A Sense of Life-Direction – The Big Picture

A Sense of Life-Direction – The Big Picture

Php 3:13-14 “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

These are the words of someone who thinks with a big picture view of life. He is dealing with the largest possible questions: What am I living for? What keeps me from a full realization of what I’m living for? These questions reduce everything down to two issues: direction and possible obstacles.

For some time now, I have contended that the contemporary concept of Christian conversion is far too narrow. It has emphasized the choice to accept and entrust one’s life to Jesus and escape the punishment of hell. But it has tended to gloss over what Jesus calls us to be and to do. While there is gladness when everything begins, the next focus should be on the big picture, where this is all going, how one is growing, what it means to finish well.

In the lives of the disciples, it is clear that there was an invitation to follow, which the disciples accepted. But one sees relatively little attention paid to the beginning and far more attention placed on what the disciples were becoming. It was as if Jesus had a notebook for each disciple, which included a month by month plan of growth and preparation.

A New Kingdom Concept

For centuries, people have speculated about the key change that Jesus instigated in the lives of his followers when he came to this world. I believe the key change was the dream he gave them – the dream of the kingdom of God. The concept of kingdom was nothing new to his disciples, of course. Each of them had been brought up to fantasize about it. So the idea was not new, but the teaching of Jesus was.

They conceived the kingdom to be a restoration of the old political entity that David and other kings had once ruled. They dreamed of an overthrow of the Roman oppressor, of more comfortable times, of a renewed position of respect in the family of nearby kingdoms. Perhaps they even thought of the kingdom as a place where they might enjoy a bit of privilege and recognition. Who knows what really went on in their minds the first time they heard Jesus discuss the kingdom? It is clear that they carried their preconceptions through almost all of the three years they walked with The Lord. And whenever he said “kingdom”, they simply overlaid his words with their prejudice and wish list. This is a common habit among us humans, this selective perception that twists God’s plan to fit our earthly hopes.

Then one day he told them a story that must have shaken them to the roots, for the story suggested an entirely different concept of the kingdom. They were thinking politics, Jesus was thinking tasks. They were thinking privilege, Jesus was thinking servanthood. They were thinking power, Jesus was thinking accountability. They were thinking ownership, Jesus was thinking stewardship. The story Jesus told that is detailed in Luke 19:11-27, slashed across all their preconceptions.

What to Do with the Minas – Our Entrusted Talents

A prince, he said, left on an extended trip. During his absence, he arranged for his assets to be placed in the hands of trusted, able servants for the purposes of protection and investment. What he did was routine in those times. Jesus said the prince’s servants were not merely to protect what had been consigned to them, they were to invest it with an eye toward making a profit. That was the mission.

Sent on a missionI can almost hear Jesus illustrating the prince’s instructions to his servants. Buy old farms, restore them back to good order; acquire struggling businesses and bring them to profitability. Add value to undeveloped property. In sum, you could say that the servants of the prince were to press his authority into sites and locations throughout the land. And so wherever they did this, the kingdom of the prince existed right there at that very moment.

The prince returned much later, Jesus continued, and when he did, he called for an auditing of the assets and the profits. Several servants reported remarkable earnings; one did not. The prince was delighted with and generous toward those who were profitable; he was angry with and punitive toward the servant who did nothing. Protection of assets had not been the challenge, profit had been.

There is much more to the story, but this is enough. What is important is the point toward which Jesus was leading his disciples. It describes the history-making mission of the Christ followers in a real world.

Right from the beginning of the parable, we catch the autobiographical tone. Clearly, Jesus is the nobleman of the parable. The story foresaw Jesus’ departure from the earth, like the prince, for an indefinite period of time. It also anticipated an unannounced date when he would return. And when he did, he would carry with him the authority to assert lordship over all the earth, a mandate given to him by the Heavenly Father. Remember that his kingdom means his rule over those of us who are called to belong to him as faithful and obedient disciples. We enter that kingdom by the gift of faith he gives us, and we live in its full joy as we accept the responsibility he gives us.

Where do you invest?But what of the interim period? What was the role of the prince and his servants between the departure and the return? The secret was in the investment of the assets. Wherever they were invested, there the prince’s authority would be established. The point Jesus was trying to make with his disciples was this: I am going to leave you soon, and when I do, each of you will have assets, and your mission is to invest them. Wherever you invest the assets, there my authority and lordship is established.

And the assets? The assets were the minas of faith on the things he had taught them through word and deed; receiving empowerment through the gift of the Holy Spirit; a new view of the world and the purposes driving it; a model of fearlessness concerning human structures and systems; the opportunity to set the stage for future generations to discover more and more about God and God’s purposes for creation.

Stewardship

I believe no other teaching in the NT makes the role of a Christ follower in the real world clearer than this one. Each of us is a servant. Each of us has been entrusted with assets belonging to the Prince. By faith we are given the power to believe and accept Christ as Lord and Savior and turn over our lives over to his control. That’s the beginning of the adventure of the abundant life and the assurance of eternal life. The same gift of faith that reconciles us to The Lord also releases us to follow his orders in every area of daily life. He gives us – all of us – a new life to live for his glory. But it is in our response to that gift that the similarity between Christians often ends.

The assets include our skills, capacities, energies, what some call spiritual gifts, the relationships, and opportunities we encounter daily. Every day as we enter into the real world, our task is a simple one: in every encounter and in every transaction, we press the authority of the Prince of Heaven into the dark places of the world. Multiplying our mina of faith means bringing all facets of our life under God’s control. That includes marriages, families, friendships , relationships, work, studies, even play. Christ is lord of all. His lordship extends to every realm as we surrender to him what we do, what we say, and what we seek to be his person.

Stewardship Talents ParableAn encounter with the man who serves me coffee and toast at the coffee shop is a chance to press Christ’s authority into the conversation by my attitude, my appreciation, or even my affirmation of the way he does his job. The choice to greet an obviously lonely elderly person is a chance to press Christ’s authority into the void of her life. The way I conduct my business over the phone when I am shabbily treated, the dignity with which I treat a subordinate, the care I show to a customer, the quality of the work I give to my employer, the diligence with which I pursue my studies, and the excellence with which I achieve my tasks over and above expectations are all ways in which Christ’s authority is pressed into a world normally dominated by disorder and rebellion.

It is possible in many of the cases I have just mentioned that soon after I leave there will be a return to disorder. The next person in the life of the waiter at the cafe may be abusive. The aging person may once more feel loneliness a few minutes later. I cannot be discouraged by this. My task is to do the Master’s bidding and assume that all things come under his sovereign control.

Col 3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

In this way, every action in my life becomes meaningful. I don’t have to speak a religious vocabulary or do religious things to follow Christ. All of life becomes Christ following when I am convinced that I am a servant of the Prince who has called me and I am establishing his authority wherever I go.

The Sacred and the Secular

Many of us were not brought up to see the making of kingdom history in this way. The instruction we received boiled down to the only serious issue is to do the work of evangelism, to go and make disciples. We didn’t fully understand that making kingdom history might mean carrying Christ’s presence into every particle of daily life, not only the extraordinary events that happen occasionally, but including the endless stream of experiences we often refer to as routine and humdrum. Too often, we are tempted to separate out the things we do into faith and non-faith categories or to refer to them as sacred and secular. Such a division should never exist in our minds if everything has sacred implications! Admittedly, the cutting edge of the word of Christ is to proclaim his saving work on the cross so that people might believe and become followers also. But we did not understand that that was only the beginning. And that all other activities weren’t secular. They too were sacred if we entered them as servants of the Prince using our assets to establish his presence.

Some didn’t see clearly enough that real world faith is not an avenue to full-time Christian service as missionaries and evangelists in the traditional church sense. It is rather an agenda in which every bit of one’s life becomes meaningful in terms of pressing Christ’s presence and authority into otherwise dark situations. Accepting my role as a servant to properly handle the assets of the Prince brings a real world meaning to my faith. It causes me to think seriously about my role as husband or head of family, for instance, or to think ecologically about my responsibility for my and Christ’s environment. It prompts me to think economically when I weigh the responsibility I have in spending and using my money. It causes me to think intellectually as I attempt to put my mind to work at the highest possible level. It moves me to think politically as I ask myself what can I do to contribute to a system that, if kept honest and focused, will benefit people whom God loves very much.

God's Original PlanIt is enjoyable to consider what a greater world under the reign of the Prince would be like, where all things, humanity, living things, the stuff of creation, might exist as they were meant to be in the creative mind of God. Such a dream is not idle fantasy. It answers to something hidden within each one of us: a memory deep in our spiritual genes that knows of a time when God came down and walked with man, and everything was good. And the dream also answers a hope deep within us, that one day all things will be restored to their original creative intent by the hand of God.

Believing that this is exactly what will happen when the Prince returns in glorious triumph, the servant of the kingdom makes a little history each day by claiming hunks of a spoiled creation and establishing Christ’s presence in it. It can not be done permanently (picked up streets get dirty again, and reformed political systems do get corrupt again, and work done well the first time has to be done again tomorrow) but it can be done with such conviction that it makes a statement and brings Christ to places where he might otherwise have never been known.

The dream of the kingdom is no small agenda. Taken seriously, it pervades every dimension of a believer’s life. How one treats family or roommates in the early morning hours, how one behaves in the morning commute, how one treats the stranger, how one makes choices to expend personal resources, what part one chooses to play in community life, and what positions one takes in the formation of public policy. And these are only a few of the obvious ones.

Mat 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The person in the process of forging a real world faith dreams of change and restoration not only because he ponders what could be but also because he knows that the spirit pervading much of our time is evil and destructive. Like Jesus weeping over the arrogant city of Jerusalem, this person grieves over the unraveling of our beautiful world. He is not cynical and he is not a chronic complainer. He loves the world because he learns that God so loves the world, and if he is a critic about its present downward spiral, he is a repentant critic who acknowledges joint responsibility. His perspective on things going sour is similar to the prayer of Nehemiah:

Neh 1:6 “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”

In the midst of all of this, the camera focuses for a moment on you and me. We follow Christ, we listen to his Father, we seek the grace of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Where in all of this can we make a difference, leave things a bit better than they were when we got here?

If we can do kingdom work only after we leave work and head for other places, there are very few hours of the week in which anything at all can be done. But if we can appreciate how every moment of the day has kingdom implications in the perspective of the Creator, something new and vital has happened. A macro-question takes over and aligns everything we do with a higher purpose, that whatever we do, we do it for his glory. As we do so, then indeed we can affirm with confidence, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done!” Amen.