JERRY A. STEVENS
Retired General Conference Worker/Ponderer of Our Changing Times
Before we could unite with the Seventh-day Adventists, Penny and I had to clear what at the time seemed one last but insurmountable hurdle. That patient pastoral couple from the little church in East Detroit, Michigan, Kenneth and Rosalie Haffner Lee, were just as thrilled as we were, in all the eagerness of our newfound faith, as we fairly breezed through a manual containing the basic beliefs held by the denomination.
This baptism preparation manual bore the title “In His Steps . . . : A Summary of the Doctrinal Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists.” In the section called “Living the Christian Life,” we were suddenly confronted with a terrifying predicament. In devastatingly direct, uncompromising language a subsection read: “The Christian’s stewardship will include a faithful tithe and freewill offerings for the support of the church and its mission to the world.”
The Bible itself indicated that withholding tithe was tantamount to robbing God Himself, and would bring a curse (Malachi 3:8, 9). Well, I don’t know about you, but I simply cannot conjure up a vision of some wretched miscreant so brazen, so cretinous, so brutish as to attempt to rob God! Needless to say, I was acutely uncomfortable with the thought that the God I had so recently come to know and love might yet look upon me as a thief, a petty pickpocket, and then place a curse upon me.
Yet there it was, Malachi’s terse, haunting declaration. The Bible said it, and we believed it; but how in the world could we conscientiously place a check mark next to the item that called for this financial commitment, when the text plainly read: “Recognizing God as the Source of all blessings, I shall gladly return to Him first the tithe, the tenth of my increase, and then offerings as I am able, as He prospers me”?
It didn’t make sense then. It doesn’t really make “sense” now. As we saw it, there was no way on God’s green Earth that my dear wife and I could hope to come up with a true tithe and yet avoid debtor’s prison! As seemed “normal” for so many young couples, we were living beyond our means and had accumulated considerable credit card debt. Any acquaintance the least bit conversant with basic consumer mathematics would have agreed with us that we could not both return a tithe (let alone produce any additional offerings) and ever hope to disentangle ourselves from the Gordian knot called debt.
It was then that we did the smartest thing we had done in a very long time. We decided to place our problem in the Lord’s hands. If He truly required tithe, then He would have to work things out. We knelt down and prayed, and cried, and prayed some more. Through our tears we claimed the promise in Malachi 3:10, the one that challenges us to put God to the test and see how He will bless us. Then we got off our knees and I filled out a tithe envelope and wrote my first check for the proper amount. The Holy Spirit must have approved our decision, for I recall enjoying untroubled sleep the first night that I decided to be a faithful and wise steward, and on every night thereafter. The matter was settled forever.
And did we go to debtor’s prison? You know the answer. That spiritual struggle took place 29 years ago. In retrospect, Penny and I have never regretted for an instant our wise, Spirit-directed decision. We learned very quickly that God’s system of mathematics defies all “commonsense” logic and reason. We’ve no idea how He does it, but we’ve learned that He means precisely what He says! “All His biddings are enablings” (Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 333). We trust and obey; God responds in blessings. May all the praise be His.
Dear reader, I have related my own true experience with but one aspect of stewardship. Be clear about this fact: Stewardship involves much more than our returning honest tithes. It is wholistic. This means that stewardship has to do not only with personal financial management, but also with our health, our use of time, what we do with our talents, how we treat our environment, how we relate to others, and the state of our spirituality.
May each of us be ready to insert our names in the blank that follows Jesus’ searching question: “Who then is that faithful and wise steward?” (Luke 12:42). Indeed, Jesus has wider responsibilities in store for those He can trust to be joint rulers with Him in His boundless, eternal kingdom—those who are exercising their stewardship muscles now.
The thirteen articles that follow, taken as a whole, comprise what almost amounts to a white paper on the subject of stewardship. We think this issue is destined to enjoy a long shelf life in Adventist circles. Several compositions, as is mine, are testimonials, or a combination of testimony and essay. Some explore the topic from a single perspective, others from a more comprehensive one. Fully eight of the authors (counting the Drumms, a married couple, as a single author) are new to this issue. We think you will like the fresh ideas they share.
We extend sincere thanks, then, to authors Orlich, Batchelor, Kasperbauer, Barrett, Pellandini, Koranteng-Pipim, Sweigart, the Drumms, Reid, Ruff, and Freeman. Extra special thanks go to Paul Pellandini, as this project is the culmination of his dream. Elder Pellandini invested quality time in lining up several of the contributors to this issue, stayed abreast of their progress, and in general made our job easier. We appreciate people like that!
By the time you finish reading from cover to cover, we believe that your own ideas of true stewardship will be AFFIRMed in the process. As Paul so wisely counsels, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). That being the case, this issue goes out with prayers that our righteous Judge will reward each reader with His “well done, thou good and faithful servant” commendation (Matthew 25:21). It can’t get any better than to feel the warmth of heavenly approbation. Faithful over a few things on this old decaying planet, I long to be entrusted with stewardship over many things in a perfect hereafter, basking in the joy of my Lord. Don’t you?