Sunday, October 08, 2006

"When I Look at the Stars...": Four Marks of a Good Steward

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on October 7 and 8, 2006.]

Psalm 8
As most of you probably know, I’m not exactly a nature boy. My idea of roughing it is a night without my computer or my library at a Holiday Inn. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate nature.

Three years ago, we had the chance to take a two week vacation, traveling to Colorado and back. What a great trip! I loved seeing the farms and prairies along the way. I loved Kansas! It reminded me of the flat, neat farmland of northwestern Ohio.

But I was stunned by Colorado! All my life, it seems, I’d heard people talk about how gorgeous Colorado was, how the mountains left you awestruck, how the air was clear, and the skies seemed to go on forever. I’d heard John Denver sing about his “Colorado Rocky Mountain high.” I'd heard Joe Walsh tell how he'd "spent the last year Rocky Moountain way, couldn't get much higher." (Although he may have been talking about something other than natural beauty!)

But I thought all these words about the beauty of Colorado was a bunch of hype. I was wrong! We stayed in a house on top of a mountain outside of Durango. Whether sitting on the deck of the house or peering out through its picture windows, there were breathtaking views everywhere. There were birds I’d never seen before, all within just a few feet of us. We took a ride on the Durango to Silverton scenic train and, in a few hours, saw more majesty than I’d ever seen in my lifetime: Mountains climbing into heaven. Gorges where cascading rivers foamed and tumbled. Forests so thick and green and gorgeous that if one walked through them, the sun wouldn't be seen for hours.

I kept thinking, “This is no cosmic accident. This didn’t just come into being. There is an intelligence behind all this grandeur and balance. God made all of this, along with every mountain, every grizzly bear, every giant Redwood, and every killer whale, for that matter. All the planets, all the stars. Everything. Even me.”

Now, if I didn’t believe in the God revealed on the pages of the Bible, I might be in awe of all that God has made, but I don’t think I’d find much comfort in His creation. It might make me feel insignificant.

In an episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, local TV news producer Lou Grant is trying to cheer up his associate producer, Mary Richards, after she’s made a big mistake. “Don’t you see?” he asks her. “Nothing we do really matters. We’re insignificant little creatures who are born and die and will simply be forgotten. Your mistake doesn’t mean anything because your whole life doesn’t mean anything. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?” Mary burst out crying even more loudly than before.

Lou and Mary needed to learn about two jumbo themes from the Bible. Jumbo theme number one: God made everything, including you. Jumbo theme number two: You matter to God.

In fact, you matter more to God than all the mountains, galaxies, and solar systems He’s ever made or ever thought of making. Everything you do, all you say, every thought that passes through your mind, every joy and heartache you experience has eternal significance. It all matters to God because you matter to God.

The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that it wasn’t for angels that Christ died and rose. It wasn’t for angels that Christ has prepared an eternal home for all who turn from sin and follow Him. It was for human beings, for you and me.

The Old Testament book of Genesis says that while God declared His creation “good” for the first five days, it was only at the end of the sixth day, when He had made the first human beings that He declared His creation “very good.” (Or, as the Hebrew of the Old Testament has it, "Tov, tov!" "Good, good!" God declared, as though cheering Himself on for His exceptional creativity in bringing us into being!)

That’s why a believer in the God we meet in Jesus Christ can look at this vast universe, be awestruck, and feel, not insignificant or worthless, but elevated and overwhelmed by God’s amazing grace!

That’s what happens to the writer of our Bible lesson for today, Psalm 8. After considering the greatness of God and the enormity of the universe God created, he marvels: “what are human beings that you [God] are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet...O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The universe is a big place and, for better and worse, God has put us in charge. Being in charge is what the Bible calls stewardship. It means managing what isn’t really ours or what’s ours only temporarily and on loan from God. It means bringing awe and gratitude to our management of the time, talents, treasures, and whatever portion of the earth we can positively effect because they’re all gifts from God.

People who are in awe of God’s creation and who are grateful that they matter to God strive to be good stewards. Let me tell you just a few things I think that means for you and me in our daily lives.

It means taking care of what we already have. A Lutheran congregation in Minnesota has a special service every year. They don’t bless the beasts; they bless classic cars ands trucks. Why? Their pastor, Mike Foss, explains: “I wanted to honor those who have taken...the past and preserved it instead of throwing it away...So, once a year I have the opportunity to celebrate the efforts of those who, often at considerable expense in time and money, are willing to restore significant parts of our past rather than simply throw them away.”

I can tell you that we in the Daniels family don’t regard praying for cars a stupid thing to do. We bought a Toyota Corolla about ten years ago and were surprised when just as we were ready to drive it off the lot, the salesman asked if we could have a prayer together! He prayed that God would bless our use of the car, that we would always be safe in it, and that it would provide dependable transportation for us for years to come. Our daughter, married, now owns the car and says, “That’s been a good car, Dad. And that's no surprise, because it was prayed for!”

A man once asked me to come and pray for every room of the new house into which he was moving. He wanted to make sure that God had first place in his home. Caring for what we have with the recognition that every good and perfect gift comes from God is part of good stewardship!

Good stewardship includes taking care of your body. (This is a hard one for me!) When the Bible talks about our souls, it doesn’t have some milky, ghostlike essence in mind. Soul, psuche in the original Greek, means our whole beings.

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus rose from the dead, He didn’t come back in some smoky form. He came back bodily. He could be touched. He could even fry fish over a charcoal fire at the beach as He did in John 21.

Our bodies, which will one day be resurrected, matter. (As C.S.Lewis puts it, “matter matters to God.”)

Good stewards get physical checkups every year. (Which I do.)

They also exercise regularly, eat right, and get enough sleep. (None of which I do enough.)

The Bible teaches that our bodies are God’s temples. Caring for ourselves bodily is an important way to worship and thank God for our lives and for the new lives He gives us through Christ!

Good stewardship also means using our money rightly. Money and our ability to earn it also are gifts from God that we’re called to manage in ways that honor Him.

FORTUNE magazine recently ran an article about a gathering of female executives, many of them making eight-figure incomes, who are also mothers of young children. How, these responsible women wondered one day over breakfast, could they make sure that their kids weren’t spoiled brats who viewed wealth as something to be used selfishly and irresponsibly?

They all agreed to a few simple guidelines, ones that parents interested in being good stewards could as readily apply to themselves as well as to their kids:
  • put the kids on an allowance and don’t give them a penny more than that;
  • set limits on what you’ll get for the kids when you go shopping with them;
  • make your child earn money through things like mowing lawns or baby-sitting for planned purchases; and
  • when your kid spends too much money, never bail them out.
The only thing I’d add is this: Teach your kids that the first money you spend whenever you get paid should go to the cause of God in the world. That may mean giving to the local church. (In fact, I hope that it does. The Church, for all its human imperfections is, after all, also a divine one created by Christ Himself, charged with carrying the Good News about new life for all who follow Him, into the whole world.)

But it may also mean giving to organizations like the Salvation Army, Operation Christmas Child, or the Boys and Girls Club. The Bible teaches us to bring our first fruits, not the leftovers, to God. That’s also good stewardship.

Good stewardship also means managing the Christian message, being both generous in sharing it and careful (full of care) in how we share it with the world. In the New Testament book of First Corinthians, Saint Paul describes himself and his ministry team as “stewards of God’s mysteries.”

We have a message to share with the world about a a Creator God Who became one of us, died for us, rose for us, and offers new life to all who repent and believe in Christ.

We’re called to share that message every day in every way we can.

That’s why I hope (and pray) that you and I will be intentional about inviting people to worship with us on Friend Day, Sunday, October 29.

Please, please, prayerfully consider who among your spiritually disconnected friends you’re going to invite and then go to them and act as good stewards of the mysteries of God’s amazing grace: Invite them to know your best friend, Jesus!

In his explanation of the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism: “I believe that God has created me and all that exists. He has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers. He provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day. God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil. All this he does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it. Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

Luther knew those two jumbo truths: God made everything, including you and you matter to God. He knew too that we Christians are called to be good stewards, using our time, talents, treasures, and the earth to worship and thank God. May we know that--and may we live it! AMEN

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