Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Only Retirement Plan Jesus Endorsed

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.
Luke 16:8-9

Here Jesus points out one area in which worldly men actually excel beyond the community of the redeemed. Their shrewdness in dealing with one another. They are practical, even artful in how they ingratiate people to themselves and by so doing, provide for their own future. Jesus says we should do the same. 

This is a tricky saying. In the context of the parable as a whole it could appear that Jesus is commending dishonesty and stealing. But if you read carefully, what Jesus is actually commending is how the dishonest manager used the wealth at his disposal to provide for his future. Jesus challenges us to do the same. But what does He mean?

Jesus is confronting us with our love of money (see verse 13) and He is accusing us of being unwise both in how we deal with other believers and in how we provide for our future. In short, Jesus is telling us to give generously to the needs of other believers. When we do, it accomplishes several things. 1) It fights against the love of money taking root in our hearts (as any sacrificial giving does). 2) It strengthens the community of faith by drawing us nearer to one another in friendship. 3) It is a way in which we can lay up treasure for ourselves in Heaven. In verses ten through twelve, Jesus discusses how God will reward those who prove faithful with their money. But if I understand Jesus correctly in verses eight and nine, He is actually suggesting that if you use your worldly wealth to provide for believers here on earth, then they might invite you over to their Heavenly pad in eternity and thank you there. What a thought! 

In case you aren't convinced yet, here's my argument: First, Jesus says that these friends we are supposed to make with our money will welcome us into eternal dwellings. Who could do that but believers? Second, notice that in verse eight Jesus explicitly compares how the people of this world deal with "their own kind" and how believers do. For the comparison to hold, Jesus must be talking about how believers deal with our own kind. Third, consider that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus follows hard on this parable's heels in the gospel of Luke. Much of the emphasis is the same. The rich man ought to have used his money to provide for Lazarus' needs on earth; but, as he did not, it reveals his true god to have been money and he was not welcomed into eternal dwellings but suffered in Hades. 

So how can we live this out? Simple. Check your bank and credit card statements. We all spend money on the people and things we love. Are you providing for the needs of poor and suffering believers both near and far? Are you giving to ministries who help lead the lost to salvation? Life experience teaches us that we can't hang onto our money forever, but we can use it to provide for our future. Be generous with your Christian family, they're the only ones who have an eternity to pay you back!

For further reading:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Identity Crisis? (W.o.W. Rewind)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…
Romans 1:1-4

I hate wearing name tags. You can't be anonymous when you have a name tag on; people just come up and introduce themselves to you. This puts me in an awkward situation because the polite thing to do is to introduce myself in return but I never quite know what to say. Do I tell them where I grew up or should I tell them about my wife or maybe talk about my career? How do I sum up who I am in 30 seconds?

That is exactly what Paul is doing in these first few verses of his letter. Picture Paul slapping on a big name tag and introducing himself to the Christians in Rome. On his name tag, right under where it says "Paul," he writes three things: 1. servant of Christ Jesus; 2. apostle (which is to say that he is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus); and 3. set apart for the Gospel of God (which is the story of Jesus). All three labels revolve around Jesus. It is as if Paul is saying, “If you want to know me you have to know Jesus. I cannot be known except in relation to Him.”

Then Paul gets so excited that he goes ahead and tells them who Christ is. He says that “according to the flesh” He was a man of the line of David but according to the Spirit He was the “Son of God in power” and was declared to be so by His resurrection.

It is interesting to note that in Rome Caesar was the “Son of God.” Caesar was commonly referred to by this title and was worshipped as a living deity. Yet, Paul is challenging the Roman Christians to put their Christianity over their citizenship as Romans. Paul is saying, “You want to know me? I am a servant of the King. Not a servant of the man that masquerades as the Son of God (Casear), but a servant of the true King who was declared to be the Son of God in power when He defeated death. Caesar does not have the power, Jesus does.”

What would it be like for your identity to be so wrapped up in Christ that people could not know you without getting to know Jesus? What if you were known as a servant of the true King first, and everything else second?

For further reading:

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Beware of Blessing

When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.
Hosea 13:6

Are you blessed? Chances are that you're reading this off a phone or computer screen somewhere and that you are in fact very blessed. And that means you are in danger. That's right. There is a danger in being blessed. The human heart is so deceitfully wicked and the great Adversary against whom we struggle is so deviously clever, that even God's gifts to us can be used to turn us away from Him. According to Hosea 13:6 this is how it happens.

Step 1: God blesses us with every good thing. We are full, satisfied, our "cup runneth over." We grow rich and fat.

Step 2: Our satisfaction sours and turns to pride. As Satan whispers praise in our ear, we begin to credit ourselves with the abundance we enjoy. What a clever enemy we fight that he could tempt us to turn our backs on God even in response to God's good gifts in our lives!

Step 3: We forget God. You see pride is a form of worship... it is self-worship. Pride is a selfish ruler who will not bear with any competitor for your affection and it certainly will not allow you to humble yourself by bowing the knee before Almighty God. In fact, any glimpse of God as He truly is would shatter your newly inflated self-image. That is why a heart filled with pride must forget God for its own self-preservation. We stop worshiping Him, stop serving Him, and stop thanking Him for all our blessings. After all they are the result of our own hard work, aren't they?

This is when judgment comes. So be wary. Check your heart. Weed out pride. Count your blessings. And above all credit your blessings to God, not to your own wisdom, hard work, or righteousness.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights...
James 1:16-17

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Prayer is a Door

I've noticed that many books on prayer approach it like it is a skill to be mastered. As though if I pray in just the right way God will give me what I request. Almost as though there is a winning formula to prayer and if I pray in just the right way then I can always win and winning looks like getting what I want.

I don't think that prayer is something to be mastered any more than a conversation or a close relationship is something to be mastered. Certainly it is something in which I can grow in my comfort, ability, depth, and intensity. But I dislike the implication that prayer is primarily about getting what I want from God. While there is certainly some biblical truth in the perspective above, to me it seems incomplete and lopsided.

What I would offer up as a beginning thought for prayer is this: Think of prayer first as a door through which you enter into God's presence. There is much more for us to learn about prayer, but let this be your first and overriding thought on the matter and you can deal with the rest later.

You see many of us think of prayer like sending an email. We compose the message and send it off from a distance. We have complete confidence that the message will get it where it is going and we are reasonably confident that we will get a response. It may be an effective and reliable way to communicate with God but at best it is communication at a distance. We send our prayers up to Heaven and wait for a response. (I am treading carefully because this view certainly finds some support in Scripture. See for example Solomon's prayer of dedication for the temple and especially God's response to that prayer in 2 Chronicles 7:14)

But for the New Testament believer, I am increasingly convinced that there is a better metaphor for prayer. Prayer opens a door through which I enter into God’s presence. It doesn’t transport me to heaven, but it might as well because it awakens my spiritual senses to the reality of God's presence all around me.

So when you pray, your first concern is to be mindful of entering into His presence. This is how we believe Adam and Eve talked with God as they walked with Him in the Garden (Genesis 3:8). They didn't communicate from afar until after they sinned. Or consider King Hezekiah. Is it of little consequence that he and so many others first entered God's presence by entering the temple before they prayed (Isaiah 37:14-15)? So too we ought to first endeavor to be mindful of entering God's presence before we focus on making our requests known. Surely too this is how we will talk to God in Heaven, not from far off but face to face. And now, through the power of the Spirit, surely the believer can pray in a similar manner. 

So do not pray from a distance. Don't "talk to the ceiling" hoping that someone up there is listening. Instead, focus on entering into God's presence before you pray. Cultivate a mindfulness and awareness of Him being present where you are. I often do this by reading and praying over a few psalms. As I contemplate God's attributes my Spirit rejoices. I am reminded of how big God is, and I begin to praise Him. As I praise the door opens for me. I become aware of His Spirit stirring within me and suddenly I am in the presence of God. This more than anything else helps my prayers. It keeps them humble. It focuses them on praise. It brings about confession. And above all it makes prayer precious and enjoyable to me like never before.