Managing the little things first....
“Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What am I to do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred jugs of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ And his master complimented the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it is all gone, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
“The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and the one who is unrighteous in a very little thing is also unrighteous in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true wealth to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were ridiculing Him.” (Luke 16:1-14)
I think it’s good to begin by pointing out that Jesus was not complimenting the fired manager for being dishonest or crafty; instead He was acknowledging that this shrewd little man knew how to take care of himself. That’s the point. He was illustrating how this lazy assistant recognized the precarious place in which he now found himself and realized that he’d better start thinking about tomorrow! The curtain was about to fall. The manager was too old or weak to do manual labor, and could not imagine a life of begging for food and clothing for the rest of his years. So he cannily decided to make friends with people that could one day help him by giving them steep discounts of what they owed his boss. His logic was to help the clients of his boss and they, in turn, would be kind to him in the future.
This is one of those parables that’s more nuanced than it appears. On the one hand we’re told throughout the Bible to not be like this swarmy manager (dishonest, lazy, selfish, self-serving, crafty) and yet here we’re told to somewhat follow his example by considering how he planned for the reality of his future, and how he could use those things at his disposal to look after himself in the days to come.
That’s the point, I think, but there’s probably a lot more here that escapes my education and imagination. I can imagine Jesus telling me, for example, to stop complaining about what He’s not given me, and showing a little more gratitude about what He has given me. To his credit this manager did not start crying or complaining about how unfair it was. He quickly recognized his own error and thought about his future. He did not whine about what he could not do—-he clearly saw his limitations. But he did have skills and talents that he could put to use. He used those things that God did give him to take care of himself. And the gift he had was the art of making a deal—he had the gift and knew the art. He was the "Donald Trump" of Christ’s parables.
We have a master—-all of us do. So who is it? Who is your master? It’s either the devil or it’s God Almighty. We deceive ourselves if we think otherwise. If you think you are your own master, you’re not only fooled, but you’ve chosen Satan to be your master by default…he is your….your boss. But some of us don’t recognize him as a boss or lord because doesn’t give direct commands, like Jesus does, or give us lessons and direct teaching about what he expects from us— he’s crafty and sneaky about it—-but you do his bidding nonetheless.
For those of us who choose God as our boss—-our Master—-have chosen One that is precise about what He expects, but is a patient and benevolent Master. He leaves it to us to determine if we’re going to be a good manager or a sloppy manager. So today ask yourself: How are you investing HIS assets….how are you handling His property? It’s how we handle small things for our Master as Christians that determine if the Master will give us bigger things later. How do you handle the little—-or awesome—things He has given you? With what earnestness and determination of excellence do you teach, or clean or perform any other task He’s assigned to you? How are you caring for and raising the children or grandchildren He has loaned you?
It all belongs to the master—-we’re just here to manage it until the day we’re called to account for it. There’s an amazing story that Jesus gave in Luke 17: 7-10 (NIV) that illustrates the proper attitude towards the Lord while we are on this earth. “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” Friends, we are our Father’s servants—-just like Jesus was!!! It’s not our needs that we’re supposed to wake up and go to sleep contemplating, but His agenda. But don’t look for an exposition of this story if you’re listening to Joel Osteen or the propagators of prosperity theology.
To be crystal clear: God does not owe us a thing! We’ve got it reversed when we think that God is obligated to serve us or be a genie in a bottle for our dreams. Now He does care about us and and He does give us things and He loves us. I don’t know why He loves you and me, but I do know this: He does not need us and will be no less God if we were not here. It is an incredible mystery as to why He cares at all—-but He does. And what He requires of us, while we live and breath on this earth, is to serve Him—not live our lives trying to figure out how to get Him to bless us.
And how do we serve Him best?
To manage those things He has invested to us and those tasks He has assigned us.
I can’t be sure of all the things He has invested or assigned to you, but I do recognized the things with which He has commissioned me; My sons, the parents, staff and campers that trust me each summer, and now each person reading this devotion. I’ve been assigned the task of acting like Jesus to others that want to see Jesus. He holds me accountable for this…..but isn’t He asking the same thing of you?
So think about it: Whose children are these we have in our lives? They’re His—not yours or mine. And as one that has been a life-long youth worker let me say quite clearly: Children and youth are not an annoyance or burden to me: They are the reason that my ministry and work exist. If we want to grow our churches, remember that the children, young adults and visitors He sends to us are the very reason, we as a church, are still here! We’re here to bring more into the ark—so move over, share the pew, give up your favorite seat! We’re servants tasked with caring for others—our churches belongs to Him and each visitor or child that comes through our doors Sunday morning belongs to Him.
And what of those things He has invested to us? What about “our money, houses, cars, toys? If we are to believe everything Jesus said, we’re to treat them as if they belong to Him, not to us …because of course they do! The income we earn, the things that others have gifted to us or that we find ourselves accumulating or putting into the bank or portfolios would not be ours is we were not gifted with intellect, arms, legs, eyes and ears. And even if you had a brilliant mind and the body of a Zeus or Athena but were born where most of the other folks on this planet were born, you would have precious few of the toys and comfortable things you have now! You’re a blessed manager—-what are you doing with what He’s blessed you with?
So I’ve got to see the things He has given me, that I have earned, that I have come to possess not merely as my private belongings to invest, spend, or enjoy—but as His…. on loan to me. And there’s freedom in that way of seeing our silver and our gold, our homes, our farms, our cars and collectables. They’re His—on lease to us. But with that freedom of knowing that we really don’t own anything and that we can’t take anything with us, is also the warning that we’d better take care of what He’s loaned us— because He will ask for an accounting as to how we used and share it—-or how we hoarded, hide or refused to share what He’s bestowed on us.
Is it wrong to have nice things or to the head of a household or the boss in a business? No, it’s His gift to us, as long as we remember who really holds the title to it and we use or share accordingly, and as long as we realize that we have a boss and a head far more powerful and perfect than we can ever be, so we’d better be careful how we lecture those under our care.
Before my former house burned to the ground I filled it with things I collected from all over the world. Some would say that I had good taste for the nicer things of life. I had oil paintings, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture, some beautiful Telavera plates I had specially designed from Mexico, and so on. But despite all the beauty of it, I did have a habit of giving things away when someone said they “really liked” this or that. My mother hated me doing that! But truly, I got joy out of it. and people rarely took advantage of me. But when that fire came, the only things that survived were the things I had given away. There’s a lesson in this. The only things we truly own are those things we can give away. The things we can’t give away own us—-and they will all be consumed by fire one day——nothing we have will last forever except the joy of giving it away before it’s taken from us.
Have you determined to not be “owned” by things or even by relationships? Satan tempts us to think that we are our own little kings or queens with the right to carve out our own little kingdoms. We’re just passing through and God’s watching how we deal with people and things.
Think about this manager in the parable. He wisely decided to make friends with people that could one day help him. Have YOU helped the clients of your heavenly boss? Your boss is watching and one day He will commend you for being good to the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the unsaved and unchurched—-His precious clients. How you treat them will be recollected later.
But the last sentence in this parable is a reminder of how other folks will look at you and me if we follow Jesus and are good stewards of what He has given us. They will snicker at us and scoff at our generosity or how we let others take advantage of us——because that’s how it will appear. The Pharisees were very religious—and also were lovers of money. They listened to Jesus and made fun of Him. Do you think that people today—especially the religious kind—will do any less to us today if we really obey Jesus?