Saturday, January 2, 2010

Out on a limb

I did a fair amount thinking and writing about Advent and Christmas this past month. (You probably noticed!)
Christmas is usually pretty noticeable in my life.
New Years, not so much.
I don't tend to do NYE, to me it's no different than any other night—except that you get to do a mad scramble to find a new calendar.
I don't do resolutions either. In a more lofty frame of mind I would probably say, 'If something is worth doing, you don't have to wait for New Years to start.' On a more realistic level, perhaps it's just that I don't tend to set too many goals.
I don't do year-end analyses of favorite things from the last year either, although I have enjoyed reading quite a few on the blogs I read. I think one of the reasons I do enjoy them is that it provides a quick synopsis of what turns someone's crank, what is important to them.

So, this post isn't really any of the above, but it could be considered a bit of a meditation for From Here On In, or From This Day Forward (or, if you insist) a Challenge for 2010.

I recently posted some thoughts from Matthew 24 and 25.
I've continued to muse about Jesus' story about the man traveling to a far country in Matthew 25: 14-29. As usual, I found Peterson's The Message to add some insight.
As I mentioned in my previous post, this story is part of a 2-chapter sermon by Jesus regarding the end. If you have ever heard preaching or read books about end-time prophecy, this scripture will figure in it somewhere. Of course, there are various ways this passage can be taken, and that is not my purpose here.

I want to note a couple things about this story that hit me.
First, look at the incomplete perception the guy with one talent had of his master. “Sir, I knew that you are a hard person to please. You harvest where you haven't planted and gather where you haven't scattered any seeds.”
He may not have been wrong, but he was missing something very important.
Something that the other two servants must have known quite well.
Their master was gracious, understanding, and very willing to forgive mistakes.
Think about it.

The one guy was too scared to try anything for fear he might actually have less to give back at the end than he started with. He was more worried about punishment than reward.
He figured his safest bet was to hide the money so he at least could give the same amount back when his master returned.

The 2 other servants were much more willing to take risks.
They knew that even if they failed in one attempt to use this capital wisely, they could try again.
They knew their master wasn't going to shame them or condemn them for failure.
They knew he was a kind, generous, forgiving man.

And this freedom paid off for both of them. Over the extended period of their master's absence, they were each able to double the value of their initial bankroll. I also think it shows that the master knew his servants well, and gave his money to those whom he knew would handle it wisely.
The limited discernment of the other guy ended up bringing him the shame and condemnation he thought he was sidestepping through his failsafe plan.

Secondly, the challenge to go out on a limb.
Here are the final verses from The Message:
"The servant given one thousand said, 'Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error.
I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.'
The master was furious. 'That's a terrible way to live! It's criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?
The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.
Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this "play-it-safe" who won't go out on a limb.'”

I believe Jesus is letting us know that:
  • he knows who he is giving his talents and abilities to.
  • he trusts us to use them in worthwhile ways.
  • he wants us to experiment with them, to find new ways of using them, to 'go out on a limb'.
  • if we bury them/hoard them/don't use them to help the 'least of these' (next parable, Matthew 25: 41), we totally miss the point of why he gave them to us. I actually think that only using your skills and gifts within the typically closed setting of a church is tantamount to burying them.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go out on a limb.
Look at yourself.
What are the abilities, skills and interests that you know you have? What are the things about you that set you apart from most people (even if you don't think they are anything special)? What attributes do other people notice about you that they think are unique?
If you are already doing something with that skill, go farther. If things are pretty solid, go out on a limb a bit.
If it is an ability that seems to be buried, dig it out, and develop it.

Remember that the master desires to reward people who utilize what he gave them. That he is loving, gracious and forgiving if (when) we sometimes miss the goal we are aiming at. He encourages us to try again.

His mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).


Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Hey Al, I went back and read your writings on Matt 24-25. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. I hope you have an awesome New Year!

Al said...

Hey, Matt. Thanks for dropping in!

Luke said...

i like your take on that passage! good stuff man!

Al said...

Hey Luke, you mean I might even be as smart as you?


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