We’re starting a new little mini-series, Reengage. It comes under the larger umbrella of the Re series. We started out the new year with Restart and spent three weeks there. Refocus, we spent three weeks there. Now, we’re talking about Reengage where we will talk about activating our faith. Some of the themes we covered in the past few weeks have covered a lot of different ground. Right now we’re trying to get everybody thinking about how to put our faith into play. I believe God has given all of us certain things to contribute in this relatively speaking, short life of ours. It goes by fast. This life has a lot of uncertainties in it, ups and downs, twists and turns. How do we avoid getting stuck? We’ve been talking about that. That’s how we started the year.
How do we stay out of ruts? How do we get ourselves out of them when we’re in them? How do we not get lost, disillusioned, cynical, stuck, or paralyzed by difficult circumstances? Maybe if we allow them to have dominance in our lives, they will start to define us. That happens. Some of us are experiencing that now. We might have certain issues going on that we came in with here to this house. We’ve been struggling with certain things that are happening in our lives we didn’t want them. We don’t want them. They might be health-related, relational, or have to do with our finances. Something’s going on in our job or we want a job. Maybe it’s a relationship issue. Maybe we really want one. Maybe we’re lonely. On a day like this, who can’t be reminded of those things sometimes.
The fact of the matter is, we’re talking about how do we face life when life is tough? We’ve talked about how to walk through things even when we really can’t control the outcome. We can’t make other people do things. At the end of the day, sometimes the hardest thing is when we care, we’ve invested ourselves relationally, and we can’t control the outcomes. We can’t do it. It can be very hard. Sometimes some of us struggle with our past and not get stuck there. Sometimes our past haunts us, trails us, pursues us, or depresses us. We make mistakes. Sometimes the hardest mistakes of all to get past are the ones that we can’t really blame anybody else for, it’s us. We did it, so we have to live with that.
How do we learn to appropriate the life of Christ into that? That’s what we’ve been talking about. I want to talk a little bit more about that in different ways. In the Book of James, remember some of the other things we covered? We talked about how once we see ourselves in the mirror we aren’t to look in the mirror, see what we are, walk away, and not make the adjustment. How sometimes God is trying to get our attention. We hear and feel it, but then we walk away and forget it. How God wants us to follow through on our good intentions, and one of the benefits of being integrated into the community beyond, the level of participating in a service, is the idea that we can be reminded of things that are important.
We talked about when it comes to the important things, anything short of an intentional commitment to the important is an unintentional commitment, an unconscious commitment to the unimportant. God wants us to think about how we’re structuring our lives. I’m saying all this, but the truth is we talked about giving our best. We had some fun. Those of you who were here last week, do you remember the story of the frozen turkey for 28 years that was donated to church? We talked about giving our best. I feel like God wants to continue to grow things in us. This is going to be something we’re going to do here for the next few weeks. We are going to focus on one of the great stories of Jesus. Jesus told stories. I think God hardwired us for the story. We learn through stories. You could argue the human race is a long story.
The way God made us is we are drawn in. We tend to suspend our disbelief. That’s why we read and watch things because they draw us in. We begin to identify with something. It stirs our curiosity. We want to know more. Jesus used the story as a teaching form. He did it because oftentimes He was trying to reach a wide swath of people from different places. He found that He knew the human heart. He knew that a story was a way of engaging them. Jesus used parables. That’s a story oftentimes used to illustrate principles or spiritual truth. He used parables as a way that He might not be able to get across just from a conventional way of sharing something conceptually. He would use a story to illustrate and get someone’s attention and get us thinking in a different way.
As a platform for this idea of Reengagement, we’re going to look at one of the great stories that Jesus gave. It’s called The Story, The Parable of the Talents. We’ll see that talents might mean something a little bit different than we might think. I think it’s going to be worth us looking at it together and learning from it. We’re going to start with Matthew 25:14, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one to each according to his own ability, and then immediately went on a journey.” The parable Jesus is sharing is about something they would’ve immediately connected with. In their day, he used analogies and illustrations that were something they could understand. Things that were going on in their real world. When Jesus tells a story, He’s telling it out of the context of the world engaged in. There’s a lot of crossovers because in their day the idea of a wealthy landowner or businessman leaving his estate, holdings, or business to go on a journey and leaving everything in the care of servants was normal. To go to Jerusalem, another of the trading posts, or as far as Rome potentially to try to get something done was normal. The idea that you would leave your business in the hands of trusted servants was something that people understood. It’s no different than today.
It’d be as if somebody who was engaged in a business, or a boss of ours, comes to us and says, “Hey, I’m going to either be away or I’ve got these other projects I’ve got to manage. I need you to take this and I need you to get it done.” The same principle applies here. He’s going on a journey and it’s business-related. Jesus tells the story, ‘he calls these servants in and to differing degrees based on his assessment of their skill sets he entrusts them with a different amount of entrustment. One five, one two, one one. In our day, if you’re given something and the stakes are pretty high it could cost us a promotion. Sometimes there might be a bonus involved. It could be something where we could get called on the carpet if we didn’t execute it. The worst-case scenario is we could get fired. In Jesus’ day, the stakes were even higher. The implications were pretty significant. Why? You could earn and solidify your reputation. If you did well that was huge. But if you did poorly you ran the risk, depending on the whim of the owner or the master, you could get in real trouble. If you lost it you could get thrown into prison.
In some cases, it could even be lethal. So, it was the big deal. If you lost what you were given and it was a lot, there was a different type of risk involved than even today. Keep that in mind because it’s going to make it even more clear. When Jesus tells the story, on the surface it’s about business and making money. It’s about high-stakes investment, business strategy, and taking risks. It’s also about what people do when the pressure is on. We think of the word talent and read it here, The Parable of the Talent. You were given five talents. When we think of a talent today, we think of something that we’re good at. We say, “Ah, man, they are talented. She’s a talented singer. Whoa! They have a talent for that.”The idea of you’re good at something, you’ve got a unique skill. The talent Jesus is referring to has to do with a sum of money. Depending on the way the metal was, it could have been as much as a common day wage earned in 10 years. We’re talking about a lot of money. The other interesting thing is that the parable itself has made its way into our English vernacular. The word we use now for talent, gift, or capacity, is a word that goes all the way back to this teaching of Jesus who first used it as an example of entrustment, the sum of money that’s an entrustment.
Every time we hear of someone being talented, remember it started with Jesus when He talked about the story that we’re reading right now. Here’s the question. It’s centered around what the managers do with their master’s money. Jesus says, “Then he who had received five talents went and traded with them and made another five talents. Likewise, he who had two gained two more.” That’s great! The first and second servant surely double their entrustments. The man with five follows the market, knows the state of the crops. He anticipated the arrival of the Damascus caravans, gauges the harvest, and succeeds fabulously. He turns it over and doubles it. Number two does the same thing, doubles his. The servant who was given one has a different approach. He gets our attention because he received one talent and went and in verse 18 it says, “He went and dug in the ground and he hid the lord’s money.” All three servants shared a common desire. They want to please their boss. Even the one talent servant wanted to please. His motive is not to do anything. He’s very motivated. He has good intentions. The difference is though, that while the five and the two took a risk and invested their entrustment, the one talent man plays it safe. As we shall see, he plays it way too safe. He’s so afraid of losing he buries it. Now in Jesus’ time, burying money had its merit because the bank was risky. It was low risk, but it had risk.
Not like today where we have things because of what’s happened in our world. We have things in our country like the FDIC. There’s a certain amount of money that’s guaranteed you. Theoretically, we can get it back if the bank lost it. But there are a lot of third-world countries today, where you understand why some people don’t put their money in their banks. The servant who was given one thought, “Well, I can’t afford to lose it so I’m going to bury it.” It seemed like a safe alternative. I look back on it and a lot of us now came out of the recession period of a decade or so ago and understand. Now, we only read about things like The Great Depression.
We think of the Great Depression in black and white, with shantytowns, documentaries, and things like that. When I was growing up as a boy, I remember talking to my grandfather and people of his generation, especially the early part of the World War II generation. Sometimes called The Greatest Generation. That generation had come through The Depression. At least they watched, many times, their parents and other people lose everything. The banks collapsed, systems collapsed, people committed suicide throwing themselves out of windows here at the market street. We’re talking about from wealth to nothing. People lost all kinds of investments. The reason I’m bringing this up is because that generation had a certain perspective even after they came out of World War II, which was created an interesting arc.
There was real prosperity that came because the United States had a unique place in the world. Our economy started booming. We were one of the few who came out of that, comparatively speaking, unscathed in our homeland. We were set up for a season of prosperity. Even as people started prospering into the ’50s and ’60s, which created its own social dynamic because only a prosperous generation can do certain things. Many of them, even though they were making money, harbored fear. I know because I would talk to them and try to understand. They harbored fear. The fear was, don’t spend, don’t get in debt, and be careful where you put your money because they witnessed banks collapse. They witnessed places where things fell apart completely. Everybody lost everything. I say that because it reminded me of something that happened. Some people were very fearful. You heard stories about people hiding money in their mattresses and things like that. Not putting them into banks. Nowadays, there are different ways that people take advantage of people. Cash was dominant in that era. I remember I was just starting out as a pastor here at the church. I was still in my twenties. My grandfather had died. He had been my mentor and founded the church. When I started serving in this capacity, our church had about 70 people. One of them was older and part of his original group.
I remember one of those families. There were just a couple at the time. He had been working and just retired. He was afraid of putting his money in the bank. The reason I’m remembering is that stuck out to me. It happened early in my pastorate to where I thought, “It was a harsh reality of life.” I remember him coming into this building and telling me with tears that he had a majority of his retirement funds and life savings in cash. He hid it in his closet because he was afraid of what the banks would lose it. Someone stole his money. They were pretty confident who it was, but they could never prove it. A repairman came in to do some work and it was somewhat costly. He wasn’t paying with credit. When it came time to pay the bill, he went back into a room where his money was hidden. They couldn’t see it, but they saw him come out with these large bills to pay them. About a week later, when they were out, someone broke in and knew exactly where to go. What room to go to and all the money was taken. I still, to this day, have the memories of that conversation. They were so afraid that they hid their money and ended up losing it.
“Thank you for encouraging me, pastor. That was a really great story you just told us. I really appreciate that.” I’m sorry. But it does make my point. I was thinking, “Hold on. I’ve never forgotten that. I’m going to share that.” Someone said, “Well, why did you share that story? What is the moral of the story?” I said, “You know, that’s a really good question, but it does fit.” When money comes don’t bury it. Don’t hide cash! Or, make a limit. The thing is, somehow I never forgot that. Whenever I read this parable and I think of the one man burying his talent in the ground very carefully. Taking furtive glances making sure no one notices. “I must keep the money safe. When the master comes back, he will know I did not lose his money. It’s all here safe! He’s going to be happy when I give it all back.”
Watch what happens. “After a long time, the lord of those servants came and he settled the accounts.” Reading this in the slightly older version of the language has a poetic component to it. “So, he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five.'” Talents, the sum of money. Here’s the entrustment. “You gave me five. I want you to know something. Here it is, five more. I doubled it for you.” “Oh, You’re good. I’m leaving again. I’m going to remember that. I am pleased with you. You’ve done amazing work for me. Thank you. You bring me great joy to have you working for me.” Two man comes in, brings his, “I had the two. You gave it to me. I want you to know something. I doubled it for you.” “Aw, amazing work. Well done. Everything I thought you could do, you did it. Excellent. Excellent work. Enter into the joy that I have for you.” The one who had been given one comes in, watch what happens in verse 24, “The one who received the one talent came and he said, ‘Lord…” Now watch what he says. We’re going to talk about this in the next couple of weeks.
He says, “Lord, I knew you’re a hard man.” With that, I think he means that “You don’t fool around. You take this very seriously. I know that you reap where you haven’t sewn. You know how to do business. You know how to make a profit. You’re good at what you do. I know I’m not that good. But I can keep and not lose what I’m given. I was afraid that I would disappoint you and lose what you gave me. I hope you’re pleased with this. I went ahead and I dug a hole. I put it in there, hid it, and made sure I didn’t lose one penny. Here it is all back. What do you think?” We’re going to find out what he thinks. But the fact of the matter is, in his mind, he’s thinking he’s done great. Now, when Jesus tells this story, he says, “Everything you gave me, it’s all there. It’s all there! Everything!”
This parable has dual meanings. It has an eschatological, which means it has to do with Jesus’s leaving and His entrustment. But at its core, it has everything to do with what happens when Jesus is away. How do people who claim to love Him, follow Him, and honor Him with their lives? That’s the principle. He cares how we engage life on His behalf. He cares about how we live. He cares about how we love. He cares about how we serve. He cares about how we give. He cares about what He has given us. He cares about what we do with what He’s given us. Just working off of what we’ve just shared. Here’s number one. The quality. I want us to think about this. The quality of our life matters. What I mean is not whether or not we have the good life. If we were to take feedback here around an assessment of what everybody just felt was the good life. There’s certainly a dominant American perception of the good life.
I’m not talking about the good life in terms of possession, lifestyle, comforts, or things like that. What Jesus is talking about is the quality of life. A quality life is different than the good life because a quality life is really how we live and love. It’s how we give our life away. According to Jesus, it’s like the fragrance of our life. Are we seeking to live with quality? Is there a depth to us? Do people trust us? Are we kind? Are we respected, perhaps feared, perhaps disliked? Are we reliable? Or, are we capable of saying extraordinarily vicious things? Do people who love us and are close to us, feel safe around us? How do we represent Him by the way we work or the attitude we work with? How do we get past things? How do we apply our faith to real issues? What about our character? What about our struggles? What about the depth of who we are as a person? Is there any depth, or do we live life at a relative surface level? Numbing it over time with things like trivial things, entertainment is not bad. It doesn’t deepen us.
That’s why sometimes I think pain and brokenness can become a gift to us if it forces us to wrestle with things that allow God’s grace to penetrate us. Last week we mentioned what we talked about over the last few weeks. We talked about the tension between grit and grace. How there are some things that God wants us to have more grit. He wants us to be more courageous, face them, not run, not quit. Which we can do, all of us have weak zones. We don’t always quit the same way. We can quit by just not caring. “I’m present, but I’m not there.” That’s a quit. We might never run away, but we ran away. That’s a runaway. That’s not the Lord’s way, as we’re going to see.
This idea of grace, sometimes there’s things we’re not strong enough. We’re not going to make it. We need grace. This grace comes in. This interaction between grit and grace between learning, “Lord, when do I need to not run and I need to work a little. I need to persevere. Help me.” There are times when I say, “Lord, I can’t do it. I need you. I need your grace in my weakness. I need your grace to help me because I cannot do this. I really can’t. I know it.” That’s a place of brokenness, and that broken place is often where God’s deepening comes in. That’s why, you’ve heard me say this countless times, “Not all wins are wins, and not all losses are losses.” Sometimes what looks like a loss is actually a win because it’s changing who we are. It creates an openness, a gap in us that wouldn’t have presently existed. Thank you, Jesus.
We’re talking about the quality of life. The way we treat and love people. I was thinking about it because it also speaks about our gifts and themes. The gifts, passions, satisfactions, and that place where those things intersect. I’m going to do another film reference. I know. It’s like, “Pastor, what do you do all day? I mean, come on!” I remember, years ago, speaking about this idea of passions, God, and gifts. I remember watching a movie that ended up winning the best picture of the year award. It was in 1981 the film was made, Chariots of Fire. It won the best picture in ’82, but it was made in ’81. 81 was a great year. For me personally, it was the year I started college. It was the year I started dating the woman who was my wife. How appropriate on Valentine’s day for me to say that. Best decision I made. I remember how wonderful she was when I met her, and she still is. She’s beautiful on the outside, but her greatest beauty is on the inside. There is no cornerstone that exists without her. So ’81 was a great year. It was also the year the Niners won their first Super Bowl. I remember the catch. There were a lot of good things happening in ’81, but it was the year I saw the film Chariots of Fire. I was only 18. I remember him because he was a man of faith. He was a Christian. Eric Lidel was part of that film. He had these deep convictions around what he could do and not do. It was his personal convictions about how he was supposed to honor the Lord in his life. He was a runner and he was good. They asked him a question, about how his faith and his passion intersected. He says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”
There are certain things we do that make us feel God’s pleasure. I think it was Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers who said, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” There’s something there. The quality of our life matters. Number two, I think we all have something that we’ve been entrusted with to care for on God’s behalf. Look at the back end of that statement though, there’s no room for envy or pride. We may argue, complain, or compare that we haven’t been given what another person has, but we have all been given a portion to put into play. That’s one of the principles here. We’ve all been given something to honor God with. We can get stuck in the unfairness of life. That’s true. I was thinking, “The one and two talent entrusted servants could have felt like they were being disrespected. Why’s the master always giving him the five? What about us? You know why he says he gives him five, we only two. You only got one, but he got two. I got two. It’s like why?” I was thinking about this scenario. The one could have envied the two. The two could have envied the five. The five could have said, “Clearly I’m superior to these guys.” The two could have said, “Well, at least I’m better than the one.” All going on all the time. I looked at that and I thought, “Wow! Envy.”
We need to guard against either feeling of envy or pride. There is so much in life we do not control. I know you know that. Where we were born. Who our parents are. The time and history that we’ve been allowed to exist in. The country we’ve grown up in. The Bible reminds us not to care too much, in the sense that we start to compare. Rather we are to honor our entrustment for what it is. Envy is worthless. It’s worthless. Who cares what others have that we do not? Their blessing is not our loss. It’s easy to struggle here, especially when we feel left out or underappreciated. I’ve noticed that for some of us, the hardest sometimes is not with other people. It’s the people we’re close to. We both want something and they get it. It gets hard to rejoice with that. “I want to be happy for you, but your gain feels like my loss.”
There’s something here about the depth of what God’s trying to do in us. I think that sometimes on the other side of the spectrum, others, who sense our advantage, might feel like, “Wow. Look at this.” We need to guard against pride because to whom much is given much is required. In fact, the Bible talks specifically to teachers and says, “Don’t many of you want to be a teacher necessarily knowing that you’ll be held to a higher degree of accountability.” Think twice. In Jesus’ way, this is especially true because we’re consistently reminded that whatever we’ve been given or temporarily entrusted with, it’s for a purpose. Don’t ever forget this because if we lose this, it’s for the purpose of honoring God. Whatever we’ve been temporarily given, and we will be reminded of that, to pose that is to honor God and bless others. Once we start losing that, we’ve lost it. How is this bringing honor to God? It’s fine. How am I? It’s true, a lot of life is not equal in advantages and disadvantages abound. The real issue here is not life’s inequity or inequality. I know there is a lot of discussion around what we have or haven’t been given. No, the real issue is what we do with what we have been given. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.” Do what you can with what you have, where you are.
Then the last one is good intentions are not enough. Courage and follow-through are needed. The one talent man meant well. His intentions were good. He was sincere, but he played it way too safe. This, as we shall see, was because he was afraid. Fear will do that to us. It will beat us down. It will shut us down. It will make us paranoid. It will cripple us. It will lie to us. It will intimidate us. It will get in our way. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and soundness of mine.” A promise we need to claim when we feel the fear trying to grip us. Fear is a way of distorting reality. Fear causes us to close down our world and tighten our grips. When we do that, we become suffocated. The way of the Lord is open to Him. Not this, clutching.
Do you want to know the great model? In John 13, Jesus showed this is on the night of His betrayal. It says, “Before the feast to the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come, that He should depart from this world to the Father. Having loved His own were in the world. He loved them to the end.” Do you see that? He knew what was about to happen. He knew this was it. He knew that He was on the verge and was going to be taken. He was going to be beaten. He was going to be humiliated. He was going to be stripped down. He was going to be hammered onto a tree. His enemies were going to wallow in victory and rejoice in His demise. He understood the physical component of it. He understood the pain that was awaiting Him. He saw it.
He also knew that in that room with the men that He was with, who He had invested His best into, who He was modeling, had modeled until the end. He knew that they would all, every one of them, abandon Him. Every one. He would be alone, utterly alone, abandoned. He knows abandonment. Notice what it says, “Knowing that, having loved them, He loved them to the end.” He finished it, and that’s what love does. That’s what love does. There is a lot of talk about love. Love finishes! “Knowing that He loved them unto the end.” He followed all the way through. It didn’t matter. He loved them to the end. That’s powerful. That’s intense. That’s what’s giving our best. That’s called courage. Courage only comes when fear is present.
That’s what the Lord wants to put inside of us. That’s what the master modeled. Let’s pray. Lord, I thank you because your words are spirit and your words are life. I know that you know every one of us. We have something to contribute. It’s true. For some of us, it may not seem obvious, but we all have something. Even if our body doesn’t work for us anymore, we can pray. We can love. For those of us who have health, let’s not waste it, but use it in some way for you. I ask, Lord, that you would continue to work in our lives. Bind those fears that bind us. The fears that bind us serve only to remind us of your grace. Allow, Lord, for us to be courageous and not fearful, burying things when we need to be playing our hands. Because we’ve been hurt it’s so easy to pull back. But there are times when you will invite us, call us, and challenge us to risk what we’ve been given. To take some risk to trust you. I do pray that you keep working our lives. I ask you for this. I bless you for it. I love you for it. Thank you for what you modeled for us, lord. May we be more like you with the people we’ve been given to love. I ask that in your name, Jesus. Amen.