Archive for October, 2008

I Am the Problem

Let me go on record as saying that I believe Advent Conspiracy is a great idea, a noble and worthy effort, and something our family is going to take part in this year. As we are discussing the specifics of how our family can Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All, I have gotten some resistance to the process. The resistance does not come from our kids or other family members, it comes from my own heart. There are probably many ways to describe what I mean, but the easiest way to describe it is to say: I want stuff.

I want new clothes. I want a new home computer. I want a welder. I want to go out to eat more. I want a Blu-Ray player. I want a new camera.

I want and want and want some more. And this whole “Advent Conspiracy” idea is going to limit me getting what I want. Now the truth is that I wouldn’t get many of those things for Christmas anyway, except for the clothes (my mom can always be counted on to buy me a nice sweater). But does anyone else see the problem here? While none of the things I want are wrong or theologically incorrect, they pale in comparison to the larger good. When I hold up the idea of a family getting fresh water to my Blu-Ray player, I am willing to watch movies in the regular format. I can borrow a friend’s welder for a long time before I buy one if it means that the poor and hurting get something extra this year. The fact that I even view the giving up of these things as “sacrifice” is indicative of how far my heart can stray from one of generosity and compassion.

With kids especially, it’s tough to know how to take part in this in a meaningful way that builds value and doesn’t steal joy. It will be easy to give lip service to the ideas behind the Advent Conspiracy, while still spending as much as we always do, giving the same as we always give and getting lost in the commercial aspects of Christmas more than the true meaning. And it will be easy because that is what everyone is expecting us to do, wanting us to do and what the Christmas season in the western hemisphere is designed to do. But what if, just for this one year, we decided that the problem wasn’t how the kids will respond, or what mom will say, or what our sibling will think about getting a homemade gift? What if we admitted that we have a picture of what we want Christmas to look like and we are unwilling to relinquish that vision? Maybe, like me, you will find the enemy of doing good this year very close to home. I am the problem, but I don’t want to be. How about you?

Written by Steve Musto

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Ready For Christmas

Have you ever been asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  I sure have – quite a bit as a matter of fact – and my answer has changed over the years.  It used to be, “Well, not quite. I still have to get one more thing for …” and this was usually just a couple of days before Christmas. Now I answer with a confident, “Yes, I am.  Can I share with you how I managed it all and kept it under $200?” This answer has led to many discussions where I am usually able to share how I felt convicted of the way I used to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. And I trust God that He has used my conversations and my example to others as they ponder what the meaning of Christmas is to them.

I’d love to share some of my simple yet very practical ways that I celebrate. First, I completely changed my style of decorating. I love the recent video posted titled, “What is the Meaning of This?” because I could never figure out what the Christmas tree had to do with Christ’s birth. I haven’t had a Christmas tree in my home for about 15 years now. I do, however, decorate with candle lights in each window of my house. I call them my “prayer lights” or my “Jesus shines lights” because every night I go around and turn them on one at a time while I pray for someone at each one, and I pray again when I turn them each off. And because these are pretty all winter long, I have them up from November until February. With candle lights in 14 windows, up for over 100 days, I get to pray for a lot of people! If I decorate a table, I tend to stick with royal colors to acknowledge Christ’s kingship. I love nativity scenes and even have a wooden block set, so that when children are visiting, they can freely play with the figures.

My gift-buying has turned into time-giving. With my girlfriends, I’ve asked them to come over for some tea and an in-depth conversation about anything. In some cases, I knew what they needed to talk about; in other relationships, I just relied on God to lead the conversation. And with still others, I knew they just needed some time to prepare for the holiday themselves, so I offered to watch their children, or help them wrap gifts, or bake cookies. 

I have also learned to handwrite Christmas cards only to those friends and relatives I do not see regularly.   My hope is to start writing early enough so that I can write one or two letters a night instead of rushing to write to everyone the last week in December. I imagine spending more time on each card would be much more enjoyable and I would be more passionate about sharing all that God has done in my life over the year.  I am still working on this one and would love to hear of anyone else’s experiences here.  Please share!

And lastly, I have worked very hard at changing the way I approach others around Christmas. Instead of the usual questions like, “How was your holiday?” or “What did you get for Christmas?” I started asking questions that related the season to what God was doing in their lives. I ask my friends, “How was Christ more real to you this year compared to last year?” and “Are you closer to Christ after the celebration, or are you frantically looking for time with Him?” I ask my family questions like, “How did we reflect Christlikeness in a certain situation?” and “Where or when did you see or witness Christlikeness being shown?” These questions have really moved the focus off of self on to what God is doing during the Christmas celebration.

I admit that some family and friends have not grasped the same vision that my husband I have. I take the approach of just doing it and letting people around me observe. I don’t ask others to change their traditions, and tend to only share when asked. I have gotten much more positive reactions this way. Others like what they see, and wish they could have the same. 

I am so thrilled to be part of a church that shares this same vision.  I am looking forward to learning from everyone at Blackhawk – yes, let’s enter the true meaning of Christmas… together.

I can’t help but end this note by connecting it to the October 19th message. A lot of my past traditional ways of celebrating Christmas had to do with coveting. As I look back, I can see where I coveted my neighbors’ decorations, even thought about how much others gave and received for Christmas, and realized that my giving habits may have even contributed to feeding someone else’s coveting challenges. Convicting enough for me.

Written by Stacey Gluck

Will You Step Out of the Boat?

If we choose to take Advent Conspiracy seriously and make some big changes in the way we celebrate Christmas, how will friends and family take it? Will they think I’m crazy? Yes, they probably will. But since when does a person living a life that is “set-apart” or holy make decisions that look rational to others?  Take Simon Peter for example. In Luke 5, Jesus gives Peter and his fishermen the best catch anyone has ever seen. The boat is so full of fish that it begins to sink. Jesus then says, “Come follow me.” Simon Peter, and his partners, James and John, then “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” They didn’t go sell all the fish first, say goodbye to friends and family, raise enough money to support themselves on their trip, pack up all their belongings and then leave. No, they dropped their nets, and followed him. Imagine what their friends and family thought! What would you have thought?

Later, the disciples find themselves in the middle of a storm in a fishing boat in the ocean (Matthew 14:22-36). Jesus appears to them, walking on water and asks Peter to come to him. He is literally asking Peter to step out of the boat in the middle of the ocean during a violent storm. Would you get out? Peter did. He walked on the water to Jesus, but then seeing the wind around him, became afraid and began to sink. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”

Are you willing to get out of the boat? People will call you crazy, they won’t understand, but if you fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2), He will be faithful. He’ll pull you back up when you start to sink.

Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, explains it this way: “Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don’t always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth.”

While some of the concerns about [AC] that I mentioned earlier might be valid, consider what’s at the heart of the issue. And ask yourself if you’re willing to make changes that may be difficult and alter your way of living. Is it worth it?

“God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” (Crazy Love, Francis Chan)

Are you willing to drop your nets?
Will you step out of the boat?

Written by Nikki Lindroth

Goodbye to the Hustle and Bustle

I’m thinking of celebrating the gift of Christ every day, not just on December 25th. Christmas – truly celebrated – year round? Now that appeals to me.

Some years ago, I decided that we had enough of the hustle and bustle and all the spending that someone decided had to go along with Christmas.

Why? Because the Christmas season had become the most depressing time of the year for me. It wasn’t enjoyable at all. It had become a time to avoid people, dread company parties, and stay off the road. There was nowhere to hide. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ, the reason for the whole celebration, kept getting pushed farther and farther into the background.

With all the spending and rushing around and knowing that just about all the people I knew would rather be having a different kind of Christmas, the whole thing made no sense at all.

It really was completely insane.

I decided that what I needed to do was to turn the entire gift giving thing off. (click….)

So, I’m working on it. Working to change what Christmas is to me.

My desire for change at Christmas has not sat too well with my family but slowly they are starting to understand my thinking.

My challenge was to re-think the whole thing. Toss out everything and start over. It took guts and it wasn’t always easy to stick to my beliefs.  But it’s worth the effort.

My idea of an ideal Christmas? Gather my whole family around a table and give thanks. Just spend time together. Enjoy each other’s company. Throw a party for the family. Have everyone bring a dish that is their favorite. Celebrate by giving my time and love to others. Spend time outdoors enjoying God’s gift of creation – the sky, the trees, the mountains that God has given us (Christmas day is the perfect day for a hike!).

And if I really feel strongly about giving a gift, I do. But I try to do it because I want to, not because I have to. I try to give something that won’t be around next year: cookies, tickets to a concert, a gift certificate for dinner, whatever.

It’s not perfect yet, but every year gets better.

And finally, about 7 years ago, sometime close to Christmas Eve when everyone had just about had enough, NPR read this poem as a closing to their evening news.

I keep it because it really says what we have done to Christmas. It says it all.

God Bless.

Written by Fred Gluck

A Family Collection

A few years ago, each member of our family – including two grown sons and one daughter in high school – contributed a certain dollar amount towards a Christmastime collection.  We then donated the money to five different businesses through KIVA (http://www.kiva.org/), a person-to-person micro-lending organization. We helped provide loans to a shoe store start-up in Mexico, an ice cream sales lady in Columbia, a convenience store in the Ukraine, and more.

We get regular emails as the loans are repaid, and we have been able to add to the account and reinvest in other businesses.

Doing this as a family is fun and puts us in the right spirit of the holiday.

Contributed by Steve Fine and family

“What’s the Meaning of This?”

The video below comes from the film, God Grew Tired of Us, about the journey of three “Lost Boys” who travel from Sudan to the United States.

What do you think?

How Did Participating In Advent Conspiracy Affect You?

Comment here with stories of what you did to celebrate Christmas differently this year! Share the conversations you’ve had with family & friends, offer encouragement as we wrestle with some of the tensions, and give your ideas for worshipping fully, spending less, giving more and loving all. How did joining the Conspiracy change the Christmas season for you?


Love All

Act Local: Share gifts of time and resources with those in our community. At the Impact Tree in the Atrium, find opportunities available for individuals, families and life groups. All the information you need will be on the cards by the Tree. Take a card – put an ornament on the tree.

Give Global: On Sunday, December 13 during services, we'll take up an Advent Conspiracy offering (a direct result of spending less) to give towards clean water projects and wheelchair needs in Honduras, Kenya and Romania. If you won’t be able to join us at services on that day but still want to participate, just write "Advent" in the memo of your check and drop it in any of the offering boxes.