Better to Be Broke?

A good discipline for gaining wisdom is to meditate on the book on wisdom daily. A chapter of Proverbs a day keeps folly away. For instance, this morning, November 19, I read chapter 19. I spent most of my time on the first ten verses, for I noticed a pattern to these proverbs that connects them together:

  • First, I saw that verses 5 and 9 are nearly identical in their disdain for a false witness; the only difference is in the outcome of the “he who breathes out lies” in the second lines.
  • Next, I noticed that verses 4 and 6-7 refer to the friends that connect with a person only because of that person’s wealth (i.e., “gold-diggers”).
  • Third, I noticed a textual note in my ESV that “desire” in verse 2 could (and probably should, now that I’ve at my Hebrew text) be translated “soul”. If so, that would provide another link with verse 8, as it is already connected by teaching the goodness of knowledge/understanding, as opposed to making a rash decision.
  • Finally, verses 1 and 10 contrast poverty for a person of integrity and wealth and power for a “twisted-lips” fool.
  • Does all of this mean anything? I think so. I think that there is a micro-level and a macro-level to wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Most of us are familiar with reading Proverbs on the micro-level, one proverb at a time. There is, however, much wisdom that is overlooked because we aren’t used to seeing how proverbs fit together to communicate wisdom on the macro-level. Each of the individual proverbs in 19:1-10 are full of wisdom, but taken together one finds a larger message. What is that message? I think it’s this: The great collapse (re: poverty, desertion, rage against the LORD, perish) of those who hasten toward dishonest gain (re: bribery/false witness) judges a person of integrity to be in a better position, even in poverty. Losing your integrity for money may sound like an offer you can’t refuse– “think of the friends you’ll gain, think of the life you’ll have”– but the ruin will be great. It’s better to be broke and keep your integrity, for though you may not gain much, you won’t lose much either!

    Where does this wisdom fit in daily life? For the student, the gain of cheating may bring eligibility for the football team, which brings fans (and cheerleaders). But when you get caught for plagiarizing, you lose your scholarship, get expelled and kicked off the team. For the CEO, adjusting the numbers might help you make it to the Fortune 500 or Forbes lists, but if they find out, you’ll be the next Enron. You might not wind up with much, but it is always better to maintain your integrity. How does this fit into your life?

    What Jesus Did with Same-Sex Marriage

    Recently, Dan Rodricks wrote an op-ed piece in The Baltimore Sun, entitled, “What would Jesus do on same-sex marriage?” He wrote this mainly as a response to remarks made by the Rev. Robert Anderson, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, MD, regarding same-sex marriage. Rev. Anderson quoted from Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:32 to show that both the Old and New Testaments teach that homosexuality, among other sins and lifestyles, is “deserving of death”. This particular phrase has since caused a firestorm and has led Rodricks to question if it is particularly “Christian”. He clarified, “By Christian, of course, I mean people whose religious beliefs are rooted in the teachings of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth and the New Testament, including the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But he quickly notes that he does not recognize the other writings of Scripture as particularly relevant to a “Christian” understanding:

    Being Catholic, I was deprived of full schooling in the Old Testament — Leviticus, et al — but I never felt a need to reach much beyond the teachings of Christ to have a foundation in Christianity.

    And as much as I enjoy readings from the Gospel, I’m no scholar of the New Testament nor, with so much great literature still to read, do I intend to spend a lot of time with Paul’s epistles to the Romans. Frankly, I don’t need to.

    Rodricks limits Jesus’ messages to three main teachings: 1) The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”); 2) The Sermon on the Mount, “with all it’s hopeful and humane teachings about the poor, the hungry, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, and the peacemakers;” and 3) “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Actually, the first and third teachings are also found in the Sermon on the Mount.

    It is also in the Sermon on the Mount, however, that Jesus himself affirmed the Old Testament as authoritative:

    Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).

    Jesus actually gave two commands to sum up all that he and that Law before him taught:

    And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

    To love God, according to Deuteronomy 6, is to devote one’s entire being to following him and his commands, which define what it means to love him and others. Disobedience, then, exposes an area in life where one does not fully love God. Jesus did not ignore that; he reinforced it (John 14:15,21,23-24). To love others, according to Leviticus 19, is to care for one another in such a way that the holiness of God is seen through one’s life. Again, Jesus affirmed this (Matthew 5:14-16). Love for others, then, cannot be divorced from love for God; the latter produces the former.

    Jesus was also the one who commissioned the apostles to teach (Matthew 28:18-20), including Paul (Acts 9:1-6,10-16). They recognized their authority as coming directly from Jesus. So it would not be right to limit the meaning of “Christian teaching” to the words that are in red.

    Even if one would focus solely on the teachings of Jesus, however, he still would not find warrant for same-sex marriage. In Matthew 19 Jesus affirmed that marriage was heterosexual (v. 4: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female”), monogamous (v. 5: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”), and permanent (v. 6: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”). His teaching was not contradictory to the Old Testament or to the apostles that followed him.

    Jesus did not affirm same-sex marriage then, and he would not now. Contrary to popular opinion, the reason is not hatred or bigotry, but love. It is true that Jesus’ primary mission was not to condemn the world, but it is also true that the world is already condemned (John 3:17-21). The love of Christ was demonstrated in his substitutionary death for the salvation of sinners by taking their condemnation upon himself (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10) in order to bring a holy people to God (1 Peter 3:18). And he calls for Christians to join him in this love (1 John 4:11)– a love that does not turn a blind eye to sin or is discriminatory in selecting who will be loved. Rather, it is a love that truly frees us from our foolish sense of self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and self-conceit, so that we would offer our whole beings to him and give whatever we must of ourselves so that others would join us in true devotion to him.

    Jesus is much more marvelous than the progressive caricature of him, for he does not divorce love for God from love of neighbor. He, like the prophets before him and the apostles after him, upheld marriage as a union of one man and one woman, in obedience to God’s created pattern. To say otherwise is not only unloving, but it would be the exact opposite of love. It would be, in reality, truly judgmental.

    Don’t Gamble With Your Life

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    The state of Maryland opened its largest casino last night, the Maryland Live! Casino. A pretty good article about the casino can be found here. As pastor, I feel like it is necessary for me to give a biblical response to this and some wisdom to my church family regarding participation at the casino.

  • State-run gambling is not new in the state of Maryland. Our state has had a lottery for many years now. What makes this different, though, is its close-proximity to Arundel Mills Mall, which attracts hundreds of thousands of families for shopping and entertainment. Thus there is the suggested implication that playing slots is just another kind of family entertainment, like shopping, eating at Medieval Times, or catching a movie at the Egyptian theater.
  • State-run gambling is just a clever way for the government to take more money from its citizens. Another term we use for this is a “tax”. But this is a more devious form of tax. It is a tax that feeds on the greed of the citizens. Even with a page that advises “responsible gaming”, it fails to mention that, given the outrageous odds for winning, the aim of casinos and lotteries is to make the government, not the citizen, richer.
  • What the state does not want is for each citizen to consider the danger of the love of money to his/her soul. Consider these verses:
  • Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense (Proverbs 12:11; 28:19)

    Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven (Proverbs 23:4-5)

    A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished (Proverbs 28:29)

    A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him (Proverbs 28:22)

    No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24)

    Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

  • Given the dangers of the pursuit of immediate wealth on your soul, it would be wise to avoid the casino altogether. If you want to acquire wealth in this life, it would be wise to work hard and save instead of spend. But recognize that income is not for financial stability alone, however. God gives to us that we may invest in God’s mission to spread his fame to all nations (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:13-34; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
  • So don’t gamble your life away at the Maryland Live! Casino. Use your money wisely. Invest in the glory of God in the spread of the gospel to the neighborhoods and the nations. Then you (and others) will experience what it means to be really alive.

    Tears Over Texas

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    As I write this, I am trying to hold back tears. It’s been a valiant fight the last few months, but tonight it’s a losing battle for me. I am completely overwhelmed with the grace and mercy that my God has shown my family and me since we moved to Fort Worth in 2007. Now, as we are just a few days away from moving, I just want to set up an “altar” to remember and to worship my Lord.

  • We had planned to attend seminary, but we were in no position to afford it. God had provided a scholarship to Southwestern. We had no connection to Texas at all, but we trusted that if God could provide for us to go to Texas, he would take care of all of our needs.
  • We moved without a job. We had agreed that my Bride would stay home with our firstborn, Joshua, which drew criticism from some seminarians and their wives, who thought that it was wiser for her to work so that I could focus on my studies (who would focus on our child?!) After over a month of job-searching, criticism, and depleted savings, the Lord provided.
  • When we realized that we could not make it financially with the job that I had, Annie and I found out that we were expecting our second child, Noah. Then our insurance told us that they were no longer covering maternity under our plan. Then they told us that they could not cover it under any other plan because it would be considered a pre-existing condition. God provided, and every bill was paid.
  • God has provided for us in ways that we could not imagine. From unmarked letters on my office chair to random knocks on our door, from anonymous gifts from church members to our generous extended family just wanting to encourage us, we have been amazed with God’s grace.
  • When we moved to Texas, we had no idea if we would ever have friends, having been born and raised in the northeast. God provided us with a network of friends whom we love dearly, and we are so grateful to have received their love in return.
  • God provided us with a church home, Redeemer Church, who taught us the pure joy of Christ-centered community. Then he sent us to Meadowridge Community Baptist Church, where we learned that this joy must spread to all peoples, even those across the street that are so different than us. Then he sent us to Rosen Heights Baptist Church, where we learned that the grace that God alone provides creates a people who love with his relentless love.
  • When we found out about our third child, we still weren’t in any better financial situation, but we trusted God. When we lost our third baby, we trusted that God would take care of us. He overwhelmed us with the care of our Meadowridge family, and surprised us with our miracle baby, Mikaiya.
  • Shortly after Mikaiya was born, I lost my job. Not knowing how my family would survive after the already lean years of seminary life, we again looked to our God. He opened an opportunity for me to preach in Oklahoma, where a small church provided the equivalent of a paycheck for us. Then the senior adults at Meadowridge surprised us with a special offering, not knowing how dire the situation was (but God knew!). Then God provided through churches back home. And then I was asked to become the interim pastor at Rosen Heights Baptist Church, through whom God has most recently taken care of us.
  • It is because of these reasons and so many more that I sit here with tears in my eyes. How could we have ever seen all of this coming? I thank God for his provision and wisdom. I thank him for every friend that he brought into our lives here, a list that could fill books. I thank God for the pastors and professors who invested in me. I thank God for my faithful Bride, who literally left everything to follow Jesus and her husband. I thank God for each precious child, three of whom were born in Texas. I praise God for this imperfect home, which has been our home longer than any other in our short marriage.

    A hymn that has continued to bless us through the years is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”. I love the last verse:

    Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
    Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
    Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow–
    Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!

    And the chorus:

    Great is Thy faithfulness!
    Great is Thy faithfulness!
    Morning by morning new mercies I see.
    All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
    Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

    As we close this chapter and open another in Baltimore (with another baby, Naomi!), we continue to look to this God to continue to amaze and humble us with his great faithfulness and grace.

    Through the Year with Minds Full of God

    As 2011 quickly comes to a close, you might feel a need for a restart! Maybe this time last year you had resolutions, only to see them fade away. Perhaps you made choices that you now regret. Isn’t it great that the Lord gives us the promise of new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)? Isn’t it great that even when we are faithless, God is faithful?

    How will 2012 be different? Will you serve the Lord more faithfully? Will you love him more? Will you serve others lovingly, like our Lord Jesus? Perhaps the better question is, How can 2012 be different, better than 2011?

    One terrible way to approach the new year is with sheer determination. No one has ever lived a life pleasing to the Lord this way. The only way to please the Lord is with a continuous life of faith (Hebrews 11:6). But what fuels our faith so that we don’t fizzle out in mid-winter?

    The only way our faith can continue to grow, and we can bear fruit consistently, is by cultivating minds full of God. And a mind full of God is a mind full of Scripture. Consider these verses:

  • How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word (Psalm 119:9)
  • I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11)
  • So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)
  • So that we could encourage one another as one big church family, I suggest that we resolve (by faith!) to read the Bible regularly this new year. My favorite Bible reading plan is the Discipleship Journal “Book-at-a-Time” Plan. This gives us the opportunity to read the entire Bible together through the year, and it even has room for “catch-up days”, just in case we fall behind. You can find the plan here.

    Since God not only requires that we hear from him, but that we also think deeply about all that he has said, I also suggest that we memorize Scripture together. My favorite Bible memorization plan is “Fighter Verses”, from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. For encouragement on memorizing large portions of Scripture, I recommend this article from Andrew Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, NC.

    Through the Year with Minds Full of God

    As 2011 quickly comes to a close, you might feel a need for a restart! Maybe this time last year you had resolutions, only to see them fade away. Perhaps you made choices that you now regret. Isn’t it great that the Lord gives us the promise of new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)? Isn’t it great that even when we are faithless, God is faithful?

    How will 2012 be different? Will you serve the Lord more faithfully? Will you love him more? Will you serve others lovingly, like our Lord Jesus? Perhaps the better question is, How can 2012 be different, better than 2011?

    One terrible way to approach the new year is with sheer determination. No one has ever lived a life pleasing to the Lord this way. The only way to please the Lord is with a continuous life of faith (Hebrews 11:6). But what fuels our faith so that we don’t fizzle out in mid-winter?

    The only way our faith can continue to grow, and we can bear fruit consistently, is by cultivating minds full of God. And a mind full of God is a mind full of Scripture. Consider these verses:

  • How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word (Psalm 119:9)
  • I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11)
  • So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)
  • So that we could encourage one another as one big church family, I suggest that we resolve (by faith!) to read the Bible regularly this new year. My favorite Bible reading plan is the Discipleship Journal “Book-at-a-Time” Plan. This gives us the opportunity to read the entire Bible together through the year, and it even has room for “catch-up days”, just in case we fall behind. You can find the plan here.

    Since God not only requires that we hear from him, but that we also think deeply about all that he has said, I also suggest that we memorize Scripture together. My favorite Bible memorization plan is “Fighter Verses”, from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. For encouragement on memorizing large portions of Scripture, I recommend this article from Andrew Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, NC.

    Loving the Way Jesus Loves

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    As I prepare for my new assignment as pastor of First Baptist Church of Brooklyn (MD), I have been meditating on what it means to love. As I meditate on this, I noticed that Phil Ryken, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and current president of Wheaton College, has written a book on 1 Corinthians 13 called Loving the Way Jesus Loves. It should come out next month and should be an encouragement to all of us. From the back cover:



    Most people are familiar with the “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, yet expositor Phil Ryken has something new to say. Drawing on the earthly life and ministry of Jesus to illustrate Paul’s several statements about what love is and isn’t, Ryken brings a Christological approach to this commonly quoted passage. These aspects of love are then illuminated chronologically through the story of Christ’s advent, teaching, miracle working, sufferings, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension. This approach highlights the crucial truth that we are able to love only because Christ first loved us in this particularly profound, very real, and transformative manner.

    Complete with a study guide for each of the 12 chapters, Loving the Way Jesus Loves is attractive to Bible study groups as well as to individual readers. Given its unique emphasis, biblical soundness, integration of art through photography, and popular-level writing style, Ryken’s book has both wide and strong appeal. His intensely practical treatment of 1 Corinthians 13 is informed by the classic expositions of John Chrysostom, Jonathan Edwards, and C. S. Lewis, yet it explores an angle that no other commentator has. Ultimately, Loving the Way Jesus Loves bears witness to the life-altering truth that love is a person who has first loved us.

     

    Calvin on “Worship Styles”

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    Because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary for salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accomodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to change into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe.

    - Institutes, IV, 10, 30

    Aside

    “Naomi Faith” and the Joy of Interracial Redemption

    Last evening, at 6:31pm, Naomi Faith Locke was born. As I type this, I am rocking my new sleeping girl on my lap. Even with four children now, I never cease to be amazed at the mystery of a new child bearing the image of our glorious God. She is fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed.
    Why Naomi Faith? While Annie was pregnant, I taught the book of Ruth for a Wednesday night Bible study. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, had lost her husband and two sons (including Ruth’s husband) in Moab. By the end of the tragedies in Ruth 1, Naomi actually told her friends in Bethlehem, “Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant, happy). Call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”

    The rest of the book recounts how the Lord providentially filled her emptiness as her Redeemer. First he provided a loyal daughter-in-law, Ruth, who never left her side. Then he provided a barley harvest in her hometown Bethlehem. Then he raised up a close relative, Boaz, who had godly integrity and care for her and for Ruth. Then he moved so that the nearest relative would not receive Ruth, and he provided Boaz to take Ruth as his wife. Then he opened up Ruth’s womb that she would have a son, thus fulfilling his role as Redeemer. Then he worked so that through this baby would come the greatest king in Israel’s history, David, and ultimately the King of Kings, Jesus the Christ. So from beginning to end, the LORD is Redeemer, and he alone is praised.

    My prayer for Naomi Faith is that she, too, will see that the Almighty is the Redeemer. My prayer is that she will know that in times of sorrow, Christ is the lifter of her head. In times of famine, Christ is the provider. In times of emptiness, Christ is the fullness. Christ Jesus is the all-satisfying Redeemer, and I pray that she find her all in him alone.

    As a side note, I read a few articles about Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church’s decision to ban interracial couples from becoming members and active participants in their ministries (except funerals, strangely). Though the pastor and local association disagreed and the church ultimately overturned the decision, the damage has been done; the majority of church members publicly stated that they do not welcome interracial couples.

    Though I could give quite an extensive defense of interracial relationships as biblical and God-honoring, I would rather point to my daughter’s namesake. Though it seems that Ruth was an idolater like her fellow Moabites, she learned about the one true God through Naomi and her family and did not turn back. Not only this, but the means by which the Lord redeemed Naomi was through an inter-ethnic, interracial relationship between a Jew and a Moabite. And no one in the community objected: ALL gave praise to God.

    It’s only fitting that redemption would be pictured this way, of course. After all, the biracial child would ultimately have a descendant named David, who would receive a covenant promise by God that his seed, Jesus, would be heir on his throne and would rule forever and ever (2 Samuel 7, Luke 1:31-33). And because of his redemption, people from every tribe and nation and language will worship before the throne of the One who was and is and is to come (Rev. 5).

    So when I called my daughter, “Naomi Faith,” I am calling her to be satisfied in Christ the Redeemer, and I am calling her to rejoice in the redemption of the nations and their reconciliation as one in him. And my prayer is that all who see her may join in these joys.

    Thanksgiving: Before and After

    For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

    But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

    And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

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