It Is What You Do With What You Have

It Is What You Do With What You Have

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

“Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” is a French children’s song born from an anonymous pastoral tune in 1740. However, this melody is so well known to us that we use it to sing three English songs: 1) “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” 2) “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” and 3) “The Alphabet Song.” From a musical perspective, one might think that being a “children’s song” would make the tune simple enough for a child to plunk out on the piano with a single finger. And, indeed, in the hands of a beginner, that is true. However, one might be surprised to hear what a few renowned composers did with “Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman.” 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote twelve variations on this piece. Mozart’s composition has Köchel listing number 265 and is called “Twelve Variations in C on ‘Ah! vous dirai-je Maman.’” The melody has a length of about fourteen minutes! And no one listening to it would consider it “child’s play.” Not to be outdone, harpsichordist and composer Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach created eighteen variations on the tune for the keyboard. It takes about ten minutes to play “Bückeburg Bach’s” piece, “Variations on “Ah! vous dirai-je maman” in G major.” Even romantic pianist Franz Liszt had a crack at “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman.” Liszt’s version was short and sweet, taking only twenty-two seconds to play. But Liszt still managed to embellish the song with his flourishment despite its brevity. 

So, though it is the same song, its complexity and appeal derive from the musicians’ abilities. This truth reminds me of a parable of Jesus. A master departing for a journey entrusts his valuables to three of his servants (Matthew 25.14-30). One servant received five units of currency, another received two, while the last servant, later called “lazy” and “fearful,” was given but one. When the master returned, the servant given five talents gave to his master five more which he had earned. The two-talent servant likewise doubled his share. But that lazy and fearful servant hid the money given to him in the ground. This servant claimed fear of loss caused him to hoard what the master entrusted to him. 

We cannot ignore the original context of this parable which is money. A talent began its life as a measurement of weight. By the New Testament, the talent equaled the buying power of that weight in gold or silver. Most scholars believe that the talent to which Jesus referred was equal to 6,000 denarii. If you recall, from Matthew 20.2, employers paid workers a denarius for a day’s wage. So, one talent equaled the salary earned from 6,000 days of work! Thus, the master entrusted the “one-talent servant” with about 16 years’ wages. So then, how much more impressive that the five-talent servant increased his master’s investment by an amount that would have required the ordinary worker roughly 82 years of labor? (If my math is correct, that is.)  

Today, we tend to remove our Lord’s parable from its fiscal context to refer to our stewardship over the abilities and skills we can muster in God’s service. Or we might use talent to refer to all the resources at our disposal as we worship and serve. That it is about money is seen in the master’s scolding of the lazy servant that the least he could have done was put his talent in the bank to allow it to draw interest (Matthew 25.27). The master’s rebuke implies that the lazy and fearful servant could have still been productive despite his character flaws. All he had to do was make a safe investment of his master’s funds with the bank. See how Jesus knew about compounding interest! Compounding interest is so incredible that even Albert Einstein’s genius esteemed it as man’s greatest invention. (Granted, interest rates must be more than they are now to grow wealth. I know one fellow who only earns about fifteen cents a quarter with the current rate.) 

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul reminds us that a bountiful return follows when we sow bountifully (2 Corinthians 9.6). This Scripture is also about money. So, wealth reflects what we do with what we have. Returning to Jesus’ parable, one notes that the Lord specifies that the master knew the abilities of his servants and used that knowledge to determine how much he would entrust to each man. For this reason, Jesus could also say that God expects more of the one to whom He has given more (Luke 12.48). Please understand I am not promoting the prosperity gospel of such charlatans who play preachers on the TeeVee. If you aren’t a wealthy person, it is unlikely that God will shower you with money from Heaven simply because you prayed the prayer of Jabez or sent in “seed money” to someone’s ministry. 

No, the Lord has already given you something. Using what God gives you may be like the previously mentioned child striking single keys with his fingers. But that is okay since it is what you can do with the tune. However, your brother or sister may be capable of making twelve or eighteen variations on that tune, making your jaw drop. Worry not; their talents are not an indictment of your own. You are still capable of playing a lovely song. Therefore, it is a matter of ensuring you play it your best. Don’t do like the lazy and fearful servant and hoard your talent. Such people rob God (cf. Malachi 3.8). In these difficult economic times and times of future prosperity, God will judge us for what we do with those talents with which He has entrusted us.      

    

Franz Liszt at the piano (public domain)
The Entertainer And The Executioner

The Entertainer And The Executioner

Neal Pollard

They were born within four days of each other, both on the European continent. Both adored their mothers and resented their drunken fathers. Both grew up knowing real poverty. Both were incredibly intense and ambitious. Both were mesmerizing performers who commanded crowds. Both sported the same, strange mustache and bore a striking resemblance.

One became a comedian who made people laugh. The other became a dictator responsible for the death of millions. Neither were moral giants, but each used their influence for very different ends.

It doesn’t matter where or when one is born. To a certain degree, we do not have to be defined by the home we grew up in. Being poor is not an automatic determiner of either success or failure. Our looks are a neutral commodity. Our talents and opportunities are a blank canvas we choose to decorate as we please.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is a Divine reminder that we all take what God gives us and decide what we will do with it. Nothing is foreordained or forced upon us. We determine, both by action and inaction, to be a servant or slothful. What we must be aiming for is much greater and higher than earthly ambition, whether to be loved or feared by the world. Our purpose must be to be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). The good news is that where, when, and how you were born is a fact, but it does not have to define you. If we empty ourselves of ourselves and let Him fill us, He will define us!

Be Fearlessly Fervent 

Be Fearlessly Fervent 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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It takes a special individual of both breed and brand to truly impact the world. The fact is, many will live their lives comfortable and content to never break any molds or “step outside the box,” as they say. Most believers understand that God has called us out of this world to be lights and to be different, but that means being uncomfortable (James 1:2-4). We don’t like that aspect of faithful walking and at times the fire inside us and the will to go on is at the verge of being snuffed out. On every side we are surrounded by a raging current of mainstream ideologies and beliefs that drown the masses sweeping them closer towards eternity—unprepared. That familiar and depressing reality can discourage and frustrate us to the point of tears. Preachers, elders, and leaders are constantly fighting these feelings as they huff and puff under the weight of it all.
Christian fathers and mothers anxiously worry about that painfully uncertain future their children will battle. Young people are plagued with convincing thoughts that a faithful life is all but impossible today. How can we make an impact? You may wonder what difference you could possibly make as you observe such a powerful and evil force.
Here is the bad news, it’s hard. But here is the wonderful new, it’s worth it! God has given us an instruction manual on how to become mighty misfits in a culture that rejects righteousness. There are permanent footprints left by the feet of godly men throughout history, and their tracks lead to victory for those that choose to follow them.
For example, there is the trail blazer and zealous disciple, Paul. He serves as an inspiring nonconformist when he abandons his previous life of riches, respect, and comfort. His courage, faith, and determination can produce a powerful stirring in our spirits. If that man with the thorn can overcome fear and defeat the devil’s endeavors, despite his own weakness, then by the grace of God we can too. Our lives can leave an impact and they can serve as beacon of light for generations to come.
Notice how Jabez demonstrates this point in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Within a lengthy list of family lines that make up the sons of Judah, Jabez breaks the mold. While numerous names are given, there is something more to be said of Jabez. He stands out as one who was “more honorable” than those who were before him in verse nine. Though his name means “son of my sorrow,” a label associated with affliction, he refuses to let this name define his future. The key to his success is given in the following verse which says, “Jabez called upon the Lord saying, ‘oh that you would bless me, your hand be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not give me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.” That verse is loaded with valuable lessons for this age and every age to follow.
Lesson one, don’t interpret your future by looking at your past. It doesn’t matter what family you were born into or how you were raised. We all have been given at least three common blessings. If you are made in the image of God, and you are, then that means you have talent, opportunity, and a life. The amount of talent, number of opportunities, and quality of that life is irrelevant. You have everything you need to succeed which is precisely what our Father desires.
Lesson number two, only God can grant you gainful glory. Jabez established his lasting legacy and was victorious because he understood one thing. God is the God of impartiality. He offers a heavenly hand to help the stereotypically weak and sinful human break the stereotype. The cards of life you hold in your hand mean little to the God who owns the deck. Jabez, Paul, and many faithful others understood the weakness of humanity. Their lives are a statement and a confession— God can help anyone rise above the crowd. He can help you achieve the only recognition that counts and give you the precious gift of a future with certainty.
The path to victory is a narrow one according to Matthew 7:14. Few have found it and few have finished it, but with the right Guide it can definitely be done. Are you unsure of your current location? Look down at the tracks you are following, and the guide walking with you. If you are holding the hand of the Savior— you can be sure you’re going in the right direction. Allow that comfort to strengthen you and break out of whatever mold you are in. Let God use your weakness and failures to leave an eternal mark on a world that needs it. There is no congregation that can’t grow, no Christian that can’t improve, and no unsaved person that doesn’t deserve the chance to hear that life changing message of the cross. There’s a great day coming, and that should provoke some excitement as well as motivate us all to diligently and fearlessly work until then.
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Where’s Greg Reynolds Today?

Where’s Greg Reynolds Today?

Neal Pollard

Being a Rockies’ fan has its ups and downs—historically, there have been more downs than ups, I’m afraid.  Being no-hit last night by Dodger’s pitcher Clayton Kershaw was pretty low!  While it was only the third time in franchise history that no Rockies’ hitter got a hit in an official baseball game, there was a particular pain to the “no no” last night.  Kershaw was picked by the Dodgers with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 Major League Draft.  That means he was available when the Rockies used the second overall pick to take right-hander Greg Reynolds out of Stanford University (via http://www.baseball-reference.com).  While Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher baseball has seen this generation, Reynolds is duking it out in Japan’s professional baseball league with the Saitama Seibu Lions.  So far, he’s notched a very mortal 6-11 record in America’s professional baseball league. He’s 0-5 with a 5.52 ERA with the Lions (bis.npb.org.jp).

This is not intended to be a rip on Greg Reynolds or even Colorado’s front office, though the local fan base may like to see it.  Nor is it simply an opportunity to vent frustration against our local diamond dwellers. It is, however, a great illustration of something that can happen elsewhere in life.  Reynolds was selected so high in the draft because of potential, a record of achievement he had compiled to that point, and certain tools and traits that seemed to scouts and organizational brass like a “can’t miss” opportunity.

How often are we reminded that superior intellect, physical strength, charisma and charm, and abundant material resources alone are insufficient?  Whole nations like Edom, Canaan, Egypt, and even Israel learned this in the Old Testament.  Individuals with such potential, whether Samson or Saul or the Rich Young Ruler, prove that performance is the ultimate measurement over potential.  “Almost” is an unsatisfactory and incomplete idea, as is nearly, close, and “could have been.”  The graveyard is littered with stories of those who did not parlay potential into performance.  History’s pages portray so many figures who flirted with greatness without getting there.

The stakes are different for us.  It’s not millions of dollars, All-Star status, or the Hall of Fame (or even being able to stick on a Major League roster).  Intentions are insufficient.  Action is all-important.  When we are thinking about God’s commands and considering that eternity is at stake, we must have more than tools and talents.  We must, simply, do (Mat. 7:21; Luke 6:46).

 

No, THAT is not Reynolds. Guess who it IS?

The Truly Amazing Kwasi Enin

The Truly Amazing Kwasi Enin

 

Neal Pollard

How often does the college application process for a single student make the front page of a national paper like USA Today?  It happened on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.  The feature centered around the academic ambitions of a Shirley, New York, Senior, whose academic future would seem secure and assumably provided for.  He made history when last week he opened an acceptance letter from Harvard University.  That alone is impressive, but that letter made it complete. Every single one of the eight Ivy League colleges formally accepted Kwasi Enin as a student.  It is amazing that Kwasi would apply to all of them, and almost unheard of to be “invited to attend them all” (Greg Toppo, 1 A, 4/1/14).   His guidance counselor said, “It’s a big deal when we have students apply to one or two Ivies. To get into one or two is huge. It was extraordinary” (ibid.).

So maybe our congregation does not have any academic prodigies like Kwasi Enin.  With all due and considerable respect, we have something even better.  We have a large repository of talent and spirituality in our midst among our youth and teens.  Their dreams are endless.  They dare to do great things, ask friends to services, stand up for their faith, share profound spiritual thoughts, and much more that we, as adults, find jaw-dropping.  They reach for the sky because they are too young to be bothered with such mole hills as worry, fear, and limitation!  They believe they can change the world and make it a better place and their faith in Christ can put some of ours to shame.

When Paul tells Timothy to let no one look down on him because he is young (1 Tim. 4:12), he is speaking to us, too.  Our youth have growing and maturing to do.  They will accrue wisdom and experience in the process of time.  But, may we help nurture their enthusiasm and stoke their optimism.  They need to keep it.  We need them to keep it.  With dark days ahead, we will depend on the faith and valiant efforts of today’s youth!  May we recognize how truly amazing they are and help them see how important they are to God’s work.