The Third Guy, Matthew 25:14-29

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Buddy had been abused before I had adopted him. He was three years old at that time and very frightened of my family. He didn’t make a single sound for three days, not even a sniff or a cough. We feared his voice box had been damaged and were about to take him to the veterinarian to be examined when, fortunately, he gave a small woof at the neighbor’s dog. When he wasn’t punished for making a noise, he slowly became more vocal. It took about 1.5 years before he stopped ducking every time we reached toward him. It made us very sad. Now, after 7 years, he is the most talkative dog we’ve ever had and I enjoy his attempts to communicate with us. After living with him for so many years, we usually understand what he’s saying.

Jesus told a parable about a master and his three slaves. Their master gave his servants a great opportunity to show their value to him. He went away on a trip and left them with some money with the expectation they would increase it somehow. Upon his return, two of his servants had invested the money wisely and doubled the amount. They were greatly praised and rewarded. The third slave, fearing his master and thinking he was a harsh and punishing man, didn’t invest the money but, instead, hid it in the ground. This parable is referred to as the Parable of the Three Talents (the talent being the issue of currency in the tale).

Because the third slave didn’t invest the money wisely and bring an increase of the master’s money that was entrusted to him, the master became very angry and had him cast into the outer darkness.

Usually this tale is interpreted as Jesus telling us that He wants us to utilize our lives for His glory and not to waste the gifts and talents given to us. The third slave goes to Hell as he does not invest his life wisely.

Why did the third guy fail so miserably?

It’s because he didn’t love and trust his master. He even had the gall, in attempting to excuse himself for being such a poor steward of the talent given to him, to tell the master to his face:

“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.”–Matthew 25:24-25 NASB

Often people reject knowing Jesus and submitting to Him as their God and master because they fear him. Like the third guy, they don’t live their lives for God’s glory because they believe God is a harsh master who cannot be trusted. They don’t know Jesus so therefore they don’t trust that He loves them and wants to bless them. But what does Jesus say about Himself?

“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”–John 10:10b-11

Jesus loves us so much that He laid down His life to die for our sins so that we can be declared pleasing/righteous in God’s eyes. He had to do this because God cannot tolerate sin, so Jesus had to purify us from our sins so that we can enter into God’s presence and fellowship with Him.  There’s no way we can be good enough, no matter how hard we try, so the perfect God/man had to die for our sins. His righteousness is a gift, given to us, just for the asking through an act of faith.

But it takes an act of trust to ask God to enter your life and be your Father and Lord.

As the Good Shepherd, He can be trusted to guide your life to “green pastures”. (Please read Psalm 23). Ask Him to forgive your sin and invite Him to enter into your heart and be your Lord. I’m not promising you’ll have an easier life. But you will never regret it.

And you’ll have eternal life with a reward so wonderful that you cannot imagine it.

Fairy Tale Ending, 1 Corinthians 2:9

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When I first adopted Buddy, he was terrified of me and my family. But after several years of love and treats, walks and healthy food, he finally relaxed and enjoys our company. He was rescued from a situation where he was kicked and chased and now enjoys a loving home.

You might feel like life gives you, not love and affection, but numerous kicks and suffering. You might have chronic pain or financial problems that seem insurmountable, or family members and coworkers who torment you, or great past affliction that’s difficult to forgive or forget.

But please think of your life as a fabulous story. Every good story has conflict or it’d be tremendously boring: times of great suffering and trials that must be overcome, monsters to be slain. But the hero endures, and because he/she never gives up, triumphs.

However, if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, your unique life story has a fairy tale ending. One day you will be present with the Lord in Heaven which is so wonderful that we cannot imagine it, says Apostle Paul,

“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.”–1 Corinthians 2:9

Just think of your favorite book with the happy ending you enjoy so much and Heaven is far better.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”–Revelation 21:4

You enter into a relationship with Jesus by believing that He died for your sins, suffered the punishment you deserved, and maintain your relationship with Him by faith (Galatians 3). You cannot do anything to deserve your eternal salvation, nor can you do anything to maintain your salvation:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”–Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus had the courage to voluntarily face the tremendous suffering of Crucifixion because He kept his eyes on the “joy set before Him endured the cross”–Hebrews 12:2

“Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize…”–Apostle Paul, Philippians 3:13

So when life seems hard and you want to give up, please remember to keep your focus on the joy ahead. You are the lead character in your own life story. And your story has a fairy tale ending if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Rejoice! This is good news!

Good People Go To Hell, Matthew 5:3

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Did that title get your attention?

Buddy sits by the front door to see what’s going on in the neighborhood but he’s looking in the wrong direction. However, since he has seemingly supersonic hearing, he can still hear what’s going on outside.

Many people hear God’s call or message of salvation, but they look the other way and don’t accept it.

During His famous Sermon On The Mount speech, Jesus began with this verse:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”–Matthew 5:3

Speaker and teacher Kay Arthur explains that being “poor in spirit” is to admit one’s spiritual poverty, one’s utter spiritual bankruptcy and inability before a holy God to have any righteous standing. To admit one’s utter sinfulness.

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;”–Isaiah 64:6

Most people think that Judgment Day is like what is depicted in Egyptian paintings: There is a scale on which one side rests all of one’s bad deeds and the good deeds on the other. If the good deeds outweigh the bad, you get to go to Heaven. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to Hell.

But God is so pure and holy that we can never stand before Him on Judgment Day in our own righteousness. “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”–Jesus, Matthew 5:48   God’s standard to get into HIS HOUSE is perfection.

“No one is good except God alone.”–Jesus, Mark 10:18

The people Jesus was harshest with, as reported in the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), were the Pharisees, the religious leaders who thought they were good and didn’t need to listen to Jesus’ message or rebukes.  Jesus upset their spiritual apple cart by declaring that those persons that the Pharisees considered to be the most sinful members in their society would get into Heaven before they would.

“Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.”–Matthew 21:31

Because the Pharisees believed they were good, they didn’t see a need to repent and accept the righteousness of Christ as their own.

Sadly, I know a lot of good people who refuse to believe they need to repent of their sins and accept Jesus’ death on the Cross as payment for their sin. They think they can stand before a perfect God and prove themselves holy by their own deeds.

Pride is the opposite of “poor in spirit.” I pray that pride is not keeping you from accepting that Jesus died for your sins.

***

I stand on the shoulders of giants. I’d like to give credit to my spiritual mentors:

Martin Luther,  Kay Arthur, Dr. Charles Stanley,  Pastor Chuck Smith, Pastor Chuck Swindoll, Pastor Bob George, Pastor Max Lucado, Pastor Ben David of Hope Fellowship and Dr. Michael Youseff

 

Being Perfect: Matthew 5:49

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To me my little Silky terrier, Buddy, is perfect because I love him. Is he really perfect? No. But when I look at him, I’m not thinking about the times he’s been a bad boy: I’m thinking about how fun he is and loyal and quirky. I’m not focusing on his bad traits (which are very few, of course).

Many Christians love Jesus with all their hearts but don’t really understand their salvation, so oftentimes they’ll preach the bad news to unbelievers. Yet, the Gospel is called “the Good News”. What makes it good, and not bad, news?

During the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus’ most famous sermon, He tells how to be a good person. It’s very convicting because no one can live up to it 24/7, no matter how hard a person tries and how sincerely. Yet Jesus proclaims during the sermon:

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”–Matthew 5:49

Perfect? God expects me to be perfect?

Often, in sincerity, Christians will proclaim that you must do good deeds and live up to God’s Laws to be pleasing to Him. Some even claim you can lose your salvation if you aren’t good enough. But Jesus said that God’s standard was “perfection”. James also proclaimed:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”–James 2:10

What James is saying: if you try to please God by attempting to live up to His standards, yet fail just once, you’re guilty. The law of good works condemns you to Hell.

So anyone who tells you that you can be good enough to be pleasing to God, just doesn’t have it quite right. Because it’s impossible to be perfect. God is so incomprehensibly far holier than we could ever imagine or hope to be in this lifetime.

But here’s the GOOD NEWS: “By grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.”–Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:8-9

God declares you righteous by faith, not by your good deeds (works): not by being good enough or staying good enough. The truth is: You can NEVER be good enough in this lifetime.

It’s a GIFT: You don’t work to earn it. It’s an act of mercy by a loving, yet holy, God to bring you into a love relationship with Him.

The GOOD NEWS is that you’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ. What is that exactly? By believing that Jesus was God in the flesh, died on the Cross to take the penalty of God’s wrath for your sin, and that He was resurrected from the grave.

“My righteous one shall live by faith.”–Hebrews 10:38.

“And without faith it’s impossible to place Him…”–Hebrews 11:6

And, because it’s still impossible to be perfect after your salvation, you maintain your walk by faith (Galatians 3:1-3). You’re declared “not guilty” by the Great Judge because Jesus nailed your sin to His Cross (Colossians 2:14). If you come to faith in Jesus, on Judgment Day, you will “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy.”–Jude 24

When you believe in Jesus and become born-again (receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit), God looks down on you like I look at Buddy: with eyes of love and not condemnation.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus.”–Romans 8:1

“And their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more.”–Hebrews 10:17

More later on the counterbalance: Actions have consequences.

Waiting: Psalm 27:13-14

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Buddy loves to herd me when he thinks I’m walking too slowly on our “walkies”. He’ll swing around behind me and begin bopping me in the back of my left leg with his nose, trying to get me to speed up. He’s impatient to move forward more quickly.

I’m the same way with God. I hate waiting, particularly a long time. I would like to move out of rain-soaked Seattle but events are just not coming together to make it happen, although I am eager to make a fresh start somewhere else where it’s not a major event when the sun comes out.

King David in Psalm 27 also voices his despair. He’s feeling depressed because he wants to be delivered from his enemies. He reminds himself that although the days seem dark, God will come through for him if he’s willing to wait and trust in God’s timing.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

David reminds himself to be patient, that God will eventually come through and bless him in this life. He strengthens himself emotionally by focusing on God’s faithfulness.

Sometimes we’re not supposed to wait, but pray and then step out in faith. At other times, it seems like our hopes keep being dashed and roadblocks tossed into our paths.

May you find your strength in the Lord’s promises in the Scriptures as you wait on Him.

Scripture verses are NASB

Greatest Faith: Luke 23:39-43

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It’s hard to believe that Buddy was abused for nearly three years before I adopted him from Silky Terrier Rescue. He was so afraid of me that he yanked and pulled at his leash, trying to get back to his foster mother (who is a responsible Silky Terrier breeder). I wondered what I had gotten myself into, he was so adamant about not going home with me. Then he kept running away the next week or so. Fortunately, I had a kitty collar on him with a bell, so I was able to locate him by the ringing when I couldn’t find him. I was so afraid he’d get hit by a car. (Fortunately, at that time we lived in a closed neighborhood which lessened the odds of getting hit, but didn’t eliminate it.)

Then, one day, it was like a lightbulb flipped on in his head, as if he was thinking, “Why am I running away? They love me. They give me good food and treats, bathe me, comb me, kiss and hug on me, and take me for rides and walks.” And he stopped trying to run off. Now, he greets me at the door with joyous adoration.

One of the people I admire the most in the Bible is one of the thieves on the cross next to Jesus. Of all the people in the New Testament, I believe he had the greatest faith.

If you don’t know the story, two thieves were crucified on either side of Jesus. On Jesus’ cross, Pilate had a placard nailed above His read which read, “King Of the Jews” to mock Jesus’ claim to be a King, only Jesus claimed to have a spiritual, not earthly kingdom.

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him (Jesus), saying ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’

But the other answered, and rebuking him, said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’

And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’

And He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'”–Luke 23:39-43

Though the thief had no opportunity to do any good deeds nor be baptized, he recognized his sinfulness and God’s great mercy. He acknowledged he was a sinner deserving death for his evil deeds, repented of his sin by rebuking the other man for mocking God, and asked Christ to save him. This is why I so greatly admire this man. He was one of the few at the time who really got who Jesus was, the Christ–the sacrificial Lamb of God–who died to cover our sins.

The repentant thief is a great example of salvation. The perfect man, Christ, had to die to take our penalty for God’s wrath against our sin. God is just and must punish evil, and only the perfect God Man was holy enough to take that punishment so we don’t have to.

The thief understood that it was all about repenting and faith, not about working for God’s favor, but receiving God’s approval and gift of righteousness by His mercy alone.

“For by grace you have been saved thorough faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”–Ephesians 2:8-9

And this very kind and loving God, though in great torment, reached out to acknowledge the thief was forgiven and encouraged him to look forward to Paradise.

There were two thieves, however. The other continued in his disbelief. Which is really sad, because God’s grace would’ve covered him too–if he’d only believed in the Son of God.

Religious Freedom Joshua 24:14-15

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It really bums me when Buddy doesn’t want to hop onto my bed and sleep with me some nights and, instead, runs to a family member’s room to spend the night. Sometimes I know the reason–my electronics beeped and scared him off–but often I don’t know the reason why. However, I don’t force him to stay in the room with me by closing him in the room. (He’s yet to figure out how to turn the doorknob.) If I force him to stay, I know he’ll be unhappy, so I let him go. He’s free to make his choice.

Joshua warned the Jewish nation that it was best for them to serve the Lord God of the Bible, the great King who led them out of slavery in Egypt and into the land promised to Abraham’s and his descendants many centuries earlier, a land of great bounty and blessing. Abraham’s father was a pagan and the Israelites had been surrounded with false gods while in bondage in Egypt. (The 10 plagues were judgments against 10 of the important Egyptian gods.) Yet, despite the pillar of Fire at night and the Cloud by day (the visible presence of God) that led the people to the Promised Land, they carried false gods from Egypt with them.

The below is one of the first great statements of religious freedom in the Bible, and I think maybe, the World (but there’s lots I don’t know about religious history).

Joshua said to the Israelites:

“…fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua made it clear where he stood, but he declared that the Israelites had a choice to serve God or not to serve Him.

God created us, loves us and sustains our lives every day. But He doesn’t force us to love and serve Him. We are free to make our own decision whom we will serve.

Then people blame God when people choose evil instead of following Him and doing good.

That’s the price of freedom.