Archive for November, 2008

Sunday Trivia!

dollar_billsWhat is the most expensive item listed in this year’s Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog?


A New Way of “Doing” Christmas

Over the years, our extended family’s Christmas gift exchanges became more a burden than a blessing. And, increasingly, a farce as none of us really needed any more possessions in our lives. The annual superfluous sweaters and gift card exchanges even prompted some of the cynics in the family to propose that we just exchange bank routing numbers and perform mutually agreed upon wire transfers.

Last fall, some of us had reached a critical breaking point and were ready to spontaneoulsy combust at the thought of another same ol’ , same ol’ Christmas. It didn’t take much to convince the rest of the bunch to try a new thing. So, we broke with tradition and instituted a new way of “doing” Christmas. It brought us joy and peace and provided laughter and relaxation- at a time usually frought with anxiety and incessant activity. We were mightily pleased with its outcome. (And it had nought to do with John Grisham’s humorous book, “Skipping Christmas”.)

At the Thanksgiving feast we determined not to exchange names for gift buying, but still to bring a gift for exchange with someone in the family- anyone. The additional twist, however, was that the gifts brought for each other were not to be bought for each other. Each person was to wrap and bring something that they already had in their home, the funnier the better. In essence, turning Christmas from just plain white to white elephant. And, we decided, the money not spent on a relative we would give to our favorite charities.

The result was incredible. As we went around the circle on Christmas day, explaining which charity we chose and why, we learned a great deal about one another. All were delighted to be giving a gift to someone else on the planet who truly needed what was given. Clean water for a village in Africa, a sustainable fish pond for a community in Asia and chickens for a family in South America were some of the gifts given last year. Others kept their charitable gift in the U.S. , supporting local food pantries, homeless shelters and other basic needs charities in order to help out their fellow Americans. It was extremely refreshing.

And then came the hysterics: The white elephant gift exchange. People cried with laughter rather than because they didn’t get what they wanted. (Even the kids.) There was no boredom with the redundancy of gift card exchanges between the teenagers. (Yeah, OK, they were still bored, but the rest of us weren’t.) There were no disappointments because there were no expectations. And some of us easily-pleased people were actually thrilled with our white elephant gift.

The joy and happiness we experienced together wasn’t just for that one day, either. This new system of doing Christmas translated into much less stress- on both sides of the day. There were no grim thoughts of standing in store return/exchange lines afterward. And, instead of creating panic during the 4 weeks or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the new idea created fun. No one was scurrying to find a parking spot in order to purchase unneeded gifts for the extended family, and then worrying if the gifts would fit, be the right color, or be liked. No one was giving up in desperation and resorting to choosing a gift card. On the contrary. My family members were creatively weighing their options: should they bring the 1980’s Kenny G cd, the “cat litter rabbit” doorstop, or the Hawaiian shirt decorated with surfer dudes, palm trees and panelled station wagons?

The new system is here to stay in my extended family; we liked it that much. All 20 of us felt great about the good we did last year with some of our Christmas dollars.

Written by Katherine Perreth

Striking Chords & Ringing Bells

This entire Advent Conspiracy has really struck a chord with me. I am not interested in placing a value judgement on what people may or may do – who am I to cast stones at others?

Each year I believe I am more grateful for what I have and for what God has provided to me. We not only have the things of life, but our children have grown to be incredible young adults, and cherish the time and relationships they have with each other. What could be a better gift.

I am also grateful to be part of a faith community that teaches and practices the art of servant leadership. The Advent Conspiracy is only one example of the missional efforts of our family. We think of others, we serve others, we teach others, we pray for others. Praise God!

animated_kettle-coinsI have asked my family to forgo gifts to me this year, and instead, to ring bells for the Salvation Army. I serve on the advisory board for this non-profit and have just come from one of our board meetings.

I offer this same opportunity to families within our Blackhawk community. Go to and find a location that is near your home and a time that is convenient for you. Do it in pairs. Watch and feel the excitement of shoppers and those strolling when they deposit their change. Create a shared experience that will be remembered in your heart. Don’t be surprised when they also share stories of how this is something they look forward to every year, and then spend more time thanking you for making the effort.

Every year, 40% of the timeslots go unfilled by volunteers. Each hour, a kettle generates $35 of services. That provides shelter, respite, meals, blankets, disaster response and hugs. Priceless.

Be part of the solution. Share your time. Join in the Advent Conspiracy!

God Bless!

Written by Dan Loichinger

Sunday Trivia!

santa-faceWhat is Santa Claus called in these countries: England, Germany, Italy?

The What and the How

The first Christmas in that very Hindu city in India, our small group of newly arrived missionaries (including me) had to figure out how to celebrate in a city without Christmas carols in the mall (and without a mall!), without Christmas trees, without candlelight church services, without traditional Christmas food, without our family and friends – without the externals we relied on to make Christmas “Christmas”.

It forced us to re-consider Christmas. What is it really? What can we do in this cultural context to communicate and to celebrate that? What we came up with was nothing grand. But it changed our lives.

india-christmas-partyWe decided to make special sweets and write personal letters to give to our Hindu friends and neighbors. We went to their homes together to offer our gifts and to tell them how important their friendship was to us. We even sang a couple of Indian-style Christmas carols in Hindi. With the small band of Christian students at the Hindu University in the city, we invited everyone we knew to a Christmas party where they could have fun with God’s people and hear the message of God made flesh. On Christmas Day we gathered at someone’s home, sharing food, exchanging small gifts in creative, fun ways, worshipping God, and praying that our friends and our city would see Jesus.

As we intentionally created ways to celebrate and communicate Christmas, we also created:

  • opportunities to talk with our Hindu friends and neighbors about the scandal of Jesus who alone is God.
  • a strong sense of belonging to each other as the family of God.
  • deep joy as active participants in the purposes of God in our city.

And as we aimed by our actions to shine a light on Jesus so others could see Him, we saw Him in new ways, too!

Why did those small things done by a few followers of Jesus make a lasting impact?

boys-at-christmas-partyIt was counter cultural. Both what we celebrated and how we celebrated stood in stark contrast to the culture we lived in.

It was collective. Not me doing my thing for my purposes, but the collaborative efforts of people committed to each other, to worshipping Jesus and to calling others to worship Him.

It was not comfortable. But we didn’t expect it to be. We had not come to India to be comfortable. We were prepared for life to be radically different than it had been before. So Christmas, like the rest of life for us there, was not about creating maximum good feelings.

That’s the point of the Advent Conspiracy. To see God make a lasting impact on us and others as we adjust our expectations, prayerfully making new decisions as the family of God about what we celebrate in this season and how, joyfully participating in the purposes of God in the world. Not to make ourselves feel good (though we will!), but so that others can see and experience Jesus.

Written by Becky Stephen

How Will Advent Conspiracy Change You?

Please Note: The first part of this video piece shows how some of last year’s Advent Conspiracy donations from churches across the country affected a village in Africa. We hope that our offering towards wells in the Peruvian Amazon (not to mention our offering towards those in need in Kenya, Honduras, and Romania) creates similar results for those communities.

Pay It Forward (and win Hockey Tickets!)

In the spirit of giving, I thought I’d pass on something our UW Women’s Hockey Team is participating in with Becker Law Office and invite YOU to participate as well. Here are the details:

“Pay It Forward” is the act of doing something for someone else and not expecting anything in return. We want to hear from the people in your congregation on how they would “Pay It Forward” if given $500. Each person who submits an idea will receive two free tickets to the women’s hockey game vs. Minnesota State on November 30th at 2pm. At that game, we will announce four winning entries that will receive the $500, courtesy of Becker Law Office, to make their idea happen. This contest is open to people of any age and can be done invididually or as a group. We encourage people to be as creative and as detailed as possible. This is also a great way to get people to think about helping others around the holiday season!

You can submit your ideas via (click on “contests” on the left hand column), or via mail. If you want to mail your entry, please make sure to include: Name, Address, City, State, Zip, Age, Phone, and Email. Entries can be sent to UW Athletics, Attn: Marketing, 1440 Monroe Street, Madison, WI 53711. All entries must be received by November 21, 2008. The winners will have until December 25, 2008 to make their idea happen. If you have any questions, please contact Amanda Benzine at or 608-265-5725.


Posted by Mark Johnson

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.