Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: service

What is a talent?

Jesus told a parable of a man going to a far country who distributed talents to his servants. The talents given in this parable were money, not ability, for it says that He gave “to every man according to his several ability” (Matthew 25:15).

After generations of misunderstanding this passage we have come to understand talent to mean ability. This is not such a bad thing, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. But it is a serious misunderstanding to interpret the parable to mean that when we become Christians God will give us some new ability that we never had before. That is not taught in this parable, nor anywhere else in the Bible.

What this parable does teach is that God wants us to develop the abilities that we have so that they can be employed for the good of His Kingdom.

I was thinking of this the other day as we were in Saskatoon. Our first stop was at the Christian book store. I am impressed with all the staff here, but I’ll just mention one. This store has a loyalty program which requires the person at the till to enter the customer’s phone number. Tanaya never asks for my phone number, but the cash register slip always comes out with my name on it and a summary of my loyalty account.

This young lady obviously has a phenomenal memory, but that’s only part of it. I do not get preferred treatment over other customers, she makes every one of us feel that we are especially welcome in the store. We say she has a special talent for the job she is doing.

I don’t believe that this is a talent that was given her at the time of conversion, or any other particular moment. It is rather the result of her efforts to develop the abilities she had in a way that would be of helpt to thers.

The same day we had dinner with our friends Ray and Ruth. Ray is an accomplished artist; he has made his living by other means, but has been able to sell some of his art work for good prices. As a child he had an ability to see things around him in a way that allowed him to draw accurate representations.

His third grade school teacher remembers drawings of birds and animals on the margins of his school work. He has studied to refine and deepen the ability he began with. He painted a 60 foot mural in the church which he attends that depicts the history of the world from Creation to the Last Judgment. He also has a talent for teaching basic art techniques to children and people of all ages.

Finally I had an appointment with my eye doctor. This man has given me numerous injections for macular degeneration, which is now stable, and has done cataract surgery on both my eyes. His skill is the reason I can still see to type this post. Someone at the CNIB once told me that this doctor is the best in Western Canada for diseases of the retina.

For each one of us there is a way that we can develop whatever natural ability we have and put it to use in God’s kingdom. We should not feel that we are helpless until God grants us some special talent. Let us not despise the ability we already have, no matter how insignificant it may appear to us, and be ready and willing when He gives us an opportunity to put that ability to use for His honour and glory.

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sixty years ago that question was often asked of me and my friends during our high school years. The suggestion was being planted in us that we needed to become something important – to be Somebody.

Our parents had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s and wanted a better life for their children. They constantly encouraged us to “get an education, so you won’t have to work as hard as we did.”

Thus was planted the subliminal suggestion that work was not really a good thing. And the way to avoid it was to spend the requisite number of years in an institute of higher education in order to obtain a certificate designating one as someone who was above such a menial status.

It turned out that work was pretty much a necessity, a necessary evil one might say. So people my age did what they had to do and dreamed of that magical day of retirement when they wouldn’t have to work anymore and could spend time with their friends doing all the things they had dreamed of doing.

Reality stuck it’s ugly nose in here too. It turned out that our friends were the people we worked with. When we retired we had nothing in common with them anymore. Many retired men having, by virtue of being men, the conviction that they could fix most anything began tracking their wives around the house and advising them how they could do their work more efficiently. Finally, the wives reached the breaking point and  said, “Why don’t you go out and get a job?” Many men did and found more satisfaction in the work they did after retirement than they had in their careers.

Maybe work isn’t such a bad thing after all. Surveys say that employers don’t care much for fancy pieces of paper offered as proof of sitting through so and so many hours of tenured duty in a classroom. They are looking for people who want to serve. People who want to learn the specific skills needed by their employer to serve their customers. People who find satisfaction in contributing to the success of a team.

The robots are coming, you say? I suppose, but so far more jobs have been lost to Asia than to robots. A renewed appreciation for good workmanship would go hand in hand with a renewed sense of dignity in work.

Perfection and humilty and servanthood and leadership

Is it possible to be perfect, humble, a servant and a leader all at the same time? According to the New Testament, God expects us to be all of the above. If that seems impossible, perhaps we have gotten hung up on a misunderstanding of the meaning of one or more of those words.

Many well-meaning Christians will insist that the only perfection that we can ever attain to is to be found in Jesus Christ and then His perfection becomes ours. I was going to say that this is a cop-out, but that would be too harsh. It is just a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it calls us to be perfect. The basic meaning of the word is complete when referring to things, and fully grown or mature when speaking of people. It does not mean to be utterly without flaw or blemish. In the AV, the Greek word teleios is translated 17 times as perfect, once as men (“in understanding be men” 1 Corinthians 14:20) and once as of full age (“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:14).

Thus, what the Bible is asking of us is maturity. A person who is mature does not think that he knows everything, that he never makes a mistake, never misunderstands. Someone who is mature is quick to own up to his mistakes, apologize where he has caused offence, and to fix what he has broken.

Looked at in this way, perfection begins to sound a lot like humility, doesn’t it? They really are like the two sides of the same coin. A person who is perfect and humble can be entrusted with responsibility. He will do his best to fulfil that responsibility, without running over anyone who might get in the way. In other words, he see himself as a servant. He is not simply trying to please himself, but whoever has entrusted him with this responsibility. Ultimately, he sees himself as a servant of God and of his fellow men.

Such a person is a leader. He does not see himself as lord over those whom he is leading, but rather as their servant. He goes ahead to show the way, to avoid dangers, to help all to reach their goal. We are all called to be leaders in some way, in the home, at work, even at play.

We will not always do everything just right, or say everything just right. We will be misunderstood; we will be criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Either way, if we respond to the criticism with kindness and respect we will grow and become more useful. This is the way of perfection. If we respond with impatience and anger, we will shrivel and become less useful.

The pursuit of happiness

Times are tough for writers today. Every writers’ group and every writers’ conference tells us that no publisher will even look at a book manuscript unless the author has an impressive “writer’s platform.” That would consist of a blog with at least 10,000 followers and a similar presence on Facebook and Twitter. And then there are experts who will explain how to promote your book on Amazon.

I just don’t want to go there. If the underlying purpose of my writing is to exalt the One who said “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” how can I put that together with going on Facebook and Twitter every morning and finding some new way to call out “Hey everybody! Look at me!”?

I guess that means I’m not going to be rich or famous. I’m OK with that. But at least I can be happy. I don’t think our me-first world today even knows what happiness means. True happiness has no connection to hilarity and thrills, it comes from a holy life, lived in service to God and to our fellow men.

The beatitudes are a description of true happiness. The AV translation uses the word “blessed,” but the original Greek word means happy and is translated that way in other passages. The beatitudes tell us that true happiness is found in being poor in spirit, meek, merciful and pure in heart; to hunger and thirst after righteousness,to be peacemakers. Jesus ends the beatitudes with this astounding statement:

Happy are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Jesus is not telling us to provoke people into reviling and persecuting us, but there is nothing anywhere in His teachings to indicate that we should carefully court the approval of the world. We should rather seek to serve others in whatever way we can, without expecting or begging their approval.

Writing is one way in which we can serve others. But no one will appreciate our attempts to serve if we come across as feeling superior, or try to impress by pompous words and a bombastic writing style. The apostle Paul wasn’t exalting himself when he said “Be ye followers of me, even as I am also of Christ.” We can say the same thing, but only if we can attain to his level of humility in following Christ. That is where we will find true happiness.

Is your rent in arrears?

The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth. It is obvious that man is himself a traveler; that the purpose of this world is not ‘to have and to hold’ but ‘to give and serve.’ There can be no other meaning.  – Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940)

(Dr. Grenfell trained as a surgeon in London, was converted in 1887 under the preaching of Dwight L. Moody in London and dedicated his life to service as a medical missionary in Labrador and northern Newfoundland.)

The way of peace

Forty-five years ago I was picking up my mail in a village post office when I heard two older men reminiscing about the war. Somehow the subject of Mennonites came up. “Mennonites!” one of them said angrily, “They should all be lined up against a wall and shot!” The other agreed.

This was at a time when I was just beginning to think about becoming a Mennonite and neither of these men would have been aware of that. They had both served in World War II and were well-respected members of the community. What aroused such feelings of animosity?

I can’t really speak for them, yet those feelings could have been based on several factors.  At the time of the war, Mennonites generally held themselves aloof from the rest of society, to the point of believing there was something almost holy about speaking a Germanic dialect rather than English. As a result, they were not well known or well understood by other Canadians. Some Mennonites seemed to have a sense of entitlement about exemption from military service. Many Canadians may not have been aware that Mennonite boys were serving in alternate service camps during the war, or if they knew, still felt they were being given an unfair advantage.

Peace has always been the central belief of the Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Peace with God first of all, then through that peace with our fellow men. Unfortunately, we may sometimes make it seem that the main point of our peace doctrine is non-participation in war. If that is all it amounts to, we are missing the whole foundation of Christian life and the reason why we believe we cannot participate in the shedding of blood.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, taught that we should be peacemakers, suffer persecution if need be and turn the other cheek. James wrote that God gives His children a wisdom that is “peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy”; then goes on to say that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

This is all part of loving our neighbour as ourself. Yet it is very natural and human to think of ourselves first. We are naturally prone to feelings of envy, of being left out, of not being appreciated at our just value. James tells us that these feelings are not heaven-sent, but are earthly, sensual and devilish.

If we take offence at every imagined slight, the peace of God is not reigning in our hearts. We are to esteem others as better than ourselves. Experience should tell us that those who make the greatest efforts to impress others with their own importance are the least appreciated. Yet our concern for others should never be motivated by thoughts of personal advantage.

Canada enacted conscription laws during the two World Wars, but granted exemptions to young men who were members of churches who taught a doctrine of peace. Young men from these churches who were eligible to be conscripted were allowed to join alternative service programs, such as working in forestry camps for the duration of the war.

We understand that if conscription is ever enacted again there will be no automatic exemption based solely upon church membership. Young men and women will be individually examined as to the reality of their personal convictions and whether they have lived according to those convictions.

This is as it should be. Not only our young people, but all of us, should live in such a way that our neighbours know us as peace-loving people, who are always ready to lend a helping hand to a neighbour in need. We should not have a lot to say about the faults of those who govern us; neither should we disdain the poor who have not the courage to believe that anything will ever turn out right for them in life. May we rather be people who can feel the hurts, the sorrows and the joys of others.

I remember my Dad picking me up after school one day when I was nine years old and telling me that my mother was sorrowing that day. She had just received news that her youngest brother, to whom she felt very close, had been killed in Korea. I remember when her last two letters to my uncle were returned unopened and how she kept those letters for years. We need to understand the sorrow of those who have lost loved ones in war.

As Christians, we should never have a sense of entitlement. We are called to serve, not to be served.

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