Be Like This Crook. Well, Sort of…

This week’s reading comes from Luke 15-16. This article will focus on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. In the first fifteen verses of Luke 16 we read about a very backwards and messed up situation.

First, a manager has been embezzling, or at the very least wasting the resources he has been entrusted to manage. His master wants him to give a report of his accounts after he fires him. (16:2)  Knowing he has lost his job, the manager wants to gain favor with people who owe his master money in hopes that he will find a job with them when the dust settles. (16:4) The manager decides to greatly reduce the debt (most likely rent for producing crops on the master’s land) that is owed. In doing this he has gained favor with potential employers, but also reduced his masters income! (16:5-7).

Now after hearing that passage one would assume to hear the master berate the manager and cast him out of the kingdom. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the master commends the manager! (16:8)

Now surely Jesus would tell us that as followers of him we should never act this way. But he doesn’t! Instead he wants his followers to take on at least one characteristic of this crooked manager. In total, Jesus gives us at least four lessons from this passage.

First, we are reminded to be shrewd. Just as the manager saw an opportunity and took it, we as followers of Christ should also take advantage of opportunities we have. (16:8) We often pay more attention to things that don’t matter than we do sharing the Gospel. I like how William Barclay summarized this: “If only people would give as much attention to the things which concern their souls as they do to the things which concern their business, they would be much better human beings. Over and over again people will expend twenty times the amount of time and money and effort on pleasure, on hobbies, gardening or sport as they do on their church. Our Christianity will begin to be real and effective only when we spend as much time and effort on it as we do on our worldly activities.” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke)

Second, we are taught that we should not hoard wealth, but use it to bless others. (16:9) Helping others, or blessing their lives will bless our friendships and store up eternal rewards.

Third, we must must have integrity. We must be honest at all times, even in the little things. Trustworthiness and integrity not only affect our earthly dealings, but can harm or enhance our witness for Christ. If we are dishonest, who will ever trust what we say about Jesus? (16:11)

And finally, we cannot serve two masters. Focusing on earthly wealth will lead us down the same path as the manger; we will wind up serving our own appetite and fail to serve the master who truly provides. (16:13)

As you go through the rest of your week ask yourself the following question:

Is what I’m doing right now honoring God and building his Kingdom, or am I serving myself and building my kingdom?  

Knowing the difference helps us see our lives as God does. (16:15)

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Not Fit for the Manure Pile

This week’s reading comes from Luke 13 & 14. Here we will focus on Jesus teaching about the high cost of being his disciple in Luke 14:25-35.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26

How many people want to use this as the motto their outreach program? Nobody would ever try to recruit followers by saying something so shocking, especially when you consider the great emphasis this culture placed on family!

Jesus makes it clear that in comparison to our love and complete commitment to him, everything else in this life should look like we hate it. Please don’t try to make Jesus say something he doesn’t here. He’s not telling you to abandon your children and spouse as he speaks on that elsewhere (Lk. 18, Lk. 16).

What Jesus is saying is that nothing should be a greater priority in our lives than our complete commitment to following and seeking to be just like him. Nothing! I’ve heard Christians say things like, “My family is everything to me. I’d do anything for them.” I’m glad they have a strong commitment to their family, which seems to be so lacking in our society. But will that same person step up and lead their family in following Christ above anything else rather than always do whatever the family wants?

I heard someone say long ago that Satan’s most effective tool in the world today is to get us so busy and so focused on good things that we don’t have time for God. I think that person is exactly right. Jesus said nothing comes before our commitment to him. Not family vacations, not rest and relaxation, not travel sports, not family. Nothing.

Jesus uses the image of a king calculating whether he can win a battle against a much larger army. If the king can’t do that, he will negotiate a peace deal before entering into battle. He will count the cost and not proceed if he doesn’t think he can accomplish his goal safely.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” – Luke 14:33

Do we really have that level of commitment to Christ? I would say the vast majority of Christians do not. Most struggle to even give him one hour of their week! That is nowhere near what Jesus is calling his followers to give. Jesus wants everything! He wants all of you, and wants nothing else to even compete for his attention!

What happens if we don’t? We will be judged not fit for service and thrown out. (Lk. 14:34-35)

It’s that serious. So, what do you need to remove from your life so you can better follow Christ?

Jesus and his Countercultural Truth

The reading for this week is Luke 11:37 through the end of chapter 12. In this passage we have Jesus issuing a warning to not be afraid and to follow him at all costs, to trust God and not worry, to be ready for his return, a realization that following Jesus will strain some relationships, and how to make right choices. In this article I want to focus on the warnings Jesus gives to the Pharisees and experts in the law in Luke 11:37-54.

Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner, something that would have been considered an honor for this man to host such a famous teacher as Jesus. But because Jesus didn’t follow the cultural norm of ceremonial washing before the meal, the Pharisees were shocked. Jesus used this as a jumping off point for addressing  some other cultural practices that went against his teaching.

I would encourage you before you finish this article to stop now and read this passage in Luke in its entirety and underline or highlight the reasons behind the “woe”, the correction Jesus suggests, and the consequences of their sinful actions as told by Jesus. It’s interesting to see the issues at play here. I now want to look at a few of these and comment.

The first correction Jesus brings to the Pharisees is to be generous to the poor (v. 41). It’s very clear what Jesus is calling his followers to do, yet for some reason many struggle to be generous toward those who struggle financially. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for compromise here. They also didn’t pursue justice or a love of God, but rather focused on the external actions (v. 42).

The Pharisees were also prideful, wanting the best seats and greetings (praises) from others (v. 43). It’s clear that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t seek things things, but rather pursue humility. Jesus indicates their actions, policies, and beliefs make unsuspecting people unclean just like unmarked graves (vs. 44). Pharisees held rules and regulations that went far beyond what the Torah required. A person who simply followed the Scriptures to the best of their ability would likely be guilty of the Pharisees’ rules. It seems the Torah experts were also loading down believers with these rules without providing any guidance (v. 46).

From history we know that in 1st century Jerusalem many monuments and tombs honoring long deceased prophets were being constructed at a rapid pace. It seems they were trying to profit off of this endeavor, or at least receive honor for doing this. In doing so, Jesus indicates they are as guilty as those who killed the prophets because they approve of these actions (v. 48) Jesus further indicates that the generation he was speaking to would be held responsible for the deaths of all the prophets , likely because they were about to put Jesus to death, the Messiah that all other prophets pointed toward (v.50-51).

The one that haunts me most is verse 52. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” – Luke 11:52

Have we ever been guilty of “hindering those who were entering” into the knowledge of God? I pray we never burden those seeking God with endless rules and regulations that Jesus never called us to. That’s exactly what the Pharisees and experts in the law had done. Jesus clearly condemned such actions, as should we. May we never ignore Scripture for it is the true and living Word of God. But we should never make it difficult for those who are turning to God by burdening them with things that Scripture doesn’t teach (Acts 15:10,19).