Sixteen Tons

Sixteen tons and what do you get? Anyone born before 1955 can tell you the answer to that question. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version of the song “Sixteen Tons” sold two million copies in less than two months! Americans identified with the tale of a coal miner so deep in debt that he could not afford to die.

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the company store. . .

When I was in college I served a church that was built for the employees of a lumber mill. It was named for the mill owner who also had built all of the workers’ little houses. The company store sold all of the groceries, dry goods and liquor the people wanted. The costs were deducted from their paychecks, and so was their rent. They could also get paycheck loans and advances. Yet most of the church people tithed, so the church could have a fulltime pastor and part-time music/youth director. They gave to missions, bought Sunday School literature for everyone, mailed out a newsletter and had wonderful potluck dinners.

Sometimes we forget that the “good old days” were a whole lot like today, only with less stuff. The preachers railed against a growing materialism that was leading us down a path of greed, selfishness and heartache. When our gods, they said, are money, prosperity and things, our dreams will sadly miss the mark. “Fly now, pay later” revolutionized advertising and introduced credit cards. More than 50 years later, the dreams of millions of our neighbors seem to have fallen short. The company store has been replaced by predatory lenders, corporate greed and too easy credit. The Biblical vision of simplicity and generosity still holds, even in the toughest economic times.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Honor the Lord. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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