Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stewardship - Management: What’s In Your Hand? Exodus 4:1-7 & Matthew 25:14-30

Today we’re beginning our annual focus upon stewardship. I’m well aware that this can be a sensitive topic in the church. Many of us associate the word “stewardship” with money and so folks become uncomfortable when the subject of stewardship comes up and we get to talking about how we spend money and give it to the church.

I think one of the reasons we’re so uncomfortable with talking about stewardship is because we don’t understand it. Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to discuss it and try to fix some misunderstandings about it by focusing on what God has to say about stewardship in Scripture. We’re calling this: “God’s Stewardship Plan.” Because stewardship is an important topic in the life of the church, it’s probably the most accurate indicator of our level of discipleship and devotion to God. In other words, there is a real link between our spiritual health and how we use our resources of money, time and talent for God.

Management vs. Ownership
While we can’t avoid talking about money in relationship to stewardship, there’s another “M” word associated with stewardship that I want us to focus on this morning: “Management.” Stewardship on its most basic level is simply the careful use and management of the resources that God has entrusted to us. Scripture reminds us over and over that we are simply the managers of all we have, not the owners, for God is the ultimate owner. Here are a few examples from Scripture.

1. Psalm 24:1-2 – “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”

2. Job 41:1 – “Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (God speaking to Job)

3. I Chronicles 29:14 – (When the people of Israel were gathering gold, silver and other precious materials for the building of the temple) “Who am I?” asked David, “and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

God is the real owner of everything; of us and our lives, of our time, of our talents, of our finances. We are simply the managers or stewards. God has loaned it to us. That’s difficult for us to grasp at times. We say things like: “Sure it’s my time, my talent and my money, who do you think works for it so hard?”

So let’s look at it another way: How many of you own your home? Do you have now or have ever had a mortgage on that home? If you’ve got a mortgage, you may “own” the home, but until you finish paying the bank for it, the bank technically owns it and they’re just loaning it to you. You’ve become the manger of steward of the bank’s investment. It’s the same with our lives. Until the end of the mortgage schedule when we go home to be with God, we don’t own anything. God’s the owner. We’re simply managers of our time, our talent and even our money.

Moses and the Staff in his Hand (Exodus 4:1-7
We’re the managers, not the owners. So what do we have that God can use and how will we put it to use? Something to ponder this morning. Have you ever noticed how people excuse themselves from something by appealing to the things that they do not have? They say things like: “I’m too old.” “I’m too young.” “I’m not educated.” “I’m too busy.” “I’m not good enough.” “I could never do that.” Or they play the “if only” game. “I would love to teach a Sunday school class, if only I had her ability.” “If only I had his voice, I would sing in the choir.” “If only I had a little bit more money, I would tithe to the church.”

Offering excuses and rationales for our behavior is nothing new. Moses does the same thing in our Scripture lesson this morning. The context around our lesson from Exodus is God’s call to Moses to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go. God was speaking to Moses through a burning bush while Moses was out in the field tending sheep. Moses used a number of phrases to complain about what he did not have: “Who am I that I should go…?”; “Suppose they do not believe me?” and “I have never been eloquent.”

After listening to all of Moses’ complaints, God asked Moses one question: “What is that in your hand?” With this question, I believe God was in effect saying: “Moses, I am not interested in what you do not have; I am only interested in what you do have… Reach out your hand… and certainly I will be with you.”

And what did Moses have in his hand? He was holding his shepherd’s staff. God told him to throw it on the ground. Moses did and it became a snake and he ran from it. Something dead, the wood in Moses’ staff, became alive when he threw it on the ground at God’s instruction. Then God asked him to pick it up by the tail. And Moses did and then the snake died and turned back into his shepherd’s staff.

What Do We Have in our Hands?
Maybe you are sitting there thinking this morning, “Well that’s great for Moses. But I don’t have anything to use for God.” I have good news for you then. You most certainly do have something to use and offer back to God. In addition to your time and your finances, each one of us has been SHAPE'd by God for some special contribution to the Kingdom of God. SHAPE stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality and Experiences.

One of the greatest blessings as a pastor is the opportunity to watch as members of the congregation recognize their SHAPE and find a place to use it. They light up inside as they realize that there really is a place for them and a way God can use the things they’ve been given or gone through. I’ve seen it starting to happen in the last few months. Folks in the church with business backgrounds who are using what they love to do to help the church out with finances and auditing; a woman with a passion for others and missions stepping forward to give a focus to our mission efforts and giving…I could go on and on.

Everyone has something that they have been given, which can be used by God. For Moses, it was his shepherd’s staff. What’s your SHAPE? What’s in your hand?

How Will We Use It?
Once we realize that what’s in our hand can be used by God, our reaction is very important. What will we do with it? How will we use it? Because we are accountable for what we have been given.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told the “Parable of the Talents.” The premise is that a wealthy landowner goes away on a long journey and before he does he entrusts “talents” or a sum of money to three of his hired hands. One of the hired hands gets 5 talents, another got 2 talents and the last one got just 1 talent. When the landowner returned he called his servants before him for an accounting of what they had done with his money. Both the 5 talent servant and the 2 talent servant had doubled their money. But the 1 talent servant buried the money instead of doing anything with it. And in the end the landowner was angry and he took it away from him and gave the money to one of the other servants.

Just as the wealthy landowner in the story assigned various amounts of money to his servants, we all have unique SHAPE's and receive various different gifts and resources from God. And there will come a time when we will answer for our stewardship of the things that God has entrusted to us. Fortunately, God expects us to perform based solely on what he has given us. When we get to heaven, God’s not going to ask: “Why weren’t you more like your sister?” “Why weren’t you more like your friend?” The questions he’s going to ask are going to be very personal: “What did you do with me? What did you do with what I gave to you?

Moses took what was in his hand and he followed God’s instructions. God asking Moses to lay the staff down on the ground was pretty significant. It was a huge symbol of his life. It represented his identity as a shepherd; it was a symbol of his finances, for all of his assets were tied up in the sheep that he cared for; and it was also a symbol of his influence, for the staff was used to help move sheep from point “A” to point “B”.

From this day on, Moses’ staff would not be a symbol of his life as a herder of sheep, but rather a symbol of God’s blessing upon him and his leadership over the Israelites. With his staff, he would now lead people, and perform many miracles at God’s instructions, like the parting of the Red Sea. How will you use what has been given to you? Will you bury it, hide it, ignore it, use it for your own purposes? Or are you willing to offer back the things in your hand and say, “Lord, use me”

I encourage you to hear the words of God calling out to us: “Use the gifts that I have given you. Don’t complain about what you do not have or who you are not like and start concentrating on the things that you do have, the things in your hand.”

For us as managers, for us as believers, for us a disciples of Jesus Christ, we have been entrusted with a great many things. These things are not ours for us to squander or to waste. Rather, they have been entrusted to us to bring God glory. Glory through feeding the hungry. Glory through loving the lost. Glory through the building of God's kingdom here and now in this world and in this space. If you are struggling with how to properly manage that which God has given you, come to this altar and ask for guidance. If you are not sure how to let go cheerfully but rather hold on with fear, come to this altar and ask for strength. God has an incredible blessing waiting for each and every one of us. But we have to take the first step, we have to manage well, live for Christ, and trust God.

The things that we have, what we think we own, is really just on loan from God. Because we were made by God and our lives will not make sense until we know and understand the concept of stewardship. We’re the managers. So I ask you...”what’s in your hand?”

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