Wolves Among Sheep

I’ve always been fascinated by the passage in Matthew 26:6-16, which is also recorded in Mark 14 and John 12.  It tells of Mary’s extravagant act of worship, without abandon, without any appearance of seeming ‘sensibilities’:  she anoints Jesus with an expensive jar of perfume (‘pure nard’)! 

What fascinates me, besides the obvious act of worship, is the reaction of Judas Iscariot to the event.  John is the only Gospel to record that it is Judas who raises the objection to this act of worship, “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ” (4-6)  Judas finally reveals his true nature and character:  he is a wolf among lambs!  Both Matthew and Mark describe how Judas, after this event, went to the chief priests and made the deal to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver! 

There’s no coincidence in the sequence of events here:  Judas has been staying (I won’t call him a ‘follower’) with Jesus and the disciples, handling the money as treasurer.  However, his heart has never been in it – he hasn’t given his heart to follow Christ.  He saw this as an opportunity to get out of this ‘new kingdom’ what he wanted:  money.  He’s been tagging along, helping himself to the group’s funds as he saw fit, waiting for Christ to finally setup His Kingdom so Judas can really rake in the big bucks!  A wolf among sheep – waiting for the right time to pounce on the helpless lambs!  And now this – Jesus completely destroys Judas’ hopes of any earthly, wealthy kingdom!  How is Jesus going to establish a wealthy treasury if He continues to allow people to waste their money?  And especially waste their money by doing such foolish acts, like dumping perfume on His head!!?!! 

Judas has had enough:  this guy (Jesus) isn’t likely to get Judas rich any time soon, so there must be another way!  Aha!  Judas recognises an opportunity when he sees it, and goes after the sure thing:  he’ll make a deal with the chief priests for some money so at least he gets something out of the last 3 years of waiting!!  Reading this passage, I can almost hear Judas’ thinking, “Man, this guy just doesn’t get it.  He’s never gonna build up a wealthy kingdom this way.  I need to find another way to get my money, cut my losses and get out….” 

Judas’ motives and his true heart condition are exposed in John’s recording of this incident.  Judas was a wolf among the sheep.  Does this mean there will always be wolves among sheep?  Well, the parables of the wheat and tares, among others, suggest that this could be true.  The question this brings to my heart is this:  what about me?  Am I a wolf or a sheep?  Am I looking to Jesus to get something, or am I following Him because I want to?  I believe there are many today who are part of Christian circles solely to further their own agendas – to expert power and control, to gain prestige and accolades, to make money, and a myriad other selfish reasons.  Are you one of them?

Got Talents?

Oswald Chambers talks about the parable of the talents in this way:

Jesus told the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25 as a warning that it is possible for us to misjudge our capacity. This parable has not to do with natural gifts, but with the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Ghost. We must not measure our spiritual capacity by education or by intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured by the promises of God. If we get less than God wants us to have, before long we will slander Him as the servant slandered his master: “You expect more than You give me power to do; You demand too much of me, I cannot stand true to You where I am placed.” When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say “I can’t.” Never let the limitation of natural ability come in. If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be manifested in us.

While reading Matthew 13 the other morning, I came across the following in Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower (v.11-12):

He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There’s a concept in discipleship which suggests that God entrusts His promises, blessings and ‘talents’ to those that He can trust. I picture it this way: imagine you’re an artisan and are crafting a fine vase. You place a slab of clay on the wheel and begin to form and mold it. As the vase inside of your head begins to take form in front of your eyes, you carefully mold and shape it. You’re careful to ensure that the vase will be able to hold its intended contents. If you detect the potential for a crack, or a hole, or some other defect which will render the piece useless, you make the necessary corrections including starting over if necessary.

In the same way, God shapes us as we submit to Him on ‘the pottery wheel of life‘ – we allow Him to form and mold us as He sees fit, so we will be useful for our intended purpose! As we’re being formed, He begins to fill us with the appropriate contents with which we are to accomplish His purpose for our life. If He sees that we can’t hold those contents, then He takes the necessary corrective actions!

Now back to the talents… I believe that in the parable of the talents that’s recorded in Matthew 25, the servants are given talents according to their capacity! The first servant has proven to the master that he’s trustworthy, and thusly receives 5 talents. It’s recorded in verse 15 that they were given talents “each according to his ability”. The last servant was given only 1 talent. Why? Was he a new servant? Did he not have a proven track record? Or did the master know something about this servant? We don’t know the answer, but it doesn’t matter much because the principle is still at work: the master gave talents according to the servant’s ability!

What about your ability? Have you proven trustworthy to God? Have you carefully doled out the contents that God has placed in “your clay vase”? Or have you, like that last servant, misunderstood and mis-characterized your Lord and God?

“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. (Matt. 25:24-29)

Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, is not an impossible task-master! He has given us all we need to accomplish His purposes in our lives (2 Peter 1:3). He is simply asking us to make choices in our step-by-step walk with Him that put Him first and deny ourselves. The talents that He’s given to us are for His purposes (Proverbs 19:21), not to be used on our own selfish desires.

Back to Matthew 13: note that Christ’s words in verse 12 echo the same words He used when telling the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:29, “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.”!! Christ is telling us that we will be given ‘talents’ according to our own ability!

How much can God trust us with His resources? That’s the question for us today! If it’s been a while since God’s given us any ‘talents’, then we need to examine our recent history to see how we used the last ones He gave us! We will only receive more when we’ve correctly ‘spent’ the ones He has already given us! Examine your attitude toward your Master. How do you see Him today? As an impossible task-master? Or as a loving Father who desires the best for His creation? Immediately obey when you receive the next ‘talent’ from God and see if He doesn’t give more later….

“Turn Left Now”, or, When life doesn’t make sense….

Life changes aren’t always easy. Hearing news from the Doctor, or having an impromptu meeting with Human Resources, or getting that phone call… Whenever we’re asked to make an immediate turn left from the GPS of our life, it’s never easy! However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not the right thing to do!! How can this be? I’m glad you asked…

Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (underline added by me)

As I think of the “left turns of life“, I’m reminded of Joseph, the one with the multi-colored coat. Genesis 37-45 tells the story of how Joseph was treated badly for years and finally God revealed His purpose in Joseph’s life. Genesis 45:8 tells us “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This statement is made by Joseph to his brothers, at the time that he revealed his true identity to his siblings – the same ones that had thrown him into a well and sold him into slavery!

Throughout Joseph’s ordeals, God was preparing him to accomplish HIS purpose. We see that God had a purpose for Joseph that far exceeded the plans of his brothers, his master and even the ruler of Egypt, even though all of these were “left turns” in his life!

I’m also reminded of Daniel and his friends – Rack, Shack & Benny! Same kind of story, same result: God’s purposes prevailed.

These are inspiring stories, for sure. But the question must be asked: how did Joseph, Daniel and his friends stay true to God so that HIS purpose could be accomplished?

Genesis 39:2 tells us that “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered,”. I believe it was Joseph’s desire to obey God that gave him his favorable position with the Lord. John 14:21 reminds us that “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Many other passages in John and 1, 2 and 3 John instruct us that God’s measure of how much we love Him, is by how much we obey Him! Many of the promises of God are directly linked to obedience of God’s commands! I believe Joseph was a man who obeyed God and because of that obedience, God had favor on him. But more importantly, God knew that Joseph was a person HE could use because of Joseph’s obedience!! We see the same thing in Daniel…

Daniel 1:8 tells us “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, “. Daniel had made a conscious decision, an act of his will: a choice. His choice was to obey God, no matter what! Daniel had resolve. Resolve to be obedient to God. Resolve to show God how much he loved him. Resolve to be a useful vessel to God. God’s purposes prevailed in Daniel’s life because Daniel was found to be trustworthy by God! If not, we’d know the story with someone else’s name in it (Fred? George? Sam?)…

Now how about you and me? As I face yet another “left turn” in my life, it is with complete and utter reliance upon and trust in God! I’m not worried. I’m not stressed. I’m not fearful. Why? Because I know that God has a purpose for me that’s bigger than the assignment that just ended here. For the past handful of years, I’ve been working on my obedience to God. I’ve committed to follow the person of Jesus Christ and nurture our relationship to the point where He is pre-eminent in every area of my life, not just on Sunday. I have reckoned myself dead to myself, and am alive IN CHRIST. I have daily committed myself to Christ – I place myself willingly on the pottery wheel of God and tell Him, “make me into what you want today, let me be useful to you and usable by you today – fill me with Your Spirit and pour me out wherever you see fit.”

How about you? Does your life look anything like Joseph’s or Daniel’s? What kind of clay pot are you? Are there holes of disobedience and selfishness? Is it ‘sincere’ (without wax)? Are you being filled daily with the Holy Spirit? Do you trust God entirely with your life? “But we’re only human”, you say. “God understands that we’re not perfect.” “I could never be like Joseph or Daniel”… Really? Are you sure? That’s not what my Bible tells me! 2 Peter 1:3-4 reminds us that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” In John 14:12, Jesus tells us “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like a God that allows us to make excuses “because we’re human”. Jesus Himself said in John that He only did what the Father wanted Him to do – and He was human too! No my friends, we have no excuses in our humanity or otherwise. We have been given a new nature, a new Spirit – the Spirit of God! And it is only our obedience to Christ and our dying to self, on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis, that we can live a life that is pleasing to God.

Jesus teaches us in Matthew 7 that there will be many who will come to Him with a list of activities – things we ‘did for Him’, and His response in verse 23 will be: “I never knew you, away from me you evildoers!” The key to success, Jesus says, is found in verse 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

So, how can we be like Joseph, Daniel and many others who followed God unwaveringly? By hearing the words of Jesus and putting them into practice! How can I face this time with such bold confidence? How come many of you tell me that I’m “exceptional”? It’s simply because I strive to know what Jesus commands and then obey it. Minute by minute, day by day, choice by choice. Every choice set before me is an opportunity for me to trust and obey. Or, it’s an opportunity for me to have my own way. The choice is up to me. The blessing and promises of God, however, will only come with one choice: the one that involves trust and obey.

So, when the GPS of your life says “turn left now!“, examine your relationship with Christ. Is it alive? Vibrant? Healthy? If not, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what is wrong and then immediately obey what He shows you to do! Spend time with your Lord, each and every day, reading His Word (to know His commands). Spend time regularly talking with Him in prayer. Spend more time with Him listening to His Spirit. Do this every day, throughout the day – before each conversation with others, before each meeting, before each phone call, before you get home. Make a conscious decision to say “NO” to yourself and “YES” to Christ at each choice you make through the day. Constantly seek God and ask Him what He wants you to do – not what you’d like to do. You’re dead, remember? Last time I checked, dead people don’t make any decisions. Dead people don’t have any wants or wishes or desires, they’re just dead. Make decisions based on what matters to God – measure things by His economy and metrics, not yours, not by man-based standards, not by the world and not by the church. Remember that list of things in Matthew 7? What really mattered to God? Jesus said in verse 24 what mattered to Him: hearing His words and putting them into practice! Does that describe your life?

As Oswald Chambers has said: “”Believe also in Me,” said Jesus, not – “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. Remain loyal to Him.”