Luke 16

Read Luke 16

This chapter contains one of the strangest parables Jesus spoke in verses 1-8. It is about a bad manager who, when he was getting fired, gave deep discounts to the customers of his master (vv. 1-7).

The purpose of those discounts was to make the customers like him so that they would give him a place to stay after he was fired (v. 4). After wasting his master’s money (v. 1)–probably by making risky loans that went bad–this man lowered his master’s revenue even further by reducing the profit his master would make on the few good loans this bad manager made.

Think of it like this: Back in 2008, banks started to lose money on all the risky loans they had made. You made all your mortgage payments on time and would continue to do so even though your lender was going bankrupt on all your other loans. Imagine you owed, say, $50,000 on your house. Then the loan officer at your bank called you and said, “I’ve re-financed your mortgage; you now only owe $25,000. You can pay it off now, if you can or just keep making the same mortgage payment but you’ll be done much earlier.”

That would be nice, right?

But what if that loan officer got fired and needed a place to stay. Would you let him sleep on your couch for a while, or in your basement or spare bedroom?

It would be weird; but given how much money he saved you, wouldn’t it be worth a few months of free lodging?

If I were the master in this story, I’d be mad at the money manger for wasting my money and I’d REALLY be mad at him for giving such deep discounts to the few profitable clients we had left. But that’s not what the manager in the story did. Instead, he “commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” (v. 8). Though he lost a lot of money, he had to admire how his ex-manager made a safety net for himself out of nothing. That was a shrewd thing to do.

Jesus applied this story to us and the way we use money. He commanded us to “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (v. 9). What does this mean?

It means be generous with your money and give it away to others instead of being stingy with it. After all, money all belongs to God, not to us (v. 12a). If we trust God, we’ll be generous knowing that our eternity is secure (v. 9). Generosity is the result of faith in God; it does not buy God’s affection.

But the reverse is also true–stinginess is the result of no faith in God. Instead, when we live like money is everything and should never be shared, we are revealing that we love money more than we love God (v. 13).

Think about how you use money. Does the way you save it and spend it reveal that it is your god? Or, are you growing in generosity because you are a servant of God?

What is one financial decision you could make today that would bring your money-management into greater alignment with your statement of faith?

Luke 9

Read Luke 9.

This chapter began with Jesus sending out the Twelve to give the gospel and to do miraculous works to authenticate their message (vv. 1-2). Jesus told them to take nothing so that they would learn to rely on God’s provision for everything (vv. 3-6).

God did provide for them and he used them powerfully to serve Jesus (v. 10). But they did not completely learn the lesson. When food was needed for a large crowd, the Apostles wanted Jesus to send the crowds away (v. 12). Jesus challenged their thinking and commanded them to feed the crowds themselves which they protested (vv. 13-14). Christ showed them once again that he had the power to meet every need they had in ministry. But the implication is that, if they’d had trusted him, they could have fed the crowd themselves through his power (vv. 16-17).

When we’re serving God, we can trust him to meet every need we have. He has more than enough power–infinite power, in fact–to meet every need we have and then some. The question is whether or not we look to him in faith to provide for our needs or if we conclude in unbelief that it cannot be done with the present resources.

Ministries and churches–including us–are being tested on this right now. As the precautions against the spread of COVID-19 do damage to our economy, we have the opportunity either to trust God to provide or to freak out about what this will mean.

Will you believe God with me for our church about this? Will you pray and ask God to keep providing money to pay our staff, fund our missionaries, provide for those who have benevolence needs, and continue to pay for our building and other expenses?

Will you trust God to provide for you and your family and keep giving to his work? We have a unique opportunity to see God work and provide. Will you trust him in faith or give up in fear?

Matthew 6

Read Matthew 6.

In verses 19-21 Jesus talked about materialism. He concluded that section in verse 21 by saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In verse 24, he talked about money and concluded that verse by saying, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

Money and materialism are related ideas. So, when we read verses 22-23 about the eye being the lamp of the body, it seems clear that Jesus is still talking about money and materialism.

So what are verses 22-23 telling us about money/materialism?

Like windows, your eyes let inside whatever light or darkness is outside. If your eyes work properly, your whole body benefits because your eyes will tell you when to duck before you hit your head or when to step over a shoe that was left in the floor.

Without working eyesight, your whole body “will be full of darkness” (v. 23). You will stumble over everything and bang your noggin on anything that is hanging too low.

What determines “where your heart is” (v. 21) or whether you hate one master or love another? The answer is, whatever your eyes focus on.

The point of verses 22-23, then, is to be careful what holds your concentration. If you spend your time looking at catalogs of expensive watches, browsing elegant homes online that are for sale, looking at the pay scale for jobs LinkedIn for a job that will pay more than yours does, or test-driving new cars all the time, you will start to treasure money and material things.

If you focus on material things and money, that focus both shows what you love but also feeds that love.

If you focus on Jesus, however, your love will change, too. You will think less about expensive new shoes and more about how to serve the Lord.

So, watch what you watch–that’s the message of Matthew 6:19-24.

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 44, Mark 8

Read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 44, and Mark 8 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel would be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides. 

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

  • First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” 
  • Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.” 

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests. 

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced. 

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this. But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

2 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 41, Proverbs 21:15-31

Read 2 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 41, and Proverbs 21:15-31 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 15:20.

You’ve heard people say, “We live hand to mouth.” Maybe you’ve even said it. When someone says that, they are telling you that they do not save anything. Whatever they earn in income is immediately consumed. Every penny is spent and, with easy credit these days, many people have already spent more money than they will earn for many paychecks to come.

This is the American way, unfortunately.

But it isn’t the wise way. According to Proverbs 15:20, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Remember that wisdom has a moral quality to it in Proverbs.

The way of the wise isn’t just something that smart people do; it is what godly people do.

If a person takes God’s word seriously, that person knows that God created people to work and provide for ourselves. Also, God’s word tells us to prepare for difficult days. These revelations from God’s word are what cause a wise man to “store up choice food and olive oil.” A believer in God understands that difficult days will come so he prepares for them by saving.

A fool, by contrast, is a consumer. He or she craves the experience of pleasure, the excitement of new purchases, the status provided by nice things. Instead of saving, then, the foolish consumes everything as soon as it comes in. And so, verse 17 of our passage today prophesies, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.”

A person’s savings or lack of savings is not the only indicator of faith and godliness. Every Christian has areas where they are doing well and areas they need to improve. If you’re reading these devotionals every day, you’re taking a positive step toward a holy life. If you’re putting into practice the things that you read, that’s even more important. Maybe today’s proverbs will give you a new area in your life to work on for developing godliness. If you’re not saving anything, understand that is both a financial and spiritual problem, then ask the Lord to help you curb your spending and start saving.

Judges 3, Jeremiah 49, Proverbs 17:15-28

Read Judges 3, Jeremiah 49, and Proverbs 17:15-28 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 17.

One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.

Proverbs 17:18

When I was in seminary, I was a volunteer assistant pastor at a small church in Lansing. There was a woman who was a member of the church and her brother also attended. The woman was married and had several children; her brother was single. For some reason that I can’t remember, he became unemployed. He didn’t have a lot of expenses except for a $700 a month payment for a new truck he had purchased. It turned out, though, that his sister and her husband had co-signed the loan for that truck so, when he couldn’t pay, they became responsible for those high monthly payments.

My guess is that this couple wanted to do something kind for the woman’s brother. She was older–maybe she’d always mothered him a little bit. Maybe he really wanted that truck and had enough income to afford the monthly payment but was too much of a credit risk for anyone to extend him an auto loan. Instead of saving the money to buy it, he asked or convinced or guilted his sister and brother-in-law into helping him get the financing he couldn’t get for himself. I don’t really know what the backstory is but I do know that the husband and wife in this situation made a decision to help her brother that they later regretted.

That’s what is going on here in Proverbs 17:18. When verse 18 says, “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge…” it is describing a third party (like the woman and husband in my story) who promises to guarantee someone else’s loan.

The idea is that Fred the Farmer wants to buy a new plow for his field. After the next harvest, he’ll be able to pay for it but he wants it now for this year’s planting. Peter, the Plow Salesman, agrees to let him have the plow in May with full payment due sometime in November but Peter insists that he has someone else guarantee payment. Fred the Farmer comes to you and says, “I can totally pay for this myself after the harvest. You’re at no risk. Would you mind putting up your mule as collateral for this loan?”

Proverbs 17:18 says you have “no sense” if you do that. The final phrase in that verse, “and puts up security for a neighbor” makes the same point. If you guarantee someone else’s debt, you are making an unwise decision.

Usually there is a good reason why someone like Pete the Plow Salesman wants a third party to guarantee payment. Maybe Fred the Farmer is already deeply in debt and Pete the Plow Salesman doesn’t want to be the last creditor to be paid. Certainly Fred the Farmer is broke, otherwise he’d have saved the money and paid for the plow in cash. But you and I might not think about those risks when someone asks us to help them, especially if that someone is your mother or father-in-law or sister or son or nephew or close friend from way back in high school. We tend to trust people we love and our love for them makes us want to help. So it is hard to say no when someone asks you to put your finances at risk.

But Solomon warns us here not to let our desire to be liked and to be helpful deceive us into a bad situation.

Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, Proverbs 16:1-15

Read Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, and Proverbs 16:1-15 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people.

For some it is the experiences wealth can buy. Others value the possessions wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security.

Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact,  you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will mistakenly give you a $10 bill back instead of a $1 bill? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme.

Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.