Illustration by Matt Chinworth
In the last two weeks, I have discussed five stewardship principles that we can find in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25-30). They were:
As I have suggested before, stewardship is learning to care for all our God-given resources. What we tend to do is take our eyes off of our daily responsibilities, and we begin to focus on building personal wealth for our future. As we read the Bible, including the Parable of Talents and the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:5b-6), we consistently hear that if we follow God’s ways TODAY we will receive His blessings in the FUTURE, and if we reject His ways, we will bring trouble upon ourselves and those we love. If we live obediently, God will fulfill ALL His promises.
Said another way, if we have stewarded well our soul, time, and talents then our obedience will be rewarded. We see this promise of blessing and warnings against disobedience in a most profound way when the people of Israel first entered the Promised Land. In Joshua 8, we read how the people fulfilled a command that God had given them through Moses long before they crossed the Jordan River. In Deuteronomy 11:13-17 and 26-29 God told Moses:
And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled. Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.
In Deuteronomy 27-28, this command was again given to Moses to pass along to the people. This time it came with further details as to how it was to be done. After the People of Israel crossed the Jordan; set up memorial stones commemorating God’s intercession; circumcised all males; won the battle for Jericho, and then lost, rectified the sin issue, and then won the battle for Ai, Joshua called the people to fulfill Moses’ command:
Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the Law of Moses, which he had written. Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward, he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them (Joshua 8:30-35).
Unfortunately, as we continue to read in Joshua and Judges we discover that too many of the Israelites sought only the blessings of God without demonstrating a willingness to follow God’s commands. And equally unfortunate, is that human nature has not changed. We, also, seek the blessings without a consistent desire to follow Godly principles with child-like faith and obedience. Yes, daily obedience is hard! But that’s why God gave us the Holy Spirit to indwell our hearts and to lead us into paths of righteousness.
We also need to acknowledge that even with good intentions and our best efforts, sometimes the promised blessings do not immediately flow. The health and wealth gospel, which has filled and corrupted the theological airways, is telling us a half-truth. They fail to point to Biblical passages that give us “the rest of the story.” In day-to-day life, like in English grammar, there are always exceptions to every rule. And in other ways, life is like a higher-level college class where there are pre-requisites.
As Phyllis and I do our morning devotional time, we regularly pray for several people/families who are in our network of friends whose lives are currently filled with significant “challenges.” They are individuals who are genuinely seeking to serve God, but they are not currently feeling the love of God in a way that manifests itself in physical, relational, and emotional blessings. We both know, from hindsight, that God’s love WAS THERE for us in the deep and dark valleys of life when our emotions and anxieties overwhelmed us. In fact, His grace and love were the very things that sustained us in the midst of those “fiery furnace” experiences. The wealth of His care for us is not manifest daily, but it is always there as he gives us a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).
How do we intellectually, theologically, and emotionally come to grips with the reality that there will be difficult valley experiences in life, no matter how good a steward we are? How do we keep our focus on stewarding well all that God has given us when the blessings are not flowing like we need them to flow, or should I say we want them to flow? How do we learn to live life to the fullest without being overwhelmed with the needs we know we will face tomorrow, or should I say we think we will face tomorrow? How do we learn to value the things that God values? We will begin to look at these questions, and a few more in the days ahead.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.
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