Beware of Sure Things

March 30, 2012

While my daily Bible readings were in Proverbs, our local television news did a story on an Internet scam. This Internet company claimed to be located in Grand Rapids, which is why our investigative reporter worked the story. The company supposedly made loans.

A victim in the report told her story. She had applied for a loan of $10,000 but was told to send $1000 to guarantee the loan. This should have been the first clue that something was wrong. Now the $1000 is gone, there is no loan, and the Grand Rapids address is phony. But what made me think of Proverbs was the comment this lady made.

My friend Rose that loaned me the thousand dollars. That was her rent money and now she’s on the verge of being kicked out of her home because we didn’t get the loan.

Proverbs has many warnings about “putting up security” or “making a pledge” for someone else. The longest of the passages is in Proverbs 6:1-5. It deals with the case when you have put up security for your neighbor. It advises “to plead urgently with your neighbor” and “save yourself” like a gazelle from the hunter or a bird from the fowler. Proverbs 17:18 is a good example of the warnings.

One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor. Proverbs 17:18, ESV

Many years ago, I had a man who called the church building. He asked me to bail out his son from the county jail. The man was out of state. The bond was $2000. I didn’t know either of them. At the time, I probably didn’t have the ten percent for the bond available in the family budget, and I certainly couldn’t have afforded to lose $2000 if the son skipped on the bail. I offered to visit the man’s son in jail and help him get in contact with a local bail bondsman, so that he could bail out his son, but I made it clear that I could not personally bail out his son. He didn’t want the help I was willing to offer, which is telling. It is not unkind to say no to what you cannot afford.

That, after all, is the point of Proverbs. It is cautioning us against putting up security, if we think we will never be asked to pay it, because we are legally and morally on the hook for the loss. If you can afford the loss and are willing to put up security that may be a different matter. You must count the cost and be able to afford the loss.

The Rose of this story no doubt was told that this was a sure thing. Her money would be back before her rent was due. Beware of sure things.

Correcting the Divorce Rate

March 23, 2012

I have to admit that I’ve said it. After all, I had read it in some reliable sources. What is this erroneous statement? “Christians divorce at about the same rate as the world.”

Now that doesn’t mean the numbers are good, but a couple of studies suggest that the oft repeated statement that divorce rates for Christians are the same as for outsiders is wrong. Professor Bradley Wright of the University of Connecticut found that 60% had been divorced in the group that rarely attended church versus 38% had been divorced among those that regularly went to church. W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia found that active conservative Protestants were 35% less likely to divorce than those with no church affiliation and nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20% less likely to divorce than secular Americans.*

It seems that faith does matter in keeping our marriages intact, and it suggests that the stronger our faith the better the results. In other words, just saying we are Christians doesn’t necessarily help. I’m glad for the studies that are correcting the divorce rate myth about Christians. But what is even more important is that faith is the way of correcting the divorce rate!


Course Corrections

March 16, 2012

Do you make mistakes? I do, and I don’t think I’m being presumptuous to say that you do also, since it is a part of the Bible’s teaching (see 1 John 1). The question, then, is how do we respond to correction. Take, for example, the case of Peter.

Peter has the mountain top experience of confessing to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Yet, when Jesus begins to teach about his death and resurrection, Peter is overconfident enough to rebuke Jesus. Jesus responds, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not intent on the things of God but on human things.” (See Matthew 16:13-23.) The words had to have hurt. Peter finds himself as the embodiment of the Tempter attempting to thwart God’s plans. Peter makes a course correction and embraces the things of God.

Peter weeps bitterly after denying Jesus three times. He had made the audacious boast that if everyone else falls away, he would never fall away. Peter claimed he would die with Jesus and never deny him. So after breakfast following the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (See John 21:15-17.) The three questions correspond to the three denials. In fact, Peter is grieved by being asked the third time. Gone is the bravado. When Jesus asks, “Do you love me more than these,” Peter answers with a simpler, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” With each affirmation of love, Jesus gives Peter a task: feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep, and feed by sheep. Peter makes a course correction and expresses his love for Jesus.

But despite Peter’s growth and display of great courage in the first persecution of the church, Peter is still capable of making a mistake. While in Antioch, Peter withdraws his table fellowship from Gentile Christians when certain men from James arrived on the scene (Galatians 2:11-14). The issue is table fellowship. Jews did not eat with Gentiles, and these Gentile Christians were not circumcised, so the traditions about table fellowship were wrongly upheld by some. What is striking about this is that Peter was the one who made the first Gentile convert and had to defend his actions in Jerusalem. Paul doesn’t give Peter’s response to correction, but I think given the rest of the New Testament, we can assume what it was. Peter makes a course correction and affirms the gospel as revealed by God.

Lead me not into temptation is, of course, our prayer. But when mistakes happen, may the destination to be with Christ be so important, that we humbly, quickly, and joyfully make the necessary course corrections.

A Minority of One

March 9, 2012

It was a classic social science experiment. A test subject was placed in a room with seven fake test subjects who were in on the experiment. Each was asked to tell which of three lines was the same length as the sample line. There were no optical illusions. The test was simple. The fake subjects went first and gave the wrong answer. One-third of the real test subjects went along with the wrong answer at least half of the time. The control group had virtually no errors. The researcher noted: “The critical subject — whom we had place in a position of a minority of one in the midst of a unanimous majority — faced, possibly for the first time in his life, a situation in which a group unanimously contradicted the evidence of his senses.”*

We all face the pressures of the group. Not all group pressures are bad. Sometimes they may be neutral. Most of the people I meet on a daily basis are wearing clothing styles that fit this time period. I’ve not seen many leisure suites or Nehru jackets lately, and young people will probably need Wikipedia to know what they are.

Sometimes group pressure may exert a good influence on us. I’ve lived for decades in the loving influence of the church. As Hebrews notes, this fellowship can stir up one another to love and good works.

But all of us will face moments when we must be the minority of one in the face of a majority that is wrong. In some ways, it may be helpful to know that such things happen, so that we can be mentally ready when we face the challenge. Even the Law of Moses warned of such situations:

You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice… (Exodus 23:2, ESV)

How do we know when we must go our own way and be a minority of one? Does what the group wants violate our conscience? Is this majority going against objective truth — what we see with our eyes and detect with our senses? Is this majority going against the revealed truth of scripture? If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, then we are being called to be a minority of one.

What helps us in this situation? We must consider God’s approval to be more valuable than human approval. In the long run, God’s side is always the winning side, even when we are forced to be a minority of one.

*Marlin Karlins and Herbert I. Abelson, Persuasion, 2nd ed., pp. 43-44.