Friday, September 22, 2017

Parable: The Obedient Servant

Duty, Honor, Country…

Honor, Courage, Commitment…

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my Country…

These words sound familiar to many.  Some will know these as well.

I am an American fighting man.  I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life.  I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

I will never surrender of my own free will.  If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.

If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available...

Winter is coming.  Wait, that doesn’t go there.

I have been to many places and experienced many cultures in this world, but the biggest culture shock I ever had was in the summer of 1999 when I left the Marine Corps and returned to the world.

For over 2 decades:

I was used to people doing what they said they would do.

I was used to people doing things because that’s what they were supposed to do.

Tired was a footnote to the day’s history, not an excuse for not getting things done.

You did what you were supposed to do and you did not expect accolades for doing your duty.  You didn’t expect anything extra.

It’s been nice over the past decade or so that people will say things like, “Thank you for your service;” however, I don’t know anyone that I served with who did it for a thank you, but it’s a nice compliment nonetheless.

I had grown accustomed to a culture where you did the things you were supposed to do and you didn’t expect anything extra for it.  Sometimes, you got an extra three bucks a day if you did those things where somebody was shooting at you.

How hard can this parable be?  You do what you are supposed to do because you are supposed to do it.  This sounds like a virtue is its own reward sort of teaching. You don’t go looking for something extra for doing the very thing that you should have done in the first place.

C’mon Jesus, did you have to put this in a parable.  A simple, JUST DO IT tee shirt would have been enough.

OK, it’s time for a little context.

Jesus had been teaching the crowds and his disciples.  The Pharisees were always nearby but were not seeking confrontation at this juncture.  Jesus taught about how much he valued the little children and about forgiving those who seek forgiveness time and time again.

Sometimes, you might have to rebuke your brother in Christ for sinning against you, but if he or she responded seeking forgiveness; there was no decision to make.

You forgive.

Jesus gave his followers a simplified decision matrix.  If those who sinned against you ask for your forgiveness, you give it to them.

That’s not always as easy as it sounds here.  Sometimes, people abuse that sort of latitude.  That’s just tough stuff.

But we could do this, if we just had a little more faith.  Jesus, increase our faith.  Just give us some more faith and then maybe we can do the tough stuff.

If Jesus would just give us more faith, then we might be able to do the hard things.  But Jesus said that if we had only an itsy-bitsy bit of faith, we could do incredible things.

If we just had the faith of a mustard seed—such a small seed—we could rearrange this planet.  I’ve got a hedge on the north side of my house that has grown to the point that it is closer to the house than I would like it.  I need to redo the outside of my house there.  It would be a lot of work to dig it up and move it.  I would really like to tell that hedge to pick itself up and move ten feet to the north or even just move over to the east side of my house where it won’t make much difference.

The disciples are asking for more faith.  That means that they had some.  They just wanted more.  Increase our faith.

Then Jesus launched into this parable about a servant doing what was expected of him.  When he came in from his day’s work, his master didn’t say, “Don’t worry about me.  I’ll throw something in the microwave,”

The master tells his servants, “I’m hungry.  Get out of those field clothes and put on your kitchen attire and serve me my dinner.”  There’s nothing wrong with a please and a thank you.  This is not a parable prohibiting politeness, but the servant is expected to do what servants do and to do it without thinking he is owed anything extra.

In fact, the servant’s mindset should be, I just did what I was supposed to do and I should be glad that I got to do it.  I am blessed to have a master and a job and a place in this world.

The servant does not even consider asking his master for the evening off or something extra.  He does what he knows to do.  He does his duty and expects nothing extra.

The disciples wanted some extra faith, but didn’t understand that first they must do what they know to do.  They first must put the commands of their Master into practice.  They first must put the faith that they have into practice.

It’s first things first.  There is a proper order to things.

Today’s world doesn’t get this and doesn’t want to get this.  It’s a foreign mindset.  People want what they want and they want it now.  The words earn, save, patience, progress, promotion and others that might have been common in my formative years are inconvenient and take too long for the present generation.

I went to the Air Force Base in Altus to get some things for the funeral and to get a prescription filled at the base pharmacy.  The man in front of me looked to be a few years older than men.  The airman told him that he would have his prescription ready in ten minutes.

The man walked away complaining about waiting ten minutes.  He was muttering that he thought he was through standing in line as he sat down in a comfortable chair and pouted.

Ten minutes?  When did immediate gratification take over my generation?  Maybe this parable is given in response to the request of the disciples who wanted Jesus to increase their faith.  What if the increase in faith comes by doing that which we already know to do?

This is not a standalone parable as far as your relationship with God goes. 

Yes, we are his servants, but we are also his friends.  We are witnesses for him.  We are his commissioned.  We are God’s children.  We are brothers and sisters with Christ.  Our relationship with almighty God is multifaceted.

But we need to learn this lesson about faith in our role as a servant.  We have each been given a measure of faith, but what will we do with it?

Are we looking for a mountain to move or a tree to uproot or are we doing the things that we know to do?  Will we look to Jesus to give us more faith or will we take what we have and put it to work?

Will we grow our faith in our role as a servant of God?  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  What will we do with our faith?  This is not rocket science.  It is doing what we know to do.  Such as:

Believe—With your heart, soul, mind, and everything that makes you who you are, believe that God loves you and that his great love sent his Son into the world to die and take away our sins.  Believe that God raised him from the dead.  Believe that God’s own Spirit lives within us.  That sounds familiar.

Tithe—Give ten percent to God before everything else.  Tithe means tenth.  Put him first in this.  This is perhaps the biggest truth-teller as to whether or not we are a friend of God or of the world.  Remember that Jesus said if we put God and his kingdom first that he will gives us all those things that the ungodly world seeks after—has made into their gods.  That sounds familiar too.

Pray—Daily with much time given to listening to what God has to say.  Are we interested in what God has to say to us or do we just want our requests filled?  Is God our vending machine or our friend?  Again, this is sounding all too familiar.

Read—God’s holy word is alive and active.  If you want God to be first in your life, put reading his word ahead of the newspaper or email or Facebook or whatever television series has you hooked.  Wait a minute!  These are the same things we talked about in determining if we were a friend of God or a friend of the world.  Hey preacher!  You can’t double dip like that.

Give—Give beyond the tithe of you time, talents, and treasure.  It is all from God but will you use it exclusively to satisfy your personal desires or will you take that which has been given to you as a blessing and be a blessing to others.

Serve—In these parts we call this God’s love in action.  Do something for someone because you love God.  You may not like the person whom you help but you love God and will consummate his command to love one another.

Just hold your holy horses there, preacher!  Last week you said that these were good truth tellers as to whether we were a friend of God or a friend of the world.  Now, these are used to grow our faith.  Which is it, truth teller or faith builder?


Do the things that we know to do and do them every day.  We are not called to transplant trees or move mountains.  We are called to do the things that we know to do consistently without expectation that we will receive something extra for doing what is expected of us.

How do we grow our faith?  Do the things that we know to do.  Do them again and again without having to be reminded and without expectation of something extra.

Every ministry of this church body that has flourished started small but was accompanied by steps of faith.  Small steps taken in faith produced fruit.  We just did what we knew to do.

As servants of our Lord, we should be content to do whatever he requires in response to the great love of God that we know as grace.  We are saved from sin and death.  We will not know the torment of hell or separation from God or even nonexistence.

We will never live a day without purpose.  We are blessed to be called friend of God.  We are loved beyond all measure.  There is in store for us a crown of righteousness.

There is in store for us an inheritance stored up since the creation of the world.

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard and we really cannot imagine the things that God has in store for those who love him.

By his stripes we are healed!

Could we not live out this life as a very humble servant of our Lord?  Would this not be a reasonable response to his favor and his grace?

Could we not do this without the expectation of anything extra?  Would being the humble and obedient servant of God not be a reasonable response to grace?

The problem with studying this parable is that while we do humble ourselves as his servants; we know there is so much extra.

We are blessed and rewarded for our obedience.  This world will scorn us but God himself will reward us.

We are numbered with the prophets when we are persecuted for his name.  Nothing we do in his name is without profit.

We are known as his disciples when we love one another.  Many Christians try to keep a low profile when it comes to their faith.  They don’t want to go against the grain of society.  They don’t want to be known as his disciples while they negotiate this life.

In the age to come, I can think of no better resume to bring with me than being known as a disciple of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  I didn’t just know him.  I followed him.  I put the measure of faith I was given to work and followed Jesus.

And, it is by simple, humble, consistent obedience to his commands that our faith grows.  Our faith increases when we do the things we know to do time and again.

I am going to give you another term for humble, obedient, faithful, consistent servant.  Let’s go with a man or woman who loves God.

How do we love God back?  Sometimes it is as simple as being humble and obedient.  It’s not the stuff that we do so much as our love for our Master is manifested in humble obedience.

If you are looking for a tree to transplant or a mountain to move, start with loving your neighbor. 

If you want to see your faith grow, give cheerfully and generously.

If you want more from your relationship with God, move towards him in prayer and Bible study and practicing what you know to do.

If you want to live in the right standing that came to you as a gift, be his humble servant every day.

It is a simple parable about humbly doing what we have been called to do as God’s servants; but this humble obedience and consistency and faith is what increases our faith.

We are blessed like no other people.  We get to grow in grace.  We can mess up and know that God will not discard us. 

Our faith may seem like it has not grown.  I talk with people all the time who seem to feel like their faith is stagnant; but the measure of faith that God has given to you remains ready to grow.

Let’s not ask God for more faith.  Let’s take the faith that he has measured to each of us and humbly and obediently put it to work.  Let us do the things that we know we should do, do them humbly, and do them consistently.

Our faith will grow in our humility and obedience to God.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Parable: The Rich Man and Lazarus

God is good.
Sin is not.
Please choose wisely.
Because Hell is hot.


Let’s start this parable with a couple of agreements.  First, we will not define what we think we know about heaven and hell by this parable.  There are some things that just don’t’ fit well if we get too literal here.

First, conversation between the two places seems a little farfetched.  How can God wipe every tear from our eyes if we can look on those in torment?  Could one drop of water really provide relief? Does our Spirit go to a temporary holding area—Abraham’s bosom—or are we with Jesus when these clay vessels that encase our spirit turn to dust?

Second, neither riches nor poverty define the heart of a person.  Don’t read or listen to this parable and think that if I have some money, then I am going to hell.  Surely, don’t think if you have little of anything that means you are on your way to heaven.

Please do not view this parable with a scarcity mentality.  What’s that?  There is only so much good to go around.  If I use it all up now, there won’t be any later.  Because you had good things in this life, there isn’t enough for you to have good things in the next.  Our God is an abundant and a generous God.  He is not going to run out of anything that he has stored up for us since the creation of the world.

Some of the very rich are among the most generous people we know; and some of the poorest do not long for God’s kingdom but for the riches of this age.  This parable doesn’t seem to be about having wealth.  That said, Jesus did remind his followers that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter his Father’s Kingdom.

Most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle when it comes to wealth, at least by local standards.  We have what we need to meet our daily requirements, and usually enough to help others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.

Jesus uses extreme contrast here.  A very rich man had everything he wanted every day.  A man named Lazarus suffered every day and hoped for scraps from the rich man’s table.  He had sores on his body.  He was surely in pain and suffering.

Lazarus certainly had some friends or family.  Someone placed him at the gate of the rich man.

At this point we have no indication of the heart of either man, but Lazarus ended up in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man—yet unnamed—was found in torment.  What happens next gives us insight into the heart of the rich man.

As it turns out, Lazarus who is identified by name, has no speaking parts.
The rich man wants relief.  He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to him with water to cool his tongue.  There is no confession or repentance.  The man simply wants relief from his situation.  

Welcome to 90% of the conversations that I have with people who need help but do not belong to a church body.  I just want someone to take care of my immediate problem.  I don’t have time to consider my eternal situation.

This man just wants a little cool water, even a drop.  It is a very conservative request.  I would have at least asked for a Route 44 cherry limeade.

Lazarus is right there with Father Abraham.  Why not send him?  He’s just some ole beggar with nothing better to do.  Surely, you could spare him for this errand.

The reply is that you have already enjoyed the good things.  Much is not said here.  There is no admonishment for not using wealth to bless others.  There is no counsel on wisdom.  There is no statement of why the man is condemned.  There is no further explanation.

Some logistics are explained, namely, you can’t get there from here or vice versa.  So the bottom line is that you are stuck where you are and in the situation in which you now find yourself.

Now, for the first time, we see this rich man think of someone other than himself.  He is concerned that his brothers will end up where he is.  Please, please, pretty please send Lazarus to my father’s house.  If he can’t get here, at least send him back to the living with a message for my family.

The answer is that your family has everything they need to make good choices.  They have Moses and the prophets.

But, but, but if someone from the dead would come to them with a message, they would surely repent.  Now we see that the rich man knew that he had not lived well and should have repented.  His pleas were for his brothers now, but in these pleas is the revelation that the rich man knew he had chosen to be a friend of the world with his wealth.

The answer hits very hard.  If your brothers did not have ears to hear Moses and the prophets, someone risen from the dead with a message of life isn’t going to phase them either.

At this point, the story jumps from parable to prophecy but only Jesus knows that.  He is not really talking about the Lazarus in the parable, or even the one that he would raise from the dead in the 11th chapter of John, though at that point some people might have recalled this parable.

This foretells the conditions of so many people’s hearts when Jesus was raised from death.  This is about so many people being friends of the world.
C’mon now, someone risen from the dead would get everyone’s attention, right?


Consider the moments before the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Some doubted?

Consider these last few parables.  They were given to many, but among those listening were the Pharisees.  The Pharisees liked money.  They liked the social order of the day.  They liked many things of this world, but they didn’t like the parables of Jesus.  They didn’t like Jesus.

Somehow, each of these parables put the Pharisees at odds with Jesus and what he said was right.

The scriptures between the two parables in this chapter mention how the Pharisees loved money and that now people were entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.  These words said that the law is coming to its fulfilment. 

The next thing you know, Jesus has told a parable about a rich man, who had everything he needed being tormented in Hades.  In a moment, everything changed for two men.

Jesus taught that the one who has believed in him has already passed from death to life.  There is no torment for us, but we minister to a world that will neither see nor hear.  So many refuse to hear the words of life.

They discard the Law of Moses.  People argue about the Decalogue but most don’t know what half of these most basic directives say.  They might argue to keep them on display somewhere or to take them down, but the messages contained in the decalogue are not registering with most people.

They become deaf to the prophets.  Today, if you want to hear what the ancient prophets said, you have to read your Bible.  If you want an immediate message from God, you might need to find your way to a church building.

Even the One who was God in the flesh who suffered and died and bled for our sins; yet rose again, does not register with them.
Jesus defeated death.  He defeated the grave.  He has the gift of life for us but so many are tuned out.

This parable very much takes on the same subject and attitudes as the one which precedes it.  Are we a friend of God or a friend of the world?

What is first in our lives?  I think most people tuned in right now know that God should be first.  God, his kingdom, his righteousness should be first.
But is he?

How can we who are rich by the world’s standards—and we are all rich by the world’s standards—not become a friend of the world? 

I have moved beyond the basic context of this parable to something at the heart of it.  I am talking to the saved, believers, people who said earnestly, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

How can we not become friends of the world when have most everything that we want most every day?  That’s a very broad question, but I offer some narrow answers.

Believe—With your heart, soul, mind, and everything that makes you who you are, believe that God loves you and that his great love sent his Son into the world to die and take away our sins.  Believe that God raised him from the dead.  Believe that God’s own Spirit lives within us.

Tithe—Give ten percent to God before everything else.  Tithe means tenth.  Put him first in this.  This is perhaps the biggest truth-teller as to whether or not we are a friend of God or of the world.  Remember that Jesus said if we put God and his kingdom first that he will gives us all those things that the ungodly world seeks after—has made into their gods.  Here is a validation of that promise.  I—and none of the other preachers in this town—have ever had a tither seek monetary assistance from the church.  Why?  God provides.

You might ask, “How did we get from a parable that on the surface seems to be about heaven and hell, to the tithe?”  Remember, these areas are something of a litmus test to see if we are a friend of God or a friend of the world.

Pray—Daily with much time given to listening to what God has to say.  Don’t say “Amen” after you give God your laundry list of requests.  Listen for what he has to say to you.  Think on this.  Are we interested in what God has to say to us or do we just want our requests filled?  Is God our vending machine or our friend?

Read—God’s holy word is alive and active.  If you want God to be first in your life, put reading his word ahead of the newspaper or email or Facebook or whatever television series has you hooked.  Hey, I read my verse for 2 minutes this morning.  I’m good!  Maybe that works, but let’s try this to test that theory.  Try breathing for only 2 minutes all day.

Give—Wait a minute, you already mentioned the tithe.  Give beyond the tithe of you time, talents, and treasure.  It is all from God but will you use it exclusively to satisfy your personal desires or will you take that which has been given to you as a blessing and be a blessing to others.

Serve—In these parts we call this God’s love in action.  Do something for someone because you love God.  You may not like the person whom you help but you love God and will consummate his command to love one another. 

There is nothing in this short list that is new to anyone.  The list could be longer, but this puts us in the framework of knowing if God comes first in my life.  Am I living as God’s friend or as a friend of the world?

Do I believe with all that I am that God will never stop loving me?  Do I trust him enough to tithe?  Am I interested in what God has to say to me in my prayer time and in my reading time.

Do I give?  Do I serve?

If these things come more and more naturally, then do not be concerned if you receive greater and greater wealth.  You have placed God first in your life.  God, not the world, is your friend.

If you struggle with these, beware of receiving more and more wealth.  You are susceptible to becoming a friend of the world. How many people do you know that struggled for a while financially, did not have God first in their lives, came into a sum of money, and somehow ended up worse than they were before?

How does this happen?  The world, not God, is their friend.  Sure, they might throw a few dollars the church’s way when they hit a windfall, much like you would tip a waiter at a self-service buffet.

Jesus told a parable that put our daily lifestyle into an eternal context.  Is it all about us or all about God?  We who have followed Jesus for years, perhaps even decades know that you cannot out give God.  We are not really putting anything of eternal value at risk when we go all in with God.

The more you put him first in your life, the more he blesses you.  

Sometimes those blessings come after a time of trial or suffering, but his blessings do come.

The psalmist wrote that sorrow may last for the night but joy comes in the morning.  Our night and morning may not always be a 24-hour cycle, but joy comes for the faithful, for those who put God first in all things, for those who know God, not the world, is the only friend they need.

We could read this parable and argue over how hot hell is.  We could, but it would be to no productive end.  You are a friend of God and not a friend of the world.

Of all the things that you will know when this life is done, the temperature of hell is not likely to be among them.  If you have to know, you can look it up in heaven’s library because you will not know it first hand.

You are a friend of God and not of the world!

You take what you have been blessed with and use so much of it to bless others.  While you are rich by the standards of the world; you are not the rich man in this parable.

You know that the trials and sufferings of this age are temporary.

You know that sorrow and pain will not last.  Joy does come in the morning.

There will be a morning when we will all be celebrating.

We will not be able to see those who have perished.  If you have concerns about those who are perishing, do something now.

We will have no more tears.

And because we have lived this life as a friend of God and not as a friend of the world, we will have no regrets over any blessing that we have received.

We have believed Moses and the prophets and put our trust in the One that God raised from the dead.

We are a friend of God and not of the world!


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Parable: The Shrewd Steward

Long ago and a couple states away, I asked my program director who was also my preaching professor and parables teacher, how he preached this parable.  I doubt there have been many unscratched heads and super clear minds when it comes to examining this parable.

I will use a highly theological term to set the stage for this parable.  It’s a doozy. 

My professor’s answer was, after decades upon decades upon decades of preaching, “I never preached it.”

Yet we have embarked upon a course of considering the parables of Jesus this year, trying not to skip any because they are difficult.  I might have omitted some that were so similar to others and I might have preached more than one Sunday on some that didn’t fit into one sermon; but we have yet to skip one just because it was hard to understand.

You see, when it comes to the parables, there are just a whole bunch of red letter words in my Bible and I just can’t see skipping over them.  So here we go.

There was a certain manager—a steward—and his boss didn’t think that he was doing a very good job.  A steward is more than a supervisor.  He is more than an accountant.  He is more than a bean counter.  He is trusted with his boss’s money and resources and people.

He makes sales and loans and enters into business on behalf of his boss.  This is a position of trust, but in this story his boss thinks that perhaps that trust has been misplaced.  The boss wants an accounting of everything in this man’s trust.

Why would the boss do this?  He is firing his most trusted manager.  The manager has many problems.

First, he has lost the trust of his boss—his master in those days.  Accusations have been made and evidently the boss thinks there is some substance to them.

Think back to Luke’s 12th chapter.  Who is the wise and faithful manager?  He is the one who is always doing the right things, best things, most profitable things for his master.  He doesn’t have to worry about anything.  He is always ready for inspection.

He knows where every cent is invested.  He knows what is most profitable and least profitable and is always making good decisions with his master’s money and resources.  If he makes a bad deal, he learns his lessons and makes up for that loss in profit elsewhere.

He is exactly the person whom any boss, any master, any employer would want in charge of his resources.  Who would not want a wise and faithful manager?

But that doesn’t seem to describe the manager in this parable.  He knows that he is completely out of luck if he gets the boot and it looks like his time is up.

If his master sees that he has totally botched everything, he could likely go to prison being held for debts that were outstanding.  He might not just get fired; he might do some time.

But even if he just got fired, there were no unemployment benefits and he had no hard job skills.  He couldn’t handle the working end of a shovel and he couldn’t bring himself to beg.

The only job that he could do was that of a steward or manager and apparently, he didn’t do that job very well.

What is he to do.  He must surely give an account soon and if it doesn’t come out favorably, he will have to start worrying about who his cell mate is going to be while he works off his debt which he has no skills to work off—ouch!

What can he do?

He is going do some finagling.  He is going to make some deals.

Hey buddy, you owe 900 bucks but today only, I will take 500 dollars in cash.  Let’s do this.  Here’s the paperwork.

Somewhere else, he is looking at a long-term loan that can’t be repaid in an instant, so the manager, says, “Hey, it’s been a while since we talked.  I know that these payments can be a bear sometimes.  I am going to reduce your interest rate by half.  That’s the way I am.”

Somewhere else he is just writing off 20% of someone’s bill and making the paperwork look good.  So you owe for a hundred barrels of crude oil; let’s just put down that you bought 80 and when the price was at its lowest.  Is that a deal or what?

The theological term for his is, cooking the books

Think to the Parable of the Talents.  Each servant comes to make an accounting with his master.  All three servants know that they must account for what they have been given—even the third servant knows this.  The master is pleased with the first two and commends them for being good and faithful. 
Well done good and faithful servant!

In Luke’s parable, the words well done, good, and faithful are not in the master’s description of his steward. 

The master’s term is shrewd.  Now that’s an interesting word.  The range of definitions goes from astute to discerning with cleverness at every turn.  A shrewd person is wise and discerning but uses these intellectual gifts and social tools to his or her own advantage.

You don’t have to read more than 2 chapters of the Bible to get to what it means to be shrewd.  The third chapter begins:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  (NIV)

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?”  (MSG)

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”  (NLT)

You know the rest of the dialogue and the shrewdness displayed by the serpent.  So as you think about being described as shrewd by your boss; think snake in the grass—serpent in the garden.

Now, if I think of a Marine combat commander, I like the term shrewd attached to it.  You want a commander who can turn the tables and put the enemy at a disadvantage.  The shrewd commander puts the enemy’s blood at risk while protecting that of his Marine’s.

Maybe, I like the term shrewd attached to our trade negotiators.  They do need to have some shrewdness about them so the rest of the world doesn’t take advantage of us.

Over 20 years ago, I went to the Karrass  Effective Negotiating training.  The training involved every technique known to man, most of them very manipulative.  We learned them, practiced them, became equipped to recognize when someone was using them against us, and concluded our training with strong counsel not to use these techniques ourselves.  We should always seek the win-win strategy, but we should be shrewd enough to know when our negotiating partner was just in it for themselves.

In some contexts, I like the word shrewd attached.  But in this parable, it opens a door and goes through a threshold that we do not see crossed much in the biblical accounts that we know.

This manager was described by his master as shrewd, not as good or faithful or one really worthy of heartfelt commendation.  He was shrewd.
What did the manager do to earn this delineation?

He was about to be given the boot from his master’s favor, so he curried favor with those who had been in his master’s debt.  He made friends with those who resided in the world where he would soon live.

He couldn’t make it on his own.  He had no trade or technical skill and at least at this point didn’t think he could handle life as a beggar.  So, he tried to construct his own golden parachute.  He tried to use what his master had entrusted to him to make for a soft landing when he was given the boot.

His master said, “You are just pretty shrewd.  You are crafty.  You are clever.”

Knowing that you were not going to live in my kingdom much longer, you made a place for yourself in the world.  You made a place for yourself among those who would never come to my inner circle.  You made a place for yourself among people who do not live my way.

It has been said many times in many variations that the only hell that Christians will know will come in this time that we live in this age; and the only heaven that the rebellious person will know will come in this time that we live in this age.

What does that mean?  If you choose to reject God and live your own way and not his, then you had better make friends with the world and everything in it, for there is no heavenly reward for you.

The only joy and pleasure and rewards that you will ever know will come in this life.  You had better make friends with the god of this age, whether its name be money or fame or self-gratification.

You cannot worship both God and money.
You cannot seek both God’s kingdom and your own carnal desires.
You cannot live in God’s righteousness and wallow in sin and darkness.

You can’t sit on the fence.  So, if you are not all in with God, then you might as well go all in with the world.  Ouch!

Remember, this comes on the heels of three parable telling us how much God celebrates when the lost come home.  This comes after a powerful parable titled the Lost Son that is really about our Good, Good Father.

Ouch and double ouch!

We need to understand that we can’t sit on the fence.  We don’t do lukewarm.  We don’t hedge our bets when it comes to God.

We trust him, obey him, and love him by loving others and there is no half measure that is acceptable. Once we have eyes to see the incredible love that God has for us, we are wicked and foolish when we do anything other than follow the way he has set for us.

There is an interesting twist at the end of this parable that I am very surprised Hollywood has not capitalized upon.  The sons of this world have greater shrewdness than those who live in the light.

So, are we who follow Jesus to be shrewd?  Are we to be clever?

I think the appropriate word for us is creative.  We who live in the light, who are made in our Father’s image—and he is a creative God, and who are packed full of gifts and talents, are to be creative and industrious, and fruitful.   We are to be creative with eyes to see the shrewdness of the world.

When we use our insight and wisdom and discernment for God’s glory, it is creativity.  When we use the same faculties to feather our own nest, it is shrewdness.  Who is our friend?  Is it God or is it the world?

Jesus is saying—I am taking a lot of license here—that the people who are following me need to get their game on.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  Game on!

I am going to take everything that God packed into me and unpack it.  I am going to be wise and discerning and creative and industrious and more; and it’s all for God’s glory.

I will not hedge my bet.  I will use the gifts and talents that others hedge their bets with to bring glory to God.  I am all in and I am not working on a golden parachute in case this God thing, salvation thing, Jesus thing doesn’t work out.

I am all in.

Jesus is telling us that:
·       You can’t love two masters.
·       You can’t serve two masters.
·       You can’t bank on heaven and earth at the same time.

What’s it really worth to you if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?

The parable tells us that if we are not going all in with God, then we might want to make some friends with the world—with the evil, carnal, wicked world.

Jesus liked to put things into extremes.  Why?  Was he just prone to exaggerate?

How about our choice is between two extremes—life and death.  You can’t straddle the fence between those two.

For those who have received this wonderful gift of salvation, we are called to remember that the one who is given much has much required of him. 
We are to be the good and faithful managers and servants and friends of our Lord.

Shrewdness and cleverness come in handy in combat.  Creativity crowns the heart of the redeemed man or woman.  We as God’s good and faithful servants need to be more creative.

To explain this, I will ask my friend Thomas Didjano to illustrate.  I’m not sure if Thomas is Native American or half Hawaiian and half Slavic or what ethnicity, but he is here to help this morning.

Thomas, did you know that some people respond better to messages in music?

Thomas, did you know that some people respond better to messages in drama.

Thomas, did you know that the words follow me are more powerful than you had better get your act together.

Thomas, did you know that sometimes a 1-minute video reaches people more than a 21-minute sermon.

Thomas did you know that Facebook can send good news to the far reaches of the globe.

Thomas did you know that Wednesday nights might be the only worship service that some kids have ever known.

Thomas, did you know that the children are always watching and listening.

Thomas did you know that most innovation begins with a problem.

Thomas did you know that we are but a mist, living this life for such a short, short time.

Thomas did you know that eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord God has in store for those who love him.

Thomas did you know that there is God’s way and everything else; there is no middle ground.

Thomas did you know that you are a friend of God and not of the world.

Thomas did you know that love fulfills the law.

Thomas did you know that when you seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness first, he gives you the very things that the godless world has made into their gods.

Thomas, did you know that God has packed more inside of you than you can unpack in your lifetime.

Thomas, did you know that when you expend every ounce of energy working for the Lord, he fills you up again.

Thomas, did you know that God did not give you a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Thomas, did you know that you are to be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be discouraged.  The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Thomas, did you know that in Christ there is no such thing as an ordinary life.

Thomas, did you know that when we set our eyes upon Jesus and say, “Game on!” God’s smile breaks through the heavens and touches our hearts.
But, but, but… This whole Game on thing doesn’t seem to fit with walk humbly with your God.

Thomas, did you know that our humility is just right when everything we have is given to God’s glory and not our own.

Thomas did you know that you already have the best job in the world, that of a wise and faithful manager and steward and servant and friend of God.
Thomas did you know that you do not need to make friends with the world.  The world is our mission field not our home.

People of the world can be shrewd.  We are people of the light.  We are good and faithful, wise and faithful, creative and discerning managers, stewards, servants, and friends of our God.

We know the shrewdness of the world and will not be manipulated by it, but we take the same gifts and talents that the world uses for shrewdness and we use them creatively for love and mercy and kindness and delivering good news to the lost.

When it comes to Christ, we are all in.  We hold back nothing.  We don’t hedge our bets.  We are wise and faithful managers and stand ready to give an account of how we have lived out our salvation every day.

We are all in with Christ alone.  Game on!