Summary: In this season when many people and organizations are asking for donations, how can we be diligent and intelligent about our giving?

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A Season of Generosity

Philippians 1:3-11

December 10, 2006

It seems that everywhere we go at this time of year, we find people or organizations who are asking for donations for one cause or another. I think that I have told you this before. A number of years ago, Toni and I decided that we would never pass one of the red Salvation Army buckets without putting a dollar in it. Maybe, by the end of the Christmas season, we have put in $20 – maybe a little more, maybe a little less because we really don’t keep track of it. That is no big deal. We spend more each week eating out in restaurants than we drop in those buckets during the entire month of December.

I am amazed at the amount of money that Americans have. I have some figures from Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many retailers make or break the holiday season. On the day after Thanksgiving this year, 400 million shoppers across the United States spent $9.6 billion. Estimates are that the average American family will spend between $700 and $800 on Christmas presents this year. That adds up to a lot of money.

There was this fellow who took his son and went on a weekend fishing trip. The teenager told his dad that they really needed to find a church to attend on that Sunday morning, so they looked in the yellow pages and found one nearest their lake cabin. When the service was over, all dad could do was complain. The service was too long; the sermon was boring; the music was awful; the people were not very friendly.

In the car, after listening to his dad carry on for awhile, the teenaged son said, “Dad, I thought it was pretty good for the dollar you put in the collection plate.”

I know that you are used to preachers and churches telling you that you need to give more. Usually when you hear a sermon about money, it is because the church budget needs a shot in the arm, or there is a special project (like a flood wall) that has to be funded. But I’m not going to do that today. In fact, I am going to remind you all of how very generous you actually are.

Our stewardship campaign concluded a few weeks ago. Did you know that we had commitments for over $174,000 for next year? That is a significant increase over last year and is very generous. Thank you.

I just looked up some figures for the denomination. As of the end of October of this year, United Methodists have given $109,683,319 to the General Church for apportionments, Special Sunday offerings, Advance Special gifts to missions, and a few other special projects. That doesn’t count the money that was contributed for Annual Conferences and local districts. It doesn’t count all of the money that was contributed to local churches. The total figure would be staggering. United Methodists really are generous.

I don’t have the figures for 2005 or 2006, but in 2004, American citizens gave $248.5 billion to U.S. charities. In addition to that figure, we gave $71 billion to projects in the developing world. Add up our charitable giving, our Christmas gift giving, and the amount of money we spend for all of the other stuff we spend money on throughout the year…and you find that we are a very rich people, and are indeed a very generous people.

I want to look at the first chapter of Philippians this morning. Paul says nothing about money in it, yet I think that his words can help us discern how to be better and more intelligent givers because this is the season whed we are continually being asked to contribute to worthy causes.

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. It amazes me that anyone can be so happy in such a situation, but he is filled with joy because of the ways in which the Philippians had been a help to him. They had been very generous…with their friendship, with their help, and with their financial gifts. At the very end of the letter, he wrote this:

You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out – and not only once, but twice. Not that I’m looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity. And now I have it all – and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. (4:15-18 – “The Message).

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