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Stewardship: Reflecting God's Blessing
Scripture: Genesis 1:28; 12:2
Track 4 of 27 in the Transforming Story As God Gave It series
Running time: 31 minutes, 10 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.

Sermon for Sunday, January 22, 2006
4th sermon in a 27 part series
The Transforming Story As God Gave It
(Genesis 1:28; 12:2)
Copyright 2006 G. Charles Sackett

The name Thomas Cannon may not mean anything to you. You might have seen him, however, featured in a book called the "Poor Man's Philanthropist". Cannon, was a postal worker who never made more than $25,000/year in his life; was reported to have given $156,000 away in thousand dollar increments. He would read about people in the newspaper who had needs and he would simply send money.

He survived an accident in war (or a battle in war) and resolved that he needed, in some way, to try to pay back other people, or return the favor.

If you watched the paper a year or so ago, those of you who pay attention to such things over here in Iowa, the Hamann family paid the entire electric bill of their community. Small town but still took $25,000 to pay their electric bill at Christmas time. It was their gift to the town because they felt like the town had offered them so much that they needed to do something in return just as a favor to all their friends in the community. It made national news. CNN actually sent one of their reporters out to interview this family. The reporter said, "All right. So it is better to give than receive, I guess?" The response was, "There's no doubt about that. You can't out give the Lord. I'll guarantee that."

You may have known of him as Manute Bol. Those of you who are sports fans recognize that he was 7'7". Came from Sudan. Was a pretty good defensive ball-player but didn't score many points! Made a small chunk of change as a professional basketball player. Just a couple of years ago was involved in a serious car accident in which he was severely inured. Sent to the hospital. He walks with a cane at this point. And, didn't have enough money to pay his hospital bill. People wanted to know what happened to all those millions he made playing in the NBA. The response was, he sent it all back to Sudan to help in the famine relief.

It's a common theme you know. And, we're not, unfamiliar with it, even here. Those of you who have been around here some years would recognize the name of the Hadley sisters who were here, well, from what I hear, quite a long time. And made their impact here, as two ladies who chose to stay single all of their lives who made their living selling things out of their living room, their paintings and cards and other things. Who at their best, left, well, 1/4 million dollars to Zydon Knutt (??)and their Good News Production Company and $125,000.00 to us as a congregation.

There's a common theme that runs through this. It's wrapped up in a verse in Genesis 12 where God says to Abraham, "I will make you a blessing, and you will be a blessing."

Rather than trying to cover thirty-nine chapters this week, I thought maybe we'd limit ourselves a little since we wore you out last week racing through the end of Genesis. Before we get to what we're going to do next week, the first part of Exodus, I wanted to back up just long enough to pick up this theme that runs from two particular verses in this text. Genesis 1, back at the very beginning, we are struck with this verse in Genesis 1:28 as God recounts for us the creation process after having told us that He made us in His image. In Genesis 1:28 it says, God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

That is commonly called the dominion mandate. It is a statement made to humanity to take responsibility for the world in which we live. To treat it with care and to be responsible. Then you come over to Genesis 12 where we begin to see the covenant of God unfold as the people of God develop into a nation. As we progress through the rest of the Old Testament, we start with this statement. Genesis 12:2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

"I will make you a blessing and you will be a blessing." That theme runs all the way through the book of Genesis. I promise not to race through it but you'll remember these texts. Genesis 18:18 This is repeated again. Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. Genesis 22:17-18 carries this same message. I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

It occurs again in Genesis 26:4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,. . . . . . It occurs at least one more time in Genesis 28:14 It's almost word for word through this book. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. The theme of this particular verse; "is that we are blessed to be a blessing" is a wonderful theme, when you think about it. And it reminds me of just three words that I would like to concentrate on this morning.

The first one is the word "opportunity". The idea behind that is that God has abundantly blessed us. One of you was kind enough to send me a story in the last few weeks. I appreciate that, by the way. I'm always open for you sending me good stories. They may or may not make it into a sermon but they are delightful for me to sit and read, and laugh at.

This one is about the little boy who was going through the big Family Bible, sitting on the dining room, or the living room table and he stumbled across a leaf that someone had put in the Bible. You remember when kids pressed leaves in the big books? His mom called out from the kitchen and said, "what are you doing?" and, he said, "well, I'm thumbing through the old Bible." and, she said, "well, what did you see?" "Well, I think I found Adam's underwear." (Lots of laughter!)

You know you can't read Genesis without coming to the conclusion that God has blessed, from the very beginning, Adam and Eve. He walked with them in the Garden. There was a blessing of fellowship, a blessing of communion with Him. There was the blessing of God's care for Him. He gave them work with a purpose. And from that point on, everything you see is blessing after a blessing, after a blessing and frankly, its blessings in ways that you and I connect as Americans because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were wealthy. That's how we would interpret blessings most of the time, at least in our culture. And it was true for them. They had, well, they didn't have a house and they didn't have any property that they could call their own. But they had enormous crops and they had enormous herds and flocks. They were blessed people and the idea was, that they would then become a blessing.

It's hard. I understand just, at least from my perspective. I don't know if I can speak for anybody else in this room, but for me it's been difficult to recognize that I'm a blessed person. I have to stop and think about that. Because I don't have large lands and crops and herds. All I have is a house that actually, keeps the rain off, gives me plenty of room. My wife has room to hide from me if she doesn't want to see me. It's a house that I can live in and enjoy. It's a house I can have company in. I live in a land where I can do virtually anything that I want to without any kind of intimidation. I was able to get up this morning and come to church. I didn't have to worry about doing that clandestinely. I didn't have to hide that. I just showed up. You came.

Sometimes I forget just how blessed I am because I may not number with the most wealthy of the world and yet, I recognize I have all of these enormous opportunities and these tremendous freedoms and quite frankly, I'm a blessed person.

I've mentioned to you, that with regularity, I used to go into the inner city of Hartford, CT. One particular trip I took my daughter with me, partly because I felt like as a teenager, probably sophomore or junior in highschool, that she needed to understand that there was another part of the world besides the world we lived in. And we stayed at a particular place in one of the hard neighborhoods. It was a little frightening, frankly, to have my daughter there because of the nature of the neighborhood. But the thing that was so intriguing was her response to pulling the covers back on the bed and discovering that the bed was full of dog hair. And her having to decide what she was going to do about that and that was, "dad, you're sleeping in that bed. I'll take the other one." Which I said, "okay!" We went over and pulled the sheets down on the other one and it was covered with the same dog hair. Got up the next morning. Took a bowl out of the cupboard to get breakfast. Dumped the cockroaches out. Wiped the bowl and we discovered another world that neither of us had ever experienced; and, began to understand just how blessed we had been.

See, the paradox in this whole story is how selfish Israel became with their blessing. From the very beginning, here was the announcement. "I'm going to make you a great nation so that you can bless the nation, so that you can bless the world." And they decided to keep everything to themselves. In fact, when Isaiah the Prophet comes along, one of the things that he says in Chapter 49 is, "It is way too trivial a thing for you to only be my people, I want you to be the light for the whole world." They've forgotten about the rest of their responsibility that came with this tremendous opportunity.

We are a "blessed folks", and, if nothing else, we have these temporary resources. Don't we? See, my guess is that with the exception of, I don't know, five people in this room that I have not yet met, that none of us, are powerless. We can do something about our situation or we know somebody who can.

I would go into Hartford and I would look at these people who were struggling in their lives, whose world was a mess, whose streets were dangerous and I would think to myself, "why don't they just leave?" And the answer to that question is, they can't! But I've never understood that - EVER. Because see, I carry in my pocket, one of these. I stood on the street in Hartford, CT and thought to myself, "if I felt like I just had to get out of here, one phone call and I'm out." And if I didn't have one of these, I have friends that do.

I work for a school that would have bailed me out in a heart beat. I had the power to get out.

We are just a blessed people, that's my point. Most of us, whether we recognize it or not, are just abundantly blessed.

But with the blessing, comes my second word. And that second word is that idea of responsibility. Because God just didn't pour out blessings on Abraham because Abraham was a nice guy. He poured out blessings upon the people of God because He really wanted those folks to be a blessing.

There was a United Way worker who had done his research. He found a business man in the community that actually hadn't given anything to United Way and well, at least he was listed as making a half million dollars a year, so he thought this was a good prospect. He called him and began his appeal about "I see that you're in the community and a part of the community and you've never given to United Way. My research shows that your income is like a half a million dollars. I'm just wondering if you would like to give to the United Way this year?" He said, "Did your research show that my mother is living on an income that will hardly enable her to live? In fact, her expenses are like three times the amount of her social security. Did you happen to discover in your research that my brother is out of work and doesn't have anybody to support him at this point in his life? Did your research show that my neighbor just was in a serious accident and has no insurance?" And the United Way worker feeling completely defeated said, "No sir, I didn't discover that." He said, "Well, if I'm not going to help them, why would I help you?"

With privilege comes responsibility. That's the message I think that Genesis is trying to say when it says to us, "I'm giving you dominion over the earth." It's the message I think that it's trying to say to us when it says to us, "I have blessed you in order to be a blessing." And initially that is exactly how Israel responded.

When you read the story of Genesis, which I trust that you have been doing, you came to Genesis 14 and you discovered this thing that happened where the five kings defeated the four kings or the four kings defeated the five, or however that all worked and. . . . . . In the process they took Abram's nephew Lot and so Abraham went with his army and he got Lot back to rescue him and on his return he ran into a fellow who was known as Melchizedek, the king of peace and he gave him a tithe that everything he had taken in the battle. That becomes an image in the book of Hebrews for the response of people to God, "when blessed, you bless in return." It became something of a standard for Israel. That 10% return back to God. I look at Israel and this is what we're going to see next week when we look at the beginning chapters of Exodus and we'll do another one of those racing things. And Israel leaves Egypt having been abundantly blessed by God with gold and silver and cloth. And when they get ready to build the tabernacle out there in the wilderness, Moses said, "start bringing your offerings in." And then when he gets the offerings coming in, he finally has to throw up his hands and say, "Wait a minute. Stop. Don't bring any more."

I've never had to do that. I've never met a preacher yet that had to do that. And yet, that's what Moses had to do. The people were so abundantly blessed, and so abundantly generous that they just wanted to give and give and give and finally he said, "we've got enough." "We don't need any more." That was Israel. But the paradox is that they lost that somewhere. They became selfish and by the time you get to Isaiah and then ultimately to Jesus, their world is this very narrow world and they won't even take care of their parents. They had developed rules for getting around giving anything away other than their own little hoarded part and that strikes me as the paradox. It's the fundamental thing about life and it's born out in our culture. If you look at the generosity index for example, you'll discover those with the least are the ones who give the most.

Here's just a couple of things for you. The state of Connecticut has the highest per capita income of any state in the United States and they are 27th on the list for generosity.

The state of New Jersey is the second wealthiest state in the nation. They are 38th on the list of generosity.

The state of Massachusetts is third wealthiest in the United States and they are 39th on the list of generosity.

On the other side of that, Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation and they happen to be number 1 on the generosity index. They give a greater percentage of their income than any other state in the nation.

You take a look at Arkansas. They're the 46th in income and they are number 5 on the list for generosity.

Oklahoma is 42nd in income. They're number 8 when it comes to generosity.

And there is this paradox that everything seems to get turned around. There is this really fascinating research company called the Empty Tomb Research Organization. In 1916, according to their statistics, Protestant churches (churches like ours) (people sitting in the pews like us) gave an average of 2.9% of their income.

In 1933 (any of you recognize 1933?); what was going on in 1933? Some of you with gray hair nodding your head, some of you who have read about it in books, nodding your head - that was the year of the great depression and people gave an average of 3.2% of their income. It actually went up. Would you like to know what it was in 2003? We are, by all calculations, 541% wealthier today than we were in 1933 in real dollars. And we give 2.6% of our income as an average in America. It actually has gone down, the wealthier we have become.

Barna's Research says that the average Christian gives less than 3% of his or her income to the church. That less than 1 out of 10 Christians' tithe, although in research 33% claim that they do. That's an interesting statistic!

He would suggest that only one out of four Christians serve regularly in their local church. He would suggest that the vast majority of Christians are not making friendship with unchurched people in order to influence them for Christ. This sense of privilege and a sense of responsibility.

One of the things that interest me about all of this stuff in Genesis is a really kind of fascinating kind of thing that happened. Just watch with me. Come back to Genesis 3. I want to read a handful of verses to you. Genesis 3:9. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" In Genesis 3:11 God says, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" Genesis 3:13 "What is this that you have done?"

Genesis 4:6 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?" Genesis 4:9 "Where is your brother Abel?" Or Genesis 18:13-14. This is after God has announced the birth, or the impending birth to Abraham and Sarah. Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord?. . . . ."

What I'm getting at is that there is not only opportunity and responsibility, there is accountability. There are hard questions that come from God about the way we handle our responsibility in life.

And one of those places, that it shows up most clearly in the church, is in Acts 5:1-4, where God holds us accountable for our activity. There is this remarkable thing that happens in Acts 4. If you remember, the church is new and young. It's under some persecution. Peter and John have been called before the Sanhedrin and told that they have to quit preaching. They have met and prayed and asked God for boldness and God has begun to give boldness and in Acts 4:32 you hear that; All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own. . . . With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Joseph,. . . . . . .called Barnabas sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

And that sets the context of what happens in Acts 5. Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.

Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? There's the accountability question! "Why did you do that?"

Look at this, this is such a fascinating text. Acts 5:4. Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing?

Here is the fundamental principle that comes out of this particular set of passages. "We are blessed to be a blessing." God lays this stuff in our lap. He gives it to us. That's the language of Acts. Was it not yours? God didn't put any strings on it. He didn't put any obligations on it. He said, "Here, take it, it's yours. Wasn't it yours to do with what you wanted?" he asks. "Yes, what God has given us, he has given us to do with it as we choose. And in that choice, is the choice to be responsible to be a blessing. It's not that giving is mandated in Scripture, giving is the privilege of the blessed.

Ah, this is not about money only. This is about who we are, as the people of God. It's about the kinds of things that God blesses us with. Some of it has to do with actual material things. We have "stuff". Man, we have lots of "stuff". The storage industry in this country is a multi-billion-dollar industry because we got so much "stuff".

But when you get over here to 1John, he's going to ask this question. "Do you have the love of God in you?" And then he'll turn around and say, "Do you have stuff?" And do you ever see people who don't have stuff? What did you do with it. And he simply says, "If you have this world's goods and you see someone who doesn't have this world's goods, and you do nothing about that, how do you claim to have the love of Christ?" It's responsibility. He says, "blessing and responsibility."

But it's not just that. It's time and energy. It's the service aspect of things. He says that we should, literally, (Galatians 5:13) serve one another. That's a stewardship. We've been blessed. And now, it's a privilege to turn around and bless someone else with the time and the energy and the gifts that are ours.

It does have to do with money. There isn't any question about that. 2Corinthians 9:6-8 reminds us that God calls upon us to be a cheerful giver. But it's beyond that. It has to do with your faith. You have been blessed to be believers. You have been born in a place where somebody could share the Gospel with you. You have the incredible blessing of not having to suffer because you have chosen to be Christian. And he says in Colossians 4:2-6, pray that God will open a door for that message to other lives. And yet, sometimes, aren't we just as paradoxical as our Israelite friends whose faith was confined and they didn't want to share it with anybody else because they wanted it for themselves.

Stewardship is an issue of opportunity for which we are responsible and, quite frankly, we will be held accountable for what we did with what we received.

"I will make you a blessing and you will be a blessing." I said the three words that came to mind, to me were opportunity and, responsibility and, accountability and, as we were going through our worship time over here and I was thinking, about some of the things that we were singing about, I found myself saying, "Maybe I would rather refrain this into opportunity and privilege. Because it really is a privilege isn't it?"

It's a privilege to take what you've been blessed with and just give it to somebody else. Whether it's friendship or encouragement, a hand, a gift, money, goods. It is genuinely more blessed to give than to receive. It's actually a lot more fun to give than to receive.

This text started out this way. "Every nation on earth will be blessed through you" and that's been true, by the way.

The people who are God-fearing people have been the people who have started (this can be documented), are the ones who have started medical care, orphanages, old folk's homes. They are the ones who have been responsible for aid during Katrina and every other national disaster, that has ever occurred; It has been the people, who understand they have been blessed to be a blessing.

But in all honesty, if you're going to get right to the heart of what that text is about, "every nation on earth will be blessed", it's much bigger than what I can do for you in time of need. It's about what God has already done for us through the offspring. Every nation was blessed through the offspring of Abraham and that is Galatians 3. We read it last week. And not to offspring, plural, he says. Not to seeds (plural) but the one seed, "even Jesus". The greatest blessing God has ever given us was the blessing of the privilege of faith in His Son Jesus and the greatest blessing you could ever be, not a substitute for all other ways of helping, but the greatest blessing you could ever be to somebody would be to offer them that same privilege to know Jesus and to have that freedom.

"Blessed to be a blessing." We're inviting you to find ways to do that. To put that into practice. The way that happens is exactly how it happens in the book of Genesis. You start with an understanding of who God is, and you recognize that what we do is we come to Him and we bow before Him and we put our whole life in His hands. And once our life is His, everything else takes care of itself.

Would you stand with me and let this song voice that for you?