Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What’s In Your Wallet?

The house of the righteous contains great treasure; but the income of the wicked brings them trouble. Proverbs 15:6

A popular TV commercial poses the question, “What’s In Your Wallet?” What type of purchasing power resides in your billfold? When reading Proverbs 15:6 this thought occurred to me: the righteous and the wicked can amass great fortunes and have completely different experiences. The words great treasure and income both mean material possessions, money, wealth, etc. God is not opposed to people being rich. Abraham was God’s friend and was a very wealthy man, 2 Chronicles 20:7, Genesis 13:2. When given a choice, Solomon selected wisdom above everything else available. The result of his decision; God rewarded him with great riches, 1 Kings 2:13. Even Jesus needed a treasurer, John 4: 5-6.

A study of Israel’s founding as a nation showed everyone, rich or poor, tithed ten percent; the original flat tax. All were encouraged to help those less fortunate. The recipients and the amount of aid given were at the benefactor’s discretion; not mandated by law. Charitable giving was preferably done in small amounts spread out over a large population. In most cases these were loans not handouts. Many years ago I read “This Is My God; The Jewish Way of Life” by Herman Wouk. He made a statement to the effect that the Jewish mindset is that no one is ever too poor that they cannot give to someone else in need. That thinking would serve our world well today.

The point is this: it’s not what you have; it’s how you get it. In a recent post “Payback Is Hell” the consequences of returning evil for good was discussed; not a pretty picture. When I read Proverbs 15:6, the word “income” jumped out at me. My thought was “in-come….incoming missile.” In my mind’s eye I saw the vapor trail and explosion as the ordnance hit its target. What the wicked draw to them has trouble attached to it. Is breaking the rules; running roughshod over people; taking no prisoners and looking out for Number One really worth the price of admission?

Before entering the Promised Land, Moses gave the Israelites a refresher course in their covenant with God. Their behavior determined if they were blessed or cursed. The Western world largely discounts curses, relegating them to material for Hollywood horror movies. Other cultures like Haiti, with its ties to voodoo, take curses seriously. Deuteronomy 27 shows these are no figments of the imagination but real, powerful dynamics in the spirit realm. Our “sophistication” has left us wide open and vulnerable.

At this point in their history, Israel was a cashless society. Income and wealth was determined by livestock, possessions and after possessing the land, crops raised. Anything acting as a unit of currency was affected by one’s behavior. Deuteronomy 27:15-26 lists the actions of a cursed individual. A common theme found in all is selfishness. He/she’s actions benefit only them at the expense of others; the means justify the ends. It’s sad to see someone truly oblivious to the consequences looming as they travel down a path to destruction. It is heartbreaking and tragic to see those who understand fully and still don’t care.

“When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expects from his power comes to nothing” Proverbs 11:7.
Nothing, no thing, zero, zilch, nada; this is a harsh reality to wake up to in eternity. The wicked not only are compensated for their actions eternally, but also experience repeated troubles that hit hard during this life. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. God’s offer to change our life and be blessed is always on the table. The converse of Proverbs 11:7 is the righteous die and see their hope fulfilled. Their wise use of power in this life produced greater results than they realized.

Does Capital One have it right? Perhaps “What’s In You Wallet?” is something for us to consider. Do we wish its contents to be a target for blessings or for heat-seeking missiles of trouble? The choice is ours.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NYC Another Sodom? Food For Thought

“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…” Isaiah 58:7

If you ask the average Christian why Sodom was destroyed they will likely cite the story of Lot and his visitors found in Genesis nineteen. Is that biblically correct? For sure, Sodom’s version of the “Welcome Wagon” wasn’t a chorus line of cheerful citizens singing “Getting to Know You” from The King and I. Forcible gang rape was the welcome mat laid out for poor strangers (verse 5). Lot’s offer of his two virgin daughters, another story in itself, demonstrates the mob’s true intent. The girls were wealthy women, the type of people Sodom wanted to attract. Their uncle, Abraham, was exceedingly rich. Along with three hundred of his household servants, Abraham defeated the king of Sodom (Genesis fourteen). Mess with his family, and Abraham was a force to be reckoned with. Sodom’s sexual immorality was infamous and labeled the reason for the city’s downfall. This didn’t help their cause, but it wasn’t the primary problem. Ezekiel, the prophet, brought this correction to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable thing before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Ezekiel 16: 49-50
Historical background from Josephus and the Chumash shed light on Sodom’s dark side. Plain and simple, they were greedy. Sodom was a prosperous city that welcomed those who added to the bottom line not take from it.
“To discourage newcomers, however, the Sodomites institutionalized state cruelty, so that it became a crime to feed a starving person or offer alms to a beggar. Even the sexual perversion for which Sodom is notorious was employed to keep visitors away.” Chumash
How does NYC fit into this picture? As a closet urbanite living in the rural South let me state for the record, I love New York and other major metro areas. Big cities for me are exciting and energizing. I’ve highlighted NYC but it, including others like my hometown Philadelphia, are falling prey to Sodom’s mistakes. In March of this year www. newyork.cbslocal.com posted this story. Over a twenty year period, Glenn Richter collected and distributed two tons of food to shelters throughout the city. One morning Glenn received surplus bagels from Ohav Zedek synagogue. To his surprise the shelters refused the food. Why? Glenn couldn’t provide the salt, fat and fiber content of the bagels. NYC passed a law prohibiting food donations in an attempt to “monitor salt, fat and fiber eaten by the homeless”. Food suitable for purchase and consumption by those who could afford it was deemed unsuitable for those who couldn’t!
For over two years my husband and I cooked and served a bi-monthly dinner to the hungry and homeless at our church in Florida. We can’t recall anyone questioning the calorie or fiber content of the food. There were a few complaints about the sodium level; it was too low. At times our guests declined the meal based on personal preferences and tastes. They were perfectly capable of determining what was best for them.
      The law in NYC and other cities appears to me to be less about the health and welfare of the poor and more about chasing them away. Remove opportunities to get a meal and the hungry will have to go somewhere else, assuming they can afford to do so. If not, they can resort to crime in order to eat or starve; neither an acceptable solution. Fortunately, the level of physical violence the Sodomites perpetrated on the “undesirables” hasn’t become a standard operating procedure in our cities when dealing with those in need. Sodom’s example of outlawing assistance to the poor is cropping up all over our nation. God said that He took note of Sodom’s actions and personally repaid them. He is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Will He overlook our same treatment of those in need?
      I’m not saying hellfire and brimstone is about to start falling.
“He who is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done”.  Proverbs 19:17
Our nation is facing economic problems of global proportions. Countries, including our own, teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and governments keep printing more worthless money. The kingdom of God is financially sound; recession and depression proof. Perhaps some of the answers and resources needed to solve our problems are withheld due to our treatment of those less fortunate. This Thanksgiving, as Mayor Bloomberg and other city officials around the nation, sit down to a holiday meal with all the trimmings, how many individuals and organizations will have to choose between obeying the law or feeding the hungry? That’s food for thought.

If you wish to read the article here is the link

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Payback is Hell!

“If a man payback evil for good, evil will never (emphasis mine) leave his home.”
Proverbs 17:13

If there ever is an incentive to treat others fairly, here it is; the “Golden Rule” on steroids, containing ominous implications. There are repercussions and they’re hand delivered by family members. Perhaps the intrigue and devastation rampant in the royal family inspired Solomon to pen this verse. Incidents in the life of his father David, the king, proved payback is hell.
2 Samuel 11 contains the familiar story of David and Bathsheba. In her defense, Bathsheba had no choice when summoned to the palace. She mourned her husband’s death, (verse 26) hardly the action of a harlot. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was a loyal soldier in David’s army. She had just completed her monthly ritual of purification, in other words, she wasn’t pregnant (verse 4). Her encounter with David changed that. A surprise impending birth announcement set off a chain reaction of events to cover up the king’s indiscretion and opened the door for evil in the royal household (verse 5).
David loved God passionately. Confronted by Nathan, the prophet, David confessed and repented (verse 13). Assured of God’s forgiveness, David learned there’d be consequences for his actions. “This is what the Lord says; “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you…you did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel’” (2 Samuel 11:12).
The first tragedy was the death of the son born to David and Bathsheba. “Because of doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you shall die”( 2 Samuel 12:14). David’s actions negatively impacted his enemies’ impressions of God. This still happens when Christians fall. What we do touches lives of people we don’t even know; a sobering thought.
            The heartbreaking death of the innocent child was the beginning. 2 Samuel 13 recounts the incestuous rape of Tamar, David’s daughter, by her step-brother Amnon. When informed of the incident, David was angered, but did nothing. Tamar’s brother, Absalom was also enraged. I believe David’s lack of response to Tamar’s rape provided fertile ground for a root of bitterness to develop in Absalom. Biding his time, Absalom waited to exact revenge for Tamar’s disgrace. Under the guise of a party for the royal household to celebrate sheep shearing, Absalom crafted a plan and had his step-brother Amnon killed (2 Samuel 13:28).
            The murder of his son severely strained the relationship between David and the unrepentant Absalom. After a self imposed exile, Absalom elicited Joab for assistance in gaining access to his father the king. Joab’s refusal resulted in Absalom burning his fields; what a guy! Even reinstatement in the palace was insufficient. Absalom spent four years carefully plotting his coup. He endeared himself to the people and, “stole the heart of the men of Israel (2 Samuel 15:6). Declaring himself king, Absalom openly rebelled against not only his father, but also against God’s anointed. A showdown was inevitable and in the battle Absalom died.  
Absalom wasn’t the only son who tried to grab the throne from his father David. Adonijah attempted to set himself up as king of Israel and failed (1 Kings 1: 24-25).
David sinned, repented, received forgiveness and still suffered consequences. We can learn from his mistake, heed the warning in Proverbs 17:13 and govern our lives accordingly. Our actions have repercussions and payback really is hell.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jerk The Slack Out Of My Chain, Please!

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge”
Proverbs 23:12

As I unpack scripture I learn there’s so much more than what meets the eye. When I added this verse to my list of potential blog subjects, I noted that our minds and logical reasoning abilities were excluded. Much of the bible and God’s methods of operation defy human rationale. I was surprised to learn the word instruction used here meant discipline, correction or chastening (no fun in any of those). The writer exhorts us to wholeheartedly pursue this type of instruction. We, however, are prone to do the exact opposite and skirt those issues.
Over the years I’ve slowly learned to appreciate and even seek out God’s correction. He faithfully administers it in a timely manner. Often His touch is so gentle it takes time to realize that I've been rebuked. The other weekend is a perfect example.
By late Friday afternoon my frustration level was through the roof. As a day trader, this past year has been my worst ever. I've been behind all year. Trying to trade while treading in a sea of red ink is mind numbing. After missing several opportunities for profitable trades, I had to walk away.
I'm also in the midst of a large landscape project, laying down pine straw mulch. On flat surfaces the job is easy. On steep inclined embankments it’s a challenge and a workout. As I struggled to secure the mulch I grumbled and complained to God. I was upset. I asked for His help and felt ignored. I reminded Him of promises that are still unfulfilled. I whined about watching people who don’t know or love Him prosper while others, like me, seemingly get the short end of the stick. “It’s not fair, God”, I told Him, “You said in Malachi 3:10 that we can test you in the area of finances.” I stopped short of telling Him that in my opinion He flunked. I didn’t need to say a thing; He knew the thoughts and intents of my heart. I spent two hours throwing a pity party and no came but me.
            Physically and emotionally exhausted, I looked toward heaven and said, “God, I’m wrong. Will You PLEASE correct my thinking?” Suddenly the heavens opened, angels descended and a heavenly voice spoke words of encouragement – NOT! Nothing happened. Initially, I wanted to scream, “I knew it, I knew it. Ask for help and all I get is dead air.” Wisely, I kept my mouth shut, dismissed that thought and listened.
            Friday passed without a word. All day Saturday I consciously stayed tuned to hear His voice – silence. In the midst of the Sunday morning sermon my prayer was answered. My pastor made a statement to the effect that whatever has our focus and attention also has our devotion. Ouch, that jerked the slack out of my chain. I was centered on the problem not on God. I placed my losses in a position of pre-eminence over Him. I was fixated on the problem and not on the one who has and is the solution. God’s gentle rebuke came through loud and clear. He showed me the root of the problem. I needed to repent and think differently.      
Going forward I get to daily choose what I’ll dwell on: God and His unlimited ability or my circumstances. It would be wonderful if my brain could be set to autopilot, disengage all thoughts of what isn’t working, concentrate on Him and what He can do. Everyday I’ll have to decide where to focus my attention and then reap the harvest of those thoughts. God won’t make me do what is best for me, He respects my free will. Can my thoughts change my circumstance? I believe they can. Will I take God’s correction and apply it? That remains to be seen.