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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.

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.

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.

Asking For Snacks: 2 Peter 5:7

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Anyone who has a dog knows they like to linger at the dining room table when you’re eating in the hopes of scoring a few crumbs or leftovers. I try not to give Buddy too many scraps because it’s not good for him, but I enjoy his company and having him near my chair, even if it’s not for the best motives.

God enjoys our company, also. Jesus encouraged His followers to pray in Matthew 7:7-8:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will opened.”

He asks us to come to His table and ask for “snacks”. Why?

“…casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”–2 Peter 5:7

Sometimes I have to call Buddy to the kitchen or to the table to give him a snack because he’s someplace else in the house. If he is unwilling to come, then he doesn’t get the snack.

In His home town of Nazareth, Jesus “could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief.”–Mark 6:5-6

Sometimes we suffer because we just aren’t willing to walk over to the table and spend some time with our Master. My hip will hurt, or perhaps a sensitive tooth, for days before I remember I haven’t come to the Lord and asked Him to heal me. And guess what? When I asked recently, the pain went away. (It will return, due the chronic issues I have, but maybe I’ll remember to ask sooner for help.)

I’m not saying we’ll always be healed or delivered from our difficult or troubling situations. Sometimes He answers by giving us the strength to get through it because we live in a sinful world with selfish people. Sometimes life sucks and we just need courage to weather the storm. It may be God’s will that nonbelievers around us see how believers handle difficult situations, (hopefully), with patience, kindness and faith, not fretting, because we have a relationship with the living God. And maybe they’ll seek Him to have that relationship, also, to navigate successfully through their stormy seas.

Do you have some need today that you haven’t brought before Him?

PS. This wasn’t my original posting I intended to write about lingering, but I felt led to give you encouragement today instead of exhortation. Quotes from the NASB version of the Bible.

 

Focusing on Joy: Hebrews 12:2

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Here in the Seattle area most people look forward to watching the Seahawks football team play. As I am typing, fireworks are blowing off, signaling that the Hawks have scored. Buddy is less than enthusiastic about the fireworks, however, and is cowering near my feet.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”–Hebrews 12:2

Jesus was able to endure the agonizing pain and humiliation of the cross because His focus was on the end result, the great joy of reconciling humankind to Himself, removing the sin barrier separating us from God. His sitting down at the right hand of the Father symbolizes, (I’ve been told by spiritual authorities I respect), the finished work of Christ on the Cross. There is nothing to add to His work. “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;”–Apostle  Paul, Romans 10:9

As Christians, we have something far more wonderful to look forward to: Our lives have a very happy ending.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”–Apostle Paul, Romans 8:18

Our lives are like fairy tales. There are great dangers and sorrows to be faced and overcome, but in the end (as in most of the traditional tales) there is a happy ending. I encourage you to imitate Christ and keep your focus on the end game, the goal line: our joyful eternity with God.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.”–God, Isaiah 65:17

One day, all of these present sufferings will pass away and we’ll live in never-ending joy.

God bless you this Christmas Season.

Dawn and Buddy

NASB Version of the Bible quoted from.

Looking Behind: Philippians 3:13

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Buddy is distracted by something behind him, so he stopped during our walk, planted his feet and didn’t move forward.

Over the past few years I’ve heard several women in church claim that they cannot, or are having difficulty, forgiving someone. These women I’ve met rarely, if ever smile, and appear to be unhappy most of the time. One woman even hindered her husband’s ministry.

I have a saying: When you keep looking behind you, you’ll trip over your future. It’s difficult to walk forward successfully when you’re looking behind all the time.

I’m not writing this to condemn anyone. I certainly know how difficult it is to forgive; there’s not anyone I know of, including myself, who hasn’t been harmed by someone in life to one degree or another.

What I want to share is how I have been able, with the help of the power of Jesus Christ, to forgive those who’ve done me harm. Memorizing these verses below has been very helpful to me. (I’d also like to state that I’m not a trained psychologist or therapist. This works for me. I’m not advocating going off any medication a trained professional has prescribed for you.)

1. “Finally…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, DWELL on these things.”–Philippians 4:8

We cannot control what thoughts pop into our heads. But we can control what we choose to dwell on. Reject movies replaying the past. You’re only allowing the other person to continue to harm you by replaying those hurtful images. If an angry, vengeful, distressing, or hateful thought pops into your head, you have the choice to dwell on it or cut it short. Ask the Lord to help you identify wrong thoughts and assist you in redirecting your mind toward healthier thoughts and images. This is a process. Don’t become discouraged when you find you’ve been dwelling on something for several minutes or more. A lifetime of bad habits isn’t broken quickly. It may take months or years to learn to break bad thoughts and redirect your thinking. After years of practice, I still find myself sometimes running too long with negative thoughts. When you’ve discovered you’ve dwelt on something too long, the enemy will say, “See, it doesn’t work after all” or “You’re a failure. You cannot do this.” No, you cannot on your own but

“I can do all things through Him (Christ) Who strengthens me.”–Philippians 4:13

Ask Jesus to assist you. Remember that “nature abhors a vacuum”. You have to replace those thoughts with something else.

2. “but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,”–Philippians 3:13

Apostle Paul could never have been an effective minister of the Gospel if he’d been dwelling on his past history of persecuting Christians, hunting them down and handing them over to be jailed and/or killed before his conversion. He refused to dwell on his past and focused on his mission of bringing the news of salvation and building up the church. For me, dwelling on the past only makes me feel angry or hurt or discouraged. When in these emotional states, I cannot feel happy and energized and creative. I’m only permitting myself to be victimized again. And I refuse to allow that person to continue to hurt me while they’re likely enjoying life and not even giving me a second thought. It’s illogical.

“Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new,”–Isaiah 43:18

Whatever God commands us to do is for our good. Please ask him for the faith to trust Him with your future.

3.  “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered nor come to mind.”–Isaiah 65:17

This verse was my breakthrough verse for me. If you’ve ever seen a version of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, then you’re familiar with Marley’s ghost. As a ghost, he dragged his sins behind him as locks and heavy chests linked to ponderous chains wound about his body. I picture the hurtful events in my life like those heavy chests. When I dwell on the past, I’m chained to the past, dragging a big heavy weight through life.

Or, I often picture the past hurts like heavy suitcases I’m holding onto and carrying around in each hand, weighing me down and making it difficult to walk forward. If I truly believe I have a future in Heaven and eternal life with Jesus Christ, by faith I can drop those suitcases or cut that heavy chain, because, if I’m not going to remember this life in the future, why drag it around with me now? Why allow myself to be weighed down by the past when it’s only temporary anyway?

That’s not logical.

I know emotions aren’t logical. But often, if I’m feeling despair or self-pity, what am I dwelling? My emotions are reacting to what I’m thinking about.

4. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”–Jesus, Matthew 5:44

I’ve found this very helpful. I cannot hate someone if I’m praying for their soul or asking God to help them make better choices. It’s NOT helpful if you’re asking God to smite them or harm them in some fashion. I love what one of my non-believing friends said, “It takes too much energy to hate my ex-boyfriend.”

Again, note the verse above is a command by Christ and not a suggestion. Please think about that.

“Love never fails,”–Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:8

I’m not saying it’s easy to forget the past. But don’t be Marley’s ghost. Ask God for the faith to walk forward, “forgetting what lies behind.”

And please be patient with yourself. The freedom you’ll discover is worth it.

*All Scripture verses are from the NASB version.