Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Has God Entrusted to You?

I haven't heard to many sermons on the Parable of the Talents. I wonder why.

The story is of a master leaving his servants in charge of his money. Each one is given according to his ability to manage. One is given five talents, another two and the last one. All but the last doubled the money which had been entrusted to him. The last dug a hole and hid it in the ground. It seemed to be the safest way to go.

A talent was approximately twenty years wages for a laborer. Let's say for easy math sake that a laborer makes $7 per hour for forty hours a week for fifty weeks out of the year. That comes to $14,000 each year. Even the man receiving one talent had $280,000 to manage.

But investments involve risk. At that time, even the banks were risky. The safest option is guarding the money and giving it back. What would have happened if the first two had lost their master's money instead of of doubling it? Would the master have been more pleased with the one who had hidden it in the ground?

Of course, this isn't the point of the parable but it is the point of all those who have been given gifts and opportunities by God which they refuse to use. They either stop serving the Lord or they never started. They do not understand that all that they have been given is to be invested even if it means there are risks.

I remember hearing of a young man going to the same college I attended. He studied or was in class seventeen hours each day. He barely made the dean's list each semester. His professors got word from his former high school that this young man was mentally challenged. He certainly wasn't motivation challenged. He took the one talent he had been given and used it to the fullest. How many who were gifted with a higher IQ either flunked out, dropped out or barely remained in school?

Why is it that believers think that investing what God has given them is easy? Why do they want to take the safe route and believe that they are the voice of prudence within their churches? Why is it that these people grab the attention which keeps their churches from growing?

The parable explains that the one given the one talent was afraid even though he knew that the master used every opportunity to make more with what he had. The result of his fear was damnation rather than reward.

I really don't know what God has given you/ I just know that I and you better not simply hide it in the ground. A day is coming when He will ask us what we have done with it.

Matthew 25:14-30 (ESV)
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Everything Changes When You Become a Christian

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

There are many scriptures that I have read often but have failed to grasp the full meaning. Each time I read them something new is revealed. And so it is with 2 Corinthians 5:17.

I wanted this scripture to say that my relationship with Christ changes how I act all the time. I wanted it to say that I was incapable of acting like the person I was before I knew Christ. I wanted this scripture to stand alone as the proof of my transformation into a totally new being who stood for Christ. The result was failure in my ability to perform up to the standard of that scripture.

The first phrase which changed my thinking was "in Christ." That has come to mean a great deal more to me than formerly. I understand it to mean that I have identified with Christ so strongly that He is not only in me but I am in Him. I understand it to represent the covenant relationship we have. I understand it to be like a symphony in which I play my instrument in accord with the conductor. I am a part of the music but not the only part and can no longer play without direction.

Of course, I always focused on "new creation" but failed to understand it. This was my hangup. This creation is instantaneous but is not fully realized instantly. For instance, I married my wife in a ceremony over thirty-six years ago. I went in as her fiance. I left as her husband. I was changed completely because my relationship changed me. I had new responsibilities and a new way of acting that I did not have before. I could have walked away from her before the ceremony without legal ramifications. I could have chosen to forget her financial needs before the wedding. I could have back out of the relationship. That changed after the ceremony. I had new privileges and responsibilities that changed me from the inside out.

I learned how to be a better husband as time went on but my relationship with her did not change. I was and am her husband. I have been made into a new creation in a sense. What was there before was gone. I could not indiscriminately hang out with the guys. I could not think anymore without thinking of her needs.

My wife has never forced me to do these things. I did them because I love her and have a marital relationship with her. I just do them. I can't imagine doing anything else.

Have I ever messed up? Of course! I have done things that have hurt her and made her angry. I have done them because of my selfishness. I have regretted them and have apologized. I want the relationship to be whole.

Everything changes when you become a Christian. You are no longer able to be the person you were before. You can act like you are but it only causes you pain because you have hurt the One you love. You have been changed so much because you have become a new creation. The old desires don't fade away but they no longer provide enjoyment.

Say it to yourself: "I am in Christ. I am a new creation. The old things before Christ that gave me pleasure will not give me pleasure anymore. The new has come!"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is There a New and Improved Jesus?

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Nothing has really changed. People need the same Jesus who was needed in the New Testament. He is the same Jesus who sacrificed Himself for them in the past. He is the same Jesus who walks with them in the present. He is the same Jesus who is coming for them in the future.

I wonder if people believe there is a different Jesus whom we have today. Can this new Jesus provide for thousands with only a few loaves and fish? Can this new Jesus heal? Can He give direction to those who seek to follow Him? Can He teach the world how to treat each other?

Maybe that's why so many try to explain away the miracles they read in the Bible. They want a Jesus who is nothing more than a natural man who taught good things. They can't imagine One who has authority over the world. It is much easier saying that Jesus was near the shore walking where He knew the rocks were than to say that He walked on water. It is much easier to explain His resurrection as a mass illusion or the raising of Lazarus as the burial of a man who only appeared dead.

So, Jesus is carefully formed into the image of the society who wants to make Him a man who may have had some contact with God but was no different from any other man.  People have no trouble with Him being fully human. They struggle with Him being fully God too.

This should reassure us but when our prayers aren't answered with the immediacy of a microwave we say, "See, He isn't all that the Bible says He was."

How many testimonies does it take to convince people that Jesus is the same as yesterday? I don't believe that some people will ever be convinced since they have already made up their minds.

So what do I know of Jesus?

He is the same Jesus who heals me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who loved me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who listens to me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who speaks to me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who walks with me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who works miracles yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who provides for me yesterday, today and forever.
He is the same Jesus who raised me from the death of this life yesterday, today and forever.

Personally, I don't want a new and improved Jesus who is nothing more than a great man. I wouldn't want a Jesus who was the greatest man who ever lived if all He was is just a man.

I didn't need a man; I needed a Savior.

He is the same Savior, yesterday, today and forever.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God Will Never Leave You Nor Forsake You

Deuteronomy 31:7-8 (NIV)
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

I suppose all preachers go into their new churches thinking that they are God's gift to the world. We think that we will be the ones who will be so faithful that God will bless everything we do. We will soon all have mega-churches, write books that no sane Christian can refuse to read and be asked to speak at conferences all over the world.

I have heard of preachers who appear to have this type of success but I don't know any of them personally. The rest of us appear to be people with feet of clay who struggle daily with the work. The challenge of making disciples in today's world seems as great as taking the Promised Land from a people who are already entrenched and armed to the teeth to protect their land.. It is very easy to believe that God has forgotten about you some days. There are even some days you can believe that He has forsaken you.

Moses had to have felt like that at times. It was his own people who gave him the most grief. They elected another leader to take them back to Egypt because they hated his leadership. They sought to stone him. They criticized and spoke badly of him. They complained at every bend in the road.

Yet, Moses tells Joshua in front of the people that God will never leave him nor forsake him. Was this just wishful thinking? Is this just a ceremony to get Joshua to take the leadership?

No, this is a man who is not looking only forward to what God will do but looking backward at what God has done. We clearly see God's hands on our lives as we look backward. Each of the things we saw as challenges we could never overcome seem small. Even the hurtful words of people can be seen as a means to keep us humble and coming to the Lord for our strength.

Unfortunately we can't give our experiences away no matter how many times we talk of them. I can tell you how many times God has provided, healed, given direction, changed people's hearts, changed my own heart moved to do the impossible and, while it may encourage you for a while, it will not substitute for your own walk with the Lord to see Him do all these things for you. Somewhere down deep you have to keep believing that He will not leave you nor forsake you even when the night is dark and it seems like there will never be a morning.

Come and let the Lord give you rest. Know He is with you and working on the challenge you think is impossible. Turn yourself over to Him fully. Then, turn this thing which keeps you up at night over to Him. Confess and do not hide anything you have done wrong. Commit yourself anew. And sweet communion will come to you.

Then, you will know in your heart that He never leaves you nor forsakes you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

God Desires Our Trust

Is that so hard to believe? God wants us to trust Him because that is the only way we will know Him like we should. It is the only way to have true fellowship with Him. It is the only way we will truly be obedient.

In the beginning God told Adam and Eve not to eat of one tree in the whole garden He had created for them He wanted them to trust Him in this very small thing. Everything else was theirs. But Satan came along and questioned whether God had their best interests at heart when He told them not to eat of this tree. They didn't trust that God had their best interest at heart and ate. Of course, we know and experience the consequences.

God came to Abram and promised that he would have descendants like the stars in the sky. He allowed Abram and his wife, Sarai, to get so old that it was impossible by human means to have children. Of course, God could be trusted and Isaac was born. Then God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham trusted God and headed out to do so. God stopped Him. Abraham learned He could trust God.

God has his people preserved in Egypt by sending Joseph through some very tough times. Eventually a Pharoah comes along which did not know Joseph and puts God's people under slavery. They cry out to God and He sends Moses. Moses administers ten plagues on Egypt to give the Egyptians the grace of knowing who God is. He also shows His people that they can trust Him.

Exodus 14:31 (NIV)
31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

 He takes them to the Red Sea and parts it so they will learn to trust Him. He gives them water and food in the desert so they will learn to trust Him. But when they spy out the land, they fail to trust Him and He takes them into the wilderness for forty years while He continues to feed them.

Deuteronomy 8:2 (NIV)
2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

I guess I could cite numerous scriptures which reveal God's desire for us to trust Him. And I'll bet that you say that you trust Him right now.

Let me ask you: Do you trust God to really take care of you? Then, are you obedient to what He tells you to do?

Then, tell me why most Christians who say that they trust the Lord don't tithe? How can they say they don't trust Him to provide for them when they are obedient but run to the Lord when they need provision for a job or healing  or direction or meeting a bill? Isn't that inconsistent?

God doesn't need our money. He desires for us to trust Him. If we can't trust Him in giving our money to Him, we aren't really trusting HIm in anything that really matters because our fruit reveals our hearts, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Mystery of Salvation

I know that I know Jesus. I know that He knows me. I know I was saved over forty years ago. I know I am being saved right now. I know I will be saved when I see Jesus face to face.

How does that make me different from others? I am no different from many who have given their hearts to Christ. I am different from many who have merely gotten close to giving their hearts to Christ.

Many people exhibit many of the the characteristics of a believer but do not truly possess it. The author of Hebrews describes them:

Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV)
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

They have every evidence of faith but lack something that holds onto them. They are doomed to never come to repentance again.  They have gotten incredible close but have "fallen away."

There must be some degree of faith which is very hard to establish objectively. The Holy Spirit guards the salvation of those who truly believe. We are kept safe and, yet, we must also keep believing. I have a hard time explaining this. I cannot tell you why I still believe. I know that it is not because I am superior to others. I know that it is not because I work so hard at it. I know that it is because I have become a new creation that speaks the language of God in faith. I know I have the mind of Christ. I know all these things but cannot attribute them to my own fortitude of belief that stands against the doubt.

I have this because He holds onto me.

Ephesians 1:13-14 (ESV)
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

And, yet, I know I also hold onto Him. I can't help believe that is because of His influence in me. Jesus told us that those who hold on until the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:21-22 (ESV)
21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

When I gave my life to Christ, something happened inside me. I crossed a line that I could not retreat across. I have become His and cannot make myself not His. He holds onto me and I hold onto Him. But I cannot help but hold on. Neither side of the equation fully describes the solution. It takes both to know it. My spirit unites with the Spirit to bring me to salvation.

I believe a lot of people get very close and pretend that they have made it. They are like the people who laugh at the joke they do not understand. They are like those who claim they understand the riddle but have no real clue to what it means. They are like those who look at great art and think they understand it but have no real understanding of what it means.

Unfortunately, they can act the part without being who they really are. They can even convince themselves that their pretending is no different from the pretending of others.

On one hand I do not believe that you can come to know Christ, renounce your faith in Him and then come back to Him again. The words in Hebrews prevents that scenario. Yet, on the other hand, I do not believe that you can lose your relationship with God. If He is your father, He remains your father. And still yet, I know that I cannot simply ignore my Lord and believe I have salvation either.

Salvation is a faith that crosses the line which holds onto us no matter how faithless we become. It calls us back to repentance. It continues to remind us that we are His even when we do not act like we belong to Him.

I am saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. I gave my heart to Him. He is my Lord. My willing obedience is an assurance to me that I am saved. Praise God Almighty for this amazing grace.