Highways To Zion
Highways to Zion is a weekly devotional message on WVMC FM designed to encourage you in your daily walk with Christ through lessons from everyday life. Here are the archive's of past devotional messages.
See what Judy has to encourage you this week...
Week of March 30th
We hear so much about equality these days. Everyone is supposed to be equal, not just equal before the law, but also equal in prosperity, health, and opportunity. The Bible does teach that we are all of equal value before God. He loves each of us the same, enough to have given His only begotten Son to redeem us. We are all equally sinners, having been born into a fallen human race, and we will all face the same parameters of judgment.
But the Bible also teaches that we are not all equal, and our experience bears this out. Some people are short, others tall. Some are talented artistically, others mechanically, and still others relationally. Some have a strong constitution, others fall prey to any illness that comes along. Some are born in industrialized nations, others in third world countries. These are things over which we have little control.
The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 teaches both equality and inequality. That the servants were given differing amounts of money (or talents) speaks of inequality. What they did with it was not the same. I imagine the amount of effort required in the investment of five talents was considerably more than what was needed to invest two. The results were not the same in terms of raw data, but both of the faithful servants got an equal return percentage-wise – both doubled their master’s money.
The unfaithful servant’s behavior was vastly different from the other two. From whatever motive, he evidently considered his one talent (which was no measly amount of money – a talent was the equivalent of fifteen years’ wages) as not worth his effort. He claimed he was afraid he might lose it and the master would be unhappy because he hadn’t gained anything. The master saw through his excuse and was indeed angry, less because there was no gain and more because of lack of effort. He did not insist on the same return as the other servants; even bank interest would have been enough.
What this says to me is that whatever I have been given, no matter whether great or small, I am called to use it to the best of whatever ability I have. It is worth the effort, because the greatest disparity is yet to be revealed in the parable.
At the reckoning the two faithful servants were commended by the master, no small accolade considering the master in the story represents God. To receive His commendation, His affirmation of my paltry efforts on His behalf, is more than all human applause combined. When I consider His omnipotence compared to my puny abilities, I am stunned that He would condescend to entrust the advancement of his kingdom to us humans at all. We can do so little compared to what He can do.
The master not only commended the faithful servants, but he also gave them a promotion, so to speak. "You were faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things" (Matt. 25:21,23). It doesn’t say how many, so the inequality (based on how much each had been given previously) in the midst of equality (a promotion for both) may be assumed. Doubtless the five-talent servant was put in charge of more than the two-talent servant.
And finally, the master does something for which I don’t have an adequate definition. "Enter into the joy of your master." What is this in today’s terminology? It’s obvious that the master was pleased with the two faithful servants, because he commended them. What more is he conferring now in this?
When I think of sharing joy with someone, I think of intimacy. The people who are closest to me, whom I love the most, are the ones whose joy I can most readily share. When my son-in-law received an award for one of his designs, I beamed with pride. When my grandchildren achieve each new step of development, my joy knows no bounds. To share in the joy of my Master is to know Him better, to have a closer relationship with Him, to be drawn into His circle of confidence.
King Solomon wrote, "The devious are an abomination to the Lord, but He is intimate with the upright" (Prov. 3:22). Now, since the advent of our Lord, we know we are more than just close friends with God; we are family. The Apostle Paul wrote, "You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:15-17). And it’s not just that we are on the same level with Christ, it’s more than that. We are in Christ (Eph. 2:6) and He is in us (Col. 1:27). That is a level of intimacy we as humans cannot fathom.
The unfaithful servant lost it all. Where the others received commendation, he received condemnation. "You wicked, lazy slave," his master said. His one talent was taken from him. And he was not just demoted; he was thrown out altogether. He would no longer be in the service of his master at all, but completely and totally estranged from him. Far from sharing his master’s joy, he would experience "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 25:30). This is especially sobering, considering that in the previous parable, the Ten Virgins, the five unprepared virgins were outside and not let in. This unfaithful servant was inside and then thrown out. Making use of what we have been given in Christ is no inconsequential matter.
In Christ, we all have been given riches beyond our wildest dreams. The very least-gifted servant of Christ is still incredibly wealthy. The disproportion is not between who has more gifts and who has fewer. In light of what we have in Christ, that difference is negligible. The real disproportion is between what God can do and what we can do, and between the consequences of our action or failure to act on what we have been given. Our Master does not require equality of us. We do not all have to be Billy Grahams, but we are all called to invest His immense riches in others so that He might gain the more.
© Judy Nichols 2014
Week of March 2nd
MAJORING ON THE MINORS
I am a writer and one of the things I love to write about is the common themes I see in widely separated passages of Scripture. These connections – and there are a myriad of them – show me that God is indeed the Author as He inspired such a great variety of writers over such a long period of time to say such similar things. When I see a common theme and write about it, the theme is the focus of what I write.
I learned something about a common theme the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had seen and latched onto. If it hadn’t been so tragic, it would have been laughable.
In Matthew 23 Jesus begins a lengthy tirade against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. One of the first things He says is, "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long" (23:5). Phylacteries were boxes containing four specific Scripture passages, worn on the forehead and arm. I would liken them to an advertisement of sorts to let people know that they followed the Law to the letter.
So let’s do an experiment. Take a few moments and think of what verses of Scripture you would put in your boxes if you were an Old Testament Jew. I think mine would surely contain the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17), the Shema – "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" --(Deut. 6:4-5), the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 – "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace" – and perhaps some Messianic promise like Deut. 18:18 – "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put My words in his mouth, and He will tell them everything I command Him."
If I could find a common theme in my choice of verses, I guess it would have to be pleasing God, that is, obeying His commandments, loving Him with all my being, putting my hope in His Messiah, and in return knowing His blessing.
What I found so tragic in the Pharisees’ choice of verses was their common theme: "tie these on your hand and on your forehead." While it’s true that the context of each passage contains important values, the fact that they chose to major on the minor part of each verse is terribly sad. In fact, only two of the four passages actually say to do it; the other two say following the commandments will be like doing it.
So what’s the application here? I think in a general sense, we can see why the church today is so ineffective. We major on the minors. We have chosen to define ourselves by what divides us rather than what unites us. We are divided over theology, methods of baptism, interpretation of end times prophecy, grace versus works, and worship styles, to name just a few. That doesn’t necessarily translate to all churches being hypocritical, as the Pharisees were; we all have reasons and generally Scriptural backing for what we believe and practice. But I have to wonder if the church at large wouldn’t be a lot more effective in the world today if we all focused more on what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments: love God and love others as ourselves.
On a personal level, I have to ask myself what are the things that I advertise, as it were, and what do they say about me? As others look at me, what would they say is the common theme in my life? Is it materialism, accumulating as much stuff as I can? Is it desire for personal importance, influence, and power? Is it just pleasing myself, doing whatever feels best at the moment? Is it studying hard to display intellectual superiority? Or is it loving and serving God and others to the best of my ability?
I make no claim to perfection. There are more than hints of materialism in my life – we have a lot of nice stuff. Personal affirmation is immensely gratifying to me. I often do what I want rather than what I know I should do. I hope my study of the Scripture is a blessing to others rather than just a plum in my heavenly academic record. Because I do love God and want to serve Him and those people He has put in my life. I want to major on the majors, not the minors.
© J.H.Nichols 2014
Week of March 9th
To be perfectly honest, some of the Psalms are just not that exciting to read. I love the psalms of praise and those that recount God’s attributes and care for mankind, but the psalms of lament and those that call for retribution upon enemies don’t really do a lot for me. Not that I can’t relate; I have prayed those kinds of prayers myself. Except for one thing that caught my eye as I was reading Psalm 83.
The psalm begins with the usual call for God to arouse Himself and take action against Israel’s enemies. It notes not only who they are, but also what they do. "See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish" (v.2-3). Then the psalmist calls upon God to do again the kinds of amazing victories He did in the time of the judges through Deborah and Gideon (see chapters 4, 7-8 of Judges).
Then he says, "Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm" (v. 13-15). Here is where my prayer would end, but the writer continues, "Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O Lord" (v.16). In the midst of the onslaught, this writer has God’s heart in view, the heart that does not wish for any to perish, but all – even His and our enemies -- to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
An episode from the life of Paul, recorded in 1 Cor. 5, is similar. There was sexual immorality in the church at Corinth. Paul was outraged and grieved, and told them they should "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (v.5). His punishment was not for their revenge, but for his salvation and God’s glory.
In the same way, we are to view our trials and misfortunes as God’s discipline. They are not punishment for our wrongs -- Jesus took the punishment we deserve – but are certainly opportunities for us to learn. The writer of Hebrews put it well. "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? . . .. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness" (Heb. 12:7, 10).
Everything God does He does for our redemption and His glory. Maybe I should remember that the next time I am praying for someone who’s given me a hard time. If my heart were in tune with His, it would be for my good and certainly an increase in holiness.
© J.H.Nichols 2014
Week of March 16th
Once again Jesus throws a curve ball, so to speak. The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew records the disciples asking Jesus when the destruction of the temple will happen and what will be the signs of His return and of the end of the age (v.3). The next forty verses are Jesus’ answer.
The signs include deceivers and those who claim to be the Messiah, wars, famines, and earthquakes. Believers will be hated, persecuted, betrayed, and killed. The culture will be marked by an increase in wickedness and a decrease in love. The gospel will be preached to all nations. The temple will be desecrated; it will be a dreadful time of unparalleled distress. He warns them not to go out after someone who claims to be Christ, even if he does great miracles. He says His coming will not be secret, but instantaneous and obvious to all. There will be disturbances in the sun, moon, and stars. Then at last, He will appear in the sky with His angels and a great trumpet blast to gather His people from all corners of the earth. (See vv.4-31).
Jesus then gives His instructions. Just as they know summer is near when the fig tree gets new leaves, so when they see all these things, they can know His coming is imminent. But no one, not even Jesus Himself, will ever know the exact day when it will be. Only the Father knows that. He recalls the days of Noah when, in spite of Noah’s preaching and the object lesson of his building the ark, no one took it seriously until the flood actually came and swept them all away. So we, too, should be watchful at all times. (See vv. 32-44.)
Like a teacher preparing his students for an upcoming test, I would have expected Jesus to follow up with something like, "These are the things you need to study. Don’t just memorize them, but analyze them and know how they might work out, and you will be ready for the test." But this is not what He says.
Instead He tells a story about a servant whose job it was to look after the other servants while the master was away. If the servant is obedient, doing what his master ordered, he will be commended. But if he gets lazy and doesn’t do his job, then the master will come when he least expects it. "He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v.51).
Indeed, the three parables in chapter 25 – the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats, all of which are part of this discourse of Jesus – have nothing at all to do with observing, analyzing, or focusing on the signs of the end. They have everything to do with our relationship with Him and obediently using what He gives us.
Being watchful, I must conclude, is more than just knowing and watching for the signs of the times. It is doing what we know He says we should be doing. Like the wise builder who built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:24-27), we must put His words into actions if we want to withstand the storms that are coming.
© J.H.Nichols 2014
Week of March 23rd
There is a poignant scene in one of the later Anne of Green Gables books where Anne visits her childhood chum Ruby. Ruby is dying of tuberculosis – consumption, as it was called then. Everyone knows it, including Ruby, but no one speaks of it. One evening the normally chatty Ruby reveals her fear of dying to Anne. She’s not afraid she won’t go to heaven – she’s a church member, after all – but she just can’t imagine what life there will be like. Her life here had been focused on parties and projects, beauty and boyfriends, things that made the life to come seem alien and unreal.
As Anne walks home afterward, her thoughts of Ruby’s frivolous life and shallow ideals bring her to the realization that "when she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different . . . the life of heaven must begin here on earth."
The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 reminded me of this story. While the parable’s point is being ready for Jesus’ return in glory and judgment, it is also appropriate for each of us to consider since "it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27).
The wise virgins had taken extra oil along with their lamps, while the foolish had only enough oil to make their lamps burn for the present. They made no provision for the future. When the bridegroom came at midnight, after they’d all fallen asleep, the foolish wanted the wise virgins to give them some of their oil. The wise ones refused, not because they would not share, but because they could not. God gives to each of us the grace that we alone need, neither too little nor too much.
Paul admonished Timothy to teach people not to be arrogant or put their hope in wealth, but to hope in God and be rich in good deeds in order to "lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age" (1 Tim. 6:19). And Jesus Himself admonished His followers not to store up treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven, "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21).
The thing that hit me the hardest in the parable was the fact that half of the virgins were unprepared. If the numbers in the Bible are as significant as the words, it is a frightening thought that fifty percent of us, who profess to know Christ and are awaiting His return are, in fact, strangers to Him. Suddenly "many are called but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14) and "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matt. 7:14) take on greater gravity.
While the gate is narrow, it is presently still open. Now is the time when we can "seek the Lord while He may be found" (Isa. 55:6). The fullness of His grace (John 1:16) is still available to us. There will come a time when "Knock and the door shall be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7) will no longer be in effect. My hope is that none reading this will be among those standing outside saying, "Lord, Lord, open up to us."
© J.H.Nichols 2014