Living Generously: First and Best – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, September 24


[The sermon began with a 7 minute video which introduced us to the fictional Frank Donovan family. Due to copyright issues, we are not permitted to post the video.]

 

So, I’m wondering. How many of us like stinky sheep? If anyone says they like stinky sheep, they’re probably just trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

This seven-minute video that we watched together is just the first part of a five-part story about Frank Donovan. I don’t know about you, but I can identify a little bit with Frank in the movie. Like Frank, I find myself struggling in what it means to be generous.

Did you notice Frank’s dejected look when his wife mentioned that they would be hosting a dinner gathering to raise support for a missionary family who had returned home from the Philippines? Frank felt like they had already helped this family enough by sending a check to support them in their ministry. This family was now in need of additional assistance since they weren’t able to bring their belongings with them.

You get the impression that Frank is more concerned with getting ahead in life more than he is with the needs of this family who was in need of some support. Frank’s heart just wasn’t in the right place.

When you’re heart isn’t in the right place, have you ever noticed how easy it can be to offer our leftovers? Instead of giving this family his best, he settled for searching through a drawer and he found a dusty old watch that he was going to give to this family.

When his son decided to give his favorite toy away which was the antique vintage plane, do you remember how Frank put that old watch back in his pocket? He was embarrassed that he was about to give away an old watch when his son was willing to give away a very special toy of his, his favorite toy.

If I have to admit it, there are times that I don’t want to offer my best either. My heart isn’t always in the right place.

I heard about a church that came to the realization that they were not offering their best gifts to help people in need. This church had an annual toy drive each year and they gave the toys that were collected to the needy families in their community.

One of the church members noticed a dirty old doll that had been given to the church to give away. This old doll had stains on it and it was missing an eye. As they looked at some of the other worn out and broken toys that had been given that year to give away, they decided that this just wasn’t good enough. God expected better. They decided they would do things differently.

They discontinued the used toy-drive and for Christmas that year and they asked each family in the congregation to adopt a needy family for Christmas. Instead of giving them toys and clothes that the people in the church didn’t want anymore, they were to buy their adopted family brand new gifts.

The pastor was enthusiastic about this new approach and he encouraged the congregation to offer their best to help others. His wife went Christmas shopping one day for the family that they were assigned to help.

When she came home, she showed her husband the electronic toys, the Nike shoes, and the Gap clothes that she had purchased for their Christmas family. He said, “Why did you shop in those stores? You could have purchased cheaper things in the less expensive stores.”

She responded, “But you told us in church to buy things that we would buy for our own families. And these are the places where we shop.”

     This pastor was speechless because his wife was right. Why shouldn’t they treat others in the same way they treat their own children? Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do, to offer our very best?

Sometimes we want to offer God our stinky sheep, but God calls us to offer our finest sheep. When our hearts want to give God our best, we will offer our very best to others as well.

In our Gospel reading, one of the religious leaders asked Jesus which one of the commandments is the greatest. Without any hesitation, Jesus answered by saying,

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I think that one of the reasons Jesus cited these two commandments was because they help us to remember to give God our very best. I never really noticed this before, but did you hear the word, “all” mentioned over and over again?

We are to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind. The word, “all” really makes a difference in living out our faith. Our faith means more to us when we offer to God and to others our all and our very best.

I think that this is why Re, the gardener is always smiling in the video. Re has learned what it means to give his all. When Frank’s son asked Re why he was taking a plant to give to the missionary family, Re said that it wasn’t something he had to do. It was something that he wanted to do.

Living generously is really a matter of the heart. It’s something that we do because we want to give our very best to God and to others.

When we think of living generously, we often first think about money, but that’s only one part of what it means to live generously. Our video began with Frank meeting with his financial advisor.

Frank and his advisor were working on a financial plan that would help him to cover all of his expenses for the rest of his life. Did you notice that Frank never talked about giving any money away? When his financial advisor said something about charitable giving, Frank told him that could wait for another day.

It’s important to save money for colleges costs, for an emergency fund, and for retirement, but it’s also important to remember that the financial gifts we have really belong to God. If we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and with all of our mind, that will include how we use our money to bless others.

The dictionary defines the word, “generous” as “showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected.”

Being generous doesn’t just include how we manage our money. It also includes our time and our service.

A church member shared with me a time when she received a generous gift from some folks in our church. It wasn’t money that she received. It was the gift of time.

A family member passed away. What a surprise it was when she was at the visitation and noticed the people from her small group bible were present to offer their support and love.

She said that it wasn’t until that moment, that she realized how important it is for people to offer their gift of time. She said, “I am so blessed to have my church family!”

     Another member shared that she received the gift of prayer from a nurse in a doctor’s office during a family crisis. She can still feel her hand holding her hand as she prayed for her and for her son.

Those moments when we are on the receiving line of generosity are special moments. Generosity reminds us of just how much God loves and cares for us.

I have a friend who told me about a time when her car broke down and the repair was going to be more than she could afford at the time. She and her husband prayed about how they were going to handle this situation since she needed a car for work.

She said, “Robert, you won’t believe this but somebody heard about my situation and donated a car to me. It was a nice car, too. It was an answer to prayer. One day, I walked out the front door of our home, and there it was in the driveway.”

I said, “Diane, What an incredible answer to prayer!” She said, “But that’s not the end of the story. Around that same time, there was somebody in my small group who also needed a car, even more than I did at the time. My husband thought about it and prayed about it and we decided that we should give the car to her.”

     She said that it was wonderful to see what a blessing that car was for this woman who desperately needed a car. And so I said, “But what about you? How did you manage without a car?”  And she said, “Well, my husband and I prayed some more, and somehow we were able to put some money together and have my car repaired.”

     As I think about this woman’s story, even the first part of her story would be an incredible answer to prayer. Someone generously provided a car for her just when she needed it.

The bigger miracle in this story was in how the generosity of one person led to even more generosity where two people ended up being blessed with cars. When we live generously, there is a ripple effect of God’s grace that touches more and more people. When we give the best we have to be a blessing to others, more people experience God’s grace and love.

Our video ended with Frank standing in front of his house thinking about his son who had just given his favorite toy to a boy who needed it more than he did.  As we go through our week, I want us to also spend time thinking about whether or not we are offering our best gifts to God and to others.

This is a great question to think about throughout this week. What we offer to God reflects what’s in our heart.

But this is just the beginning. God has more in store for Frank. We’re going to continue to hear about Frank’s journey next Sunday in a court case you won’t want to miss.

May God bless each of us as we seek to live generously.

Living Generously: First & Best

Small Group Questions

Leviticus 22:17-20 & Matthew 22:34-40

September 24, 2017

Today is the 1st of a five week sermon series on the story of Frank Donovan and his family. This is a family that is learning what it means to live generously. In this 1st video segment, Frank’s son teaches his father what it means to be generous by offering his favorite toy to a missionary family.

Why do you think Frank’s young son was more willing to be generous in helping the missionary family than Frank was? Do you think that generosity is more natural for some people than others? Why or why not?

Like Frank’s son, Re, who is the Donovans’ gardener is also a very generous person. When explaining why he was going to give a gift to the missionary family, he told Frank that it wasn’t something he “had” to do. It was something he “wanted” to do.

What is the difference between “having” to be generous vs. “wanting” to be generous?

Pastor Robert shared a story about a friend of his who received a car from a very generous anonymous person because they heard she had car problems. That car was an answer to her prayers. The bigger miracle in the story was that the person who received this car turned around and donated it to someone she knew who needed a dependable car even more than she did! Generosity has a ripple effect!

Share an example of where you experienced the ripple effect of generosity.

This week’s video concluded with Frank thinking about his son’s willingness to give his very best to the missionary family.

Pastor Robert shared the story about the pastor’s wife who went shopping for a needy Christmas family. She bought the same quality clothing that she would buy for her own children. When her husband questioned why she spent all of that money on the family, she said that it was because she was simply doing what he had told the congregation to do in his sermon! She was practicing what he was preaching!

How would our church, our community, and our world be different if we all take Jesus’ words to heart to offer our very best to God?

As a small group, read this scripture in unison and pray for God to guide all of us in thinking about the question, “Are we offering our very best gifts to God and to others so that we can be a blessing to others?”

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”