shadows of virtue : living generously

I spoke at Journey again tonight. This time about living generously and sacrificially. We’re in the last few weeks of a church-wide series called 40 Days of Community, and for the last six weeks we have been discovering how much better we are together (through small groups, service projects, community events and worship). It has been a great fall, and tonight’s theme offered us thoughts, inspiration and a challenge to respond to God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for us by living generously, as individuals and as a community, with God’s love as our guide.

I will include portions of the message text below, but the reason I’m writing about it here is because much of the message was delivered through select scenes of a documentary that I want people to know about. It’s called The Shadows of Virtue, and it was made a Minnesotan named Chad Amour. Released a few years ago now, the film takes a close look at how God’s love compels us to respond to issues in the world and to the needs of God’s people.

Here’s the trailer:

To learn more about The Shadows of Virtue, visit

Here is an excerpt of the message (listen here).

“Living Generously” by Andy Jolivette | Journey, 11/2/08

What does it mean to be sacrificial?
What does it mean to be generous with our lives?

We can’t be sacrificial all the time, can we?

What do we have to give?
What can we give up?

Does God want us to be sacrificial and generous?
Absolutely, but how much?

These are all very relevant questions, but they all come from the same route questions, “what do I have to do?” and “how much is enough?” They also severely miss the point of what we read in the Gospel of Matthew last week.

In Matthew 22, Jesus talks about one of the greatest commandments being to “love our neighbor as ourself,” and it’s probably safe to assume that this kind of love toward others includes being generous, and at times even sacrificing a bit of ourselves and what we have, for others.

So while the questions “what does it mean to live sacrificially?” and “how generous should we be?” are very honest questions, they are also very difficult to answer. (The honest ones usually are.) But seriously, can anyone tell us when our generosity is generous enough? or when we’ve sacrificed an acceptable amount?

The short answer to these difficult questions is this: there’s no way of knowing, so it doesn’t even make sense to respond with specifics, but we can trust that every day we will be faced with opportunities to be generous, greedy or something in between, and all we can do is try to be as generous as possible – as often as possible.

Many will point to Jesus as the example or standard, but we all know that is not really fair. Sure, we want to “be like,” “give like” and “love like” Jesus, but who of us is capable of living up to this standard? I’m not saying don’t try (if “WWJD” bracelets works for you, keep wearing them the rest of your life!), but we also need to be realistic.

Remember that even Jesus only gave his life for us once – it’s not something he did everyday – on other days he went for long walks, met new people and listened to their problems, went on fishing trips, and just hung out with his friends. At times he even separated himself from others because apparently even Jesus needed to be alone and get away from other people sometime.

Not to minimize Christ’s life and ministry, but if we’re truly going to look to the Gospel’s revelation of Jesus as our guide for living generously and sacrificially, we need to look at the whole story and recognize that even Jesus’ life included days when he wasn’t so obviously “sacrificial” or “generous” (at least not in ways that would inspire people to write worship songs about him) – but overall, no one could deny that Jesus was a generous man whose life was sacrificially given for others, for you and for me, for all of us.

I contend to you that Christ’s example for us is not just that we be blindly, or even constantly sacrificial, but that we become more consistently and even strategically generous and sacrificial.

In short, we need to live on purpose…with a purpose. We need to live out Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: Loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

That might mean freely giving away our time, our skills, our possessions or our money, or it could just mean not buying so many clothes and lattes so we can afford to be more generous in other ways. It could even mean calling a friend who we know needs to talk, but who drains our energy every time we talk to them. Regardless of how we choose to live generously and what we choose to sacrifice, we can be assured of one thing…living like this will always require living in opposition of our own desires to do what is best/easiest for us.

Living generously and sacrificially will always require love, not just any love, but the love of Christ – God’s perfect and unfailing love that has been given to us as a free gift – the love we’ve been called to share with the world. Love is a difficult thing to understand no matter how you look at it, and it’s an even more difficult thing to accept and share with others.

So here’s the challenge for all of us…

  1. Take time this week (more than 10 minutes) to think about how you could sacrifice a bit of what you have (time and energy, not just money) and be generous in a way that will truly benefit others.
  2. Make a plan for how you can make it happen (be strategic, purposeful).
  3. Do it (don’t just talk about it, be about it…the longer you wait, the less likely you are to actually do it).
  4. Don’t tell anyone what you did. (This is probably the hardest step, but remember it’s not about looking good to others, or even feeling good about yourself, it’s about loving someone else for no other reason than to remind them that they have “unsurpassable worth”).

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