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I recently read in USA Today that over a million Americans filed bankruptcy last year! That's about one in 200 caught in "the credit trap." But, how is that possible -- during what is being referred to as the longest economic expansion of the 20th century? Simple: Americans (in record numbers) are being snagged by the highly polished jaws of THE CREDIT TRAP and DEBT.

The fact is, credit can be an asset, when used in moderation for productive enterprise AND when paid off promptly. But credit's darker side, DEBT, can be a terrible curse when it is used for personal consumption by those who lack the self-control to live within their means. Credit allows us to acquire things today based on the presumption that we can pay later, but this a very dangerous presumption.

The whole idea of loaning credit, then charging interest (or usury) on the loan, is as old as recorded history. The first recorded credit issuers were found in Babylon-- when men began exchanging their productive labor and tangible goods for credit receipts issued by Babylonian bankers on clay tablets. These receipts became the "money" of the day, similar to our modern paper money system.

My point is that the temptation of the credit trap is not new. Today, as in Babylon, merchants and banks continuously tempt us to cast caution aside and enter into debt to gratify our immediate wants and needs. Christians should know better. Can't we call upon the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation? The Bible is full of examples of how to resist temptation yet Christians are often the worst violators of God's economic laws. Why is this? My guess is it's mostly out of ignorance.

Thankfully, our God is merciful and forgiving. In fact, He actually made provision for credit and debt abuses in the Old Testament by instituting the Year of Jubilee, a once-in-a-lifetime slate cleaning for those in financial trouble. The Year of Jubilee, celebrated every fifty years, provided that all mortgaged property was returned to the indebted owner, personal debts were wiped out, and slaves were even set free. God established these original "bankruptcy laws" for Israel as an example of the total forgiveness He would later provide in Jesus Christ.

Today, modern bankruptcy laws are much more liberal than God's Word. I feel that our present system actually encourages credit abuse because of the relatively simple requirements to file bankruptcy. So, although bankruptcy is an option allowed by God (at least once in a lifetime) the question IS: When will we learn the blessing of GOOD stewardship? Poor stewardship has a very high price. When we sign a promise to pay for an item on credit, we are voluntarily giving up our God-given rights of life, liberty, and private property to the creditor. We are, in essence, pledging our future to serve another master DEBT. This is why Jesus told us "you cannot serve two masters."

Are you caught in a credit trap? There are many good resources out there to help you avoid or help you get out of the credit trap. Use them! My deep concern is that, as a nation, we are on the verge of seeing our whole economic system collapse unless we Christians help lead the way out. Let's be bold enough to say "NO!" to non-productive debt so that we won't have to face the upheaval of going bankrupt, either personally or nationally. Remember: True Wealth is to live within your means, with godly contentment.

© 1997 by FAME
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