Friday, April 27, 2018

Christian Stewardship - Treasure

We have looked at stewardship with regard to time and talent.  Now we consider stewardship from the perspective of treasure. 

What’s treasure?

It’s mostly our money and our stuff.

Looking at the Parable of the Talents from the perspective of money should be easy for the talents described in this account were money.  We expand the stewardship lessons to time, gifts and abilities, and other things; but in original form, the parable talks about money.

Let’s consider money first.  We will get to stuff later.  Sometimes it seems like we can never get away from our stuff, but for now, let’s look at stewardship and money.

Once the first servant received his money, did he go to work right away?

Once the second servant received his money, did he go to work right away?

What does the parable say?

It says they put their money to work right away. 

What difference does that make?

We examined relationship when we discussed the stewardship of gifts, abilities, and talents.  We looked at the relationship between a master and trusted servants.  We examine the present syntax of putting the money to work to reveal another relationship, one between man and his money.

What is the proffered relationship?

Consider that it is one of master and servant.  These two servants are master of the money entrusted to them.  They put their money to work.
Is this different than just going to work for money?


I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go is different than putting your money to work.  It is a different relationship.

The servants don’t say, “Well, the old man is out of here.  Guess I better get a job.”  They take their money and put it to work.  And as we learn from the exchange between the master and the third servant, these first two must have done more than put their money into a CD.  There were likely some investments made in the business world, and taking care of those took effort.  They took work.  But these first two servants were not laborers.  They were managers.

So this parable begins very early by presenting a proper relationship between man and money.  Man must be the master.

Today, that relationship seems to be inverted for far too many people.  Money is the master.  And Jesus spoke clearly when he said that you cannot serve two masters.  You will hate one and love the other.  He takes this thinking further and to a point that is on point for this discussion.  You cannot serve God and money.

You cannot serve God and money.
We cannot serve God and money.

God liberated us from sin and death.  We sing, “My chains are gone.  I’ve been set free,” so why would we indenture ourselves to money?

But some are no longer master.  Some have spent more money than they have.  Some have trouble practicing stewardship because they are not master of their money.  When money is the master, money decides how it is spent.  Debt is often the instrument of bondage.  What we owe is what binds us.

Paul once counseled believers in Rome that the only debt we should owe is the debt of love to each other.

We are called to have only one master.  That Master is God.  We serve God when we follow Jesus.  Money cannot be our master.

If we have significant debt, can we really put God first in our lives?

If you are in debt, how do you get out?  How do we get out of debt in America?  It seems like we have gone from the land of the free and home of the brave to land where it’s interest-free with no payments for 12 months and home of the financially enslaved.

But how do we break these chains?

With God and with the tithe.

But I’m in debt.  I cannot afford to tithe.

Actually, you can’t afford not to tithe if you want to break free.  We must be decisive about our allegiance.  We must shift our allegiance from money being our master and make God our Master.  Half and half won’t work.  Sixty-forty won’t work.

 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

Malachi 3:8-10

The Lord says test me in this.  Test him.

I have been down this road of struggling with the tithe.  It was either not enough and I felt guilty or when we gave more, I worried about bills, and debt, and was deprived of peace.  Only when I committed to tithing 10% (that's actually redundant as tithe means tenth) of my gross income did things get better.  God poured out his blessings on me. 

The word trust is not in this scripture, but to put God to the test with our money is hard to do without trust.  In fact, relinquishing our money is perhaps the most viable, tangible, touchable, and feel-able way that we trust God.

I have a financial worksheet that I offer those who come seeking help.  It has spaces for income and expenses with plenty of prompts to help people remember.  People fill it out in pencil and I enter it into the spreadsheet.  It spits out percentages.  The tithe does not go with the expenses.  It has its own stand-alone line.  The tithe is not an expense.  It is not a tax.  It is a viable, visible statement of trust.

This is the only time that I permit myself to view another person’s tithe.  The tithe is a personal statement of trust between the believer and God.  Some denominations differ, but here it is personal.

In my entire time as pastor, I have never seen anyone who came in for financial help that tithed.  People who tithe don’t need help.  God provides.
Now some who occasionally throw five, twenty-five, or even five hundred into the plate may have financial difficulty.  Giving God some of your excess is different than trusting him from the start.  We are to give God our first fruits.

At one ministerial alliance meeting, this was the topic of conversation.  The answers were the same.  We just didn’t see people who tithed coming in for help.

How do we quit serving money as our master?  We must make God our only master.  Money must serve us.  Trust God with the tithe and he will release you from the bonds of financial slavery as well.

God is our Master.
Jesus is Lord.
We are slave, servant, trusted servant, and even friend to Jesus.
Money works for us.
Money is our servant.
We must not serve money.

But we have digressed from stewardship.

Really?  Everyone talks about the tithe when it’s time to talk stewardship. 

That’s often the case and the focus is on the personal benefits, but stewardship is about sharing what we have with others.  The tithe is about trust, or at least part of it is.

There is another part to the tithe—the first part that is often overlooked.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

We are blessed when we tithe.  God does pour out his blessings on us.  He out gives us.  It’s not a fair contest.  He wins every giving contest, but that’s not what the first part of this tenth verse is about.

He says bring forth the whole tithe so there may be food in my house.

So there may be food in my house!

We are blessed to live in a part of the nation where the church does a lot.  The church is vital not only to the well being of believers, but to the wholeness of the community.  We help with food, clothing, gifts, bills, school supplies, and much more.  If there is a kid in town who is hungry or doesn’t have school supplies, it’s because his parents are hiding him from the church.  It’s because her parents are too stubborn to accept help.  We help with a lot.

Imagine what it would be like if every believer tithed.  Think on that for a minute.  What if every believer tithed?

The church would be the prevailing force in our nation, in the world.

We would have not only the desire but the means to meet needs and not worry if we will have enough to pay the light bill and the building payment too.  In fact, there wouldn’t be a building payment.

The purpose of the tithe is to fill God’s house with money and resources to be God’s love in this world.  We benefit from this, but from a stewardship perspective, the tithe fills the storage bins so that God’s people may use them wisely to minister to all the people.  We would put them to work.
Consider Joseph who was placed in authority over all of Egypt.  He knew that a 7-year famine was coming.  He had 7 years to prepare.  What did he do?

He collected 1/5 of everyone’s grain harvest and stored it in Pharaoh’s silos.  You might think that he would have collected 1/7 of the grain each year, but he collected more.  He collected 20%.  He was planning to take care of not only all of Egypt but all who came to Egypt in need of food.
The known world experienced famine.  Egypt experienced abundance and prominence. 

Should God’s people be any less diligent today?

One day we will answer the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?”

The tithe will be an easy answer.  That one is a no-brainer.  That one is like putting your name on the top of the paper and getting 5 points just for doing that.  Because when we tithe, we will have more than we need to meet our needs.

What will we do with the rest?

What will we do with our abundance?

This is where we put our talents to work.  This is where we double our Master’s money.  This is where the fun begins for we have been trusted with these talents by our Master.

Sometimes we put some in savings.  Sometimes we celebrate with a nice meal or better car.  Sometimes we fix up our homes, but the person who lives by the tithe still has something to share with others.  There is still something left to give.  There is still something left to share.


Because we gave to God first.

These are some of the endeavors where we share our abundance with others.

World Vision Kids
A goat and two chickens
Bicycles for pastors in India
Shoes for impoverished kids overseas
Water wells in Africa and India
Homes for kids without homes
The Gideons

And the list goes on, but these have all been supported with money by local churches and church members over the past year.

What did you do with what I gave you?

Many of us are looking forward to the day we get to answer that question about what we did with our money.  But today’s topic is about treasure, so let’s move on to our stuff.

Don't store treasures for yourselves here on earth where moths and rust will destroy them and thieves can break in and steal them.  But store your treasures in heaven where they cannot be destroyed by moths or rust and where thieves cannot break in and steal them.  Your heart will be where your treasure is.
Matthew 6:19-21

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I had a few dozen 8-track tapes until a couple years ago.  Every time we moved, I found a place to store them.  You couldn’t throw them away.  I mean, really, they’re 8-tracks.  They marked a time that will never come again.  I had to keep these treasures.

Occasionally, I would find an 8-track player at a yard sale, bring it home and discover why it was being sold at a yard sale.  It would try to eat one of my 8-track tapes.  I would save the disfigured tapes.  C’mon, it’s not like I had a choice.  They’re 8-tracks.

Now make no mistake about this, these were not of “collectable” quality.  In fact, they had cobwebs on them, in them, and perhaps holding them together.  They had accumulated dust.  I was understanding the term, “where moth and rust destroy,” better than I wanted to.

Off to the Mission House they went.  They can be someone else’s treasure.
I was holding on to treasures that were not treasures.

I also have some stacks of books.  The stacks are of the same books.  These are books that I didn’t write, so why do I need more than one?

Because they are stacked ready to give away.  Sometimes, I have even replenished the stacks.  I’m not talking about the Bibles that I keep in my office so I have them to give away to anyone who needs a Bible.

I’m talking about some writing books.  At one time I had 15.  Now I’m down to 1 or 2.  I have given them out to people I have known over the past decade who were writers or taking an English class in college.

I am talking about some books about real customer service.  I only have 3 or 4 left.  I give those out if I know this is something important to the person.
I am talking about some books about creativity.  I still have a dozen of those left.  I just don’t meet that many people committed to being creative these days.  But I will find them.

I don’t view these books as treasure stored up on earth.  I view them as rounds in a magazine ready to be fired.

I don’t restock these books much these days.  Unless there is a volume discount or I am after an out of print edition, I just click my mouse once on Amazon if I want to get a book for someone.

It’s sort of like having treasure on demand.

When I get to answer the question, “What did you do with what I gave you;” I’m thinking I will get to talk a little about these books.

But our stuff can weigh us down.  It can get in the way of our running our race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Let us throw off everything that hinders.  Our stuff—our earthly treasure—either has a purposeful existence or it slows us down.  The stewardship of our stuff is much like our money.  We first must resolve the issue of who is master?

If God is our only Master, then our stuff must serve us.
Do you know who learns this lesson best?  The infantryman.  The soldier who must carry his life on his back knows what he needs and knows what slows him down.

A German soldier by the name of Helmuth von Moltke served over a hundred years ago and is best known for the quote, “No plan of battle ever survives contact with the enemy. “  But he also said, “Every infantryman should carry an axe in case he has to break down a door.”

The infantryman knows the weight of everything he carries.  It is either essential or it slows him down.  The next time you see some soldiers or Marines getting off helicopters or out of armored vehicles and heading off into the mountains or desert, consider how many 170 pound men are carrying 120 pounds of gear and ammunition.

And there is always someone saying, “But you might need an axe too.”
If we have stuff for every contingency, we are probably burdened by our stuff.  We need the stuff that works for us. 

On any given day, I will probably have duct tape, bungee cords, some small give-away Bibles, and a prayer blanket in my truck.  I put these to work.  I replace them when they run out. 

Sometimes, I have a box of my books in my truck, but if I know I might have passengers that day.  The books get booted out at home or the office.
How do we know how much stuff we need or don’t need?

 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:25-34

What are we to say about the stewardship of our treasure?

We must be its master.  We cannot put something to work if we are a slave to it. We cannot cast it off while we run the race if it is the master.  If we are truly seeking God’s kingdom, then we must be master of our treasure.

 The love of money has been the root of all kinds of evil.  Paul wrote these often misquoted words to a young pastor named Timothy.  He did not say that money was evil.  We should not extrapolate from this that stuff is evil.  They are just money and stuff.

If we love money, love stuff, or have loved one or the other so much that we have significant debt, make no mistake; we are not the master in this relationship.

We are called to put our money to work.
We are to put our treasure to work.
We are to put our talents to work.
We are to put our time to work.
We are to be the master of these things.

God gave us dominion over this earth.  He told us to subdue it—that is to use and care for its resources in order to maximize the return we produce for God.

Make no mistake here.  We are stewards of the earth.  We are not the owner.  It all belongs to God.  But he has trusted it to our care so that we produce a return for him that is shared with our brothers and sisters.

As Christian stewards, we must not dread the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?”

We look at our time, talents, money, resources, and even the very dominion over this earth and ask ourselves, how can I put all these to work to produce a good return for my Master?

Consider what the Confession of Fatih  has to say about stewardship.

Christian Stewardship (From the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith)
6.10  Christian stewardship acknowledges that all of life and creation is a trust from God, to be used for God's glory and service. It includes the conservation and responsible use of natural resources as well as the creative use of human skills and energies. These gifts of God are to be shared with all, especially with the poor.
6.11  The motive for Christian stewardship is gratitude for God's abundant love and mercy, accompanied by the desire to share all of God's good gifts with others.
6.12  God gives to the human family a variety of gifts, including gifts to each person for which each person has responsibility. God desires that each person engage in the mutual sharing of these gifts so that all may be enriched.
6.13  Proportionate and regular giving of all that God entrusts to the human family is an act of devotion and a means of grace. Giving to and through the church is the privilege of every believer. Tithing as a scriptural guide for giving, is an adventure of faith and a rich and rewarding practice. The tither not only experiences the grace of God but even the grace of sharing.
6.14  All believers are responsible to God and to the covenant community for their stewardship.

May we do well with the things that God has entrusted to us so that he may trust us with many things.  Let us respond to God’s grace by becoming true Christian stewards.


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