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Begin with the End in Mind: Living as Fruitful Stewards With Time and Talents.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Pastor James F. Wright

Stewardship Sunday
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Nov 12, 2000 

In the name of Jesus,

Come with me for a little learning adventure. Listen carefully. Imagine you see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. You arrive at the church and walk in. You see friends and family and you feel the shared sense of loss and grief that fills their hearts. You walk up to the casket in the rear of the church and in shock you see that it is you that is lying in the casket. This is your funeral. All these people have come to honor you, and you hear them expressing feelings of love and appreciation for your life. As you take a seat and wait for the service to begin, you look at the service folder in your hand. There are four speakers. The first is someone from your family, the second is a friend, the third is a co-worker or neighbor, and the fourth is your pastor.

Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speaks to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin were you? What kind of friend have you been? What kind of worker or neighbor were you? How would your pastor describe your life as a Christian? How would those who know you best remember your relationship to them?

The bottom line is this: how would you like to be remembered when you die? When people think of you, what definite things would you like them to remember? If you have played along with me, you have just uncovered some of your deep, fundamental values, principles, and beliefs.

Time is a gift from God, and if every Christian began each day with the end of the day in mind, it could change lives. Every day we live under God's grace. We know we have not used our lives for the full advantage that God intends us to give to His world. We have to live under the forgiveness of sins that comes by saving faith in Jesus Christ who died and rose to pay this debt for us. We live with our eyes on this prize so that we can make the best of the time God gives us until we are received before our savior in heaven.

Let me put it this way: we begin with the end in mind. Doing this is not to be focused only on "What will they think of me when I am dead and gone." Instead, we ask ourselves, "How differently will I use the time God has given me to bear witness of His grace at work in my life?" When we consider how we will be remembered at our death, it awakens us to the sense of urgency for living a fruitful life.

It means, I am connected to Christ as the true vine; I am one of the branches. I am so connected to Jesus that I take my very life from his. I bear fruit because I am connected to him. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) My life has meaning from beginning to end. And even then, the end is only the beginning. In Christ, you will be fruitful managers of the time God entrusts you with.

When people in their eighties were asked, "What would you do differently if you had life to live over? their response was generally threefold: 1. Risk more. 2. Reflect more. and 3. Leave a legacy behind that will last.

What did they mean by risk more? It didn't mean gamble, live dangerously, or invest more in the stock market. Rather, for the Christian, doesn't risking more mean using our time to boldly, confidently, and openly share the love of Jesus Christ, risking ridicule and rejection for the reward of eternal life for all who will believe? Doesn't risking mean using my time with a someone who isn't connected to Jesus to tell them of the joy we have in being a Christian? How about risking a relationship by using your time, which has definite limits, to share your faith?

Colossians 1:6 says "All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day your heard it and understood God's grace in all it's truth." It was because the early Christians were willing to risk it all for the sake of Christ that the church grew in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Reflect more. What does this mean? It means to pause and think, to retrace the past, to stop and smell the roses. To reflect also means to shine out to others like a mirror reflects light. Take a moment to reflect with me back a long time.

145 years ago a small group of people in Champaign risked their time and all they had to start a church. They were the poor people of town. Most of them had just gotten off the boat and few of them could speak English. They didn't have much, no social security, no retirement accounts, and no health insurance. But they used their time to tell their friends about the wonderful grace of God.

They took what little treasures they had and they started a congregation named St. John. Don't look in the local history books for the name. The English speaking Americans looked down on them and simply called them "the German congregation." But these people knew how to give. They built a church. They called a pastor and supported him when they could barely support themselves. They built a school and called a teacher. They used what time they had left in this world to join together every week at God's house rain or shine, because they knew how much they needed God. He had brought them to a brave new world, and the only way they were going to make it here was by God's grace. They were starting out new, but they were starting out with God.

We need to use our time to reflect on the richness of God's grace revealed in His Word. We need to use our time to reflect the power and benefits of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and for living for all time and eternity. AND, we need to be closer to Him who is the Light of the world that we might more brilliantly reflect His light and love to the world, to others. Our Lord Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Leave a lasting legacy. "Begin with the end in mind. Your use of time (how you prioritize and live your life) each day sends a powerful message to others regarding what you value the most.

Over a hundred years ago a Swedish chemist named Alfred Noble awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It read: "Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in war than ever before, and he died a very rich man." Actually, it was Alfred's older brother who had died; a newspaper reporter had bungled the epitaph. But the account had a profound effect on Nobel. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process.

So he initiated the Nobel Prize, the award for scientist and writers who foster peace. Nobel said, "Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one." Few things will change us as much as looking at our life as though it were finished. (Is It Real When It Doesn't Work? by Doug Murren and Barb Shurin, as quoted in Leadership by Rex Bonar, Summer 1991)

There is a time for everything under heaven. This is your time, a gift from God. It is your appointed time. No one on earth knows how much time you have left. For such a time as this the Lord has appointed you to live as a fruitful steward of the days and years God will give. The Holy Spirit is our powerful source of strength for living as fruitful stewards of time.

You should all have received a pledge card this week as you do every year when we start our stewardship campaign at St. John. This year you will notice something different on the card. Before you are asked how much of your monthly income you will commit to reflecting the love of God, you will be asked how much of your time you will spend in contact with the Word of God in Bible reading, study, and worship, and what abilities and talent you will commit to the Lord's service. We ask you to consider these questions prayerfully in the next seven days and return this commitment card as we pass the offering plate next Sunday.

In all you do with the time you have left in your earthly life, begin with the end in mind, because the end is the beginning of forever with Jesus. Amen.

Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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