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I recently reread the parable of the talents, or as the revised NIV version has it, the parable of the bags of gold.  This happy new yearis my favorite parable because it is all about happiness.  You probably know the story.  A master gives three of his servants bags of gold to invest before he goes on a long journey.  A ton of money.  The first servant receives five bags, the second three bags, and the last servant receives one bag, according to their abilities.  I can imagine the first two servants saying something like “Wow, look how much our master loves us and trusts us!”  Perhaps the third servant said something like “Great, more work for me.  He’s going away for awhile and I was just hoping to take it easy while he was away.  Now what am I going to do with all this money?”

The first servant goes away excited and begins to put the money to work.  The second servant does the same.  The third servant digs a hole and buries the gold.

After some time the master returns and asks the servants what they did with their bags of gold.  The first servant reminds the master that he gave him five bags of gold and he turned it into ten bags of gold.  The master exclaims to him, “Well done good and faithful servant!  Come and share your masters happiness!”

The second servant proudly reports that he also doubled the masters investment, and again the master praises his servant and invites him to share his happiness.

What was the ultimate goal of the master?  That his servants would see how much he loved them and trusted them, and that they could put their creative abilities to work and make more to please their master, receive his praise, and enjoy happiness with him.

The third servant had a totally different attitude toward the master.  He saw things differently.  His perspective was skewed.  When the master questioned him about his bag of gold, he told his master that he knew that he was a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  I can imagine the masters outrage.  “I loved you, saw potential in you when nobody else did.  I gave you a chance to be a contender, and you have the audacity to accuse me of being a hard man and greedy?  Alright then, you will get the kind of master that you perceive me as!  Throw this worthless servant into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

Jesus follows this parable with sneek peek into the future and judgment day.  Jesus tells his listeners that He will sit on His glorious throne and He will begin the judgment.  Those who came to the aid of the “least of these my brothers and sisters” will enter eternal life.  Those who failed to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, shelter to the stranger, help to the sick and encouragement to the prisoner, will be judged as failing to help even Jesus himself, and will be thrown into the lake of fire.

The point Jesus is making with these back to back narratives, is that He gives bags of gold to all his followers in the form of abilities, spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.  We, his followers are to use our bags of gold to help the needy brothers and sisters in the Family of God, as if they were Jesus himself.  When we do this, God exclaims to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into your Master’s happiness!”

To enjoy happiness, we must make others happy.  The best example I know of putting this principle into practice is Charla Pereau.  Almost 50 years ago she took her bags of gold, her compassion, her vision, her energy, her love for God and her speaking ability, and invested them in the poor of Mexico.  She began by taking a handful of kids living in a garbage dumb and giving them shelter, food, water and most importantly, the love of Christ.  Today, a half a century later, thanks to her efforts and those of  Foundation For His Ministry, there are four homes housing over 200 children, and outreach ministries that feed and clothe thousands of poor Mexicans, medical clinics that heal the sick, and servants that go into prisons, offering hope and encouragement to the hopeless and discouraged prisoners. The bedrock of this ministry, and the core of Charla’s heart, is knowing and sharing the love of God.

Everyday Charla hears the words of her Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and share the happiness of your Master.”  My prayer for 2014 is that we would all use our bags of gold for the glory of God and enjoy sublime happiness in Christ.

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The deepest root of the contemporary malaise of Western culture is an individualism which denies the fundamental reality of our human nature as given by God – namely that we grow into true humanity only in relationships of faithfulness and responsibility toward one another.  The local congregation is called to be, and by the grace of God often is, such a community of mutual responsibility.  Lesslie Newbigin – The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

birth of JesusSunday, December 1st, started the Advent season on the church calendar. Foundation For His Ministry’s Home for Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico is joining the world wide celebration this year.  Advent is the time of the year when many Christians look to the future.  We look forward to the second coming of Christ, the second advent, with hope.  Hope for the day when God’s perfect justice reigns supreme.  A time when God’s will is done and his kingdom is come on earth as it is in heaven.  We also look forward to celebrating the first advent, the incarnation, God with us.  It is appropriate to ask the question during this season, “Why was Jesus born on this planet?”  There are many good answers to this question.  One answer is that he was born to bleed.

Blood is God’s way.  Blood plays an important role in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  Here are just two verses that communicate to us the importance blood plays in God’s Word:

Lev. 17:11    For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

  Heb. 9:22   Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The first notion we get of blood being spilt is in Genesis, chapter three.  Adam and Eve have sinned, rebelled against God and His one rule.  Now they find themselves naked and ashamed.  Their great cover-up is fig leaves.  God says “No good” and kills an animal, takes its blood stained hide, fashions garments from it for the sinners to wear.  Here we have a peak into the future when God will use blood to not only cover our sins, but to wash them away.

Ables blood sacrifice
Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Able.  They made offerings to God.  Cain was a farmer and offered produce from his field.  Able was a shepherd and offered a blood sacrifice  of one of his animals.  God was pleased with Able’s offering but not Cain’s.

Noahs sacrifice
God brought Noah and his family safely through the flood.  Noah killed some of the animals on the ark and offered them as a sacrifice to God.  God promised to never destroy the earth with flood waters again.

Circumcision
God called Abraham to be the father of a great nation, a chosen people.  To mark the men as a people chosen by God, they were to be circumcised.  Blood flowed from the males.  They were holy and set apart for God’s purposes.  Later on the Apostle Paul explains to the new chosen people of God, the Church, that bloody circumcision of the body is no longer necessary, but circumcision of the heart is.

Severed animals
God makes a covenant with Abraham, and it is sealed by blood. Abraham brings before God a  heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.  Abraham cuts the animals in half, their blood dripping into the earth, and God walks between the animals, as if to say, “May this be done to me if I don’t keep my end of the deal.”  Of course God is faithful and forever does his part.

Binding of Isaac
God told Abraham to take his son, his only son,whom he loved, and to kill him as a sacrifice to God.  Abraham took Isaac to a mountain, bound him, and as he was about to plunge a knife into his heart, the angel of the Lord intervened.  In stead of spilling his beloved sons blood, a ram that was caught in some bushes, became a substitute blood offering.  Centuries later, another beloved son was sacrificed and bled on the same mountain as a substitute for all mankind.

Passover and blood on the door posts                                                                                                         God’s chosen people, the Hebrews, have been enslaved by the Egyptians for many years.  God sends Moses and nine plaques to try and set His People free.  It hasn’t worked, but a tenth plaque is on the way.  God commands Moses and the Hebrew people to kill a spotless lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses.  When the destroying angel comes to kill the firstborn male of every house, it will passover all the houses with the blood.  The Egyptians sons die that night and Pharoah lets God’s People go.  One day all humanity will stand before God in judgment, and all those not marked by the blood of Christ will be destroyed.

Mt Sinai and the law of sacrifice                                                                                                                      On Mt Sinai, God stipulates, codifies and puts into law the practice of sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of sins.   Every spotless animal that has its throat cut and its blood spilt for the forgiveness of sin points humanity to the ultimate perfect sacrifice of Jesus blood being shed for the forgiveness of sin.

The last supper                                                                                                                                                     Mat. 26:27    And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Blood of Jesus                                                                                                                                                    And then Jesus bled.  He sweat drops of blood as he prayed “Not my will but thine be done.”  He bled when the blood of Christsoldiers hit him.  Blood flowed down his face when a cruel crown of thorns was jammed on his head.  Blood ran down his back as he was mercilessly  whipped.  Blood dripped from his hands and feet while he hung on the cross.  Blood poured out of his body when the sword pierced his side.  And God said, “There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood.”

Paul and the blood                                                                                                     Romans 3:25  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.                                                                                                          Romans 5:8-10  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled  to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Hebrews and the blood                                                                                                                                           Hebrews 9:12-14   Jesus did not enter (the more perfect tabernacle) by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so  that we may serve the living God!

Revelation and the blood                                                                                                                                        Rev. 5:9,10   And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,           and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

As we celebrate the first advent of Jesus, with colorfully wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree covered with blinking lights and pretty bows, and as we gaze on the nativity scene with baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by his parents, shepherds and sheep, it might be good to take a moment and meditate on the fact that the innocent baby laying in the manger, was born to bleed.  And because of His Blood, we are forgiven of our sins, and freed from  Sin.      

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I am grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism, and for Confucianism.  I owe much to these faiths.  The fact that I was born with a spirit of reverence, that I have an insatiable craving for values which transcend this earthly life, and that I strive to walk the way of the golden mean, I owe entirely to the influence of those ethnic faiths.  Yet these three faiths utterly failed to minister to my heart’s deepest need.  I was a pilgrim journeying upon a long, long road that had no turning.  I was weary.  I was footsore.  I wandered through a dark and dismal world where tragedies were thick.  Tears were my meat day and night.  Buddhism teaches great compassion, but since the beginning of time, who has declared, “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto remission of sins”?      Toyohiko Kagawa, quoted by John Stott in The Incomparable Christ