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    Apr 18, 2010

    Sacred Stewardship

    Passage: Exodus 15:22-25:40

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: Taking It On the Road

    Category: Old Testament

    Keywords: stewardship, sacred, materialism, worship


    When God led His people out of Egypt, he taught them the source and value of all that he would give them from water to food and the Promised Land. It was a training time in what to value as sacred and how to use material resources. This message looks at the power material blessings have to move us closer to God or farther away.


    Sacred Stewardship

    April 18, 2010


    What’s “sacred” in your life? 


    We call lots of things “sacred” in our lives, don’t we?  We may refer to a friendship as “sacred.”  Hopefully our marriage is “sacred.”  My vacation time is “sacred.”  ESPN Sports is “sacred” to some men. Mom’s Night Out is sacred to some women.


    When we say something is “sacred”, what we’re really saying is, “That thing…that time…that experience…is something I value, I guard, I don’t let anything else intrude on it.  I don’t use it for other things. It’s special and valuable to me…so don’t ask me to change how I feel about it!”


    We have “sacred space” in life—certain places that are only used for particular things.

    • I don’t change my car oil in the kitchen.  The kitchen is “dedicated” to housing and preparing food our family and friends consume.  And, since we do a lot of that with 6 males in our house, it’s pretty much our favorite “sacred space” at home.
    • Our bedroom is sacred.  By that, I mean that we don’t have friends or neighbors over and invite them to come and pile into bed with us.  That doesn’t even happen with our own kids very often! Our bedroom is about the only place in the house where Sandy and I can talk uninterrupted.  It’s sacred space. 

    We have “sacred things” in our life too—items that are only used for particular things in particular ways. We may not  refer to them as “sacred” but we treat them that way. 

    • Our silverware is sacred.  I don’t use it to aerate the lawn…or clean the bathroom…or work on the garden with.  It’s reserved for putting in our mouths, in the dishwasher or in the silverware drawer.   That’s it!
    • Our dining room table:  it’s pretty well reserved for eating meals together as a family…and having frequent (and sometimes long) discussions about anything--people, politics, God, gophers, you name it, we cover it.  And occasionally we’ll play games around the dining room table…very occasionally.  We don’t sleep on our table, sow on our table, write, draw, color, paint, put our feet up on or even stack stuff on our table.  (The rest of the house is for that.)  Our dining room table is “sacred”—set apart for special use. 

    We also treat time as “sacred.” 

    • We talk about “guarding family time religiously.”
    • Mom’s refer to nap time when their preschooler is quiet for 30 seconds as “sacred time”.
    • Whenever someone wants to give priority to an event like Monday night football, they’ll tell us, “Oh, that’s sacred.  I never do anything else on Monday nights.” 


    When God brought his kids out of Egypt with his mighty hand, he had to teach them the proper use of time, of things, of stuff and of people in life.  They had been living in a pagan culture where the proper use of just about everything in life was often confused and sometimes abused. 

    • People were used for slave labor. 
    • Cattle were worshiped as gods.
    • Pharaoh was feared as deity.
    • Wealth was hoarded for power. 

    The list was endless. 


    So, in preparation for what God was going to give them in the Promised Land, God had to teach them a whole new standard of “sacred.”  He had to show them that life was different now as His kids.  What was sacred to Egyptians was not to be sacred to Hebrews.  And what they may have previously seen as “common” and ordinary could become extremely sacred when God was in it. 


    APP:  That’s not unlike what God is doing with us, is it? 

    • Our culture calls sex “common”.  It treats it as something to be shared with as many people as you want in as many ways as you can think of.  God say, “No, it’s sacred…to be shared with only one other person, your spouse.”
    • Our culture calls money “sacred.”  Money is time.  We go to court over it.  We exhaust ourselves daily to acquire more and more of it.  We worry over it, fret about it, invest it, lose it and fall in love with it.  God says, “It’s all going to pass away.  It’s temporary.  It has wings and flies.  It doesn’t satisfy.  It can destroy you. Money isn’t sacred.” 

    Our culture calls “sacred” lost of life God considers “common.”  And it calls “common” lots of life God considers “sacred.” 


    That’s why we have the Word of God.  Without it, we would be hopelessly lost and completely confused.  Without it we would switch the price tags all over on what is important and what belongs to whom.  Thank God for his written word that tells us truth that transcends all cultures and supersedes all other claims. 


    So God started out with his Hebrew kids with the very basics.  As we talked about last week, He started by taking them camping.  Camping has a way of getting us back to basics.  All they had was what they could carry on their backs or put on their donkey. 


    God began to teach them what life with Him would be like.  They weren’t used to living so close to the Holy God.  They were used to Egypt and to slavery.  They were used to being surrounded by pagans who told them what to do and when to do it.  All this freedom, all this traveling, all this “living light” in the vast expanse of the desert was completely new to them.  Experiencing God was, for that matter, very new for them.  And God was requiring them to experience life with Him from the very basic level on.  He was requiring them to start as refugees with virtually nothing and learn how to construct a “sacred life” from there.


    How would you be handling life if God had just asked you to become a refugee?

    What struggles of trust and faith would you be experiencing if God asked you to walk away from the schools, the job, the home, the city and the neighbors you had known for a lifetime in order that He might take you into places and experiences which he had only promised to your forefathers? 


    God always starts with the basics.  If they are even to be able to survive the journey from Egypt to Canaan, it’s going to take some pretty big faith and some even bigger miracles.  You don’t move some 2 million people through a desert region with no supply line, no convenience stores, no map for watering holes and not have a few problems. 


    They had just gotten through their first big problem:  the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s raging army.  Now they move into the Desert of Shur (15:22).  We’re told in Exodus 15:22, “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.”  Have you ever tried to live for 3 days without drinking fountain, a faucet or a hose outlet? 

        When we backpack, one of the things I make sure is that we always backpack into lakes.  And since we’re always heading UP into high country lakes, we’re always guaranteed that there will be creeks and streams along the way where we can replenish our water supply. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever hiked more than 4-5 hours without encountering a fresh water supply.  And that’s in the cool mountains of the Pacific Northwest. 

        But three days…in the desert…2 million people…no water.  That’s a recipe for a riot! 

        Do you know how much water the average American uses in a single day?  Roughly 70 gallons!  How many of us would not be grumbling, groaning and complaining? 


    So in Exodus 15:23, we’re told, “When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter.  (That is why the place is called Marah.  So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Legitimate question.

        25 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
          There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. 26 He said, "If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."  
    And here we have a new name by which God reveals himself, Jehovah Rapha—the God who Heals.

    God is doing a little object lesson here.  He’s saying, “Hey kids.  As you’re moving out of Egypt and into a life-long relationship with me, I want to let you know what is THE most important thing.  For me to be able to take care of you, you have do just focus on one thing:  pay attention to what I command you to do.  That’s it.  Nada mas!  Everything from water to wine will turn out alright if you focus on listening carefully to my voice and doing what I command.  It’s that simple.” 


    Kind of like what God calls us to do, right? 

    Matthew 6-- 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

    Simple, right?  Why do we make it SO complicated? 


    So God’s first real provision of supplies for this journey is about as basic as you can get.  It’s WATER. 


    In Exodus 16, God moves on to another basic need:  FOOD.  Their supplies are running out.  It’s into the second month after they left Egypt.  And they are getting hungry. 

    2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."


    So God opens a bakery in the morning and a butcher shop in the evening. 

     4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days."


    Talk about a welfare state!  All they had to do was step outside the tent with a dish and pick up breakfast.  It was all over the place! 

    BUT, God had given a very specific instruction about it, right?  They were to get just enough for that day, no more.  And on the day before the Sabbath, they were to collect 2-days worth.  Any leftovers started to rot immediately and got maggots.  We know that because the text says some of the people didn’t really listen to God and ended up misusing the daily gift of manna. 


    The rest of the chapter tells us that God also provided meat for the evening meal…every evening.  The menu consisted of poultry, quail to be exact.  God was showing his kids that everything they had, starting with THE MOST BASIC things in life, was a gift from God.  And God knows how to provide those gifts even when everything around us is barren and dry. 


    By the time they arrive at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, God is ready to give them some very specific instructions.  Some of that instruction he simply spoke to Moses who recorded it later in the form we have here in Exodus and the other books of the Pentateuch.  But some of it God etched in stone with his own finger and gave to Moses in the form of the stone tables of the Ten Commandments. 


    Listen to what God said to Moses at the beginning of those many days Moses would spend with God on the mountain receiving this law. 

    Exodus 19:3-6

     3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."


    Does that last phrase ring a bell? The Apostle Peter picks that phrase up, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit while writing I Peter, and says this about us:  I Peter 2:9-10--

    9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


    God, through all ages, has longed for a group of people over which he can speak these words, “YOU are MY chosen people.  YOU are MY group of royal priests who represent me to this world in need and represent this world to me, the God who can heal them.  YOU are a whole spiritual nation of people who belong to ME, not by me forcing you to but because my love has won your heart.” 


    So how does the story end up?  Did the Hebrews, the people of God, accept the offer, keep the covenant and walk and “obey him fully”???  God has never disowned or abandoned his people, the Jews, for thousands of years.  They have failed him for thousands of years…and he has disciplined them in love for thousands of years.  They made great claims of how they would keep his commands and follow his instructions.  And virtually every generation had those who did and those who didn’t. 

          So does the church of Jesus Christ in our day.  While He chose us to be in him and rescued us from the kingdom of darkness, we, like the Israelites, choose daily and hourly, whether we will obey Him fully.  Like the Israelites, we will forever be his covenant people.  Ours is a New Covenant, received by faith but grounded in grace, not law. 

          But also like the Hebrews, our obedience or disobedience along the way directly affects how much we will be a blessing to those people who live around us.  God intended Israel to be so close to him that they would be a tremendous blessing to the surrounding nations and to every nation.  But when they failed to walk humbly and obediently with Him, they failed to become like the God who loved them, and they failed to be that blessing God had prepared them to be.


    Do you see the parallel with the church today?  When Peter says we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light,” he is reminding us that we have the same potential to be a God-glorifying blessing to everyone around us.  In fact, I think we have more potential.  We have the Spirit of God abiding in each of us.  We have the blood of Christ cleansing and empowering each of us.  We have all the promises of God enlivening and strengthening each of us. 


    So I want to bring this all home in one particular area in which the Israelites failed and then succeeded both in Exodus and in the rest of their history. 

    We’ve seen that God clearly demonstrated to them that he was both capable and eager to sustain them in the worst of conditions.  He fed them, clothed them, gave them water, fought battles for them, communicated with them, directed them, gave them shade in the heat and light in the night.  And through it all he just asked that they keep living, moving, waiting and walking by faith in Him, faith that was demonstrated by a trusting obedience every step of the way. 


    One of the core ways God asked his people to express that faith in the midst of God’s care was in the use of their PHYSICAL RESOURCES—everything from food to jewelry


    Exodus 20-31 are a sort of parenthetical giving of the Law that Moses received on Mt. Sinai.  The narrative of what was going on with the people of God is interrupted at chapter 19 and picks up again at chapter 31.  So in Exodus 20 God starts by giving the 10 Commandments.    


    Then in Exodus 25, God begins to talk about what is needed for ongoing, direct relationship with Him.  He starts giving instructions about the construction of the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was that temporary and mobile place of worship where God would meet with his people in the desert and they could worship Him.  He talks about everything from what furniture is supposed to be in it to what color cloth is to be used in it’s construction.   

    But notice what come first.  Notice what God asks for first off in his instructions.

    Exodus 25:1-8-- 1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows ; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

     8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.


    Notice that God calls this an “offering.”  Offerings are different from “tithes” which God called for as a regular part of worship by his people.  Tithes were set percentages designed to sustain the place of worship, the people who served there and the governmental structure of Israel. 

          But here we have an “offering.”  What were the characteristics of this offering? 

    #1—It was non-obligatory; “free-will”.  It was to be an expression of the heart of the giver in response to the heart of God for them. 

    #2—It was to be from some of the finest things the person had.  Everything listed here was the best of the best.  None of it was common, everyday run-of-the-mill stuff.  It was all valuable. 

    #3—It was to be used to build and sustain that special place where God’s people would come and worship Jehovah. 


    APP:  The parallels between then and now are pretty straightforward. 

          While giving IS commanded in the N.T., the amount is not.  You will never find a percentage or amount commanded.  But you will find that God exhorts his people to generosity.  He also wants it to come from a “joyful” or “willing” heart, the same as he directed for his people in O.T. times. 


    ILL:  How many of you women enjoy receiving flowers from special people in their lives?  I’ve got another question about that.  Does it mean more to you when those flowers come, not necessarily at occasions like Valentines or Mother’s Day or your birthday, but whenever it is simply a from-the-heart expression of how much you mean to the giver?  (My wife is probably thinking, “I’d be glad to get them anytime…any day…go ahead.  Shock me!)

          Women, that special feeling that comes when we know someone is just looking for a way to tell us how much we are loved is, actually, I think, a reflection of the nature of God and the nature of God-like love.  Love is most genuine and deep when it is not coerced and not forced, but rather wells up from within the lover.  That kind of love-expression binds peoples’ hearts together.  And as the truest Lover in the universe, that’s what binds our hearts to God and blesses his heart at the same time.


    Listen to what God said through Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:6ff

    7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written:
       "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
          his righteousness endures forever."

     10Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.    


    God has blessed all of us with some “seed”—money, income, SSI, pension, retirement, you name it.  Anything and everything we have from the water we drink to the investments we make and the houses we live in are “seed” we can either hoard for our own purposes or “sow” for the Kingdom of God into a harvest of righteousness.  And this passage even comes with a promise:  11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 

          WHY is free-hearted giving to God such a big deal?  Because it enables us to share and grow in the very nature and heart of God—generosity.  Why would we want to miss out on that? 


    Let me pull this all together by taking you back to one final passage in Exodus 32.  We’ve just read about what the proper and God-focused use of resources can do.  It can change life for PEOPLE around us so that they end up being blessed and honor God with growing hearts of gratitude.  It can change life in ETERNITY by investing in the souls, bodies and minds of people who come to know Christ and grow in godliness.  It can change US by developing the very life and character of Christ in us. 


    And it comes with the best guarantee I’ve ever found:  “you will be made rich in every way so that you can [keep on] be[ing] generous…” 

          I’ve never been able to out-give God.

          I’ve never lacked for things and money I’ve given away.

          I’ve never gotten more hard-hearted, more stingy, more greedy or less like Christ by giving away to Kingdom work what God’s given to me. 


    But you know what happens if I don’t? 

    Exodus 32 is the tragic story of how God’s people misused the wealth God had poured out on them in ways that actually damaged and, in some cases, destroyed them. 

    1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods  who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

     2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me."  [By the way, I guess men and earrings is an OK thing, no?]   3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, [b] O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

     5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

     7 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'

     9 "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."


    Where do you think they got the gold for this idol?  Working as slaves?  I doubt it.  I think this was part of the “plunder” they were given by their Egyptian neighbors to get out of Egypt.  It was what God had blessed them with because of what HE had done, not what they had done. 


    Wealth is not a “neutral” thing. It has the power to either make us more like God (generosity) or move us away from God (idolatry). We will either use it to bind our hearts closer to God through Kingdom-focused giving…or it will use us to pull our hearts into false gods of our own making. 

          Those gods today don’t go by the names of Egyptian gods like Ra, Seth or Hathor.  They go by the names of “financial security”, “retirement fund,” “standard of living,” “entertainment,” “recreation”, “house”, “car” and a million other very tangible things we can spend our wealth on in ways that end up owning us and moving our hearts farther and farther away from the Living God. 


    Story:   Jim Andrews family—at lunch together after a message I’d preached at Life Center a couple of years ago, their family got to talking about the Entertainment Center they were planning on building in their home.  They got to wondering what that money could do in the Kingdom of God instead of the basement of their house. 

          So they canceled that project.  Instead they decided to adopt a child from China.  They got a little special-needs boy from China.  Guess what it did to their family?  They are adopting their 3rd child from China this month. 

          Guess what it did to their hearts?  Jim has hired a former pastor from Valley Fourth to develop overseas partnerships all over the world that his business and his employees can support.  They’ve got an orphanage in China.  They’ve got a village we went and worked in in Nicaragua.  They’re working on a ministry connection in Africa.  He’s given hundreds of thousands of dollars.  But best of all, he’s given his heart.  And he still can’t out give God. 

          That’s a big story of a big-hearted brother in Christ.  But I can guarantee you that it started small in his life.  It started when he had little, when the money was tight but when his heart was moved by gratitude to God. 


    EVERYTHING we will ever have is a gracious gift of God.  We will use it either to draw us and others closer to Him…or we will use it in ways that move our hearts farther away from Him and closer to false gods. 


    Don’t miss out on God’s heart.

    Don’t miss out on expressions of love.

    Don’t miss out on turning what could enslave you into what can liberate and transform you…when it’s given to God. 


    VIDEO—“God’s Pie”