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Living Life Generously
03/11/2007
Scripture: Luke 21: 1-4
Track 10 of 12 in the A Transforming Church . . . Lives By Transforming Values series
Running time: 31 minutes, 30 seconds.


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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


"Stewardship: It's Not Just about the Money"

I once watched a girl clean out her purse and throw her pennies away. I was dumbfounded. I lurked around long enough to retrieve them. I contrast that with Gail's mom. Gail has a ledger in which literally every penny was accounted for. How different our perspectives can be.

Wednesday I saw several people throw cigarettes out of their cars. I'm always tempted to stop them and return what they've "lost." It's never made sense to me to throw your trash on the ground. It's as if you believe the world should pick up after you. What a mess we would be in if we all treated "our space" that way.

Lynn Laughlin (VP of Alumni Relations at LCCS) picks up trash as he walks across campus. It's second nature to him. I keep wondering if his children have learned the same practice. It doesn't take much effort and yet yields a great reward.

Quincy recycles. Austria RECYCLES. Everything is accounted for there. You are required to compost all food products. There are four containers with clearly indentified product groups. All material that can be reused, is.

As a Boy Scout I visited Arco, Idaho, home of one of our early nuclear reactors. I remember them telling us about burying the radioactive waste material deep in the salt deposit of the southwest. I kept thinking, "Somebody should have asked...what if the salt doesn't work?" Really, what if it doesn't? Where will all that radioactive material go?

Do you wonder what ties these random comments together? Stewardship. Stewardship is much larger than money. Stewardship is the care we exercise over what belongs to another. In Genesis 1:28 God told us that we were responsible for creation. It isn't ours . . . it belongs to Him. But we've been given responsibility of oversight and use. We are to return it in good condition, used for its appropriate purposes, but not abused.

If Christians will not be responsible for creation, who will be?

As disciples of Jesus, we are accountable for our environment, our bodies, our money, our talents, our spiritual gifts, our time, our energy, our goods . . . You get the idea. Good stewardship is being faithful with it all.

March 11, 2007 - Living Life Generously

I drive around and I look at these left-over snow piles and I'm immediately reminded how ugly things can get. Snow is such a beautiful thing when it first falls down and then you pile it up and then it accumulates dirt and dust and trash. I'm reminded how much I appreciate a clean place. In fact, I probably have just a little bit of a, well it's probably a problem, and you probably don't want to know about that, but I get really annoyed when I see people throw stuff out their windows when they're driving. I want to pull up next to them and say, "hey, you dropped this." I've never had the courage to do that, but I'd like to sometime. I was thinking about that just the other day and somebody was driving down the road and threw a cigarette butt out and not two minutes later somebody else threw a cigarette butt out and of course, that got my curiosity up. So I got to looking around. Do you know that in the state of Texas alone, there are 130 million cigarette butts tossed out every year? You don't care. It's Texas. They got room for that kind of stuff. That got me curious. A cigarette butt, at least according to the information I found, I don't have first-hand knowledge of this, but they say that a cigarette butt weighs one gram, which means that it takes 28 of those to make an ounce. So here you go. Those cigarette butts that are piled up in the state of Texas every year weight 286,600 pounds. That's just Texas. I'm a litter nut. Can you tell? I love to pick up litter. It's a habit I picked up somewhere along the way and just have never been able to quite shake it. I walk across the parking lot, I pick up litter. I walk through the building, I pick up litter. So, please, be sure you leave something there for me. It would be a shame for me not to have something to pick up.

Most of you will not remember this because you're not near old enough, but some of you who are in my age category will remember a gentleman, you may not even know his name. His name was Iron Eyes Cody. He was actually a Native American chief. You may remember him from the Keep America Beautiful campaign. He was the Native American who was shown on television with a tear creeping down his cheek as he talked about pollution in our country. That was back in the days when the Keep America Beautiful campaign from 1961 to 71 had their slogan as "People start pollution. People can stop it." Some of you remember that kind of thing. Now, this is not a sermon about picking up litter. It's not even a sermon about being "green" if you understand that terminology although I have to admit that that might not be a bad thing for us to think about. I remember as a young person (I was once, I vaguely remember it), went to Arco, Idaho, on a boy scout trip. Most of you've never hear of Arco, Idaho. That's okay. It's there by the Craters of the Moon. It's not worth wasting your tourist dollars on. But is was, as a matter of fact, the home of the very first nuclear testing sight in the United States. And back in the early 50's, in fact 1951, they turned atomic energy into electricity for the very first time. And, as matter of fact, in 1955, Arco, Idaho, became the first town entirely powered by atomic energy. In 1961, three employees of that agency were killed in a radioactive accident. I remember as a kid going through that reactor and being absolutely fascinated and listening to the story, and I guess this litter thing has been with me a long time because I had a question. What do you do with leftover radioactive material? Well I'm not the only one apparently who had that question. A young lady by the name of Katrina just recently posed that question to the University, or to the U.S. Department of Energy. Her question is "what are the benefits of storing nuclear waste in subterranean salt-mining caves?" Now that's a bright 12-year old. You do know that's what they do with it, right? They put it in barrels and they bury it in salt. Here was the answer from U.S. Department of Energy: the main advantage is that since the salt has been in its deposit for millions of years ... there is an assumption there that might want to be challenged, but let's just let it stand for a moment ... there could not have been ground water flowing through the deposit for at least that long. If there had been, it would have carried the salt away. So if nuclear waste is placed inside the salt bed, chances are good that ground water won't carry it anywhere else. Do you love that line? Chances are good. Final sentence: the nuclear waste will decay away to nonradioactive elements before it leaves the salt deposit. Well, that's a good thing. It's going to decay to the place that it's no longer dangerous. My question is, how long does that take? Well, I was able to find that answer as well. The Uranium Information Center says after being buried for about 1,000 years, most of the radioactivity will be gone. I wish somebody, somewhere would ask the long-term question before they create the short-term problem. What are we going to do with this mess if we mess it up? But again, this is not a sermon about the ecology. It's a sermon about stewardship if you're following along in our series and what it does for me is this. When I pick up litter or I refrain from throwing something out on the street, I am reminded of my basic responsibility to the rest of the world. That you are not obligated to pick up after me. That is what Keep American Beautiful says. The reason people litter, there are three basic reasons that people litter. One of them is, they feel no sense of ownership. It's not my place, so why worry about it? Secondly, they believe that somebody else is going to pick it up. And then thirdly, everybody else is doing it. We've heard that before from our teenage children. I'm thinking of Genesis chapter 1, what most people call the "dominion mandate,." verse number 28 "and so he blessed them and he said to them be fruitful and multiply." Here is the earth, take it and in essence be responsible for it.

Well, let me shift gears. Wednesday night we're talking about giftedness and other things in my particular class. God has wired us up all in particular ways. He has given us what many people call natural abilities. I don't think they are natural. I think they are God-given, but they are the kinds of things that are kind of genetic. You just discover them along the way. It's who you are. It's the way you're wired up. He also when you become a Christian, he places within you super-natural gifts, things that when you begin to do something in the name of Christ you discover, wow, there are some things I didn't even know I could do. And in that process of discovery, what I learn is that God has wired all of us up in peculiar ways and if you remember the text we looked at on Wednesday night, Romans 12, the text says this, "if a man's gift, if a person's gift is" and then it puts in a topic, it says "let him ..." and then it fills the topic. For example, it starts out if a man's gift is to prophesy, let him prophesy. If a man's gift is giving, then let him give. Man not in male, but man in humanity. There is this thing that we think about, the common sense side of that is, and I think you all have experienced that, if you don't use something, you lose it. If you haven't exercised it for awhile, it gets rusty. But the Christian side of that is this. What I read in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 and I Peter 4 and Ephesians 4, I am reminded in all four places where it talks about our giftedness that my responsibility is to use my gifts for the common good. You see whenever I exercise my gift, I am reminded of my responsibility to the body of Christ. Now this is not a sermon about giftedness, not even a sermon about service. It's a sermon about stewardship.

I confess that when I get around you and I start talking and we sit down and we're visiting I make a mental check list as I go by and I've been trying to keep track of all the places that I have learned that you have incredible influence. It is just remarkable to me how many places throughout our community you have places of impact. It is just one of those things that I never cease to be amazed how God has placed members of his body in key influential places in the community. It's in the business world, it's in the work-a-day world, it's in the government world, it's in the school world. It seems like this congregation, and probably many many congregations, God has placed his people out there strategically in places of influence where they impact people. And in the impacting of people they have an opportunity to say a word for God that makes a difference for everybody, not just for our own individual selves. I'm reminded of Jesus' statement when he speaks the Sermon on the Mount. You're the light of the world. You're the salt of the earth. And he says no one who lights a candle and sticks it up here on a shelf or on a hill, puts a bushel basket over it in order to cover it up. What an opportunity God has to work through you to influence the world. But this is not a sermon about utilizing your influence. It's a sermon about stewardship.

Whenever I contact other people I'm reminded of my responsibility to live my life with integrity. I suppose you've looked behind our building. There's a storage unit out here. I learned this week that that is one of 40,000 storage units in the United States, most of which have been developed in the last five years. We as an American society have 1.87 billion square feet of storage space. I learned this week as well that 20 years ago the average house was about 1,700 or 1,800 square feet and today it's 2,400 square feet and families are smaller. Makes you wonder what's occupying all that extra space, doesn't it? You've heard me say this before because it's true of all of us. We're among the most blessed people in the entire world, and we've got more stuff than we know what to do with. I mean we've got stuff everywhere. In closets, under the bed, in the attic, and if that doesn't work, build a shed out back and when that runs out of space, rent a unit because you've gotta have some place to put that stuff. Every time I think about stuff I'm reminded of the other John 3:16. I think all of us basically are familiar with John 3:16, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life." But have you thought much about the other John 3:16, back in the little book of I John? In the letter that he writes to the church in I John 3, this is what he says, verse 16, "this is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." If you've got stuff, he says, and you see somebody who has need of your stuff, give it to him. You'll have that opportunity, of course, because we'll be setting up food baskets out here at the doorways over the next few weeks and allowing you to do an annual collection for Quanada and you've already done that kind of thing when we gave the groceries away and we do it through benevolence and all of those kinds of things. But this is not a sermon about using your stuff. This is a sermon about stewardship. Whenever I see people in need, I am reminded of my responsibility to live generously.

All right, I'm going to ask. You don't have to answer but I am going to ask. How many of you remembered to set your clocks ahead last night? Look at that. I wish I could say that. After telling you last week to be sure you do, I woke up this morning at my normal time and suddenly realized I lost an hour somewhere. So one of two things was going to be true. I wasn't going to write my sermon or I was going to be late coming to church. No, that's not true. I don't wait until Sunday morning, but somewhere that hour just kind of got away. But I do feel better than I normally do when we do daylight savings time in the spring because I didn't lose my hour of sleep. I would never have sense enough to go to bed early an hour to make up for it. Because you know, you don't set the clock until 2:00 a.m. so you've gotta get up and set the clock and go back to bed and that's what I forgot to do. You know the standard answer to how people are these days ... busy. Anybody here not busy? Because we've got things you could be doing if you're just, you know, don't have anything to do, let us know. I'm sure we can find some. It just seems like the longer we're here the more involved we... did you know that in...some of you don't remember this, 1910, well all right, none of you remember this, the average person slept nine hours a night back in 1910. I assume that's because, you know, no sense wasting kerosene and candles to stay up in the dark. By 1975, something more of you would remember, that was down to 7.5 hours. In 2002, they took a poll. We're down to 6.9 hours a night and if you happen to be a shift worker, you average 5 hours a night of sleep. No wonder we're tired. The average American spends 2.5 hours a day watching television, only 20 minutes exercising, and less than 8 minutes a day either volunteering their time or doing something to enhance their spiritual development. But this is not a sermon about time management. Could be because the Bible certainly talks about that and God gave us Sabbath to remind us that time was valuable and rest was important. But it's not about time. It's about stewardship. Every time I consider my schedule I am reminded that I need to live my life intentionally.

Last week we talked about family. Well, within the last week or two we've talked about family. I've lost track of time. How we want to influence the next generation so I don't want to say a lot about that but what I recognize is that the family, the place where I spend the bulk of my time, my wife and my children, that's the place of my greatest influence. For good or ill, that's true. But since we already preached about that, I'm not going to return to it. This really isn't, even if I did, it wouldn't be a sermon about marriage and parenting. It's a sermon that has something to do with stewardship. But every time I think of my family I'm reminded of my responsibility to live graciously.

What about our finances? You can't talk about stewardship and not have those come up. We've been doing Financial Peace University around here now for the last, I don't know, two, three, four years, and it's amazing to me when I hear the reports of how much debt we have. You know, 30 or 40 family units come together to go through Financial Peace University and they count up all the debt that they have and it comes up somewhere near $800,000 or $900,000. And so we've pushed it to the teenagers and said here, let's see if we can help you before you get here. See if we can cut that number down by getting ahead of the curve. You know and I know that finance occupies more of our time than any other single thing. It may not occupy more of your conscious time, but finances actually occupy more of your time than any other single thing because you spend so much time earning it, and then so much time spending it, and then so much time trying to earn enough to pay for what you've already spent, that it's just a part of who we are. And yet really, this is not a sermon about money. It is a sermon about stewardship.

So when you came in, you should have been given two cents. Somebody already beat you to it. You're going to get your two cents' worth today no matter what else happens, you'll at least get that. Luke 21 is the story of a woman with two small coins. Two small copper coins. They look a bit like what's up on the screen. They are not worth much, oh, I'm sorry earlier.... No, don't change it. I thought that was still up there. Earlier for the song slides there were pictures of coins. Those are Roman mites and they are virtually worthless. But they were everything that she had. I want you to look at Luke 21. We're not going to spend a great deal of time there, but just take a look at Luke 21. Look at those first four verses and just catch in your heart the contrast of what's going on in this particular text. Because this, I think, helps us understand something about stewardship. Not just about fiscal responsibility, not just about what you give when you come to church, but about the overarching image of what it means to be a steward. Luke 21 starts in verse1, he says "As he look up Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. I tell you the truth, he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others." Now Jesus was a lousy economist. If you think about this strictly from a fiscal perspective, obviously he didn't know how to count because the rich were obviously giving a great deal more than two small coins. He says in verse 4 all these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on. I just find that utterly amazing. That you would come in an act of worship before God, take the only thing that you possessed, and give it away. I don't know many people like that. I never see one when I look in the mirror. You know, I read that story again, I've read it I don't know how many times, but I read it again and I was reminded of one person in particular. I cannot read that story and not think of her. She died in September 1997 with very little fanfare because so much other attention was being given to another person who died the same time. While most of the world had its television channels and its cameras pointed at Paris thinking about the death of Diana, a humble Albanian nun named Theresa died in Calcutta. Mother Theresa went as an 18-year old to India to teach children how to read and she became so captured by the poor that at the age of 35 she moved in to the worst slum in the world and started a hands-on ministry to the poor. She was 35 years old when she went there. She never left. That's where she died some 60 years later. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the poor. Do you know what she wore to pick up her prize? A $1 sari from India. Do you know what the banquet cost to host the Nobel laureates that night? $6,000. That's cheap in the 1970's. Today I don't know what that would have been. Do you know what she wanted? Give the money to the poor who need it.

What I want you to hear is that stewardship is not an act of what you do just with your finances. Finances are nothing more than a reflection of what's going on in your heart. And when you come before God and you give out of your abundance and you can do that and have it not even affect whether you do something this afternoon for lunch, it probably was not a profoundly sacrificial gift. I'm not suggesting every gift has to be sacrificial. What I'm suggesting is that stewardship is an act of the heart. It's when you recognize that what you have isn't yours and that you've been given the responsibility to simply be a faithful caretaker of somebody else's material. Now that's true whether it's the environment, or your influence, or your family, or your time, or your energy, or your money. It all belongs to God. And the only request that he makes of you is that you handle it faithfully. That's the only requirement given in scripture to a steward. I Corinthians, a steward should be found faithful. And so whatever God gives you, he simply says use this appropriately, use it faithfully, do with it that which you believe I want you to do with it. And if as the widow you feel compelled to throw it all the offering, then do it because that's faithfulness before God. And if you believe that today you don't need to put anything in the offering, then don't. If you believe that that's being faithful with what God has given you. The challenge today is not to talk to you about how much you give. The challenge today is to talk about who owns what and in whom you trust.

You saw the article in the paper, right? I don't know how you could have missed it. It made great news all over the world. I checked this morning and I found newspapers from almost every continent carrying the story that we have finally accomplished what those who wanted to accomplish this attempted to do. We have so marginalized God in our society, we have now put him on the rim of our dollars rather than on the face. I've seen them. It's so fine that you have to have the angle just right before you can even see "In God We Trust." But you know what happened. The Denver and Philadelphia mints forgot it. And so out there in our society there are a whole bunch of coins that are missing "In God We Trust." They'll become collectors' items. They're worth about $50. In case you happen to have one, let us know before you put in the offering. We don't want to give it away. Do you know what it says when you come to an offering? Do you know what it says when you bend over and pick up litter? Do you know what it says when you take something of yours and you give it to the Salvation Army or a poor person on the street or a neighbor who is in need? Do you know what it says when you evaluate the way you use your time and you make sure you use it well? Do you know what it says when you use your influence to impact the world for Christ? Do you know what it says? It says in God we trust. Not in ourselves, in God we trust.

This morning you were handed two copper coins. They were an attempt to help you remember that as a congregation, one of our core values is this. We value the responsibility that God gives us to take care of everything that he places at our hands....everything. I think that responsibility is the key word as a characteristic of a disciple of Jesus. We're simply responsible. We're responsible in the way that we handle what God puts at our disposal, no matter what that happens to be. Now when I look at the life of Jesus, one of the things that I discover is that Jesus was a faithful steward. He used what God gave him wisely and correctly and faithfully, and he lived his life generously.

Now you have two options. Well, you have lots of options, you can do anything you want. But the two options I want to present to you are these: you can take those two coins and you can stick them in your pocket and you can carry them with you for awhile and just every time you put your hand in your pocket, remember it. Just a reminder that I am responsible for my world. I am responsible for what God gave me. Or as an act of worship this morning you can place those two coins in the offering to remind you what that widow did that day when she came before God and her announcement I trust God when I can't trust anything else.

Now it's going to be a different kind of offering. There are baskets up here at the front, over there, in the back, and over there. They look like this. We're going to ask you to simply bring your offering, put it in one of the baskets as an act of worship, the worship team will be singing while you do that, and then you can go back and be seated and we'll go forward with our service. We want this to be a conscious time for you in an act of worship to simply bring your offering to the Lord and to give it to him as a statement that you trust in him and you take seriously your responsibility to be faithful with everything that he's placed in your hands. Feel free to come while the team sings.

*Transcribed by PU4*