Just Like Jesus

It was just like yesterday, when the world was filled with despots struggling with each other for power, when economic classes typified the struggles between the “haves” and the “have nots,” and the walls of racial and religious prejudice were flagrantly making themselves known.  Now unless you accidentally are thinking this was yesterday or last week, these all describe the time long ago that were active when Jesus entered the scene.

It was exactly the same as it is today, or at least it certainly feels that way.  There are gross economic disparities, there is great divisions between races and skin colors, and there are still difficulties between the sexes in our day today.  It seems that almost nothing is any different, and it forces us to have it called to our attention that the world Jesus was literally born into is the same as the world we see all around us.  It is not an unusual effect of the times “back then” but more a continuing picture of what the human race looks like.

I think it safe to assume the same Jesus who came and spoke to the disciples of the day back then speaks as well to us today.  The parable stories that Jesus made famous, still are applicable today.  That also means the words and messages that those words brought with them are still in play today.  Jesus continues to bring the will of God to bear upon His people despite the fact that the people are most likely going to reject it.

Jesus heals the untouchable.  He speaks to the Samaritan woman, who was the “wrong” person to be dealing with at the well from a variety of factors.  He sided with the poor at almost every opportunity, despite accusations that they were all unclean.  Jesus made unpopular decisions at almost every turn, because His task was the annunciation of the Kingdom’s coming into existence with His presence.  We know the history lesson here-Jesus was rejected much as He probably would be today, if the circumstances would find themselves recreated.

If the situations have not really changed, then I would begin to want to argue that the message of Jesus is spot on for today.  What He said then, applies to us today.  His words establishing a new reign of God’s love into and throughout the entire known world are exactly appropriate for the moment.  This moment as well as every moment the from the past.

The words of Jesus, as well as the actions He demonstrated those words by each and every day He walked this earth, model God’s Will and God’s intent for His creation.  Our task might best be served once again by clearing our “theological decks” and getting back to the words and deeds of Jesus.  They are to be the model for living our lives.  To allow a broad faith descriptor like “Christian” might not even be pointed enough.  For those who would be followers of Jesus and “do-ers of the Word” as James tells us in his letter, we must get back to the basics.

To that end, we need to walk as Jesus walked.  Slow to anger, quick to show pity and mercy, suspending our human need to be judgmental, and actively showing love to one another- all these might best describe what we need to be concerned about accomplishing.

Being just like Jesus.

 

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The Parable of the Talents

 

A book I was reading this morning made reference to the parable of the Talents, and it started me thinking how most of us relate to this story, or any story of Jesus for that matter.  The more I reflected, the more I realized it was a matter of our focus.  You see, how we choose to “adjust our focus” on the various parts of the story will dramatically color our interpretation of said story.  Let me illustrate.

First, we may place our focus on the master.  Nice guy, loves to travel, a businessman— all accurate descriptions of our character in this story.  There is also a dark side we’d point out— that he will be irritated with underperforming people when he returns.  This might color our opinions of this business exec who trusts others to handle the company affairs while he is off traveling.

Secondly, we may place our focus on the others around us.  Here is where it is always interesting.  The Scriptures do not give any indication why the distribution of the wealth, minas, or “talents” were given out the way that they were.  What most people in our society in years past and even yet today are concerned with more than anything, is the amount that they have been given.   Living within a materialistic society that loves to think in terms of entitlement, it would appear almost unfair when others get more than we do.  If I were a single talent guy, I’d probably be spending more time thinking why the other two got 5 and 10 respectively.

Thirdly, we could focus upon ourselves.  Not in a positive, productive way, but in the similar way that our single-talent fellow did.  Too busy, too cautious, too nervous, too averse to work, too averse to confrontation if things go wrong, we tend to want to be following our single talent guy and take absolutely no chances.  You simply can’t lose if you put it somewhere safe.

I guess I am wondering aloud this morning if each of these focal positions- on the master, on others, even on ourselves, is close to what Jesus is even suggesting here.  We need to realize that often our agenda drives the story’s end, so that if we want to be fussing over the distribution wealth in society to others, and not to ourselves, we need to get about exactly that.

Yet in the consideration of the entire text, with its variants in both Matthew and in Luke, it would appear that the master suggests we do at least something with the responsibilities, wealth, and the business of kingdom-building and our role in it.  It’s not about the others here, but I believe the individual-all individuals—are to take risks with their gifts, and use them in the best way possible, to help the master grow the wealth of the kingdom.

In this instance, passive is not a personality style to have.  Doing nothing with your gifts, money, or actual physical talent might wreck havoc on your eternal results-as in the parable itself.  Perhaps we are better served to spread our focus all around the so-called “corners” of the story.  We need to look at what the master is and/or has already done on our behalf as we inventory what he has given to us.  We need to look at others to see what they are doing as well, not with a jealous eye, but with an eye which seeks to learn from the responsible actions of others as they engage in the process.  We need to look at our role as well, so that we never lose sight that this is not “ours” but rather a stewardship of what belongs to another.  Keeping all of these points in mind will change our perspective and allow this story to come to life even in our hearing.

So where do we find ourselves today?  Jealous of our master who travels?  Ticked off because the Jones’ next door have more than we do?  Do we act up, act out, or even act on the stewardship we have been given?  Will we resent the actions of the master on his return?  Will we be bothered by the star power of those success gurus who double their talents?  Or will we act now, while we yet have a chance, and fully commit to using what we have been given, with no concern how much or how little that is,  for the advancement of the Kingdom of God?

There’s A Problem Brewing

For Amos, there was a problem brewing.  It happened to be of epic proportion.  It cut him to the core, and got him angry beyond his own understanding.  The children of Israel had turned their backs on God. Again!

Amos’ prophetic words were placed in position to counter a hostile environment that was consistently replacing justice and righteousness with replacements that did not please God.  It was, after all, in the very essence and personality of God, that things would be done by His people according to the very nature and best summarized in the “heart” God had for His people.

The children of Israel had problems with God’s method.  Amos needed to remind them that God had standards of justice, most often characterized by standards of personal conduct.  Justice, it would appear, was not just something to be talked about, but instead lived out in the day to day environment that God had given them.

The problem that the children of Israel seemed to come up against was the inescapable fact that what they “said” was not what they would “do.”  This caused great grief for the prophet Amos as he was loyal to the word of God and would bend away from his loyalty to God.  The children of Israel thought differently.

Do we as well?  Are we victims of a society that would keep replacing the standards and norms of God with fabrications and other chicanery that would lead us away from God’s law and His way of justice?  Do we find other methodologies to replace what we know in our hearts are the things we should be doing?

The book of Amos lists out the ways that the children of Israel have turned their religion away from true worship and replaced it with watered down standards that totally missed the “bar” that God was setting for His people.  They quickly attempted to water down and render this relationship powerless by side-stepping the issues that lay before them.

We are not in much better shape today.  We have made the observance of rules, traditions and other practices the norm and have released ourselves from the responsibility of considering what God might have us do.  We don’t even realize that we do it, since we have walked away from what God intended for His people.  We have replaced it with a practice that pleases our whim, and ignores what God has in store for us.

How can we claim to be Christian and not at least try to practice living life according to the Ten Commandments?  Okay, let’s even whittle that down to the two Jesus mentions-loving God and loving our neighbor-yet even with just these two, we are far from what God would intend our relationship to look like.

Amos reminds us of the judgement for those who choose to fool themselves into thinking their way is righteous.  God may have another view on the subject!  Perhaps we need to give that thought some extra consideration in the days ahead.  It would be good for us all to read this relatively short book from the Old Testament to see just how much still applies to us today!

Sin Is Out There!

 

As part of a continued random act of reading the Scripture, my attention is drawn this week to a re-reading of the book of Genesis, when the history of the world begins, as well as the stumbling and falling of man.  It is truly a most interesting read and I would hope  that somewhere in your Bible reading you’d give the beginning another go-round!

I was pretty much moving through things until I came upon the 4th chapter where God and Cain are discussing Cain’s bad attitude and his difficult look.  He was dejected!  It might bear repeating:

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?  You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”   (NLT)

So let’s get this straight, once and for all.  God in His infinite wisdom has given us the choice as to how we can handle sin.  This seems the first advice of its kind in the Scriptures, apart from that which was given to Cain’s mom and dad a few years earlier.

Sin is personified like an animal, crouching right outside our door waiting for us to respond.  We have a choice – to be sin’s master  or to let sin master our lives.  God apparently gives Cain the appropriate instructions as to how this all can take place, does He not?  Do what is right.  That’s it, pure and simple.  Do what is right.

Another thought might be making the right choice.  Let the reigns of control stay in your hands.  Resist letting the temptation get the better of you, simply be its master and subdue it.  Keep it from being the bully it wants to be.

To me this involves an invitation to be proactive to the way life comes to us, and stop being so reactive in all we do.  Make conscious decisions first thing in the day as to how we plan to live out the day we have been given, and then put them to work.  I don’t think the model is that instead we turn into reactive people, being blown by the winds of culture change and the temptations of the devil to get us off of the direction we ought to be going.

We have a choice, as did Cain.  Do what is right.  Do what is healthy for you.  Avoid engaging in behavior that brings judgement upon yourself.  Don’t confuse others who are looking to you as an example.  Resist the power of sin as best you can by resolving in advance what things are important to you and the way you choose to live.

Our emotions often get the better of us, as they did for Cain. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel but not Cain.  The jealousy that ensued was enough to cost Abel his life.  Cain was so driven by the moment of hatred that those feelings were then completely in the hands of the devil, who drove Cain to kill Abel.  Now we may not go to such extremes, but it might do us all good to take a refresher on what we need to do to face our days.  Sin needs to be kept in check.

God tells a story to Cain, painting an image of sin like a demon waiting to pounce, attack, and destroy.  We are also mindful that God by His grace and mercy equips us with the power to withstand this directed activity of the evil one.  We can, to a person, each one say no.  No to the power that would drive our actions.  We have a choice here.

Resist it or fall victim to it.  Those are the options that are before us.  We either are turning toward the Lord, or we are turning away.  Those are the two options we have.  Now it is up to us to make the right choice as often as we can.

When the disciples chose the seven leaders in Acts 6, their choice would be people who were led by the Holy Spirit’s power. Plain, simple, and measurable.  That would indicate they would  have already  made their choices as to how they were to live.

This is just the first time the topic is touched in Scripture.  It isn’t the last.  “No one can serve two masters.”

Choose wisely!