Sunday, April 22, 2018

What will you hear?

As a mom of 5 kids, I have plenty of experience with the "Mom, look at this!"stage most children go through. When kids do something or make something, they want a response. They long for encouraging words and praise from those they respect.

Friend, as adults you and I no longer voice these words, but there will be a day when someone takes a look at all we did and offers His response. On judgement day, we want have to ask for Jesus' attention, but will be asked to give an account and my hope is I hear the words the master spoke in Matthew 25:21 and 23 - "Well done good and faithful servant."

These words may be familiar to you, but I want to encourage you to look at them in context a bit more. I recently led a study on the parable of the talents and though it's a passage I've read numerous times, this was my first time really digging into it and I'm thankful I did. I was blessed with new insight, convicted by the truth and encouraged by the promise; I hope you are too!

As we begin I encourage you to capture some initial thoughts - What has God entrusted to you? If you're familiar with the story, what's the purpose of the parable? Now open your Bible to Matthew 25 and read verses 14-30. Any initial thoughts?

First of all a little background, Jesus is speaking to His disciples and sharing various parables about preparing for His return. Matthew, the author of this gospel, is writing to those waiting for Christ's return; clearly his audience hasn't changed today!

Now we're going to break things down a little bit and focus on verses 14 and 15. Who does the man leaving on a journey represent? (For help with this question see John 14:1-3 and Mark 13:34-37.) What did he do before leaving? Does anything strike you about how he did this?

I hope you've captured your thoughts before reading mine...the master entrusted the servants with talents according to their ability. Before you join some in feeling sorry for the servant who only received one let me share this - one talent is approximately $500,000, so they all received something of value. Plus the master knew each servant and gave them what they could handle. If you ever find yourself comparing gifts, opportunities or resources I pray this story comes back to mind. God, our master, our creator knows what He's equipped us to do and handle and has entrusted us with "talents" to fulfill our calling. We have an individual responsibility to handle them rightly; nobody else can do it for me, or you!

Let's move on to the action and read verses 16-18. What did the 3 servants do?

It's clear to see the first 2 went at once and generated a return while the 3rd one dug a hole and buried his talent. In my research I found an interesting rabbinical law that said one who buried money couldn't be held accountable for it. Initially that sounded a bit crazy to me, but as the Holy Spirit worked and my heart softened I began to wonder - Do I bury talents in hopes I won't be accountable? Not a fun question to think about, but definitely one we should consider.

In verses 19-23 we read the first response. What does the master say? Yes, he says the words we all hope to hear, but let's look at this a bit closer. Each servant was ready to give an account and they both produced an increase amount. The servants growth was different, but the master's response was the same. Friend, you've probably heard this before, but I'm going to say it again - God doesn't measure success the same way as the world. His attention isn't on money made or people saved, the master focuses on faithfulness. When it comes to our talents, gifts, resources, time and treasure we don't have to compare our gain to anyone else, but we must be faithful with what we've been entrusted! This may involve taking a risk, stepping out of our comfort zone and walking in holy confidence, but always remember we can trust the One who's entrusted us!

Finally, we read a different response in verses 24-30. What's different about servant number 3? What kept him from investing his talent? How did the master respond?

I find it interesting that servant number 3 is the one trying to explain himself. He claims to know what kind of master he is serving, but truly he doesn't know him. Fear has left him paralyzed and I have to say sometimes it does the same to me. What fear causes you to bury your talent instead of invest it? The master wasn't upset that he'd wasted the talent, but he'd neglected it. Clearly we sin when we do the wrong thing, but we also upset our Lord when we don't do the right thing.

If fear is a struggle for you, I encourage you to read Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 for a closer look.

As we wrap this little lesson up I have a few more questions -
What do we learn about God and Jesus?

What talent are you investing? How? Are you burying any? What? Why?

Friend, God is God. He is creator, master, Lord. To Him and Him alone will we one day answer. He's created us for a purpose. He has good works for each of us to do and better yet He's equipped us accordingly. We don't want to waste His resources or bury His talents. We don't need to hoard them either, because as 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

One day God will reward the faithful and punish the unfaithful. Those who know and trust Him will receive His praise! So today, let's get busy for God!

If you want to dig a bit deeper, I encourage you to look at the following passages and think about the questions I pose. May the Holy Spirit help you discern the living and active Word of God as you search the scriptures and seek the Lord.

Mark 12:41-44 - Again, what's the Lord's focus? Why is comparison so dangerous?

Matthew 5:13-16 - How do I hide the light? What talents can I use to shine light?

Luke 19:11-27 - Will I faithfully use what God has entrusted?

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 - Do I give in faith? When I invest talents is my focus on earthly wealth or spiritual rewards?

Luke 12:35-48 - What does being ready for Jesus return look like?

1 Corinthians 15:58 - How can I use God's resources to do His work?

Friend, if you are still reading please hear this - "Thank you!" I know time is limited, so I greatly appreciate you spending some with me. If you work through this study, I'd love to hear your take-aways. It's always a joy to see what God is saying to you and blessing to learn from your insights! Let's pray...

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for being a master we can know and trust. May we grow closer each and every day. Give us eyes to see the talents you've entrusted to us. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so we can know how to use our talents wisely. May we invest them for your glory and kingdom growth. And Father, with humble hearts we ask you to show us if we are burying talents. Thank you for the grace you offer and promises you provide. Help us be faithful. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An Emergency

 “Mom, hurry!! It’s a mergency!!” The words I heard as I opened the door and was greeted by my then 5 year old son.

After being told to avoid the mud, J.D. and his 3 year old sister, Joy, had left the house to visit their dad in the shop. Not much time passed and J.D. returned in a bit of panic. He was missing a boot and covered in mud when he proceeded to tell me, “Come quick! Joy’s stuck in the mud!!”

We rounded the side of the house and found our stationary princess. It truly was an "emergency" which was handled rather quickly. Nothing that dad’s strong arms and the water house couldn’t take care of.

Much has happened in the 10 years that have passed, but we continue to laugh at the story and smile at the pictures. Today though I thought of this story for a different reason…

God’s been showing me there are some things in my heart and on my mind that He needs to deal with. Realizing this is good and important, but it’s not enough. I need to do something about it; I must join God in the process. I need to surrender and search the Scriptures. I must trust and obey. And friend, these things take time and effort; transformation doesn’t happen overnight.

I started realizing some of this almost 10 days ago, but have yet to really commit to digging in and doing the work. It’s not a life and death situation and it won’t make or break a relationship, but yet it’s important, which got me thinking.

My children’s "emergency" from years ago had to be dealt with, my friend battling cancer needs medical attention and my daughter’s friend with a broken arm made a quick trip to the hospital. When it comes to our physical and health needs, we are pretty quick to seek help. We follow that up by obeying the Dr.’s orders, but what happens when it’s a spiritual emergency or a condition of our spiritual heart?

Like me, do you ever find yourself aware of something that needs to change, a sin that needs to stop or lies that need to be replaced with Truth? If we are walking with the Lord and He's doing His sanctifying work, it will happen. Clearly God will do His part, but friend, will you and I do our's?

Thankfully, not every spiritual heart check leads to an emergency, but I believe I need to do a better job responding so it doesn't do just that. As a wife and mom, I constantly have needs to meet and regardless of your roles or titles life has demands for you too. As women we care for others, but there comes a time we must remember we need to take care of ourselves as well.

In life's emergencies, we're quick to push pause and set things aside, what if we did the same for spiritual ones? When we are sick and our bodies demand rest, we eventually take time off. Shouldn't we do the same when our hearts are broken and our souls need rest?

Friend, our lives all look different, our spiritual health is unique and our heart conditions vary, but our God is the same. He wants us healthy. His Son made a way for us to be free and He promises us rest. Take some time today to let the One who created your heart, examine it. Then make yourself available and allow Him the time to heal it. Let the One who knows your thoughts, renew your mind. Ask Him to replace the lies you believe with the Truth of His Word.

In life, emergencies are no fun, in a spiritual sense they aren't either. Today I pray we make the choice my children didn't years ago...let's obey our heavenly Father and listen to His direction.

1 Corinthians 619-20 says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." These words alone should encourage us to take care of our body, mind and heart. 

"Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." (1 Peter 5:7-9) Avoiding spiritual emergencies isn't easy when Satan is constantly on the attack, but through prayer and reading the Word it is possible. 

Friend, if we want to care for others, we must care for ourselves. We can do just that by living out the command in Romans 12:1-2 - "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

There really aren't many "emergencies" like the one my children faced in the pictures above; more often than not we recall them with tears instead of laughs. You and I can work to avoid a spiritual emergency if we take the time to go to God and let Him take care of us. Will you do that today?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fighting Like A Fish

I'm not much of a fisherman, but the other day I found myself thinking about reeling in a big catch. I can honestly say I've never done this myself, but I've heard the stories my husband and children share and even witnessed a few as well.

A few years back my daughter caught a big catfish on the Mississippi. Depending on who tells the story it took anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to real him in. He was a fighter and put all the fisherman to the test. Everyone in the boat took a turn at reeling him in and eventually their efforts were rewarded.

Personally, I don't understand all the strategy and technique. I get a bite and am barely able to set the hook. On the rare occasion that I succeed I'm often too quick to try and reel in my catch. I've definitely lost more fish than I've caught, but you didn't come here to read about that.

Friend, regardless of your experience with a pole, I think we can learn a bit from a fish.

First of all, as believers in Christ, Matthew 4:19 says you and I are called to be fishers of men. In the same way my husband and children try to catch a bass or walleye, we are to reel others in for Jesus. May we remember to be careful as we do our job...we must be patient in the process and not reel too fast.

But the lesson that may be more important is: we don't want to fight like a fish. If we've accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we've been chosen, God has caught us, we are His. He is with me now and the Holy Spirit lives within me, but in a way He won't reel me in til I meet Him in heaven. The same is true for you.

God has me on His line, but there is a battle within. Galatians 5:17 tells us, "For the the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for those are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."

I read God's Word and call out to Him in prayer. He feeds me with His Truth and guides me with His Spirit. I try to live out Galatians 2:20 and crucify myself with Christ, but sometimes the flesh wins. God tries pulling me closer and the sin in me pulls me away. I'm like the fish pulling out the line, thankfully I have a good, loving Father full of wisdom and patience reeling me in.

Friend, I don't know what struggle you are walking through, but I know the battle rages on. Whether it's a new sin today, an idol from the past or pain that's been buried deep may we each heed these words from Isaiah 44:21-22 - "Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist; return to me for I have redeemed you."

If there is something that has us feeling distant from God, drifting from our Creator or fighting our Father may we remember these key truths -

God's line can't break and He won't throw us back. No matter how Satan tries to shame us, what guilt fills our heart or regret our minds, we must cling to Romans 8:38-39. It says, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

We have the power to choose; we don't have to be a fighting fish. I'm sure a fish's natural tendency is to resist the pull of a line and as fleshly human beings we too have inborn tendencies. We have the desire for comfort, selfishness and pride. Sins of all kind come quite natural. We have habits and ways of thinking that are hard to change, but we have power within us to do the impossible. The next time we're tempted to fight like a fish may we consider the choice we're presented in Romans 8:5 - "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I'm so thankful you've chosen me. As you reel me in and pull me close may I remember that is good. Though temptations catch my eye and outside things pull at my heart may I give up the fight. Help me die to self so that I can live for you. May I make the choice to set my eyes on you and my mind too. Father God, with you all things are possible and may I never forget that nothing can separate me from you. I praise you for your mighty power and amazing grace. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2018

It's Friday

Friday...a day many look forward to and some even thank God for. It marked game night in high school and the end of a work/school week all through the years, but last night I found myself thinking about it differently.

I went to bed with a not so happy thought...death is such a part of life. Three of our friends have lost loved ones this week. We've been to visitations and answered some tough questions from our little people. Another friend battling cancer is scheduled for surgery today and others are wrestling with illnesses and trials of their own.

As the minutes ticked by my thoughts kept running, and friend they were going in the wrong direction. I mean it's OK, and good, to have compassion and empathy for those walking through hard times, but we can't let ourselves become overwhelmed and discouraged. Easier said than done, I know.

Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), but we are also commanded to encourage one another. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." While in the same book chapter 4 verse 18 we read, "Therefore encourage one another with these words."

It's important to consider the task in this verse - encourage, but even more vital to realize the source. What words are we suppose to use? Clearly it's the ones that precede verse 18. They say,

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."

Prior to drifting to sleep bits and pieces of this passage came to mind and helped redirect my thinking. I was reminded of the hope of heaven and the peace of Christ. I also thought of Friday coming, which took me back to the previous week. We were recognizing Good Friday...a day that truly had no good for Jesus as He was beaten and bruised. And really in the moment it could not have felt good for His mother and disciples.

They were watching their loved one, friend and teacher suffer; I'm guessing their heart hurt just like mine. Tears fell, thoughts raced and feelings overwhelmed. It was a hard day, a discouraging one, one in the moment they probably weren't thanking God for.

Like you and me, they had words to hold onto. Words Jesus had spoke, but they didn't fully understand. Promises they had heard, but didn't even realize they needed. Truths that were taught, but now became necessary.

Friend, if you're experiencing your own "Friday" I pray these words encourage you. I pray you're reminded of the hope we can hold onto and the foundation of Truth we stand on. "Fridays" can be hard, but we must remember even the hardest of days can be good when we see them in light of eternity.

Last night my friend, Mary, said to me, "He (her husband) is not in a better place. He's in the best place and we will see him again."

On that Friday years ago, Jesus' hard walk led Him to His heavenly home and made a way for us as well; may we remember our difficult steps are leading us there too!