Monday, May 29, 2017

The Parable of the Talents


We have looked at the Parable of the Talents via three different messages.  I could have continued for 3 more Sundays with fresh perspectives on living out our salvation and producing a return for our Master.  There is so much that God has done and continues to do for us—salvation is just the beginning.

His mercies are new every morning and he is a generous God who like to give his children good gifts.  So, what do we do?  What do we do with what our Master gave us?

Now that’s a question that demands an answer, not so much intellectually, but in how we live.
Begin with that question, then read the messages in the links that follow.

What did I do with what God gave me?


Now, looking forward, what will you do with what gave you?  You will be blessed with your Master’s happiness if you put what he has given you to work at once and wisely produce a return for him and the body of Christ.

You will bring glory to God!



Saturday, May 27, 2017

Parable of the Talents - Part III


Read the Parable of the Talents Part I or Part II.

We come to the Parable of the Talents, Round III.  We have looked at the first two servants and the acronym TURN.

Trusted—each of the three servants was trusted by his master.  They were entrusted with money in accordance with their ability.

Urgency—the first two servants acted at once and put their master’s money to work.  We noted that they were the master in their relationship with this money.  They put it to work and it did not get a day off.

Return on Investment (ROI)—the first two knew that their master was demanding and expected a return.  They were wise and demanding with their investments and produced a fantastic return for him.

No Fear—while fear is real and risk is real, the servants were not immobilized by fear.  Wisdom, not fear governed what they did with their master’s money.

We have looked at how fear governed the decisions of the third servant.  He tried to blame his master for his decisions, but it was very simply his fear that impacted a terrible decision to bury his master’s money in the ground.

He was a trusted servant at the beginning of the parable.  His master knew that he could manage and produce a return on one talent of money.  He was not being set up to fail, he was trusted and expected to succeed, even if success was only putting the money into a savings account. Fear governed his actions.

The end result was that two servants were deemed to be good and faithful and invited to share their master’s happiness and one was labeled wicked and lazy and given the boot.

At the heart of this parable is what I have been describing as Tom’s Tweet on the Parable of the Talents.  It is the question never asked but answered by all three servants.  It is the question always before us as disciples of Jesus Christ and a generous God who is in the gift-giving business.

What did we do with what God gave us?

If you made it through rounds I & II you know that acting with urgency and producing a return are essential.  You know that fear offers nothing good in the way of return on investment.  You understand that what we are given by God is a trust.

You also understand that love precedes trust.  We do not do our best with what God gave us to earn his love.  We already have his love.  His love for us was poured out in the blood of Jesus.  Love preceded trust.

It is now time to go fully into application mode.  So what do we do?  Most of the time, we are not handed bags of money, but we are trusted with much—very much.  What do we do?

For this third homily on the parable, I want to look at what we do with what we are given in these areas:  time, talents (or gifts), treasure, and the gospel.

Let’s start with time.  Believe it or not, we all receive the same amount of time each day.  We have 1440 minutes in each day.  Whether you count your day from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. or midnight to midnight, the math comes out the same.

Now if you are staring at the microwave for the last 45 seconds of you breakfast burrito, that single minute seems like an eternity.  If you are in the middle of doing twenty things and making good progress on all of them and look at the clock, you might think, “Where did my day go?”

We have the same amount of time but to some, time drags on and to others it is so fleeting.

Why do some people get so much accomplished and some seem to get nothing done with the time trusted to them?  Is it motivation?  Is it force of personality?  Is it heredity?  Is it our socialization?  Is it an incentive program?  What is it?

I will suggest to you that it is purpose.  It is plain and simple purpose that produces results.  It is purpose that puts our time to good use.  Much as the first two servants were the master in their relationship with their master’s money; we are master with the time given to us.

Understand we are not gridlocked by our calendar, but we budget our time to important things—things that God has purposed us to accomplish.  That means that we can say “no” to many, many other things.  We decide—wisely decide—what to do with each minute of our lives.

The psalmist declares to the Lord, “Teach us to number our days.”  This was not a request to switch to Julian dates.  It is a request for wisdom that values our time in these vessels of clay.  Every minute counts.

I spent time as a counselor in prison and can tell you that some count minutes but don’t make their minutes count.  Some count days but don’t make their days count.  I sent many an inmate client out of my office in a bewildered state because in the middle of his story, I said, “Time’s up,” and sent him on his way.

Some, after a time, learned to talk about the things that were important instead of just running their stories over and over again.  Sadly, people who just count minutes instead of making minutes count are not all in prison.

We have a world of people ignorant that our time on this earth is so fleeting.  James would say that we are but a mist, here for a moment and then gone.  But we are to be numbered among the wise.

Our time matters and we desire to use it to produce a return for our Master.  So do we pack our calendars as full as possible?  No, we live every moment with purpose.

If we jam pack every day with activities, we might miss out on some very essential things that God purposed us to do.  You might get your kids to soccer and ballet and baseball and FFA and even to the lock-in, but are you just meeting the schedule or bringing them up in the way they should go.

You made it to the gym and then paid all the bills and worked in the oil change on the car.  Put the clothes in the dryer before you left the house.  It seems like the washer and drier are always running. The truck can wait until next month for service.  You even updated your Facebook.  

Wow!  Thirty birthdays in one day seems like a lot.  You don’t even remember who most of these people are.  You’re getting a lot done but are they the things God made you to do?

Purpose is more important than scheduling.

Next, we look at talents or gifts.  These are the raw materials that God gave us and expects us to refine into skills that produce a return.  I think the first two servants were better gifted than the third with some raw ability, but they still had to put these talents or gifts to use to produce some skill.

Some gifts are intellectual.  Some are athletic.  Some are artistic.  God packed a whole lot into us and as we work out our salvation, we should discover what these gifts and talents are and put them to work.

We put these gifts and talents to work.  We put them to work.  Much as the first two servants put their master’s money to work, we put our talents to work.  Have you ever noticed that when you put your gifts to work, it’s not like we are working?

When we do the things that God hard-wired us to do, it doesn’t seem like work, like labor.  We are putting what God gave us to work.  We leverage these talents and produce a good return.

Now we might break a sweat or have some sore muscles at the end of the day or our brains might get tired if you work in an intellectually challenging environment, but if it is what God made us to do, we are very much putting our talents to work.  These gifts and talents labor for us.                                                                                                     
Not everyone has the same package of gifts and talents.  Some are better wired to work with small children.  Some can see music in a financial spreadsheet.  Others can listen to the conversations of twenty people and find and share the common thread.  Some find great joy being locked into a laboratory for weeks searching for a cure for cancer or the common cold. 

But some talents are never tapped.  They are never leveraged to produce great things.  They are safely tucked away inside of us.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. once said, “Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.”
That’s a quote that hits both time and talents.

The term for what Justice Holmes described is called tragedy.  All the potential is there but is never put to work.  We are people who use what God packed inside of us to produce a good return.  We put our gifts and talents to use and our Master is pleased.

We put our gifts and talents to work at once, and quite often work doesn’t seem like work.

Let me touch briefly on Spiritual Gifts.  We who have professed Jesus as Lord and have received the Holy Spirit also received special gifts.  These gifts when put to use produce extraordinary returns.  Many of these gifts are named in the Bible, but we don’t view these lists as all inclusive.  The biblical enumerations were not meant to say “these and no others.”

Surely pastor, teacher, evangelist, and prophet fit the bill, but it is likely that God gifted some with gifts such as music or leadership or writing or even listening.  God put something in you—or called it to life—when you received the Holy Spirit.  This is a gift that goes beyond your God-give talents that were there from your human birth.  These are gifts that have be given to you are called into service since your spiritual birth.

Here’s the thing.  Whether it is a God-given talent that we were born with and honed over the years or a Spiritual Gift that manifested itself when we were baptized by the Holy Spirit, we are to put these gifts and talents to work to produce a return for our Master.  We are to put them to work at once.

Let’s talk treasure.  Not all of us are trusted with bags of gold, but most of us are.  We don’t carry it in bags but we have this thing called an income.  It might be because we work or because we invested wisely or it might be because somebody said you get paid just for breathing.

In this country, you might get paid because you have a job or you might get paid because you don’t.  Compared to the rest of the world, what income we have—wherever it comes from—is like a bag of gold.

But, I’ve got bills!  I get that.  You are probably going to have bills next month too, and very likely the month after as well.

But, you also have a trust.  You have some income and what you have is a trust.  We could talk about the tithe and how that is trusting God back with a tenth of what he is trusting you with, but that’s really all I’m going to say about that.  If you missed the money sermon last year, then read it online.

that what we have been given in money or property or stuff is a trust.  We still are called to answer the same question.  What did I do—or will I do—with what God gave me. 

Sometimes we use money to produce a monetary return.  We start a business.  We invest wisely in other businesses and industries.  We put our money into a very low risk account.  We stick our monetary necks out a little on something with a little more risk but potential for a greater payoff.

Whatever we do with our treasure should be governed by wisdom and not fear.  Not all investments of our treasure produce a monetary return.  I will be very up front with you here.  We are not going to make any money on that playground for which some of you made special offerings.

We are not going to sell day passes or season passes.  It is not going to make any money but it will pay a dividend.  

We are not going to sell lunch tickets for Chewy Tuesdays or Pop Tarts and Peanut Butter.  We spend money on food and spend time in preparation and delivery, but we don’t make one cent in profit.  We do produce a fantastic return on investment.

We take some treasure—mostly money but also some in-kind donations—and we invest it in meals for kids.  Our return on that investment is in smiles, hugs, and an affirmation that along the way something reached these children and they know God’s love by our actions.

We used our treasure to let our light shine before men so that people could see God’s love in action and in so doing, bring glory to God.  That’s paying a good dividend!

But we won’t make a cent on the whole deal.  That said, it is a fantastic investment of our treasure.


Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Don’t bury your treasure in the ground thinking it will be safe.  The only way that treasure is safe is when it is put to use in this world so our account is credited in the age to come.

That doesn’t mean that you should not have a savings account or an IRA or some cash or gold in a safe place.  It doesn’t mean that you should not have money for emergencies.  It doesn’t mean that a little buffer in your checking account is not a wise thing.

It means that you are the master of your money and you tell it where to go.  If you do this wisely, you will fare well in this world and have treasure in the age to come.  You are master over you treasure and you put it to work in accordance with the God-given purpose that you are living.
We consider the treasure that we have a trust from God and we wisely put it to use.

That covers the standard time, talents, and treasure framework that typically you will find attached to this parable or attached to a Stewardship Month or series.  It’s good to know and good to apply, and it is just part of the equation. I would say that’s the warm up part.  We are just getting warmed up.

What’s left?  Our commission and the gospel, that’s what.
Of all the things that God has trusted to us—from the macro level, that being the earth, to things such as time and talents and treasure—nothing really compares to our commission and the gospel.

Am I saying that the gospel is a greater trust than the stewardship of the earth?  That’s a pretty big trust.

Yes.  That is what I am saying.  Heaven and earth will pass away.  We are told that God will give us a new heaven and a new earth.  That’s no excuse for bad stewardship of the planet entrusted to us, but we must understand that the gospel is an invitation to eternity.

Our commission to take this gospel across the street and across the planet is bigger than 5 bags of gold.  This is the biggest trust that God has placed in us.

If one day someone comes up to you and says on behalf of the Lord, I am giving you these five big bags of gold; I want you to respond: “Thank you very much.  I will put them to work at once.  This is the second biggest trust that I have been given.”

Our commission and the gospel are the biggest trust we have been given.  Remember that a commission is not just a command.  It comes with authority.  In this case, God-given authority. 

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

If we do a really good job at putting our time, talents, and treasures to use and bury our commission in the ground, what have we done?

Should we expect to hear a Well done, good and faithful servant from our Master.  Our time, talent, and treasures are sort of like practice for putting our commission into effect.

These are the few things that we have done well with and produced a good return.  The gospel is something greater that we have been trusted with to put to work—to bring to a blind and broken world.

Our commission and the gospel makes us partners with our Master.  In the parable, the master said, now come and share my happiness.  Come and be a part of what I am all about.

Jesus called his disciples friends because they would be about his Father’s business.  They were family now.  So are we.  We are on the friends and family plan.

We should be wise and produce a return for our Master with the time, talents, and treasures that he has entrusted to us.  We should produce a good return with what we have been given.  Sometimes those returns last a lifetime.

But putting the gospel to work is playing in the big leagues.  That’s where we produce returns that last for eternity.  That’s where our hearts should desire to hear, Well done good and faithful servant more than anywhere else.

We conclude where we began some time ago, with the question that is never asked in the parable but was answered by all three servants.

What did you do with what I gave you?

My rewording to make it applicable to us is, what did we do with what God gave us?  I hope that each of us is living in such a way that we will receive a well done for what we did with our time, talents, and treasures.

Most of all, I pray that we hear well done good and faithful servant with what we did with the ultimate trust given to us—the gospel.

More than all the bags of gold that we could manage, the good news that God really does love us is news that we are called to put to work at once.

When we answer the question, what did we do with what God gave us, I pray that we can say we produced a good return on the time, talents, and treasures that he gave us; and that we put everything that we had into our commission and never gave the gospel a day off.

Amen.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Parable of the Talents - Part II



‘Tis Christmas come early, for me any way.  This is the second of three homilies on the Parable of the Talents.  Last time we focused on the first two servants and used the acronym TURN, standing for:

Trusted—each of the three servants was trusted by his master.  They were entrusted with money in accordance with their ability.

Urgency—the first two servants acted at once and put their master’s money to work.  We noted that they were the master in their relationship with this money.  They put it to work and it did not get a day off.

Return on Investment (ROI)—the first two knew that their master was demanding and expected a return.  They were wise and demanding with their investments and produced a fantastic return for him.

No Fear—while fear is real and risk is real, the servants were not immobilized by fear.  Wisdom, not fear governed what they did with their master’s money.

Now we come to the third servant.  We need to realize that this servant was also trusted by his master.  This was not a set up.  He was not doomed to fail from the start.  His master trusted him with a whole bag of gold.  You don’t do that with someone that you don’t trust.

He was trusted.  Perhaps his abilities were not the same as the others, but he was a trusted servant and entrusted with his master’s money in accordance with his abilities.

And, it appears that he too acted with urgency—at least there is nothing that would indicate any delay.  How can I say this?  The text does not say that this servant weighed his choices and then decided to go bury his talent in the ground.  The text simply says that he went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

He didn’t stop off for investment advice.  He didn’t consult with the other two servants.  He did not swing by the bank and put the money on deposit and later change his mind.  He went off and dug a hole in the ground.  It didn’t even say that he swung by the house to pick up a shovel.

It is at this point that we see fear creeping into this servant’s decision model.  It would seem that the third servant already knew that if his master gave him anything at all, he would go bury it in the ground. 

Here is a really crazy part.  He expends more effort to hide this money that it would take to deposit it in the bank.  How much effort is it to take the money to the bank, say here’s my money, where is my receipt?

Here’s the thing when you hide the money in the ground—somebody else could find it.  Do you remember the parable of the hidden treasure?  Hiding money in the ground was something that people did in that day.  It may not have been wise but it was not unusual.

I remember watching investment commercials several years ago.  One of them showed a couple stressing a little bit over their investments because the market was just downright ugly.  One of them remarked, “What are we going to do?  Put it under our mattress?”

While I don’t have a lot of money to invest, I was putting some in a Roth IRA a few years ago and when I would look at my statements I sometimes wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off putting my money under my mattress.

So we should not look at this third servant as doing something unusual.  In certain circumstances, having some money or gold or silver in a safe place makes sense.  In the context of this parable, we are not told that the country is in financial turmoil or that the banks might close or that there is any extraordinary risk at play.

Fear is what drives this servant to hide his money in the ground.  Think about this.  Does his hiding his money in the ground reduce his fear?

On the contrary, now he must worry that someone will find his hiding spot.  He will have to come up with some way of checking on his buried money without giving away where it is buried.  He will spend more time or worry now than if he just put the money in the bank and worried that all the banks collapsed. 

Some suggest that because many had dirt floors in those days that this servant buried the money within the confines of his own house.  That’s a possibility, but think about the worry factor he would have had every time he left the house. He would suddenly be a prisoner in his own household.  There’s a cruel form of house arrest.

But why was he afraid?

He was afraid of his master because he saw his master as a hard man.  This man harvested where he had not even planted.  He reaped dividends where he had not even invested.

Understand that the other two servants knew the same facts about their master; yet they pursued vastly different courses of action.  So was the fear truly derived from the qualities of the master?

How do two servants see this same master and go and do great things and this one servant becomes immobilized by fear?  It’s not that the third servant didn’t do anything at all, he just did not do anything productive.

We get most of our answer from the master’s description of this third servant.  You wicked, lazy servant—those are the words:  wicked and lazy.  Some translations use slothful for lazy.  What a label to have put upon you!

Is the master being overly harsh?  He did get his money back.  It’s not like the servant went out and squandered it like the prodigal son.  It’s like a bottle deposit.  It’s a zero-sum gain.  This guy is surely not going to business school, but is he really wicked?

Consider the proverbs.  I will give you the Tom’s tweet version.  There is God’s way and there is everything else.

I’ll go a little beyond the tweet.  There is God’s way.  We might call it the right way.  We might call it righteousness.  We might call it holy—set apart, completely different from the ways of the world.  It’s God’s way.

And then there is everything else, which we might call:
·     Foolishness—the Proverbs are rich in poverty of the fool.
·     Laziness—consider the sluggard described in the proverbs who is too lazy to bring his hand from the bowl to his mouth.
·     Wickedness—being totally opposed to everything that God has made holy.
·     Rebelliousness—a first cousin of wickedness for sure.
·     Contentiousness—often manifesting itself as a firebrand of discontent

Sometimes we think that to be wicked, someone has to look the part.  Sometimes we think that to be lazy, a person must do nothing at all.

But anything opposed to God and God’s ways is wicked.  Those who expend energy on making excuses instead of producing something of value are lazy. 

Let’s take the second part of a proverb that you know very well:  Fools despise wisdom and instruction or discipline.  Why?

Their starting point and their life direction is skewed.  Unlike the wise who come out of the starting blocks with a wholesome fear of the Lord, the foolish despise such discipline.  The heart of a fool says that there is no God.

Fools defy obedience.  They defy discipline and surely will never know the fruit of self-discipline.  Fools live in fear of the world, and that leads to terrible decision making.

Fear cannot produce a good return on investment.  The fear of what mom or dad might do to a child sometimes will keep them out of trouble, but it won’t get them to a college degree or make them a good leader or help them produce a good return.

Consider the football team that has led the whole game.  They have a two-touchdown lead with two minutes left in the game and they start playing not to make a mistake—not to lose.

Consider their opponents who have been struggling the entire game.  They have been afraid to throw the long ball or run the reverse because they were sure it wouldn’t work. 

Now with only two minutes left, they think to themselves that what they thought would work isn’t working, so why not try something else.  They throw the deep strike and connect.  They make a stop, get the ball back, run the reverse and move quickly to another score.

Now the game is tied with one time playing totally fearless football and the other team playing not to lose.

About 20 years ago, football coaches at all levels became aware of this dynamic and started coaching with a model that said, what would we do if fear were not a factor.  Sometimes you must lose a game that you led for most of the way to remember this.

Fear does not produce good returns.

There is risk in life and fear is still alive and well in the world, but for those who choose wisdom, fear is not welcome in our decision—making cycle.  We look at possible consequences and sequels to our decisions, but we do not decide out of fear.  We are people who are aware of what is going on in our life and in the world, but fear does not govern us.

The master of these three servants was a demanding man.  Two of the servants recognized this and did their best to meet or exceed his expectations.  One buried the very thing that he was trusted with in the ground because he was afraid.

This third servant tried to transfer the blame for his ineptness to the master—I knew you were a hard man; but by his own admission he was afraid.  The fact that his master was a hard man was not the problem.  Consider the coaches that you have known in your life or that you know of.  Think about these two:  Vince Lombardi and John Wooden.  They were demanding.  They set the bar very high and expected you to reach or exceed the goals set for you.

Really, who would want to play for a coach that showed up for practice, looked at how you were at the beginning of the season and just said, “whatever.”  The fact that his master was a hard man was not the problem.

 The problem was that the third servant was afraid.  Fear was the governing force in his life.

Let’s finish the parable.  Not only was the master displeased, but he gave instructions to take the one talent or one bag of gold from this worthless servant and give it to the one who now had ten talents. 

He said not only have you disappointed me, but you are no longer worthy of my trust.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  The third servant received one bag of gold because the master knew that he could manage one bag of gold.  Had he only put it in the bank, he would have at least had something to show for this trust.

But he had nothing to show for his master’s investment.  For those listening to this parable as Jesus told it, they could relate to taking the one talent from the wicked and lazy servant and giving it to the servant who now had ten talents. 

Why?

The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.

Many of your translations say the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous or for the godly.  I would suspect that those listening to this parable probably cheered at this point.  They knew the proverb and wanted to hear a story where the world of the wicked ended upside down and the righteous were standing tall at the end of the day.

Today, some would say, “Oh how mean to take away from those who have so little.”  Here is the thing, the third servant didn’t have as much as the other two, but he still was trusted with a bag of gold.

I want us to ponder this point.  When our Master trusts us with a little, it’s still a lot.  It is something with which we can produce a return.  We can produce a return.  It’s not like he says here’s five bucks now make me rich.  God gives us enough to produce a return.

Unless we are governed by fear.  So many times we read God telling his people, “Do not be afraid.”  “Fear not” are words that are not only for shepherds watching their flocks at night.

God commanded Joshua not to be afraid and not to be discouraged.

Fear is real.  Danger is real.  Risk is real.  Life has risk and sometimes danger but fear must not govern how we navigate this life.

Fear robs us of producing returns for our Master and for the Body of Christ.  Fear robs us of joy and peace.  Fear has to do with punishment and we do not fear the punishment of our Master.

Here’s the thing with the third servant fearing his master.  People do not give bags of gold to people that they have just punished.  The third servant may have received instruction and discipline in the past, but he had not been punished.

If you receive instruction and discipline then you are still in the good graces of your master.  He knows that instruction and discipline are his investments in you.  If you have received punishment in the past, he is not going to trust you with a bag of gold.

The third servant was not being set up to fail.  He should have realized that his master trusted him.  He was a trusted servant.

The master trusted all three of these servants and gave them what they could handle within their abilities.  Somewhere along the way fear entered the equation for the third servant.
Let’s go back to Tom’s tweet.  We will use the corporate version.

What did we do with what God gave us?

Now let’s ask a follow up question.

Is fear decreasing my return on God’s investment?

We don’t do fear.  We don’t deny that fear exists, but we do not give it safe harbor in our lives.  It is not welcomed into our decision making.  Wisdom not fear governs.

Our Master trusts us.  We take what he says at face value and just do it.  We produce a good return when we are obedient to him, and fear is not a part of who we are.

We don’t have to have specific instructions; in fact, it is more likely that we will be given a trust—some sort of talent or gift or opportunity—and our call is to be obedient to God by putting that trust to work.

I close this part of the parable with God’s instruction to Joshua.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

The third servant would have been wise to memorize this verse.  We are wise because we have memorized it.  We are blessed when we live by these words.

We don’t do fear!

That’s a great place to end for now, except that I have gone through this entire message and not mentioned love once.  I talked about wisdom and fear, urgency and laziness, being demanding, wickedness, but not a single mention of love.

Let me take one moment to clarify that we are trusted servants because God already loves us.  The servants received rewards or lack of them because of what they did with what their master gave them, but in our relationship with our Master, we know that love precedes everything. 

We are not trusted servants to earn love.  We are trusted because we are loved.  We are trusted to work out our salvation as the most important thing that we can do, but love has preceded this relationship.  Salvation is already assured. 

Our Master has claimed us for all eternity and we do not fear his punishment.  To understand this parable completely and apply it to our lives as disciples, we—as I think the first two servants realized—know that our Master will never stop loving us.

We are more than servants to be used for our Master’s purpose.  We are more than someone to be used.  We do our Master’s will and put our talents to use and are obedient to our Master, but realize that we are more than someone to be used.  Our Master has also called us friend.

We are free to live without fear.  We are free to produce fantastic returns on God’s investment in us.  We are free of fear being a governing factor in our lives.


Amen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The 411 on the 316

The 411 on the 316
John 3:16
Psalm 90:12

Cast:  Two men of any age.  One could be young and up on all the current lingo and the other older if desired, but two of the same age will work as well.  Younger cast members may need to listen to the theme song to Hawaii Five-0.

Set:  Any.  Action moves with dialogue and gesturing.

Lights come up with both men center stage.

P1:  Saw you downtown yesterday.
P2:  Yep.  Was trying to get the 411 on what that big crowd was about.
P1:  What?
P2:  The 411.  C’mon, I was trying to the information about what was happening.
P1:  And?
P2:  It started with the 911.
P1:  What?
P2:  C’mon now.  Somebody called in an emergency.
P1:  Yeah, OK, I know that one.  And?
P2:  The next thing you know the “Five Oh” is on the scene.
P1:  The who?  What?
P2:  The PoPo.  You know the police.  Hawaii Five O.  Da Da Da Da Da Da, Da Da Da Da Da..
P1:  Yeah, sure.  Book ‘em Danno.
P2:  I’m telling you the 511 was heating up after that.
P1:  I don’t have clue.
P2:  You know, the place that covers weather and travel advisories.
P1:  I might want to remember that one.
P2:  What have you done up until now?
P1:  Looked out my window and if I saw a tornado, I drove the other way.
P2:  That could work, but you’ve got to learn your numbers.
P1:  I know some numbers.
P2:  Hit me.
P1.  One is the loneliest number.
P2:  What?
P1:  That one is a double whammy because it is by Three Dog Night.  That’s a one, and a two, and a three…
P2:  Really?  Your numbers are out of date.
P1:  This one is not out of date.
P2:  Let’s have it.
P1:  Lord, teach us to number our days.
P2:  What?
P1:  I want to number my days.
P2:  They already have numbers, like July 4th or Cinco de Mayo or Valentine’s Day or…
P1:  I don’t think that Valentine’s Day is actually a number.
P2:  Yeah but it‘s always on the 15th of February.
P1:  It’s the 14th, but that explains why you can’t keep a girlfriend.
P2:  If you want to get your flowers and candy at 75% off, you go with the 15th.
P1:  Goes to my point of you not being able to keep a girlfriend.
P2:  Maybe I’m just playing the field.
P1:  I think you are mostly riding the bench, but back to numbering our days.  By number, the psalmist means to value as a scarce commodity.
P2:  Like counting gold bars.
P1:  Pretty close.
P2:  OK, I’m liking your numbers.
P1:  Really.
P2:  Yeah.  I’m not all shallow and just care about being the coolest person around.  I’m still looking for ways to improve my game.
P1:  Ok, but I don’t want to hit you with this right away.  I don’t know if you’ve got game enough for it.
P2:  I don’t have game?  Really?  Hit me with your best shot!
P1:  OK, here comes the 411 on the 316.
P2:  What?
P1:  Here is what you need to know about God’s love.
P2:  I thought we were doing numbers.
P1:  Hang with me.
P2:  OK, I’m in.
P1:  God loved everything he had made so much that even though everyone and everything seemed to be rebelling against him, he took away everything that was wrong with us and the creation by making an unbelievable sacrifice for us.
P2:  What?
P1:  God loved us when we didn’t love him.  He still loves us.  His heart desires to love us forever.
P2:  For the rest of my life?
P1:  And then some.
P2:  That’s some heavy stuff.  How much does it cost.
P1:  More than you can afford.
P2:  Bummer.  I knew there was a catch.
P1:  No catch.  God paid the price for you.  When you accept this incredible gift that he has for you, it is like you never did anything wrong at all, ever.
P2:  That’s a big slate to wipe clean.
P1:  He did it and he did it because he loves you and me more than we can imagine.
P2:  Now, that’s some 411, but I don’t get the 316 part.
P1:  That’s the Bible verse.  John 3:16.
P2:  I’ve seen that on signs at Football games and wondered about it.
P1:  Now you have the 411.
P2:  With news that good, we should put it on the 911.
P1:  You’re right, but first I want to talk to you about the ONE and only Son of God.
P2:  I’m in.
Both begin to walk off the stage.
P1:  Learn the verse and we will talk for as long as you want.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever would believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.


The end.


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Parable of the Talents - Part I


If you have known me for a while, you know that the Parable of the Talents is my favorite parable.  Yes, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are close contenders, but I have never come across a single parable with so much packed into it. 

I won’t bury the lead.  Tom’s tweet for this parable is, “What did you do with what I gave you?”  It is the question never asked in the parable but for which every servant answered.

To bring the tweet into application mode, we ask:  “What did you do with what God gave you?”

We could put it into the corporate mode and ask:  “What did we do with what God gave us?”

I have preached and written on this parable so many times that we will surely cross some familiar territory.  I will start with my own analogy that I have used over and over again, and then get to the parable particulars.

Imagine that you gave your son a new baseball glove.  You spent some time picking it out.  You knew exactly the one that would be the very best for him.  You catch him a little off-guard when you present it to him, but you have high hopes for what he will do with that glove.

Your son takes the glove and puts it high on a shelf in his room.  It seems to be a safe place, but the glove stays there day after day.  He does not take it down to play catch or go to baseball practice or play in a game.  It is stored safely on his shelf in his room.

It might get scuffed or dirty or even wet if he took it outside.  It would become worn if he used it in practice or games.  So he leaves it preserved, if you will, sitting on the shelf.

The problem is that a baseball glove is supposed to be scuffed from digging ground balls out of the dirt.  It should have grass stains on it from bringing a little blindness to those line drives with eyes by making diving catches and sliding across the outfield.  A baseball glove is meant to be worn and to have wear and tear on it.

It is meant to be cleaned and oiled and even re-laced after time.  It is meant to be put to use.  There is nothing like the smell of a new glove, well, except, wearing off the new glove smell of the glove from putting it to use.

A baseball glove is meant to be put to use.  The son who puts the glove on the shelf for fear of getting it dirty breaks his father’s heart.  The glove is meant to be worn out.

Now to the parable. 

The parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven.  We know that because the parable begins with the word, “again.”  Some of your translations may include what is implied in that word and say, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like.”  Which way is correct?

Neither.  Jesus didn’t use the word again or even refer to the Kingdom of Heaven in the original text that we find in this parable.  Such words provide smoother transitions in our reading and fit into the context of the entire chapter, but we should be careful not to presume that Jesus was just rapid-firing one parable after another.  There was probably some time to digest each teaching before he began the next.

We should also not presume that what we extract from this parable applies only to the end of the age, for this parable is very much about every day of our lives.  It is very much about what Paul would later refer to as working out our salvation.

Let’s get to the four main characters in the story.  First there is a man of some substance.  He has property and money and servants.  Three of his servants are included in this parable.

He is about to go on a journey, so he entrusts the property of his estate to these servants.  He also gives each of them money—a substantial amount of money.  In today’s terms, we are talking hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. 

This isn’t here’s twenty bucks until I get back.  He gives them 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent worth of money in accordance with their ability. 

This tells us that this man—the master of the servants—knew his servants very well.  He understood what they were capable of, probably because he had trusted them with something smaller before. 

These were men that the master deemed worthy of his trust.  His trust in this story is revealed in talents of money, some of your translations read, “bags of gold.”  Even though the third servant doesn’t fare very well in this story, the master deemed him worthy of trusting him with one bag of gold.  That’s not small potatoes.

These are trusted servants.

Let’s get to the story itself.

The first two servants act immediately.  They went at once and put their master’s money to work.  The term that I prefer here is urgency.  They were not rash or careless, but they acted with urgency. 

Notice also that these two servants didn’t go to work; they put their master’s money to work.  They already had a job—talking care of the master’s property.  Now, they had something extra.

They could have pondered what to do with the money, hoping to find a good investment; instead, they put their master’s money to work right away.  Were they careless?
No, they were prepared to be trusted with something more. 

In the course of their relationship with their master, the servants surely revealed much about themselves to the master, but they also received revelations about their master.  He was a man who expected a return on his investment. 

The third servant described the master as a hard man who expected a return even when it appeared he didn’t make an investment.  I think if the first two servants would have described their master, they would have used the term demanding.  I think the first two would have just said that he sets the bar very high and expects us to meet or exceed his standard.  That’s just who he is.

So knowing this, I expect that the first two servants had something in their hip pocket if their master were to trust them with more responsibility.  They knew their master and knew what he expected and they were ready when they received their talents.

They put them to work at once.  The acted with urgency.

Consider again, that the servants put their master’s money to work.  In the relationship with their master’s money, they became the master or manager of that money.  They put the money to work.

What happened next?  The first two produced a return on investment for their master.  We don’t know what they did, but they were surely wise about it.  The one given 5 bags of gold produced another 5 bags by the time his master returned. 

We do know that the master was gone a long time, so this was likely not an overnight windfall.  They didn’t go to the track or casino because the master would be back in a week.  They were surely wise investors and produced a return on investment for their master, something they knew that he expected.

Let’s talk a little bit about fear.  Investing has risk.  If the risk is low, the return is often low.  The higher the risk, the higher the return, usually.  Things can go wrong.  War, famine, or even the abundance of some commodity reduces the return of the investor.  Ask any wheat farm who has a bumper crop and then finds out that the whole nation is having a bumper crop and the price per bushel drops significantly because there is wheat for sale everywhere.

But, to make money, you have to spend money.  You have to invest money.  There is risk.  With risk comes fear.  Fear is real but the question is whether fear is controlling.  Does fear rule?

We understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  We understand that perfect love casts out fear.  We understand that God loves us so much that we should not fear punishment from him.

But what about fear in the context of buying a $100,000 worth of calves to fatten up and sell?  The fear of Mad Cow disease might not let you write that check.

The fear of drought might cause you to put off such a bold purchase until next year or the year after that, or never at all.

Fear could immobilize people so that nobody ever invested.  But people do invest and they do make money.  Some invest a lot and make a lot.

Wisdom, not fear, must govern those who invest. 

The first two servants did not have to decide as to if they would invest their master’s money.  That was settled in their minds before the money hit their hands.  They would be wise, not fearful investors.

Fear would not adversely impact their decision-making model.  They might lose everything.  That was a real possibility.  They might take huge losses, but if fear controlled them, they would never have a chance to produce a return for their master.

Their desire to please their master was surely greater than the fear of losing all of his money.

We know how the story turned out for these two.  The one trusted with five earned five more.  The one trusted with two earned two more.  Their master was very pleased.

In fact, he said that they had done well with a few things and now he would put them in charge of many things.  Well done!

The master went beyond saying, “Well done!”  He added qualities that he considered noteworthy.  He called each of these two a good and faithful servant.  Good and faithful—who would not want to be commended by our Master with those words.

Then the master in the parable put icing on the parable cake.  “Come and share your master’s happiness.”

The master did not say, “I’m giving you a good tip” or “There will be something extra in your Christmas stocking once people start celebrating Christmas and confuse it all with stockings.”

He said come and enjoy my happiness.  Consider the words of Jesus that we find in John’s gospel.  Jesus told his disciples that he no longer called them servants.  Servants don’t know the will of their master, but you guys understand—as much as you can now—and that makes us friends.

The relationship had changed.

The master in the parable had trusted his servants and expected a return on his investment and they delivered.  In a master-servant relationship, promotions would have been sufficient.  You were in charge of a few things, now you will be in charge of many things.  You get a raise and a corner office and first pick on the doughnuts on Fridays.

But the master added, “Come and share my happiness.”  There was more than a promotion.  There was a significant change in the relationship.  Share my happiness! 

What servant is invited to share his master’s happiness?

We will continue this parable in two more segments, but for now let’s consider what we have gleaned from these first two servants.  I will use the acronym that I constructed almost 10 years ago.  The acronym is TURN.

T is for trusted.  These were trusted servants.  There was a relationship already in place.  The master knew what they were capable of and entrusted them with his property and money accordingly.  The master didn’t just give out his money to anyone and everyone.  He had a trusted relationship with these servants.

U is for urgency.  The first two servants put their master’s money to work at once.  They were the manager in this equation.  The money worked for them and they put it to work right away.  Their own master was demanding of them and they too were demanding of what their master had given them.  They did not give their master’s money any time off.

R is for Return on Investment.  Their master expected and the two servants produced a return on their investment.  ROI is the modern day term—return on investment.

N is for No Fear.  The servants acted as if they had no fear.  Fear was surely a factor.  Risk is involved in most investments, but fear would not be the governing factor.  Fear would not debilitate.  Fear would be recognized for what it was and wisdom would be the prevailing principle. 

This short acronym is not just for the end of the age.  This is good daily counsel for godly people—for the wise. 

We have a relationship with our Master and he has trusted us with gifts and talents and a commission.  We will discuss time, talents, treasure, and the gospel later, but for now know that he gives to us in accordance with who we are.  Every good gift is from above, and in the context of this parable, it is also a trust.  What God gives us is a trust, not a whimsical provision. 

We should also understand that in this trust we find our purpose.  We will never have to live a single day without purpose—a God-given purpose.  I have written and remarked many times that there is no Sabbath to take in a life without purpose.  We will never live in that pitiful state because of the trusted relationship that we have with our Master.

We should live as if tomorrow is not promised to us, even though eternity is.  We must value the hours and days of our lives.  For the things the Lord has given us to do, we do them at once.  My term for this is urgency.  This does not mean that we don’t take time to rest.  It means that what we have been given to do gets done and we can take a Sabbath and rest.  We take care of our master’s business at once.

And we should produce a return. We might call it fruit.  We produce.  It’s not all about a monetary return.  Sometimes, it is about money.  Most of the time it is other things.

And we live this life in freedom not fearFear is a real thing that thrives in this world from generation to generation, but it does not control us or govern us or get invited into our decision-making process.  We assess risk, but we don’t do fear.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline but our decisions are not governed by fear.

We will talk more about fear next time.  We will get to the third servant next time.  For now, let’s consider the lessons we can learn from these first two servants.  How did they answer the question that was never asked?

What did you do with what I gave you?  Rephrased for us:  What did we do with what God gave us?  I will be challenging you to ask yourselves this question for the rest of the month.

My hope is that our answers are those that will produce this reply:  Well done good and faithful servant.

Amen.