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Monday, August 22, 2016

A Loan from God

Introduction
            Well, my son, Gavin, started his classes at the University of Alabama Huntsville this week.  He said he likes his classes so far.  I'm so proud of him.  He's such a diligent student.  He earned a scholarship to pay all of his tuition.  However, it still cost somewhere between $12,000-15,000 a year for room and board and books and other expenses.  So, to encourage Gavin to take responsibility for his own life, we said we would pay roughly half of that expense and he could pay the other half.  Unfortunately, we had to get a "parent loan" to help pay the extra expense.  We are still paying our own student loans back from our college days!  By the time we get Gavin through college, we will have Grace in college; and when she finishes, there will be Abigail.  So I joked and told my wife, "We are going to be in a nursing home one day and still paying back our student loans and our kids.  And none of them is going to come visit us!"
            Well, this leads us into the topic of this blog which was inspired by a John Wesley sermon from 1768 called "The Good Steward."  In it, Wesley contrasted the difference between someone who is a debtor (who received a loan) and someone who is a steward (who is hired to manage another's affairs).

Luke 16:1-2
1Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

Sermon Theme
            Someone who has a loan can do whatever they like with the money, so long as they pay the money back by the time it is due.  Someone who is a financial manager cannot do whatever they like with the money.  They are required to use the money exactly the way the Employer who hired them directs.  A Christian is one whose debts have been forgiven.  We are not debtors.  Oh how fortunate!  For we could never repay the debt we owe to God.  Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glorious standard of God."  And Romans 6:23 says, "For the consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Thankfully, our debt is paid by the blood of Jesus Christ when we place our faith in him!
            Jesus doesn't call his followers debtors.  One of the most frequent ways Jesus describes his followers is the term “steward.”  We don’t use the term steward as much these days.  Perhaps a more appropriate term for us would be “financial manager,” except that we manage far more than just finances in our Christian life.  So let’s use the term manager, as in the scripture I just read—Luke 16:1, “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs…”

Steward/Manager
            First, let’s consider all the ways we are stewards (or managers) for God.  Again I must restate that we are managing far more than money.  And we are not at liberty to use the things God gives us to manage however we want.  We must use it all only the way God wants us to use it.  For to use it in any other way would be a crime against God.  So take seriously what God has given you to manage.
            God has entrusted you with a soul.  Your soul is an immortal spirit made in the image of God.  It encompasses your understanding, imagination, creativity, memory, and your will.  And from your soul spring such things as love and hate, joy and sorrow, your desires—including the desire to do good or evil—and your hopes and fears.  Now again, we are only managers of these.  God entrusts them to us to use—not so we can use them however we please, but—according to the express orders He has given us. (Of course, you will find that you are truly happiest when you use all these according to God’s will.)
            God gave us a mind.  So, we are to use our imagination and creativity, our understanding, our memory, our will all for the glory of God.  We are also to dedicate our emotions to God; we are to love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We are to rejoice and grieve, hope and fear, desire and shun all according to God’s holy purposes. Even our thoughts are not our own.  We cannot use them however we like.  No.  Even our mind is accountable to God.
            God has entrusted you with a body.  You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).  God gave you all your sense—sight, hearing, taste, etc.—not to use however you want, but these are on loan to be used specifically in ways God authorizes.  In the same way, God gave you the ability to speak.  He did so, not that you should speak whatever you like, but that you should speak His praises and use your voice to lead others to Christ.  God gave you hands and feet, not that you should go wherever and do whatever you pleased, but that you should work hard and faithfully to build God’s Kingdom.  For Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples…"
            God also gives us worldly goods:  food to eat, clothing to wear, a place to call home, and all the necessary conveniences of life.  In addition to all these, God puts money in our pockets, which can be such a powerful tool for God’s Kingdom if we are wise and faithful managers.
            Beyond all these, there is still more God entrust to us—strength, energy, health, time, our personality, our talents, our education, our reputation…  And perhaps the greatest of all that God entrust to us is His grace.  God saved us by His grace through Jesus Christ who paid the price for our sins.  What are we to do with this grace God extends to us? Are we to waste it?  Are we to go on sinning however we want because God has forgiven us anyway?  Absolutely not!  We are to use His grace responsibly, living our lives wholeheartedly for Him and offer the same grace to others.
            And I won’t neglect today specifically to point out that children are entrusted to us by God.  Regardless of whether they are our biological children, or adopted into our family, or even part of our church family, these kids are entrusted to us by God.  We are to care for them and do the very best we  can to nurture their faith in Jesus Christ.
            So of all these—the soul, the body, worldly goods, money, our children, and everything else—we are only managers.

Giving an Account
            We are not appointed as managers forever.  Our term in this role has a limit.  There is coming a time when we will no longer have any right to or authority over these things.  We will have to return them to the Lord.  Furthermore, we will have to explain to God how we used everything He gave us in this life.
            The time is not as far off as you think.  This life is so short.  Time goes by very fast.  One day, we are holding a baby in our arms; the next, we send them off to college; then, we find we are old and gray and only have a few years left to live.  (And this is only if we are fortunate, for many are not so fortunate and find their life cut off when they are still young or only in the middle of life—by cancer or an automobile accident or by some other tragedy that cuts life short.)  We never know how much time we really have, but we know it is always too short.  
            The time is fast approaching when we will have to stand before the Lord who entrusted all these things to our management and we will have to account—whether we used them the way we wanted or did we follow the Master’s instruction for their use?  God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 9:27, “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”  
            What will you say when the Lord of all creation asks you:  “How did you use the soul I imparted to you?  Did you—to the best of your ability—use your understanding to know yourself and to know Me?  Did you apply it to understand My attributes, My nature, My will for you and the world?"
            God will inquire, “Did you use your memory to store up knowledge that would make you a better servant for the Kingdom?  Did you memorize My Word that you might know wisdom, truth, power, and mercy?”
            And God will ask, “Did you give your will totally over to Me?  Was it wholeheartedly swallowed up in My will so that you pray honestly in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”
            He will inquire, “Did you love what I love?  Hate what I hate? Desire what I desire?  Did you dedicate your thoughts to what is “…true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…”?” (Philippians 4:8)
            What will you reply when the God looks at you and asks:  “How did you use the body I entrusted to you?  Did you use your tongue to glorify Me? Were you a witness for My Son, Jesus?  Did you speak life into the people around you?  Or did you use your tongue for idle talk, useless conversation, gossip, slander, and maliciousness?"  And He will ask, “What did you do with the gifts of sight and hearing I gave you?  Did you use the gift of taste only to indulge yourself or to build up your body and make it strong to serve Me?  How did you use your hands and feet to serve?  Were you the hands and feet of Christ?”
            What will you say when the Master looks over your life and asks, “How did you use the worldly goods I put into your hands?  Did you use the food gave you only for selfish pleasure, or to guard your health and care for the body I gave you?  Did you use the clothing I gave you to satisfy pride and vanity or to glorify Me?  What about your home?  Was it used in a manner worthy of My glory?”
            And the Lord of all the universe will pierce you with His fiery eyes and ask, “How did you use the money I gave you?  Did you invest this money for My Kingdom?  Did you employ it to do good on the earth?  Did you spend this money to help those in need?  Did you follow my instructions and tithe to the church?  Or did you cheat Me and keep My money for yourself?  Did you embezzle the funds and use them for your own selfish purposes?  What did you do with My money?”
            There is coming a time—very soon—when you will have to give an account.  God will ask you, “Have you been a wise and faithful manager?  Or have you been lying, deceitful, and dishonest?”  How will you respond when you stand before The One who sees into your very soul and knows everything about you, The One from whom you can hide absolutely nothing and make no excuses?

Conclusion
            Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Romans 6:23, “The consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We have all fallen short of being wise and faithful managers.  However, the Good News is we can be forgiven through Jesus Christ.  Here’s what we all need to do:  1) Accept and confess that we have sinned.  2)  Repent of our sins (in other words, turn away from our sinful behavior and start obeying God.  3)  Let Jesus be our Lord and Savior—follow Him wholeheartedly from this day forward.
            How you use your time, talent, and treasure reveals what’s truly in your heart.  Won't you turn to God today, confess tour sins, repent, and commit to follow Jesus from this day forward.  Thus, you may come to the Day of judgment and stand before the Lord and hear him say,"Well done my good and faithful servant."