Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hearts in Action: The Parable of the Talents

Let's dive right in!

“For it is like a man, going into another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey.  Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two. But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

“Now after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reconciled accounts with them.  He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents besides them.’

“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

“He also who got the two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents. Behold, I have gained another two talents besides them.’

“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

“He also who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.’

“But his lord answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn’t sow, and gather where I didn’t scatter. You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn’t have, even that which he has will be taken away. Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”(Matt. 25:14-30 WEB)

This next parable is in an interesting place in Matthew.  In Chapter 24, the disciples ask Jesus what will happen at the end of the age.  He also comments that only His Father knows when these things will come to pass.  He talks then in a parable about the good servant who is in charge while his master is away, and is found to be doing good when the master returns.  He contrasts that with a wicked servant who acts irresponsibility and who will be punished when his master returns.

Then Jesus goes on in Chapter 25 to talk of the virgins who await the bridegroom--some prepared and some unprepared.  The foolish ones miss the opportunity to enter the feast with the bridegroom when he finally appears.  The context still operating here is one of expectation and not growing weary in the waiting.

Let's set the stage for this parable.  The master must leave.  He has business elsewhere.  He doesn't just assume his servants will know what to do or how to proceed once he's gone.  He calls them together.  Yes, you could argue that they have been with him awhile (he trusts them with his money after all--that shows he knows them well enough) and that they should know how to operate without him around.  But calling them together goes deeper than that.

He gives to each of them something of value.  He is saying to them, in essence, I have been with you long enough to know what your abilities are.  I know the level of your integrity.  I am showing my love and trust by giving you something of value...I am not simply asking you to keep the home fires burning. I am giving you oversight of my wealth and am trusting you to handle it with care and diligence.

Wow.  The master is acting as if these servants are his partners, his peers, his equals.  He is entrusting them to handle his estate, to be engaged in his business as if it were their own. 

Now, he distributes the wealth to each servant according "to his ability."  He knows each of his servants so well that he gives them what they can handle competently.  He knows their strengths and weaknesses and doesn't give them too much or too little.  So, each man receives a different amount.  The master isn't showing favoritism...he is showing concern.  He wants his servants to walk away with two things:  My master values me and he's knows I can do this. 

Notice, Servant #1 goes "immediately" and multiplies the money's amount.  The master knew this servant's heart.  He knew he would be about his master's business in a heartbeat, making his master's money increase.  Not for greedy gain, but so the wealth can go further to benefit more people.  More money means more servants to hire and more land to be bought--the wealth poured into the community will benefit the community and Servant #1 knows this.  

Servant #2 also goes "at once" and makes the money multiply.  He doesn't see the wealth of his master as something to be tucked under a mattress.  He sees the wealth of his master something to be actively used.  

By investing it, the two servants are acting in love for their master--joyfully going out and getting down to business.  They didn't start whining about why Servant #1 got more entrusted to him than Servant #2.  They saw what they were given in the light of the master:  My master trusts me to do good with his wealth and I will not let him down!  His love for me inspires me to do good, for he is good!

Now on to Servant #3.   Uh-oh.  He didn't grab his bag of gold, happily entering the world to make his master proud of him.  He hides it in the ground.  Time goes on.  Does Servant #3 even remember where he buried it?  What is he doing all this time?  While Servants #1 and #2 are out and about in their master's service, what is he doing?  Is he just hanging out?  Or after awhile, when his master didn't return, did he wander off, uninvolved and unconcerned?  Did he feel justified in his inactivity?  Wow--look at those two!  Running around as if our master is coming home any day now!  Right!  It's been YEARS since the master left and it doesn't look like he's coming back any time soon.  Maybe we misunderstood him.  Maybe he spoke falsely to us--he never intended to return.  Maybe we misunderstood him.  Maybe, he's not a good master--a good master would have returned by now.  How can I trust him?  Where is he?  I am not going to waste my time, running around for an untrustworthy master.  Bury the money, forget about it and carry on.  Works for me!

But:  The master DID return. Yes, it was a long time, but the trust that his servants had led to action--they trusted him to return, and they acted on that trust.  

But not so with Servant #3.

Look at the heart of Servant #3:  He believes his master has a hard heart and thus he distrusts his master's actions.  Servant #3's view is that others do the master's work and only the master reaps the benefits. In other words:  Master, you are about you.  I thought it would be best to hide the money so that no one could steal it, but I really do not trust you...I trust myself.  I thought hiding it was a good move--aren't you proud of me?  See!  No one stole it at least.  Isn't that good enough?

But isn't master's reaction a tad harsh?  No.  The master is saying Yes, I do have others do my work.  But, why do they do it?  They do it because they love and trust me.  Even if you weren't confident enough to engage in an active investment, at least what I gave you could have been entrusted to others.  But it is your heart with its lack of trust in me that is the problem.  You buried the money because your love for me is buried in the ground of disbelief.  You serve me with a heart that is far from me.  You have a heart of darkness and now you will leave my presence.  You never tried to get to know me, even while you were in my house all those years.  Your heart doesn't really want to be around me, so now you will live what you wanted: away from me.

The parable here isn't just use what God gives you.  It's deeper than that.  Serve God because you love Him and are grateful that He has entrusted you with some kingdom work, however large or small it may be.  The real talent our Master is looking for is a heart that knows Him and will serve Him.  He wants a heart to love Him and to trust Him, until He returns.  And return He will.

 But until then?  Invest in others with what He gives you.  It's a paradox of our faith in Jesus that the more we give away, the more we receive.  But it is equally true that the more we hide what He gives us, and it molders away in the ground of disobedience and unbelief, the further removed we are from Him.  One day, sadly, that removal will be permanent.  Not because He wanted it, because our actions spoke of not wanting to be in His presence. 


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Lights! Camera! Bushel? The Parable of Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”                 (Matt. 5:13-16 WEB)

It is interesting that this parable of salt and light comes after the beautiful "Blessed are the..." part of the Sermon on the Mount.  The kingdom of God has characteristics of those who would be a part of it and those whose lives reflect that membership.  Notice that these are qualities of the heart, not religious duties to be performed.  God is concerned with our character and its development.  What is the ultimate goal of this character transformation?  In Romans 8:29, we read:  "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."  Our character's not fully developed until we are like Jesus.  Pure and simple.

So, how do we gain entrance into God's kingdom where His Son is our Mentor, Guide and Friend? Let’s go through the Sermon on the Mount to lay the groundwork, with my comments in parentheses.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, 

(We realize how much we need Him,)

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

(for we have come to the end of ourselves.)

Blessed are those who mourn, 

(We realize how needy we are,)

    for they will be comforted. 

(for He not only provides the comfort, He is the comfort.)

Blessed are the meek, 

(We submit willingly to His Son,)

    for they will inherit the earth. 

(for we long to be back in the place where He is.) 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,  

(We crave for His life to be in us every day,)

    for they will be filled. 

(for He fills us as nothing else can.)

Blessed are the merciful, 

(We no longer seek vengeance; we receive and give His love,)

    for they will be shown mercy. 

(for our cup now overflows with His love.)

Blessed are the pure in heart, 

(His heart is becoming our own,)

    for they will see God. 

(for it is His light in us that now shines out.)

Blessed are the peacemakers, 

(We now serve the Prince of Peace,)

    for they will be called children of God. 

(for we are Kingdom children, running free.)

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 

(The darkness fears the light,)

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

(but light, like love, perseveres and never fails.)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

(We speak what we are: free and forgiven.)


So, our new heart has a new mission:  to bear witness of our inner transformation by our words and actions.

Jesus drives His point home.  With our new mission, what will we be like?  First: “You are the salt of the earth…”

Salt preserves.  We will preserve His presence in the world through His touch and love those hearts that are decomposing from the rankness of sin.  Sin pollutes; salt preserves.  It also flavors:  "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27)

But, it also makes men thirsty and craving more.  It sustains the hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Salty foods drive us to finish the whole bag and that's the kind of craving we would like others to have when they see Christ in us.  

The next analogy:  “You are the light of the world...”

The comparison changes, from salt to light, but the idea is the same.  Light illuminates--driving out darkness with a small but sure flame.  Light simply is...with the kingdom of God in our hearts, His light should be evident to everyone.  You can't hide the love of Jesus in a sincere heart...the light radiates out.  So, we can start with a small area--our home--and move out, lighting the world as we go.

Any city, all aglow in the evening, is quite a sight.  The lights are there in the daytime, but the darkness provides contrast.  His light in us will provide the contrast with the darkness that is in the world.

But a lighted city, in the darkness, also provides a destination.  When I walk down our mountain roads in the gathering evening dark, the lit up houses are a comfort.  My eyes naturally gravitate to them and they remind me that I am not alone.  I love the lights on my house:  they are an invitation to finish up my walk, and come home. 

The light we shine is an invitation: Come, join the kingdom!  The God Who forgave and empowered me will forgive and empower you.  My light is His light--you will not praise me, but see Him and praise Him. 

Ultimately, salt and light induce a craving, a desire to seek, find and embrace.  Salt makes us thirsty and light makes us long for home.  He waits for those who who are thirsty and long for home.  Those of us who know Him must live as to remind others that thirst can be quenched and Home is available.

What if we don't use our salt?  It becomes useless.  What if we don't shine our light?  It goes out.

Jesus said, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." (John 5:17)  Can we, who know His work in our hearts, do anything less?



Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Cost of Being a Kernel: The Parable of the Sower

Let's jump right in!

He spoke to them many things in parables, saying, “Behold, a farmer went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell by the roadside, and the birds came and devoured them. Others fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth. When the sun had risen, they were scorched. Because they had no root, they withered away.  Others fell among thorns. The thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on good soil, and yielded fruit: some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 13:3-9 WEB)

Let's picture the scene.  Jesus leaves the house and makes His way to the seaside. The multitudes, eager to hear Him, become so numerous that He must get into a boat, and make it His pulpit.  Then He starts teaching.

What is remarkable is what went on before this parable. Going back a few chapters, we see Him:

1.  Harvesting grain with His disciples, because they were hungry, and being accused by the Pharisees of breaking the law about no work.  He then reminds them of what King David did--eating the consecrated bread--and how the priests break the law by doing the sacrifices and yet are innocent.  He reminds them that mercy, not a blind adherence to the Law, is what God desires and then proclaims Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath.   (Matt.12:1-8)

2. He then enters a synagogue, where Sabbath services are in full swing, and heals a man with a shriveled hand.  He reminds the leaders that in doing good on the Sabbath, the Law is not broken.  The Pharisees are so livid that they "plotted how they might kill Jesus." (Matt. 12:9-14)

3.  He withdraws from that place and heals the sick and thus fulfills Isaiah's words about God's Chosen Servant, Who will bring hope to all. (Matt. 12:18-21)

4.  He then heals a demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees attribute His power to the Devil.  Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, that attributing the work of His Father to Satan will never be forgiven.  He then talks of how a tree's fruit indicates what kind of tree it is.  He then excoriates them for their evil hearts and that their very words have condemned them. (Matt. 12: 33-37).

5.  In response to the Pharisees wanting a sign, Jesus offers the ultimate one:  like Jonah, He will be held in the darkness of the earth for three days and then He will reappear.  He talks of how utterly unwise this generation is and how they have provided a habitation, in their thoughts and actions, for evil.

6.  His mother and brothers show up and want to speak to Him.  In the heated exchange with the religious leaders, has His family detected some danger and do they wish to whisk Him away from the leaders' menacing gazes?  He gently reminds them and His disciples that doing the will of His Father constitutes His family.

So, now, (no coincidence here) that He tells the parable of the sower to the waiting crowd, and in His mind, He surveys all the different people who have been listening to Him recently.

Later, with the disciples eagerly inquiring of Him, He explains the meaning:

Hear, then, the parable of the farmer. When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom, and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes, and snatches away that which has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown by the roadside. What was sown on the rocky places, this is he who hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. What was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of this age and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. What was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word, and understands it, who most certainly bears fruit, and produces, some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. (Matt. 13:18-23 WEB)

We could stop here, but Jesus isn't talking in general terms.  The disciples have already seen the various "soils" in action.  The sower is God and the seed is His word.  Notice, He casts it far and wide.  Now, does a sower throw the seed just anywhere?  No.  He is going to throw it upon tilled soil, prepared and ready.  He doesn't cast His seed on stones, on volcanic rock or on a lake.  He casts it on the soil of human hearts prepared by the tillage of the Holy Spirit. 

Now, the disciples just experienced watching the first instance of where the seed falls--on the hearts of the Pharisees who are so hardened in their hearts that they attribute God's miracles to Satan.  The Holy Spirit tills, but the rocks of pride, the drying sun of hatred and the eroding rains of judgment have rendered the soil unfit to receive the words of the Almighty, spoken through His Son.

The ones with shallow hearts, will receive the word with joy, but later will fall away because of temptation.   The disciples just experienced this with the healings.  They saw how the people rejoiced when the man's hand was healed and how eager the people were to follow Jesus.  But when the fear of disapproval, the disdainful gaze of the leaders fell upon the people, did they turn away?    When Jesus' own family showed up, rejoicing earlier over the wonderful things He was doing, but now afraid that He was attracting the wrong kind of attention, did they, too, lose heart in Him and His ministry?

The leaders and many of the richer people, whose lives directly benefited from the way things were, did Jesus threaten their status with His kingdom built on love?  Did they wither away, leaving smaller and smaller fruits behind?  Was their place in society more important than Truth?

Jesus scanned the crowd as they sat on the shore.  He could see into the hearts of those whose soil, tilled like all the others, were willing to receive the "word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." (Matt. 13:18-23 NIV).  Ah, there it is:  a soil tilled by the Spirit, watered with the rains of sincerity and seeking, warmed by the belief that here stands the very One of Whom their prophets heralded would come.  Even after they felt the scorching heat of others' disapproval, they were willing to grow in the knowledge of Him and the One He sent.   

He must have smiled, seeing those disciples--now and in the future--whose soil would produce an abundant and far-reaching crop. He thanked His Father, in His heart, for those followers whose love for Him would never fail.

But He also knew the price that is paid when a seed, a kernel, falls on the soil: 

Jesus answered them,  The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life. If anyone serves me, let him follow me. Where I am, there will my servant also be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:23-26 WEB)

The price they would pay, we will pay, is enormous.  His death will bring us life, and His blood will water the soil.  We will be His witnesses to His work in the soil of our hearts.  

Cast the seed of His word.  Trust the Sower to go before you and pray for a harvest.  He did no less.  We can do no more.

So, what can we glean (pun intended) from this parable?  We were created for fellowship with God, pure and simple. 

If we see a field filled with weeds, rocks and debris, we want to clear it out, till the soil and plant something beautiful.  Later, when the plants send forth their sweet perfume and the colors of all kinds of flowers take our breath away, we are grateful for this fact:  we do reap what we sow.

Sow beauty, reap beauty.

Sow ugliness, reap ugliness.

The Sower in the parable looks at the barren land and wants to see beauty:  tall grasses swaying in the wind, later to be harvested to feed many.  God looks on His now barren earth (He started the planet in a garden) and longs to see beauty in His children:  growing in the Son and feeding the spiritually hungry.  God's covenant-love here is seeing what is not—barren fields, empty hearts, sin’s ravages--and bringing forth something of eternal value:

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise. 

                                                (Is. 43:18-21 WEB)

Do you see yourself as His harvest?  He loves to watch you grow, for it is He that cast the seed into your heart.   

He rejoiced when you resisted the evil one and not let him steal the seed.

He loved your joy, but loves it even more when His truth keeps reaching into your heart and taking root, growing strong and sturdy.  You may be buffeted by oppression or persecution, but your roots are deep.

He loves that the allure of this world cannot uproot you.  You’re happy than you are in solid ground, and not the shifting and lifeless soil of the world.   

He rejoices at your many baskets of fruits brought to harvest:  He loves how you love Him, share His Word, and praise the Sower with your life. 

God is about growth, abundant, springtime and harvest, and He wants to start with you.

I just realized today is Pentecost--this was the ultimate casting of seed to bring in a harvest of a new and living way.  Praise God!






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