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The Divine Elephant

Reason Enough
for Embracing Today
Part 6
"Living Beyond Self"
Delivered the weekend of February 14 & 15

             How do most workers respond when they arrive at work and find out that the boss is away for the day?  I suspect that in most cases everyone's happy about it.  There will be, shall we say, a more relaxed atmosphere at work that day!  Putting it another way, almost everyone is going to goof off a little more than usual.
            There's an old saying: “When the cat's away, the mice will play.”  That’s usually true.  Jesus told a story about this familiar theme. 

The Contrast Between Two Managers
Jesus described two very different managers.  First Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in the household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Matthew 24:45-47)  The owner was going away for a while, and one of his key servants was supposed to oversee things while he was gone.  Jesus described the man who was put in charge as “faithful and wise.”  He was kind to the people he was responsible for.  When the boss suddenly returned, he found that everything was in order.  The manager had done a good job, so he was given a promotion.
            One the other hand, Jesus said, imagine a manager who was just the opposite.  “But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:48-51)  The second manager was like a mouse who plays while the cat's away.  Instead of giving his fellow servants “their food at the proper time” he “begins to beat his fellow servants.”  He lived for himself, partying while his boss was away.  When the owner suddenly returned, things weren’t pretty for him! 

Getting the Big Picture
The basic theme Jesus used — the contrasting ways a manager can act when the owner isn't looking over his shoulder — was intended to help us understand the options each of us has.  God’s His presence in this world and in our lives isn’t always obvious; it's fairly easy to ignore.  God has set things up this way on purpose; He's given us enough space that we can drift away from Him and enough slack that we can get ourselves all tied up — or even hang ourselves!
            God is awesome and amazing, the creator and sustainer of everything.  He’s present in all places and all-powerful, but He gives us the freedom to ignore Him and to live as if He doesn't exist.  That's why we've been doing a six-part series about “The Divine Elephant: Reason Enough for Embracing Today.” 
Ignoring the elephant in the room means ignoring what’s obvious.  If God is really God and He's all-important, our lives should be based on God's view of life for us.  We should live with God in mind, living to please Him.  We shouldn’t ignore the Divine Elephant!  The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible said, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
            Best-selling author and pastor John Piper commented on an article he saw in Reader's Digest about a couple who took early retirement.  They live in
Florida, the article said, “where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.”  Piper wrote, “Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life – your one and only, precious, God-given life – and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells.  Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look, Lord, see my shells.'” (Don't Waste Your Life, p.46)
            The great message of the Bible is that God created us to have a relationship with Him because He loves us.  Because we’re sinful, He provided a way for us to be rescued, or saved: He sent His own Son Jesus to die on the cross, paying the price for our sinfulness.  His plan is that we work with Him to carry out His grand scheme for everything.  Think of the price God paid so that we could be forgiven and be made right with Him in order to carry out His grand purposes!  The apostle Paul reminded us, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19
            If God is this awesome being who made us, saves us, and wants us to be a part of His big plans, shouldn't that affect the way we live our lives?  The apostle Paul wrote about his own experience, “For Christ's love compels us, . . . that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
            How should we live if we want to take God into account in our lives more than anything and anyone else?  As much as God really cares for me, the fact is that He also cares just as much for the other people He's made.  It's sort of like a family with more than one child.  Each child can feel totally loved, but each child also has to realize that Mom and Dad love the other children in the family, too!  This means that if you're going to please Mom and Dad, you have to not only love them and treat them nicely, you have to love your brothers and sisters and treat them nicely, too!
            Jesus said as much when He declared, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  God has put us on Earth to have a positive effect on the lives of other people.  We do that individually, and we can also do it together. 

You Can Make a Difference!
God puts each of us into families, workplaces, neighborhoods, a church, and other places where we can make a difference for Him.  Remember the good manager in Jesus' story?  “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in the household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.”  Hendriksen, in his commentary on this passage of the Bible, said that the wise manager was involved in “active service in the interests of those whom the master has entrusted to him.” (New Testament Commentary, p.872)  Because of what God means to us, we should serve the interests of the people whom God has entrusted to our spheres of influence.
            We need to remember that God calls us to a sphere of influence beyond our comfort zone (what’s easy for us do without much effort or sacrifice).  God often calls us to reach beyond the people we know to those who are strangers.  Isn't that the message of the parable of the good Samaritan?  The Samaritan didn’t know the beaten man he found by the road, but he helped him anyway.
            There are many ways that God might compel us, in love, to do something of significance for someone we don't know.  When my home town of
Parkersburg, Iowa was devastated by a category F5 tornado last Memorial Day weekend, countless people offered help even though they didn't know anyone in Parkersburg.
            One practical way to do this is to go on a short-term mission trip in this country or beyond our borders.  As more and more people retire from my “baby boomer” generation, we need to seriously consider the opportunities that retirement affords us.  For a Christian, retirement shouldn't be just about pampering yourself; we should ask ourselves, “Now that I'm freed from working from 9 to 5, how can I use some of my time to better serve the Lord?” 

We Can Make a Difference Together, As a Church
If God is the great and awesome God that we believe Him to be, He's too good to keep to ourselves!  We should want other people to have what we have.  We can be comfortable with our group of friends at the church, our routines of coming to worship, and so on, but what about all the people who don’t know God and His Son Jesus?  What about those who might know Him but don't have a group of fellow believers — a church — to share Him with?
            We need to always reach out as a church; that’s often called evangelism.  If we really have good news, we ought to share it!  As long as there's one person beyond our church's property who doesn’t know the Lord or have a group of the Lord's people they can call their own, we have our work cut out for us!
            We can't limit ourselves to the people who might join us; we should have a concern for people who are beyond our personal reach.  Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, . . .” (Matthew 28:19)  Of the 6.8 billion people on earth, it’s estimated that one billion have never heard about Jesus. 
We may have some hungry people in this country, but it’s not like some places in the world.  Our concern must extend beyond our borders.  God's compassion certainly does!
            This is why we as a church are committed to missions and benevolence.  We’re supposed to reach others with the message of Jesus, giving spiritual food to them (missions) and with physical help (benevolence).  Last year our church invested about 17% of all that we took in for missions and benevolence.  We’re supposed to be committed to reach out, in Jesus' name, beyond our own church's local ministry!
            There are many people in the world who don’t know about the love of God expressed through Jesus.  There are many who don’t have the basic essentials of life, like food, shelter, clothing, medical aid, and education.

            There’s a scene in one of the Superman movies where Superman is floating above the world.  He hears all of the sounds on earth: the voices of all of the people crying out.  That's what God hears and sees!  We should be compelled by the care and love of our wonderful God to reach out to people near and far who need His loving touch through us!  Ironically, when we dedicate our lives to the service of others, we’re richer for it!

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