So…does God reward me with blessings? (Luke 16:10-13)

As a pastor, I would hope that you find other voices outside of Tri-State Fellowship to speak into your life.  By that I mean I hope you find other pastors, writers, etc. who are able to communicate God’s Word clearly and meaningfully.

But man, I hope none of them are on TBN.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I envy you.  Technology has only further enabled a whole host of TV “preachers,” bloggers, and writers get famous by feeding you garbage.  The very worst of it has been given a label: the so-called “prosperity gospel.”  The message is simple: be good, and God will reward you with direct, financial blessing.  In some cases, you might be asked to give a small offering to the preacher (after all, private jets aren’t free) and in return, you can wait for God to reward you.

Part of the reason this is so terrible is that it spreads overseas.  “Obey God,” missionaries might say, “and your crops will grow.”  But of course, American prosperity-pushers rarely hint at such a fallout, safe as they are behind their Colgate smiles and pressed suits.

Sadly, we’ve wallowed so much in an Oprah-fied American dream version of Christianity that we probably aren’t even aware of it.  We fall victim to this same bad teaching when we see someone get married, get a new job, have a new baby and say: “Well, they really deserve it.”  And of course, we might say the same thing when someone we dislike has their life fall apart.

Do you think that way? Do you see God as handing out rewards and punishments?  Where does this belief come from?

Following his parable, Jesus tells his disciples this:

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13)

Earlier we’d dealt with the unhealthy ways of viewing and handling money. But what about the flip side?  Jesus says that not being faithful means no one “will entrust to you the true riches.”  So…does that mean if I am faithful, God will trust me with greater wealth?

And, like many things, we’re asking the question all wrong.  We’ve been thinking solely in terms of reward, when Jesus is really speaking of stewardship.  So really, it’s not about what God rewards us with—it’s what he chooses to entrust us with.  “So,” you might ask, “even if God gives me more, it’s still not really mine?”  Exactly.  But it would be foolish to think that this makes it any less of a blessing.  No; the joy comes from the Person who entrusts you with the blessing, never the blessing itself.

Therefore, each of us who has received a blessing—whether financial, relational, or otherwise—can find joy not only in receiving this gift, but using this gift for the benefit of God’s kingdom.

 

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I can’t get no satisfaction (Luke 16:13)

It was the famous theologian named Mick Jagger who said: “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  And he’s right.  If you pause and listen to the words, you hear Jagger wrestling with the empty promises of the advertising industry:

When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarrettes as me

The truest test of religion isn’t where you go on Sundays, but what you spend your time thinking about every other day of the week.  What do you daydream about?  What do you spend your time hoping for?

I know we’ve discussed this before, but in the fourth century a man named Augustine devised a helpful way to think about sin.  The human heart, Augustine would say, is something of a pyramid.  You will never flourish until God’s at the very top, and all your other loves occupy the spaces beneath.  Sin happens when we place something else at the top of our pyramid.  Sin, therefore, is ultimately a problem not just of what we do but what we love.  Why do we lie?  Because I love my reputation and want to exalt it in the eyes of others.  Why do we covet?  Because we love things more than our neighbor.

This is why Jesus tells us something universally true:

13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

Stop and consider: have you ever felt exhausted from serving “two masters?”  Have you ever let your work schedule interfere with your relationship to family or to God?  What were the consequences?

Most of us know from experience that money is a foolish master to serve.  Why?  Because you can’t get no satisfaction.  Enough is never enough.  So why chase it at all?

The answer, of course, lies in our hearts.  This is a worship issue.  If we worship ourselves, if we worship our reputations, then we will continually seek to construct a reputation and an identity through wealth, career, and fashion.  I want to be known by what I do, what car I drive, what model smart phone I carry.

And of course this sort of thinking will eat you alive. Because even if you achieve these things, your cell phone becomes obsolete.  Your car is surpassed by the latest model.  Someone will be promoted over you.  No one stays at the top of their game forever.

So if you’re exhausted by your schedule, it could be that you’re slaving for the master of career and reputation.  It could be that your identity is connected to what you do.  The gospel says that we find our identity not in performance—career or otherwise—but in the completed work of Jesus.  That’s why serving career and self becomes a second master.  And every other master will kill you.  Only serving God leads to life.

 

The inconsistency of the American dream (Luke 16:9-13)

As we said yesterday, there’s no such thing as a “self-made man.”  My generation grew up hearing that each of us is special, a unique and beautiful snowflake.  So it’s no wonder that so many young people find their worldviews shattering on the rocks of today’s job market.

This attitude became the basis for a film called Fight Club, which took a harsh, R-rated look at the anger brewing within many young men who could not cash in on the American dream. In a pivotal scene, Brad Pitt’s character addresses a crowd of angry young men:

“[I see] an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [stuff] we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very [ticked] off.”

The movie—while gritty—spoke powerfully to many in today’s rising generation.  Why has the American dream failed us?  And of course the simple answer is that life simply looks nothing like the movies or the beer commercials.

Stop and consider: have you ever felt angry, upset, or “cheated” because of an inability to get ahead in life?  Explain.

Jesus finishes the parable of the shrewd manager by offering a lesson on stewardship:

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13)

Do you see what Jesus is saying?  The issue isn’t really financial—it’s doxological.  That is, it’s not about what you have but what you worship.  Serve money and you can never have enough.  You’ll always be angry at your inability to construct a better identity through fashion and finance.  But serve something greater—that is, serve God’s kingdom—well, then you have a recipe for lasting joy.

 

The myth of the self-made man (Luke 16:1-8)

So recently I saw someone post an image to Facebook that described how to understand basic things from medicine and chemistry in the event that you’ve gone back in time somehow.  It’s a joke, obviously, but it raises a simple point: if you were to be stripped of all modern convenience, could you single-handedly reinvent things like the light bulb?  Penicillin?  The internet?  There’s no such thing as a “self-made man.”  Frankly I can’t explain how half the stuff works in my apartment—let alone be able to reinvent them.  No; our greatest creative achievements are only built on the achievements of others.  And if we take it back far enough, we see that all—all—of man’s inventions are utterly dependent on the world that God alone created.

It’s only a profound delusion that we “keep the books,” making sure that the ledger shows just what we’ve been able to accomplish on our own.  But sometimes this is not enough, as the manager in Jesus’ parable reveals:

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 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 16:1-8)

There’s a reason why this parable is considered the hardest one Jesus ever taught.  What’s happening here?  Well, first of all, a manager was someone hired by a wealthy man to manage his estate—an accountant with the “power of attorney,” able to make decisions on behalf of his boss.  But the manager seems to be acting contrary to his boss’s best interests.  How can he lower the bill like that?  There are three ways that this might happen:

  • He might be cooking the books. He might be totally shady, and undercutting his boss is the only way he can preserve his reputation among the debtors, on whom he might later rely.
  • As a manager, he would be entitled to a commission. He might be knocking off his own commission to ensure his boss got the money he deserved.
  • As a manager, he would also be legally permitted to alter the bills as he saw necessary. Perhaps by lowering the costs, he could expedite the payment rather than wait for the debtors to accumulate a higher sum.

It’s unlikely that Jesus would praise him for being shady, so we might toss out the first option.  The manager might be doing a combination of the other options.  The bottom line is, he’s managing the estate in such a way that preserves the master’s reputation.

Our stewardship is like this, because like the manager we don’t worry about taking our “commission,” but instead we see our finances as a gift from God for the betterment of our relationships and our community.

This is actually a universal principle—it’s what we might see as a fragment of God’s image still alive within us.  In 2006, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School gave a talk where he discussed how a similar principle worked on a college campus in Canada.  They asked random students how happy they were, then gave them an envelope containing between five and twenty dollars.  One group was instructed to spend the money on themselves.  A second group was instructed to spend the money on other people.  They re-interviewed these same students later and—surprise, surprise—the students who spent money on others were significantly happier than those who spent it on themselves.

“…if you give [college students] five dollars, it looks like coffee to them and they run over to Starbucks and spend it as fast as they can. But some people bought a coffee for themselves, the way they usually would, but other people said that they bought a coffee for somebody else. So the very same purchase, just targeted toward yourself or targeted toward somebody else. What did we find when we called them back at the end of the day? People who spent money on other people got happier. People who spent money on themselves, nothing happened. It didn’t make them less happy, it just didn’t do much for them. And the other thing we saw is the amount of money doesn’t matter that much. So people thought that 20 dollars would be way better than five dollars. In fact, it doesn’t matter how much money you spent. What really matters is that you spent it on somebody else rather than on yourself. We see this again and again when we give people money to spend on other people instead of on themselves.” (Michael Norton, TED Talk: “How to Buy Happiness,” April, 2006)

The gospel tells us that we find joy in using God’s resources for God’s Kingdom rather than build our own private empire.  And because our time, our money, our relationships are all gifts from God, we may use them for others without fear of losing what we never truly earned to begin with.

No self-made man (Luke 16:1-8)

So I get that summer’s winding down (back to school supplies have been on the shelf at Wal-Mart since, like, February).  But there’s still time enough to put together your lemonade stand for the front-yard entrepreneur in your family.

Come on: nothing symbolizes idyllic, suburban America like the screen door, wind chimes, and a plywood lemonade stand.  But while kids can learn a thing or three about business skills, it’s usually the parents that pay the greatest toll, right?

Think about the overheads.  First, the stand itself.  Lumber? Paint?  Maybe just the folding table from the garage?  Then there’s the lemonade.  Mix, sugar, cups—these things add up over time.  And what about your time?  You’ve gotta help out, supervise, tell the kids to get back to work, etc.

And you’re charging, what, like  50 cents a cup at most?  Breaking even would be a pipe dream.  This ain’t the Jamba Juice at the local mall.  This is costly.  But when you’re ten, you can look in that cash box and see the $5.00 in quarters and think “Wow!  Look what I did all by myself!” 

That’s laughable.  And you know it’s laughable.  But we take God for granted the same way, preferring instead to count our blessings (job, car, spouse, kids, etc.) and think “Wow!  Look what I did!” 

The reality is there’s no such thing as the self-made man.  God gives the blessings, we are merely his hired hands in managing those gifts here on earth.  That’s what this Sunday’s parable is fundamentally about:

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 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 16:1-8)

Wait—is Jesus praising the guy for undercutting his boss?  It’s unlikely that Jesus would applaud such shady behavior.  No; we can best understand this story culturally. The wealthy would often hire managers to handle their finances.  In many cases, managers had what we might call “power of attorney,” or at least free range over their employers’ checkbook.  And, in just as many cases, managers could take a private commission for their labors.  So when the manager adjusts the prices, he’s not being shady; he’s adjusting the prices so that everyone can benefit.  The result is better stewardship than simply robotically insisting the debtors pay sticker price.

The gospel teaches us that we’re not the boss.  We are managers of the gifts God chooses to bestow.  Therefore our allegiance should be not to the gift itself, but the Giver of all gifts.  Come this Sunday to explore how financial stewardship reflects a heart of worship.
 

When Seeing is not Believing – Luke 16:19-31

Having so far in this Framework series talked about the Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture, we turn now to the third of our four topics – the Sufficiency of God’s Word.

Have you ever thought about how much easier it would be to have faith and confidence in God, or to also testify to other people about His reality if only you could physically see and experience Him? That would make all the difference, right? You could bring your needs directly to Him; people would have to believe and obey, because there would be no denying, right?

Today we read in Luke’s gospel about Christ’s telling of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The background for this is the ongoing debates of Jesus with the Pharisees. They believed they were in good shape with God because they were rich and righteous – the obvious signs of God’s blessing and approval. Beyond that, they constantly pestered Jesus for a sign – something incredible to verify his claims.

The parable details a rich man who had no mercy or compassion for a poor beggar at his gate named Lazarus. Both men die and go to their appropriate abode – each a temporary place for Old Testament era departures from this world – Hades and a place called “Abraham’s side.”

These areas were able to see from one to another, though there was an impassable chasm in between. The rich man in torment begs for relief, but learning it is impossible, he then resorts to begging for someone to return from the dead to warn his five brothers. His reasoning was that a person raised from the dead would be so impressive that anyone would listen to such.

But Abraham says that is not true. The brothers – obviously representative of the Pharisees – possessed a sufficient resource in Moses and the Prophets. In other words, they had the Scriptures – God’s Word – and that was more than sufficient. If they would not belief that, they would not believe someone raised from the dead.

At the end of the day, the issue honestly for most folks who do not believe the Bible is not that they can’t get there intellectually – though that is what they truly believe is their hang-up. Actually, it is that they don’t want to be the creature of a creator, and thus they deny even the inner intuitive sense that there is a God to whom they should be subservient. It is more comfortable to be their own captain than to yield to an external set of guidelines for living.

It really is amazing to see the Pharisees interact with Christ. He heals someone on the Sabbath, and rather than be impressed with the miracle, they are angry that it happened on that day of rest. Eventually, the pinnacle moment of power is the raising of a man from the dead – so happens that his name is Lazarus! And even then, instead of accepting the sign as a display of divine power, they jointly resolve from that time forward to have Christ entirely removed from the scene with his execution by the Romans.

Without going into all the details of end-times events, during the 1,000-year rule and reign of Christ on the Earth, there is a rebellion at the end where even in the visible presence of God, many rise up against him to their demise.

Seeing would still not be believing. The Bible is sufficient. It contains the whole story – a macro story of God’s plan of the ages as it unfolds through dozens and dozens of other stories and historical events. And it all tells us how we may know God and be connected with Him for eternity.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

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.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”