Wisdom about Money

1. Remember that God owns everything.
Psalm 50:10-12 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. … 12 … the world and its fullness are mine. God owns the world and everything in it. If God owns you and all of your stuff, it radically changes how you view what you “own.” The things you have are on loan from God. You’re a steward, not an owner. This leads to humility and should lead you to generosity, when you know that you should invest money as God himself would invest it.

2. Be content with what you have.
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” At the end of the day, your security comes from Christ, not from what you own. How do you know where your security lies? When things get tight, do you panic, or can you rest in Christ, knowing he’s with you at all times—he never leaves, never forsakes you.

3. Beware the seductive power of debt.
Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. While there’s such a thing as “good debt” in our economy, our culture is out-of-control when it comes to debt, and this affects every one of us. The power of more can grow to the point where you find that what you own ends up owning you. When it comes time to buy a house, a car, or clothes, remember that that beautiful object might own you in the end.

4. Be patient and disciplined.
Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. There’s a strategy of investing called “dollar cost averaging”: rather than trying to play the market you should invest in regular, predictable amounts over time to discipline your investing, rather than reacting to the market. The Bible teaches the wisdom of patience and discipline. Hold off on impulse buys. Make a plan, then follow the plan. Sometimes you’ll lose or have unexpected expenses, but as you discipline yourself to live within your means, you’ll find that God blesses you.

5. Leverage your life and resources wisely for the kingdom of God.
Matthew 25:14-30 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Jesus uses economic language in his parable of the talents to show how foolish it is not to take risks for the sake of the kingdom of God. The wisest financial investment you ever make is money leveraged for the sake of the gospel. In another parable, Jesus compares his kingdom to a hidden treasure (Matthew 13:14): The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. If you gain the world but lose your soul, what gain is that? Use your resources in a way that shows the radical nature of self-denial and gospel sacrifice, and you’ll find that in the end your investment is more than worth it.

 

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One Church’s Response to White Supremacy in Charlottesville

Many of us are aware, while some possibly are not, that there were marches and protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend. Chants, flags, racist symbols, and violence shouted as loudly as the protestors themselves that white supremacy isn’t merely a figment of black America’s imagination. Today, I’d like to share some words regarding racial events that have increased in violence and visibility.

At times I haven’t known what to say. The truth is that I’m insecure about speaking into racial issues. My experience has taught me that people from all ends of the spectrum are upset—some because they think I talk about nothing but race and others because I don’t really know how to talk about it at all. And there’s some truth in that; I’ve made a muddle of it enough times to know I don’t really know. It’s easier to just be quiet. But I do know Jesus, I do believe the gospel, and it seems that the gospel is intersecting public life at this pressure point.

So I’d like to take a moment to speak for all of us here at Morning Star.

Scenes like the ones we saw this weekend grieve us. They should grieve all Christians. Men and women made in the image of God publicly and brazenly demeaning and attacking other men and women made in God’s image is a deeply disturbing, anti-Gospel image. Because we believe the gospel, we condemn racial sin of all sorts and the lie of white supremacy in particular. It is an abomination worthy of eternal punishment in hell. We hate it because God hates it. It doesn’t need to be soft-pedaled and shouldn’t be given any modicum of acceptance in Christian churches, and it’s not acceptable here.

God has blessed our congregation with a number of families and individuals of different ethnicities and skin colors. It’s one of the things I love about our church family. It’s like a little taste of heaven. But most of us don’t have the shared experience of being black in America. Because of this, it’s easy to be blind to much of the experience of people of color within America. So we should be humble in our response to these events. We must grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep. We must also condemn what God condemns. We must not allow our brothers and sisters of color to fight these battles on their own. There are some moments that aren’t clear. The events of this weekend were crystal clear.

God hates the fallacy of racial superiority. He hates racism enough that he poured out his anger on his own Son to punish the sin of racism and to redeem racist bigots who repent of their sin. Jesus shed his blood to unite all people—equally condemned before the justice of God and equally gloriously redeemed by the grace of God. Revelation 5:9-10: 9 And they sang a new song (to the Lamb), “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

So how do we respond to this weekend?

First, we declare that our unity is in Christ and that all people of all color are welcome and loved here. We eat of one body and drink of one cup. And to you who have been threatened by these events, know that it’s not you, it’s we—or more colloquially … us. We are one in Christ, we love you, and we stand with you.

Secondly, we deny that any human being is inherently superior to another, and we gladly affirm the dignity of all humans—whether we differentiate by race, mental ability, gender, age, or any other measure. Because all people are created in God’s image, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We gladly condemn racism in all its forms and white supremacy, in particular, including its most recent iteration in what’s become known as the “alt-right.”

Thirdly, we cry out to God for mercy. We pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus. The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

So let’s take a moment now and pray for peace and pray for our gospel light to shine brightly in a world shrouded in darkness.

Will you pray with me?

“Father, our hearts were grieved this weekend as we saw what unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. We pray for your peace to reconcile divides that seem unbridgeable right now. And we ask for wisdom for the events of today. On the one hand we’re inadequate and small, yet on the other we want to love and serve those we know, those we can help. Root out the vestiges of superiority of all sorts that remain in our hearts, whether that relates to gender, race, religion, income level, or anything else. Have mercy on our nation, we pray. And give us courage to stand firm in the gospel even when the cost of discipleship seems near and dear. So we pray for wisdom and grace and courage and above all for peace. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, amen.”

Why You Should Study Proverbs

Wisdom in ProverbsIn a Christian world that has increasingly appreciated the necessity of seeing Christ at the center of all of life, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to fit the book of Proverbs. It can come off like a collection of Confucius-like sayings or moralistic advice.

So why should you study Proverbs?

Because life is hard.
Life is hard for everyone. Even when you know Jesus, there’s a challenge to living well in this world that can’t be captured in a few words. Christ is sufficient, but God graciously gives a Word that covers many nuanced topics––so many, in fact, that God’s Word is sufficient for all of life and godliness.

Because you need wisdom.
“Wisdom” may bring to mind a wizened older man sagely stroking his chin. Or a grandmotherly woman, seasoned by life and experience, rocking in a chair and dispensing good advice. But wisdom is a multi-faceted concept that defies a quick summary or an easy caricature. It’s more like an intuitive mechanical knowledge than a step-by-step owner’s manual.

To put it as simply as possible, wisdom is the skill of living well. It’s the ability to rise to any challenge and face it with Spirit-given skill. You might call it Spirit-empowered common sense.

Because all Scripture is good.
All Scripture is good and given to us for our benefit. So you won’t find a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for every problem, but as you dig into Proverbs, you can pray and ask God to give you the skill to live life well in a fallen world—that is, living with wisdom.

To dig a little deeper, you could start here.

The Next Right Thing

Jesus did amazing miracles and ministry throughout the gospels, as he reached out to hurting people on the fringes of society, yet he did this in the course of his ordinary responsibilities. There’s something profoundly encouraging about this. In Mark 5, Jesus experienced terrible rejection from those whom he loved dearly and had known his entire life. How did he respond? He went about among the villages teaching. He got up and did the next right thing.

Sometimes the evidence of gospel growth in our lives is simply doing the next right thing. It’s getting up in the morning and getting kids out the door to school. It’s spending a few quiet moments with the Lord when no one’s looking. There’s no fanfare, and there are no bells or whistles. It’s showing up to work on time and working faithfully, when there’s no one passing out ribbons for doing a good job. When we trust Jesus, not only does God credit Jesus’ amazing sinlessness to us, he credits his ordinary sinlessness to us as well. So let Jesus’ perfect faithfulness empower and motivate you for ordinary faithfulness this week—faithfulness to do the next right thing, whether you feel like it or not.

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

It Was Every Bit as Good as I Hoped (Responding to David Mathis at Desiring God)

You may or may not have heard, so I thought I’d make sure everyone knew: Clemson won the College Football Playoff on Monday night.

On Tuesday, lifelong Clemson fan David Mathis, executive editor at desiringgod.org wrote a post entitled, “The Greatest Day in a Fan’s Life,” in which he said, “Now that I’m on the inside of it, I can tell you it’s not as good as I hoped.” A number of good friends have read and shared the post.

I thought I’d take a moment and respond to Mathis here. I too am a lifelong Clemson fan. I don’t know David, but I read just about every post at Desiring God and a quick Evernote search turns up eighteen David Mathis articles saved for future reference. So I’ve been helped quite a bit by his work.

That being said … I just can’t quite agree with the weight of his post. It seems to me that he makes a right point in an unhelpful way. As a pastor who values and preaches the supremacy of Christ in all things, I heartily assent to his emphasis on the final victory of Christ as our greatest joy. I also share his concern with the tendency of sports fans to idolize their teams and sporting events.

But for me, Monday night was every bit as good as I had hoped. My wife and two daughters stayed up for the entire game (waaaay past bedtime), and we all rejoiced together when Clemson pulled out the W at the last second (ok, ok—I rejoiced a little more than everyone else…!). I didn’t find ultimate fulfillment in that moment, but I hadn’t anticipated that I would. But that moment brought GREATER joy than I had anticipated. Clemson last won the championship the year I was born (1981), so this was a long time coming. I was disappointed (but not crushed) by last year’s loss in the championship game and elated (but not ultimately so) at this year’s victory.

So I found myself feeling like Mathis’s post rained on the Clemson parade in Rockford, IL (it was a small parade). If you’ll allow me to digress for a moment… Our girls are at an age where they enthusiastically anticipate Christmas Day, in large part because of the presents they’ll receive. We take time each Christmas to read the Christmas story and invest the day with the worthiness of Christ. But the last thing I’d want to do is caution my kids, as they’re opening their presents, not to enjoy that moment too much—because Jesus is better.

Yes, Jesus IS better than presents or a measly national championship. But reminding someone in the midst of joy that there’s an emptiness behind earthly joy—while technically right—seems to miss the intent of the moment. When Jesus tells us we should become like little children to enter the kingdom of God, it seems that he is—at least in part—pointing us to the innocent, freely enthusiastic joy that a child shows when she’s happy.

So, rather than leaving me feeling hollow or empty (or reminding others that they should feel that way), Monday’s game for me serves to heighten my anticipation precisely because of the joy I experienced: “If this is this much fun, imagine how much fun rejoicing in Jesus without any sin will be!” And the weekly gathering of our church is a source of joy on a regular basis for me in a similar manner. It’s not always euphoric, but sometimes it is—like when someone repents and is baptized or when someone shares how the Word of Christ has affected their life in a fresh way or when the voices of our congregation sing together and melt the coldness of my heart.

And in the big scheme of things, Mathis’s post seems to convey a view of culture that is less than helpful. If we enjoy culture as the ultimate good, that’s … not good. But if we enjoy culture as a window to the glory of God, it’s like the appetizer to the more amazing meal to come (rather than a dessert that we’re warned not to enjoy too much).

In the words of John Piper (in the foreword to this book): “The weakness of (Christian hedonism’s ascetic tendency) is that little space is devoted to magnifying Christ in the right enjoyment of creation and culture. Little emphasis is given to Paul’s words: ‘God created [foods] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’ (1 Tim. 4:3-4). Or his words that God ‘richly provides us with everything to enjoy’ (1 Tim. 6:17).”

For me, Monday night wasn’t a moment of hollow ache. It was a moment of sheer gladness, and that—more than any emptiness—makes me excited about the ultimate victory of Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

5 Keys to Building Relational Trust

Leadership is about building relationships, and the key to a good relationship is trust. This is true in any relationship – family, friendship, organizational leadership, etc.

In the middle of this interview, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn quickly summarizes fives keys to building relational trust. You can see the keys below, along with a brief comment about what each one looks like.

Keys to building relational trust:
  1. Integrity: do the right thing, even when it costs you.
  2. Compassion: make sure people know you care.
  3. Competence: get the right job done in the right way.
  4. Consistency: strive to live predictably according to your values.
  5. Empathy: take time to listen and understand both sides.
“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”
-Abraham Lincoln

Worship Style & the Sufficiency of Scripture

John Frame’s excellent The Doctrine of the Word of God on the relationship between different styles and traditions in worship and the sufficiency of the Bible:

“Many traditions have also developed concerning worship and other aspects of church life. These concern the style and instrumentation of worship songs, the order of events in worship, degree of formality or informality, and so on. Many of these are not commanded by Scripture, but many are in accord with broad biblical principles. The problem is that church people will sometimes defend their particular practice as mandatory on all Christians, and they will criticize as spiritually inferior churches that use different styles and patterns. Often the criteria used are not scriptural, but aesthetic. People argue that this style of music is more dignified, that that liturgy is more ancient, and so forth. These aesthetic and historical criteria are often used in place of Scripture, leading to the condemnations of practices that Scripture permits and commanding of practices that Scripture does not command. That … in my judgment, violates the principles of sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of Scripture.” (p. 238)