Risk… or else…



Matthew 25:14 Jesus said, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents (a talent is a very large amount of money), to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

This is a long story, so I’ll tell you the ending. The master returned, praising the two servants who invested his money and made more money. The one who buried the money was punished severely. He didn’t lose any money, but he didn’t make any money either. He was afraid of doing something wrong, of losing some of the master’s money. So he did nothing – and ended up being punished anyway.

A story like this one is supposed to teach us something as readers. Two things come to mind for me:

  1. Like the servants in this story, all that we have doesn’t really belong to us. Our resources – money, abilities, relationships, and so on – are a gift from God. Our job is to do something useful with what we’ve been given.
  2. Putting God’s resources to work generally involves risk. Risk is not something to be avoided, but to be embraced as part of our calling as children of God.

Over my 20 years of ministry I’ve consulted, mentored, and coached hundreds of pastors and/or church leaders from many denominations across the US and abroad. If there’s one thing I’ve seen over and over in the church… it’s an aversion to risk. We’re afraid of trying stuff because we’re afraid it will fail. This is true even when a particular church is shrinking or losing ground. Leaders often choose to conserve what little they have left rather than putting it on the line for the possibility a brighter future – resulting in a slow death. In trying to avoid further loss – all is eventually lost anyway. Jesus said it this way,

“The one who seeks to save his life will lose it. The one who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24)

For others of us the problem isn’t a reluctance to risk, but rather the tendency to risk too quickly. We act – then think. If I’m honest, that’s me. I’m a bit of a gambler, always have been. Sometimes this is a good thing, but sometimes not. When I read this passage I have to be careful that I don’t interpret the story as a license to be reckless. Planning may seem like a necessary evil sometimes, but it is necessary.


Where might you be avoiding the prompting of the Lord because you’re afraid of failure or loss?

If you’re a risk-taker by nature, where might you be failing to adequately plan or prepare before pulling the trigger?

Lord Jesus, in every case moving effectively into the future requires wisdom. Give us grace to embrace the risk of failure or loss for the sake of your kingdom. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

The temptation of scarcity…



Psalm 37:25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. 26 They are ever giving liberally and lending,  and their children become a blessing.

Who are these “righteous” people? I tend to think of righteous people as those who never sin, but that’s not accurate. It’s not that righteous people are perfect, it’s that they live within the covenant with God. They seek the Lord, obey the commandments as best they can, and respond in repentance when they fall short. God forgives the sin and restores the sinner to right relationship. Thus, a person is “righteous” once more.

Today’s verses speak to a particular aspect of the covenant with God – provision. God’s people are expected to bring a full tithe (10%) of their income to the Lord, trusting that the Lord will provide all they need with the remaining 90%. Living in relationship with the Lord is an invitation to a different kind of economy than the one we’re used to.

In our earthly economy the more we give/lend to others the less we have for ourselves. It’s an economy of “scarcity”. There’s only so much, so we’d better hold on tight to what we have. God’s economy is different. In God’s economy we are able to give/lend to others without fear of scarcity. There is abundance, meaning we can be generous and still be confident that God will provide for our needs.

“I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread.

I understand all this, yet there are still times when I am tempted to hold on, to preserve, to covet material resources, to think in terms of scarcity rather than abundance. It’s a never-ending battle.

This morning I’m asking the Lord where I may be responding to the world around me out of scarcity rather than abundance. What would it look like for me to trust the Lord more deeply in this area of life?

Lord Jesus, there is always the temptation to hold on to what we have too tightly, to think of our financial lives as a zero-sum situation – the more we give, the less we have. Give us grace to embrace your economy of abundance, sharing liberally what you have first given to us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.



Exodus 21:28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31 If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. 

Much of this section of the book of Exodus offers guidance for several areas of the law: property rights, violence, social and religious norms, slaves and servants, and so on. There’s a lot here, yet it really only scratches the surface. The fact is, one could fill the entire bible and not cover every possibility.

Jesus had a different take on the law. This is from Matthew 22:

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 (Jesus) said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Rather than choose one commandment over all the rest, Jesus responds with a fundamental principle: Love God and love one another. That’s it. If we will do those two things we will be on the right track. Of course while this principle is fairly simple, it’s not necessarily easy.

I’m on vacation this week and have pondered if I should be writing this blog while on vacation. I believe the Lord is leading me to take a break. See you again on Monday.

Blessings to all.





Matthew 23:25 (Jesus said) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Here again is Jesus at his charming best (kidding). The Pharisees and scribes had been trying to discredit Jesus for some time. They had harassed him, challenged him, attempted to trick him into saying and doing the wrong things. This passage suggests that they’d gotten on Jesus’ last nerve, so he let loose a barrage of critical comments.

Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of many things which might be summed up in one word: hypocrite. In other words these persons held themselves out as “righteous” but were not what they appeared to be. They looked fine on the outside, but on the inside they were full of “all kinds of filth”. They followed the letter of the law, but their hearts were cold and indifferent toward others.

In some ways I identify with the scribes and Pharisees. Part of my job as a pastor is to preach and teach regarding the will and ways of God – all the while knowing I personally fall short of those expectations every day. I’m sure some of you can relate. However, unlike the Pharisees I do not hold myself out as righteous and above reproach. I’m very much a work in progress and don’t mind admitting that.

That said, I continue to pray that the Lord would continue doing a work in me. I may never reach perfect alignment between inside and outside, but I pray those realities get closer together with each passing day. Lord, let it be so. Amen.


The gift of fresh eyes…



Exodus 18:13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

Reading this chapter it’s clear that Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was not present in Egypt or in the wilderness thus far. As Jethro spends time with Moses he’s seeing things with fresh eyes. It’s obvious to him that Moses will kill himself if he continues serving as the one and only judge for the entire nation of Israel. In the verses following our passage he offers Moses a way to address the needs of the people in a far less burdensome fashion. What a gift to Moses!

It’s hard to assess our situation when we’re in the weeds. This passage reminds me how helpful it can be to invite others into my difficult situations. Even though, if I’m honest, I’m often reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, other people can often see things that I cannot. We’re not designed by God to deal with life’s struggles alone. This morning I’m asking myself, “What situations am I trying to handle alone, when I actually need a fresh set of eyes to give me perspective?”

Heavenly Father, you created human beings for community – for many reasons. We’re not designed to handle life’s burdens alone. Give us grace to invite trusted brothers and sisters into our difficult situations, for they can often see things we cannot. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.




Matthew 22:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

After being challenged multiple times by the religious authorities, Jesus goes from defense to offense. Now he is the one pointing out deficiencies of the scribes and Pharisees. Three particular points he holds up for scrutiny:

1. v.2-3 Jesus acknowledges the fundamental authority of scribes and Pharisees, yet condemns them for failing to practice what they preach.

2. v.4 Having begun with the ten commandments given to Moses, the scribes and Pharisees continue to expand the rules and regulations for everyday people – to the point of being overly burdensome.

3. v.5-7 The scribes and Pharisees practice a conspicuous form of piety in full view of others. They value public recognition – the VIP treatment – more than they should.

I’ve definitely known all three of these shortcomings, but its the first one that hits particularly close to home for me. As a pastor I teach and preach many important things. It’s my job, and I’m pretty good at it. But there are times when I’m aware the teachings of Jesus are ideals which are often hard to live up to.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Do not judge others lest you be judged.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength – and your neighbor as yourself. 

Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear…

Every day I’m aware that I fall short of these sayings of Jesus, even while teaching them to others. Like the scribes and Pharisees, I become a hypocrite. There have been times when I’ve felt so convicted by this I’ve wondered if I should find another calling. Many times I’ve prayed to the Lord for guidance. How can someone as flawed as I am be a pastor in the church? Then I recall the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle…10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.

Just substitute the word “pastor” for the word “apostle” above and that’s me. The least of all. Terribly unworthy. And yet – God uses me for his purposes anyway. God’s grace is poured out TO me and poured out THROUGH me. And so I end my reflection this morning convicted by my sin, grateful for God’s grace, and confident that the One who has begun a work in me will one day bring that work to completion.

Lord Jesus, let it be so.


Daily bread…



Exodus 16:16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather as much (manna/bread) as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. 

Here is a comment I wrote some years ago about this text:

“This passage is what informs Jesus’ prayer “give us today our daily bread”. There was always enough for everyone, but there was not an overflow. They did not need to store it up in barns. If they did, it spoiled. We are to gather what we need on a given day, then ask again the next day. We often don’t like to operate that way, but that’s how the Kingdom works. “

Heavenly Father, you know it is hard for us to trust you for daily bread. Our scarcity mindset compels us to store up provision in “barns”, just in case. Give us grace to trust you, to be generous, even when it appears we may not have enough. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

P.S., still sick. Chest junk. Thank you for your prayers.