Does God play Favorites?

I have several stories in the Bible that seem to unnerve me and cause me to wrestle with who I thought God was and how I think about myself. One of those passages is Matthew 25:14-30 which is typically considered the parable of the Talents.

This passage is part of a collection of parables that Jesus taught regarding the return of the Lord. The previous parable was about 10 virgins. 5 virgins were prudent and had enough oil to wait for the bridegroom to come, the other 5 were not prudent but ran out of oil while waiting. The five that ran out of oil left to buy some more. While they were gone, the bridegroom came and they missed their chance to be brought in by the bridegroom.

The parable regarding the talents is about a master who was going on a long trip and, first, he met with his servants. To the first servant he gave five talents, to the second servant he gave two talents, and to the third servant he gave one talent. The parable said he gave to each according to their ability. The first two servants took what they were given and brought increase. The third servant took what he was given and buried it and only had what he was given when the master returned. When the master returned he rewarded the first two servants for their gaining more with what they were given, but the master chastised the third servant for burying what he was given, and not even collecting interest on it by storing it in the bank.

I used to read the parable of the talents through the lens that I might have been given less talents then others. At times it would overwhelm me and cause me to feel “less than”.

However, as I look at the bigger context of the chapter in which we find this parable in, we realize that the attention is not on what the servants were given but it was on the return of the master and what state he found them in. The parable of the virgins was about those being prepared to remain in waiting until the bridegroom came. The parable of the talents was about the faithfulness of the servants in their stewardship while the master was gone. The parable of the goats and sheep was about both of them being in the same pen and only being separated at the end when the shepherd comes.

 

 

Yes, and I am his favorite, but so are you!

 

 

God’s question to us is, “Will you remain faithful until I come?”

 

Only you can answer that question for yourself!

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What is in your heart?

“A god man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

                                                                        Luke 6:45

One of the things I miss being able to do, due to needing surgery on my shoulder is golfing. I used to golf a lot. When I was in seminary, I had a discount membership to a golf association that allowed me to pay a monthly fee and I was able to play unlimited golf at four different courses anytime I wanted to, Monday through Thursday. I would play nine holes in the morning on my way to seminary, then I would play nine holes at a different course in the late afternoon on my way back from seminary, and I would repeat this two to three times a week. I mention all of this to say that I played a lot of golf and got to a place where when I hit the ball I knew relatively certain where the ball was going to land within a few feet. I used to read about golf, listen to golf tips on the radio, and watch golf lessons on the internet.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was when I was listening to a golf pro talk about the hardest shot anyone makes in golf. This golf pro said that the hardest shot is really only six inches. I automatically assumed it was a put, but then the golf pro surprised me when he said, “the hardest shot in golf is the six inches from your mind to your heart!” That really surprised me because up to that point I saw golf as a mix of mechanics, patience, athleticism, and strategy. When that golf pro said the distance between the mind and the heart he added a new element to the mix. That element was a mix of passion, confidence, and heart. The way I see it is, the mind has all kinds of theories and great ideas, but as long as they are in the mind, there is no action. But when the theories and ideas move from the mind to the heart then passion, confidence, and action take place to pursue and accomplish what we focused ourselves to do.

In the same way, many of us have lots of head knowledge about what we believe about God, how we should live as Christians, what types of virtues and character traits should be amplified in our lives. However, we also struggle with those things because they are sitting in the realm of our minds as theories and great ideas but have not traveled the six inches from our minds to our hearts. There is no real lasting and concrete action towards what we know and believe to be true because there is still some uncertainty in what we are thinking in our minds.

Often times it is good to take stalk of our relationship with God by looking at tangible things that we can use a barometer for how we are doing. What we speak about is a good barometer to use to look at what is in our hearts.

Luke 6:45 tells us that our mouths will speak what is in our hearts. So I ask you today, “What is in your heart? What is your mouth speaking about? Are your words about God and his kingdom or are they about the cares, worries, and issues of this earthly kingdom?”

What are we called to?

For some reason in the American church we sometimes teach theology like we just skimmed over it or read the cliff notes. We seem to look more like peter then Jesus when we use our PhD’s in missing the point. For instance, Jesus never taught on how to be a leader or on leadership. Jesus taught on how to be a great follower. Paul said follow me as I follow Christ… But somehow the message we preach and teach is on leadership. Everyone is a Leader.

My problem with that is if everyone is a leader than who is actually following?

I was on staff at a large church and every sermon was on how to be a better leader… the whole focus of the church was on building leaders in the home, the community, the school, the neighborhood, the work place…

But the church never seemed to have people that could just follow someone or something…

I remember being in a youth convention with 4,000+ junior high and senior high schoolers and the speaker told us, told me I was going to be a world changer… that God was calling me to change the world. I was immediately filled with this intense emotion as I told myself that’s it, that’s what I am called to… And I thought I found my purpose… it affected my attitude and behavior towards others and I saw myself as higher than others because I had a calling to change the world. I went back to my church and I got involved in ministry and became the Youth Pastor. I left for bible college and walked into school like I was a big shot because I already had been in the ministry and I was the pride and jewel of my home church so I was automatically going to be the pride and jewel of bible college. I quickly found out that everybody that goes to bible college was the pride and jewel of their home church and Bible College was going to be the beginning of a lifelong process of jockeying for position and attention. I felt like I couldn’t compete at school so I found another avenue to get me fame which was travelling as an evangelist. People might notice me now and they will soon see I am my generations Billy Graham. Turned out in the Midwest I was just one more young preacher that could shout and scream without much substance. My big break didn’t come from being an evangelist so I went on staff at a church as their youth pastor. The church got weird and I left and found out later the lead pastor had a moral failure. Which I attribute to this issue of having to maintain and image that one could compete for position and attention.

Finally, at 28 I was done and felt like giving up. I hadn’t become the next Billy Graham for my generation. I hadn’t preached the gospel around the world. I hadn’t become a notable speaker and author of all things that make Christian subculture embarrassing and less human.

Probably the most life changing and most embarrassing moment of my life was when I was 28. I was in my apartment and I felt like God had placed me on a shelf and forgot about me. I remember being in that drowsy state of sleep where you aren’t awake but you’re not asleep either you’re like trying to fight the urge to get up because you know you need to sleep. All of a sudden God spoke to me, “Get up and rebuke that thought!” I got up and began praying against the thought that God had placed me on a shelf and forgot about me. After 45 min I felt like God spoke the most embarrassing and profound thing to me… He said, “I have never placed you on a shelf and forgot about you, you have just been to prideful to do the things I was asking you to do. I never called you to be an evangelist or a youth pastor while you were in bible college, I wanted you to enjoy being a bible college student that had fun and learned how to hang out and live life with others. I never called you to be a world changer, I called you to myself to live a life of joy and abundance. All of your frustration was because you were focusing on things that might make you famous instead of living a life that would make Jesus famous!” In that moment of sobering clarity, I began wincing and crying as I saw the replay of all the times I was embarrassing prideful and it was like an out of body experience as I floated above the conversations and saw myself drunk in my own self lies to reality of who I thought I was and I saw the people I was trying to fake it to make it looking straight through me embarrassed for me and unable to say anything to me because of my boastful self-absorbed pride.

That singular moment seriously hacked my life and took me several months to process and move on from it. During my time working with young adults I realized that the majority of the ones I ministered to checked out of church around 24 – 32 and I firmly believe it was because of the pressure we placed on them when they were growing up in the church.

How does someone cope with being just a mediocre Christian working a regular job punching a clock and going to church when they were told God was calling them to be a world changer, God was calling them to the ministry, to missions, to bible college. And yet their lot in life didn’t line up with what was spoken over them by young pastors who were insecure and looking for their own place of importance their own identity their own fame.

When I think about a true understanding of a Biblical call it was to Jesus, to the Father… it was a simple call that Jesus gave to come follow me…

Somehow that simple call has become a call to a specific place, ministry, title instead of a call to follow God.

By using the idea of Calling to a specific place, a ministry, a title we imply that one doesn’t fully have a purpose until they have a call. We tend to overlook people who say well I haven’t been called to a specific place, a ministry, or a title.

In Fact, we don’t see the ministry or titles in our current culture in the biblical witness. We don’t find Women’s ministry director or Men’s ministry director, we don’t find security director, we don’t find diaper changer nursery attendant.

But what we do find, is people who had been called to God and where ever they went they fulfilled the calling by serving and meeting people’s needs.

I know what you are saying, “But hold it, we do have instances when people were specifically commissioned and set apart for particular tasks!” and I agree with you, but remember it was for particular tasks not for the rest of their lives.

I think about Acts 6 where we first see deacons coming into the scene. They were anointed and set apart to wait tables but after their commissioning service you never read of them waiting tables again but they were going all over the place preaching and being witnesses for the Gospel.

I think some of the notion that we are called to a specific place, ministry, title is possibly tide to early American Manifest destiny that permeated the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The idea that America was special and we were to export our American ideals and values around the world. We were to help those poor heathens. (Sound familiar?) What is interesting is that secular society has realized how embarrassing that way of thinking was but yet the American church still sees our self as important and needing to export our ideals and values into other societies because we all know that God will and can only use the American church. I find it funny that we may not overtly say this but we subversively think this and its embarrassing because the church in the rest of the world is starting to send missionaries to us!

We subversively think every time we put ourselves into the important role of hinge pin to God’s plans for the world around us. We need to get back to the reality that God does not need us he chooses to use us but he doesn’t need us. His plan doesn’t succeed and fail based on your commitment, your focus, your ability to do all that you think you have to do to be used by God. IN Fact, God is up in heaven laughing at all the human effort we exert in trying to control things and make things happen and then all the wasted nights worrying about the results that we truly don’t have any control over.

We tend to focus on the false idea that we are called to a specific place, ministry, title so much that all of our energy, thoughts, resources get over used to the point of exhaustion that we have nothing left to focus on the only thing that really matters—OUR CALL TO GOD.

When we help people in our church’s to realize that they are called to God first and only, then everything they do becomes an outflow of that calling… Their first and only calling becomes what they pursue and the things that flow out become secondary.

I find it interesting that in Ephesians 4:11 tells us the 5 fold offices of the church that Jesus gave us, but the only people we hear with a title off the fivefold list were the 12 Apostles. We don’t hear outside of the twelve of other people having titles. And what is interesting is that Ephesians 4 doesn’t imply that Jesus gave them one time, but that they are ongoing offices for the purpose of equipping the church people to do the work of the church people. The word I like in Ephesians 4:12 is equip but the Greek word actually means to off load cargo from a ship. So the picture we get is that the Offices of the church are to off load the work of the church on to the people of the church similar to an apprentice model of learning a trade.

Jesus Starts his encounter with the 12 disciples with the words come follow me and he ends his physical encounter with the 11 disciples with Matthew 28:18 – 20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore Go and Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV) In other words, just as you have learned by following so I send you to teach others by following your example of your calling to ME your Heavenly Father.

The me that God puts up with!

I don’t know if you are like me, but when I get up in the morning and go to a fast food restaurant for breakfast I have certain expectations from those who will take my order. For instance, I expect that in a fast food restaurant it would be fast. Unfortunately, in my hurried pace to get about my day I stumbled into a fast food restaurant that was not fast.

I walked into the restaurant and immediately realized their was a problem. The line was longer then normal, patrons standing in line seemed frustrated and inpatient. I scanned to the front of the line and I noticed a young man who was clearly new and in the midst of being trained in the fire of the morning rush crowd. His voice broke as he asked people to repeat their orders, his hands shook as he counted out the wrong change, and he about past out when he inadvertently shut down the cash register causing the manager to have to stop what she was doing and come to his rescue. Unfortunately for this young newly employed kid and unfortunately for me and my growling stomach this scenario was repeated numerous times before it was finally my turn to have a front row seat at this horror film that seemed to be called, “His First Day!” I thought my order was easy, I kept it simple. Unfortunately this young kid enjoyed making simple things complex. When it was finally time to pay I pulled out my ATM card and was surprised when I was given the wrong change back (I will let you figure this out on your own).

As I stood off to the side waiting for my coffee and eventually breakfast I watched this young newly employed kid struggle with what to do now that he had no one standing in line. He tried to help get the coffee and was in the way, he tried to help with the hash browns and made a mess, he tried to put an order in a bag and got it wrong. HIs coworkers and his boss all had a look on their face like, “What are you thinking?” I tried to show my sympathy for the kid when I said to the manager, “Well at least he is nice, and seems eager to learn. Being new is always hard at first.” I was really surprised when the manger told me, “He isn’t knew, he has been here for awhile. We don’t’ know what to do with him. We are simply putting up with him because he is nice!” It was this moment that I had my profound understanding of the day.

I am not special, I am not needed, I am actually in the way most of the time, and God simply puts up with me until I get it. In Fact, God so loves me that he puts up with a lot when it comes to me and especially when it comes to who I think I am. I am not perfect, I am not the one that has every thing together. In Fact, I came into this world empty handed and I will leave this world empty handed. All I have, who I am, and who I am becoming comes from God.

The next time you and me get a picture of ourselves as capable and as bigger, better, and brighter then we are we should stop and remember that we are nothing more then this not so newly employed kid that cant do anything right that constantly gets in the way and God lovingly enjoys putting up with us!

What is the Postmodern Condition?

 

Over the last few years of studying post modernity I have come to see three different ways that have been expressed about post modernity. 1) Post-modernity as a cultural shift that abruptly changes culture. 2) Post-modernity as a Condition of late modernity as a way to critique early to mid modernity. 3) Post-modernity as a condition in which culture is transitioning over time. For this post I am looking at post-modernity as a Condition of late modernity critiquing early to mid modernity and I am capitalizing Postmodern Condition as a way to designate this concept. The use of Postmodern Condition is adapted from Jean-Francois Lyotard’s book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.

 The word postmodern has been ascribed by sociologists and philosophers to designate the state of our culture following the transformations, which since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules for science, literature, and the arts. The Postmodern Condition places these transformations in the context of the crisis of narratives (Lyotard 1984, xxiii). Modernity brings with itself and enlightenment perspective of either/ or thinking which carries into its use of grand narratives that try to categorize and structure everything inside or outside the grand narrative. Grand narratives become the measure of what is truth and what is not truth. The problem with grand narratives is in regards to the authority and power of the grand narratives. Grand narratives just don’t validate or invalidate truth but they also develop their own rules for defining truth. Karl Marx speaks out in regards to the power and authority of the grand narratives as, “The issue of the cycle of dissimilation of information to assimilation of local, regional, and national perspectives as a form of controlling the classes and creating dependency” (Lyotard 1984, xiv).

Lyotard states that the postmodern issue is not creating to recreate, but creating to discover new Ideas and critical questions. He states that the problem is two Great Legitimizing myths; 1) the liberation of humanity, and 2) the speculative unity of all knowledge (Lyotard 1984, ix). The two legitimizing myths flow out of two main traditions of philosophical thought and come to different conclusions. The first one is the German and Hegelian tradition. It was influenced by the Religious Reformation, Theological developments, and Psychological developments. And the second one is the French tradition. It was influenced by the French Revolution and various political and socialist movements with a emphasis in community organizing. It was focused on a philosophy with a purpose and a vision for a direct outcome and was organized around commitment. The question that now arises in the Postmodern Condition is, “Who controls the narrative?” Truth is no longer measured by what is provable but now it is measured by what is probable according to cultural editors.

Habermas‘s “consensus of community” speaks towards the dissolution of the self into a host of networks and relations of contradictory codes and interfering messages. And he refers us to “paralogism” which tells us that the point is not to reach agreement but to undermine from within the framework. And it leads us to the formal problem of how to do without grand narratives by means of narrative itself? In trying to answer the formal problem Habermas gives us a way to evaluate the meta-narratives. He sees narrative analysis as the form of criticism that we need to engage in and he tells us that in narrative analysis we are to remain a by standing nonjudgmental outside observer instead of choosing a side and becoming an apologist for the system (Lyotard 1984, xix, xx). By choosing sides we can regulate narratives to the rule of consensus between the sender and the addressee of a statement with a truth value as deemed acceptable if it is cast in terms of a possible unanimity between rational minds (Lyotard 1984, xxiii).

 So what exactly is the Postmodern Condition? The Postmodern Condition is not against absolute truths. The Postmodern Condition is against grand narratives that claim to be absolute truths that other meta-narratives are filtered through without adequate discussion and dialogue. In the Postmodern Condition we are asking new questions in regards to whose truth and how our they translating and interpreting it. Often the grand narrative is based off of previous culturally engineered questions and situations that have little relevance and significance in our current cultural context.

Lyotard, Jean Francois. The Postmodern Condition. C. 1979 by Les Editions de Minuit. English translation C. 1984 University of Minnesota Press. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi.

The Next Chapter

I have found myself asking many new questions now that I am 32. Most of my questions revolve around my future direction and purpose for my life. I was sitting in one of my final classes in seminary when I came to a thought that haunts me… My life is almost at the half way point–Am I really living? This blog is about my next chapter of my life that I call—Life after Religion! I am risking everything to follow the dreams that God has placed in my heart!