INVESTING TALENTS – Matthew 15:14-30 (Part 2)

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. [1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT)]

great egretYesterday, I wrote about Jesus’ Parable of the Three Servants, often called the Parable of the Talents. Although I used it as an example of excuse making, that’s not what the parable is about. This parable comes right after Jesus’ description of the end times and the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in which He urged readiness for the Day of the Lord. Immediately following this parable about the talents, Jesus spoke about the final judgment. The story of these three servants makes it clear that, when that last day comes, the master will settle accounts: faith will be rewarded and the righteous servants separated from the false ones.

In this parable, before going away on a trip, the master entrusts his money to his three servants according to their individual abilities; no one receives more or less than he is capable of handling. When the master (Jesus) returns, his servants (Christ-followers) give an accounting for how they fulfilled their responsibilities and used the talents. While we think of talents as natural abilities or skills, in Jesus’ time, a talent was a unit of measurement used to weigh out gold or silver. A talent was the largest quantity at the time and a talent of silver was about the equivalent of an average worker’s income for twenty years. The master in this parable entrusted each of his servants with a fortune. Rather than bags of silver, however, the talents entrusted to us by God include our wealth along with our time, natural abilities (talents), spiritual gifts, and bodies. This treasure entrusted to us is no more ours to keep than were the bags of silver given to the servants theirs. The treasure belongs to the master; his servants are but caretakers of His gifts.

Instead of entrusting us with His investment portfolio, Jesus entrusts us with His ministry and the furthering of His Kingdom. Scripture tells us exactly what He expects us to do with the treasure He’s given us: spread the gospel, love God, love others (including our enemies), forgive those who have wronged us, be hospitable to outsiders, and be an example for the world by feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, imprisoned, and sick. How we achieve His purpose will be different for each one of us because a different sack of talents has been entrusted to each one of us. Whether the sack is filled with gold, silver, copper or iron, we each have been given exactly the right amount of what God expects to use. In writing about this parable, D.L. Moody said, “Many thousands of watch springs can be made out of a pound of iron. See that you improve faithfully the talent God has given you.”

When the master commends the first two servants for the return on his investment, he doesn’t say, “Well done, my good and successful servant.” He says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The third servant, however, is punished but not because he failed to give the master a good return on his money; he’s punished because he didn’t even try. Rather than invest the money or put in a bank and get interest, he simply buried it. He isn’t punished for being unsuccessful; he’s punished for his lack of faith! The master didn’t expect him to double the investment as did the other servants, but he did expect him to do something with it! The faithless and lazy servant squandered the opportunity given to him; we must not do the same!

God does not demand that we be successful. He only asks that we be faithful in using the treasure He has entrusted to us. We honor God by using our talents to work to further His Kingdom; the success of our endeavors, however, is up to Him!

We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. [Mother Teresa]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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USE THE GIFT

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. [1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)]

great blue heronWhile writing about the spiritual gift of healing these last two days, I recalled a conversation about this spiritual gift with a pastor friend. I asked if anyone in his church was gifted with healing. He said no with a caveat: just because he knew of no one didn’t necessarily mean that no one had it. Having a gift doesn’t guarantee it will be used.

Take our Aunt Margaret, for example. When she died, we found several boxes of brand new shirts and nightgowns stashed in the corner of her closet. The same size and style as the stained and threadbare ones she always wore, they were birthday and Christmas presents we’d sent her through the years. Aunt Margaret’s receipt of her gifts didn’t mean she used them and receiving a gift from the Spirit doesn’t mean we’ll use it either!

Unlike Margaret’s gifts, spiritual gifts aren’t mass produced or come in a box from Macy’s. They are individual gifts God designs expressly for each person that are given to us when we become Christ’s servant. His gifts are capabilities like wisdom, teaching, encouragement, helping, administration, pastoring, giving, hospitality, evangelism, leadership or healing that enable us to build God’s Kingdom. If we are going to be good stewards of these gifts, we must both recognize and use them by responding when the Spirit offers us opportunities to do so. Unfortunately, willfulness, fear, and lack of faith often keep us from doing that.

Several years ago, in our small group at church, I met a troubled young woman who needed encouragement. At the Spirit’s urging, I surprised myself by offering to email her each day with an uplifting Bible verse. Originally, I expected the emails to stop when our group study ended. God, however, had other plans and, before I knew it, I was adding a few words to the day’s verse and sending out messages to sixty people. When a friend (one gifted with encouragement) urged me to post my devotions on a website, I pushed back in fear. Like Moses, I thought of all the reasons I was unqualified rather than trusting God to qualify me! Eventually, in obedience, I stepped out in faith, started using His gift and fulfilling the purpose He had for me. Now, more than six years, 2,000 devotions, and 500 followers later, I know the ability to do this is a God-given gift; I couldn’t do it on my own.

In Sunday school, the children sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” before asking, “Hide it under a bushel?” and answering with a rousing shout, “No!” What about our lights—those special gifts designed just for us and given to us by the Holy Spirit? Are we letting them shine? I’ve been a follower of Christ for a long time but it didn’t take the Spirit decades before He gifted me. It just took me decades to shine my light and use His gift as He intended!

Only God knows if anyone in that pastor’s church is gifted with healing. One day, however, we all will be asked to account for the way we used our spiritual gifts, whatever they may be. Let’s not make the mistake of hiding them under a bushel or leaving them ignored and unused in the corner of our hearts.

Your spiritual gifts were not given for your own benefit but for the benefit of others, just as other people were given gifts for your benefit. [Rick Warren]

The master said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” … To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. [Matthew 25:23,29 (NLT)]

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JEHOVAH RAPHA

Steamboat SkiThe same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. … It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. [1 Corinthians 12:9,11 (NLT)]

Several years ago, what should have been my first ski run of the day became my last one of the season when a tumble down an icy slope left me with three broken ribs and tears in both my ACL and MCL. After the closing prayer at church that evening, the woman behind me said, “I see you’re in a lot of pain. May I lay hands on you and pray for you?” This woman believed she’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit with healing and I’d often seen her praying over others after church. Unsure about her supposed gift, I was in such pain and despair that I would have accepted any offer of relief. She accompanied me to the front of the church where a few others joined her as they laid hands on me and prayed.

I certainly needed prayer; my body hurt but so did my heart. Scheduled to depart in five days for a much anticipated tour of Belgium and the Netherlands, I suspected my injuries meant we’d have to cancel the trip. I also feared that I’d seen the last of my days skiing on the mountain.

While I can’t say whether those hands and prayers made an immediate difference, I know I felt far better leaving church than when I arrived. I still had torn ligaments and broken ribs, but my pain had eased and my spirits had lifted. The following day, we returned to the Midwest. Only time would heal my ribs but the orthopedic surgeon gave me a full leg brace and scheduled physical therapy. We took our trip and, in spite of my discomfort, had a wonderful time. Hoping to avoid the surgery that seemed inevitable, the next several months were spent in intense physical therapy. Fortunately, without needing surgical repair, I returned to the slopes and continued to ski, albeit with a leg brace and a little more caution, for several more years.

Was my excellent recovery because of the hands laid on me and prayers offered for me or the skill of my physician and physical therapist or both? Only God knows for sure, but I believe those petitions reached God’s ears and He acted on them. Through the healing prayers and touch of my brothers and sisters in Christ, God gave me the spiritual, emotional, and physical strength (along with good medical care) to recover fully.

Throughout the Bible we read of miraculous healings: Naaman was healed of leprosy, Elijah brought the widow’s son back to life, Peter and John healed a lame man, Paul healed the father of Publius, and physical healing was Jesus’ most common miracle.  We have a God who hears our prayers and has the power to heal: our Jehovah Rapha. Today, however, miraculous healings seem few and far between.

Before that evening, I’d questioned whether the Spirit still bestowed the gift of healing on believers. Could someone’s touch really serve as a conduit for God’s healing grace? I no longer doubt; while the spiritual gift of healing may not always manifest in immediate or inexplicable recovery, it does exist.

While few of us may be gifted with healing, every one of us should be engaged in intercessory prayers for the sick. Nevertheless, no matter how strong our faith, the faith of those who pray for us or of those for whom we pray, healing does not always occur. Let us remember that healing is more than the mending of broken bodies; it is the mending of broken souls. God is more concerned with our spiritual salvation than our physical well-being and the restoration of our bodies may have to wait until we enter God’s glory. The healing of our souls, however, can happen right now!

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. [James 5:13-15a (NLT)]

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ENCOURAGING WORDS

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. [2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)]

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day. [Brewster M. Higley]

pronghorn antelope - buffaloWouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where we’d never (at least rarely ever) hear a discouraging word? It shouldn’t be necessary to ride the range in Wyoming for that to happen.

When my eldest child entered adolescence, it frequently seemed like he’d decided his task in life was to annoy his mother as much as humanly possible. Regrettably, during those challenging years, there were lots of discouraging words. One evening, I realized that our communication consisted of me directing him (“Make your bed!”), correcting him (“Do it this way!”), disciplining him (“You’ve lost that privilege!”), criticizing him (“You can’t go out dressed that way!”), or denying him (“I said ‘No’ and that’s final!”). Admittedly, directions, corrections, and criticism are a necessary part of life as are discipline and denial. Nevertheless, realizing there was a room for improvement on my part as well as his, I made a concerted effort to keep my negative comments to a bare minimum.

Seldom speaking (or hearing) a discouraging word was not enough. Where, I wondered, were the words of love? Where were the words of encouragement so necessary for him to thrive and feel good about himself? One doesn’t need to take psychology 101 or even a dog obedience class to know about the importance of positive reinforcement (which is simply a fancy term for encouragement). I had to add positive and heartening comments to our interaction if he was going to flourish and bloom. With God’s guidance and a heavy dose of the Spirit’s patience, we managed to get through those trying years. In spite of my many parental failings, he blossomed into a delightful responsible young man. A wonderful father, he now has to deal with adolescents of his own (which is God’s payback)!

My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all!” If we all followed that advice, the world would be a much quieter place and we’d never have to watch another campaign commercial! More, however, is needed. The Apostle Paul urged the early Christians to encourage one another and he truly practiced what he preached. Whenever he instructed and directed (even when he disciplined or corrected), Paul always seemed to add encouragement to his words.

Encouragement (or exhortation) is a gift of the Holy Spirit but that doesn’t mean those of us without this gift should fail to encourage! Those gifted with encouragement are the church’s cheerleaders, but the rest of us are the fans in the stands who join in supporting the team! In the Fruit of the Spirit, we find love and kindness (along with patience) which means all Christians are capable of encouraging the people we meet in our daily lives. It’s not enough to seldom speak a discouraging word; we need to speak encouraging ones!

Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know. [H. Jackson Brown]

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. [2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)]

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)]

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KORAH’S SONS

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. [Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah”]

monarch butterflyWhen researching their genealogy, most people hope to lay claim to ancestors who were nobility, war heroes, statesmen, historical figures or people who performed note-worthy deeds. Nevertheless, every tree has a few bad apples and we all probably have a few scoundrels in our line. For those seeking infamous rather than famous ancestors, several web sites provide access to court records, outlaw and criminal biographies, and lists of prisoners, convicts, executions, “pirates and buccaneers,” and inmates of asylums.

With the “sons of Korah” having written at least eleven of the psalms, the question of genealogy arises because we wonder about Korah’s identity. In Scripture, “son” has the broad meaning of descendants and Korah was the bad apple on their family tree. A Levite from the Kohathite clan, Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16. The Kohathites had the honor of transporting the most sacred objects of the tabernacle. Korah, however, wanted to serve as a priest—something that only could be done by Aaron and his family. Whether jealous of Aaron or resentful that the holy items had to be carried on his shoulders rather than transported on an ox cart, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Along with two malcontents from the tribe of Reuben, he challenged their leadership. As a result, the rebel leaders were swallowed by a sinkhole, 250 of their followers were consumed by fire, and 14,700 people died in a plague. Korah’s three sons, however, were spared and, seven generations later, the prophet Samuel came from his line.

Scripture tells us that Korah’s descendants (Korahites) joined David in various military exploits and, when he was king, they led the choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle. Three of those sons are named: Heman the Ezrahite (grandson of Samuel), Asaph, and Ethan (or Jeduthan). Along with being David’s chief musicians, all three men served as “seers” or prophets. Once the Temple was built, the “sons of Korah” became doorkeepers and custodians for the tabernacle.

For those of us with rotten apples on our family tree, unless we publicize their sordid history, it’s our secret. Korah’s descendants, however, had no secrets; their ancestor’s rebellion was a significant part of their nation’s history. I wonder if, when they wrote of the earth giving way in Psalm 46, they remembered the story of their rebellious ancestor sinking into an abyss. Korah had been given a special ministry by God but didn’t appreciate it. Covetously, he wanted more and people died because of him. His “sons,” however, never allowed the infamy of their ancestor to keep them from faithfully serving both God and their king as doorkeepers and musicians and using their God-given gifts to magnify the Lord.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  [Psalm 84:10-11 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah]

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HIS HAND IN MY GLOVE

This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel. [Ephesians 2:10 (NTE)]

Canadian RockiesLast summer, we moved permanently to our home in Florida. Knowing we’d no longer be spending any time in the cold winters of the Midwest, I packed up our winter attire for the charity resale shop. Along with the many coats, scarves, hats, and boots, I had a pile of winter mittens and gloves. Along with our super warm double ragg mittens, my husband and I had an assortment of wool, fleece, and leather gloves. He had a pair of heavy duty insulated Carhartts and I had some polyester/spandex gloves I often wore while walking. While packing up the rest of the house, I came across work gloves in the furnace room, rubber gloves by the wash tub, gardening gloves in the garage, silicone heat resistant gloves by the grill, fingerless gloves in the gym bag, vinyl gloves in the first aid kit, a pair of oven mitts, and even some chemically treated silver polishing gloves! Each pair had a specific use but, without a hand inside any of them, they were nothing but empty shells.

Thinking about our mittens and gloves, I remembered the words a pastor said many years ago: “Let the hand of God slip into the glove of your life.” When God slipped His hand into Gideon’s life, the fearful man became a warrior. When He slipped His hand in David’s life, the shepherd boy became a giant killer and king. By slipping His hand into Mary’s life, a peasant girl became mother to the Messiah and, when His hand slipped into Peter’s life, a fisherman became a Rock. When God slipped His hand into the glove of Saul’s life, the persecutor of Christians became the builder of Christ’s church.

Those gloves are nothing more than pieces of fabric and leather until they are filled by a hand and put to use. Like a glove without a hand, we are but empty vessels until God’s Holy Spirit fills us. Each glove is designed for a specific function and so are we; each of us has been God-designed for a specific reason. When we let God fill the gloves of our lives, we become His hands and can do the work for which He specially made us. When God fills the voids in our lives, we truly come alive and gain both a sense of purpose and the power to achieve it.

Father Almighty, fill us with your Holy Spirit. Give us loving obedient hearts and servants’ hands so that we joyfully do your holy work.

May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence and not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for Him to fill full of His Spirit and His love. [Andrew Murray]

May the God of peace, who led up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in every good work so that you may do his will. May he perform, in you, whatever will be pleasing in his sight, through Jesus the Messiah. Glory be to him for ever and ever, Amen! [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NTE)]

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