In Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, we read that, in the 18th century, Eleazar Wheelock secured a royal charter “for the education & instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading wrighting and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences; and also of English Youth & any others.” A small fortune was raised from benefactors across Britain who sought to offer the benefits of education to Native Americans. Unfortunately, Wheelock had duped these generous donors, and those working on his behalf, and used their money to create Dartmouth College – which educated primarily English students. Did Wheelock’s deception undermine the blessing of those who gave?
Money dominates our lives: The more we have, the more it consumes our thoughts. While money in itself is not evil, we are warned about the love of money, for it’s “the root of all kinds of evil” and can cause some to “wander from the true faith.” The world looks at the church’s wealth, considers the plight of countless millions who struggle to sleep each night because of intense hunger or debilitating sickness, and concludes that Christians are not serious about their faith. Sadly, they’re right. The Bible provides us with important guidelines regarding wealth, giving, and our attitude to money; too often, we push them aside.
Years ago, I was shown around a bible college in Asia. It was between semesters, so most of the rooms were empty. After a tour of the main building, my host showed me around the grounds outside. We walked up to a small and insignificant looking man who was emptying and cleaning the garbage cans. I was introduced to him – the smiling principal of the bible college. What a wonderful example of servant leadership.
Years ago, I made a business trip to Chandigarh in India. Rather than fly from New Delhi, my colleague and I decided to take the Shatabdi Express train. After two days of meetings, we left Chandigarh on the early morning train. The three-and-a-half hour journey south was comfortable and enjoyable. Service, as always in India, was impeccable. A short time into the journey, we were each given a tray of hot food and some bottles of water. Personally, I very much enjoy Indian food and ate every last morsel. After drinking some water, I fell into a satisfied sleep as the Indian countryside rushed by outside.
The tsunami that occurred in December 2004 was the worst natural disaster in recorded history. The earthquake that caused it measured 9.1 on the Richter scale – which is almost off the scale! Almost a quarter of a million people died on a single day, and more than $10 billion in damage was caused in Indonesia and surrounding nations.
What does the world conclude when they read of prominent church leaders who own multi-million dollar mansions, ride in their own private jets, and drive expensive sports cars? They conclude that the church is little more than a money-making scheme in which unscrupulous leaders fleece gullible members of millions of dollars. They see hypocrites preaching good news to the poor while amassing personal fortunes that could otherwise be used to relieve the suffering of the poor. Worst of all, they resolve never to visit a church because of such hypocrisy and “switch off” whenever Christians reach out to them.
Jesus made it clear that the poor will always be with us. I’ve heard some people quote this verse as an excuse for not doing more to help and, sadly, my own spending habits reveal the same attitude. Jesus’ statement, though, begs the question: Why are wealth, health, and opportunity not bestowed equally on all Christians?
As Christians living in the West, we are blessed with wealth, healthy food, and excellent health. It’s an unfortunate fact, however, that fellow Christians living in the Third World are cursed with poverty, hunger, and rampant disease. How can this be?