I read an interesting article this morning titled, “The Rise and Fall of Wealthy Nations,” published in U.S. News and World Report on November 12, 2012. It is actually a fifth blog in a series on the world’s next potential superpowers (previous blogs have covered the European Union, Russia, and Turkey, and ensuing blogs will be about India, Brazil, and China). Part of the blog post concerned “wealth cycles.” Here’s a quote from the article:
“An excellent place to look at these wealth cycles is Ray Dalio’s “Why Countries Succeed and Fail Economically” (PDF file). His work spans back to the 1500s as he tries to observe the patterns of wealth in the rise and decline of nations. According to this study countries typically go through five cycles/stages of growth:
- “Stage 1: Countries Are Poor And Think They Are Poor.” The country is underdeveloped and people work hard but have very low income and cannot save—thus, they don’t waste money. The government does not have any real investments as private capital markets do not lend to them.
- “Stage 2: Countries Are Getting Rich Quickly But Still Think They Are Poor.” The courtiers are getting rich and productivity is increasing. People are still working hard but now they are making more money and can save it but they still behave like people in Stage 1—they do not waste money. In this stage of development a country’s savings and investments experience rapid expansion and private money is flowing into these emerging markets.
- “Stage 3: Countries Are Rich And Think Of Themselves As Rich.” “Economic decadence” sets in and people and their governments focus more on enjoying the fruits of their past labor instead of working, producing, and saving. Countries that are large are typically economic and military superpowers during this stage. This is when importing and debt rises simultaneously for both the government and its people. No one is saving and money is being “wasted” on so called non-essentials.
- “Stage 4: Countries Become Poorer And Still Think Of Themselves As Rich.” As people and their governments try to retain their level of standards of living, rising debt is accompanied by excessive leveraging.
- “Stage 5: Countries Go Through Deleveraging And Relative Decline, Which They Are Slow To Accept.” Governments begin to print money as asset values and net worth declines both of the people and the government. These previous economic and military superpowers begin to see their influence decline.
“China is in Stage 2 and there is much debate about whether the United States is in Stage 4 (somewhere between Stage 3 and 5 depending on whom you believe). Perhaps both new governments of China and the United States should remember that in the end large debt and excessive leveraging coupled with wars speeds up the march to Stage 5” (quote source here).
Did you notice what it said about the United States? It said there is much debate about whether the United States is in Stage 4 (somewhere between Stage 3 and 5 depending on whom you believe). Let’s see . . . Stage 4. What’s our national debt right now? As of this moment (and it just passed), it was $16,492,434,000,000. That’s almost 16.5 TRILLION dollars of debt. You can see it for yourself at the U.S. National Debt Clock (click here for link).
I don’t know why there is so much debate about it. I realize I’m not an economist but that’s a heck of a lot of national debt by anyone’s standard. And what does the article say about “Stage 4”? It’s states, “As people and their governments try to retain their level of standards of living, rising debt is accompanied by excessive leveraging.” And what happens in “Stage 5”? “Governments begin to print money as asset values and net worth declines both of the people and the government. These previous economic and military superpowers begin to see their influence decline.”
Hmmm . . . does that sound like what has been happening in the United States over the past decade or so? As our nation becomes poorer every single day we still think we are rich. And, our government has printed massive amounts of money over the past decade or so to try to stimulate the economy. Did it work? Look at the U.S. National Debt Clock again. No, it didn’t work, and it never will.
Now before I go any further, I want to make it clear that this is not a politically motivated post. While both parties have contributed significantly to the problem, it isn’t specifically “owned” by either political party or any administration past or present. The information presented above is for your information and consideration. As a nation, we are in serious economic trouble and other superpowers are emerging around the world and we need to pay attention.
I’d like to go back two thousand years and take a look at the political/cultural/religious setting that Jesus Christ grew up in and where He ministered during his last three years before his crucifixion (and resurrection). In an article titled, “Life of Jesus–First Century Context of Palestine (Israel)”, a description of the political setting is as follows:
“For thousands of years, the Jewish people were primarily subject to foreign rule (Egyptian, Syrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, etc.), with only brief periods of independence. In the first century, Romans ruled the Mediterranean area known as Palestine (modern day Israel), where Jesus was born and lived his life. In the hierarchy of power, the Jewish self-government reported to the authority of the local Roman government (King Herod), which reported to Rome (Emperor Caesar)” (quote source here).
Jesus’ world was nothing like our own here in America. The Roman Empire was in full swing, and the local government under King Herod reported directly to the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who was emperor until his death in 14AD. If you want to know more about King Herod, also known as a ruthless king of the Jews and enemy of Jesus Christ, you can read an article titled, “Herod the Great–Ruthless King of the Jews,” at Christianity.about.com.
The cultural setting of Nazareth and the surrounding area where Jesus spent most of his life was a farming village “similar to many farming villages throughout the world where life was patterned after traditions, roles and rituals passed down from many generations beforehand” (quote source here). As for the religious setting “Jewish leaders fought for the purity of their belief in one God in the face of conflicting foreign religions. Yet at the same time, they fragmented into sects divided over variations of the Jewish law:
- The Jewish people believed in one God (monotheism) who was invisible and could not be portrayed. In contrast, the surrounding cultures believed in many gods (polytheism) who could be represented by images or idols.
- Jewish tradition was centered on the Sabbath Day – the day began on Friday at sundown and ended at Saturday sundown. Sabbath was started with prayer, the lighting of the candles by the wife of the household, followed by a joyful Friday supper. Sabbath was considered to be a day of rest and worship, where everything one did was in honor of God.
- The Jewish people were seeking a “Messiah” or savior – they were waiting for the leader God had promised who, according to their understanding, would bring them spiritual renewal and political freedom from centuries of foreign oppression, currently from the Roman Empire.
- The culture of first century Israel was very interested in the supernatural – it was common for people to believe in curses and be controlled by superstitions.
- The major religious holiday during the Jewish year was the Passover feast celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt. During the Passover, many Jews would travel to Jerusalem in order to celebrate in the holy city. This is why Jesus and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem for their last supper together – they were celebrating the Passover. This is also the tradition that caused so many Jews to be present in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion” (quote source here).
Jesus’ mission during his time on earth was not to overthrow the current political setting that was many times very unjust and cruel, although many who believed in and followed Him thought that was His mission at the time. No . . . . His first public statement (after John the Baptist was arrested) is found in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
And after His crucifixion and resurrection, His “Great Commission” given to His disciples, found in Matt. 28:18-20, was (and still is) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus did not come the first time to set up His own kingdom here on earth, but to proclaim that “the kingdom of God is at hand and to repent and believe in the gospel.” For those of us who believe in and follow Jesus Christ, that mission has not changed. “Repent and believe in the gospel” is the message that still rings out loud and clear in our nation today as well as the rest of the world regardless of the political climate we may find ourselves living under. For further information, Dr. Mark D. Roberts has written an excellent article titled, “What Was the Message of Jesus?” that includes an in-depth discussion on the mission and message of Jesus to include what Jesus meant when He proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand (click here for link to his article).
Here in America, we mix Jesus with politics extensively to the point that the real message of Jesus gets heavily diluted. Jesus did not try to change the political climate of His day. He proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand, a kingdom not built by human hands or political systems. We get so wrapped up in railing against the political and cultural climate here in America that we forget the REAL message–the kingdom of God.
Kingdoms (and political systems) built by human beings, even on a small scale to include building our own little kingdoms in our own personal lives, will never stand the test of time. In America we can still vote for our politicians and representatives as we do not live under a dictatorship, but all human political systems are inherently flawed because, as Jesus stated, it’s about the kingdom of God that is at hand, not an established kingdom or political system already in existence.
Regardless of the political climate or the culture around us wherever we find ourselves on this planet of ours, our mission as Christians is the same today as Jesus gave to His disciples after His resurrection in Matt. 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That is our true calling. Nations and empires have come and gone across the centuries, but the kingdom of God lasts forever. Jesus stated that He is coming back again soon to set up His kingdom in Revelation 22:12-13, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
So let’s never forget our real reason for being here . . . .
It’s about Jesus Christ.
YouTube Video: “Used to Rule the World” (2012) sung by Bonnie Raitt on her CD, “Slipstream”: