Friday, April 27, 2018

Christian Stewardship - Talents

What do you think of when you reflect upon being made in the image of God?

Eye color?
Hair color?
Skin color?

Generally, when we think of being made in God’s image, we use somewhat intangible terms.

A divine nature.
A heart of love.
Filled with the Spirit.

But there are some very tangible things, values, talents, gifts, and abilities that God has placed in each of us, and he gave us a mind capable of incredible things so that we may use what he gave us.

And what God gave us, he expects us to use.  Let’s consider the Parable of the Talents once again.  We know that it is about answering the question that is never asked, at least directly, in the course of the parable.  It is about answering, “What did you do with what I gave you?”

But this is not like someone walked up to you on the street and gave you five hundred dollars and said, let’s see what you can do with this.  This parable takes place among people with whom the master had an established relationship.  So let’s first examine this parable using the lens of relationship.

To do this, I like to use the acronym TURN.
T rusted
No fear

Let’s begin with Trusted.

These were trusted servants.  They were not new hires.  We know this because the master entrusted them with a different number of talents based upon their abilities. 

If you have ever been a part of a hiring process and had a look at it from the inside, especially in organizations with a human resources department, you get to know 3 letters very well.  They are KSA.


As executives, managers, and hiring officials consider these areas, they are best to view them as an inverted triangle with ability on the bottom.  Ability is the raw material.  A man who stands, 6’6” tall, weighs 230 pounds, and has less than 10% body fat may have the ability to excel in football, baseball, or basketball.  The raw material is present.

That does not mean that he will have the knowledge or skills needed to compete in the game.  Both knowledge and skill are products of ability multiplied by what a person does with them. 

When I think of someone maximizing knowledge, skills, and abilities, I think of Jerry Rice. When he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he shared this glimpse of his childhood.

In the summertime, holidays, I would work with my father laying bricks for homes and businesses. We started at 5 a.m. and finished after dark. It was hot, hard work. My brothers and I would be the supply chain for bricks, and many times I would be the last link between the bricks and my father. Sometimes I would balance myself on the scaffolding two stories up and catch bricks thrown to me from the ground.
Perhaps catching bricks while balancing on scaffolding gave Jerry an edge later on, but it was more likely that on every practice play, he ran every step of every route, every time.  These are not just the plays where he was likely to get the ball.  This was every play.

He took the unique abilities he had been born with and put them to use.  If he caught 10 out of 12 passes in a game, he would try harder to get ready the next game.  He maximized what God had given him.

The 3 servants in this parable all had abilities that were known to the master.  He gave them talents based upon their ability.  Talents were not distributed based upon attendance, longevity, peer recommendations, or even the past 5 years of servant evaluations.  They were distributed based upon the potential of each servant.  They were distributed based upon the raw materials encased in each servant.

And each servant was trusted with at least 1 talent.  Each servant had potential that was visible to the master.

Talents, abilities, unique gifts that we receive from God were not capriciously distributed.  Our Master knows what gifts he has given us—what he has trusted us with.

The next part of this short acronym is the word Urgent or Urgency.  When the first servant received his 5 talents, he went at once and put them to work.  The second responded in a like manner with 2 talents.  There was no delay; yet, there was no recklessness, for we know that each doubled their master’s money when he put it to use.

How does this happen?

Preparation and expectation:  These were trusted servants.  These servants knew their master and what his expectations were.  Surely they had been preparing for some time to be trusted with more than they were trusted with now.  They had been developing their knowledge and skill sets so they would be ready for more responsibility.

When the opportunity came, there was no delay to try and figure out what to do.  They had run this route a thousand times in practice.  They had made this block over and over again in their minds.  They had worked their business plan and refined it on their personal time.  Without mixing my metaphors any further, let’s just say that they were ready to be trusted with more and when they got it; they acted with urgency.

This brings us to the R in the acronym.  Return on Investment or ROI is an overused term these days, but it is exactly what we see in the relationships in this parable.

Because there was an existing relationship between the master and each servant, both master and servant knew that a return on however many talents were allocated was expected.  The master did not allocate talents without purpose.   Talents were given to trusted servants who acted immediately.  A return was expected.

And that brings us to fear, or as I offer it in the acronym, No fear. 

Make no mistake about it, each servant knew their master enough to fear him.  The first 2 knew there was risk.  They might fail.  You don’t double your money by sitting on it.  They knew fear, but the fear that they knew was not debilitating.  It did not stop them from putting their money to use to produce a return for their master.  Their fear of disappointing their master may have been greater than their fear or failure.  Their desire to please their master may have overcome any negative effects of fearing him.  The fact that they put their talents to use at once may have lessened the effects of the fear.

Have you ever noticed that once you take that first step or two in the right direction, fear starts to melt away.  You are doing something.  You are using what you have.  You are putting your talents to work.

It’s not that the first 2 servants did not know fear, it’s that something was greater than their fear—either their fear of disappointing their master or the overwhelming desire to please him—and they may not have known the difference in this proffered dichotomy.

The last servant knew fear but chose a different course of action.  Fear governed his actions.  Fear prompted him to start getting his excuses together for when his master returned.

“The dog ate my homework” excuse hadn’t been invented yet, so he had to go with, “You are a hard man and I was afraid.”

But the master shatters this excuse by saying, “You couldn’t have put it into a savings account or CD.  You were too afraid to walk to the bank.  Really?”

While fear may always be a factor in what we do with what we have been given, it must never be a debilitating factor.

It must never override a decision to put our talents to work.

We have a relationship with God that began in fear.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.  But fear is not the destination.  Perfect love casts out fear.  God did not give us a spirit of fear but one of power, love, and a sound mind. 

The first 2 servants knew fear but were empowered through their relationship with their master.  The master trusted them and they knew it.  The last servant knew fear and that fear became his master.

As we consider this parable with consideration for the relationships in play, we see that all were trusted servants, all acted with urgency, and all produced a return, but only 2 were not governed by fear. 

You might think, “Wait a minute.  The last servant didn’t act with urgency.  Did he?”

He went off and dug a hole and buried his master’s money.  He started getting his plan of inaction in order right away.  He had his excuses in order from the start, or so he thought.

Many people venture into my office looking for financial help.  Those who have not put their talents to work usually begin with a barrage of excuses.  Sometimes the excuses precede any customary greetings, such as “hello” or “good morning.”  Sometimes the excuses even contradict each other.  But it doesn’t matter; the excuses must be constantly restated.

Making excuses takes a lot of work and if you are not going to put your talents to work, then you must work to keep your excuses current.  It is disheartening to see so many people in the world whose lives are a mess but their excuses are in order.

We should realize that we are trusted servants—even friends of our Lord.  We must take what he has given us and act with urgency, valuing the precious time that we have been given to leverage our talents.  We are expected to produce a return for our Master.  We are expected to produce good fruit with what God has given us.  And we are to approach this challenge of putting our talents to use without fear of the world, and for those who truly know our Lord, without fear of him when we put what he has given us to work.

We have already discussed the stewardship of time.  We are wise to number our days and invest our time instead of spending it.  So let’s take a few moments to consider the stewardship of our gifts and talents.  How are we to use those special qualities that God placed in us or that came with our baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We may not always be able to discern the nomenclature of what is natural ability, talent, or a Spiritual Gift; but we know with certainty that all of these came from God. 

 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:3-8

If it is visiting the sick, then visit the sick.
If it is writing cards of encouragement, then write daily or weekly.
If it is intercession, then keep your prayer list with you.
If it is fixing cars or lawnmowers or furniture, then get to fixing.
If it is changing tires, then get to changing.
If it is to lead worship, then lead.
If it is to write music, then write.
If it is to build spreadsheet formulas, then get to building.
If it is to find fault in others, well, that didn’t come from God.
If it is to say that God didn’t give me anything special is to say that God didn’t make you in his image.  It is to say that the divine assembly line spit out a couple of blanks with no gifts or talents of abilities.  To say this is to be a liar.

We all got something.  We have a gift for reading or writing, singing or dancing, building or designing, speaking or listening, cooking or cleaning, helping or serving, and the list goes on and on and on.

Consider the widow that pleaded with Elisha because her husband was dead and the creditors were coming to take away her sons as payment for the family debts.  She is crying poor, poor, pitiful me. I don’t have anything.

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
2 Kings 4:1-7

The widow says that she has nothing and Elisha says, “Let’s see what you do have.”

The continuous flowing of the olive oil was surely a mighty act of God but it was done in response to obediently using what she had.  God provided the increase.

We are expected to use what we have been given.

And here’s the thing about using our talents, abilities, and gifts—we can use them wherever we are.  Our gifts are not meant to be used only in the worship service or sometime on Sunday.

If our gift is to write, then we can write at work, at home, at church, in school, and wherever we find ourselves.

If one of our skills that we have acquired from our God-given abilities is to service small engines, we can do that even if it is not our bring home the bacon job.

Everyone has at least one gift from God, perhaps we will call it a Spiritual Gift.  We all have some natural abilities that came from God.  Some have already honed these abilities into skills.  Some have taken what came natural to them and increased their knowledge. 

If we take inventory of our knowledge, skills, and abilities, we will see that the body of Christ is quite a force to be reckoned with.  We can do fantastic things with what God has given us if we put them to use.

But will we?

Will we put to use immediately what God gave us, knowing that he expects a return commensurate with what he has given us?

Or will we bury our talent in the ground?  Are some already buried?

But sometimes, like the last servant, we are afraid and we don’t use the talent we have been given.  Sometimes we fear failure or success—they might expect more out of me if I do a good job—and sometimes we are just unthankful.

Remember that Christian stewardship is motivated by God’s abundant love and mercy.  We want to love God back.  

We can, but that requires loving our neighbor and that means putting our talents to use so they produce a return for our Master.

God told us to love him by loving each other.

And we know that doesn’t mean saying, “Hey, I’ll pray for you, dude.  Good luck with that starving and homeless thing.”

In today’s world, using our gifts and talents and knowledge and abilities to produce a return on investment for our master often means mentoring and skill transfer.

Speaking in tongues and prophesying were important gifts in the early church.  They are still important today, but we are called to use far more of our gifts and talents and skills and abilities today.

Today, God’s people are called to show a young family how to budget.  

Today, God’s people are beckoned to teach people how to make a shopping list, and stick to it.

Today, God’s people need to communicate in the language and media of the day.

Today, God’s people need to meet people where they are, use the Gifts that God has given us, and lead people to Jesus Christ.

Today, the sick and lepers and others who need the healing power of the Great Physician don’t hang out at the Pool of Bethsaida.  They live next door or across the street or two blocks away and they are not looking for someone to come say, “Pick up your mat and walk.”

They are looking for today’s Christians to use the abilities that God has given them to make a connection with them and share the good news of life in Jesus Christ.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

God’s love will guide us as to the when and where we are to use our talents, gifts, skills, and abilities for others.  This won’t be a surprise.  God has already opened your eyes to many things.  The god of this age may have blinded unbelievers, but our eyes are open.  We live in the light.  God’s own Spirit speaks to us.  We know if we have buried our talents or not.

The very response of using what we have been given—even though we have ability but little skill in some areas—is pleasing to God.

God likes to see us practice using our abilities and moving towards skill.

God likes to see us putting our talents to work.

God longs for the day when we account for what we did with the gifts and talents that he gave us and say, “Well done good and faithful servant!”

He longs to see that we not only numbered our days and valued our time and gave him the best of our time; but that we also gave him back the very abilities that he placed in us.  We did not bury them in the ground.  We gave him a return on his investment by producing good fruit for one another.

He longs to say, “Come and share my happiness.”

If you are using your talents and seeing them grow, then continue to invest them.

But if your talent is buried in the ground, go did it up.  You don’t have to go figure out if it is buried.  You know.  If it is, then dig it up today.  Put it to use today.  Act with the urgency expected of a people who know that what God has given you is yours because he trusted you to use it and that tomorrow is not promised.  Put it to work today.

There’s one more thing I ask you to think on today.  It requires us to put two pieces of information together.

1.    The third servant buried his talent in the ground.
2.    The master was gone a long time.

How miserable was that servant?  Day after day he had to decide to leave his talent buried in the ground, and he knew that his excuses would never hold up to any degree of scrutiny.  You know how you can fool yourself in your own mind but when your excuses see the light of day they disintegrate immediately?  This servant surely dreaded his day of accounting.

It was as if he shot himself in the foot.  Every day when he awoke, he had to decide to admire his marksmanship and leave his talent in the ground or finally put it to work.  He never put it to work, and thereby repeated his mistake time and time and time again.

It was to shoot himself in the foot again and again and again.  And when your master is gone a long time, that takes a lot of reloading.

Every day, this third servant had to decide to leave his talent buried.  How miserable was he?

We must do what we must to produce a good return for your Master.
And throw off the burden of fear and accept the power, love, and self-discipline that God has also given to you.

We are not people who worry about heaven and hell

We are people who have been liberated from both sin and death.

Our stewardship of what God has given us is done 100% in response to God’s love.

I conclude this discourse with the baseball glove.

Do you know the smell of a new glove?  It’s a one of a kind aroma that only Americans can really appreciate.

Every kid enjoys getting a new glove—even those 25 year old kids making a measly 10 million a year enjoy a new glove.

But a new glove isn’t worth much, at least until it has some grass stains on it from snagging line drives with a diving catch.

A new glove isn’t worth much until it is scuffed up a little from digging a red hot grounder out of the dirt.

A new glove isn’t worth much, until it is shaped just right from oiling, and working it on long bus rides, or through catching a thousand warm up throws.

But the fielder’s glove with grass stains, scuffs, retied laces, and a well worked pocket is a thing of beauty.

The new smell has worn off.  The glove has been put to work.
You want to know what breaks a father’s heart.

Getting his son or daughter a new glove and seeing him putting it on the shelf or watching her leave it there day after day, unstained and unscuffed, and unused.

We break out Heavenly Father’s heart when our talents remain buried in the ground for he longs to tell us “Well done,” and he longs to invite us to share his joy.

Christian Stewardship (From the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Fatih)
6.10 Christian stewardship acknowledges that all of life and creation is a trust from God, to be used for God's glory and service. It includes the conservation and responsible use of natural resources as well as the creative use of human skills and energies. These gifts of God are to be shared with all, especially with the poor.
6.11 The motive for Christian stewardship is gratitude for God's abundant love and mercy, accompanied by the desire to share all of God's good gifts with others.
6.12 God gives to the human family a variety of gifts, including gifts to each person for which each person has responsibility. God desires that each person engage in the mutual sharing of these gifts so that all may be enriched.
6.13 Proportionate and regular giving of all that God entrusts to the human family is an act of devotion and a means of grace. Giving to and through the church is the privilege of every believer. Tithing as a scriptural guide for giving, is an adventure of faith and a rich and rewarding practice. The tither not only experiences the grace of God but even the grace of sharing.

6.14 All believers are responsible to God and to the covenant community for their stewardship.

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