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(Synopsis summarized from www.pluggedinonline.com)

Self-absorbed grandson of billionaire oil baron Red Stevens, Jason Stevens lacks nothing money can buy, but he is bankrupt of purpose and an understanding of what really matters. But when the old tycoon dies and leaves behind an unorthodox will, Jason embarks on a journey that will yield an inheritance cash alone could never match.

Watching a video shot by his grandfather before his death, Jason learns that “the ultimate gift” awaits him—if he’s willing to follow a series of cryptic instructions doled out by Granddad’s best friend and lawyer, Mr. Hamilton, and in subsequent video messages from his granddad. Jason balks, but his gold-digging girlfriend, Caitlin, convinces him to give it a go.

Jason’s first task? Fly to Houston. There he’s met by an old rancher friend of his grandpa’s named Gus. Per Gus’ instructions, Jason finds himself digging fence-post holes in the middle of nowhere. Complaints commence, but Jason (who’s never worked a day in his life) sticks with it, realizing he’ll have to finish the job to claim his inheritance.

Other tests await when Jason returns—each designed by his grandfather to teach the value of work, money, family, friendship and gratitude, among other things. And during a stint of homelessness after the attorney, Mr. Hamilton confiscates all his possessions, Jason meets two people who’ll further alter his life trajectory: a young woman named Alexia, with whom he falls in love and her grade school-aged daughter, Emily, who’s dying of cancer.

Jason moves through video messages from his grandpa one at a time and as he does, he discovers how real life is meant to be lived.  One of his grandpa’s last video messages speaks to the importance of having a dream: He said, “You need to have a dream and act on it,” and he did in a big and generous way.  Throughout the course of the movie, as Jason listened to and lived out the video messages from his grandfather, he received twelve gifts:

The Gift of Work

The Gift of the Value of Money

The Gift of Friends

The Gift of Learning

The Gift of Problems

The Gift of Family

The Gift of Laughter

The Gift of Dreams

The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Gratitude

The Gift of a Day

The Gift of Love

I want us to unpack a few of these and see how these gifts can help us live the ultimate life.  The Bible tells us Jesus came to give us an abundant life, but much like Jason’s experience in the video, we cannot receive that abundant life without living out the principles and experiences Jesus calls us to live out.  An abundant life results from more than just knowing what God expects; it results from doing what God has said.

Here’s the truth:  Money isn’t the ultimate gift, and it cannot buy the ultimate life. Luke 12:13-21 is actually called “The Parable of the Rich Fool.”  That title doesn’t suggest that Jesus is about to talk about someone that you would want to emulate.  He calls the dude a fool.  I also don’t think Jesus would have told the story if there hadn’t been a need to do so.  Someone in the crowd, verse 13, is too focused on money.  There is a preoccupation with money, a thirst for money, a demand for money that isn’t appropriate. Look at verse 13 and following:  13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out!

When do you tell someone to watch out?  When something dangerous, something harmful, something destructive could happen.  Jesus is actually warning the guy against the seductive and destructive power of money.  He goes on to say,  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; “Be on your guard.”  Put safety measures in place.  Decide what you will do ahead of time to make sure you don’t become dangerously focused on money.  Guard against that as your main pursuit.  Don’t let the acquisition of money become the focus of your life. 

When I was blessed to write and publish a book in 2017 I decided ahead of time that the proceeds of the book, every penny, would go to our church building fund.  Making that decision ahead of time has enabled me to be free of even wondering what I might do with the money when I have received it.  This week, I was blessed to sell a bulk order of books to a church, and even though we have personally had some unexpected financial things pop up recently that it would be easy to direct those funds to, because I have already committed those funds to the Lord via the Building Fund, it wasn’t an option to use the book money for other areas because I had guarded against using the money for any of our needs or wants.  Now, there wouldn’t have been anything inherently wrong with me designating book money for a vacation or other things, but because I had consecrated that project and those funds to the Lord, I wasn’t about to divert them to something else even though it could be easy to do.  God takes care of us, so I am not about to start trying to take His job.

I actually know someone personally who years ago was going to propose to his girlfriend and he actually said to me, “And if she says ‘No,” I am just going to bury myself in work and become a money hungry mongrel.”  Do you understand how warped that is?  If a certain girl wouldn’t agree to marry him, he would just be married to the goal of having money.  What purpose would that serve?  You can fill your entire bedroom with stacks of money, but if there is no one to enjoy life with, no one to bless with your resources, no investment made in the community around you, you are just either sitting on possessions or selfishly spending possessions, but you are living life without friendships, without intimacy, without investing in other people which is one of the main ways life can be enjoyed. 

Jesus went on to say in verse 15, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  Let that sink in.  Life isn’t about possessions, so that means the accumulation of possessions cannot produce abundant life.  Isn’t that interesting.  An abundance of things does not equal an abundant life. Now there is no prohibition against having nice things or spending money on experiences that are enjoyable but having money as a sole or highest priority isn’t the abundant life God wants for us.

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

Imagine that.  Material and financial success actually created a problem for this guy.  I know, you’re all thinking, “That would be a nice problem to have.”  A challenge like that could even happen BECAUSE God would bless the work of your hands.

 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  That seems reasonable, right?  Expand the business.  There’s nothing wrong with that strategy.  It is logical.  So, what is the big deal?  Let’s read on:

 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

The problem was his motivation.  He wasn’t asking, “How can I glorify God with my wealth?”  He wasn’t asking, “How can I bless other people with these growing resources?”  His motivation was selfish and lazy living. 

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  The guy in the story was going to lose his life because he had relegated his life, equated his life with money and material possessions.  The moral of the story is that life can be lost when we are focused on the wrong things.  And Jesus summed it all up and explained the real problem in verse 21:

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  There was no pursuit of God.  God was not the priority of this man’s life.  Self was.  If there is one thing I know for sure it is when you are rich in God, you have it all.  If you want to stockpile something, accumulate faith.  If you want to invest in something, invest in the Word of God with passion.  If you want to become wealthy in wisdom, hold God’s hand every day and seek His heart for your life.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).”

Where is your heart this morning?  Is your heart devoted to becoming rich in God?  You see, until our hearts are in the right place which means, until they are rightly focused on God, we will not be living the ultimate life.  We will actually be contributing to the death of peace, to the death of fulfillment, to the death of our potential.  The guy in this story obviously had skills.  He was good at creating wealth.  He was a hard worker, but there came a moment when he said, “I’m done being productive.  I am going to sit back, take it easy and just take care of myself with the riches I have accumulated.”  But what happened, according to the parable, was he died that night.  He didn’t get to sit back and enjoy squat!  Because he wasn’t living for God and His purposes, everything came to an end.

In the movie, “The Ultimate Gift,” until Jason’s grandpa died, self was the priority of his life, and that selfishness was seen in his thirst for money and the things money could buy.  The gift his grandpa gave him was the opportunity to uncover the gifts God wants to give us that make life meaningful, that develop our character, that give us soundness of mind and a feeling of fulfillment as we contribute to the needs and lives of others.  Unlike the wealthy fool in the parable, Jason was given time to make some changes.

He was first directed to go to TX where he spent a month working on one of his grandfather’s friend’s farms.  Something about the grit and grind of having to set fence posts over the course of a month taught him about the value of hard work, something he had never known.  He was able-bodied.  He was skilled.  He was smart.  He had something to contribute.  I spoke to someone just this week who said they know of a business that is having a hard time finding workers because some, notice I said “some,” so don’t go misquoting me, some of their former employees are content to receive money from the government while it is available to them rather than to work.

I understand the strategy there, especially if you can make more staying home than you can at work, but what about the reality that we were made for work and if we are able to work and aren’t working we aren’t fulfilling the purposes for which God has created us? Do you realize what God did during the first six days of the creation of this world?  He worked.  He worked every day for six days to create the earth and everything in it and on the seventh day He rested. He worked at creation until it was complete.  He didn’t stop short until the job was done.  He set an example for us AND He created us in His image with the capacity to work.  In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and I must work, too.”  I am not saying don’t take appropriate time off, I am saying we were made to work, to be productive and there is character development, skill refining and rewards to be received when we are engaging in meaningful work.  In other words, hard work will produce a heart work which will make you a better person.

Jason also discovered the gift of friendship as he was befriended by a single mom, Alexia, and her daughter, Emily, who eventually dies from cancer.  Through his friendship with them, he learns to see the struggle of others and learns the importance of being there to comfort and support people in their time of need.  His heart was opened to experience real love, not the shallow counterfeit that money had always bought him.  He received from the friendship as he also poured himself into it. 

Listen, if there is one thing we cannot let this pandemic do it is to isolate us from other people. You may have to be more creative regarding how you spend time with people, but you need to make it a priority.  People need support.  You may be one of them.  Think of someone you haven’t seen here at church since the pandemic began.  Reach out.  Ask how they are.  Make a plan to connect somehow.  Think of at least one person who is dealing with sickness.  Can you show concern or offer practical help in some way?  Be a faithful friend. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.”

The Apostle Paul and the other disciples who were traveling around in an effort to see the early church get established would never have made it without their friends.  Most of the New Testament letters mention how much the early church leaders relied on their friends to pray for, encourage, work alongside and support them as they ministered.  I know I could not lead this ministry without the support of friends who regularly speak life to me, pray for me, and intentionally encourage me.

We were not only made to work, but we were also made to be in relationships with other people.  When Jason’s trust fund was frozen and he didn’t have access to his bank accounts, he found out the hard truth.  He had no friends.  The only reason he had people in his life was because he had money.  When the money was gone, so were the people.  Jason learned about the value of friendship that is built on love, compassion and concern for one another and not on a material benefit.  His friendship with Alexia and Emily changed the entire focus of his life.  Friendship made him better.  For the first time in his life, he learned how to love through his friendship with Alexia and Emily. 

Not only did Jason learn the gift of work and friendship, but he also learned the gift of problems.  Yep.  You heard me correctly.  Jason had his car repossessed, was shut out of his apartment and had no money.  He became homeless in a hurry.  Emancipated from a life of luxury, he had to endure some of the struggles others feel.  He started to walk in some uncomfortable shoes, and it was good for him. He was humbled.  The struggle enabled him to emerge more human, more likeable, more relatable and someone who could be used to help others. 

I do not believe Jason would have become the guy who went on to help others had he not gone through the struggles he went through.  At the end of the movie, after he had received all of the 12 gifts, he received the gift of 100 million dollars, and guess what?  He gave it all away to establish a facility for parents whose kids are dealing with major illness.  I suppose it was something like a Ronald McDonald House.  You see, struggle is good for us because it puts us in touch with the struggles others go through and moves us to act in generous ways towards them.  Why does Angie Williams minister to single moms through the Heartbeat of the Valley ministry?  Because she has been there and knows how hard it is.  Why does Mike McCormick want to be in relationships with people who are dealing with addiction?  Because he has experienced the difficulties and hardships that come with that lifestyle. You see, Trials can become tools in the hand of God to help us live our best life which means helping others live theirs.

The gift of work, the gift of friendship, and the gift of struggle are just three of the gifts Jason opened that led him to the ultimate gift which was actually more than the 100 million dollars he gave away.  In the end he received 200 billion dollars, but instead of being changed by money, you get the sense he changed into someone who would change the world by sharing it. He enjoyed the ultimate gift not because he got to be rich again, but because he used it to live the ultimate life.

As Christ followers, we understand that every moment of life becomes an opportunity to know and serve God better by loving others and pointing people to Him.  That IS the ULTIMATE LIFE; helping people find Jesus.  Helping people grow in Jesus.  That is the ULTIMATE LIFE.

Emily, the little girl with cancer, did trust in God.  During one of her moments of struggle, she found her way to the hospital chapel.  Jason happened upon her there, and while he didn’t have a personal faith in God, he wound up reassuring her that her faith would be rewarded.  Watch this:  Hospital Prayer Scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lZqfEXZiFY

“I can promise you those arms are meant for you.”  You see, the ultimate life is discovered when we help someone else discover the ULTIMATE GIFT, when we help them know and embrace that Jesus’ arms were meant for them.  And as people let God love them and let God lead them, they will discover the ultimate gift for themselves. 

Yes, God wants to give you gifts that make your life richer and fuller, that bring you joy and satisfaction.  Those gifts are best discovered as you explore them at His direction and under His control.  But the ultimate life is lived when you help someone else find Jesus.  Have you pointed anyone to Jesus this week?  This month?  This year?  Have you ever asked anyone if they would like to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior?  Have you ever had the privilege of leading someone in prayer to surrender their life to Christ?  For that, my friends, is the ultimate life.

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