The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported, in its preliminary estimate, that the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.3 % in the first quarter. This compares to 2.0 percent forecasted, 1.2 percent a year ago and 0.6 percent two years ago. The estimate was down from the 2.9 percent of the fourth quarter. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is predicting inflation-adjusted GDP to grow at an annual rate of 3.22 percent for the second quarter.
BEA estimated annual inflation for the first quarter to be 2.0 percent, which was 0.3 percent below expectations and the last quarter. Personal consumption expenditures increased at an annual rate of 1.1 percent, in line with forecasts, but well below the 4.0 percent of the fourth quarter. The first quarter employment cost index increased 0.8 percent for the quarter, compared to 0.6 percent the previous quarter, and 0.7 percent expectations.
New unemployment claims fell to 209,000, versus 233,000 the previous week and forecasts of 230,000. This week's new unemployment claims estimate was the lowest since 1969. Combined with the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years and the higher employment cost index. chances have increased that the Fed will increase rates four, instead of three times this year.
While U. S. and global economies are strong, global obstacles could still dampen or even reverse the situation. According to Tao Zhang, a deputy director with the IMF, a cloud is looming over the global economy. Zhang identified three global obstacles.
- Tensions on the Trade Front: The trade dispute brewing between the U. S. and China will most likely be mitigated by compromise, but it is not guaranteed. Europe (primarily Germany) wants to be exempted from the new tariffs on steel and aluminum—a less likely event. If significant trade wars develop, the U. S. and global economies will suffer. If current disputes end in a more equitable trading field, everyone could win.
- Fiscal and Financial Risk: Global debt levels currently exceed the levels we saw before the last financial crisis ($164 trillion in 2016). With high debt, interest rates have exaggerated importance. Governmental economic policy has become increasing complex with tradeoffs between growth, sustainability, employment, inflation and debt. Much of the world's political class are polarized which makes fiscal policy development more difficult.
- Attaining Inclusive Growth: As economies grow, how do we include more peoples and countries to contribute to and enjoy the benefits? Greater income equality can create political, social and geopolitical challenges. These challenges will persist until more of the populace believes the economic process to be fair and even-handed.
Believers have obstacles in this life. When faced with a significant obstacle, what should a believer do? The Scriptures give a clear process. If the process is not followed, the obstacle may become a destination. But if the believer confronts the obstacle and follows the biblical process with faith, anything can be overcome.
Regardless of the obstacle, the process is the same. First, seek the Lord until you have clear direction. Second, execute. Third, give thanks. The process is not long, cumbersome, or complex. The process puts Jesus as the King of our lives, without relieving us of the responsibility to be good stewards and faithful citizens of the kingdom.
- Seek the Lord until you have clear direction. The Scriptures are filled with examples of men and women of God choosing to seek the Lord when dealing with obstacles. Hannah's obstacle was infertility and she sought the Lord until Eli prophesied of her (1 Sam. 1:17). A Canaanite woman sought the Lord for her demon-possessed daughter and she saw her daughter's deliverance (Matt. 15:21-28). David sought the presence of the Lord because of a three-year famine. He received wisdom to end the famine. Jehoshaphat had a great multitude coming against him, and called all Israel to fast and pray until he received a prophecy which contained assurance and direction to win the battle.
"Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David called upon the Lord. The Lord said, "There is blood guilt upon Saul and upon his house because he put the Gibeonites to death" (2 Sam. 21:1).
"And some came and declared this to Jehoshaphat, "A large multitude is coming against you from across the Dead Sea from Edom; and observe, they are in Hazezon Tamar" (that is, En Gedi). Then Jehoshaphat was fearful and set himself to seek the Lord, and he called for a fast throughout all Judah" (2 Chron. 20:2-3).
- Execute. There is a time to seek the Lord, and there is a time for action. When the Lord tells us to do something, we are expected to do it. But sometimes we are expected to use our God-given talents and giftings to overcome the obstacle in accordance with biblical principles.
Israel was facing a huge obstacle. Pharaoh's army (one the largest in the world) was bearing down on them, and the Red Sea was at their backs. The Israelites were fearful and began to complain. Moses cried out to the Lord. The Lord told Moses that he should not be praying, but he should be telling the Israelites to move forward. There is a time to execute.
"The Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, so that they go forward. And as for you, lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; then the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea" (Ex. 14:15-16).
- Give thanks. We are to thank the Lord is all circumstances, even if the Lord chose to allow the obstacle to remain for some higher purpose. Paul approached the Lord three times to remove a thorn in the flesh. The Lord did not remove the thorn because of the greatness of the revelations which Paul received. Paul wrote about two-thirds of the New Testament because of those revelations.
"And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, lest I be exalted above measure" (2 Cor. 12:7).
Let us look at obstacles as the opportunity to grow, to overcome and to demonstrate to others the greatness of our God.
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.
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