Category Archives: Weekly Financial Devotional

Does everyone have a sense of entitlement?

Several discussions I had recently, are leading me to believe that we all have some sense of entitlement, whether we have a lot or not

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 22:35-38, the apostles were looking at their possessions and then looking back to Jesus, wondering if they had all they needed?

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals,did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.

Chapter 22 of Luke details The Last Supper. It was a poignant time of ministry from Jesus as he washed dirty apostle feet (John 13). He ministered, taught, conversed and they ate together as brothers. I’m sure they shared laughs, and they said dumb things too, like most of us do during social interactions (Luke 22:24). Jesus gave them their first communion and prophesied.  He prepared and warned them by telling them things to come. Since many of them left occupations that put food on their tables, Jesus asked them if they lacked anything during the first time they were separated from him, when the apostles were sent out on their first missionary journey (Luke 9). They answered “Nothing!” This should cause us to pause, to reflect on this scene described in scripture.

Did they lack anything?

Jesus told them he was getting ready to go away from them, and in their hearts they wondered about their own physical needs, didn’t they?  Why else would Jesus have asked them if they: “lacked anything”? he knew what they were thinking. Jesus often did this; he answered questions people around him had on their minds, like he knew. He knows what’s on our mind, doesn’t he?

Examples of entitlement?

The term entitlement has become more popular and is used to describe what was once called welfare benefits. On a national basis, they comprise 70% of our Federal budget for things like Social Security Disability, retirement, unemployment, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 housing and Title 20 daycare. Some people are judged for their entitlement dependence.

What got me thinking about this was something that happened several months ago. During a small group discussion following watching a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class video. The members were describing various ways they’ve saved money on groceries. Several commented that they shop at Aldis. For those of you that don’t know, Aldi’s is not an upscale market. It’s a great place to save money on groceries, but it’s not as nice place to shop as regular mainline chains are. The people shopping there don’t look wealthy at all. However, one lady in the circle said, she’s been to college and has a good job, and shouldn’t have to shop a Aldi’s anymore.

The other day I was having a conversation with a young person with a modest income at church. He said that he only drinks beer that’s made in craft breweries. Those golden drops cost 8 – 16 dollars for a six-pack. He said he can’t even think about drinking down market brews like Budweiser. He said young people today have refined tastes for nicer things. This makes me proud of my relative who is happy with Pabst Blue Ribbon.

A few days after that, I was talking to an older man about some of these discussions, about how I was starting to believe that we’ve all developed some general sense of entitlement. He agreed that we all have some sense of entitlement, admitting that for things like housing, clothes, vehicles, and food, his standards are much higher now, compared to when he was younger and made less money. He said he felt entitled to certain things in his higher station of life. Yet, he confessed since he has worked hard he feels he is entitled to more. He’s re-thinking his point of view, since his belief that he is a temporary manager of God’s money and possessions, shouldn’t necessarily compute to more stuff for himself.

It’s a proven fact for most people, as we move along in our careers and make more money, our standard of living rises to the next level along with our incomes. People tell me that they feel they’re entitled to live a certain way because they’ve worked hard, come from a certain family, or graduated from college. In the world’s economy, this is totally acceptable, but to Jesus, is it?

The more we make, the higher our lifestyle floats up and we spend more money. I’ve always joked that we should be careful not to buy expensive wine, because your tongue will get used to better quality, and the $3.99 bottom shelf variety will leave you feeling discontented. Another common example is our automobiles. If you get used to driving nice cars with a smooth ride with rapid acceleration (for us car-guys) going down-market is almost painfully impossible.

There is a downside to upscale living. The more we spend, the less we save and invest, so we are much more susceptible to financial difficulty if we lose our job or face some other financial difficulty. Even worse, the more the average person spends on themselves, the less we have to be generous in tithing and giving to other charitable organizations.

Do you have enough?

The disciples showed Jesus their belongings, and he said with force; “That’s Enough!” (Luke 22:24). It is a very good question to ask Jesus. In your mind or on a piece of paper list the things you own, and what you spend for fun and leisure; then ask him if that is that enough?  Jesus should I live this lifestyle, or step up a level? Do you want me to scale down?

What God said to Baruch

What God provides is sufficient, he knows our needs and he knows our challenges. God has lately been reminding me of Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary. It appears God warned Baruch “But as for you, you keep seeking great things for yourself. Do not keep on seeking.” We don’t know what they were, perhaps prominence, selfish ambitions, or material prosperity, but Baruch was “worn out with groaning and {could} find no rest.” Jeremiah 45:2-5.

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

Jesus Talking About Your Greatness

Do You Want to Be Great and Have Financial Greatness?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 22:24-30, Jesus responded to the dispute that some of the apostles were having. They were arguing about who would be the greatest?

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“I am the greatest,” proclaimed boxer Mohammed Ali, sports fans who lived through the 1970’s can remember. That was nothing new, the apostles did one better, arguing before the king of world Jesus, that one of them would be the greatest in heaven and earth. Society loves to tout and hold up those who are the greatest athletes. People have been holding up King James signs in Cleveland now that LaBron has returned there to play basketball. I live in Columbus Ohio and we hear all of the time about the greatest golfer of all time Jack Nicklaus, and the greatest university being The Ohio State University. It always amuses me to read magazine headlines checking out at the grocery store, touting the sexiest man or woman alive. Our society loves to lift up those who are most popular in sports, movies, books and politics.

Who wants to be seen as a failure, a nobody, unpopular, financially unsuccessful and having a lowly job? If you were to do a little research, some of the biggest fears people have are not spiders and heights. Some individuals fear loneliness, social embarrassment, failure, rejection and inadequacy. People combat these fears all sorts of ways, sometimes striving for greatness, popularity, beauty, acceptance, and wealth. Often we spend beyond our means, and borrow just to look great on the outside.

Jesus said greatness means great service. The apostles had Jesus and eternal salvation, but that wasn’t enough, they wanted greatness too. The 12 apostles of Jesus knew they were on the verge of greatness; I’d bet they could sense that one day they’d probably be well-known and influential. Yet, in the verses above, Jesus said greatness comes from being lowly like servants and like young people who haven’t yet risen in position.

Jesus didn’t arrive on the scene 2,000 years ago to be great in his time. He didn’t come to be glorified in his earthly life. Jesus is the greatest of all time, the most famous man to ever walk the planet.  His messages have been written down, copied and read more than any other words in the civilization of mankind. We set time according to Jesus. All of history hinges on his birth, life and death (e.g., B.C. & A.D.), yet Jesus was a monetarily poor itinerant teacher, and another Roman trouble making religious fanatic.

On one hand, he taught and blessed many people. He healed and loved thousands. But on the other hand, he was spit upon, beaten, ridiculed, cursed, tortured, and slowly murdered in public, hanging naked on a cross. Jesus was financially poor, lonely through suffering (Matthew 26:40), misunderstood, falsely judged, physically embarrassed (Matthew 27:35), not approved by others  and falsely condemned (Matthew 27:11-26); all of the things people fear.

Jesus came to serve, not to be held up as great in that day; he came to serve us, through his life and his death. He wants us not to strive for our greatness, but to serve others. It’s okay to accumulate wealth and strive for success in any line of work that we are in. But that will not give us peace in our hearts and joy in our lives, nor greatness where it really matters.

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” wrote Khalil Gibran many years ago. Service may not make us great in this age, but it matters to God, and matters for eternity.

What does this matter to personal finances and stewardship? That is for you answer. Look at your spending, your lifestyle, the things that make you feel good. Look within, search your heart; where does your motivation come from, what makes you click? Is it Jesus, is it service?  Is it being a good steward, managing time, talents and treasures for God? Is it living with full integrity, no matter if no one is watching. Is it in service to the poor, the immigrant (Leviticus 19:33-34) , the disabled, the person struggling in life?

Do you sometimes wonder about your connection to God? Isaiah 58:10-11 is interesting:

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.

This verse seems to connect how we spend ourselves, and the strength of our connection to God. It causes me to self-examine the extent I’ve given Jesus lordship of my life;  how well do I hear his leading, have faith in his providing what I really need, and feel the infilling of his joyful delight.

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

Giving Thanks is at the Core of Stewardship

What does it mean to ‘Give Thanks’ and why is this important to stewardship?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 22:14 – 19, when  Jesus served the wine and broke the bread, and gave thanks.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

When most Christians eat dinner, they offer a prayer over their food, and thank God for it.  If we’re in a restaurant, we usually pray before we dig in to the appetizer or salad. My wife is funny, when the main course arrives, she giggles a little and says we should pray again, because it looks so good. She says the same thing when the dessert arrives.

Giving thanks,  sounds like a strange way to describe it

To give something usually means material possessions not words, doesn’t it? Our society doesn’t place much value on words today. Words are freely thrown around. If you watch news programs, it seems as if words are used with so much poison, designed to ridicule and put down political opponents. We casually select words we say in emails, particularly when we are under a lot of pressure or are anxious.

Jesus talked about the tongue:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

Thankful words reveal where our treasure is

 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. According to Luke 6:21. If your treasure is in heavenly things, if you have a grateful heart, you’ll automatically say thanks a lot. 

Grateful people aren’t bitter and constantly in want of more

The evil person places more value on non-heavnely treasures. When they face injustice, disappointment, and life doesn’t go their way, they become bitter and lack gratitude. The person putting up treasures in heaven, is thankful for all of the good things they have, as well as everything else too. Everyone faces difficulty and most of us have a long wish list, but the good people Jesus is talking about, are able to be thankful for nearly everything, whether good or not so good (see Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28).

Giving thanks is huge – it’s a very meaningful and valuable gift

The verse from Matthew above shows that by our mere words, we are justified; that shows there is tremendous power in the things we say. Therefore when we give God thanks and praise, we are offering a valuable gift. We are showing him our appreciation. We are pointing our hearts to the gift giver. God loves these gifts of praise, and it makes him smile.

Good stewards are generous with their thanks

They are constantly giving away nice words. They generously tell others and God of their appreciation. These kind of people are happier. They know that everything they have is a gift from God, and they manage it for him and not for themselves. They cheerfully and generously give the valuable gift of thanks all day long.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver 2 Corinthians 9:7.

Call to action

List the things you are grateful for, it’s a fun liberating exercise, something good to do every day. If this was helpful, list your comment below about what you thought of this, and maybe some of the things you are grateful for.  A helpful book to me about this subject is 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp, check it out!

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

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.

Jesus Loves Business, But…

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 19:45-46. We see Jesus rebuking people selling in church, yet in Luke 19:12-27, Jesus tells a parable that seems to have blessed the combination of responsible investing, hard work and stewardship- all elements of business ownership.

I think Jesus loves capitalistic, entrepreneurs; business owners. They work hard, show their faith and trust in action through tough risk. They use and expand their God-given talents. Business fails more often than it succeeds, and God uses failure to teach and grow us more than success. Business owners create jobs, provide health and other benefits, enabling people to work hard to provide for their families. Entrepreneurs give back to society through charitable donations, business is financially healthy for communities, and they often invest in other businesses that have the same benefits.  The Pope recently commented some about the negative sides of  big business; exploiting the poor and ruining the environment. This is true at times, however business and capitalism isn’t immoral – it always comes down to the motivations of its leaders. Sounds like to me, they need the influence of Jesus and from other Christian business owners.

I’ve even heard some people in the faith community say they prefer a more socialistic system, that provides for the poor better. However, capitalistic democracies like the U.S. provide more for the world’s poor, than any other system. Is it any wonder, people from other countries are pouring into our country through our southern border? Where else do you see this except in war-torn areas? Corruption and immorality of its leaders will always exist in any type of economic or political system, but in socialistic systems there is always more poverty. Checked democracy and capitalism, although far from perfect, is just the most efficient system of freedom and distribution of goods and wealth.

So back to the Bible verse noted at the beginning, Luke 19:46-47: When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” Was Jesus condemning business people selling stuff; putting down capitalism or entrepreneurship? Was Jesus saying that business was unholy? I don’t think Jesus was saying these things at all. Jesus was disgusted that a place of worship was being used as a means to make a profit. He hated that faith was being used, either for worshipers or leaders as a way to line either of their pockets. The main focus of church should be the trinity, and not our financial profitability.

So how do we reconcile Luke 19:46-47 and Luke 19:12-27? One on hand Jesus is quite harsh on those whose main faith motivation is for financial gain. Yet in the earlier verses in Luke, he praises good business stewards. In the technology sector, we hear about “China Walls.”  Chinese paper walls are thin; sound and light travels through them. Each room is connected, yet separated by thin walls. For Christians, our China walls should be the checking of our heart’s motivations. Our faith should influence how we operate in business, and business is good for faith as well. However the litmus test is to ask ourselves; “from where do our motivations come?” We should err on the side of caution.

Business owners are under great pressure. In many business sectors, profit margins are low, costs of supplies and human resources are high, and business is extremely competitive. Bill Gates, the CEO of Microsoft, said that intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana; and all business owners know that they have to keep changing and work hard to maintain competitiveness. At the end of the day, business owners need  a growing faith to survive, so their work lives need to become more closely aligned with faith, yet to be extremely alert to the motivations of their hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, from the four Gospels, with this approach: Jesus is shepherding us in our finances, for our good, to help us help others and for the Kingdom. Jesus leads us with grace through this difficult area of life, and empowers us with the Holy Spirit to do amazing things. This is the fifty-seventh post in this series.

Great Example of How We Are Blessed To Be a Blessing

Tuesday Testimony, from a friend. It is an amazing story about how he was blessed through the generosity of others and classes he took. God kept his life together, even though he feared it would fall apart, not only was his home blessed, he was able to bless people around the world, and the people who originally blessed him.

“Maybe 5-6 years ago, I was at a bad point in my life. I went from being nicely employed, then was unemployed for 7 months, then underemployed (but happy to have a job). However, I missed three mortgage payments in a row. I was fairly certain that I would lose my home, and worried the situation might cause me to lose my girlfriend.

Gratefully, I was in a small group that prayed for each other. I remember gathering into smaller groups for the prayer time, after the Bible study. I shared my scenario with the few guys in my prayer group. One gentleman said that he and his wife had been blessed financially, through a class at Vineyard and wrote me a check that covered the three house payments!

Because of their financial responsibility, their blessing helped me keep my house and my girlfriend. She became my wife and now we had two children. We took the Dave Ramsey FPU class and developed a budget and started living within our means. We later became small group leaders.

Through our budgeting, we have been able to support a couple of missionaries on a short-term basis, helped one girl in a 3rd world country get through high school and are now supporting a 2nd girl through high school, and we were able to bless the couple that blessed us, when they fell into hard times. “

In summary, you can never under-estimate the generosity of God, and how he loves to bless us. He too loves it when we become good stewards and bless other people, being Jesus to the world around us.

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.

How to Pray About Money, Luke 18:1-8

judgeThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 18:1-8. In these verses Jesus shows us how to pray for our troubles, especially financial ones. However, there are two parts of this parable–one speaks to those who are suffering, and the other speaks to those who have the means to relieve suffering. This blog post will close with some tips on how to pray for our finances, even if we are doing pretty well with money.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In this example of a widow, Jesus is talking about those who suffer financially because of their situation, and not because of what they brought upon themselves (I will get to that toward the end of this article).  Millions of Americans, including hundreds that I have worked with in the last 5 years, have gone through all kinds of financial hardship. What financial difficulty are you having?  Maybe you recently lost your job, or you are back to work earning significantly less than you were used to. Many people are drowning in medical bills, paying high costs for hospitalization, doctor’s visits and prescriptions. Health bills are a large source of financial difficulty for many people. Deductibles and co-insurance amounts are higher than ever, and so are the premiums for many group and individuals plans as well as for new policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). Millions of people have gone without health insurance either because the cost was too high or because they were not insurable. Health care and job loss are one of the big reasons people are suffering financially, but there are other reasons, such as a self-employed business not doing well, divorce, fraud, abusive lending practices, or death of a breadwinner.

If we are suffering because of unfortunate circumstances or are able to help those in poverty, how are we to pray?  Jesus encourages us in this example to pray for everything persistently, for help and relief, and for justice. Jesus commands us to pray with vigor, urgency, and desperation. We are to pray with faith and expectation that he will provide for us, because he is much better than the unjust corrupt judge who does not help the widow against her adversary (in today’s scripture). Jesus is the exact opposite of this judge. Jesus is compassionate and patient; he cares for us and hates to see us suffer. He helps us both when we don’t deserve it and when we are doing all the right things. Furthermore, Jesus hates injustice (Isaiah 10:1-3); he will answer its victims and will punish the unjust.

The A list of things we should pray for:

  • “Daily bread” as in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10). Bread can represent basic needs of food, shelter, clothes, transportation, and utilities. Bread also means spiritual food to sustain us emotionally and spiritually during suffering. Pray for Jesus to lift us up, keep us going, and give us patience and endurance (John 6:35).
  • Possessions, such as our cars, houses and clothes, so that things don’t wear out, break, or need costly repairs (Deuteronomy 8:4). My car has over 300,000 miles on it, and at one time the tires had over 100,000 on them. I have prayed for this car and its tires, and my maintenance and repair expenses have been very minimal during our financial difficulty.
  • God to carry us, so that we are not totally consumed by our situation (Psalm 23:1-6 and Psalm 91:10).
  • Justice. If we have been taken advantage of, such as by predatory lenders, fraud, an ex-spouse, or age or race discrimination, we should ask for Jesus to intervene on our behalf (Psalm 17 and Psalm 10).
  • Enemies.  Pray for those who owe us money but are withholding it. If people are persecuting us and working against us, we should pray for their forgiveness, for heart change, and for Jesus to bless them with good things (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25).
  • Miracles (Matthew 13:31-32). I have witnessed and received the benefit of financial miracles during our financial setbacks. People have told me about debt lenders who just forgave for no reason, interest rates lowered on mortgages, and checks in the mail from old jobs or friends.
  • Quick relief, but also perseverance (Romans 5:3-4) since answers don’t often come when we want them.
  • Ask for his help in budgeting, debt repayment, marital financial harmony and spending control. Pray about expenses to eliminate, things to sell, and ways to make extra money.
  • Our jobs, businesses and places we work. Pray for successful companies, good jobs, raises, promotions or better jobs to come our way.
  • For people that are suffering injustice in our society and suffering in our world in societies of oppression.
  • For direction of where to invest our time or money to help others. If we are going through difficulties, not only is it good for those we are helping, but also it will help us a lot.

If you are doing well financially and the heat of your situation is not forcing you to look at your finances, pray for the things on the A list as well as for an increase so that you may bless other people. Pray for discernment about your finances; you may have plenty of money but not Jesus’ heart when it comes to money and materialism.

If your financial difficulty has something to do with your poor financial management, then how are you supposed to pray? It could have been that you borrowed too much money, were a bad worker, gave little, didn’t save anything, and lived a lavish lifestyle beyond your means. Perhaps you didn’t do any of these things, but you just failed to budget and plan well. Whatever camp you were in, if you combine just one of these with an unfortunate financial setback such as a job loss or a health care insurance crisis, you too may find yourself in terrible financial straits.

One of the huge benefits of difficulty is the opportunity to grow. Often God lets difficulty come our way, whether we brought it on ourselves or not, in order to save us. He may be saving us for eternity if our lives were focused on the love of money and not on Jesus. He may be saving us from the path we were on by giving us a better life in the days to come; he ultimately may be refining our faith and teaching us the secrets of being content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13, Luke 8:10). He might be testing us (Luke 8:13-14) or teaching us about riches, worrying, and pleasures (Luke 8:15). Jesus may be teaching us about all kinds of things that we need to learn that we wouldn’t have learned if life had just gone really well financially.

The B list of things we should pray for:

  • Jesus to show and teach us things about ourselves that are bringing about unfortunate finances (Psalm 139:23-24).
  • Forgiveness. If we have not obeyed his teachings about money, possessions, work (effort and honesty), integrity, greed, and giving, we should repent and pray for forgiveness and for Jesus to make us whole.
  • Biblical financial wisdom about stewardship, debt, riches, giving, budgeting, and work.
  • Heart change about our attitudes toward money.
  • Ask for God to show us not just negative things, but also positive things about our finances and about just life in general that he is pleased with.
  • For the things on Prayer list A, even if we might have been some of the cause for our poor finances.

There are also lessons in Luke 18:1-8 for people in political positions, those with financial resources, and those who are self-employed or leaders in business. It is easy to point the finger at politicians when there is injustice or there are people suffering from financial difficulty. It’s quite a different matter to try to help.  If you are in positions of influence, you have the responsibility to care for those suffering, including the  poor and the immigrants: Zechariah 7:9-10, “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

  • Contribute money to organizations that help the poor with daily needs and with things that can help people help themselves out of poverty (read the books Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts).
  • Influence politicians to help those suffering from injustice.
  • If your business is doing really well financially, forgo raises for the top people and increase wages for those on the bottom.
  • If you have the means and ideas to start or expand your business, take the risk so that the economy in your area strengthens and more job positions can be opened up.

Summarizing, the list of financial things to pray for is really endless, but don’t forget to pray for abundance and prosperity, wisdom and self -control, and his help to be a good steward over the things he has blessed you to manage. God answers prayers; I’ve seen it countless times. God is generous and he loves to bless us, but in his participatory system, he’s sometimes waiting for us to ask.

*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-second 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; 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.