Black Friday brought bright news throughout the land: shoppers bought more than expected, causing statistics to jump 22% from last year. Even better was the 39% increase in food purchases the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe times are a-changin’.
This weekend the girls and I initiated the Christmas season by watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Jim Carrey’s rubber face and crazy antics made the movie a hit, but little “Cindy Lou Who” did a pretty good job convincing Whoville that Christmas wasn’t just about pretty packages.
Of course local retailers hope it is all about packages. But when family money is tight, purchasing in all categories goes down, particularly extras like gifts. At the end of the season, numbers gurus will let us know whether or not we spent enough to make a positive difference in our country’s all-but-non-existent financial recovery.
During belt-tightening times, charities suffer severely, which includes churches. A recent Sunday morning worship service at my church included a challenging children’s sermon. As the kids came forward, they couldn’t help but notice the pastor was holding a giant container of animal crackers. When they got there, he gave one to each of them, telling them, “Don’t eat it. Go out into the congregation and give it to someone else.”
This assignment met with some reluctant givers, but eventually they all did as instructed, returning to the front afterwards. “Now,” the pastor said. “I’m going to give you each two more animal crackers. This time, give one away and then you can eat the other one.” It was smiles all around as they dashed into the congregation to share what they had.
Then the pastor made his point: “God blesses us for one reason: so we can bless someone else.” It was a powerful sermonette, and not just for the children.
Sometimes we adults struggle to give, not wanting to let go. But if we truly believe God knows our needs and loves us enough to follow through on providing, it should be painless to give away our surplus. And more than that, it should be fun.
When doubts crowd in, Scripture offers reassurance: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” (Proverbs 11:24) God knows it can be hard, but he’s watching for people who aren’t just willing to give but who do it with eagerness and a smile. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
The pastor’s message must have sunk in deeply with our congregation, because at the end of the fiscal year, we had a significant surplus and had the delightful problem of wondering what to do with it all. But we didn’t have to wonder very long. Even the children could have told us: “Give it away!”
And that’s what we did.
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. And God is able to bless you abundantly.” (2 Corinthians 9:6,8a)