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The Measure of Success

I think it’s fair to say that everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to be a success. That’s hardwired into us. No one wants to be a loser. No body wants to be a failure. We all want to succeed. We want to do well.

And we see this in every aspect of our lives. When we play sports, we want to take home the championship trophy – not just the participation award. When we play board games or video games, we say we play for the fun, but still, we want to win. In war – no one goes into battle being okay with losing –  if we’re going to fight, we want the victory.

We want to succeed in our careers. We want to have succeed in raising our kids. We want to succeed at being a good husband or a good wife.

We even want to succeed as Christians. Nobody wants to be a lousy Christian – we want to be a successful one. We want our church to succeed. Clearly there is something hardwired into us that drives us towards success.

But the challenge in all areas of life is knowing what determines success. We have to know what the objective is.

Because if you’re a football player, successfully running the ball to the end of the field is a measure of success – but if you’re a golfer, it’s not. You’ll probably get kicked off the course if you’re out there tackling the other golfers, stealing their ball and running it down the fairway.

We have to know our objective – We have to know what constitutes success in whatever it is that we’re doing. If we don’t know what the objective is – if we don’t know what determines success – then we’re gonna have a really hard time being successful.

As a church, we need to know what determines our success. Are we successful because we’ve outgrown this space and need to move to a larger space over at the Hall? Is that success? If we get to the point where we need to build our own building, is that success? If we get to the point where we offer more programs and have greater attendance and have more baptisms and have a bigger facility than Crossroads – is that success? Or are we measuring success the wrong way?

We need to know what determines our success – or we may spend all of our time and our energy and all our effort trying to be really good…  at the wrong thing!

And this totally applies to each one of us personally. We already mentioned how every one us wants to be successful in life. We want to be a successful in our work, we want our marriage to be a success, we want to raise our kids successfully and I think, as followers of Christ, more than anything, we want to be a success in that. At the end of our lives as we stand before God, I think each one of us wants to hear God say “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

So it’s really important that we know what determines our success. To use our golf analogy, I don’t want to spend my life running running the golfball down the fairway, weaving around and dodging the other golfers like a football player (and being really good at that) – when all along I should’ve been practicing my putt. I want to know and do what it takes to be successful in God’s eyes – because that’s what really counts.

So today, I want to do two things.

Since this is the last service in this building before we move over to the Hall, I want to talk a little bit about how we can have success as a church. How will we know if we are being successful? Are we successful just to keep existing? Are we successful when we reach a certain number in attendance or dollars or sq footage or new believers? What is the measurement of success for our church?

And then, also being New’s Years Day, I want to talk about what it means for you to have success in  this new year. What do you need to do in order to be successful in 2017? Were you successful last year? What’s the measurement of your success?

To discover all this, we’re going to look primarily at a parable in Matthew chapter 25. If you want to follow along in your own Bible, you can turn there now.

To start off, let’s just read through the passage together and then we can start working through it bit by bit – Matthew chapter 25, starting at verse 14.

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:14-30

It’s quite a story, isn’t it? I think we can learn a lot from that story – particularly about success.

If fact, based on that story, I would conclude that our success is measured by how well we manage whatever God has given us. I know it’s pretty early in the sermon to come up with a conclusion, but let’s go back to the beginning and I’ll show you how I came to that conclusion and you can see if you would agree. The passage starts off like this:

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. ” Matthew 25:14

Now before we dive in, let me first explain how parables work. If you didn’t already know this – a parable is a fictitious story that illustrates a spiritual truth. You could say that a parable is a parallel. Whenever Jesus tells a story in parable format, there is a spiritual truth that runs along parallel to it – the fictitious story and the spiritual truth go along together side by side.  The story is just an illustration of the truth – it helps us understand and remember the spiritual truth that Jesus is trying to convey.

So when you look at a parable, there are always certain things in the story that represent reality.  So for example, in this story, the man going on a long trip is pretty obviously God. He is the master. He’s the one giving out the bags of silver. He’s the one that calls his servants to account at the end. It seems pretty clear that this man represents God. Likewise, the three servants represent all of us. The way they respond to the master represents how we might respond to God.

But do be careful not to read too much into the parable. Not every detail in the story represents something else. The bag that holds the silver doesn’t represent our lifetime or anything like that. It’s just a detail in the story.

So having said all that, here’s the first point that we can take from this parable.

We are God’s servants.

And that’s a good thing. Sometimes we get this idea that being someone’s servant is a bad thing. We don’t want to be someone else’s servant. We want to set our own agenda. Do our own thing. We don’t want to have someone else telling us what to do.

But in reality, it is a privilege to be the servant of God. God is good and kind and gracious and generous. It’s not a hardship to be his servant. It is a privilege.

And this might end up as a wonky little rabbit trail, but you could almost think of yourself like Alfred – the butler (or the servant) of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman). You never see Alfred resenting Batman. He doesn’t resent being his servant. He loves it. He loves Bruce and Bruce loves Him. It is an honour and a joy for Alfred to serve Bruce. In fact, even if he had the chance, there is no way that Alfred would ever want to change places with him. He lives to serve his friend, Bruce.

And that’s really how our relationship with God should be too. When we realize how great and awesome and good our God is and how much He loves us, it should be an absolute joy and honour for us to serve Him and live for Him.

But to get back to our main point, if we are God’s servants, then we don’t set the terms for our success. God does. A servant doesn’t determine whether or not he has been successful – the master determines that.

For example, if you get a job working for farmer and the farmer asks you to clean out the barn that day, but instead of cleaning the barn, you decide give the tractor an oil change. You might have done a really great job of changing the oil on that tractor… You might think your day was a smashing success – but that farmer is not going to consider that a success because you didn’t do the job that he asked you to do. In his eyes, you have failed miserably!

The servant doesn’t set the terms for success – the master does.

So to apply that to the church, we don’t get to decide the terms of when our church is a success. We don’t get to say “When we reach 200 people in attendance on Sunday morning – then we will be a success.” We don’t get to say “When 50 people become new Christians here in Penhold – then we will be a success.” That’s not our call to make.

We are God’s servants, so He is the one to set the terms of our success.

The same is true for your life. You don’t get to decide what objectives you need to accomplish in order to be a success. I know its the new year and lots of people make their new year’s resolutions. Some people want to lose weight, some people want to get a new job, some people want kick a bad habit or start a new good one, or whatever it is – but the goals we set for ourselves (and whether or not we succeed in meeting them) aren’t what determines our success in God’s eyes. And what’s even better, the expectations that other people put in us – their goals for our lives – whether we live up to them or not doesn’t determine our success in God’s eyes.

God sets the goals for us and our success is measured by how well we live up to His goals for our life.

And that’s a really good thing – because lots of times, the goals we set for ourselves or the goals that others set for us are totally unrealistic! Our culture tells is that we can be successful if we are weathly, popular, or famous. And most of us will never be any of those! And so we go through life feeling like we are total failures because of the unreachable goals we’ve set.

But God doesn’t set goals like that. Look at this next verse – verse 15.

15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. Matthew 25:15

The master knew his servants. He knew their abilities. And he set his expectations of them in proportion to their abilities. He didn’t expect the same thing from each one. He had unique expectations for each servant. One had a lot of talent and abilities when it came to managing money, so the master expected a lot from him. The others had a little less talent and ability – perhaps they were a little less experienced, so the master expected less of them.

In other words, he matched his goals for them with their ability to meet those goals.

I do the same thing with my kids. I might ask Ben to shovel the sidewalk because I know it’s well within his ability to do that. I don’t ask Eliza to shovel the walk that because I know that that’s way beyond her abilities. I’m not being unfair – I’m just matching my expectations and goals with their abilities.

And God does the same thing with us. He knows us intimately. He knows our abilities and our talents and personalities and everything! And he sets his goals for us in proportion to our abilities to meet those goals.

That should be a massive relief to many of us, because so often we compare ourselves to other people. We judge ourselves based on how well we are doing at jobs that God never asked us to do!

As a pastor sometimes I compare myself to some of these megachurch pastors that have congregations in the thousands and who write books and travel the world speaking at conferences and events. I see them and go “Wow!” I wish I could be like that. But instead, here I am, in Penhold! I am clearly less successful than guys like Andy Stanley or Mark Batterson.” (And of course, you guys probably have no idea who those guys even are – but these are some of my heroes…)

And maybe you do the same… Maybe you compare yourself to other moms who seem to have it all together or to your neighbors or friends who are quite successful in their careers or even to other Christians that seem to be much more spiritual than you.

But that is such wrong thinking. That’s the golfer who wishes he could run the ball down the field like the football player! You’re playing a different game!

God didn’t give us all the same set of circumstances, skills, talents, personalities, and upbringings – I think that’s obvious, right? So why should we think God gave us all the same goals to accomplish?

God does not expect me to be Andy Stanley nor does He expect me to accomplish the goals that He gave to Andy Stanley. He expects me to me and to accomplish the goals He gave to me. I will not be successful if I accomplish Andy’s job – I will only be successful if I accomplish my job.

That’s true for you. And that’s true for our church. We each have our unique bag of silver and our successful is only based on how well we handle that bag of silver – not anyone else’s.

In fact, you can see in our parable that’s exactly how the master judged the servants.

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

Matthew 25:16-23

And we’ll pause here for a minute. These two guys each receive different amounts of silver to start with – and they both earned different amounts of silver through their investments. But they were equally praised for what they did. The 2-bag guy was not expected to have the same results as the 5-bag guy. The expectation was simply that they managed well whatever they were given. And I’m sure that had the 1-bag guy shown up with a 1-bag profit, I’m sure he would have been equally praised.

God doesn’t compare our golf game with our buddy’s football game. God says “I gave you a golf ball – how well are you playing golf?” and He says to our buddy “I gave you a football – how well are you playing football?” God’s expectations of us are based on what He’s given us to work with.

I think most of you know that my parents have been pastoring a little church out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of the Kootenays for the last 15 years. I think right now they have a congregation of 10 or 15 – if that.

Can you imagine if they operated under the assumption that God had the same expectations and goals for them and their church as he does for the Crossroads church here in Red Deer? Can you imagine what total failures they would feel like? I’m sure they would have quit years ago.

Thankfully, God’s goals and expectations of the Crossroads church in Red Deer are much different than the goals he has for my parent’s little church out in the middle of nowhere in the Kootenay’s. And I can’t speak for God, but I have no doubt in my mind, that my Dad, when He stands before God at the end of his life, and God evaluates the work he did in the Kootenays with his little congregation – that He will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant. Let’s celebrate together.” In fact, I would imagine that pastor Dan from Crossroads will hear the same thing. Totally different results, but the same amount of success.

Now certainly the world would consider one to be way more successful than the other – but if they have both done whatever it is that God gave them to do, then they are equally successful.

That principle applies to our church here in Penhold – and it applies to your life individually.

In our church we are responsible to manage well whatever God has entrusted to us. Now some of that might be hard to define but there are at least a few things I could name. All of you – for example. God has entrusted all of you to this church family – and as a family, we have a responsibility to encourage, build up, support, teach, disciple, and pray for and all those good things for one another. If we do that, then we will have been successful. If we don’t do that, then we will have failed.

And of course, that’s just one aspect of what God has entrusted to us. With all of you comes talents and skills and resources to further the kingdom of God here in Penhold or throughout the world. And we need to manage well what God has given us. If we just leave those things buried in the ground – never putting them to use – then I think, again, we will have failed. Success is when we manage well for God the things that He has entrusted to us.

Now I don’t know all that God has entrusted you with, but He has given each one of us a different bag of silver to manage. In your bag…

    • You might have some kids that God has given you to raise.
    • You might have a spouse to take care of and to build up and to love
      You might have a set of talents and skills that He’s given you to use
    • You might have a certain amount of material wealth and possessions to manage
    • You might have a passion for something that God expects you to act on

We all have a different bag of silver, and God is going to expect you to give an account of how you managed whatever it is that He’s given you. You don’t have to manage my bag – you have to manage yours.

So the question we need to ask, if we want to be successful, is: How well am I managing whatever God has given me?

    • How well am I raising those kids that God has given me to raise?
    • How well am I taking care of my spouse that God has given me? How well am I encouraging and supporting and building up and bring out the best in my spouse?
    • How well am I using the talents and skills that God’s given me to use?
    • How well am I managing all the material wealth and possessions that God has entrusted to me?
    • How well am I acting on this passion that God has given me?

Because we all have to give an account to God – He’s the master who gave us all this to us in the first place. We are his servants – managing whatever it is that He has given us. And I sure don’t want to be that third guy who did nothing with what the master gave him. Let me just read that part.

24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:14-30

Those are some pretty harsh words for the servant who does nothing with what the master gave him. Wicked… Lazy… Useless…. I do not want to hear those words at the end of my life.

I want to be a faithful manager of all that God has given me. I want to be able to show God with joy  not regret — “Here’s what I did with what you gave me.”

Here’s how I raised up this next generation!

Here’s how I poured into my wife to help her flourish!

Here’s how I used my skills to help my community and bring you glory.

Here’s how I used all the stuff you blessed me with!

Here’s what I did because of that passion that you put within me!

Here’s how I managed and multiplied the value of my bag of silver! That’s what I want to be able to say at the end of my life, so that God can say to me “Well done, good and faithful servant. Let’s celebrate together!”

Isn’t that what you want too? Don’t you want to hear those words from God – “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

And of course, I should note, that this has nothing to do with our Salvation. The Bible is very clear that there is nothing that we can do to earn our forgiveness and our freedom from sin – that is a totally free gift from God,  bought by the blood of Jesus Christ for us.

But I guess that’s like all of the things that God has given us to manage. All that we have is from God anyway. We haven’t earned any of it. It’s all a free gift and God is just waiting to see what we’ll do with it. Will we manage it well? Or will we have nothing to show for it?

And the gift of salvation is the first gift we have to manage. What will we do with Jesus? That has EVERYTHING to do with our salvation! Will we accept that Jesus died on that cross in our place and rose again three days later so that we can have forgiveness and life? Will we accept Him as our Saviour and acknowledge Him as our King? Will we invest our lives into knowing Him and making Him known?

Will we be able to say at the end of our lives – “God, you gave me so much, you gave your life on the cross so that I can live. You loved me unconditionally and adopted me as your child. God, you gave me so much – so here’s what I’ve done out of love for you.”

I hope we can all say that.

As we begin this new year and as our church starts this new chapter in our new location, I want us to start with this thought in mind: How well are we managing all that God has given to us?

What are we doing with our salvation? What are we doing with this life that God has given us? How well are we taking care of the people and the resources that God has entrusted to our care? How well are we managing whatever God has given us? Because that’s what defines our success.

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