“Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide”

“Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide”

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

Our younger and non-U.S. readers may not be able to relate to the economic news that the U.S. economy is experiencing inflation, unlike anything we’ve seen in 40 years. Indeed, this period of “stagflation” (i.e., stagnant economy plus inflation) began even before my birth, noticeably during the Administration inherited by Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon’s resignation.  

The genesis for this economic downturn started with the decision of President Nixon to take the United States off the gold standard in 1971. It was necessary to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts but was only a short-term solution. Had government become fiscally responsible, they could have gotten the nation out of debt and reinstituted the gold standard. But, rather than curb spending, the government began spending more since they could print more bills. And Ford was honest to a fault, from a political perspective, since he admitted the poor state of the Union in his address in 1975. 

“I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good: Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow. This year’s Federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year’s probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion. Our plant capacity and productivity are not increasing fast enough. We depend on others for essential energy. Some people question their Government’s ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.”1  

Looking to make a change, Americans voted for the Democrat candidate running against Ford in 1976. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger swore in President Jimmy Carter on January 20, 1977. However, instead of bringing positive changes to the economy, things grew worse under President Carter. Ironically, candidate Carter had successfully used Arthur Okun’s “Misery Index” in his campaign to highlight the miserable performance of Ford’s economy.Yet, it would not be long until the “Misery Index” became an albatross around Carter’s neck. Carter’s opponent in the 1980 presidential race, Ronald Reagan, even made a point to note that Carter was mum about the “Misery Index” of his tenure.3 I dare say that most laymen still associate the “Misery Index” with Jimmy Carter, not Gerald Ford.  

The CPI (consumer price index) is used to gauge inflation. Unfortunately, it has risen to 8.5%.4 To curb inflation, the Federal Reserve Bank will inevitably raise interest rates. The simple explanation for this is that the Federal Reserve Bank wants to discourage you from spending money. So, with rising interest rates, that new automobile or house will cost even more, and you will decide to make do with what you have. As a result, demand will decrease and theoretically lower inflation. The only positive thing resulting from such an economy is that your savings account will finally accrue more interest. The bad news is that the money you earn will not have the same buying power if inflation is high.  

I was but a child, but I recall the stagflation of the Carter Administration. My father preached for a domestic mission church in west Georgia. He received financial support from a congregation in Tennessee but still had to find other employment periodically to provide for his family. Briefly, my mother even tried to get a job as a seamstress at a Hanes factory outside of LaGrange, Georgia. We lived austerely and had more than one of Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” However, my father could parlay those savings into later real estate purchases when the economy improved. The point is that even Christians experience lean times, but they don’t last forever. 

Would you believe that this is what Paul talked about with his financial supporters in Philippi? He told them he had learned to get along with much or little (Philippians 4.11-12). Paul said that even meant having to go hungry at times. Yet, he could do it because Christ gave him strength (Philippians 4.13). So, yes, that oft-quoted verse is about money. Though it is nice to think we can tap into our Lord’s power to accomplish difficult tasks, like quitting a bad habit, we should not lose sight of the context, especially in a terrible economy.  

David said long ago that he had never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread (Psalm 37.25). Indeed, Jesus reminds us that God will supply the needs of those seeking Him and His Kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). But our necessities are just that, necessary. Beans and cornbread can sate hunger as effectively as filet mignon and mushroom Bordelaise. So, God is not promising you the “king’s dainties” (cf. Daniel 1.8 ASV). But you will receive enough sustenance to maintain life.  

Moreover, as a Christian, you have the added blessing of your church family. The first Christians saw after one another’s needs, even selling their property to help support their brethren (cf. Acts 4.32-35). I am not suggesting that things will become bad enough today to necessitate such drastic measures, but it is still encouraging to know that we have others watching our backs. Indeed, they will help us with our burdens as we help carry theirs (Galatians 6.2,10). 

Yes, things may get worse before getting better. The younger generations may not know what to make of these things. And we might see people sinning as the post-exilic Jews who robbed God by withholding their tithes to Him (Malachi 3.8-12). In these times, God encourages more generosity, not stinginess. As He told the Jews of old, He is more than capable of opening the portals of heaven to shower us with blessings. Do not lose that faith and trust that as we learn to do without, we might also learn how to properly conduct ourselves when we abound in this world’s goods. 

Sources Cited 

1  Ford, Gerald. “President Gerald R. Ford’s Address before a Joint Session of the Congress Reporting on the State of the Union.” Gerald Ford’s 1975 State of the Union Address, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/750028.htm

2  Phelan, John. “The Return of the ‘Misery Index’.” American Experiment, Center of the American Experiment, 27 Jan. 2022,www.americanexperiment.org/the-return-of-the-misery-index/

3 Ibid 

4 McCormick, Emily. “Inflation Rises by the Most since 1981 as CPI Jumps 8.5% in March.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 12 Apr. 2022, finance.yahoo.com/news/consumer-price-index-cpi-inflation-march-2022-123202319.html

Finding Refuge

Finding Refuge

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent 

Brent Pollard

There are days when one must turn off the news and go to the prayer closet. Current events sometimes make us uneasy, and the “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” type of yellow journalism permeates the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And while I sit here and write, the big story is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s pretense is that Ukraine is committing genocide against the “ethnic Russians” living in Ukraine. There has been no evidence produced supporting this claim, of course, but there is evidence that pro-Russian militants have committed crimes, some violent, within Ukraine. 

In 2014, for example, Pro-Russian militants seized the building housing the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine in Horlivka. Armed men gave the brethren of the congregation assembling in the same building as the Central church of Christ three hours to remove those contents from the building the members wanted. Thankfully, no one was injured.1 But as I think of the location of the current branch of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine2, about 50 miles southwest of Kyiv, I cannot help but be concerned for my Christian brethren impacted by the specter of war in Ukraine. After all, Russia has already bombed the Ukrainian capital.  

Then there are the less important factors than human life that produce potential anxiety. For example, what is going to happen to the price of petroleum? Authorities say it is going up. WSB in Atlanta reported that “experts” believe that the sanctions placed on Russia will cause gas prices to increase to a national average of $4 a gallon by March or April.3 Higher gas prices lead to higher transportation costs, which causes the costs of goods to increase. In a country already hit by the highest inflation in 40 years, we might view such painful side effects from trying to rein Putin as too much. 

Plus, one wonders if we now hear the renewed drumbeats of global war. Some pundits lay the blame for this at the feet of the current U.S. President, whom they claim looks weak to foreign leaders. Thus, neither Putin nor Xi Jinping may refrain from acting upon imperial ambitions. Ukraine is one thing, but what if Putin desires to reconstitute the former Soviet Union? Eventually, that would mean that Putin would invade a NATO country. We would be obliged by treaty to intervene.  

Meanwhile, soon after Putin invaded Ukraine, nine Chinese fighter jets violated Taiwan’s airspace.4 This is not the first Chinese incursion into Taiwanese airspace, but the timing is unsettling. China still believes that Taiwan belongs to China. Since 1954, we have been in a bilateral treaty with Taiwan.5 Therefore, if China invades Taiwan, we would be obliged to respond to China’s actions. Granted, we are assuming that the United States will keep the word that it has given to its treaty partners. Possibly, our leaders may try to do so economically rather than placing boots on the ground.  

During this time, when the waters of the sea roar and foam and the mountains shake, it is marvelous to know that God is our refuge. This truth is the assurance the sons of Korah provide in Psalm 46. Commentators believe the author wrote the psalm when the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites moved to attack the kingdom of Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 20.1ff). King Jehosophat prayed for God’s intervention, and God replied by confusing Judah’s enemies. Those enemies ended up killing one another. When Jehosophat rose to face them as God commanded, he found every one of them dead. Thus, God was Judah’s refuge. 

Turning our attention once more to Psalm 46, we note three quick points. First, God is our place of refuge when everything around us seems insecure (1-3). Thus, we are told not to fear (2). When we look at the boisterous sea rather than our Lord, we will quickly sink as Peter when he joined Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14.30). Therefore, we must increase our faith (Matthew 14.31). So, there is no reason to feel insecure when the God of peace is with us (Romans 15.33). 

Second, God provides us with a walled city (i.e., stronghold) secured by a flowing river of life  (4-7). There is debate whether this is a picture of Heaven. Indeed, Heaven has its River of Life. But it was a tactic of siege warfare to cut a walled city off from food and water sources. One such siege by Sennacherib led Hezekiah to construct a tunnel to bring water to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20.20; 2 Chronicles 32). Despite Sennacherib’s bravado, Hezekiah knew that his people would not cry out from thirst. Providence would spare them. Martin Luther, reading Psalm 46.7, was moved to pen the hymn “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”). Yes, we find in God that bulwark that is never failing.  

Third, God will provide us with what man cannot (8-11). Sometimes we try and solve things on our own. When we feel exasperated, we might even look to our fellow man for answers. It seems that we look around everywhere but to where we should. To this practice, God tells us, “Stop!” The NASB1995 renders it, “Cease striving and know that I am God” (46.10). God will be exalted! And indeed, we see His mighty works that attest to His great power. The sons of Korah tell us in conclusion that God is with us. 

Our world feels like a crazy place now. I recently commented that it feels more like 1938 than 2022. In 1938, Adolph Hitler annexed Austria to reabsorb the “ethnic Germans.” In the United States, Americans were still struggling to overcome the Great Depression. So, current events do seem comparable. But, by God’s help, we survived that turbulent time, and we will also live through an uncertain future. God is in control, and He tells us that He will provide us with refuge. So, we must cease our striving and enter it.  

Sources Cited 

1                     Tryggestad, Erik. “Church Building Seized (Updated).” The Christian Chronicle, The Christian Chronicle, 25 May 2014, christianchronicle.org/pro-russian-militants-seize-church-of-christ-building-in-eastern-ukraine-during-sunday-worship/

2                    “Ukraine.” Bear Valley Bible Institute, Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver , www.wetrainpreachers.com/ukraine.  

3                    “Experts Say to Expect Gas to Hit at Least $4 a Gallon over Ukraine Invasion.” WSB, Cox Media Group, 25 Feb. 2022,www.wsbtv.com/video/local-video/experts-say-expect-gas-hit-least-4-gallon-over-ukraine-invasion/9fa41005-9f2f-400e-a20f-5ce2a25d2b75/

4                    Olson, Wyatt. “Chinese Fighter Jets Sortie into Taiwan’s Air Zone on Heels of Ukraine Invasion.” Stars and Stripes, Stars and Stripes, 24 Feb. 2022, www.stripes.com/theaters/asia_pacific/2022-02-24/taiwan-fighter-jets-airspace-chinese-aircraft-ukraine-russia-5134525.html

5                    Ward, Alvin. “67 Countries the U.S. Is Obliged to Go to War For.” Mental Floss, Mental Floss, 7 Feb. 2015,www.mentalfloss.com/article/65816/67-countries-us-obliged-go-war

We Gotta Stop!

We Gotta Stop!

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

If you’re reading this right now, it means you have access to electricity and internet. If you have access to those, you’re already familiar with the subject of this article. This specifically applies to Christians living in the United States, but I encourage those who don’t consider themselves religious to think about the following as well. There’s no other way to address this, so I apologize for having to write it.

“Let’s go Brandon” is everywhere: gas pumps, sporting events, social media posts, bumper stickers, etc. I thought it would die out by now, but it’s everywhere. I see it almost every day on gaming platforms, with many adopting some form of it as a username/handle. It’s become colloquial, used to “thank” the president for any less-than-ideal circumstance.

I am not a fan of our current president. If you drive, you know how much gas is right now. Afghanistan. The Russian ammo ban (and other anti-freedom measures). If you eat food, you’re already familiar with inflation’s impact on groceries. We could go on for a week, but this is a long-winded disclaimer and I need to get to the point.

No Christian should ever adopt the mentality behind the phrase at the beginning of the second paragraph. Besides the crass and hateful language it represents, it’s a sinful way to view our president. Christians are supposed to respect their government leaders (I Pt 2.17). In that passage it’s not a suggestion, it’s an order. The word τιμᾶτε (timate) is an imperative. It means “to show high regard for” someone (BDAG, τιμάω).

Paul wrote, “You should pray for rulers and for everyone who has authority. Pray for these leaders so we can lead a quiet and peaceful life…” (I Tim 2.2). Paul was under an emperor similar to our own president. God’s expectations for Christian behavior don’t change when the president is bad. We don’t have to like him, but we certainly have to respect him and pray for him.

We should not expect to live with God forever if we talk about the president the way so many others do. I get it – it’s hard. Politicization of the medical field under his administration has had a direct impact on my own quality of life. Praying for/respecting the president is not easy at all. But it wouldn’t have been easy for Christians under any of the Roman emperors in the first century, either. If they could do it, so can we. Please think about the serious impact our words have on where we spend eternity. Our first allegiance is to God. If He’s really our King, we’ll have respect for our president.

Image courtesy Flickr.