LET IT SNOW!

What is snow? It is frozen water, composed of delicate and beautiful little crystals. When enough of these flakes accumulate and the temperature remains below freezing, we have snow. Austrians love snow and excel in winter sports. The tourist industry thrives on snow and ski resorts love to brag when they have more snow than others.

Please, NO Avalanches!

In the winter of 1998-1999, Austria and other parts of Europe experienced the heaviest snowfall in history. What was at first considered a boon for tourism, soon turned into a nightmare. More than seventy persons were killed when thundering avalanches ripped through several Alpine towns and villages.

Many witnessed the devastation of homes and cars caused by these avalanches on television, but few paused to consider that this constituted only a small part of the problems created by heavy winter snowfalls. The avalanches destroyed entire forests, which of course represented a big loss for the lumber industry, but even more serious was the loss of these natural barriers against avalanches. Strong trees make the best avalanche hindrances, but when they are destroyed, artificial, less effective barriers must be built at great cost to tax payers. These are no deterrent to mud slides however, and the latter are likely to increase without sufficient vegetation. It takes many decades to grow a new natural barrier against avalanches - if the young trees manage to survive until that goal is achieved.

An avalanche that thunders into a river can also cause flooding capable of wiping out entire communities in just a few minutes. Heavy snows often lead to spring flooding. This occurs to some extent even when snow melts gradually, but sudden high temperatures or heavy rainfall can cause record-breaking floods – and these elements coincided to do just that in the spring of 1999!

The Dangers of Affluence

The above observation led me to consider the inherent dangers of what many call “the American way of life”. Most of us delight in the good things of life and we never seem to get enough. But although we successfully achieve and accumulate the things we cherish, these seldom satisfy and we want more and more. Much of what we purchase become mere possessions. We may occasionally use them, but often enough, our things just lie around until we tire of them and conduct a yard sale.

Most of all, we like to “get something for nothing”. We are bargain hunters and the magical signs that read “SALE” and “--% OFF” make our pulse beat higher.

I live near Route 40, which leads to the most popular tourist attraction in America -- the casinos of Atlantic City! Ten thousand gamblers a day frequent the gaming tables and slot machines, hoping to strike it rich.

The heroes of modern young people are not productive workers, great inventors, capable leaders or those who made great sacrifices to assure our freedom and prosperity. The kid’s heroes are those who become extremely wealthy with little or no effort.  Heirs of great fortunes, pop musicians, movie stars and athletes lead the pack, and for ghetto kids, it may be the drug lords they idolize.

Americans and Western Europeans enjoy unsurpassed and unprecedented wealth and luxury. The poorest among us are better off than the wealthiest citizens of third world nations and the most affluent members of past generations could not have imagined the life style we now enjoy. Even the legendary wealth of King Solomon pales in comparison to what we take for granted. He had no television, stereo, telephone or computer. He didn’t drive an automobile with air conditioning and navigation system. He didn’t have electricity and never flew in an airplane. The list could go on and on.

I am not critical of people who treat themselves to an occasional luxury or spend some of their hard-earned money on a hobby. God didn’t intend for those beings created in his own image to hole up in a secluded monastery, depriving themselves of life’s pleasures.

In 1984, I purchased a small 12’ sailboat. I saw it advertised on a bulletin board in the shopping center for $150 and without even asking my wife, I bought it! When Verna saw what I had bought, I vainly sought a plausible explanation for my “sinful” acquisition, but all I could come up with was, “I always dreamed of having a sailboat and this one was so cheap!” Then, a fellow missionary asked how I would justify owning such a luxury to our supporters. I had not really given it that much thought. It was perhaps the devil, who gave me an answer which silenced my accuser. We didn't own a TV, so I argued that his television set had cost more than my boat and that he spent more time watching TV than I would ever spend sailing. That silenced my colleague, but I was still uncertain about whether I did right in purchasing a boat.

I actually prayed about the matter, promising God to sell the boat if he wanted me to. I got his reply immediately right out of the pages of the Holy Bible during my personal daily devotions. In Matthew 14:22, Jesus “constrained” his disciples to go sailing! When Jesus and the disciples were weary of ministering and the throngs of people gave them no peace, they went sailing – for rest and relaxation (Mark 6:31-32)!  Jesus lived most of his life in Capernaum on Lake Galilee. When saddened by news of the cruel martyrdom of John the Baptist, Jesus went sailing. We have records of his preaching from a boat and sleeping on a boat. The Apostle Paul also went sailing, but Luke says he at times preferred walking (Acts 20:13).  That doesn’t surprise me when I read about his harrowing experiences at sea!

For a majority of us in the western hemisphere, the extraordinary has become boring and the lust for more and better never seems to be satisfied. 

Good things cease to be good when they are not viewed as God’s endowment to us. That which he has entrusted to our care should be wisely invested for eternal profit. The snowball effect which begins with possessions leads to obsession and eventually culminates in our ultimate destruction.

The rich farmer of Luke 12:18-20 decided to tear down his barns and build larger ones, but God said to him, “Thou fool!” The Bible compares material things with wood, hay and stubble. Even silver and gold are corruptible (I Peter 1:18).

The story is told of a wealthy Christian who was about to die. The man prayed and begged God to allow him to take his wealth with him, but the request was denied. In desperation, he asked to be allowed just one suitcase. God finally gave in, but admonished, “Remember, only one suitcase!” The man sold many of his belongings and purchased pure gold. He stuffed as much as he could into the largest suitcase he could find. When he arrived at the pearly gates, he was totally exhausted and perspiring from dragging his heavy suitcase. St. Peter looked at the suitcase and said, “You can’t take anything with you!” The man explained smugly that God had given him special permission to take one suitcase. St. Peter verified his statement and then said, “Well, I need to check the contents.”  With that, St. Peter opened the suitcase and peered inside. With a puzzled expression on his face, he looked up and said, “You brought pavement?”

When most people die, everything they worked all their lives for is left behind. My parents repeatedly reminded us of that fact. My father was a builder and had a large workshop full of quality tools and machinery. In 1992, his shop burned to the ground and my father died in the fire. One of my brothers, who had taken over the business commented, “And he always said you can’t take it with you!”

That got me to thinking and it occurred to me that when I die, much of what I worked for will be with me for eternity! What an encouraging thought!

Fishers of Men

Peter and the other disciples were fishermen by trade, but Jesus gave them a higher calling. He promised to make fishers of men out of them. In the ensuing three years, they witnessed some of the greatest miracles this world has ever seen. Multitudes became followers of Christ and recipients of eternal life.

Following the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, John tells us in the last chapter of his gospel, that Peter decided to go fishing again. Several other disciples accompanied him. One can imagine that the disciples were quite bewildered by all that had transpired and fishing might have been just the welcome diversion they needed. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples that they should never again touch a fishing pole or net. On one occasion, he even sent Peter out to catch a fish. And he told him that the fish would have money in its mouth, sufficient to pay both their taxes (Matthew 17:27). To my knowledge this has never been repeated in all of church history. If it were a standard practice, the churches would be empty just before April 15th  with a sign on the door: “Gone Fishing!”

It appears likely, that Peter and perhaps the other disciples were seriously considering a return to their former occupation. But the incident in question took place after the resurrection and following personal appearances of their Master! Jesus was alive and well. In the preceding chapter, we read: ...he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

There were many people for whom Christ died, who needed to be netted for the kingdom. Was this a time to go fishing? How would Jesus view Peter’s departure from his higher calling?

The disciples fished all night and caught nothing. When the sun poked its head over the horizon, they dejectedly aimed the boat towards the beach. They were probably thinking, “That was a bad decision!”

Just then Jesus arrived on the beach and called to them, “Toss out the net again, only this time on the other side of the boat!” Although they didn’t know who had called to them, they obligingly followed his bidding and the resulting catch broke all records! Then it was, that the disciples realized who had called to them. Peter jumped overboard and swam to the beach, where a warm but wet embracing likely followed.

After the others arrived in the boat, Peter walked over to examine the nets and the pile of fish. He noted that the nets had not been torn. He counted the fish; “One hundred fifty three, and big ones too!” Perhaps he was thinking, “With Jesus, I can be a successful Christian businessman after all!” But Jesus had other plans for Peter. He called him aside and had a little talk with him about his future occupation. “Do you love me more than these [fish]? I want you to feed my lambs!”

You will note that “fish” is in brackets because I inserted this word. Most theologians tell us that Jesus was instructing Peter to compare his love for Jesus with that of the other disciples present. A number of Bible translations and paraphrases even take the forbidden liberty to add a word and they render it, “more than these others”. The Greek text simply says, “more than these”. I seriously doubt that Jesus would ask Peter to do something which he had forbidden his disciples to do on other occasions (in Mark 9:33-40 for instance). Nor do I find evidence indicating that the other disciples were of more noble character than Peter. They too deserted Jesus in his final agony. If you still disagree with my interpretation, please allow me to make one more case for my contention that Jesus was referring to the fish when he said “these”. Although Peter was bad, the scriptures tell us that he repented, weeping bitterly. You hopefully agree that Jesus forgave him. If so, then why would he bring that sin back to haunt him in a manner which would humiliate him in front of the other disciples? Finally, my interpretation is perfectly logical when we look carefully at the given circumstances.

Get the Message!

Jesus was familiar with financial matters, but his logic was different from most people I know. Many of his parables have to do with finances, investments and stewardship, but there was usually an unexpected twist to the point of his stories. Field workers who only work an hour receive the same pay as those who labor all day. A shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep to search for one that is lost. A poor widow’s penny is worth more than the rich man’s silver. I could go on and on, but most of my readers are already aware of this fact. Even the miracles of Jesus display a values system that is vastly different from that of Allen Greenspan and company, or from any one of us for that matter. He rescues a social outcast that others avoid, but in the process, 3,000 pigs are drowned and he is asked to leave town. At the wedding of Cana, he turns water into wine; twice he multiplies a meager food supply to feed thousands and he heals all sorts of diseases, but never charges for his services. When a woman of ill repute pours perfume worth a year’s salary on his feet, the disciples criticize, but Jesus comes to her defense. People who run a profitable business buying and selling in the temple, are driven out.

Invest in People!

A wealthy American from Cleveland, Ohio, named Brikell once called his son William aside to give him some fatherly advice. He said, "Son, if you want to be successful, invest in land! This world will have more and more people, but land doesn’t multiply. Get land, my son, get land!"

William Brikell took his father’s advice and began investing in real estate. He bought up a large tract of swampland on the Atlantic coast in Florida. After draining and developing it, the land was sold for a handsome profit. That land is now called Miami Beach and the developer became extremely wealthy.

Being a carpenter, one would not expect Jesus to know much about fishing. He might have advised the disciples something like this: "Boys, I want to give you some good advice. You know of course that there is just so much water on the face of this earth. Fish will multiply, but not water. My advice to you is to invest in water! Man can do without fish, but he would die without water. If you want to be successful, buy water!" Or if Jesus was a modern financial advisor, he might recommended that we invest in fish. The world population is on the rise and fish are becoming scarce.

On several occasions Jesus showed that he knew a little about fishing, but he didn’t advise investing in water, fish, boats, houses or land. Life is too valuable for us to spend it accumulating things that rust, rot or get stolen. It was not that Jesus had no respect or use whatsoever for material things. Water was great for short walks and fish came in handy when taxes were due. Olive groves made nice, cool places for personal prayer and boats were good to preach from or sleep in. "If the Lord hath need of it", an upper room, a donkey or even a tomb was temporarily conscripted, but Jesus never owned property and didn’t even have a bed to sleep on. Jesus called on the disciples to leave their boats and nets in order to follow Jesus. Jesus called them to be "fishers of men".

“As American as Apple Pie”

Many of us recall the statement of Black Panther leader, Malcom X, who said, “Violence is as American as apple pie!”. There are hopefully more Americans who like apple pie than those with a hang for violence. Communists equated America with capitalism and much of the world still agrees with this description of the “American way of life”. Certainly, it isn’t fair to generalize and exceptions abound. American generosity and friendliness could also be cited as typical traits, but in recent years, these have been on the wane while greed makes the headlines.

Two types of pioneers settled America. Most immigrants were common people who fled religious persecution and political despotism which was prevalent in much of Europe. In the "old country", there was little or no freedom of speech and worship. Only the elite owned property and had the opportunity to get an education. The first wave of immigrants to America was almost entirely comprised of these people. They came with a small bundle of personal belongings and enough food to get them across the ocean. Packed into ships like sardines in a can, many died during the voyage or soon afterwards.

The second category of immigrants was made up of opportunists who had heard of  America’s seemingly limitless frontiers and dreamed of amassing wealth. Many were already affluent and arrived with steamer trunks full of jewelry and all things necessary for a good life. The possessions they imported now bring exorbitantly high prices in antique shops. Not a few became politicians, wealthy businessmen and plantation owners. Their possessions continued to multiply while slaves did most of the hard work.

America still has these two basic groups of people, but a third group, the middle class, has been added and has become the largest segment of the population. Poor immigrants worked hard, saved and became affluent; while some members of the upper class lost their wealth through lavish life styles and foolish investments. The greed of many plantation owners bled the soil of nutrients. Crops failed and the land became barren.

The hope of amassing great wealth was further diminished when the Civil War ended slavery. Europeans like to criticize Americans for keeping slaves, but it was Europeans who sailed to Africa to get slaves and who sold them in America. And it was European immigrants who bought and kept them in the new world. On the other hand, many Americans gave their lives to free slaves. I am not attempting to shift the blame for this dark chapter of American history, but just want to show that all human beings are capable of atrocities and crimes regardless of their nationality.

Since the Civil War, it has been largely the middle class which made America an economic giant. The middle class was industrious, inventive, educated, charitable and most important, religious. Anyone who is serious about history can easily discover that devout followers of the teachings of Christ made many positive contributions in the development of our nation. Unfortunately, Americans have become strongly materialistic and greedy, producing the “Ugly American”. Even many who claim to be “born again” have become infected with greed. The teachings of Christ have little influence on their decisions and the impact of his teachings are hardly recognizable in their lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ has little influence on many Christians, but even less impact on secular society.

A few decades ago, many businesses were closed on Sundays because Christians supported the “blue laws”. Then Christians decided that saving money was more important than preserving the Lord’s Day and began to shop where prices were lowest. The present outcry of Americans against “outsourcing” is hypocritical as long as their greed instinct is stronger than their sense of right and wrong.

Materialism is Idolatry!

According to the New Testament, obsession with things, entertainment, indulgence, luxuries and the comforts of life are idolatry:

I Corinthians 10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

Ephesians 5:5  For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Colossians 3:5  Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Idolatry has been the downfall of many nations throughout history and it will also lead to the ultimate ruin of America. As already stated, many Americans are religious, but also greedy, keeping a few “holy cows“ in their barns and pastures.

Holy Cows

We all know that over-indulgence leads to obeisance, but many fail to look beyond this immediate and obvious result of over-eating. The lack of restraint in consuming food and neglect to maintain a healthy diet lead to a greater risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, ailments of the liver, stomach, intestines and other organs. Overweight persons generally have less energy and therefore get little exercise. Physical obesity weakens our resistance to disease and infections. Improper eating habits and the consummation of junk food has been linked to the breakdown of our immune system.  The stress placed on vital organs causes them to malfunction or over-react. Taking medicine or drugs to cure one malady often leads to health problems in another part of the body. TV ads sell unhealthy, but tasty and easy to prepare food, and because we buy and eat, we are unhealthy. So TV advertises all kinds of medical remedies which we also buy. 

Even as I write these words, the radio is reporting on a young woman who won $1,500,000 in a lawsuit (actually only half that amount, because her lawyer got the rest) by suing her High School basketball coach. The crime? Her coach told her she had to lose weight if she wanted to stay on the team. In the very same news broadcast, the government reports that obesity has become the number one cause of death among American youth. Go figure!

I may risk losing some of my readers by saying this, but obesity is a holy cow in our society. I am astounded at how much time and money some people spend in front of their mirrors, attempting to improve their appearance. They spend money for make-up, stylish clothing and fancy hair-dos, yet they do nothing whatsoever about the most obvious blemish in their appearance. And woe to anyone who might draw attention to this fact!

Many more holy cows can be found in just about every area of life. The obsession with sex, including many forms of deviate behavior, knows no limitations and it is destroying lives as well as society. People die of AIDs, unwanted babies are aborted, marriages and families fall apart. In Canada and already in some of our states, preachers who preach what the Bible has to say about sexual sin can be taken to court and imprisoned for perpetration of a "hate crime." Children are the most unfortunate victims. Many are molested, abused or left to fend for themselves.

After years of nurturing the holy cow, tobacco, America finally waged a campaign against its use in public places, but the powerful tobacco lobby may bring about a reversal just as it happened with the prohibition. Too much of anything can be harmful or cause some form of intoxication. Even excesses in religious experience can lead to emotional ecstasy and trance conditions. Certain innovating preachers have capitalized on America’s infatuation with health and wealth, creating custom tailored religions which promise both. 

Greed, self-gratification and over-indulgence are everywhere evident and rapidly approaching the point of no return. The nice cars and homes we see are mortgaged to the hilt and credit cards with high interest rates on unpaid balances are common. The “get something for nothing” quest is still a primary motivator in advertising. Americans are brainwashed by the media and have become incapable of distinguishing between wants and needs. People – including Christians – consume TV programs which they admit are not worth watching and which openly espouse godless philosophies. Scenes which would have repulsed them a few years ago are viewed without batting an eyelash today. And they purchase the products which sponsor these shows.

Sand Castles

Just as Jesus asked Peter to place the Lord’s command above a pile of fish, he also wants us to consider what is important in life. Will we serve him or things? God’s kingdom and what’s right in God’s eyes must be given priority. Then he will take care of “all these things” (Matthew 6:33). Do we really believe those words?

Paul warned the Corinthians about building with wood, hay and stubble (I Corinthians 3:11). Jesus spoke of the wise man who built his house on the rock and of the fool who built on sand. Many if not most Americans are building on sand, both in a real way and metaphorically speaking.

The people of Babel built their tower with bricks and asphalt. Modern skyscrapers are largely of sand! Concrete, glass and aluminum are products of sand!

American geologists discovered oil in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia in 1938, making the world’s poorest nations into the richest. Billions of barrels have been pumped out of the sand to fuel our own economy. In 1974, the Arabs cut back on the fuel supply in order to jack up prices. The western world panicked, and over night big cars became cheap and small cars expensive. Millions of Americans could not get to work or even to a grocery store. We are totally dependant on that liquid gold which is pumped from oil-rich Arab sand.

America’s material blessings are primarily linked to our superior technology. Technology is based on the silicon chip. Silicon is sand. Ultra fast communications depend on fiber optics, also made from sand. With the economy booming, stocks of most hi tech companies began to double or even triple annually. Some experts became uneasy about this development, but ominous predictions fell on deaf ears as Americans continued to buy shares on the NASDAG stock exchange. There was a brief time of nervousness when Americans began to fear what might happen on January 1, 2000. The prophesied worst case scenarios that the two-digit dating method used in early computers were expected to cause never occurred. New Years Day came and passed, and when nothing spectacular happened, Americans returned to building with and on sand.

Avalanche!

Some Americans have became unfathomably rich, but most Americans are content to have a good paying job and live comfortably. Compared to the rest of the world, the average worker's salary is equivalent to great affluence in the eyes of those in other nations. Even illegal aliens have it much better in America.

Unfortunately, an ever increasing number of Americans has become obsessed with obtaining wealth. Many saw their opportunity for easy money in the stock market and for a while, it seemed to pay handsome dividends. In the spring of 2001, however, stocks of the seemingly invincible dot.com and hi-tech companies plummeted into the cellar without warning. The multiplication of wealth came to a grinding halt and many investors lost their shirts. The ripple effect was felt by industry and business across the nation and around the world. 

Nervous investors looked for other ways and places to multiply their wealth. Greedy and corrupt corporate managers began to manipulate reports on earnings in order to attract investors. Then, before their companies went bankrupt, they sold their own shares for inflated prices. The despised Enron CEOs who apparently enriched themselves at the cost of regular shareholders were only doing what many other Americans would do if they got the chance.

It is said that there are only three legal ways to become wealthy today: inheritance, winning a lottery and filing lawsuits. In my opinion, greedy Americans, lawyers in particular, have done more to destroy American free enterprise than any other single factor. There are two certain ways to keep from being sued; remain poor or become a lawyer. The cost of insurance and normal health care have reached staggering heights which only the wealthy can afford. An estimated third of the motorists in my own state of New Jersey are uninsured. A large portion of the price tag for products and services is reserved for law suits. Even when charges could be successfully fought in court, defendants find it simpler, quicker and cheaper to settle out of court than to commit to a lengthy legal battle.

As I write, I am recuperating at home from what they call “same day surgery”. A few years ago, I would have remained in the hospital for a day or two under the watchful surveillance of trained medical personnel, but this has become too risky and costly for insurance companies. If something goes wrong at home, it’s my problem, but if it happens in the hospital, I might be encouraged by some greedy lawyer to sue.

September 11, 2001 has been hailed as the day that changed the world. It actually has in some ways, but it certainly doesn’t seem to have changed America's infatuation with material things. The ultimate catastrophe may still lie ahead of us. If electro-magnetic pulse bombs (EMPs) should explode in the sky over America’s East and West coasts, no people would be killed or buildings destroyed, but they would create an electric field that destroys every silicon chip on the earth below. Our nation would not only become vulnerable to enemy attack, but also incapable of functioning in any other manner. Just about everything we rely on in industry, government and in our homes uses silicon chips.

But that scenario is less dangerous for America than greed and the lust for material gain. I contend that accumulated material wealth and physical indulgence represent a greater danger for us and our western hemisphere than terrorism. 

The Avalanche is not a Hollywood Production

Americans don’t like films without a happy ending. We have been spoiled by our affluence and are incapable of seeing the world as it really is, bitter, unfair, uncertain and dangerous. We believe that we can master any situation and that nothing in the world can bring us to our knees. When God presents America with the bill for our excesses and lavish life style, we will finally realize that we are bankrupt. The demise of our great nation will be quick and absolute. Like the fall of historical Babylon, which was completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt; the fate of prophetical Babylon as predicted in Revelation will be a catastrophe, such as the world has never known.

A brook or stream takes the line of least resistance, meandering its way into the valley where it joins with a river leading eventually to the ocean. Excessive rainfall may swell streams and cause erosion or damage to property along the banks. The destructive force of a mighty avalanche, however, rushes unabated into the valley with great velocity, carving its own course destroying everything in its path. As it gathers momentum, the accumulated snow begins to gather rocks, trees and debris which intensify the force of the avalanche. The resulting damage is incurred more by these objects than by the snow. Once an avalanche starts, there is no stopping it until it has finished its course in the valley of death. 

Accumulated wealth, like accumulated snow, can come crashing down upon us at any moment. And for those who have not lived for Christ, there is no happy ending.

Ralph V. Harvey