Sunday, December 9, 2018

It's A Wonderful Life- Hope In It

It’s a Wonderful Life: Hope In It
Matthew 3: 1-12

You have one of those conversations when the right person at the right time spoke that changed the way you looked at the world? I had one a few years ago. Before I grew in my understanding of social dynamics, I was a little judgmental in my attitude towards people who lived differently that I did. In my small hometown, I didn’t notice many differences between this family or that family-probably because I wasn’t looking. But when I did start to notice, I had lots of questions. If you’re in debt, why would you spend more money? If you need to eat, why don’t you sell something of value? And the biggie- If you’re trying to make ends meet, why are you spending all your money on worthless items like cigarettes? Now, I’m not proud of those thoughts, but they reflected something about my upbringing that wasn’t true of everybody…I had what I needed to live a good life. And because of that, I had hope. Lots of it.  And that was the difference. I didn’t know this until conversation with the head of a local social service non-profit a few years ago. I brought these questions to her attention- concerns, really- and she gracefully looked me in the eye and gave me an answer I’ll never forget: They have no hope, Brett. They have no thought of a future, because they’re not convinced they have one.

One of the more dangerous things that can happen to a person or society is to experience hope slipping away. When we start to lose our hope, we start to lose our hearts. And when we lose our hearts, we begin to lose the very essence of what it means to be human. Numerous studies reveal that hopelessness leads to serious problems- physical, emotional and relational, and if we get to a point where we feel that hope is a pipe dream, we’re bound to throw in the towel and give up. And in those moments, those moments when we can’t see a way forward, we need a fresh voice to call us back, a fresh perspective to help us see our lives and circumstances in a different light.

George Bailey was that fresh voice for the Board of the Building and Loan. Following the passing of his father, Peter, who was the life and soul of the company, the Board was left in a quandary. They all knew Peter was the engine that made the company run, and so long as Peter was in charge, the Building and Loan had a captain to steer through the ups and downs. With Peter at the helm, the Building and Loan stayed afloat and became a source of encouragement for the average Bedford Falls resident. But now he was gone, and mean old Mr. Potter was capitalizing on the Board’s fear. Where’s all this good will going to get us, Mr. Potter asked. It’s just going to create a bunch of discontented lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class…And all because a lot of starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas. I’m guessing the Board never thought of it that way, but Mr. Potter now had their full attention. Maybe he was right. Maybe they would be better off just selling the company and cutting their losses. Maybe they were foolish, because instead of just making money, they were trying to do something hopeful for their community. Maybe it was all a waste of time. And sensing the temperature in the room changing, George Bailey stands up and utters the words that begin to turn the story around: Now hold on just a minute.

We don’t see those words in any of our texts for today, but it’s clear that God’s people needed something to turn their story around. Their lives weren’t awful, but they weren’t full of hope, either. They were stuck under Roman rule, which made it hard to accept their identity as God’s people. And the longer they waited for God to fulfill his salvation plans, the more susceptible they became to giving up and giving in. I think Zacchaeus is a great example. I don’t know if Zaccheaus was a victim of hopelessness or not, but he certainly abided by the “If you can’t beat them, join them” theory. And he hired himself out to the Romans as a tax collector and began to charge more than what the average citizen had been asked to pay. That’s a good way to lose your identity. That’s a good way to forget who you are. And it’s to that people, a people in danger of giving up, that God sends a fresh voice named John the Baptist.

Of all the Advent characters we sing about and talk about, John the Baptist is probably the least desirable. You know why? Because he’s the type of guy who loves us so much that he’ll tell us off from time to time. We need those people. We don’t always like them, but we need them. John the Baptist is an important voice. Like a doctor who tells us news we need, but don’t necessarily want to hear, John speaks truth in a way that cuts to the heart, but he does it for one reason: he wants to remind us that we are people of a different story. And there are times we get off course and forget out what and who we’re all about.

John the Baptist’s first word for us is repent, which all in all is a good word, but probably needs some redemption. It really is a word for a hope-filled people, but I’m not sure that’s the image that comes to mind when we hear it. I have a feeling that the word repent evokes some negative emotions in us, kind of like the feeling you get when you’re caught doing something you know you shouldn’t have been doing or when the doctor looks at you and says, “You really need to lose some weight.” When it’s abused, the word repent is a “bad dog” word, a word that points out all the bad things and weighs us down with guilt and shame. But that’s not the heart of this word. At its heart, repent invites us to walk in a different way, to turn from an unhealthy reality to a new one. It’s a word that speaks a fresh invitation to leave the tired, worn out ways behind, the ways that slowly decay our spiritual vitality, and instead embrace a new direction in life. And that direction, says John the Baptist, is the Kingdom of Heaven. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

I’m sure most of the people who heard John’s invitation were a bit perplexed because it certainly didn’t look like the Kingdom of Heaven was near. And I think we would say the same thing today. Where is God when all these bad things happen? How can God’s Kingdom be real when tragedies strike? Why should I follow God when my life feels so lousy? That’s what happens when we forget that our faith is built on hope. We grow desensitized to the story that’s defined us and more importantly, we grow desensitized to the One who is writing the story – the Lord of all Creation. In a sense, that’s what was happening to the Board of the Building and Loan. They were struggling to remember their story because of unfortunate circumstances. Without Peter Bailey around, they quickly forgot the why behind the business, and it had very little to do with making money. But George’s prophetic voice called them to repent, to “hold on just a minute” and remember the truth instead of believing Potter’s lies.

There are lies all around our world that seek to drain the hope out of our souls and create a chasm between us and the deep love of Jesus Christ. And if we’re not careful, we’ll start to believe those lies. But there’s nothing a lie fears worse than the truth. Paul Joseph Goebbels, was the Reich Minister of Propaganda under Adolph Hitler and was known for touting the “big lie” about the Jewish race. In explaining his tactics, Goebbels said this: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the…consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Despite every reason to quit believing, God’s people have always been a people of hope. And that’s because as crazy as it sounds, John the Baptist was telling the truth- the Kingdom of heaven IS near. And not long after John’s proclamation, the long awaited Savior of the Universe appeared on the scene and saved the day. But more than that, he offered with his life to save the world and set us free from the lies of evil, sin and shame. When God’s people were stuck in chains in Egypt, they held on to that future hope. When they wandered for 40 years in the desert wilderness, it was that hope that kept them moving. When Daniel was thrown into the den of lions, he, too, held on to that future hope that would one day take the form of a baby born to a virgin in Bethlehem. And now it’s our turn. This is our story, and we must hope in it. We hope in it by turning and returning to this story over and over and over again. We turn to it in the face of sickness. We turn to it in spite of darkness. We turn to it when we our love fails. We turn to it when tragedy strikes. We turn to it when our questions go unanswered and our prayers seem to fall flat. We turn to it because we need it.

At the end of his speech, his “truth-telling” to old Mr. Potter, George Bailey had one more thing to say to the Board. He couldn’t make a decision for them. They would have to do that on their own. But he could remind them of their vital work. “There’s just one more thing,” says George, “this town needs this measly one-horse institution, if only to have someplace where people can come without crawling to Potter.” This world, brothers and sisters, needs our story, as crazy as it sounds, of a God who so loved the world. Without this story, we’ll continually crawl to the lies that only leave us empty and wanting more. In Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. So let’s turn to it. And let us return with all of our hearts, souls, mind and strength to one born in Bethlehem.  Let’s place our hope in Him. Amen.

It's A Wonderful Life- Endure It

I’ve always wanted to preach an Advent series on “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Before moving to the area, I had never seen the movie, nor did I know that the Indiana area was once home to Jimmy Stewart. This American classic is very much a part of our local culture, and even though this film isn’t part of the Christian subculture, there are Advent lessons we can glean from this historical movie. So the next time you see this movie, I pray that it draws you deeper into the heart of Advent. So let’s begin.

Endurance doesn’t immediately strike us as an Advent theme, does it? But yet, that’s exactly the type of life George Bailey’s father invited him to embrace. Sitting around the dining room table, ready to conquer the big, exciting world in front of him, George’s dad asked him if he’d consider just coming home and working at the old Building and Loan. Not the type of wonderful life George was anticipating. Like Geoargy, we usually hope for something different in our lives- especially this season. Which is why we are so used to seeing words that inspire a different type of emotion during Advent, words like hope, peace, joy and love. Every year we look forward to these themes, these words that keep popping up. Isn’t it interesting that we keep on coming back to those four words during this season? Maybe that’s because these words aren’t as natural as we’d like them to be. If we’re honest, they are words that easily slip from our vocabulary, and, sometimes dangerously, our hearts.

Just a month after last year’s Christmas celebrations, I ran into an old friend who was struggling with his mind and his emotions. The joy-inspired days of Christmas and New Year’s had dissipated into the cold and dreary January darkness, and it was affecting this man’s soul. I think he was battling some type of seasonal depression. He’s a man who yearns to be outdoors and remaining bottled up inside a “shabby existence” is a frightening existence for him.  On his best days, he’s filled with nervous energy, always getting something done. On his worst days, you have to pull him from the house, because he’s not quite certain he wants to do anything. He’s not even sure he wants to go on living. He just wants the darkness to be over.

We might not have the same struggles (or maybe you do), but I think we all have the same sentiment. We just want the darkness to be over. We just want the Kingdom of God to come the way Jesus says it will come. And our proclamation is that one day, it will. One day, the Kingdom will come, just as Jesus has said, and everything will be the way it should be. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. No more war and division; no more hatred and senseless acts of violence. No more evil in this shabby world gone wild. One day, God will make all things new. But until then, we have to learn the discipline of endurance.

Endurance is a tough concept in our culture. For a people so used to having everything and anything at the click of a button, endurance is almost incomprehensible. The idea of waiting for something we yearn for seems unjust and unfair. We want hope, peace, joy and love to be our reality, and we want those promised gifts now! Just like we want Christmas to appear as soon as possible! But while we get glimpses of those gifts, they’re often overshadowed by other realities that take the life out of us. Realities like the recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and raging wildfires in California. And that’s what makes endurace, just like hope, peace, joy and love, such an important theme for Advent.

It’s safe to say that we’re not the only ones who struggle with endurance. So did the early disciples. Like the kids in the backseat asking “When are we going to get there,” the disciples were constantly asking Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” It was a popular question for Jesus, and understandably so. The Jewish people were tired of the status quo- tired of other governments controlling them, tired of feeling like they were second-class citizens, tired of feeling powerless to change their social situation. And they had been at it for quite some time. Their history was one of oppression. Whether it was Egypt or Babylon or Assyria or Rome, they just wanted the promises of God to become their reality. And every time they asked when their shabby existence would transform into the beautiful Kingdom, the answer always seemed to be the same: “Not yet. It is surely coming, but not yet.”

“Not yet” isn’t the answer anyone wants to hear, but it’s the answer God gives more often than not. And knowing that we’d like God to reveal more than a “not yet,” Jesus teaches us the way of endurance, the way of faithfully moving forward, undeterred in the faith, especially when moments of hope, peace, joy and love seem fleeting. And who better to teach us than the one who Hebrews says, “endured the cross for the joy set before him, scorning its shame.” Endurance is the way of Christ, and it’s the way of Christ’s followers who must learn to fix their eyes when they cannot fix their world. In these in-between times, the threshold between what is and what will be, our souls must be shaped by the discipline of endurance. And endurance requires a great deal of courage. That’s what we’re invited into this Advent season. We’re invited into a courageous faith. 

Without courage, it would be easy to discover, like my friend in mid-January, that our hearts can easily grow discouraged, disappointed or even listless. Enduring the struggles of this world while awaiting the joy that is to come is not for the faint of heart. This is the point Jesus is trying to make to his disciples. Having faith requires courage! It takes courage to get up every morning and proclaim love in a broken world. It takes courage to await joy in the face of suffering. It takes courage to believe in resurrection when everything around screams death. It takes courage to keep on believing that whatever chapters are currently being written cannot and will not undo the ending of a story we know to be true. So we must endure. Not simply exist. We must endure! And that requires courage. But here’s the thing about courage: it’s not found by digging deep within; courage is found when we’re awakened to the activity of God.

Jesus has said that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words never will. His words, which flow out of his heart to strengthen our weak spirits, will never be shaken. Nothing in our world can undo the story God is writing, which is why Jesus tells us to look at pay attention to the signs all around. “There will be signs,” says Jesus, and those signs will remind us that our redemption is drawing near. And those signs remind us that God is not done! Right after Halloween, the girls and I made a trip to Lowe’s. The shelves were still stocked with marked-down spooky decorations, but just a few aisles down, we began to see Christmas decorations. And even though it wasn’t Christmas, the sight of the lights and the trees was enough to make me start humming, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” at the end of October. It looked nothing like Christmas, but there were signs that Christmas was coming, and my spirit endured.

Paying attention to signs of God’s Kingdom among us can do a world of good for a disciple. They can change our tunes, help us see our situations differently. For Joseph and Mary, the sign was a baby in a manger. For the Magi from the East, it was a star in the sky. For us? Well, it could be anything, really. A word of comfort when we we’re at our loneliest hour...a relationship reconciled when we thought it was all opportunity to right a wrong when someone gives us a chance we never deserved. And sometimes, it’s just an unexpected act of kindness that gives us reason to pause and reconsider our worldviews. But the thing about signs is this: they always point us to Christ, who gives us the desire and strenghth to endure.

As it so happens, I took a break from writing my sermon to scroll through Facebook, and I saw a sign that caused my heart to sing a different song. A friend, who gave me permission to share this story, posted that she sent her young daughter with $20 to Santa’s Workshop, a fun event for our local students to buy small gifts for their loved ones, and her daughter came home with $13. When asked why she didn’t spend it all, the young girl said, “Well, I bought a gift for everyone, but I know we don’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t want to buy too much.” That’s a story, friends, about a young girl choosing wisdom over greed and kindness over temptation. It’s also a sign, a reminder from God, that even though it feels at times as if all hell is breaking loose, the Kingdom IS drawing near. Believing that takes courage. Believing that the God of heaven is stronger than the chains of hell is what Advent is all about. Believing that Christ is still reigning despite the darkness that lingers much longer than we’d like is our calling this season. So as we wait for that glorious day to appear, let’s look to Christ – the sign of the season- and take courage, and press on. Amen. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How To Invest Your Life

How to Invest Your Life         Nov. 17, 2018
Matthew 25: 14-30

            Today we’re continuing our sermon series called “In God We Trust: Biblical Perspectives on Money.” We’ll be considering how God invites each of us to invest our lives in His Kingdom. Would you read with me?

            There aren’t too many things that surprise me anymore, but there is something from this passage that I find fascinating. I find it absolutely fascinating that God trusts us. Shocking might be a better word. In the world of faith we usually talk about trusting in God, but this is quite the reversal. God places trust in us! I don’t know what’s going through your mind right now, but I can think of a million different reasons why this isn’t a good idea. I mean, has God taken a good look at us lately? We can’t figure out our politics, we can’t figure out our economics, we can’t even figure out our families most of the time. Even the global Church has been rocked recently by sexual abuse cover-ups. But yet, for some reason, God trusts us and places some of His most precious resources in our hands.   

            Matthew calls them talents, but we could easily insert a whole host of other words. Gifts, maybe? Or passions? We could even throw money in there, or children or churches or jobs…and the meaning of this parable wouldn’t change. Although it’s never spelled out, there’s an implication that we’re supposed to do something with these resources, whatever they might be, and we’re supposed to do that something until the owner comes back. And so as the parable goes, the owner walks away, fully trusting the servants to do what he expects them to do. And it’s up to the servants to make the next move.  

            The servants had been in this game long enough to know what was supposed to happen: They were supposed to carry out the owner’s wishes. They didn’t need him to spell it out for them. They knew what they were supposed to do. Now they just had to do it. The servants have worked for the owner long enough to know the organization’s mission and vision; they’ve spent enough time around the man to know that “status quo” isn’t going to fly; they know his tendencies and his goals and they know what’s expected of them. And they also knew that simply showing up wasn’t going to cut it.

In 1969, a significant shift happened in the Pittsburgh region. And it had to do with just “showing up.” After 30 plus years of losing, with only one playoff appearance, Steelers President Dan Rooney had seen enough of players just “showing up.” Rooney believed the hardworking people of Pittsburgh deserved better. They needed a team to inspire them after a long week in the steel mills; they needed a team that could bring hope to a region that was slowly losing its economic identity. And so he took a gamble and hired a young up and coming coach named Chuck Noll. And for 23 years, Chuck Noll shepherded Rooney’s Steelers into an organization that had one overarching goal: Bring home a championship. In his biography, Noll said there was a sentiment around the organization that respectability would’ve been a sufficient goal. But that was never the ultimate hope. That was never going to cut it. The goal was to win, not just put on the pads and show up. And little by little, Chuck Noll took what had been entrusted to him and built a dynasty.

It’s not a dynasty Jesus is after, but a Kingdom. That’s his goal, the very mission for which he died, the very mission he has trusted into our hands. Make Disciples. Preach Good News. Advance the Kingdom. During his time on earth, Jesus invested every day of his life to this mission. He was devoted to it. Sometimes it looked like a quiet conversation late at night, inviting a man named Nicodemus to be born “from above.” Sometimes it looked like 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish multiplied to feed the thousands. And sometimes it looked like a towel and a basin, kneeling down to do the dirty work nobody else wanted to do, reminding his followers that humility and love are the hallmarks of the Jesus way. And little by little, Jesus instilled this vision, this hope in his team. Make Disciples. Preach Good News. Advance the Kingdom.

There are a ton of different ways you can spend your life. You can chase after money, fame or success. You could settle for a pursuit of happiness or maybe try to live a life of ease. You can work hard now in order to sail off into the sunset later. And none of those are necessarily wrong or inherently bad. But when it comes to Jesus, those ways of living are a lot like settling for fielding a respectable team instead of winning championships. They leave a lot to be desired. Football season would be really boring around here if there were no championship expectations. I know a lot of people who tune out their favorite teams because they don’t win. That’s because our teams are expected to produce wins! And our lives are meant for far more than just existence. In the parable for today, the owner divides up his wealth (somewhere along the lines of $2 million in today’s figures) to three of his trusted servants. The moment he walked away, all three had to decide what to do with what they’d been given. The moment he left, all three had to answer the question, “What does the owner expect me to do with this?” And it really came down to two options: invest or maintain.

I was halfway through my seminary career when I enrolled in a missiology class- the study of missions. Our professor was top notch, a man who loved the Lord and lived his life strictly for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. And he was serious about his life’s work. I’ll never forget the first day of class when he boldly told us that if we didn’t lead a single person to Christ during our three years of seminary we were wasting our time, and God’s time as well. I was stunned. I loved feeding my mind with knowledge! I yearned for the next spiritual high! I couldn’t wait for the next class, the next conference, the next discussion group, the next concert. But in the end, he was right. All our learning was meant to produce something. It was meant to make disciples, preach the Good News and advance the Kingdom, and if we didn’t do any of that, even if we had all the right tools and training available, we would’ve missed the point. If we had kept all of our study, all of our knowledge and all of our personal spiritual growth to ourselves, we would’ve been much closer to the third servant who buried the owner’s resources so as not to lose. And not losing is not to be confused with winning.

God has given us a clear and compelling vision for our world. To make things on earth as they are in heaven. That’s a pretty bold vision, one Jesus felt deserved his best in life, even to the point of death. And I get it. When I see young children starving to death across our world, God’s vision of an eternal banquet table seems about right. When I see abuse that robs people of innocence and forces them into a lifetime of shame, God’s vision of shalom makes perfect sense. When I see division caused by hate and hurt across political and racial lines, the self-giving love that’s so prominent in the realm of God is, for me, a compelling hope. And here’s the beauty of God’s vision: we’ve been invited to make it our own. With talents and gifts and resources. We’ve been invited to make this vision come alive in our corner of the world, to invest in it by making God’s vision for the world the mantra of our lives. And just like those servants in the parable, the next move is ours. What will I do with this vision entrusted to me? What will I do with this hope God has placed in my hands?

I don’t have any fancy secrets or keys for investing your life in God’s purposes, except to say this: If you want to make disciples, preach the good news and advance the Kingdom, a good place to start is to love God and love neighbor. That’s what it means to invest your life in God’s purposes. I really do think it’s that simple. That stuff that God placed in the Bible? Yeah, he meant for us to do those things. And those two commands alone have the capacity to change the world and fashion our broken existence into something more like how it is in heaven. Now we just have to do it, invest in it, treat it like it’s the most precious thing in the world. Like any good investment, we have to commit to that way of love for the long haul and take some calculated risks from time to time. As Frederick Buechner once said, “The life you hoard, guard and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living.”

There will be a day, Matthew writes, when the owner will come home from his long journey. When that day comes is anyone’s best guess, but on that day, we’ll be asked to reveal what we’ve done with the resources entrusted to us. We’ll be asked to give a report on we stewarded a vision of new creation for our world. On that day, we’ll be asked to share the story of how we spent our lives. And although there could be a million responses, the best answer we could possibly give is this: I gave it all away in love.

Monday, November 12, 2018

In God We Trust: Our Best And All

Our Best and All
John 6: 1-13

We’re headed into week 2 of our stewardship sermon series called In God We Trust, and today we’re going to talk about giving our best and all. There’s a great story from the Bible that illustrates how one little boy helps us understand what it means to give God our very best. And my hope is that this little boy’s story will inspire us to take our next right step of faith. Would you read with me?

I’ve never met anyone in the church who didn’t think helping out here and there was a good idea. Outside the church is another story. But we’re not talking about conversations that go on outside the church; we’re talking about people who have chosen to follow Jesus and are now his disciples. And to my knowledge, I’ve never met a disciple who didn’t contribute financially to the work of God and his kingdom. How much one should give, however, has always been up for debate. If you want to put the brakes on a really good conversation, start talking about how much one should give. I can pretty much guarantee that will be the most uncomfortable conversation you’ll ever have.

There was a young man who once had just that type of uncomfortable conversation and left feeling very disappointed. He was really interested in Jesus, really intrigued by what he was learning, and was just about ready to make the jump into a full faith commitment. He was a young man full of promise and full of resources…the type of person you’d want to come to your church. If he had been asked to come to Bible study, to volunteer at the next event or to simply follow the rules, maybe the conversation would’ve gone differently. But then he heard these words that made him turn around and go home: “Go and sell all you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me.”

The challenge with giving our best and all is just that: it includes the words best and all. And those are words we usually reserve for things like our career (I’ll give you my best), our family (I’ll love you with all my heart) and our favorite football teams (They better give 100% or I’m never watching them again).  But when we choose to follow Jesus, we’re invited to make God one of the recipients of our best and all. And here’s the thing: it’s expected. God expects our best and all, and God expects nothing less than our best and all, because we’ve been created to reflect his character in the world. This is one of the reasons God was so upset with His people in our reading from Malachi. They weren’t giving their best. They offered to God out of obligation, and what they offered was a second-rate offering. But that’s not the type of God we serve. We don’t serve a second-rate God who sends us his leftovers. We don’t serve a God who keeps the best and gives us the rest. We serve a God who gives out of his first pocket because he’s driven by love. True generosity is ALWAYS driven by love.

 Out of a deep love and commitment to us, God chose to give his best (His Son) and his all (His one and only Son) so that the riches of the Kingdom could be ours. And as people created in God’s image, we have been set apart to be his “icons,” to be portraits of God wherever the Spirit takes us. Which is why the story of the little boy is so important to our spiritual growth.

The first sermon I ever preached was on this story. I was a young youth pastor at a small church in my hometown, and a miracle story seemed to be a good selection for that day. We had a bit of a negative “disciple complex” in that small church. Do you know what that is? We talked a lot about faith, but we weren’t quite sure it all worked out the way the Bible portrays. And I mean that not as a criticism, but as a picture of our reality. We truly didn’t know what do with Scriptures like Psalm 24: 1, which says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Our hardworking congregation struggled with that. Now, there were a few precious saints who “held the fort,” but for the bulk of the congregation, we looked eerily similar to the disciples who saw a big crowd with a big problem and had absolutely no idea what to do about it. We needed a little boy with five loaves of bread and two small fish to show us the way. We needed to know what it meant to give our best and our all.

Giving your best and your all to God doesn’t mean you literally have to sell everything you have and give to the poor. In the case of the rich young man, he was so attached to his stuff that devoting his life to Jesus was not going to happen until he made some radical changes. But Jesus doesn’t command every person who wants to be a disciple to sell off everything he or she owns. Jesus does, however, invite each one of us into a new way of living and giving, where faith and not sight is our primary framework. So here are three ways one little boy teaches us to give our best and our all.

First, giving our best and our all means that we give in a manner that changes us. I don’t know what happens to this little boy over the remainder of his life, but if I had to guess, my guess is that this story impacted the way he lived. When you give generously, something comes alive inside of you. And it only happens through generosity. Let me give you an example. Think of a time you bought a gift for a loved one and the joy you experienced when they opened your gift. That joy is contagious! If we could find a way to bottle that joy, we’d be the wealthiest people on the planet. But here’s the secret: we’ve already discovered it. Generosity is the pathway to a joy-filled life. When we give, we’re changed. When we give, we become like the One from whom all blessings flows. But we have to give in order to change. Sometimes I’ll hear people say they’ll give generously once their lives change, but it usually doesn’t work that way. The truth is that if we wait for life to change, we could be waiting for a really long time. What if things never get better? Or the promotion never comes? Or we’re never presented the big opportunity? What if we don’t place our loves and fishes in Jesus’ hands when we have the chance? We might never become the people we want to become. If John Wesley were alive today, he would probably tell us to give until we’re generous people, and then give because we’re generous. (Tell Wesley’s story )

The second lesson we learn from the little boy is to give until it changes others. Early in the Book of Acts, these same disciples who we read about earlier have gathered for church and it’s interesting how their church is described. The Word says that each one shared for the common good and they sold possessions and property and gave to anyone who had need. You ever stop to think where they learned this? I have a theory. Obviously they learned it from Jesus, but I wonder if that little boy impressed something wonderful in them. I think they were changed the moment they saw one little boy push through the crowd and offer up his dinner. That single act of faith must have been a gut check moment, a “come to Jesus” moment for all those on the hillside that day. One little boy taught every person there that impossible challenges are no match for Jesus. One little boy gave all he had -which didn’t look like much- and 5,000 people ate that day. That’s the kind of generosity that changes people. That’s the kind of generosity that inspires hope in a broken world. To give your best and all, give until it changes others.

Finally, the last lesson we learn from the little boy is to give until the “wow” happens. In other words, our goal should be to give in a way that allows God to show off a little. (Tell CCR Baptism story) God isn’t impressed with how much the little boy gives; he’s impressed by something that compels the boy to place his offerings in the hands of Jesus. To be honest, I don’t know what that “something” was for the little boy, but whatever “it” was, it led to a miracle. Whatever “it” was, it became a means of grace so that 5,000 people could experience the love and power of Jesus Christ. That’s what really lies at the heart of giving, and that’s why this story is so important. It’s not just about an act of tremendous faith, which it is; and it’s not just a tremendous demonstration of God’s power, which it is. This story is about an act of giving that opens the door for God to move in a grace-filled way. It starts with a small gift and ends with a bang. But in between is a testimony of a little boy who helps others begin to see the presence of God in their midst. And when our giving is connected to our faith, when our giving is a witness to the hope we’ve placed in Jesus Christ, God’s grace will be multiplied in ways we cannot even begin to fathom.

You see, giving your best and all isn’t really about what you have. It’s about you. And it’s about the manner in which you trust God with your life. Because when you trust God with your life, the conversations about “how much” aren’t quite as significant anymore. With God, there will always be enough. With God, there will always be a way. Are you inspired by the faith of this little boy? I am. Because that’s how I want my life to shape out. I want the sermon of my life to tell the story of extravagant generosity formed out of grace-sized hope. And that can happen, and will happen, when I give the best of me and all of me to Him. And it can happen for you as well. Let’s give Jesus our best today. And let’s give Jesus our all. Amen.