Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ownership / Stewardship


(Gathering Meditation:     30 Day In-Home-Trial.
       Lord, I stood with one foot in the door.  I heard you calling me and I wanted to answer, “Here am I!”  My heart cried out, “I believe!”  However my mind was full of doubts.  Your promises seemed too good to be true: Salvation, Life eternal, Be born again as a child of God, Become a new creation – the old passwd away and everything new!  I’ve heard promises before.  I’ve been betrayed before.  It hurts so much to trust and have that trust broken.  How could I trust You, O Lord?  You answered, “Bring one-tenth of your income into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I won’t open the windows of heaven for you and flood you with blessings.”  Really?  I could test You?  When you kept this promise, then I knew that I can trust You to keep your other promises.  I’ve put you to the test with my tithe as you command and I’ve proven that you are trustworthy.  I believe your other promises!
Based on Malachi 3:10)



Message             “Ownership / Stewardship”          Tom Williams      
  “He is no fool who gives what he can not keep to gain what he can not loose.”  I heard this quote last Sunday and it seemed to fit well with the message for today.
        Next week is Consecration Sunday for our church and we’ll be hearing about financial stewardship.  Financial support is one of the ways that we can support God’s work in the world and is an important part of being a good steward.
In the Biblical stories about stewards they are commonly slaves or servants that are given responsibility over a task or a piece of property.  Think of the three slaves who were given talents/money by their master before he left for a foreign country.  Two of the slaves put the money to work and earned additional income on it.  They were called ‘good’ and given rewards.  The one who only protected the money by burying it gave back to the master exactly what had been entrusted to him.  He was condemned by his master and the little that he had been given was taken away from him. 
        It is important to remember that this is given as an example for us to follow.  We are to take what we are given by God and put it to use for His good.
        Okay, so then the question is, “What belongs to God and what belongs to us?”  Do you remember what was in your hands the day you were born? That’s right, nothing!  That is what you truly own in this world, nothing! 
We often give a dedication prayer after the offering that says, “Of Thy own have we given Thee, O Lord.”  How often do we consider the truth of that statement?  How often do we realize that nothing on this earth is ours to keep?   How often do we realize that we are only tenants and not owners?  When do we admit to ourselves that we are only stewards of God’s world?
        I’m reminded of a story about the old-time farmer who sat down to eat and said this prayer, “Thank you Lord for this bread that I baked from flour that I ground from the seed I harvested from the wheat that  I grew in the field that  I planted on the land  I cleared of rocks with which I built the hearth to bake the bread.”  With his lips he may have said, “Thank You Lord.”  But in his heart he was feeling that he had done everything himself. 
        Perhaps the farmer should have been praying, “Thank You, Lord for this bread. Thank you from the wisdom to make flour ground from seeds you created.  Thank you for the rich soil you provided, and for the sun and rain in their seasons that caused the wheat to grow.  Thank you for the strength to work the soil and build the hearth.  Thank you for the health to eat the bread full of the nutrients you placed there, O Lord.  Thank You for this time of rest and refreshment in which to enjoy this bread. Amen.”
        Our Bible readings from the old and new testaments deal with a couple of good stewards, Moses and Paul.
        In our Hebrew Bible reading, we see the end of the journey for Moses.  It is recorded that Moses saw God face to face and that there has never been another like him.  Moses has brought his people to the Promised Land (for the second time).    Remember that it did not take forty years for the Israelites to reach the Promise Land.  It only took a few months to get there the first time.  But they refused to go in.  God gave it to them but they did not accept the gift.  Because of that, God had them wander in the desert until that whole generation died. Now they are back and ready to go in.
God has given the land to the Israelites.  They will still have to secure it because other tribes and other nations have claimed it as there own.  It is a gift but they have to take it.  This gift of God’s is much like our salvation which is a free gift but unless we accept it and use it, it makes no difference in our lives.  The Israelites were to conquer the land and use it for God’s purpose.  In other words, they were stewards of the land – not the owners.
        In our New Testament reading, Paul points out to his readers that, although he as an apostle of Christ and he had a right to be rewarded for his service, he had not come to them with flattering words not tried to trick them out of their money.  He had come as a steward declaring the love of God in Christ to them.  So that they could also become stewards of God’s plan.
        Jesus has a lot to say in his many parables about stewards and servants and slaves.  Some are bad stewards and they lose their jobs, possessions, and sometimes their lives.  Some are good stewards and they are rewarded and promoted and praised!.  There is a common beginning to all the stories of stewards: at the start, all of them are trusted to carry out the commands and wishes of the master.  By their actions their hearts are revealed to be either trustworthy or not.
        Invariably the trouble with the bad stewards is that they forget who the true owner is.  They begin to think that what they manage belongs to them.  That is a dangerous mindset.  “Mine, mine, mine!” cries the little child within us.
        The good steward is always shown as the one who obeys the master’s wishes.  But more than that, the good steward is one who begins to think like the master – to have the same heart as the master - and to anticipate what the master wants - without having to be told.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
        That brings me to my own story.
        I know that many people give financially to God’s work because they believe in God.  That is certainly not unusual.  However, my story about giving is a little different.  I believe in God because I gave.  Did you read the “Gathering Meditation” this morning?  That is basically MY story.
After years of disbelief, I had been asked bluntly if I believed that Jesus died for me.  I started attending church.  I listened to the preacher and the Sunday school teacher talk about the promises of God.  My emotions were stirred, or as Wesley said, “My heart was strangely warmed.”  It was obvious that these Christians had something that I didn’t.  I was drawn to it.
And yet my mind was cynical.  Certainly I was too smart to fall for this foolishness no matter how attractive it was!  What I needed was a thirty-day-money-back-guarantee.  I needed some way to ‘try out’ this God thing.
That’s when I came across Malachi 3:10 which says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
Really?  I could put God to the test?  Wow! Here was my guarantee.  
I took God’s challenge and started to tithe.  It was not an easy step for me.  I had precious little ‘spare’ money.  I thought it a good week when I still had money left before the next paycheck came.  But I quickly learned that God didn’t want my ‘spare’ money.  God wanted the ‘first fruits’.  He wanted His 10% off the top.
Okay, so this was His challenge.  If I was going to really put Him to the test, I had to follow his plan.  So I did.  I was so surprised to find money left at the end of the first month that I put it aside and didn’t spend it.  The next month I had more money left. 
        This did NOT MAKE SENSE!  And THAT was the big lesson that I learned: this God stuff does not make sense, because God’s wisdom is foolishness to men. 
You see a good steward has that child-like faith that believes what God says, - He will do.  Being a good steward requires an attitude change and in the way we think about
‘our“ possessions.
        I’ll admit that it has not always been easy and sometimes I have not proven to be as faithful as I want to be.  However, God has continued to be faithful to me.
        Now here is a question for us.
Why does God say bring our tithes that there may be food in my storehouse?  Why does God want our tithes?  Not for Himself, certainly, it all belongs to Him anyway!  It is because it is one way that God expresses His love for us, His children.  It gives us a chance to share, to be in partnership with the Almighty
Here is that same question turned around. Why should we bring our tithes into God’s storehouse?
I was given this United Methodist Publication entitled “Why We Give” and it says that, “Christians give through their churches for many reasons, including – but not limited to – the following:
        Because God first gave to us
        Because we love God
        Because it is what Christians do
        Because it is what United Methodists do
        To make ministry and mission happen
 Because, together, we can do what no one individual or    
 congregation can do separately

Remember, God does NOT need our money.  He does, however, want us to be good stewards and share in the joy of giving.  For giving is Godlike. 
Here ends the lesson.
 Amen

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