A Risky Proposition

By Scott Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about the parable of the talents recently.  And it’s making me uneasy.

You know the story, right? Matthew 25 tells us that a man gives one servant five talents, another servant two, and a final servant one.  After a long time away, the master comes back to find that the first two servants had doubled the money (a talent was worth more than a thousand dollars back then; that’s some good investing!). The third worker was cautious. He didn’t waste the money, per se, but he also didn’t invest it.  He buried it, making sure the master got his talent back when he returned; no big deal.

Except it was a big deal!  Judgment came down hard on that guy, including “darkness,” as well as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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I have often heard (and even preached) from this passage that we should be good stewards with our money, taking care of it, and using it wisely for the Kingdom. Those are good principles to adhere to, but that’s not exactly what’s going on in the story.

The parable of the talents is less about “using our talents wisely” than it is about risking it all for the Master and his Kingdom.  I mean, what if the investment strategies of the first two workers had tanked? At least the final servant didn’t lose the thousand bucks! We can explain away the gamble in hindsight, but that was truly a radical decision by those two!

The massive increase of talents for those servants who risked everything isn’t a lesson in wise money management.  It is a call to step out beyond the safe and the conventional in order to live by faith. Putting everything in the hands of God is the best investment we can make, but it will also be a white-knuckling thrill ride in the meantime.

When was the last time you took a jaw-dropping, stomach-churning risk? When was the last time you stepped out in faith to such a degree that you knew it would fail if God was not in it?

There is an amazing moment in the book of Exodus, when the nation of Israel finds itself on the banks of the Red Sea.  Pharaoh’s chariots are fast-approaching, and Moses and his people start begging God to rescue them.  God’s answer is pretty blunt: “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward” (Ex. 14:15).  Forward, God? You mean, into the Red Sea?! Do you see any problem with this?

To put it more bluntly, God was saying, “Stop praying and get moving!”

That’s a message I believe a lot of us need to hear…and obey.  Nevertheless, many Christians are some of the most risk averse people I know.  We’re more concerned with our own safety than with changing the world.  We’d rather be comfortable and go to heaven than share with others so they don’t go to hell.

That’s not the gospel Jesus preaches.  Leonard Sweet says in his book, The Well-Played Life, “Jesus does not want his followers, of whatever age, to hunker down and duck their heads.  Disciples are not called to avoid high-stakes risks and genuine challenges.  A disciple of Jesus operates in the world of risk.  Jesus placed himself in the firing line of history.  Sometimes he calls us to place ourselves in the firing line of history as well” (p. 169).

Signing up to go before firing lines goes against basic sanity and all human instinct to preserve ourselves.  But it seems to fit perfectly in the Kingdom: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:25).

Are you with me? Then let’s stop burying our talents and start daringly investing them. Let’s stop complaining about the army behind us and step into the Red Sea in front of us.  Firing lines and a transformed world await.

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Our Dwelling Place

By Scott Armstrong

I travel a lot: around 80 days a year actually, not including our home assignment, which is a state of permanent flux anyway.  Being able to visit so many cultures and share with fellow Christians from other nations is an enormous blessing! At the same time, at the end of a trip there is nothing like arriving home.

Sometimes I wonder what it was like for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness those 40 years.  Sure, we know from Numbers 14 that they brought it on themselves with disobedience and lack of faith.  Still, I cannot imagine four decades of life (!) spent without ever feeling at home.

Moses was the leader of that wandering brigade.  And he starts one of his psalms with a profound statement of praise:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Ps. 90:1).

It is likely that he wrote those words during the last forty years of his life. The years without a home, waiting for the Promised Land he would never experience.  So how can he testify to having a “dwelling place”?

A dwelling place is not just a house.  It’s possibly an even more cozy term than “home.” Some versions translate this Hebrew word as “refuge”, and God is certainly that. But for God to be Moses’ dwelling place is to say he feels safe not just with Yahweh, but in Him.  It is to declare that he does not just receive rest from Yahweh, but in Him.

Safe. At rest. In God.

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In the Christian tradition I grew up in, we talked a lot more about God, through Christ, living in us.  After all, how could you be a true believer if you had never “asked Jesus into your heart”? While Christ living in us is a biblical concept (Rom. 8:9-11, Eph. 2:22, Col. 1:27, etc.), we frequently neglect the reality also mentioned often in Scripture: us in Him. 

In Colossians 3:3, our lives are described as being “hidden with Christ in God.” God is that secret, safe place where we huddle up with Jesus.  When Paul addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill, he explained that God is not far from any of us, “for in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  God is a home for His people, and it is a spacious place where we can relax and move about with freedom.

We are not invited to be guests of God.  We are not invited to be live-in servants in his palace.  No. The invitation is to make our home in Him.

We can be the recipients of copious and undeserved amounts of hospitality as we travel. But the one place we will feel truly ourselves is at home.

And home is not as much a place as it is a person.

Abba.

From past to present, men and women have been kicking off their shoes, leaning back, and putting up their feet in the cozy living room named Yahweh.  And now my prayer is that for generations to come, my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids would know that they can play and laugh and cry and sing and veg and love and eat and relax in Him.  I want them, too, to dwellin their Lord and find true home in Him.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
–Augustine of Hippo