Excerpts for Live to Give : Let God Turn Your Talents into Miracles


Let God Turn Your Talents into Miracles

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Austin Gutwein
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1993-0


1. Live to Give.........................................1
2. Unique Lunch.........................................14
3. Different Outside and In.............................22
4. What's in Your Lunch Box?............................44
5. Don't Lose Your Lunch!...............................57
6. Grab Your Lunch and Hit the Road.....................75
7. When it Gets Bumpy...................................94
8. Your Biggest Fear: Fear..............................105
9. Hungry...............................................120
10. The trader..........................................129
11. Sandwich squasher...................................139
12. Give it.............................................159
13. The Results.........................................169
14. Our world...........................................182
About the Author and Hoops of Hope......................196

Chapter One

Live to Give

God doesn't need you.

God doesn't need you or your help to make a difference. God doesn't need you to bring an issue before the world or try to make an impact. Why? Because God is God. But even though God doesn't need you, He wants you.

I was recently in Mexico on a service project, building a house for a very poor Tijuana family. When it came time for us to finish up the project, we pulled out our paint and brushes and began to put the final touch on the house: a nice coat of watery green. All of a sudden, a few of the children who were going to live in the house showed up with huge smiles on their faces and big hearts willing to work. They wanted to paint too! So we let them help out. Sure, it may have taken a little bit longer and been a little bit messier, with paint sloshed on us and on them, but that paint job was filled with more smiles and laughter than any I've done before or since. You see, we didn't technically need their help, but we did want it.

I'm sure we've all been in those kids' shoes from time to time: trying to "help" our parents make cookies when we were really little (and getting flour everywhere), or perhaps "helping" your dad or granddad fix up an old car (and slowing down the process). See, there are much more qualified people around for jobs like that. But because these adults loved us and wanted us to learn, they let us help. I believe God feels the same way.

The truth of the matter is that God doesn't need us because He is God—the most qualified being in the universe! But the good news is that just because God can do anything without us doesn't mean He wants to. God can create anything, fix any problem, and He can do it all without us. But He wants to use us, which means we get to work by His side and have front-row seats to see His amazing power.

Here's an example. Let's take the problem of hunger. Feeding the hungry is an overwhelming job. Did you know there are 925 million people who go hungry each and every day? To put that in perspective, the United States has 308 million people. So that means that the number of people who go hungry every day is equal to the population of our entire country times three. And God could feed all of those people in a second. God's done it before. Just check out the story of Moses and the Israelites in the Bible (Exodus 16). While they were wandering around the desert for forty years, God made food drop from the sky that nobody had even seen before. The Israelites started calling it manna, which means "what is it?" God could drop some manna down again. Maybe even with a little hot sauce on it. But why doesn't He? I can't say for sure. We do know, though, that God wants to use human beings to solve the world's problems.

When God was making Adam, He said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground" (Genesis 1:26).

He gave Adam a mission. Then He let him name all the animals (although I think the guy must have been hurting for names by the time he got to the dodo and the pig-footed bandicoot, don't you?). And we inherited Adam's mission to take care of things ever since. I'm pretty honored by that. God made people with giving in mind—He chose us to make a difference.

Jesus said, "You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil" (John 15:16 MSG).

This means you! And me! God has made a plan to use you to accomplish eternal, life-giving, miraculous things! Now, that's pretty exciting—the most exciting thing that will ever happen to us in our whole lives!

Sure, God was perfectly capable of naming all the animals by Himself. He didn't need Adam or a team of landscapers to make the plants grow in the garden of Eden either. In the same way, God could solve the world's biggest problems in an instant, wiping out suffering and diseases as terrible as cancer or AIDS. I don't know why He doesn't. That's one of those big mysteries we'll have to ask Him about when we get to heaven. One thing I can tell you for sure is that we don't know all the answers for why God sometimes chooses not to intervene directly. But the thing we can know is that when we live to give, we get to partner with a God whose love has no end, and we get to play a part in His incredible plan—a plan that will last for eternity.


There are so many examples in the Bible of God using regular people—even kids—to help Him make amazing things happen. He could have done these things by Himself, of course, but He picked people He loved to help bring life to the world. Later, we'll talk about how you are just such a person. But first let's look at John 6 for an example of how a partnership with God works. It's the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This is one of the most amazing miracles in Jesus' lifetime. In fact, it is the only miracle, other than the resurrection, that is written about in all four gospels. That means it is pretty important. And in this miracle, Jesus uses the direct help of someone else—a kid a lot like you and me. Let me paint the picture for you.

Jesus and His disciples hop into a boat and sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Along the shore, people see the boat and follow it all the way to the other side of the sea! When Jesus and the disciples reach the shore, they are greeted by an ever-growing crowd estimated at five thousand men. This means there were probably many more than five thousand people overall, counting the women and children (Matthew says there were "about five thousand men, besides women and children" [14:21]). Jesus begins to heal their sick and teach them. Why? Mark 6:34 gives us the answer: "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

That compassion leads Him to continue teaching until very late in the day, sharing wisdom and hope. But then the disciples run into a problem. All the people who have been listening to Jesus are hungry and without food, and they are too far from home to go get any kind of quick meal. I'm pretty sure takeout wasn't around back then.

Jesus' compassion on the crowd shows itself again; He tells His disciples to go get them something to eat. Imagine! What if someone asked you to rustle up a nice dinner for, oh, ten thousand people, just on the fly? The disciples are understandably stressed—they know they can't possibly afford to feed all these people. It would take the modern-day equivalent of $8,000, or half a year's wages for them. But Andrew looks around and manages to find a little boy who has what seems to be the only ounce of food around. It is a meager meal made up of only five small barley loaves and two fish—barely enough to feed the boy, let alone the huge crowd. We're not talking about a big meal by any stretch of the imagination.

But it would be enough—in fact, more than enough. Jesus uses this little boy's meal to feed the whole crowd. The Bible says Jesus gives thanks for the small lunch, the disciples divide it up, and everyone has their fill of food. Then—and this shows how great this miracle was—the disciples actually pick up twelve basketfuls of leftovers!

Jesus didn't need that boy. Jesus didn't need his lunch. He could have fed everyone without even missing a beat in His teaching. Jesus could have turned rocks into bread if He wanted to—but instead, He chose to use that boy. The Bible doesn't give us many details about this kid or why Jesus chose to use him, but I can't help but wonder if He did it to show us what happens when we offer our gifts to Him.

* * *

I was nine years old, sitting on a couch in my living room with my family. The TV was on and we were all glued to it, but it wasn't a typical movie or cartoon show keeping our attention. On the screen was another nine-year-old—a little girl named Maggie. She lived almost ten thousand miles away in Zambia, and her life was about as different from mine as it could get. You see, Maggie was what's known as an AIDS orphan. She had been born to parents who both died of this horrible disease, and she was suffering because of it. Instead of having a nice house like mine, she lived under an old tarp with her great-grandmother. She huddled there without protection from the rain, without enough food to eat, enough clothes to wear, or a school to go to. When she stared into the camera, her eyes looked empty, as if she were so tired that she couldn't go on much longer. This was so scary to me. Maggie didn't ask for that life or deserve it, but there she was, staring with empty eyes under that tarp. And there I was, watching TV on a nice couch in our family room in Arizona.

Then, in the next moment, Maggie's image faded from the screen, and it seemed as though I was transported back to my normal cares and concerns. But not quite. That's when God changed things for me. All of a sudden, everything around me looked different. Maggie's story was really real—really happening on the other side of the world, and all the while I was going about my life in ease and comfort. It could have been me, I thought. I had to do something. And that's how it all started.

God used that moment to break my heart and start a journey that led to my first book, Take Your Best Shot. He used my broken heart by giving it a dream to help Maggie and others like her in a way that would let me do what I liked to do most—shoot free throws on the basketball court. He used that dream to start a crazy journey that would eventually lead to the creation of an organization called Hoops of Hope, which has helped people all over the world raise more than $2.5 million to support His kids in Africa. I don't know how He did it. All I know is that He made a miracle happen—and He still is! Over the past eight years, more than forty thousand people have joined us in raising money for AIDS orphans. God continues to work and do wonders through Hoops of Hope.

Why did Jesus use the little boy with bread and fish to feed thousands of hungry people? Why did God use a nine-year-old kid in Arizona to help AIDS orphans? Because He wanted to. And God wants to use you to make a difference too!

"Really?" you might say. "AIDS and hunger and things like that are huge problems. These are a big deal, and I'm just me. How could a kid like me even make a dent in such big problems?" Your question would be understandable. But don't let the fact that God wants to use you intimidate or overwhelm you. Remember Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (NKJV).

It's not you doing the heavy lifting—it's Christ, and He's got endless backup. Still feel a little puny and unsure? Look how God is described in Isaiah 40:29: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."

Afraid you might run out of steam? Paul wrote in Philippians, "There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears" (1:6 MSG).

God loves seeing us live our lives to the fullest by giving of ourselves in the service of others. Sure, He could do it all on His own, but because He loves us, He wants to use us! He wants us to live to give.


What exactly does it mean to live to give? I think it starts with knowing the reason God put you on this earth. God has something for you to do, just as He had a plan for Adam and for the boy with the bread and fish. We shouldn't wait to use these gifts God has given us. The apostle Peter wrote, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace" (1 Peter 4:10, emphasis added).

That's right—you have received a gift. And it's a gift that keeps on giving, but only if you use it. Only if you give it back to Him.

When we live to give, letting God use whatever we've got, we join Him in an awesome adventure. We start working hand in hand with Him to bring about amazing, transforming, mind-blowing things in our lives and the lives of others. But before we live this adventure, we need to find out what God wants us to give.

For me, it was shooting hoops to raise money. He wanted me to give my time and my favorite hobby. For the boy in the multitude of five thousand, it was his lunch. For you ... well, this book is meant to help you discover what that is. But there is one common theme throughout all of our stories: we all need to live to give because we were made for it. Nothing beats living this way! Nothing we could eat, drink, buy, play, watch, or win in life can compare to the feeling of giving ourselves away, using "whatever gift we have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God's grace."


Before we go on and discover how we were meant to live to give, I would encourage you to answer this question: What are you living for?

What gets you going in the morning? What is your top priority? What is the most important thing in your life? Don't like your answer right now? I didn't either at first. This world is a distracting place. There's so much to entertain us, so much stuff to consume or collect, so many people to compare ourselves to. It can be tough to keep our heads clear and our hearts focused on God. Sometimes it's tough even to know what's in our heads and hearts at all. But by the end of this book, you will be able to answer two questions: What have I been living for? And what was I made to be living for?

Believe me, the answer to the second question is more exciting, fulfilling, and satisfying than anything we can get out of a box or see on TV. When we're used by God, we never know just how crazy things will get. I never thought Hoops of Hope would lead to me visiting Africa or meeting some of the most amazing, strongest people on the face of the earth. But even without those experiences, it's enough for me to know that when I live to give to God and others, He uses it for His glory. Plus, as the Bible puts it, "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much" (Luke 16:10 ESV). That means that the adventure never stops. God will continue to teach and help us grow so that we're able to live and give even more: another gift that keeps on giving.

So how do we get started on this journey? What is it that you were meant to give? Read on, and let's find out!

Chapter Two

Unique Lunch

I stood looking down at the water; it must have been close to four hundred feet below me. The river was rushing like a speeding car, only a short way away from Victoria Falls. Before I could finish gazing at the beauty of the Zambezi River, the five-second countdown began. All of a sudden, with one shove, I was falling like a rock that had been thrown from the bridge, with nothing but a thin cord keeping me from plunging into the waiting arms of the icy water far below. A lot of people might call that terrifying. Some might say it's insane. But I have one word for it: fun! My idea of fun may be different from, say, my grandmother's. But that's okay. It's our differences that make us unique—our differences lead us into adventure.

Before we begin the journey of learning how to live to give, we have to realize a few things about ourselves. We have to realize that each of us is truly unique. We each have unique passions and dreams. The boy in John 6 was one of a kind too. He was apparently the only one with a lunch that day. Mark 6:38 says that Jesus asked the disciples to "go and see" how many loaves were available. They must have looked pretty hard for bread in the crowd, thinking that surely several people would have thought to bring enough between them to throw together a quick potluck buffet. But no such luck. "When they found out," the Bible says, "they said [to Jesus], 'Five—and two fish.'" Really? One kid, out of all the five thousand–plus people, was the only one they found with a lunch?


Excerpted from LIVE TO GIVE by AUSTIN GUTWEIN Copyright © 2012 by Austin Gutwein. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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