Friday, February 21, 2020

After a long time...

How many of you remember getting 13 Record Albums for one cent as long as you agreed to buy 8 more at regular price over the next year?  It took forever for those albums to arrive.

Maybe it was cassettes or CDs for you.  Our youngest folks don’t have a clue.  Why would you order something and have to wait?  Why didn’t you just download it?

Anyone ever mail in their S&H Green Stamps?  Now that was some stuff right there.  You waited until you had enough stamps to fill 6 or 8 or however many books, put them in the mail, and some time—a long time—later you got that all-in-one blender-salad spinner-flashlight combination item.  It seemed like it took forever.

Sometimes on military deployments, you would see lines of Marines and Sailors lined up to use a phone.  Again, I have lost some young folks, who never used a payphone.  Some have only seen pictures of them online.

Most of the time you didn’t have to wait unless you were in a group of 5000 servicemen and there were 3 phones.  Then you waited a long time.

We have talked before about the farmer having patience.  You don’t plant on Monday and harvest on Friday.  Things take time, sometimes a long time.

I’ve been aboard a naval ship for 6 months that turned into 7 months, then got home and let on the same ship for another month.  I have been assigned overseas twice for a year at time.  I had one unit deployment for 6 months.  That’s like being on ship except they fly you to where you to other side of the world.

I know what it’s like to be away for a long time, but I really don’t.  Think about World War I and World War II and the young men and women, mostly men, but women served too, who were gone until the war was over or they came home under a flag.

People from that time knew what a long time was.  The people they left behind had to continue with their lives while they were gone.  They knew it would be a long time.  Any return before the end of the war usually came with bad news.

In the parable of the talents, what does it mean that after a long time the master returned?  Was that like waiting on you 13 record albums or like a soldier to come home from WWI?  The words just say, after a long time.

I don’t know what the interest rates were back then, but these days to double your money—which is what the first two servants did—it would take 10 years if the interest rate was just over 7 percent.  It’s been a while since we have seen interest rates like that.  Again, the young folks have never seen interest rates like that.

If you can get 3 percent today, you hit paydirt. 

But we believe that the first two servants didn’t put their master’s money in the bank.  They put it to work in some other way.  They produced a fantastic return.

I would think that they didn’t go to the track or the casino either.  Their master gave to them in accordance with their ability—something they already had and had already demonstrated.  But even if they bought and sold commodities, or invested in some up and coming business, or were just good traders; you don’t double your money—or in this case your master’s money—overnight.

As we consider this parable, consider that the master was probably gone for a year or two at the least, perhaps for much longer.  He might have been away for a decade.

I like to look at different perspectives on this parable, and today we are looking at the fact that the master was gone for a long time.  But I don’t want to leave out some of the basics that we should consider every time we come across this parable.

I will truncate what you have heard before in longer messages and use the Acronym that I developed a dozen years ago:  TURN.

T is for trusted These were trusted servants—all 3 of them.  The master knew what they were capable of and trusted them accordingly.

U is for urgency.  All 3 servants acted with urgency.  The first 2 put their master’s money to work at once—immediately.  The third servant surely wasted no time in digging a hole and burying this trust given to him in the ground.

R is for return on investment.  Each servant knew that the master expected a return.  The first and second servants put their master’s money to work right away to produce a return.

N is for No Fear.  All three surely experience fear.  We are talking thousands of dollars, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars, that were entrusted to them.  If that doesn’t give you a knot in your throat for at least a moment, you are not alive.

But only the third servant was debilitated by fear.  He was the only one who made fear-based decisions.  The other two surely recognized fear for what it was and desired to please their master much more than they feared him.
While they surely experienced fear as all people do, fear did not govern them.

Let’s apply this to our lives in this modern century.  Let’s use the question, that I often proffer.

What did we do with what our Master gave us?  What did we do with what God gave us?

I hope that we realize that every good gift is from God and that it is entrusted to us to be put to work.

I hope that we put what we have been given to work without delay.

I hope that we take what we have and do our best to produce our best return for our Master—who is Jesus.

I hope that fear gets kicked to the curb as we make our decisions and navigate what we are doing for our Master.

TURN:  Trusted, Urgent, Return on Investment, and No Fear.

Many times I have asked you to divide the question, not as you do in parliamentary procedure, but in how you answer the question:  What did you do with what God gave you?

I asked you to look at three areas:  Time, talent, and treasure.

Do we use our time to produce a return for our Master?  Have we learned to number our days?  A tithe of our time would be 10%.  That would be about 17 hours a week.  That doesn’t seem like much if you want to please the Lord.

Somehow, it often becomes a challenge.  Giving almost three-fourths of one day to the Lord seems like a bunch to give up but it’s hardly enough time to binge-watch something on Netflix.

I also asked you to consider what did you do with the talents that God gave you.  These are the abilities that you have.  Do you use them for the Lord or just to get good grades in school or make money or pass the time?

Then comes treasure.  Yes, this is your money and stuff.  It comes from God.  Yes, I know that you put in a 40- or 60-hour week and your paycheck reflects that, but it comes from God.  There are countries in this world where people work 40, 60, or 80 hours and get very little for themselves for their effort. 

Some places are just poverty-stricken.  Some must surrender most of what they have to the sovereign of that nation in whatever form that takes.  Work does not always translate into wealth elsewhere in the world.

All good gifts are from God and we are blessed to live in a place where the least among us has more than three-fourths of the world’s population.  But what do we do with it?

We are called to tithe.  Tithe means 10% and to give it to the Lord—which in this age is to your local church body—and to give it without restriction or stipulation.  It’s just 10% without any strings attached.  Your salvation does not hang in the balance but it’s important to understand its two-fold premise:  God’s blessings to the tither continue and are more than we might think and the totje funds the church to accomplish its mission.

I have often said that if every believer tithed, we would have no need for any government programs for the disadvantaged in this country.  I don’t know who gives what around here with the exception of when people come directly to me with some money for something other than the title, but I know we have a lot of tithers.

One of the things that we have shared over the years at ministerial alliance meetings is that we have never helped a tither with a bill or financial need.  It’s not that we have a policy against it.  It’s just that we have never encountered such a need from a person who faithfully tithes.

Most are called to give beyond the tithe to produce an even greater return.  There are children’s homes, and family care centers, youth centers, and pregnancy centers, and so many more ways that we can use our treasure to produce a return for our Master.

So, in addition to the acronym TURN, we also look at what we did with what God gave us in terms of time, talent, and treasure.

What else could there be?  Over the past few years, I have asked you to add the gospel to the list of things that we consider when we answer the question:  What did I do with what God gave me?

What did we do with the good news—the best news ever for this broken world?  What did we do?

Did we share it at once?  Did we bury it in the ground?  What did we do with the gospel?

You don’t have to have a lot of money to share the gospel.  You don’t need top-notch knowledge, skills, and abilities to share the gospel.  You don’t need extra time in your day or your week to share the gospel.  You can share it wherever you are at whatever time you happen to be there.

I don’t suggest that you go knocking on doors at 2 am.  If you do, make sure you understand that to live is Christ and to die is gain.  You might get shot or you might find some gamer or binge-watching person without purpose who needs the gospel at that very moment.

But in most cases , we have more than enough opportunities in the course of our day to share the good news.

What did you do with the gospel that God entrusted to you?  What did you do with your commission?

That about covers all perspectives on the parable of the talents, well, except for, perhaps the Gifts of the Spirit.  In addition to the time, treasure, talents, and the gospel which has been entrusted to us, we who have received Christ have the Holy Spirit within us and at least one Gift of the Spirit.

If you were in the First Light service, you were challenged with this question:  What did you do with the Gifts of the Spirit that God gave you?

These are more than talents and abilities.  These are gifts that produce abundantly because they are manifested not in our human nature but in God’s holy nature.  We spent—invested is a better term—a year talking about the Gifts of the Spirit in our First Light service.

The question now, as it has always been, is: What will we do with what God gave us?

Now let’s get back to the fact that the master was gone for a long time.  When he returned he settled accounts.  We know how that came out—two well done good and faithful servants and one you wicked lazy servant. 

We know that part and know which we want to hear when we give account.  That’s a no-brainer.

But what about life when the master is away.  We know that our Master will come like a thief in the night.  The world will be caught off guard.  We will likely know the season—though we may not know how long that season will last—but we won’t know the day nor the hour.

We know that he is coming back and we will give an account.  So what do we do now?  What do we do while our Master is away?

Here is the answer for the 9-weeks test.  We take what we have and do what he told us.

Think to Exodus 35.  God has commanded Moses to build a place of worship—we will go with the word tabernacle for now.  It’s not the temple that one day Solomon would build, but this is no simple lean-to in the desert.

The people will work 6 days and rest 1.  There will be no exceptions and no overtime.

The people will bring from what they have—gold, silver, bronze, yarn, fine linen, olive oil, incense, and fine stones.  The people will bring what they are willing to bring—read that as the Lord loves a cheerful giver.

They also brought their knowledge, skills, and abilities.  That’s a human resources term (KSA) but it fits.  Putting these to work took time.

So, we see people willingly bringing and offering their time, talents, and treasure to do what the Lord has commanded.

Now turn a few pages to your left in your Bible.  Stop when you get to the fourth chapter of Exodus.  God is sending Moses back to Egypt to bring his people out and Moses thinks that God picked the wrong man for the job.  Moses started making excuses.

He is not equipped for what God is telling him to do.  What does God ask Moses?

What is that in your hand?

Realize that it’s not that God didn’t have a good view from the burning bush, he was working with where Moses was in his life—struggling with his inadequacy.

Moses replies:  It is a staff.

In the mind of Moses, he is probably thinking, what else would it be?  I’ve been out here in the wilderness caring for sheep for decades, of course I am going to have a staff in my hand.  That’s standard equipment.  What in the world does this have to do with what God is asking me to do?

God told him to throw it on the ground.  He did.  It turned into a snake.  Moses ran.  He ran!  I’m thinking Moses was wondering why God would pull such a dirty trick on him.

God told him to come back and pick it up—ok, grab it by the tail.  He did and it returned to being his staff.

There’s more, but for now, just realize that God worked with what Moses had.  God took what Moses had and made it work for his purpose.

So, what about the master being gone a long time.  It seems that our Master has been away for some time.  We do have his good deposit of the Holy Spirit but the Master himself is at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again.  We will give an account.

But what do we do until then?  What do we do during this long time that our Master is away?

I once trained Marine reservists.  During the month, they worked slinging burgers or making tires or were salesmen or lawyers.  Once a month they would come for reserve training.  This was an infantry unit so I took them to the field—rain, snow, or summer heat. 

I was not heartless.  Demanding training is how you love your Marines.  I often asked some of the younger Marines how they were doing, especially if I had operations running through the night.  Most would tell me that they could do anything for a weekend.

Before the end of my tour there, a young lady named April Glaspie inadvertently invited Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait.  The reserves were mobilized.  I went with them to camp Lejeune for two weeks then sent them to the sandbox.  I went back to my headquarters and awaited my orders.  Active duty officers would not accompany their reserve units.  The reserve officers were afraid that we would just take over.

So a couple weeks later, I am back at Camp Lejeune going through the same refresher training that I had just taken my reservist through.  Most of the officers there had been on active duty like me and were just looking to see where they were sent, but the enlisted Marines were a different story.

They had done their time and now had a couple years left before their obligation ran out.  They didn’t have to do anything other than be subject to recall.  They got called up and many couldn’t believe it.  They were in shock.

On one hand I had reservists that could do anything for a weekend.  On the other hand, there were these young Marines who thought they would never see a Marine Corps base again.  Going back in for an indefinite amount of time weighed heavily upon them.  Some cried.

A short time, a long time, or an indefinite period of time all mean something different to us, but in the perspective of the eternity that awaits us, all of our time here is but an instant.

But what will we do with what God gave us while we await his return?  I talked last week about being on fire for the Lord without burning out.  What do we do?

Take what you have.  Give it freely to God be that time, talent, or treasure, and do the things which he has commanded.

Take what God has given you—the gospel—and deliver it with urgency.

Take what God has given you—Spiritual Gifts—and produce good fruit for the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ.

Put what you have to work for the Lord and expect God to work miracles in the things that you might regard as common or ordinary.  Do it willingly.  Do it joyfully.  Do it expecting God to take what you have and make it enough for what he told you to do.

 In everything that you do, do it as if it were for the Lord.  It is the Lord, Christ whom we serve.

What do we do while our Master is away for a long time?  Let’s do our own accounting.  Let’s ask ourselves now and answer honestly for nothing is hidden before God.  What are we doing with what God gave us?

The Gospel?
The Gifts of the Spirit bestowed upon us?

My prayer is that we will live  so purposefully for God with all that we have been given, that we all be as eager as the first two servants to give our account to the Lord.

Our Master has been gone a long time but he will come again.  Will our account be a source of great joy or great regret?

I pray that you all hear, Well done good and faithful servant.


No comments:

Post a Comment