Preparing for the Party

Our Lenten Series at Bay Presbyterian Church is entitled, “Preparation.” Over the next six weeks, the congregation will be looking at the Gospel of Mark and learning about our Christian discipleship from Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ ministry. Libbie Peterson and others have prepared a special congregational small group study to go with the series. (Actually, the series has been designed around the study!)

As I was preparing, I looked on the Internet for images of the kingdom of God. I made the most remarkable discovery. Almost all of the descriptions were highly abstract, many of which involved a single individual looking at the Earth or an image of the kingdom. There’s something pretty obviously wrong with this! The very word, “kingdom” implies a king and subjects. A king that had only one citizen of his kingdom would not be much of a king! Nearly all of these graphics were from sermon series preached in evangelical churches like ours. This tells us something very important about a problem with evangelicalism in America today: We are excessively individualistic.

Too often, we portray Christian faith as “between Jesus and me.” While my Christian faith is between Jesus and me, there is much more involved. The Bible tells us that, when we come to Christ, we become part of his kingdom (Colossians 1:13), his family (Galatians 3:26), his household (Hebrews 3:6), his very body (I Corinthians 12:27). All these metaphors tell us that there is something deeply relational about the Christian faith. [1] Christian faith was never meant to be lived by disconnected solitary individuals, except under unusual circumstances. [2] That is why we are having the small group study in connection with our Easter series this year. Relationships matter. Community matters.

Preparation and Presence

Today, we are looking at John the Baptist’s preparation for the Messiah’s coming and Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Our text is from Mark, Chapter 1:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord,make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:1-15).

Prayer: King of Heaven and of Heaven’s Kingdom: Please come among us that we may see more clearly than ever what it is you desire our world to be like and for us to be like. In Jesus Name, Amen.


From the Babylonian Captivity until the coming of Christ, the Jewish people prayed for, hoped for, and worked for the reestablishment of the kingdom of David. [3] The prophets had visions of a time when God would restore the Kingdom of David, place one of his descendants upon his throne, and institute a time of peace, justice, and plenty. Over time, this notion of a New Kingdom of David came to contain a vision of a future Kingdom of God in which the evils of this world would not be present (Isaiah 40:10).

The Messiah was to be a king and his kingdom would be a restored Israel (See, 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 60:1-22; Micah 7:11-20; Zephaniah 3:14-20). He would lead the people of God. He would possess wisdom and be a wonderful counselor (Isaiah 9:6). He would be the Son of God, filled with the power of Jehovah God. He would be a prince of peace, ushering in a world without war (Isaiah 96). He would be the true son of David. He would be just and righteous. [4] His kingdom would have no end (Isaiah 9:7).

The prophets predicted that the Messiah would be spirit-filled and have divine wisdom and understanding. He would respect and fear God. He would have a spirit of justice and see into the reality of things, not being misled by prejudice. He would care for the poor and needy as much as the rich and powerful. He would be faithful to God. He would conquer the world with his wisdom and teachings. He would institute a time of peace where the lions and the lambs will lay down together and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God. He would not only gather the remnant of Israel, but would also assemble the ten lost tribes of Israel. His teachings and his justice would be so compelling that the entire Gentile world will rally to his side rest in his peace. [5]


In the Old Testament, it had been foretold that, before the Messiah came, the prophet Elijah would return to proclaim his coming (Malachi 4:5). Sure enough, just before Jesus arrived on the scene a prophet like Elijah did appear on the scene: John the Baptist. He came announcing that the Messiah was about to come and Israel needed to get ready. He came urging people to repent, be baptized and become ready for the Messiah.

Whenever Kathy decides to have a party I know two things instantly: It is going to be expensive and it’s going to be a lot of work for her (and perhaps for me). It has been my experience that any party requires multiple trips to the store to get ready. There is food to be bought. There are flowers for the table. Sometimes there is wine to be purchased. There are seasonal decorations to be purchased. There is a lot to do before the party. While I am an expert at avoiding any work related to parties, inevitably there are things I must do.

This is an especially important thing for me and others to remember this Easter Season. Bay Presbyterian Church is getting ready for the future. We just finished a congregational analysis and a new Mission, Vision, and Values statement. We have been raising money to take care of some long deferred maintenance before a new pastor arrives. We’ve been working on deepening our sense of community. We’ve been healing old wounds and addressing old problems. Why? Because we are getting ready to throw a big party when this interim time is over! We have to get ready! We must be prepared when a new era begins.

The Kingdom Christ Brought

One day, more than 500 years after the prophets began to speak about the Messiah and his Kingdom, a young rabbi from Nazareth, came preaching that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). His name was Jesus bar Joseph. When he came, he showed unusual devotion to God, unusual wisdom in his teachings and parables, and unusual power in the way he healed the sick, the lame, and the mentally ill. He also periodically made unusual claims. He proclaimed that the Day of the Lord the prophets had foretold was here. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand—and he was its king (Mark 1:18). He even claimed that, in some mysterious way, he was the Kingdom of God (Matthew 12:27). In other words, in him, the Kingdom of God was present. Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21). [6]

He also made the astounding claim that the Kingdom of God could not only be in him and created by him, but it could be within each one of us. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” he said (Luke 17:21). In other words, the wisdom, the love, the peace, the power, the eternal life, which is the essence of the Kingdom of God, can be felt in each of our lives if only we will respond to the gracious call of Jesus, which is the Good News of the Gospel. It can, in fact, be with us each and every day of our lives.

This kingdom Jesus brings is not like the kingdoms of this earth. It is not like the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Napoleonic Empire, the British Empire, even the Pax Americana the world has enjoyed since 1945. These kingdoms are doomed to rise and fall.

Jesus’ kingdom will not end with our death, for we will be with him in paradise (Luke 23:43). He also promises that he will come someday in an unimaginable way and finally defeat the foes of God, of Truth, of Justice, of Righteousness, and establish a perfect kingdom that will last forever—a kingdom in which there will be no more death, or disease, or war, or pain. [7]

A couple of times in our marriage, Kathy and I have gone to look at timeshare units. Often, the people who develop them offer free weekends, where you can come and live in a timeshare in, say, Destin, Florida for a few days, spend some time at the beach, and dream about what life would be like if you owned a timeshare. God is a bit like a Timeshare developer. We do not have to wait until heaven to have a kind of foretaste of the kingdom and experience for just a little while what God’s kingdom is like. Paul tells us that we Christians are already citizens of God’s kingdom, which is the Church of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:21). When we accept Christ as the king of our hearts, become a part of the Body of Christ, and begin to behave as if we were in heaven, we experience in some small way what heaven is like.

Becoming a Kingdom Citizen

There has been a lot of talk recently about citizenship. Historically, citizenship required that you either be born in our country or pass a test after a period of preparation to become a citizen. In other words, you don’t just automatically get to be a citizen of a kingdom unless you are born a citizen—and none of us is born a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

So, how can we become a part of that kingdom? In today’s text, Jesus tells us how we can do this. He says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). To be a part of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of Jesus, we have to repent. We must turn around, look at ourselves, recognize how far we really are from God, and then turn from the kingdom of this world to his kingdom. We will never repent unless we believe, and so we must believe to enter the kingdom of God. In other words we must believe and put our trust in the gospel that Christ proclaimed: that God loves us, sent his son to die for us, wants us to be his children, part of his family, members of his kingdom (John 3:16). Once we have that kind of faith, we must listen to God in our hearts and his word, Holy Scripture—because God’s children listen and hear his voice (John 10:27). Finally, having become hearers of the word of God, we must also become doers of the word of God (Mark 3:35, James 1:22-27; Romans 2:13). If we repent, believe, listen, and obey, we will be a part of the body of Christ and experience with other believers a foretaste of what heaven will be like right here on this earth.

Preparing for Easter

Lent is a time of preparation. We are preparing to celebrate Good Friday when the Messiah died for our sins and for Easter Sunday when the Messiah rose from the dead, demonstrating God’s power over sin and death. When that day comes, we are going to have a celebration. In the meantime, we must remember that Jesus did not come because we did not need a savior. He came because we need a savior and need to be rescued from ourselves, our selfishness, and out sinfulness. This is what Lent is all about. We are preparing for a better day.


[1] See, John Zizioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s, 1985) for a deep analysis of the importance of communion to the being of God and of the Church where he speaks of the church a the “community of the kingdom of God.” Id, at 232-233.

[2] The Westminster Confession makes it plain that, while it is possible to be saved outside of the church, the church is the ordinary vehicle by which God works salvation. Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 25.2, Governing Documents of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Constitution Vol. 2 Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, Livonia, MI EPC 2013), Chapter 25.2 p. 44.

[3] Some of the Old Testament references include Isaiah 35:1-4, 8-10; 40:9-11; 52:7-10; Jeremiah 23:3-4; Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14; Zechariah 14:9; Psalm 89. See, (Downloaded, February 17, 2018).

[4] Isaiah 9:6-7.

[5] Isaiah 11:1-12 describes all these qualiites.

[6] Jesus’ exact claim can be looked at in two different ways, both of which are a part of this sermon. The claim can be and seems to be that Kingdom of God is in him and can be within each of us. See, William Barclay, “The Gospel of Luke” in the Daily Bible Study Series rev. ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 220.

[7] See Revelation 21:1-6.

Heart of Worship: Transformed in Managing Money

Kathy and I were in Houston last weekend to celebrate a Sunday School Class that spawned a series of smaller groups and to thank the woman who sponsored us when we were young, immature, Christians. We joined the Carpenters Class the Sunday after we returned from our honeymoon. It was in the Carpenters Class, which included and spawned many small groups, that we first learned about Christian marriage, Christian child-raising, and how to manage our money. Members of that class were a part of our first Crown Ministry study on Christians and their money. Members of that class helped us with our first attempt at budgeting, tithing, and planning for retirement. We have been with each other in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in success and in failure, in good times and bad, in hard times and in easy times.

This group and its members have enriched my life in many ways. We Americans like to think of ourselves as independent individuals. We are individuals, but the individuals we become is powerfully impacted for good or ill be people with whom we share out lives. In our case, in every area of life, we have been blessed with friends and small groups of friends that helped us be faithful spouses and faithful stewards of the gifts God has given to us.

Our Call to a Life of Stewardship

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a series of parables concerning the Kingdom of God and our responsibility as citizens of that Kingdom. [1]When confronted by the Gospel and the gracious invitation of God to receive his gracious offer to become citizens of the Kingdom of God, some people reject it. Some people don’t reject God’s offer, but they fail to become very good citizens of that Kingdom. They fail to be constantly filled with the Spirit, live a careful life of stewardship of their time, talent and energy, and don’t care much for those who are suffering. [2] Today, we are going to be visiting about the parable of the Talents. Hear the word of God as it comes to us from Matthew 25:14-30:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Prayer: Eternal God, You are indeed the owner of everything and you have graciously bestowed upon us the privilege of being placed in Charge of your creation. Use this meditation to enable us to become better stewards of your riches. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Today, I want to give my readers there short principles that can help us in managing our money:

Principle One: We are Stewards not Owners!

When I began writing the little two week devotional that goes with the next two sermons we are having in Bay Village, Ohio, I was struck by the relevance of today’s text. All of us want to be “good and faithful servants” and none of us want to be a “lazy and wicked servant” of Jesus. If we do not, then we need to learn a few things. Although the text is about all of life stewardship, all of our time, talents, energy, and money, it not insignificant that Jesus told the parable about money. [3]

We human beings were created for stewardship (Gen.1:28-30; 2:13). From the beginning, God intended us to be careful, diligent, hard working stewards of Creation. Of course, because of the Fall, we are not able to fully become the good stewards God intended us to be. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we can become much better stewards than we are today!

Many years ago now, Kathy and I went through what became the great oil and gas and real estate collapse in Texas. Up to that time, we had never really had to think seriously about how God would have our finances managed. Then, my income fell, we had three and then four small children, business was not good, and we were in debt. It was at that moment that we began to tithe and to study how we could better manage our finances. One of the members of that Sunday School Class and I were in a small group Bible study together, and he mentioned to me the Christian writer Ron Blue. I purchased Ron Blue’s book and began attempting to put our financial house in order. [4]

The first step I had to take was to recognize that my income, house, cars, bank accounts, possessions, etc. were gifts of God, no matter how hard I had worked to get them. This gets me to the first step we must all take in the life of stewardship: we have to recognize that everything we have, no matter how hard we work or how smart we are or how diligently we plan, everything is a gift of God. We don’t own our lives; we are given them. We are born by God’s grace, we live by God’s grace, we have the abilities and talents we have by God’s grace, and we get the breaks in life we get by God’s grace. Therefore, we are all called to manage those gifts out of the gratitude we feel to a loving God for all he has given to us, however much or little that is.

Principle 2: We Will Never Become Good Stewards unless we Take Stock.

Jesus was, among other things, the wisest teacher in the history of the world. Sometimes we forget that he was both the Wisdom and the Love of God in human form. One of my favorite of his parables goes like this:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30).

In America, we rarely run out of money when we’re building a new house. We borrow the money from the bank. But in the ancient world, and in much of the world today, people have to build their houses as they earned the cash to do so. Those of us who have traveled in third world countries have seen many half-built houses. Jesus and his hearers would have been familiar with many such homes. In Jesus’s world, only a fool began to build a home that he was unable to complete.

In managing our financial affairs, many of us don’t take that first step of wisdom. We don’t figure out where we are, and we don’t plan and budget so that we can get where we want to go. This is the second point of the day:  If we want to become better stewards of our resources, the first thing we have to do is take stock of where we are and what we can afford!

If Kathy were here today, she would tell you that for a guy that has limited mathematical ability, I am capable of creating an enormous number of spreadsheets. Many years ago, before I knew how to use a computer, I purchased and accountant’s tablet and begin the painful process of creating a balance sheet and income and expense statement for our family. I even created a first basic future financial plan for retirement. Once we had a computer, I begin to use a computer program that no longer exists! Today most of the time I use Excel . I’ve learned it for free I can download almost any kind of template I need to plan retirement, create a budget, find out what our assets are, and solve any other financial problem I want to think about if I look hard enough. For those of you who don’t want to look, there are a lot of programs out there. [5]

I guarantee you that there is not a single person in this room with less native mathematical ability than I have!  If my High School Math teachers were here today, they would stand up with one voice and declare that I have no mathematical ability. However, after years of hard work, I taught myself what I need to know–and so can anyone else in this room.  Figuring out where we are and making a budget and plan does not take a lot of ability, it just takes a lot of hard work and concentration.

Principle 3: We Will Never Save or Give Unless we find Contentment.

Sometimes, people think that pastors are exempt from the feelings that ordinary people have. That’s just not true, especially when your pastor used to be a lawyer! This is where I get to make a confession: I’ve always wanted a Jaguar.  Like all men, I like cars. I even like fast and expensive cars, even though I’m one of the slowest drivers on the face of the planet. When I was a lawyer, I used to think that people made fun of me because I drove less expensive cars than the other members of the firm. It always made me feel inferior. About two or three years after I buy any car, I passed by a new Jaguar and I begin to wish I could have one. It is then I have to remember to be content with what I have!

This is the third and last principle I want to lift up for you this morning:  We will never live within our means, save, or develop generosity until and unless we learn to be content with what we have! In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus puts it this way:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25-34).

When I began this week’s sermon, I learned that the Greek word for lazy has within it the element of fear. [6] The lazy servant was a fearful servant who did not know or trust in the loving care of God for his people and so is not enabled by grace to live in the Spirit of Wisdom and Love. He failed to see the love and mercy, the grace of God, and so fearfully hid his talents. That is why he was not faithful. The same can be true of us. Until we can accept the loving care of our Heavenly Father, we will always worry about and misuse money.

Our society is restlessly materialistic. It’s also restlessly anxious and fearful. As Christians, we can give no better witness to our faith then to live joyfully and contently with what we have. This does not mean that we don’t work hard, plan for the future, try to earn more, or enjoy the good things of life. It means that today we are content with what we have today. Therefore we are not filled with worry.


I’ve been a Christian for more than thirty years, a Christian leader for almost as long, and a pastor for a quarter of a century. I can testify that how we handle our money impacts our marriages, our level of anxiety, our happiness, our health, and our ability to withstand the inevitable difficulties of life, and our future happiness on this earth and in the world to come, I suspect. Financial issues sit behind many divorces and other problems in our society. Therefore, it is important that Christians learn to manage our finances wisely.

Those of you that are in small groups may want to talk about the contents of the devotional and of the sermons for the next two weeks. If you’re not in a small group, please try to take advantage of our emphasis this month and next month on small groups. After Easter, you might want to think about doing a Crown Ministry study with your group or another group. [7]

Most of us think of the life of stewardship as a remnant of the law: Something to remind us of how far short we fall and how sinful we are. There is an element of truth in this. The Torah (Law or instructions of God) was given as a standard by which we may judge ourselves. But, that aspect can blind us to a deeper reality: The life of stewardship is just a part of the life of grace. We will never be the stewards God calls us to be until and unless we open our hearts and allow the grace of God to fill us with the power to be the people God has called us to be.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] These parables are: the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), the Parable of the Talents (vv. 14-30), and the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (vv. 31-46).

[2] The variances of responses to the Gospel are a constant theme in Jesus’ teaching. The parable of the four soils (or “Sower” s it is sometimes known) is about these different responses. See, Mark 4:1-20). In Matthew 25, we are confronted with the problem of foolishly forgetting to be filled with the Holy Spirit and constantly watchful (the Parable of the Ten Virgins), the problem of being poor stewards (The Parable of the Talents), and the problem of being so concerned with our own affairs that we do not attend to the suffering of others (the Parable of the Sheep and Goats).

[3] Carl Blomberg, “Matthew” in The New American Commentary vol. 25 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1992), 375.

[4] Ron Blue, Master Your Money: A Step By Step Guide for Experiencing Financial Contentment (Nashville, TN: Thomas and Nelson, 1986, 1991, 1997, 2004, 2016).

[5] Most people are familiar with quicken and other basic programs. There are so many that I am not going to note them all. The advent of tablet computers has spawned numerous apps that can be purchased or downloaded. They are all good if a person will use them. Just take the time to find the one you will use.

[6] Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew” in the New American Commentary, footnote 3 above at 373-375.

[7]Crown Financial Ministries is one of the best programs and the one used at Bay Presbyterian Church. In my former congregation, the leadership preferred Dave Ramsey. What you do is not nearly as important as doing something. See, Crown Financial Ministries at and Dave Ramsey at Each of these organizations has multiple programs for different groups.