Friday, February 2, 2018

Threatening Dreams, Genesis 50:19-21

Two women arguing on the streetSometimes it’s those who are closest to us that are the most threatened by our dreams. Sometimes the dreams that we hold on to and share with our loved ones really challenge their own ambitions.

What do I mean? Well, sometimes when we have a dream of what God may do with us, or what we’d like to happen with us, maybe an ambition that would afford us some level of success, it’s those closest to us who may be challenged to view your dream as a threat to their own dreams or ambitions. When this happens those closest to us can seem to become the greatest hindrance to our dreams and ambitions.

Let’s take Joseph for instance, he gets a lot of airtime in Genesis, the first of the five books of Moses, the same book that introduces us to the Judeo-Christian God Who reveals Himself as the cause and source of all purpose, existence, and life. Joseph seems to be an important figure, and of course he is. It’s his story that fulfills part of God’s promise to Abraham. In Genesis 15:13 God told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a foreign land for 400 years. This 400 years begins because of what God does with Joseph’s life.

But what about threatening dreams? You remember in Genesis 37 where Joseph begins to hear God speak to him in his dreams? Joseph’s got 11 brothers, and he seems to be a bit of a sniveling twit to me, if I’m perfectly honest, but we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s the son of a manipulative swindler, Jacob, who cheated his brother out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Joseph tattletales on his brothers to get on dad’s good side (Genesis 37:2), he struts and flaunts the fact that his dad favors him over his brothers (Genesis 37:3-4). So, Joseph doesn’t start out as the kind of guy we want to emulate. Really, he’s kind of a jerk. 

But it gets worse…

Bring in the SheavesHe has these dreams, one that symbolizes all his brothers bowing down to him, the second that symbolizes his entire family bowing down to him. As we find out, these dreams truly are from God, because that is eventually what happens! But, we get this picture of Joseph kind of throwing everything out there like it’s all about him! This is where things get threatening. Not because of what God said, not because God has a plan, but because he uses it to glorify Himself.

We can easily get the attitude that God’s plan makes you more important or significant than another. That’s threatening. We run around quoting Jeremiah to ourselves, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV) forgetting that when Jeremiah said that, it was to encourage Israel as God was sending them into exile in Babylon.

Girl going on the way out in lifeWhen Jeremiah was prophesying to Israel he was a prophet with bad news! He was telling them that they were going to be exiled from their land for 70 years! And the point was so that they would return to God and “call upon Him and come and pray to Him” so that they would “seek Him with all their heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13, ESV) Only then, when it was all about God, would they know His blessing again, which is the “plan and purpose” part. The trouble is when we have a dream, we think it’s all about us…

Fast forward to the end of Joseph’s story... His brothers sell him into slavery, he ends up thrown in jail because his master's wife sets him up, finally he gets the opportunity of a lifetime to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and God answers his prayer. Joseph ends up running Egypt and consolidating all the political power in the area under Pharaoh. After all that is when Joseph’s dream comes true. That’s when his brothers end up on their knees in front of him looking for food. But this is a very different Joseph. This Joseph has been through exile, he’s changed, now instead of being all about himself and thinking he’s special because he’s got a dream, he’s all about God.

Joseph had every reason to rub it in their faces! Like, “Look at me guys! Now who’s laughing! I’m in charge of the known world and you’re hungry, Ha!” Instead of gloating to his brothers when they’re on their knees and his dream’s come true he says, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21, ESV)
Joseph’s dream wasn’t about him. Joseph’s dream was about God’s plan for the good of God’s people. But it took years for Joseph to get his head wrapped around that. It took slavery, prison, and years alone in an Egyptian world before Joseph realized it just wasn’t about him. For the good plan God had for Israel, in Jeremiah, it took 70 years, and the exile, slavery, prison time was all so that Israel and Joseph could figure out that it wasn’t about them.

Do you have a dream? It’s not about you! How long will it take for you to really know that? The Christian life is never about us, it’s always for God’s glory. He will use us, for His glory, for the good of His people. Do you want to be something special? Take the posture of a servant, take the place of the least, of a slave, then your dreams will really mean something. (Matthew 20:26-28) Because if it’s all about you and how God’s going to make you great, then it’s just irritating and threatening to those close to you.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Omnipresence of God, Genesis 28:16

Did you know that the doctrine of God's omnipresence is a source of peace! Yeah, you heard me! This foundational teaching gives us peace!

I was reading the story of Jacob's ladder and something he said struck me...“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16, ESV)

Black Bamboo Ladder during DaytimeI was caught by this passage as I considered what might have been for Jacob a developing understanding of God’s omnipresence in correlation to our, at least, basic belief of God being everywhere always.
So, quickly, let’s define the doctrine of God’s omnipresence.

1st it is what theology calls an imcommunicable attribute, meaning it’s an attribute that only He has and doesn’t share with anyone. Nothing and no one else in all creation can claim omnipresence. This is part of what makes God magnificent, especially when we consider the fact that makes Himself known at specific times in specific ways, most significant of which is Jesus coming in the flesh. See, now my head hurts… Jesus is omnipresent, but at the same time seated at the right hand of God as the firstfruits back from the dead in a glorified body. (1 Cor. 15:20; Eph. 1:20)

Free stock photo of light, sea, dawn, landscape2nd There is no one place that can contain or hold God. Psalm 147 :5 says, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” The adjective “great” refers to something immense in size, power, and number, in a sense it is undisclosed in its greatness. This is greatness beyond measure.
The word translated “abundant” comes from an old Aramaic word that originally referred to high military rank, like a general ranking higher than a lieutenant. So, to say that God’s power is “abundant” is to say that His power outranks any other power. When the word translated “beyond” is used certain ways, like it is here, it means nonexistence. Meaning, there is no measure for God’s understanding, or limitations to God’s understanding are nonexistent.

I had a professor who would always speak of God’s omnipresence in terms of His understanding, because omnipresence reaches beyond specific terms like “here” or “there”; it extends beyond the confines of both space and time. God’s understanding has no limit because He experiences everything throughout all time consistently at the same time.

Ugh!… again, my head hurts!

Free stock photo of man, face, old, depressed

I said "briefly" so we’ll just leave defining God’s omnipresence there… “His experience of everything and all time consistently at the same time.” Now, back to Jacob…

What's going on with Him? Why is he surprised by God’s presence in this place, and why didn’t He recognize it before?

There is a level of fear in his voice like when you open your daily calendar and notice that you are supposed to be somewhere important right now, but you're still in your pj’s! He experiences shock and awe because of the dream he just had and the realization of God’s presence. He says in verse 17 that the place is “awesome!” This comes from a word that usually expresses a sense of smallness in comparison to the unimaginable, undefinable greatness of God.

In short Jacob’s mind is blown!
Free stock photo of explosion, fire, smoke, street artist
He names the place Bethel or “House of God.” This, for Jacob, is a way of recognizing God’s sovereign participation in his life. For Jacob it's an important moment of realization as God's  transcendence (beyond, greater than, and surrounding all creation) and imminence (in, through, and present) in creation becomes real for him.

In verses 20 and 21 we see Jacob make a vow to God that basically verbalizes God’s promise to him in the dream, presence and provision that results in a return to the land of his fathers. Jacob accepts his role in the covenant by submitting to God’s sovereignty in commitment to God, the sanctity of the place Bethel, and a tithe.

Free stock photo of help, symbol, chalkboard, supportBut by now you must be thinking, “What does this mean for me?”

It is true for us as it was for Jacob… You never can know God in the moment until you know God in and over everything. Until you truly come to terms with our God who is omnipresent, you will never know the peace of trusting God in the most exhilarating moments in life or the most heart wrenching moments. When we know God as omnipresent, we are reminded that in times of plenty we live out our days before Him who is the sovereign judge of all creation. There is a level of healthy fear in that, and that's a good thing! Knowing God’s omnipresence keeps us on the “road to everlasting life.” As David prayed, “God, examine me and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any bad thing in me. Lead me on the road to everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NCV)

A knowledge and faith in God’s omnipresence “keeps” us even in the most heart wrenching moments. Because no matter how bad it gets, God is over it, above it, right there in it with us, and it has not taken Him by surprise. He is with us and provides for us even when the baby dies, the boss calls on your day off and sends you on an indefinite vacation, or the bank changes the locks on your door. He is greater than any situation, and He holds you in His hand, doesn’t let go, and doesn’t let you fall out. He knew it was coming and before the foundation of time He knew how He would carry you through.

Rest in His omnipresence.
High Angle View of Lying Down on Grass

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mark 6:45-52, Not Quite what We Expected

Tradition holds that the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark (who Paul and Barnabus argued and parted ways over in Acts 15:36-41). If Mark wrote the Gospel, it’s likely that He was going off much of what the Apostle Peter taught. If this is the case, then I think it’s interesting that verses 45-52 unfold the way they do.
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In Matthew 14:22-32, Matthew tells the story with Peter getting out and walking with Jesus until he becomes more focused on the wind and the waves and begins to sink. If Mark’s gospel is based on Peter’s teaching than why is this part left out? Especially since it ends with one of Peter’s “A-Ha!” moments as the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah?
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John talks of Jesus walking on the water as well. His account is in John 6:16-21, and he leaves out Peter walking on the water too! Why?

In all three accounts it comes after Jesus feeding the 5000, which is another impossible event! To the rationalistic mind, the answer is easy, “It didn’t happen, there must be a reasonable explanation for what the disciples saw and for what Matthew says Peter experienced.” And though many of us are okay with excepting that God incarnate had the ability to do miraculous things that backed up His claims of being God, we’re still left with questions that need answers if we are going to understand what God is trying to communicate through these authors.

Let’s take a closer look at what Mark writes… first he says, in the beginning of verse 45, “Immediately.” So, there is some level of urgency, “Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat.” Jesus rushed the disciples off, why?

To answer that question, we might get a little insight from John’s perspective of this event. John writes in 6:14-15, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Jesus ministry in this “desolate place” (Mark 6:32) created such a stir the people were ready to grab Jesus, make Him king, and take over the world! But it wasn’t time, so Jesus sends the disciples off ahead and withdraws to the mountain to pray.

Image result for Jesus praying aloneWe don’t see Jesus off alone praying mentioned a lot. In Mark it only happens three times (1:35; 6:45; 14:35–39). James Edwards observes that “in each Jesus faces a formative decision or crisis. Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus reaffirms by prayer his calling to express his divine Sonship as a servant rather than as a freedom fighter against Rome.” (Edwards, 2002)

The people, likely including the disciples, want to set Jesus up to overthrow the government. Jesus shoo them across the sea and sends the crown away (Mark 6:45). Then He goes to pray and wrestles with the direction of His ministry. Then He catches up with the disciples in the middle of the lake, but they’re in a boat and He’s on foot!

The disciples are out in the middle of the lake, without Jesus, and there “making headway painfully.” In the Greek this literally means that it was tormenting to get the boat to move in the direction they wanted. This was a rough night for the disciples. They just saw their Lord feed probably about 12,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish with way more left over than they started with. They were ready to set Jesus up and take Israel back from the Romans, but Jesus turned it all down. Now they’re stuck in the middle of the lake in a storm.

To the believer Jesus is everything, we praise Him as Lord and Savior, but rarely is He what we expected. And this too is the case with the disciples. They had imagined an outcome to their day that was way better than where they find themselves, and we’ve all been there. But this is when Jesus walks by doing something only God can do. He’s walking on the water.

Image result for Jesus walks on waterNo matter what the disappointment is that you are facing, God wants to show Himself to you as God. He doesn’t have any interest in living up to your expectations, but He has every intention of showing Himself to you. When everything doesn’t go our way, we’re afraid and don’t see a way out. Jesus walks by and says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50) He may not live up to our expectations, but He wants to show you something more, something bigger than what you expect.

Jesus steps into the boat with His disciples, the storm becomes calm, and verse 51 ends with “And they were astounded.” Verse 52 tells us that they were astounded because they didn’t understand about the loaves. So, what’s that all about?!
They didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t there to take over the government as they expected the Messiah to. He wasn’t there to make their lives what they always wanted. Like the loaves and fishes, He was there to be what seems like could never be enough, but when it’s broken it becomes far more than was ever needed. He didn’t come to be exalted; He came to be broken and die. And because He was faithful to stay His course He was exalted by the Father far above all authority and power and now is seated on the throne of power sovereignly ruling all creation and bringing it to it promised end… complete restoration!

It’s not always what we think we want or expect, but the outcome is way more than sufficient! Praise God for His faithfulness!

Works Cited
Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 197). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Genesis 3, the serpent, sin, and the Scriptures

Did you ever think that the serpent that tempted Eve in the garden could encourage us to read and know our Bibles better! Well, here you go! The worst event in human history, and how it encourages us to read the Bible.

Image result for serpentThe serpent in Genesis 3 has always intrigued me. Given there’s been some discussion within our little group around the identity of the serpent in Genesis 3, I thought I’d dig into it a bit more to see what we might learn from this character in the Bible’s origin narrative.

First, tradition recognizes the tempter as a serpent, though not directly Satan. There’s good reason to think that it is not a direct reference to Satan himself, though I don’t think there is any harm in seeing Satan himself in this story line.

One of the descriptions we’re given that introduce us to this tempter/serpent are that He was more crafty, or cunning. This is the Hebrew word ʿārûm. We see this word used again in Proverbs 12:16; 12:23; 13:16; 14:8; 14:15, 18; 22:3; 27:12. In Proverbs, the crafty are contrasted with the “fool” or the “simple.” ʿārûm is also used in Job 5:12; 15:5. All of these uses of ʿārûm lead us to believe that the word crafty is not to be understood as either a negative or positive trait, meaning it becomes negative or positive based on how it is used.

Another description we’re given is that the serpent is an animal in the field. This is clearly a created being that is subject to the sovereign authority of the one Creator God, which eliminates any possibility of a balance in the power struggle between good and evil. Evil is in every way shown to be subservient to God’s divine authority.

Image result for eve and the serpentIn the text the verbal exchange is between the serpent and the woman. But all of the “you” pronouns are plural which shows that both the man and the woman were involved in the exchange, which is later confirmed in verse 6 where it clarifies that the “man was with her.” I find this interesting as I was always taught that the woman was somehow inherently flawed or somehow downgraded because of her part in humanities fall. There is something to be recognized in her being “deceived” as Paul highlights in 1 Timothy 2:14, which in my understanding is Paul putting the feminist women in Ephesus back into equal footing with the rest of the body rather than trying to dominate the men in their church community, as the Greek word translated “authority” in 1 Timothy 2:14 suggests. So, our thinking about Eve in the fall of humanity needs to be tempered with Adam being judged based on his part in listening to her rather than to God’s instructions, and the subsequent cursing of the ground as a result. The point being that both genders have a part in the fall and both share in the consequence.

Image result for oppressorBut to the point of the passage, not so much which gender is to blame, but the subversivness of sin and how sinful choices become “good options” in our minds. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this “the first conversation about God,” and it is extremely significant! Notice the serpents 1st question! “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” We see God presented in chapters 1 and 2 as a benevolent creator/provider, who introduces His crown jewels of creation to the wondrous world that He’s created for them and their pleasure, but the serpent turns God into a maniacal oppressor. As if God is holding His creation back from something good!

The woman responds by clarifying that God’s directive was to eat from all the trees excluding the one in the middle, but she overstates God’s claim a bit falling into the pattern of framing God as a bit of a stickler. Now, since there’s a twist in God’s suggested character both presented and accepted by the woman’s words, this provides the serpent with the opportunity he wants. He comes back with a clear assertion that mischaracterizes God as selfish and self-interested. This sets the stage for the first sin to be a “good idea!” The choice to sin, for the man and woman, wasn’t because they got confused and made a “oopsy!” They accepted a mischaracterization of God and His character and chose to liberate themselves from their false image of God. Their sin, in the moment, was justified in their minds because they were believing in a false and oppressive god.

This illustrates very clearly the way sin works in our hearts, and it highlights the importance of having an accurate view of God and His character. Sin becomes a “good idea,” because we begin to view God as keeping us from something good rather than protecting us for the good He’s already given.

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I’ve said before that faith is trusting that God is good in all situations. Keeping our eyes fixed on God, as He’s revealed Himself, by faith, keeps us from veering off the path we’re called to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. The place where we are completely exposed and ashamed of nothing, because we’re innocent and have nothing to fear. But when we allow our view of God to be twisted we “suppress the truth” as Paul writes in Romans 1:18. And in suppressing the truth in our twisted view of God we do “not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but become futile in our thinking, and our foolish hearts become darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

This is the benefit of disciplined Scripture reading. When we are discipline in reading and knowing the Scripture, through which God speaks to our hearts through the Holy Spirit in us, are view of God is consistently realigned with how God has revealed Himself. This continues to renew our minds from its fallen state. As our minds are renewed we are filled with awe and wonder at the magnificence of our God and creator who created us to share in His goodness, saves us for His glory, and continues to express His love for us in renewing us and the creation we distorted through our choices.
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The is great benefit in reading and knowing the Scriptures! Through it we fill our view, minds, and hearts with God as He’s revealed Himself, which strengthens our faith and further prepares us for our promised future in the fullness of His presence for all eternity. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Suffering Servant, Reflections

Isaiah 52:13-15
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;[b]
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle[c] many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.

The prophet speaks as the mouth piece of God and commands our attention with “Behold, my servant!” As if to say, “Look everyone I want to introduce you to the vehicle of your salvation. Let me introduce to you, here, tonight only, the one, the only savior, messiah, the one who you have been waiting for! The Suffering Servant!”

He knows everything that needs to be done to exact a complete and total salvation for you and for the whole world. He has the foresight to know the impact and the outcome of each of his decisions, and he will do everything that is necessary for completing the mission he has been sent to accomplish. Nothing can stop him because he knows already what and how everything needs to be done, and will do everything perfectly.

He is “high” and “lifted up!” These are titles only ever applied to God himself. This means that the servant  himself is God, He is the sovereign creator, and He is above all things and through whom all things were made and sustained. He is “exulted!” Yes, His very nature is high above everything! He is the highest of the high and mighty. He is God!

As the “many” in verse 14 indicates, everyone will be completely shocked and devastated by what happens to God’s servant, who is God, sent to carry out God’s will and purpose for the “many.” What will cause this level of devastation? Devastation to the extent that to see it, just the visual experience will cause a complete and total emotional overload that the “many” will be unable to react… 

They will only be able to stare in utter disbelief of what has come upon the servant of God. His appearance will be so incredibly disfigured that he will not even be recognizable as human. It’s the stuff of crime scenes that are only discernible through extensive forensic investigation and DNA testing.
In the pure horror of the servants suffering he will sprinkle his blood on the nations, cleansing them of their sin, and kings will stand watching unable to make a sound. 

Kings who understand the burden of sending men into battle
to defend a cherished way of life, kings who know that many of those men will end up leaving behind widows, these kings will be silenced as they see what they never could have imagined, as they comprehend what they never could have been prepared for. God has subjected his servant to complete physical, emotional, and spiritual devastation beyond anyone’s ability to stomach.

Jesus Christ did this as he carried our burdens, our guilt, and our shame to Calvary. How is it that God suffered to this extent for mere mortals? Mortals who have turned away in rejection of His sovereignty and grace. 

This is love, this is mercy, this is the character of our God.

Monday, March 28, 2016

An Easter Sunrise Reflection

John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

There is a lot of emotion written into John’s account of resurrection day. In each of the subsequent appearances of Jesus we find His followers deep in the turmoil of overwhelming emotion. All of the pain and frustration of their unrealized dreams and expectations of the coming kingdom of God has them in a tail spin.

It is in just this type of tail spin we find Mary Magdalene as she approaches the now empty tomb in the darkness of predawn. Her eyes and her understanding still dim to the reality of what had occurred. Her mind still reeling from the thought of her dead Messiah. Her eyes puffy from the multiplied tears she had been releasing all throughout the silence of the previous day. Her breathing was labored and strained as the invisible weight on her chest promised no reprieve. Her head and neck ached as it seemed her heart would never settle down from her throat. Coming to the tomb early that morning must have already felt like walking miles as every time she looked up to see the garden tomb drawing closer it only seemed to be that much further away.

This was truly a moment for Mary that reveals the depth of the darkness in our souls apart from the knowledge of the resurrected Christ. And if there was ever a soul crushing darkness, this must have been it. All of the disciples had so many hopes and dreams for what the Lord was going to do. Peter, the headstrong fisherman, imagined he would be Jesus’ Sargent at Arms when Jesus took His earthly thrown and established the new world super-power, James and John, the sons of thunder, were going to rule with Him in that kingdom, one on His right hand and one on His left. But maybe none could have felt as dark as Mary in that very moment.

She had been set free of seven demons, and had given every cell of her being to following Jesus, but what was she going to do now? She had nowhere to go, no earthly idea of what she would do next. She may have struggled inside as the questions kept berating her mind like hail on the hot summer pavement, steam billowing up obscuring her vision, as car alarms are blaring around her from the vehicles being pummeled by mother nature’s onslaught. Was He not the one the prophet Isaiah spoke of? Wasn’t He God’s Servant who would bring restoration to God’s people? Wasn’t He the one we have been waiting for? If He has failed, what of God? Is God still there? Will God still save us? Can God still save us? Is He still sovereign?

I can’t imagine the way Mary must have felt that morning walking through the countryside of Jerusalem. But I do imagine all of us have felt similar, as we’ve watched our hopes and dreams crumble before us like stale bread. The worst part is not so much the initial failure, as it is the powerlessness to breathe new life into those dreams. The despair comes when we are completely out of control, and cannot exact our will on the situation.

There is much that we could say about this typical human experience, but the good news is there need never be a despair as deep as what Mary was feeling that morning in Galilee.  Things are not always going to go our way, and dreams may go unrealized, but Jesus has risen and we have hope that reaches beyond the pain of loss. “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jer. 31:11, 13, ESV)

Whatever happens in this fleeting life of ours we have hope beyond the struggle, and it’s guaranteed. We have been completely set free from the burden of sin and shame through the cross of Jesus Christ, and we have the promise of life ever after through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, ESV) And that love is proven beyond the shadow of doubt by Jesus willingness to endure the cross and the Father’s willing to put Him there. And now, after the resurrection, we can bask in that loving embrace for all eternity, come hell or high water, the rivers can over top
their banks and the bridges may fail and fall, but we are caught by the love of God in Christ Jesus for ever and ever, Amen.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Parable of the Talents

As is often the case while preparing for a message I am tempted to be drawn away from the target passage to another that relates in some way. This is often where I find inspiration for a post, although finding the time to write is a whole other situation. But I digress…

While I was preparing to preach on James 3:1-5b I was drawn toward the Parable of the Talents in Matthew chapter 25. This really grabbed my attention as James is talking about the teacher’s temptation to sin with their mouth and Jesus, in the parable, is talking about being faithful to use what our Master has given us to bring an increase back to Him.

But, as James is talking about pastors and teachers Jesus’ parable is more general, describing rather what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. In this case, “it” is like “a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” (Matt. 25:14, ESV) The parable goes on to describe three servants all given something of the master’s own abundance to manage and increase. The firsts is given the most, the second not as much as the first but more than the third, and finally the third is given the least. After the master returns he calls his servants to give an account of what they have done with the portions entrusted them. The first two are successful in doubling their portions, but the third buried his and although protecting it from being lost did not increase what he had been entrusted with.

There are a couple things that I was struck by when reading this parable. First, in his letter to the early church James very much emphasizes that the things that we do as Christians are the result of and fully connected to the reality of our faith. If our faith is not true, then we will not work in obedience to God and be fruitful. This is the parable of the talents. Those who truly believe, who truly have faith in the sovereign Master, are fruitful and bring an increase, but this too needs explanation or we may find ourselves naming and claiming or declaring financial increase as a birthright.

Am I Ready?
The parable of the talents is an explanation of what the kingdom of God is like. In Matthew 25 the preceding parable warned the listeners to be ready, it seems reasonable that this parable illustrates how to be ready or what “ready” looks like. This brings me to the second thing I see in this parable, and this is where I am convicted. Is the church in America ready? Am I ready? Well, what is ready?
The talents in the parable may not be so much the things we are able to do by way of our gifting and abilities. What if the talents are faith and salvation, the real gift that will continue on even after spiritual gifts pass away? (1 Cor. 13:8-10) What if what we have been given demands growth as a result of truly being present within us? In America we tell those who are gifted in business that they are to increase monetarily and give to the ministry as their part in the ministry, but is that in Scripture as a ministry function? Of course the ministry needs and operates off the generosity of those who support it, but is that all they should do? Throw some money across the pond to Africa and you’re all good; you've fulfilled your duty to the mission. I say no.

Upon This Rock
Many churches these days are like the third servant. Burying what they have and just trying to survive in the face of aggressive atheism and all the intolerance of Christianity’s absolutes in the name of tolerance.  This
is not acceptable. The church has a promise… “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18, ESV) This confession (That Jesus is the Savior and King) requires our faith, and our faith requires our action. The only reasonable action in response to faith in a loving Father who sent His Son to die in our place is to proclaim that truth regardless the reaction of the world around us, because whether they want to hear it or not, they need to. They absolutely need to hear it, and it is our responsibility to tell them of this gift.

If we bury our talent, we cease to be fruitful and thereby cease to be an accurate representation of the Kingdom. In effect, we cease to be the church. No matter what happens in the society we are in and not of we are called to proclaim the Truth and live according to His ways. When the family structure degrades and morality declines in society this especially is the time the church needs to speak truth in love. When the church moves forward working toward the increase we can be assured that we will see it. We can have this assurance because nothing can stop the Kingdom from progressing forward.

So, if “being ready” means working toward an increase, are you ready? He may return at any moment, as no man knows the time or the hour. Will you be found able to present an increase to your master, or will you be found as lazy, missing the point of the gift, and in self-preservation mode? What say you, are you ready?