Advent Conspiracy #1: Unwrapping Christmas

December 8, 2008

Darrell kicked off our Advent Conspiracy series with the first message, titled “Unwrapping Christmas.” You can stream the sermon online here, or direct download the full podcast here (right-click and “save as…”).

During the sermon, we watched the following introductory video for Advent Conspiracy, courtesy of www.adventconspiracy.org.

We also provided a list of organizations and ministries we think would be a great place to focus our time and/or gifts this Christmas season. These include…

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

High Plains Food Bank: Their Holiday Food Drive is Dec. 8–13. Drop off your food and/or money donations at Market Street United (2530 S Georgia St) or United Supermarkets on 45th & Bell. Volunteers are always needed on weekdays, weekday evenings, and Saturday mornings. For more information, call Kusay Ismael at (806) 374-8562.

Mission 2540: Led by Jason Boyett’s brother, Brooks, this organization works with kids in apartments on the north side of Amarillo. Help out by providing Christmas gifts for kids or helping distribute gifts. Email Brooks to get involved.

Faith City Ministries:  This organization provides meals, guidance, and shelter for Amarillo’s homeless. Donations of time and clothing are always needed, and many volunteer opportunities are available. Email contact@faithcity.org or call 373-6402.

CityChurch: CityChurch meets the needs of the inner-city children of Amarillo with meals, spiritual education, and a variety of activities. Volunteers are needed daily. For details, call 371-0089 or email CityChurch.

Downtown Women’s Center: This organization provides a safe and secure environment for homeless women and their families. Donations of time, clothing, household items, and money are always welcome. For more details, call 372-3625 or email the Center.

CareNet Amarillo: CareNet promotes abstinence and ministers to women with unplanned pregnancies. To volunteer or make a donation, call 354-2288 or email CareNet.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Compassion International: Help release children from poverty by sponsoring a child’s education, medical care, basic necessities, and spiritual care through Compassion. Sponsorships are $32/month.

Soles4Souls: Protect impoverished kids from disease by putting shoes on their feet. The 50,000 Shoes in 50 Days Challenge (through December 31) allows you to donate two pairs of shoes for $5.

Healing Waters International: Provide clean water, through churches, for impoverished communities in Central America. Make a one-time or regular donation through the website above.

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And if you’re looking for ways to spend less on Christmas gifts, here’s a great list of creative Christmas gift ideas from Dave Ramsey’s website.

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Perspective

December 19, 2007

I now wear no-line bifocals. What a bummer. No one stays young forever right? When I read, I must look through the bottom part of my glasses. Otherwise, the words are blurry. When I look in the distance I must gaze through the top half of my glasses. It is interesting that a small adjustment in how I view things can radically change how I see things.

Advent helps my perspective. It is easy to view life as a glass half empty. We focus so much on the negative things going on in our lives that we lose sight of the great things in our lives. All of us have struggles and deal with difficult issues. However, I feel pretty certain that if we examine our lives, we all have much to be thankful for. The good probably far outweighs the bad!

Advent is a time to focus on God’s goodness. When we do joy erupts! Use this Advent season to change your perspective. A slight adjustment in how you view life will make a huge difference in how you see life and live life. Joy to the world the Lord has come!


Behold the Lamb of God

December 14, 2007

I’m the kind of person who, by the time we get to the first couple days in December, is ready to listen to Christmas music…until I get tired of it by, oh, the next weekend. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the old hymns and carols — in terms of sheer beauty and lyricism, few songs compare (Christmas or otherwise) to “O Holy Night” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I can’t hear either of those songs without getting chills. No, my Christmas music fatigue is due to the fact that it’s just the same songs over and over again. And since every musician feels the need to do a Christmas album, we’re overrun with these songs in hundreds of mostly uninspired arrangements. Seriously, do we really need to hear your sugary interpretation of “Away In a Manger”? Or even worse: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”? I lose patience for that kind of thing pretty quickly. (The exception: Sufjan Stevens. His versions of your favorite Christmas songs, along with traditional hymns like “Come Thou Fount,” are pretty much brilliant.)

BeholdAnyway, off the Grinchy soapbox. My aversion to the same old carols means I’m always looking for good, ORIGINAL Christmas music. And it’s hard to find, Sufjan notwithstanding. But one of my favorite Christmas albums is brimming over with original music, and you need to listen to it. It’s by Andrew Peterson and is a full-length record called Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. It’s a conceptual folk album with a rich, storytelling style. Peterson is an excellent songwriter and this is probably his best work. Listen to it online or buy the CD here.

To further entice you, watch this concert video of one of the songs — a really fun one called “Matthew’s Begats” — from the album:


Advent: Peace passages

December 12, 2007

The second Advent candle is the Bethlehem candle which focuses on the peace we have through Christ. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and the giver of the peace that passes all understanding. May you experience His peace this Advent season. As you continue your celebration of Advent, below are verses you can read as you focus on the element of Peace.

Read: Isaiah 11:1-6; Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7; Isaiah 40:1-11; Isaiah 48:17-19; Colossians 3:15; Colossians 1:20; Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 57:2; Romans 12:18-21


The Frog Prince

December 11, 2007

Are you familiar with the fairy tale The Frog Prince? It is best known through the Brothers Grimm’s written version. It is a classic story that has been retold and adapted in various versions. However, the main idea of the fairy tale is that a handsome prince (soon to be king) has been turned into a frog by a wicked witch. A lovely daughter of a king meets up with this frog, dialogues with the frog not knowing it to be a prince. The frog does a favor for the daughter and eventually winds up in the daughter’s bedroom where it returns to a prince. You can read the story to fill in the details.

Reading through the story, I felt for the frog prince. Can you imagine being a prince and all of a sudden you are a frog? Consider how his alteration affected him. He is really a prince, but no one recognizes him as a prince. No crown only warts. Once he lived in the palace but now he resides in a algae-invested pond. He ate from the king’s table, now he dines on frog food. He is suddenly confined to the limitations of “frogness” unable to do simple human endeavors. What a bummer!

Is Jesus’ experience not unlike this fairy tale prince but a million times more dramatic! The King of Kings becomes a servant. The one who knows no time and space is now confined to both. God becomes man! Once living in Glory, surrounded by angels who worship Him unceasingly, he now resides in a fallen world surrounded by those who will reject him and despise him. The infinite takes upon himself finiteness! One difference (among others-don’t take this analogy to far) between the frog prince and the Son of God: the prince became a frog by a wicked act, against his wishes. It was not something he chose. Jesus however, became a man freely, by his choice, a selfless, loving act. Another difference, the story of Jesus is no fairy tale!

Advent is about the coming of God to us! With us! For us! During Advent season reflect on the sacrifice Christ made for you. He is not a Frog Prince. He is the God-man!


The Advent Conspiracy

December 10, 2007

To follow up on last week’s post about Christmas giving and spending and how our gift-focus this time of year doesn’t really match up to the tradition’s origins, I wanted to point you to an interesting evangelical movement: The Advent Conspiracy.

Last year, an Oregon pastor named Rick McKinley — if you’re familiar with Blue Like Jazz, you’ll recognize him as Donald Miller’s pastor at Imago Dei in Portland — challenged his church to spend less money buying gifts and try to give relational gifts at Christmas. So his congregation spent the season making presents for each other, then donated the money they would have otherwise spent to organizations serving the poor. A great idea, and now it’s grown into a widespread international movement with lots of different churches participating this year.

Something to think about. Here you can read more of the back story behind the Advent Conspiracy. Or just go to the Advent Conspiracy website.

The quote to remember: “We’re not asking that you don’t spend money on Christmas, just that you do it with the poor in mind.”

 

The Season of Giving

December 6, 2007

More than ever, the Christmas season has turned into something it was never intended to be — the Gift Holiday. We pay a lot of lip service to Jesus and peace on earth and all that stuff, but we spend the majority of the Christmas season shopping. For many of us — myself included — it turns into a whole lot of time dedicated to buying and getting presents. And, sure, we can say what we want about generosity being a Christian virtue. But let’s face it: a lot of the gifts we buy are obligatory and unnecessary. We give because it’s expected of us, and the gifts we pick out for each other are usually things that, to be honest, most of us can afford to buy for ourselves…especially if it’s something we really, really want. Where is the virtue in that? We defend our purchasing by saying “It’s the thought that counts,” but why, then, does that thought have to cost a certain amount of money?

Maybe it would help to think about the origins of the whole Christmas gift-giving tradition. Likely, it developed from a couple of different sources:

Source #1: The Wise Men from the East delivered gifts to the Christ child, as described in Matthew 2:1-12. We usually compress this detail into our Christmas stories — after all, every Nativity scene features three gift-bearing wise men and at least one camel, right alongside the visiting shephards — but it probably happened long after the actual birth. Jesus and Mary were in a house by then, not a stable. Some scholars even think the Wise Men showed up as many as two years after the birth of Christ. At any rate, the things they brought weren’t exactly on Jesus’ shopping list. What kind of gifts are gold, frankincense, and myrrh? They’re definitely not the kinds of things you give a baby. Or a carpenter, for that matter. Instead, they were the kinds of treasures typically reserved for a king. Over the centuries, there’s been a lot of debate as to the purpose or symbolism of these gifts, but what seems clear is that they were given as an act of worship.

Source #2 isn’t the kind of story you tell the family on Christmas Eve. It ties back to the original Santa Claus: St. Nicholas, the 4th century bishop of Myra. According to the legend, he helped out a poor father who couldn’t afford to pay the dowry to get each of his three daughters married. Back then, unmarried women ended up in prostitution, so Nicholas secretly gave the father bags of gold for each daughter’s dowry, saving the girls from their fate. Santa Claus has evolved a lot since that story — depositing Wii games into an oversized stocking is a far cry from offering life-saving cash to a desperate father — but the root of our tradition is there. (In the Catholic tradition, by the way, today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. You can read a whole lot more about his story in this article I wrote for the December 2007 issue of RELEVANT Magazine — *PDF download*)

So we have a question to ask: Does our giving this Christmas reflect either of these two scenarios? Um…

Well, if our only choices are 1) Magi gifts that worship God, or 2) St. Nicholas gifts that serve the poor, then I’ve got a problem. Maybe you do, too. The presents I’m wrapping for my family and friends don’t quite fall in line with either of those categories. It’s easy to get defensive about it because buying and receiving gifts is so much a part of our celebration of Christmas. But I have to be honest and admit that the way I practice it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Jesus. It’s just a tradition…a tradition that makes us happy, because we like to give stuff. And give stuff. Mostly, we just like stuff.

So what do we do with a cultural tradition that may have started with Jesus but doesn’t have much to do with him anymore? Maybe we subvert it by slowly turning it back toward the original emphasis. Are there ways you can give more meaningful gifts this Christmas? Can we move beyond buying stuff we don’t really need? Can we simplify Christmas by giving gifts that matter — homemade gifts, or family photographs, or quality time spent with the most important people in our lives? Or can we somehow find ways to give gifts that serve the poor? If that sounds good to you, here are a few places where you can do just that:

Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog
Heifer International Gift Catalog
Kiva.org (Microloans to small businesses owned by the working poor)

Full confession: When it comes to my family, we haven’t changed our Christmas giving wholesale. But we’re becoming more deliberate about it. We’re taking steps to scale back a bit. In doing so, maybe we’ll get closer to the gifts given at the first Christmas gifts…or, if not that, then at least the gifts given by the original St. Nick.