Category: The Christian Life

Piles of Penalty Revenue

 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
(Psalm 146:7,9)

Are conservative evangelicals good at personal piety but unconcerned about systemic wrongs? Based on today’s verses from Psalms, I contend that a policy that is deliberately designed to funnel money from the worse off to the better off is unbiblical and should concern us.

Recently Wells Fargo admitted that between 2002 and 2016, it “falsified bank records, harmed the credit ratings of customers, unlawfully misused their personal information and wrongfully collected millions of dollars in fees and interest.” 1

Wells Fargo sales representatives, egged on and threatened by their bosses, told customers taking out car loans with them that they were required to buy car loan insurance. This was a lie: there was no such requirement. When that happens, does God hold “the corporation” responsible or the individuals who, out of greed, set the bogus policy? And who should be punished? The bosses who set the policy? The sales reps?

The penalty so far: A fine of $3 billion. And that’s not the last case against Wells Fargo.

God opposes rip-offs of all kinds but the biblical prophets and Psalms have a special ire towards those who rip off the poor.

Consider astronomical late fees on credit cards — charges that far exceed what the delays cost the credit card company. Remember when every credit card, not just the exclusive ones, had an annual membership fee? The annual fees on regular cards have disappeared while the past due payment penalties skyrocketed. So now ironically, those living paycheck to paycheck who can least afford it are huge drivers of credit card company profits and those who can most afford it get a free ride.

(And don’t get me started on overdraft fees on checking accounts………..)

Many argue these issues can be solved with an increase in regulations. But isn’t the real problem here a culture of greed? Can we legislate greed away? Can a company squeezing out every last penny from its poorer customers be forced by law and regulation to behave with sense of “social responsibility”? I doubt it.

But let me recommend a program like Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, extremely helpful for those who are trapped in debt. They also have a great online community on Facebook, encouraging each other to follow the steps. Much harder for banks and credit cards to accumulate mass penalty revenue from struggling people if enough folks followed those steps!

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/21/business/wells-fargo-settlement-doj-sec/index.html

 

COVID Running

mind the gap

We sure get a lot of COVID warnings and decrees nowadays!

One decree shut down all our county and state parks. One county park, Tourne, is not too far from the pictured roadside path.  (Long ago, this path was a trolley car route).

The park shutdowns annoyed me.  After all, I have been running in our county for 25 years. And never before did I have someone telling me where I could not go for my run!

So, one weekday at the quiet end of the park, there was no one in sight.  So I snuck around a barricade and ran…. through the park.

But afterwards I did feel a little weird. What if I had fallen down and could not get up? No one would ever find me!

But more importantly I was also becoming a law unto myself, deciding on my own which laws were worth obeying. That’s not really consistent……….with what I profess to believe.

So, I did not run that route again. Thankfully, though, the issue became moot when the county and state parks got reopened.

I am thankful for my solo runs, but I sure do miss group runs. And runners standing shoulder to shoulder waiting for the start of a 5K. And then heading out for postrace beer and pub fare.

We all say the same thing the Psalmist did in Psalm 89 and Psalm 13:  How long, Lord?

Lord knows when. But this will pass.

In the meantime:  Happy running!

How Can I Be Both Perfect And a Screw-Up?

Matthew 5:48 says: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

But at the same time Romans 3:10-11 says:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
 there is no one who understands;
 there is no one who seeks God.

What? The Bible tells me to be perfect, but then it tells me I am a perfect screw-up? How can both things be true?

To answer, I must tell you how much I love the cation words. These are several rhyming words that describe what Jesus did, what Jesus is now doing, and what Jesus will do. Let me start by giving you “cation” word #1 for today: It’s justification. Justification says you do not bear the full penalty for your screwups or moral failure since Jesus took all your blame on the cross! Since Jesus now stands in your place, you can claim this stunning verse:

 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me. (Psalms 26:11)

What? Blameless? Yes, I am:  Christ set me right with God. And his righteousness comes from outside of me, not based on anything I ever did. In Romans 3:22 it says:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

But despite this, I still screw up. What happens when I do sin? Do I just laugh and blow it off since I have already been declared righteous? I don’t think so.

Sam, a missionary pastor who gave a sermon at our church, is a mature Christian who’s served the Lord faithfully in his international organization for decades. Yet, he confessed that he really started to lose it in a discussion at a recent meeting that degenerated into a futile argument.

I admired Sam for being man enough to admit his foul-up in front of our whole congregation and for how quickly he got the meeting back on track by rapidly repenting and asking forgiveness.

Why was Sam able to react correctly?

His reaction leads to our other “cation” word today: sanctification. This means becoming more like Christ over time. Ephesians 4:24 talks about progressively growing in sanctification:   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Because I’m striving to walk as a mature man of Christ, I am not planning to yell on the phone at anyone ever again. I am not planning to lust ever again.

But what if I do?

I trust that the Lord will lead me to repent and ask forgiveness more quickly than I ever have before. And that he’ll continue to replace an impatient urge to get my own way with more of the good attitudes that Jesus gives.

I am glad I am not alone in this process of achieving change. I’m in a good men’s fellowship group called Battleground at my home church that is a huge help in this.

Our motto in Battleground is that we seek an authentic experience of God’s word, meaning that we want to not merely put Bible verses into our heads, but to allow those words to change us to reflect the character of Jesus. We confess when we fall short of that and we rejoice when we see the Lord at work building that into each other.

This quote from John Piper gives a great description of what we strive for in Battleground. Each of us is:

a godly man,
who knows he is a sinner, pardoned for God’s name’s sake,
justified by grace, trusting God’s mercy,
depending on God’s Spirit, taking refuge in God’s protection,
delighting in God’s beauty, keeping God’s covenant,
and therefore walking in integrity and honesty and uprightness.1 

What John Piper described cannot be achieved in isolation. In strong fellowship God gives us a solid way to care for and encourage each other to grow to be more like Christ.

May you have fellowship in a group like that, too.
Amen.

1 https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-anyone-really-be-blameless

Be A Blessing

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. (Leviticus 26:3-4)

In the Old Testament there’s a close link between obeying God and material blessing.

But in the New Testament, Jesus does not guarantee that following him gives material blessing. I was not able to find a verse where Jesus says, “if you keep my commands you will have health and wealth.”  So then – we might ask – why should we even bother to obey his commands?

As I reflected on this, I saw that I have too often clung to a secret attitude that I would not admit aloud. I felt really glad that I didn’t need to follow the Old Testament rules; indeed my attitude was “Good —-I know I am in, I am saved and going to heaven. I have a lot of latitude. I’m free to do whatever I want as long as it is not too outrageous.”

But I missed something, big time. Because listen to Jesus — he says 
If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

The more I seek to be driven by love, the more my old attitude of liking to see how far I can push things without sinning gets shoved aside. Now, much better, there’s a push towards loving service.

So what does it look like to seek after a life with a lot of joyful love for the Lord and for people? I don’t think it is the total quantity of one’s good deeds. Some folks simply have a more generous temperament and find it easier to pour themselves out, while others tend towards having a more Scroogelike temperament. I am closer to being an innate Scrooge.

But I can tell you for sure that I am not as much like Scrooge as I would be if I did not have Jesus!

Doing what Jesus says leads to genuine New Testament blessing. This applies especially during our time of pandemic, because now we have a time of material scarcity, not material abundance. A key difference walking with Jesus is being able to experience walking in blessing even when our circumstances are not abundant and fruitful.

You may be familiar with the late great radio preacher Robert A. Cook. At the end of each broadcast he would say: “Walk with the King today, and be a blessing!”  Let’s all join in!