Friday, November 27, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm - Refocus

Many well-meaning Christians have begun to wage a war against “the war on Christmas,” urging us to boycott stores like Old Navy because they say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” If Old Navy employees said “Merry Christmas”, though, would it infuse hearts with Jesus? Would He receive glory from the sale of yet another sweater sewn by poor hands? It’s doubtful.

The greatest way that we can resist the storm of Christmas commercialism is to set our hearts and minds on Jesus. It’s one thing to say that Jesus is the reason for the season; it’s another to seek Him with earnestness and conviction in the coming weeks, getting to know His heart and His ways beyond the story of His birth that we are celebrating.

Instead of lamenting the loss of Christ in Christmas at the mall, our time and mental energy could be better spent thinking on all that was given to us in Christ. Our time and physical energy could be better spent giving generously to those who cannot repay us, just as God gave His life to a world that could never repay Him. Our time and emotional energy could be better spent praising the Author of Life rather than reviling those who ride the cultural wave each December trying to make a buck.

There was a lot to pay attention to during the days of Jesus’ birth and early years. Shepherds came stumbling into the stable late at night, smelly outcasts rejoicing over a tiny baby. A jealous and evil king destroyed all of the Jewish boys ages two and under. Wise men came from far away lands to give ludicrously expensive gifts. An old man and an ancient woman in the temple of God broke out in prophecy and praise of God when Jesus was carried into the room by His parents.

And Luke tells us that Mary looked at all those things, all the commotion, and treasured them and pondered them in her heart.

Perhaps resisting the storm is built on quiet pondering and on treasuring, not being engulfed by the hubbub all around (or railing against it), being consumed with the One who has sparked all the commotion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm, A Word About Budgets

Budgets can be restrictive or they can be freeing. We can celebrate our decision to willingly limit what we spend in order to give more away, or we can labor under a false law that says in order to really be a Christian we have to deny ourselves stuff. We can see budgets as keeping us from getting what we want, or we can see them as protection and freedom from the byproducts of overindulgence. And they can be a product of grace and love, as ask Christ to help us allocate well what He has entrusted to us. Paul urges the Corinthian church to excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). Giving is by grace, and a budget empowered by grace enables us to excel in the grace of giving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm, Part 2

I also have to fight the notion that loving my kids equals getting them stuff. I love to bless my kids, but I have to redefine what "blessing them" is. Some friends of mine have already thought through a version of this question when it comes to school choices – one segment of the Christian culture would say if you love your kids and want to bless them, send them to private Christian school or at least the best, more homogenous public school (which certainly is one definition of “best”). But my friends have redefined what “best” means in that they want their daughter to have friends of all races and economic backgrounds and that they want her to learn to love the Lost as a part of everyday life, so they send her to a very diverse public school.

Diane and I are just doing that same redefiinf work in the area of Christmas spending. And, because our kids are young, we have the chance now to shape what Christmas looks like in terms of presents and in terms of giving, because they don’t have years of gifts to stoke their expectations. Now, coming from a big family, our kids will get presents from their grandparents to add to their mounds of stuff that they already have, and I even try to ask my family to scale back what they give us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm, Part 1

So how to we take active steps to resist the coming storm of Christmas commercialism? When I was at the CCDA Conference in Cincinnati, Jim Wallis of Sojourners said, “Budgets are moral documents. How we spend/allocate our money shows what we really value.” He was speaking in terms of government spending, but this is also true of our own budgets. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there will our heart be, and so how we allocate the money God gives us reflects our values.

The way that Diane and I set boundaries for how much to spend at Christmas is the same way that we set boundaries for what we spend every other month of the year - our budget. Month to month, we set aside what God has led us to give first, and then we figure out how to live off of the rest. For Christmas, we limit what we budget for gifts, and then we stick to what we have set aside. I recognize that many of you have budgets for Christmas, and the way that our budget helps us resist the storm is that we set aside/budget a small amount. In order not to get caught up in craziness, Diane and I limit what we have available to spend.

When I think about my parents, sisters, and my own family, there is nothing at all that we need. Of course I always have a wish list of things that I want, but when I think about what I need, there’s nothing. That helps me spend less. I also have to fight the notion that gifts have to be large/expensive/multiple in order to be loving. I love to receive gifts (it’s my love language), and I love to give them – I almost want to unwrap the gift for the people I am giving it to because I love to give presents. But giving simple, yet thoughtful gifts, can be just as exciting. It can be more challenging to buy gifts with less money because you have to make decisions on what is really important to those people, and you buy less things on impulse and instead buy them with care and forethought.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Whack! Snap! Crack!

Today as I raked leaves in our backyard, Ben (the guy who walks all through our neighborhood and collects metal to recycle) approached with his shopping cart. We had recently cleaned out our basement garage and one thing sitting there was an old wicker crib, which had been mine as a baby and then had been Eliza’s. I had forgotten that the springs at the base of the crib (which supported the mattress) were made of metal, and so it surprised me when Ben began whaling on the crib with a hammer. Sure, we were throwing it out anyway, but something in me was sad to see this crib whacked apart, broken for scrap. Nothing really more to say or think or analogize. Just weird and sad to see my old crib being turned into scrap by one of my more interesting neighbors.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

There have already been rumbles on the horizon. It seems that they are heard earlier and earlier each year. And as November marches to a close, the storm will grow louder and more confusing, so its best to get ready now.

Will you be ready when every TV ad tells you that love equals expensive gifts? Will you be ready when shopping centers and malls sell you an experience that promises peace and joy but never delivers? Will you be ready to follow the wise men as they leave Bethlehem, going "another way"?

It becomes increasingly difficult in our culture to separate the noise and colors of the Christmas trappings from the true heart and meaning of what we are celebrating. That's why now is a great time, the best time, to prepare our hearts to stand against all that will be coming our way very soon. I figure if the stores can roll out the Christmas trees before Halloween, we can begin our advent preparation before Thanksgiving.

I long to live differently this Christmas, to begin to really teach my kids that Jesus is what Christmas is all about and to do that with more than just words. I long to give generously and meet the real needs of others, not to increase the clutter in my already full home. And I long to find more of Jesus when there is less under the tree. It gets really hard to do that as the season progresses.

Black Friday comes and tempts me to buy lower-priced electronics that I don't need. I want my children to be happy and when I see the things that their friends get, I want my kids to have all of those things, too. I have my own wish list as well, and I love to buy things for my wife that she would not usually get for herself. And then when you kick in the familiar Christmas songs that strike up images of shopping trips and presents with bows, before I know what is happening, I am using up the money in our Christmas present budget instaed of coming in well-below what we have set aside.

So I am starting now, preparing my heart for more of Jesus and less stuff. I am listening to a podcast from Imago Dei church in Portland, which has launched The Advent Conspiracy (click here for the podcast, which has Advent Conspiracy sermons from 2006, 2007, and 2008).

And I am praying that I will captured more by the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us, than by the craftiness of the advertisers who hope to make a buck off of my sentiment and my Savior. Will you join me in living differently this Christmas?