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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IT’S TERMINAL

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies—so the living should take this to heart. … A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time. [Ecclesiastes 7:2,4 (NLT)]

ghost bikeIt’s often said that there are no atheists in foxholes. This maxim traces its beginnings back to 1914 and World War 1 when an English newspaper quoted a chaplain at a memorial service for a fallen soldier: “Tell the Territorials and soldiers at home that they must know God before they come to the front if they would face what lies before them. We have no atheists in the trenches. Men are not ashamed to say that, though they never prayed before, they pray now with all their hearts.” When we joined our northern church, it was during the Viet Nam War. I remember a young man in our new member class who’d drawn a low number in the draft lottery. Expecting to be in combat within the year, he confessed wanting to “get right” with God before that time came. Apparently, even the threat of a foxhole is enough to cause some people to rethink their relationship with the Almighty.

Whenever we pass a roadside memorial or ghost bike like the one in today’s picture, I’m reminded of the precariousness of life. There’s a memorial at a corner near us for a young man who died there several years ago. Decorated seasonally by family and friends, it’s a poignant reminder of how unexpectedly a life can be extinguished and how much he is missed. Unlike the fellow in our church class, that young man, the victim of a drunk driver who ran a red light, didn’t have a low lottery number to warn him how near to death he was.

“A funeral provides an indispensable perspective on the universally terminal condition,” said the Reformation Study Bible notes for today’s verses from Ecclesiastes 7. Indeed, everyone is born with the incurable disease of death. I’m of an age where the many notes of condolence I’ve written these last few months make me think I should buy sympathy cards in bulk. These are dark thoughts for an early spring day, yet far too many of us choose to ignore our inevitable fate. Death is the one appointment that none of us will miss. While we have little control over the when of that day, we do have control over how we choose to prepare for the inevitable.

In both this world and the next, what happens after we die depends entirely on what we do now. Once laid out in the mortuary, it’s too late to write a will or accept Jesus. When we’re placed in a casket, we won’t be able to mend fences or make amends and we’ll have missed the opportunity to get right with God. By the time we’re on the other side of the sod or turned to ash in a crematorium, we can’t express our love and forgiveness or decide to accept God’s saving grace.

The problem with foxhole conversions, of course, is that once out of the trenches, they rarely last. Moreover, if we don’t make it out alive, by waiting until the very end to accept Jesus, we’ve missed out on the abundant Kingdom life He offers that begins while we’re here. Getting right with God long before we enter either foxhole or hospice care seems to be the wiser choice. The good news for the saved is that dying doesn’t mean departing from the land of the living. For those who know Jesus, death means departing from the land of the dying for the land of the living.

Depend upon it, your dying hour will be the best hour you have ever known! Your last moment will be your richest moment, better than the day of your birth will be the day of your death. It shall be the beginning of heaven, the rising of a sun that shall go no more down forever! [Charles Spurgeon]

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DAILY MAINTENANCE – VALENTINE’S DAY

Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. [Ecclesiastes 9:9 (MSG)]

in the hammock

When getting out a chip n’ dip bowl for some Super Bowl noshing, I noticed the heavy tarnish on the silver candle holders. Because COVID and social distancing have kept us from entertaining, they’ve been ignored in the back of the cupboard for nearly a year. Feeling guilty about letting them get so black, I started polishing off the tarnish. They were a wedding gift to my parents more than 80 years ago and my thoughts turned to marriage as I worked. It’s easy it is to allow our marriages to grow as dull as those candlesticks had. Marriages, like silver, shouldn’t be ignored or neglected.

A pastor friend once remarked that the relationship we have with our spouse is probably the one thing in our lives about which we truly care but which we regularly neglect. We care about our houses, so we paint, repair, renovate, remodel, vacuum, dust, mop, and mow the lawn to maintain them. When we value our health, we take vitamins, get vaccinated, eat healthy food, and exercise. If our children’s education is important to us, we volunteer at school, help with homework, drill them on their spelling, and shuffle them to assorted activities. When we care about our community, we vote, attend meetings, volunteer, or even run for office. If church is important, we tithe, regularly worship, attend Bible study, and serve on committees. Although we usually work at preserving or bettering anything we hold precious, we tend to take the relationship with our spouse for granted.

Marriage is the second most important relationship we have (God, of course, being first) and yet it’s often neglected. Unless we’re experiencing serious marital difficulties, most of us do little to consciously improve it. In fact, we probably spend more time perusing the catalogues and magazines that fill our mailboxes, watching our favorite television programs, or browsing the internet than we do on consciously bettering our marriages. Just because we’re secure in a relationship doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put a little shine on it.

It isn’t that we’re not spending time with one another! Because of this pandemic, couples probably spend more time together than they ever expected. Instead of kissing each other before leaving for work, they just clear off the kitchen counter or move to the dinner table and open their computers. The lines between jobs, home, school, family, entertainment, and leisure have become blurred. Yet, in spite of all the time we’re spending with our loved one (or perhaps because of it), we may have settled into a routine where we’ve stopped noticing one another. We don’t have to ask how their day went or what they did because we already know! Even though we’re together all day in the same house, our lives are more parallel than intersecting.

Sunday is Valentine’s Day—a day we traditionally celebrate romance and love. Even a marriage of more than 50 years needs some tweaking occasionally. Candlelight dinners aren’t just for newlyweds or guests and celebrating pandemic style doesn’t have to be fancy. Like shining silver, it just takes a little effort to shine up a relationship. It can be as simple as grocery store flowers, playing a game together, an unexpected kindness, changing out of the sweat pants, a love note, shaving or putting on make-up, skipping Netflix for a night, taking a walk together while holding hands, having a picnic in the park (or in front of the fireplace), or dancing to slow music (even if it’s in the kitchen and the kids are there). It’s noticing, listening, caring, encouraging, sharing and praying together and often takes less effort than polishing silver. Marriages may be made in heaven but their maintenance work is done here on earth!

Rather than put those now polished candlesticks back into the cupboard, I put them out on the table. They’ve gotten a few dents over the years, just as marriages do, but the dents remind me that marriage is beautiful even when it’s less than perfect. Any tarnish that appears on them will remind me that a good marriage takes effort. While God should be our first priority, our spouse needs to be our second one and not just on Valentine’s Day! Our significant others should be of significance every day; let us be sure to let them know it!

 Remember that children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get. [H. Jackson Brown, Jr.]

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. [1 Peter 3:8-9 (MSG)]

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FILL THE TANK

Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. … Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [Psalm 107:5-6,8-9 (NLT)]

Trumbull cemetery - OhioMy father had what’s often described as a Type-A personality. An impatient workaholic, he always took on more than he could handle. Life, for him, was one crucial task after another, none of which anyone else could do, at least not correctly. Always in a hurry, he never wanted to stop for anything, even when his gas gauge read precariously close to empty. Something more pressing always took precedence over a brief stop for gas. As a result, his car was often left on the roadside while he trudged off with a gas can to find the nearest service station. Instead of saving time, his refusal to stop cost him time. Living that way actually cost him his life; he died of a massive coronary at the age of fifty-six. It’s often been said that your in-box still will be full when you die and, indeed, his was. None of us can accomplish everything on our to-do list and we may well destroy both our relationships and ourselves while trying.

Unlike my father, most of us will stop at a gas station when our cars need fuel. Having spent hours stranded on country roads waiting for my father to return with a can of gasoline, my gas tank is never less than half full. But, like my father, I’m not always so careful about keeping my spiritual tank full. No matter how organized I try to be, my to-do list seems to get longer while the days remaining get shorter. Sometimes, I feel like I’m just running on fumes and I don’t think I’m the only one!

Unfortunately, just as my father ignored his gas gauge, we often ignore signs like anger, worry, sadness, impatience, and temper that tell us our supply of spiritual fruit is dangerously low. It often takes a squabble, blow-up or crisis before we finally stop and refuel with God. Of course, the wiser choice is to top off our tanks with daily prayer and meditation so we never run low!

When asked about his plans for the following day, it’s been said that theologian, professor, author, Bible translator, reformer, pastor, husband and father Martin Luther replied: “Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” If we’re too busy to stop for gas, we’re busier than we should be. Martin Luther knew that, if we’re too busy to pray, we’re busier than God wants us to be.

Heavenly Father, sometimes we allow the challenges of everyday life to keep us from spending time with you and we run precariously low of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control your Spirit so graciously provides. Help us accept that we can’t do it all and that there will always be another task waiting right around the corner. Guide our priorities, Lord so that you’re on the top of our to-do list every day. Remind us that you are all we really need and help us see a brighter tomorrow in your promises. Lead us to that peaceful place of your presence. Refresh and renew us and let your Holy Spirit fill us up again.

No one ever said at the end of his days, “I have read my Bible too much, I have thought of God too much, I have prayed too much, I have been too careful with my soul. [J.C. Ryle]

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. [Psalm 23:1-3 (NLT)]

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 (NLT)]

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THE LAMPLIGHTER

You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. [Psalm 18:28 (NLT)]

moonflowerWhen Robert Louis Stevenson was just a boy, he was gazing out the window one evening and saw the lamplighter lighting the street lights. The future poet is reported to have said, “Look, Nanny! That man is putting holes in the darkness.” While it makes for a good sermon illustration, a more accurate version of his words is found in an essay he wrote in 1878, “A Plea for Gas Lamps,” in which the man expressed his opposition to the “ugly blinding glare” of the electric lights that were beginning to replace the gas lamps of Edinburgh. After asking God to bless the lamplighter, the poet described him as “speeding up the street and, at measured intervals, knocking another luminous hole into the dusk.” The lamplighter, said Stevenson, “distributed starlight, and, as soon as the need was over, re-collected it.”

The first gas lighting systems in Edinburgh were installed in 1819. At dusk, teams of lamplighters called “Leeries” would stream through the city. Using long poles, they’d ignite the gas in every lamp, whether on street corners, in front of businesses, or on people’s porches. After turning the city from darkness to light at dusk, the men would return in the morning to extinguish the lights. Responsible for trimming wicks along with cleaning and repairing the lamps, theirs was an important job until automation and electricity eventually eliminated the need for them.

A few years after his plea to keep the gas lamps, Stevenson published his poem “The Lamplighter.” In it, the speaker is a boy who says, “My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky; it’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by.” Picture the boy looking out into the dark and, even before he can see the lamplighter, he sees the lamps Leerie illuminates as he approaches. Once past the boy, the lamplighter will have left a trail of lights behind him that will be visible long after he’s disappeared into the dark.

Before gas lamps became common, the streets were dark and dangerous. Pick-pockets and robbers roamed freely and people were afraid to go out at night. Although they could pay a “link boy” to guide them with a torch, there was a real risk the fellow might lead them into an alley to be robbed. When gas lamps were first introduced, The Westminster Review reported that they would do more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets than any number of church sermons.

Our pastor frequently closes services with the reminder to be light into darkness. Indeed, we are to be like the lamplighters who illuminated the darkened streets of the 19th century. Turning night into day, we are to put “holes in the darkness” of the world and let God’s light through. As Christians, it’s not enough that we bring the light. Like the Leeries of old, ours is an important job—we must light the lamps of others and help to keep them lit. As we point their way to Jesus, people should be able to trace the course of where we’ve been by the light we’ve left behind us. Like the lamplighters, our actions will speak louder about the light of Christ than any number of church sermons.

Unlike lamplighters who snuffed out the street lights in the morning, we must never extinguish the light of Christ or the flame of God’s love. With the advent of automation and electricity, there was no more need for lamplighters and they disappeared, except for a few whose job has more to do with tourism than bringing light into darkness. Our job as bringers of light, as the people who distribute God’s light by knocking luminous holes into the dusk, will never end. Like the lamplighter of old, let us poke holes into the darkness of the world and leave a trail of light and love wherever we’ve walked.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. … So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. [Ephesians 5:8-9,15-16 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE SENDING

“There’s a great harvest out there,” he said to them, “but there aren’t many workers. So plead with the harvest-master to send out workers for the harvest.” [Luke 10:2 (NTE)]

concord grapesWhat is the most important moment in your Sunday service? If your church follows a liturgy, perhaps it is the confession, absolution, or thanksgiving. Singing praise music, hearing an inspiring sermon or sharing in the Lord’s Supper may be the highlight of your worship. Reciting the Creed, saying the Lord’s Prayer, greeting one another, communal prayer—all are important parts of the day’s worship service but are they the most important part of it? I wonder if the holiest moment of our Sunday morning occurs when the service is over and we leave the sanctuary (or turn off the computer) and go into the world. When the service has concluded, instead of our obligation to God being over for the week, could it just be starting? Could the next six days and twenty-three hours be more critical than that hour or so we spent at church?

Our God is a God of sending—Jesus was sent to us and now He sends us into the world. When we stop for brunch at First Watch, make a purchase at Home Depot, or chat with people at the dog park, we are His workers sent into the fields to harvest. When we’re cut off in traffic, vie for a parking spot at the mall, our neighbor needs a favor, or customer service fails to serve, we remain His workers and Jesus is to be heard in our voices and seen in our actions.

When Jesus chose those seventy-two disciples to spread the word, He spoke of the lack of available workers. Here in the U.S., the Pew Research Center found that the number of adults identifying themselves as Christian was 65% of the population. Even though that percentage dropped from 78% in 2007, we’re still left with about 168 million potential workers. With an estimated 2.5 billion Christians worldwide, perhaps the problem isn’t a shortage of workers but rather a shortage of commitment to do God’s work. Fields ripe for harvest are everywhere we go—the office, grocery store, golf course, beach, hiking trail, yoga class, and post office. Are we willing to go where He sends us and do what He calls us to do? Granted, in this day and age of social distancing, working the harvest might look a little different than it did a year ago but, if we ask God for opportunities to be His witness, He will provide them.

If we had the cure for cancer, would we remain silent, only tell a select few, or shout it from the rooftop? As Christians, we have knowledge of something even more precious than cancer’s cure—we have the cure for death and it’s found in Jesus! Are we going to remain silent or will we spread the good news? This Sunday, when we’re released from church (or our on-line worship service), it’s not like being released from school for spring break or summer vacation. We may be dismissed from church but we are not dismissed from serving God. As a chosen people and a royal priesthood, the most important part of our week is just beginning.

But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. [1 Peter 2:9 (NTE)]

Jesus said to them again. “As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you.” [John 20:21 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.