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Friday, September 30, 2022

Presidential Tirades


 

“If I were President, they wouldn’t have sat me back there.  In Real Estate, like Politics, and in Life, LOCATION IS EVERYTHING!!!”

This tweet came from a former president, who was chagrined at the placement of the current president of the United States at a funeral service for Queen Elizabeth II.  Apparently, he would have thrown his weight around and gotten a seat closer to the front --  maybe even in the casket with the deceased monarch.

I wasn’t even invited to the funeral event.  Apparently, you had either be a world leader or related to the queen, which doesn’t seem quite fair.

I was busy in Brookneal and wouldn’t really have had time to go, but it would have been nice to be invited…

As I was contemplating this diatribe, I began to think of a short parable that Jesus told.  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him … But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, Friend, move up higher; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 14:7-10 NASB)

The point that Jesus was making had nothing to do with how to get the highest seat possible at an event.  Quite simply, Jesus was telling His disciples to learn humility.  Whether we feel ourselves to be a big or small fish and regardless of the size of the pond where we live, we shouldn’t make everything about us.

It is OK to be small.  It is wise to be humble, for truly there comes a time when all of us will Bow before the Throne of He who rules the Universe.

Even former Presidents of the United States of America.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Licking a Saltshaker

 

 


“Don’t lick that!”  Anna’s voice came ringing across the table with high volume and clarity.  “Mom!  Victoria’s licking the holes on the saltshaker!”

“Please don’t lick that, Victoria,” Elaine said to our middle daughter.  “Polite people don’t do that.  It’s a sign of bad manners.”

“Technically,” Vincent put in, with the wisdom gained through eight full years of education.  “Technically, you can’t lick a hole.  You can only lick the area around the hole.”

He thought a moment and then said, “I suppose you could lick a donut hole.”

“You could lick the hull of a ship,” Elliot said, helpfully.  “Although I suppose you’d have to get pretty close to it to do that.  It might be hard to do.”

“That hull is spelled differently,” Vincent said.

I suppose that this is the way of life.  It is awfully easy to miss the message that is delivered because of the manner in which it was delivered.

Few people have a way with words that great orators, like Abraham Lincoln or JFK, have demonstrated.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a message worthy of our attention.

This is particularly true when we receive a message that is critical of our behavior.  Typically, we exhibit one of two responses to messages like that.  Either we are critical of the way in which the message was delivered or, we are critical of inconsistencies in the life of the messenger.

All of this misses the point.  When there is a message for us, we should attempt to learn from it.

Even if the lesson is as simple as not licking the saltshaker.


Friday, September 16, 2022

So Short a Summer

 


"Next week school starts again!"  I told our children.  Four of them were going to be resuming their studies at our little school.

"I'm not ready," One of them complained, wrinkling his face up into a discouraged look.

"It has been two and a half months since school let out," I said.  (I'm very good at calculating times and seasons.  I even generally know what day of the week it is).  "That's how long summer vacation usually lasts."

"It doesn't seem like it," my son said.

It is at a young age that we learn the transitory nature of time.  You wait and wait, what seems an eternity for your next birthday, only to have it vanish in a few seconds.  A long-awaited trip disappears, almost before it starts.

Humans have a strange relationship with time.  We are given only a limited amount of it and yet, we tend to squander this precious commodity on frivolous things.

Psalm 90:10-12 speaks to us of the brief nature of our lives and of the importance of using them for things that have value.

Every hour, every minute has value.  We can choose to spend it scrolling through social media or speaking encouragement to someone who is hurting.  Even if we do not consciously spend the time, it will still vanish, used to purchase whatever things, trivial or not, that fill our days.

The sad thing is that so few of us learn to number our days.  Instead, we get to the end of whole seasons of our lives wondering where they went and what we did with them.

We are like a child reaching the end of his summer vacation and wondering where it went.


Psalms 90:10-12 "The days of our years are three score and ten; and if by reason of strength they be four score years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow for it is soon cut off and we fly away.  Who knoweth the power of thy anger?  even according to thy fear so is thy wrath.  So, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

Friday, September 9, 2022

"What is that in your hand?"

 


“Dad,” my son Vincent told me.  “I have come up with a fun game for children to play while their parents are shopping.”

“What’s that?”  I asked him.

“They can count how many cell phones they see,” my eldest son told me.  “I’m talk about the ones that are in people’s hands,” he clarified.  “Not the ones that are on display for sale.”

“That sounds like a boring game,” his younger brother put in.

“I was with Mom in Target today,” Vincent said.  “I saw thirty cell phones in people’s hands during our time in there.”

“It’s a sign of a good education,” I said.  “You are able to count that high without taking off your shoes and socks.  When I was your age, I wore flip flops everywhere simply so that I could get to twenty without breaking a sweat.”

The cell phone conversation stayed with me.  I began to think of Moses coming upon a Burning Bush in the desert.  After God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses expressed doubts about his ability. 

It was then that God asked Moses a question.  “What is that in your hand?”

Moses was holding a staff and God told him to throw it down.  It immediately became a snake – a sign from God of Moses’ divine calling.

If it had been a 21st Century American standing before the burning bush and God had asked the same question, the answer would have been a smart phone.  Even when people are with friends, they seem to have their phones out – checking on a variety of statuses and replies.

Smart phones are powerful technology.  They have housed within their slender frames telephones, cameras, contact lists, and music libraries.  They have an always on connection to both e mail and the internet.

I am not against technology.  It makes life easier in many ways.  I even own a smart phone and I use it regularly.  If my phone gives up the ghost someday, I’m sure I will replace it in short order.  I have come to depend on it enough that I could not easily go back to a old style flip phone.

It is interesting that God told Moses to throw down his staff.  Certainly an eighty-year-old shepherd could be forgiven if he depended on his staff more than a little for balance and support.

Maybe God was telling Moses that he needed to learn where his source of strength truly was.  Perhaps Moses needed to lean on God more than he ever had his rod, to lead a great (and greatly complaining) people out of Egypt.

It feels to me as though God is asking 21st century Christians to do the same thing – to throw down their phones.  Well, being the merciful God He is and understanding the cost of replacing a cracked phone screen, He might ask us to place the phone gently on the ground.

“This thing you hold in your hand,” He tells us.  “It is a tool – a device that you are leaning on.  I want you put it down and for a long moment focus only on me.  You will come to realize that you need me far more than that piece of electronics that feels so important to you.”

What is that in your hand?

It is a tool.  It is a way of maintaining tenuous relationships with distant friends.  At times, it is an impediment to maintaining relationships with people close at hand.

Most important is the question of whether these phones stand in the way of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  How long can you pray without checking your phone?  Does meditating feel boring compared to checking the latest post on social media?

When we stand before the bush in flame, we hear a divine voice speaking to us.  It asks again, “What is that in your hand?”  Then it tells us to throw it down on the ground.

Anything that stands in the way of us relying wholly on God must be stripped away.

Even if that thing is something as amazing as the technology found in a smart phone.


Friday, September 2, 2022

The Wrong Messenger

 


"I don't like it!"  Elliot said loudly in a voice dropping with disgruntlement.  "Why does Anna get to choose the music?"

"I am older," Elliot's older sister said with a tone that implied that this explained everything.  Surely, someone with fifteen years on the planet should get to choose the music for the household.

"Dost thou not like Chopin Etudes?"  I queried.  "I know that there is much music under the sun, but I would far rather listen to that music composed by Chopin than such modern composers as Michael Jackson or Elton John."

"I guess Chopin is OK," Elliot replied.  "Just not when Anna picks it."

My eldest daughter does have a great tendency to commandeer the musical playlist.  It is with great frequency that the rest of her sizable family is allowed, nay, subjected to listening to Flute Concertos till the Cows Come Home to Roost.

(For, she is an aspiring Flutist.)

I pondered this conversation long.  I am not totally convinced that my youngest son doth like the piano music of one, Frederic Chopin. but I know for a fact that Elliot's Main Issue was not with this long-deceased, Polish composer, but rather with Anna controlling the soundtrack of his life.

It seemeth clear that there are many times that people are unable to accept good ideas because of the messenger who delivereth them.  Mayhap, they do not desire that particular person to receive acclaim for what seemeth a good idea.  Perhaps, the problem has much to do with the group that this messenger is a member of.

This is most evident in politics.  Democrats despise any plans brought forward by a Republican, regardless of how good it might seem.  The reverse is just as true.

This world is in desperate need of good ideas and life is too short to discount some of them, simply because they come from the wrong source.  For, the light bulb was a great invention, even if Thomas Edison lived in New Jersey and was a vegetarian.

It is sad when a young man cannot enjoy the talents of a great composer like Frederic Chopin, simply because his despised sister has chosen that music.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Praying for Boredom

 


"Dad, I'm bored," our 11 year old son said, as we got out of our vehicle.

This seems to be a motto that Elliot lives by and truly, it is discouraging for those who face the Everest-like challenge of keeping him entertained.  

"Thou canst not be bored yet," I replied, somewhat severely.  "Speak of this to me in five minute when thy 'Bored Meter' is at 11 and I will discuss it further with thee.  In the meantime, perhaps thou shalt see a Gladiator kill a Mastodon."

"I'm still bored," he replied.

"My dearest Elliot," I spake unto him.  "I have read within a book something that thou mightest learn from.  For, it is said among the sages that when a Man expresses that he is bored, he is expressing dissatisfaction with himself.  Therefore, the solution to thy boredom is self-improvement, not to foist upon other thy difficulty with self-satisfaction."

This long oration may have made Elliot's father feel better about the situation, but it did little assuage Elliot's dissatisfaction with his circumstances.

There have been times when I have experienced boredom, just like my son.  At times this was related to waiting on others.  Other times it had more to do with my lack of interest in activities that were ongoing.

I have discovered something important.  It is in these moments of silence that God speakest best.  It is in the minutes and hours when I am waiting and even my cell phone does not work, that I can best focus on Him.  Perhaps, He is speaking all the time, but it takes boredom to let me hear Him.

God speaks to us in a still, small voice.

Mayhap we fill our lives with "important things" that are only static on the Phone Line of Heaven.  It is when we are bored that this static is eliminated.

It becomes us to be thankful, even for those moments of shear, unadulterated boredom.  It is in these times that we can actually hear the divine voice above the chaos of every day living.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Random Cookies


 

"I made cookies today," my beautiful wife told me as I arrived home.

This, is not so unusual as it is in the homes of people much more rich and famous.  For, when bank accounts soar, cookies vanish in favor of more expensive delectable, treats -- or at least, that is what I have heard.

"She made Random Cookies!"  Vincent put in sharply.

"Call them Miscellaneous Cookies," Elaine said.  "I had lots of toppings left from our ice cream sundae thing we did and so I put them in the cookies.  There was some heath bar topping and white chocolate chips and some regular chocolate chips that went into the cookie dough."

"It sounds yummy," I said.

"Oh, they are.  Vincent won't try them, though.  He says he is certain they aren't as good as Chocolate Chip Cookies."

"They aren't," Vincent said firmly.

I decided to sample one of the delicious treats that my wife had baked.  It was true that they weren't the same as Chocolate Chip Cookies, but they were still Plain Good!  I decided to eat a second one to be certain that they were really All That.  Yes, they were so good that I probably needed to try a third one, but I decided against it.  Best not to spoil my supper...

My children are odd when it comes to new foods.  There are many times that they will not try something new, even though it is something that they would probably enjoy greatly.

It isn't as though Elaine is serving our children food with bits of glass and rock embedded in it.  Nor is she barbecuing road kill.  Even though their experiences of receiving food in our house has been good, our children are still trepidatious when it comes to anything new.

It seems to me that many times I have trouble receiving the blessings my Heavenly Father sends my way.  Quite simply I do not perceive them as blessings.

While they are good an perfect gifts, I see them as not quite good enough.  Perhaps this has to do with my preconceived notions on what a blessing looks like -- just a little like my children view Miscellaneous Cookies.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Parable of the Potatoes

 

One day, it came to pass, that I gathered my children together.  “The time has come,” I said.  “To go out into the garden and dig roots that we might have A-Plenty in the coming winter.”


 

“But Father,” my youngest son said.  “’Tis well and truly hot outside.  Were it not better to wait for cooler weather?”

 “Certainly not.  The potatoes are ready and so are we,” I said, in a somewhat gruff voice.  I am a Type A Person, even when it comes to my garden and Time, Tide, and Potatoes wait for No Man.

 On arriving in the Garden, we found that over the course of the summer, the weeds had been Well Watered.  Verily, it was more like to a jungle than to a typical garden plot.  Fortunately, we did not see either Jaguars or Poison Dart Frogs during our brief sojourn.

 But Elliot was right.  Despite the time being six hours after noon, it was still very hot and muggy.  Whilst the potatoes were there, the digging of them was Not-Much-Fun.

 “Do we have to finish this row?”  Vincent asked, in a dismal voice.

 “Sure – and do the next one too,” I said, although I was feeling tired and was drenched with perspiration.  “You’ll be glad of these potatoes come winter.”

 “There are plenty of potatoes at Food Lion and Walmart,” my son grumbled, under his breath.  This was an accurate, if unhelpful statement. 

"If I were the one in charge of the Garden," Elliot said.  "I would plant Self-Digging potatoes!"

 Finally, we finished digging the potatoes.  The time that had transpired was less than it seemed, as the heat and the effort made it seem longer.  Whereas we had planted about ten pounds of seed potatoes, we dug something over one hundred pounds of eating potatoes.

 A garden teaches children (and adults) Many Things.  Perhaps one of the most important lessons that I hope my children learn from our garden is Perseverance

 Many in this world lack perseverance.  Whereas they are happy to work when it is cool outside and they are having a Good Old Time, when the weather turns hotter and it is not so much fun, they abandon their task to try to find something easier.

 There are many things in this life that require endurance, for life is not a One Hundred Meter Dash, it is a Marathon.  As the author of Hebrews said, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Heb 10:36)

 Truly, it is necessary to press on in the tasks that are set before us, enduring to the end.  For God has promised wonderful things for His children who persevere – even better, if it were possible, then one hundred and twenty pounds of freshly dug potatoes

Friday, August 5, 2022

Of Dinosaurs and Croccolodials

 


"Look children," I said in my most fatherly of voices.  "It appeareth that we are about to cross the Tennessee River!"

Verily, a guide on a Nile River Cruise has Nothing On Me.  'Tis surprising that I am still plying my trade as a Man of Medicine, rather than Guiding Tours of the Seven Wonders of the World or at least a Cruise Ship Captain.  ("Are We Having Fun Yet?!")

"Hark, I see a boat!"  My daughter, Victoria said, with a ringing shout.

"I see a Croccolodial!"  Quoth my youngest daughter, Elise.

"Hark, I see many boats!"  Spake Elliot in an even louder voice.

"I see..."  One could discern that Elise was pondering what more to share.  "I see a dinosaur in the river!"  Rang out to all in the mini van to hear and then, loudest of all.  "I see a dinosaur in a boat in the river!"

Of course, no one could one-up her on that.  Whilst I was still driving, I took a quick peek at the river.  Clearly the dinosaur had been piloting a very fast boat, for he was long out of sight by the time I looked.

When one has four siblings, each of whom has been gifted by their Creator with a loud voice, she learns to speak with an even Louder Voice.  When your brothers and sisters tell tall tales, your stories must be even taller.

I have discovered that while each human has a voice, not all of us are heard.  Mayhap it is because our voice is not loud enough, or our stories not interesting enough.  Perhaps it is simply because we have the wrong last name and family connections, but many times we feel lost and unheard.

It is a blessing that when we are speaking with our Heavenly Father, we have no difficulty attracting His attention.  He hears, even when our voice doth not rise above a whisper.

Jeremiah 29:12 is a verse in which God told His people, "Then shall ye call upon me and ye shall go out and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you."

God hears us and answers when we call unto Him, even when we do not have stories of croccolodials and dinosaurs in boats in the Tennessee River to surprise Him.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Soddy-Daisy?

 


Upon a time, my family traveled to the Berg of Soddy-Daisy.  Though we came not for to see either Soddy or Daisy, there we resided for some 7 days or perhaps a week while we adventured in that great city of Chattanooga.  

Our offspring were much interested in the name of the town.  It seemed likely that there was an interesting story behind this name.

At this question, I consulted Wikipedia.  Whilst I know that Wikipedia is neither completely exhaustive or totally accurate, it is quick and easy.  Quick and easy meaneth much to me, in these, my later years.

"It appeareth that there used to be two towns here, one named Soddy and the other Daisy.  In the fateful year 1969, these two merged.  Soddy may have come for a Cherokee word for a Native American people that dwelt here-abouts, whilst Daisy probably came from the daughter of a mining executive," I shared with my children from the writings of Wiki.

"I think that Soddy-Daisy soundeth like to the name Saudi Arabia," my daughter, Victoria opined.  She began repeating the names one after the other -- Soddy-Daisy -- Saudi Arabia -- back and forth.  To me, the resemblance was scanty, but if you tried to say both with your mouth full of Pistachios, mayhap it would have been difficult to tell the difference.

It seemeth to me that humans are good at putting names on things.  It might be that this began in the Garden of Eden, when Genesis tells us that Adam named all of the animals and not satisfied with that, named his wife 'Eve' to boot.

Names are good for identifying people.  Whilst some may say, "You can call me whatever you like, just don't call me late for dinner," the reality is that it is awfully handy to have a specific handle by which you can refer to an individual.

At the same time, it seemeth that oft times names are used to pigeonhole people.  "Thou art a White Evangelical and so thou art..." or "Thou art a Mennonite and so thou believest..."

Of a truth, there is some veracity in these generalizations, but there is more danger.  It is easy to cease to see people as individuals and simply see them as members of group.  By affixing a name, we have made it possible to ignore the uniqueness of their lives and opinions.  More than that, some use such categories to pin the sins of others on innocent individuals.

Those who are members of any group are all created uniquely.  Even those who come from a place with as odd a name as Soddy-Daisy.

Friday, July 22, 2022

A Parable of the Littered Picnic Spot

 


'Tis my practice, even in times of respite, that some call vacations, to arise at five hours after the midnight hour to begin my day.  It is not enjoyable for me to sleep past the rising of the sun, nor to saw logs long into the morning hours.

With this early rising, I often choose to go out watch the turning of the earth make it appear that the sun is rising.

(Of course, since we live long after the time of Copernicus, I know that none of us would refer to this as a sun rise.  Further we know that the earth is not the Center of the Solar System, much less the Universe, but that is another story for another day.)

On one such trip, I went out to a trail for hiking.  I began following it along the edge of a creek.  Then, suddenly, I came upon a little open area where there were tables for picnics and the creek widened beneath some over-sheltering pine trees.

It was a beautiful spot and yet, those who had used it recently had left their mark.  I could see water bottles and wrappers of cookies and crackers strewn along the banks of the stream.

It made my heart sad to see the wonton "dirtification" of a lovely natural area.  As I heard a wise man say recently, we are not inheriting the earth from our parents, rather we are borrowing it from our children and grandchildren.

I pondered this much.  It seems that many people value their own "Good Times" and "Easy Life" over the effort needed to leave things better for those who will arrive on the scene after they leave it.

It is in the hearts of many that the hope to "Leave their mark" on this world.  With this in mind, the Pharaohs built huge pyramid shaped tombs and various popes spent millions of dollars and 150 years building the Basilica of St. Peters.

All too often humans shuffle off this mortal coil leaving behind only chaos and litter in the lives of those they spent time with.  It is a sad life that is remembered only for the trash it leaves behind.

We can do better.

Friday, July 15, 2022

The Parable of the Mangled Book

 


 

One fine day, my youngest son came to me.  “Please, Dad,” he said.  “I would ask of thee a boon.”

“Speak, my son,” I replied.  “I will not give thee half my kingdom, but I am willing to give thee many other things.”

“My father,” he said.  “Grant me this once that I might set up a tabernacle in our yard and there sleep a night or perhaps two.  For there I may hear the sound of Chuck Will’s Widow as I go to sleep or mayhap other night noises.  It may be that I sleep well without four walls around me.”

This request, being not so great or taxing, was granted and Elliot received permission to set up a tent and make his bed in the yard.  This he did for perhaps two nights, after which time he decided that he would rather sleep closer to a Bathroom.  So, he moved his bed back indoors.

A few days passed by in the blissful tumult that is early summer.  Then, one evening it decided to rain.  As I had not taken down the tent to this point, the next day I decided to fix this by taking it down and putting it away.

At this moment, I discovered that "someone" had left the door of the tent unzipped and a sleeping bag and a few book lay within.  One of the books that was closest to the door had decided to revert to it wood pulp state and was no longer able to be opened to any specific page.  It might be that a team of forensic scientists could have read its contents, but it was beyond anyone in our family’s ability to read it.

This book was from the “Series of Unfortunate Events” and truly, it had come to an Unfortunate End.

Beyond this, it was a library book.

Now, we are friendly with the librarians of Campbell County.  Yet, it is with great trepidation that those librarians view those of the Family of Waldron entering their libraries, for we (I do not say I) have lost (and paid for) more than a few books over a span of several years.

Thus, it was that Elaine paid for yet another book for our children and yet, it is not a book that we will read any more.  Because she paid this fine, those of our household are still able to withdraw (and occasionally lose) books from the library.

There are many debts that each of us owe, but the largest is the debt that we owe due to the hold that sin has on our lives.  This was a price that we simply could not pay.  We needed a Redeemer and so it was that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth and atoned for our sins.

It is because of this that we may have freedom.  For the debt we could never pay has been paid for us.

The book of Unfortunate Events cost five dollars.  Our salvation cost Jesus His life.

He thought it was worth it because of how much He loved us.  We have only to accept His gift to have our debt paid and relationship with Him restored.

It may seem that the books we are writing with our lives come from the “Series of Unfortunate Events,” but there is no reason for them to come to an Unfortunate End.  Jesus has given of Himself that our books might have a different -- and better -- ending than they could and should have had.


Saturday, July 9, 2022

Is Capitalism "The" Christian Economy?

 

There has been much written about threats to the United States.  When I was a boy, the Soviet Union and the communist threat there was thought to be the biggest danger to life as we know it.  Now, some are more worried about China, but from an economic standpoint, it seems that many believe that there are horrible things waiting for the United States as it hurries down a path leading to “Socialism.” 

Inherent in all of these discussions is the basic belief that Capitalism and the Free-Market Economy are Biblical.  Any country that strays too far off of this path of rectitude is headed for disaster. 

I like capitalism. I don't like paying high levels of taxes which seem inherently a part of instituting socialism, but that says more about me than what the Bible says about what sort of economic theory should influence how churches function in society.

I wonder if people who feel strongest about capitalism understand what the economy was like in Bible times and what God commanded for the state of Israel. 

People Didn’t Have Money in Ancient Israel 

 It may be surprising to some, but the first coins weren’t minted until around 600 years before the time of Christ.  Those coins were made in the Kingdom of Lydia in what is modern day Turkey. 

 Prior to that time, when people paid for something in silver or gold, they did so based on the weight of the silver or gold.  So, a silver shekel was a lump of silver weighing around 9.6 grams. 

 The common people who lived in ancient Palestine were very poor.  They didn’t have lumps of silver lying around and so most business was done via bartering.  Crops, produce, and livestock were the “money” of the day. 

 Even the wealthy farmers did not have an overabundance of silver and gold and since the Palestine area is prone to droughts, it was not unusual to have years where the land simply didn’t produce.  Stories like the one in the beginning of the book of Ruth, tell of a farmer who had to emigrate, simply for the possibility that he could support his family better in Moab, where it was rumored that there was a little more rainfall. 

 With this in mind, it is hard to compare Israel in the times of Joshua or even King David to our modern economies.  It was probably more like rural Africa, than the modern United States.  More than that, the people were asked to do things by God, not because they were wealthy, but because they were His people and wanted to serve Him.  When they gave, it was not out of abundance, but out of need, with hearts of love. 

 Tithing was Required 

 In the Old Testament times all the people were to tithe from what their crops produced.  While we think of a tithe as being ten percent, the Israelites were expected to give a little more than 20 percent of their income. 

 These tithes went to support the Levites, to provide a social net for the poor, and to help with the yearly feasts. 

As mentioned before, most of the Jewish people were quite poor by today’s standards.  They were scratching out a living, from their land.   

 Lest we think that they had no taxes, their rulers also expected them pay a chunk of their income in taxes to the crown – and often there was a foreign kingdom, like Assyria, Babylon, or Persia, that also required tribute. 

 The Israelites weren’t always faithful with paying these tithes, but God stated firmly that tithing was important to Him and that judgment would come for those who did not pay them (Mal 3:8,9).   

 The Jews had Slaves 

 Slavery was codified in the Old Testament law.  It seems, based on these laws, that servanthood typically happened when Israelites became poor enough that they were unable to pay their debts.  We probably can’t imagine it, as today people just declare bankruptcy, but there was no other path for the ancient Jews to be free of their debts. 

 Once again, this is very different from modern societies.  As mandated by Old Testament laws, slaves needed to be given the Sabbath Day as a day of rest and if a slave was harmed in a significant way, he was to be granted his freedom.  More than this, slavery was to be temporary – lasting only six years at the end of which time, not only was the slave to be freed, but the master was to give the slave resources to help him have a new start again (Deuteronomy 15:13-14). 

 This was very different from the type of slavery practiced in the rest of the world at that time.  It also seems that the Israelites did not obey these laws very well and this (among other things) was a reason for the Babylonian Captivity (Jeremiah 34:8-24). 

 By bringing this up, I do not mean to say that I think either that slavery is good or that was beneficial. I simply want us to understand a little bit of how their economy was supposed to function.

 Jews Weren’t to Charge Interest 

 The Old Testament law was very clear regarding the charging of interest.  The Jews weren’t to charge interest on any loans to other Jews (they could charge on loans to non-Jewish people).  Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy all had specific rules against charging interest and even rules about what assets could be used to secure loans. 

The Prophet Ezekiel spoke of charging interest as an “abomination” and something that was worthy of death (Ezekiel 18:13). 

 Part of the issue was that most Jews took out loans due to their poverty and lacked the resources to survive without such a loan.  This loan might be the last step before having to sell one’s self or one’s family into slavery.  The Israelites were not to take advantage of such a person.  They were to loan money to help such a person, not to push them into bankruptcy (slavery). 

 It wasn't that people hadn't figured out the concept of interest in ancient economies. Most ancient societies did charge interest – usually 15 or 20 percent.  The fact that the Jews did not charge interest meant that God wanted something different for the people that was called by His name. 

 Certainly, our society would look pretty different if interest wasn’t charged or if it was capped at certain levels.   

 Debts Were Temporary 

 Under the Deuteronomic Law, debts were to be cancelled at the end of seven years. (Deut. 15:1-3)  Once again, this allowed the poor to achieve a “reset” of sorts.  It wasn’t that at the end of seven years they suddenly became wealthy, but at least they no longer had debts hanging over their heads and they would get their freedom back, if they were forced to sell themselves into slavery. 

 I find this interesting, in light of current discussions about college debt.  Many seem to think that “you borrowed it, you pay it” is the policy that is in order and of course, in a capitalistic society, barring bankruptcy, that is what happens.  Maybe God did not see this as the ideal situation for His chosen people.  Maybe, He saw true capitalism as having too much potential for oppressing the poor. 

 Changes in the Early Church

 Jesus came long after the Jewish Kingdom had been conquered.  Except for a brief time, during the Hasmonean period, a long list of foreign rulers dominated Jewish politics.  Jesus still had much to say about finances. 

 In Matthew 5:42, He told His disciples to give to the needy and not refuse those who wished to borrow.  Matthew 6:1-3 indicates that His followers should give secretly, whenever possible and Luke 6:38 indicates that God’s rewards for giving will be in proportion to the gift. 

 Regarding amounts of tithing, it is no longer specified.  Maybe it seems like ten percent is a reasonable amount, but I Corinthians 16:2 says only that each is to give as the Lord has prospered him.   

 On the subject of accumulation of wealth, Jesus told a parable in Luke 12 of a man who had an exceptionally good harvest and decided that he would save all his money and retire.  Jesus finished the parable saying that the man never lived to see his retirement but received divine judgment.  God told Him, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  Jesus finished with this statement as a way of explanation, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” 

 If this wasn’t enough, when we read about the early church in the book of Acts, we see a strong tendency towards communalism (not communism).  People helped each other in every way possible.  Acts 2:44, 45 says that the early church had “all things in common” and that “they sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” 

 This brings us up to the present.  We live in societies that have some mixture of capitalism and socialism.  Other than some small groups, Christians aren’t interested in communalism.  At least in North America, many of them seem to be very much against communism and pro-capitalism. 

 The real question is how Christians honor God within the society we find ourselves.  We won’t change the style of economy of our country, but we should be able to serve God – wherever we happen to live. 

 Capitalism Isn’t a God Thing 

 For some reason, many Christians have gotten fixated on the idea that God blesses in capitalistic societies and in none other.  They are ardently against socialism, welfare, and government supplied health care. 

 Nowhere in the Bible does it say anything about capitalism.  Clearly, as was mentioned earlier, the Jewish theocracy wasn’t a capitalist society and God didn’t intend it to be such. 

 I would say that if we simply got rid of interest payments and had debt forgiveness every seven years, our society would look quite different from the way it does now. 

 I will add that the reason why the government in many countries got involved with taking care of poor people and providing healthcare is that the church wasn’t fulfilling its mission.  There are too many of us Christians who are good at accumulating wealth (we have excellent work ethic and good stewardship skills), but not much skill at using that wealth for caring for those in need around us. 

 If there is a New Testament economic theory, it would be love based ministry. 

 Wealth is not a Sign of Divine Favor 

 In the Old Testament era, many times God revealed His blessing on individuals.  We see in the lives of Solomon and Job that God gave wealth to men who served Him.  On the other hand, the story of Job revealed that the loss of wealth doesn’t always point to divine judgment on a sinful life. 

 In the New Testament, it seems that poverty among the Followers of Jesus was more the rule than the exception.  Jesus had no permanent dwelling place and when it came time to pay the temple tax, it took a miraculous event to provide the coin necessary for that tax. 

 “God sends His rain on the just and on the unjust,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.  Quite simply, it is impossible to judge someone’s relationship with God by the amount of money they have in the bank. 

 Capitalism Can Be Dangerous 

 “Greed is good,” so goes the mantra of a materialistic age.  Many times, capitalism allows Followers of Jesus to make a lot of money.  They work hard and rise in their companies due to their honesty and virtue.  Just like Joseph in Egypt, they become trusted, important parts of the businesses they work in. 

 The problems with capitalism are two-fold.  First, focusing too much on work is not healthy and could detract from a good relationship with God.  If we spend the majority of our time getting good at business, we will achieve that goal, but maybe other parts of our lives will suffer.  There are many successful businessmen who are poor husbands and Christians. 

 Second, wealth is apparently detrimental to being a Follower of Jesus.  Jesus said that it was harder for a a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Paul, in I Timothy 6:17-19 told Timothy to warn his people that riches were dangerous and that wealthy people need to focus themselves on using their wealth to help others. 

 Societies where the government takes most of what people earn or where it is simply hard for Christians to get ahead financially do not offer the same temptations that our materialistic society does.   

It is wonderful to have opportunity.  It is awful when that opportunity distracts us from what our real goal is, glorifying God. 

 Applying Biblical Principles 

 All of this leaves us with a big question.  How do we put these sorts of things into practice in our lives and businesses?  Should a Christian businessman charge interest?  Should he forgive loans where people can’t pay? 

 There are not easy answers to these questions.  For much of church history, it was illegal to charge interest on loans given to other Christians.  The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) forbade clergy from collecting interest on loans.  The Third Council of Lateran broadened this to say that no one who charged interest on loans could receive sacraments or a Christian burial.  This remained the Catholic church’s official policy until the 16th century. 

 I have a hard time applying laws that come from the Old Testament theocracy to our present day, but certainly the principles remain.  The Apostles didn’t restate these laws against interest and in favor of debt forgiveness, but then again, for the most part they were writing letters to poor people who were more likely to be asking for loans, than giving them to others. 

 There are some very big principles that we can see in both the Old Covenant laws and in the early church. 

 Love is More Important than Wealth 

 Jesus said that His followers would be known for one thing.  It wasn’t their big churches, their sharp business practices, their phenomenal work ethic, their amazing potlucks, or even their praise and worship team.  People would know Christians by their love for one another (John 13:35). 

 It appears this has been forgotten.  There should not be members of Christian churches who need to question where their next meal will come from.  There should not be Christian widows who wonder if they will have a place to live this time next year.   

 James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” 

 That’s it.  Showing love to the needy and living a morally upright life is what glorifies God.  If we come to the end of our lives and have many material things to pass on to our families, but we have not ministered to those in need along the way, then we have missed out on our true calling. 

 No One Should be Impoverished Because of Our Business Methods 

 We can’t take responsibility for other people’s poor choices, but the way we do business should not be forcing others into bankruptcy.   

 Perhaps this starts with the way in which Christian employers treat their workers.  Figuring out what is an appropriate level of pay and benefits to provide for workers is important.  Obviously, funds are limited, and small businesses have to be able to at least break even in order to survive but seeing workers do well is more important than becoming wealthy. 

 More than that, as businesses deal with customers, it seems that charging higher rates of interest because that’s the market rate, or moving to foreclose on someone who is struggling, but trying, is not a Christian way of dealing with this.  Honesty and mercy should be things that we are known for – not for cutting the hardest deal around. 

 Government Involvement Doesn’t Take Away Our Responsibility 

 In many societies, the government offers a variety of services.  These could be things like subsidized health care or food assistance.  There are still many needs that the government doesn’t meet that Christians should help meet. 

 Poor people need help with transportation and getting healthy food.  They often grew up with poor role models and need men and women who are willing to step in and take the time to be a mentor, teaching and modelling skills and behaviors that will help them to improve both their lives and the lives of their children.  There are many other things that these individuals need that no government agency can help with and Christians can try to meet these needs, as well. 

 It seems to me that many Christian people are good at giving money to Crisis Pregnancy Centers but aren’t so good at giving their time and talents to make a difference.  We can do better. 

 Christians Must Serve God in Any Economic System 

 I like the (somewhat) capitalistic system that we have in the United States, but it is also the only one that I have really known.  I would argue that the US doesn't even have "true" capitalism, because the government taxes its citizens to fund roads, schools, and some degree of subsidy for the health care of older citizens and poor citizens.

Knowing what I know about human nature, it doesn’t matter what economic system we live in, there will be challenges when it comes to serving God within that system.

 Maybe the challenges will simply be the desire for material things and the conflict that results when we need to decide if we will buy something for ourselves or minister to the need of someone else.  Maybe the challenge will be in our need for personal security and the conflict that results when feel like we don’t have enough money in the bank to really feel secure and yet, there are needs around us. 

 In a communistic society (there aren’t many true communistic economies left on earth), there is a challenge of how to meet the needs of others when you simply don’t have enough yourself.  In such a scenario, you probably end up giving time, abilities, and effort to others, because you don’t have anything else to give. 

 What is certain is that Satan will try to do whatever he can to keep Christians from glorifying God and ministering to the needs of those around them.  He will get us to rationalize away reasons that we should help others and get us to be self-focused and self-absorbed. 

 Some things have changed since Old Testament times, but God’s expectations of His people hasn’t changed.  He sent them into captivity because of their oppression of the poor and today, He tells us the same thing. 

“What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8) 

 I pray that we could do better.  That the church, as a whole and us as individuals within it, would act with justice, humility, and mercy all our days.  For that, is what the Lord requires of us. 

And let it begin with me.