Friday, July 7, 2017

Divine Balance

Luke’s 12th chapter is interesting in many ways.  Jesus tells those with ears to hear to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees.  These people who have been entrusted as the shepherds of Israel have not done well with their trust.

Do not let them rule over you with fear.  The fear of the Lord is the only fear that you should entertain.  God—not these rule makers, not the devil, not any standard of compliance—holds power over life and death, heaven and hell, worry and peace.

Jesus tells those listening—then and now—that we claim him or we don’t.  There is no sitting on the fence.  If we claim Jesus as Lord, we will profess him publicly, affirm him always, and never forsake him.  He is our Lord.  Those who don’t really believe won’t know the same good standing that we have with our Father in heaven because of Jesus.

Jesus goes so far as the say not to worry even when the authorities take you into custody for believing in him.  God’s own Spirit will be right there with you and even give you the words to say.

Our Lord even spends a little time talking about possessions in what is now called the Parable of the Rich Fool.  We won’t spend time on that now as I will discuss that parable more a few weeks down the road.  Just remember that a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.

Then it is back to do not worry.  He tells us to look at the example of the birds and the flowers.  We should trust our heavenly Father so much that we worry less than the lilies of the field.  We don’t do worry.  We don’t do fear.  Hear these endearing words from Luke’s gospel.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

There is a song that we sing frequently in our First Light service called The More I Seek You.  It has a stanza—if modern hymns still have stanzas—that says:  This love is so deep it’s more than I can stand.  I melt in your peace.  It’s overwhelming.  When we read this brief excerpt from Luke’s gospel, it’s almost like we could melt in our Lord’s peace.

But then Jesus instructed his followers once again to keep their guard up.  Be watchful.  Dress ready for service.  We could take a rabbit trail down putting on the full armor of God, but we won’t do that now.  Keep your lamps burning.  

We have been down this road before.  We understand that watchfulness and peace are not exclusive.  We are ready because we abide in the words of Jesus.  We continue to do the things that we know to do.

Jesus throws an interesting twist into this first parable.  He tells us that when the master—we translate that to our Master—comes home and finds us doing exactly what we should be doing, he will have us relax and recline at the table and he will take care of us.  Now that’s something worth staying the course. 

But—here’s the condition—we don’t know when the Son of Man will return, so we must live for him every day.  Our salvation is secured in the immeasurable love that poured out the blood of Jesus on the cross, but our Lord wants to see how much we have loved him back.

Here is where it gets fun.  Peter asked Jesus, “Is this parable for everyone or just for us?”

Don’t pick on Peter.  It’s a good question.  It’s one of those that comes up in Bible studies full of mature believers. Can everyone walk on water?  Should I be able to move a mountain.  Should I sell everything that I have?  Don’t pick on Peter.  He is asking what others were likely thinking.

The fun part is that Jesus answers the question about one parable with another parable.  At this point, I can see the other disciples giving Peter the look.  Now, we have not one, but two parables to figure out courtesy of Peter the rock.

Jesus begins.  Who is the faithful and wise manager?  The manager is likely also a servant but he is a manager.  Think of Joseph in Potiphar’s house.  He was a slave but in charge of everything.  He was a manager.

Jesus has a parable for managers.  It follows the same model as the ones for servants assigned to pick grapes or tend sheep or clean the house, but it is about managers.  What will the manager do when the master is away?

Will he run a tight ship as if the master were there checking every day or will he get lazy and careless and a little selfish?

We know how this comes out.  Stay the course and reap the rewards.  Stray away and you pay.  Don’t get too wrapped up in all this beating business.  Beatings were the performance evaluation tool of the day.  You didn’t just get a note put in your personnel file back then, you got a beating.

We must get through the part on beatings to get to the heart of the message, but you must endure a short rabbit trail first.  Every time I think about beatings, the old adage, “The beatings will continue until morale improves,” comes to mind.

Don’t get wrapped up on this beating business.  Think on how Jesus sums up this pericope. It sounds a whole lot like, “What did you do with what I gave you” in the indicative instead of the interrogative. 

If you were given much then much is expected.  If you are entrusted with much then much more will be asked—much more is required.

Here we go again.  Our salvation, our family, our homes and possessions and money are all trusts.  Our commission to share the gospel is a trust.  Our command that we hold so dear—to love one another as Jesus loved us—is a trust.
Our Spiritual Gifts are a trust.

The talents and abilities that God placed in us at birth are a trust.

If you are gifted as a teacher, God expects you to teach much more than the person terrified of teaching.

If you are a talented carpenter, God expects you to build all of your life.

If you have been blessed with an income, God expects that you will not only tithe, but give something beyond the tithe.

If you have been blessed with possession, God expects that you will be generous.

If you have a house, God expects that you will practice hospitality.

If you have authority, God expects you to practice it with wisdom and mercy.

If you have the gift to work with small children, God expects to see you in the nursery.

If you have the gift to work with small children and the gift of being a teacher, God expects to see you teaching a children’s lesson.

If you have the gift of intercession, God expects to hear from you more than the one who has the gift of service.

If you can’t hold your hands steady any more, God probably doesn’t want you lighting the candles.

If you can’t count, God probably doesn’t want you to be the church treasurer or a bank teller, though I guess these days you can run a cash register.

If you can’t handle controversy, God probably doesn’t want you to negotiate trade agreements.

If you are allergic to bee stings, God probably doesn’t want you to be a bee keeper.

There is a divine balance in what God expects from us. If he has given us a lot to work with, then he expects us to put it all to work.

If we have only been given a little, he expects us to put all of the little that he gave us to work.  There is a divine balance to God’s gifts and expectations.

Nowhere in this chapter or these two parables or any of the connecting teachings do I see which excuses are acceptable for not taking the much or little that we have been given and putting it to work.

Let’s consider where we have been so far.  We take care in what we believe.  We fear only God.  We don’t worry about the daily provisions of our life.  We don’t get wrapped up in our possessions.  We have peace but are watchful.  We don’t worry but are always ready. 

Whether a simple servant or a manager, we do what we know to do.  So what are we to do now?

We should begin with an inventory.  What do I have?

If that list begins with life and the promise of eternal life, then we continue with the inventory.  If not, it’s time to wrestle with this question of whether we believe in a God of love.  If that answer is yes, then do we believe that he loved us enough to take away our sin in the person and blood of his Son that we call Jesus?

If the answer is no, then you can skip this part and just begin a time of silent prayer asking God to open your eyes and your heart to eternal love.

But for those who already believe, let’s inventory what we have.

A home.
Cars, motorcycles, and hoverboards.
A job or income from somewhere.
Education and continuing education.

Those are typical areas to inventory.  We should see what we have and if we are managing these trusts well.  Here are some that might go overlooked.

Connections or a network of connections.

Are we managing these things well?  Are we using them to produce a good return for our Lord?

Sometimes, people venture into the “if only” world.  If only I had that skill.  If only that door would open for me.  If only I would win the lottery.  We are called to do what we can with what we have and not be surprised when God adds to it.

If you catch yourself wondering what you could do if you only had…you fill in the blank; first ask yourself what you are doing with what God has already given you.

I think, in fact I am quite sure, that all of us here have been trusted with much; therefore, much is expected from us.
We need to get out of the habit of looking at everything that we don’t have and start focusing on doing great things with what we do have.

We have been trusted with much.  Much is expected from us.
You know who realized this some time ago.  It’s someone that you will recognize.  Consider these words of Mother Teressa.

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

She understood that she was trusted with much, that she must put that trust to work, and that God would see her through whatever was now in her path because she acted upon this trust.

Was she trusted with money?  Not so much.

Was she trusted with great possessions?  Not so much.

She was trusted with the gifts of mercy and communication. 

Her love was shared wherever she was and her lessons launched world-wide.

It seems that we are even trusted with the challenges of our lives.

We are trusted with much.

I am going to add something to the things with which God trusts us—geography.  Some will be calling ahead to get me sized for a straight jacket, I’m sure.  Do I not realize that we live in a one traffic light town?  We do have all three colors on the light now and even two left turn signals.  That makes us big time as far as I’m concerned.  Most intersections would have 4 left turn signals. We could petition the state for another left turn signal or two, but they would just lead people into or out of a pasture.

Geography!  Really?

Consider that we have been trusted with where we live.  We are half an hour from Walmart, which is how modern civilization is defined.  We don’t have traffic, unless two people stop in the middle of an intersection to talk.  We have affordable housing.  We have all the basic services.

We are blessed to live where we live, but we also can reach out to the world.  It’s seven miles to the interstate.  It’s a couple of keystrokes or mouse clicks to the internet, that is, unless your phone is always connected.  In less than two hours you can be on a plane, unless you can get a private lift out of our local facility.

Today’s generation does not understand what a long-distance call is.  We are connected.  Half of the people you know have never used a pay phone and tried to say everything they needed to in 3 minutes. They have just always been connected.  We have these things called Facetime and Skype.  You can see the person that you are talking to on the other side of the world or the other side of the room.

If you must have something that you can’t get here, it’s 90 minutes to Oklahoma City.  It should take a little longer, but I have seen most of you drive.  And then there is Amazon One Click and Prime.  One click, two days, it’s here.

You are not only blessed to live in small town or rural Oklahoma, you are trusted with much.  Much is expected.

I sometimes get a little terse with my fellow pastors when they ask, “How’s the church doing?”  Before I can answer, they add, “Are you all hanging on?”

It is as if the small town geography defines what God can do with us and through us and for his kingdom.  It is usually 10-15 minutes before my contemporaries get to ask any more questions because I am telling them what you are doing with what God gave you.

You were given much and much is expected.
From where I stand, much is being delivered.  You are producing much fruit.

We must never grow complacent with what God has given us, but I think that somehow we understand today’s message a little better than others.  We never retire from taking what God has given us and putting it to work to serve him.

Not everyone is called to be a theologian.  Not everyone is given the gift of intercession.  Not everyone is given the gift of evangelism.

We all understand some theology, pray quite a bit, and share the gospel, but most of the time we are sharing what we know we have been given—God’s love.

We know that we have been given much love and we are expected to love much.

If we do understand these parables and the obligatory words that connect them to us, and we do conduct an inventory; then let us also be wise as we inventory.  Let’s find the clutter and get rid of it.

Let’s identify the stuff that is getting in the way of taking what we have been given and producing a great return and get rid of it.

We might be talking about physical clutter—actual stuff—but more likely, we will find clutter in our time and senseless obligations. 

This is a complicated century but that does not mean our lives must be complicated.  We are equipped to operate in this crazy millennium, yet have the peace of a simpler time.  We are ready because we do what we know our Lord has called us to do; yet, we sleep well at night.

We realize that we have been given much and that much is expected.  We also know that Jesus gave us words so that we might put them into practice.  So, let’s take inventory of what we have and put it to work to produce a good return for our Lord; and if along the way we find things that are clutter, kick them to the curb.

We with ears to hear are the faithful and wise managers of this age.  Let us be known by our love, our good news, our faith, and the wisdom that God has granted us so generously.


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