lessons from a credit card

Four of the nation’s banks announced in early April a $2 fee for making mistakes. By simply cancelling transactions on the ATM the user or rather misuser is going to be shocked at the end of the month. The banks will simply levy a $2 fee to each cancelled transaction. But wait, there’s more. The person who enters his PIN (personal identification number) incorrectly will also receive the $2 levy.

What are those banks thinking now? Can they possibly milk the customers any more of their hard-earned cash? And who will actually be the ones to cancel transactions or mis-enter their PINs? Usually it’s someone who is not used to the system or someone who might not see as well, even someone who is elderly. Remember the uproar of the senior citizens at the closing of so many countrywide banks? Many of these customers are not used to such impersonal service and now they will be receiving these $2 charges, no doubt many of them at the end of each month.

So what’s a person to do? Should he not use credit after all? I’ve learned a few lessons from the credit card and perhaps they will help each of us as we move into the “winter blues.”

1) Value is attributable.

There’s nothing really fixed about the value of commodities. The old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” continues to bear witness in Australian society. One doesn’t need to look too far when it’s time for council clean up for this adage to be acted out. People leave out their goods or not-so-goods and others find them valuable. Things that are very expensive today become next week’s sales and final clearances in months to come. So you and I walk into the shops and we’re carrying our credit cards and there is an impulse to believe the attributed value. And who fixes those? Why the retailers themselves, of course. The latest fashion from Milan or perfume from France attracts a higher cost to the customer. But value is not intrinsic; it’s attributable.

In the classic Utopian tale of Candide by Voltaire, the hero travels to a village called Eldorado. And there he sees the children playing with rocks. As he gets closer he discovers that those rocks are actually part of the street that is paved with gold. Any good Bible student will know that the streets of heavenly Jerusalem are paved with gold and perhaps the image might be left there. However, what is significant is that Candide seeks to carry as much of that gold as he can in his satchel and then with him along to the next stop in his travels. It will be valuable as he returns to his home country but it’s not valuable in Eldorado. Why not? Because it’s everyday wear. It’s granite. It’s bitumen. It’s the ordinary. So there’s no intrinsic value even in gold. That’s why it fluctuates on the market as we see it each day on the news. As of this writing, the value of gold is $586 an ounce. When I was a kid, it was less than $200 an ounce. Did it really change value or is it all merely the value assigned to it by others?

The lesson for us in credit card use is buy what is required and do serious research on items that may just be coming “on sale” (read: of less value to the seller) very soon.

2) We’ve been approved by God.

There is a moment of drama that follows each entry of our credit card at the shops. The teller concludes the tallying. We punch the keys and press enter. Then the teller enters the information the bank has required of them. And then we wait. And sometimes the wait is extensive while the computer at the teller responds and talks to the teller at the bank, sometimes in another country. Finally the word comes back: approved.

There is a great feeling of relief, especially as your credit card balance that is available begins to diminish through the month. And you wonder if you have overextended your requests for credit. But then the bank tells the teller and the teller tells you that you have been approved. I don’t know of a better feeling. Oh certainly there are many feelings in our lives regarding beauty and fascination and fear that have levels of energy that are similar. But the sense of completion that comes with the word approved being assigned to you and your transaction is a marvellous feeling.

All you have to do is experience once or twice the feeling of “rejected” and you’ll know that this “approved” is a much better feeling. If you do get “rejected” then you have to scramble for another card or in utter shame tuck your head and walk out the store without any of the products. You’ve not only wasted your time and the teller’s time and the time of the people behind you in the queue, but you feel a loss, a very shameful set of losses,

No wonder, when the Bible tells us “we’ve been approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News of Y’shua Hamashiach” (1 Thessalonians 2.3) we have a similar sense of satisfaction. God has “accepted us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:7) and there is no one who’s going to “reject” us anymore. We have the assurance of welcome by the Almighty so lesson number two is approval brings satisfied contentment.

3) Words and other things.

When I was a child they told me “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I suppose they were speaking about taunting and developing a tough outer core. I suppose they were referencing that in terms of pain to endure that a few harshly chosen words were minimal to brutality that might be inflicted on our bodies. But decades of research have now shown that spiritual, physical and verbal abuse all carry similar pains, similar withdrawals, and really do hurt in every sense of the word.

The dictionary of the Hebrew language shows a fascinating convergence of these ideas. The word davar is the Hebrew word for “thing” or “word.” In other words a thing is a word and a word is a thing. We don’t have room in this article to discuss Plato and the shadow behind the thing. Nor would it serve our purposes. Yet a substantive phrase is found in Exodus 20:1. There we read, “Now these are the words that God spoke to Moses.” And what follows are the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are called in Hebrew “ten words.” Obviously there are more than ten words and more than ten phrases, but they are capsulised in what we call the Ten Commandments. And each of these Ten Commandments is not just an ordinance but is called in Hebrew a davar. Each of these phrases and thoughts is actually a thing. And it’s things that people go into the stores to purchase. It’s things to which we attribute value and those commodities are evaluated, tagged and then eventually purchased. Here God gives us something as valuable or perhaps even more valuable than all the things that we could ever appropriate.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…more to be desired are they than gold, than much fine gold, sweeter also than the honey and the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:4,7-8)

King David tells us that in all his experience of things that were valuable he’s now found that the Torah, that is the first five books of the Bible (and what other Bible did he have?) was of more value than the things that kings treasure.

I suppose we should listen to the man after God’s own heart. And we should let King David tell us of things that really are important. In all our purchasing we should go after and purchase the most important thing.

Solomon said, “With all your wisdom, buy wisdom.” (Proverbs 4)

So lesson number 3 is things that are eternal are more valuable than things temporal.

As we watched the news with shock at the dumping of tons of grapes in the Barossa Valley, by underpaid and overstocked farmers, maybe we also thought of values. As we watched the price of petrol rise and rise again, we’ve thought about what counts in our wallets and what’s missing there. Maybe these lessons have helped you in the use or abuse or misuse of your credit card. And all the while let’s keep our eyes focused on the prize that is so valuable, eternal life with the Lord Jesus.


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