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G E N E S I S 3 : 7 – 2 0
So seemingly harmless, that first sin! Yet, like a bad gene multiplied in every cell of
an organism, its repercussions continue to affect our world and ourselves, permeating
every relationship, every motive and every millisecond of every minute. Sin ruptures our
relationships with God, with everyone and with everything, twisting our ability to perform
the stewardship tasks God has entrusted to us. Yet this situation is neither permanent nor
irreversible. Biblical scholar Craig L. Blomberg reflects:
The sinless perfection of the Garden of Eden did not last long. As part of their punishment for disobeying God, Adam and Eve were told that their relationships with other animals, plants, and the land would no longer be harmonious ([Ge] 3:14 ; 15,17 19). All the rest of the Bible is about how God subsequently unfolded his plan to offer redemption to fallen humanity. Not until that process is complete and the new heavens and new earth described in Revelation 21 – 22 appear will any part of creation be fully restored to the ideal God originally intended for it (see esp. Ro 8:19 – 22).
Biblical studies professor Eugene F. Roop points out that Genesis 3 depicts the alltoo- familiar tension between humanity’s sinful state and God’s perfect holiness. Roop’s commentary on the effects of sin on stewardship closes with material that is both sobering and intensely hopeful:
We really have been set free in the world, God’s magnificent garden. We enjoy the green, flower-dotted hills of springtime in Maryland. We see people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors every day on the rapid transit trains in Chicago. We listen to the birds of New Brunswick sing to their sisters and brothers in Maine. We see the wheat glow in the sunlight of Manitoba and watch the ocean wash the California shore. We live in a magnificent garden.
While virtually all things are possible in God’s garden, not all things are beneficial, and some things are not permitted. Nevertheless, we are genuinely free. We have the power to drain the farm soil of all its nutrients, to enslave certain people by economic oppression or military might, to care for only our own physical needs or emotional desires. We can even preach the gospel as benefiting and blessing us and condemning those not like us. But such things are not permitted for those entrusted with the stewardship of God’s world; they constitute stewardship toward death in a world of life . . .
We can rejoice that stewards are finding new ways to nurture the soil back to life. Many stewards are reclaiming their life-enhancing role . . . [They] are listening to nature’s voice and deciding to let the rivers run.
How did sin mar the creation — physically, relationally, spiritually?
What are some of the effects of sin you see in your immediate sphere of life — your neighborhood, your church, your home?
Do you see God’s redemptive plan at work in your life? In what ways?
G E N E S I S 14 :18 – 2 0
What in the world are we to make of this strange encounter? Pastor and Bible expositor R. T. Kendall agrees that the story seems bizarre but hints that it’s also important, calling the incident “one of the most mysterious and sublime events in all Holy Writ.”Stewardship author and pastor Robert C. Heerspink notes that the tithe was first mentioned in the life of Abram. A lightning raid of Lot’s kidnappers ends in his release. Abram gratefully presents a tenth of the plunder to Melchizedek, king of Salem, “priest of God Most High” (Ge 14:18). While Abram’s gift was probably voluntary, his action wasn’t unique for his day . . . Centuries later the law of Moses formally incorporates the tithe into the economic pattern God sets for the covenant
Kendall points out that the patriarch already knew he was blessed: “But when Melchizedek blessed Abraham the latter knew that there was a direct connection between the victory he had just won and this figure who had brought out bread and wine . . . [Melchizedek] verbalized the blessing of Abraham . . . Here was the evidence to Abraham that God delights in man’s gratitude.”
Kendall’s reference above to God’s delight in humanity’s gratitude has a significant implication for a New Testament understanding of the tithe. The point of our own giving isn’t the percentage so much as the perspective. “What we have discovered so far about the tithe is clear,” observes Heerspink,
“but we must be careful not to assume too much. As [twenty-first-century] readers we tend to think of the tithe as a flat 10 percent ecclesiastical tax. We view it as a legalistic device devoid of grace.”
True, the Old Testament tithe was used both to support the Levites and for benevolence (see Dt 14:28 – 29; Heb 7:5 – 9). But Heerspink calls to our attention a surprising and easily overlooked passage: Deuteronomy 14:23 – 26. There Moses enjoins the Israelites to use their tithes to purchase
food and drink to worship their God. Heerspink reflects:
The great King of Israel is so benevolent and gracious that he returns a portion of the tithe to his people to allow them to celebrate his goodness and mighty acts of deliverance. God pays for the ministry of his church out of his own pocket! So immense is God’s grace. Those who comprehend this gracious giving of God “learn to revere the Lord . . . always” ([Dt] 14:23).
How does the history of the “tithe” change your perspective on your own giving?
How does giving relate to gratitude?
How does giving relate to worship?
EXODUS 2 :11 – 22
For a study in contrasts, compare verses 11 – 15 of this chapter with verses 16 – 22. Verse 12 pictures Moses coolly committing a murder. In verse 17 he gets another chance to take vengeance. This time, though, we see a Moses under control — a bodyguard standing by, acting as an implied menace.
The Moses of the second scenario provides a good example of how we can steward our physical attributes. The relevant difference in the exercise of physical strength in verses 12 and 17 concerns the purpose for which force is used. In verse 12 force is used to avenge a wrong; but in verse 17 it is used to protect the innocent. God endowed us with physical capacity to provide for our needs, to assist others and to protect the innocent — but never to bully or take revenge. This principle applies to our stewardship over all our physical endowments.
“Our talents and special abilities belong to God,” says theologian Kenneth Boa. “We own nothing that was not first given to us . . . (see 1Co 4:7). God has entrusted us with aptitudes and abilities, and as good stewards, we must use them for his glory and not our own. This is true not only of musical, artistic, athletic, academic, business, and persuasive talents, but also of the spiritual gifts we have received.”
Certainly one implication is that we are to treat others, no matter what our perception of their worth or deserving, as fellow image-bearers of God. Evangelical leader Charles Colson reflects on this issue:
The Christian worldview . . . tells us that humans have an eternal destiny, which . . . bolsters human dignity. Throughout history, most cultures have had a low view of the individual, subordinating the individual to the interests of the tribe or state. And if Christianity
is not true, this would be quite reasonable. “If individuals live only seventy years,” said C. S. Lewis, “then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than the individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilization, compared with his, is only a moment.” This explains why Christianity has always provided not only a vigorous defense of human rights but also the sturdiest bulwark against tyranny.
And because we all stand on equal ground before God, Christianity gives a sound basis for social and political equality. Given this standing, writes Abraham Kuyper, it follows, then, that we “have no claim whatsoever to lord [it] over one another, and that we stand as
equals before God, and among men.”
What physical attributes has God entrusted to you? What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? Do you take these attributes for granted or, at times, even devalue them?
Are there ways in which you do not properly steward the gifts God has given to you?
Are there areas where you could improve stewarding God’s gifts? How?
God, you have given me so much. I thank you that you have created me and given me unique gifts, talents and abilities. Show me today how I can better use what you have given me to further your kingdom.
JOSHUA 4 :1 – 24
Visual aids make great memory joggers, don’t they? With the phenomenon of a dried-up Jordan at the people’s backs, Joshua turns them around for an object lesson. “What do these stones mean?” is the natural inquiry God and Joshua expect from the ever curious children of upcoming generations. Notice that the memorial celebrates not the people involved in this historic event but the God who enacted the miracle (the second time something like this has happened!). Interestingly, these crossings of formidable bodies of water bracket the events of the exodus (see also Ex 14).
When you think of your own legacy, what comes to mind? What kinds of memorial stones will you leave for the benefit of your descendants and those whose lives you influenced? Will others be reminded of God’s leading in your life?
Evangelical leader Charles Colson poses a hypothetical scenario few of us have likely considered:
Because we are fallen creatures, the idea that we could live forever is an invitation to total irresponsibility. If we lived forever, we would no longer care about our children because we could live beyond them. We would feel no responsibility to pass on the wisdom we have acquired in life. We would become insufferable in our presumed invincibility. We see from history what happens to people when they believe they have unlimited power — and how much more power could we have to believe we could live forever? That’s why God’s judgment on humanity was also a mercy; death delivers us from enduring a neverending life of pride and isolation.
To the contrary, in the thought-provoking words of author J. W. Whitehead, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” And in considering the words of Psalm 49:11 – 12,16 – 20 and 2 Peter 3:10, author, Christian financial planner and CEO Russ Crosson points out that the
“only mark that will truly last is our posterity. The concept is vividly illustrated by the first-century disciples. The mark these men left is . . . in the fact that Christianity is still alive and well some two thousand years after they lived.”
Author and personal wealth advisor Alan Gotthardt warns that
Dr. [James] Dobson believes that in raising a Christian family, the biggest opportunity for failure is in the handoff — the transfer of values to the next generation. Although much can be learned through experience, it is parents’ and teachers’ intentional training that will give children the biblically based understanding they need to achieve success by God’s standard.
Colson’s quote brings up a side of immortality many people don’t think about. What do you think it would be like to live forever? What would be the pros and cons?
When you think about leaving a legacy, who are the people whose lives you have touched?
If you have children, what proactive things are you doing to instill your values in them?
Lord, my influence in this life is on many people in many ways. Help me to leave a lasting, positive legacy in all areas of my life.
JOSHUA 6 :17 – 20
Consumerism, a recently coined word for a recent widespread development on the human scene, is in reality only a new manifestation of an age-old human sin: covetousness or greed. Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005), in an encyclical letter, Centesimus Annus (1991), made the following observations:
In earlier stages of development, man always lived under the weight of necessity. His needs were few and were determined, to a degree, by the objective structures of his physical make-up. Economic activity was directed towards satisfying these needs. It is clear that today the problem is not only one of supplying people with a sufficient quantity of goods, but also of responding to a demand for quality: the quality of the goods to be produced and consumed, the quality of the services to be enjoyed, the quality of the environment and of life in general.
To call for an existence which is qualitatively more satisfying is of itself legitimate, but one cannot fail to draw attention to the new responsibilities and dangers connected with this phase of history . . . A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health . . .
It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being,” and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. In this regard, it is not a matter of the duty of charity alone, that is, the duty to give from one’s “abundance,” and sometimes even out of one’s needs, in order to provide what is essential for the life of a poor person. I am referring to the fact that even the decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice.
What drives your decisions regarding what and how much to “consume” (not just food, but everything that you buy or obtain)? How much of your
consumption is focused on satisfying your own needs and wants? Your family’s? Others’?
How does your level and type of consumption affect the environment? Your ability to care for others? Your health, both physical and mental?
What are some ways in which you could make better choices in your consumption?
Lord God, you are the creator and maker of everything. Help me to steward all that you have given me in a proper manner. And help me to be directed by you in all my decisions regarding my consumption.
RUTH 3 :1 – 13
Ruth’s actions must have taken all her courage. Imagine setting out at night, slipping in to the threshing floor unnoticed, lying at the feet of your sleeping benefactor, waiting for him to wake up and respond — one way or the other — to your request. When Boaz does awaken, she basically asks Boaz to marry her. In their Stewardship Bible Study Notes for Ruth 3, Generous Giving points out the similarity of Ruth’s request to Old Testament language depicting God hiding Israel under his wing. And the words echo the words of Boaz to Ruth upon meeting her in the fields (see Ru 2:12).
Boaz responds graciously to Ruth’s request, commending Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi and promising to use his position as Naomi’s relative (and potential “kinsman-redeemer”) to bring Ruth security. This provision in Old Testament law (see Lev 25:25 – 28) enabled the poor and dispossessed to fall back on family members to help them regain property lost to financial disaster. For Ruth herself, security was a matter of gaining social status as a married woman.
Notice that Boaz doesn’t
Notice that Boaz doesn’t ask Ruth to wait for his decision, doesn’t scurry off to the house to agonize into the wee hours over a list of pros and cons. It goes without saying that we as Christians need to make informed decisions. But when the Spirit prompts, as we may assume he did with Boaz, we are to act without hesitation. Pastor and generosity consultant Brian Kluth makes this point in a brief discussion of the etymology of the English word opportunity:
Hundreds of years ago when people mainly lived near the oceans, the word opportunity was coined.
It came from the time when ships needed to wait until the tide was in before heading out to sea, otherwise the ship would run aground. In the Latin language, the words “ob portu” described the perfect moment when time and tide converged for a ship to get underway.
Into every person’s life come some God-ordained opportunities.
You’ll know it’s the right time when an urgent, life changing need — something that has eternal and significant value — converges with your ability. At just the right moment, urgency and ability come together. And at that exact moment, you have the opportunity to fulfill a divine purpose God intended for you.
Is it time for you and your congregation to move forward in some special way?
As you reflect back on [the] journey you’ve been on, how is God working in your heart and the lives of others to move out into new waters of faith and service for His glory?
When have you been convicted by the Spirit to offer assistance to someone in need?
Do you view promptings from the Spirit as an unwelcome responsibility in an already overcrowded schedule or do you see it as an opportunity — or even a privilege?
How can you be more open to the Spirit’s gentle nudges? What changes do you need to make in your life so that you can better respond to opportunities presented by God?
Be open to the Spirit’s working in your heart this week. What is he calling you to do? Act on it.
1 SAMUEL 18 :1 – 4
T he young David had just saved the day by killing the Philistine giant Goliath, and Saul drafted the young hero to join his staff. Jonathan “loved [David] as himself” (1Sa 18:1) and pledged his loyalty and friendship in a covenant, which he confirmed by giving David the shirt off his back as well as his robe, sword, bow and belt. Jonathan’s covenant with David became a covenant that would serve generations after them (see 1Sa 20:42). Author
Eugene Peterson explains the sacramental nature of friendship and how Jonathan’s friendship was recognition of God’s blessing on David:
Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy. Friendship with David complicated Jonathan’s life enormously. He risked losing his father’s favor and willingly sacrificed his own royal future . . . Jonathan’s friendship was essential to David’s life. It’s highly unlikely that David could have persisted in serving Saul without the friendship of Jonathan. Jonathan, in striking contrast to his father, discerned God in David, comprehended the danger and difficulty of his anointing, and made a covenant of friendship with him. Jonathan’s friendship entered David’s soul in a way that Saul’s hatred never did.
We don’t usually think of friendship as a gift we must steward; we more often think of it as a benefit for ourselves. But Peterson elaborates on the sacrificial nature of David and Jonathan’s friendship:
Jonathan lived out his covenantal friendship with David in hard circumstances. The friendship covenant served God’s purposes in David, but Jonathan got little or no emotional reward. Jonathan never saw David again after helping him escape from Saul . . . For the rest of his life he served in Saul’s court, fighting with his father in the Philistine wars and accompanying him, presumably, on the David hunts. But he circumstances didn’t cancel out the covenant; rather, the covenant was used in the purposes of God to overcome the circumstances. Many a covenantal friendship is lived out similarly in “Saul’s court” — in marital, family, work, and cultural conditions that are hostile to a vowed intimacy. But it’s the covenant, not the conditions, that carries the day.
Jonathan’s stewardship made all the difference in God’s plans. Continues Peterson:
It’s a great thing to be a Jonathan. Without Jonathan, David was at risk of either abandoning his vocation and returning to the simple life of tending sheep or developing a murderous spirit of retaliation to get even with the man who was despising the best that was within him.
He did neither. He accepted Jonathan’s friendship and in receiving it received confirmation of Samuel’s earlier anointing to kingwork and the God-dominated imagination that made it possible to live in and by God’s Spirit in song and story.
How is stewardship of friendship an active endeavor?
In what ways does friendship allow others to fulfill their destinies?
In what ways are friendships covenants?
Covenant with another person this week to pray for each other’s friendships.
Before dying, David instructs Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If Solomon will listen and obey, God will prosper the dynasty, fulfilling his pledge that the royal family will have a man on Israel’s throne forever. But David’s attempt to provide sound parental advice comes at the end of his life, and in many ways his actions, unfortunately, spoke louder than his words. David’s poor parenting decisions regarding Amnon, Tamar and Absalom (see 2Sa 13 – 18)
were no doubt in the back of Solomon’s mind as he received his father’s advice. And we read later in 1 Kings that Solomon fell short of his covenantal obligations (see 1Ki 11:1 – 6).
The Bible does not speak volumes about parenting; we are for the most part left to determine its effects from the lives of adult children (note some negative examples in Eli and Samuel [see 1Sa 2:12 – 25; 3:11 – 18; 8:1 – 3] and a positive example in Job and Lois and Eunice [see Job 1:1 – 5; 2Ti 1:5]). Proverbs contains information useful for parenting, and other Biblical books provide instructions for parents, particularly in the area of teaching
children about God (see Dt 6:7 – 9; 11:19 – 21; Eph 6:1 – 4).
From Biblical times on, instructions for godly parents have emphasized the spiritual training of children. For example, the Didache, an early Christian
manual of instruction, possibly embodying a still earlier catechism, instructs fathers: “Do not neglect your responsibility to your son or your daughter, but from their youth you shall teach them to revere God.” And in the fourth century Ambrose (c. 340 – 397) addressed mothers, saying, “Mothers, wean your children, love them, but pray for them that they may be longlived above the earth, not on it, but above it. Nothing is long-lived on this earth, and that which lasts long is brief and more hazardous. Warn them rather to take up the cross of the Lord than to love this life.”
If we can get beyond the language of this seventeenthcentury parenting manual, we will resonate with the sensitivity and good sense of Dutch Second Reformation minister Jacobus Koelman (1633 – 1695):
Because children must have a special seriousness about, reverence and esteem for, and interest in spiritual matters, you must (subject to God’s blessing) attempt to instill these qualities. And you should do this, not so much by imposing these qualities on them but by speaking — exemplarily — seriously and reverently about God and divine things yourself. Although you must speak with them about these things in a very confidential and friendly manner, you must not stop there, but speak in a most dignified, serious, and reverent manner about God, Holy Scripture, the Lord Jesus, the future life, and their holy obligations, because it concerns the most sublime and holy matters.
Why are actions sometimes a stronger teacher than words?
If parents do not guide a child’s spiritual growth, what may happen when the child becomes an adult?
Can you think of some examples among your friends and acquaintances of people who made some poor choices in their lives because they did not have godly role models? What other factors affected their decisions?
God, there are children in my life who are watching my actions: my own children as well as children at church and in my neighborhood.
Help those little eyes to see Jesus in me.
This is an amazing story of entrepreneurship. It’s not about a savvy businesswoman taking a significant risk in the hope of realizing big dividends (though that is a valuable goal in entrepreneurship); it’s about an individual cooperating with God in a joint enterprise, relying on his power to provide, yet also seizing every opportunity for responsible gain.
This story of the woman and her debt also makes the point that God values property rights. The woman is not simply whisked away to safety; instead, the holder of the debt is paid, the borrowed items are returned, and the woman is permitted to keep the profit from the sale of the oil. Instead of simply orchestrating payment of a legitimate debt, Elisha helps this single mother gain self-sufficiency (no small feat for a widow in those days). With
God’s help the prophet develops a means for her to turn a profit that will provide income for a long time to come.
Based on the premise that business glorifies God when it is conducted in a way that imitates God’s character, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem reflects in the following extracts on the ability of people to interact through business transactions:
Buying and selling are activities unique to human beings out of all the creatures that God made. Rabbits and squirrels, dogs and cats, elephants and giraffes know nothing of this activity. Through buying and selling God has given us a wonderful means to bring glory to him.
We can imitate God’s attributes each time we buy and sell, if we practice honesty, faithfulness to our commitments, fairness, and freedom of choice. Moreover, commercial transactions provide many opportunities for personal interaction, as when I realize that I am buying not just from a store but from a person, to whom I should show kindness and God’s grace. In fact, every business transaction is an opportunity for us to be fair and truthful and thus to obey Jesus’ teaching . . . [in] Mt 7:12.
Because of the interpersonal nature of commercial transactions, business activity has significant stabilizing influence on a society . . . In fact, [people
who might not particularly like one another] may seek the good of the other person for that reason! So it is with commercial transactions throughout the world and even between nations. This is an evidence of God’s common grace, because in the mechanism of buying and selling God has provided the human race with a wonderful encouragement to love our neighbor by pursuing actions that advance not only our own welfare but also the welfare of others — even as we pursue our own. In buying and selling we also manifest interdependence and thus reflect the interdependence and interpersonal love among the members of the Trinity. Therefore, for those who have eyes to see it, commercial transactions provide another means of manifesting the glory of God in our lives.
How can business be used to elevate a person out of their circumstances? Can you think of examples?
In what ways can all believers honor God in commerce?
What are some dangers to look out for as a Christian when you engage in business?
God, you can use all things for your glory. Help me to bring glory to you in all my activities.
NEHEMIAH 2 :1 – 2
Have you ever been sabotaged by an emotion sneaking up on you, completely unannounced? When have you been with someone (maybe even yourself) who laughed so hard they ended up crying — not just tears of hilarity, but sobs of real grief or even despair? It’s as though a defense mechanism has been disarmed, and the real self chooses that moment to want out.
Or have you experienced contradictory emotions, like mirth and grief, at the same time? This might happen in a deeply emotional context, as when a family gathers for a funeral. Despite our heartache, we may find ourselves reliving the fun — and funny — experiences we’ve enjoyed together and with our departed loved one. Our God-given emotions and their unexpected interplays can be mysteries and surprises even to ourselves.
Nehemiah 2:1 – 2 tells about a time when Nehemiah took the calculated risk of allowing a powerful king to glimpse his sad face. The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary has this to say about this passage in Nehemiah:
Regardless of one’s personal problems, the king’s servants were expected to keep their feelings hidden and to display a cheerful countenance before him. So far Nehemiah had managed to do this; now his burden for Jerusalem betrayed itself, no doubt in his eyes. Artaxerxes seemed to trust Nehemiah to such a degree, however, that no suspicious thought crossed his mind. He was concerned to discover what was distressing his cupbearer. Anxiety must have gripped Nehemiah, not so much for the king’s question, but in anticipation of the request that he was to make, knowing full well that the king himself had stopped the Jewish efforts at rebuilding the wall.
Nehemiah’s emotions played a part in how he related to the king and, ultimately, how he fulfilled God’s plan. He was able to handle and use his emotions for good. We as Christians can do the same because we have some emotions that override, underlie and coexist with all our other feelings.
The first underlying emotion, of course, is joy. Unlike happiness, joy isn’t situational, seasonable or the evidence of a naturally sunny disposition. It springs from a faithful, impenetrable geyser. We know its source intimately, yet we can do nothing to clog the line or dam the flow. Joy is present in the life of a committed Christian in and through — though not necessarily because of — any circumstance. It’s humbling to think that true joy is a state of mind and heart known only to believers.
Closely aligned with joy in the Christian life is contentment (see 1Ti 6:6 – 10) — one of the best-kept secrets in our acquisitive, grasping society. Like joy, contentment is deep and unfathomable and isn’t fazed by the ups and downs of changing circumstances. Contentment is a lot like joy.
Emotions are God-given aspects of our personalities, a part of what makes us who we are.
When have you been overwhelmed by emotions you could not control?
Do you feel joy and contentment underlying your other emotions?
In what way can you use your emotions to further God’s plan?
God, thank you for allowing me to experience a broad range of emotions, and thank you for the joy and contentment that you bring to my life.
NEHEMIAH 3 :1 – 32
Those of us who prize organization and efficiency can’t help but be impressed by this meticulous division of labor. In a discussion of this event, authors and stewardship trainers Dave Sutherland and Kirk Nowery note the following:
John Wesley was once approached by one of his parishioners, an earnest man who felt his service was unimportant. “If only I could preach like you, Mr. Wesley,” he said, “I would be so happy and fulfilled.” Wesley replied, “Sir, we are building God’s temple. Go now and read the third chapter of Nehemiah and learn that he who repaired the dung gate was counted of as much honor as he who worked on the gate of the fountain. All did their bit; you and I can do no more.”
Wesley understood very well one of the most important tenets of stewardship, the Law of Constructive Contribution. This is a principle which tells us that the work of God is to be done by the people of God giving according to the will of God. We find examples of this principle in practice throughout the Bible, but perhaps the most memorable is the story of Nehemiah and the project to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem . . .
The Law of Constructive Contribution was ruling in [the people’s] hearts, and they kept going in spite of all that stood in the way. In just 52 days, the wall was rebuilt and the people celebrated God’s blessing and empowerment. If we look closely at their experience, the lessons are clearly applicable to us as stewards today:
Intensify your persistence in prayer. The waves of persecution never let up while the rebuilding went on, but God’s people had a stronger weapon: “We prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” [Ne 4:9]. Exercising common sense, they set up
a defense. They did what was necessary to complement their prayers . . .
Expect difficulty when you do what’s right. Great opportunity is often accompanied by great opposition. The apostle Paul said of the work in Ephesus, “A great door for effective [work] has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me ” [1Co 16:9]. He chose to think primarily about the great open door, not the daunting opponents . . .
Don’t give up or give in. Nehemiah and the workers were invincible because they were in the very center of God’s will. They would not give up or give in. Faced with deceit, distraction, and discouragement on all sides, they relied on God’s power and he gave them the victory.
God’s promise to us is no different from the one those believers carried in their hearts. John’s first epistle reminds us, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” [1Jn 4:4].
Are some areas of service more important than others? What makes you think so?
What kind of miraculous project could be accomplished if you worked with others the way Nehemiah’s people worked together?
In what ways is recognition of people’s contributions important to a project? In what ways is it detrimental?
Lord, I am awed by those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Their work and sacrifice is remembered today. Show me, Lord, what
task you have for me, and I pray you will give me the faithfulness to complete it.
NEHEMIAH 4 :15 – 23
Good stewards need to adapt to changing circumstances, but that’s not all. They must also be on the alert for outside threats that could undermine their work. External challenges can come in the form of outright attack, as the Israelites feared in Nehemiah 4, or they can be spiritual in nature, like demonic attack or despair.
Christian financial stewardship leader Larry Burkett (1939 – 2003) focuses on one of these challenges, the potentially debilitating problem of fear:
Our anxieties and worries usually are not related to the lack of things but rather to the loss of things. One of Satan’s favorite tools is the question “What if?” Dedicated Christians get trapped in fear — the “what if” of retirement, disability, unemployment, extended illness, economic collapse. God wants us to consider these things and even plan for them — within reason. But a Christian must consciously reject the attitude of fear.
Fear is the antithesis of trust; therefore, if we live in fear of the future, financially, we suffer from the problem of not putting our trust in God. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan for the future, but if we live in fear it means that we have taken on a responsibility that belongs to God. If other people see us living lives of fear, we lose our witness.
Commenting in a more lighthearted vein on the effect of fear, editors and movie analysts Craig Brian Larson and Andrew Zahn recall a scene from the movie Hoosiers:
Hoosiers is the Cinderella story of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that overcomes adversity in order to win the state championship. Gene Hackman plays the part of Norman Dale, a former college coach with a maligned past, who is hired to coach the boy’s team from Hickory, Indiana.
When the team arrives at Butler Field House in Indianapolis to play for the state championship, the players’ jaws drop at the size of the six-thousand-seat arena with its freestanding hoops and suspended scoreboard.
Coach Dale senses that they are intimidated. He instructs one of his players to take a tape measure and mark off the distance from the basket to the free throw line.
“What’s the distance?” the coach inquires.
“Fifteen feet,” the player with the tape calls out.
Coach Dale tells the team’s shortest player to climb up on the shoulders of the tallest player and measure the height of the basket.
“How high is it?” he asks.
The boy says, “Ten feet.”
The coach says, “I believe you’ll find these are the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory.”
The team laughs, and the tension eases. They move on to prepare for the game.
What triggers your “what if” reflex?
How does fear keep you from being a Christian witness to others?
In Nehemiah 4, the threat to the builders was real. How can you react to real threats with proper levels of concern, preparation and action?
God, you always care for me. Help me to keep my fear under control.
JOB 1:1 – 5
Job stands out as one of the few people in the Bible who are described as righteous. Here, at the outset of his story, it is important for us to appreciate the subtle and nuanced perspective the Bible takes on wealth in relation to Job. On the one hand, the Bible affirms the goodness of material abundance, which God sometimes bestows to reward obedience. In Deuteronomy 28:3 – 14, for example, God promised to prosper the nation of Israel as a reward for obeying his commandments.
On the other hand, the Bible often speaks of affluence as a threat or danger — or even as a formidable obstacle to true faith (cf. Isa 53:9; Mk 10:25; Lk 6:24; 1Ti 6:9 – 10; Jas 5:1 – 6). How did Job maintain his integrity despite great wealth? Job himself answers this question later on in the book when he explains how he had used his money: to rescue the needy and disadvantaged (29:12 – 16). Pastor John Timmer tells a delightful story, adapted from an old Jewish tale, about the rewards of generosity in this life:
Once upon a time . . . two brothers lived side by side. One was married and had seven children. The other was not married. These two brothers shared a farm. Because both brothers worked hard and the soil was good and the weather was right, the harvests were rich.
Each year the brothers would divide the harvest evenly. Each would get one-half of the grain and store it in a separate barn.
One night the unmarried brother could not go to sleep. He kept thinking about his married brother and his seven children. He told himself, “It just isn’t right that each of us should get half of the grain. My brother has a big family and needs the grain more than I do.”
So each night the unmarried brother took some of the grain stored in his barn and secretly carried it to his brother’s barn.
That same night the married brother too could not sleep. He kept thinking about his unmarried brother. He told himself, “It just isn’t right that each of us should get half of the grain. I have seven children. When I grow old they will look after me. My brother is all by himself.
When he grows old he has no one to look after him. Surely he needs more grain now to save for later.”
So each night the married brother took some of the grain stored in his barn and secretly carried it to his brother’s barn.
Each night the two brothers would give away some of their grain, and each morning they would find that they still had the same amount of grain as before. And they would wonder how this could be possible.
One night the two brothers met each other halfway between the barns. At once they realized what had been happening. Then they hugged each other with laughter and tears.
Who else is considered “righteous”in the Bible. Why? What does this tell you about Job?
The Bible offers differing perspectives on wealth. What does this indicate to you about the topic?
How were Job’s riches a blessing and a peril?
God, show me how I can be called righteous.
PSALMS 20 – 21
To see more in these two psalms, you might want to try reading them together. The first prays for help when trouble looms, and the second rejoices in God’s saving strength after the trauma has passed. Together they teach us to rely on God alone — before, during, and after a crisis.
These psalms ask for what some commentators refer to as “God’s Royal Help.” That is, they ask God to bring salvation through the king (Psalm 72 does the same thing). David, a rich and powerful man, still exercises the wisdom not to trust in himself (20:7) but to rejoice in God (21:1).
It’s important for us to recognize, though, that God’s help often comes to us through other people. In Psalm 21:7 David hints at the fine line between God’s responsibility and his own, as God’s chosen instrument on behalf of the people.
Authors and stewardship trainers Dave Sutherland and Kirk Nowery make this point through a twentieth-century
In the 1930s, at the opening of a disarmament conference, King George VI of England made an important speech which was broadcast via radio to millions of eager listeners. In the midst of his words, someone tripped over wires which had been stretched across the floor, tearing them loose and interrupting the signal. The chief engineer, seeing the crisis unfold, quickly grasped the loose wires in his bare hands, providing a conduit for the signal. For twenty minutes, the current literally passed through him while the King finished his speech. His hands were slightly burned, but through them the words of the King were communicated to countless people, who heard the speech
clearly and distinctly. Without the engineer’s courage and endurance, the King’s message would have failed to reach its destination.
Like that quick-thinking engineer, we too are to be channels for the King. Not the King of England, but the King of Kings, the Lord of all creation. We are called by God Himself to be the channels of His love, His grace and His truth. As stewards, we are the conduits of an endless, eternal supply. As subjects in His Kingdom, we live by the Law of Channeled Resources, because He has chosen to work through human instruments to accomplish His purposes.
In this story, both King George VI and the unnamed engineer worked in tandem to communicate what needed to be heard. To the millions of eager listeners, the king, and he alone, was proclaiming hope in the midst of a dicey situation. But without that low-profile engineer, the message would have gone unheard. The moral of the story for us is that God will entrust his trustworthy servants with great responsibility when they show they are faithful.
With what is God trusting you?
How is he using you as his channel to bless others?
How well are you stewarding this sacred trust?
God, I pray that you will use me to communicate your Word to those who need to hear it. May I be faithful to do my part — no matter what it is.
PSALM 27:1 – 14
There was a long line at the checkout in the department store. The teenager, jingling the coins in his pocket and shuffling his feet, was impatient and grumbling. “Be patient,” his mom said. “Patience is boring” was his reply.
In our “instant everything” society, many people have become so used to being busy or entertained every minute that waiting is intolerable. Patience is no longer a virtue but a sign of passivity and dullness. We don’t want to hurry up and wait, we want to hurry up so we can hurry to the next thing. We have so much to do and so many places to be that we consider waiting for anything a waste of time.
That kind of hurry sometimes spills over into our spiritual life. We want God to act right now. We need an answer to our prayers and sooner is much better than later. If our children don’t get their act together, if the job offer doesn’t come through, if our relative is not healed, we wonder why God is silent. And we lose patience with the process and cease praying altogether.
The psalmist David didn’t have the kind of conditioning we do in the twenty-first century. Perhaps it was because he had been a shepherd for
many years, and you just can’t hurry sheep. Day in and day out, he had waited for the sheep to eat and drink and sleep and then amble to another spot where there was more grass to graze on and another stream to drink from. If you cannot learn to wait patiently while shepherding, you can’t learn it
At some point David-the-shepherd-turned-David-thewarrior had learned to wait on God. He had learned to seek out that quiet place, the “house of the Lord,” the sanctuary where to sit and gaze at the beauty of the Lord was his heart’s desire. Even though his enemy Saul was hot on his heels, it was a place of rest and safety. It was a place to plead with God to be his closest companion when there was no human connection to be had. It was a place where he had all the time in the world to listen to God — to seek his face. It was a place of praise and joy, not boredom. David’s waiting was active. He told his heart to “be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” David could be patient because he had every expectation that God would meet him there “in the land of the living.”
The steward watching over the master’s household is not waiting passively either. There is much to do, but there is also a sense of confident expectancy that the master will return, that the servant will once again see his face, that there will be completion and fulfillment for a job well done (see Mt 25:14 – 30).
Consider the young man’s comment in the department store. When have you shared his feelings about waiting?
What do you think it was like for David to compose this psalm when he was under so much pressure from his enemies?
Why do you think waiting for God is active rather than passive?
Lord, my help and my salvation, I pray for the grace to wait patiently and expectantly for you to visit me with your presence. I seek your face and wait for you to guide me, to instruct me, and to assure me that you are listening and that you will speak.
PSALM 34 :1 – 22
This hymn of praise teaches us about contentment. It invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). The New Testament uses nearly identical wording when the apostle Peter urges us to “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1Pe 2:2 – 3). Partaking of the things of God and his kingdom matures our appetites so that we become more like Jesus, who declared that his food was to do the will of his Father (see Jn 4:32 – 34). By partaking in the work of the gospel we learn that God’s goodness is more satisfying than anything the world has to offer.
Church father Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – 211/216) reflects as follows on this perennial issue:
How much more glorious it is to serve many than to live in luxury. How much more reasonable to spend money on human beings than on stones and gold! . . . Can possessing lands ever give more benefit to anyone than practicing kindness? . . . For whom do precious things exist if everyone is going to choose what is less costly? Human beings, I should say, provided that we use them without attachment and distinction. And if it should be impossible for all to practice self-restraint, then at least in our use of the necessities let us confine ourselves to those things that are more easily obtainable and not seek after the exotic articles . . .
From a sermon by Pastor James Moiso:
There are so many things that tempt us, things that can fill our hearts and minds, if we let them . . . We can focus on what’s wrong about life and blame God, or we can consider what is right and give God glory. We can enjoy the exposés of human weakness and evil, or we can marvel at human achievement and generosity in spite of weakness.
Christian financial stewardship leader Howard Dayton observes the following about some vastly different second-century contemporaries:
Before gladiator contests in the coliseum, everyone would stand, waiting silently for Caesar. The contests could not begin until he arrived. When Caesar arrived, he was greeted with thunderous shouts of “Hail Caesar!” . . . He was worshiped as though he were a god.
Elsewhere in Rome was another man in vastly different circumstances. He was in prison, chained to guards. He invested his time praying and writing to his friends. His name was Paul.
One man lived in an opulent palace. The other lived in a dingy cell. One had almost unlimited wealth. The other had almost nothing. One was the center of attention. The other was virtually ignored. Almost 2,000 years later, people around the world recognize which of these two men made the eternally important contribution. They name their children after the prisoner and their salads after the emperor!
Where do you find your satisfaction in life?
How can you experience that the Lord is good?
What do you pray your legacy will be?
Lord, I want to be remembered for my passion and commitment to you.
PSALM 49 :1 – 20
H ow should we view the wealth of the wicked? How should we feel when we ourselves experience either great abundance or a lack of resources? This psalm answers these questions by reminding us that wealth can often be here today, gone tomorrow. Wisdom teaches that our financial circumstances are never an appropriate cause for either selfreliance or fear.
Psalm 73 is a companion to this psalm. But rather than beginning with Psalm 49’s clearheaded recognition that wealth is tenuous, Psalm 73 opens with desperate questions about the intolerable pride of the affluent wicked and their seemingly carefree existence. Both psalms, though, acknowledge the slippery nature of financial security.
Best-selling author Philip Yancey admits to an ambivalence about money that is shared by many Christians:
I feel pulled in opposite directions over the money issue. Sometimes I want to sell all that I own, join a Christian commune, and live out my days in intentional poverty. At other times, I want to rid myself of guilt and enjoy the fruits of our nation’s prosperity. Mostly, I wish I did not have to think about money at all.
Commenting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19 – 21, pastor and author Gordon MacDonald reflects as follows:
Most of us are forever collecting things — treasures, if you will. Children collect stuffed animals, toys, lucky stones, and special mementos. Teenagers collect music CDs, baseball cards and caps, celebrity pictures. And we adults? Money, expensive playthings, and trophy homes.
And why do we do this? Perhaps it has something to do with the attempt to add to our personal sense of value. Or maybe it has to do with our perceived need for security. If I have this much at my disposal, I can protect myself from any catastrophe. Then again, having more than we really need may be bound up in the issue of power: The more I have, the more weight I can throw around.
Wherever Jesus went, he came across people acquiring wealth the way squirrels store up nuts for the winter . . . One rich young community leader Jesus knew was afraid to part with what he had in order to follow Christ.
Jesus saw each of these individuals, and many more like them, storing up what they had: secreting it, protecting it, expanding it, bragging about it. However, this is not the kind of treasure Jesus encouraged his followers to store. His warning rings in our ears today: “Don’t do it!”
Holding on to our earthly treasure makes one increasingly vulnerable. By their very nature, these treasures are only temporal. For that reason, putting one’s main attention into acquiring these things is not a prudent investment.
In what ways do you store up “things”?
How do your acquisitions make you feel?
In what do you invest most of your resources?
Western cultures glorify consumption and acquiring things. Think about how you can make a change in your life to fight against the tide of consumerism. It may be as simple as a change in how you view your possessions. It may be as drastic as a lifestyle change to live with more reliance on God.
PSALM 55 :1 – 23
Psalm 55:1 – 21 talks about the kind of social upheaval James tells us is caused by greed and covetousness (see Jas 4:1 – 2). Verses 9 and 11 of this psalm connect such economic injustice to the “city” or “marketplace.” In the midst of chaos and anarchy, the psalmist puts his trust in God, who administers justice (v. 23) and calls upon the faithful to cast their cares on him (v. 22).
This psalm is especially relevant for those of us who are heavily invested in the world’s economic establishments. Whether those investments take the form of stocks and bonds, material possessions like houses and cars or higher education, casting our cares upon the Lord often equates to casting our bread upon the waters (see Ecc 11:1). We need to turn over our financial situation to God in faith, to shake off our fear when the stock market crashes or the value of our real estate plummets. Worldly wealth is temporary at best; how much wiser to invest in the things of God (see Luke 12:32 – 33). Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald makes this point in the following reflection:
When the love of Christ has bored its way into the heart’s center, all other worries and anxieties begin to sift away. If all other things visible and powerful should suddenly disappear, there is one thing that shall never spiral downwards: God’s promise that he is our Father and that we are his children.
As pastor and author Andy Stanley observes (see also this author’s reflections in “Faith and Fear” at Joshua 15:13 – 19, page 280):
Fear is a regular part of the landscape for anyone who wants to grow in faith. There’salways a trace of nervous energy when you stand near the edge. In that moment of uncertainty, when you place your financial future in the hands of an invisible God, it’s only natural to feel butterflies.
Stanley goes on:
In every person’s life, God plants the question: “Do you trust Me?” To trust in Him financially means we experience peace and contentment while we enjoy the thrill of participating in His financial mission for our world. To trust in our savings account means we experience anxiety and anguish while we miss out on one of life’s central invitations.
In evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s words, “All business activity tests our hearts. The good things that God gives us through business are very good, but we must always remember that God is infinitely better! . . . Are our hearts set on God above all, or on the things that God gives?”
In what ways are you fearful about your finances?
What in your culture plays upon your fears?
What can bring you peace in the midst of fearful times?
Lord, I turn over all my anxiety to you. You alone can bring joy to my life in all circumstances. I will rest in you.
PSALM 111 :10
All true wisdom, knowledge and understanding are inextricably linked with reverence for God and are avenues by which we can know the only true God (see Dt 32:39; Isa 44:6 – 8). The psalmist writes, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (Ps 111:10).
In Christian apologist and novelist C. S. Lewis’s (1898 – 1963) Screwtape Letters, a senior demon, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, advising him as to the most effective strategies for leading astray the young man to whom Wormwood has been assigned. The devil and his demons are clearly, and legitimately, worried about the effects of wisdom and understanding on human attitudes and behavior:
My Dear Wormwood,
The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm . . .
But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate [the] horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will. It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so usefully. The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions: Is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now, if we can keep men asking: “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this
knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant.” We have trained them to think of the future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain — not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
Your affectionate uncle
In what ways does wisdom lead you to know the one true God?
In what ways does wisdom change you?
What is your plan to attain wisdom throughout your life?
Get wisdom! Determine what you need to do today in order to continue to grow in wisdom.
PROVERBS 6 : 2 0 – 2 3
This is another classic passage of Scripture addressing education (see “Stewarding Our Children’s Education” on page 223). The call to consistently instruct and discipline children goes out to all parents universally. Believing moms and dads are to be wise and faithful stewards of this sacred responsibility. Pastor John Timmer shared the following with the children (of all ages) in his congregation:
A long, long time ago I took a test in school. Someone had written a story in French. I had to write it in English. That was the test.
I was doing pretty well until I came to a word that I had never seen before. That word was échafaudage [esh-ah-foh-DAZH]. I had no idea what it meant . . .
So here I was, taking the test and not knowing what the word échafaudage meant. Later on I asked my friends. They didn’t know either.
Well, I passed my test and completely forgot the word échafaudage. At least I thought I did. But listen to what happened to me forty-two years later. Forty-two years after I took that test, I was in the part of Switzerland where people speak French. I was riding on a bus when all of a sudden a truck passed by. And can you guess what word was painted on the back of that truck? I looked and said to myself, “I don’t believe this! I don’t believe this!”
Painted on the back of that truck was the word échafaudage — the word I didn’t know at my French test forty-two years earlier. I thought I had completely forgotten that word. But I was wrong. Somehow that word had been stored in my brain, but in a part of my brain where I could no longer reach it. But as I saw the word on the back of that truck, I remembered it again.
Our brains are amazing things, aren’t they? They store everything we see. They store everything we hear. They store everything we think. How smart God must be to make such brains!
Échafaudage! You know what? Now this French word is stored in your brain too. Whether you like it or not. Isn’t that amazing?
Is the word échafaudage with you still? It means scaffolding in French. Do you have a similar story to share? Have you ever unexpectedly recalled some snippet of wisdom a parent or mentor shared with you — some principle that has guided you? Without realizing it, you bound this advice or behavior on your heart (v. 21). If you are a parent, remember that your attitudes and actions are some of the most significant influences in your children’s lives. As you are faithful to God’s call to raise your children, remember that they are watching and listening to your every move.
Can you think of advice your parent or caretaker shared with you that you’ve incorporated into a guiding principle of life? What was it?
What happens when parents influence their children in negative ways? How difficult is it for children to overcome that influence?
If you are a parent, how are you instilling God’s commands into your children’s lives?
God, I have influence on the lives of children. Help me to steward that responsibility with wisdom and compassion.
PROVERBS 15 : 22
T he good steward seeks good advice. Proverbs approves of our getting all the guidance we can from people who are God-fearing and wise. This principle applies to our giving: we need to (1) seek sound counsel about recipients who will use our gifts well and (2) find financial advisers who have more on their agenda than our bottom line.
The selection below from Christian financial stewardship leaders Larry Burkett (1939 – 2003) and Ron Blue focuses specifically on individuals facing their retirement years, but it applies in general to all of us who grapple with financial decisions:
As we enter the latter part of our lives, we are faced with more critical financial decisions. Often these decisions come in rapid succession within a few weeks or months of one another . . .
These financial decisions are stressful because they often have many zeros after them. They are once-in-a-lifetime — or irrevocable. They involve complex products and technical information. The terms alone can make your head spin: joint-survivor pension payout option with ten-year certain period, single-premium immediate annuities, supplemental- Medigap-COBRA health insurance, required minimum distributions from IRAs.
Perhaps even more stressful to many is that the success or failure of these decisions involves factors beyond our control. The first uncontrollable and unknowable factor is the future direction of our economy . . . The second is our longevity. How much easier our financial decisions would be if we knew when we would die and when we would face serious illness. The Bible says, “[Man is destined to die]” (Heb 9:27, emphasis added). But God chooses not to tell us the time of our appointment . . .
For people who are more prone to desire control and certainty in their lives, the Impossible Decision may cause despair. For those who do not have a personal intimate relationship with the omniscient, omnipotent living God, the implications of the Impossible Decision may leave them hopeless.
For Christians who have a vibrant personal relationship with Almighty God, the Impossible Decision provides another opportunity to place their faith and trust in God. Although the unknowable realities of the Impossible Decision apply to all Christians, we have an additional
Counselor in the Holy Spirit, additional insight through prayer and other believers in the church, and wisdom from God’s Word.
The final sentence, above, refers to three sources that aid one in gaining advice and counsel from God’s Word: the Holy Spirit, prayer and other believers. But these authors, themselves financial advisers, would heartily endorse assistance from professional Christian counselors as well.
For what do you need to plan?
How might you make use of the “counselors” God has placed in your life?
How might God guide your planning?
Set aside some time this week to start your planning process. Start off with prayer and then map out a plan from there.
Some common by-products of wealth are pride and self-reliance, attitudes that can express themselves through harsh words (see Pr 18:23). It is easy to assume that financial and spiritual well-being run along parallel tracks, that satisfied stomachs mean satisfied souls. Pride is not only one of the most insidious of human vices but also the attitude underlying all sin. Have you ever caught yourself reflecting smugly on your own admirable humility? Another subtle pitfall is that of mistaking wealth, ability, power or beauty for signs of God’s blessing and approval.
“Man is ignorant and involved in the limitations of a finite mind,” reflects philosopher and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971),
but he pretends that he is not limited. He assumes that he can gradually transcend finite limitations until his mind becomes identical with universal mind. All of his intellectual and cultural pursuits, therefore, become infected with the sin of pride. Man’s pride and will-to-power disturb the harmony of creation. The Bible defines sin in both religious and moral terms. The religious dimension of sin is man’s rebellion against God, his effort to usurp the place of God. The moral and social dimension of sin is injustice. The ego which falsely makes itself the centre of existence in its pride and will-to-power inevitably subordinates other life to its will and thus does injustice to other life.
Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald speaks of the visit of the queen of Sheba as King Solomon’s greatest hour: “He was the picture of one who has known the maximum blessing of God: wealth in abundance; unlimited intellectual firepower and depth of soul; the loyalty and approval of the people
— as high as it gets.” MacDonald goes on:
Read this section [of 1 Kings 10] carefully, and take in the specter of human grandeur. It did not last much longer. Solomon was about to free-fall into personal disaster. His life holds the classic lesson for people of privilege who start out as generous givers but who forget the source of their wealth and the wisdom that far surpasses that wealth in value.
Social reformer, hermit and scholastic philosopher Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) long ago pointed out the harm we do our neighbors when our exalted opinions of ourselves make us feel superior: “And who is hurt by the offspring of pride? Only your neighbors. For you harm them when your
exalted opinion of yourself leads you to consider yourself superior and therefore to despise them. And if pride is in a position of authority, it gives birth to injustice and cruelty, and becomes a dealer in human flesh.”
Do wealth and pride always go hand in hand? Support your answer.
How might pride be evident in your life? In your attitude toward your finances?
What is one way to combat pride in your life?
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
Author, Christian financial planner and CEO Russ Crosson discusses the importance of inculcating “social capital” (a good name or reputation) into those who will come after us:
Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece — by thought, choice, courage, and determination.
— John Luther
You can’t leave character in a trust account. You can’t write your values into the will. You can’t bank traits like courage, honesty, and compassion in a safe-deposit box. What we need is a plan — a long-term strategy to convey our convictions to the next generation.
— Tim Kimmel
The quotes by John Luther and Tim Kimmel are quite intriguing. They both clearly statethat money does not buy character. On the contrary, they shout that character is developed by the strategic investment of time over a long period. No shortcuts, no amount of
money, can reverse this principle. Character development simply takes time.
However, many parents have lived their lives in a hurry, amassing plenty of financialcapital only to realize too late that those they would leave the money to (their children)have no character . . .
What are some of the critical character, or social capital, building blocks needed by our posterity for them to be effective, positive, productive members of society? The list would include a work ethic, responsibility, manners, sacrifice, stewardship, teachability, accountability, loyalty, integrity, learning trade-offs, honesty, discipline, ability to interact with adults, endurance, courage, morality,
and self-esteem. Although one can have good social capital without spiritual capital, it seems that the long-term motivation for social capital flows from spiritual capital, i.e., from principles . . .
If we do not build character qualities into our children, a duty that takes time and may or may not take money, then we will continue to see a decline in our society. In a 1992 article in World magazine, Chuck Colson stated it this way: “The values erosion is largely responsible for the economic problems now facing the nation.” He illustrated this by noting that an epidemic of crime is costing billions, family breakdowns are costing billions more, and abandonment of the work ethic has meant loss of billions in productivity.
Values are foundational to any society. I hope it won’t be said of us that we have deteriorated to the point that we do not focus on values at all.
What values do you see driving your society?
What kind of “name” do you want to leave behind?
What can you do to ensure that your values are in place in your children or those who you are responsible for?
List the character qualities that you feel are important for the following generations to exhibit. Then look over your list and determine how you might embody some of these qualities in order to pass them on.
PROVERBS 27 : 23 – 27
This proverb calls us to daily diligence, to paying careful attention to life’s essential details so our households will be provided for. The proverb identifies sustainable provision as the primary reason for our daily labors (see Pr 27:27). In the words of Christian financial stewardship leader Howard Dayton:
Jesus said, “[Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.]” This is critical for you to understand. If you have the character to be faithful with small financial things, God knows that He can trust you with greater things. Missionary statesman Hudson Taylor said it this way, “Small things are small things, but faithfulness with a small thing is a big thing.”
Think about it. How do you know if a child is going to take good care of his first car? Observe how he cared for his bicycle. How do you know if a salesperson will do a competent job of serving a large client? Evaluate how she served a small client. If you spend small amounts wisely, God knows He can trust you with more.
Some people become frustrated by the inability to solve their financial problems quickly. They abandon the goal of becoming debt free or increasing their saving or giving because the task looks impossible. And sometimes the task is impossible without God’s help. Your job is to make a genuine effort, no matter how small it may appear, and leave the results to God.
One way to accomplish the big-by-being-faithful-in-the-small is to live our lives intentionally every day. This is not to say that our vision should become so myopic that we cannot see beyond today. We do well to pay attention to different categories of planning as we go through each hour, day, week, month, year, decade and “passage” of life. Breaking down tasks and goals into such slots as urgent, important, short-term, long-term (or whatever system works best) keeps us in position to see the forest while still appreciating and caring for every tree — not to mention the animal life it
God taught the Israelites of the exodus generation two important lessons, both having to do with an exotic new food they took to calling manna (meaning “What is it?”; see Ex 16:13 – 31). And what were those lessons? (1) That they could be confident of the Lord’s provision and (2) that they
would provide their families with precisely nothing if they didn’t follow through on their part of the compact, which was simple enough: daily gathering. But there were stipulations involved as well as a weekly blip when it came to Sabbath preparation. Each head-of-household needed to do their
part to provide daily, weekly — and, for most of that original generation — lifelong sustenance. The same two principles still apply today — in the same order.
Unless you own livestock, this passage in Proverbs won’t directly apply to your life. What are some general principles you can take from it?
Are there “small” things in which you are being faithful? What are they?
Do you see a correlation between your faithfulness and the way in which God is meeting your needs? Describe it.
Lord, help me to be faithful in the big and small things.
PROVERBS 28 : 24
Children often have a sense of entitlement (a “help yourself” mentality, if you will) when it comes to their parents’ possessions. But Scripture teaches that children have a unique responsibility to honor their parents (see Ex 20:12) and even to reciprocate their parents’ generosity as Mom and Dad age.
As you read financial counselor Dave Ramsey’s illustration, below, identify any “Jacks” in your life.
Jack was twelve. Jack was all boy, full of energy, and as he approached his teenage years he checked the fences, his boundaries. One day, Jack marched into the room while several other parents watched in disbelief and like a mighty general demanded money from his father. With the tilt of his arrogant little head, he announced to his dad that he was going to the movies, out for pizza, then to the mall. When his passive dad whipped out a twenty-dollar bill young Jack curled up his spiteful lip and scoffed that it wasn’t enough to get across the street. As this little jerk strutted from the room with another of his compliant father’s $20s (now $40 total) his dad shrugged, looked defeated, and sighed, saying, “Teenagers these days, what are you going to do?”
Jack is now twenty-four. He graduated from college with a business degree two years ago, but works ten hours a week waiting tables. “There are no good jobs out there,” he explains. He sleeps until 10:00 A.M. most mornings and goes out clubbing most nights, still using Dad’s money. Mom still cleans his room and his clothes and fixes his meals. She cleans the kitchen by herself after the meal. Jack is still a jerk, only now he’s a large lazy jerk. His parents are at their wits’ end and can’t believe the choices they are faced with. “Do we move him out? Won’t he starve?” “He won’t pay his car payment that we cosigned for; come to think of it he isn’t paying it now — we are.” “He won’t take responsibility, and we know this is wrong, but you can’t just throw your kids in the street, can you?”
Jack is disabled. He isn’t disabled in the classic sense; he just has no character, no need to win. We all know Jack, and some of you are Jack. Jack’s parents caused his disability by allowing him to do nothing, and be nothing, and by giving him no instruction on how life works. Children who reach the age of eighteen with their entire skill set composed of Nintendo and eating Doritos have been abused. I am not speaking of child abuse in the sense of sexual or physical abuse, but neglect. The parents neglected the child by not giving him the character traits needed to live successfully . . . Yet now that he is grown it is Jack’s responsibility to find his way, in spite of the disability his parents have left him with.
Do you know any “Jacks”? Are you one?
In what ways is a “Jack” created by his or her parents?
What is the solution for people like Jack? Is there anything that others can do for them?
Lord, I am grieved by those who are helpless in the face of life, those who are unable to take responsibility for themselves and who live off of others. I pray for healing for them and hope for those who love them.
PROVERBS 30 : 7 – 9
In his prayer Agur asks for moderation, a life unencumbered by financial extremes. As Biblical studies professor and commentator Tremper Longman III explains in modern socioeconomic jargon, “The sage asks for middle-class status rather than affluence or poverty.” Ultimately, Agur is talking about contentment, having what he needs and being happy with that. Leadership development specialist and ministry consultant Neil Atkinson makes the following observations in his discussion of contentment:
Life is not about things. Our consumer-driven economy is about things. If we believe that life is found in the externals as our culture teaches us, we will believe that what we drive tells people who we are. Confusion wants us to believe that there is a thing-size vacuum within us that is waiting for just the “right” thing to fill it.
Confusion eraser: Nothing outside of great relationships (true riches) can satisfy us at our deepest levels.
To expand on what Pascal said, “There is a ‘God-sized vacuum’ within each of us that cannot be filled by people or things; it can only be filled by God.” It is my experience that most CMC [Christian Middle Class] people believe Pascal. Or at least they want to, sort of, in an occasional way.
Let’s paraphrase Ecclesiastes 5:10 – 12, “the person who loves to shop never can shop enough. The person who loves to acquire never can acquire enough.” It is the search for the Holy Grail. The “grail” does not exist. The search is all that matters. So in our war we find that having something does not fill us. It is the implied promise of fulfillment in getting that thing that draws us . . .
We often read articles about people with $100,000 incomes “struggling” to make ends meet. Sad. I know a woman whose former usband sends her only $200,000 per year in alimony and child support. How could she possibly live on that trifling amount?
I have a client who makes only $32,000 after twentyfive years with the same company. His hobby is his passion. He has more than enough. Glad.
Our daughter, Jodi, worked in an orphanage in Nicaragua. The generator was shut off at nine each night. The orphanage had no hot water, but they made up for it with lots of bats, rats, and mice. There were fifteen kids under the age of two, and total silence prevailed in
the compound for only three hours a day. Jodi received room and board for the four months she worked there. No other pay. Very glad.
Life is lived on our insides. What makes our insides smile? More money is almost never the answer.
What would you ask for if you could request God to place you at a socioeconomic level?
How does wisdom affect your ability to be content?
What makes your insides smile?
Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher, in chapter 2 describes his process of elimination to drill down on life’s meaning. Many people do the same thing today, only we call it “finding ourselves.” At the end of chapter 2 the Teacher summarizes his experiences thus far: it is best to enjoy an uncomplicated life. This kind and degree of joy are sharply different from the extravagant pleasures he had pursued earlier, as part of his hedonistic experiment (see 2:1 – 11). He has at last settled on a more serene variety of joy, a joy that finds pleasure in simplicity and in the process of living (see vv. 24 – 26). But he gives the credit for his happiness to God, “for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (v. 25). A pursuit of any lifestyle here on earth, even pursuing simplicity, will fail if our goals are to get away from stress or to avoid work. Without God, even simple pleasures can become idols that will break our hearts.
While it is true that the simple life is a goal for some, many other people still seek the pleasures of wealth and prosperity. Christian financial planner, author and CEO Ron Blue comments:
I happened to notice an interesting statistic in USA Today. It seems that 38 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 would be willing to sacrifice happiness for a higherpaying job. The older we get, the less likely we would be to make the swap, but even among folks in the 50 to 64-year-old category, 25 percent say they’d trade happiness for money.
I can’t say that this report surprised me all that much, but I had to marvel, nonetheless, at our national perspective.
Our perspective determines our beliefs, our vision, our faith, and, ultimately, our actions.
I want to challenge you to see things as they really are. I want you, in other words, to adopt the right perspective. The reason this step is so critical is that many people choose this point to get bogged down in the generosity process. Fresh from focusing on their financial problems, they tend — like folks in the USA Today report — to see money as the answer to everything:
If only we had some extra cash, we could take that vacation we need so much . . .
If only Jim would get a raise, then we could pay off the credit cards or set something aside for the kids’ college education . . .
If only we could afford a bigger house . . .
If only . . .
Where do you find meaning in life?
What would you say if the pollsters asked you whether you’d take happiness or money?
Are there any “if onlys” in your life? What are they?
Father, your gifts are good, and I am grateful for them. But help me, O God, to see only you in the good life you have given me and not to focus on the possessions you have blessed me with. Help me to keep the right perspective on money and prosperity; help me to find my joy in the pleasures of
living every day simply and quietly so that I can know your presence and hear you when you speak.
ECCLESIASTES 9 :10 – 11
Even for the swiftest, strongest, smartest, richest and most favored among us, life is risky. Because we live unpredictable lives, how could we even think to “boast about tomorrow” (Pr 27:1; cf. Lk 12:19 – 20)? Yet some people do. One way to combat self-reliance is to “commit to the Lord whatever [we] do” (Pr 16:3), to submit ourselves and our futures in humble kingdom service and to depend on God’s providence.
Evangelical leader Charles Colson writes of the “feisty Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson,” that he
experienced Providence in an unmistakable way. Johnson and I have worked closely together for more than a decade. I’ve watched him masterfully take over as commanding general of the great movement of scientists and intellectuals who are bringing forward the evidence of Intelligent Design . . .
Then in his early sixties, at the peak of his game, Johnson was suddenly struck down with a serious stroke that left him paralyzed and confined to bed . . .
With great medical care and devoted attention from his family, Johnson slowly managed to recover most of his physical capacities. Fortunately, his mind was not impaired . . .
Johnson wrote a poignant memoir about his illness. The one thing he feared most in life, he confessed, was damage to his brain; death was far less frightening than the “shame of helplessness.” . . .
Johnson writes about his experience in the hospital room, which was often filled with loving friends praying for him. On one visit, a friend from his church sang a simple hymn: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” The words of that song pierced the depth of Johnson’s soul. He realized that he had built his life on shifting sand, not on solid rock. Oh, he was a Christian
— at least he saw himself that way. He had become a believer, though, because he was “a skeptic about everything else.” A “recovering rationalist” who had found all the flaws in the world’s logic, he had never come to trust his life fully to Jesus Christ. Such an intimately personal faith “seemed too sentimental a thing to bear the full weight of a life at its most desperate moment.” But as he lay helpless in the hospital, the words of the hymn filling his thoughts, he realized that only Jesus could be his solid rock . . .
Did God give Johnson the stroke to get this proud professor’s attention? I do not believe that for a moment. Illness affects every mortal body. We’re all headed toward decay. Dust to dust. No, I don’t think God delivers these nearly fatal blows to punish or teach us, but He does allow them to happen, and He uses them for His purposes.
How do you cope in such an unpredictable and risky world?
In what ways has God used circumstances to reveal his providence to you?
On what have you built your life?
My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.
ISAIAH 23 :1 – 18
T he prophecies against the nations in Isaiah 13 – 23 were given to teach God’s people lessons about faith. They raise an important question: Why would anyone want to trust in the nations — even the superpowers — of this world rather than in the Lord, who is in control of those very nations and their rulers? The last of these prophecies is addressed to Tyre, which is described as “the marketplace of the nations” because of its lucrative shipping trade (see Isa 23:3). Yet Tyre’s wealth would prove a poor defense against God’s wrath (cf. Pr 11:4); in the end, in fact, “her profits will go to those who live before the Lord, for abundant food and fine clothes” (Isa 23:18). We are just as shortsighted when we place our trust in our retirement savings or our financial advisers. All the money in the stock markets and banks will one day become, like the wealth of Tyre, “set apart for the Lord” (Isa 23:18).
Author Randy Alcorn touches on the frequently converging issues of money and trust.
Sometimes more is to be learned from the passages of Scripture we avoid or skim over than those we underline or post on our refrigerator. The Bible contains an arsenal of such verses on the subject of money and possessions, and they just keep firing away atus.
The more we allow ourselves to grapple with these unsettling passages, the more we are pierced. Our only options, it seems, are to let Christ wound us until he accomplishes what he wishes, or to avoid his words and his gaze and his presence altogether by staying away from his Word. The latter option is easier in the short run. But no true disciple can really be content with it.
By now some readers are long gone and others who remain are uncomfortable. I must admit that I share your discomfort. You may even be thinking, “I’d rather not deal with these issues. I’m content doing what I’m doing.” But are you really content? Are any of us who know Christ, who have his Spirit within, really content when we haven’t fully considered his words? When we haven’t completely opened ourselves to what he has for us? Comfortable, perhaps. Complacent, certainly. But not content.
I, for one, hate to live with that nagging feeling deepinside that when Jesus called people to follow him he had more in mind than I’m experiencing. I don’t want to miss out on what he has for me. If he has really touched your life, I don’t think you do either.
For all these sobering implications, I must quickly add that for me the process of discovering God’s will about money and possessions, rather than being burdensome, has been tremendously liberating. My own growth and enlightenment in financial stewardship has closely paralleled my overall spiritual growth. In fact, it has propelled it. I have learned more about faith, trust, grace, commitment, and God’s provision in this arena than in any other.
What can you learn about finances from this passage?
How much do you put your trust in the financial institutions of the day?
In what way will all the wealth of the world be set apart for God?
God, help me to be open to hear what your Word is saying to me.
ISAIAH 30 – 31
The prophecies in Isaiah 30 – 31 deal with a crucial decision in Judah’s history. Assyria, the most formidable political and military force in the world, has set out to conquer God’s people. From a human perspective, Judah’s only military option is to send envoys with money to Egypt for help. In doing so, they would be able to secure horses and chariots, the most advanced weaponry of the day. The rub is that God has specifically warned against trusting in Egypt (see Dt 17:16).
Of course Judah’s attempt to purchase protection ultimately failed when the Babylonians conquered the nation. Probably the easiest connection to our day from this passage is to relate it to our modern trust in money instead of God. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that money is a leading contender against God for our trust. After all, material resources do have the capacity to insulate us from many dangers and difficulties. They also titillate and entice us, wooing our attention and affection. Proverbs goes so far as to liken wealth to a “fortified city” (Pr 10:15; 18:11).
When the car breaks down or the septic tank overflows, it’s easy to put our trust in our ability to pay the mechanic or the plumber. What if we lack the resources to pay — at a time when we find ourselves stranded along the roadside or living with the smell of sewage? What do we trust in then? These two chapters call us to trust in God whenever we are tempted to “go down to Egypt.” After all, “the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit” (Isa 31:3). Pastor John Timmer makes the point simply:
Terrible things can happen to you when you are a child. One evening you go to bed with all your teeth firmly in place. The next morning you wake up and discover that when you press your tongue against your front teeth, one of them moves. And you think, “Oh oh! Something is definitely wrong!” . . .
Then you go downstairs and announce at the breakfast table, “Guess what? One of my front teeth is loose. Look!” And with your tongue you wiggle your front tooth back and forth, back and forth.
Then your older brother or sister says, “Let me pull it out for you. One quick pull will do it. You’ll hardly feel it. It may bleed a little, but that’s all.”
But you say, “Don’t you dare touch my tooth!” . . .
As days go by, things aren’t getting any better. Your tooth becomes wigglier and wigglier. And the wigglier it gets, the harder it is to bite with it.
Does the Bible have anything to say about a loose tooth? Yes, it does. In Proverbs 25:19 it says that in time of trouble, you should not ask for help from someone who isn’t reliable. To ask for help from an unreliable person in time of trouble is like biting into an apple with a loose tooth.
When was the last time you were tempted to trust in something besides God?
What was the result?
How might you prepare yourself to trust God the next time?
Lord, when I’m tempted to trust in “Egypt,” remind me that you are powerful and mighty over all.
JEREMIAH 7:1 – 29
James uses verbs to define acceptable religion: God wants us to “look after orphans and widows” and keep ourselves from being “polluted by the world” (Jas 1:27). Jeremiah pinpoints two areas in which God’s people are failing (see Jer 22:15 – 17) — not surprisingly, these very two. God isn’t complaining about a lack of costly sacrifices in Jeremiah 7:1 – 29. No, the deficits are in the areas of attitude and behavior. The Judahites are failing the tests of mercy and purity.
Church father Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – 211/216) addresses both of these issues. Idolatry in his culture no longer involved the worship of hand-hewn “gods.” It was, as it is for many of us today, a matter of heart allegiance. Clement rejects the notion that wealth is inherently evil: how can we provide for the destitute if we have nothing ourselves? In fact, the loss of earthly treasure may not in and of itself eradicate the heart’s lust for more
of the same.
Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbors, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they . . . are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument . . .
For he who holds possessions, and gold, and silver, and houses, as the gifts of God; and ministers from them to the God who gives them for the salvation of men; and knows that he possesses them more for the sake of the brethren than his own; and is superior to the possession of them, not the slave of the things he possesses; and does not carry them about in his soul, nor bind and circumscribe his life within them, but is ever laboring at some good and divine work, even should he be necessarily some time or other deprived of them, is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance. This is he who is blessed by the Lord, and called poor in spirit, a [proper] heir of the kingdom of heaven . . .
But he who carries his riches in his soul, and instead of God’s Spirit bears in his heart gold or land, and is always acquiring possessions without end, and is perpetually on the outlook for more, bending downwards and fettered in the toils of the world, being earth and destined to depart to earth — whence can he be able to desire and to mind the kingdom of heaven — a man who carries not a heart, but land or metal, who must perforce be found in the midst of the objects he has chosen? For where the mind of man is, there is also his treasure. The Lord acknowledges a twofold treasure — the good: “For the good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth
good”; and the evil: for “the evil man, out of the evil treasure, brings forth evil: for out of abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
How are riches a positive thing for the Christian?
How does the Spirit give us something beyond wealth?
Where is your treasure?
Lord, fill me with your Spirit so that I may bring forth abundance for you.
JEREMIAH 17: 5 – 13
Blessing comes to us when we put our trust in God, not in people. When we choose to separate ourselves from our root source of nourishment, we become like cut flowers that only flourish in a vase for a few days. Christian financial stewardship leader Larry Burkett (1939 – 2003) reflects as follows on some of the key themes of this passage:
Trust. Are we willing to put God totally in control of our finances? . . . God gives small things at first because we are only capable of trusting Him for small things. But the more we exercise our faith, and our trust in Him grows, the more He will supply.
Honesty. Our usefulness to God is directly proportional to our honesty. We should never allow ourselves to be trapped into anything that is unethical, immoral, or dishonest, no matter how inviting it seems. According to God’s Word, honesty means telling the whole truth, regardless of how much it costs. It means revealing the whole truth, even when it isn’t necessary. There are no small lies — only lies; there are no small thefts — only thefts.
Blessings. We must believe that God wants to bless us. There are many examples of God blessing people throughout Scripture. More often than not we associate His blessings with only material things, as in the case of Abraham and David and Solomon. They were all wealthy men but, indeed, the blessings of the Lord are more than just money.
God’s blessings, other than material, might be a happy marriage, children, good relationships with family and friends, career satisfaction, specific answers to prayer, protection, healing, and the list goes on and on. Our blessings come as a result of trust and faith in Jesus Christ. Many Christians fail to experience God’s blessings because they conform to the image of the world.
Provision of God. God promises that He will bless those who obey and serve Him. He will provide for those who trust Him. Many times
we equate provision with great wealth — according to the standards of the rest of the world. But the promises of God do not include wealth. Many people in our society believe they are being deprived as a result of not owning a home. God does not promise ownership of a home to everybody.
God’s promises deal with what He says He will give us in order to accomplish His plan for our lives. The more we act as good stewards and manage God’s resources according to His direction, the more God will entrust to us. If we really trust God with everything we have, He will
satisfy all our needs as He promised.
Are there needs in your life that God has not met? Explain your answer.
How is the analogy of a tree (see Jer 17:8) an apt description of someone who is blessed?
In what ways are you blessed by your trust in God?
Thank you, Lord, for your blessings. They are great indeed!
EZEKIEL 11:16 – 25
As in Jeremiah’s account of the new covenant (see Jer 29 – 33), Ezekiel prophesies about the new heart and spirit God will instill within his people.
This promise has already become a reality for every person born of the Spirit. Evangelical theologian R. Scott Rodin describes what a person born of the Spirit looks — and is — like. The stewardship implications are readily apparent.
In the study of Christian ethics where you start determines where you will end up. For the Christian, our ethics are our responses to the command of the God who has saved us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, they are both freely given and an act of obedience to the commands of the gracious God who calls us into a new life in Christ. As response our ethics are wholly dependent upon what comes before. They are conditioned by that which calls us to response. The first critical distinction we must make in this study is that for the Christian, what motivates our response is not what but who. We are not motivated by guilt, by altruism, by seeking after a greater good, by pressure to conform to standards of acceptable behavior, nor by a set of biblical or ecclesiastical rules. Christian ethics is nothing less than the study of doxology! It is our freely given yet directly commanded act. Therefore it unfolds in our life as both our obligation and our only possibility.
The study of ethics must recognize its place in the process of the calling of the Christian and the Christian’s response. This process can be described in three acts . . . God acts in the sending of the Son to speak a word to us that we could not hear on our own. He reveals himself, his grace, his loving intent, and his righteousness to us and makes us capable by the Spirit to hear and see and understand . . .
Second, in revealing himself to us in Jesus Christ, our Creator also reveals to us who we really are. Jesus Christ ushered in a new reality called the kingdom of God and called us into it as God’s children . . . Our existence in this world is now defined in different terms. We are worshipers, disciples, neighbors. This too is determined solely by the Creator who acts, who speaks, who calls, who saves, who reveals, and who commands. And that Creator also calls us, commands us, and frees us to respond.
Only upon the foundation of these first two acts of God toward us and for us can the study of Christian ethics be built. John Calvin put it this way in speaking of true spiritual insight, “This spiritual insight consists chiefly in three things: (1) knowing God, (2) knowing his fatherly favor in our behalf, in which our salvation consists, and (3) knowing how to frame our life according to the rule of his law.” Only after understanding and acknowledging the first two acts of God can we begin to ask the questions of what “framing our life” looks like
. . . What we are to do is wholly dependent upon whom we have become. And whom we have become is seen and known and understood solely in God’s gracious actions toward us.
What does a person motivated by the Spirit look like?
What motivates you?
What are the stewardship implications for a life led by the Spirit?
God, give me an undivided
heart and a new spirit.
EZEKIEL 36 : 26
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” But God’s people had turned their hearts away from the source of life, and, as a result, they had become as hard as stone. But God promises to do “heart surgery” and give them hearts of flesh, hearts that beat with love, compassion and holiness. Through the new covenant he will send the Spirit to infuse them with new life and hope. A soft, hopeful heart is a gift, but a gift that can be squandered. Every believer has the free will to do with their heart as they please, but it should be remembered that the heart remains a fragile thing that needs constant care. Theologian Kenneth Boa reveals how keeping the heart clean and honest is a matter of reflection, openness and daily diligence before Jesus:
It is wise to form the habit of inviting God to search your heart and reveal any “offensive way” within you (Ps 139:23 – 24). Sustained attention to the heart, the wellspring of action, is essential to the formative process. By inviting Jesus to examine our intentions and priorities, we open ourselves to his good but often painful work of exposing our manipulative and self-seeking strategies, our hardness of heart (often concealed in religious activities), our competitively driven resentments, and our pride. “A humble understanding of yourself is a surer way to God than a profound searching after knowledge,” advises Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ. Self-examining prayer or journaling in the presence of God will enable us to descend below the surface of our emotions and actions and to discern sinful patterns that require repentance and renewal. Since spiritual formation is a process, it is a good practice to compare yourself now with where you have been. Are you progressing in Christlike qualities such as love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, servanthood, and hope?
The heart cannot be cared for without a regular feeding on the mainstay of its diet: Jesus, the Word become flesh, and the food that is the word of God. Psalms 119:103 notes, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” We must keep our hearts from junk food, from the old ways of thinking and from acting as unbelievers do: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to
indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Eph 4:18 – 19). Instead we are to fill our hearts with good things: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Php 4:8).
How would you define “the heart”?
How do you know if your heart is “hardening?”
What spiritual disciplines might be useful to you in examining the state of your heart?
Lord, you know how easily my heart becomes hard and inflexible. Soften my heart so that I can be receptive to you and compassionate and giving to others.
EZEKIEL 4 5 : 7 – 12
In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple there is an allotment of land adjacent to the holy district reserved for the prince. God stipulates that the prince is to maintain within his portion just balances and measures. This underscores the close relationship between holiness and right living that we see repeatedly throughout the Prophets. Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem writes as follows regarding the attitudes of our hearts as we engage in business endeavors:
The Ten Commandments end with a reminder that God is concerned not only with our actions but also with our attitudes of heart, for God says, “[You shall not covet . . . anything that belongs to your neighbor]” (Ex 20:17) . . . In every aspect of business activity, God knows our hearts, and we must glorify him by having attitudes of heart in which he delights. “[May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer]” (Ps 19:14). “[He knows the secrets of the heart]” (Ps 44:21; see also Lk 16:15; Ac 15:8).
Therefore in all our ownership of property, and in all our stewardship, if we want to glorify God in business, we should seek to avoid pride and to have hearts full of love and humility toward others and toward God. In producing goods and services for others, and in using them for our own enjoyment, we should have hearts of thanksgiving to God for his goodness in providing these things to us. If we work for someone else, we should work as if we were working “[for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward]” (Col 3:23 – 24).
And if others work for us, we need to think of them as equal in value as human beings made in the image of God, and our heart’s desire should be that the job bring them good and not harm. We should be thankful to God for money and profit, but we should never love money or profit. We are to love God and our neighbor instead.
And so all business activity tests our hearts. The good things that God gives us through business are very good, but we must always remember that God is infinitely better! . . . Are our hearts set on God above all, or on the things that God gives? Jesus said, “[Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . ]” (Mt 22:37), and “[You cannot serve both God and Money]” (Mt 6:24)
If we love God above all, as we look at all the business activities in the world around us, we will see evil mixed with good, and then our hearts should feel sorrow and grief when we see God’s commands being disobeyed and his purposes violated. But our hearts should also be filled with joy and thanksgiving and praise to him for the wonders of his creation, and for his remarkable wisdom in designing so many amazing ways in which business activity in itself is fundamentally good and brings glory to God.
What does it mean to strive to be holy in the way you live?
How do practical things like business decisions relate to holiness?
Whether you are in business or not, right living is related to holiness. What areas of your life do you need to dedicate to God?
Lord, make me holy in every area of my life.
DANIEL 9 :1 – 19
The writer sets Daniel and his humble attitude in sharp contrast to the pride and complacency of King Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Daniel so avoids pride that he repents of not only his own sin but also his people’s sin (cf. Lev 26:40 – 42). We, like Daniel, must own not just our own sinful tendencies but also the legacy of sin and destruction our predecessors have left behind. When it is in our power to do so, we are to repair the damage already done — to act responsibly, even when we aren’t responsible for the destruction. Doing so reaps the following benefits:
1. We can avoid repeating past mistakes.
2. We learn to be cautious about our own lives and actions.
3. We learn to recognize the awesome character of God, who in his sovereignty
brings judgment and by his mercy and grace offers forgiveness and restoration.
4. We discern that “God’s best” for our lives, including his best economic blessings,
is in the future, not in the past or present.
Author Beth Moore addresses this prayer passage in a Bible study on the book of Daniel. She reflects:
We are so culturally indoctrinated to be fast-paced, high-energy, hands-on kinds of people that we tend to think of prayer as a passive, nearly “do-nothing” reaction. We tend to pray when we don’t know what else to do. Beloved, nothing shakes the heavenlies like prayer. Nothing moves the heart of God more than prayer . . .
Pray when we don’t know what to do! Pray when we do! Pray, pray, pray! We don’t have to be formal. We don’t have to be long-winded. Prayer is deliberate, open communication with God. I can sit silently in an intense awareness of His presence, waiting on Him and trying to
listen and still be in a posture of prayer. I can groan and be in such pain of heart that words fail me, and God will interpret those groans as the vocabulary of prayer. We often learn the most about effective prayer . . . by listening to others pray . . .
Daniel’s search of Scripture prompted interaction. Consider the practice carefully. Scripture reading was the way Daniel allowed God to speak to him in this context, then prayer was the way Daniel spoke back. Oh, Beloved, if you haven’t already begun to exercise an interactive approach to Scripture reading, I pray you’ll start today!
When you read the Bible, the God of the universe is talking to you. So, what should you do in response? Talk back! God is looking for a two-way conversation. When we read God’s Word and pause here and there to say something to Him in response, we are participating
in a dialogue with the Divine!
How actively do you steward the responsibility — the privilege! — of prayer?
Have you “listened,” really listened, to Daniel’s words in this passage?
To what degree are you willing to accept responsibility for the corporate sins of your community, church and nation?
This week, pray! Try some of the prayer suggestions made by Moore. Or pray like Daniel on behalf of others.
HOSEA 9 :1 – 3
In Leviticus 25:23 God made himself clear — Israel’s continuing residence in the promised land would be conditional: “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” The condition for residency? Ongoing obedience (see Dt 4:1). Here Hosea states the inevitable: the Israelites have failed the test and face eviction. Following are segments from theological educators Ross and Gloria Kinsler’s discussion of Israel’s relationship with the land:
[Walter] Brueggemann states . . . , “Land is a central . . . theme of Biblical faith” . . . After liberation from Egypt, the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, and forty years of wilderness wanderings, Israel stands at the river Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land. This is one of the most critical moments in the entire history of salvation. How are the people of God to understand and fulfill their vocation in the new land?
Land as Gift . . . “The gifted land is covenanted land. It is not only nourishing space. It is also covenanted place. The Jordan is entry not into safe space but into a context of covenant” (quoted from Brueggemann).
Land as Temptation. For Israel the land is also temptation. It can be seductive. For the land may give the people
a sense of security so that they no longer remember their identity as people of Yahweh, delivered from slavery in Egypt, covenanted with the Lord who delivered them . . . “Remembering Yahweh is not simply an act of religious devotion . . . Remembering Yahweh is for Israel the source of the qualities of humanness and humaneness which are its distinctive heritage” (quoted from Brueggemann). The possibility remains that Israel might lose the land if they forget and abandon their covenant, their history, their foundation.
Land as Responsibility . . . It is precisely at the entrance to the Promised Land — likewise at the time of King Josiah’s reform and at the time of the return from exile — that they must review the Law given to them at Sinai, for it is in the Law that they can find the necessary
guidance for their life. The keeping of the Law is not simply to please the Lord or even to ensure continuing blessing and prosperity but rather to maintain their roots and identity as liberated slaves, so that all might enjoy fullness of life . . .
Land as Threat . . . Given the new security of possessing their own land, Israel might forget her real identity as a liberated people gifted with this land and fail to trust in Yahweh. Granted the possibility of organizing their society to gain power and wealth, they might abandon their covenant with Yahweh and its Sabbath obligations toward debtors, the poor, and slaves. This new power and wealth might even lead them to adopt other gods more in keeping with their aberrant life in the land and also in keeping with their pagan neighbors. Thus the people of Israel might lose their faith, their identity, their social experiment, and the land.
Why did God consider the people to be tenants?
How did the people regard their role?
How does your status as an “alien” affect your life decisions?
Lord, I’m only a stranger on this earth. Help me not only to steward my responsibilities here, but also continue to keep my eyes focused on
heaven, my real home.
HOSEA 11 : 1 – 11
The father-son analogies in this chapter are deeply moving. The portrayal of the bereaved father yearning for his troubled child calls to mind Jesus’ New Testament parable of the lost son (see Lk 15:11 – 32). In Hosea 11 God calls out to his rebellious people with all of the pathos of unconditional love. Theologian Kenneth Boa describes that unconditional Father-love:
To know God is to love him, because the more we grasp — not merely in our minds but also in our experience — who he is and what he has done for us, the more our hearts will respond in love and gratitude. “We love because he first loved us” (1Jn 4:19). When we discover that the personal Author of time, space, matter, and energy has, for some incomprehensible reason, chosen to love us to the point of infinite sacrifice, we begin to embrace the unconditional security we longed for all our lives. God’s love for us is spontaneous, free, uncaused, and undeserved; he did not set his love on us because we were loveable, beautiful, or clever, because in our sin we were unlovable, ugly, and foolish. He loved us because he chose to love us. As we expand our vision of our acceptance and security in Christ who loved us and gave himself for us, we begin to realize that God is not the enemy of our joy but the source of our joy. When we respond to this love, we become the people he has called us to be.
But Israel kept forgetting the nature of God’s Father-love. Time after time the people turned away from their Father, leaving their “home,” to hobnob with other nations, to spend the prosperity and wealth God had given them on their own pleasures, and to declare their “I can do it myself” independence. They kept forgetting that God’s laws and his discipline, like those of any good father, were for their good, and not to restrict their freedom. So it is with all of us, especially when we are positioned in God’s economy not only as children but as stewards. Dr. Boa continues:
As we grow to know and love God, we learn that we can trust his character, promises, and precepts. Whenever he asks us to avoid something, it is because he knows that it is not in our best interests. And whenever he asks us to do something, it is always because it will lead to a greater good. If we are committed to following hard after God, we must do the things he tells us to do. But the risk of
obedience is that it will often make no sense to us at the time. It is countercultural to obey the things the Holy Spirit reveals to us in the Scriptures. Radical obedience sometimes flies in the face of human logic, but in these times our loving Father tests and reveals the quality of our trust and dependence on him.
How would you describe the love of a good father?
How does God exemplify an ideal father?
What response does God’s love bring forth in you, his child?
Father God, thank you for being the best father I can imagine. I want to live like I am truly your child.
HOSEA 12 :1 – 8
Israel’s increasing prosperity leads to increasing unfaithfulness to God. Moses had warned God’s people about the spiritual dangers of amassing wealth (see Dt 8:11 – 14). Just like their ancestor Jacob, the Israelites had forgotten God. In Hosea 12:3 – 6 Israel and Judah are called to come back to God, to wrestle as Jacob had and to “return to [their] God; maintain love and justice, and wait for [their] God always” (Hos 12:6).
Then comes the indictment of the “merchant,” a wordplay on “Canaan”; the Hebrew word for merchant sounds like Canaan. The people have lied and cheated in order to become wealthy: “The merchant uses dishonest scales” (Hos 12:7). God’s abhorrence of this ethic is evident throughout Scripture (see especially Lev 19:35; Pr 11:1), particularly because it tends to harm those who can least afford it, the poor (see Am 8:5 – 6)
Then, not only do Judah and Israel cheat to become wealthy, but they boast about it. The New International Bible Commentary explains Hosea 12:8:
“Ephraim makes the dubious claim that the end justifies the means, with the tacit erroneous assumption that wealth must be the final proof of divine approval.” The people of Israel were not the last to think that their material success was proof of God’s favor. It is an attitude that survives today.
Lecturer Chris Park elaborates:
Material success is not a guarantee of righteousness. Some people argue that if material prosperity is a blessing from God, surely those who are wealthy and successful must be righteous because they have been blessed by God. But this isn’t the case. To use material prosperity as a measure of God’s faithfulness to a person or people is to misunderstand the nature of his blessing. Not all wealth or all possessions are gained by fair or righteous means. In some cases wealth might derive from oppression and exploitation, which God regards as sins. There is obviously no way that God will condone wealth won in a bank robbery, won by corruption, or won by selling the products of slave labour.
So although the Old Testament says that God gives prosperity to the righteous (for example in Psalm 37:3 – 4), it denies the opposite — that wealth and prosperity always indicate righteousness.
There are probably not many Christians who rob banks or sell slaves, but the principle is the same for padding an expense account or not giving a day’s work for a day’s pay.
Ironically, Judah and Israel did not deceive God as much as they deceived themselves. Pastor and author George Mac- Donald says, “Friends, if we be honest with ourselves, we shall be honest with each other.”
What is dangerous about amassing wealth?
Is there an area in which you feel conviction after reading this note?
How might you set up a way in which to assess your honesty on a regular basis?
Sometimes it is easy to go along with the culture and engage in “little” sins. Can you think of some you have recently participated in? Was there a time
when you cheated on your taxes, failed to pay the full amount for something in a store or gambled in a sports pool at work? An accountability partner can help you monitor your integrity in your everyday decisions. Find someone you trust and set up regular times of sharing and holding each other accountable.
JOEL 1: 1 — 2 : 17
Joel describes an epic natural — and economic — disaster. Hordes of locusts have stripped Judah’s landscape naked — from the grass of the fields to the bark of the trees. As the prophet warns, the plague of locusts foreshadows “the day of the Lord” — a time when God will work simultaneously to save and to destroy.
When we lose our jobs or the budget gets tight, we tend to move in one of two directions: closer to or farther away from God. Which way we go depends on who we are and where we stand in the first place, doesn’t it? Financial crises can be spiritual boons for the faithful. Pastor and author Jim Cymbala discusses the concept:
The idea that hardship produces benefits is difficult for us to appreciate today, surrounded as we are by a culture that shuns any kind of pain, no matter the gain. The goal of most people is ease, comfort, and self-gratification. People find it unreasonable to think that challenges and struggles might be a regular part of God’s plan for their lives . . .
Jesus told the church at Smyrna, “I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich!” (Rev 2:9). Here was a church that had no money, no nice sanctuary, no gymnasium for the youth department, no office suite for the pastors. And Jesus did not say, “What in the world is wrong with you? Where is your faith? Why aren’t you claiming your rightful blessing in this world as the ‘King’s kids’?” Instead, he saw a much different kind of abundance. He defined “rich” in ways that had nothing to do with money. He saw courage and faithfulness under persecution from a “synagogue of Satan” [Rev 2:9] as their true riches. Even more astoundingly, he went
on to say, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you [the crown of life]” [Rev 2:10].
That challenge flies in the face of those who attempt to make a long life and material blessings the signs of successful Christian living. Even these voices, however, have a hard time making a case in the current environment. Who are the richest people in the world? The list
includes plenty of those who have no time at all for God. We really don’t want to go down this path, do we? Isn’t Christianity about something more important than money, which perishes in a moment?
Never forget that God loves you more than you can imagine. Let that understanding overpower any feeling of confusion or frustration you may have during times of trial. He is building character in you, which is something far more valuable than a big paycheck or a huge house. The ordeals of this life are in fact part of his strategy for producing iron in the soul.
What calamity have you lived through?
In what ways do difficult times lead you to choices regarding your relationship with God?
How might someone be poor yet be rich at the same time?
Lord, you are my Provider and the Source of all I am, all I have and all my security. When times get tough, help me to remember to rely on you. I look to you as my Savior and my God to care for me and those I love both in difficulty and in prosperity.
God’s promise voiced here through Joel finds its fulfillment, at least in part, in the outpouring of God’s Spirit at Pentecost (see Ac 2:17 – 21). Through this one incredibly gracious gift, God has both broken the power of greed and released the power of generosity in our lives (cf. Ro 8:3 – 4). The power of the Holy Spirit is essential in every aspect as we attempt to steward God’s other gifts. There is no greater embodiment of “the gift that keeps
on giving”! But we need to allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in ways that may defy our ideas of what God has in mind for us. Theologian Kenneth Boa comments:
Even among diligent students of the Word there is a temptation to depend more on human initiative and effort than on the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. It is easy and comforting to reduce God to a set of Biblical propositions and theological inferences rather than a living person who cannot be boxed in, controlled, or manipulated by our agendas.
What is true in our individual spiritual lives is often multiplied in our churches. In the Western church the Holy Spirit is sometimes delegated to a lesser place in our theological thinking, says evangelical speaker and author Stuart Briscoe. Like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as polished and cared for as they may be, are useless without gasoline, so is the church without the Holy Spirit. Briscoe says that
so great is our commitment to the thought patterns of the modern world, that we assume every effect has a traceable, measurable, and understandable cause, that we assume that if we get the cause right or fix them when they are not right, we can guarantee the effects. So we have seven steps to this and five principles of that. We have five-year plans full of goals and measurable goals and intermediate goals, all of which we believe can be reached if we take the right steps and organize sufficient resources. Then if we can keep the program
running smoothly — presto! — the kingdom will be built. But what of the mysterious, unmanageable, uncontrollable, unpredictable, irresistible, indefinable, unmistakable work of the Spirit? He is the dynamic factor without whom our latest state-of-the-art, cutting edge technology and know-how and our most sophisticated management principles are useless to penetrate the closed minds, to
open the blind eyes, to demolish spiritual strongholds and to work the miracle of regeneration. The Holy Spirit’s dynamic working in the heart of individual believers and the soul of the community of faith must not be lost in the gloss of our sophistication and the polish of our performance. He works as he chooses, not as we plan. If we overlook this, the more likely it is that we will finish with a man-made system of canals and locks rather than a free network of brooks, streams and rivers flowing into the brimming river of the relentless life-transforming work of the Spirit of God.
In what ways is this passage a revolution to the Old Testament paradigm of God’s interaction with his people? Refer to Numbers 11:29 for Moses’ wishful cry.
How has the indwelling Holy Spirit changed your life?
Do you think of God as a person? Explain.
Lord, thank you for the gift of your Spirit.
When we think of the book of Jonah, our thoughts naturally turn to chapter 1, the action adventure that wowed us as children. But we as adult readers may be surprised by Jonah’s anger in chapter 4. Jonah seems unreasonably angry about God’s intended mercy toward the people of Nineveh; however, given the extent to which Jonah tried to flee from God’s call to minister to the Ninevites, perhaps Jonah’s anger is not all that surprising.
The NIV Study Bible, in its introduction to Nahum, has this to say about Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria:
The Assyrians were brutally cruel, their kings often being depicted as gloating over the gruesome punishments inflicted on conquered peoples. They conducted their wars with shocking ferocity, uprooted whole populations as state policy and deported them to other parts of their empire. The leaders of conquered cities were tortured and horribly mutilated before being executed. No wonder the dread of Assyria fell on all her neighbors!
About 700 b.c. King Sennacherib made Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire, and it remained the capital until it was destroyed in 612. Jonah had announced its destruction earlier (Jnh 3:4), but the people put on at least a show of repentance and the destruction was temporarily averted (see Jnh 3:10). Not long after that, however, Nineveh reverted to its extreme wickedness, cruelty and pride.
Yes, Jonah had reasons for his anger over Nineveh’s repentance. The Assyrians were a vicious group of violent conquerors. God used Assyria multiple times to punish unfaithful Israel. But ironically, in Jonah’s grief over God’s “unwarranted” mercy toward these pagans, he conveniently forgot God’s mercy toward his own people and, incredibly, toward Jonah himself in his miraculous rescue.
But what about the prophet’s anger over the loss of the plant? Angry enough to die over this inconvenience? Did Jonah have anger issues? What was Jonah’s problem?
Stewarding emotions has always been a challenge for Christians. Created in the image of God (that’s where emotions come from), we often struggle with a proper balance: not letting our emotions run away with us, while making ourselves vulnerable by letting our feelings show.
The fact is that God delights in our emotions. He deliberately created the right-brained side of each of us, female and male. And he wants us, like himself, to feel, to express . . . and, yes, at times to vent. But we as God’s stewards are still accountable for how we handle our emotions. God desires
that we as his image-bearers exercise self-control — without becoming lifeless and dull.
What do you make of Jonah’s anger in chapter 4?
Do you tend toward an extreme regarding your emotions: too unexpressive or too out of control?
How are emotions gifts of God?
Lord, help me properly express my emotions, and in so doing, help me to remember that these very emotions are what make me like you.
JOHN 13 :1 – 17
Jesus washes the disciples’ feet in order to demonstrate the humility with which his disciples are to continue as messengers of his Word and his Way. Jesus told the disciples that they must be willing to do as he had done (see Jn 13:14 – 17) and that they would be blessed as they became stewards of what he was teaching them. It was a lesson in the deep humility they would need to develop as they continued his work. It was an act that exemplified
the kingdom of God: “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:26 – 27).
Practicing servant humility is an especially important discipline for leaders, comments philosophy professor, speaker and discipleship author Dallas Willard.
To be “great” and to live as a servant is one of the most difficult of spiritual attainments. But it is also the pattern of life for which this bruised and aching world waits and without which it will never manage a decent existence. Those who would live this pattern must attain it through the discipline of service in the power of God, for that alone will train them to exercise great power without corrupting their souls.
Jesus’ example is the key to becoming a leader who is a servant first. CEO and author Bill Pollard talks about the nature of servant leadership.
Leadership is about serving; about never asking someone to do what you are not willing to do yourself; about being an example so that those who follow are enabled to do likewise; about commitment and assuming responsibility for results that will benefit those being led. [Jesus’] message was . . . about giving yourself and risking the investment of yourself in others. In washing the disciples’ feet, he reminded them that no leader is greater than the people he or she leads, and that even the humblest of tasks is worthy of a leader to do.
His example from 2000 years ago is still the example for us to follow at ServiceMaster. In so doing, we continue to ask the question and seek the answer to the following: “Will the leader please stand up?” Not the person who holds the title or the position, but the role model. Not the highest paid person in the firm, but the risk taker. Not the person with the most perks, but the servant. Not the person who promotes himself, but the promoter of others. Not the administrator, but the initiator. Not the taker, but the giver. Not the talker, but the listener.
Are you willing to fill positions of humility and servitude, particularly when nobody important is around to notice your service?
Do you truly believe that it is better to serve than to be served and better to give than to receive (see Ac 20:35)?
Jesus has promised blessing for those who serve with humility. In what way is your willingness to serve a reflection of your experience of blessing?
Lord, fill me with humility so that I may serve others.
ROMANS 10 : 5 – 13
The purpose of the Old Testament quotations that Paul uses in Romans 10:6 – 7 is to explain the nature of the righteousness that is by faith. In the Old Testament, the “word” was the Law of Moses. But Paul applies these concepts to the gospel: righteousness has been brought to sinners by a Christ that is near and available to both Jew and Gentile. English minister and Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) says:
The self-condemned sinner need not perplex himself how this righteousness may be found. When we speak of looking upon Christ, and receiving, and feeding upon him, it is not Christ in heaven, nor Christ in the deep, that we mean; but Christ in the promise, Christ offered in the word. Justification by faith in Christ is a plain doctrine. It is brought before the mind and heart of every one, thus leaving him without excuse for unbelief. If a man confessed faith in Jesus, as the Lord and Savior of lost sinners, and really believed in his heart that God had raised him from the dead, thus showing that he had accepted the atonement, he should be saved by the righteousness of Christ, imputed to him through faith. But no faith is justifying which is not powerful in sanctifying the heart and regulating all its affections by the love of Christ. We must devote and give up to God our souls and our bodies: our souls in believing with the heart, and our bodies in confessing with the mouth. The believer shall never have cause to repent his confident trust in the Lord Jesus.
People who confess Christ’s lordship confess his ownership as well. Confessing with our mouths that Jesus is “Lord” is recognition of God’s possession and power over all things. For the Romans, this confession meant recognizing Jesus as God, equal with the Father and deserving of all honor, and
perhaps just as important, his opposition to any other authorities claiming the same (such as Caesar). Social activist and author Jim Wallis points out that the early Christians were accused of “atheism” because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ rather than to the emperor, whom the Romans deified.
In the days of the early church, the Christians were often accused of being atheists. Their love for the Lord, the fervor of their worship, and their fidelity to Jesus Christ were so clear, public, and unmistakable that they were charged with being atheists in regard to the false gods that ruled the Roman world. The central affirmation of the early Christians was “Jesus is Lord.” They knew and the authorities knew what that meant. Their worship was understood politically by the authorities, and they were treated accordingly. If Jesus was Lord, then Caesar is not. If Jesus is Lord, then neither mammon nor the nation is the object of worship. If Jesus is Lord, then his disciples have no other lords. In short, worship expresses to whom we belong.
How often do you proclaim “Jesus is Lord” in words or deeds?
If living as a Christian were illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you of being a believer?
Do your stewardship habits adequately reflect Jesus’ lordship over all, or do they reflect your allegiance to something else?
Jesus, you are Lord; I am yours. I recommit myself to demonstrate in my words and my actions that you are indeed Lord of creation and Lord of my life.
2 CORINTHIANS 8 :1 – 7
What is the “grace of giving” (2Co 8:7)? Pastor and author Gene Getz points out how the Macedonians exhibited the grace of giving in a way that was spontaneous, eager and sacrificial.
Nowhere in Scripture are Christians commanded to give away what is absolutely necessary for their own existence. But the believers in Macedonia gave anyway. There was no coercion . . . They were eager to help meet other Christian’s material needs . . . But a more significant reason than human need prompted this sacrificial generosity. They gave “themselves first to the Lord” — which is the larger context in which Christians are to use their material possessions. It involves, first of all, presenting our bodies as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Ro 12:1).
Getz points out that Paul encouraged the quality of gracious giving as a sign of the believers’ maturity in the body of Christ.
When the Corinthians were converted to Christ, they were given an abundance of “grace gifts” (see 1Co 1:4 – 5,7). However, as Paul enumerated the ways in which this grace was manifested — “in faith, in speech, in knowledge” — he broadened the concept beyond spiritual gifts. He referred to complete earnestness and love (2Co 8:7), qualities that are comprehensive and reflect spiritual maturity among all members of the body of Christ. In other words, Paul wasn’t simply referring to a spiritual gift of giving bestowed on certain individuals in the Corinthian church (see also Ro 12:6 – 8). He was exhorting the members to grow in the spiritual quality all believers must develop if they’re going to remain in the will of God.
This story from stewardship theologian T. A. Kantonen (1900 – 1993) illustrates that quality, the grace of giving.
In a seminar on Christian social ethics we were discussing the use of money when Dr. Otto A. Piper, then a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, told us this incident from his post-war work of collecting funds for the relief of the needy in German universities. Dr. Piper described to a group of Princeton students the conditions of abject poverty in which German students were struggling and asked his hearers to do what they could to help. The next morning a young married couple, both graduate students, came into Dr. Piper’s office, placed three hundred dollars on his desk and said, “We heard your talk last night. We have talked it over, and this is our answer to your appeal.” He was astonished at the generosity of the gift and said, “Are you sure you can afford this much?” They replied . . . “We had saved this money to buy some things that we need . . . But . . . God has been good to us and we can get along. Those people in Germany need this money much more than we do.”
What does “the grace of giving” mean to you?
In what way is the grace of giving a spiritual quality?
When have you experienced the grace of giving?
God, you have been so good to me, and I give you thanks. Teach me how significant graceful giving can be and show me opportunities to practice it.
2 CORINTHIANS 9 : 6 – 15
What a remarkable passage on giving. Paul continues his discussion from chapter 8 by enumerating the result of generous giving. Let’s examine three phrases from this passage.
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Expository preacher Stephen F. Olford (1918 – 2004) explains that
the laws of harvest operate not only in the natural, but also in the spiritual realm. Paul illustrates this with the farmer who sows his spring crop. The farmer knows that what he has sown in the spring he will harvest in the fall; it is an unalterable law of nature that he will reap what he has sown. Moreover, the farmer understands that the proportion of his reaping will be determined by the proportion of his sowing . . . This principle is true in all areas of Christian experience, especially in the area of giving. The believer recognizes that giving is not a question of scattering, but of sowing and that — since all giving constitutes a challenge to faith — it is not a contribution, but an investment.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” Theologian Mark Allan Powell maintains that beyond giving a reasonable, proportionate pledge of support for one’s own congregation, there is even opportunity for joyful, sacrificial giving.
[These] offerings can be somewhat sporadic, spontaneous, unpredictable, and reflective of our varying levels of enthusiasm and areas of commitment. They can be spirit-led: we are free to follow our conscience and our intuition in deciding how much to give and when to give it. There is great joy in such giving, for we are not merely fulfilling a basic responsibility but, in truth, are opening our hearts to the goodness of God. It is in such giving that we become generous people. It is in such giving that we become grateful people. Indeed, it
is in such giving that we become godly people.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” Author Randy Alcorn recounts:
The more we give, the more we delight in our giving — and the more God delights in us. Our giving pleases us. But more importantly, it pleases God.
This doesn’t mean we should give only when we’re feeling cheerful. The cheerfulness often comes during and after the act of obedience, not before it. So don’t wait until you feel like giving — it could be a long wait! Just give and watch the joy follow.
God delights in our cheerfulness in giving. He wants us to find joy. He even commands us to rejoice (Php 4:4). What command could be a greater pleasure to obey than that one? But if we don’t give, we’re robbed of the source of joy God instructs us to seek!
How much are you sowing in gifts and offerings?
What blessings and joy are you experiencing as you do so?
What criteria do you use to make up your mind about how much to give? Do you let yourself be led by the Spirit in giving?
How often are you a cheerful giver?
Jesus, as you gave your life freely, I want to give sacrificially and with joy. Holy Spirit, I can’t do so without your filling and your power. I humbly ask for both.
GALATIANS 5 : 22 – 26
What does it mean to keep in step with the Spirit? Paul says those who walk in theSpirit have “crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). Such people identify and leave behind those impulses that keep them from doing the things they want to do (see Gal 5:17); instead, they do that which Jesus Christ has commanded. Keeping in step with the spirit means that one becomes sanctified, which is, according to theologian Kenneth Boa, “to be possessed by God’s Spirit, to respond to his transforming purposes in obedient faith, to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and to pursue the process of maturation in holiness in our relationships with God, his people, and the people of the world.”
The Christian who is becoming sanctified, who is keeping in step with the Spirit, will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit more and more. What does the fruit of the Spirit look like in an effective steward?
1. An effective steward will, above all, do everything out of love — love for God, love for others, love for the church, love for creation. He or she will be willing to sacrifice time, talents and money to address the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of others.
2. An effective steward will find joy and gratitude both in receiving the abundant life that Christ came to give and in being a conduit of everything he or she has received. An effective steward finds joy in knowing that life has meaning that is imbued by the risen Christ, and a sense that the kingdom is real and present in the here and now.
3. One who is keeping in step with the Spirit will be an effective steward of peace, creatively looking for ways to promote reconciliation and justice.
4. An effective steward will be patient and kind — to family, to friends, to the clerk in the store and the person on the street. An effective steward will be moved with compassion for those who need assistance and do whatever he or she can to help, while preserving the dignity and self-respect of others.
5. An effective steward will pursue goodness and excellence in everything, knowing that he or she “works as for the Lord” (see Col 3:23).
6. The effective steward expresses faithfulness to the calling of God, whether that is in ministry, in marriage, in one’s vocation or in steady support of the ministries one has committed to.
7. The effective steward exhibits gentleness in dealing with others, communicating and acting in a humble way to treat people with respect, as Jesus did.
8. The effective steward learns self-control: resisting the temptations to consume more than one needs — food, sex, alcohol; wanting more luxury, more ease, more stuff — and learning instead to let go of needing the newest, latest and greatest. The effective steward instead gets satisfaction in
loving God, in giving, in engaging in healthy relationships and in living an authentic, contented, disciplined life.
In what ways do you keep in step with the Spirit?
How might others see evidence of your walk?
In what ways do you cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in your life?
God, fill me with the Spirit and guide my steps. Help me to walk in a way that reveals Jesus Christ to the world.
PHILIPPIANS 4 :10 – 13
The apostle Paul’s contentment is legendary. This often-quoted text reflects the unquestionable trust Paul had that God was able to provide whatever he needed in any circumstance, and that it was always enough. Puritan minister and theologian Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) defines this kind of contentment.
1. Contentment is a divine thing; it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion; it is a slip taken off from the tree of life, and planted by the Spirit of God in the soul; it is a fruit that grows not in the garden of philosophy, but is of heavenly birth; it is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with godliness . . . 2. Contentment is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul. The beam has not its light from the air; the beams of comfort which a contented man has do not arise from foreign comforts, but from within . . . 3. Contentment is an habitual thing; it shines with a fixed light in the firmament of the soul. Contentment doth not appear only now and then, as some stars which are seen but seldom; it is a settled temper of the heart . . . It is not casual but constant.
Theologian Mark Allan Powell relates contentment to stewardship.
When we are faithful stewards, trusting in God to provide us with what we need, we will have better and more satisfying lives. We can go deeper and recognize that trust implies not only absence of something negative (anxiety) but also the cultivation of something positive . . . We not only trust God that we will have enough to get by; we trust God that we do have enough, already, right now. We have enough to be the people God wants us to be and to have the lives God wants us to have.
Devotional writer Donna Huisjen recounts the following story that drives home the concept of contentment in our modern world:
Last fall an advertisement appeared on a double billboard close to my home. One side pictured a young girl wrinkling her nose in protest against the cottage cheese and Jell-O “pink stuff” on her family’s overly abundant Thanksgiving table. The adjoining billboard featured a little girl walking along a windswept sidewalk, hand clasped in that of an adult. I remember precisely what was being endorsed: a local homeless shelter. The faces on both sides of the billboard were unhappy, but one was dirty and pinched rather than peeved. The girl at the Thanksgiving table suddenly came to symbolize for me the “enemy” that is too often us. She became the unwitting representative of all in our culture that is selfish, pampered, demanding and complacent. Satisfaction, the comparison reminded me, is truly relative..
How are you proactive in your trust?
What does contentment encompass? A feeling? A circumstance? An attitude?
What is at the root of contentment?
God and Father, I know that I can trust that you will supply what I need. I pray that my trust will result in true contentment.
1 THESSALONIANS 4 :1 – 8
In this passage, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to steward their bodies and those of others with holiness and honor. The passage emphasizes personal responsibility for what one does sexually with one’s body. Paul calls his readers to steward their morality. Bible scholar F. F. Bruce (1910 – 1990) expounds on this passage.
Perhaps there was no sphere of life where there was a greater divergence between Christian and pagan ethics than this. [The Thessalonians] had already received some instruction about this from Paul and his companions, and that instruction had been enforced by the personal example of the missionaries; but further insistence on sexual purity is judged advisable (possibly because Timothy’s report had indicated there was some necessity for it) . . . Only thus could they rise above the pagan standards of sexual morality which surrounded them and lead lives worthy of their Christian confession. License in this sphere of life was a breach of the law of love to one’s neighbor; and when the writers urge “[no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him]” (v. 6), they evidently envisage an offense of this kind against a female member of the household of a fellow Christian. But such license is also an offence against God, who has called his people to lives of holiness and has given them the Holy Spirit to enable them to fulfill this purpose.
Unlike some of the people of that day (and ours), who see the body and spirit as separate entities, Paul taught that sexuality is a matter of body, mind and heart. His teachings echo the teachings of Jesus. Evangelical theologian and spiritual writer in the Quaker tradition Richard J. Foster elaborates.\\
Jesus had a high view of sex. The Scribes and Pharisees taught that as long as you stayed away from adultery you were okay. But Jesus saw beyond the externalities of the law to the internal spirit in which people live. “[I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman
lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart]” (Mt 5:28). Lust produces bad sex, because it denies relationship. Lust turns the other person into an object, a thing, a nonperson. Jesus condemned lust because it cheapened sex; it made sex less that it was created to be. For Jesus, sex was too good, too high, too holy to be thrown away by cheap thoughts.
Theologian and ethicist Daniel R. Heimbach minces no words in his assessment of the rampant promiscuity that has so permeated today’s Western culture.
[Western culture is] facing a crisis as catastrophic as a thermonuclear war, and of the challenges we face, none is more consequential or demanding than the moral conflict over sex. While this conflict does not use weapons of material mass destruction, it does use massively destructive moral ideas — ideas so deadly they threaten the survival of our civilization. And yet because it concerns morality, not munitions, most evangelicals seem oblivious to how serious this crisis has become.
How does using sexuality in a wrong way hurt others (see 1Th 4:6)?
What can help you live a holy and honorable life?
In what ways are people integrated human beings: body, mind and spirit all tied together?
Lord, I want to live to please you. Help me to live a sanctified life, holy and honorable before you.
1 TIMOTHY 2 : 9 – 10
In this passage Paul addresses a tendency among some of the women in Timothy’s congregation to wear costly attire and fine jewelry. He asks that Christian women instead set themselves apart from those in society who focus too much on their appearance while neglecting to clothe themselves in “good deeds” (1Ti 2:10). How can this passage be applied today?
We (both women and men) can steward our appearance and avoid dressing in ways that proclaim our financial status or portray our pride in our looks. We can dress with modesty and moderation, being careful how we use our time and resources in matters of clothing and appearance, and being sensitive to what our clothing says to others. Business leader and author Laurie Beth Jones says,
Clichés die hard, yet when men are measured in terms of their money and women are measured in terms of their looks, we have a long way to go in creating a sense of values for our children. I find beauty pageants to be amazing cultural events. Can you imagine the message we are sending children of both sexes when we have a panel of judges rating women in various states of make-up and undress — rating them in terms of tenths of a point? . . . Men, too, must not be measured in terms of how much money they have in the bank. I get amused when magazines like Forbes quote someone’s “net worth.” Does that mean that a person worth X.X billion is worth more than a child with a quarter in his pocket? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet watch how people with money are treated compared to those who have none . . . Using money as the only “unit of measurement” seems a surefire way to decadence. Jesus said something specifically to this effect: “using money as the only unit of measurement is the root of all evil” . . . It is time for us — for all of us — to change the unit of measurement, how we measure success, how we measure progress, and how we measure ourselves. Jesus changed the unit of measurement.
Philosophy professor James S. Spiegel writes,
We who are serious about maintaining a Christian ethos can work to encourage modesty in our communities. We can personally model this virtue by the way we dress, speak, and behave, even to the point of pursuing an obviously countercultural lifestyle in each of these areas . . . Hard and fast rules in this area are, of course, hard to come by, but at least we should be thinking critically in this area, scrutinizing the choices we make about our attire and behavior. Developing critical awareness is more than half the battle in the pursuit of modesty.
Why is appearance so important to us?
In what ways is modesty countercultural?
Do you need to spend less time on your appearance (thinking about it, worrying about it, acquiring things related to it, etc.)?Why or why not?
Lord, thank you for creating me the way I am. I want to be content with how I look and pleased with your creation, but at the same time, I want to avoid pride and anxiety about my appearance. Help me to find the proper balance.
1 TIMOTHY 3 :1 – 13
In this passage Paul describes the characteristics of godly overseers and deacons. They must have lives above reproach and worth imitating, lives that show they are mature stewards of their own financial affairs and households.
Pastor Robert Simms says that leaders who want to cultivate good stewards in their flocks must be good stewards themselves: “[A Christian leader] must himself understand the concept of life stewardship and be disciplined and faithful in practicing that stewardship in his own life.” The leader must be an example in his or her attitude toward possessions and use of money.
The Christian leader ought to ask himself periodically if he has become materialistic. Christians are vulnerable to the same temptations to materialism that plague non-Christians, and church leaders are tempted to see themselves as executives and to show off their material success . . . The church leader’s lifestyle is not generally well hidden. The things he spends his money on tend to be observed carefully by his congregation. The question the church leader needs to ask himself, again periodically, is how his use of money demonstrates his claimed priority in life, which, for purposes of this discussion, is assumed to be the kingdom of God. Is it evident that he is investing in spiritual treasure?
Furthermore, leaders in the church should be good managers of their own households. Theologian and author Thomas Martin Lindsay (1843 – 1914) says of the early church communities:
The infant Christian communities were to be looked on as Households of God, and as every great household needs servants who superintend, so the Household of God needs men who have the oversight . . . We are told very little about the special duties of the presbyters or bishops, or whatever their usual name was, and find little mention of qualities fitted for special functions. What the apostle
insists on is character, and that kind of character which is shown in family relationships.
“Leadership,” says church planter Brian J. Dodd, “is about modeling life in Christ.”
God is about the business of making us more and more like Jesus. As our core character is changed more and more into the likeness of Christ, we become more effective and more fruitful in our leadership. Leadership development, then, is not about what we do or how we
do it but about how we are from the inside out. Doing flows out of being. Effective leadership flows out of transformed character. We can call this the DNA principle of leadership development. The old adage is true: Christianity is not so much taught as caught. People see
in us Christ and his kingdom — or not.
What character qualities do you look for when you think about the people you want leading in your faith community?
How do leaders in your church inspire you to new levels of faithful stewardship?
Do people see Christ in you?
God, I pray that through my character I will inspire others to be more faithful to you.
2 TIMOTHY 3 :1 – 9
Many of the characteristics of those on the wrong path involve the misuse of finances: self-love, love of money, ingratitude, lack of self-control, lack of love for what is good and love of pleasure (instead of love of God and his pleasures). The Greco-Roman culture of Paul and Timothy’s day was infected by self-love and by love of money, possessions and comfort. Some things never change. Christian ethicist David P. Gushee has this to say about
the pursuit of that which doesn’t last:
Many of the goals that people pursue as the destination of their lives are completely inadequate for the task. What a tragedy, really — to think of so many people scurrying around from day to day pursuing something that just doesn’t matter . . .
Many astute observers have noticed that as the religious and moral heritage of the West faded in the twentieth century, the worship of materialism spread. Human beings have become consumers, soulless and manipulated by market forces, spending their Sundays shopping in secular temples of commerce rather that worshiping in the sacred cathedrals left over from a more religious age.
Gushee reminds us that this kind of thinking is not new, that authors as early as Aristotle in the fourth century b.c. and Solomon in Ecclesiastes decried the folly of accumulating possessions, wealth and pleasure. Gushee says that this folly is a result of misdirected love.
If we place our fondest hopes in money and the pleasures and treasures that money can buy, our loves are misdirected. One need not embrace an ascetic ethic of simplicity to ultimately recognize the futility of such a life. “He who dies with the most toys wins” is one of the most cynical philosophies of life ever articulated — and one of the most foolish. That some people articulate such hopes, and that more live accordingly, speaks volumes concerning the true shape of human nature. It shows that we are fully capable of blinding our eyes to the highest possibilities of our nature, even though in every generation and every culture, voices of wisdom point out the folly of choosing
a lesser good when a greater one is available. However often the philosophers point out the vanity and folly of a life that seeks nothing more than physical and material pleasures, there will always be some among us who choose such a life anyway. The Christian
account of this aspect of life — and here our tradition is not unique — acknowledges the value of the treasures and pleasures that
a good God made available to human beings, as well as the basic human need for a decent minimum of material well-being. But the tradition has also been consistent in claiming that the relentless quest for more and more material and physical pleasures is a great trap and folly and falls well short of what we should hope for if we seek wholeness in life’s journey.
What goals are you pursuing?
By looking at your lifestyle, what would someone deduce is your greatest love?
How might you protect yourself from folly?
God, direct my heart to pursue you and not the temporal things in life.
TITUS 1: 1 0 — 2 : 15
As Paul writes to Titus, stationed on the island of Crete to continue the work of shepherding the believers there, Paul condemns the false teachers who are synthesizing the gospel with their own beliefs and perpetuating the resulting apostasy for personal gain. Paul encourages Titus to stand up to the “rebellious people.” Today we too need to be discerning of the many teachers, writers and media gurus who take what they want from the gospel and dilute or change it to conform to their ideas. There are those who materialize the rewards of giving. There are those who synthesize the gospel with their own brand of politics and/or civic religion. There are influences of culture and media that infiltrate the mind-set of Christians. Theologian Kenneth Boa comments on this front of spiritual warfare with the world.
The problem is that many believers in different cultures have failed to make a clean break with cultural practices that are opposed to the lordship of Christ. The lure of syncretism causes believers in some parts of the world to hold on to their pre-Christian fear and obedience to the spirits (“[those who by nature are not gods,” Gal 4:8]). In the West there is a growing movement among cultural Christians
who have a low view of biblical authority to combine the gospel with beliefs from traditional religions or spirit magic. The powerful forces of cultural relativism, pluralism, secularization, pragmatism, naturalism, pantheism, and New Age syncretism are utterly incompatible with the biblical vision of truth and life in Christ. In addition, materialism is a growing entry point of demonic influence in the West.
It requires discipline and discernment to resist the temptation to conform to what others think and do (Ro 12:1 – 2). The pervasive influence of education, media, and entertainment seduces us to trivialize and condone many cultural expressions of sin. In the past, Christians had a way of externalizing worldliness by avoiding certain places, things, and activities. More recently, the tendency
has been to go too far in the opposite direction because of a profound loss of discernment that embraces a mentality of consumerism and accumulation.
Pastor and author John Piper says that the antidote to false teaching and false values is watchfulness and diligence. He cites the parable of the ten virgins (see Mt 25:1 – 13), prompting us to remember that none of us knows the time of Christ’s coming or the hour of our own death.
The lesson Jesus draws out of the parable is: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” But all ten of the virgins were asleep, including the five wise virgins. That’s how we know that when Jesus says, “Watch!” he does not mean skipping sleep and looking out the window. He means, be watchful over your life . . . Be vigilant to do what God has called you to do.
Where do you see evidence of the gospel being diluted or changed?
What effect has your culture had upon the gospel message?
In what areas do you find you most often need to practice discernment?
Lord, keep me watchful and alert. Help me to stand fast against false teaching and instead to hold on to truth found in your Word.
2 PETER 1: 3 – 11
Peter says we must be fruitful “in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Pe 1:8). Christian ethicist David P. Gushee discusses the developmental process by which we train in righteousness and acquire moral virtues (see 1Pe 1:3 – 11).
We acquire moral virtues, rightly ordered passions, and a well-functioning conscience through human effort though such efforts are always aided by God’s grace and ultimately dependent on it. Still, we cannot slough off responsibility for our proper moral development on God. The way you become a good person is by working hard at it.
Right attitudes, dispositions, perceptions, and motives both create the conditions for making good choices and also are the fruit of good choices. There is a kind of moral feedback loop functioning here. The way you become a good person is by making good choices. This pattern of making right choices trains your will to exercise your freedom rightly over and over again . . .
The way you become a good person is by training and educating yourself in goodness. As a child, others train us. If we are fortunate, parents, teachers, and other people teach us what a good conscience, good use of passions, and good character look like. As an adult, we continue this education by our own choices — in churchgoing, selecting reading and entertainment, and so on . . .
The will and ability to persevere are central to growth in moral goodness. Perseverance involves the determination to resist temptation, the fortitude to continue despite setbacks, and the generally purifying impact of the various forms of suffering that come upon us in this life . . . The way you become a good person is by persevering in struggle and thus growing in virtue.
Spiritual progress comes through steady spiritual practices. The Christian tradition has a long history of spiritual practices that help believers grow in discipline and self-mastery. These include various forms of prayer and other practices such as meditation, fasting, pilgrimages, and silent retreats . . . Therefore, the way you become a good person is by practicing spiritual disciplines that grow your selfdiscipline. . .
Finally, it comes down to grace. The Scriptures are abundant with various ways of describing how grace actually works in our lives. The Bible says that believers are, in a way, adopted into God’s family, and so, in a sense, we get the “inheritance” of our Father’s moral goodness . . . Christ remakes the image of God in humanity so that we can become the image of Christ and thus be restored to
our original beauty and nobility . . . In short, the way you become a good person is by giving your whole self over to Jesus Christ and letting him change you.
What percentage of your spiritual growth is the result of your hard work?
What percentage is the result of God’s grace?
How might you increase the measure of good qualities in your life?
Lord, I want to be fruitful. Help me to work hard to develop the qualities that result in a productive life.
G E N E S I S 3 : 7 – 2 0...
G E N E S I S 14 :18 – 2 0...
EXODUS 2 :11 – 22...
JOSHUA 4 :1 – 24...
JOSHUA 6 :17 – 20...
RUTH 3 :1 – 13...
1 SAMUEL 18 :1 – 4...
Before dying, David instructs Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If Solomon will listen and obey, God wi...
This is an amazing story of entrepreneurship. It’s not about a savvy businesswoman taking a signific...
NEHEMIAH 2 :1 – 2...
NEHEMIAH 3 :1 – 32...
NEHEMIAH 4 :15 – 23...
JOB 1:1 – 5...
PSALMS 20 – 21...
PSALM 27:1 – 14...
PSALM 34 :1 – 22...
PSALM 49 :1 – 20...
PSALM 55 :1 – 23...
PSALM 111 :10...
PROVERBS 6 : 2 0 – 2 3...
PROVERBS 15 : 22...
Some common by-products of wealth are pride and self-reliance, attitudes that can express themselves...
Author, Christian financial planner and CEO Russ Crosson discusses the importance of inculcating “so...
PROVERBS 27 : 23 – 27...
PROVERBS 28 : 24...
PROVERBS 30 : 7 – 9...
The writer of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher, in chapter 2 describes his process of elimination to drill ...
ECCLESIASTES 9 :10 – 11...
ISAIAH 23 :1 – 18...
ISAIAH 30 – 31...
JEREMIAH 7:1 – 29...
JEREMIAH 17: 5 – 13...
EZEKIEL 11:16 – 25...
EZEKIEL 36 : 26...
EZEKIEL 4 5 : 7 – 12...
DANIEL 9 :1 – 19...
HOSEA 9 :1 – 3...
HOSEA 11 : 1 – 11...
HOSEA 12 :1 – 8...
JOEL 1: 1 — 2 : 17...
God’s promise voiced here through Joel finds its fulfillment, at least in part, in the outpouring of...
When we think of the book of Jonah, our thoughts naturally turn to chapter 1, the action adventure t...
JOHN 13 :1 – 17...
ROMANS 10 : 5 – 13...
2 CORINTHIANS 8 :1 – 7...
2 CORINTHIANS 9 : 6 – 15...
GALATIANS 5 : 22 – 26...
PHILIPPIANS 4 :10 – 13...
1 THESSALONIANS 4 :1 – 8...
1 TIMOTHY 2 : 9 – 10...
1 TIMOTHY 3 :1 – 13...
2 TIMOTHY 3 :1 – 9...
TITUS 1: 1 0 — 2 : 15...
2 PETER 1: 3 – 11...
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