David Jeremiah - The Priorities of Life
Did you know that there are now nearly 50,000 self-storage facilities in our nation offering over 2 billion square feet for people to store their stuff? How much is that? Well, that's 20 feet of self-storage space for every American household. In the 1960s, this industry was not even in existence. It suddenly dawned on me the self-storage industry has happened during my adult life. We now spend $30 billion a year just to pay someone to store our extra stuff. It's larger than the entire music industry and we have three times more self-storage facilities than McDonald's has restaurants.
Here's another statistic that might surprise you. We just came through Christmas and, beginning about 6 months before Christmas, we started getting all these catalogs in our mailbox. Do you know how many mail order catalogs were sent out in the United States this year? Thirteen billion. You heard me right. Thirteen billion catalogs. Every one of these catalogs designed for one purpose: to make you want stuff you don't have and buy stuff you don't need. And the question that comes when you read statistics like this and there are many other ways to illustrate this is how can a follower of Jesus Christ stay alive spiritually in a climate like the one I have described? And I believe it all begins with the realization that none of us can ever, ever be owners. We can only be managers and if you still struggle with that thought, try taking the long view of it.
"And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there.'" Or, 1 Timothy 6:7 which says: "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out". John Ortberg has written that "we came in naked and penniless and we're going out naked and penniless. In between we get some stuff to put on our bodies and some stuff to put in our pockets but none of it really is ours. We borrow it for a little while and then one day we turn it all back in". We are stewards, we are not owners. The word "steward" is so misunderstood. We don't have any terms in our modern vocabulary that carry the richness of this term. You might try caretaker but that fails to capture the responsibility laid on the steward. Manager seems inadequate to describe the relationship between the owner and the steward. Custodian is too passive. Agent is too self-serving. Ambassador is too political. Warden's too prison-like.
So perhaps the only way you can really come to grips with this is that of a charitable foundation, a place where one places his resources for the purposes of having it distributed and managed by someone else. Any proper understanding of stewardship begins with the acknowledgement that God is the owner of everything and all that any of us have ever received comes from him and we are privileged to manage it in his behalf. Deuteronomy 8:18 says: "And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as it is this day". Or, 1 Chronicles 29, verse 12: "Both riches and honor come from you, and you reign over all. In your hand is power and might; in your hand is power to make great and to give strength". Proverbs 10:22: "The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and he adds no sorrow with it". Or James 1:17, one of my favorite verses: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning".
In a bedroom overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Brian Peel was working up a sweat on a Stairmaster. He didn't need the exercise but the equipment did. In his experience, the battery would run down without frequent use. Peel was keeping the machine in shape for its owners, a wealthy family that hired him 8 months earlier to manage their estate in Los Angeles as well as the beach house in Malibu. So every 2 weeks, far more than his employers, Peel makes the 45-minute drive to the beachfront home. Once he's there, he runs every faucet for 15 minutes, flushes every toilet, lights every fireplace so that the house comes maniacally alive. He checks the coffeemaker, the toaster, the televisions, and the laptop. He inspects the exterior paint job, he eyeballs the pipes, he advises the landscapers on how to brighten the floral mix, he consults with whatever workman is on the job, and finally, shortly before leaving, he hits the Stairmaster.
Peel is 1 of 1000 or so estate managers who oversee properties and staff for some of the country's wealthiest individuals in America. He is a modern-day steward, someone who manages and takes care of another person's resources according to their desires. And we are stewards, you and I. All that we have is from God and that includes far more than just our money and our possessions. God has made us managers of truth and time and talent and treasure and, generally, how we handle our money is an example of what we do with the rest of God's gifts that he gives us as well. So let's cycle through some of those things that God gives us to manage and see what they say to each of our hearts. First of all, the Bible teaches us that we are called to be stewards of truth.
1 Thessalonians 2:4 says: "But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel". The Bible says that Almighty God has given us the gospel and we are entrusted with it. I know this is perhaps more meaningful to me than to some of the rest of you because of what I do but in a real sense all of us have been trusted with the gospel. Think of it in this light. What would you do if you were given truckloads of food, an abundant supply, and you were given the opportunity to distribute that food to hungry people? Well, the truth of God has been given to us just like that and, if we have no concern for those who do not know the truth, we are not very good stewards. We are to take the truth of the gospel and manage it and spread it and share it. The Bible says God has entrusted to us as followers of Christ the truth. We are stewards of the truth. We are also stewards of time.
My friend, Rob Morgan, makes the case that time may be the most important stewardship any of us ever receives. He said, "Management of time is our greatest stewardship, even greater than the stewardship of our money". He said, "Time is like currency of a different realm. It's the coinage of life. If money is silver, time is gold. If material wealth can be symbolized by rubies, time is symbolized by diamonds. If we mismanage our money, we simply try to make more of it. But there's no making any more time. When a moment is gone, it's gone forever like sand through an hourglass. We can't rent, buy, steal, or borrow any future amount of time. If we squander our money we're likely to face short-term pressure which will be immediately obvious to us. But if we squander our time, it leads to long-term loss that may not be readily apparent until it's too late".
The Bible says: "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, redeeming the time". The time we have been given on this earth is from God and he expects us to make the most of it. Here's a couple of passages to add to your notes in case you're still wondering if this is true. Psalm 39:4 says: "Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am". Or Psalm 90, verse 12: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom". Or Colossians 4:5: "Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time". Let me ask you a question. What would you be like if you gave God your time? I believe you would be a better Christian only because you would be investing good into your heart. You know, the Bible says in Matthew chapter 12 that "a good man out of the goodness of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil of his heart brings forth evil things".
So what ought to be true of us as Christians is we're looking everywhere we can to find ways to put more good in our hearts, to do more good for others, to be a blessing to other people. The more you put in your heart of goodness, the more comes out of your heart of goodness. It's all a matter of how you manage your time. And all of us struggle with that, don't we? There are so many pressures on us from everywhere but when you give your time back to God, you're sowing good things in your heart and God promises that he will reward that. Time is a stewardship that God gives to us. And then we are stewards of talent. I know, I already hear your pushback.
There are so many people who have been convinced of themselves that they have no talent but I can promise you that is not possible because the Bible says that every single believer is given a gift, a gift for ministry. I know there's a difference between the ministry gifts and talent but, for the sake of clarity today, let's just talk about what it is that God has made you good at. What do you do that can be useful to the body of Christ? 1 Peter 4:10 says: "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God". It can't get any clearer than that. And Romans says: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them".
And so the question is are we using our gift? Oh, you say, "My gift isn't significant". I don't know any passage of Scripture that talks about that. Your gift may be being used in your home, it may be used in your neighborhood, it may be used in the church, in the Sunday school. Whatever it is or however powerful or insignificant you think it is, you should use your gift.
Steven J. Cole was jogging one day in the forest near his house when a question popped into his mind. The question was: "What about John Spurgeon"? "I admit not many people are asking that question or losing any sleep over that question," he said, "but I had been reading the autobiography of the famous British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon". You've heard me quote him. He's probably the greatest preacher who ever lived on this earth. He died at the age of 56 but he contributed more to the gospel perhaps than any other pastor. He said, "Charles Haddon Spurgeon, I knew about, but I was asking the Lord to bless my ministry like his and then the question hit me and I began thinking about John Spurgeon".
And who is John Spurgeon? Everybody ever heard of him? "Well," he said, "until I started reading the life of Charles Spurgeon, I didn't know who he was and then I found out he was the father of Charles. He was himself a pastor and the son of a pastor yet, if his son had not achieved such fame as a preacher, John Spurgeon would have served the Lord faithfully, gone to his grave, and we would never have heard of him". Hundreds of pastors like him have walked with God, shepherded his flock for a lifetime, and gone to their reward without any notice in the sight of the world.
Steven Cole said, "As I jogged, I thought, 'Would I be willing to serve God faithfully and raise up my children to serve him even if I never achieved any recognition? Even if no one but my own small congregation knew my name? Would I be willing to do that?' And the more I thought about it," he said, "the more I realized, yes, that's really what I want. To be faithful to the Lord in my personal walk and in my family and in my shepherding of God's flock," and, may I add, and in the use of any of the talents God has given me to be faithful. And then please write this down in your heart: the Lord never says, "Well done, good and famous servant". He says, "Well done, good and faithful servant". And in the use of our talent, in the use of our gifts, that's what we long for: to stand one day before Almighty God and hear him say, "I gave you this gift and I watched you use it for my honor and glory".
And that brings us all the way back to where we started and that's the stewardship of our treasure. Truth, time, talent, and treasure. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collection when I come". Please note that this instruction was given to the churches of Galatia and the letter was written to a local church in Corinth. In these few words, we learn four things about the stewardship of our treasure. First of all, New Testament giving is planned giving. 1 Corinthians 16:2 says: "On the first day of every week let each one of you lay something aside".
You know, giving will never work if it's random. I love spontaneous things and sometimes we do give spontaneously to something that God lays on our heart but in the regular stewardship of our resources there needs to be a plan. Planned giving. And so the Bible teaches us that if you're gonna be a good steward, you get into a routine, you develop a habit, you do it week by week. Literally, the text says: "Sunday by Sunday". That suggests to us that our giving is reverent. It is reverent to give to God on Sunday because, you see, Sunday is the day we celebrate the Lord's Resurrection. Up until the Resurrection, the day of worship for the Jewish people was Saturday but when Jesus came back from the grave all of a sudden everything switched to Sunday in honor of the Resurrection. Here's a couple of illustrations of that.
John chapter 20, verse 19: "Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, 'Peace be to you.'" That was on Sunday, Jesus' appearance to the disciples. Acts 20, verse 7: "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread," in other words, that was the day they came together for Communion, to break bread, to celebrate, "Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight". Don't ever complain about the length of my messages. So when we bring our gifts to the Lord's house on Sunday or we send them through the mail with the purpose of them being there for Sunday or through the electronic system, I don't know how you all do it, but there's a statement that we are honoring the Lord on this day. It's a reverent gift and it's a regular gift.
Not how we think about it or how we believe it should be done. The New Testament giving is not unregulated. Paul teaches us that we are to come Sunday by Sunday. Each week, these early Christians put aside so much money for the Lord. They gave in spite of their circumstances, what they had. They gave in spite of their maturity, where they were, and they gave in spite of their emotional attitude, how they felt. The New Testament believers developed priorities in their life for honoring God. Sometimes we think that worship and honoring God has to be like a moment when we're inspired. The best worship we ever give to God is the faithful, steady, regular, routine, disciplined worship that we offer him in our lives.
Now, I'm gonna be challenged in this story because I am not, ask my family, a great computer person. But I know enough to make sense out of this story and I hope I can tell it to you in a way that you will understand it as well. In every computer or smart phone there is an operating system that is the interface between your hardware and your software applications. The applications, whether they're "Angry Birds" or Instagrams are run by obeying rules pre-programmed into the operating system, and the key code in the operating system is called the kernel. The kernel provides the most basic level of control over all of the hardware devices. It manages input and output requests, it's responsible for memory allocation, and it establishes priorities.
Occasionally, computers will experience what is called a priority inversion. Simply put, a high-priority task is preempted by a low-priority task, thus inverting the relative priority of the two tasks. It's the kernel that keeps that from happening. It establishes what are called preemptive priorities. When you're multi-tasking, the kernel determines which application takes precedence over everything else. If you think of your brain as an operating system, we all have a kernel and the key code is our default settings. It's your core beliefs, your core convictions. It's the most buoyant values that always rise to the surface when you have difficult decisions to make.
Maybe you've never thought of them as preemptive priorities but that's what they are. It's why you make the choices that you make and that's why, if you don't build into your operating system strong commitment and belief and habit, when difficulties come you will experience a priority inversion and you won't move through the challenge. Every time we give, every time we pray and thank God for the privilege of giving, every time we participate in an offering, we are digging the groove deeper in our mind that this is important and God honors this and, by my faithfulness to this particular purpose, I am building a strong kernel in my computer. New Testament giving is planned giving.
Very quickly, New Testament giving is personal giving. Let me just point out two words in verse 2: "On the first day of the week let each one of you". Let each of you. This is not a group project except when it's a family. This is each of us coming before God and asking him to show us what we need to do. It's for single people and married people and young people and old people. This is for you. Everybody has to help. Everybody has to hear the Word of the Lord with regard to stewardship. All of us together, hearing the Word of the Lord and responding. Each one of us individually before the Lord. It's planned, it's personal. Now notice, here's something new. In the New Testament there's this thing called proportional giving. It says in verse 2: "On the first day of the week let each of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper".
Later on in Paul's second letter, he describes proportionate giving again. What Paul is doing here is saying, "Okay, you got started in the tithe. That's kind of the Old Testament starting place. But when you become a Christian and you're a new believer, you should never get stuck with the tithe. Paul took giving to an entirely new level. In the Old Testament, giving was based on a percentage but now Paul introduces something new and even more powerful and that is giving based on proportion. The tithe is based on a percentage, one-tenth of all you possess, and that percentage was at the heart of giving in the Old Testament. But we find a loftier principle in the New Testament illustrated here in, 1 Corinthians chapter 16. Paul says that the Corinthians were to lay aside something "as they prosper". We may begin with the tithe, setting aside a strict percentage of what we have for the Lord, but he has put the prerogative for giving more in our hands as if to say, "I don't want you to live your life under the strict rules of a law. 'As I prosper you, give a proportionate amount above and beyond the tithe.'"
In other words, the tithe is not the ceiling of your giving, where you stop, but it's the floor of the giving, where you start. As God blesses you more and more, the tithe may seem inadequate for you to express your gratitude and your love for the Lord so you may decide to increase that amount. You may increase the proportion. Here's a thought. If God blesses you, it is not necessarily that you may increase your standard of living. It is so that you can increase your standard of giving. And the more you give, the more he will bless you, and the more you have to deal with that. I told you one time that when God really blesses you, it's both a blessing and if you're not careful it can be a burden. And now you're looking at all this and thinking. So I remember one time a man told me that he was able to give his tithe until he started making $100,000 a year and then the number was just so great he couldn't do it anymore.
Dr. Criswell had a guy come to him one day with that question and Dr. Criswell said, "Let's get on our knees". He said, "What do you mean"? He says, "I'm gonna get on my knees with you and I'm gonna pray that God will reduce your income until you can be faithful to him again". Now, let me give you a careful warning. Without a strong commitment to tithing and beyond, more income does not encourage greater giving but less giving. And I am more and more convinced that the only real safeguard against materialism in our lives today is this principle of tithing and beyond. There's one last thought here that I am sure you have considered. Each April we are required to give a large portion of our income to the government. Have you ever thought of the opportunity you have to give more to the work of God instead of to the government? I mean, certainly, you should pay your taxes but the more you give to the work of God, the less you'll have to give to the government. We're to render Caesar what is Caesar's and to the Lord what is the Lord's, and let me just tell you what I figured out.
I trust the church more than I trust the government. I want the church to have as much money as they can have so that we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. I don't know if that's a legitimate motivation or not but it's certainly one that I use. Let's give as much as we can so we don't have to pay so many taxes. Let's give to God. It's a higher priority. Finally, the New Testament giving that you read about in 1 Corinthians 16 is purposeful giving. Notice what he says: "That there be no collections when I come". Now, we can say a lot about that and I know these people were laying aside money 'cause they weren't meeting but they were doing it on a regular, here's the principle, I think, that comes from that. If you do it regularly, you don't have to do it in a special way. I know some churches that live from one special offering to the next, and all the time they're in a fund drive, all year long. They finish this one and then they go to the next one.
Listen to me. The purpose of giving every Sunday was to eliminate money matters when Paul came there so there would be no offerings. Planned giving has a tendency to eliminate special financial drives. When you do the regular thing, you don't have to do the special thing. Giving is a discipline of life. It is a habit of holiness, it is a ritual of righteousness, and God honors it. And when we give in a regular way, we don't have to keep doing special things. We can concentrate our energy on the ministry to which God has called us.
So as we close I wanna ask you three questions. Are you tithing, and if not, will you begin? Are you serving, and if not, go look at all the opportunities that are out there to do something for the Lord. Are you doing these things and God is blessing you? Let me tell you why he blesses us. He blesses us so that we can do more. He blesses us so that we can make a greater impact. There's one stewardship that I didn't put in my outline. I must confess to you, I couldn't figure out a "T" or an "S" that worked. No, I'm kidding you. I've never seen this on a list of stewardship but I've discovered it in recent days and I wanna just tell you what it is. And it's true for our church as a whole, and it's true for every one of us in this room.
There's also a stewardship of influence. Did you know that? God gives to each one of us some influence. And we are to steward that influence for his glory and his honor. I have some, you have some. All of us. You say, "I don't have any influence". Yes, you do. You have children, you have grandchildren, you have parents, grandparents, you have neighbors, you have people that you work with. All of us have influence. And God wants us to steward that influence for his honor and glory, and part of that is what we've talked about today.