Obeying God and Putting His Promises to the Test

Sometimes, after you have been a Christian for a while, you have so much of your life, relationships and self invested in “God” that the thought of Him not coming through for you and therefore having proof He is not real is terrifying.  To find out that what you have based your life on is a lie is too embarrassing a thought to deal with.  So, we hedge our bets.  We pray, “God, you said that if I put you first, as Lord and Savior, you would provide for me and my family.  But if you don’t, I will still love you and trust you and feel the same way about you”.  This may sound good, but I suggest that this kind of faith is not honored in the Bible.  What is most important to God is our intimacy with Him, our trust in Him, our faith in Him.  And God says in the Bible that this faith is more precious than gold.  It is so important to God that He will rock our world until we come to the point of saying, “God, I have put You first.  You said that if I did, you would supply food, clothing and shelter for me and my family.  You have to come through for me.  I have no plan “B”.  You promised you would and I am holding You to it.  If you don’t, then I have no reason to trust You anymore.”

God doesn’t say not to put Him to the test.  God says not to put Him to a foolish test.  Satan suggested to Jesus that He jump off the top of the temple because God promised to send His angels to hold Him up.  Jesus answered that it is written, do not put God to a foolish test.  If God says He will do something for you when you obey Him, He wants you to test that.  Obey Him and then hold Him accountable for what He promised.  That’s not a foolish test.  That’s faith.

And here’s my disclaimer:  Though I have had success in trusting God, I have also experienced complete hypocritical failure at trusting God.  I am not an expert.  For every time I have trusted God and seen Him keep His promises, I have not trusted Him multiple times (with disastrous results).  A turning point in my life came when I trusted God and obeyed His teaching by refusing to participant in the production of certain advertising promoting what I felt was pornography, abortion, or the occult.  I risked my family’s main means of support because of this apparent insubordination.  Many true friends prayed for us.  God gave me the chance to talk about His heart of love and concern for people to top levels of management.  God softened the heart of the main decision maker who eventually said I could go back to work without having to touch these ads. (True to God’s style, five years later He had this same company ask me to write large religion section advertising telling people about the love and acceptance of Jesus.  This series of ads ran for fourteen years).

You’d think I would have “lived happily ever after”.  However, less than two weeks after being cleared to not do these ads, I caved in to the gripping fear of losing my livelihood. I moved an objectionable ad from its wrong position on the page to the right position, an ad I previously said I would not touch even to the point of losing my job.  I did it because I was afraid people would think of me as a self-righteous hypocritical trouble maker and reject me if I caused them problems (this was satan lying to me, because I worked with some great people).  There after whenever I was presented with an objectionable ad I always struggled with whether Jesus would protect my job or not if I refused to do the ad.  It was never told to anyone I worked with that I didn’t have to do these ads and I feared others’ resentment for having to do them for me.  There are too many other examples of my failure in trusting God and too embarrassing as well.

It can be hard, very hard, to decide to obey God.  But when I obey Him, He always makes it worth it.  And when I don’t, I always eventually regret it, wishing I had obeyed Him.

God "embarrasses" Himself with Love

Luke  15:11-32 NKJV

11 Then [Jesus] said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”

God, our Heavenly Father, the Creator of the Universe, loves us with such intensity, that He “embarrasses” Himself in His pursuit of a relationship with us.  There is nothing so undignified or beneath Him that He won’t do it to win our hearts to Him.  (I am not talking about sin of course).  In the above parable the son disgraced his father and himself and trampled their relationship by demanding his inheritance while his father was still alive.  Yet his father loved his son, kept watch for him, and ran to greet him as soon as he saw him coming back.  In Jesus’ day and culture a dignified adult man would not run, it was considered beneath him.  Yet Jesus portrays God, Jesus’ Heavenly Father, as someone who loves us so much that He is willing to “embarrass” himself by running to greet us to communicate His great love for us.

Of course, this was ultimately shown when He hung naked, brutally beaten and bloody, nailed to the cross, dying, so that he could provide a way for us to spend eternity with Him.

Love doesn’t get any greater than that.

When you die and meet Jesus He will not ask you about the size of your bank account, what neighborhood you lived in, the car you drove, whether you never smoked, drank or danced, how much you gave, whether you never missed church… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

He will ask you, however, what did you do with “Him”. He gave you His all.  He gave you Himself.  He does not condemn you.  He does not demand perfection.  He wants surrender.  He just wants you.  He wants an unhindered love relationship between you and Him.

What are you telling Him everyday by how you are living your life now?  Go back to Him.  He is waiting for you.  And when He sees you turn, He will run to greet you.

To whom much is given

There is a man I have the privilege of working with on a leadership project for our church.  He loves Jesus, his family, his church and more.  He has been the video production backbone of our team.

And he recently turned 14.

I wish I had had his wisdom when I was his age.

Luke 12:48b NKJV

For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

This verse at first glance seems like a downer to me.  But this verse is like a coin.  One side is responsibility.  When God gives us much we are required to use it all and make the most of it.  The other side of the coin is blessedness, happiness, and joy.  When God gives us much we have the opportunity to love God and others with more.  And that results in ourselves and others having more opportunities to experience joy.

I believe this young man will continue with Jesus.  And make the most of his relationship with the Master.  And I believe he has much joy in his future: for God, others and himself.

What if love is our purpose?

[Jesus said,] 

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.   
The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.  So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.    
But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.    
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 
“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’    
“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 
“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.  For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”  (Matthew 25: 14-30, NIV84).

Jesus said in this parable that each servant was given resources in proportion to his ability to use them.  To one he gave five talents of silver (a talent of silver was worth about $360,000).  To another he gave two talents of silver.  And to another he gave one talent of silver.

This passage is many times interpreted as talking about developing your skills to the best of your ability.  And so, the word “talent” is being used today, not as a measure of a weight of silver, but a measure of skill.  Could it be that Jesus was talking about something much more valuable than skills?  Could He be talking about  loving others as God loves us?

If the ability to love is really the theme of this parable then how could the parable be interpreted?

We could say the man who was given five talents of silver had the ability to love “many” people.  He immediately went to work interacting with others and using the means his Master gave him to love and help them.  And the Master rewarded him.

The man who was given two talents of silver had the ability to love “some” people.  He too, immediately went out and interacted with others, and using his Master’s means, he loved and helped them.  And the Master rewarded him.

The man who was entrusted with one talent of silver had the ability to love “one” person.  He did not go out and interact with another, to love and help them.  He buried the Master’s means of loving and helping others and loved and helped no one.  Because of the reference of putting the money on deposit with the bankers in the parable, I can imagine Jesus asking  the man “Why didn’t you let my “means of loving and helping” at least be used by others, if you yourself weren’t going to use it?”  And Jesus will cast him away from His presence.

When I surrendered to Jesus I read this parable.  I didn’t know if I was a one, two or five talent person.  I prayed for God to make me a five or a two, but if I was a one, I asked that He help me to use my talent and not bury it.  God has been gracious to me and helped me to love other people.  What about you?  To truly love you need Jesus in you, loving the other person through you.  To do that you need to ask Him to forgive your sins, and surrender your life to His leadership, and ask to receive His Spirit so that you can do good.  You will start a journey with Him that He has designed just for you.

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” —  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NIV84)