A message about stewardship by Pastor Brad Brown
“Here daddy, you can have the rest. I’m full.”
I’ve heard many parents share similar experiences of changing dietary habits when they have young children at home. After my first son was born, I felt like I fell down a link on the food chain and became a scavenger. Especially when our family took the occasional trip out to a restaurant to eat. We knew that our child was not going to eat all of his food. So we began to delay the enjoyment of our own meal, sometimes not even ordering a full entre’ while we waited to scoop up the leftovers. Yes, we had become scavengers.
Just this past week, we had a family conversation about sharing. And as my wife and I split half of a leftover grilled cheese sandwich, we discussed that giving away leftovers is not really sharing. Sharing is an intentional act. A planned activity. Sharing is turning to your loved one before ordering and saying, “Do you want to split this meal.” Sharing begins when we are hungry. Not when we rub our bellies, push away the plate, and say… “I’m full, you can have the rest.”
Sharing is not about giving away leftovers. Don’t get me wrong. In a world where a few have many, and many have a just a few, giving away leftovers is certainly a place to start a life of Biblical stewardship. When the rich man cried out in torment of judgment, Jesus reminded him that he had not even shared the scraps from his table while Lazarus sat outside the gate of his mansion (Luke 16:21). Certainly, a few scraps would have been better than nothing at all. But even with that approach, we never get to sit at the same table—especially in the Kingdom of God.
So, let’s not be mistaken. Sharing is not about leftovers. Consider the story of God’s gift of manna from heaven in the book of Exodus. It seems that God outlawed leftovers altogether. Moses instructed the Israelites to gather manna each morning… “Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent'” (Exodus 16:16). He continued to warn them not to store anything away for the next day. But some people did not listen. And the manna became infested with maggots. Only on the sixth day were the Israelites permitted to gather an extra share to save for the Sabbath. Because on the Sabbath, no manna appeared on the ground. On that day, God rested and called the children to prayer.
Perhaps we ought to stop and spiritually reflect on our motivation for storing away manna for tomorrow. Because often, we do this out of a fear of scarcity, a lack of trust in God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. In Luke chapter 12, Jesus shares the story of the rich fool. The man’s fields produce abundantly, and he decides he should build large barns to store his wealth. But that very night, Jesus says, his life will be demanded of him. And his wealth will be a meaningless mess of rot.
In fact, I can’t think of a single passage of biblical wisdom that supports the practice of storing leftovers. Except for the story of Joseph. After being betrayed by his jealous brothers, followed by a series of unpredictable events, Joseph finds himself in charge of the storehouses of Egypt. During that time, Joseph receives a vision from God that seven years of abundance will be followed by seven years of drought. So, he saves part of the abundance to feed the Egyptians (and his foreign brothers) during years that would have become famine (see Genesis 41). This follows some other notable Biblical wisdom, such as this gem from Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, you lazybones, consider its ways and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares food in summer, and gathers sustenance in harvest.”
So, there is a role for savings, in the biblical witness of stewardship. But it only serves the purpose of creating economic security for the whole community. (In the case of Joseph’s experience, the food security of most of the known world).
In a recent conversation with a bright man from Peace Lutheran Church, Will Robertson, at a stewardship conference sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Synod. I shared how North Cape Lutheran Church had taken the step, just recently, to reverse a long-term trend of deficit spending, pledging to create a balanced budget and perhaps even begin to save. Thinking together, we noted that the saving patterns of our Christian families (both our “nuclear” families and our extended Christian families) seemed to follow the exact opposite pattern of the biblical principal of savings.
So, I got curious. And I looked up a trend report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (June 2011 Survey of Current Business). It demonstrated what Will and I experienced anecdotally in our own lives. During the boom years of the mid-1990s, the average household savings rate plummeted, while it began to rise again, albeit slowly, only during the largest economic recession of our lifetime which began sometime around 2008. (If you like statistics, check out the interactive data at bea.gov).
If we take the biblical foundation for savings to heart, then we must acknowledge that we as a Christian family have inverted God’s intention for the use of our money. Why do we spend more than we have in times of abundance and only think to save during times of uncertainty or loss?
According to the Biblical witness, we should have been saving in the 90s, so that in this economic recession (the worst in generations) we could have been spending from our storehouses for the benefit of the whole community. (Not just for our individual security).
In fact, some economists argue that the current fearful approach to savings (when many major corporations have more cash reserves than ever) has actually prevented our economic recovery.
It seems quite simple. Our trust is misplaced. When times are good, we think we have nothing to lose. No reason to save. And when things are going bad, we start to live fearfully…believing that the manna will not fall in the morning.
If the biblical witness is true. This is a time to give. Not a time to save. When we run out of reasons to give. Then we can save.