I recently visited Knoll Beach in Studland Bay. It is owned by the National Trust, so I was delighted to find that it was free parking because we are members. The views are incredible with Old Harry Rocks on the one side and Bournemouth on the other. Just on the the beach was a sign asking that people to spend just two minutes picking up litter, with refuse bags provided for use. What a shame that in this idyllic spot, people have to volunteer to keep the place tidy! Whose responsibility is it to keep this beach tidy? You would have thought that the National Trust would have employed someone to do that sort of thing, but is it their responsibility or that of those who use it? Should I regard it as my responsibility to look after something like that when it does not particularly belong to me?

Well this is an important question! How should I regard the things I use or have been given? This topic is called ‘Stewardship’, which can be defined as looking after something we have been given. As a Baptist and a Christian I should have a different view of things because of what I believe about God, his world and my position in it. Of all the people on the beach that morning I should have been one of the ones willing to spend some time tidying up. I have to confess I did not and I felt a little guilty afterwards.

A Christian definition of Stewardship would be that it is is a way of life, a life of accountability and responsibility acknowledging God as Creator and Giver of all. Stewardship involves responsible management of our God-given resources of time, talent, and treasure. Stewards as disciples of Jesus Christ see themselves as caretakers of all God's gifts.

In Matthew 25 v 14-30 Jesus tells the parable of the talents where the master gives different amounts of talents or money to his servant before leaving on a journey. On his return he asks what the servants have done with what they have been given. He rewards the two who have made a profit and punishes the lazy servant who did nothing but bury what he had been given. The message is clear, Jesus regards us responsible for what we have been given and we will be held responsible for our actions.

Mankind has been given responsibility for the world. It is God’s world but he commanded that human beings look after it. In Genesis 1 v 28 he told us to rule over what he had made, to subdue it, to make it fruitful and increase. This sort of stewardship is often in the news because of the threat of global warming. Part of our witness as Baptists should be our lifestyle and the actions we take to preserve the world and it’s resources.

What do you believe that God has given you? All of us have abilities and talents and although you may not think of yourself as very talented, you have a lot to be thankful for. It is our responsibility to use what we have to serve God. If you are good at peeling potatoes, then peel for the glory of God. Andrew has recently concluded a series of sermons on the Gifts of the Spirit and while you may not have the gift of prophecy, we should make every attempt to use the gifts we have been given.

The most sensitive of issues is the stewardship of money. It is very easy to upset people when talking about what we should do with our money, but if we believe that Jesus has provided for our well-being and our ‘daily bread’ then we should prayerfully consider what he would want us to do with our money. Money and wealth was one of the topics Jesus spoke about most often, he warned people about the dangers of wealth. On one occasion he told one man to given away all his wealth but the man felt unable to follow Jesus’ instructions. The idea of stewardship extends to our bank balance and means that part of being a Baptist should be seen in the way we use our money. Paul complimented Christians in Macedonia for their sacrificial giving to the needs of those suffering in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:3). In the Old Testament people were expected to give one tenth (tithe) of their crops and this has become a principle that many Christians try to follow. The more that God has given to us, the more we should give back in thanks for God’s use. Paul encouraged Christians to be generous because of the abundance of God’s provision for us (2 Corinthians 9:7-8) and to avoid the ‘love’ of money that is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

As a Baptist, a priority should be to support the congregation we belong to and to support the ministry financially. Our church, on our behalf, gives support to our Baptist family through a regular contribution based on the number of members we have, to the Baptist Union Home Mission Fund that supports the work of mission in many parts of the country. Our church also makes a regular contribution to the Baptist Missionary Society to support those Baptists working in other parts of the world.

So if you call yourself a Baptist it is important to realise that being a Christian extends even to your wallet or purse. Hopefully you will not now decide to become a Methodist, but will feel happy to share in the life and witness of our church in continuing to be a good steward of what God has given you. The next time I go to the beach I am going to make sure that I spend a bit of time tidying up.