FIRST & 10 SERMON SERIES
STEAL OF FORTUNE
FEBRUARY 21, 1999
You can’t say it any clearer than that. Pure, plain and profound. This commandment, thou shalt not steal, says that we should not take anything, in any way, from anybody. In the original language, this directive is rendered in two words, not steal.
I want to ask you a series of questions and if you would, respond to these questions with lifted hands. How many of you have ever had something stolen from your place of residence? Look around at all those hands. Next question, how many of you have ever had something taken from your car? How about your office? How did you feel? Hurt? Confused? Violated? Those are some of the feelings we go through when we have experienced someone taking something from us.
Let me ask you to respond to the next series of questions in the same way. How many of you have ever stolen something in your life? Would you lift your hand? Maybe a piece of gum from a convenience store. Come on now. Maybe a sports utility vehicle from a mall parking lot. I don’t know. Our cameras are now panning the audience to see who you are. Our society knows how to steal. Everywhere you turn there are surveillance cameras, sensors and security systems. We are oblivious when car alarms go off. Yet every time we take something that is not ours, we are saying to God, “Lord, I know You told me in Your word that you are my provider and supplier but I am going to do my own thing. I will determine my own destiny. I will forge my own future. I will be my provider and my supplier. I’ll do my own thing, cut my own deal. Thank you.”
God knows us so very well. God realized that we could have this spirit to so dominate our persona that it causes us to get something for nothing. Psalm 24:1. “The earth is the Lords and everything in it.” God owns it all. God owns your house. God owns the land the house rests on. God owns your automobile. God owns your business. God owns it all. And when we understand that fact and allow God to be our provider and supplier, when we don’t run ahead of God, then we will have a proper view of this eighth commandment. God put this in print to keep us from dealing with the pain and punishment and problems that stealing would bring. In essence, God is saying, “I want to reveal how you steal.”
The backdrop of this commandment is really interesting. Remember the children of Israel, God’s chosen people? For 400 years they had been in Egyptian bondage. They didn’t have any stuff. Well now God realizes, because they are standing on the edge of closing this massive real estate deal, that they will now own stuff. And God wants to keep them within His perimeters, within His guidelines and guardrails, so they will not have this desire to go haywire and take something from someone that is not theirs.
At first glance, this directive is rather deceptive. One would think that it is just about taking something physically. But as you look at it, this commandment is deep and the depth is deceiving. So I want to share with you today several sides of stealing. And I am going to warn you right up front, this is going to hit a lot of us right between the eyes, just like it hit me this week as I began to study for this message.
What is the first side of stealing? The first side of stealing is rather obvious. It is seizing stuff that you do not own. The first time I ever stole anything was way back in my childhood. I was about five years of age. I was playing at a friend’s home and I noticed some of his attractive matchbox cars that he had. I vividly remember taking those matchbox cars and stuffing them in my jeans pockets. And then I can recall walking out of his front door and sprinting home in my brand new PF Flyers, the Air Jordans of the 60s. They were incredible shoes. When I got to my room, I took those matchbox cars, those hot items, and stuffed them underneath my chest of drawers. I thought I had committed the perfect crime. I thought I was going to get off scott free. I thought that no one was watching, no one knew what was going on, until I heard the door of my room open. And there was my mother. She looked at me with a look only mothers have and said in her Mississippi accent, “Ed, did you steal some matchbox cars from our neighbor?” I began to kind of whimper and said I did. And right when I said that, the doorbell rang. I had visions of police officers standing at my door. I had illusions of these guys arresting me, cuffing me and carting me off to jail. I just thought about never seeing my parents again. Anyway, I confessed. My mother and father made me take that long walk all the way to my neighbor’s house and return those stolen cars. That really helped me because, ever since that day, I have never struggled with seizing stuff in a physical way that is not mine.
God warns us with example after example from the pages of scripture regarding how serious He is about stealing. This stealing stuff is significant. Let me share with you one example that is rather sobering. In the book of Joshua, chapter 7, God explained in painstaking detail to the pointman, Joshua, and the entire Israelite army not to mess around with the possessions from the conquered city of Jericho. God told them to take the possessions and to give them to His treasury in His house. Everybody signed off on the deal, Joshua, his top commanders, his entire army. They said collectively, “Yes, God, we are with You, God. We wouldn’t even think of stealing this stuff and keeping it for ourselves.” Enter Achan. Achan had that achy feeling and desire to acquire. And this achy feeling so dominated him that it caused him to do something out of the ordinary. Achan, instead of taking the possessions and giving them to God, took them for himself. And because of Achan’s sin, the entire Israelite army stumbled over stealing and they lost this easy battle. Check out Achan’s word of confession in Joshua 7:20-21. “This is what I have done. When I saw the plunder, a beautiful robe from Babylonia, 200 shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing 50 shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent with the silver underneath.” Can you believe Achan? Are you ready for this guy going ahead of God? Can you get it that Achan said, “God, I understand that you told me You will be my provider and supplier, but God, I am going to do my own deal. I will determine my own destiny. I will forge my own future. I am the provider and supplier.” And he took something, stole something, seized some stuff. And because of it, the Israelites killed him, his entire family. They lost the easy battle. But what Achan failed to realize, what he really messed up on, was that if he had only waited, only hesitated, checked that desire gone haywire, things and blessings were right around the corner. As you read on in the book of Joshua, after the Israelites lost this battle, they won the next battle, dominated the other army. God allowed them to take all of the possessions that they conquered. Achan could have been a wealthy man. Achan’s family could have been taken care of for the rest of his days, but he got ahead of God. He seized stuff that he did not own.
Somehow we think that there are degrees to stealing. Somehow we think that God grades on this cosmic curve, that a one is like taking a grape from the produce section and a ten is a bank heist. Well, God says that it doesn’t matter if it is a grape heist or a bank heist, it is all thievery and stealing in His economy. Are you seizing? Are you seizing stuff that you do not own?
A friend of mine works in the corporate offices of a high-end department store. She told me a couple of months ago that the major problem that this corporation deals with concerning stealing is not from the outside in, but from the inside. She said that employee theft is what messes them up. But, those who steal say, their company makes so many accounting mistakes, they won’t miss this item or that item. But it is breaking the eighth commandment; it is seizing stuff that you do not own.
That is the first and most basic application and level of commandment number eight. But let’s look at the second one. The second side of stealing is withholding something from someone that is rightfully theirs. That is another way we can steal. And we develop these sly ways of stealing. We know how to steal from our employers by calling in sick. We say to ourselves that we deserve the sick days, that they are ours. When you call in sick and you are not sick, you are stealing a full day’s work for a full day’s wage. We also steal from our employers when we come in late and leave early. We also steal from those we work for when we make phone calls on phones we should not use, when we pad expense accounts, when we run errands on company time, when we surf the net and play video games. Do you feel like your toes are being stepped on a little bit? Do you feel the Holy Spirit of God kind of elbowing you now and then? This stuff is tough, isn’t it?
We also know how to steal from our friends, our family and our nation. Long term borrowing. We borrow yard tools and clothes and money and we withhold the things for so long, they somehow get a hold on us. We withhold child support. We don’t declare all of our income because we don’t like the way our government is using our tax dollars. Stealing. Thievery. It is humorous and also sad how human beings come up with excuses and lies and reasons to remove the remorse of breaking this directive from God.
Go back, all the way back to the book of Genesis. The first biblically recorded excuses occurred when Adam and Eve robbed God’s produce section. Do you remember that? God talked to Adam. “Adam, what is up? What’s the deal?” My paraphrase. And Adam told God, “God, it is her. It is the woman. It is Eve. God, if you hadn’t made this beautiful woman, I would not be in this predicament.” He was insinuating to God that Eve was the one who caused him to stumble. Then God confronted Eve. Eve said, “Oh, it is the serpent, not me.”
I want you to watch the side screens for just a second because I want you to read some excuses that a lot of us give when we withhold something from someone that is rightfully theirs. Let’s look at the first one. “It was their fault.” We take something and we say that we have the right to possess it because it is in our possession. It is their fault that they left the coat at the store. It is her fault that she gave me an extra fifty at the restaurant. Finders keepers, losers weepers.
Let’s look at the next one. “I was just going to use it for a little while.” I was just using it. We love that one, don’t we? Teenager, when you take money from a parent’s wallet, it is stealing unless you have their permission. Hey, young lady, when you borrow your older sister’s shoes, they aren’t really yours until you get your older sister’s permission. Don’t you see, these excuses go all the way back to the garden.
Let’s look at one more before I get too excited. “That wasn’t really stealing.” Have you ever said that before? Bootlegging cable television, that isn’t really stealing. Lying about my kid’s age to get them into Six Flags cheaper, that isn’t really stealing. Filing frivolous insurance claims, ludicrous law suits, that’s not really stealing. Yes, it is. It is stealing and we know how to do it.
Let’s look at the third level of stealing. The third level of stealing is deceiving someone into believing a falsehood for personal gain. Now this is sophisticated stealing. This is stealing on steroids here. Proverbs 20:23. “The Lord hates dishonest scales and dishonest weights.” So, don’t cheat. Thirty-five hundred years ago, folks, they were messing around with dishonest scales and dishonest weights and cheating and thirty-five hundred years later we are still doing the same thing. It is the insurance salesman who proclaims you need this policy. It is the doctor or dentist who says you need this procedure. It is the repairperson who says he would not face a Texas summer with that unit. It is the person selling the house to a perspective buyer who declares the foundation to be as solid as a rock. Water, no problem. Lying, stealing and cheating hurts our hearts, hurts other people’s hearts and more importantly, it damages the heart of God. Don’t do it.
Several months ago I was sitting in Starbucks minding my own business cranking out yet another message. I get in a message zone when I am studying. I don’t care what is going on, music or conversation. I can just focus. But I overheard a conversation that I had to listen to. A young girl began to talk to the biresta, the guy making all the cappuccinos, mochas, and other stuff. He asked her how she was. She replied, “I am doing great. I just took an exam and I cheated my butt off.” That is what she said. I thought to myself, that is interesting. I looked at her and could tell she was in high school, or more probably in jr. high school. I watched this young girl as she was about to fly out the front door. I stood up and said, “Excuse me.” I normally don’t do this. I don’t know why I did it. I said, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” She walked over and said, “OK.” I said, “Why did you cheat on the exam? Why did you steal from your teacher? Why did you do that?” She began to make up a lot of excuses and rationales like the ones we saw on the side screen earlier. Finally, she said, “You know, I am glad you asked me that question because I feel horrible. I feel really guilty.” I said, “Don’t cheat. A girl like you, you have your life ahead of you. It is not worth it. The truth is always best.” She looked at me and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I said, “No.” She said, “What do you do for a living?” I said, “I am a pastor of a church.” “Oh”, she said, “you are a priest. Oh, no. Oh, that’s really good. I just confessed to a priest that I had cheated my butt off. Oh, that’s really good.” I said, “Amber, I am not a priest, I am a pastor. I am not a perfect guy and I am sure that I will never see you again, Amber, but don’t cheat and steal. God loves you. You matter to God. Don’t do it. Honor Him.” Isn’t it something? Isn’t it fascinating that the people we rub shoulders with day after day are dealing with breaking the eighth commandment.
Well, let’s talk about the fourth side, and this is the final side, of looking at stealing. A lot of us embezzle God’s resources. That’s right, embezzling God’s resources is a form of stealing. It is going to get very quiet now but let me go ahead and read the book of Malachi 3:8. Here is what God says. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob Me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob You? In your tithes and offerings.” Scores of us are embezzling God’s resources.
Let me talk to you about the tithe because some here are wondering what in the world is a tithe. The word tithe means tenth. If you go back to the book of Deuteronomy 14, it tells us quite frankly that we are to give 10% of everything we make to God at least every twelve months. Deuteronomy 14:22. “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your field produces each year.” Back in biblical times they gave a tenth of their crops and a tenth of their livestock. That would be like you and me giving stock today. But the Israelites were really sly. They knew how to embezzle God’s resources. They would check out their livestock and, although God had commanded them to give the best, they would choose a mangy, old sheep that had the parvo virus to bring to the altar. They would tell God that they had brought their best as their tithe to Him. But God said, “You are robbing me.”
Now some of you are thinking that a tithe means ten percent and since you give ten percent to the local church, that is cool. However, as you study the whole concept of tithing, ten percent was just the base. It was just the minimum. Back in the Old Testament, on top of their tithe, they gave thanksgiving offerings and offerings to construct houses of worship. One of the major themes in the Old Testament has to do with the design and the construction and the financing of houses of worship.
About this time some of you seasoned saints are saying that you understand where I am going but that we are no longer under the law. Now we are under grace. You are right. We are under grace. We are not under the law anymore. But whatever gave you the idea that we are to do less under grace than under the law. We should give at every opportunity. And if you study the local church and the giving in New Testament times, most sincere followers, if you want to talk percentages, gave thirty to forty percent of everything they made to the local church. About now some of you are beginning to count lights in the ceiling. You are going, “Whoa, get me out of here. Embezzling God’s resources, oh, man.” But in a real way, a lot of you are. Don’t do it. Do it God’s way. Give and you will be blessed phenomenally.
God owns it all. God owns it all. Our response to that statement should not be, “God, OK, what is mine is this amount and I will figure out, God, what I can give to You.” That should not be our response. Our response should be, “God, everything I have is Yours so what should I keep for myself to live on?” That should be our response. A couple things have always amazed me about walking with God. First of all, I am amazed that God uses sinners, like you and me, to do His will. That has always freaked me out. Look around you for a second. We are just a colossal collection of moral foul-ups. But God hits those straight licks with crooked sticks, doesn’t He? That has always freaked me out. But there is something else that amazes me about God. God allows you and me to worship Him with His funds. He tells us to be managers of it, to be stewards of it. God owns it all and we can express our love to Him by giving to Him what is already His. Are you doing that? Or are you embezzling resources from God?
In Acts 5 there is a story of a husband and wife team names Ananias and Sapphira. They sold a piece of property back and held some money back. They lied to God’s leadership and to God’s church because they wanted the glory for the gift and God struck them down. So don’t go there. Don’t lie about it. Don’t embezzle funds. Don’t say that you want to show others how much you are giving, how good you are. Giving is a God thing and if we simply gave the base requirement of ten percent, we would not have to worry about building phase two, building phase three, doing Paving The Way, hiring new staff members. We wouldn’t have to worry about it. But people just embezzle God’s funds.
It is always interesting to watch people when I talk about giving. Those here who are selfish and are disobedient and are embezzling God’s funds have a body language that shows it. But those here who are generous are open. God has blessed all of us financially, in certain degrees and on certain levels. The issue is, are you going to be a river to allow the blessings to flow from God through you to the church or are you going to be a reservoir, a dam, saying that you are a self-made man or a self-made woman. Oh, you are? Who gave you the creativity? Who gave you the drive? Who gave you the opportunity? Who? It is a God thing. Don’t embezzle God’s resources, you are stealing from Him.
Let’s wrap it up now. We have talked about several sides of stealing. What are the implications of breaking this eighth commandment? There are several that I want to hit. First, when we break this commandment we are doing damage to ourselves, others and to God. Second, when we steal, lying is just around the corner. It is impossible to steal and not to be a liar. Number three, when we steal we end up paying more at stores, using lots of security stuff, etc. Fourth, when we steal, we thwart and hold back the development of the emerging local church. Don’t do it.
Ephesians 4:28. It says it pure, plain and profound. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer.” Pretty good, isn’t it? Two challenges. Challenge number one. When you go home this afternoon after a Luby’s lunch or California Pizza Kitchen visit or whatever, I want to challenge you to do a walkthrough of your home. Assess what is yours and what belongs to someone else. Have you done the long-term borrowing thing? Have you withheld something from someone so long that now it has a hold on you? Maybe a yard tool, maybe a dress, maybe some shoes, maybe some cash? What? Because a lot of people here are dealing in patterns of deception and this deception has so dominated your spirit that you have gotten into stealing. After you recognize what is yours and what is not yours, box it up and send it to the person you took it from. Now don’t just write a letter and say, “Oops, sorry. I forgot about it.” Write something like this. “Dear whoever you are, I am going to a church called The Fellowship Church. I understand now that part of my development and maturing in Christ is to obey the eighth commandment, to honor God with my resources. I want to honor God by giving these things back to you.”
Well, maybe the item is tattered or messed up. Maybe it is kind of abused because you held it so long. Send them a check, a money order. Maybe some others need to go back to a teacher or back to a convenience store or back to someone else and say you have taken something from them. “I have seized stuff from you. I have cheated you out of money. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” It all starts with the walkthrough of your house.
The second challenge. Do a walkthrough of your heart. Ask God to reveal your motives, your reasons, your rationales for doing certain things. God will bring up things in your life that you are doing that will surprise you, if you will just let Him. This is putting shoe leather beneath the eighth commandment. This is the application stuff. This is the “so what” stuff. We don’t just read the eighth commandment and say, “Oh a lot of people are stealing. That’s bad, God.” and leave. We say, “God I have an open mind and an open heart and an open home. Show me what to do because of it.” That is biblical Christianity.
If we as a church put shoe leather beneath this commandment, no longer will we ever play the Steal of Fortune.