The Parable Series we are in is winding down.  We will be starting a new series called ‘Do I Matter?’ in a couple of weeks.  In our new series we will be handing out a 40-day daily devotional to walk through.  Actually, it’s 42 days because the book we rewritten, and they added 2 more days.  We are praying that this coming Thanksgiving and Christmas Season will be a time for you to discover just how much you matter to God and how your life fits into the community.

As you know, in our Parable series, the last couple of Parables have been growing in intensity.  The reason they are more intense is because the timing of the parables are getting closer and closer to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Jesus confronts His disciples about what greatness looks like.  Jesus confronts the religious leaders about being frauds.  Jesus begins talking about the end times.

Last week, Jesus shared a parable about His return.  Remember the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from last week?  Jesus said, five were prepared, five were not prepared.  Jesus taught, when the groom comes, be prepared.  Sam asked three great questions.  The last question was, are you prepared to meet with Jesus today?  The challenge that Sam gave us was understanding what it looks like today to be the unprepared bridesmaid that is holding an empty lamp.  He gave us a picture of what it looks like right from scripture.

In the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian. For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad. They will be hardheaded and never give in to others; they will be constant liars and troublemakers and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends; they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God. They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that.  TLB 2 Timothy 3:1-4

What does it look like to not be prepared?  It means I am going through the motions at church to look good while at the same time I don’t have a real relationship with Jesus.  Like in 2 Timothy, I go to church but I don’t believe what I hear so I don’t have a real relationship with God, a relationship I am enjoying.  Sam’s question was, are you ready to meet with Jesus today?

Jesus ended the Bridesmaid Parable in verse 13.  He said,

You, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.  NLT Mathew 25:13

The question I have for you is, do you know what that means?  How do we keep watch?  How do we wait?  What does that look like?

Do I quit my job, go to a state park and look into the sky all day?  Do I go off the grid, build a bunker, grow vegetables, and just wait?  Am I expected to think about God’s return every moment of every day and then feel guilty if I play golf, enjoy a football game, or go shopping?

To explain what this means, we are going to read the next Parable.  And to help prepare our hearts, let’s pray before we read it.

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going into another country, who called together his servants and loaned them money to invest for him while he was gone.

15 “He gave $5,000 to one, $2,000 to another, and $1,000 to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities—and then left on his trip. 16 The man who received the $5,000 began immediately to buy and sell with it and soon earned another $5,000. 17 The man with $2,000 went right to work, too, and earned another $2,000.

18 “But the man who received the $1,000 dug a hole in the ground and hid the money for safekeeping.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to him to account for his money. 20 The man to whom he had entrusted the $5,000 brought him $10,000.

21 “His master praised him for good work. ‘You have been faithful in handling this small amount,’ he told him, ‘so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Begin the joyous tasks I have assigned to you.’

22 “Next came the man who had received the $2,000, with the report, ‘Sir, you gave me $2,000 to use, and I have doubled it.’

23 “‘Good work,’ his master said. ‘You are a good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over this small amount, so now I will give you much more.’

24-25 “Then the man with the $1,000 came and said, ‘Sir, I knew you were a hard man, and I was afraid you would rob me of what I earned, so I hid your money in the earth and here it is!’

26 “But his master replied, ‘Wicked man! Lazy slave! Since you knew I would demand your profit, 27 you should at least have put my money into the bank so I could have some interest. 28 Take the money from this man and give it to the man with the $10,000. 29 For the man who uses well what he is given shall be given more, and he shall have abundance. But from the man who is unfaithful, even what little responsibility he has shall be taken from him. 30 And throw the useless servant out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ TLB Matthew 25:14-30

What does it mean to keep watch and wait for the return of Jesus?  That means you do something.  That means you are active.  You recognize that God is your Lord and Savior.  You recognize what He has done for you and because of your new spiritual freedom, you want others to experience that same spiritual freedom from God.  What God has done for you has transformed how you live.  Specifically, you take the time God gave you and invest it into His kingdom.  You take the money God gave you and invest it into His kingdom.  You take the energy God gave you and invest it into His kingdom.

And then someday when Jesus comes back, we will all stand before Jesus and show Him what we have done with His time, His money, and His energy.  And to hold back on Jesus, Jesus explained, to make excuses as to why we did the least possible, will be like the wicked, lazy servant.

Let’s be clear.  What it means to keep watch and wait on God is, I do something.  I get active.  I will invest what God gave me and invest it back into His kingdom.  If I have accepted the grace of God, to be a disciple of Jesus, it means I now invest what God has given me to build His kingdom so others can experience the freedom of God.

I need to stop and ask you; did you know that?  Was this modeled for you as a child?  Did your parents explain the mission of Jesus and how important it is?  Did they show you and explain how they gave time, money, and energy back into the kingdom of God?  If your answer is no, I would tell you, you are probably a first-generation Christian.  Your parents may have attended church, but it may have ended at attending Church now and then.  Did they model for you how to attend church but avoid any kind of commitment, or giving, or serving?  You see, many of us learned that Christianity, living for God, Church stuff is what you stay away from.  Isn’t that modern day Christianity?  Doing the least possible while trying to stay on God’s good side to get into heaven?

We have people here at MRC who shared with their family about finding a meaningful relationship with God at MRC.  The family quickly responded, ‘Be careful, don’t give money, don’t get too involved.’  That’s pretty common in this area.  Again, I want you to put this together.  Did your parents show you and explain how they gave time, money, and energy back into the kingdom of God?  If not, you are probably a first-generation Christian.  And, your version of Christianity might look like the third servant.  Taking what God gave you, dig a hole, put all your God given goodies into that hole and do nothing.

Did you know that from God’s point of view, He expects us to invest into and grow His kingdom so others can experience the freedom of God you have received?  Did you know that God gave you His time, His money, and His energy to accomplish His mission?  Or did you think all that stuff was yours?  Maybe that is what was modeled for you.  And maybe that has created a conflict inside of you.  You like God’s grace but when it comes time to jump all in, you feel that tension and pull back.

Maybe when I say God gave you His time, you think that’s odd because your time is all your time and you are too busy to give any extra time.  Maybe you think when I say God gave you His money, you think that’s odd because you earned that money and it’s all yours to keep.  Maybe you think when I say God gave you His energy, you think that’s odd because you have less and less energy and you certainly have no energy to give back to God.

Remember what Jesus said?

You have been faithful over this small amount, so now I will give you much more.  TLB Matthew 25:23

I have to ask you, what did your parents do with the small amount God gave them?  What have you done with the small amount God has given you?  In this parable, the master was telling the servant you have taken what I have given you and you invested and grew my kingdom.  Because you did that, I will give you more.  God calls that ‘being faithful.’  You took a little and you actively invested it.  Being faithful is not doing the least possible.  Being faithful is doing something.

Don’t you find it interesting that in our culture we want more and more and more?  And we think the secret to having more is hoarding, keeping, and protecting what we have.  We believe, it’s our time, it’s our money, it’s our energy and it’s for me and my kingdom and what I want.  What do people report?  We have more and more and report, higher anxiety, higher depression, higher misery.

God seems to completely confront that North American way of living.  In this parable, Jesus teaches us to see things from God’s point of view.  And from God’s point of view, He has given us His talents, His gifts, His time, His money, and His energy to invest.  And when we are faithful, that means ‘we are active’, in investing what He gave us, He will give us more.

Let’s stop and see the big picture for a second.  Jesus is about to die.  These last parables are intense.  In Matthew 24 Jesus tells the disciples about the end times.  He then tells them about His return.  Then Jesus tells them in verse 44:

You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. NLT Matthew 24:44

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the story of the 10 Bridesmaids and says:

You, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.  NLT Mathew 25:13

The very next parable is what we are reading today.  Like the master who is coming back from a long trip, I am coming back so be prepared.  How?  Take what I gave you and grow my kingdom.  And when I come back and I see that you have doubled what I gave you, I will honor you.  And if I come back and you have done nothing with what I gave you, even what I gave you will be taken from you and throw you out of my presence.

The very next chapter in Matthew, Jesus is betrayed and arrested.

Please think about this with me.  Is this how your parents lived?  Did they live with a sense of urgency?  Did they model this for you?  Is this how Christians in America are living today?  How about your Christian friends, is this how they live?  I have to be honest and say, I think what most people do is try to figure out how they can do the least possible while staying close enough to God squeak into heaven.  That’s not Christianity that Jesus explained.

Next year we are starting a new series about the Church.  Based on scripture, we like to say, Church is God’s body for the community to see.  Church isn’t not a vague, faceless corporation that someone else is responsible for.  Church is made up of people who make many small choices.  In other words, Church is you.  This is how scripture explains Church.

4 Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving. 6 There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are his. 7 The Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church.

27 Now here is what I am trying to say: All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it. TLB 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, 27

Did you see that?  The Holy Spirit has given you special abilities to invest into and grow His kingdom – we would call that the local church.  And when you do that, the Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us when we come together.

When you think of the North American Christian, is this how they live?  How about the Christians you know and you are friends with?  Do they live on purpose?  Do they have a sense of urgency?  Do they have focus?  Is this way of living normal?  They take God’s talents, special abilities, time, money, and energy and invest it to prepare for God’s return?

More questions.  How about Church?  When you see the local Church, do you see the power of God?  Do you see the people in Church walking with God?  Do you see the people in the Church pursuing the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their Church?  Do you see the people in the Church unified around one purpose?

Let’s go through the five stats and the forecast for Christianity I gave you two weeks ago.

Fact 1: 2022 church attendance has dropped at least 28%.  For many churches, it’s 50%.

Fact 2: Generation Z, 31% report no religious affiliation, an increase from 22% ten years ago.

Fact 3: 80% of attenders tithe about 2% of their income.

Fact 4: 38% of pastors are considering stepping away from full-time ministry.

Fact 5: Estimates say as many as 15,000 churches will face this tough decision to close or merge with other churches.  Those in more rural areas have been hit especially hard.

In 1972, 90% of people in America claimed to be Christian.  In 2020, 64% of people in America claimed to be Christian.  If the trend continues, they claim that it is possible that by 2070, between 35% to 54% of people will claim to be Christian.  That means, in our generation, around 50 years ago America was 90% Christian.  And 50 years from now America may be between 34% to 54% Christian.

Please hear me.  When people make decisions to invest, God’s body for the community to see becomes stronger and stronger.  When people make decisions to pull away, do the least possible, God’s body for the community to see gets weaker and weaker.

In these parables, Jesus is saying, I’m coming back.  It’s for real.  Be ready for my return, all the time.  Live with a sense of urgency.  Don’t live like the wicked, lazy servant who dug a hole and did the least possible.  Time is running out.

Questions to close out today.

Do you believe that Jesus is coming back and we need to live with that sense of urgency?

What is normal Christianity to you?  Is it investing into the Church or is it doing the least possible?

What was modeled for you?  Maybe trying to live out rules.  Maybe staying away so the paid people get all the work done.  Maybe making no changes in your heart while attending church now and then.

When it comes to what you have [talents, gifts, time, money, energy], is it God’s or is it yours?

If you believe, those things are yours, why would Jesus tell this parable?

If you believe, those things are God’s, are you investing what He gave you?

Do you believe Church is God’s body for the community to see?

Based on how you invest into the Church, is the Church getting stronger or weaker?

So, Jesus comes back, and you are standing in front of Him, what happens?  Are you scared?  Overjoyed?  Nervous while thinking about all the decisions you should have made before this moment?

What would you say about your personal relationship with Him?

What would you say about what you have done with what He gave you?