Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fresno: something to do with money

Cities are important in the Bible.

So many have prophetic names and intended destinies. Some have suggested each city has a "redemptive purpose"...not surprisingly, often tied to its name (I love visiting our friends at Bethelehem Bible College...Bethlehem means "house of bread," and the college provided the only public library in Bethlem, and it...well, gives out bread to those in need), natural resources, or its surroundings...

...or city motto, I used to pastor in Delano, whose motto was "An International Community Working Together.

It wasn't.

I now live in Fresno. With a population of half a million, it is still commonly viewed as an overgrown farm town, and lampooned in the media as an Okie town . We are smack in the middle of the most fertile valley in the world, and we feed the world.

It might be an obvious leap to offer the spiritual and literal feeding of the world as our redemptive gift. Some within prophetic circles believe it is leadership; particularly Christian leadership.

Whatever the case, there had been enough critical mass of Christianity here that we have been dubbed the Bible Belt of California. Something is up when Christianity Today stands up to take notice, asking on its cover, no less:

"What is God doing in Fresno?"

The problem is the answer to that question, CT concludes, is basically "We're not sure yet.":

“The church in Fresno is all over the map, literally and figuratively. It's
premature to say that what's happening in Fresno will make a lasting


We haven't made George Otis's list of transformed cities yet..

I suppose I pray every day, "God, what are You doing in Fresno?" or "What do You want from the church in this city?" "How do we cue in to make that lasting difference?"

I wasn't planning on getting any help in sorting out the answer when reading an "unrelated" book: Fareed Zakaria (articulate editor of Newseek International)'s "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad ." Why would Fresno make an appearance?

"America began to change on a mid-September day..." he begins one section.

But he doesn't mean 9/11 2001.

And it has everything to do with Fresno.

"America began to change on a mid-September day in 1958," writes Joseph Nocera in his fascinating book, A Piece of the Action. He is referring to the day when the Bank of America 'dropped' 60,000 credit cards in Fresno, California, thereby creating the all-purpose credit card.It was a novel idea, in effect offering anyone who wanted it a general line of credit, unsecured by collateral. In the 1950s Americans were just getting used to taking out loans to buy ... products—cars, refrigerators, televisions.

But debt was still disreputable. If you could not afford something, you squirreled away money until you could buy it. Besides, it was not easy to get a loan Most banks thought that making small loans to the average family was not worth the time and effort. Except for the Bank of America. Its founder, AP Giannini, the son of an immigrant, wanted to make money available for “his people.” His bank, founded in 1904 in a converted saloon, was initially called the Bank of Italy and in 1928 renamed the Bank of America. Whereas other banks passed off consumer loans to finance companies, Bank of America embraced the role of serving the broad middle class... As a result it grew to become America's largest bank by the 1970s .

Credit cards opened up the world of credit to the masses, allowing ordinary people to take out an advance on their future earnings, as the rich had always done. It is difficult today to imagine life without credit cards. And yet they were almost unknown forty years ago. What happened over those forty years, and most especially in the last twenty-five, is in many ways more is in many ways more revolutionary than in any comparable period in modern financial history. Capitalism was transformed into democratic capitalism. (pp. 202-203, whole chapter here)

If Fresno's supreme legacy so far, so pivotal and "revolutionary" is connected to credit cards and loans, this of course raises questions about the blessings and curses we have unleashed on the entire world.

Perhaps our blessing, divine destiny, and reason for being has much to do with creative micro-loans for immigrants, debt forgiveness, Jubilee. Giving money away, for Christ's sake. In the lineage of "Bank of America's founder, AP Giannini, the son of an immigrant, wanted to make money available for 'his people.'"

And in the lineage of another "so of an immigrant" who wanted to make worship, and money, available to His people:

Though most do not realize it, Jesus' "temple tantrum "was first and foremost about racism and prejudice; as well as about commercialization. The dovesellers and money changers set up their booths smack in the middle of the Court of the Gentiles; the only place were different ethnicities could "go to church." Which is why Jesus text that day was Isaiah 56: "Foreigners must be welcomed into the house...for my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations."

How about someone setting up some booths smack in the middle of church foyers, so we can proclaim Jubilee to immigrants?

Preaching at the National Prayer Breakfast, Bono proposed the "novel" idea of the nation tithing to the poor in

its midst.

Uh, That policy has not yet been adopted on a national scale yet.

Maybe it's Fresno's call to pioneer it.

One city George Otis is starting to look at as a city "on the way to transformation" is Huancayo Peru. Ironically, I treat Huancayo as a sister city to Fresno. Members of our Fresno church are missionaries there and are seeing amazing results in city wide awakening. Not only is it the same size and style of city, with a similar amount of critical mass of Christian unity, but perhaps our redemptive purposes are parallel. (View a small example of what's happening in this video clip; as we pray for government leaders...and a beer truck driver; and uncover the founding "god" of the city).

I stood on top of the Andes Mountains one day,

at the water source for Huancayo below. A team had come to pray over the city's water, which had ben cursed by a witch. I will never forget the avalanche that fell over the witch's cave just as one person prayed the Scripture about "the terror of the Lord descending from the rocks onto his enemies."


As dramatic as that story is (read it here, or watch it, avalanche and all below):

... it might be just as profound a prophetic act to witness Huancayo...and Fresno..reversing the curse of credit with interest free loans, and Jubilee.

What is God doing in Fresno?

God forgive us if we think we've arrived.

Amazingly...devastatingly...the very two "succeses" that Peter Wagner mentions as the two that, once they have happened in a city, can cause it great risk.. rest on it's laurels, trusting in them:

A Billy Graham Crusade, and a Pastors Prayer Summit.

Uh, we in Fresno just did that.

As wonderful as these two events are, trust in them as signs of spirituality "can inhibit the emergence of strong citywide leadership." ("Apostles of the City", p 25)

It may well have something to do with money...

Bono says "celebrity is currency". Since Fresno is apparently infamous for birthing credit cards; and I believe is about to be famous for midwifing Kingdom purposes..

May we marshall our faith and the church; the largest company in our city" (see Alan Doswald's important article here) ..

Let us consider Wagner's warning that "God is poised to release unprecedented amounts of wealth for the expansion of His Kingdom....but the two middle links
(see his diagram) in the "four necessary links for this release are weak or missing in many cities.(The Changing Church, p.101)...

and what if we rehearse what may well be written for the second time:

"America began to change in Fresno, California..."


George Carlin, no Christian by his own definition, "interviewed" Jesus:

Q:Do you have any words of advice?

Jesus: Well, I don't know how spiritual it is, but I'd say one thing is don't give your money to the church. They should be giving their money to you."

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