A Cry for Help
Two young men were walking along discussing life and its problems. One man said, "Some folks say that the events of life are completely random and there is no purpose to life in the universe." The other replied, "I don't believe that at all. There's too much evidence of a higher will working in my life. I mean, look at my social life, my schoolwork, my family life. Somebody is out to get me!" We know how that young man felt. We've all been there. From time to time it seems like everything falls apart and the whole world is out to get us. We feel like the country song that says, "Every time I make my mark, someone paints the wall." In the midst of those situations or days like that, we have an answer. When we cry out to God, God answers.
I. Sometimes We Are Unwilling to Call on God
Some people never learn. The Israelites, at least in this situation, just didn't seem to learn. Scripture tells us the Israelites brought their disaster on themselves. They had sinned in the eyes of God, and their sin caught up with them. That's the case with all sin. The effects of sin always catch up with us. A little boy with a paper sack over his head prayed, "Lord, I'll tell you what I did today, but I won't tell you who I am."
We are like that little boy. We would gladly confess what we have done or what we didn't do if we didn't have to let God know who it was. The Israelites were the same. It just took them twenty years to realize it. It took twenty years for them to call out to God.
Like the Israelites, we look up one day and wonder how we got into this predicament. We feel like God has sold us out or abandoned us. We wonder how we got into the mess we are in. What do we do in those situations? The answer is really second nature. Most of us do it without even thinking. There is a scene in the children's classic Winnie-the-Pooh where Pooh sees Eeyore floating down the river. The conversation between the two goes something like this:
Pooh: "Did you fall into the river, Eeyore?"
Eeyore: "Silly of me, wasn't it?"
Pooh: "Is the river uncomfortable this morning?"
Eeyore: "Well yes, the dampness you know."
Pooh: "You really ought to be more careful!"
Eeyore: "Thanks for the advice."
Pooh: "I think you're sinking."
Eeyore: "Pooh, if it's not too much trouble, would you mind rescuing me?"
The best thing we can do in all situations is pray, but especially when our sinful nature catches up with us. When our sin catches up with us, we should call on God to rescue us.
II. When We Call, God Answers
The Israelites finally called on God for help, and God responded. God's answer to the Israelites was to send the judge, Deborah. God's answer for today is not a judge but God's own Son.
Jesus may not pull us out of all situations in the way we might wish, but he does promise to be with us and guide us through them all. Just as he promised the disciples, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20), he promises us, too. We can be assured that God will hear and answer our prayers, just as God heard the prayers of Israel and sent Deborah. (Billy D. Strayhorn)
Hurry Up and Wait
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
"Hurry up and wait." We understand that phrase well. We push ourselves at breakneck speeds only to discover that we have rushed for no reason, for we must still wait. For example, more often than not we make a mad dash to the doctor's office, making sure we arrive precisely on time, only to discover that we must wait an extra hour to see the doctor.
I'll never forget an experience of running from one end of the Atlanta airport to the other to catch a place. The doors were just closing as I arrived. I rushed to my seat only to hear the pilot say, "I'm sorry, there has been a delay. We will not depart for another hour." We are often caught in the paradox of excitement coupled with the call for patience. Even the gospel makes such a demand of us. In today's text, Paul is reminding his audience of the certainty of Christ's return. It will come "like a thief in the night" (v. 2). As Luke 12:39-40 states, "It will come at an hour you do not expect."
When it comes, there is no time for decision, no time for preparation. Paul compares the Parousia to a woman in labor. When it's time, there is no stopping the process. As Christians who live with the promise of that day, we must live expectantly and wait patiently.
I. We Must Live Expectantly (vv. 4-10)
Paul refers to the times in the history of Israel when the people engaged in the pursuits of peace with no suspicion of danger. Yet their peace was shattered as devastation overtook them. The people of Noah's day and the inhabitants of Sodom are just two examples. People who remain unprepared morally and spiritually will be judged in the day of Christ's return.
In contrast, the "children of light" are to live in an attitude of great expectation. Christians not only expect it to happen; we want it to happen. We embrace the day; we do not shun it. It will be a day of joy, of peace, of victory. It will mark the completion of the walk of faith. Paul reminds his audience that all the saints of the Lord, those who are alive and those who are dead, will be caught up in the wonder and splendor of that day (v. 10). We live with the expectation of what that day will bring.
II. We Must Wait Patiently (v. 11)
As we wait for that day, we must do so with patience. Patience is not a call to idleness or to waste away the hours; it is a call to occupy ourselves with God's work, diligently and carefully, until he comes. A deacon once told me (in reference to the Lord's return), "Let us be prayed up and paid up!" Translation: Let us live our lives ready to receive him at any moment, while serving him with every moment.
In my home I have a small rechargeable flashlight. It plugs into an electrical outlet, waiting for use. I sometimes forget that I even own it until I need it. It is always ready to serve; it stays charged up. Paul asks that Christians, as we wait, engage in two activities. We are to encourage each other and build up each other. The call to encourage is the call to comfort and affirm each other. The instruction to build up is the call to push each other toward spiritual maturity. As Christians, we are to use our time waiting in a productive way as we help others prepare for the coming of our Lord and share with them the excitement of that day.
Christ is coming again. We pray that he will hurry, and we labor as we wait. (John R. Roebuck)
Don't Bury Your Talent
The text contains a parable of warning and promise. It is a reminder that the use of our talents demonstrates our faithfulness to God. The Father distributes gifts and opportunities for service to his followers as the basis for us to use and improve throughout our lives. When the discussion in a small group turned to evangelism, one person gave a big sigh of relief and stated, "Well, that's just not my gift." With that statement he buried his God-given talent to share Christ's love with his world. How many of us have buried the gifts God offers us in search of that "special" gift?
Myron Augsburger calls this parable one of "responsibility" and "risk." We need some risk takers for Jesus who offer themselves to him and allow him to help them. Don't bury your talent!
I. Don't Bury Your Talent: It Is from God
Our gifts, abilities, or talents are distributed by God. Talents may be simple or complex, visible or behind the scenes. They take a variety of forms including speaking, playing a tuba solo, making pies, teaching, singing, healing, offering hospitality, counseling, administering and others, but they must be done in the spirit of humility and love.
II. Don't Bury Your Talent: It Is to Be Used
The Master gives the talents; the servants use the talents. Wade Burton in Amusing Grace tells about a salesman who appeared to be a born loser. The man was a lousy dresser, could not spell, and used atrocious grammar. However, he was a terrific salesman for an appliance maker. The overall company sales were down, and the chairman of the board posted the following message: "Attention all sales personnel: We will have an important meeting March 1 at 10:00 a.m. and the subject will be 'How to sell our product.' Be there!" When the salesman received his telegram announcing the meeting, he responded to the chairman with a note. It read, "I ain't got time to come to no meetin'. I just sold 2,000 appliances to customer #13 and I gotta get goin' to ketch #14, where I 'spect to sale at least 4,000 more...." A short time later a second memorandum was sent to all sales people: "Forgit the meetin' called fer March 1. Get out there and ketch all the customers you can and 'spect to make big sales! (The Boss)." What God expects of us is that we quit talking, speculating, and thinking about the talents he has given to us and do something with them! It may be risky, and occasionally, we may feel foolish as we seek to develop our talents; but God will bless and bring new opportunities of service.
Don't bury your opportunities!
III. Don't Bury Your Talents: It Is Eternal
This parable reveals the eternal consequences of our decision to bury or not to bury our talents.
William McCumber observes that the faithfulness reward is twofold. First, there is an increase in responsibility. Second, there is joy. Joy comes through satisfaction that a good deed has been accomplished for Jesus and others. It is not an ecstatic, wild-eyed, spontaneous expression; rather, it is a deep settled peace in the heart.
The darker side of the picture is the punishment reserved for the wicked. McCumber reminds us that wickedness is not merely a matter of gross misconduct. It is also a matter of indolence in the face of the Kingdom—service opportunities. "Hell," says McCumber, "is also for those who do nothing!" Unfaithfulness results in a lack of joy, loss of opportunities for Kingdom building, and horror beyond understanding. Don't bury your talent. Invest your talent for eternity! (Derl G. Keefer)