Sermon 11-01-15: “The Risk-Taker and the Scaredy-Cat”

November 2, 2015

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This is a sermon on the biblical understanding of stewardship: “Stewardship means that you always have a why. It means that there’s a reason why you were put on this earth: why you have what you have, why you are what you are, why you do what you do. Stewardship means you live your life like the Daniel Murphys of the world, not for yourself but for Jesus Christ and his glory!”

As I say in my sermon, stewardship is much more than what we do with our money. But it isn’t less than what we do with it, either! Are you a faithful steward?

Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

If you follow the NFL, chances are you’re not a New England Patriots fan—I mean, unless you happen to be from the Boston area or New England. The Patriots are just too good, Tom Brady is too good, and their “evil genius” coach, Bill Belichick, is too good. And they’re all too good at cheating! Mostly, we’re tired of them winning Super Bowls all the time. Given how they’re playing this year, they’ll probably once again be contending for yet another championship.

Vladimir Putin admiring his new Super Bowl ring.

Vladimir Putin admiring his new Super Bowl ring.

With this in mind, none of us was very sympathetic back in 2012, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft revealed to the world that Russian president Vladimir Putin stole one of Kraft’s $25,000 Super Bowl rings. It’s true! But don’t feel too bad: Kraft has three more where that came from! But it’s true: back in 2005, when Kraft was visiting Putin at the Kremlin, he made the mistake of showing the Russian leader one of his Super Bowl rings. Kraft took it out and handed it to the Russian leader, who put it on his finger and said, “I could kill someone with this ring”—because it was so massive. Then, according to Kraft, Putin put in in his pocket, his KGB guys surrounded him, and they walked out—with Kraft’s ring! It even had Bob Kraft’s name engraved on it!

Kraft talked to the State Department, and they encouraged him, in the interest of U.S.-Russian relations and so as not to start World War III, to lie and say that he gave it to Putin as a gift. But Kraft finally broke his silence in 2012.

But my point is, Kraft did give Putin his ring—temporarily, to borrow for a few moments. He intended for Putin to use it for a few moments, put it on his finger, admire it. But he did not intend for Putin, once he took possession of it, to act as if this ring belonged to him!

Brothers and sisters, isn’t this what we’re tempted to do—what we too often do—when it comes to stewardship. Our church, as you know, is in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign. Stewardship is not a word that has much meaning outside of church, and if you didn’t grow up in church, you may not even know what it means. A “steward” is someone who manages finances, possessions, property, or real estate on behalf of someone else. The three servants in today’s scripture, for example, are “stewards”: their master leaves them his money to manage while he’s away on a trip—money that doesn’t belong to them.

Stewardship describes a Christian’s relationship to all the good things that God has given us.

And what does that include? Everything. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” David says in Psalm 24, “the world and those who dwell therein.”[1] “What do you have,” Paul says, “that you did not receive. And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it.”[2] “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” James says, “coming down from the Father of lights.”

Everything we have comes from God. And we’re supposed to use it—for his purposes, for his kingdom, for his glory.

There’s a high-profile athlete who understands this very well: Daniel Murphy, National League All-Star and New York Mets second-baseman. Even though last night in the World Series, he committed an error that cost his team the lead, up to this point he’s played an important role in leading the Mets to the World Series. He batted .288 this season. His strikeout percentage is the lowest in the Majors. His swing-and-miss rate is second lowest: he knows how to hit the ball!

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But more importantly, Daniel Murphy knows why he hits the ball! He told the New York Times a few weeks ago, “I’m playing for Christ’s glory.” Isn’t that awesome?

Brothers and sisters, do you know why you do what you do? If you are a Christian, you should! Because if you’re a Christian, you’re supposed to be a steward, and if you’re a steward, you’re supposed to understand that everything you do is for Christ’s glory.

So if you work for an airline, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you teach school, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you work as a nurse, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you work in law enforcement, do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you’re in accounting, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you’re in sales, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you study hard in school as a student, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you stay home and raise your family, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory. If you’re retired, which enables you to invest more of your time in volunteering and serving, to invest more time in the lives of your family and loved ones, why do you do it? For Christ’s glory.

The point is, stewardship means that you always have a why. It means that there’s a reason why you were put on this earth: why you have what you have, why you are what you are, why you do what you do. Stewardship means you live your life like Daniel Murphy, not for yourself but for Jesus Christ and his glory.

Listen to the ways that the New York Times article says that Murphy glorifies Christ: First, it says that he shares the gospel frequently with his teammates.

[He] gives a regular speech to the Mets’ minor leaguers about faith and accountability. On road trips, he organizes the Mets’ Bible study sessions in his hotel room. When various Mets players gather for a chapel session, Murphy is a regular participant and asks his teammates that they pray for him to be a better father and husband.

“Pray that I’ll seek holiness, not base hits,” he says. “Though,” he said, grinning, “I will take [base hits, too].”

It sounds like Murphy is doing exactly what the five-talent servant is doing in today’s parable. A talent, by the way, is 75 pounds of coins or precious metals that equals about 20 years’ worth of income for an average worker—hundreds of thousands of dollars: But like the good servants in this parable, Murphy has been given these talents by his Master, Jesus Christ, and he’s going out and putting them to use, investing them, multiplying them for the sake of God’s kingdom.

He’s a great example for us, except… there’s probably this small part of ourselves that thinks, “It’s easier for him than for me… He’s been given so much! He’s a world-class athlete. He’s a celebrity. He’s got hundreds of thousands of people who adore him, and respect him, and listen to him because of his talent. He gives interviews on TV, in magazines, in newspapers. He’s got this great platform from which he can share the gospel and bear witness to his faith and glorify Jesus Christ. What do I have in comparison to him? I don’t have those advantages, those privileges, those opportunities! What can I do… in my career, in my life? I don’t have nearly as many talents to work with as he does!”

After all, assuming you’re not a pastor, you probably spend no more than four or five hours at church every week—at most. I hope you spend some time every day praying and reading scripture. But if you add all this God-related time up, church-related time up, it still doesn’t come close to the amount of time you spend working every day—doing everything else that you have to do in life to make ends meet. So you end up devoting this tiny sliver of time to your Christian life and this giant chunk of time to the rest of your life. Yet somehow the Bible tells us that that our entire life belongs to God; that God is in charge of every part of our lives; that we owe every moment of our lives to God; that everything we do is supposed to be for his glory.

Are we doing something wrong? How do we reconcile this relatively small amount of time we devote to God each week with the amount of time we devote to everything else in our lives?

First, by changing the way we think about how we spend most of our time.

Years ago I had a friend who was an assistant manager of a sub sandwich shop. This was not a dream job for her, but she needed to pay the bills, so she took this job. Some years earlier, after a near-fatal accident and the death of one of her children, she became addicted to prescription pain-killers. Her life spiraled out of control. Her husband divorced her. She lost custody of her children. But she found Jesus; she went into a recovery program; she got clean; and she worked hard to rebuild her life. And when I knew her, she was starting over—at the bottom. Working at this fast-food place.

But she had a great attitude about it. She told me that of course nearly anyone can do the work itself, but she said that, to her, it’s about so much more than the physical work of making sandwiches. She said, “I’ve got three minutes to make a difference in someone’s life”—because three minutes is how long it takes to serve a customer from start to finish. But she has three minutes, she said, to make someone’s life a little better, three minutes to help someone who might be going through a tough time, three minutes to be a blessing to someone.”

Isn’t that great? What an opportunity to love and serve other people! What an opportunity to love her neighbor as herself! What an opportunity to serve the Lord! Yet she would be the first one to admit that she was only a one-talent servant at best—yet look at how she was putting that talent to work.

Or I’m thinking of a professor I had at Georgia Tech, Dr. Whit Smith. He taught my introductory class in electrical engineering. He was brilliant, of course, but he was also an unusually kind man—a patient man, a compassionate man, a humble man; he genuinely seemed to care about his students. There was just something different about him. It was noticeable. Five or six years ago, I was talking to a fellow pastor who, upon learning that I was a Georgia Tech alum, said, “Oh, I have a parishioner at my church who teaches at Georgia Tech. Maybe you know him?” And I’m thinking, “There are a lot of professors at Georgia Tech.” He said, “His name is Whit Smith. He teaches electrical engineering.” And it all fell into place. Of course he’s a Christian! And my colleague went on to say, ‘Yeah, he considers his work a part of his ministry—every bit as much as going on a mission trip. He feels called by God to do this work.”

So here are three people in very different walks of life—a world-class athlete, a college professor, a part-time assistant manager of a fast-food restaurant—perhaps we could say a five-talent servant, a three-talent servant, a one-talent servant—all of whom are finding a way to put their talents to use, all of whom are glorifying Jesus Christ in their own unique way—not just for the five or six hours a week they devote to their spiritual lives and going to church—but also for the 30, 50, 70 hours a week they spend working—which is most of their lives right there! Those hours also belong to God, for his glory.

Everything we are, everything we have, everything we do belongs to God! And I hope it’s easy enough to see that investing our time, talent, and money in the lives of our family, our children, and our friends can also bring glory to God.

The late Keith Green, whose life was cut short in a plane crash in 1982, was a pioneer in the late-’70s in contemporary Christian music. He sounded a lot like Elton John, but he was famous for writing these passionate, honest, challenging songs about Christian faith. In one of them, he sang, “I pledge my wife to heaven for the gospel”—by which he meant, even my marriage is going to be for God’s purposes, for God’s kingdom, for God’s glory. “I pledge my wife to heaven for the gospel/ Though my love for her each day just seems to grow/ But as I told her when we wed I’d surely rather be found dead/ Than to love her more than the one who saved my soul.” Wow! That doesn’t sound like a very romantic thing to say on your wedding day: “Honey, I love you so much, but… I’d rather die than to put my love for you ahead of my love for Christ.”

As challenging as those words are, he’s exactly right: being a steward means you are unwilling to make anything in life a higher priority than your relationship with God, and your love for his Son Jesus.

Well, I hope it’s clear by now that stewardship is so much more than what we do with our money.

But guess what? Stewardship isn’t less than what we do with our money, either.

We can devote all of our time, talent, and energy to serving the Lord, but if we’re not also being generous with our money, as God’s Word commands us to be, we are simply not being faithful stewards. And as this parable makes clear, all of us—all of us—will one day have to give an account to God for this part of our lives. Are we ready for that Day?

I’m going to return to this theme of final judgment in a few weeks when we look at the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, but I want to close by talking about the financial stewardship of John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement. This comes from a book by Mark Batterson:

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Wesley made a covenant with God in 1731. He promised God that he would limit his expenses so he had more money to give away. He determined that he needed 28 pounds a year to cover all of his living expenses. That first year, he only made 30 pounds, so he had just 2 pounds to give to God. The next year, however, his income doubled. And because he continued living on 28 pounds, he had 32 pounds to give away. By the third year, his income increased to 90 pounds. And because he kept his expenses flat, he was able to double down on his giving!

He followed this plan throughout his long life: Wesley’s goal was to give away all excess income after bills were paid and family needs were taken care of. He never had more than a hundred pounds in his possession—because he was afraid of storing up earthly treasure. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds, which was a fortune in the 18th century, he didn’t interpret God’s blessing as permission to live large.

Wesley died literally with a few coins in his pocket—and an enormous bank account in heaven![3]

During stewardship season, we church members often ask ourselves, “How much do I have to give away?” But from Wesley’s point of view, it’s as if we’re looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. The question shouldn’t be, How much do I have to give away—because, truth be told, I want to keep all of it. Instead, it should be, How much do I have to keep—because, truth be told, I want to give away all of it.

Do you see the difference?

It’s the difference between being a steward and not being a steward.

Almighty God, give us the desire to give everything to you! Amen!

[1] Psalm 24:1 ESV

[2] 1 Corinthians 4:7

[3] Mark Batterson, The Grave Robber (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 161.

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