Easy Money

In my hometown there used to be a wonderful surrey racetrack.  Our neighbors raised horses that ran and won frequently.  How I loved watching them put their horses through their paces across the street from our house. I never went to the racetrack, until I started dating.  Prior to that I didn’t consider  what was at stake, financially, for the owners and those who bet on the races.

One day, a date and I went to watch the races.  When he suggested we place a bet on a horse, I said, “Sure,” without giving it much thought.   We each placed a ten-dollar bet then yelled our heads off during the race, cheering Lucky Feet, “our horse,” on to victory.   Many people in the crowd cheered and hollered like we did. Some sat silently, grimly, during the race.

Lucky Feet lost to another horse by a head. Part of the crowd roared, as apparently the winner had not been favored to win.  People who wagered the long odds on the winner jumped up and down hugging each other.  My date and I laughed off our loss.  Then, I noticed a few other folks in the stands.

One man looked ill, staring at his ticket in disbelief.   Some people turned the air blue cussing out everyone from the surrey driver to the owners.   Behind us, a woman stood stoically while tears coursed down her cheeks.  Our date at the races didn’t seem so fun anymore once I started observing the human carnage that occurred at the end of each race.   I never forgot my first exposure to gambling.

Another qualification for leaders which Paul lists in Titus chapter one, is that they avoid “dishonest gain.”  As I pondered what that means in today’s culture, gambling and playing the lottery come to mind. I found an interesting article by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological seminary. He expresses some thought-provoking ideas.

The entire enterprise of gambling is morally opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God’s word. The basic impulse behind gambling is greed, a basic sin that is the father of many other evils. The Bible presents the stewardship of material possessions as a crucial issue of discipleship. The Christian understands that his possessions and money are not his own, but God’s.  We are trustees who will be judged for the quality of our stewardship. Those lottery tickets and trips to Atlantic City are going to be hard to explain when God calls stewards to account. The worldview of the Bible affirms the active sovereignty of God over all events, persons and time- and thus there is no place for luck. The Christian trusts in God, not the vain hope of a winning lottery ticket or a favorable roll of the dice.”

These are sobering thoughts as I consider the day I must give an accounting for how I used every resource God entrusted to me.  That phrase “quality of our stewardship,” is stuck in my mind and causes me to look at all my resources differently.

Besides the underlying moral concerns, the ruination of businesses, families and individuals, due to gambling, makes me question why I would align myself with that in any way.  Try as I might, I cannot balance the rewards of profits made and jobs created against the personal devastation that also seems to be a steady by-product of this industry.

I expect I’m stepping on toes here and some are saying things like, “Oh it’s just something we do for a little fun now and then. What’s the big deal?”  Well, that’s for you to decide.   I can’t hear what God is speaking to you.  Let me suggest some Scriptures for you to ponder before you take that next trip to the casino or purchase another lottery ticket.  I’d hate to miss out on anything coming from God’s direction because I’m holding too tightly to what the world offers. You too?

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…”   Deuteronomy 8:18

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  Luke 12:15

“Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.” Proverbs 28:19

Pugilistic Leadership

There’s some spicy hummus in my blood. One grandfather boxed in lightweight divisions during the 1920’s.  He also didn’t shy away from fistfights over disputes in the shipyards where he worked or the pool halls where he gambled. A great grandfather controlled his family with his fists, keeping his wife and children in a state of fear much of the time.

My tendency towards brawling appeared during childhood.  A couple bullies lived near my family on Cherry Street, in Philadelphia.  When they turned their attentions towards me and mine, instincts fired in me that I didn’t know I possessed.  On one occasion, as I hung upside down on the monkey bars in our neighborhood playground, Brucie Kelsey (not his real name) snuck up on my blind side and flipped my legs off the bar.  My head hit the pavement below but the speed at which I jumped up and socked him straight in the mouth surprised us all.

On another occasion, Brucie and a couple of his friends terrorized my younger brother with a large German Shepherd.  They chased him around the playground with the dog until my poor brother climbed all the way to the top of the ball diamond backstop.  I heard his screams from my friend’s house.  The dog continued to jump and leap up the backstop while the bully boys laughed at my brother’s plight.  The ferocious rose in me again and I startled the fools by grabbing the dog’s leash out of their hands and giving it a strong jerk to silence the over-excited dog.

I threatened Brucie with another pop in the mouth, if he didn’t shut it immediately, then yelled at all three of them about the cowardice of three, large 5th graders picking on an undersized 2nd grader.   They gave me a little bit of half-hearted lip until the dog’s owner came across the street and annihilated them verbally for taking his dog without permission. Not sure how that would have all ended otherwise.

I don’t know if the desire to pop people comes from watching the Friday night fights with my grandfather, or is just in my nature.  Either way, as I grew older, I recognized that God probably didn’t want me socking people unless someone’s life or limb was endangered.  Depending on the culture you grew up in, my behavior may sound normal or shocking.  I’ve not seen a single fistfight in my West Michigan neighborhood but there are other ways of being violent towards people.

Continuing in the leadership quality list in Titus chapter one, we come to the directive that leaders must not be violent.  The Greek here literally means, “a striker, brawler or pugnacious person.”  The definition of pugnacious is “aggressive, belligerent, quarrelsome, argumentative, contentious, hostile and threatening.”  I’ve known folks, students and adults, that fit that definition to a T.  They may never physically strike you but their words and behavior sure can create that punched-in-the-gut feeling we all get sometimes.

I’ve worked with a few bullies, all of them believers, except for one.  They assaulted people with barrages of harsh words and criticisms, sometimes at loud volumes.  Gird your loins and prepare for bloodshed if you dare to disagree with them.  If you do win a disagreement and higher ups go with your ideas instead, that can make things worse. Pugilistic people lack the humility and self-control to simply stop taking swings and get into unity with their organization.

Are you spicy like me or do you have some folks around you with extra pepper sauce in their personalities?   Here’s some additional Scripture to help us consider God’s perspective.  Don’t misunderstand.  God commanded Israel to destroy entire nations.  He is a righteous judge who executes righteous judgement.  Please note the difference though, between executing God’s judgement and people who simply acted out of frustration and anger.

  • Moses never entered the promised land because he struck a rock with his staff instead of speaking to it as God commanded. Numbers 20:12
  • Cain’s unrighteous anger ended in murder and a curse on his life. Genesis 4:11-12
  • The violence of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, ended badly for them, inheritance-wise. Genesis 49:5-7
  • The royal line and lives of King Saul ended tragically, due to his anger and violence towards David. 1 Samuel 16:14, and chapter 31.
  • Nebuchadnezzar looked like quite the fool in front of his entire kingdom when he threw God’s anointed into a furnace. Daniel 3

There’s plenty more examples of folks who ended poorly because they gave way to violence.  Be assured that God hears and notes every violent word or deed directed towards his children.  Scriptures strongly hold to the truth that leaders in God’s kingdom are held to a high standard concerning aggressive behavior.  The stories I’ve known of pastors, elders and other church leaders being exposed as abusers of their families give me the willies.  Frightening judgement awaits leaders who use their position and strength to bully.  Consider Ezekial 34, Jeremiah 23, and Matthew 18:6.

There is a time and place for violence in the kingdom.  When we go after people and places Satan claims for himself, our lives should generate relentless, fiery arrows raining down on him.  Take mastery over inner aggression and aim it at the right targets, outside the walls of  Christ’s kingdom into the darkness of hell’s dominion.