Well Done, You Wicked, Lazy Slave?

Last Sunday at our Sunday Night Praise service I taught from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The reason that passage was important to me that week was because of a discussion (don’t you love that euphemism for a disagreement? We weren’t fighting or upset or at an impasse; we were “having a discussion”) that Laura and I had about my pursuit of a PhD. This parable was a big part of the discussion about why I want to pursue more education.

In that parable we have two faithful slaves who invest everything they have been given by their master and one unfaithful slave who invests nothing that the master has given him. I note that they were each given a number of talents in verse 15 equal to their abilities. None of the slaves invested a portion of their talents, and that led to the question: what would the master have said about a slave with five talents who only invested four of them? Would the master have praised the slave for the four wisely used talents or chastised him for the one that he wasted his opportunity with? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out! I want to hear “Well done, good and faithful slave” from verse 21, not “You evil and lazy slave!” from verse 26. The only way to hear that, though, is to be faithful with what I have been given. That means I must be faithful with all of it, not just some. I can’t compartmentalize, hoping that Jesus will not pay attention to the parts of my life that I want to keep to myself.

It is entirely appropriate to apply this parable to what we commonly think of as “talents,” such as our inclinations, gifts, abilities, and training. However, let’s not forget that for Jesus’ first audience this parable was “all about the Benjamins.” A talent was a huge quantity of gold equal to about 6000 day’s wages, so each one was a lot of cash! This parable was all about being a good user of the great responsibility of finances that the master had entrusted to each slave. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Since it is a big part of our lives, our financial management and the use of our money is a critical aspect of our discipleship!

This came to mind today because it is payday. In my life I get paid on the 15th and the end of the month. I like these weeks for lots of reasons, not the least of which is because I get to give at church on those Sundays. I think that pastors who invoke the idea that they don’t give because they accept a lower salary are probably not being honest (with their congregation or maybe with themselves) and are certainly not being good managers or examples to the congregation. It has been a real joy to me to see God at work in our life as we have been generous financially and faithful with giving back.

That’s all well and good; it’s vitally important to give at church and support the building of the kingdom. The power company doesn’t accept prayer in exchange for electricity! However, that is only part of the picture of financial faithfulness. It is only one of multiple “talents” given to us by the master to be a manager over. I am convinced that He is every bit as interested in how we spend the amount we do not put in the plate as He is in the amount we put in there. In fact, I think that many Americans have become leery of organized Christianity because of our focus on giving and our lack of focus on doing what is right with what is left. However, especially in tough economic times we must ask ourselves if our expenditures and our budget glorifies the Lord. Are we spending wisely or foolishly? Are we saving for the future, living within our means, and putting our money in places that we would be happy for Jesus to be a part of?

Today, on payday, is a good time to remember that. Making the mortgage payment or rent is a good thing—but is our home what God wants for us? Paying the bills is wise—but are we living too high a lifestyle for our income? Enjoyment and discretionary income is joyful and good—but am I using my discretionary income in a way that is profitable for me or harmful? Paying back my debt is honorable—but am I making a good decision getting into debt in the first place? If I am to hear “Well done, good and faithful slave” at the end of life, these are the questions I have to answer when I look at my checkbook. And I am finding that the more I can be generous with money that is not really “mine” to begin with, and faithful with every decision to use it for my family or for others, the more I can see God at work in my life and the more that I get the feeling that He trusts me in non-monetary ways. As Jesus says in verse 21, the slave who is faithful in little things (and in the parable, even 6000 day’s wages is a “little thing”) will be trusted with many things.

Sing Along Blog!

Okay, in honor of my favorite blog of all time (starring Neal Patrick Harris…either you know what I am talking about or you aren’t nearly cool enough)…today it is time to be a little goofy. How does being goofy help us have a biblical framework for life? Simple: go read the gospels and you will find that Jesus liked to have fun too. I bet Jesus has a fantastic sense of humor and I would not be surprised to hear Him drop a “your mom” joke on one of the Twelve. We should have a sense of humor too.

So…it’s a SING ALONG BLOG!

Here is the drill: I will start the song and you will comment with the next line. I turned off moderation on comments so they will appear immediately! The song was chosen in response to my amazing wife buying me an awesome CD the other day just because she loves me.

Here goes…

“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.
She took the midnight train going anywhere.”

The parable of the plugged drain

Jesus loved to teach in parables. He used the issues and concerns of everyday life of the people of Israel to lead them to deeper thinking and understanding of who God is, who they were, and how they should be. So sometimes an annoyance in everyday life can be useful to teach us a spiritual lessons.

I got such a lesson last night. Like I have said, I hate it when God builds my character. 🙂

I remembered that I had some papers to grade and hadn’t finished translating my passage in Luke for Sunday right before Sarah’s kenpo class (where I am a mentor and instructor helper). So I decided to come home rather than stay for adult class. ::sigh:: Kenpo is my stress relief, but duty first. Laura has worship team practice Tuesday nights so I knew I could grade and study without robbing her of quality time.

We got home and I heard that Elizabeth had made dinner. That is a good thing; she’s a darned good cook! This is the kid who made steak au poivre for her 12th birthday for the family that was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. She cooks all the time, so this was just par for the course.

She had apparently burned a whole pot of rice, though, and had to remake it in the course of making dinner. I never went into the kitchen because Elizabeth had everything under control. Dinner was great, I got my papers graded, and eventually got the kids off to bed after evening prayers. Then I finished translating Luke 7:36-50 and decided to wait up for Laura to come home (she hangs out with the Deegans after practice). She got home at about 11:30 and I was TOTALLY wiped and ready for bed.

Laura was wiped too, but wanted to load the dishwasher before bed because she is a mom and not a dad. She noticed that the sink was completely filled with water. Okay, no problem…I will just run the disposal. That didn’t help. Then we noticed that BOTH sinks were backed up in the kitchen. ::sigh:: that means the drain is plugged. It is 11:45. Really? I have to deal with this now?

Laura got the plunger. I plunged and plunged. Lots of rice flowed from the disposal. No luck on the clog. I turned to my darling wife with a tired growl and said “The pea trap is plugged with rice. I need to take that drain apart.” Now if your kitchen sink is like mine, there is a cornucopia of cleaning products, dishwashing soaps, and various asundry things under the kitchen sink. Ours also has our RO drinking water system. Everything but the RO had to come out and be scattered about the kitchen.

At least the drain was PVC instead of metal. Small favors, right?

Sure enough, the drain was jammed with rice. The pea trap all the way back up to the disposal was crammed with rice goo. Did you know that burned rice turns into the consistency of papier mache when crammed down a drain? Yeah, it does. It took us until about 12:30 to get it apart and then put back together. I knew that I wasn’t going to get to run in the morning because of it, and I was covered to the elbows in sewage. Not a great night, and I battled some significant frustration with Elizabeth because of it.

Then I started thinking about it theologically and as a parent. She was trying to do good and take care of the problem of the burned rice; she has put a lot of gunk down that garbage disposal before with no problems. She didn’t know the consequences of her actions. In our family lingo, she was ignorant (not knowing what to do) not stupid (knowing what to do and choosing to do something else). She needed instruction on what to do next time, not a tongue lashing. She needed to know the consequences, but if I scolded her and chewed her out it would not make the drain magically fixed. No, she needed a reminder, a lesson, and encouragement from her dad that I still was glad that she had served her family by making us dinner.

This hit me even harder when I put it in perspective with what I experience from God. Off I go, trying to serve Him and be what He wants me to be for His people. I try to live a separated life, be a good husband and dad, be the pastor He wants for His church in Glendale, the professor He wants for His school in Phoenix, and the friend and mentor and coach that honors Him. In all my good intentions, though, how many times do I make a mess of things unintentionally? How often my ignorance leads to a spiritual mess that I am ill equipped to clean up.

How often does Jesus forsake His own desires and needs to serve me and right my wrongs? (don’t read too much into that statement about Jesus forsaking His desires…no scathing Calvinist rebukes about God’s Sovereignty please!) I can imagine Him being frustrated with my ignorance; after all I have a degree in Biblical Communication so I should know better. Yet I know that His infinite love and patience provides for my mistakes. (my stupidity too…thankfully Elizabeth didn’t go that route so the parable doesn’t really apply to that)

Now when I look at that sink and that drain I don’t see frustration and upset over my tiredness. I see instead a lesson from God about patience and provision, ignorance and restoration. I was able to solve the problem with some teflon tape and a fork to remove the yuck; Jesus paid a far greater price for me than I ever will for my kids.

I just love it when He speaks in modern parables in my life, even though they sometimes get me covered in sewage. Thanks, Lord, for leading and showing me who You are and how You love me.

Well…that didn’t take long

So the CA Supreme Court just handed down their decision. You can read it here. I know that there are going to be a LOT of opinions on this issue, but I think that there are some important considerations with respect to this ruling.

First, let it be said that the furor is over an amendment that was passed by the voters of California. Just because the majority believes something does not make it right (that is mob rule, i.e. democracy); there are checks and balances in the system to make sure that the majority does not override the rights of a minority. That is what a federal republic is all about, which is the system of government that we practice. Here is how it went down:

  1. The voters of California spoke (and with a margin about as wide as President Obama’s defeat of John McCain in the presidential election, lest anyone think that the margin was too thin to count).
  2. There was an appeal by the minority; this is just fine and the way that the system is designed to function!
  3. That appeal was taken to the highest court in the state, which heard the appeal from a well-funded and researched legal team who made the best argument they could.
  4. That court ruled that the people of California have the right to amend their constitution by vote.

If you want to read a great discussion of the topic of same sex marriage and the biblical issues behind it, you can’t do better than Kent DelHousaye’s article on the subject. He makes a compelling case. Go read it. No, I mean it. Now. I can wait.

No, for real…go read it.

Okay, done? Good. On with the show…

As a Christian I was somewhat torn over this one for awhile. (I know…I am supposed to be vehemently and angrily against same sex marriage because I am an evangelical Christian…sorry, I prefer to think about this stuff and come to a conclusion that is thought out, thoughtful, and understands the other side) The tension in my mind arises over trying to live life with a biblical outlook as someone who is trying to follow Christ. On the one hand, when I vote I try to vote for those laws and candidates who I believe honor God; it’s a “HWJV” (How Would Jesus Vote) thing. On the other hand, I can’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians (heck, a lot of Christians don’t act very Christian!) and I have a difficult time legislating morality. I am also wary of government interference…what will I feel like when the majority votes to outlaw Christian worship? I lean libertarian at times…so sue me.

When I read Kent’s article awhile back it crystallized my thoughts. The idea here isn’t marriage; at least that is not the stated issue that same-sex marriage proponents offer. The issues here are supposed to be tax advantages, estate law, and health care benefits that marriage offers. I believe what Kent says in his post (go read it if you haven’t!), that if those are the issues then another “estate” such as domestic unions should be acceptable. The term “marriage” has always been a primarily sacred (not secular) institution. For instance, when I officiate at a wedding I end with something like “By the authority vested in me be God and recognized by the state of Arizona, I pronounce you husband and wife.” It is a sacred institution recognized by the state.

If the true idea, though, is that someone wants a sense of God’s blessing over something that is clearly delineated in Scripture as sin (and it is; go read Romans 1:24-32) then I cannot sign off on that. As Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” Asking God to bless sin is not okay! Whatever we want to say about it, God’s standards never change. That is not being hateful, just honest. I am sad that many Christians can get way too angry over issues, but stating the biblical issue is not hateful. And lest someone ask why the Bible can give laws, our entire culture and the foundation for law in the western world comes from the precedent and mandate given to us in Scripture. That is why a copy of the Ten Commandments still stands outside of our Supreme Court.

Furthermore, as my friend Robert has said, this isn’t about equality or human rights. We have laws against children marrying, against siblings marrying, and against currently married people marrying again. We have laws against people marrying other animals. (but why no laws against people marrying plants, or ideas, or something else? “Yes, Reverend, I am madly in love with Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and I would like to commit to it in holy matrimony!” “Your honor, I want to leave my home to my dog when I die and this is the easiest way to do so. I love her so much that I want Pumpkin to be my wife.”) So the argument that love is love, is, unfortunately, a non sequitur. Our attitude toward marriage and its transience has caused so much social damage (go ask a child of divorce how painful it is to go through) that doing more damage to the institution can’t possibly make things any better.

So I applaud the decision of the CA Supreme Court on multiple levels. One they upheld the constitutional process and the voice of the people of California. Two they checked the political power of a few elected officials (and unelected judges) who were overriding the will of the people. Three they decided that going backward would be a nightmare as well as recognized that another civil arrangement could be made that provides the same secular rights without the sacred overtones. That is a good decision.

Okay, I am going to leave comments on. Remember, if you are going to post a comment I will moderate it however I see fit. If you are respectful and polite and thoughtful to others I will allow it; if you are mean-spirited I will delete the post AT MY DISCRETION. This blog is a dictatorship, not a federal republic. 🙂

Okay, okay…I started a blog!

I resisted starting a blog for a long time. I mean, really, does the world need another blog? Aren’t there enough voices ringing out in the ingeniously-named blogosphere? (and who decided it was a sphere? Why isn’t it the blogocube or the blogododecahedron?) Do I think that I am unique enough or interesting enough that it is worth it to spend the time and energy to write about life and everything that goes with it? I mean, I write notes on facebook and send status updates and all that jazz; isn’t that enough?

More importantly, is this a good use of my time? Will Laura freak out that I am adding another task every week? (under the assumption that I will blog on a regular basis…not necessarily a great assumption) Will this impact my ability to waste time playing Bejeweled on facebook? Will it make enough of a difference to justify the investment? And, yeah, the big one…will it honor God or waste my time and thereby dishonor Him?

In the end, I decided that I needed to go for it. My motivation is my friend Christie and her very funny and also poignant blog on being a mom and wife and Christian. I am also challenged regularly by a couple of theological blogs that I read (namely Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk, Michael Patton’s Parchment and Pen and the excellent writing of Kent DelHousaye).

So here we are…a blog that will touch on a lot. I pastor a great church in Glendale, AZ; I teach part time at a Christian college; I study Ed Parker American Kenpo; I enjoy firearms; I have an amazing wife who is a doula and a homeschooling mom; I have four fantastic kids from 3-12. I have a goofy view on life because I like to laugh and try REALLY hard not to take myself too seriously. I hope to bring to light important issues I am facing, funny stories I live through, and hopefully thoughtful interaction with the issues of the day. For instance, the CA Supreme Court decision that will come down today…yeah, that will be a live grenade!

Thanks for taking the journey with me. My prayer is that this blog may help you build a biblical framework for living in a crazy world. 🙂

John