The Master and Manager

Luke 16

Luke 16 13

God and money?  Can a Christian have both? No. Yes. No? Yes? Hmm.

I am to sell all my worldly possession (Luke 18:22), but I am responsible for making sure the physical needs of widows and orphans are met (James 1:27).  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 19:24), but God richly blesses men with wealth who follow him (Prov. 10:22).  I am to store up my treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19), but I am told the wise man saves his riches for a rainy day (1 Cor. 16:12. Prov. 21:20).  On the surface of this topic, it would seem we have contradiction, but thankfully today’s reading might help us come to a clearer conclusion when we consider two powerful, but unequal masters: God and money.

In Luke 16 we are presented with a peculiar parable that shows the strength of the almighty dollar.  As the story opens, we are introduced to a dishonest manager who is in charge of accounting (a running theme) of debts for his master. He learns that his master soon will dismiss him, so as each debtor approaches the manager with their contracted commitment, he forgives a portion of their debt.  Being shrewd, he knows he will be the receiver of their thanks, although it was neither his debt to forgive nor his portion to take.  Jesus makes no misgiving that he was speaking specific directly to the Pharisees, who were fundamentally dealing in the same way.  These “managers” of God put literal prices on forgiveness and offerings, ensuring their comfort, but cheating God of glory, praise, adoration, honor, or extending grace himself.  They, like the shrewd manager, traded their merciful Master for passing provision.

In Dale Carnegie’s famous work, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he states “It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” This is a challenging thought that calls us to contentment, but also in context of this specific parable, helps us increase our focus.  Are you the master or the manager of your wealth? time? health? will? Are they yours to divide, take, or utilize as you please? Who receives honor, praise, and recognition when you offer these things freely to others?  Sometimes we are as shrewd as the Pharisees, thinking a possession, a place, or a position is the source of a joyful life.  They make us feel momentarily like the master, but really, they take us away from our true purpose.

Jesus concludes this parable by saying if we cannot be trusted with the small things, why would God ever give us the BIG things. If we cannot rely upon him for our own daily bread why would he ever ensure we are the steward for the needs of others?  If we are faithful to Him, we are entrusted with more of His bidding, not in direct correlation, but determined by the master (See: “Parable of the Talents”).  Yes, this can include money.  Yes, this can include more time on earth.  BUT GLORY, HALLELUJAH, YES, he is talking about the KINGDOM.

So, can you have God and money? Yes. Can you serve two masters? No.  Will God give you more if you are faithful? Yes.  Is it money? Not necessarily, but IT IS the Master’s wealth beyond measure for His faithful managers.

-Aaron Winner

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The Parable of the Lost Ring

Luke 15

Luke 15_10

It was the beginning of a Louisiana winter when I lost my wedding ring just a couple years into my marriage.  It was a beautiful white gold ring with an inscription of our anniversary on the inside of the band.  It was a perfect reminder of my covenant in every way; however, its faults were it was a little loose when my hands were cold, and of course, it had me for an owner.  My friends and I were readying to play a football game on a Sunday afternoon and I was warming up by tossing the ball with a friend.  In a bit of foreshadowing for the events of the day, my ring slipped off as I caught the ball.  I picked it up off the ground, remarked how cold it was that afternoon, thought about placing my ring inside my pocket but thought it might fall out if it was there.  I put the ring back on my finger, only to lose it at some point in the next couple of hours of our pick-up game.

As we finished playing, my heart immediately sank when I realized it was gone.  I felt a cold sweat build on my forehead, my gut churned, and I held back tears, disappointed that I had lost something so precious.  My friends helped me look for almost an hour without success.  In the muddy, mushy, marshy Louisiana ground, I could see the imprints of our shoes and feet, I could see heaps of crawdad holes, but none of us saw the silvery reflection of my ring buried within the mire and muck.

In Luke Chapter 15, Jesus tells a series of three parables with a similar subject of a possession that has gone missing. In “The Parable of the Lost Sheep”, the master realizes that one of his flock is missing, and leaves behind 99 others to search for the lost one.  In the “Parable of the Lost Coin”, a woman takes account (to tie to our theme from yesterday) to realize she has misplaced a day’s earnings and does the equivalent of turning up couch cushion, investigating under the bed, and sweeping every nook and cranny to uncover it.  In “The Parable of the Lost Son” a father turns his son loose with an inheritance, but is actively looking for his return.  In addition to the same topic, each story ends in a similar resolution: what has been lost has become found and there is great rejoicing.

For me, there are two great takeaways as I ponder the collective meaning of these parables.  The first: to be lost, you have already belonged.  It is true that we each must find the Master in order to be saved, but He is the one who never stops searching.  Our Lord desires that not even a single sheep goes astray and is left without the safety of the shepherd (2 Peter 3:9).  Additionally, my thoughts turn to the Book of Life.  In Revelation 3, we are presented an image that our names are not written into the Book at the transition from “lost” to “saved”, but have already received a place there and are blotted out at the end of a life that is not found in Christ.  We are always His, but like the lost son, we make the decision to be found.

The second takeaway is the wonderful rejoicing that occurs when we turn our lives over and are indeed found.  There is a literal fiesta in the firmament to celebrate our Savior’s joy that we are alive again. No longer do we share the fleeting moments of a mortal life with our Father, but have the hope of an eternity of His presence, living with Him in His kingdom, our intended inheritance instead of passing pleasures. We, too, should echo the heavens and revel in each return.

Unfortunately, the resolution to my own parable of the ring isn’t as joyous as our Jesus’.  I searched for the ring for weeks, beseeched friends I know with metal detectors, offered rewards, but none of these measures ensured the retrieval of my wedding band.  I resigned my search, and my ring is forever lost in the loose Louisiana earth.  Maybe, as I like to imagine, it is the crowning jewel at the bottom at some crawdad family’s hole. With this being said, I can’t help but be thankful that my God has called me his treasure and that he never stops searching for me.  He finds me in my wandering, revealing and moving His will and His way through His words, waiting for my silhouette to again darken the horizon when I have gone astray – a Father who never fails finding those who desire to be found in Him.

-Aaron Winner

The Prosperity Gospel vs. Giving Generously

Proverbs 22 – Monday

Prov 22-9

Proverbs 22:4 & 9

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord

   is riches and honor and life…

Those who are generous are blessed,

   for they share their bread with the poor.

 

On any given Sunday morning, I can flip on my television and find a number of ministers promising me riches, wealth, and prosperity if I only have faith.  They usually then want me to practice that faith by making an offering to their ministry – “give us $5 so that God can return it to you one hundred fold.”  These promises do indeed sound promising, but this prosperity gospel is not the message that our Lord came preaching.

 

Just like we can twist the words of Jeremiah 29:11 and John 10:10 to fit this perspective, we can also turn to Proverbs to try to find a God who rewards those who are faithful with riches, wealth, and health.  But our interpretation of the Proverbs would be just as tortured if we tried to find its truth in the shallow waters of the prosperity gospel.  

 

Rather, let’s use the Scriptures themselves to better understand the “riches and honor and life” that is promised for those who love the Lord like we find in Proverbs 22:4.  Just a few verses later, we find the clarification that we need.  It is the “generous” who are (hashtag) blessed.


The wealth of the Gospel of Christ lies not in storing up material wealth or riches or fame, but in sharing the material goodness that we have been given with those who don’t have them.  We are blessed with lives of richness, honor, and life abundant when we give away the riches we have so that those with neither riches nor basic needs can be filled as well.

 

To close with a parable of Jesus, there was a man whose harvest was larger than his barn could store.  He decided to build a larger barn to store his crop.  However, that night he died and all his wealth was lost.  I think that the point of this parable isn’t that we shouldn’t plan ahead or have large barns, but rather that when we have more than we need, we should share it instead of store it up for ourselves.

 

We can find life, wealth, and riches only when we are generous and give the very things we think we need to hoard.

-Graysen Pack

 

 

Justice vs. Mercy

Matthew 25-26

mercy vs justice

Saturday, May 6

Which is more important in God’s eyes, justice or mercy?  That might be a difficult question to answer, but let me give it a try.

First let’s talk about justice.  There are many examples of God’s justice in today’s reading.  In the parable of the ten virgins, those who were not ready for the return of Christ were told by Jesus that he did not know them.  They were receiving justice for the lives they lived.  In the parable of the talents, the man who did not use the talents that were given to him was sent to the place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Justice was on display again.  In Matthew 25:31-46, those that did not help the needy were sentenced to eternal punishment.  Justice served.  Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus said it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born.  That was a warning that justice was on its way.  There was no mercy shown in any of these instances, only justice.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is arrested and his death on the cross is imminent.  We know why Jesus needed to die – to pay the debt for our sins.  The wages of sin is death so we all deserve to die since we have all sinned.  But think about this for a minute.  Couldn’t there have been a different way to make it right?  Jesus even prayed that prayer three times.  He didn’t want to die and he was hoping there was a different way to handle this.  God is in charge of everything so certainly he could have come up with an alternative solution to this problem.  Maybe if we sincerely repented for our sins, God could have shown us mercy and wiped our slates clean without anyone having to die.  Or maybe if we showed Him that we loved Him he could have overlooked our sins.  There had to be a different way.  Why did someone have to die?  The reason someone had to die is because of justice.  God is such a just God that He could not ignore justice.  It is very clear to me that God believes justice must always occur.

So where does that leave mercy?  Let’s go back to the death of Jesus.  Jesus was God’s own son.  He was also without sin.  There has only been one person on this earth in the history of mankind that did not deserve death, and that was Jesus.  God watched his only son be tortured and killed on the cross for something he did not do.  I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to watch one of my children suffer and die for something they did not do.  Yet God allowed it to happen, even though He could have stepped in and rescued him at any time.  Why would He just watch and do nothing?  It was because of His immense love for each of us.  He let His own son die for our sins so that we would not have to.  I believe that is the greatest act of mercy that has ever taken place.

So the answer to justice vs. mercy is “both”.  God will make sure justice occurs 100% of the time and He is on record as committing the most merciful act in history.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit http://www.breslev.co.il/articles/breslev/rebbe_nachmans_wisdom/mercy_vs__justice.aspx?id=26842&language=english)

Bearer of Bad News

Ezekiel 24-26

ezekiel 24-26 amber

Sunday, March 26

When I think of Ezekiel, the phrase “bearer of bad news” comes to mind.  After completing numerous acts of valor such as eating a scroll, becoming mute, laying on his side for over a year, shaving his head, and scattering his hair among the Earth, Ezekiel continues to be one of the few servants of God in his time.  As a major prophet, he does not have news of prosperity and victory to recount to the people.  Instead, he continues to call the rebellious people in exile (and in the surrounding nations) to repentance, ultimately forewarning of their destruction and the destruction of Jerusalem.

 

To me, Ezekiel is no “easy read”.  At times, these scriptures seem abstract and I have a hard time finding application to my daily life. Therefore, I have created a visual to help me, and hopefully some of you understand some of the main concepts in these passages.  I hope these illustrations help some of the content “stick” and become real for you.  If my amateur doodles aren’t your thing, I completely understand that too J

 

Here are a few of the main points/interpretations and moments of personal application that I picked out in our passages today as noted by the visual above:

  • Parable: Jerusalem as a Cooking pot
    • Pot = Jerusalem
    • Scum = corruption of the people *notice this corruption is visible; it cannot be hidden from God.
    • Choice meat = God’s chosen people
    • The meat (God’s people) is thrown out because it is ruined from the scum (corruption/sin)
    • The pot must be set on coals until it’s impurities are burned away (Jerusalem must be destroyed).
    • Application to our lives: Don’t let the scum of your life keep you from bearing good fruits. Find your peace and fulfilment in God, not in the approval of others, your work, sin, the media, and other worldly influences. These things will fail you, God will never fail you.

 

  • Death of Ezekiel’s Wife
    • Ezekiel is told not to mourn, but “groan quietly” (24:17)
    • Interpretation: God instructs Ezekiel and the community not to mourn as he tries to give them perspective into their behaviors. The rebellious people do not mourn when the temple, which should be “the object of their affection” (25:21), is destroyed.  Therefore, they ought not mourn when something of lesser tragedy takes place.  God should be the top priority of all men.
    • Application to our lives: Where are your priorities? Do you value the gifts of this earth more than you value the glory of God? Do you worship the approval of others, celebrities, idols, your children or spouse on accident?

 

  • Prophesies against nations near Judah
    • Because the nations of Ammon, Moab, Tyre, Philistia, and Edom did not care when the temple was destroyed or when the people of Judah went into exile, they will also be punished. The entire nation will know that HE IS GOD.
    • Application to our lives: Earlier in Ezekiel we read that Ezekiel will be held accountable for the sins of others if he fails to spread God’s word. Here we see that other nations are held accountable to a similar degree. We too must spread the good news to ALL nations! What a blessing and a privilege!

 

Do you allow yourself to accept the peace that only God brings?

-Amber McClain

 

Amber McClain cannot wait for the Kingdom.  If she won the lottery she would 1.) Buy a helicopter so that she could spend weekdays learning and teaching in the USA and weekends with our brothers and sisters abroad.  2.) Pay for her fiancé, Josiah to get his helicopter-flying license, and 3.) Throw a world-wide pizza & prayer party; everyone in the world is invited!