Monday, January 30, 2012

The Blessing of Debt?

I know that the subject of debt is a controversial topic within the Christian community.  My thoughts on the subject are that debt causes one to be in a master servant relationship with the debtor and the Bible says you cannot serve two masters.  Additionally, tithing becomes an issue because when you are in debt as you are essentially borrowing your tithe.  It makes things a bit of a mess, and I’m sure God is not as black and white as this as the tithe is really a heart matter.  As a full disclosure, I do still have mortgage debt, so I sit in the pit as I offer this judgment.  I hate this debt and wish to be rid of it.  While the home has served us well, I don’t feel that the debt to get into the house has been a blessing.
Recently at church, I overheard a conversation from a person describing the miracle that was their low interest rate on their new car.  I was immediately drawn into the conversation as my own debt experience caused me to shudder.  This person went on to say that they thought they would have to pay a higher rate and that the dealer was so nice to let them take the keys to the car and drive it home that night even though the rate wasn’t locked in yet.  So as they drove home falling in love with their car, they were hoping that a miracle would happen.  And when they came in the next day, it did.  They received the blessing of financing a vehicle over several years with interest.  First of all, the dealer did no favor to the couple by letting them drive home with the car before a contract was signed.  They were simply duped.  The dealer knows that if they let you fall in love with the car, you will become emotionally attached to the thing and will be less prudent when you come in the next day to negotiate the actual loan.  The finance manager did not need to wait to get approval.  If that couple said they were going to walk out and find a place that could get them approval, he would definitely have found the approval for the loan right then and there, but that is a side note.    
The message that was spoken by this couple was that through that process, God blessed them with this newly financed vehicle.  Since I don’t believe God bless through debt, I asked myself instead, was this an attack by the enemy rather than a blessing from God.  I believe it to be the ladder.  Does God bless us through bondage or freedom.  A financed blessing is bondage, not freedom.  This bondage will affect this couple’s finances, ability to bless people, and affect their marriage.   From my personal experience, I can remember how excited I was to get a car loan to get that blessing of a car.  That blessing turned into curse.  Similarly, while having my house is great, because I am in debt, I cannot easily sell my house and buy one that better fits my family’s needs.  We are stuck in a small box because we are upside down in our loan.  Did God bless me with this stress, or is only through His grace that I am able to deal with my mistake.  When my wife and I learned our lesson about debt, we truly were blessed with a car.  This car was wholly given to us with no bondage.  It was the most beat up vehicle I have ever driven, but it was my favorite car because it truly was a blessing.  The two vehicles we have purchased since then have also been a blessing as we bought them outright.  They have worked out great and come without bondage.  When I compare the feeling I had with any vehicle I have financed compared with the feeling I have had with unfinanced vehicles, I can easily say where I truly felt blessed, and where I felt enslaved.   What if the loan didn’t cause too much hardship at all, could that loan be a blessing.  I think in that situation, you have to ask yourself what would have happened if you lost your job.  How would you view that car loan in that circumstance.  If I owned a car outright and lost my job, I would absolutely call it a blessing.  If I had an outstanding loan, I would likely lament the loan.   I can think of nothing more American than the Americanization of blessing, as only in America would we call debt a blessing.  We live in the kingdom of God not of America, so let’s parse out our blessings accordingly.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Prodigal Son in the Entitlement Era

This parable is one of the most well-known of those told by Christ.  The parable is about two sons relationships with their father.  The younger son decides to take his inheritance early, disgracing the family.  He squanders the money and ends up tending pigs.  As he can go no lower, he decides to seek after his father’s forgiveness.  As the son has turned back to the father, the father removes his shoes and runs to greet his son that has returned home.  The son offers to do works for the father, but the father lets him know that there are no works needed, all he had to do was come home.   The father puts a ring on his finger and robe on him.  He has the finest calf slaughtered for a banquet to celebrate that the son has returned home to the father.   Now this parable is actually more about the obedient son’s response to the father than the rebellious sons, but that isn’t the point of this article.   Rather, I am postulating on what might the younger sons response have been after he squandered his inheritance had he lived in an entitlement or safety-net society. 
Suppose this happened today.  The son is penniless, perhaps he impregnated a girl, or fell into drugs.  Maybe he invested the money in day trading and lost it all.  In today’s society of entitlements and bailouts and safety-nets, what would compel a son to return to his father.  The answer is very little.  Because the individual has a diminished impact on the consequences of their decisions, they are able to eek out an existence through government redistribution.  The purpose of such redistribution came about as people felt the government was the best place to turn to in order to support those that couldn’t support themselves through circumstances out of their control.  However, as all government programs do, it evolved to help minimize the ill effects of poor decision making by people that the elite have deemed incapable of making wise decisions.  So why would the son turn back to the father if the government is in his way. 
The importance here is that turning back to the father is not about moving back in with your parents, but turning back to our Heavenly Father.   The parable is then also flipped when it comes to the older sons response.  In the bible, he is angry that the father has welcomed his brother back.  First, the ring, the robe, the calf, and any future property bestowed on the younger son comes out of the older sons inheritance.  He has been a good son following all of the rules.  He is angry at his father’s decision to welcome his son back as he doesn’t see the equity in it.  The older son does not go to the banquet, and his response to his father’s request for him to come is left to the reader to conclude.  This parable is about relationship with our Father.  He values relationship by offering forgiveness, and he demonstrates that he prizes relationship over works.
In the entitlement era, you could look at the taxpayer as the older son.  The taxpayer does not get to have the Father relationship issue dealt with in that instead of the Father giving away his inheritance to the younger son, it is Rome coming in and taking it from both the Father and the older son to give it to all wayward sons.   The matter is no longer about the older son choosing relationship with the Father because what the father would do is removed from the equation. 
We know that Christ would have us act out of compassion.  There is no doubt of that.  But that compassion was never to come out of coercion through taxation and redistribution.  If God simply wanted all the poor to be provided for, he would do it himself.  Instead, in this fallen world, he is looking for people to choose on their own to provide for their fellow man as an act of love.  And for those that are destitute, he wants them to maintain their faith in God as the provider.  Tell me how there is room in this equation for a Christ loving people to use the power of the government to act where God himself does not.

Pit Bull Mauls Jogger in Chicago

My worst nightmare was realized this last week by a jogger who was mauled while jogging lakeside in Chicago.  A 62 year old man was viciously attacked by a pair of pit bulls that "treated the man like a steak".  Police ended up fatally shooting one of the muscular beasts, to which an owner is unknown.  Anyone that knows me knows that I like to run.  They also know that I do not like dogs, especially when I'm running, and of all dogs, I like pit bulls the least.  I know dog owners defend their precious pooches as having the same rights as I do, but the last I checked, God made me and not dogs in his likeness, and he gave man, not man and dog dominion over the animals.  Translated, that means I have more of a right to jog than a dog owner has to let their 'well-trained" dogs off of their leashes.  I also question anyone that finds beauty in animals that are bred for their bite efficiency.   One bad moment for a dog like this means the end of a person's life as they know it.  Anyway, I'm just rambling because I get so worked up about these stories.  Maybe I should stop the daily news feed for pit bull attacks.