A Glad and Generous Christmas…

6570744841_69c6cfdc16It’s the most wonderful time of the year…filled with decorations, cookies, presents, music, and all the Christmas cheer. As a Christian dad who is trying to lead my family well through the holiday season, I am trying to help my children think rightly about Christmas.

Enter Santa Claus.

My soon to be 3-year-olds hear songs about Santa, watch Christmas movies with appearances by the big man, and see him at the mall. So what do we do with Santa Claus? Embrace him fully, reject him totally, or find a happy medium? That’s a question that Christian parents seem to be asking this time of the year. To some, it seems that the modern Santa Claus (much different from Saint Nicholas of church history) represents the consumerist and materialistic problems that plague the Christmas season and holiday. The most wonderful time of the year can easily become the most stressful time as desires become demands and take the throne of our hearts.

James, writing to believers, asks a pointed question to them about the origin of their sin:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (4:1-3).

James, why is our culture so materialistic? Why do my children have a Christmas list a mile long? Why do I have a Christmas list a mile long? James seems to be saying that our hearts are the source of our competing desires, our envy and covetousness. Ouch! I thought it was Santa’s fault, not my own heart’s sin struggle.

wordmadefleshEnter Jesus.

Christmas is a season where we celebrate the incarnation of our Savior, which is “good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2: 10b-11). Jesus came to live and walk among us. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to save us and to give us a new heart. And he left the Holy Spirit with us to root out the sin that so easily entangles, and to help us wage war against the remaining sin that finds its home deep within. The gospel is our only hope in fighting discontentment, materialism, selfishness, enviousness, and all the other sins that grow so freely around the Christmas time.

As a church, we have been studying the Treasure Principle together. Randy Alcorn has a helpful section “Changing Christmas” found on pages 386-387 in his larger work on the subject, Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Here are his remarks:

Can we change the pattern of materialism in our homes? Certainly. Take Christmas, for example. We can buy far less. We can hand make presents, set a budget, and buy presents in advance to avoid the unnerving jostling through stores. Any change is good if it helps us to focus on Christ rather than ourselves. We can visit shut-ins or take food to the needy – to focus on giving rather than receiving….But even if you still exchange presents, you can make Christmas different. Don’t be victimized by the world’s materialism. Worship Christ in simplicity.

This Christmas, maybe we should be less worried about jolly ole Saint Nick lurking in the chimney and more concerned with the war within our soul. Let’s help one another find the joy in Christmas – that One freely gave his all for us. In turn, let’s model for ourselves, our families, and this world what Christmas is really about.

Where is Your Treasure?

Video

On a Sunday afternoon in November, we gathered with a handful of our church family and let them talk about what they had been learning from our Bible study series, The Treasure Principal. In the following video, they address the question about whether the desires of our heart are found here on earth, or in heaven. This is the first video from our series, A Glad and Generous People.

dinging of the soul…

strandedDing, ding, ding. This signal, simple and subtle, often keeps me from being stranded. As I hurry around town – driving to and from work, back and forth to home, or over to the coffee shop – this signal reminds me of a simple task…to turn my headlights off in my Jeep. I find that as I am riding around town, my mind races, often filled with thoughts of the scheduled events of the day, worries and joys of the family, life and ministry, and this signal reminds me not to forget the simple task that keeps me going. The simple task that keeps me from being stranded, left in some parking lot with a dead battery.

Since September there has been another signal going off, but this one is different – quiet and internal – and yet drawing my attention just the same. This signal is sounding off in my heart as I have been reading through the Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn and studying how the gospel impacts my money and possessions.

Reading this material has convicted me and helped me to refocus. The busyness of life and the sway of my heart’s affections can keep me distracted, and if left unchecked could leave me spiritually stranded. The Lord has used this study material as a signal, dinging loudly and often within my soul. This dinging has called me to remember that where my treasure is, there my heart is as well (Matthew 6:21).

The following Alcorn quotes are just a few of those dinging, heart checks:

“Once we understood that we were giving away God’s money to do God’s work, we discovered a peace and joy we never had back when we thought it was our money” (26).

“Our giving is a reflexive response to the grace of God” (31).

“Our present life on earth is the dot. It begins. It ends. It’s brief. But from that dot extends a line that goes on forever. That line is eternity, which Christians will spend in heaven” (50).

“The act of giving is a vivid reminder that it’s all about God, not about us. It’s saying I am not the point, He is the point. He does not exist for me. I exist for Him. God’s money has a higher purpose than my affluence. Giving is a joyful surrender to a greater person and a greater agenda. Giving affirms Christ’s lordship. It dethrones me and exalts Him. It breaks the chains of mammon that would enslave me” (59).

“Your children should love the Lord, work hard, and experience the joy of trusting God. More important than leaving your children an inheritance is leaving them a spiritual heritage” (72).”

“God distributes wealth unevenly not because He loves some of His children more than others, but so His children can distribute it to their brothers and sisters on His behalf” (77).

I hope you have been challenged by this study as well. I would love to share more with you about my journey and hear your story. Let’s grab a cup of coffee or a biscuit sometime, and let’s help each other not to be left spiritually stranded with our battery drained – for nothing is more energizing than grace!

A Glad and Generous People

The phrase “A Glad and Generous People” is based on Acts 2:42-47. There the fellowship of believers responds with gladness, generosity, and sacrificial sharing of their material possessions, all because of the grace they have found in Jesus Christ. To that end, we too want to be a glad and generous people!

Glad & Generous slide final

This fall we offered a 13 week Bible Study curriculum, based on Randy Alcorn’s book, The Treasure Principle, devoted to helping us understand why Christians give. Many of you have shared examples of what God is teaching you about generosity and the gospel implications for our giving and spending habits. We have also heard how the gospel has been at work in the life of at least one in our community by listening to what she learned about possessions and how those possessions can find a place on the throne of one’s heart.

We are planning for several more testimonies that reflect how the gospel is helping us to be a glad and generous people. As you hear these inspiring stories, please consider one of these next steps you might take to grow in the discipline of giving:

  • Individual Counsel – Speak directly with a minister to learn more about the discipline of giving.
  • Mentoring pairings – A couple desiring to learn more about giving will be paired with a more mature couple, who will provide encouragement, counseling, solutions, and resources, within a couple to couple relationship. If you are interested in this, please contact Chuck Stanley.
  • “Handling Our Money and Possessions” Class – A 10-12 week “How to” study that will include tips on budgeting, giving patterns, and debt management. This class will be offered on Sunday nights beginning February 8, 2015.

We are encouraged by what God is teaching our community about this important spiritual discipline!

Following Jesus in Many Ways – the Gospel of Mark

Here is a summary of the twelve points from today’s sermon on following Christ:

1. Following Jesus means repentance and belief in the gospel (1:14-20)

2. Following Jesus means a sustained recognition of your need (2:13-17)

3. Following Jesus means a new family and a shared life (3:31-35; 10:29-31)

4. Following Jesus means planting God’s word deep within yourself (4:13-20)

5. Following Jesus means freely giving away your life (6:7-13)

6. Following Jesus means a renovation of the heart (7:6-7, 14-23)

7. Following Jesus means compassion for others (8:1-10)

8. Following Jesus means exchanging self-interest for the gospel (8:34-38)

9. Following Jesus means forfeiting personal greatness (9:33-37)

10. Following Jesus means fighting sin (9:42-50)

11. Following Jesus means relinquishing your greatest achievements and most treasured possessions (10:17-31)

 12. Following Jesus means loving God more than anything else (12:28-34)

Click here to listen to the sermon.

Hymn Reflection – Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

 

We are learning a new song as a church family and I have been asked to make a few comments about why I like it. So, here goes.

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken, written by Henry Lyte, is a classic hymn text. By that I mean that it has characteristic theological substance, gospel rich expression, and a poetically memorable arrangement. That’s why listening to it over and over again can have a significantly different effect on me than Darius Rucker or the Eli Young Band. That’s why it can be such a helpful tool in my spiritual formation.

Like you, I am often bothered by the circumstances of life. Things don’t work out as I want them to work out. People don’t act like I think they should. I don’t act like I think I should. So, I need to find ways to work the gospel into my own brokenness and the circumstances of my broken world. The third verse of this hymn does just that:

    I have called Thee Abba, Father!
    I have stayed my heart on Thee.
    Storms may howl, and clouds may gather,
    All must work for good to me.

Instead of worrying about all the things I want to fix or change around me, I should sing. I should sing or hum or meditate or somehow confess the truth of these lines: “I have stayed my heart on Thee.” Instead of being irritated by people or circumstances, I should practice the habit of resting in God—resting in his sovereign orchestration of my life.

When I sing “I have stayed my heart on Thee”, I am also making a statement about that on which I will not stay my heart:

  • I will not stay my heart on what I think the solution to the problem is.
  • I will not stay my heart on a man-made ideal.
  • I will not stay my heart on that which is earthly and temporary.
  • I will not stay my heart on the critical words of others—repeating them, resenting them.
  • I will not stay my heart on others.
  • I will not stay my heart on my own words, justifying and explaining myself.
  • I will not stay my heart on me.

Instead, I will stay my heart on God himself. I will stay my heart on the only thing that abides forever—God and his Word. I will stay my heart on the one who works all things for his glory and my good.

“Storms may howl, and clouds may gather” but I will find that long-awaited repose in my heavenly Father, his perfect Son, and the peace-giving Holy Spirit.  Now that’s something to sing about.