The high cost of free stuff

There are six presidential candidate left in the 2008 campaign. Five of them are promising to give away a lot of free stuff to various constituents if elected (only one is an actual advocate of smaller government and cutting spending — you can watch him speak here).

freestuff.jpgAll of this talk of “free” stuff reminded me of a debate I heard in a previous campaign where the candidates were arguing over the merits of school vouchers. The opponent of vouchers claimed that federal money issued to parents who sent their children to religious schools amounted to a government endorsement of religion and thus violated the constitution. The proponent of vouchers pointed out that federal grants for college students might be used by any student to attend any college of their choice — even if they wanted to enroll in a religious school to become a minister. The opponent responded with a statement that exhibited an ignorance of basic economics, which should disqualify him from every holding office.

“The difference,” he said, “is that all higher education costs money. Public schools are free.”

He actually said, “Public schools are free.”

They are nothing of the sort.

My wife taught in public schools for five years. Her experience confirmed one thing: public schools are among the best-funded schools in America. They have computer labs, science labs, and new buildings. The teachers make more money than their counterparts in private schools. They have better benefits, better insurance. All of this cost somebody something.

Construction companies don’t build buildings for free. Computer manufacturers don’t give away their machines. Insurance companies are going to collect premiums. Just because we don’t have to write a check to the school when our children enroll does not mean we don’t pay for them. We do.

When we forget that somebody has to pick up the tab for the things that benefit us we begin to take them for granted. Like the guy who said, “Public schools are free.” He was advocated all sorts of expensive improvements to public schools like nobody was going to send an invoice at the end of the month. I wanted to ask him how in the world he could do that. How could you forget that everything costs something? It’s pretty basic.

Then I stopped myself.

While I always remember how much money things cost I do forget, from time to time, a much higher price once paid from which I benefit. The price of my salvation was very, very expensive. God the Father sacrificed His only begotten Son so that I might have eternal life. Jesus Christ gave up His very life. He willingly took on the form of a man for the purpose of offering Himself up to man’s ridicule. He was beaten, mocked, and finally nailed to a Roman cross.

mixer.jpgIn Jude we are warned of ungodly men who want to turn the grace of God into licentiousness — a license to sin. And yet, how often do I, when faced with temptation, think to myself that since my eternal destiny is secure in Christ it would not be so bad for me to enjoy this one, little, sin?

The price paid for being able to stand in the presence of God is very high. How could I forget that my salvation cost something?

The public schools involved in the debate I saw had been given resources galore. Yet their record for educating students was deplorable. The opponents of vouchers thought the answer was more money squeezed from the pockets of taxpayers. He couldn’t see that many of our nations’ schools have squandered the riches provided them at someone else’s expense.

The price God paid for our salvation can’t be calculated in monetary terms. His price was so high I don’t know if we will ever be able to grasp it. I do know that we need to be mindful of the price so as to prevent us from squandering the riches we have in Christ Jesus.

Bumper sticker of the day:

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

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