The Use Or Misuse Of Money

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” – 1 Timothy 6.6-10.

Most people refrain from talking about money. Most people don’t want to think about how they spend their money. We just acquire it and it seems to spend itself. We don’t tend to think much about money itself but rather what money can get for us. Or where money can take us. Money is not bad, it is a tool; a tool that can be used or misused. The Bible says more about the impact of money, greed, and our resources on people than He did about heaven and hell. 

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13.5) Matthew 6:19-20 adds, “ Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”

There is a pretty well known story in Luke 12 about a rich fool. The rich fool had it made. His life was one great success story. The things he had dreamed about for a lifetime were about to happen. After working hard all his life, he had reached the point where he could take life easy. One more bumper crop, one more expansion of his business, and he was ready to retire and enjoy the rewards of a lifelong effort to make the grade.

And who could blame him? When you’ve worked hard all your life and you have managed to build up your investment portfolio, when you have faithfully added to your 401K and have done well in your career or business, you feel you have earned the right to say, “It is time to take it easy.” You feel you have laid up plenty of good things for many years. What could be wrong with that? In the parable of the rich fool, the Lord answers that question. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some of the fruits of our labors. But the rich fool had missed the point of his life: he had not been rich toward God.

As we near the end of another year, we need to ask not only whether our investments did well in 2020. The critical question to ask is “Have we been rich toward God?” Have we have been generous toward those who need to see God’s love through our support and care.

We want our money to reveal our love for God, His kingdom, His priorities and His people. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are your actions backing up your talking when it comes to practicing good stewardship of the money entrusted to us?
  2. What changes do you need to make to be better stewards of your money? 

Faithful In Small Things. Faithful In Big Things.

 “One day Jesse said to David, “Take this basket of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread, and carry them quickly to your brothers. 18 And give these ten cuts of cheese to their captain. See how your brothers are getting along, and bring back a report on how they are doing.”-  I Samuel 17:17-18.

Most people know the story of David and Goliath. But the back story is not near as exciting. Family patriarch Jesse was interested in how the war was going with the Philistines, so he asked David to go and see how his brothers were doing. Remember this happens right after David was told he would be king in 1 Samuel 16. And now the future king was asked to take grain and cheese to his brothers. The one who was going to be king was turned into a glorified messenger boy.  

David was probably not very pleased but he did what his father told him to do. He dutifully delivers the grain and cheese at the very place where he would face Goliath and where his actions would put him in the spotlight and make him a national hero. We remember the epic battle with Goliath, but we also need to remember that if David had refused to carry food to his brothers, had David felt this task to be beneath him, had David asserted some authority and refused to serve his father and brothers in this manner, he never would’ve had the opportunity to face Goliath. It was his faithfulness in the small things that led him to his moment of greatness.

David killed the giant. It was a big, miraculous, God-intervening-and-guiding-the-next-events moment. But we need to remember, David served as a shepherd, spending hours watching and tending to sheep. In those long, boring, mundane days, he practiced using a rod to defend those sheep against predators. He became deadly accurate with the slingshot. In essence, God prepared David in the mundane, seemingly small task of shepherding for this great moment in his life. David’s faithfulness in the little things, in doing what God called him to in his younger years is what gave David the necessary skills for this later task. 

When you have big dreams, small things can sometimes be frustrating. It is easy to get impatient and want to move onto bigger and better things. Zechariah 4:10 tells us, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…”  It’s progress that pleases Him. There are many important lessons to be learned before heading to bigger and better things. Faithfully adhering to those seemingly lesser duties and small things lay the groundwork for the later, bigger moments. Showing up, working hard, learning from mistakes, and a willingness to do whatever it takes provides the needed skills to later have the spotlight moments. This principle can be applied in many ways, for instance in marriage, or parents working with children or bosses with employees, or generally in relationships. Or starting small in tithing or being generous. To get to where we want to be, we need to be responsible for the small things and then move onto larger things once we prove ourselves trustworthy. 

Like David in the field or carrying bread and cheese to his brothers, faithfulness in the little tasks is what leads us to serve well on the larger stages of life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there big power in doing small things well?
  2. Do you believe that doing the small things well will make a big difference? 
  3. In what area this week do we need to start small, but start?  

Managing Money Wisely

“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23 NIV) 

In his day, John D. Rockefeller was one of the richest men in the world. His net worth was equivalent to $340 billion today. Basically, he had a limitless supply of money. Once, an interviewer asked him, “How much money is enough?” Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more!” As outrageous and greedy as that sounds, we have all probably voiced that same sentiment.  “If only I had just a little bit more….” But managing money has less to do with how much we have, and a lot more to do with how we manage what we have.  

Managing money is a spiritual issue. Jesus spoke more about money than He did about any other topic? Money mattered to Jesus, because it is a leading indicator of our relationship with Jesus. So how do we manage our money as God intended. It is simpler than most people think. As in all things Jesus serves as an example.  

Jesus lived a life of single kindness and simplicity because of a heart that was anchored completely in God the Father. He declared in John 4:34: “…My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.”  Psalm 27:4 says, “The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,  delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” We  need the same singular focus on seeking God first in everything, including managing our money.  

In 2020, our lives have become more fractured and fragmented. Our decisions change constantly because the information we use to make those decisions change constantly. We need simplicity. We must realize that money cannot give us security, freedom, status and power. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any. Managing your money spiritually is more about mastering your money rather than not having any. In other words, the answer is not to reject wealth but to control its use. If we can control our money, then it will not control us.  

A case in point is found in Exodus 12:35–36: When the Israelites left Egypt, they took with them gold and silver. At Mount Sinai, this was used to erect the golden calf that brought down the curse of God. However, later, the same gold and silver was used to build the Tabernacle that brought down the manifested presence of God. The problem was not the gold and silver, it was how they used it. 

Everything we have comes from God. He owns it, and He entrusts it to us to use for His purposes. True financial success comes not from accumulating a large surplus in our bank account, but from following God’s plan for our finances. As we do this, He will provide for all of our needs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How well do you think you manage your money? 
  2. How well do you think God thinks you manage your money? 
  3. What do you need to do differently to have the same answer to both questions?

The Wonder Of The Incarnation

“The Son of God became man to enable men to become the sons of God.” — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity“

It is 56 days until Christmas. But regardless of what the calendar says, there is something about the beauty and mystery of Christmas that is inspiring. The word incarnation captures so much of what Christmas means to Christians around the world. It is easy sometimes to rush over the story of Christmas and move quickly on to Easter. Every believer can appreciate the importance of Easter to the gospel message, but we should never move too quickly past the incarnation. How can we not pause for a moment and try to grasp the concept of the Creator becoming part of His creation? God entering the world, not as a conquering hero, but as an infant child totally dependent on a young mother for everything.

The idea of the incarnation is both so amazingly unexpected and yet so beautifully loving. Here is God, willing to fully experience His own creation in the most intimate of ways. He had equality with God: He was infinitely superior to us, but He came down, walked among us, and treated us as more significant than Himself. Then He taught us to do the same with one another: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) 

The baby born at Bethlehem was God made man. The Word had become flesh: a real human baby. He had not ceased to be God. He who made man was now learning what it felt like to be man.  The mystery of the Incarnation is unfathomable. We cannot explain it; we can only appreciate it. God coming to Earth to be with us. 

Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Can you conceive the increasing wonder of the heavenly hosts when the great deed was actually done, when they saw His priceless tiara taken off, when they watched Him unbind His girdle of stars, and cast away His sandals of gold? Can you conceive what must have been the astonishment of the angels when He said to them, ‘I do not disdain the womb of the virgin; I am going down to earth to become a man’? Can you picture them as they declared that they would follow Him? They followed Him as near as He would permit them; and when they came to earth, they began to sing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men… in the dilapidated stable where the oxen stood, and in the manger where they fed, there the Savior lies, swathed in the swaddling bands of the children of poverty. Nor doth He rest long there; on a sudden, His mother must carry Him to Egypt; He must go there, and become a stranger in a strange land. When He came back and grew up at Nazareth, the angels must have marveled to see Him that made the worlds handle the hammer and the nails, assisting His reputed father in the trade of a carpenter.” 

The incarnation tells so much about God’s desire to be close to us, and His sacrifice of love. But it still fills one with wonder.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you think of the incarnation?  
  2. How should Christ’s coming in the flesh and dwelling among men change the way we live?    

Master And Commander

“When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army. At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.” – Joshua 5:13-15.

The Joshua 5 passage above describes one of many critical moments for the Israelites who had just entered into the promised land. It outlines a meeting just outside Jericho between their leader, Joshua, and a mysterious stranger. There is no doubt that Joshua was a natural and godly leader. After Moses’ death, he led the Israelites. He brought them to the edge of the rain-swollen Jordan River, and with a mixture of courage and trust ordered the people to move forward. God dried up that flooded river and they crossed over on the dry ground.  

Unquestionably Joshua was a leader. The people knew it. Joshua knew it. But Joshua was about to learn a powerful lesson about who the real commander of the army was. He’d gone out alone to scout out the challenge of conquering the great walled city of Jericho. I have to wonder if Joshua was thinking, at least to himself, “how can our army overcome these massive defenses?”  At that moment Joshua rounds a bend, and right in front of him is a fierce warrior with his sword already drawn. Joshua could instantly have drawn his own sword, but he asks the warrior “Are you friend or foe?” In other words, whose side is he on.

The answer was one Joshua could never have expected. “Neither one,” he replied, “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” (v. 14).  Who was this? Was this God? Or Christ? Or an angel? Scholars have suggested all of these. Certainly, Joshua knew God was speaking to him. He was in God’s presence, and the commander of God’s army was before him. For Joshua, there was only one thing to do – he fell face down on the ground in reverence.

God stood right before Joshua. He was there – right there. This was not a voice from the clouds. He was standing with sword drawn. This was God the warrior, ready to fight. That encounter told Joshua the battle ahead was God’s, and would be won in God’s way and God’s strength.

Joshua could never have won against Jericho on his own – it would have been disaster if he’d tried – but he surrendered to the commander of the Lord’s army, and what followed was an amazing victory.

There are battles none of us can win, and our greatest need is to bow humbly before God, surrender our will to His, and accept Him as our Commander. To let go control and trust Him is never easy. But it’s also the most important thing we may ever do.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it was like to be in God’s presence?   
  2. What can we do this week to make God the Commander of our lives? 

Doing What’s Right And Good

Let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” – Galatians 6:9 (TLB).

Are you a person who toes the line between right and wrong? Are you a person who doesn’t believe that the warm fuzzies we gain from doing what is right don’t compensate for what we’re sacrificing? Because sometimes doing what is right is putting up with other people’s angry outbursts. Or offering a gentle answer to a belligerent teenager. Or continuing to tithe at church when that money is needed in other places. Or listening to someone tell you about their troubles when you would rather indulge yourself with a Netflix marathon.

It is so easy to get tired of doing what is right. Doing right doesn’t seem to give you any perks when many people take the easy way out, cheat, lie, etc. and always get what they want. The biggest problem in society is not that some do wrong, but that those who know how to do good do not do it. There is a confrontation every day, between evil and good, a battle to be fought and the word says doing good is how we triumph over evil.

In times like these we need to remember who we are doing good for.  When we do the right thing, we please God. We may not reap immediate benefits from doing the right thing, but eventually we will get the absolute best reward of all, spending eternity with our Lord and Savior. The bottom line is you can’t go wrong doing the right thing.

The major theme of Galatians is that we are saved by faith, and not by works. Yet what I do as a believer is important. True salvation is not just accepting Jesus into my heart with an eye toward heaven in the future. It is an ongoing relationship with Jesus as my Lord. And that is what is reflected in this closing instruction in Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. “Let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” (Galatians 6:9 (TLB)

So what does it mean to do good?  Doing good is not the same thing as doing no harm. Doing no harm is a passive activity. But doing good is active. It is something that takes effort on our part. Something that is directed toward other people. Doing good means that when I see an opportunity to help another person, I take it. It may be something simple and with little cost. Or it may be more costly and time-consuming. Doing good simply means that I do what I can to help others. That is especially true within the church body. We should actively look for ways to do good; to be helpful to our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Don’t think what you’re doing doesn’t matter. Don’t give up on doing the right thing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where does doing good fit in your life? Can you plan for it daily? 
  2. What do you do when you grow tired of doing what is right?  

Make Plans Without God

Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass —Psalm 37:5

It is hard to imagine a company or church being successful without planning and goal setting. Conversely, it is easy to imagine a company or church succeeding if they just plan well enough or persist long enough. While planning helps and is necessary, it is not enough. 

Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” Ultimately, we cannot do anything of lasting value unless God blesses our work. The Apostle Paul reminds the believers at Corinth: “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

This verses does not diminish the work of Paul or of Apollos. Both men possessed incredible faith and courage. They remained committed. They endured setbacks without losing heart. But, they knew it was fruitful because God “made it grow.

A farmer understands this metaphor all too well. A farmer can till and fertilize the soil, plant the seed, chase off  any animal which is trying to eat the seed, and irrigate or water the fields. But he can’t make it rain. Nor can he stop storms. The bottom line, the farmer, whether he acknowledges it or not, is dependent on God for a successful harvest.

Do you often wonder why your plans don’t work out? You’ve done your best, you thought of everything, you’ve laid it all out and somehow it didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? I’ll tell you one reason it doesn’t work in many cases. It doesn’t work because you leave God out. You plan according to your knowledge and your understanding, and your resources and what you want to accomplish in life, where you want to go but you leave God out of the planning. We need God to be a vital, living factor in our lives. The only thing that will secure an insecure future is to bring God into our plans. 

 It is crucial to develop the habit of inviting God into all of our plans from day one, whenever they may be. First of all, to allow Him to confirm if the plans are actually coming from Him, and second so that we can receive His wisdom, advice, and help. The Bible says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3, NIV)

We don’t know what tomorrow holds. To plan, is just to guess. To do as He says today takes away the guess work away. Whatever your plan or dream is, consult God first and foremost.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where does planning fit in your life? Do you plan daily for activities? 
  2. How does God fit into that decision making process? 

Facing An Uncertain Future

 “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.   

There have been many times throughout history where people would pause, look around and honestly admit they faced an uncertain future. Today is no different. It would be difficult in today’s culture to be a person who thrives on being in control. 

It can be scary not knowing what’s going to happen. We experience fear and anxiety. Yet, we also have dreams and aspirations. We can’t simply hide away and try to live our lives with as little risk as possible. Being risk averse means we lose the fullness of life. 

Instead, God calls us to live with courage, gratitude, and joy, trusting and listening for God’s guidance and resting in God’s unfailing love. Change and danger are constants in life. If we are going to live our lives as fully as God intends, we have to open ourselves to all of the challenges, risk, danger, occasional boredom, disappointment, as well as love, peace, and joy that we are likely to encounter. God sees all the possible outcomes from a very complicated and messy set of circumstances and will guide us to the best possible outcome when we trust God completely.  

In Matthew 6, Jesus is reminding His followers that they don’t need to worry or stress about the future, their security, or anything else. He uses imagery and parables, turning His followers’ attention to the birds, noting: “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (v. 26) Jesus goes on to say that God already knows what we need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (v.34)

When you read those verses, you realize that we have a God who meets our needs. But we must stop thinking of God as a backstop in case our efforts to control our life and circumstances amidst a pandemic fail. Whenever we get caught up in worry over the future, we need to remember that God will take care of us. It requires a decision to trust Him and not to jump in before we have a resolution from God.   

 We are all facing an uncertain future. If you are worried or stressed about that future, don’t panic. It’s amazing how the heart changes, learns, and grows from these times. It’s not always easy but trusting God is the solution for an uncertain future.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you fear and how does it affect the way you live? Does it lead to anger, worry, or anxiety?
  2. What can we do this week to trust God in an uncertain future

Lessons Learned From COVID-19

 “While God, for the most part, allows this cosmos [creation] to work according to the laws of nature, there is never a time when He is not actively involved in every detail of life.” – Charles Swindoll. 

It’s October 2020. We have been fighting the COVID-19 virus for 8 months. We have done everything possible to stall the spread of this very aggressive virus. It made us panic. It disrupted our lives. And it has forced us to pause, re-calibrate, and remember God’s faithfulness amidst worry, fear, doubt, skepticism, frustration, isolation, and uncertainty. The worst of the coronavirus virus will eventually pass and we will begin to resume more normal routines.

For many of us, we have learned some of the things that seemed “small” were actually incredibly important “big” things in life. It’s easy to go through life and not take a moment to focus on the little blessings we all have. So when this is all over, what lessons did we learn, and what are some things that you will never again take for granted? Maybe it was hugging your grandparents, seeing the latest movie, going to a concert, dinner dates, or having the family over for dinner. There are thousands of things that could be listed, but I would like to talk about three. 

First, we started focusing on things that truly matter. Our social isolation has forced us to take a break… a “time-out” to rest and reset some priorities… in our lives… our homes… and in our hearts. We paused and took inventory and really evaluated what it is we spend our time doing, our money investing in, and our efforts pursuing. 

Second, we have learned that time has one direction and that direction is forward. Without sounding like Captain Obvious, you can’t get anything back from yesterday.  During the pandemic we learned to appreciate today while you have it. The pandemic taught us a great deal about time. We tended to think through what it is that’s lasting and eternal… and put all our efforts to invest in what matters most. Maybe it’s slowing down to connect with that particularly difficult child. Maybe it’s pursuing a meaningful, or possibly overdue, conversation with your spouse.  Maybe it’s asking a neighbor if you can serve them in some way or carving out the time to just get to know them. Maybe it’s finally addressing that wedge that’s grown between you and another.  Maybe it’s being present in lives of others instead of rushing past.

Third, church worship service and other gatherings are one of the most undervalued and under-appreciated events in our culture. This is the first time in many of our lives that we have not been able to “be” at and with the church every week. It was unnatural and debilitating. It was frustrating. There is something powerful and unique when the church gathers.  To be in-person to sing, hear God’s word, and take communion is an abiding place for the Spirit. During the time we could not meet as a body, we learned how important it is to do life together with other believers on a regular basis. I don’t think we fully appreciate how much we benefitted from being in church every week until it was missing. In the same vein, we took for granted the opportunity to meet in small groups each week.    

Discussion Questions:

  1. What lessons did you learn from COVID-19?
  2. How can these lessons bring us closer to God?

Life In The Margins

“Later in the day, just after the Sabbath ended at sunset, the people kept bringing to Jesus all who were sick and tormented by demons, until the whole village was crowded around the house. Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew who he really was.”– Mark 1:32-34.  

Margin is the breathing room we build or at least try to build in our lives. It is the space between what we take on and the limit of what we can take on. Specifically, margin is the space to regroup, to get your mind in the right spot, to daydream, the time to pick up a good book or to take your kids on a bike ride.  It’s a deliberate time creating more balance and deeper engagement in everyday life. 

In some ways the pandemic has created some margin but in other ways it has increased anxiety, frustration, impatience, irritability and this quiet sense of desperation. We can learn a lesson about margin from Jesus during and after the pandemic ends.   

Mark 132-34 says in part, “people kept bringing to Jesus all who were sick and tormented by demons, until the whole village was crowded around the house. Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.” Ever had a whole town gathered at your door wanting something from you?  Jesus did. Think about that scene for a few moments.  Jesus went to the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. He has healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a critical fever. At sundown, the Sabbath ended, and they began to bring from the surrounding region all these sick and demon-possessed people for Jesus to heal. Mark tells us “the whole city was gathered together about the door”: the lame, the demon-possessed  and those with “various diseases.” (v. 34)  It was a busy, full evening Jesus spent in Capernaum. 

Jesus had a full day. Mark records that early in the morning, before it was daylight, Jesus went out on the mountainside and there, alone by himself, he prayed. “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” (Mark 1:36)

The first thing Jesus does the next day is to go off to a solitary place to pray–to create margin.  Jesus models for us how to stay spiritually fresh. It doesn’t happen by chance. Jesus did it by taking the initiative to connect with the heart of the Father through prayer on a regular basis. Imagine what your life would be like if you set aside time every day, creating margin by keeping first things first. That’s the type of life Jesus modeled and calls us to emulate. 

During the pandemic and after we need margin in our lives. When you’re not hurrying and worrying all the time, you have time to think. Time to relax. Time to enjoy life. Time to be still and know that God is God. “Be still, and know that I am God!…” (Psalm 46:10)

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, do you have more or less margin during the pandemic? 
  2. What can we do this week to ensure we have margin in our lives during and after the pandemic?