Friday, April 26, 2013

It Pays Off

My father is one of the hardest working people I know.

A blue-collar jack-of-all-trades, he's done everything from delivering newspapers at 3:30am to renovating floors at 11:30pm. He's owned his own small remodel business-on-the-side for most of my life, while working as a truck driver, sheetrocker, a framer, a warehouse manager, a mill-man in a lumber yard, a hand-gun safety instructor, and general construction worker. He and my mother worked as custodians for the private school I attended as a child, so that they could off-set our tuition costs, he was an unpaid youth pastor for a time, and he's been on the volunteer fire department for more than 10 years.

If income was based on hard-work, my father would be a multi-millionaire.

Unfortunately, though, that's not how wealth works.

Sometimes hard work just doesn't seem to pay off.

Despite what many boot-strap conservatives say, it is not necessarily those who work hard that get ahead. Sometimes, that hard work pays off. Sometimes, by savvy, scrimping, and no small amount of luck, those who work hard are able to amass sizable savings. These are the Rockefeller's, the Fords, the Walton's, the Jobs', the Gates'.

It was never that way for my family, though. My parents have always found themselves in that unfortunate limbo of lower-middle class, with too much money to qualify for government aide, but not nearly enough for anything other than surviving. Not that my parents would ever have applied for any sort of government assistance. They've always been prone to the belief that God would provide for their needs in His own time. In addition, they believe that the pay-off is, in fact, there, but not necessarily measurable by dollar signs.

In contrast, there are those in this world who are extremely wealthy, and have done very little actual work for their money. Those who've inherited fortunes, those who have had some lucky break or other, inventing the right thing at the right time or taking off the right amount of clothes for the right price, those who've made fortunate investments, won the lottery, found some treasure, married the right person. We all know who they are. These people are not necessarily dishonest. However, they haven't really worked for their wealth. They more or less happened upon it.

I was recently perousing facebook, when I saw this comic: 

Of course, it's sort of humorous, but it mostly makes me angry. 

Not because I'm a Socialist. I'm not. I'm a Christian. That can sometimes be a confusing distinction, what with all the charity, grace, forgiveness, and community-mindedness. However, I do not believe in a forced leveling of the proverbial playing field. I do believe that charity is something we are compelled to do, though. In view of God's great mercy and grace towards us, it's a fairly natural expression of gratitude. I also believe in hard-work, and in being paid a fair wage for a good days' work. On principle, I agree with half the sentiment in the above comic. 

My problem is with the condescending assumption that people on government assistance are lazy takers, attempting to get as much as they can for free. It's the idea that those in need must be slackers... and the fact that that just isn't necessarily true. 

Are there people who take advantage of the system?  Of course. 
Are there people who take food stamps and then use their paycheck to buy drugs, alcohol, electronics, and other luxury goods?  Indeed.

However, there are also hard-working people out there, who no matter what they do, just can't seem to get ahead. Those people are reluctantly getting government assistance, and using it to feed their kids. And when they read or hear your blanket generalizations of disdain, demeaning the poor, and deriding the needy, all they hear is hate. 

It's worse when this attitude is expressed by Christians. 

Is this how you were treated, believer, when you were a beggar at the gate of grace? 

Does God condescendingly grant you mercy, all the while grumbling that He wished you'd just work harder?

Or do you not understand just how needy you are? Do you suppose that your hard work and morals make you rich in the Kingdom as well? 

Remember that our Lord said that "it is more blessed to give, than to receive" (Acts 20:35) , and "blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). Remember also that the Apostle Paul described your condition well, saying "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Or do you believe that you are saved by grace, but have worked for the rest yourself? Remember that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of Heavenly lights" (James 1:17).

Am I suggesting that you joyfully surrender your property to the government, so that they can do with it or give it away as they please? No. Not really. My hope is to encourage you to have compassion on those who are less fortunate than you.

I also want you to remember that ultimately, everything you possess has been given to you by the Lord, from your granola bar, to the job that paid for it, to your very life. None of it is really yours, and in the end, you won't be able to take it with you. This life is but a vapor. Everything we have, we should see as not only a blessing, but as a tool - given us by God for work in His Kingdom. We should ask ourselves, "How can this [thing] help me to better love my neighbor, encourage my brother, serve the body, or bless my family?" Your home, your car, your television, your electronic devices, your pets, your yard, your food - all these things are tools at your disposal to help you to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do (Eph. 2:10).

Our care for the poor and those Jesus calls "the least of these" is one of the things that marks us as disciples. The grace we extend to others, whether they deserve it or not, points outsiders toward the God of grace who loved and forgave us who were definitely undeserving.

Besides, we have better and lasting possessions - eternal life, peace with God, adoption as children, yea, even Christ Himself.

So, I suppose that, in the end...

It really does pay off.


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