More Than 700,000 Served

The local suburban weekly newspaper featured the headline, “More Than 700,000 served.”  The opening paragraph noted that the local school district’s food program “will take a break for a week or two next month after a busy spring and summer.”  The accompanying photo caption began, “Cars line up at Northglenn High School July 17 to collect three days worth of meals,” and noted that the school district food service had been providing the meals to students and their families since schools in the area closed due to COVID-19.  The photo showed three late-model SUV’s lined up as they approached the tent to receive the hand-out meals.

“We went from giving out cold sandwiches in March, blended in April and May with hot entrees served daily and now we’ve gone to frozen meals they can finish at home,” said an administrator.  Later, the article noted that “Families line up drive-through style, picking up several meals per person–lunch for two days and breakfast on Mondays and Wednesdays.  They pick up more meals on Fridays, enough to get each student through the weekend.  They’ve even added a mobile option, with a bus leaving each high school headed to more remote areas.”

I was incensed.

A few months earlier, I had a similar reaction as local television featured similar stories, one showing busses heading out to hand out lunches, another a woman and her kids standing at the door of what appeared to be a comfortable home receiving meals.  I might have a different reaction if this were merely for several weeks during the virus shutdown, but that is not the case.  Months earlier, before the virus shutdown, the school district’s “mission creep” had included expansions of their feeding program.  Full-day kindergarten had been mandated by the state and introduced at the beginning of the school year.  Always more taxpayer-funded programs, always a bigger role for the government and the government schools.

The school district never seems to have enough funding, asking for more property taxes almost every election cycle.  Understanding that much or most of the funding for the massive food giveaway is from taxes the Federal government has taken, not just taxes from local property owners, one still must ask why government handouts have to be the source of food for every lower- and middle-economic class family.  When I was growing up, we were far from wealthy, but I took a sack lunch TO school every day.  I ate breakfast and dinner at home, and during the summer there was no school food program.  Dad, and later Dad and Mom went to work to provide for our needs.  They taught my brother and I by example how to be responsible, how to provide for our own needs, how to work and save.  Our children did not go to the government schools, but did not go hungry – my wife and I worked to provide for them.

Children resident in the United States should not go hungry.  America is an exceptional nation, divinely blessed with a favorable climate, almost limitless natural resources, millions of square miles of arable land, and an economic system unequalled in history.  We have the capability to produce far more food than we consume.  But what kind of lesson is being taught to children when the government and school district become their source of every basic need?  Why do productive people bother to work, send increasing amounts of their earnings to government, only to have government redistribute it to others purely at the whim of government?  If one wants more, just riot and demand more; this has become the understood message that is increasingly accepted.

Wealth is productivity – productivity brings wealth.  This is true of individuals, it is true of nations.  People cannot look to government as their source of material goods; it will ultimately bring poverty, loss of freedom, and ruin.  Individuals must use whatever opportunities and advantages that may be available to them and become productive.  The American system offers tremendous opportunity.  This concept has been lost; far too many with a sense of entitlement and aggrievement look to government to provide for their needs.  No need for personal responsibility, no need for marriage and family, no need to work and save, just demand more from government; this has become widely accepted in society.  That philosophy will bring ruin.

The Bible is filled with exhortations as to the responsibility to work, to be productive, to provide for one’s own needs and the needs of family.  Compassionate giving, sharing with those in need – absolutely; that is the spirit of Christianity.  But it is not at all compassionate to facilitate dependence on charity or on government.  It is ruinous – to the individual, and to the nation.

Wealth, Productivity, Riots, and Demands

The Bible has much to say about work, material wealth, and prosperity.  In the Ten Commandments, God clearly affirms personal property rights.  “Thou shalt not steal.”  “Thou shalt not covet.”  What is mine is mine and not yours; what is yours is yours and not mine.  We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture of the importance of hard work and personal industry.  Proverbs 14:23 tells us, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”  Throughout Proverbs we read of the importance of personal responsibility, work, saving and investing, providing for family, and doing so honestly.  Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  Elsewhere Paul reminds, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Ephesians 4:28).”

          

My father grew up in poverty.  He was born in a small town in Nebraska, the youngest of four children, and I don’t recall him talking about his childhood much.  His grandfather who homesteaded land in Nebraska was from a line of ethnic Germans who had lived in Russia and eventually migrated to the United States. My grandfather was an alcoholic; he didn’t want to farm and so sold whatever land he inherited, even as other relatives became successful farmers.  My grandmother had mental issues and likely suffered from schizophrenia.  Dad remembered that as a child he had picked up coal along railroad tracks to burn for heat at home, and his family had lost electric service on occasion for failure to pay the bill, and was even evicted a time or two.  Dad didn’t finish high school.

My mother wasn’t much better off.  She grew up on a small farm in the next county north, on land that her grandfather had homesteaded after the Civil War.  My parents met and married when Dad was working with a crew laying brick pavers in the streets of the town where Mom lived.  They married months after Mom finished high school, and Dad worked for a short while at an armaments plant leftover from the Second World War era.  The facility closed, and employment opportunities in the area were limited at best.  Dad’s sister and family had moved to an area just north of Denver, and with some promise of a job from my uncle, my parents moved to that area.  They secured a tiny rental home – better described as a “shack,’ of perhaps 500 square feet.  The hoped-for job didn’t materialize.  Dad got a job in a parking lot in downtown Denver behind a department store, where he worked when I was born.  He eventually secured a position working in a warehouse where he worked for more than two decades, even as physical maladies made it difficult for him to be on his feet all day on a warehouse floor.  The folks were able to buy a better house, all of 750 square feet, shortly after the birth of my brother.  It wasn’t much by today’s standards, but it was theirs.  Dad went to work – every day.  He lived within his means.  We never went hungry.  Mom stayed home with us when we were small, and eventually went to work for J.C. Penney for a number of years.  The family’s standard of living rose, and by the time of their deaths the folks owned their home and left an inheritance for my brother and me.  We sold the little house after Dad died.

My parents inherited – nothing.  They were handed – nothing.  Dad and my aunt paid on an insurance policy for years so that there would be money to bury my grandmother, who they had brought to Colorado.  When the area where they grew up offered limited opportunity, they moved to another area.  They never collected any government assistance.  They never received any charity.  “Welfare” and “food stamps” were epithets, terms of derision in our house when I was growing up.  They worked, saved, and lived within their means.  They married, before I was born, and remained married until death.  Starting from nothing, they provided a good life for themselves and for my brother and me.  They made lemonade out of the circumstance of lemons they had to work with.

A few months ago I participated in a memorial service for an elderly lady.  Her life story is fascinating.  She was born in Silesia, then at the southeast corner of Germany, shortly before the Second World War.  When the war ended, the area was annexed to Poland, and her family was given hours to simply vacate their house.  With only what they could carry, they eventually made it to the western zone of occupied Germany.  She met a young man coincidentally from her home region, who had been drafted into the German army.  They eventually married and came to the United States.  They became successful and raised a family.  They too made lemonade out of lemon circumstances.

A friend of my wife’s mother has a similar story.  A young girl when the war ended, her ethnic German family became refugees.  They came to the United States with nothing, but took advantage of opportunity.  This woman and her husband, also an ethnic German, raised a family and successfully operated a small business.

What are the common threads here?  Seeking opportunity and working to overcome circumstances.  Relocating to a place of greater opportunity when necessary.  Willingness to work.  Personal responsibility.  Marriage and fidelity to marriage and family.  These things produce success.  None of these people viewed themselves as victims.  They didn’t have time to grovel in their circumstances; they were too busy working.  I don’t have confidence that my Dad ever became a Christian, and don’t know that all of the others referenced here did either.  But the life pattern that they followed was rooted in Christian principles and brought them success.

I got a job the summer after my junior year in high school.  It did not require any great genius, but I merely had to get up early, go to work, and do my job.  I was able to return to the job, summers and on Saturdays, throughout the rest of my educational career when I was in-state and at home.  My brother also worked various jobs during his youth.  We both funded much of our own college expenses.  We developed a work ethic that enabled both of us to have successful careers.  Today, too often suburban males spend their adolescence “working with their thumbs” playing video games, watching their cellphones, or watching movies and sporting events.  I have observed that the landscape crew for my HOA is staffed by Spanish-speaking adults, likely Mexican or Central American nationals.  During my youth, those landscape crews were staffed by American high school or college-age youths.  A summer or two, my brother had a brutally hard job for a small concrete contractor, handling large panels assembling and disassembling forms for basement and foundation pours.  Today, those jobs are largely staffed by immigrants.  In many inner city areas, youth are both unemployed and unemployable.  They are too often the children of unmarried teenaged mothers who themselves were born to unmarried teenaged mothers and have no understanding of any sort of a work ethic.  They are easy recruits for those who would incite them to riot and destroy and demand more taxpayer benefits while never actually doing what it might take to secure employment and progressing to a better life.

          

Wealth comes from productivity.  Wealth is not created by governmental redistribution nor is it created by government fiat, by government creating money out of thin air to give away to perceived victims.  American prosperity comes from the fact that Americans are the most productive people on the planet.  The best form of government recognizes personal and property rights, fosters opportunity, and furthers productivity.  Our system of capitalism and free enterprise does that and has done it well.  But for significant portions of society, that work ethic has been lost..

Property rights are absolute and are key to developing personal prosperity and furthering prosperity in a society.  I have no right to destroy the property of others or to destroy community property.  Exodus 22 explains this principle under the Old Testament economy.  We all have a responsibility to work and provide for ourselves and our families.  My ancestors worked brutally hard – farming in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was no picnic.  My Dad performed manual labor.  My career has required me to perform not manual labor but intellectual tasks, and I have saved throughout my career and now have modest savings in various instruments that provide capital to companies that employ people and provide necessary goods and services. Scripture enjoins us to provide for our children, and to teach them a trade, or by extension in our era, to provide for education, to set a positive godly example, and if circumstances allow to provide capital for their use.

          

As Christians, we are above all called to use our means for the honor and glory of God.  We are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  Wealth is not to be hoarded, and we are not to find our satisfaction in amassing material wealth.  We are to give.  We are to consider ourselves as stewards of whatever we may possess and give of our resources in submission to the lordship of Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.   (Matthew 6:25-33)”

Paul wrote of our proper attitude toward “things.”

Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world,  and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  (I Timothy 6:6-10)”

 

The Importance of History To A Nation And To The Christian

I recently read “The Pioneers,” a new book by noted American writer and historian David McCullough.  Subtitled “The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” the book recounts the story of early settlers in Ohio following Britain’s ceding of the Northwest Territory lands and the adoption of the Northwest Ordinance by the American congress in 1787.  At the end of the book is a short section called “Why History,” an excerpt from the acceptance speech McCullough gave for an award in 1995.  He remarked,

“We, in our time, are raising a new generation of Americans who, to an alarming degree, are historically illiterate.

The situation is serious and sad.  And it is quite real, let there be no mistake.  It has been coming on for a long time, like a creeping disease, eating away at our national memory.  While the clamorous popular culture races on, the American past is slipping away, out of sight and out of mind.  We are losing our story, forgetting who we are and what it’s taken to come this far.” . . .

“Everywhere in the country there are grade school and high school teachers teaching history who have had little or no history in their own education.  Our school system, the schools we are responsible for, could rightly be charged with educational malpractice.” . . .

“History shows us how to behave.  History teaches, reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for, and what we ought to be willing to stand up for.  History is–or should be–the bedrock of patriotism, not the chest-pounding kind of patriotism but the real thing, love of country.”

To the extent that education occurs in the government school systems today, there is a critical failure to emphasize important academic subjects such as literature and language, civics, and history.  Professional and technical subjects are often the focus; we hear much of STEM–science, technology, engineering, and math.  Other liberal arts subjects are often thought of as not interesting to today’s students, not relevant, not practical to their daily life.  The study of history has increasingly been replaced by all sorts of studies thought to appeal to aggrieved groups and that in reality are nothing more than the advancement of progressive agendas.

The loss of an understanding of and an appreciation for American history has brought us to a dangerous point.  American exceptionalism is denied and even ridiculed by many, if not most, in academia, the media, and in the political sphere.  The brilliance and heroism of the Founders is ignored and denied.  The founding documents of the nation are not appreciated for their unique value and the wisdom they contain.  Our national heroes are dismissed for their perceived imperfections.  Recent immigrants often seem to expect immediate equality of outcome, attributing failure to achieve overnight success as racism, rather than understanding that America has never guaranteed and cannot guarantee equal outcomes, only a degree of equivalence of opportunity.  My own ancestors, descended from legal immigrants from Europe in the early nineteenth century, benefited from the Homestead Act as they moved West, but otherwise knew nothing of guaranteed outcomes or public welfare.  They and their descendants endured failure and backbreaking labor for decades before achieving any degree of success.  But they enjoyed the benefits of freedom and opportunity.  The United States has many blots on its history, not to be ignored or minimized, but that does not change its exceptional role in the world.  One notes that immigrants continue to seek entry into the country, but few choose to leave.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  Recently he wrote,

“In their radical progressive view—shared by billionaires from Silicon Valley, recent immigrants, and the new Democratic Party—America was flawed, perhaps fatally, at its origins.

Things have not gotten much better in the country’s subsequent 243 years, nor will they get any better—at least not until America as we know it is dismantled and replaced by a new nation predicated on race, class, and gender identity politics agendas.

In this view, an “OK” America is no better than other countries. As Barack Obama once bluntly put it, America is only exceptional in relative terms, given that citizens of Greece and the United Kingdom believe their own countries are just as exceptional. In other words, there is no absolute standard to judge a nation’s excellence.

About half the country disagrees. It insists that America’s sins, past and present, are those of mankind. But only in America were human failings constantly critiqued and addressed.

America does not have to be perfect to be good. As the world’s wealthiest democracy, it certainly has given people from all over the world greater security and affluence than any other nation in history—with the largest economy, largest military, greatest energy production, and most top-ranked universities in the world.

America alone kept the postwar peace and still preserves free and safe global communications, travel, and commerce.

The traditionalists see American history as a unique effort to overcome human weakness, bias, and sin. That effort is unmatched by other cultures and nations, and explains why millions of foreign nationals swarm into the United States, both legally and illegally.

These arguments over our past are really over the present—and especially the future.

If progressives and socialists can at last convince the American public that their country was always hopelessly flawed, they can gain power to remake it based on their own interests.”

Partly as a result of a lack of appreciation of our past, American society is in decline, dangerously so, and is deeply divided.  Professor and author Walter Williams noted in a recent article in “The Daily Signal” that

“A society’s first line of defense is not the law or the criminal justice system, but customs, traditions, and moral values. These behavioral norms, mostly imparted by example, word-of-mouth, and religious teachings, represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error.  Police and laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct.  At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society.  Today’s true tragedy is that most people think what we see today has always been so.  As such, today’s Americans accept behavior that our parents and grandparents never would have accepted.”

                                                                                  

Remembering American history is critical to our nation.  Perhaps more importantly, we as Christians need to remember our history.

It has been suggested that the evangelical church needs to “unhitch” from the Old Testament.  We need more of the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, nothing of the Ten Commandments, it is argued.  Increasingly, evangelical churches feature TED talks and motivational speeches referencing a Bible story or verse in place of preaching and teaching from Scripture.  Many churches no longer talk of doctrine and eternal truth, emphasizing topics like relationship advice, achieving prosperity, success, love, acceptance, and affirmation.  Church services feature contemporary entertainment in place of distinctively Christian congregational singing of music that centers on doctrine, sin and salvation, Who God is and what He has done for us in Christ.  Children are entertained and taught benevolence and environmentalism, not the Bible.  After all, the church needs to be “relevant.”  We must give people what they want and think they need if we are to attract them and help them to have a better life.

But for the church to truly be the church, to do what we have been commissioned to do, to present the gospel and disciple people, to teach them how they should live in light of the gospel, we must systematically preach, teach, and adhere to the Bible.  All of it.  And that of necessity is a study of history.

The Bible, though recorded over several centuries by a number of human authors, is a unified story of the Divine plan for humankind from creation to the end of time.  The Bible tells us where we came from; it teaches us about creation and our origin; it answers the questions as to the meaning and purpose of life.  It teaches why God created us and it shows us Who He is to the extent that we can understand Him.  The Scriptures tell us of the origin of sin, God’s offense and righteous anger at our sin and rebellion, and help us to understand why things are the way they are in a world after the Fall.  The Scriptures explain the necessity of salvation and tell us the story of our redemption, the unfolding of the divine plan for human salvation from the Fall through the centuries culminating in the Cross.  And it tells us how we can each individually enter into eternal life through the atonement Christ has made for our sins.  He did not live merely give us a lot of really good philosophy and advice.  In space and time, in history, God in Christ entered into the world and endured torture and death on a real Roman cross and bodily rose from a real grave as the One perfect and acceptable sacrifice for human sin.

The events recorded in both Old and New Testaments are real, historic events.  They happened in space and time, and it is important to remember this and consider the context that this gives to all that Scripture teaches.  The Bible is not merely a book of musings, a collection of inspirational writings.  We are not asked to empty our minds in esoteric contemplation or meditation; we are asked to fill our minds with Scripture, thoughts and words rooted in history.  The Old Testament gives us an important context for understanding the life of Jesus and his teachings.  When we understand the Judaism of Jesus’ time and the history of the Jewish people, we can better understand the New Testament.  When we remember these things and understand something of the Roman empire and the world in which Jesus and the disciples lived, we can better understand the books of the New Testament.  The New Testament and the Old Testament are writings inspired by God, and they are also rooted in history and record events that really occurred.

The pastor of the church I attend preaches Scripture, systematically, in context.  He does not deliver motivational speeches propped up with out-of-context passages from the Bible, designed to appeal to a particular demographic, designed to attract people looking for something inspirational and relevant to their perceived needs.  Currently, he is preaching an extended series on Sunday mornings, preaching the book of Isaiah.  But while he is preaching the book, he is not merely teaching a course in history.  He is teaching vital truth, relevant to the timeless needs we all have.

The ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote some eight centuries before Christ.  During Isaiah’s lifetime, the apostate northern Jewish kingdom of Israel with its capital at Samaria was conquered and destroyed.  Judah, the southern Jewish kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital, was repeatedly threatened, and knew periods of decline as well as periods of revival and faithfulness to God.  In the background was the ancient superpower of Assyria, who conquered Israel as well as other kingdoms in the region and repeatedly threatened Judah.  If one is a typical prosperous American looking perhaps for a little religious inspiration, entertainment, or life coaching, the response might be, “So What?  Who Cares?”

But the book of Isaiah contains much that is completely relevant to the real, timeless needs that we all have.  The divinely inspired prophet Isaiah spoke many prophecies that were fulfilled in his lifetime, prophecies that were fulfilled in the following decades, and prophecies of the Messiah that were fulfilled centuries later in Christ.  We learn that we can trust Scripture when we observe these fulfilled prophecies, and we understand that just as these events happened exactly as Isaiah predicted, so will events still future be fulfilled just as Isaiah foretold.  We learn that God is sovereign, ultimately in control in the affairs of man, and we thus learn that we can trust Him in our life.  Isaiah warned the kings and people of his day against sin, exhorted faithfulness to God, and reminded them of the results that would follow; and just as he foretold, repentance brought deliverance, sin brought judgement.  We would be wise to learn and heed this principle.  Isaiah warned Judah against alliance with surrounding kingdoms in a bid to stand against Assyria, and records both the pronouncement of doom and the fall of those kingdoms.  Even powerful Egypt suffered defeat at the hands of Assyria, confirming the words delivered by the inspired prophet.  We would do well to remember that our hope is not with the petty solutions and worldly wisdom that might appeal to us, but when an overwhelming circumstance threatens us, our help comes from the Lord.  Old Testament history records an amazing deliverance by God when an Assyrian army threatened Jerusalem.  Tens of thousands of the invaders died in their sleep; the surviving army was forced to return to their homeland.  The Assyrian empire ultimately fell just as Isaiah prophesied, replaced by Babylon just as Isaiah prophesied.  Judah ultimately was unfaithful to God and fell to Babylon, just as Isaiah prophesied, Babylon rose and fell just as Isaiah prophesied, and the Jewish remnant returned to Jerusalem, just as Isaiah prophesied.  God preserved the Jewish nation through whom Messiah would come; God was faithful to His ancient promises.  Secular history confirms and aligns with these events recorded in Scripture.  The accounts and sermons of the Old Testament prophets are powerful, timeless, and supremely relevant.  Keep the motivational speeches and inspirational talks and entertainment; I prefer to listen to the timeless lessons of Scripture that are firmly rooted in verifiable history.

When Jesus bodily rose from the grave, he taught his followers for some forty days before ascending into heaven and declaring that one day he would return.  His disciples began to declare the gospel to their world; the story of Christ and the gospel began to spread and was widely believed.  Luke, Paul, John, and others under inspiration penned the New Testament books, which record verifiable history that helps give context to the theology, doctrine, and teachings conveyed in those writings.  For some two thousand years, the gospel has been declared, shared, believed, studied, and loved by millions.  The world has been completely affected by Christianity and by Christians who have been transformed by the gospel.  History confirms this.  The sacrifice of martyrs–from the Twelve and other early disciples to those in our day who still give their lives–to those who have lived under persecution or who still live under persecution, are the historic heritage of the faith.  Some heroic, most anonymous and ordinary, history tells us of countless individual Christians who have lived their faith and left us stories of great inspiration and example.  We do well when we study the history of the church.  It is our heritage, and we profit from knowing it as surely as Americans profit from knowing, appreciating, studying, and learning from our national history.

Development of a Christian worldview is supremely important, and we do that through knowing and understanding the Scriptures.  They are our foundational documents.  The Scriptures record for us the truths, doctrines, philosophy, and the timeless information God has given us for life.  In churches and individually, we must be committed to the Bible.  It is “malpractice” and worse when a church does not teach Scripture.  It is sin when believers do not read, study, believe, and practice the teachings of the Bible.  Through the Bible, we are inspired, comforted, challenged, instructed.  The Scriptures are “the words of life,” giving us the gospel and giving us the plan and purpose of God for our lives.  We cannot fully understand the Scriptures until we understand that they are true in total, recording real events, and we are prepared to learn from that history.  We must constantly remember them as our founding documents, and remember above all our allegiance to Christ the Founder of the historic orthodox Christian faith.