Having Nothing and yet Possessing Everything – June 30, 2019

In 2015, Pixar released the animated movie “Inside Out”. The story revolves around the life of a little girl named Riley Anderson who was born in a small town in Minnesota. From an early age, Riley had many happy memories. All of that changes, when she, at the age of 11, moved to San Francisco with her family. The new house was cramped and old, the local pizza parlor only sold pizza topped with broccoli, her father was stressed and often gone, and their luggage got lost so she had no clothes. For the first time, Riley was experiencing some sad and confusing emotions.

Within her mind’s headquarters, her basic emotions, Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust and Anger were thrown out of balance. So, what happens when she tried to suppress all the ‘so called bad feelings?’ Riley’s life slipped off track. Her world was turned upside down. And her emotions spun out of control.

Inside Out is a very creative and engaging story about a child coming of age and having to deal with all her emotions. Sure, there are things we never want to deal with, but, in truth, we cannot avoid them. It is a story about growing up, changing expectations and seeing the world for what it really is; it is about learning to process the good times and the bad.

The Apostle Paul also knew a lot about living life in good times and in bad. Paul (named Saul early on) was born in Tarsus (now in the area we call Turkey), in a Roman province. By all accounts, Paul had a comfortable childhood with few problems. As he grew up, he was trained to work with his hands and he became a tentmaker.

Paul received a good education, both in academic skills and in faith development and later became a member of the Pharisees. By his own account, Paul was the best Jew and the best Pharisee of his generation (Galatians 1:13–14; Philippians 3:4–6).

Later he claimed to be the best apostle of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:22–23) though he attributed his excellence to the grace of God. In case you didn’t notice; modesty was not his strongest suit. Neither was compassion, empathy or understanding, as we will soon see.

Paul was somewhat narrow-minded and took a very hardline against others who did not believe like he believed. This led to his dislike of early Christians. The chief persecutors of the Christian movement in Jerusalem were the high priest and his associates, who were Sadducees. Yet Paul believed that Jewish converts to the new movement were not sufficiently observant of the Jewish law and that Jewish converts mingled too freely with Gentile converts.

In an attempt to stop the new Christian movement, Paul and others went from synagogue to synagogue, confronting and punishing those who claimed to follow Jesus. Early believers were pressured to reject the movement and if they did not, they were ostracized, beaten or flogged, and some were stoned.

Paul was faithful to the law and he believed he had all the answers. But all of that changed on the road to Damascus. Acts Chapter 9 reveals that Saul, as he was known then, was spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples as they rode along on horseback. As they neared the city, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around them.

Startled, Saul’s horse bucked him off and Saul fell to the ground. That is when he heard a voice from heaven call out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord”, Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what to do.”

Now, to make a long story short, Saul was speechless and blind for 3 days until a man named Ananias (a Christ follower) laid hands on him and prayed over him. He regained his sight, and at a later point, Saul would officially become Paul.

This encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus radically changed Paul’s life. From that point on, instead of persecuting Christians, he embraced them. But since they knew his background, many were leery of him. He would have to prove to them, by his ongoing faithfulness, that he was a changed man.

Paul would go from prosecutor to sufferer, he would go from cocky to humble and from arrogant to faith-driven. Listen to the new description he gives himself in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:16-17, 22-28

“Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind, to talk like this.) I am more.

  “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 5 times I received from the Jews, the 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. 

“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled; and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily; the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” He ends like this,…   (vs 30-31) “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God, and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.”

Paul has had an amazing transformation. We might call it a heart change but I suspect it is more then that. His entire value system has changed. It reflects an earlier conversation between Peter and Jesus.

In Mark 10:28-31 “Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times more now in this present age:

“houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, and with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (He is saying, be careful what you wish for…)

You see, the security of this world is found in finances and stuff we accumulate; Homes, cars, property; all tangible stuff. Jesus tells us not to trust any of it and to let it go when necessary. In the Greek, to let it all go means; to release it and not hold on too tight. Because it is ‘the empty hand’ that gives us a full heart. From it we give and receive.

Rev. AW Tozier once wrote, “It is amazing how God becomes everything, when you have nothing.”  King David said ‘it’ in a similar way when he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (I lack nothing); Everything else is meaningless.

Once Paul experienced Jesus; his understanding about life was turned ‘inside out’. It changed his world view from scarcity to abundance, from disappointment to satisfaction and from keeping the rule of law to showing mercy, grace and love.

Maybe Paul finally understood the Be-attitudes for the first time. One pastor interprets Matthew 5:5-8 like this, “Blessed are the meek, the ones who claim nothing, For they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the ones who desire nothing but truth, for they will be filled. Blessed are merciful, the ones who forgive others, for they will be shown mercy. And blessed are the pure in heart, the ones who have a right vision, for they will see God.” 

After a horrific fire, a man and his wife held on tightly to their children and watched their house burn. A neighbor walked up, saw tears in their eyes and said, “Don’t worry, what you lost can be replaced by insurance.”

The wife turned and said, “You have misinterpreted our tears. They are not about what we lost, our tears are for what was saved.”  They understood the concept about having nothing – and yet possessing everything.

Mark 8:36 reads, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”  That should make us stop and think about what it is we are trying to get and what we are willing to give up.

In this frame of mind, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, about how he approaches his work and ministry, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commit ourselves ‘in every way’ to what comes (He starts with the bad things): in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 

(He then moves to the good) “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 

(Then he shifts to a balance of the two) “through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown;

“dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

What Paul is saying is, we can remember all the bad or good things, but life comes in a mix of both. He was, you see, becoming ‘wise like Solomon’. Remember, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. How you interpret it is all up to you.

As a young man, film director Robert Flaherty spent many months in the far north looking for iron ore and cod. He found neither, but he did shoot 70,000 feet of film in his travels. Later someone encouraged him to edit the film and make a documentary of the land, which Flaherty spent weeks doing. But just as he finished, a match from his cigarette dropped among the celluloid, consuming the entire film and burning Flaherty badly. A friend said to him that he must be cursed and that apparently, he wasn’t supposed to make the film. What a tragedy!

Flaherty’s response to the disaster was – a determination to return to the far north and make a film of Eskimo life “that people would never forget.” Instead of focusing on the land, he decided he would focus on just one family. He did just that, and the result was the classic 1922 documentary, ‘Nanook of the North’. It has since been labeled the 7th best documentary ever filmed.

He went from having nothing – to capturing something special. All it required was for him to not give up and to see things from a new perspective.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once said, “Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen; they alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon Earth.”

I want to end with 2 songs that I think capture this mindset of desiring nothing but God. The first is by the group Unspoken. Here is the chorus, “Just give me Jesus, Just give me Jesus
There’s nothing I desire – that can’t be found in You. You’re everything that I’ve ever needed
Just give me Jesus.” 

The second song ‘you have heard’, it is an old African spiritual made new by Chris Tomlin called ‘Enough’. Listen…

All of You, is more than enough, for all of me For every thirst and every need,
You satisfy me with Your love, And all I have in You, is more than enough

You’re my sacrifice of greatest price And still more awesome than I know
You’re the coming King, – You are everything And still more awesome than I know.

And I want to add this last line of my own, “Even if I have nothing, I possess everything if I have you, Jesus.”

So, your assignment is,…to reexamine your life through God’s eyes. What are you ‘holding onto’ that you should let go? Then, how can you use your time and gifts to advance God’s kingdom, one life at a time? Seek and you will find.

Amen.