Category Archives: Weekly Financial Devotional

A ‘Both And’ Approach to Money and Possessions: Luke12:35-48

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 12:35-48, Jesus talking to us about the importance and eternal significance of being good stewards and laborers at all times. These verses fly right in the face of people who might believe in false Biblical perspectives when it comes to money and possessions. More on that in a moment; first, read this passage and make note of the highlighted areas.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”  42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.  47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

What are the various ways people look at money, possessions, management, comfort, community and labor (I’ll call this MPMCCL) in this age? 1) self oriented: God equipped us to tackle life with gusto, and to grab as much from it as we can, for our own use and enjoyment.  2) outward oriented: we should take care of others, the poor and the environment, and in so doing God will provide our needs.  3) prosperity: God wants us to be very well off financially, he promises us that in his word, and we just need to act out in faith, name it and claim the blessings he has prepared for us in this life.  4) only the spiritual matters: since everything ultimately will be burned up in the fire, it doesn’t really matter that much how we deal with MPMCCL.   5) personal performance doesn’t matter, since Jesus is our ticket to salvation, so performance or works today have little value in eternity.

Every one of these various approaches has some truth in it; however, following just one of them is not the way Christ would have us go. There are two reasons we may believe in only one of these approaches.  The first reason is that Westerners are accustomed to believing about things only one way.  For example, when we approach a political solution, many of us feel the only way people can get out of poverty is through opportunity and pulling one’s self up by the boot straps.  Some with this approach believe in a trickle down economy, so the only solution is through business and education, and absolutely not entitlement programs.  In the opposite camp are those who believe the only way to help those in poverty is to take money from wealthy people and business and give it to those who need it. Some in this camp believe the rich and business are the enemies of the poor. In reality, the only way to help people out of poverty is ‘both and’ and not ‘either or.’ It is only through a ‘both and’ approach of balancing social programs and supporting business that we can truly help people out of poverty, and that both political parties can work together.

The second reason we take only one viewpoint about money, possessions, management, comfort, community and labor (MPMCCL) is that humans tend to do what makes them most comfortable. We may have inclinations to help the community, but at the end of the day, most of us mainly want what will make us personally happy. However, I think we should consider having a ‘both and’ approach to our beliefs about MPMCCL.

So what is God’s plan for MPMCCL? Looking at the verses from Luke 12:35-48, we will find some of the answers. The first obvious thing we see is that we need to be good managers all the time, throughout our lives, no matter how much or how little money we have. If we manage or steward well, it is not only good for our fellow servants, but Christ says he will put us in charge of many things in eternity.  Here we see a ‘both and’ approach; what we do today matters today and for eternity, even though it is material and will be burned up. We also see that some may prosper more than others; in this we know from verse 48 that prosperity is in store for some people. Whether we become extremely rich or not, we all are called to be good managers and to look at ourselves as humble servants and temporary stewards. Servants caring for others’ resources are not so much self oriented, but are God and community oriented. These strongly worded verses about management and work remind me of both Proverbs 1:7 and Genesis 2:15.

In summary, a good ‘both and’ belief about money, possessions, management, comfort, community and labor should first start with an eternity Kingdom and stewardship perspective. It should also balance providing for oneself and others, a life that includes prosperity (verse 48), and work, not a life that ultimately results in endless leisure (v. 45); “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning.”

*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-third post in this series.

Worry about having enough? I dare you…

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 12:13 – 21, Jesus’ talking to us about worrying whether our needs will be met.

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In an earlier post, titled the New Economy, based on the same verses in Matthew 6:24-33. I wrote about the new way of living that Jesus brought forth; it was a life not based on striving for one’s own needs, but on striving after the Kingdom and letting the Lord provide for us.

Many versions of the Bible title these verses under something like “Do not worry.” These kinds of titles are not usually in the original text, but are put there by publishers to help readers reference different places (by the way, the same could be said about chapter and verse numbers). The main differences between the verses in Matthew and Luke are that Luke includes verses 32 – 34, and Matthew does not. Good readers of the Bible should ask themselves why and what can it mean.

Jesus the son of God, tells us that he will provide for us lavishly if we will just seek the kingdom and righteousness. He tells us to have faith in Him (verse 28). Why is it that you and I worry about these things? We worry about having enough today, tomorrow, and in the future, especially old age (I wrote about retirement last week). We know we can’t just lie back and not work too (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

If we worry, it may come down to several reasons why:

  1. We live for today instead of for the kingdom and eternity;  Luke 12:23.
  2. We compare ourselves to other people instead of looking at all of creation,  thus we are not content with what God is providing; Luke 12:24, Luke 12:27 – 28. When we are not content, we often make really bad financial decisions.
  3. We think we are in control; Luke 12:25.
  4. We don’t believe God is generous, Luke 12:24 & Luke 12:27, so we strive after more above our needs instead of waiting patiently for God to provide, or we don’t think he will provide for us in the only way we think will make us happy.
  5. We have old pagan habits and divided hearts, Luke 12:29 – 30.
  6. Our treasure is not in heaven, but in other things, Luke 12:34.

3 dares to stop worrying. I promise you, if you do these three things, you will worry much less.

  1. Pray through these verses every day for a month, confess and repent where you need to, ask God for help.
  2. Seek His righteousness and kingdom in whatever you are doing, leave your agenda by the wayside, and pray for insight.
  3. Obey the commandment in Luke 12:33 to sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.

#3 sell your possessions and give to the poor:  The start of a new year is a great time to clean house. Start by making an inventory of your possessions. Review your list and sell everything that you have duplicates of (except for some clothing that you need spares for). Sell items you don’t use anymore. If it has been a least a year since you used an item, you probably don’t need it. Review items that you do use, but their use or maintenance takes time away from seeking righteousness, the kingdom and caring for your family. It is okay to hold onto some mementos or things in storage you may be holding for your children when they get their own places, but be careful not to hoard. Lastly, don’t buy more stuff unless you really need it.

*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-second post in this series.

Jesus Discussing Inheritance and Retirement?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 12:13 – 21, some have titled the Parable of the Rich Fool, where we see Jesus teaching about putting our hope in money. Interestingly, he discusses it in the context of two common situations of abundant wealth; inheriting and retirement.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

These are two very personal situations Jesus decides to discuss together; inheriting money and retirement.  Most people look forward to either one or both of these events. That is okay, but when we put our hope in them that is another thing all together. Why do we do this?  It may be that people look forward to the day that they can live the life of leisure without laboring for money every day, like the fellow in the parable here. If we inherit money, that could make that day come even sooner.

Only mention of retirement in the Bible? This verse is the only one that I have found in the Bible that speaks directly about retirement. This may be that few people in ancient times either had any hope of accumulating enough wealth to live on for an indefinite period of time, but more likely, people didn’t live much longer after their bodies wore out.

Life spans affect retirement. During the birth of Christianity in the 1st century, the average life expectancy was around age 46 (if you lived past age 10). People did live to older ages, but it was usually in a communal setting, and not to a house on a golf course with lifetime health care. In the middle ages, except for the black death years, if someone survived childhood illness, military service, and pregnancy, and made it into your twenties, then the average age was in the mid sixties. In the twentieth century, average ages spans crept into the 70’s and 80’s. Now it is common for people to live into their 90’s and older!

The new idea of retirement. The modern concept of leisure retirement didn’t really come into reality until the last 100 years. Considering the 8,000 years of civilized man, this is a relativity new idea.

The growth of individual wealth. Until the growth of democracy and entrepreneurs in the last several hundred years, very people who labored for a living, could ever hope to earn and save enough to be able to think about retirement. Before modern times, a great deal of wealth was held by aristocracies, religious authorities, and governments.

The perfect storm. The increase in personally owned wealth, life spans, entrepreneurship and social security benefits, created or allowed for the modern idea of retirement.

What about Jesus and retirement?  Jesus seemed to lump retirement and inheriting into the same bundle. Since in the first century, retirement was not known, but having wealth so that someone could live in leisure was common.

He called anyone a “Fool” for putting their hope in money.  This is a severe word actually. The dictionary definition of a fool ranges from someone who is deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding, all the way to someone who has diminished mental capacities. In fact in Matthew 5:22, Jesus strongly commands us not to call anyone a fool. When Jesus says we will be like one, if we do this, then we should take notice.

3 Types of Retirement: 1.) Inward directed, leisure retirement, where one’s main goal is to spend most of one’s retirement years relaxing and vacationing.  2.) Outward directed, missional retirement, where one’s main goal is to be engaged in activities that contribute positively to society.  For the Christian, this could be helping in a ministry they can volunteer in, or derive some kind of income doing.  3.) High wealth retirement is for people who have accumulated a large amount of money, or own a business. These people often do a mix of the first two, as well as spending time managing their wealth as a good steward, and blessing others through large charitable contributions.  I haven’t mentioned more time to focus on marriage relationships, physical health issues, retirement more focused on grandchildren, friendships and community. These are other things are important to consider for one’s retirement goals

Post recession retirement. Many affected by the Great Recession, will not have enough money to retire, so they may have to continue working into their 70’s or later. For these people, they will combine many aspects of the first two retirement types, and work for a living. There is no shame in working in our older years, and for many people it will be source of joy and ministry to co-workers. See Colossians 3:23.

Retirement planning is good. Proverbs 6:6-8 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. It is wise to plan for retirement; to set aside enough money so that one could do #2 above. It is a good goal to have an outward directed, missional retirement, as well as focused on some leisure, marriage relationship, grandchildren, friendships and community, while considering the possibility of diminished health.

Bad retirement. Our future hope, though as Jesus warned should not be on wealth, or a life of leisure; we might not live to enjoy it as he warned. In addition, we could lose it some day, through bad management, poor health, theft (ie. Bernie Madoff investors), or a bad economy. Better to build a character on Jesus, instead of money hopes.

What about today? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us to not worry about tomorrow. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Hope, joy, mercy and grace is new everyday. Our hope is not in money, or good circumstances, but in Christ (Romans 5:2).

*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-first post in this series.

Luke 11:46 Ground Level Social Justice

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 11:46, and is about ground level social justice.

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

This morning at the gymnasium a Christian women friend was talking to me about the financial struggles young people have. She came across as very judgemental to me. She was an expert, in her eyes about the financial stress young couples have trying to make ends meet. In her mind, most of the time, both the husband and wife both work outside the home, is because it is a decision to have a higher standard of living.

I reminded her that when I graduated from college in 1983 the average cost of a nice house was under $100,000, and our rent was $200. Today housing costs dominate much more of one’s budget. Health care didn’t cost what it does today; when our daughter was born in 1989 our total out-out-of-pocket cost was less than a $100 for all of my wife’s and daughter’s care from the beginning of the pregnancy until we brought them both home from the hospital. Multi-thousand dollar health insurance deductibles are common today. In addition, gasoline and food is nearly triple what it was 30 years ago. One of the big effects of the recession is many people’s income has stagnated, or people drained their savings during long periods of unemployment. Once people did get back to work, their salaries are no where what they used to be.  Even worse, are people working in manufacturing, they have fewer jobs to fight over, forcing many of them to earn minimum wages.

Luke 11:46 was a picture of Jesus talking to “Experts in the Law.”  This meant, people who had a high religious position, and of good education and intelligence, and income who sat in judgement of other people. In modern times, this is the average well-educated, politically opinionated person. Basically, this is you and me, and almost every other American. We are all experts in politics, religion, social programs, economics, education, and work. When we see people struggling financially, or receiving government help, or two working spouses; we judge them or society for their situation, for their bad decisions, lack of skills or whatever reason we can come up with.

Everyone has a strong opinion on how to help others, but how many of us “lift one finger to help them?” When we don’t, do we “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry?”  The burden of judgement can be heavy, yet the load lightening word of encouragement to people struggling can be life-sustaining. On one side of the social justice argument, some say we help strugglers enough, with government programs, while others say, we just need to increase taxes so that we can help them more. Jesus didn’t get involved in this age-old argument; I think Jesus is calling us to NOT SAY (judge), but DO SOMETHING to help them. I can’t recall Jesus ever asking government to step in, but he often calls you and me to help other people one-on-one, not just by paying taxes or writing a check to a not-for-profit (which is good, and I don’t condemn that).

Jesus is talking about Ground Level Social Justice. You and me getting our hands dirty, helping people to carry their burdens. We got help when our children were young, when my parents babysat our children so my wife could work a part-time job. People at church were willing to help me budget and learn financial skills. Our church had a Benevolence Ministry; it provided counsel and financial help to those caught in financial crisis. What can you do?  The book, When Helping Hurts, by: Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert says there are 5 essential keys to helping people get out of financial difficulty (or preventing them from experiencing it): 1) Employment assistance (such as resume writing, interviewing and work skills)  2) Financial  counseling and classes  3) Loving and supportive community, like churches offer, especially through small groups 4) Financial assistance (help with bills and food pantries), but only coupled with the preceding 4, and 5) Entrepreneurship, or helping people start or grow a business, or start one yourself, that may eventually create good paying jobs with benefits.

There are literally hundreds of programs in your church and community that help people with these 5 areas. This is ground level social justice in action; it helps people and it builds a strong and loving community where you live.

*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 fortieth post in this series.

Jesus and the Pharisees, Giving to the Poor and Clean Hearts

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 11:37-41,  about Jesus connecting serving the poor and having a clean heart.

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

Jesus was either listening to the Pharisee’s grumbles, or like on other occasions, he may be demonstrated his ability to know people’s thoughts. Either way, he knew they were judging him based upon outside appearances. Jesus judged them for their greed and wickedness.

Do you ever judge someone by how they appear on the outside? Recently I heard someone say that people thought she was weird, because she had rather strange behaviors. She liked to farm, getting her hands dirty rasing crops and caring for animals- much different from the life she lived as a Fortune 500 company CEO. Also, she lived in a small home, even though she could live in the estate’s grandeos mansion.  She said people now considered her just eccentric, because she is very wealthy — interesting perspective! It is easy for us to judge other people by their outside appearances isn’t it? It can be race, how wealthy or poor they appear is often used, looking at the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in. The Pharisees were judging based upon behavior, and they were judging Jesus, even though he showed compassion and love to thousands of people. Manners, diction, schooling, accents and family are all used to judge people.

Christians are like the Pharisees, we want to look successful to those around us too. We don’t want to look bad or dumb. Among our fellow believers we want to look good too, god forbid that we give the perception that we are being judged by God for bad acts or lack of performance, or for some reason are not as blessed as other people. If we think this way about ourselves, do we then think this about other people too? Probably.

But just like in this scripture, Jesus can see what we are like on the inside; what we are really like. We know that we ought to behave better, more like the principles we believe in. We are all hypocrites really, the Apostle Paul knew this, that is why he devoted a couple of chapters in Romans about it (Romans 6 & Romans 7).

Back to Luke 11:41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. This verse begs the question, can we be clean on the inside, can our hearts be cleansed, and forgiven and made right by God for the way we treat the poor, by being generous to them? Can we write a check, and have our salvation assured for all of eternity?

When Jesus talks, he does so in a way that makes us want to dig down deep within our souls. The Pharisees, experts in the law, may have been well-off financially. They probably knew that to be generous to the poor, they would have to do so in a way that didn’t hurt the poor more than helping them- kind of like giving money to a homeless guy, with beer breath, standing outside a liquor store. Being generous to the poor means, getting down on your knees, getting your hands dirty, being uncomfortable with their smells and imperfections. Helping them with their problems and being used at times. It means using your connections, being industrious, speaking out on their behalf, encouraging and praying with them.

It has been my experience being around a lot of people who work regularly with those in poverty and homelessness, that they know how badly they need Jesus to clean their own hearts, to save them, and help them through life. They can identify with those in poverty, because they are just like them. Those following Jesus respond this way to those in need around them. They don’t judge others, which is just an excuse for not helping them, they care for others. These people are not perfect, but they know Jesus is their savior, and their hearts are clean, because of what Jesus did on the cross to save them. Jesus followers, are the beloved by God, covered in a beautiful white robe, and they have clean hearts- and they love and serve Jesus (Matthew 25:40).

*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 thirty-ninth post in this series.

Martha Stewart-Like Unholy Living, Luke 10:38-42

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from  Luke 10:38-42 about focusing on what is important in life.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Several women have told me they don’t care for these verses, they contend that Jesus should have rallied all the guests and they should have helped Martha, then they could have enjoyed the meal and Jesus together. I respect this point of view, but am imagining that Martha in this verse is a lot like Martha Stewart is today.  To do things like Martha Stewart; plan everything to the nth degree from designing the invitations, 7-course meal, and hand made table cloth and center-piece. If you are inviting some friends over, be sure not forget to landscape the front lawn and flower beds, light the scented candle in the guest bathroom, immaculately clean your home, and do it all in time to shower and apply fresh make-up. Exhausting isn’t it?

In modern America, especially in suburbia, this example of entertaining extends to almost everything. We definitely have complicated lives with the More (n.) lifestyle.  We have bought into the More philosophy; more means better, and if you have less, you are less.  More living applies to more cars, or constantly better cars as we make more money. Bigger and better houses, as well as better decorations, landscaping, and patios. The concept of more is not just material objects, it applies to activities. More and better vacations, restaurants, entertainment, and hobbies. Schedules can get pretty full doing, planning, traveling and posting about them on Facebook. This extends to our children’s lives, of constant activity, entertainment, sports, school, lessons and being SUV’d to the next activity.

I think Jesus was talking to Martha and the group about all of the things we fill our lives with, purchase, and worry about.  Americans are anxious about many things, we push Jesus into the margin of life. We go broke financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually pursuing more. It is not wonder we are often lack peace and joy for most of the day, and are stressed, worry and are anxious about many things. Could this contribute to debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck? Reading Matthew 6:25-27, Matthew 6:34, and Philippians 4:6, we know we shouldn’t worry, but it is hard not to.

Maybe we can learn from this encounter with Martha and Jesus, and focus on Jesus as he tells us what to do in that verse; for some of us it may mean cutting back on the things that we fill our lives buying, doing and maintaining. This is the truth, and this brings freedom from the things that bind us (ref. John 8:32).

*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 thirty eighth post in this series.

The Greatest Commandments and Money

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 10:25-28 and Matthew 22:36-40 is about what we are to love.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The most important words ever spoken by Christ to all of mankind effecting one’s behavior are probably those words. Of the over 31,000 verses and 750,000 words in the entire Bible; these 5 verses made up of 58 words are the very most important of all: they communicate to man that in all things we should always put God’s concern first, and that of our neighbor second in tandem, and often before our own. These verses should be burned into our hearts and minds. When we wake in the morning, it is easy to automatically think about the day, and all of the things that we have to do, and how it will affect us. However, before all of that, maybe we should ask Lord how can I love you with all my heart, soul and mind today, and how can I love my neighbor as intensely as myself?

When we think about money and possessions though, do we think of God, neighbor and love first ? It always bugs me, when I pick up a Christian personal finance book, or read an article online, and the main underlying premise seems to be if I a practice some type of good financial behavior, that in return I will get something out of it for myself. For example, it is common hear that if we are good stewards, then God will bless me a certain way. There is even the generosity gospel that promises we will blessed with a lot of money if we tithe a lot, or help the poor, quoting Mark 10:30, Proverbs 22:9, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. This kind of thinking illustrates the heart of the author, and sometimes sadly mine too.

Almost every secular book on finances starts out that way, “If you do this, then you will have a lot of money!” Doesn’t Jesus preach a different message? I can’t find any verses about Jesus preaching about financial security and abundance. If anything he pushes that our of minds by declaring we are to love God intensely with all of our effort. Jesus doesn’t preach self-hate or total self-denial, but Jesus says we are to love others with as much concern as we do ourselves. This really takes the focus of of myself.

I know that when I am self absorbed, I’m not as happy; the more I am self consumed, I find myself down and more distant from God. It is easy to fall into the trap to think I have to provide for myself, and when I have done that quite well, then I will have time and money for God and others. However, some of the greatest ways I have been blessed is from those who didn’t have much. I still recall a dinner meal from friends in their home, and they were struggling to make ends meet. I remember this even though it happened in about 1981, when my wife (girl friend at that time) and I shared a great simple low cost meal of homemade bread and gazpacho with some friends, in their little apartment, and they loved us. It still makes me smile me to think about the fun we had and the warmth of God there.

A few days ago I stumbled upon 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, I like the wording in the NLT version: But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. 30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away. This really spoke to me, Paul was teaching the early church then, and us now, not to be absorbed by and attached to either our good and bad times and possessions, but by the good things in loving God and others.

*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 thirty seventh post in this series.

Believing in God & Helping Others, Luke 10:25 – 37

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 10:25-37, about the connection between believing and helping our neighbors, from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”  27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Much of the time we think about money, it has to do with what we want. Someone once said; “I am not capable of a selfless thought.” I think this is probably true for everyone. When we read the Bible, are we looking for some kind of verse that may promise some blessing for ourselves? Some Bible scholars say that in a way you can read between the lines when you read the Bible. Reading between the lines of the New Testament, I can’t find any promises for wealth for me personally if I will only do this or that.  When you read through the Gospels you can see people throwing questions at Jesus all the time; people on the street, teachers in the temple and his Apostles. I am confident that when the question about having a life of wealth was on the minds of bystanders, they either asked him and he didn’t answer, or people kept the question in their mind and didn’t want to look rude or silly. Read between the lines, Jesus often talked about promises he made to followers, but they never had to do with their obtaining wealth, possessions and power- in this life.

On the day that Jesus was asked about how to obtain eternal life by an expert in the law. Pre-Jesus experts in Biblical law, had a terrible task of searching the scriptures, trying to both understand the mind of God, and understand all of the many laws about dozens of things, including simple tasks of eating, cleaning and money. Part of what these experts were trying to do, was to know what would bring them a particular blessing or curse, both to individuals and people groups. This expert was trying to get that nice formula for achieving the inheritance of eternal life. Don’t we do the same thing today?  We want to have the checklist for our personal well being both today and in eternity.

In the Bible there is no example of the “pray-the-prayer,’ for eternal life. This would have been a great opportunity for Jesus to provide that. Most Biblical scholars though do agree that there does come a time, a point of demarcation, when we choose to walk with Jesus from now on, and that marks our permanent salvation. A sign of believers doing this, is a life not focused on selfish ambition, according to Jesus.

In this parable, the signs of eternal life were (Luke 10:27-28):

  • “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 
  • Read between the lines: don’t love yourself with all of your effort and thinking

Jesus described the neighbor as

  1. A naked, bleeding and dying man by the road (Luke 10:30)
  2. A man that wasn’t liked either because of race, ethnicity, religion, station in life or town, city, state or nation he was from, or someone other people avoided (Luke 10:31-32)
  3. Someone needing first aid medical care (Luke 10:34)
  4. Someone who needed transportation (Luke 10:34)

The believer was someone who:

  1. Was inconvenienced
  2. Gave money for caring
  3. Traveled with
  4. Stayed nearby for a while after getting him to his destination

Reading between the lines: not someone who asked for something in return from God or the man that was helped, or praise from friends

In conclusion: There are many important lessons to learn here, about all kinds of various subjects. However, there is a strong financial teaching here. The believer’s heart is for others long before ourselves- even when it comes to our time and money. Lastly, when we call out to Jesus, or when we search the Bible for answers to questions about our financial dreams and needs, where do our concerns for our own financial wants come into play? It is always good medicine for God to search our hearts about this, Psalm139:23.

*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 thirty sixth post in this series.

Jesus and Small Business Owners

fishThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 5:1-11 ; it is about Jesus calling Simon, a small business owner into ministry.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

The apostle Simon was a small business owner, in this case a fisherman. The world is full of people that operate and own a small business. Drive down any street in a fairly prosperous area, and you will see all kinds of commercial establishments- most of them small businesses. Go into any office building, there are thousands of them in every city, and they are jammed pack full of them. Small businesses are those that employ fewer than 500 people, and according to the Small Business Administration they:

•    Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
•    Employ half of all private sector employees.
•    Pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
•    Generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.
•    Create more than half of the non-farm private GDP.
•    Hire 43 percent of high tech workers ( scientists, engineers, computer programmers, and others).
•    Are 52 percent home-based and 2 percent franchises.
•    Made up 97.5 percent of all identified exporters and produced 31 percent of export value in FY 2008.
•    Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.

Many people think that huge companies like General Motors and General Electric employ the majority of people, but in reality they only employ about 1/2. Not only do small companies employ a lot of people, the value they generate to our economy in terms of output in goods and services, patents, exports and new jobs is enormous.

At times the media and politics is negative towards business, blaming their greed for many of the ills of society, and wanting to increase their taxes to solve our country’s problems for everything from health-care to bailing out government pension plans. However, the owner of a small company is under tremendous stress. Everyday he or she fights to stay profitable, increase sales, and combat increasing expenses. Christian business owners toil quietly, and constantly cry out to God to help them stay in business.

Jesus pictured in this verse isn’t preaching to the media and politician it seems, but to the common man on the street, many of which are business owners, like Simon. Simon had a really successful day of fishing; finally after catching nothing, fishing all day. Jesus told them to go back out once again, and where to fish- and they caught so many they needed help from others to haul it in. Business owners dream of having successful days like that; landing the big account, making the big sale, or harvesting a bounty crop.

Simon did what Jesus told him to do, and he was successful. Following Jesus in business is no promise for business success, sometimes Jesus leads us in a direction that is more about our spiritual growth and less about making us rich. However, praying for business success and prosperity and personal growth is a great idea. Success is only part of the mission of business owners. They are an excellent witness when they produce a good product that helps people, and treat employees and customers well. They also bless society when they employ people, provide good benefits, pay taxes and pump money into the local economy.

It is interesting that Jesus choose small business owners like Simon to be some of his apostles. People that own businesses are often very hard-working, industrious, smart, multi-talented and results driven people. They are perfect people to work in ministry, when the hours can be long, the work difficult, pay modest, all with unknown success.

Jesus spoke Simon’s language when he demonstrated his power through Simon’s trade, and an abundant harvest.  Sometimes Jesus calls successful people out of large companies and self employment, even at the height of their financial success into full time or volunteer ministry. Sometimes he calls people to start businesses too, leaving the security of regular employment, to stretch individuals and to bless society. Small businesses and owners need our prayer and support, we need and value their contribution to society, and for ministry.

*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 thirty fourth post in this series.

The Eternal Significance of Sharing Possessions

smuckThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 3:7-11; it is about sharing our personal possessions and food.

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

John the Baptist had just finished teaching about big things, such as the kingdom of God and salvation. The audience it seems were Jewish, since he is making a reference to the children of Abraham. Many of the Jewish people of that day thought that they would be saved when they died, since they were children of Abraham. It was both a religious and cultural belief system they were abiding by. In those ancient times, people placed a very high value on family and where they were from. Throughout scripture you see references to what village or town someone was from (see John 1:46). It was a big deal back then to be from a specific family or lineage: village and family were bragging rights.

Being associated with a particular family might mean that you could inherit wealth.  I used to work with someone who had the last name Smucker.  People would often ask him if was related to the Smucker’s family of jams and jellies, sold at most grocery stores. He would always reply with “By name but not by money!”  To the Jews of that day, there was even greater significance: they believed since their spiritual and ancestral father was Abraham, they would be saved when they died, and live in heaven and not hell for eternity, with their many-times-great grandfather Abraham. Interestingly, Smucker’s trademark includes “With a Name Like Smucker’s it has to be good®.”

Those cultural beliefs are quite a bit different from today’s. Today we value individuals and what they can accomplish in their professions. We often place a higher value on doctors and lawyers than on members of other professions. We admire the amount of money people can earn, their place in society; and we admire celebrities, even those who have been made famous by silly reality TV programs. Often our modern western society links people’s value to money, and we personalize this notion by thinking that if we amass a large fortune, we can endure most calamities that might come our way.

We don’t value family and parents as much as they did either. It seems to be rare that people brag about their family names, or even respect their parents much. In antiquity, it was shameful and perhaps financially unwise to disassociate ourselves from our parents; perhaps this is why honoring our parents is one of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:12). High value is placed today on the great job you have or the college you are from–almost everyone is impressed if someone has a Harvard degree. High value is placed on the clothing emblem, brand of car and country club membership.

Looking back at Luke 3:7-11, we see John the Baptist not only hinting that their lineage and religion would not save them, but also mentioning the works of giving away extra shirts and food as evidence of God’s fruit in their lives. I can’t imagine only having two shirts and giving one away. It is difficult to imagine living in that day, with no grocery stores or cold and canned food storage at home. It is hard to believe that if I had enough money for lunch, I could give away some of my food with dinner several hours away. John the Baptist might have been using hyperbole, or exaggeration, to make a strong point. That said, maybe our closets and garages need cleaning out, and maybe we need to give away our clothes to the point of pain, to hold off buying new clothes unless we really need them, or to buy less rich food, and instead to donate money to the poor. I am reminded of a couple of quotes of C.S. Lewis, the best Christian apologist of the 20th Century.

  • Charity–Giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality…I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. Mere Christianity, bk. III, chap. 3, para. 7, pp. 81-82
  • The limit of giving is to be the limit of our ability to give. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Introduction, para. 53, p. 35

Jesus totally ties our faith in him to obedience (John 14:23-24), and one of the few things Jesus directly says to do (such as loving God and our neighbors–Matthew 22:36-40), is to “invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me, —Matthew 25:31-46” followed by eternal ramifications. Now don’t get me wrong, we cannot tie works to salvation, but the fruits of salvation will be demonstrated in our love for him and God’s kids, and not in our own lives.

Jesus was a Jew, but he referred to his father as God–he didn’t tie his works or salvation to Abraham or anything else: 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things (healing) on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:16-19

Can we sometimes be like the folks surrounding John the Baptist two thousand years ago, feeling secure in our wealth, comfortable with our church attendance? Thinking of all of these Bible verses and the C. S. Lewis’ quotes, it seems as if our lifestyles should be less than they are because of our generosity, and we should be working for him in response to the love of our Father God, who indeed will save 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 thirty third post in this series.

Be Content With Pay

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 3:12-14. It is about being content with our pay and not overcharging or extorting.

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

This is an account of John the Baptist teaching about stewardship and integrity. He had just finished teaching about big things, such as the kingdom of God and salvation, and he had baptized a number of people, but just then a tax collector and some soldiers inquired what to do next after repenting.  John didn’t waste any time. He cut to the quick, and he hit them where they were most vulnerable–in their personal pocketbooks, wallets or money purses. Isn’t it a little surprising that after a lofty sermon, John brings it home and speaks to their hearts?

When you pray, maybe this is a good thing to consider. In prayer, you might go through the Lord’s prayer: praising his holy name, thanking him for blessing you so much, asking for his kingdom to come and his will to be done, and for your daily bread. You might forgive others and ask for forgiveness and protection from sin and Satan. Then you might go through a list of things you want for yourself or for others.

Before completing your prayer, consider getting your wallet or pocketbook out and placing it before you on the table in front of you–you know, that beat up thing with wrinkled money and plastic cards, driver’s licence, old business cards, and an odd assortment of receipts, important ID cards and photos.

With that in front of you, offer it to God and pray, “God, this is yours. Guide me to use it wisely and responsively. Help me to have integrity, and to live a life of contentment.” Ask God to speak directly to your heart about your job and money, as he spoke to people who were baptized years ago.

Chances are, if you do this, you may find that God talks to you about contentment, just as he talked to the tax collectors and soldiers. He was teaching them a timeless message, one that can apply to us today, because even after we decide to follow God, our hearts yearn for “more!”–more possessions, money, influence, political power, free time, rest, and getting our own way. This message was critical for John the Baptist to preach. He told them that one day the time of yearning for more will be gone, because Jesus is our more, he is our contentment. There were a lot of needy people at the banks of the river with John, people who were searching for more life or a new life.

While  the Apostle Paul was in prison, he wrote:  11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13  Other verses to consider: 1 Timothy 6:6-12, 2 Cor. 12:9-10, Romans 8:28, Job 36:11, Proverbs 19:23, Psalm 34:10, and Romans 12:2.

Does God want you to have a more abundant life as he promised in John 10:10? Yes, but he wants it to be more abundant in him. You want more money, perhaps a spouse (or just one that shows more love), or maybe you want a promotion. God often wants us to relax and be quiet where we are; he wants us to learn to wait on him, and to learn contentment. God is more about preparing us for eternity than about letting us have our own way. He may indeed give us “more” things, maybe a lot of them, but in the meantime he wants us to dig deep, not to take shortcuts to what we want by sometimes doing things we shouldn’t be doing, or by whining and complaining.

Like Paul, we need to learn to the secret of contentment, even when things around us are not perfect and we are still striving for more. The workers that Jesus really smiles about are those who work a few minutes more than the normal eight hours, not those trying to cut corners. He probably also smiles about those who get back from lunch a little early instead of late, take fewer breaks, and do not speak ill of their employers, or participate in office gossip, or misuse benefits and sick leave–those who show in their demeanor an appreciation for their jobs and their pay.

*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 thirty second post in this series.

Jesus Died in Poverty

soldThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Mark. Jesus died with few possessions, yet he traded what he had for our great gain.

  • Jesus was crucified naked (Matthew 27: 35): When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (also Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24)
  • Jesus was wrapped in donated cloth (Matthew 27:57-59): As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth… (also Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, and John 19:40)
  • Jesus was buried in a new donated tomb (Matthew 27:60): …and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (also Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:41-42)

When people die, their estates have to be settled, unless they die homeless or as prisoners. The property they own has to be distributed to whomever they want it to go. Today we use wills and trusts to bequest our personal property to family and charity, such as furniture and our home. We also direct who will be the beneficiary of our savings, investments and life insurance. Sometimes relatives take our clothes, but they are usually donated and sold at thrift stores. We can’t take anything with us to heaven or hell when we die, as it is put so well in Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Apparently Jesus owned no property other than the clothes on his back, and even that was taken from him. Soldiers are used to taking the spoils of war as part of their compensation, but they had little to take from Jesus–just the humble garments that he was wearing. They didn’t pay him even a little respect as he hung there naked, dying; and they stripped him of his clothes for the little value they had. The soldiers greedily cast lots for his clothes. Someone donated a cloth to wrap his body in and a tomb to bury him in.

What did Jesus have left to give? His friends scattered. His energy, his skin and his blood were stripped from him. He was scourged with a barb-tipped whip. He had nothing. There was no one stepping forward with money to influence the politicians, jailers and soldiers. Where were the thousands he healed, loved and taught? Where were the crowds who welcomed him to town triumphantly by laying down palm leaves and garments in his path?

Strangely the man at center stage, Jesus Christ, who had everything taken from him, still had much to give. The power to do almost everything was taken. Hanging from the cross, hands and feet nailed, he was unable to walk, unable to extend his hand; it was a struggle even to voice his last few words. They defeated him by stopping him from doing anything more. The mob won; they wouldn’t have to listen to him any more. The religious could settle back into their comfortable customs without being challenged.

Jesus still had one thing to do, one thing to give, and one last word to utter painfully (John 19:30):“It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  Jesus gave up his life for us. He exchanged his life for our sin. His blood filled the Grand Canyon sized gap between man and God. Jesus paid the price, and amazingly it was gain for us, all for us.

Why do I worry about anything, especially money and possessions. King Jesus chose a path that wasn’t for money, possessions or earthly power. His path was one of sacrifice and generosity, healing and giving, loving and following God. We serve a great, gracious and generous God!

*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 thirty-first post in this series.

Jesus Proclaiming Good News to the Poor, Luke 4:16-21

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 4:16-21 and 16:19-25. Jesus is proclaiming good news for the poor, and is warning the rich.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

The scripture was not fully fulfilled that day. This is an example of the ‘already not yet’ theology. The work that laid the foundation for this to fully come into being was completed in Christ’s life and death, yet the coming perfect kingdom that Christ will bring has yet to arrive. In the meantime, is the work of the saints, in part, to be about bringing good news to the poor in terms of spiritual and physical blessing?

So far reported in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus’ adult life, we witness his being baptized, being tempted in the desert for 40 days, and teaching in the synagogues in Galilee with much praise. On the occasion of this verse, he was teaching in a synagogue, still early in his ministry, in the town where he was brought up, Nazareth. Later in this chapter, verses 22-30, the people were both amazed and shocked, incensed to the point they wanted to kill Jesus by tossing him off a cliff. Jesus was reading from Isaiah 61:1. The people, being well versed in the scriptures, knew that this particular passage referred to the mission of the Messiah. Therefore, they thought Jesus was blaspheming God by claiming to be the Messiah, and the punishment for blasphemy was death.

Good news for the rich. A few days ago, I had free tickets to attend the auto show that is touring the country. I’m a car guy, so a friend and I attended. It is fascinating to see the latest technology and features available to the car-buying public. The well healed can easily find extremely powerfully 300+ horsepower sedans, SUVs and trucks. The latest luxury interiors are beautifully sculpted from finest plastic, carbon fiber, wood and leather. All have the best navigation systems, heated seats, sounds and blue tooth communication systems. The latest safety features are there too, such as early warning systems for accident avoidance if a car gets too close to you or you get too sleepy. It is easy to spend $50,000 – $80,000 to get one of these great cars. Friday in the Wall Street Journal there was an advertisement for the Inspirato American Express Card; for a mere $17,500 initiation fee and $3,000 annually I could have exclusive rights to vacation at some of the most exclusive resorts worldwide. There will always be good news for the rich; the best cars, vacations, health-care, and houses will constantly be created and upgraded for their enjoyment and benefit.

Good news for the poor? Jesus was proclaiming the Lord’s favor for the prisoner, the oppressed and the poor. In contrast, reading Luke 16:19-25 is a warning not to seek comfort and riches in the eternal world to come, where the poor will live in luxury (see also Matthew 20:16 and Mark 9:35): 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.’

What are we to do to bring about good news for the poor?

  • For some it is giving up things we want for our comfort to be about serving Jesus and the poor. Matthew 19:27-30: 27 Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30 “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.
  • Avoid wearing ourselves out to get rich, Proverbs 23:4. Jesus loves everyone; the poor, the rich and those in between, and he wants the best for everyone; he provides advice and help throughout scripture to help everyone.
  • Helping the poor is not just giving them more entitlements, since that often traps people in poverty. Education, jobs, health-care, and churches help lift people out of poverty more than anything. Providing the spiritual support, skills, intellect, and new or growing business is key to moving people out of poverty. This ‘both-and’ should be a bi-partisan approach: balancing entitlements and opportunity, seldom discussed by politicians, is something we can get behind, both with our own careers and with our political involvement–something to pray about.

 *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 thirtieth post in this series.

Dealing with Financial Sins, Mark 14:38

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about Jesus telling us to pray so that we don’t fall into temptation (Mark 14:38), and Jesus’ forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-5). This article applies these verses to our finances.

One of the last things Jesus taught his Apostles before his crucifixion was to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38  Jesus wasn’t specific about which sins he didn’t want to them succumb to, but when you read the 10 Commandments, Proverbs, and hundreds of other verses throughout the Bible, it seems many temptations involve money and possessions.

You probably don’t read or think much about financial sins every day; most people don’t. They are not talked about that much in Christian circles, yet the Bible provides tons of references. The Bible clearly tells us which financial sins we are to avoid:

  1. Gluttony, Proverbs 23:20
  2. Coveting, Exodus 20:17
  3. Idolatry, Galatians 15:19-21
  4. Co-signing, Proverbs 11:15, Proverbs 17:18
  5. Not re-paying debt, Psalm 37:21
  6. Not paying taxes, Matthew 22:21
  7. Not aiding the poor, Deuteronomy 15:7-10, James 2:14-17
  8. Not working, Proverbs 15:19
  9. Stealing, Exodus 20:15
  10. Being honest and fair in financial dealings, Proverbs 19:1
  11. Not giving, or giving with the wrong attitude
  12. Greed, Ephesians 5:3-5, Luke 12:15

There are probably many more types of sins that involve finances; the sheer number and weight of them as I was compiling this was surely a wakeup call for me. I pray regularly about having integrity and being a good steward, yet this compels me to really heed Jesus’ word to more closely watch myself and pray that I am not tempted to commit these sins.

It is really good news that Jesus wants me to pray so that I can get heavenly help. It is even better news that Jesus can not only heal my body, but he can forgive my sins, as he did for the paralyzed man:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:1-5

When Jesus was ministering to people and forgave their sins, he usually wasn’t very specific about which sin had been committed. I don’t know if this paralyzed guy had committed any financial sins, but just looking at the sheer number of financial sins there are, chances are he committed a few of them. This tells me that I can come before the Lord and he can forgive me of all of my sins, including the financial ones. When I sin by not being a good steward, he removes the weight of the sin from me and I feel clean and free to begin again with another fresh start.

 *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 thirtieth post in this series.

Getting Jesus’ Approval for the Things We Do, Mark 13:1-2

templeThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about getting Jesus to look at the things we build, and to win approval, in Mark 13:1-2. At first glance I skipped over these verses, since I didn’t think they had a lot of application to money and possessions. However, looking a little closer, I discovered they have a lot to say.

Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

I can just picture the apostles walking along the street with Jesus as they left the temple. Wow, what an experience they had hearing Jesus teach (Mark 11 & 12). He taught them about forgiveness, prayer, Jesus’ authority, giving, stewardship, taxes and the resurrection. He taught them the two most important commandments–Mark 12:30-31: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Yet after all of that, one of them probably nudged Jesus, getting him to look back at the temple. He might have been thinking, That was great, what you did in that marvelous temple we built for for you! Doesn’t that show you how much we esteem you? It’s big, built well, takes care of the official religious duties–didn’t we do a good job for you?  Are not we a good people for the works we do? Doesn’t this show you our devotion and our partnering with you, and your approval of us?

The temple was the center of life for them. They were proud of the nearly 50-year construction process in the center of Jerusalem. Many traveled there from far away for religious holidays. They donated a significant portion of their incomes and bought items for sacrifice.  Their hearts, minds and money were committed to the work, probably much more than 10%. Then what a blow this must have been to the apostles, to not have them hear that they were right on partnering with God on his plan up until the appointed hour.

Jesus must have been very frustrated for their focus on a temple building, of all things, following that. Jesus used that moment to give them tremendous wisdom, wisdom for the ages. He was telling them that all material things, those items that we assign so much value to, will one day be destroyed. Our churches, houses and cars will not be spared. Our investments, bank accounts, and even our 401(k) and IRAs will be gone. The trinket collection, grandma’s antiques–everything will be gone.  (Jesus elaborates more in Mark 13:3-37.)

Jesus wasn’t just being negative or overly focused on end times, but he was putting into perspective the temporal aspects of our lives. He wants us to lay our treasures instead in heaven [use them in doing his work] (Matthew 6:20). He wanted them and us to look more at what is happening on the inside (Matthew 23:23-28), to look beyond the material things into the depths of our souls.

We don’t have to win God’s approval for the things we do. He loves us more than we can ever imagine because of what Jesus did. He sets us free of fruitless lives centered on performance and religious duties, and of serving our own desires (Luke 14:26) so that we can experience carefree living–a life of loving and serving God.

*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 twenty-ninth post in this series.

Jesus’ Observations of Giving by the Poor and Wealthy

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about the poor widow’s offering and religious leaders taking advantage of widows. Mark 12:38-44.

untitled38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” The Widow’s Offering 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

There are many things going on in these verses.

  • Jesus was warning people about religious folks who like to be honored walking around in expensive clothing, and greeted with respect, yet they rob poor widows
  • Jesus watches the offerings very closely
  • Modest giving of the wealthy doesn’t impress God
  • Giving of the poor widow impresses Jesus greatly
  • Jesus cares a lot about widows

I hear stories from time to time about poor people and widows who have had their money taken by relatives, criminals and even pastors and church leaders. Widows are particularly vulnerable since they often don’t always know that much about money, and are distraught. Widows I have known have taken many years to recover from the emotional pain. They often look to religious leaders for help and guidance with life and their finances, yet leaders sometimes look out for their own interests. This is an important warning for those in ministry, whether professional or lay leaders.

The widow represents a perfect example of giving from the heart, and laying treasurers in heaven. In Matthew 6:19-21, we are told to build up treasures in heaven, and Matthew 6:25-33 tells us the Jesus cares and will provide for us. This widow exemplified giving to God and depending upon him to provide for her.

Jesus could see the amount of money that the rich and poor were depositing; he was sitting close to the place of offering and watched. Jesus does that today, he watches what we do with our money, how we spend and give. Are we depending upon him for our future, or are we too careful not to give too much?

C.S. Lewis, perhaps the best Christian apologist of the 20th Century, had some interesting comments about Christians and their generosity:

“Charity–Giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality…I do not believe we can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” Mere Christianity, bk. III, chap. 3, para. 7, pp. 81-82

Jesus cares a lot about the widow, he was so impressed with her giving that he wanted us to know that she had great treasure in store for her. And he wants to punish those who take advantage of widows. I stumbled upon a site on the Web that listed 200 Bible verses about widows and orphans, so it its apparent that God cares a lot for them and wants us not to exploit them, but to help him take care of them.

*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 twenty-eight post in this series.

Paying Taxes Cheerfully, Giving Back to Caesar what is His, Mark 12:13-17

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about paying taxes in Mark 12:13-17.

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

We have studied in previous articles, from a Biblical standpoint, we are not owners, but temporary caretakers or stewards of what God has entrusted us with. We can’t take anything with us when we die, so it should seem obvious that money and material things are just temporary. Also, God always existed, and created all matter from nothing, so it is again obvious that we are not owners.

When talking about tithing, interestingly we are encouraged to offer our tithe. In Malachi 3:8-12, not doing so was equated to robbing God. The ‘take-away’ from this is that we don’t give a tithe to God, we offer back to him what is his already. The question the Pharisees posed was whom to “pay”; he answered, “give back.”  He owns the tithe, and when we don’t give it to him we are withholding what we owe him and are in essence stealing from him. Jesus said the same applies to our taxes.

Jesus chose to use the same language when questioned by the Pharisees. Jesus could have said, give to Caesar what the tax collectors say is due him because of the percentage currently charged, but that would have fallen short, and it would have been rather legalistic. Jesus could have said, don’t pay the tax to an unholy government entity. Jesus’ ministry was never about breaking laws or legalism. On face value he outsmarted the Pharisees too with his answer, but he did even more.

He did more by teaching them and all generations since that even after they tithe, the money isn’t theirs. Caesar already owns a percentage of it, and when there is money left over, man doesn’t owns it–the truth is that God owns that part too.

There was a time in my life that I resented paying taxes, because that represented money that I worked hard for and wanted for myself. Taxes seem excessive when you consider that we pay income tax to the state and federal government and sometimes at the local level. We pay payroll and self-employment tax for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Unemployment. Real estate is taxed annually in many areas, and many of the things we buy have sales tax. If you sell them at a profit, you have tax on that too. Some states have inheritance tax, and the federal government has gift and estate tax when we die. Corporations pay tax. There is tax on our investments in the form of long-term and short-term capital gain taxes, and tax on the dividends. Bonds we buy for income have income tax, although some are tax-exempt if they are municipal bonds. When we travel, many roads and bridges have tolls, and the taxes on gasoline, airline tickets and hotel rooms are pretty high. The  Supreme Court says that National Health Care is a form of taxation, and some have joked that the proposed Carbon Tax is tax on the air we breath.

I also resented tithes–not only did government want my money but God did too. And it seemed everyone wanted in my pocket; countless charities were always asking for more, and the United Way once a year wanted to increase my salary deduction.

Don’t get me wrong, I still am against excessive taxes, but when I walk this path of stewardship more, my heart and mind  has been changing. The Beatles concluded their song The Taxman, “you are working for no one but me.” But in truth Paul taught those in Colosse, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23.

Finances are a heart purifier, at least they can be. Jesus taught us to avoid just looking at taxes angrily and paying them in a huff of resentment. I hear him say to me, “In integrity, give the government theirs. You, (insert your name), you serve Christ. The taxing authorities have no leverage over your physical, emotional, spiritual or even your financial condition. You offer me tithes, you trust in me, with all aspects of your future, for I own and control everything. I will give you everything you need. Be different. With full integrity pay all the taxes you owe, don’t try to cheat on them, but pay your taxes cheerfully with a smile, knowing that you serve a good and just God who loves and cares for you.”

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

*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 twenty-seventh post in this series.

Is Self Denial Part of Christian Stewardship? Mark 8:34-38

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about taking up one’s cross, from Mark 8:34-38.

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Jesus took up his cross, and bore it well, setting an example for us. Jesus knew his destiny, he knew the life he choose to live, what it meant every day, and how his days would end. After fasting for 40 days in the desert, Jesus was tempted, and he was offered the world in Matthew 4:8-10. Jesus triumphed over Satan that day, and the die was cast when he said in the 11th verse: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

The life of the disciple is one of choosing to follow Christ, instead of some other route the world offers. It is the life of a steward, managing one’s life according to Christ’s leadings versus the life of the owner, managing things for his/her own desires… “denying themselves,” as Christ succinctly put it.

“Taking up their cross” is an interesting phrase. Jesus’ cross was the life he chose. A life not for himself. A life with a glorious but extremely painful ending. At that time, no one knew what Christ was talking about. Christ took up his cross when he chose to come to earth in human form. He took it up when he chose a life of ministry. When Jesus hung on the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even though Christ knew his destiny, in pain in humanity he stood between earth and heaven, and his humanity cried out. It was as if Christ was choosing every minute to endure the pain he was in until a natural death. It was as if he was wringing out the last drop of sin he took upon himself–ultimately one of the toughest and lingering ones, which is the denial of self. We cry out in like fashion when we are in pain, when life doesn’t go our way with our work, family, health, and even our finances. I don’t like it, but it seems as if God on occasion doesn’t quickly deliver us because he knows life can be a process of daily carrying our cross of choosing him and denying self.

Jesus knew his destiny, a life of purpose, pain and glorious eternity. Perhaps when the apostles saw Jesus carrying his cross or hanging from it, they remembered the foreshadowed message. When did it crystallize in the apostles minds what a life of following Christ meant? Probably not for many months or maybe years after the crucifixion. Eventually, the apostles, like us, realized that the life of the disciple and steward is one that often entails self denial. It is managing our budgets, our impulse spending, giving and tithing, careers, and families for eternal purposes, for, like Christ, we too know our destiny is a  glorious one.

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

*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 twenty-sixth post in this series.

Man’s Way Versus God’s Way With Money, Mark 8:14-15

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about following God’s plan versus man’s, from Mark 8:14-15.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

When it comes to personal finances, business and the economy do we follow wisdom and principles that are from man or from verses that we can trace directly to the Bible?

What does the Bible say about personal finances? There are over 2,000 Bible verses about money, so there is much to be gleaned and applied to contemporary life. If we follow its practical wisdom of avoiding debt, saving, seeking counsel, working hard, not wearing ourselves out to get rich, spending less than we make, and giving; most of the time we will do okay financially- but is that enough?

Why then does Jesus warn his apostles about the yeast of the Pharisees?  Most Bible scholars today believe Jesus was warning them about legalism. Jesus came to sow the seeds of grace, and this ran against the current of religious leaders. Yeast is very small, yet when it is worked into the dough and left to itself, it will begin to rise the bread. Jesus knew that the yeast of legalism was always going to be present around religious people, so he was warning them, for he was showing them a new way of love, grace and spirit.

However what was Herod’s yeast?  Herod had the miss-fortune of ruling over Isreal, and it wasn’t easy dealing with a diverse and unruly culture. Herod’s main goal was not to be known as a humanitarian, by caring for the people. Instead, he was interested in leaving his mark, in massive building projects, and by making his city an economic force. To accomplish this he needed resources and for people to follow him. Herod ruled with force, power, and politics. His chief aim was power and money; and he connived and manipulated to get his way. You think politics is abundant at your place of work?- you haven’t seen anything comparatively.

To summarize these two examples, the yeast of the Pharisees was to manage life and rule by legalism; to manipulate people and God to get what one wants. Herod’s yeast was to get what he wanted by political and economic might.

How does this translate to personal finances? For one, Jesus warns us against trying to live legalistically, both outward, and upward. Meaning if we think we can follow Biblical commandments and principles to get what we want, then we have an orientation of manipulating God for selfish purposes. God doesn’t follow our math, for he sees our hearts, and knows what is best for us. Secondly, Jesus cautions us about following man’s way to getting what we want. Jesus is warning us, as a wise friend and father, to be careful and not let all of those types of yeast to creep into our hearts. He want us to be mindful of God’s thoughts and ways, for He knows they don’t come naturally: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither are your ways my ways- Isaiah 55:8.

When Jesus warns, I think we need to be very alert. It is important when we live in a society with strong messages of greed, sexuality, consumerism, and materialism to not fall into those traps. Are we to be like the Amish, and divorce ourselves from society? Jesus never indicated that at all. In fact he wants us to let His yeast permeate society, His light to shine all over, and for his seasoning to salt mankind and culture. Does this mean we shouldn’t read contemporary secular books about success, business, economics or finances? No, we are to look to those things with discerning minds; Christians don’t need to look different because we are ignorant but by wisely choosing what is right, and being men and women building treasures in heaven. 

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below. 

*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 twenty fifth post in this series.

Financial Miracles and Prayer, Mark 6:35-44

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is to consider financial miracles and prayer from Mark  6:35-44.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Five thousand men, and many more women and children were fed that day. One of the apostles wanted to send them away, because it was going to cost about half a year’s wages to feed them, perhaps something like $25,000 in today’s money.  Jesus took the 5 loaves of bread and two fish and made them turn into enough quantity to feed everyone. They could have taken a collection, or borrowed the money. They could have asked the bread makers and fishermen to donate food. He could have sent them away hungry to fend for themselves in the village, or he could have sent them back to their homes to eat.

This verse demonstrates a lot  of things:

  • Jesus cares not only about the spiritual aspects of life, but also about the physical things.
  • Jesus has the power to multiply things by taking small things and growing them miraculously and quickly, as, for example, when he took a couple of pounds of food and turned it into several thousand pounds–already cleaned, cooked and ready to eat.
  • Jesus wants to feed us physically and spiritually, because he loves us.
  • Jesus wants to encourage us by showing what he can do
  • Jesus works with us in his miracle process by giving us work to do, such as the work his disciples did when they went around feeding everyone.
  • Jesus likes to take care of those who don’t have enough resources to care for themselves.
  • Jesus cared for those who were listening to and following him.
  • Jesus cared for the flock in a community setting.

Maybe you need a financial miracle. Maybe the ministry you are involved in that takes care of others needs a miracle too. Jesus can stretch our money to go farther than it should mathematically. Jesus can stretch our resources, such as the food in our cupboard. Jesus can stretch your generosity to help others who are running short, so that you are more inclined to give food or money to friends, to food pantries, or to other charities that help people.

It is important for us to play our part too. Scripture commands us to work hard, budget, tithe, save, live well below our means, seek the counsel of many advisers, and borrow little. He wants us to live in a close community environment of attending church and being involved in small groups, so that we can receive ministry for our emotional needs as well as our physical ones if we run into trouble. Ask God to show you any of these things that you need to do.

Maybe we are doing our part–all the right things–and we are still running short. Pray for miracles so that your money and resources will stretch. Pray for the material things you own, like your car and house, so that things don’t wear out and need expensive repairs. Pray for your job, for raises, or for God to show you how to be a better, more effective worker. Pray for wisdom and self control when it comes to personal finances. Pray for ways to pay for or to get free or low cost needed medical care or prescriptions. Pray for God to help you repay all your creditors. Pray for discernment so that God will show you who needs your help.

Pray for discernment, raises and business growth so that you might help others more. Seek to have a heart like King David, one that is after God’s own heart, seeking Jesus’ Kingdom- (I blogged about this a few weeks ago), and so that your finances are not consumed by worries or wearing yourself out to get rich.

Pray for your daily bread, as the Lord’s prayer commands us to. Pray for miracles. Pray for God’s grace, for second chances, for miracles, even when you haven’t been faithful.

Conclusion: Good financial stewardship often requires these elements of doing our part: getting help from others, helping others and miracles–so it must be wise to pray for all of these things.

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

*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 twenty fourth post in this series.