Category Archives: Bible on Money

Matters of Financial Disappointment and God

Are you ever disappointed with God?  Do you feel he should have blessed you some way with money, but you didn’t get what you wanted? Can you still remain joyful in disappointment and after failure?

It’s absolutely a test that all Christians will endure. There is one thing I can guarantee you, and that is you will not always get what you want in life. This is especially true for many of the things you want the most. I do believe that God generously provides, sometimes in miraculous ways, and I will always ask for blessings that I think are right. But at the end of the day, can you be happy with what ever happens?

Why do I ask this question? Many Christians are depressed, because of their money expectations. In their minds, they expected certain outcomes for following Jesus. To narrow it down to a financial context, American Jesus followers expect a minimum type of housing, menu of food on their table, car they drive, spouse that cares for their every need with his or her great income and their fulfilling job. If they don’t get it, many become depressed; unhappy because they have difficulty experiencing joy and hope because they think it has to do with money, but it never does.

They look around at the better lives their friends enjoy. Big house in the suburbs, great vacation in the islands. They become discontent with the things God has given them. They wonder why Jesus let them down, or where they failed. Jesus the happy pill never materialized. They take their disappointment out on the highway or their spouse; you know it, either you’ve been that idiot driver, the pointing finger spouse or on their receiving end.

Can you buy happiness, joy and peace? Of course not; you can buy fun, but never those other things. How then do you get it, you might ask? The answer is Jesus.

Walking with Jesus is the only way. Happiness, joy and peace (HJP) is known when we live and walk with him. Not only can’t you buy HJP, nothing can take it from you. Even your failures can’t stick on you long to prevent this. Neither can injustices, failures and disappointment steal it. Do you wonder if there is a decisive Bible verse that promises this? Yup there are several; the most famous ones are Romans 8:31-39.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Your joy, your peace, your happiness can never be earned, and it can’t be achieved through some great financial payoff. This is a hard one to get, especially for me, a goal driven person, who likes things perfect. Goals and perfection can’t deliver this either, not even a fantastic retirement with every comfort and excitement possible. Nothing can buy or steal these things of love, because according to these verses nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.

This is good news; no matter how hard you work to earn a living, and you don’t achieve many of your financial goals, you can still be enormously full of HJP. Likewise, you don’t have to continue to hold out hope, working for these blessings, they are already freely available to you. It is even better than that, not even your failures, sin or shortcomings can prevent it. That is good news!

With this knowledge, you can change how approach your money, job, your role as a steward, and even generosity. This is liberating. You can stop trying to earn HJP, but begin to learn to receive it, it is ready for you to plunge in, fall back into the loving arms of Jesus, it’s better than the Nestea plunge. People I know who live like this, tend to be more successful at work, because they are not as tense and anxious at others. They often are better savers and spenders, and more generous too, because they are not trying to buy happiness for themselves today or borrow to get it.

If it is free, should you take it?

free foodWe live in a Costco free-sample world, if it is free, we grab it without a second thought, is that good for us?

If something is offered to us and it is entirely free, should we take it? It is amazing to me when I go to Costco on Saturday mornings. Some people will wait in line, or push in front of you, just for a free very small piece of frozen pizza.

However, it’s quite obvious from their (my) waistline there are few people starving, but always in want of more. If you observe the customers at Costco, they appear to be doing okay financially. They have nice clothes, and the parking lots seldom has older junk cars, in fact I notice a lot of really nice cars that cost $50,000 to $75,000 and more. It’s strange to see financially well off people elbowing for scraps of food. How would these people behave if our country went through real food shortages?

The amount of food given away there Saturdays is quite astonishing. You can literally skip lunch and get an adequate 500 calorie meal just passively walking around the store once or twice. I have a pre-determined path I circle. I head towards the meat area after I buy produce. I get a sample of meat, cheese or smoked salmon, and then head towards the dairy section, hoping to grab prepared meal kind of food sample. On a good day I’ll find a drink sample to wash down a little free humus or salsa on a designer cracker or chip. As I head to the biggest refrigerator/freezer section on the planet, there will surely be at least three more things to eat. Sometimes a vendor is giving away samples of perogi, or smoothies, or what ever new product they are pushing. At the end of each freezer/refrigerator is someone cooking a good smelling high calorie or fat, processed yummy blob in an over-sized toaster oven or electric skillet. The ultimate free-food victory is achieved if you pass the frozen pizza as it is being removed from the oven, and no one is in line. If you are out of luck, six people are ahead of you, and they grab extra samples to feed their spouse and kids. Dessert can sometimes by had, in the form of chocolate covered Acai berries or toffee, as you aim for the shortest check-out line. Isn’t this all gross?

In writing this, I am coming to terms with this insane middle-class free-food eating frenzy. It’s like a school of piranha attacking a bleeding carcass of animal that fell into the Amazon, or a gam of sharks, feeding on a deceased floating whale.  I eat these free-food samples, even though I have no intent of ever buying them, just because I am a glutton. I always over-consume free food, like when at a potluck I always over indulge. However, from now on I  am going to stop doing so, unless I am really considering the purchase.

Doesn’t this all tell us about something much bigger in life and in ourselves? Nothing free is really free, except for grace. Even every free thing comes with a cost to someone, like the store I am taking advantage of, to my character for taking something I don’t need or didn’t intend to consider, or to my bulging waistline. Then there’s the cost to the concept of no benefit unless there’s work. Gluttons like me always want more, and this isn’t good character. I don’t want my mind to constantly have a free-so-grab attitude, or to feed my tendency for gluttony when passing the potluck line, or free sample island at the grocery. From the moment I write this sentence, I vow to curb this kind of gluttony: I vow to only try a free sample if considering its purchase, not eat too much at potlucks, not over-order food when someone else is picking up the check. My character is at stake and my work ethic is being compromised. The health of my mind, spirit and body  is infected by my free-grab-more habit. The free for all, without work is not good, and leads to an attitude of entitlement. I vow to resist this, and am asking God for help. If you can relate to this, please comment below.

There is one last thing to consider, and that is the more we sample, the more we buy things off-budget. Meaning, the most economical way to shop is to use a list, and only buy according to your plan. However, studies show that when we sample food, we end up buying them- so there is a cost. For more information about this, read this article in the Atlantic.

Bible references:

  • In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (Thessalonians 3:6-10).
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • 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)
  • For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags (Proverbs 23:21)

 

Tackling the greatest budget buster – Emotions!

The biggest budget busters might be eating out and entertainment, but it’s really our emotions that cause us to overspend. You’re over-stressed, tired, or bored.

Did you bark at the bad driver while commuting to and from work today? Did you find a mess at work to deal with?  Did something make you so mad that you wanted to pop.  It’s not Monday noon yet, and anxiety is rising in your chest, like bile from your stomach you can almost taste it. You can’t wait until the day is over, the dishes are put away, the kids are in bed, and you are chilling on the sofa medicating yourself with  some nonsensical TV program or book snacking. On the way home, it would be easy to stop and medicate life with a shopping trip, or an oasis at the restaurant. Maybe a glass of wine in the evening; “Well that was nice, maybe another, or…?

Truth is you are out of control a times, admit it. If you allow your emotions to control you, you are doing life on your own, and it’s not supposed to work that way. It doesn’t work that way. For this post, I’m assuming you have a budget that you follow each month, and track spending. However, if you are like me, life just gets busy and stressful at times. When you are stressed you tend to be more anxious. The more anxious you are, the more you spend on budget-busters.

What are you anxious about? You think it’s life, external things that make you feel this way, but you are wrong if you think like this. Anxiety is an internally derived emotion, and like many of our emotions, it’s our natural response to errors in our thinking or reacting to the world around us. Busy people face this and so do lazy folks who need something just to do.

Anxiety is caused by the sense of separation from God, and our lack of focusing on him throughout our day. It is when you are carrying your loads not only for today but for tomorrow too, and all on your own shoulders without help. Why are you separated from God? It’s probably because the busier you are, the less time you have for him in your life! If your day is full of activities, commuting, working, and trying to keep your home sane, you push God to the margins. With more extra activities we put on top of normal things like doing laundry, preparing meals, running errands and relaxing during down times, we have less time for God.

Life is so busy, the average church goer only attends worship services about once a month, fewer read and pray regularly. I think this is because we associate spiritual activities with work, which we try to offset by things for one’s self like exercise, fun and relaxation. Who has time for devotions, small group, and worship services every day, or every week? There just isn’t enough time for work and for one’s self, is there? How’s that working for you?

Please see this vicious, terrible cycle. You are stressed, tired and want an escape. You want more time for yourself. You fill up your margin time with things for you, busy fun things that are good, that God intended for us to enjoy. However, they don’t satisfy us enough, and our anxiety is only mildly reduced. In an effort to have space between things that make us anxious, we leave little focused time for God. Without this we are more stressed. The next day, it repeats itself all over; more stress, more time for self, less time for God.

Let’s look in the Good Book for some insight:

  • Don’t be anxious: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34 ESV).
  • Each day has new good things from God: “Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!” (Lam. 3:23-24 HCSB).
  • Jesus lightens our load and give us peace and rest: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NLT).
  • Life with Jesus is a life of ‘More’ and not ‘Less:’ “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10 KJV).
  • He invites us to receive from him: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost (Isa 55:1 NIV).
  • Life with Jesus is one of all kinds of material, emotional, and spiritual food: Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35 NIV) .
  • We ask and he provides today’s needs: “Give us today our daily bread (Matt. 6:11 NIV)”
  • We have help: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you ” (John 14:16-17).
  • Jesus is with us: Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23).

You were not designed by the creator, to do life without the him. In the garden the Creator, Adam and Eve worked together. It isn’t any different for you and me. We are to begin each day with him in Bible reading and prayer. At the end of the day, our final thoughts should go out to him in prayer too. In between those hours, when we work and go about, we can be mindful of him in even mundane activities, and look for him even in the most stressed of times.

We don’t carry tomorrow’s worries. We ask and get help from God along the way. We think of him, and in our hearts talk to and spend time Jesus and the Holy Spirit throughout or day. He is near to us. This is the abundant life of less stress and anxiety he intends for us. When we have less stress and anxiety, we spend less on things we don’t need. God centered people are more generous towards others and God with money and time, desire to spend less on themselves accumulating more and more unnecessary material possessions. Happy people are those who are enjoying him and the things he intended for us to have. These are the people that are daily walking with Jesus, and spending quiet time with him and worshiping him during weekend services and with friends in Bible studies and small groups.

Doing life, just one day at a time. Each day is a gift all by itself. We only get one at a time. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is unknown. Seek Jesus for what he has in store for you for today. For now, that’s enough.

7 Lies Christians Believe About Fun During Financial Recovery

The key to financial success is learning how to enjoy life, and budgeting for fun even during financial struggles

This is for you, if you are living on a very strict budget, either because things are just very tight, or you are digging yourself out of a bad financial situation. This is also for those that have difficulty spending any money on themselves or their family, for anything other than the normal necessities.

Personal finances can be a heavy and difficult subject. Money management, at least from a Christian perspective can be laden with a lot of worry or fear. This is especially true if we have financial problems, since it carries a lot of emotion. You might be taking financial class, receiving financial counseling and doing everything you can to improve. It’s hard work, and during these lean times, all of your money is going for things like food, housing and debt, and you are not spending anything on fun. You are enjoying little entertainment and it’s been forever since you’ve been on vacation. You wonder if it is going to be forever before you can enjoy life again, or if you can have fun in the meantime.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that if you are not having some fun and enjoying life along the way, then more than likely you will fail in this. Life is just too stressful and besides we have been created by God to enjoy life. So if you don’t know how to enjoy life, financial management is always going to be associated with drudgery and withholding things that make life fun.

For me writing this fun, I do this sometimes late into the evening and on days off. This was especially fun to write, because it reminded me about all of the reasons I have to be joyful and experience fun things that I can soon do.

A warning though should be given to those of us, who don’t have any difficulty saying no to themselves, when it comes to over indulging in as many pleasurable things as possible. Hedonism is a word that we don’t use very often and it means that pleasure is the proper aim of human life. Hedonism is the triplet brother to materialism and greed. The Declaration of Independence drafted in 1776 says that one of the foundational “self-evident truths” of our country are three unalienable rights, “The pursuit of happiness,” for all Americans is right up there with life and liberty. God did give man the ability to enjoy pleasure, but contrary to the Declaration, it’s not the reason we live. Therefore, limiting our diet to it, as Jesus disciples us in stewardship is a good thing. However, pleasure and fun is not a bad thing, and since we are made to have it, a good financial plan should include it.

Lie 1:  Christians aren’t supposed to have fun

Some Christians can’t have fun or enjoyment, because they just don’t think Christians are supposed to. If they do, some feel guilty, for enjoying earthly pleasures. Somehow they think good things can only be experienced within the confines of the church building, or doing religious activities. Many Christians attach negative attitudes towards marital sex, entertainment, and just having simple fun.

Truth 1: God designed up to enjoy pleasure. God thoughtfully desired to bless us with 5 senses to enjoy his creation: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. He created sex, thought, imagination, love and a full range of emotions and feelings. All of these mysteries that we can experience in our body, most fully in moral boundaries that he erected to give us pleasure, and a lot of times without spending much money. God is truly amazing.

Put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17b)

Truth 2: God created everything for our enjoyment. God provided creation for us to enjoy, that is why there is nothing better than to be outside in a woods, walking through a park or strolling down the fairway at the golf course, staring up at the sky during a warm summer evening, and sledding down a hill on a frosty day. Being in nature is one of the most nurturing things we can do for our souls, especially if we’ve left things behind like Smartphones.

Truth 3: Jesus is the abundant life and not things. Jesus indicates the “abundant life” is (John 10:10) through life with him and not stuff. He talked about the fruit of life, with him:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).” Examples of the fruit we get to enjoy are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These rich blessings are available to anyone regardless of the amount of money they have, also come with eternal life (John 3:16), the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and all that he brings. Jesus even promised that he will provide for our needs (Matthew 6:33). Focusing on these things, helps us to let go of anxiety and worries, giving us a joyful light heart.

Lie 2: You can’t have fun unless you have a lot of money

While writing this section, I checked my Facebook status, and front and center was a picture of a friend from high school and brother in the faith. He and his bikini clad wife are staring back at me from a boat in Cancun. Next to him, I believe are his daughters, all tanned, with 14 Amberjack fish they just caught in the foreground. They are smiling, and holding beverages. Meanwhile I sit in Columbus Ohio, during a late day in March with temperatures in the 40’s and rain. It’s pictures like this that people envision when they think of having real fun. This is a lie, life can be good everyday.

One day when I was about 16 years old I had a conversation with a fairly wealthy man, the father of a high school acquaintance. This was a good family, and we had a lot of fun together snow skiing in Aspen and water skiing on lakes. As I recall the conversation, he me that having an enjoyable life involved making good money, and being able to have a lot of fun. 35 years ago I still recall this conversation, because over time I have struggled with what he said, what I thought, and how I think now. I wasn’t a believer in Christ then, but I knew at the time something didn’t ring true about this. Many people believe this way that they have to endure less than enjoyable work, in order to have fun on the weekend. Christians often fall into this same trap of equating enjoyment to money, and more enjoyment to more money.

Truth 4: Simple pleasures have the best memories. Another truth is that when you look back at your life and the wonderful experiences you’ve had, great vacations, trips to Disneyland, and flying down the reservoir in a boat, the best memories are nothing like that at all. My best memories of growing up were simple times, requiring very little money, having home-made Chef Boyardee pizza at a birthday party, laughing so hard milk came out of my nose. Simple get togethers around my daughter and son-in-law’s backyard fire, acting silly, with my wife as she rolls her eyes as I howl at the moon. Fun is a state of mind, and you can have fun driving down the road, just laughing at the silliness of crazy drivers. I think Jesus in part wants us to be more childlike enjoying simple pleasures when he told us “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3)

Truth 5: There are a lot of things, to do that cost little to no money. In almost every community there are plenty of free concerts, libraries full of books, music and movies to borrow. TV has proven to decrease people’s happiness. We fool ourselves thinking that it is relaxing, but it really drains people more than it gives life. My wife and I reduced our viewing to a few hours per week, and replaced it with listening to free internet radio through our low-cost home internet radio audio system. Our attitudes have remarkably improved. We can listen to endless legal free music, something we really enjoy doing as we read. Music, the arts, museums, zoos and discount movie theaters provide us with a lot of low-cost entertainment options.

Truth 6: Include in your budget items for fun and enjoyment. Even if your finances are really tight, make sure that you plan some money for simple things, within reason. This might include eating out, movies, inexpensive concerts, and nice food that you buy for a really nice home cooked meal. However, when you add up your entertainment expenses for the month include cable TV, as well as monthly costs for Smartphones. When we go to a restaurant to eat, or spend money on a vacation that we have budgeted for, it’s so much more enjoyable. In the past we might charge it, and have no idea what’s going on in our budget, so something intended for fun didn’t feel as enjoyable. Now when we spend on these budgeted fun things, it seems more enjoyable.

Truth 7: Community is one of the greatest sources of joy. Some of the happiest people on the planet are those that live in poor crowded communities, research has proven this. God has created us as relational beings, who are most happy when in we live in community with friends. Americans isolate themselves in their homes filled with toys, and man caves. Our personal castles, that become shrines unto ourselves. We hide behind curtains; confine outdoor activities to backyard decks with perfect ‘don’t step on the grass’ moats out front.

So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun (Ecclesiastes 8:15 NLT).

The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes tells us that one of the most enjoyable things humans can do, is to have a great meal and beverages, with your friends. This is one of simple but potentially most fun thing humans can do. Make it a goal to have a least one really great meal at home each week, and invite people over to enjoy it with you. Stay up late playing games, snack on things you don’t normally eat, and celebrate life.

Lie 3: God will not bless me with good things in the future

This post is titled the lies we believe, why we can’t have fun today, but this lie works in the inverse, thinking we’ll never have fun, so we have to splurge today. I’ve had people tell me they don’t believe God will ever bless them with what they want. Sometimes they joke saying they might die before good things happen, so they have to live for today.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

Picture yourself online getting ready to book a cruise in the Caribbean, and your finger is hovering over the complete purchase button. Maybe you are in the auto dealership getting ready to buy a car that you can barely afford. You’re starting to come to your senses, and you hesitate. Then you hear this voice, “I’m going to do this, if I wait on God he’ll never bless me with this. Who knows what tomorrow holds, I’m going to do this today!” The truth is God has a lot of good in store for you in the future, but don’t make a bad decision today and mess up some future blessings he might have in store for you tomorrow.

Truth 8, you can have fun today, but not at the expense of tomorrow’s. I love the saying of Dave Ramsey: “Live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else.” Essentially this says that we can avoid some stupid financial mistakes today, so that in the future you will have more money and can afford to some things that those who kept living stupidly, won’t then be able to do. This is the truth, and there are a lot of things you can do, for little to no money that have been just covered.

Lie 4:  There’s no fun or joy until all problems are resolved

Do you hope someday that you won’t have any problems so that you can finally enjoy life? I have bad news for you; this side of heaven that day will never come. Good spiritual and mental health requires the ability to enjoy life in the middle of stress and chaotic seasons of life many of us are in. Don’t get caught in the in the ‘if only trap.’  If only I had more money, I could afford to make my problems go away. If only this or that problem went away, then I could enjoy life. America seems to be increasingly full of OCD fanatics. People that are mild or severe Obsessive Compulsive Disordered people who demand perfection, and total order and they can’t relax unless everything is just so.

Life is hard and for many people things just haven’t worked out the way we always dreamed they would. When we were children we imagined the perfect marriage, beautiful house, beautiful spouse and kids, perfect body, sexual satisfaction, great successful spouse, and successful career with a lot of money. Some people never figured they might have challenging marriages, singlehood, bad economy; mismatched career or health challenges would come their way. People never imagined the mistakes they made, and the regrets they now have. Some people think you can’t be happy now that life has worked out the way it has.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Cor 13:11).

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Adulthood is waking up to the fact that not all of life’s dreams will work out. We will have troubles. Christian maturity is accepting this, and not blaming your spouse, others or God. It is not living in a constant state of being mad and bitter, it is accepting things for what they are today.

Truth 9: Life will never be perfect.  If you peel back the veneer on life, scratch beneath the surface of your perfectly clean house and facade, you are a mess. We all are, so welcome to the club. I’m a mess, you’re a mess, and everyone around you is mess. You can quit pretending everything is okay, on your way to a perfect life. Perfectionists can relax too, there’s always going to be one more mess to clean up, thing to paint, and car that needs its oil changed. I’m not saying to let it all go, and live in squalor, but let it all go your attitude of perfection or absence of problems goal. It’s never going to happen, no matter how hard you try, life sometimes just sucks.

Dr. Leo Buscaglia told an interesting story during a lecture I once attended that really caught my attention, and has spoken to me for years, even though he died in 1998 it continues to inspire me.  I recall this author and motivational speaker telling a story from his childhood, where many of his stories come from. In this particular real life event, his father came home from work, after finding out they were financially destitute, because the business partner took all of the money and bankrupted the business. Leo’s mother’s response was to celebrate life. She cooked up a big meal, and they enjoyed the blessing of the day. There is a clue to happy life imbedded in that story.

I was let go from my dream job 2 days after Christmas 2006. My wife and I stood in the kitchen hugging, crying, repenting and forgiving. Yes, they recruited me from a high paying secure corporate position with great benefits, and after a few days, told me the last ten people they hired for that position didn’t work out either. So we dreamt of the future of what God had in store for us, and we had a great meal together, just like Leo’s family did decades ago. It’s been hard, but we got through it, and I am happier now than ever. Yes life sucks sometimes, but forgive and move on. We don’t appreciate the good times, unless we’ve gone through bad seasons.

Lie 5: The advertising and media messages are right

Culture’s voice can never be silenced, and is always calling out, and interfering with your thoughts about the things money touches. The advertising world is constantly screaming out to us why we aren’t satisfied, or worse how insufficient, ugly and unhappy everyone is. Of course they do that making us want to buy their thirst quenching products. Advertising is everywhere, we are constantly being drowned in it, either on our Smartphone, internet, TV, radio, and on about any kind of property that advertising space can be purchased on. Even the end of the gas pump handle, park bench, car bumper and shopping carts are adorned with some kind of advertisement. Remember truth number 9, you are a mess on the inside. You can buy something that will medicate the truth, or cover it up so that people might not see it, but in the end, you’ll probably be less happy and have less money, so don’t buy into the lies.

Lie 6: You have to earn and deserve enjoyment

Many Christians have difficulty enjoying life. Often they are consumed by worrying about earning God’s blessings, or if they are anxious and worry about being Christian enough to justify receiving good things from God. Many Christians live with a perennial cloud over their head, believing that they just can’t be happy until God blesses them. Some Christians even believe they are under some kind of condemnation, and God doesn’t want them to be happy, because of something that they’ve done, or has been done to them.

Truth 10: You are God’s beloved. You are deeply loved, richly gifted, forgiven, highly favored, and abundantly blessed. You are the righteousness of God: when God looks at us, he sees us through Jesus, and we are completely accepted and clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. These are great things, and can’t be purchased or earned. God may bless us more if we obey him, but at the core, we are loved because of who God is. At the end of the day, the things you buy will never satisfy or fulfill you like Jesus will.

Lie 7: All I do is work, I can only enjoy weekends and look forward to retirement

Going to work everyday for many people is hard, how can you endure it, and not have it eat you alive? You might be wondering how to endure and not be that person that walks around with a cloud around your head every day.  This is a real problem for the Christian in the workplace.

People yearn for relief, and an end to it all. They can’t wait until the weekend, vacation, and ultimately retirement, when they don’t have to work. The time away from work is when we can enjoy life, the rest of it is drudgery. The truth be known though, is that we were created for work in the garden, and we will be working in the eternal kingdom. We have programmed our minds to think that work is that thing we do in between having fun. While writing about this lie, I got up to over one thousand words. There’s just not enough space in this context here to provide a satisfying explanation, so I’ll reserve this for the next blog post, but here are a few things to chew on in the meantime:

Truth 11: We can have joy while enduring. This is perhaps one of the hardest things for us to grasp and learn how to do. Work might not be satisfying, fulfilling and embracing our passions, but we can be joyful in our work. The keys to doing this are: learning to be content during good times and bad. Being thankful for whatever you have, knowing that your blessings are rich in Jesus. It helps me to remember that even minimum standards of living in America are 95% better than the rest of the world. The following Bible verse is a great one to chew on, maybe read before heading off to work everyday.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Col 3:23-24).

Jesus, Temporary Stuff & Heart Matters

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 21:5-6, Jesus is responding to the disciples asking if he was impressed with the church building that was constructed.

I’ll never forget the first time we walked into the brand new building the church constructed in 1991. Moving out of an old facility, and into freshly minted carpeted floors, and brightly painted walls, we were like children on Christmas morning. We were able to go from 4 services to 2, and the children had ample spaces for church school. Everything was clean and new. Like it was yesterday, I remember John, one of our associate pastors, speaking at the opening service. He said something to the effect that the new building was great, but it is not for worshiping us, but Jesus. And, although we were to take good care of it, we were not going to get upset if someone spilled coffee. These things will happen, and is not important. What John was communicating to me that morning, was that Jesus was to clean up our lives and we were not to worship the building.

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6

Does stewardship involve caring for homes, businesses and church buildings that we construct? It doesn’t seem like Jesus was very impressed at all about the temple in Jerusalem. Reading Matthew 23:27-28, he is more concerned with what is inside the church; you and me.  Furthermore, he cares less about our house and yard, and more about what is going on inside of us; in our minds and hearts. Our first call is to steward these things, not our material possessions. When believers neglect what’s most important, the sad fact is that buildings will eventually be destroyed or re-used for something else. You only have to look at abandoned businesses and churches in the inner city, and the Crystal Cathedral going belly-up, to witness this fact.

Does stewardship of material blessings have eternal ramifications: Many Christians make the assumption that since everything will eventually be destroyed and made new (Revelation 21:1-2), then we don’t have to worry about maintaining buildings or the environment. This is tragically wrong. Matthew 25:23 is one of the concluding sentences of the Parable of the Talents, indicating that how well we steward and work with temporary things, says something about our character and integrity. These two things do last into eternity, and have reward.

Do we worry too much about buildings, especially our homes? If I have a regret as a father, it would to have been more present like Mary and less like Martha (read Luke 10:38-42). If I had less concern about our house’s landscaping, remodeling and cleanliness, I would have had more energy and time for Jesus and my family. We have God’s grace in the messes of life, but we can’t ever get back lost opportunities from days past.

Are you a perfectionist? God is perfect, and loves order, shouldn’t our lives mirror that? Jesus didn’t worry much about appearances (read Isaiah 53:2). The home he grew up in was very modest. During his ministry, he had few belongings and only simple clothes and sandals. He was born during a messy time of civilization of unpaved roads, and lack of modern sanitation. Jesus came and provided grace, during a messy time in human development.

What does this have to do with Christian finances? Believers want to be more generous, and better at managing spending so that they can have less debt and more accumulated wealth. Change is hard. Materialism and perfectionism gets in the way. Worrying about the wrong things get in the way. Invite Jesus in to your finances, your plans and goals, and your priorities. Put your heart into his hands, and let him direct your paths (see Psalm 119:105). Take a moment to talk to Jesus about this.

*This Monday blog post is a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship.  This is the sixtieth post in this series.

Jesus and the Famous Generous Poor Widow

templeThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 20:46-47 and 21:1 – 4, Jesus makes the central point of two teachings, about poor widows.

Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely. Luke 20:46-47

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.“Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1 – 4

There is a lot to glean from these verses. In the first set, Jesus shows his disdain for religious people walking around looking rich and important, as they stroll about in business, attend dinner parties and synagogue, and who sound spiritual. These same people Jesus said devour widows.

In today’s day-and-age, Jesus would be talking to people in church who have financial abundance, show-off their wealth, and try to be admired in public gatherings. Jesus isn’t against wealthy people, but he is not happy with those who get wealthy at the expense of the poor. Jesus highly favors the needy, and announced his earthly ministry in Luke 4:18-19 as good news to the poor. Throughout scripture, we can see heavenly favor on the poor, widows, orphans, immigrants and prisoners. The gospel isn’t about some redistribution of wealth program, but a plan for the hearts and minds of mankind. He is calling those with wealth to provide for the poor, and to give them opportunity to make a good wage to provide for themselves, even at some expense to their own standard of living.

In Luke 21:1-4, we see Jesus sitting as the Rabbis did. He was sitting close to the offering box and watched it closely. From the description, we can tell that he closely observed each person dropping in their money. The poor widow dropped in two very small copper coins, with a value of 1/8 of one cent. How else could Jesus have seen that small act, if he wasn’t sitting close to it.  He observed the act, and had spiritual insight into each person’s heart. He rejoiced in the heart of the widow giving it all to God out of love and devotion. This unnamed person is one of the few people Jesus praised, and because of her act of faith and small but huge gift, has been famous for about 2,000 years. On the other hand, he saw the wealthy who only gave a small portion comparatively of their overall wealth. Have you ever had the internal conversation go like this, when writing out a check of tithe, or a charitable donation of any amount: “Oh I better not give too much, I do want to be a good steward, and not ding my financial net worth too much.” I don’ t think the poor widow had this conversation, she came to worship, and gave her all.

The take away for these verses is not only that the heart of the Jesus follower is inclined to the poor, but to give with a heart like the poor widow. Jesus is closely watching at our giving actions and into our hearts just like he did those many years ago in the synagogue. I am not saying this, to put our spirituality into some performance formula or anything else but to say that our giving, our helping and our employing others is important to Jesus, something we ought to take seriously. Have a conversation with Jesus about these matters, and see what he might reveal about your heart and where he might lead you.

Interesting side note. This blog post I make most Mondays, are a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship. Coincidentally, my Pastor Rich Nathan preached on this same story, but from Mark 12:41-44, just yesterday; to watch this great teaching click here. This is the fifty-ninth post in this series.

The Joy of Hard Work, Luke 19:12-27

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 19:12-27, is about hard work. Modern society’s view of work, doesn’t always agree with scripture, so let’s see what the Bible has to say.

He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ 14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ 17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ 19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ 20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ 26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

Key elements of the verses:

  • The Command: Verses 12 – 13 we see the ruler leaving his assets in the hands of his servants to make profitable while he is away; “Put it to work.”  Believers are God’s servants, working with the time, talent, and resources he has given us, to make profitable for him, and for ourselves.
  • The Complainers: Verse 14 a delegation complained to a higher authority. In the context of these verses, many of the servants didn’t want the kind of king that ruled this way. People in kingdoms sometimes don’t like to work for the king, and for the benefits of others, but just themselves. Subjects might prefer to conquer and be taken care of by slaves and the spoils of war.
  • The Profiteers: Verses 15 – 19, two of the servants report to the king the profits they have produced. The king increases the number of their responsibilities.
  • Judgement: The  Verses 20 – 24, one of the servants did nothing with the money, while the king was away. The king took the money he entrusted to him and gave it to one of the harder working servants. The king was furious, he ordered the execution of the complainers.

You have heard these verses and Matthew 25:14-28 being taught probably several different ways, perhaps in the context of investing, or Kingdom principles. I previously covered this as a teaching about the Eternal Significance of Good Stewardship. I stand by this article and would probably agree with the many other ways these verses are taught. However, this article will probably will be a new way of looking at these verses; because I think it is quite possible Jesus is talking about how much he loves hard work and how much he hates being lazy.

I have worked in a lot of places, and have talked to a lot of business owners, and the number one complaint they have about their employees isn’t intelligence, know how, experience or that they are nice people. Their number one complaint is finding people who work hard all day.  Often, people don’t arrive on time, miss work often, take long lunch breaks, goof off talking too much or spend a lot of time on social media.

Some people look down on hard work. You hear that work is that thing we do, in between having fun on the weekends. “We work hard, so that we can play hard,” is a worn out quote I’ve heard too often. In some societies, hard work is seen as something for people lower down the social-economic scale. The number one goal for many people is to save up enough money, so that one day they don’t have to work anymore, they can lay back and relax in retirement (read Luke 12:17-21).

However, I think Jesus wants us to always work hard. To expend a lot of effort into the things we do. In our feel-good society, we don’t elevate hard work. We preach that the ills to society are lack of compassion towards the poor and disadvantaged. I think Jesus would say that although this may be true, but one of the biggest ills of society is our attitude towards work.

Rich Nathan the Pastor of Vineyard Columbus taught What Ever Became of Hard Work? in the Neglected Virtues series. For many people hard work is a forgotten virtue (don’t worry this sermon also touched on workaholics too). It is easy to slack off, this is a temptation. Constant activity, physical fatigue and seeing others not work as hard pulls down our attitude to work hard.

I think hard work is a blessing. A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook: “I love Fridays! Not only because it’s the weekend, but it feels sweet when I’m tired and I’ve worked hard all week, then hear my master say well done good and faithful servant! (Matt 25:23) There is joy in hard work.” I honestly believe this is true.  Take some time to review the many Bible verses about work, listed here. Monday is a good day to change our mind about how we view work; so that at the end of the day or the end of the week, although we may be exhausted, we will feel really blessed. I encourage you to do this, I’ll bet you hear Jesus say to you “I’ve been with you all day and watching you work hard with integrity- great job!”

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-sixth post in this series.

Zacchaeus’ Walk With Jesus, from Greed to Purity

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 19:8-9. In the preceding verses, we see Zacchaeus a tax collector, following Jesus, and immediately is compelled regarding his financial life.

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus collected taxes by going door-to-door, not like today, when we pay our taxes through the internet or payroll deduction. There is quite an advantage to collect taxes this way. Living amongst his collectees, he could see their lifestyle. The parties people threw, clothes they wore, the livestock, fields and business’s productivity was very observable. Zach surely walked the marketplace and saw money change hands, and the things people purchased. He also probably knew of their hard times and good times, struggles and pain. Yet at the end of the day, he commanded the payment amount, or he could make life very difficult. Zacchaeus had the force of law and the power of soldiers to enforce the collection of money.

If Zacchaeus was successful, he could exploit people for additional amounts, for his own lifestyle. A very nice arrangement for the tax collector, although he was a hated man. Quite a trade-off, greed and wealth for loneliness. Not a tall man either, he had to climb a tree to get a view (Luke 19:4), although he probably held himself in high esteem. But when he got down from the tree, he went from a high altitude, down to his knees, at Jesus feet, as we see in Luke 19:8: “But Zacchaeus stood up…

Zacchaeus is an Aramaic name that means pure. On one hand he was purely despised by his neighbors. He probably didn’t have a lot of friends or guests in his home, unless they were begging or bribing him, but Jesus went to his home (Luke 19:5-6). Jesus gladly went to stay with him for a while, and I’d guess at least shelter for the evening. They were instant friends, beautiful.

Jesus welcomed this man of scorn and greed with love and friendship. In Jesus, I believe Zach saw the Kingdom of God. He saw Jesus’ purity, and his own purity quite lacking. He saw his own sin of living for himself, of greed, and putting his trust in money. Zachaeus wanted no more of his past behavior and wanted to demonstrate his new heart right away, when he said Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

In summary, if you have accepted Jesus as your savior, and are following him with your life, you have a new heart (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus righteousness is imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Jesus we have pure hearts; all of our names could be Zacchaeus!  Jesus called out to Zacchaeus in his spirit, he pointed to the thing in Zach that was his religion; the love of money and possessions. He immediately wanted to tithe one half of everything he had to the poor, and give back to those he stole from, four times the amount he took. I call that repentance, and putting on a new lifestyle, a new garment of living (Romans 13:14). What is Jesus saying to you today about what you hold on to, your honesty, your greed, how best to repent of it, and how to walk with Jesus in your finances?

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-fifth post in this series.

Money, Eternity, and Childlike Faith; Luke 18:17

childrenThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 18:17. In this verse, and the one that follows it (Luke 18:17 – 25), Jesus is giving clues about how to receive the Kingdom of God, and how money can be an obstacle.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

In the couple of verses that precede this one; Luke 18:15-16, we see a beautiful description of Jesus calling the children to him. Jesus places his hands on them, probably as he is praying for their lives. And it seems as if he is just truly enjoying their company, specifically focused on them and not the entire crowd, as is often the case. Jesus went out of his way, even to the disappointment of the apostles, to call the children to him.

Did Jesus say this because the children were from good families, who had high social standing and wealth? Some people believe these are signs of God’s blessing and approval. However, children and women in that day in age, had little to no possessions or legal authority, to impress Jesus with. A Rich Ruler wondered about these things, as reported in Luke 18:18-25. He observed what Jesus did with the children, and what he said about them. I believe this poked his conscience. The man took stock of his own perfect performance in living a sinless life in verse 19, and voiced it. He wondered, comparing his life to that of child, what could he possibly do now, to gain eternal life? He’d done it all; perfect behavior, good career, wealth, and lots of responsibilities, but what must he do now to be like the child sitting before him in Jesus’ lap?

The children on the other hand clung to Jesus, and were not holding on to the their parents or toys; just enamored to be in his presence. Jesus tells the Rich Ruler, in Luke 18:22 that he should get rid of it all and cling to him, like the children were doing. That is the picture of the Christian life. We can’t cling to two masters (Matthew 6:24), as we walk through life with Jesus. We need both hands, to hold on. Without both hands holding on to his robe, we will slip and fall. If our other hand is holding on to money, possessions, success, power or position it will weigh us down, and we can’t hold on. Or the other master, will eventually walk a different path, and we will have to make a decision, and let go of one.

You can’t take anything with you to heaven. Job says we will enter heaven as we entered life, like children (Job 1:21). All of the things we worry about; your car {many of you will say good riddance}, house, wardrobe, timeshare in Cancun, and your career will be left behind and destroyed (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:19-21, to invest in treasures that will be around for eternity; Jesus and people, especially young ones.

In summary: envision the picture of Jesus; him with children, and nothing else. We can carry around this picture in our hearts as we walk about throughout or days. Letting go, following him, clinging with both hands. Putting all of our stock in him. Going ‘all-in,’ moving all of our chips to Jesus. It’s a better life, one of freedom and peace.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-fourth post in this series.

Financial Performance & Relationship With Jesus, Luke 18:9-14

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 18:9-14. In these verses Jesus warns us to not base our relationship with him on living a good life and tithing.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

When you ‘read the red,’ words in the Bible, the red ink in some Bible versions, highlighted are the words Jesus spoke. Readers chewing on these words, will have all kinds of emotional responses. You may feel the love of the father caring for you so much, that he is giving you words of wisdom and coaching you to a better way of living. You may feel encouragement to follow the advice, because you know it is of caring and concern of a father, brother or friend. If you already are living the words, you may sense him telling you that you are doing a good job with what is being spoken, and it feels encouraging. You may sense that you are touching heavenly wisdom, and feel called to follow it.  Some people will feel discipline, or a rebuke, because they sense the correction is necessary, and is a wake-up call.

Jesus often spoke in parables, like he is in these verses, in part because stories communicate concepts better- they help the reader feel and understand on a much deeper level. I think there are additional benefits of story telling. One reason is that parables teach us hard things without ‘in-your-face’ confrontation. In a way, it is a very nice gentlemanly like way to communicate with people, and let them see the truth, as they mull it around in their minds, as opposed to being told what to do. Jesus is a master story-teller, communicator, and a gentleman; he tells parables to teach us, and lets the Holy Spirit breathe the words into our hearts, souls and minds that are applicable to us.

So back to the parable: “…Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ” Luke 18:11 -12. I believe Jesus is speaking to anyone, but especially believers who are like the Pharisee here, that judge their relationship with God, on their good behavior like tithing money. They are probably doing okay financially too, and perhaps they see their success in life and religion as a blessing for good behavior and hard work. In this example, the Pharisee is looking down on someone not living up to their narrow standards. In Jesus we know our approval or salvation is not earned, but a gift, just like many of the blessings in life we may be fortunate enough to have. 

So what is Jesus saying to you and me right now as we read this. Do we think that “Wow I am a good tither, I have a good job and income,” and look down on and judge others not doing as well? A judgmental attitude is a sign that our hearts are not where they should be. In other words, what is your lens on your spirituality, or your relationship with Jesus? Is it the tithing record, bank account, income, or material things?  This is a call-out to greater devotion, surrender and relationship with Jesus, for some of us; a tender rebuke and wisdom from Jesus. I see parables as love letters too, from Jesus to us.

Summary: If our hearts are alight with Jesus, and we are walking in the Holy Spirit, then our relationship with him and others people is not one based on performance or judgement, but of love for God and mankind.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-third post in this series.

The 2nd Coming of Christ and Money, Luke 17:28-35

cloudThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 17:28-35. These verses describe the return of Jesus, but almost every teaching about them teaches the wrong things. It is not about rapture but how we live our lives, day-to-day, and where our hearts are focused.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

   30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

I’ve heard countless sermons by preachers on these verses, mostly on the radio or end-times religious TV fundamentalists, using these verses as a scare tactic to save unbelievers. Some people have made quite a good living doing so, such as the author of the “Left Behind” books. With so much focus on being raptured, I fear that many people may miss the really important messages being conveyed here. Keep in mind, there are many verses about the 2nd coming of Christ, but the word rapture is never used in the Bible.

No one knows for sure how exactly the end of times will happen, or all of the world events that will proceed it. Why is this a mystery? It is a mystery because God chose it to be. Not all mysteries have to be solved; some things are just plain mysteries. This is a challenge for many people to accept, because humans love to solve mysteries and puzzles. Millions of people are captured by mystery novels, soduko, and problem solving video games. We are curious people, for that is the way God made us. However, even Jesus doesn’t know the day or hour (Mark 13:32). There is a reason God keeps this a secret–he wants us to focus on other things instead, such as not waiting to change our lives and prepare our hearts!

The challenge we have when we read 2nd coming types of verses is to think that stewardship doesn’t matter since everything will be destroyed and will be made new (Revelations 21:1-4). This is the error I fear for my fellow believers who have heard too many end-times teachings, and who think nothing material in life has value–only the spiritual life and the coming Kingdom. Luke 17:28-35 addresses this ignorance head on.

There are certain key Bible verses to remember to solve the mystery of how temporal and eternal fit together:

  • Mankind was set up to steward over the earth: Genesis 1:26-30
  • Our stewardship over all things, including materials in our care, has eternal ramifications: Matthew 25:14-28
  • Believers will rule with Christ in the new coming Kingdom: Revelation 20:4
  • People’s eventual rewards may somewhat be affected by their present stewardship, the way they behave with money and possessions, and how they deal with the poor: Matthew 6:19-21, Proverbs 19:17
  • Our lives don’t consist of our material possessions: Luke 12:15

Luke 17:28-35 is a natural extension of these verses. It is telling us that when Jesus returns (“when the son of man is revealed”), it will be a surprise. No one will know the moment before, for we will be going about life “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.”

That will be a strange day; we will leave everything behind, and we can’t take our nice homes and cars with us. We can’t take our careers with us. Our country, country club, and clubwear designer clothes will be left behind. You will not be able to take your present life with you at all (Luke 17:33). We are to be good stewards up until the day we leave, and we will have to give an account, but Jesus is warning us not to put too much value in things. He is warning us today that even though he values our stewardship, budgeting, saving, debt avoidance and generosity (and it has eternal importance), when the trumpet calls, we must not put too much value in the things of our present life. Then we won’t yearn for it “like Lot’s wife,” (v. 33) because we can’t take anything with us when he calls us home (Job 1:21).

Our yearnings instead should be for the coming Kingdom, and we will gladly leave those things behind for we didn’t love our life, money, our possessions and everything else. We will rejoice when we see Jesus coming to us (Revelation 1:7), our first love (Revelation 2:4), our only main focus of our affection and love (Matthew 6:24), and will run joyfully to him, leaving behind our prior lives. No one knows the time of His return, or our death, but with this mindset we live each day with a focus on loving Jesus.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-first post in this series.

The Right Attitude About Work: Servantude, Luke 17:5-10

wash feetThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 17:5-10. These verses seems to indicate how hard work, obedience, and a servant-like attitude are linked to the type of faith that moves trees and mountains.

Jesus was responding to the request of the apostles to increase their faith, but His two responses seem rather bizarre. For me, that is what makes Bible reading fun–trying to solve a puzzle. What really fascinates me is that God has provided words written through man that give us insight about how He thinks and acts. That is quite an amazing thing for the Creator of the universe to do. So when Jesus (God incarnate) speaks in a puzzling way and His words are recorded in scripture, we are encouraged to dig–into the Bible and into our souls–while communing with Him for direction and for explanations. These verses are a great opportunity to do just this.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

When 21st century Americans, and I am sure people from other developed countries, sit down and read the Bible looking for financial guidance, it is difficult to find the answers they want.  That is because they often want to know what they can do to be rich or how they can have people wait on them while they work less, as in today’s scripture passage. When we look for such answers, we will be offered heart-wrenching change.

All kinds of wisdom and guidance about money are in the Old Testament, in particular passages that connect our actions with either wealth or poverty–for example, advice about just being wise, saving and generous, as well as cautions about accumulating wealth. Likewise, we see poverty connected to laziness, spending all income, and spending tomorrow’s paycheck today when we go into debt. We also see many times in the Bible where nations or persons are blessed because they obeyed God, were good stewards, and didn’t worship anything but God.

So there is some cause and effect exemplified in the Bible: reaping and sowing, prospering financially if behaviors and attitudes are right.

There is also grace in the Bible. God is generous towards us, before obedience, wisdom or heart change. For example, God liberated his people from Egypt and gave them everything they needed while they traveled–food literally fell out of the sky every day. Ultimately he gave them a place to live that flowed with milk and honey. It wasn’t because they earned it or behaved well at all, but it was because God loved them.

When Jesus talks about life in general, or more specifically about money, the direction He gives or the answers to questions he provides are usually not to add to what has already been said in the Bible.  Jesus has a different audience. Before Jesus, Biblical instruction was often to a theocratic nation, but it is still applicable today. Jesus is speaking to people from many nations, with all sorts of religious beliefs. In Jesus’ audience, there were multi-god religions, Judaism, and intellectuals schooled in the teachings of Latin and Greek philosophers, as well as individuals worshiping money and power. It was much like America is today, so Jesus taught down to the core heart issues instead.

So back to the Bible verse above. Jesus was responding to the request for people to have more faith and to believe in Him and His teaching.  Jesus challenged people, or more likely blew their minds, by saying that if they had even a little faith in Him, they could command objects like trees and mountains (Matthew 21:21) to be uprooted. However, what is particularly interesting is what follows, where Jesus was saying that we need to be obedient, humble, and faithful followers of Him; to be hard workers; and to have faith.  The example here is of a guy working hard in the fields all day, who then has to prepare someone else’s meal before preparing his own. That is hard work, and Jesus is connecting faith to obedience and hard work. It seems as if in American society today, we want to have more money, higher position, and a good retirement, in many instances, so that we don’t have to work as hard. That is a broken paradigm, and one that Jesus says will diminish your faith. It seems that Jesus is connecting having faith and seeing miracles for the things you are praying for with hard work and an obeying heart. We are not to be living for future days of less work. This is true whether we are an executive in the “C-Suite,”  a worker in a call center, or someone doing day labor.

Do you want to have that faith Jesus talked about, and to see miraculous fruit, maybe in your finances, your small business, or in many other things? Then hard work with a Christ-like (John 5:19) servant’s heart of obeying and serving Him in all things seems to be essential (also read Colossians 3:23). Jesus is telling us this because He is our friend (read John 15:15) and is interested in molding our hearts to emulate his example (Matthew 20:28), and not in having us be His slave-like servants.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fiftieth post in this series.

The Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31

rich man and lazThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 16:19-31, a story Jesus told to address the concept of large wealth and its implications to salvation.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
   22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

   25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

   27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

   29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

   30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

   31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Question #1: What is Jesus warning us about? Jesus is warning us about the extreme danger of having a lot of wealth. Jesus is saying quite clearly in these verses that a life centered on money, possessions and personal comfort is not the plan he would have for our lives. He is saying indirectly that we will live in Hell for eternity if that is how we are. It is quite plain that if our lives are not devoted to Christ, that the place we will live in is called Hades, that it is fiery hot, full of torment and regret. The void between there and heaven is wide and there is no escape from it, no relief, not even a cool drop of water for our tongues. We don’t talk much about Hell in feel-good Americanized Christianity, but it is healthy to do so.

Question #2: What is Jesus encouraging us to do? To repent from a self-centered life and to follow what Moses and the Prophets taught us to do throughout scripture for thousands of years–that is, to follow God, love him only, and serve no others gods. If you read the entire Bible, you will see this theme hundreds of times, in virtually every book–from Genesis to Revelation, and in story upon story, prophecy upon prophecy, and teaching upon teaching. Or you will see the consequences illustrated when people fail to follow, love and serve Him–calamity and destruction, followed by repentance, obeying and blessing.

Question #3: Is this a warning only to wealthy people? I’ll answer this question with a few questions; you be the judge: Do we live in a comfort-, entertainment-, pleasure- and money-obsessed society? Do a majority of people want the best and nicest home, car, vacation, retirement, job, clothes, and church? Is the daily news dominated by stories about the economy, stock market, sports stars and celebrity multimillion dollar contracts? Are casinos and lotteries doing a bang up business? It isn’t just the small minority of very wealthy people in our country that are focused on these things, but it is also those that are not wealthy but are striving either to be wealthy or to have some of the trappings of wealth. Reflecting on this and the entirety of scripture, it seems that the warning is for everyone.

Question #3: If ‘scripture interprets scripture,’ are there other Bible verses where Jesus taught like this? These Bible verses provide conclusive evidence of the connection between wealth and salvation:

  • Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:33: not treasures on earth, but in heaven
  • Matthew 6:24: you can’t serve God and money
  • Mark 10:25: it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle than for the rich to enter heaven
  • Luke 12:15: be on guard against greed; life isn’t about material possessions
  • Luke 12:29-31: don’t set your heart on material possessions
  • Mark 10:17-31; Rich Man and the kingdom of God
  • Matthew 22:36-40: love God with all your heart, mind and soul

Question #4: Why is Jesus preoccupied with Money? The Bible contains: 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions. Jesus talked about money a lot: more about money than Heaven and Hell combined, more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, Jesus is more preoccupied with us and the Kingdom of God. More than anything Jesus wants us to live with him for eternity, so much that he painfully died for us. He loves us and wants the best for us, both today and for eternity.  He knows what will make us really happy, and this is only He, both today and forever. These are his motivations for teaching us this stuff.

Question #5: What are valid questions to ask one’s self about this?  Introspection is always healthy for those considering Christ, or for those who follow him. Examine your own thoughts and beliefs about money, possessions, comfort, and retirement. Do you look to Jesus for hope, joy, happiness, fulfillment and comfort?  Are you happy, content and joyful or are you financially stressed? Is your heart set on Him, His Kingdom, and eternity, or on the things of this world? Are you serving yourself, money or Jesus as you arrange and plan your future? Are you generous with your time and money- giving a lot of it away? Only you and God know the answers to these questions and whether there is need for repentance. Jesus is always standing there with open arms to forgive us and to guide us on our walk with Him–the Good Shepherd.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-ninth post in this series.

Jesus and Financial Integrity, Luke 16:10-13

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 16:10-13. In the verses previous to these, Jesus illustrated his approval of a shrewd and dishonest manager to communicate wisdom, but he immediately followed it with a strong directive to be honest with money and possessions. These are heart surgery verses, and Jesus is a most excellent cardiovascular surgeon:

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Research and anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that Christians have just as much difficulty, and they often fail being honest when it comes to the issues of money and possessions, as do the rest of the population. Are we always honest on our tax forms, at the return counter, with our spouses, employers, and ourselves when it comes to money? If you answer “yes always,” then you probably don’t struggle with issues of putting your faith in Christ on matters of money and possessions.

There are three levels of honesty: with ourselves, with everyone else, and with God:

  1. Self honesty is below the surface integrity–integrity that no one can see most of the time.  It is honesty in its truest form–where beliefs are in alignment with behavior when no one is looking. A test of this is to look into the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I always honest on my taxes, at the store, with my spouse or close friend, and with the company I work for (if self employed “with my employees”)? Do I fudge on tax deductions, return an item to the store that I broke because of misuse, turn in false expense reimbursement forms to my employer? Do I hide purchases from my spouse, or take advantage of friends’ generosity by claiming I have no money?  Do I spend too much money on myself and neglect my family, friends and those in poverty? Do I believe in the tithe (10%) and consistently observe it?
  2. Outward honesty is what everyone sees you demonstrate, or what you claim to do. Stay at the mirror and ask yourself some more questions.  “Do I spend too much money trying to keep up with my friends and neighbors, trying to look good on the outside while below the surface my finances are a mess? When making financial transactions in the marketplace and business, am I always honest? Do I talk a good religious life, tell others that I have the utmost financial integrity, but in secret my answers to these tough questions are not all good?
  3. Honesty with God is saying that I love him and believe in him and his goodness. Furthermore, it means that I have put all of my trust in him, and I believe he will provide adequately all that I need, both today and in the future. It means that I believe what God provides me with is enough. When I am honest with God, I gladly accept and live by these truths. It doesn’t mean that at times I might like to have more for my comfort and to look good to those around me. However, it does mean that I will be content with what the Lord blesses me with, and I will not be a bad steward or act dishonestly to get what God hasn’t provided for me in the period of time I expected to have it.

13″ No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Repentance is being honest with God. It is letting Jesus descend more deeply into our hearts to show us that we may at times be living the negative side of Luke 16:13, that we are more devoted to and in love with ourselves, and that we serve money and possessions to please us instead of putting our trust in him to live with full integrity for God’s good pleasure, having faith that he will provide and please us. Repentance is always good for financial change; it is a natural thing, and it is a basic regular requirement for getting to some of the root causes for financial problems. Repentance is surrender to Christ and his ways, putting our full trust in him.

Transformation is key for change. This article may weigh heavily on the hearts of some people because of the difficulty of changing habits that have become very ingrained in one’s personality over many years. You may have resolved to lose weight, or to quit smoking or biting your nails–and no matter how hard you tried, you failed. Moving into full financial integrity and fully trusting God in these areas isn’t any easier than these resolutions. Effort and repentance are very necessary, but so is heart change. Romans 12:1-2 indicates that the life of the believer is a process of our hearts being transformed into Christ’s likeness. Money touches nearly every aspect of life; therefore, it’s a wonderful place to start in this journey.

Financial freedom is how it feels when we walk this out. When we are free from serving money, trying to endlessly please ourselves, or to maintain or achieve an appearance of something we aren’t, it feels good, and we sleep better. I believe when we walk with integrity, trusting in him, we are much more prepared to handle the blessings God will entrust to us.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-eighth post in this series.

Parable of the Shrewd Manager, Luke 16: 1-9

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 16:1-9. The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is a strange parable, one many Biblical scholars debate about; however, it teaches a unique message to financially unwise believers.

1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The antagonist and anti-hero. In this parable, Jesus uses two central characters to teach us–a wealthy business man antagonist and his anti-hero manager. We are told at the outset that the manager was accused of wasting assets of the businessman. We don’t know if he was guilty, but we do know he was fired. He was also called dishonest, but we don’t know if his lack of truth was malicious for his own gain. It could have been that he was fearful of telling the businessman what he didn’t want to hear–the truth that his business had problems because of the owner. Whatever the case, he had a short time to tie up loose ends of the business and then look for a job. In those days, it was hard to get re-employed in a position if an employer accused you of wrong doing, whether you were guilty or not. In this instance the boss wouldn’t give him a letter of recommendation. The manager was worried that he would have to resort to manual labor in his older years. The manager was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In today’s employment environment, employers often are hesitant to make recommendations or say something bad about a previous employee, because they fear they might be sued. However, in pre-modern times, a letter of recommendation and a good name were worth more than anything else in seeking a new job.  People didn’t have resumes that gloriously listed all their accomplishments, education and prior jobs. No one could look them up on Linked In to see their professional network. Networking was done, but probably between merchants and workers in the market place and in other places where people gathered. If people developed a bad reputation, it was as if their names got dragged through the mud and a scarlet letter was sewn to their garments. Shame and guilt could hang with them forever.

Whether the manager was a good manager or not we don’t know. It is possible that the business owner set him up to fail by giving him the bad accounts–the ones with late or no payments. Maybe the rich man was just a harsh, demanding man, over-working and under-paying his manager. This isn’t an unusual situation in any business environment.

In literature, we often see the anti-hero as the tainted bad boy, who ultimately does good. The manager may have been dishonest, but he demonstrated two good important qualities. One is that relationships are key.  How well we relate to people may help us in our current job, and it might also help us if we have to look for a new one. Someone once told me you never know who could be your next boss–maybe someone working below you or waiting on you in another business, or even a client. Therefore, not only is it a commandment to love others, but it is also a smart thing to do in business. The second skill I observe here is to be financially wise. It makes sense sometimes to settle for less when someone owes you money than to wait for a day that may never come to receive full payment.  Showing grace, forgiveness and understanding, especially over money and in business, shows tons of love, and it gives people the opportunity of a new, fresh start.

The story is completed with this fascinating ending: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Jesus uses the phrase “people of the light” to refer to people who know God, and “people of the world” to refer to people who don’t know God. Jesus indicates that when it comes to business, money, and relationships, “people of the world” act more wisely than believers. I can see the point Jesus is making here in my role as financial ministry director at church. It has been my experience in counseling and teaching many people that believers often act much less wisely than the average person on the street, especially in finances. Christians are to walk by faith, but we are to become wise and to exhibit wisdom in everything we do, too. Wisdom and faith are both sides of the same coin in the ‘both and,’ not ‘either or’ Gospel of Jesus. Having forgiveness and faith in Christ doesn’t release us from study and intelligent thinking and acting. This is especially true in finances. He wants us to be smart, wise and shrewd as he taught us to be in Matthew 10:16: ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Sometimes we are to have blind faith with finances, but it has been my experience, both for myself and others, that we need to be much wiser.

In Conclusion: humans are easily and often fooled by their emotions and wants, particularly when it comes to finances. Taking time to pray and exhibiting patience will often reveal God’s heart and our own on particular financial matters. This also gives us time to seek and consider other people’s opinions too. Proverbs 15:22 : “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” We are the forgiven anti-hero in Jesus’ story, misunderstood souls who have failed but have been forgiven and blessed with second chances to get things right in our finances.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-seventh post in this series.

Financial Teachings in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32

sonThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 15:11-32. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the most written and preached about parable. Perhaps you know this parable for showing the grace God extends to us; the image of God running to us when we have turned towards him in our life journey. This story teaches us many lessons, and it has compelled the hearts of many classical painters, such as this one from Rembrandt. God teaches us in this parable how reaping and sowing co-exist quite comfortably with grace.

 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

There are three central characters in this parable: the father, who represents Jesus; the good son; and the prodigal son. The good son, by most measures, was a man of good character and hard work. Farm work is very difficult; it has a lot of delayed gratification–plowing and planting, and many months of waiting for harvest. Family agricultural operations often stay in the family for many generations. Ownership is passed on to heirs, usually after they have worked alongside parents until the parents are very old. The good son knew and lived by the principle of reaping and sowing. This is a principle throughout Scripture and can easily be seen through observation, especially by farmers.  Reaping and sowing is a system that God laid down when he created the universe. It initially represents two things: investing, or planting, AND a return that is not just equal to the ingredients of effort, seed, rain, air, fertilizer and soil. God’s plan is for man to be involved in most of the applications of these elements to create a harvest that is much more than originally invested–man and God working together co-creatively to produce more growth. The good son got this; he believed and lived by these principles.

The prodigal son didn’t get this at all. He didn’t want to follow the way of delayed gratification that the good son did. He demanded his inheritance now while he was young, so that he could go off into the world to seek adventure and pleasure. He spent it all, dined with pigs, and returned home penniless in rags and filth. From far off the father saw that he was returning home, and he ran after him and embraced him in love. He threw a party for him, and showed him much affection. God here is revealing the other side of the coin of reaping and sowing abundantly, that of grace.

Grace is in the heart of God and what we have through Jesus. Grace is getting salvation and his eternal presence even though we don’t deserve it, or we haven’t earned it by reaping and sowing. Grace is the boundless love that he gives us. It is also the gift of life, eternity, and all of creation throughout the universe. It is the good things he gives us in life today, the miracles and gifts, even though we haven’t earned them by reaping and sowing. It is two sides of one coin –the natural laws of reaping/sowing, and the gift of grace. They exist together, the ‘both and’ approach to the gospel.

And that is how we are to approach our personal finances. On one hand, we are to have integrity, discipline, honesty, and hard work, and on the other hand, we are to be willing to have delayed gratification and patience, knowing that our God is watching us, and will reward us bountifully. I see it in the lives of small business owners, who toil much more than 40 hours a week; they might not earn much of a profit for many of the early years. I see it too in those working in offices and in manual labor. On the other hand, we will experience many gifts, opportunities, and financial miracles too. This is one of the essential themes I write about here on JesusMoney.com; in some ways we are to be like the good son, and, like the prodigal son, we are to aware of unearned, undeserved grace and blessings. God is good, he loves us, and he wants us to be both good stewards in the systems of nature he created because we love him and enjoy his amazing miracles. For those digging out of financial difficulty by establishing good principles of budgeting, saving, giving, and staying out of debit, the principles of reaping, sowing and bounty will pay off. Discipline, hard work and integrity are essential. Likewise, God will grant us miracles and grace along the way. Be encouraged!

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-sixth post in this series.

What is The Greatest Obstacle to Good Finances? Luke 14: 25-35

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 14:25-35. Have you ever wondered what’s the single greatest obstacle for most people to manage their finances well? Good Biblical financial management is defined as first having the right principles: God is the owner and we are temporary stewards. Second, it is defined as 5 key things: working hard (Colossians 3:23), borrowing little (Proverbs 22:7), saving (Proverbs 6:6-8), giving (Psalms 37:21) and living well below our means (Luke 12:15). However, these things are pretty simple, so why are personal finances so difficult? Why do Christians slip up so often?  I think the key ingredient Jesus tells us is cited in this section of Luke 14:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’   31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Christians and non-believers have always struggled with this section of scripture, because Jesus is saying that the cost to following him is hating family and one’s own life. Is that what Jesus is really saying here? Sometimes Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point. If you recall from high-school English class, hyperbole is defined as a rhetorical device, used to evoke strong feelings, but is not meant to be taken literally. I would argue that the first part of this sentence about hating family or really everyone (since we are all related in the human family) is not to be taken literally. Is it possible to interpret one line of scripture as part hyperbole and another part as fact?

Biblical hermeneutics or exegesis are theories of text interpretation. Hermeneutics can involve all kinds of things, including non-verbal, semantics and pre-understandings. We already know that Jesus commands us to love everyone as recorded in Matthew 22:36-40, and that includes caring for family (1 Timothy 5:8), so I think it is safe to say that Jesus uses hate to get our attention to the second part of the Luke 14:26 “…hate… even one’s own life.” Why would Jesus say this?

Jesus says this for many reasons. One is that he is smart and wise. Secondly, he loves us and wants to help us. Lastly, he wants to save us from our sin, to be a blessing to others and the world, and ultimately to be with him in eternity. Jesus knows that we turned from God in the Garden of Eden, because Adam wanted something for himself. Adam made a decisive decision not to be a steward over the earth as God commanded, but to disobey God by going after the desires he had for himself and his companion.

Millions of people have taken Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University, Crown  and Compass Financial Bible Studies, and they have listened to countless sermons about money management, but many continue to fall into financial traps. Several people after taking these classes told me they got on their financial feet and were in terrific financial shape. However, many years down the road they fell back into old habits. They borrowed too much, bought too many things, and didn’t have adequate savings, and they hit a major financial bump in the road, like a big health care expense or long-term job loss, and they were now facing bankruptcy. This happens often to a lot of us, at least to most of us that aren’t naturally very disciplined people. How did this happen when they knew better?

In some instances the financial setback was so great that they would nearly be in the same place in spite of the savings they had. However, most of the time, that would not have been the case. I think Jesus might say that the cost of following him and being a good steward is dying to our own desires for self-satisfaction and failing to pick up the cross with both hands. It is often the case that we try to go through life carrying the same old money and possession expectations on one shoulder and the life of Christ on our other shoulder. For going the distance of life, it is not possible to do both. Jesus says true discipleship is letting go of the desires for ultimate total satisfaction through familial relationships and the “normal” life.

To answer the question this article posed–What is The Greatest Obstacle to Good Stewardship?–I would suggest after reading this section of Luke that it is surrendering, or what Jesus calls giving up in Luke 14:33, because I am my own biggest obstacle. We need to surrender our goals and desires for self, and fully pursue what God wants for us and for the world. When we surrender to Christ’s love and plan for us, he transforms our heart, and changes our character. Things we need in order for the financial skills we learn in order to stick for the long haul. When I live this way, he quenches my thirst, and not my desires for wealth, possessions, and ambition.

Does that mean a life of poverty, without flavor (Luke 14:34-35) like those of ascetic monks? For most people, the answer is no. Simply changing one’s lifestyle will not bring satisfaction. God promises us a good, flavorable, hope-filled, prosperous life in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This new life, one no longer trying to quench our unquenchable thirst for self-satisfaction, is surrendered to the better satisfying life of relationship with Christ.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-fifth post in this series.

Jesus On Humility and Blessing the Poor: Luke 14:7-14

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 14:7-14. Jesus uses the parable of the wedding feast to counsel us about humility and blessing the poor.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Isn’t it fascinating that Jesus came not only to do such grand things as healing the sick, casting out demons and bringing salvation, but He also called attention to our attitudes about wealth, position and helping the poor? As in the parable, it is nice to be treated like royalty. I remember years ago that vendors would entertain me and my wife at 5-star hotels, where every need was taken care of, and every hotel attendant would reply to our thank you’s with “it’s my pleasure.”  If you’ve stayed at a Ritz-Carlton or a Four Seasons hotel, you too know what if feels like to be pampered and treated like you are really important.

Jesus is referring to a wedding reception celebration in verses 7 through 11, and, as today, the prime guests of family and those in the wedding party have the best seats near the front, next to the bride and groom. The seating is positioned with a front-of-the-room focus, with those of importance closer to the center of activity. Sometimes those of up front get better service–beverage glasses constantly getting filled, meals served first while they are still hot–and they can hear the toasts and see all the fun interaction. However, I have also been a guest with very little connection to the wedding party. My seating was near the back and my table companions were a unique and sometimes strange mix of distant friends and co-workers. I usually fit in with this group better anyhow, and I enjoy the conversations with them more than those with the more ‘important’ people.

Most humans have insatiable egos; just as in Jesus’ time, we often want to be thought of as important, successful and wealthy. It is this attitude that Jesus is exposing in His light of revealing transparency. He is advising that we should not take our success or position, or lack thereof, too seriously, but that we should walk in humility, putting other people before us. Furthermore, He points out that true exaltation comes from the host, not from us, or from those around us, or from our financial wealth. In this Biblical example, Jesus is the host of the wedding feast, and He is saying sweetly, out of grace, that true value and blessings will come through relationship with Him, not through our egos.

Jesus does not conclude his discussion on this point, but on His command that when (not if) we gather people for celebrations, even just a common meal in our homes, we are to invite and honor “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” I’ll take the liberty to add to this list the immigrant (regardless of his/her legal status), the socially awkward (weird), and those with less or more wealth than you.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-fourth post in this series.

Godliness as a Means to Financial Gain? 1 Tim 6

#1 Question: Should we strive to be godly, so that we will become financially rich? Answer: If our motive in following Christ is money, we need to turn from that way of thinking.

1 Timothy 6:3 – 5  If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

#2 Question: Will people become content, only when they have comfortable lives and great personal finances? Answer: Enough of anything has never helped someone be content. However, being content with whatever is provided while following Christ is gain greater than riches.

1 Timothy 6: 6 – 8 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

#3 Question: What is Christ’s warning to those who want to get rich? Answer:  We are warned about exerting much effort for the want of riches. While I think it is good and natural to want to grow a business, expand investments, and build for the future needs of ourselves, our community and our charity, it is good to check our motivations and troubles (griefs).

1 Timothy 6:9 – 10  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

#4 Question: What does Jesus say we should do to keep our desire for wealth in check? Answer: It seems as if one of the things Jesus says is to always have the eye of a servant and to serve the world and not be served by it.

Mathew 20:25 – 28 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

#5 Question: This is not easy to do in a world that often seems so individualistic. What does the Apostle Paul teach us about this? Answer: In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are urged to be united with Christ, and, through the comfort, love, Spirit, tenderness, and compassion we have from him, to look out for the interests of others

Philippians 2:3 – 4 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Conclusion: Strive for godliness, not for wealth, or what it will do for you, but what it will do for others and for Christ. He has bestowed wonderful blessings on you, and there is more to come. Be content (with what you have) and humble, enjoy his comfort, love, Spirit, tenderness and compassion–things we don’t have to work for. Lastly, seek to bless others.

Do You Worship Money or Worship God With Your Money?

I am not an expert in the extensive and important subject of worship; however I do think that most of us have a limited scope of this topic and we neglect to consider the role of money in worship.  Is worshiping something we do when we go to our place of faith once a week, or is it down on our knees in privacy? Is it a corporate thing we do together, or in secret? Yes and Yes!… however I think it is more.

Worship is a lifestyle, it is an orientation. Let’s pick apart the word orientation. This word is used quite often these days to reflect one’s sexual identity. Webster’s Dictionary defines orientation as 1. a person’s feelings, interests, and beliefs  2. a main interest, quality, or goal. I like the second definition for the purpose of this article. It is a good question to ask one’s self; what is your main interest and goal, and why? The fun part about asking ourselves tough questions, is it helps us understand our motivations in life.

Money is the number one god of adoration of developed countries it seems. It is the measure of achievement, success and people look up to those with lots of it. We believe that the right allocation of money and resources will solve most of mankind’s problems. We see it as a source of happiness, joy and comfort. Despite all research, we conclude not only will money do these things, but that the more of it, will only increase good feelings, and diminish the ills that ail civilization. Money if seen this way, is a god that we are often oriented towards, therefore we worship it. Maybe Bob Dylan’s song “Gotta Serve Somebody” was right on.

Lately, I have been thinking about my own faith orientation, is it money, success, ministry, activity, entertainment and personal comfort or is it God? What do I worship? Sometimes during my walk of faith, I have to confess that I try to serve and worship two masters, but Jesus said this is impossible, read and think about Matthew 6:24 for a few moments:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

What got me thinking about this lately was researching and thinking about tithing. One thing I discovered that the first worship service recorded in the Bible was Able’s worshiping God, by bringing choice offerings from the first born of the flocks he was tending in Genesis 4:4. This reminded me of the many instances throughout the Old Testament, where worship was strongly accompanied by offerings of valuable things like grain and animals. The first fruits of harvest, the first born unblemished animals, and things gathered in war. Here I see people who are oriented towards God in their daily labors, and are happy to worship Him in song and possessions.

I picture this worship occurring not just in corporatly and in private seclusion, but also in our minds and throughout our days; The image I see, is daily walking out Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  This is a picture of worship, walking out our faith; right foot, left foot.

So ask yourself; Do You Worship Money or Worship God with Your Money? I can worship Him with my money, in how I think about and it work for it, but also in how I give and spend it. How can spending money be worship, this seems silly!- many of you might say. I’m not totally sure; I am still developing my understanding of this (that is why I want you to comment below). However, I think it is possible to worship God when we plan and budget how we think he wants us to spend it- that can be a mini worship session.  It can be worship when we steward over it wisely when making good purchase decisions. It is worship, when we live well below our means, and not live too extravagantly. It is worship when we help other people with it too:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40.

From the words of Jesus, we can see that we worship Him, when we feed, clothe, invite in the needy, and minister to the sick and in prison. In conclusion, we worship God not only in seclusion and corporately, but all day long, and in how budget, plan and earn it, to how we use our money and possessions.