Thursday, June 30, 2011

Judging the Poor 

We have been studying Micah in our Bible study here in Limon (audio available here if you're interested). The main thing Micah has been rebuking Judah for is that the powerful, whether economically or politically, oppress and exploit the poor. It might even be better, rather than "the poor", to say middle class, since those that are being oppressed are losing houses and farmlands. Micah describes their actions as being like cannibalism in Micah 3- they strip the meat off God's people, break the bones, and throw the meat in the pot. God's judgment against them will be fierce, the prophet says.

With that in mind we read Psalm 72 this morning and there it says that the just king (prophetically speaking of Christ) will "judge the poor" and protect them from deceit and violence. This gave support to what I've often thought, that what the poor primarily need from the government is justice. They need to be protected from the strong in society, who too often take advantage of the weak to enrich themselves.

Instead, what we have in our society is a political class that buys votes with welfare programs, in the guise of caring for the poor. This actually accomplishes the opposite of what they say. It weakens the poor, as it makes them dependents of the government that they think is there to support them. It destroys their independence and takes away their ability to be protected from oppressors. If the government would simply work to ensure justice and equity for the politically weak in our own nation, it would do far more to ensure prosperity for the poor than any welfare program would ever do. Amos 5 says that justice would water the land like a river.

As it is, tax money and privileges are diverted to politically favored classes. The government decides who can work and for what wages. Licensing, regulations and labor requirements create barriers to entry that protect the big corporations from competition from startups, so that fewer and fewer players control more and more of the production of the country. Everyone suffers as a result, except for the privileged few, and the poorest suffer the most. They're bought off by welfare programs so that they don't recognize that the very people they keep voting for are the very people exploiting them and impoverishing them. Just like the communist party members in Russia who said they were the vanguard of the proletariat, the protectors of the people, but for some reason were the only ones who had their own cars and got to shop at private stores that were always well stocked with western goods while the people all had to wait hours in line just for a loaf of bread. Socialism in every form has been nothing more than a smokescreen for exploitation of the poor and middle class, for the enrichment and empowerment of the elite liars who say they care about the people.

Economic injustice is like a drought on the land- it destroys the productivity of a nation. But justice waters the land like a river.

Update: A related presentation by the Koch Foundation. Economic Freedom and Economic Justice are just two different ways of saying the same thing, unless by justice you mean redistribution- which is the opposite of justice, theft.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How I Left HP 

The last post made me remember something funny about my time at HP. I had been invited to come out to Limon and work as an intern at the church here. I had one year left to go at New Geneva before I had my M. Div. I told the guys at the church here that I was going to stay there at HP for another year and save up money while I finished my degree before going into the ministry. But that next quarter due to some poor decisions that I and others made at HP, I had a very bad quarter financially. So I decided that God was probably telling me it was time to move on, and I told the men at the Limon church that I was ready to take the call.

Later I found out that one of the men in the church here had prayed that I would fail at HP so that I would come out to Limon. I am not sure what exactly to make of all that, even today. But I am not at all sorry I came out to Limon.

The rewards of work 

I just found out yesterday about an old friend of mine that recently got a big promotion. This man was a good buddy from back in the Hewlett Packard days. We started at HP at about the same time, and held the same position for quite a while, selling computers and related products to small and medium businesses. He got his first promotion a little while before I left HP to begin the ministry, a promotion that I might have gotten too except everyone knew that I was probably not going to be at the company very long, since I was planning on going into the ministry. This was 8-9 years ago. My friend has been at HP the whole time, and is now in a very good position, making (presumably) very good money. He didn't tell me what he made, but when he told me the revenue he's responsible for, I imagine he's doing just fine. I was responsible for about $2 million in sales my last year at HP, and his number is now in the billions.

I told Andrea this yesterday, and she said, "Is that hard for you?" And I thought about it, and I think I can honestly say that it isn't. Sure, I wouldn't mind making a lot more money than I do as a pastor. Who wouldn't? And of course there's no guarantee I would have done as well as my friend has done- he's an extremely motivated, hardworking guy with lots of talent and fits very well in that kind of environment. But I had been successful at HP already, and I'm sure that had I thrown myself into that career I would have risen in the ranks. Perhaps not quite as fast as my friend, but still. That it would have been more money is undeniable.

But we made our choices. I wanted to go in the ministry, and I always knew that the financial rewards were not as high as many other fields I might pursue. But there are a lot of different kinds of rewards for the work you do. I'm not going to paint myself as more virtuous than my friend for the choice I made- I'm deeply grateful that there are guys like him in industry who are effective at keeping our economy running. His work facilitates the industry that makes this blog possible, among many other things. I am glad he is rewarded well for the work he does. I am rewarded for the work I do in other ways. Financially my church is generous to me. They are also appreciative of the work I do. I get the privilege of being involved in some very good and very bad things in people's lives, and yes, both are a privilege. It is an honor to be invited into very private matters with people, things normally only family would know about. I find that humbling and gratifying. I get the opportunity to spend a lot of time studying things I find very interesting and profitable. I get paid just to socialize with people, just to see how they're doing.

There's lots of ways to be rewarded for the work you do. Money is just one of them. Work truly is its own reward- to do things that are useful to other people and improves their lives, however that happens, is something that will bring pleasure to us when we learn to recognize what God created us for. When you are doing work that is valuable, then you will be rewarded for that work, in various ways. My advice to young people wondering about this question of work is to find work that people value and that you find satisfying, and the reward will come. It may take a while to get there. Sometimes the need to pay the bills trumps it. But find value in whatever you are doing now, and invest in yourself and your situation so that you can improve your ability to earn a living in ways you find more satisfying. Do this and you will never have to worry about being rewarded for your work. The rewards, financial and otherwise, will come.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Better a poor man's dinner, with love 

Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, Than great treasure with trouble. 17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, Than a fatted calf with hatred.

This proverb has been on my mind a good deal lately. It is one of those sayings that seemed very obviously true when I was very young and first read it. Of course love is better than riches! All the songs say so. But as I grew older I saw how very difficult this truth becomes in the application.

It is so common to give all of our attention to the earthly concerns. Paying the mortgage, getting the oil changed, paying off the credit cards. Besides money, we concern ourselves with so many other concerns like our health, our entertainment, or our jobs. Yet Proverbs is pointing us to the fact that the greatest needs of humanity are spiritual needs, not physical. Love for God, love for our neighbor- these things are far more important than what we eat.

An automobile requires gas to run at all; when we first started driving we learned that truth very quickly. We got good at always putting gas in the car; the feedback for failing to put in gas is immediate. But oil is important too, even if less obvious. If you fail to put oil in the car, it might not be immediately clear, but the result will be even more catastrophic.

Our human relationships don’t usually require the kind of immediate attention that our stomach does. We have to eat every few hours and if we don’t, the feedback is immediate. But we can neglect our spouses or our children sometimes for years without really paying attention. And with God, it’s even more true. People go about their lives paying no attention to God at all for years or decades without really noticing. But the cost cannot be ignored forever; eventually the bill comes due, and then we find that the cost of neglecting the spiritual aspect really is very high. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?

Sometimes it is the not-so-obvious needs which are the truly important ones, which is why the Bible reminds us of this so often. Tend to the relationships in your life. Tend to the people in your life that you love; the benefits may not be immediately obvious, but are nonetheless real. Even more importantly, tend to your relationship with God, for the benefits of that relationship are eternal.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31, 33)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sermons on Hebrews- Book project 

I am planning on making my sermon series on the book of Hebrews available as a book. I am going to do this, Lord willing, in serial format, publishing a few sermons at a time in Kindle format. This allows me to keep forward momentum on the project instead of having to do it all in one big chunk. Each sermon takes a fair amount of work editing and formatting, so this allows me to do this project a little bit at a time, and to gauge interest.

My plan right now is to publish two sermons at a time for the Kindle, for 99 cents. When all of the sermons are done (about 60), I will publish them all together, hopefully in both Kindle and hard copy formats. There will probably be two volumes of sermons in hard copy. The first two are available now, from Amazon.

If you're interested in this project but would like to see the sermons published in some different format than Kindle, please let me know.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Love rather than Wrath 

From John Calvin's Institutes, book III, ch. 2, par. 20-21:

But it is especially our conscience itself that, weighed down by a mass of sins, now complains and groans, now accuses itself, now murmurs secretly, now breaks out in open tumult. And so, whether adversities reveal God's wrath, or the conscience finds in itself the proof and ground thereof, thence unbelief obtains weapons and devices to overthrow faith. Yet these are always directed to this objective: That, thinking God to be against us and hostile to us, we should not hope for any help from him, and should fear him as if he were our deadly enemy.

To bear these attacks faith arms and fortifies itself with the Word of the Lord. And when any sort of temptation assails us- suggesting that God is our enemy because he is unfavorable toward us- faith, on the other hand, replies that while he afflicts us he is also merciful because his chastisement arises out of love rather than wrath. When one is stricken by the thought that God is Avenger of iniquities, faith sets over against this the fact that his pardon is ready for all iniquities whenever the sinner betakes himself to the Lord's mercy.

Emphasis mine. I find this quote extremely comforting and I hope it is to you too. When we are faced with temptations, we often think the real battle is the battle to resist that temptation, a battle which we lose over and over. But Calvin here shows that the real battle is what comes after we give in to temptation, which is the temptation to think ourselves despised by God and under His wrath. This is compounded by the fact that God's discipline often follows our failures, a discipline that we in our unbelief confuse with punishment. But punishment arises out of wrath, and discipline arises out of love, a distinction that makes all the difference in the world. When we confidently lay hold of God's love for us, which He promises will never leave us, then we can be patient with and even rejoice in God's discipline, knowing that only our good is in mind. We must constantly "betake [ourselves] to the Lord's mercy." The real battle is always the temptation to doubt God's mercy and grace on the sinner.

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