Monthly Archives: February 2014

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; 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.