Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Deal or No Deal


A humanitarian group in Africa, noticing the filthy water, sewage, and disease in one particular place, built a clean water and sewage system for a village. Months later, they visited the village…but it was back to square one with filthy water, sewage and disease. The chief told the humanitarian workers: "And what did you expect? These people had been many years without clean water. Then you gave it to them for free in abundance. They took all they could use and more. The people did not work for those water stations. They do not own them, and they could not be persuaded to maintain them." The humanitarians were silent. The chief had spoken truth. The great gift alone had not been enough and the reasons could be clearly observed. Perhaps it is human nature to abuse a gift.  The humanitarians returned to their camp and thought long and hard about how they could help the villagers.  The next day the humanitarians returned, determined to rebuild the water and sanitation systems with the following conditions -- the villagers would have to pay for water and sanitation. Not more than they could afford, but there would be no gift giving this time. A group of villagers would work with the contractors to build the system and would be taught how to repair every aspect of it.  These villagers would, in turn, train others so the system would never fall into disrepair.  With the new conditions in place, the water and sanitation systems were restored. This time the people had respect for the systems because they owned them.  This time they were able to repair the system when it broke down. To this day the villagers have plenty of clean water and live free of filth and disease.  This story could have some elements changed, be moved to America, and have the same issues with regard to a lack of respect, responsibility.  But, there could and should be the same resultant changes, as well.  God, through Moses deals with some of these issues of stewardship with the people of Israel…and once again, even though the situations may have changed, the principles remain the same.

There are certain responsibilities that we have as God’s stewards. We have the choice as to whether we will deal with our responsibilities or not deal with them…but there is truly only one choice.  In Leviticus 25, the focus is on “Israel in their land.”  If Israel was going to possess and enjoy their land, they would have to recognize and respect some basic facts…the first of which was that “God owned the land” (vv.2, 23, 38).  God also owned “the people of Israel” – He redeemed them from Egyptian bondage.  The Jews were expected to work in their fields, but it was “God who gave the increase” (v.21).  God was their “Land Lord” in more ways than one.  In chapter 23, we came to understand that the Jewish calendar was based on a series of “sevens.”  The “seventh day” was to be a Sabbath rest where the Jewish people would not labor.  Here, we learn that the seventh year is to be a year of rest for the land, the people and their animals.  During the Sabbath year, the people were not to work the fields or have organized harvests.  Also during this time, some debts were forgiven and indentured servants were set free.  The Sabbath year was the occasion for a “Bible conference” when the priests read and explained the Book of Deuteronomy to the people.  See…you all have it easy. J The nation learned the meaning of “give us this day our daily bread,” as God promised to provide for them and protect them throughout the year…if only they would trust and obey (vv.18-22).

The other aspect of all of this is -- at the end of seven sevens of years…or the 50th year…there was to be Jubilee.  It would require a great deal of faith for the people to recognize a Jubliee year, because the previous year (the 49th), the Jews would have had a Sabbath year.  So, they were to recognize two years of rest back to back.  What elements were to be involved in the Jubilee year?  There was to be repentance (v.9) and release (of the servants, once again so that they might return to their own lands, families, vv.10-13).  Also, there was to be rest (vv.11-12) and restoration (vv.13-17).  The land sold since the last Jubilee would revert back to the original owner.  The Lord wanted them to have a sense of proprietorship in having it restored to them.  In the New Testament, Jubilee is likened to the Good News that is shared with the poor…which would include all people.  This is because people’s debts have been paid and completely forgiven in Jesus Christ (as seen in the stories of Luke 7:36-50, and in many other places).

As we know, God certainly wouldn’t fail the people of Israel, but their faith might fail. Unfortunately, there is no Biblical evidence that the Jews ever celebrated a Sabbath year or a year of Jubilee.  In fact, the Bible indicates that they did not do so (2 Chronicles 36:21).  God ultimately sent Israel into Babylonian captivity for seventy years…in part to give the land the rest it needed.  By disobeying the law of the Sabbath year, the Jews robbed themselves, not only of spiritual blessings, but also the strength of the land and of their servants and animals…a costly mistake.  We have been released for a purpose.  We have an added responsibility as believers in Christ.  We have the whole story, the whole knowledge…and complete forgiveness.  We really have no excuse.  We are going to make mistakes, but we must live as the blameless, accountable people of God…this is our responsibility.

It is a basic principle of life – whatever we keep from God we can never truly enjoy ourselves.  One preacher has shared that in his ministry, he has met a number of people who claim that they “withhold their offerings”…only to end up paying extra money for medical bills or auto repairs.  In fact, one member brought a budget book to his office just to show him how God had begun to bless him when he stopped keeping from God of what was really His.  This isn’t necessarily a message about “contribution”, but the illustration does fit the concept of stewardship that we have been discussing.  Everything that we have really belongs to God…it is not ours…we are caretakers.  It is incumbent for us to take care of these things…whether it is our contribution of money, our contribution of possessions or our contribution of time.  We are to have an important stewardship in these things.  We also have a stewardship to ministry.  If God has put it on one of us a responsibility to minister in His church and in the community, then we should take our responsibilities seriously, as we will be accountable to Him as to whether we are or are not doing so.  We need to take care of what God has given us…this is our stewardship.  We do not need to be careless, but use care and concern…whether it is dealing with property, or people.  We have a stewardship to love one another as Jesus has loved us…we need to take this very seriously as well.  We have every opportunity to be a blessing and to be blessed if we take seriously our responsibilities.  It is “deal or no deal.”  God has laid it out to us, as He did to the Israelites...and there is really only one correct answer.  And you may not win a million dollars, but I guarantee that you will store up treasure in heaven. 

Blessings, Don

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