Stewardship, the Shrewd Manager and Heavenly Rewards

Originally published on BibleJournal.net on March 2nd, 2016.

Today’s reading: Exodus 13; Luke 16; Job 31; 2 Corinthians 1

The parable of the shrewd manager can be quite strange at first glance.  Only found in the gospel of Luke, here we have a master commending his servant after he steals from him and Jesus telling us to look to the thief’s example:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. – Luke 16:9

When I read this parable this morning I felt like I was reading it for the first time. I was lost, so I went looking and found a sermon that I have tried to summarize below.  For the full version, I encourage you to check it out here: Luke 16 – The Shrewd Manager by Phin Hall.

An overview:

  • Lesson; v1-7, story of a clever thief who uses what he’s been given to provide for his future.
  • Problem; v8, thieves are more aware and clever about providing for their future than the saved are for theirs.
  • Solution; v9, be aware that using worldly resources to help people is tied to eternity and be shrewd in this eternal value proposition.
  • Incentive; v10-12, treasures in heaven.
  • The Root Issue; v13, because these two are fundamentally at odds (you can not serve God and stuff),  do not love stuff, steward it for God.

The Lesson. A manager is tasked to steward his master’s resources. When the master hears that the steward is wasting his resources, he gives fires him.  This word ‘wasting’ is the same word used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son spends all the inheritance on himself.  When the manager is told he can no longer steward the resources he is given one last job, to hand over the accounts.  True to form the manager, with this last window of opportunity, goes to his master’s debtors and debts them to himself.  Saying, “quick, take your copy of our records and change $50,000 to $25,000.” And I’m paraphrasing of course but the amounts were thought to be in that neighborhood in today’s dollars.  By doing this, and this is key, the steward uses his master’s resources to provide for his own future.  Ensuring that after he has handed over the account he will have prospects with his new friends.  Afterall he knows he would be destitute on his own, another key point. (Luke 16:3)

The Problem. When the master learns that the manager is again using his resources for himself, he calls him in.  Instead of the response we might expect, the master commends the manager.  He points to how shrewdly the thief used this last window of opportunity to provide for his own future.  Seems odd right? “Fine work ol chap, that was quite the display of thievery. Way to look out for good old number one.” (I mentioned the sermon by Phin Hall, he’s English and funny.)  But to understand what is really happening here we need to continue on.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. – Luke 6:8

And there we have it. Sons of light, the heaven bound, are being reprimanded for being put to shame by the thief.  The rich man is commending the shrewdness of the thief, not the acts of stealing.  The rich man is saying the Shrewed Manager is thinking of the temporal and positioning himself well for the temporal future.  The dishonest manager had forethought and cleverness, he leapt at the window of opportunity, he acted swiftly with all he had and invested it in his temporal future.  The problem is that the heaven bound, children of light, ought to know better.  They, knowing of eternity, ought to have forethought and be clever and spring to action and use all we have been given to store up treasure for ourselves in heaven!

The Solution. 

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. – Luke 16:9

First, let us consider that Jesus is not telling us to lie or steal or cheat. Unrighteous wealth is simply worldly resources.  The things that will not last.  The things that are not to be trusted.  The things that will not survive the baptism of fire.  The things that will fade away.

Jesus is telling us here to use all these little itty bitty things like money, and possessions, and position, and status, and power, and ego, and our retirement to make friends for God.  The same way the shrewd manager sprang to action and used everything he had to make friends that would then help him later, we are told to use all the stuff that we have been given to steward to make friends that will testify to our stewardship on the final day. (Matthew 25:31-46)  I have come to believe, this is what ‘make friends’ here means.  Like a cup that overflows, we are to steward the resources we have been given so that we ensure the cup is filled and then overflows. (Psalm 23:5)  The overflow is to be used to make friends.  To help those who need help.  We are to obey Christ and love people with the what he has given us.  The end of this is not that we feel good about ourselves or that we gain some earthly reward, it is to bring glory to God in that we love because He first loved us.  To be a living testimony to who He is.

The Incentive. Be a faithful steward with little and you will receive much.  Be a faithful steward with the things that will pass away and you will receive heavenly treasure that won’t.  All throughout the Bible God is incentivizing us to receive a reward.  The gift of salvation is freely given and can not be earned but there is indeed something more God desires us to earn.  This offer God makes us to earn heavenly treasures is important.  God cries out to us time and time again in scripture, imploring us to hear for our own sake; that we might come to work for Him; that the cup may overflow and that the good work might be done.

In the past, when the topic of heavenly rewards has come up in conversation I have been foolish and said something of the sort. “I just want to be with Jesus.” As if wanting anything more was selfish or somehow wrong.  And while it may have sounded super spiritual, I believe it came from my being deceived.  God save me.  How foolish it was of me.  Thank God for His word!

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Mat 5:12a). “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mat 6:20a). “And thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Mat 6:4b). “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Mat 16:27). “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor 9:24-25). “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Rev 22:12)

Imagine you see a man on the street, homeless, broken and without hope. You invite him in, offering him shelter, warmth, food, and friendship. There is nothing the homeless man can do to earn these things you are offering him; he has no money to pay you. This is freely given and freely received. But then, in due time, you say to him “I have some work for you. If you would look after the lawn and clean up a bit around here, I will pay you generously.” How would you feel if this were the man’s response, “Oh, I don’t want to make any money, I don’t want to earn anything or do any work, I just want to be with you.”  What?!?  This would be an unthinkable response, would it not?

But the question is, what is your response to God’s call to do His good work?  God is offering us good work with good payment.  Take hold of your temporal resources, grow them, and use the overflow to help people in need.  Perhaps even draw them nigh to Him.  Be shrewd to this end.  Have you accepted the job God is offering you?  What are your goals and plans for this job?  What does your eternal retirement look like?

Shrewd Manager

The root issue. In closing, Jesus tells us what this parable is all about; that we can not serve God and mammon. Often translated as money, mammon is all the stuff.  All the temporal stuff we looked at before that will not last.  All the stuff that in the past I have been misled to believe I own.  When in fact, I will never own anything until, God willing and by His grace and by the shrewdness He affords me, I receive my reward.  These two things are fundamentally at odds. The love of stuff is at odds with God’s work plan for His job offer.

God would you help us? We need you LORD. Would you help us to be good stewards with the resources you have given us? Would you help us store up heavenly treasures and accept all Your good works with shrewdness? God would you bless us indeed and increase our territory, that Your hand may be with us always and keep us from evil?  Would you protect us from the deception to trust in mammon.  Thank you God!  Amen.

Customers, Vendors and Teamwork

Today’s reading: Mark 1 and Psalm 125

They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion,
which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem,
so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.
– Psalm 125:1-2

Have you ever been in a situation in your life that left you hoping for a different outcome?  How about at your job?  Maybe it was a problem that needed fixing, a situation that needed correcting, a shortcoming that called for personal growth, or any number of things.  No matter what the situation, Scripture tells us, “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion”. (Psalm 125:1a).   I don’t know about you, but that truth simplifies things for me.  It relieves me.  It eases my burden.  God, please help me in the work You have given me to do, as well as in every area of my life, to trust You fully and to look to You for answers.

Divine Nature of Work

God took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.  (Genesis 2:15)  Later God gave Eve to Adam to help him. (Genesis 2:18)  As I studied and reflected on this scene here are the main things I was taught about work:

  1. The divine nature of work was established from the beginning – this was before the fall.
  2. God placed Adam – God provides the domain (time and place).
  3. God gave Adam work to do – God provides the work.
  4. God gave Eve to Adam to help him – God provides the people to help (the team).

Divine Purpose of Work

Moses had just received orders from God to get ashes from the furnace, stand in the presence of Pharaoh, and sprinkle them up toward heaven.  The ashes brought boils upon man and beast.  The next morning God gave Moses a message for Pharaoh that included the purpose of Pharaoh’s position.

16 And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up,
for to shew in thee my power;
and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.
– Exodus 9:16

It was another Wednesday morning and Bob was on the receiving end of a sales call.  The vendor had just finished listing off their qualifications in painstaking detail and was starting in on their industry awards when Bob’s mind began to wander.  “When was the last time I heard a salesperson talk about how their team felt called to their line of work or that they feel God gave them special skills to serve Him?  Where can I connect with a vendor like that?”

Here we have an example of Pharaoh, full of pride and arrogance, He is oblivious to the truth.  He needed a reminder that God placed him where he was to do what everyone will eventually do: glorify God.  We also have a modern day example of a potential customer (Bob) wishing he was being called on by someone who understood this truth instead of a modern-day, self-absorbed vendor.

  1. Work, like everything else, is about glorifying God.
  2. Whether customer or vendor, we can join the hallelujah choir or not – but we can’t escape God’s glory.
  3. I’ll take a humble vendor who is working for the Lord over just about any other vendor.

Divine Setting of Work

A young professional sat reflecting on their career in yet another staff meeting. “If I had only lived in the roaring twenties, I’d pretty much be a shoe-in to take over Rockefeller’s interests.  I can’t believe I’m here in Illinois, where the property taxes just went up.  Again.  If I were in Texas or Tennessee I’d really be able to grow.  And then there’s my financial guy, I mean does he even know there is such a thing as Microsoft Word, I swear he’d send me emails in Excel if he could figure out how.  If only I had Warren Buffet in here to help me I would finally be able to really do things right.”  The meeting snapped back into his ears just as a request for input on the best type of cups for the Christmas party was made.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,
which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
– Ephesians 2:10

  1. Trusting in God means being content with His plan and seeking His glory right where we are.
  2. Teamwork includes believing that God hasn’t prepared all the work for me.
  3. The best teammate or vendor is the one sent by God to do the work he prepared for them.
  4. Teambuilding means searching for the person God prepared the work for.
  5. Being the best teammate or vendor means being sure you’re doing what God called you to do.

As I studied this Scripture I feel I received a deeper understanding of how closely connected work and worship are.  Work, like worship, (like everything really) is all about God’s glory.  God has preordained our setting.  He has placed us.  He has sent us the work.  He has sent us the people to help us and for us to help.  The mistake, I think, is to miss these things and trust something else instead.

Satan might like you to think that clerk is just incompetent or doesn’t care and is only getting in the way of your shopping goals and schedule this Christmas season.  Like the young professional that didn’t trust in the setting God placed them in, Satan might like you to think that your coworkers are holding you back.  Satan doesn’t much care what you trust in as long as it’s not the one truth because he knows everything else will lead to pain.

The truth is if God wanted you to live in the roaring twenties or have a billion dollars, you would.  The truth is God has plans for His glory in all the work that will happen this Christmas season and beyond.   The truth is God has good work prepared for you and others, all you have to do is open your eyes to His glory and join in His hallelujah choir.

Image: Building Solomon’s Temple by John Millar Watt

 

P.S. More Studies on Work.

Choosing a vendor – If you’re interested in a study on customer-vendor relationships from 1 Chronicles 28, message us on Facebook or email me at mike@internrocket.com and I can send you what we have so far.  If you’re interested in other studies on Bible truth about work topics, do the same and I can add you to our distribution list.  If you have anything you’d like to share please be in touch, we’d love to hear it.

Non Sibi

Today’s Startup School class is about lean philosophy in business but I always try to infuse a principle on leadership in to every lesson. As I was preparing to teach this morning I looked to Mr. Hanna’s book Mastering Self: to Lead Self and Others for some inspiration and came across non sibi.

“Non sibi” is latin for “Not for self”. A great origin point for any Christian pilgrimage. Leadership is often mistakingly associated with a person who gets all they want. A CEO with more money than most and freedom to do what ever they want. Sometimes leadership is mistakingly associated with someone who “hustles harder” and wills their desired future state in to existence. Often that desired future state revolved squared around them. This is not leadership.

I was taught a good lesson for testing non sibi whenever one may find themselves in a leadership position. Motives for aspiring to leadership can often be a tricky thing to discern. But by focusing on our actions, what we do, we can work our way backward through what we believe. What we believe is often linked to what motivates.

Rights and Privileges vs. Responsibilities and Obligations

Leaders often find themselves with several rights and privileges though the best ones seldom enact these and when they do it is for others non sibi. Instead leaders who hold to non sibi will look for opportunities to press in to responsibilities and obligations. So the test is this. Do you find yourself looking forward to the rights and privileges or working now, not waiting, to press in to responsibilities and obligations. Answering this question honestly can help us understand if what we are doing is really about others or if deep down its actually about ourselves. Some may deceive others but God knows all.

God you tell us that we are here to serve. Help us to be other focused. Amen.

 

Discerning God’s Will

A Christian is obsessed with God’s will. Our love of the LORD is synonymous with obedience to His Word (John 14:15). To know it. To do it. To serve Him is our greatest privilege. God’s Word speaks to so much but what about the things it does not speak to specifically? 

As I read today’s scripture I’m reminded of advice I received with regard to discerning God’s will: focus on His revealed will. When we are faced with decisions in life that we cry out for discernment on we need to look to scripture and focus on God’s revealed will. In the past, I have acted like a child, just wanting my answer for my particular situation. ‘Should I major in this or that… God’s word says to love people… right, right, but what about my major….’

I have heard it said that God does not care when it comes to these smaller things. You may have heard it phrased as a question; “Does God really care who wins the super bowl?” In my estimation, of course He does! I have come to believe God cares about everything (1John 4:8). I have also come to believe that God knows everything (Psalm 139:4). If God is love (opposite of not caring) and God knows everything, my faith strengthens me to believe that His revealed will contains all I need (Isaiah 46:9-10, Romans 8:28, 2Corinthians 12:9). And so by the grace of God, those who love God, can face a specific decision and know that God’s will for you is fully contained in God’s revealed will. Praise God that we need not over complicate things nor worry and that obeying God is simple and the burden light if we let it be! (1John 5:3, Ecclesiastes 7:9) #FaithForward 

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Today’s reading: 1 Kings 22; 1 Thessalonians 5; Daniel 4; Psalms 108–109

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to place on you a love for His Word and to light your path.

For further study: Make a study of all the places in scripture where God reveals His will. Copy them down and share them with your family at the dinner table (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Ask your family to join in and add to the family collection of God’s revealed will.  

What kind of inheritance will you leave?

Today’s readings in 1 Kings reminded me of a verse in Exodus 20 that helps us realize the importance of loving the LORD with all our heart for our family’s sake (a/k/a following God’s commands, 1John 5:3, John 14:15 ). How what we do now affects our family in the future. 

Here was the scripture that reminded me of this important truth in leaving an inheritance:

He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. – 1 Kings 15:3-4

Here is the scripture in Exodus 20 that it reminded me of:

“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:3-6

Proverbs tells us a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s, children (Proverbs 13:22). In a world that may try to have us think money is the best form of inheritance, would believing so be putting money before God and actually undermining a true inheritance of lasting wealth? Is there anything that we could leave more precious than God’s Word that calls us and restores us to Him? Anything more precious than loving God and keeping His commandments? Do we need to reevaluate, in truth, our inheritance plan?

May God’s inheritance be rich in love toward Him. May the parents have wisdom (right living, James 2:13) to disciple the children of God’s inheritance. 

 

Originally published on BibleJournal.net from October 9th, 2016’s reading: 1 Kings 15; Colossians 2; Ezekiel 45; Psalms 99–101

Marriage and Family

Ephesians 5 is rich with advice on relationships. At the center of all relationships are the marriage and the family. God established them in the beginning for good reason and in good and perfect design. I have heard them referred to as ‘just another place to walk your Christian faith’ and in the same breath ‘thee most important and challenging place to do so,’ which gives them the familiar simple but challenging label. Praise God for His Word that reveals the truth and guides us! Here is the simple recipe for a blessed family:

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. – Ephesians 5:18-21

So that is it, a simple four point checklist. There is a lot out there written on how to have a successful marriage and family. Let us quite all the noise for a moment and remember God’s recipe. Here’s a four point checklist that we use in our family. It is labeled the real issues to remind us that God’s word is the authority in our lives and our relationships. These are instructions on what each family member has in Christ.

The real issues of blessed family:

  1. Spirit filled; under the obedience of God’s Word
  2. Singing hearts of joy; speaking in psalms/spiritual songs to one another
  3. Saying thanks; ever thankful, ever grateful
  4. Submitting our will to the others’; going last, putting others first  

The image I used for this post is a heart that Jamie made to remind us of these real issues of a blessed family. It is placed on our fridge right next to handle, a little in the way but never out of place.

Extra Credit: free ~11 hour study resource marriage, parenting, and family: The Fulfilled Family

 

Originally published on BibleJournal.net from October 5th, 2016’s reading: 1 Kings 8; Ephesians 5; Ezekiel 38; Psalm 89

Giving Thanks

So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture
Will give thee thanks for ever:
We will shew forth thy praise to all generations.
– Psalm 79:13

I really enjoy how Psalm 79 closes. After a long list of cries to our LORD the Psalmist ends with Praise. It reminded me of the reference to Isaiah 54:1 from our reading in Galatians 4 verse 27 that I had just read.

For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. – Galatians 4:27

This reference to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, reads an encouragement to Sarah and a reminder to us all that even if things do not seem to be going according to what we think is best, our God is good and His promises are true. All we need to do is remember and believe, trust in Him and praise His name!

Originally published on BibleJournal.net from September 28, 2016’s reading: 2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79