Saturday, December 18, 2010

Risky Business

“I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth.”
                                                                                                Matthew 25:25

Fear of failure inhibits growth and success. When I read this familiar parable about the master who doles out his assets among three of his servants, I usually focus on the need to use the gifts God gives me for his glory. Yet, this time, I read it with the idea that it’s a parable instead about taking risks.

The servants who received multiple bags of silver (or talents, depending on your translation) took chances with their master’s assets. They could have failed, and in fact, they may have had failures along the way as they doubled what the master had given them. As we currently go through a down economy, most of us can relate to making investments that end up failing.

In this parable, we don’t get to hear about how these two servants invested their master’s assets. We might be shocked at the risks these two servants took and the failures they encountered. Having the responsibility and taking chances likely was stressful for them at times, but their willingness to put themselves at risk paid off.

However, the servant who buried what he was given was able to pass the time while his master was away with no stress. He could go about his business as usual, living comfortably in his normal routine because he did not take any chances with what the master had given him. He played it safe, but was not commended for doing so!

To consider this as a parable about taking risks shows me that Jesus is teaching us that risk-free living is not the Master’s desire for us. It is only in risking failure that we can receive the affirmation of the Master. It is only in risking everything that we can gain everything. As Jesus says in Matthew 16:25: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

God took a huge risk when he came to earth as flesh and blood to live among us as one of us. The birth of Jesus is so much more than a sweet story about a young couple who has a baby in a stable. It is the ultimate in-breaking of Immanuel, God with us. Just as God gave everything for us, we are called to give everything to him, to give up our right to ourselves and take risks with all he has given us, which is everything we have. What will seem as a failure in the eyes of the world will be commended by our Master.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Being A Way-Preparer

"John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, 'Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.'"
                                                                                                    Matthew 11:10

Jesus says the above words about John the Baptist when John is in jail. It's not always easy being one who prepares the way of the Lord. It is truly risky business. There are countless examples of missionaries, prophets and others who, in their effort to prepare the way for Christ have ended up in prison or been killed. Being the one who prepares the way is likely to be an unrewarded mission and others may think the effort was in vain. Yet God uses people in ways we may never know this side of heaven.

We are all way-preparers. But what way are we preparing? What message are we declaring--the message of the Good News, or the message of our culture? 

In this season of Advent and in every season, I pray that I am one who prepares the way of the Lord, not the way of the world. I hope that when others look back on my life they will see that my labor has made the path straight. This road construction project requires perseverance, and may even appear hopeless at times. Yet, always, God has the master plan, and even if I don't know that a way has been prepared, God does.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Giving Up

I am becoming more and more convinced that my life is not what Christ wants it to be. It's not that I think I'm a bad person; I just see more and more incompatibility between Jesus' teachings and the culture in which I live, including the church.

I'm reading the book Radical by David Platt. It is the latest in what must not be a coincidental series of books I've read that continue to challenge my lifestyle and the comfortable faith I've lived with for most of my life. I just don't believe God put me (or any of us) on earth simply to go to work, raise a family, volunteer in church or community activities, then retire and travel, play golf, etc. As I think about the way many of us, self included, have lived as Christians, it's little wonder that the church in America is declining!

Yet in countries where one can be tortured or killed for being a Christian, the church is growing. What truth do they know that we are missing? Could it be that the only faith worth having is one worth dying for? A faith worth sacrificing everything so that Christ will be proclaimed and people will be transformed?

I am growing less and less comfortable with my comfortable lifestyle. I don't think God sent Jesus to earth to be sacrificed so that I could squander his blessings to me on a big house, expensive cars, clothes, jewelry or electronics while others are starving to death. I'm beginning to think that Jesus really meant it when he said that unless I give up everything I own, I cannot be his disciple. Will I?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

God and Money

I think the last straw was hearing a church carillon playing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Why is it that even in the church, where the birth of Christ should be proclaimed, we have gotten caught up in the excesses of our culture at this time of year? I am not advocating that we have no celebration, but shouldn’t our first priority as Christians be to proclaim the birth of Christ, who came to earth, wholly human and wholly divine, to give himself for us?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am facilitating a discussion of The Advent Conspiracy. The authors suggest that many Christians believe it is possible to worship God and money. They point out that the Israelites tried this when they first settled the Promised Land. They saw the gods that their neighbors worshipped and figured what would it hurt to offer some sacrifices to Baal as well as to God. Might as well cover all your bases, right? While it sounds good in theory, God was not pleased.

I wonder if he is pleased with us and our rampant consumerism. Maybe we aren’t offering sacrifices to Baal, but I bet there were more church members out at 4:00 a.m. on Black Friday standing in line to get a bargain than there are at any Easter Sunrise Service!

And speaking of bargains, have you ever thought about what those bargains cost the producers of what we purchase? We are so immersed in our consumer culture that I’m afraid we are blind to what we have become and to the way our lifestyles affect others. Do our hearts break when we get dressed in the morning? I don’t think about how each piece of clothing was made by people who may be laboring in horrific conditions so I can buy at bargain prices. I spend more on an evening’s entertainment (I’m talking about a movie, not a Broadway show) than others have to live on for a month or more.

Imagine what could be done for others with what we spend on vacations. And we act as if we are entitled to do it. “It’s my money after all. I earned it. I can spend it any way I want.” We forget that it is all a gift from God; none of it really belongs to us. Do we have the right to do whatever we want with our money and call ourselves Christians while others are starving to death, often in the very places we visit on our cruise ships and airplanes.

I am feeling the tug between what the culture says is okay and what Christ teaches. Maybe these thoughts are extreme. Maybe I’m an extremist for voicing them. But God is pretty extreme. I can’t think of much that is more extreme than sending Jesus to earth as a helpless baby, who then grew up and did something really extreme—dying for my sin on a cross.

If it is extreme to put the needs of others ahead of my wants, as Jesus did, then maybe we should all be extremists.