Monthly Archives: July 2012

Having “Ready” Hearts

“Then the kingdom of heaven may be compared to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Now five of them were foolish and five were wise.  For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take olive oil with them. . . . But while they had gone away to buy [oil] the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding celebration, and the door was shut.  And later the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us!’  But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you!’  Therefore be on the alert, because you do not know the day or the hour!”–Matthew 25:1-3, 10-13

Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins to highlight the importance of adopting a mind-set that looks forward to the coming of Christ’s kingdom with diligent anticipation.  If we truly long for something, we ought to be ready when it finally transpires.  Our faith that it will occur is reflected in this posture of readiness.  And nothing provides evidence of that “ready posture” like a continual willingness and ability to serve Christ (the bridegroom) wherever we encounter Him.  The bridegroom’s rejection of the foolish virgins may strike us as graceless and unforgiving.  But we should not take the five women barred from the wedding feast and blame their misfortune on mere imprudence.  Rather, we should see in their “unreadiness” a lackadaisical attitude toward the promises of God.  The Bridegroom has announced His intent to return.  Our actions–indeed, everything about us–should gratefully resound with the hope we have in the One who will fulfill that promise.

Jesus reinforces this message in the parable of the talents.

“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.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.  Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.  And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.  But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.”–Matthew 25:14-18

Here, two servants maintain an attitude of diligent readiness while they await the return of their master.  Given responsibility over a portion of the master’s wealth, they commit themselves to the master’s gain and go on to enjoy the master’s reward.  In contrast to his fellows, the third servant squanders the opportunity afforded to him and proves unready when the time for accounting comes.

“After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. . . . Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.’  But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. . . . And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”–Matthew 25:19, 24-28, 30

On the surface, we can muster some sympathy for this hapless servant.  At worst, he may strike us as lazy.  If we’re charitable, we might label him as just a bit too risk-averse.  In any case, we can accept the fear he has of his master as a plausible excuse for the inaction that results in his harsh punishment.  Yet while we tend to think that this third servant is afflicted by fear, he seems–on closer inspection–to be driven more by selfishness.

Consider how the “one-talent” servant explains his poor performance and then tries to make amends.  The underlying logic reveals a thing or two about how he thinks about ownership.  His perspective on what rightfully belongs to his master and what he can justifiably claim for himself severely distorts the master-servant relationship.  He sees only the one talent at play here.  It’s all he’s been given, so it must be all he owes.  Once he returns it, they’re even-steven.

But there is much more to this transaction.  It is not enough to hand back the one talent with some subtle appeal to a pseudo-silver lining (“well, at least I didn’t lose any money”).  Why is this not enough?  Because the master’s claim over the servant extends far beyond a single talent.  It encompasses the servant’s entire life and livelihood . . . everything the servant possesses . . . everything about him.  Having entrusted this servant with a portion of his wealth, the master now expects a return on investment commensurate with the servant’s abilities, which (we might presume) had been acquired and refined under the master’s charge.  Instead, the master gains nothing . . . just a hole in the ground.

When the servant indirectly accuses the master of “reaping where he has not sown,” he is saying that the master habitually takes what does not belong to him.  We need not accept the servant’s statement as a fair and accurate judgment.  The problem lies not with an abusive master but with an envious, selfish servant whose hard heart has blinded him to the master’s true character.

It’s not a case of the master greedily overstepping his bounds.  In the servant’s world, there are no limits to the master’s authority.  Again, everything belongs to the master.  It is the servant, rather, who implicitly claims something that is not his to claim.  Forget about the talent . . . his very life is not his own.

Are we living in joyful expectation of the promise, tending to the Master’s business and thus ready to welcome the Master when He returns?  As servants, how do we view the life we have been given?  Do we compartmentalize . . . setting aside one talent as a peace offering to the Master while clinging to a string of passing days that we imagine to be our own?  Are we afraid to let go of that life, hiding behind a mask of fear but really stewing–as the wicked servant does–in a tepid pool of selfishness?  We don’t have to be.

Read what the Master longs to say to each of us:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master.”–Matthew 25:21

By His grace, we can have a heart that is truly ready to hear those words.


The Problem with “Going to the Basement”

A response to Jen Hatmaker’s “In the Basement” blog post:

Jen Hatmaker’s “above-the-fray” stance here strikes me as ironically judgmental.  What is more, she lobs this intellectual hand grenade into a house embattled with debate and then claims to retire “to the basement,” urging those who witness the explosion to refrain from applying its sentiment to subsequent volleys of the “culture war” she is fed up with.

She is right to say that there are far better ways for Christians to engage the culture than thoughtlessly echoing or initiating bitter Facebook rants.  And I acknowledge that many of us are called to fight more spiritedly in battles other than the one involving same-sex marriage.  Still, I respectfully question whether Jen Hatmaker is in a position to decree that this particular issue–because it is divisive–categorically ranks below the causes she champions (as worthy as they are).

Again, I agree:  how we participate in the struggle matters, and the love of Christ is the indispensable tool we must employ boldly as we labor amid the storm.

But the grace-filled message that Hatmaker conveys with respect to the sin of homosexuality is confusing.  Grace does not flow from the heart of God concurrently with a subtle undertow that seems to condone sin.  Rather, grace is received with repentance.  By going to “the basement” and barring the storm door to avoid the din of a specific controversy, we sidestep the fact that truth goes hand in hand with grace.  When compelled to think about difficult emotion-infused issues, we must try to condition our minds to ask not “what is working?” but “what is true?”  The answer to the second question may make us uncomfortable.

In the recent flare-up over Chick-fil-A’s long-held and rather unsurprising position on same-sex marriage, there have emerged calls for Christians to “break the spiral of silence” in a way that upholds the grace and truth at the core of the gospel.  I “get” how Jen Hatmaker’s message resonates with believers who feel bombarded by the prolonged, often spiteful, exchange.  But must we all go down to the basement only to embrace love in a safe place, eat our chicken nuggets in peace, and thus muffle our voices on this issue?  Can any of us imagine Jesus–the good shepherd of grace (Jn 10:11) and truth (Mt 25:32)–“going to the basement” as Hatmaker exhorts?

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ.”–Ephesians 4:15

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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Society and Culture, Truth


Standing Yet Stooping . . . Our All in All

by Lodovico Carracci, 1594“And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.  And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”–Matthew 17:2-8

Atop the mountain, Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus and then made the mistake of ascribing to the Savior-King and Son of God a status on par with the law-giver Moses and the prophet Elijah.

God the Father interrupted while the well-meant but offending words lingered on Peter’s lips.  The voice cut swiftly from the looming cloud, dazzling the disciples with its truth.  Their hearts numbed in holy terror, Peter, James, and John crumpled to the ground and buried their faces in the folds of the mountain.  Like mice nosed up to a dark corner, they tried to avoid the lightning and thunder of God by seeking shelter in the quaking crooks of their elbows.  Thankfully, there was no escape.

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”–Psalm 139:11-12

The moment of trembling passed as the Savior came into their darkness and restored them.  He reached down and conveyed assurance.  He spoke and bid them “rise, and have no fear.”  Upon lifting their eyes, Peter, James, and John “saw no one but Jesus only.”  The King stood alone in His glory yet stooped to comfort the afflicted . . . by sight, sound, and touch.

Even alongside Moses and Elijah, Christ alone is worthy and deserving of our worship: the Grace come to fulfill the Law . . . the One to whom the prophets pointed.