matter what their station in life. It is a great fallacy that sometimes gets promoted in churches that those with wealth don't need help. In many ways they need more help, like the rich young ruler, their wealth get in the way.
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    Good article. I wonder about the legitimacy of organized anything, at least from a Christian perspective. As a Christian, I don't think I could own a company and have employees. I'm not really sure why, but it certainly doesn't feel right. How could I not feel like I was lording it over my employees? There are management opportunities where I work, but I don't feel that as a Christian I can take those positions because they would seem to compromise my freedom to act like Jesus. One reason is that sometimes those positions require court appearances and if I wouldn't defend myself in court as a matter of Christian principle then how could I defend my company? I haven't really thought through this a lot, but I definitely perceive a real difficulty in reconciling the Christian life with "climbing the corporate ladder."


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