Today’s Scripture – February 14, 2018

Luke 16:13-14 (NIV) “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.

This saying of Jesus was clearly aimed directly at the Pharisees, about whom Luke tells us that they loved money. As usual, they simply sneered in response.

But Jesus’ point was and is critical for those who want to be part of the kingdom of God. 1 Timothy 6:10 does not say that money is a root of all kinds of evil, but that love of money is. Love of money will cause people to turn a blind eye to social injustice, or to pervert justice, so as to enable themselves to gain. It can open the door to bribery and graft, and sway people away from the ways of God’s kingdom. Love of money even moved Judas to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:15).

For those who are drawn to money and to the “stuff” of this world, money can and will quickly move from being a servant to being a master, drawing one’s heart and mind away from God and His agenda, and focusing our hearts and minds on the money and how to get more. And it really is impossible to ably serve more than one master in our lives. One will ALWAYS come out on top, making the other not a master, but subservient to the one that is the real master.

In a conflict in a persons heart over the supremacy of God or money, money, if allowed to gain a toehold, will nearly always win. Part of that is because love of money engages the lowest parts of the flesh, those that are the hardest to break. And money also provides immediate, if short-lived, gratification, while God slowly molds and shapes one’s character from the inside out. Of the two, money has by far the stronger draw on the carnal nature.

Money is a useful tool, and can accomplish some good things if it is used properly. But if it allowed to step over the line into mastery in one’s life, it will quickly usurp all other authority to itself, and put a person on the downward slope to spiritual ruin.

Father, we usually think of money, wealth, as amoral. And the paper and metal is. But there is a spiritual dimension to wealth that is easy for us to overlook, and that spiritual dimension, if we allow it to run free, will ruin us! Help me, Lord, to keep my use of resources within proper bounds. Help me to keep my use of money under Your lordship, so that You are glorified, even in this. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 13, 2018

Luke 16:10-12 (NIV) “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Very few people would argue with the principles in these verses, as they are self-evident. If someone proves to be unfaithful in small things that we give them to do, almost no one would think, “Oh, well; I’m sure that they will be faithful in this massively important task!” but if someone proves to be faithful in small tasks, it is very natural to entrust them with greater responsibilities.

But Jesus takes this principle of the world into greater areas of significance that applied to both His own followers and to the Pharisees and teachers of the law: if a person proves to be unfaithful in handling worldly things, God will not entrust them with the riches of the kingdom.

For the disicples, they needed to understand that, as far as God’s kingdom goes, there are no small or insignificant jobs; there are only proving grounds, jobs that show what is in the hearts of His people, and that give us opportunity to prove ourselves faithful, so that we can be given greater, more important responsibilities in the future. If we prove faithful, the doorway to greater things is wide open. But if we prove lazy or dissatisfied with small responsibilities, the door is closed until we are able to be successful at lower levels.

For the Pharisees and teachers of the law, though, this teaching has a much different, though related, import. These men, the spiritual leaders of God’s people, had been given stewardship of God’s word, His laws, His commandments, with the responsibility of helping God’s people to know how to live in His economy. A good deal of this law does not deal with heavenly mysteries, but with earthly attitudes and actions. But in far too many instances, these leaders had not proven trustworthy in these mundane issues, but instead had used their positions to garner privileges for themselves, or to run roughshod over those for whom they had been given spiritual responsibility. Since they had not proven to be faithful in these small, mundane issues, there was no way that God was going to entrust them with the riches of heavenly insights.

Father, I don’t think that we normally think of the things You have given us to do, small mundane things, as proving grounds, to show that we are responsible with small things so that we can be entrusted with greater responsibilities; to show that we can be faithful with small light, so that we can be entrusted with greater insights. Help us Lord, to be faithful always, to understand that nothing is small in Your kingdom, so that we can do all things well, even mundane things, and bring glory to You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 12, 2018

Luke 16:1-9 (NIV) Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg–I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Many Christians are troubled when they read this parable, because Jesus almost seems to be commending this dishonest steward for his dishonest actions. But the truth is much simpler and easier to grasp.

In the parable, the steward realizes that he is going to lose his job, so he uses his master’s resources and influence (dishonestly) to win friends among his master’s debtors. His idea is that, if he treats them very well, they will be positively disposed toward him, and could quite possibly offer him a position when his master boots him off of the payroll in the very near future.

Jesus’ point is not that this man should be praised for his dishonesty, or that he is a good role model for the people of the kingdom. He is simply pointing to the fact that the people of the world tend to be more resourceful (shrewd) than the people of the kingdom. The most successful of them tend to be focused on their goals, and always look to see how they can use the resources that they have access to in order to get to them.

The people of the kingdom, on the other hand, too often take a very relaxed attitude toward the goals of the kingdom. They wait for God to act, to do all of the necessary work, and if things don’t work out, they figure that it wasn’t God’s will after all. They frequently lack the motivation, or push, that worldly people have, and so frequently lose ground, instead of pushing powerfully forward, motivated strongly by the spiritual needs all around them, and God’s command to go and make disicples of all nations.

This was strongly illustrated by Jesus in Matthew 11:12, when He pointed out that the kingdom of God had been forcefully advancing, and forceful men had been seizing control of it. The point was that the kingdom and its vital, soul-saving work is no place for timid, non-resourceful people. Instead, Jesus is calling the people of the kingdom to be shrewd, resourceful, and so passionate about what God is doing in the world, that we use every resource that He provides us fully, forcefully, and ethically, to advance His agenda.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Your work is vital, and time is of the essence, because people are dying every day without knowing Jesus, heading into an eternity separated from You and the life that you sent Jesus to bring us. Help us, help me, to be passionate about Your work and Your plan, shrewd and resourceful, so that I can help move Your agenda forcefully forward. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 11, 2018

Luke 15:25-32 (NIV) “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“’My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Oddly enough, the villain in this parable turns out to not be the younger brother, the prodigal son, but the “righteous” older brother, the one who faithfully obeyed the father through all of the younger brother’s reckless wasting of his inheritance. The younger brother had indeed brought disgrace to himself and his father by his self-centeredness, his rebellion, and his wild ways. But now he has come to his senses, has repented, humbled himself, and been restored to the father’s home. As noted above, this son represents the tax collectors and sinners, the lost sons, who are listening to and responding to Jesus’ message.

The older brother, representing the self-righteous Pharisees and teachers of the law, is in a completely different place. When he finds that the cause of the celebration is the return and restoration of his brother, he refuses to join in the celebration. Instead, he becomes indignant and haughty. He is completely unresponsive to the father’s entreaties to join in the celebration. Instead, he attacks his father, accusing him of favoritism toward this disgraceful son, using the celebration as evidence.

The older son, by causing the father to have to come out to him to plead with him to join the celebration, and by speaking so rudely, harshly, and accusingly to his father, is actually, to middle eastern minds, bringing just as much shame and disgrace on himself and his father as his younger brother had done before. But the older brother is so angry that he is blind to his own unrighteousness. He refuses to even acknowledge that the guest of honor at the party is his brother, referring to him as “this son of yours.” He won’t accept his brother back, he won’t join the celebration, and he is mad at his father for doing both.

This is a perfect picture of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus is celebrating with tax collectors and sinners the fact that they have repented and have come back into the Father’s good graces. But the Pharisees had written these people off as hopeless long before. They themselves had sacrificed and served for long years in order to be accepted by God, and they feel that He is being unfair to them by simply opening His arms to these prodigals and receiving them back. To them it feels as if God did not honor their devotion and service over all of those years.

The thing that they didn’t get was that God’s love for those lost souls who were now returning did not diminish His love for them in the least. And they had completely lost track of the fact that, as fellow Jews, these men weren’t merely God’s “sons,” but were their long lost brothers as well! The parable was designed to show them this truth, and some of them got it. But, unfortunately, the realization of their role in this parable only made those who understood it more angry.

Father, Jesus’ parables are absolutely amazing. They cut immediately to the heart of every issue, to show every open heart the deep things of Your kingdom. Help me to never become hard-hearted, like the Pharisees, so that I miss the point, or resent the points that I do get. Instead, help me to always learn and grow under Your teaching. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 8, 2018

Luke 15:20-24 (NIV) “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Jesus had described the celebration in heaven that happens when a single sinner repents (15:7, 10). The father’s rejoicing in this parable reflects that same celebration.

The returning son in this parable, who had disgraced both himself and his father by his self-centered, self-absorbed actions and attitudes, and who had ruined and disgraced himself, represents that tax collectors and sinners that regularly followed Jesus and listened to Him teach. Like the son, they had decided that it was time to humble themselves before God, and to return to Him, even if it was only as slaves.

But what a surprise was waiting for this prodigal son! The father he had disgraced was waiting for him, hoping for him, constantly on the watch for his return. And when his bedraggled figure first appeared over the horizon, the father leaped from his seat, ran out the house, and ran to his returning son, enfolding him in a warm embrace that told him that he was welcome.

Likewise, God is always on the lookout for the sinner to repent and to turn toward home. When He first sees someone turn, He immediately rushes to their side, providing them with all the grace that they need to complete the repentance and to make it real. Then He embraces them as sons, and welcomes them into His kingdom, now their kingdom.

The son attempts to deliver his prepared speech, begging the father to receive him back, even if only as a servant. But the father doesn’t need to hear the words; he has seen the heart. He interrupts the plea, and commands that the son be restored to the family immediately, and that a great celebration be commenced to celebrate the return of this wayward son to the life of the family.

In the same way, God doesn’t wait for the right words to be spoken in a prayer of repentance, the right “magic formula,” that will convince Him of the sinners’ sincerity. He sees the heart, and He knows when the repentance is real, even if a word is not spoken aloud. When someone returns to Him, they are immediately received into the family, and a celebration begins.

Jesus is trying to help the criticizing Pharisees understand that the fact that these tax collectors are hanging out with Jesus and are repenting and being saved was a cause for rejoicing, not for criticism and self-righteousness. God is rejoicing; they who claimed to love and serve Him should rejoice as well. But this isn’t the end of the story.

Father, it is amazing to think of You watching so diligently for me when I returned from the far country, retracing steps that I had made so long before. But it is the truth. And I will never run out of thankfulness and praise for that reality. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 6, 2018

Luke 15:17-20 (NIV) “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.”

This young man, like so many people, had to hit absolute rock bottom before his eyes were opened wide enough to see. One day, he suddenly realized that he was in a pig sty, that he was far, far away from home, that he had left behind all that was right and true in his life, and, regrettably, that he had probably burned all of the bridges behind him. He had defiantly done so many things that he was now ashamed of. He had brought disgrace on himself and on his family.

But as he pondered his situation, a solution began to present itself to his mind. He was sure that there was no way that his father would accept him back as a son – he had disgraced himself too badly for that. But maybe his father would take him back as a servant, a hired hand. He knew that he no longer had a share in the family estate. He had taken that and blown it completely. But, if he could show that he now realized the error of his ways, that he really was repentant, his father could at least hire him like he would a stranger. So he practiced his speech, and set off for his father’s house.

Jesus is painting a very accurate picture, not just of the tax collectors that were in His crowd of listeners, but of many people who wake up one morning and realize that they have completely blown it. The realization, and it can be sparked by many things, completely blows them away, like getting the wind knocked out of you. All suddenly seems very dark and hopeless.

For some of those, though, a light can be seen far off in the distance. Some pick of a Bible in a hotel room. Some hear a preacher on the TV or radio. Others remember the Sunday School class of their childhood. At first, many of these write off a return to God’s good graces as impossible. They realize that they have probably burned all of their bridges with Him. They had defiantly done things that they were now ashamed of. They had brought disgrace on themselves They had committed too many sins to be forgiven.

But some of those, like some of the tax collectors listening to Jesus, decide that maybe there is hope. They are pretty sure that God will never be willing to receive them back as His child. But maybe, if they grovel enough and beg enough, He might grudgingly be willing to take them back as a lowly slave. So they make up their minds to just do that.

Father, I can relate to every part of this awakening story. I remember that when I first realized how far I had brought myself from You, and remembered all of my defiance and rebellion, I despaired of ever being able to live in Your good graces again. It was a horrible place to be. But then the small light in the distance, the small hope that You might possible deign to take me back as Your slave if I repented well enough. It was enough to get me turned around in moving in the right direction. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 5, 2018

Luke 15:11-16 (NIV) Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

Whereas the first two parables Jesus used to illustrate why he hung out with tax collectors and sinners, the lost sheep and the lost coin, would have easily resonated with His hearers, this parable would have left them in horror-struck disbelief from the first sentence. The very idea of a son, especially a younger son, asking for his inheritance before his father had died would have been repellent to them in the extreme. The could not envision such a heartless, ungrateful, cruel son existing.

And they could not imagine that a father in that situation would do anything other than completely disown that son on the spot, sending him packing with the clothes on his back. They would have been astounded that the man willingly divided his estate on the spot and gave the younger son his share, which would have amounted to 1/3 of all that the man had. (The older of the two brothers would have inherited a double share, so he had 2/3 of the estate waiting for him.)

The younger son no sooner gets his inheritance than he cuts ties with the family and goes to the big city, where he blows every dollar in sinful living. It isn’t long before his need catches up to him, and he finds himself doing the most repugnant and degrading job that any Jew could imagine: feeding pigs! Every day he would have to go to work and make himself unclean by dealing with unclean animals.

In painting this picture, Jesus was actually agreeing with the estimation of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The tax collectors and sinners Jesus was eating and drinking with had rebelled against God, their Father. They had taken the blessings He had poured out on them to be theirs by right, but had wasted them all in sinful living far away from God’s presence. And now they were experiencing a famine, an emptiness of heart and soul that had driven them to become engaged in work that made them more and more unclean every day that they participated in it. It seemed like a dead-end, a hopeless case, in which God should simply write them off as a lost cause and move on to more promising prospects.

Father, as someone who lived this man’s “far country” life for many years, I can see how his woes were all brought about by his rebellion against his father, and his taking the blessings he enjoyed so freely for granted. I did that with You, and spent every blessing I received from You on myself. But, Lord, I am thankful that this scene of hitting rock bottom is not the end of the story, just as it wasn’t the end of the story in my own life. Thank You! Amen.

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