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From his column Pressing On

pressing-on-07-13-1He leaned forward, lips quivering. Thudding his index finger on the table with every syllable, the church board member asserted, “We must be good stewards of the church’s money!” Translation: “We must be stingy!”

To be fair, this board member was correct. We must be good stewards. And sometimes being a good steward means tightening the belt. Sometimes it means cutting back or cutting out certain expenditures. But when did biblical stewardship become equated with guarded stinginess? In the minds of many, one tends to equal the other. The phrase itself, “being a good steward,” conjures images of pinching pennies and measured frugality.

We are not stewards "in general." We are stewards "of God." We are stewards for God. And the Apostle John tells us something of the nature of God when he exclaims, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (I John 3:1). John, who lived awestruck by the notion that he was loved lavishly by Jesus, reminds us that our Heavenly Father is a lavish God. He is lavish with his love and mercy. He is lavish with his presence and patience. He is lavish with his resources and blessings. He is lavish with Himself.

He is the Creator who spared no expense. He is the Wilderness Guide who traveled open-handed. He is the scorned Lover who opened himself to Israel time and again. He is the Christ who “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7, NASB). He is the reckless Seed-sower. He is the Teacher who instructed forgiveness seventy times seven. He is the Christ who forgave from the cross. He is the Father who called for the fattened calf. He is the Spirit who pours himself out.

We are stewards of this God—the lavish God. And that means good stewardship often calls for us to be lavish—to be open-handed instead of tight-fisted, to be unmeasured with our mercy, to be reckless with our resources, to be generous with our hospitality, to be lavish with our love.

In his book, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Secret of More, Mark Buchanan uses the word extravagance to make the same point. He recounts, “In the church where I first met Jesus (there was) an absence. There was, as far as I can recall, no extravagance in that church: extravagant joy, extravagant hope, extravagant kindness, extravagant generosity, extravagant grace, extravagant forgiveness. I don’t remember any of that… What we had instead was prudence. We were a cautious folk, rationing out our money and time and goodwill in small increments. We forgave, up to a point. We gave, up to a tithe. We had faith, as long as the cash was in the bank. We took risks, as long as they were well calculated and we could all be safely home by ten o’clock. They were good people… But we weren’t extravagant.” He concludes with, “A chief sign of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit is exactly this, this extravagance. Where once we were wary, stingy, reluctant, we find ourselves bighearted, spendthrift, daring.”

To be clear, we are not called to be lavish or extravagant when it comes to anything and everything. And our extravagance should certainly not be directed toward ourselves. The Holy Spirit’s careful discernment is required for knowing when such extravagance is in order. We ask the question, “What matters most to God?” The answers indicate the areas to which we should give extravagantly. For churches and individuals to be good stewards means being extravagant when it comes to worship and missions. It means being extravagant in our welcome of strangers and our mercy toward sinners. It means being extravagant with robust praise, care for the broken, and time spent with those in need.

The church is living inside a parable. The story is familiar: The Master has gone away for a time. Everything we have belongs to him. We have been given charge of it. We could bury it, or sit on it, or prudently watch over it. Or we could be good stewards—lavish and extravagant— like our Master—for our Master.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee. He is the author of Shift: How Nine Churches Experienced Vibrant Renewal.

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