Stewardship Of Wealth

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Second Corinthians 8:1-7

In a Wizard Of Id comic, a couple greets a Friar Tuck-type outside the front doors of the Church. The wife says to the Friar, “I apologize for my baby’s crying in church…she’s teething.” The Friar replies, “No problem…but why was your husband crying?” The wife responds, “He’s TITHING!”

A missionary was sitting at her second-story window when she was handed a letter from home. As she opened the letter, a crisp, new, ten-dollar bill fell out. She was pleasantly surprised, but as she read the letter her eyes were distracted by the movement of a shabbily dressed stranger down below, leaning against a post in front of the building. She couldn’t get him off her mind. Thinking that he might be in greater financial distress than she, she slipped the bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned the words, “Don’t despair.” She threw it out the window. The stranger below picked it up, read it, looked up, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went his way. The next day she was about to leave the house when a knock came at the door.
She found the same shabbily dressed man smiling as he handed her a roll of bills. When she asked what they were for, he replied: “That’s the sixty bucks you won, lady. ‘Don’t Despair’ paid five to one.”

Obviously an act of love, an act of service, and act of commitment doesn’t always have a five-to-one payoff. Sometimes it is much more. I have never known a person who genuinely committed his or her life to God who was ever sorry. Church membership is like a poker game; you’re either in or you’re out. If you’re in, then ante up.

On one occasion Martin Luther railed against his congregation for being stingy in their giving. From the pulpit he said, “You ungrateful beasts! You are not worthy of the treasures of the Gospel. If you don’t improve, I will stop preaching rather than cast pearls before swine.”

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. There is a part of me that wants to call you the Macedonian churches

John Wesley was preaching his famous sermon on stewardship. The first point was “Make All the Money You Can” and a well-to-do farmer in the church serving as a deacon said, “Amen.” The second point was “Save All the Money You Can.” “Amen” said the deacon even more emphatically. “And,” concluded Wesley, “Give All You Can.” The deacon frowned and muttered, “That spoiled the sermon.”

As believers in Christ, as part of the Church, you have learned the secret!
Acts 20:35 In everything I did, Paul writes, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Annually, Americans spend $50 billion on weight-loss products, $26.6 billion on lottery tickets, and give $19.6 billion to churches. When we eat out, most of us expect to tip the waiter or waitress 15-20 percent. When we suggest 10 percent as a minimum church offering, some folks are aghast.

Down in Oklahoma early one Monday morning, the bank called all three churches with the same request: “Could you bring in Sunday’s collection right away? We’re out of one-dollar bills.” The problem with our giving is that we too often give the widow’s mite, without the widow’s spirit.

During the Middle Ages everyone sought status in their titles. Not only was it an “in” thing to be a baron or a knight or any of the nobility, even farm workers coveted more exalted titles for their work. So, the lowly lad who shoveled out the horses’ stalls was called the “Count of the Stable” from which we get “Constable,” a name still given to police officers. Even the lowliest job on the estate had its titular reward: the serf who was in charge of the pigs was called “The Sty Warden” or “Steward.” Over the years mostly this word is used in conjunction with an appeal to encourage people to share more of their time, talents, and treasure for the work of their church, both at home and beyond the borders of the parish.

Giving has a history in God’s word. Giving is as old as Cain and Abel, when Abel gave his best and Cain didn’t. It is found in Abraham giving to Melchizedek. It was always 1/10 until the New Testament, then it was all.
Matt 19:21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

He is invited to great things who receives small things greatly. Jenny Lind, the great Swedish soprano, disappointed many of her friends because she turned down so many big contracts that would have made her world famous. One day a friend surprised her as she was sitting on a sunny seashore reading the New Testament. The friend, in conversation, rebuked the singer for not seizing her chances. Quickly, Jenny Lind put her hand over her Testament and said, “I found that making vast sums of money was spoiling my taste for this.”

Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. “One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch–pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one. The third was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, bulldog tenacious. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not–that it would fly–that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.

“Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth…. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.” “But the sooner we start, the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.”

Stewardship Of Time

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Exodus 20:8-11

Now it came to pass that spring turned to summer again. God’s people raised their voices and said: “Recreation is my shepherd. I shall not stay at home;
He maketh me to lie down in a sleeping bag: He leadeth me down the interstate each weekend: He restoreth my suntan; He leadeth me to State parks for comfort’s sake. Even though I stray on the Lord’s Day, I will fear no reprimand, for Thou art with me; my rod and gas tank runneth dry. Surely my trailer shall follow me all the weekends this summer, and I shall return to the House of the Lord this fall.” But then it is hunting season, and that’s a another psalm.

Many people hope to be elected to heaven who are not even running for the office. Excuses abound for not attending church. The Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia ran an ad targeted for excuse-prone professionals living in downtown. The lead line read, “Jesus Hated Church, Too!” “It’s boring. The people are phony. The politics are less than righteous. Jesus hated the same things. But he never used it as an excuse not to worship. Maybe he knew something you don’t.”

When we talk about “stewardship” we always think, money. In this stewardship series we know that we are called to be good stewards of the earth and this body. A steward is a manager or superintendent of another’s household. Today we are talking about the stewardship of the “Sabbath.” Sabbath in Hebrew means “rest.” It was the day of rest for all God’s people.

The fourth of the Ten Commandments says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. If we were to be honest with ourselves we would confess that we are not very faithful in giving God our tithes. And the tithe is not even one of the Ten Commandments. Here is a Commandment and so many of us are less than faithful to it.

The Sabbath was distinctive and was treated at length in the Bible. The account of the creation states that God “rested on the seventh day” (Gen 2:2).
The Sabbath was a means of binding together more closely the chosen people and keeping them apart from the rest of mankind. Two reasons are given for its observance in Israel-God’s resting on the seventh day of creation (Ex 20:8-11; 31:16-17) and Israel’s having been a “slave in the land of Egypt” and having been brought “out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm” (Deut 5:15). In other words, the Sabbath defines who we are and reminds us to whom we belong. It goes without saying that “rest” is important!

A Hassidic story tells of a little boy playing hide-and-seek with his friends. For some unknown reason they stopped playing while he was hiding. He began to cry. His old grandfather came out of the house to see what was troubling him and to comfort him. After learning what had happened, the grandfather said, “Do not weep, my child, because the boys did not come to find you. Perhaps you can learn a lesson from this disappointment. All of life is like a game between God and us. Only it is God who is weeping, for we are not playing the game fairly. God is waiting to be found, but many have gone in search of other things.”

There is a blessing for those who give this time to God. Three things happened to the bread [the manna] in Exodus 16. First, everybody had enough. But because Israel had learned to believe in scarcity in Egypt, people started to hoard the bread. Secondly, when they tried to bank it, to invest it, it turned sour and rotted, because you cannot store up God’s generosity. Finally, Moses said, “You know what we ought to do? We ought to do what God did in Genesis 1. We ought to have a Sabbath.” Sabbath means that there’s enough bread, that we don’t have to hustle every day of our lives.

A Christian man was once urged by his employer to work on Sunday. “Doesn’t your Bible say that if your ox falls into a ditch on the Sabbath, you may pull him out?” “Yes,” replied the other; “but if the ox had the habit of falling into the same ditch every Sabbath, I would either fill up the pit or sell the ox.”

In the present dispensation of grace Sunday perpetuates the truth that one-seventh of one’s time belongs to God. As Paul writes to the young church in Roman he says, One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. (Romans 14:5)
What Paul is saying is that it is not so much the day as it is in giving the time to God.

The day is not as important as the time we give to God. The reality is that a little bit of every day should belong to God. God may require 1/10th of the money that passes through our lives, but He requires 1/7th of our time. Time is more important than even money to God.

The Mayfly lives only six hours! It gets its name from the fact that it hatches in the month of May. Yet the eggs of the Mayfly do not hatch for three years!
A six-hour lifetime seems mighty brief, but then 90 seem short to the human who has reached them. If we could compare our longest life-span with eternity, we’d have a real sense of perspective. We’d know what is important and what is insignificant. And we’d know how best to use our years.

The oldest living things on earth are the bristlecone pines in the Iyno National Forest in California. They have endured for over 4,900 years. The oldest dates from 2900 B.C. These trees were growing when Moses was given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. They were already ancient when Christ was on earth. Remarkable they still produce seeds that germinate and grow. But man will live longer. Eventually the bristlecone pines will die, but the human soul was made for eternity. Maybe it is worth giving God some time!

Stewardship Of Life

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Luke 19:11-27

There are two mandates that God’s word gives us about life. The first is that life is a gift of God and therefore has sanctity. The second is that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore to be cared for because it is special. We call these two things, the stewardship of life.

Little Jimmy was in the garden filling in a hole when his neighbor peered over the fence. Interested in what the cheeky-faced youngster was up to, he politely asked, “What are you up to there, Jimmy?” “My goldfish died,” replied Jimmy tearfully, without looking up, “and I’ve just buried him.” The neighbor was concerned, “That’s an awfully big hole for a goldfish, isn’t it?” Little Jimmy patted down the last heap of earth then replied, “That’s because he’s inside your cat.”

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9)
God created life and therefore that which was created in God’s image was to be treated with respect. You shall not murder, was a command to protect human life and guide decency. No one was to stretch out their hand and harm another individual. Even the Koran, the Islamic holy book, bans murder.

When religious extremists claim they hear the voice of God, (whether Islamic, Christian or otherwise) they are actually hearing the thunder of their own desires to shape history. It comes out of self motivation and not divine direction. Those who murder innocent human beings are not in God’s will, but are criminal.

Should those who did this crime be brought to justice? Yes! The New Testament is clear that God allows the existence of government for the purpose of punishing evil doers. As a free and democratic people, we must use the same standards to bring those who are guilty of this crime to justice that we would use on ourselves. Before we punish anyone we must be certain beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nothing can justify the horrible crime that took place on Tuesday, 9-11-2001 and those involved must and should be punished. But every time we point the finger at someone else, three fingers come back at us. Why is there so much American hatred in the middle east that would prompt this type of aggression? Could it be that we used Afghanistan as a puppet to fight Russia during a cold war? Could it be that the US backed the Shah of Iran for thirty years for oil, even though he did horrible things to his people? It is not just a question of bringing to justice those who have done wrong, but making right and living justly with all people.

Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23) Violence is less likely when we are at peace with our neighbor. Violence begets violence, it is never acceptable.

Reconciliation starts with us. I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2) Justice begins with ourselves.

Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19) Then we begin to understand why God calls us to live at such a high standard. This earthen vessel belongs to God. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (Prov 3:7)

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44)

Debbie Blye worked in a book store and writes of her experience one day.
She noticed a man standing outside the door of the book store before it was time to open. The clothes indicated that he was Hasidic Jew. She let him in early. He said, “I want to know about Jesus?” She said, “We have some wonderful books over here.” “No,” he said, “I want you to tell me about Jesus.” She writes, “My Episcopal soul shivered because I was not equipped to tell him about Jesus.”

We forget that we live in a body that does not belong to us, but to God.
It is the residence of the Holy Spirit. We take care of this body because it reflects how well we take care of God’s Temple.

Perhaps death itself will be a big revelation for all of us. That moment in time when it “dawns” on us. “They also will answer, `Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ (Matt 25:44)

Stewardship Of The Earth

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Genesis 2:15

I am reminded of a story about a snail that got beaten up by two turtles. When he went to the police they asked him, “Did you get a good look at the turtles that beat you up?” He said, “I don’t know, it all happened so fast…” Polluting our world is happening so fast.

Belatedly, the world is waking up to the realization that when God told Adam and Eve to “subdue” the earth, he didn’t mean pollute it, poison it or turn it into a wasteland. And Christians are waking up to the idea that conserving “this fragile earth, our island home,” is an essential part of good stewardship.
We should also be aware by now that the global family is in this together. Yes, we can be alarmed by the cutting and burning of the Amazon rain forest and its impact on the world’s climate. But save some of that concern for the leveling of the forests in our own Pacific Northwest.

God put Adam and Eve in a garden and said, ‘I prepared a place for you. You are to conserve it, that’s ecology, and cultivate it, which means perfect it. I want you to make it better, not tear it up.’ It makes me wonder how we will do in the next century? Jesus said, In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1) Will we take any better care of our next home then we have this one?

In the early 1800’s Henry David Thoreau writes, “Men think that it is essential that the nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour . . . but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

Our lives are to be a spiritual calling. We are not just to waste away 80 or 90 years of our lives. Why is the spot of red in the forest so beautiful when we think it’s a flower, and so horrible when we find it’s a candy wrapper? Because we know that it is not our home. There comes to all people ultimately the awareness that this earth is the wrong place.

And that the earth is merely a waiting room for our permanent home. C. S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.” God made the sun — it gives heat, light, guidance. God made the moon — it gives tidal pull, moonbeams, decoration. God made the stars — they give beauty, direction, a point of orientation, awe. God made the air — it gives oxygen, life, balmy breezes. God made the clouds — they give shade, beauty, rain, cooling. God made the earth — it gives grandeur, solidity, resources, gems, nourishment. God made humanity, more specifically, God made you — You give — What?

A man by his sin may waste himself, which is to waste that which on earth is most like God. This is man’s greatest tragedy, God’s heaviest grief. When God set up the land for the Israelites, He gave us some insight about His feeling of the land. This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the LORD. (Ezek 48:14) In the Law God reveals, A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. (Lev 27:30)

What is at the root of our problem? Humanity has to conquer! The root of the (ecological) crisis is the will to dominate, and that this desire derives theologically from the concept among Christians of a dominating God. The tower of Babel, was mankind’s rebellion. Humans, seeing themselves in the image of this dominating God, thought they were meant to dominate nature. We forget that the earth is not only God’s property; it is also God’s presence.

The Sabbath is wise environmental politics. “Israel is given the land, not the land to Israel.” I have never believed that we were to have domination of the Earth. I believe we were set on Earth to be stewards, not masters of the created order; managers under the owner, God.

Mere longing for a better world can be a lazy person’s way to face life. There is an old story of a farmer who said lightning struck an old shed and thus saved him the trouble of tearing it down, and rain washed off his car and saved him that chore too. When asked what he was doing now, he replied, “Waiting for an earthquake to shake the potatoes out of the ground.”

Reported to be seen on a sign outside a church in Houston, Texas: ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’ Underneath it, a graffitist had scrawled “But not the mineral rights.” We can no longer afford to be meek when it comes to the world we live in. We worry about cost, the loss of jobs, and higher prices. Maybe the more important fear is the loss of life, birth defects and not having a planet that is worth living on.

I believe we can live on earth according to the teachings of Jesus, and that the greatest happiness will come to the world when man obeys His commandment “Love ye one another.” I believe that the welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:9)

A Few Words with Your Pastor

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1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

This is the Week Of The Ministry. A mother and her four-year-old daughter were in a hospital waiting room when a minister came in who was wearing a clergy collar. The little girl was fascinated with the collar and kept staring at the pastor. He noticed it out of the corner of his eye and went up to the little girl and asked, “Do you know what this collar means?” She looked up and said, “I sure do. It kills fleas for six months!”

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” Spanish proverb: An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.

We are called by many title; clergy, priest, minister, pastor, preacher and rector, just to name a few. The pastor has been long standing in God’s word. Our very first priest (clergy) is recorded early in the Book of Genesis. Gen 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

The Church has always viewed that it was God’s responsibility to “call” ministers. 1 Sam 3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.

Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Scripture teaches that God gives talents to those He has called. It is our tradition to test that call. We require the individual to receive an education. 2 Tim 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. A farmer who looked up in the sky and saw clouds form the letters “GPC.” He dropped everything and goes to preach Christ. The congregation that heard him preach said, “Go Plow Corn.” As a part of our seminary education we are forced to look closely at our calling.

Ministers have derived their immediate authority to preach, teach, lead worship, care for souls and perform their other duties from the Church and from the Bible. Apart from the Church and the Scriptures, the minister has no authority. It is God’s Word that calls the clergy person and sets the standards for the clergy.

I find three important qualities in those called to be ministers. Faith: Abraham was called to leave Ur and go to the promise land. Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so what is seen was not made out of what was visible. The clergy are men and women full of faith, yet they are human and make mistakes.

Leadership: Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh and received the best training and education possible. He was a reluctant leader but a well respected leader. The story of Moses shows that God enables the leader to be a lead.

Obedience: King David was a great leader and a man of faith. But David also shows us something of obedience. Sure, he was human and did some very dumb things, but always came back to obedience.

Paul writes, “we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it was a valuable plant.