Category Archives: Abundant Life
If you’ve ever been to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, you know that the parking lot is massive, covering acres and acres of land. It’s obviously necessary for the volume of visitors to the Happiest Place on Earth.
But imagine you purchase your tickets and when you arrive at the parking lot you just stay there, sitting in your car. As you sit there, you see a few excited people going in and a few happy people coming out, but you observe that most of the other cars in the parking lot are filled with people, sitting there just like you, watching and doing nothing.
That would be ridiculous, of course. No one would pay the $100-plus per ticket for Magic Kingdom to simply sit in the parking lot instead of going inside to take part in all the joyful activities. Surely at some point, while sitting in the parking lot, you’d think, “This can’t be all there is to Disney World. There’s got to be something more, much more.”
Silly as the illustration sounds, I find a correlation between this scenario and what I see happening in many of today’s churches in America.
No, people aren’t literally staying the church parking lot. But they seem to, figuratively, remain parked in the pews. Sitting there they watch a few people go into God’s Kingdom, but never actually enter themselves and thus miss out of all the joyful times that could be theirs. And all the while they’re sitting there, they’re thinking, “This can’t be all there is to the Christian life. There’s got to be something more, much more.”
Unfortunately, when the number of people attending is the sign of a successful church, rather than their spiritual growth, some people get the false idea that attending church equals salvation.
For far too many of them, the problem is that they’ve never actually bought a “ticket.” Unfortunately, when the number of people attending is the sign of a successful church, rather than their spiritual growth, some people get the false idea that attending church equals salvation.
In at least some of those churches, the conversion experience consists of silently following along to a salvation prayer said by the pastor. Often there’s minimal follow up of those who raised their hands in acknowledgement of having prayed the prayer.
It’s like receiving a facsimile of a Disney World ticket and thinking it’s the real thing.
That not only cheapens the death of Christ, it also can lead to the false impression that that’s all there is to living the Christian life. Say a prayer, go to church once in a while, and life goes on just as it had been. There is never a sincere commitment to follow Jesus and enter into the sanctification process.
Sadly, these people will be among those that will hear these words from Jesus: “Go away from me, I never knew you.”
Still others waiting in the “parking lot” actually made a sincere commitment to Christ and are trying to live out that life as best they can. But they’re under the mistaken impression that their “ticket” only gets them into the parking lot. They’re to attend church regularly and give their tithe, but enjoying the Kingdom is for the chosen few, the missionaries and pastors who are really committed to Christ’s work.
The problem for these churches and their members is focus. As long as the main focus is on the size of the congregation and the amenities of the church building, real spiritual growth will be hard to achieve.
Think of it this way: If Disney World only advertised the importance of buying a ticket, and talked about the space and convenience of the parking lot, but rarely mentioned the joy that can be found inside the Magic Kingdom, how would they do? Probably not well. They might have people buying tickets and sitting in the parking lot, thinking that’s all there is to the experience.
Yes, it’s important to buy a ticket and it’s important to have a place to park, but no one would ever say that’s the goal of people going to Disney World. Those things are important only so they can cross into the Kingdom to experience the joy that they’ve heard so much about.
Churches, likewise, need to focus more on advertising the joy of the Kingdom of God, of what happens on the other side of the church service.
Jesus never asked anyone to pray a prayer of salvation, he asked people to follow him.
That starts with looking for people who truly commit to following Christ, who understand the exorbitant price he paid for the grace they received. Jesus never asked anyone to pray a prayer of salvation, he asked people to follow him. He didn’t shy away from talking about the commitment it would take – “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Jesus made it clear that actions are more important than words. In Matthew 21, he tells a story about a man who asked his two sons to work in the vineyard. The first refused but then later changed his mind and did it. The other son said he would go, but didn’t. The one who did the will of the father was the one who acted on it, despite his words, while the one who said the right words was disobedient for not acting.
Likewise, acting on the commitment to follow Christ is more important than the words of a prayer.
And then churches must also place their emphasis on living a Kingdom lifestyle, not on the size of the congregation. Jesus didn’t promise an easy life of following him – in fact, he promised quite the opposite – but he promised an abundant, victorious life that has more value than any treasure on earth.
People won’t know how to live in the Kingdom without an emphasis on spiritual teaching, of reading the Word and digging into it, of understanding the Holy Spirit’s power and the comfort and power He provides those who follow Jesus.
People must understand that following Jesus means actually following Jesus. They need to know that Jesus is the first and foremost priority, not just a form of a holy spare tire in case the going gets rough. And they need to understand that there is an assurance of an eternal life in glory for those who truly follow him.
Disney promotes the Magic Kingdom, not the parking lot, as the Happiest Place on Earth. But those who truly follow Christ and live through his spirit know that the Most Joyful Place on Earth is living in God’s Kingdom.
A few years ago I made the big decision to step away from a full-time job, where I was making more money than I ever had in my life, to pursue what God was calling me to – to “equip the saints” through my talent of writing and my spiritual gift of teaching.
Other than my wife’s job, I had no fall back plan because I was expecting God to reward my obedience.
Wait a minute, you might say, that sounds selfish. Was I really doing something for God with the expectation of a reward from Him? That doesn’t sound humble at all. It sounds as if I think I’m somehow so special that God will decide to reward me. Because when we do something for God we should do so only based on the gratitude of our heart without any expectations at all, right?
How can I say that? Because I’m only repeating what God Himself said through Jesus and the writers of the Bible. Consider Hebrews 11:6: Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. (Italics mine)
God Himself makes many promises of a reward when we follow and obey Him.
In fact, the Bible states many times that God rewards the righteous. God Himself makes many promises of a reward when we follow and obey Him. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said we shouldn’t worry about seeking our own provision. Instead, in Matt. 6:33, he said, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing and other things we need] will be provided for you.”
That is a reward God promises when we seek Him above all else.
The Old Testament writers frequently wrote about how God will reward people for their righteousness. And sometimes God Himself is the reward, as in this promise in Jeremiah 29:12-13: You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
Now, there is a difference between doing something simply to receive the reward and doing something out of gratitude and expecting the reward. Our obedience to God should always flow from our gratitude for His salvation and as a reciprocation of His great love for us. But then we can, and should, expect God to reward us – not because we’re so special but because God promised that He will.
It’s not faith to look at a promise God made of reward and then not expect Him to fulfill it.
It may seem pious to give to God without expectation of reward – but that’s not faith. It’s not faith to look at a promise God made of reward and then not expect Him to fulfill it. That’s actually the opposite of faith.
No, we show our faith in God when we obey and then expect Him to come through on the promise He made. Just like people should expect us to live up to our promises, we should also expect God to do as He said He would.
As I wrote in my previous blog, it is important that we do things in the right order. The reward comes as a result of our obedience; our obedience doesn’t follow after we get the reward.
This is not one of those health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it ideas that some preachers proclaim. Yes, sometimes God does reward with material blessings, such as money and possessions. Often, though, it is a peace that surpasses understanding, even in the midst of our struggles.
And we have to keep in mind that the reward may not be given in this earthly life. For example, in Matt. 5:11-12, Jesus speaks of a promised eternal reward.
“You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven.”
In the two years since I have stepped away from my job to pursue what God has called me to, He has fulfilled His promise to provide. He has provided a part-time job that brings in about a third of what I’d made working full time. You would expect, then, that our personal finances have taken a big hit. Amazingly, though, we still have plenty to eat – so much so, in fact, that weight gain is our biggest struggle. Despite the reduced income, we’ve been able to pay down debt significantly so that now our money goes further than before. And we’re still giving our full tenth, plus some.
Doing what God has called us to do is obedience; expecting Him to fulfill His promises is faith.
When my wife and I decided to purchase life insurance policies, we filled out the basic paperwork and had some bloodwork done to prove that we didn’t already have one foot in the grave. After a few days of waiting, we were approved to have insurance policies.
Since then, we’ve given it little thought: The policies renew automatically and the premiums are deducted electronically from our bank account. We know we’re covered if we die and nothing else is required of us.
Unfortunately, many Christians live this way in regard to their salvation. They made a salvation commitment to God. Now, they’re covered when they die and nothing else is required of them.
Except God does require more from them – much more. He expects them to do the work he created them for.
Oh no, you might protest, grace is free. We don’t have to earn it. Works are dead. And you’d be absolutely right. There is indeed absolutely nothing we can do to earn salvation. The grace that saves us is only a free gift from God. Eph. 2:8-9 makes this very clear: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.” (HCSB)
But the discourse about this salvation doesn’t end at verse 9. We also have to read verse 10.
“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (HCSB)
Salvation isn’t only to keep us out of the flames of hell.
God has extended His grace to us for more than just after-life insurance. Salvation isn’t only to keep us out of the flames of hell. God’s grace is for a purpose, and that is for us to do good works. As Paul says, God prepared these good works ahead of time for us. We have been saved for a purpose.
The good works, then, aren’t to achieve salvation, but come as a result of salvation. And they aren’t our works – God prepared them for us, so we are only fulfilling the works He wants us to accomplish.
The “grace is free, works are dead” mantra of the past several decades has had the unfortunate effect of allowing many Christians to lead uneventful, unfulfilling Christian lives. They aren’t lazy, and they aren’t intentionally disobeying God’s word. They’ve just been allowed to live under the false assumption that salvation is basically in the same category as my life insurance policy – it renews automatically and the premiums are withdrawn in the form of church attendance. Nothing else is required.
The good news is that God has created so much more for the Christian life and desires so much more from us. The works he has created for us aren’t contained in a do’s and don’ts rulebook and aren’t grim tasks that can only be accomplished through gritted teeth. Instead, since he created you specifically for the works, you will be uniquely equipped to not only accomplish those works, but to do so with a joyful heart.
The vital thing is that it’s the work God created for you.
This doesn’t mean you’ll land your dream job, or that the work will be something grandiose. In fact, it may be something small and almost unnoticeable. It’s not the type of work or the size of that’s important; the vital thing is that it’s the work God created for you.
It’s also not work to be undertaken grudgingly, with an “I guess if I have to” attitude. Remember, when you were dating and fell in love, how you did the things your loved one liked – even if it inconvenienced you – with an attitude of joy because of your love for them? That’s the attitude we approach our appointed work – with an attitude of pure joy and pure love for God.
One of the great benefits of our salvation is that we have a fantastic after-life insurance policy with an eternal renewal. But it is also a great benefit that our eternal life doesn’t start when we die – it begins at the moment of salvation and allows us to do great things for God.
Photo By Visitor7, wikimedia.
You’ve heard the old saying that less is more. Sometimes that applies to God’s provision for us as well.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus acknowledged our physical needs as humans for food, clothing and shelter with the promise that God will provide those things when we seek Him above all else.
“But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Matt. 6:33 (HCSB)
Mostly, I’ve taken this to mean that sometimes I’ll have some unexpected extra money, or a bonus in the paycheck, something extra somewhere to take care of unexpected expenses. And that is often the case. But, as I’ve come to discover, sometimes God provides by taking away costs.
My wife and I recently moved to a new home and, if you’ve ever moved, you know that involves myriad unexpected costs that can crimp the budget. The move also put some extra grime on our vehicles. So when I pulled into a car wash that had just opened, I planned on the cheapest wash available.
But even before I could debate how much to spend on the wash, the attendant informed me that the company was offering free $20 washes that day as a promotion. Well, count me in on that. I called my wife, who was planning to wash her car, so she could get in on the promotional freebie.
Then later that night, we saved another $20 because one store accepted a competitor’s coupon. So in one eight-hour period, we managed to save $60! That was a much-welcome savings for our move-challenged budget.
After a while I realized that this was part of God’s provision for us. If someone had handed me three twenties, or my wife or I had received an unexpected $60 bonus, I would have immediately thought of it as God’s provision because, like most Christians, I consider God’s provision to be when He gives us more.
But sometimes God provides by giving us less – or in the case of the car washes, nothing. And sometimes that’s better than receiving the money because it removes the temptation to spend it on things we don’t need.
“When you thank God for all the things you have, remember to thank Him for all the things you don’t have that you don’t want.”
The whole less-is-more concept reminds me of the words I received many years ago from a wise older woman at my church (she was in her 90s then and lived to age 100), who dispensed wisdom in Yoda-like fashion. She told me, “When you thank God for all the things you have, remember to thank Him for all the things you don’t have that you don’t want.”
It took a few moments for that to soak in but then I got it – by the things we don’t have that we don’t want she meant diseases, accidents, pain, heartache, sorrow, hunger and all the other things we don’t want in our lives.
I know I’m guilty far too often for thanking God for His provision when He gives me stuff I need or want but forgetting to thank Him for the stuff I don’t have – I don’t suffer from hunger, I don’t have any major illnesses, I don’t have kids in jail, I don’t have any addictions and, thanks to God’s provision, I don’t have a dirty car.
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways. So while my imagination is limited to solving issues with more, sometimes God provides by giving less – which results in more.
What is the most important Christian holiday? Based on the amount of time and money spent on it, you would think the answer is Christmas. But according the Bible, it’s Easter.
While the Christmas story is mentioned briefly in two Gospels, the resurrection is referenced dozens of times, in all four Gospels and in most the epistles. Paul makes it the central theme of his writings. He insists that if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17).
Even Good Friday, which celebrates the death of Jesus on the cross, is meaningless without the resurrection.
Why should the resurrection mean so much to Christians? Here are a few reasons.
It validates everything Jesus said and did. The son of God came to earth to show us how to live a completely new life. But if he had simply taught a new moral code and then died he would have been no better than any other religious leader. It was only by his rising from the dead – conquering death – that everything he said and did took on significance. Otherwise, as Paul says, we have no foundation for our faith.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14, HCSB)
Through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
It gives us new life. When we commit to following Jesus, he doesn’t just make our lives better. We die to the old life we had and through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” (1 Peter 1:3, HCSB)
It sealed God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to all humanity. Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came only to a few people who God selected. But the plan all along had been to send him to all people. The resurrection made it possible to fulfill that plan. Jesus revealed this at the Last Supper.
“’Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.’” (John 16:17, HCSB)
It gives us eternal life. Jesus’ death on the cross meant the punishment for our sins had been fulfilled. His resurrection meant that he had conquered death, and through him, believers have also been granted freedom from eternal death. While our mortal bodies will die, our souls will live on in eternity in God’s presence.
In John 14:19, Jesus himself proclaimed this. “’In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too.’”
Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal.
It is our source of power. The Christian life should be lived with great power through God (2 Tim. 1:7). Paul speaks repeatedly of the power of the Gospel, and the point of the Gospel is Jesus’ resurrection. It is by God’s power that Jesus lives. Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal, as it was Paul’s.
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection….” (Phil. 3:10, HCSB)
It is our source of joy. The resurrection is a historical fact; nothing can take that away. When we find our joy in that fact, we will always be able to experience joy, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. That is how Jesus approached the cross because he knew what was to come afterward.
“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Heb. 12:1-2, HCSB)
This past Saturday, groups of young people gathered in various cities around the country for the March for Our Lives movement, a protest against gun violence. This follows a Women’s March, Antifa protests against the election of President Trump and Black Lives Matter marches.
It can be easy, as Christians, to either deem these activities as irrelevant to our lives or to respond in a sort of “Get off my lawn, punks” attitude. After all, most of the people in these marches are young, often pampered and usually fed an unrealistic view of the world by the media, Hollywood and our education system.
But underlying all of these protests is a hunger for relevance. These people want lives that matter, that are relevant, that are bigger than themselves. None of those protests and marches will give them that. They’re would-be Indiana Joneses who find that the treasure they’re seeking has already been moved or didn’t shine nearly as brightly as they thought it would.
But as Christians, we have the relevance – the actual treasure – they’re seeking. Or at least we should.
So the question is, are we as Christians living lives that are relevant?
Jesus said in John 10:10 that he came so we could have an abundant life. Or, as The Message translation puts it, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
So the question is, are we as Christians living lives that are relevant? By that, I don’t mean whether our pastor wears skinny jeans and spikes his hair, or whether we have a dynamic children’s ministry. I don’t mean whether we know the difference between Instagram and Snapchat. By relevant I mean, are we living lives that are bigger than ourselves, lives that matter? Are we displaying our treasure so that those seeking it will come to us to find it?
Too often, it seems, that as Christians we try to tell the world, “See, you can be a Christian and still have everything the world has, just without as many four-letter words.” But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when he talked of an abundant life. His emphasis was, “See, you can have much more than what the world offers.”
Well, sure, we’ll have more when we get to heaven. But the New Testament writers say that our “more” will be now, here on earth; that living lives that are different will result in great joy that we can’t know as part of the world.
Not only that but living lives that are different will get noticed by those around us. Sure, some of that will result in persecution, which Jesus predicted, but we should rejoice in that (Matt. 5:11-12). Others, though, will be attracted to us when we live the way Jesus intended.
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet. 2:12, HCSB)
People want to know that there is hope that their lives will make a difference.
When people are seeking relevance, as so many young people are today, whether your praise band has a smoke machine or you know how to use hashtags matters far less – far, far less – than the message you present with both your words and your deeds. People want to know that there is hope that their lives will make a difference. And nothing can make a bigger difference than being a follower of Christ.
But that requires those of us who are already Christ followers to step up our game, to make sure that we offer them the relevance they desire. That doesn’t mean being thoroughly modern but to be solidly based in the past, like these words Peter wrote almost 2,000 years ago:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet. 3:15, HCSB)
Revering Christ as Lord – making him your reason for living, your treasure – gives us far more power and makes us much more relevant than any marches or protests ever will. In the end, it is the only thing that will ever make a difference in this world.
As I mentioned in a previous post, lately, I’ve recently seen a number of memes along these variations: “Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic” or “Jesus spoke more about money than (three or four subjects) combined.”
The implication is that if Jesus thought money was important enough to devote so much of his time to, then it’s important to us and we are justified in thinking about it.
His parables, though, aren’t about money; he just uses money sometimes as an illustration of a heavenly concept. Read my previous blog here.
Jesus does, however, speak pretty plainly about money – it’s just not anything we really want to hear, because he doesn’t often speak of it favorable terms.
When actually speaking about money, and not using it as an illustration to make a point about a different issue, here are the things Jesus had to say: the poor will be blessed, but woe to the rich; don’t take any money or provisions on a mission trip; give away everything you have so you can follow him; that only through God’s miraculous intervention can the rich enter heaven; and don’t worry about money, because it is God’s job to provide for your needs. Then he also went on a rampage in the temple against those who were selling animals there, including dumping the money all over the ground.
Did he speak positively about money? Sort of. He defended the woman of ill repute who anointed him with expensive perfume; he praised Zacchaeus when he decided to give half his wealth to the poor and repay those he’d cheated, with interest; and he honored the faith of the poor widow who gave the only two small coins she had to the temple treasury. He also approved the paying of both the temple tax and the government’s taxes.
Then there was his enigmatic story in Luke 16 about the shrewd money manager, where Jesus appears to be telling people to use money to win friends and influence people (16:9). In context, though, he probably meant something a bit different, since he designates worldly wealth as unrighteous and the Pharisees, who loved money, sneered at his teaching (16:14). I believe he is illustrating the importance of the true riches of heaven as opposed to the money the world reveres, and that we can’t misuse something of the world and expect to then be trusted with the real riches of the kingdom.
“You cannot serve both God and money.”
The bottom line for Jesus, though, can be found in Luke 16:13 and in Matthew 6:24, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. He says quite clearly that we have a choice to make when it comes to our wealth: “You cannot serve both God and money.”
The word translated as money is the Greek word mamona (translated in the KJV as Mammon). But more than money, it can mean wealth or assets. It has a sense of being an animate object, of being almost godlike. You could call it Mr. Money.
Mr. Money is a nice-looking guy, with a $200 haircut, Armani suits and Italian loafers. He has promised to care for your needs, to give you all the happiness and comfort you desire. He even gives you some nice bonuses, like the occasional filet mignon dinner and a cruise to the Bahamas. However, he is a demanding taskmaster, requiring your exclusive services or you don’t get the things you desire. He has no patience for you having outside interests, like God.
Before long, you find yourself in the exact situation Jesus described – choosing which master to serve.
Does God ask you to be more involved in church? Mr. Money says, no, you need to work overtime or you won’t be able to take that Disney World vacation. Does God want you to help someone in need? Mr. Money says, no, you won’t be able to make the monthly payments on your 4,000-square-foot house, that shiny new car and the jet skis. Has God asked you to take a stand on an issue? No, Mr. Money says, that could cause you to lose your job and then you’ll have to take your kids out of the private Christian school.
Before long, you find yourself in the exact situation Jesus described – choosing which master to serve.
You think, I could still give time and money to the church and have money for myself, right? It just wouldn’t be as much money and as much time for God, but still, it’s better than nothing.
No, it isn’t. Because Jesus calls us to give all our allegiance to the Father, and partial isn’t all. We really do have to choose between God and Mr. Money, two beings who require our full devotion. We can’t split it.
Jesus has little to say about earning money. In fact, he says virtually nothing about having a job or making a good income, and storing up treasure for the future, like retirement, is viewed as foolish (Luke 12:13-34). He does, however, talk about the importance of relying on God for our needs and storing up treasure in heaven, the kind of treasure that is gathered while following Jesus rather than anything monetary.
And, for the record, I don’t believe that Jesus spoke more about money than anything else.
I don’t believe that Jesus thinks earning money is wrong, or that he doesn’t want us to have jobs. And I do believe God does reward some Christians with wealth, knowing that they will use it for the greater good of the kingdom rather than greedily for themselves. The bottom line always is, where is our allegiance? With God, or with Mr. Money?
And, for the record, I don’t believe that Jesus spoke more about money than anything else. Without quantifying it numerically, I would guess that the majority of his teaching revolved around the theme of what is inside a person – the heart – matters more than outward appearances. He also spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and the radical lifestyle it requires. And he spent a good bit of his time talking about faith – praising those who exhibit it and criticizing those who don’t.
Money was a frequent subject, but more often than not, he spoke of the benefits of ridding ourselves of its influence, and never about making or having more of it.
Instead, Jesus commands us to be fully devoted to serving God and God will take care of providing for whatever physical needs we have. Mr. Money can take a hike.
Money – getting more, investing it for later, giving it away and, of course, spending it – is top of mind for most Americans. We work 40-plus hours a week, 80-plus if both spouses are employed, to move one step ahead of where we are and one step closer to where we believe we ought to be.
So it’s no surprise that Christians turn to the Bible for advice on money. And that’s also why, lately, I’ve seen a number of memes along these variations: “Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic” or “Jesus spoke more about money than (three or four subjects) combined.”
The implication is that if Jesus thought money was important enough to devote so much of his time to, then it’s important to us and we are justified in thinking about it.
I did a little research, something you should always do when faced with these “facts” (and I hope you don’t believe that everything contained in a meme is a fact). First, I looked to see what research people on the internet had already done. I found a wide range of thoughts.
Jesus did indeed use money and financial situations in his parables, but his parables were always about something heavenly.
One commentator on the internet averred that 16 of Jesus’ 38 parables were about how to handle money; another assured us that 11 of the 39 parables Jesus tells are about money. It was interesting that there wasn’t even an agreement on the number of parables, let alone how many dealt with money.
So then I turned to the actual words of Jesus. And here’s how many parables I found dealt with the wise use of money – zero.
Wait, you may say, you know at least one of them was, the one about the wise stewards. And what about the woman sweeping her floor looking for a lost coin?
Jesus did indeed use money and financial situations in his parables, but his parables were always about something heavenly – the kingdom of God, the end times, God’s celebration of the lost being found or right living. He used farming, shepherding, harvesting, weddings and other every day earthly situations, including finances, to illustrate those heavenly concepts.
Jesus is not talking about an investment strategy to beef up your portfolio.
Let’s take the story of the wise stewards, for example, most famously seen in Matt. 25:14-30 (also in Luke 19). I have heard Christian money managers and investors use this story to illustrate that Jesus, indeed, is a proponent of the stock market, at least of mutual funds. I have nothing against Christian investing or money managers, but context is very important here to understand that Jesus is not talking about an investment strategy to beef up your portfolio.
In chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew, Jesus is talking about the end times, including some of the signs to watch for when the time is growing near. Then he uses a couple of parables to illustrate the importance of being ready when the he returns.
He starts with a homeowner who was not watchful and let a thief break into his home, then a slave who was put in charge of other slaves and treated them cruelly, followed by a story about 10 virgins who went to wait for the groom, but only half of them were smart enough to take enough oil to keep their lamps lit the entire night. After that comes the parable of the wise stewards, which is followed by an illustration of separating sheep from goats.
In that context, the parable of the stewards is simply about being wise about your time on earth so that you are ready when the Lord returns. If you use the parable of the stewards to say Jesus is teaching about the wise investment of money, then you’d have to say the other parables are teaching about the need for adequate home security, good leadership, astute wedding planning and building separate pens for animals.
No, all of them, including the parable of the stewards, are about being prepared for the second coming of Christ.
I’ve written before about the principle of interpreting a Bible passage by the context it appears in, and in the larger context of the entire Bible itself. If not, we can end up with some faulty theology. The parable of the stewards – and Jesus’ view of money in general – can lead to some skewed viewpoints if not seen within the context of the whole Bible.
Read further about Jesus’ view on money here.
In case you missed it, this past Saturday (Sept. 23) the world was supposed to come to a screeching halt. A biblical numerologist (how do you get a job like that?) had figured it out, based on passages in Luke and various numerology codes.
Since I’m writing this the following Thursday, he was obviously wrong. Just as the hundreds of people before him were when they picked a date for the end of the world.
Even though they may not have a specific date in mind, many people today see the signs of the end times in the world events around them – wars and rumors of war, hurricanes, celestial events, the increasing decadence of the human race. Just as people did 100 years ago, and 200 years ago and 500 years ago and especially at the end of 999 A.D. when many people quit working and sold property for the expected return of Christ on Jan. 1, 1000.
Even the apostles, in their various letters, alluded to the end times being near. Yet here we still are.
One thing I know for sure – eventually someone will be right. The world will come to an end at some point.
I rarely think about the end times, primarily because I have no control over the end of the world, nor do I expect God to consult me on what might be a good time for it. However, the prediction from this past week, some comments my pastor made during a conversation and reading Jesus’ words about the end times in Matthew 24 and 25 during my daily Bible reading caused me to think about it more than normal.
All of us will face an end time, when death claims us and our life on earth ends.
So here’s what I predict: Since I am almost 59, I predict the end times to happen within 40 years or so. If you’re 40, I predict the end times within 60 years, and if you’re 20, I’d say the end will come in about 80 years.
Because let’s face it, whether Christ returns in all his glory tomorrow or a thousand years from now, all of us will face an end time, when death claims us and our life on earth ends.
In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus’ message is that we need to be prepared for the end because we don’t know when it’s going to happen. We don’t know when our end will come, either. But we need to be prepared for the end, whether it’s the cataclysmic last gasp for everyone, or simply our own dying breath.
Every day people all across our country die suddenly in car accidents, of heart attacks and strokes, are murdered or expire in some other tragic fashion. Obviously, they didn’t know their end was coming any more than we know when Christ will return. But even people who are terminally ill don’t know the exact day or hour their body will cease to function.
So we need to be prepared at all times, so that when we meet Christ face to face he can say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
People speak about the end times darkly, because of the promised hardships and pain. But Jesus promised an abundant life, which began on earth the moment we received God’s grace and started following him and continues throughout eternity. We can live life full of joy here knowing that whenever the end times come we will receive an abundance of riches through Christ in the heavenly places.
In the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an albatross (a large sea bird) leads a ship to safety. But soon after their rescue, the main character, the mariner, shoots the albatross, and the ship is again in peril.
To punish the mariner for his churlish action, the ship’s crew forces him to wear the dead albatross around his neck. As he watches the crew succumb to death, the albatross serves as a constant reminder that he is to blame. Today we use the term, “wearing an albatross around one’s neck” to signify a psychological burden, often brought on by one’s own foolish or careless action.
Unfortunately, many Christians today live as if they are that ancient mariner, wearing their guilt around their necks like a big dead bird. I became aware of that recently when, within a span of a few days, I had a friend tell me he still dealt with guilt about things he’d done more than two decades before; another friend confided that she still felt shame for actions committed years before; and another person talked about the anguish he felt daily about the sins he’d committed.
Understand, these are all devout Christians who have been walking with the Lord for decades, who have confessed these sins repeatedly, yet they still function as if they are bound and condemned for them.
I have a feeling these are not isolated cases. But by worrying about, thinking about and feeling guilt and shame about our past sins, we are seriously impairing our ability to live the abundant life Jesus promised.
I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame?
It’s not that I don’t understand where my friends are coming from: I have plenty of sinful behavior in my past and I regret having caused God the pain of my actions. I still suffer from some of the consequences of those actions.
But I no longer feel guilt or shame for them. I choose instead to believe the truth of the words in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame? And it’s not just the Romans passage that gives me that confidence.
- Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18)
- God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)
- Jesus set us free to have freedom (Gal. 5:1)
- God sweeps away our sins and remembers them no more (Isa. 43:25)
- God has taken our blood red sins and washed them white as snow (Isa. 1:18)
- The Lord will never charge us with our sins (Rom. 4:8)
- Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice once for all sins (Heb. 7:27)
There are a number of other scriptures in the same vein – that once we are in Christ Jesus, once we are following him as our Lord – all of our sins have not only been forgiven, they have been removed completely from our account. We are free and we are washed clean.
But, you may argue, you don’t know what I’ve done in my past. No, I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. Really.
What matters as a Christian is not what you have done but what Christ has done for you. No evil of your past can compare with the abundant life of your present or the glory of your future.
If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The difference is where you choose to turn your eyes and ears. Will you keep looking behind you at how you have failed, or will you focus on Christ and how he has overcome? Will you look at your weakness, or his power? Will you accept the lies of the enemy, or listen to the voice of the Great Shepherd calling you to the truth?
As a follower of Christ you no longer have to be captive to shame and guilt for your past actions. All you have to do is accept the truth that you are free and no longer under condemnation. If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The ancient mariner could never get over the guilt of killing that albatross, forced to wander the earth to tell his tale of woe. But as a Christian, your guilt has been removed. Christ died for that guilt so that you, unlike the ancient mariner, can live a life of victory.
Gary Kauffman is Bible teacher, Christian life coach and freelance writer/photographer living in North Augusta, South Carolina.