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Series Study Guide
I heard a story of a lady who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable, and after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, exhausted and frazzled, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids and two hurting feet.
She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season. Overwhelming pressure to get that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, making sure we don’t forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sends us a gift or a card.
Finally, the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd in the elevator. She pushed her way into the elevator, dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn’t take it anymore and exclaimed, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.”
From the back of the elevator everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him.” For the rest of the trip down the elevator it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
We all know that modern Christmas is messed up. In our culture it is a commercial event designed to increase retail sales. Over Black Friday weekend, we spent 54 billion dollars. Every year we hear the cries to remember the reason for the season and put Christ back into Christmas. That’s what Christmas Conspiracy is all about. This series is rooted in the desire to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We are joining thousands of Christians in hundreds of churches calling for a Christmas Conspiracy. Often the word “conspiracy” is used in a negative light, but we mean it in the positive sense of a group of Christ-followers willing to stand against the culture. Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural. Let’s conspire together at Christ Fellowship to resist the forces of consumer culture telling us to buy gifts on credit cards, using money we don’t have, to buy gifts that people don’t want.
Who is this whole Christmas season for again? The big news of Christmas is that God entered our world as the baby Jesus. Jesus lived and died for our salvation. We would have no way to experience forgiveness or heaven if Jesus had not come.
I think Christmas should a huge birthday party for someone. Could you imagine if on your birthday we all gave awesome gifts to each other, but gave you nothing? So at Christmas who should get the gifts? And what kind of gifts does Jesus appreciate?
Today, I want you to open your mind to be challenged. If you have been in church for a while, you may have heard many Christmas sermons so you may be tempted to let your mind go on neutral because you think you know the story so well. Think with me: Is Christmas a Christian holiday? Of course it is in the sense that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior. But hang with me. What do most of our current Christmas traditions have to do with Jesus?
Go back with me 2,000 years ago. Let’s suppose there were no Christmas traditions. If you were starting from scratch, what kind of activities would you create to remember the coming of God to earth? Think about holidays celebrating other people. What do we do for Martin Luther King Day? We re-read his I have a Dream speech. We rehearse his contributions to racial reconciliation. If there were no traditions for celebrating Jesus’ birth, what kinds of traditions might be fitting? Take a moment to jot down a few ideas.
The Bible tells us:
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2.
Does how we currently celebrate Christmas really honor Jesus? In our modern traditions we may have conformed to our culture. I suggest that our Christmas celebration should be Gospel-directed. How can we celebrate the birth of Christ in a way that truly honors him and advances his cause? The answer will take us into being counter-cultural, into a Christmas conspiracy. What if the answer is not a few minor tweaks, but rather radical changes to what we do over Christmas? Let me warn you. This message may disturb you. It may cause you to think long and hard about what you do for Christmas.
It’s hard to step outside our cultural traditions to really see ourselves. It’s like a fish trying to see water. History can help us gain self-awareness. I find the history of Christmas absolutely shocking. In the past, I have said we need to put Christ back in Christmas, but in my research on Christmas, I have been challenged at a deeper level. Was Christ ever in Christmas? For instance, where does gift giving come from? What does it have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ?
Can you find any celebration of Christmas in the Bible? No. In fact, there is no evidence of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the first three hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. Shocking to me, Christmas was not celebrated in the early Church. In that timeDecember 25th was the date of a pagan festival, Sol Invictus, the ‘birth’ of the Persian god, Mithras, marking the winter solstice. The Roman festival, Saturnalia, was observed for a week beginning December 17th and honored the Roman god, Saturn. The Romans saved throughout the year so they could indulge in great feasts and lavish themselves and others with gifts.
With the triumph of Christianity, Christmas replaced the pagan festival. Early Christian leaders argued about whether to celebrate Christ’s birth at all. It was opposed by St. Jerome in 410.
Fast forward to the Reformation. Increasingly, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, many Christians frowned upon the celebration of Christmas for two reasons. First, they disliked all the waste, extravagance, and immorality of the Christmas celebrations. They must have had office Christmas parties back then too! Second, they saw no biblical justification. In the late 1500′s, Philip Stubbes wrote a book called The Anatomie of Abuses. He states the Puritan case against Christmas here – ‘More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides … What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used … to the great dishonor of God and the impoverishing of the realm.’ In a 1647 Act of Parliament, England forbade the celebration of Christmas. Businesses were required to be open, and the selling of traditional plum puddings and mince pies was condemned as a heathen and even blasphemous indulgence.
For theological reasons, in America the following law was passed in Massachusetts in 1659: “Whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas and the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting or any other way, shall pay for any such offense five shillings as a fine to the country.” The Puritans saw Christmas as a spiritually dangerous holiday that encouraged drinking, gluttony and debt.
Ironically, I discovered an Atheist web site that makes a good historical case that Jesus is not and never was the reason for the season. According to their web site, Christmas is a largely pagan, commercial and secular holiday.
So how should we handle Christmas as Christ-followers? What should we do with Christmas? Should we celebrate it? Of course there is freedom. It is fine to celebrate Christmas. And it is fine not to celebrate Christmas. I think there is a better question: how should we celebrate Christmas? Have we become conformed to the patterns of this world in regard to Christmas?
I propose that the Gospel should order our Christmas celebrations – we should have Gospel-directed Christmas traditions. This whole Christmas Conspiracy series is designed to help us truly honor Jesus in how we celebrate his birth. What are ways we can best celebrate Jesus’ birth. My point today is that we should bless more people over Christmas with generous giving by redirecting some traditional spending on gifts to instead invest in others for the Gospel. I believe it would honor Jesus and appropriately celebrate his birth to bless more people over Christmas, to meet more needs. We should redirect some of our traditional spending on gifts to invest in others for three compelling reasons. The first compelling reason why we should redirect our spending to bless others is because traditional gift-giving can be harmful.
Because traditional gift-giving can be harmful
Ask yourself, how does giving gifts to your family and friends honor Jesus? Are you thinking about Jesus as you buy the gift at Wal-Mart? When you are wrapping it? When you give it to the person? Sometimes our reasons to give are not healthy. We give to impress. If I give her a really big gift, maybe she will like me. Do you give a large gift to your child to compete with the other parent? But even when our motivations are noble, such as giving a gift to our child because we love them, how does giving an Amazon Gift Card honor Jesus? How does a new sweater celebrate Jesus’ birth?
Let’s see what the Bible says about giving. In my study on giving I found passages on God giving to us, many on us giving to God and the least number on us giving to each other. Many of those are not in a good context, such as giving a bribe to another person. There is no evidence of giving gifts to each other to celebrate Christ or anything God has done for us. The Bible does say;
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Hebrews 12:1.
Could our Christmas activities be something that “hinders” living for Christ? Paul says;
4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 2 Timothy 2:4.
Could our Christmas gift-buying and other traditions be entanglements? They are not wrong, but are they helping us follow Jesus and help others find and follow him?
We could argue that giving gifts honors God as the greatest giver. The Magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the connections are really weak. How is buying a Wii video game for your kids honoring God giving his only Son? The Magi did not give gifts to each other, but to Jesus directly. This might argue for increased giving to the church, the body of Christ, at Christmas, but not for giving gifts to each other.
Gift-giving can distract from the real meaning of Christ’s birth. It can dilute our focus on Jesus Christ. It feeds materialism, greed and envy. Giving gifts adds to consumerism. As we see ads and consider the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” we start to want things we did not even know existed. Gift giving can actually harm children. From a young age with lavish gifts we instruct them in the art of materialism. We teach them to want more and more. It is called greed. The shopping insanity adds to the stressfulness of the season.
People go into debt for Christmas gifts.
Buying Christmas gifts is often poor stewardship. It wastes God’s money. That money could be given to missions or to the poor or to the ministries of the church. Or to pay important bills in the family, or increase saving or decrease debt. At the worst, it is to reduce your giving to the church to buy presents. This is his day. If anything, you should increase your giving to Jesus Christ.
Our family loves Christmas. My wife Tamara listens to Christmas music year round. Four years ago, when I told her how convicted I was, she said, “Fine. I will take back your present, but we are giving gifts to the kids!” My kids are glad. Seriously, be sure you are hearing what I am saying and not saying. I am not saying it is wrong or sinful to give gifts. In fact, I intend to give gifts and look forward to receiving some. It is not wrong to give and receive gifts at Christmas. When you give gifts, let me suggest three principles to guide you: give to honor Jesus, give motivated by love and give bounded by good stewardship.
I am saying traditional Christmas gift-giving can be harmful and I question whether it really honors Jesus. If we had that blank piece of paper 2000 years ago with no previous traditions in our mind, and were coming up with how we might celebrate Jesus’ birth, I don’t think giving gifts to each other would be one of the top ideas. There are better ways to celebrate Jesus’ birth. One of them is to bless more people by meeting more needs.
Should not being a follower of Jesus impact how we celebrate Christmas? How we give gifts? Our giving should be focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel. How could our giving honor Jesus and advance the Gospel? It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that should order our Christmas. Consider re-thinking how you celebrate Christmas. Our point today is that we should bless more people over Christmas. We should bless more people by redirecting some of our spending to invest in blessing people for the Gospel. Three reasons compel us. The first is that gift-giving can be harmful. The second compelling reason to redirect spending to bless more people is because God is the most generous giver.
Because God is the most generous giver
It seems very appropriate to give at Christmas in view of God’s amazing gift to us. However, we must ask ourselves, what gifts are most appropriate? And to whom should we give to celebrate Jesus’ birth? It is his day. What gifts would he appreciate?
What has God given to us? The Father sent his one and only son to live a sinless life, die on a cross and then rise from the dead three days later. Based on what Jesus did for us, the Father offers us salvation freely as a gift. We receive God’s amazing grace by faith.
The Bible says;
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16.
Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. “This gift above all others is undeserved, unexpected and comes with no strings attached. It is an expression of God’s unconditional love for humankind and can never be repaid. So often people feel they must earn it, either before or after receiving God’s gift. “We misinterpret the gift as an exchange in which God gives salvation because of our good works (Rom 4:4) or as a contract in which we owe God a lifetime of sacrificial service.
Our giving is not an obligation we owe back to God, but a response out of gratitude in response to what God has done for us.
Fundamentally, we give because we have been given to. God is the greatest giver; Jesus is the greatest gift. The Bible says;
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9.
His generosity is outrageous. God, the Son, Jesus Christ, left the glories of heaven to become a human being. Born in the most humble circumstances, Jesus died with nothing, not even the clothes on his back. Jesus did it voluntarily. It was a huge cost to God; a sacrifice, the ultimate act of love. At great cost to himself, God generously gave to us so that we could be rich. God offers us the riches of forgiveness, the wealth of real peace and the benefit of genuine joy. Through Jesus you can be rich if you will trust in him to forgive you and give you the generous free gift of eternal life. If you have never trusted in Jesus, I urge you to accept God’s gift today. If you want to take that step or want to know more about how, use your Care Card to let me know. We will respond to you.
Generous giving springs from a heart conscious of the infinite generosity of God in giving his Son to redeem us. Our generous giving is simply a response to all that God has done for us. Paul says;
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32
Knowing God’s outrageous generosity to us inspires us to give generously to him. As I grasp what He has really given to me, I am motivated to give as generously as I can.
So at Christmas it is appropriate to give generously because God is the most generous giver, but is buying an Ipad at Best Buy to put under the tree the kind of giving that honors Jesus? Again, I am not saying it is sinful to buy electronics and put gifts under a tree, but are those the primary kind of gifts that honor Jesus and celebrate his birth? I am proposing that we bless more people this Christmas to honor Jesus. We should bless more people by redirecting some our spending from traditional gift-giving to investing in others for the Gospel of Jesus. We should do this for three compelling reasons: first because traditional gift-giving can be harmful; second, because God is the greatest giver and the third compelling reason is because blessing others blesses us.
Because blessing others blesses us
The Apostle Paul shares the basic blessing principle in 2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. In the classic promise to Abraham in Genesis twelve God said, he would bless his people so that we will be a blessing. In fact, our charter is to be a blessing to all peoples on earth. God calls his people to bless others.
You have experienced that there is more joy in giving a gift than in receiving a gift and the joy lasts much longer. Jesus said this. He is quoted in Acts 20:35, where Paul said;
35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
When you help the “weak” you are blessed. Notice to whom the giving is directed; not necessarily family or friends, but to the “weak.” In other words those in need, which could be family, but often is someone else.
God promises that the one who gives generously will find rewards not only in this life but also in the next. I certainly do not believe in what’s called prosperity theology: we give to God and He will make us rich. That is a distortion of biblical truth. However, God does motivate us with his promises of blessing. The Bible says;
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. Malachi 3:8-10.
When we give to the mission of God, we discover blessings. Listen to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke;
38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38
How will we be blessed? We will be blessed spiritually, eternally, materially and with the joy of making an impact for God. Giving directs our attention and hearts to Christ. If you give in a Gospel-directed way, you will find blessings. You can be part of moving the kingdom of God forward. Although Christmas is a largely commercial holiday, Christians can use Christmas as a vehicle for the gospel. We need the spirit of Paul who said;
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:23.
We can redirect our spending to bless more people to honor Jesus and advance his gospel.
Generous giving is a great way to celebrate Christmas. But it is not the kind of giving most people do at Christmas. As counter-culture Christ-followers, we are uniting in a Christmas Conspiracy to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
What I am sharing today is a lot to think about. When our traditional views are challenged, we need time to consider what God is saying to each of us. My point in this message is that to appropriately celebrate his birth, we will bless more people this Christmas. We will redirect some of our spending on traditional gift-giving to give to honor Jesus, by giving to his church, to his mission, to those in need. We should bless more people with generous giving over Christmas by redirecting our spending for three compelling reasons: because traditional gift-giving can be harmful, because God is the most generous giver and because blessing others blesses us.
So, how do we do this? How can we bless more people this Christmas? Give to Jesus body, his church. As the church we together are people helping people find and follow Christ. What could be closer to the heart of God? Give to our Movement to Multiply. Through Christ Fellowship, we are blessing more people as we multiply freedom, ministry and compassion. The Movement to Multiply, what we call M2X, funds the jail ministry, is starting the new Preston campus, the online campus and funds our compassion ministries to our local community.
How could you specifically bless people this Christmas? Many of you have adopted care angels to provide gifts. Thank you. You can give to the water project for Uganda to provide clean water. We are collecting coins in water bottles. Let’s give clean water for Jesus.
What if you want to bless a specific person with a particular need? We now have the technology in place to provide this opportunity. On our website under “Make a Difference” you can find needs to meet. If you have a need or know someone with a need, you can send it to us and we will add your need so others can see it. If you have goods or services to give away, we can post them. Today you can write your need on a Care Card or email it to us. Or write down a good or service you want to give and we will post that. This tool will help us connect many more people in need with those willing to meet needs.
In your daily life, what kind of gifts could you give to bless people? What about gifts of time? Homemade gifts save money and are more meaningful, which is why we are offering Merry Mainstreet. My wife’s mom sewed doll clothing from fabric scraps while she rode the bus to work. Those were meaningful Christmas gifts.
How can you give in ways that honor Jesus and advance the Gospel? Give gifts of listening, laughter, notes, prayer, encouragement and most of all, the message of salvation. How much of your traditional gift-giving will you consider re-directing to bless more people for the Gospel? Would you give 10% to the needy? Will you give an equal amount to the Lord’s work at Christ Fellowship as you spend on gifts? Bless those who need clean water. Bless those who need food. Bless those who need Christ. This Christmas let’s bless more people in Jesus’ honor.
At the start I said this message could be disturbing. It disturbs me. I have to ask myself how much I have conformed to the patterns of this world in regard to Christmas. Am I entangled by traditions that hinder me from honestly honoring Jesus at Christmas? I can’t get away from the simple question: Who is this whole Christmas season for? It’s someone’s birthday. Am I doing what Jesus will appreciate? Right now I want to give you some time to consider what the Spirit of God is communicating to you. Write down what you sense God leading you to do to celebrate Jesus’ birth.