Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

“Arise, My Love, My Beautiful One, and Come Away”


Last Monday, the FedEx driver delivered a package for Christmas, the gift I bought my wife this year. Due to some good fortune, I found that gift for ten percent what it normally cost. We can't afford to have a big Christmas this year, so ninety percent off comes as a real boon.

Since we're literally the last house on the line, the people who built our house needed a power booster box in order for the electric to work right. For some reason they elected to put that box close to the house. When they added a second garage later, the bulky box wound up in the middle of the newly expanded driveway.

Typically, delivery drivers knock and hand me my package. I warn them about the box and all is well. But at Christmastime, drivers hustle, so they don't knock. The FedEx driver didn't, therefore he got no warning from me. You can guess the rest.

Homeschooling got derailed that day as I spent the afternoon contacting all the right parties to ensure that no one got killed from the damaged electrical box. My electric company brought out a crane truck to put the box back in place, then tested to make sure everything was safe.

Jump to this past Thursday morning.

I typically write this blog for the following day after 10PM the night before. Then I date it for just after midnight. For some reason, I wrote "We Need a Gospel That Speaks to Failure" early in the morning on Thursday, then posted it for just after midnight. Unbeknownst to me, as I was writing that post, failure poised to strike the Edelen household.

Shortly after taking a shower that seemed a bit chill, I walked down into my basement to find our hot water heater had exploded. Think how the Tasmanian Devil balloons after Bugs feeds him a cake made out of dynamite, freeze that image at the point of maximum Taz expansion, and you have a perfect image of what our hot water looked like.

Well, I know a man in our church who stood up at a recent men's meeting and declared his plumbing business needed more clients. Being a freelance writer, I know how hard it is for independent contractors to get work. So even though my tendency would be to go with the plumbing company I would typically call, I called the church guy instead.

The thought of another big, unexpected expense heavy on my mind, I contemplated the irony of the post I had waiting to go out later. Of course. Write about a trial; face the trial.

The church plumber tells me when he arrives that it wasn't the hot water heater that failed initially but the pressure regulator on the water line. With no pressure regulation, the hot water heater then blew. He didn't have a new pressure regulator with him.

Now I had a problem.

When you live in a town of 2,000 people, the sidewalks roll up at 6PM. My wall clock read 6:10 PM. To my surprise, a call to the local hardware store reveled they had extended hours that evening—and they had one pressure regulator in stock. Huzzah!

Wanting the job to go as quickly as possible, I told the church plumber that I'd go into town to get the regulator if he wanted to keep working. So my son and I jumped into my truck to head for the hardware store.

Pulling out of my garage, I had to maneuver into a portion of my gravel driveway I never drive over so I could avoid the plumber's truck. By the time I got to the end of my driveway, I noticed my truck handled sloppily. I didn't get 0.05 mile away from home before the thud, thud, thud behind me told me a sad story. Turning around, I limped up the driveway, and found a cotter bolt sticking out of my back tire. Between the tread and the sidewall. Where it can't be repaired. On an expensive 4×4 tire only ten months old.

Merry Christmas.

Oh, the bitter irony that the electrical company's crane would toss a cotter bolt that ended up destroying a perfectly good tire. Oh the extreme bitter irony that I should drive over that part of the driveway in order to get around the plumber's truck. Oh the heart crushing irony that all the money I saved on the item I bought for my wife that the FedEx guy delivered would be more than wiped out by the cost of a new tire.

And Thursday's trial's not over yet… 

{Tonto mode on}

Friday, much filled with appointments. Thirteen-year old spare on truck leak slowly. Ruined tire must be replaced. Appointments must be kept, else great trouble arise. Tire stores in town that can be reached on slowly leaking spare do not have tire. Dan must make dangerous trek over many miles of prairie to procure tire elsewhere, while making many appointments under far less than many moons.

By grace of the Great Spirit, Dan succeeds. Dan very much tired and grinding teeth. Dan not happy with last rising, setting, and rising of the sun.

{Tonto mode off}

I didn't go to church on Sunday. Once a year, for most of the last thirty years, I volunteer for the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. I've been a birder since I was twelve, so I've got a little experience. The local Audubon Society president lives across the street from me, so we've gone out before to count. It's a good time with a friend and neighbor.

While I normally play drums every Sunday morning for worship, I'd already arranged for someone to fill in for me. Most of the Christmas Bird Counts I've done have been the Sunday after Christmas, but different Audubon clubs run the counts differently, so any Sunday over a four week period is possible. The Sunday before Christmas, I'm sure, wasn't the best time for me to be shirking my rhythmic duties. 

I don't miss church very often. I don't like to miss church. I need to be with God's people every Sunday.

The alarm goes off yesterday at 5:20 AM and I roll out of bed. The day is gorgeous, partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-60s—a rare confluence this time of the year in Southern Ohio. My neighbor, Rob, and I head out, eat breakfast with the counting crew, and hit our region to count.

Within hours, all the garbage from the week before drained out of me as I walked through God's Creation. I spotted a beautiful Ring-necked Pheasant and marveled at the power God built into its legs as it sprung into flight. Ring-necked PheasantI considered the Red-bellied Woodpecker's head, so wondrously made that it doesn't give itself a concussion hammering for bugs under tree bark. I watched the Northern Harrier hover in place, then trace lazy circles in the cerulean blue sky. I stood awed at a flock of Starlings twisting and turning in flight, but with no single bird leading the dizzying formation. The perfectly aerodynamic V formation of Mallards. The Belted Kingfisher's plunge into cool waters. The Kestrel's patient hunt for food.

Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings' palaces. Three things are stately in their tread; four are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mightiest among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the he-goat, and a king whose army is with him.
—Proverbs 30:24-31 ESV

I worshiped God outdoors today. Carolina Wrens and Song Sparrows provided the special music. In the power and mystery of God's Creation, I heard the same words the Lord spoke to Job, and I asked myself, Who am I in light of so great a God?

When I walked through the doors of my house, I realized I hadn't considered my troubles all day. And I doubted that a Sunday spent in church would have led to the same release I found from the Creator's sparrows:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
—Matthew 6:26-34 ESV 

Sometimes, God will speak to you apart from the fellowship of believers for a time of special, intimate healing. Listen for that time; this is what He'll say:

My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
—Song of Solomon 2:10-13 ESV 

Then let yourself be swept up in His arms.