"The Earth is the Lord's...and the fulness thereof...the world, and they that dwell therein." (Psalm 24:l). Everything of beauty is God's gift to us. Therefore, let us behold and grasp the gift he gives us...the offerings of his grace. The Lord loves to give. The Lord is gracious and full of compassion." (Psalm 111:4.)

Let us take the moments...let's enjoy his gifts...gifts given freely, given to all--to those who know and love him--and to those who do not know him. But God not only gives gifts. He brings them personally. He is like a guest at a birthday party, for he comes along with his gift. He wants to join in with you in your enjoyment and laughter and smiles. And, yes, in your tears and trials and disappointments. And when God chose to give us his greatest gift, he wrapped himself up in that gift.

"I and the Father are one," said Jesus, God's perfect, dearest gift to us. All of God's love came with Jesus. For in Jesus, God gave the gift of himself. In Jesus, God did not give us something that he created or bought. No, God gave the One who was one with him from eternity. And what does this gift mean? It means life for us. "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10.) God has given us so much.

Let's take a few minutes to consider his gifts and our feelings toward them. Let's discover what the Bible says about stewardship.

God gave us the gift of Jesus in order to bring us complete happiness. The path to our hearts and lives led through the darkness of pain and death. Yet, he delivered his singular gift. What love beyond words! "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend." (John 15:13, RSV.) Therefore, we are twice the possession of God--we are his by creation, and we are his by redemption.

No wonder God tells us, "I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine!" (Isaiah 43:1.) God tells us we are his. "For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:20.) We paid nothing to have Jesus come and pay for our redemption. We could never pay the price. So, God gave the gift of himself without any cost to us. He himself died in our place and paid the wages of sin in our place.

What can we do? We can reach up and accept God's dearest gift. And when we do, what joy fills our hearts! What precious fulfillment we find in life! Forever we can find a close fellowship with the Friend who died for us, who gave all of himself for us, who rose from the dead for us, and someday will soon come again for us!

As we meditate on what God has done for us and the meaning of his gift, we shall feel love arising in our hearts for him. We will realize that we are in a love relationship with our Savior, for "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19.) Then when our hearts unite with his heart, life becomes a partnership with God. Our lives, our homes, even our bank accounts are shared with Christ.

Joyfully we live out the command that Jesus gave. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me," (Matthew 16:24.) And as we do that, Christ shares everything he possesses with us. Then a new peace of mind and a new sense of confidence begin to flow in and through our lives. We find ourselves far richer than if we kept everything to ourselves.

Sharing the gifts God has given us is called Christian stewardship. But what does Christian stewardship involve? What are some of the gifts we ought to return to our Creator and Savior?

The very first gift is--LIVE! We are to be stewards of the life God has given us. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts 17:28.) We are not self-sufficient; we are not our own. God has bought us with a price--and that price was the life of his Son. Our heavenly Father poured out the river of his love for us. When we totally surrender our lives to him, we join into that flow of love. We bring praise to him. We share his love with others. Seeking God and the good of other is the only way to complete and lasting happiness. The more a Christian gives back to God and shares with others, the happier he is, for he is living out God's purpose. To such a Christian, life is a sacred trust, precious beyond estimate because it is used in God's service.

When we give our lives to Jesus, then we will also use our bodies for his glory. This is the stewardship of our bodies. Paul the apostle stated it this way: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." (Romans 12:l.)

In order to fulfill our service to God, we must watch over our bodies. God wants us to be in top health, physically, mentally and spiritually, so that he can use us fully. We must eat wisely, exercise, live morally, work but not overwork. We must not use anything that will destroy body or mind. And as for our thinking habits, with God's help we must seek to keep those in control. His counsel to us is "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely...if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8.)

God wants your mind to find its highest fulfillment. That is his greatest gift to you. But life and time go together. So, God asks you to be a good steward of time. The Psalmist's prayer is: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." (Psalm 90:12.)

Our years are made of days...and our days of hours...and our hours of the moments. So, let's treasure those moments for God. The moment now..the next moment..the moment after that, and so on, when used wisely and with a purpose, will enable you to keep growing as a Christian and as a caring human being.

Some of the time given you should be spent in communion with God and in the study of his Word. It's true that by beholding we become changed. So, friend, behold your Savior every day. Read his word. Meditate and apply God's Word to your personal life. And pray. Talk to God as to a friend, for he is your friend.

There's another portion of time God has specifically set aside for you. That is the Sabbath. God yearns to spend the Sabbath with you. By observing the Sabbath as God wants you to--in worshipful, quiet manner--you are showing that God is Master of your life and your time. "The Sabbath was made for man," the Bible says. (Mark 2:27.) It was tailored for you. It will refresh you, deepen your relationship with your Creator. Observing the Sabbath is a vital part of a wise stewardship of time.

Besides the stewardship of life, our bodies and time, there is also the wise stewardship of our abilities. God gave us talents and abilities so that we could create and accomplish. The apostle Paul found his highest ideal in using his abilities for Christ. He said, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13.) If we let him, Christ will take us and put us into places of service where we can develop this gift of abilities. If we ignore those opportunities, then our abilities will lessen. If we seek to make full use of them, then our abilities will increase.

Do not think that you must wait for the big moments, the big opportunities before using your abilities for God. In fact, it is through the daily, common tasks that we have the greatest opportunities for self-development and growth. These everyday tasks, when carried out with loving faithfulness, are beautiful in God's sight. Do them well, and to God's glory.

Another power that God gives us is the ability to secure possessions. The Bible says, "Always remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you power to become rich." (Deuteronomy 8:18 LB) What shall we do with our possessions?

There is also a wise stewardship of our material possessions. Jesus said: "Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:20, 21) Giving to God's cause on this earth will strengthen unselfishness in our lives. And unselfishness is at the heart of all true development.

As you share yourself with God and others, you will find yourself blessed, your thoughts expanding, your capacity to love growing. You will find yourself becoming more like the loving Savior. Sharing our material possessions helps us to become more and more like Christ, who gave up all of heaven for our sakes.

Our partnership with Christ lifts us out of selfishness and self- seeking. It builds up our generosity. It weakens our desire to think only of self. Giving to God's cause on earth--to the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus Christ to others--is a partnership with God that will bring continued joy. There is no adventure in life equal to having God as a partner. There is no thrill as great as knowing that we are co-workers with God in helping to build his kingdom of peace and righteousness.

Taking God into partnership assures us of an inner satisfaction and joy not possessed by those who work only for themselves and keep their possessions only for themselves. No wonder the Bible says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35.)

God gives you all of the riches of heaven. What does he wish from you? That you find even greater happiness by sharing his gifts. God keeps telling us that the only way to make full use of his gifts is to use them for God's glory and for the sake of others. He says, "Give, and it shall be given unto you." (Luke 6:38.) You shall receive much greater gifts than you've given to others.

Your next question might very well be, How much does God expect me to give? Again, we turn to the Bible to find out God's answer. Over 400 years before the Jewish people entered the land of Palestine, God gave his people a plan of stewardship concerning possessions. This was the tithe, equal to one-tenth of a person's income.

We read of Abraham's paying tithes to Melchizedek, the "priest of the most high God." And many years later, Jacob promised God he would follow the same plan. He said, "Of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee." (Genesis 28:22.) And at Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments were given, the tithing plan was given to the Israelite nation. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord." (Leviticus 27:30.)

When Jesus was on earth, he often rebuked the religious leaders for their pride. But he did compliment them for keeping a faithfultithe. He said, "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs...but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23, TEV.)

The God-given principle of tithing is quite simple. God gives you everything, the whole 100%. He gives you the ability, the life, the time to earn the 100%. And then, as a recognition on your part of what he has done for you, God asks that you return just 10% back to him. In fact, this tithe is not something you give to God. Rather, it is something you return to him; it is really his, his share for being your partner.

If you choose not to return that 10% share to him, what then? God says you are a robber. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me." (Malachi 3:8,9.)

What is the tithe to be used for? In the Old Testament it was used for support of the priests. In the New Testament it was to be used for support of the ministers of the Christian church. Paul the apostle pointed this out: "The Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:14.)

Therefore, when we return our tithe we are actually helping to preach the gospel through the people God ordained. We are helping to support the body of Christ, which is the church. As we mentioned earlier, this is a partnership agreement between us and God. He helps us. He blesses us.

If we faithfully obey him, he will continue to bless us abundantly. He promised, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house and prove me now...if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:10.)

But is the tithe all you are to give? Should you stop at ten percent? The answer is simple. God wants the tithe and offerings to comefrom a grateful, loving heart. He loves the spirit of gratitude that was seen in David's heart when he exclaimed, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?" (Psalm 116:12.) David felt that there was no way--no amount of money--that could express his thanks for God's love.

And so with the loving Christian today. He sees what God has done for him. He knows that without God's love as expressed in his Son, Jesus, he would be eternally lost. He sees that through redemption he belongs entirely to God. So, he gives all he can, not out of duty but out of love. He gives his life, his body, his abilities, his time and his possessions into God's hands.

As Christians, we realize that we are in partnership with our Savior, Jesus Christ. But never can we give as much as he put into that partnership. Yet, Jesus wants us to give what we can, with love in our hearts, with a desire to serve him. And when we do that, then Christ's prayer will be answered in us: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one...that they also may be one in us." (John 17:20,21.)

One in God...partners with Christ! What an opportunity! What a life! And it can be yours...starting right now. Let's bow our heads for a moment of prayer.

"Dear Father, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for asking us to be your partners. Help each of us to fully accept your way toward faithful stewardship. And help each of us to give ourselves entirely to thee--Lives, bodies, time, abilities and possessions. This we ask in Jesus' name, Amen."