Posts tagged ‘Greed’

The Panama Pilferage

Panama Papers 1

It used to be that Switzerland was the place to hide money.  Now, apparently, Panama is the place.

A week ago Sunday, a massive cache of some 11 million financial documents from the Panamaniam law firm, Mossack Fonseca, was leaked to the media.  These files contained information about an “extensive worldwide network of offshore ‘shell’ companies – including ones with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – that allow the wealthy to hide their assets from taxes and, in some cases, to launder billions in cash.”[1]  Several world leaders are implicated in this leak including the prime ministers of Iceland, Argentina, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, and the former prime ministers of Georgia, Jordan, and Qatar.  According to Lexi Finnigan of The Telegraph, the files “also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron.”[2]

Some of what has happened in these offshore accounts may be legal.  As Ms. Finnigan explains in her article:

There is nothing unlawful about the use of offshore companies. However, the disclosures raise questions about the ways in which the system can be used – and abused. More than half of the 300,000 firms said to have used Mossack Fonseca are registered in British-administered tax havens, which Mr. Cameron has vowed to crack down on.  And in one instance, an American millionaire was apparently offered fake ownership records to hide money from the authorities.

What has happened here is certainly troubling, even if it is not, at least for me, particularly surprising.  Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s may be a biblical mandate, but it is not a pleasant experience – even, as it turns out, when you happen to be Caesar.  Nobody wants to pay taxes.

It should be reiterated that, in some instances, what appears to have happened with some of these accounts is little more than tax sheltering, which is legal and, according to many accountants, advisable.  Others, however, have crossed a line into tax evasion, which is a crime.  Still others have out and out used offshore accounts to try to launder dirty money.

Most world leaders are certainly not poor.  So why would such a number of them be so allergic to paying the very taxes that ensure their gainful employment and continued power that they would engage in shady offshore deals?  Perhaps it’s because Solomon was right: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).  Even a lot of money is never enough money when a person loves money.

Lust for more, of course, is not only a problem for world leaders, it is a problem for many people.  Studies have shown that, proportionally, those who have higher financial means give less, as a percentage of their income, than those who have lower financial means.  As Ken Stern reports for The Atlantic:

In 2011, the wealthiest Americans – those with earnings in the top 20 percent – contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent –donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.[3]

Just because a person has more doesn’t mean he will give more.  Indeed, oftentimes, the more a person has, the more a person seems to think he needs, so the less he gives.

Perhaps we should keep in mind what Solomon says about money and the love thereof right after he explains that people who love money always want more money.  He writes, “This too is meaningless.”

The love of money may be tempting, but it is not meaningful.  It is not fulfilling.  It is not worthwhile.  This is a lesson, I fear, that these world leaders may have learned too late.  May their folly be our warning.


[1] Greg Toppo, “Massive data leak in Panama reveals money rings of global leaders,” USA Today (4.5.2016).

[2] Lexi Finnigan, “What are the Panama Papers, who is involved and what is a tax haven?The Telegraph (4.7.2016).

[3] Ken Stern, “Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity,” The Atlantic (April 2013).

April 11, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Casting Stones

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

From the department of the inane but entertaining, the real estate site recently published its list of America’s most sinful cities.  Surprisingly, the city famed for its profligate sinfulness, Las Vegas, didn’t make the list.  An article in The Street explains how the list was compiled:

The study analyzed 95 of the nation’s 100 most-populous communities…to see how often locals commit the Catholic Church’s seven major sins:  Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath…

[They then matched] each behavior on the church’s 1,400-year-old list of sins with a modern-day measure of immorality.

For instance, [they] gauged Wrath by looking at the FBI’s annual report on each U.S. city’s violent-crime rate – the number of murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, rapes and non-negligent manslaughter cases reported each year per 1,000 residents.[1]

Here’s what the study found.

Coming in at number five is Milwaukee.  According to CDC obesity rates, Milwaukee falls prey to the sin of gluttony.  Spot number four belongs to Pittsburgh, which struggles with pride.  In this city, there is one cosmetic surgeon for every 3,170 residents.  Minneapolis garnered spot number three.  Over 30% of Minneapolis’s residents are inactive, making this city super slothful.  Place number two belongs to Orlando, which, like Minneapolis, struggles with sloth.  And spot number one belongs to – drumroll, please – St. Louis!  Movoto found “the Gateway to the West places number two for Wrath and Envy, with 20 violent crimes and 65 property incidents per year for every 1,000 St. Louis residents.”  If it’s banal carnality you want, St. Louis is the place to go.

Of course, it’s hard to take a study like this too seriously.  But I have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when my town of San Antonio didn’t make the list.  Then again, I used to live in St. Louis.  I went to seminary there.  So I guess that means, according to this article, I once lived in a den of iniquities.

What makes a study like this one so comical for Christians is that we know that sin defies such simplistic statistical quantification and comparison.  This is the apostle Paul’s point when he writes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).  There is no difference, Paul says, between one sin and another in God’s eyes.  Every sin leads to death.  Every sin leads to damnation.  Before God and apart from Christ, sin is sin.  Period.

This is why, when an angry mob of religious leaders seek to have a woman caught in adultery stoned for her sin, Jesus disarms this mob’s self-righteous pretenses by saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  Underlying this statement is an assumption that we have no right to use our own self-styled righteousness as a benchmark against which we can measure and condemn other people’s sinfulness.   The only benchmark that may be used to distinguish righteousness from sinfulness is God’s.  Everything else is just casting stones.

So, although I won’t cast stones at my old seminary town, I will eat concrete if I ever return for a visit.  And if that previous line doesn’t make any sense to you, just click here.

[1] Jerry Kronenberg, “5 Most Sinful Cities in America,” The Street (7.17.13).

August 19, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Sermon Extra – Jesus, Priceless Treasure

The foot bone’s connected to the leg-bone; The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone; The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone; The thigh bone’s connected to the back bone; The back bone’s connected to the neck bone; The neck bone’s connected to the head bone; Oh hear the word of the Lord!

I can remember singing the above words as a child, learning about the prophet Ezekiel and his encounter with God in the valley of dry bones in Sunday School (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14).  Besides being a fun way to learn a Bible story, this song also had the added benefit of teaching me some anatomy, no matter how rudimentary it may have been.  At least I knew what was connected to what.

In our text from this past weekend in worship and ABC, we wrapped up our two week min-series on stewardship titled, “Give & Take” with a look at what we, as Christians, are called to take.  In Jesus’ parable of the rich fool, we encountered a negative example of someone who tries to take all the wrong things:

The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:16-20)

This man tries to take barnfuls of grain only to learn that he can’t take them where it counts – into eternity.

Tragically, the reason this man obsesses over his barnfuls of grain has to do with what they are “connected to,” to use the words of my old Sunday school song.  Two words in this text highlight especially well what this man’s windfall of grain is “connected to.”  In verse 18, when this man determines that he will build bigger barns to “store” his grain and his goods, the Greek word for “store” is synago, from which we get our word “synagogue.”  This man is building a synagogue, or a place of worship, for his stuff!  For this man, his grain is an object of worship.   Then, in verse 19, when this man says, “And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years,’” the Greek word for “self” is psyche, meaning, “soul.”  This man is not only talking in his head, he is talking to his soul.  This rich man’s grain has now taken up residence in his soul.  Thus, this man is indeed deeply “connected to” his riches.  It is the object of his worship and the resident of his soul.

Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  “Your heart will always follow your treasure,” Jesus says.  And so, if your treasure is grain, your heart will follow barnfuls of bran.  If your treasure is fame, your heart will lust after accolades and acclaim.  If your treasure is cash, your heart will yearn after portfolios and scratch.  Your heart follows your treasure.  So what is your treasure?

Just as a song from my Sunday School years taught me the fundamentals of anatomy, an old hymn reminds me of my true treasure:

Jesus, priceless treasure,
Fount of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish,
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Naught I ask beside Thee.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
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October 25, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Falling in Love – 1 Timothy 6:3-11

Melody and I are in the process of house hunting.  It’s no easy task.  We’ve looked at property after property and home after home.  We don’t like the style of some houses.  We didn’t care for the location of others.  Still other houses were over-priced.  But then there were those special houses – the houses that catch your eye and tickle your fancy.  Those houses that are so quaint, they make you fall in love with them.  Thankfully, however, as I began this process, I spoke with a dear congregational member who has a lot of history in the real estate business.  He gave me some sage advice.  “Pick an established neighborhood,” he told me.  “You don’t want to see a strip mall go up across the street from your house in two years.  And never, ever fall in love with a house.  If you fall in love with a house, you’re more likely to pay too much and get too little.  Remember, a house is just a commodity.  There are things more important than the house you live in.”

This member’s advice concerning home buying is truly seasoned and wise, not only from a financial standpoint, but from a spiritual one.  For the commodities of this world – be they homes or cars or gadgets or gizmos – have a way of trying to capture our hearts.  But we are not to fall for their allurements.  For these are things that “moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).  They’re not eternal.  They’re just commodities.

In our text for this weekend from 1 Timothy 6, Paul offers a stark warning against falling in love with the commodities of this world.  In one of the most famous verses of all the New Testament, Paul writes, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  Loving commodities and the money which purchases them is the surest way to much grief.  It is a trap.  Don’t fall for it.

The Greek word for “trap” in verse 9 denotes a snare.  Like some wild game caught in a snare, soon to lose its life, money wants to seize us in its clutches, and it wants to “plunge us into ruin and destruction.”  It wants to make us lose not only our lives, but our eternities.  For it wants to entice us into “wandering from the faith.”  Interestingly, Paul speaks of this same trap earlier in this same epistle when he warns, “Do not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:7).  Here, Paul alerts us to the one who sets the trap of loving money – it is none other than the devil himself.

Loving money does not just cost us our bank accounts as we try to live beyond our means, it costs us our souls as we forget about that which is truly priceless and transcendent.  Perhaps the great preacher Chrysostom put it best when he said, “Riches are not forbidden, but the price of them is.”  In other words, it is okay to have riches, but it is not okay to sacrifice that which is truly important – things like “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (verse 11) – to get those riches.  That is a price for riches that is simply too high to pay.

Never, ever fall in love with money or the things which money can buy.  They’re just commodities.  And there are things more important than commodities.  There are things that money can’t buy.  Things like the forgiveness of God, bought not with a checkbook, but with the blood of his one and only Son.  And it is okay if he captures your heart.  For Jesus is eternal.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Nordlie’s ABC!

March 15, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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