JUNE 28, 2009

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            American Presbyterians have their spiritual roots in the Church of Scotland.  As such, we can make a little fun of the frugality we have inherited from our Scottish ancestors.  At least, I hope we can.  For example, did you hear about the American television evangelist who connected wires to the seats in his church?  He shouted, “All those who are willing to give one hundred dollars to God stand up.”  As he said this, he pressed a button and electricity zapped through the seats.  As you might imagine there was a tremendous financial response, but after the service the ushers found three dead Scotsman clinging to their pews!

            Or maybe you heard about the Church of Scotland pastor who took up an offering on a Sunday morning.  After doing so the huge, brass offertory plates returned almost empty to the pastor.  He took them, held them up to heaven and prayed, “Lord, we thank you for the safe return of these plates ...”

            Of course, the picture Paul paints in Philippians 4 is quite different from this.  Paul closes his letter by thanking the Philippians for the money they had sent to him via Ephaphroditus, and this passage includes one of the most incredible promises in the Bible.  Let’s take a closer look at it now.  Verse 19 ...


            And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory.


            Now, that’s quite a promise.  God will satisfy every one of our needs, but when we read that we wonder.  We wonder, what’s the catch?  This promise sounds too good to be true, so what isn’t Paul telling us?  We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so what gives with the promise?  Where’s the small print?

            Well, there is a catch.  There’s a condition to meet if we want God to satisfy our every need.  If you will there is a premise to the promise and we find it elsewhere in the Bible.  For example, we hear it in the Book of Proverbs when we read, “A generous person will be enriched, and those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”  We hear it in Jesus’ words such as, “You reap what you sow,” and “Give and it shall be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”   That’s the premise to the promise that we need to remember.  Our own giving, our own generosity activates the promise.

            And one more thing.  Note the specifics of the promise.  The promise is that God will satisfy every need, not every greed.  There is a big difference between our needs and our desires, whims and cravings.  There is a huge difference between needs and wants.

            I think back to 1890 when a sociologist asked Americans what they thought were the basic needs of life.  In 1890 Americans believed there were sixteen basic things every American needed to survive.  Another sociologist took the survey one-hundred years later in 1990.  The results?  In 1990 Americans said they need ninety-eight things to survive.  In other words, our wants, our cravings, our whims, our desires have a way of being exaggerated into needs, and the Apostle Paul says, “God will satisfy our every need, not our every greed.”

            And in our passage for today, the Apostle Paul wants to sell us on the premise to the promise.  He wants to sell us on generosity by giving us three reasons to be generous.  Let’s turn to those now.

            First, he says, “Be generous because generosity is an encouragement to others.”    

In verse 14 he writes,


            It was kind of you to share my distress.  You Philippians know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone.  For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.


            Folks, the financial gift Paul received from the Philippians touched his heart, it greatly encouraged him, because First Church Philippi was not a wealthy church.  It fact, it was a poverty stricken church, yet they were big-hearted and generous with him.  Paul tells them, “You gave to me when nobody else did, not even those cantankerous Corinthians or those Bible-thumping Bereans.  But you did, and your gift kept me going.  It encouraged me.” 

            Have you ever received a gift that encouraged you?  A number of years ago, I mean a number of years ago, when we were straight out of seminary a couple from the church invited us to lunch.  We were new to Nebraska, having grown up in Southern California, and we had never gone through a Nebraska winter.  Well, the couple informed us that they had taken up a little collection in the church to cover the cost of snow tires and winter coats.  What a surprise!  What an encouragement!

            On the other hand, have you ever given a gift that encouraged others?  You may not know it, but you have.  Listen to how your giving to General Assembly mission causes encouraged a woman named Raquel.  I’m going to read her story, and remember you are a part of this.  You made this possible.  Listen to it.


            Raquel’s new house outside Guatemala City had only recently been finished.  Built on a concrete slab with concrete block walls, the house had one door and three windows without glass or any other covering.

            By U.S. standards, the house was rudimentary.  But for Raquel, her new, two-room, unpainted, concrete blockhouse was far more than a house.  When she had been discovered by the community development workers, she and her five children were living behind her in-laws house, under a low-growing tree with little more than a mattress and some pots to cook in over an open fire.  Her husband was an alcoholic and her in-laws were barely able to take care of themselves. 

            During our visit, we asked Raquel if she wanted to say anything.  She looked around apprehensively, then handed her infant to a community development worker she knew.  She took a deep breath, and then started to cry.  She said, “Now there is hope for my children.”


            You made that possible through your giving to General Assembly mission in this church.  Your generosity greatly encouraged this woman. 

            Second, Paul says, “Be generous because generosity is an investment in your future.  Look at verse 17.


            Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.


            Of course, if we have been reading our New Testament closely, we would know that God pays interest.  Jesus said a hundredfold will be returned to the one who gives for the sake of the gospel.  A hundredfold is a great return on an investment.  I don’t know a bank in the world that will give those rates.

            We all, each one of us, has an account in heaven with our name on it, and God records everything we deposit into our account.  The Bible says when we give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, it’s written down.  Each time we are generous with our family, our friends, our co-workers, our church, it’s written down.  Our generosity is an investment in our eternal future and the Bank of Heaven pays phenomenal interest.

            Of course, we need to deposit into our account to receive the phenomenal interest.  For example, suppose that I went to a bank and asked, “How much interest have I accumulated in my account?”

            And imagine the banker saying, “Well, that depends on how much you have deposited in your account.”

            And suppose I told him, “Well, I haven’t deposited anything into the account.”

            Well, he would say, “Well, Mr. Meyer, the rule is you don’t get any interest if you don’t make a deposit.”

            And that’s the rule of the Christian life as well.  We store up treasures by giving and investing in others.  When we give generously, it not only encourages others, but it also comes back to bless us, and the size of the blessing will be determined by the size of our generosity.  No generosity, then no blessing.  Mild generosity, mild blessing.  Significant generosity, significant blessing.

            And then one more blessing when in comes to generosity.  It may be the most important, “Generosity blesses God.  Verse 18 ...


            I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.


            Ever drive by a restaurant over the noon hour, and you are hungry and you can smell the wonderful aroma of grilled burgers and steaks?  I love that aroma.  It smells so good.  Well, in biblical times they would take an offering and lay it on the altar, and they would pour it out, and it would create steam that the entire community could smell.  That’s the context of what Paul says here.  A generous giver sends a wonderful aroma heavenward.

            Now, I’m not sure what sort of an aroma the lack of generosity sends heavenward, but I can imagine.  I’ve driven in out-state Nebraska and by pig farms in Iowa and I can guess.  I just know that a non-generous gift gives off a different aroma than a generous gift.  For example, remember Cain and Abel from our Genesis series?  Remember how Abel was extremely generous?  Remember how he brought the best sheep from his flock?  He didn’t bring the runts, or the skinny sheep, or the diseased sheep, he brought the best he had.  And remember how Cain was less generous, a little Scottish Presbyterian in his giving?  Remember how Cain brought some of his crops, not the best like Abel, but some of his crops - and how God was pleased with Abel’s offering and not Cain’s?  Remember that story?  Now, what made one offering more acceptable, more pleasing than the other?  One was generous and one was not.  Abel’s sent a beautiful aroma heavenward and Cain’s did not.

            A few years ago, I read a wonderful book titled Another Shot by Joe Kita.  Kita made a list of this twenty biggest regrets in life, ranging from never learning how to surf to not being able to connect with his mother, and how he spent one entire year, the year of his fortieth birthday, making amends, learning how to surf, connecting with his mother, redoing his twenty biggest regrets.  I loved the book and recommend it to you if you can still find it ... Another Shot by Joe Kita.

            And one of the things he admitted in his book relates to our topic for today.  I appreciate his honesty.  Listen to his frank admission.


            There’s an old man of meager means I know who over the last 25 years has given away $100,000 (usually in $1,000 increments) to needy people he hardly knows.  I’ve always admired him and wanted to do the same.  So I started scouring local newspapers for possible recipients of my charity.  I planned to anonymously send $100 to whomever seemed worthy.  But I never sent anything.  For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to be generous.  No one ever seemed more deserving of my money than I did.  Forgive me.


            I forgive Joe Kita for not being generous.  God forgives Joe Kita for not being generous.  Joe Kita, however, does not forgive himself for not being generous.  Give generously.  Bless others.  Bless yourself.  Bless God.