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An opportunity in hard times

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–An absolutely fool-proof way to stress yourself out is by staying glued to the television newscasts about the economy. “Wall Street dropped another 700 points today!” “Here is our panel of experts to tell you why the news is just going to get worse!” “Big Plants, Inc., is laying off another 4,000 employees!”

Oh great. Just what I needed to hear.

That’ll send your blood pressure through the ceiling, no matter your situation, but particularly if you are a heavy investor in stocks.

You’re not? Don’t be too sure. If you have a retirement account with some agency somewhere, you might be one of those (like me) who is being severely affected by the free-falling stock market. The headline on the front of Friday’s The Times-Picayune newspaper asked, “How Low Can It Go?”

Frankly, I don’t want to know.

Twenty years ago, when the market did a sort of “correction” — we’ll be generous and call it that — I recall someone asking either Ted Turner or Donald Trump, one of those big boys, “You lost a billion dollars. What do you have to say?”

He answered, “It was a paper loss. I’m not selling anything today. I’ll still be here tomorrow and first thing you know, I’ll have it all back.”

And that’s precisely what happened.

My neighbors, Bill and Sandra, are both retired from long careers in the commercial world, and this is scaring the daylights out of them.

A news report this week indicated that 80 percent of Americans say the economy is stressing them out.

The funny thing about this craziness in the economy is that we’re told the actual businesses of America are just fine. What is driving the roller-coasterness of Wall Street is a little thing called fear.

Remember FDR telling the nation at his 1933 inauguration, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”? He was right then, and it appears that’s the problem today.

Novices like me are perplexed at how the stock market rises and falls based on fears. The Fed chairman makes some statement about the future, and depending on whether he was optimistic or pessimistic, the market fluctuates. We laymen would like to think the people handling our investments are knowledgeable about the true value of stocks and not given to reacting to the latest whim.

Apparently that confidence is poorly placed. It would appear our stock brokers don’t know much more than the rest of us, but wet their index finger in the morning and poke it heavenward to see which way the winds are blowing before risking the billions of dollars entrusted to them.

Jean Chatzky, a frequent authority on money matters for the networks, urges that we not “make the financial channel our home page.” That is, quit running to see what your stocks did every day. “Check on them once a week or so,” she said.

For what this is worth, here are my own personal conclusions:

— The people in the pews this Sunday need to hear the pastor deliver a word from God. That word would include commands like, “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven … (Matthew 6:19-20).

The pastor will want to remind the people of the best bad-news text in all the Bible, Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in the LORD ….”

— This crisis gives the pastor an opportunity to speak to the faith of the people in the pews.

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). Three kinds of joy are referenced here: Superficial (grain = money); artificial (new wine); and beneficial (the Lord’s presence). Only one of the three is constant and dependable. The other two are fleeting and of limited value.

— So, maybe the Lord wanted some of us to work a little longer before retiring. Perhaps He was not too excited about His people parking in the rocking chair on the front porch when He had more work for us to do.

Margaret and I are having that discussion since my employment at the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans comes to a dead halt next April 30. Since my retirement fund at GuideStone has lost some 40 percent from its peak a couple of years ago, ideally, I’d like to leave it alone for two more years before even touching it. Give it time to replenish itself.

So, that means, like a lot of others in the same boat, I will keep on working. Doing what is the big question, of course, and the subject of my frequent prayers to the Father.

— The Father is not particularly worried about any of this. He knows what He is doing and is not perplexed about matters that stress us out.

Sometimes when church members have found themselves in the difficult position of losing good jobs in their middle years — what should be their peak-earning period — as their pastor, I have counseled them to be strong and go forward. “It’s tough right now and it’s going to be hard getting through this. But I guarantee you, the day will come when you will look back and give thanks to the Lord for the experience and the lessons you learned.” (As my dad used to say about his six children, ‘I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them, and I wouldn’t give you a dime for another!’ That’s how you will feel about this difficult and trying time.)

Randy and Charlene were reminiscing with some of us about that very subject recently. When a new owner took over the factories Randy was managing, he suddenly found himself without a job. One day, he heard Paul Harvey talking about ServiceMaster, the home-and-office cleaning business. Randy looked into it, decided this was the right thing for him, and bought the franchise for our area of the state. To raise the money, he sold his boat and borrowed money from family members.

Eventually — a lot of personal sacrifices and hard work were involved, I’m confident — this business became one of ServiceMaster’s great success stories. In fact, Randy McCall has spoken at the national meetings of their franchisees, giving his and Charlene’s testimony.

As the story goes, the guest preacher arrived at the airport and was greeted by the church member who had been assigned as his driver. On the drive back to the church, the layman poured out his fears over the way the country is going, despair over the decline in morals, and disgust in the lack of leadership in high places. “Don’t you agree?” he asked the visiting preacher.

“I expect you may be right,” the man of God said. “But let me remind you, the last time I checked despair was still a sin and hope a virture.”

Good reminder for us today. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in the Lord.” (Psalm 42:5).


Joe McKeever is director of missions of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

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