Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post Christmas: Stewardship




Matthew 6:19-24 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.”

We talk a lot about stuff at Christmas time. The church likes to say stuff is bad, but the church so often has a lot of stuff itself. The issue is not how much stuff you have, but what you do with it. Bonnie and I were talking with a friend on Thursday and we mentioned how it seems the people who are most generous in life are those with the least amount of stuff to give. The more we have, the harder it is to give stuff away. Stories abound of rich people passing by the poor and homeless, and the ones near poverty themselves are the ones who help one another. Jesus and His disciples watched a rich man put a whack of money in the offering plate, and how it counted little because he did it in such a way so everyone would know it was him. His stuff had made him proud. As they watched a poor widow put in a few cents, most of all she had, He commented that God was greatly pleased because she gave sacrificially. Today we still encourage tithing because it provides the facilities and a place from which to minister - this is a real privilege in freedom. We have to make sure, though, that we don’t get to the point where this building owns us, where our bottom line is what drives ministry. So how do you know when stuff is owning you? What are some indications that we are getting off focus of following Jesus with all we got? Let me suggest a few ways we need to check ourselves:

1) You stop praying. When I was in high school I was on the wrestling team for 4 years. One of the principles they taught you was to fake your true intentions. If you wanted to attack the other guy’s legs you first reached and touched him near his head. His attention is drawn to where your hand is, not where your body is beginning to move to. Ephesians 6 says that we are in a wrestling match today. We are wrestling “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” When Satan tries to come against us he is going to reach into our stuff. Sometimes he distracts by letting us have a lot, sometimes by not enough. His purpose has nothing to do with our stuff for he knows it is so temporary, so superficial. It is that slight of hand he is pulling so we look away from what is really happening. And what is happening? In that passage in Ephesians 6 Paul goes on to talk about the armour of God and then these words: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Prayer is the environment that connects us to the spiritual. Prayer connects us to God and allows the Holy Spirit to work freely. Prayer moves things that don’t otherwise move. Prayer directly battles the forces of darkness. Prayer lets us see into the spiritual realm with eyes that would otherwise be blind. When we are distracted by stuff, then, we stop praying. Sometimes it creeps up on us gradually, sometimes all at once without realizing it, but we don’t seem to have time to spend with our Creator and Savior.

So I ask you not about your stuff, or even what you are doing with it; I ask you about your time spent before the throne. God longs to use you and I, but we need to be talking and listening to Him.

2) You stop watching your words. In the New Year we will be looking at 7 Points of Valour. There is an integrity in following Jesus that we pursue; a congruency between the things we believe and how we live. One of the things that seems to be slipping in those who profess a relationship with Jesus is words. We use careless words, we use careless language. I am shocked at how little respect there is for people and children in public. You go to a mall with little ones and a group of teenagers or twenty-somethings go by having a conversation and invariably it is salted with swear words. I have seen it on blogs by people who profess Jesus as Lord and I wonder what their sense of holiness is. God calls us to be like Jesus in thoughts words and deeds. So often deeds are emphasized, but what we say should agree with our behaviour, and behaviour with our words. Not only purity of language, but gentleness of words. When we get distracted we begin to forget how easily words fly off our tongue and can harm others. We forget how easily our life can turn astray by talking behind people’s backs, by not guarding what comes from within. James likens the tongue to the small rudder that has the ability to turn a large boat around. A person can spend years build a good character and depth of ministry only to throw it all away in a moment of anger and poor choice of words.

There is a discipline in life as followers of Jesus. We seek to be like Jesus in thoughts, words and deeds, as the Holy Spirit works within us. Freedom in Jesus is not licence to do anything or say anything we want. It is the freedom and ability to do the right thing because God is changing us. When a person starts a diet, they begin a discipline. They count calories. They start a regimen of exercise. And they go through the next several days or weeks on schedule. Then along comes something to distract them. Maybe it is a good book, a person, Monday Night football, a cream puff. Their discipline gets broken and one day turns into six, and soon they are back to where they started. When stuff distracts us we begin to lose guard of the little things like our words. But those little things begin to turn our life. How have your words been? Have they been encouraging and God focussed, or complaining and self-centered? Let God use you through your words. Focus on Him and not the stuff around you.

3) Your concern for others “tanks”. The passage we read earlier is found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. In the course of that talk by Jesus he touched on so many aspects of our life in relation to others. One of the basic premises of Jesus’ teachings is that you cannot be a follower of His and NOT love your neighbour. In parables and practise Jesus said the love of God will change you. From pastors and evangelists, church leadership and scholars you will hear the truth that justice and mercy go hand in hand with our faith. Tony Compolo was a guest on The Hour with George  Stroumboulopoulos and was quite articulate about our mission as followers of Jesus. He said you can’t separate the church from compassionate ministries. They go hand in hand. Jesus said we need to minister to those who are sick and homeless. And so Jesus calls possessions or wealth a “master”. I remember watching AFV on TV and watching as the little kid is dragged along by a huge dog, trailing from the leash. Where the boy thought he would be controlling the dog, reality had it the other way around. If stuff is getting control of you, it will become your master, and the commands to love God and love your neighbour will take second place to what you want.

4) You begin to live by comparison. One of the biggest problems people have in affluent societies is to live by comparison. They begin to think they should have as much or more than the next guy. Affluence becomes the gage of our faith; or at least our sense of entitlement. We fail to acknowledge that those stuck in cycles of poverty look to us with the same envy, that they wonder why they do not have what we have. Life is not about comparison. It is living as a steward - God’s steward. We are responsible to God for how we live our lives. What we deserve is based on God’s grace, not our worthiness. Let go of your concern for what others have, and look to God who has given all you need to accomplish His purpose in you.

We live with the understanding that all we have is a gift from God, and that it still belongs to God for we are His steward. He gives us these things with the expectation that we will use them not for ourselves, but for His glory, His kingdom. We get upset quite easily at exorbitant bonuses paid to people who think their position of leadership is worth so much more than the person who does the actual work. Part of the frustration is not the comparison, but the expectation that those to whom much is given will reciprocate in turn. Look around you today and issues of stewardship are all over the world. There are issues with the stewardship of our financial foundations and economies. There are issues with stewardship of our climate. There are issues with the stewardship of our environment, and the list goes on. We each have a challenge before us as this year draws to a close and a new one begins. What will we do with the stewardship of gifts and talents and resources like time, money and relationships that we have from God? This is our year. 2010 is the year God is calling all of us to put forth our best efforts and focus on what He is calling us to do and be. 2010 is the year God is calling Louise Street Community Church of the Nazarene to cast off the past and any comparisons of other churches. He calls us to consider what and who we have and to use all to His honour and glory.

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