Advent Conspiracy 2009 part 3
Give More
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 13, 2009

This morning, we’re continuing with our message series called “Advent Conspiracy”, as we explore ways we can turn away from Christmas consumerism and turn toward compassion… how we can overcome the expectation to spend spend spend on gifts that are going to go unused and instead give in more meaningful ways.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the people involved in that first Christmas when Jesus was born. And we saw that for Mary and Joseph, for the shepherds, for the Wise Men, for Mary’s relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah… their response to the coming of Jesus was to worship. How? By being obedient to God, by placing Him above their own self-interest, by expressing gratitude and adoration, and ultimately by giving Him all of themselves. That’s what Christmas was initially all about: worship.

Last week, we saw how we’ve turned Christmas into a time of spending, to the tune of half a trillion dollars here in North America. And we talked about how it’s so easy for us to be pulled into this vortex of holiday shopping. We equate the cost of our gift with the love we have for someone. And so we empty our bank accounts and even go deep into debt all to express our love.

But what we discovered is that our love is NOT measured by the monetary value of our gift. And so we really put the push on last week to spend less. Push back against the consumerism of the season, resist the expectation to shop to the extreme, and bring your spending down to a more reasonable level.

And really, that brings us to today. Because once you get your spending under control and it’s at a level you can afford, I want to encourage you to pull back even a little bit more… maybe even just one gift less… so that you can give in more meaningful ways. I want you to spend less so you can give more.

Because while we’ve already warned against over-reaching and over-spending and over-committing ourselves to credit, we’re not saying to go all “bah humbug” on Christmas. Because being generous and giving gifts is a good thing. So we’re not trying to do away with all that. What we’re trying to do is find some balance. We’re trying to keep it in perspective. We’re trying to remember that Christmas is really about encountering that baby in the manger, not about buying Snuggies, ShamWows, and Slap Chops.

Yes, we want to be generous. But we don’t want to be sucked in by the shopping frenzy. We want to discourage consumerism, while at the same time encourage generosity.

But why? Why should I be generous? At Christmas time or any time, why should I give generously? Well, lots of reasons. Let me give you four. The first one is that…

I Should Be Generous Because…

1.    Jesus modeled generosity to me.

Let me take you to the Christmas story. Probably not the version you read to your kids, it’s not one of the traditional passages from Matthew or from Luke, but it’s still about Christmas. It’s found in John chapter 1…

John 1:1,10-12, 14 (NLT)
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. … He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

So Jesus was God. He had all the rights and privileges of being God. But yet He saw our need and was moved to do something about it. He knew that because of our sinfulness, our relationship with God was beyond our ability to repair. We couldn’t do enough, we couldn’t be good enough to mend our relationship with Him. We had rebelled against God, had rejected Him and chosen to go our own way, to the point that even if we wanted to return to Him we couldn’t.

Jesus saw all this, He knew we were lost in our sinfulness, so how did He respond? He gave up all the comforts and benefits of being God, in order to enter into His own Creation and offer us forgiveness so we could be made right with God again.

2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)
You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

And in so doing, He set an example of generosity for us to follow. I need to be generous because Jesus has been generous to me. We serve a generous God, and He expects His followers to be generous, too.

A second reason I need to be generous is…

2.    Being generous actually enriches my own life.

A couple years ago, there was an article in the Washington Post describing some research that had been conducted by neuroscientists who were trying to understand how we are affected by our concerned for the welfare of others [altruism]. So what they did was they asked volunteers to “think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves.” And what they discovered is this: “when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex.”

Don’t ask me to expand on that. But what we can learn from this is that God hardwired us to be generous. He made us in such a way that when we really do become concerned with other people and place their needs above our own, we experience pleasure. It feels good. It satisfies a morality within us and enriches our lives.

This past summer, there was an article in the New York Times Magazine that described a new initiative being undertaken the Hyatt Hotel chain. It was a new customer relations program that the Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian described simply as “random acts of generosity.” And basically, the program empowers Hyatt employees to offer the occasional freebie to their customers. For example, you might spend some time in their spa, go to pay for it, and the employee may say, “You know what? This time it’s on us.”

But why would they do something like this? Aren’t they in the business of making money? Well, yes they are, and years of behavioral science research convinced them that being generous in random ways like that will generate a spirit of gratitude among their customers and will ultimately increase their sales growth. So basically, what they discovered is that being generous was good for business.

But that’s nothing new. About 800 years ago, Saint Francis of Assisi said…

“For it is in giving that we receive.”
~ Saint Francis of Assisi

And really, Saint Francis was only talking from the Scripture written thousands of years earlier…

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT)
Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.

So if you are generous, you yourself will benefit from that generosity. Basically, what goes around comes around. If you are generous, then you’re going to experience some benefit from that generosity.

3.    I’ve been blessed so I can give.

We’re all familiar with Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. You’ve probably read the book or seen one of the hundreds of adaptations. Here’s something I learned this week: the phrase “Merry Christmas” was made popular by this book. And in case you’re interested, there’s a new version of it playing at Empire Theatres right now in 3D motion capture format. I haven’t seen it yet myself, but I’ve heard good things. The only warning that I’ve heard is that it can be a little scary for really young children. But otherwise, you may want to check it out.

But we all know what the story’s about, don’t we? It’s about the selfish, miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve and, as a result, finding redemption. He turns from selfishness to selflessness. He turns from being miserly to being generous. He came to realize that he had wealth… that there were others around him not so fortunate… and he had to opportunity to use his wealth to enrich their lives.

And that’s something the Bible teaches, too. We who have plenty, have plenty so we give to those who don’t.

2 Corinthians 9:10-11 (NLT)
…He will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous.

And even if you don’t think you have plenty, even if you consider yourself to be poor, you can still be generous out of what you have. In w Corinthians 8, Paul talked about how the Macedonian Christians were generous even in the midst of their poverty. And remember the widow who only had a couple coins left to her name? Yet she gave what she had generously. Or how about the widow who took care of the prophet Elijah? She and her son were facing starvation, but yet she fed Elijah with the little flour and oil she had left. Now, God blessed her and she never ran out of food, but she didn’t know that was going to happen. But she was still generous out of what she had at her disposal.

So regardless of what your financial situation is right now, I’m pretty sure you’re better off than they were. You have what you have so you can be generous.

4.    I’m moved with compassion for the poor.

We’ve talked over the past couple weeks about how this theme of Advent Conspiracy has become a movement throughout North America and beyond. It started in 2006 with just five churches, and now there are tens of thousands of Christ-followers who are participating. There are at least three churches right here in Charlottetown. Well, three of the guys who started this whole movement to replace consumerism with compassion have gotten together and written a book called, of all things, Advent Conspiracy…

“At Christmas, one of the things that should distinguish a Christ-follower is a love that reaches out to the hungry and thirsty and sick and imprisoned. Such giving is an act of true worship. There is a close connection between how we treat each other and how we treat God. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that whatever we do for one of the least of his brothers and sisters, we do for him.”
~ Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder
Advent Conspiracy

So we want to be moved by compassion to reach out and care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned.

1 John 3:17-18 (NLT)
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

Because the truth is, Jesus expects His followers to care for the poor and the marginalized, the disadvantaged and the destitute. Our compassion for the poor should move us to action. It should move us to acts of generosity. It shouldn’t be guilt or obligation; it should be compassion. I don’t want you to be generous because you have to be; I want you to be generous because you want to be.

Okay, so what does all this mean? How can I give generously? Well, the truth is, it’s going to be different for each person. So as I finish up, let me just give you two principles to help you discover how you can be generous…

How Can I Give Generously?

A.    For those in my life… I can explore ways to give of myself.

That’s what Jesus gave, isn’t it? He gave Himself. He didn’t just buy some meaningless trinkets; He didn’t just select a gift at random out of the Sears Catalog; He gave Himself, freely and generously.

John 1:14 (NLT)
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Jesus gave Himself. He invested Himself in others. And really, isn’t that the best gift you can give to anyone? The gift of yourself?

We’ve talked before about how the most meaningful gift you ever received is probably not the most expensive. So instead of just throwing money away at gifts that aren’t going to be valued, why not look for ways to really give of yourself? Sure, go ahead and spend some money, but do it wisely. Use it to create memories.

And the truth is, this can take a bit of work. It can take some creativity. It can require some time. But I think what you’ll discover is a much more meaningful Christmas.

All through this series, I’ve included a list in your notes of some suggestions for gifts you can give. And at the bottom of that page, there’s a website you can go to and find a bunch of other ideas…

Maybe something homemade, maybe an outing together, maybe an intimate date night, maybe working on a hobby together, maybe an uninterrupted afternoon together, maybe a trip around the area to look at some of the decorations and lights… there are lots of ideas some that require money and lots that don’t. So see what you can come up with.

That’s how you can give generously to the people that are part of your life, your friends, your family, the people that you love. But I think there’s another way to be generous, and it should be part of Christmas for every one of us.

B.    For the poor, the marginalized, the needy… I can find ways to invest my time, my talent, my treasure.

Jesus saw our need, and He responded to that need by entering into His Creation. When you see the needs around you and around the world, how do you respond? Can you give generously, too?

There’s a verse in the Old Testament book of Isaiah that talks about being intentional when it comes to being generous. It says…

Isaiah 32:8 (NLT)
But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity.

Do you plan to be generous? Now, everybody can give something. And often, it’s something financial. But you can also give of your time or give of your talents. In Acts chapter 3, there’s a crippled man who was begging for money from Peter and John. But they didn’t have any money. So look at what they said…

Acts 3:6 (NLT)
But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Maybe you really don’t have much money you can give. But what can you give? Can you give some time to the Soup Kitchen? Can you offer some talents at Habitat for Humanity? Can you partner with Harvest House or with Open Door Ministries to help the less fortunate here in our city?

Or if you can give financially, and I think most of us can, how can you give? There are a lot of possibilities. One that we’re encouraging you to do here is to give money toward providing clean water to people who don’t currently have access to it. We’re going to receive an offering on Christmas Eve that will go to World Hope to be used for repairing and maintaining wells in Sierra Leone. Shera and I have talked about how we’re spending less on each other and on family so that we can redirect some money into this project.

I even had some cards done up that you can give to people saying, “In your honour, I’ve given some money toward providing a source of clean water for people who don’t currently have it.” You can pick up some of these cards today if you’d like, and anytime between now and Christmas Eve if you’d like to make a donation toward this project, you can put it in one of these Christmas Gift envelopes available at the offering box.

SHOW VIDEO – AC interviews 4:39



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