Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 06

Making Life Different

For most people in Western contexts, shopping is spirituality. It is an attempt to find meaning and happiness in the product... Once again we are back to idolatry: the attempt to establish meaning and purpose on our own terms outside of a relationship with God. -Alan & Deb Hirsch

The holiday season often brings increased stress and even depression due to the dizzying demands and distractions of shopping, work parties, extended family visits, blended family responsibilities, cleaning, baking, entertaining, and –oh yes- did I mention spending? To top it off, burning the candle at both ends makes us more susceptible to colds and other ailments.

Then we start off the New Year with guilt (and inches) from overeating, the debt from overspending, and the emotional low that comes from pursuit of fleeting joy. Meanwhile, the reason for the season -Immanuel, God with us- gets lost in the frantic complexity. But it doesn’t have to.

On January 6, after the holiday vacations are over and the gifts and decorations are put away, we celebrate Epiphany-the arrival of the wise men or “magi” who came from afar to see the new king. The true biblical account of the magi is an inspiring example of persistent life-altering faith. The amount of energy and expense involved in their journey would have been considerable in what appears to have been a two-year quest. And after they arrived they offered Jesus treasures that would have been worthy of a king.

Matthew 2:11-12: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What we see here are the marks of true commitment:
1) They bowed down and worshipped him – when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord we humbly submit to his authority.
2) They opened their treasures – the resources of heaven don’t fall from the sky, instead they are released through God’s people.

3) They returned to their country by a different road – Belief is simple, but changing course or life attitudes and practices are often hard commitments to make. 

January is a traditional time to commit to taking a different road. We see the New Year as a time for making resolutions to change something about our lives. Whether it be quitting a bad habit or starting healthier practices, we vow to make this year different. But what if we allow the lessons of Advent and Christmas to shape the way we start the calendar year - and the rest of our lives - by reorienting our priorities to focus not on ourselves but on the radical love Jesus gives to us and asks from us in return.

Jesus continually challenges our life values and priorities by making clear the contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of consumption. Overspending, debt, and attachment to material possessions hinder our ability to fully commit to following Jesus in sacrificial mission. The more we have the harder we have to work to maintain what we have, which means less time to develop relationships with those closest to us and less time to serve Jesus’ mission for the least and the lost. Jesus names the alternative path for his followers:

Matthew 6:31-33: So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

1. Do you typically begin each New Year with a big relief, big guilt, big gut, big expectations, big let-down, big debt, big joy and/or big depression? Why do you think this is?
2. Which of the following examples of the three Magi do you most need to put into practice: Submitting to Jesus’ authority over your life, opening up your treasures for God’s purposes or committing to a needed life course change with God’s help? What will you do to begin making this happen?
3. How can you simplify your home to create more room for peace and righteousness, rather than for more stuff? What excess can you get rid of in your home (or your schedule) to reflect more accurately where your priorities lie?
4. What would it mean for you to “seek God’s kingdom first”? What changes would that shift necessitate in your life?
5. Take a moment right now to think of ways you can make first things first by finishing the following sentences:
I will spend more time with the people I love by ______________________________. 

I will demonstrate my faith in practical service by _____________________________. 
I will cultivate my relationship with God by __________________________________.

Write down what you will do differently this holiday season in order to honour Jesus' birthday and God's desire to bring good news to all people.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When Fear Creeps In

Who do you turn to when you're afraid?

Psalm 118:5-9

In my distress I prayed to the LORD,
and the LORD answered me and set me free.
The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?
Yes, the LORD is for me; he will help me.
I will look in triumph at those who hate me.

If your fear is holding you back, find freedom in God's arms.

- g-ram

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Conspiracy 03: Give More

Living Water International sends over 1,000 people a year on more than 100 mission trips to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti. Every week volunteers are received by indigenous hosts in those countries. We asked one of those hosts, an evangelist and seminary graduate, the following question: “As short-term missionaries, what is the single most valuable thing we can do to advance the gospel in your country? Share my testimony? Show the Jesus film? Drill more wells? Hand out Bibles? Tell Bible stories? Build churches? What?”

This was his answer: “Make friends. Give yourself. Give time. Eat a meal in my house even if all I have is beans. Let me give something to you. Grab a Frisbee and play with our children. It makes us feel important. Laugh. If you don’t speak our language, just smile and make signs with your hands. In our culture, nothing you can say about Jesus makes much sense until you’ve made friends with us. Our perception of gringos comes from television and movies. You could be other things, and we know your time is valuable. Share it with us.”

Is any culture really any different?


• God gave us his son for Christmas. We give stuff. What would a Christmas giving tradition modeled after God’s giving look like?
• Have you ever received a gift you felt was given out of a sense of obligation? How would you describe the “spirit” of such a gift?
• What is the most thoughtful or loving gift you have ever received? How would you describe its “spirit”?
• Life itself is God’s gift of time to you. Is there someone in your life who would prosper from the gift of your time?
• In what specific way will you give yourself in the coming week? 


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 05

Session 5: Creating New Traditions Based on Ch. 4: 
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. -I John 3:16-18

Do you struggle to come up with the perfect gifts each Christmas for the special people in your life? It can be tough but here’s an even more important question: 

What do you give Jesus on his birthday? 
How can we change the traditional focus of Christmas from materialistic self indulgence to giving Jesus what he desires on his birthday? 
And what can you possibly give the Lord of the universe? 
Fortunately Jesus made his wish list unquestionably clear in his last teaching in the book of Matthew concerning his return and the day of final judgment.

Matthew 25:31-36: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of
the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

We serve God when we serve others. We give to Jesus when we sacrifice our time, talents, and resources to meet other’s needs in his name. The church is the body of Christ. We are the only hands, feet, and wallets that Jesus has. Many people ask the question “If God is all-loving and all-powerful then why doesn’t God do something about evil?” The answer to this question is simple: you are the something that God is sending to combat evil in this world.

You are the evidence that the Messiah of God’s Kingdom is among you when everything that is broken around you is being restored, when the oppressed and captive are being set free, and when good news is being preached to the poor. Everyone who recognizes Jesus as Messiah is a servant of his mission and if that includes us, then we need to be committed to live more simply so that others may simply live - because that is what Jesus desires from his followers. 

Can you imagine the birthday celebration if every Christian in every church practiced the commitment of giving an equal amount of what they spend on themselves to a specific Jesus mission somewhere in the world? We can change the world one place at a time, one person at a time, if we are willing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday in a way that honours him. When we acknowledge Jesus as Lord we give him the rights to define our lifestyles, our values, and yes, in the way we celebrate his birth.

At Christmas, we celebrate a messiah, a deliverer who was born to die. So we too are called to give ourselves sacrificially with Christ for the world that God loves. Such sacrifice is paradoxical because the more of ourselves that we give away, the more abundant our faith and our commitment will be with what we have.

1. Who is the hardest person to shop for on your Christmas shopping list? How much time and energy do you have to spend finding a gift for him or her?
2. What would happen if you put as much time and energy into Jesus’ wish list each Christmas as you put into getting everyone the right gift?
3. What are some practical ways we can change the traditional focus of Christmas from materialistic self-indulgence to giving Jesus what he desires?
4. Describe an event where you gave of your time, talent and/or resources and were completely blessed beyond what you expected.
5. Why do you think God uses people to bring restoration and healing to a broken world instead of just stepping in with almighty power? Has God ever used you?
6. What “big buts” are keeping you from giving sacrificially of both time and money? What excuses do you need to overcome this year to truly honor Jesus with your life’s resources?

Get Creative! What is one new tradition or family practice you could start this year to make every Christmas a more authentic celebration of Jesus?


Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Conspiracy 02: Spend Less

A group of Living Water International missionaries and Advent Conspiracy visionaries visited an AC well in a Liberian village. The area had been ravaged by theft, so Living Water had installed a lockable protective steel jacket over the new well’s pump to prevent it from being stolen. The village had taken an additional measure—they encased the entire pump in concrete! Only the pump handle and spout stuck out. We asked what they were going to do if we needed to repair the well in a few years. They said they would gladly spend days chipping it out of the concrete with hammers. They said that that was far better than spending days without water to drink. They had seen all the death they could stand. Jesus had given them life for Christmas and that was a gift too precious to lose. When we asked what they wanted next Christmas, they asked for a well for the neighboring village.

Not one of the North Americans there could even remember what gifts we had received the previous Christmas. None of us had ever received a gift we loved so much that our first reaction was to want someone else to have it. Meanwhile, children all around played with little cars they had made out of plastic talcum powder bottles with wire axels and wheels cut from sandal soles, happy as can be, without spending a dime.


• “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26) What does this translate to in terms of practice?

• “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49) Were you brought up with the same view as Ezekiel regarding the “sin of Sodom”?

• “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11) What does it mean to be “trustworthy” with wealth? What are “true riches”?

• “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) What is one step you could take in the coming week towards trusting God’s sufficiency.

• Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas. Two percent of that, $10 billion, would provide clean drinking water in Jesus’ name to half the world’s people who need it. Is this doable? Or is it a crazy pipe-dream? 


Friday, December 9, 2011

Turbo Christmas Story

Super-fast Message of Christmas perfectly encapsulated in 2 verses:

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NLT)

"Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (Revelation 3:20 NLT)

- g-ram

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 04

Putting Jesus' Love Into Action

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. -Hosea 1:2-3

Christmas is the heralding of a God who pursues us so relentlessly as to come to earth in human form to be with us. The incarnation is the revelation of our scandalous love affair with the world, and God’s persistent striving to bring us back to him.

One of the most passionate illustrations of God’s love affair with humanity is found in the book of Hosea. During Israel’s last days of prosperity under Jeroboam II the Israelites became lukewarm in the faith and strayed as God’s people often do in prosperous times. From a human perspective we can equate God’s relationship with the Israelites to the sacred trust commitment made and then broken in marriage. But God demonstrates unrelenting love for God’s people through Hosea by telling him to go and marry a wife of “whoredom” and have children by her. Can you imagine marrying someone you knew would be unfaithful and spend your life wondering if your children were really your own?

Hosea 3:1-3: The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.

Hosea represents God’s relentless pursuing love and Hosea’s wife of prostitution represents God’s people, not only the Israelites but also you and me. God loves us and wants us even while we are under the influence of unworthy lovers such as greed, selfishness, addiction and deceit. So God has come to buy us back! The magnitude of this kind of love is beyond my comprehension, but after is in the eye of the beholder.

We have been created to find life and meaning through exclusive devotion to our lover - God, but in the spirit of prostitution we sell ourselves out to the consumerist johns of materialism and greed. This is never more obvious than in the way we celebrate Jesus’ birth in a self-focused, hedonistic feast of gluttony, oblivious to what God really wants from us. 

What God wants from us for Jesus’ birthday and every day is love. God desires that we return God’s scandalous love with our own, demonstrated by how we treat those in need. God is not oblivious to the fact that one child dies every four seconds of a hunger-related cause or that as many as seven will die by the time you finish reading this page. God also knows that more than 14 million AIDS orphans were reported in 2008 worldwide. God also knows that one child dies every forty-five seconds from malaria which could be prevented by a simple mosquito net that costs less than ten dollars.

Only when we realize how far we have strayed from the one who loves us so deeply and unconditionally can we respond in radical faith. And when we passionately pursue God as our defining life center, then everything else will be rightly ordered. Though we may not deserve it, God showed us mercy by sending us his Son to show us the way home. Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby in humble, scandalous circumstances to redeem and restore broken places and broken hearts. That is the love we celebrate at Christmas and it is that kind of love that we are called to show in return.

Think of one person in your life who has either disappointed you deeply or hurt you in a way that you need to forgive them, and pray that God would help you. Commit to praying for him or her for this whole week.

1. How might your life look different if you could fully understand and embrace God’s passionate and unconditional love for you? When or where have you experienced God’s relentless pursuit of having a relationship with you?
2. Think about the deepest and most enduring relationship you’ve experienced – with a spouse, parent or friend. If this is only a glimpse of the relationship God wants with you, what must that mean about God’s love?
3. How do we tend to “sell ourselves” to other things instead of making God our number one love? What one thing do you struggle with the most?
4. God promises to bring good out of bad, to raise up the lowly and to comfort the afflicted. How would you view or live your life if you trusted completely in those promises?
5. What would it mean for us to love others “scandalously”? How would that be different from the safe, cautious ways we often show Christ’s love in the world?
6. To whom or in what way can you show “scandalous” love this holiday season because of God’s great love shown to you?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Habakkuk 03: Climbing Out Of The Dip Follow Up

Objective: Asking God to replace the hopelessness in our lives with the joy that comes from a relationship with Him.

I have heard all about you, LORD, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things you have done. Hab 3:1-2 (NLT)

What kind of relationship do you think Habakkuk had with God? Do you think this gave him hope for the future? Why or why not?

Describe a time when God gave you hope through something amazing He did in the life of another person.

Looking at the physical world around him, Habakkuk said:

His brilliant splendour fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise! What a wonderful God he is!” Hab 3:3 (NLT)

Awe (n.): A mixed emotion of reverence, respect, and wonder inspired by authority, great beauty, or might. 

Describe a time when, like Habakkuk, you were “awed” by God’s creation.

Do you feel like your relationship with God changed through this experience? If so, how?

In the face of an apparently hopeless situation, Habakkuk still had this to say about God:

“...yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.” Hab 3:18-19 (NLT)

Has there been a time in your life when God gave you joy even though your circumstances appeared hopeless?

Habakkuk moved from hopelessness to joy over the 3 chapters of this book. In what areas of your life would you like God to take you from hopelessness to joy?

In your own words, pray the following:   

Thank God for the amazing things you’ve seen Him do and heard about from others
Tell Him about your “awe” of Him
Ask Him bring the joy of your relationship with Him to the places in your life that seem hopeless

For Further Study

Ecclesiastes 5:1-20:

What best helps you worship God? 
How should a person go to the house of God? (5:1) 
How did Solomon encourage us to conduct ourselves in the house of God? (5:2-3) 
Why should we stand in awe of God? (5:7) 
Why is it important to approach God with the right attitude? What does it mean to stand in awe of God?

1 Chronicles 16:7-43:

When was the last time you felt overwhelmed with thankfulness or gratitude? 
According to David, why should we give thanks to the Lord? (16:8) 
What should people tell others about God? (16:9) 
What attitude should a person have toward God? (16:10-12) 
What had God done for Israel? (16:15-22) 
How did David express his thanks to God? 
How should we express our thanks and appreciation to God? 
For what specific reasons should we praise the Lord? 
How can praising the Lord change our attitude and outlook on life? 
What are some of the reasons you have to be thankful to God?


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 03

Living God's Mission

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” -Luke 1:28-31, 34

Our Christmas traditions have sanitized the Jesus birth narrative by removing the event from its biblical and historical context. Jesus was born in a stable, a cave where animals were kept. And where there are animals there is also dung, which in turn brings flies. The setting of Jesus’ birth was not sanitary and it doesn’t get better from there. Jesus spent his earliest years as a refugee in Africa escaping the genocide that Herod was committing in Judea against children aged two and under.

In turn the Gospel of Luke makes it indelibly clear that walking in the way of Jesus is neither safe nor predictable. Sometimes we have the idea that when we do right, wrong is not supposed to show up. And if we are faithfully following Jesus, then life isn’t supposed to get messy, but it does.

God’s favour cannot be earned. God comes when we are doing everything wrong. God comes when we are doing nothing. God comes whether we are being naughty or nice. Why? Because God loves us and we are highly favoured. Look at the situation from Mary’s perspective. She had worked really hard to do what was right, yet it seemed like wrong still showed up. This God miracle of the birth of the Messiah was in the context of an unplanned teenaged pregnancy with all the emotional grief that would entail. How emotionally prepared would a 12-15 year old be for this life experience. God’s blessing would only continue to bring pain into Mary’s life – all the way to the foot of the cross.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Maybe you have done everything you know how to be faithful to God and true to your family, and then you are notified four weeks before the holidays that your job will be discontinued. Or your husband tells you that he doesn’t love you anymore and wants a divorce. Or your four year old is diagnosed with leukemia. No where does the Bible say that a life of faith will always make sense or follow a predictable path.

Read II Corinthians 11:23-30:
Why do you think God would allow Paul - a great servant of Jesus - to go through so much persecution and to endure so much suffering? 

God’s love and favour on us doesn’t mean that the path of faith is going to be neat and predictable. Life gets messy, but in the midst of your mess - God shows up. No matter what you are struggling to overcome, no matter what life issues have come your way, God promises to show up. Christmas is God’s vivid reminder that amid the uncertainty, God shows up to bring peace, purpose, joy and wholeness.

So why did God choose Mary? Mary had proactive faith. A person with proactive faith doesn’t live in the paralysis of doubt and disillusionment. Instead they actively pursue God’s redemptive purpose and presence in the midst of any situation, even when it doesn’t make sense.

The Holy Spirit is with you right now to be your helper through any situation, including the messy ones. When life isn’t making sense, the power of God will be a shadow over you! That gift, however, is often experienced in pain and suffering. Just remember, God’s promise may be delayed but it will not be denied.

Life is not about staying safe and living comfortably. The call to follow Jesus is
a call to give your life to him and to join God’s mission in healing the souls of the world. The real rewards are found in the joy and peace that we experience through serving others in Christ’s spirit.

1. What is your vision of a perfect Christmas? What imperfect circumstances will you face this year that will challenge your ability to celebrate Christmas fully?
2. What emotional and social pressures do you think Mary felt in the months and days leading up to Jesus’ birth? How well do you think you would have handled the situation as either Mary or Joseph?
3. How should Mary’s experience of that first Christmas influence the way you approach the holiday season?
4. Has life ever smacked you down even though you were trying to do everything right? What was your initial reaction to God, and how did you get through it?
5. How can you celebrate Jesus in the midst of your struggles? How can God use your current struggles to help others this upcoming holiday season?
6. Name one promise of God that you can stand upon even in the midst of trials and life troubles.

This week focus on helping someone you know that is struggling in life and/or faith and commit to praying for them, asking them how you can help, and following through with help and encouragement. 


Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Conspiracy 01: Worship Fully

“Worship” derives from Old-English words meaning “worth-ship.” 
What we give worth to is what we worship: possessions, God, shopping, money, Jesus. 

Advent is a time to consciously direct our worship at Jesus, seeing him in everyone and worshiping him everywhere. How can you worship more fully this Christmas?

• In the Exodus story, every time God says, “Let my people go” it’s followed by “so that they may worship me.” Is our culture captive to things that come between us and full worship? What are those things?

“Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols.” (2 Kings 17:41) 
Does that passage apply only to ancient polytheists?

• In the weeks before Christmas, is it easier to worship God or more difficult?

• If extra-terrestrials landed in our homes on Christmas morning, what would they see as having “worth-ship” to us?

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirt and in truth.”

What does that mean?

• In what specific ways do you find it easy to worship God?

• What specific thing can you do during the coming week to prepare for the birth of Christ by worshiping more fully? Share it with a friend. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 02

You Are A Miracle Worker

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 
-Isaiah 7:14

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 
-Isaiah 53:5-6

Centuries before Jesus’ birth the ancient prophets spoke of the coming of a messiah deliverer who would be called:

“...Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end...” 
-Isaiah 9:6-7

But this Messiah king would also know suffering and rejection, and his mission would clearly prioritize the poor and marginalized. Expectations of what this messiah would be like and look like, however, were quite diverse and even contradictory. Some expected a worldly political revolutionary who would restore the glory days of the Davidic Kingdom, whereas others visualized a messiah who represented the Greek ideal of focusing totally on the afterlife.

Jesus was not what folks expected. When you think about God, adjectives like powerful, majestic, and almighty tend to come to mind. But Jesus did not come to earth with any air of worldly wealth or majestic power. On the contrary, everything about Jesus’ life stood in stark contrast to worldly priorities and values. As a man, he lived in tension with the organized religious system. He resisted the world’s obsession with wealth, pleasure, power, and recognition. He identified with the weak and powerless, the widow and orphan. And he did not condemn the sinner. So what does God look like? Like Jesus!

List some of the adjectives that come to mind when you think about Jesus, his attitude, his relationships, his life and mission. How do these contradict what the culture teaches about success and influence?

Too often we view God like Santa Claus – a genie in a bottle here to fulfill three wishes. We have created this Santa Claus Jesus in our own image, a golden-calf messiah who promises to fulfill all our earthly wants and wishes, an idol of consumption who supports the human quest for meaning and purpose in material things outside of a relationship with God. But at Christmas we should celebrate the birth of the Messiah who was born not only to die sacrificially for us but to show us how to live sacrificially. Christmas is the celebration of a miracle but we’ve edged the miracle worker out of his own birthday celebration. It is time to take it back by planning new traditions that focus on Jesus’ presence, rather than the often forgettable presents we expect to give and receive.

Christmas is about a miracle. Miracles don’t just happen; they are born through labours of pain. The dictionary defines miracle as a visible interruption of the laws of nature, understood by divine intervention and often accompanied by a miracle worker. In other words a miracle is a unique event in the world that God does through people like you and me. That’s right – you are God’s miracle worker! You are God’s means to affect change in your world and God wants to birth a miracle through you. Every miracle of God is conceived in the heart of the believer, grows in conviction and clarity, and is delivered through committed action. And every spirit-filled Christian has the potential for a God movement within them. Are you ready for God to birth a Christmas miracle through you?

(Michael Slaughter)

1. How do you picture God? How do you think this picture affects your Christian walk and your faith in God?
2. Name the ways your image of God has more in common with Santa Claus than with who Jesus is and how he lived?
3. Have you ever witnessed or experienced a miracle? If so what happened? Do you think God could actually work a miracle through your life?
4. For your life to be meaningful you need to give it away to others. What does that look like for you, and how difficult is it? Do you have capacity to give away more?
5. What would it take for you to be more prepared for God to use you for miraculous purposes in the world?
6. What ideas do you have that could be seeds for a mission miracle? How could this group help you make it happen?

CHALLENGE: Pray about it and then write down 1-3 ideas or thoughts that you think might be God-initiated dreams for you to pursue in helping change this world for God's kingdom.

Challenge – Pray about and then write down 1-3 ideas or thoughts that you feel 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Altogether One

Wouldn't everything be great if other people weren't messing it up all the time? Paul talks to the Ephesians about how they ought to treat each other.

Ephesians 4:1-7

1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.

You have abilities and perspectives that other people need. And other people have perspectives and abilities that you need. So, get together and change the world!

- g-ram

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday: 01

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” - Luke 4:18-21 

It is October 12 and I am on my way to the local mall to purchase a new carry-on bag. I am scanning the radio channels and notice that one station has already switched to a twenty-four-hour Christmas music format. Bruce Springsteen is singing familiar reminders about Santa Claus seeing you “when you are sleeping” and knowing “when you are awake.” My mother used such reminders as part of some behavioural modification strategy leading up to Christmas season every year.

Growing up, Christmas was like a second birthday but a much bigger and better deal! Mom’s reminder was clear: I’d better be good or I would get a lump of coal in my stocking instead of the new Red Ryder BB gun that I was willing to trade my little sister for. Apparently reminders worked, because I did get my Red Ryder that Christmas. No I didn’t shoot my eye out but I did ricochet a BB off my forehead once while target shooting in our basement.
As we grow older, our desired gifts become more sophisticated. Unfortunately the idolatrous promise of the desired object to bring us life-fulfillment and meaning is never realized as the newness wears off and we seek the next new, best thing. We are hypnotically lured by the seductive marketing sirens of mindless consumption. And by buying into the false promises of secular consumerism we continue to feed our children’s materialistic self-focused addictions.

I arrive at the mall and notice that the marketing preparations are in full swing. Santa Land is under construction as workers on motorized lifts hang banners heralding the season of conspicuous consumption.

According to the National Retail Federation, as of 2010, adult consumers spent
an average of $830 each on holiday food, decorations and presents. In a two-parent family that equates to roughly $1600.00! Now add this cost to the average American household credit card balance of $15,788 with an average annual percentage rate of 14.67%.

Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. We have professed allegiance to Jesus but celebrate his birth with an orgy of materialism. Christmas is not your birthday; it’s Jesus birthday! This study will help you reclaim the broader missional meaning of Jesus’ birth and experience a Christmas season with more peace and joy than any toy or gadget could ever bring. 
(Michael Slaughter)

What was the best Christmas gift you remember
receiving as a child and why?

1. Think about your family’s Christmas traditions as you grew up. What were the most unique traditions you practiced? How many of them focused on your own comfort and pleasure, and which were sacrificial in nature?
2. Think of one of the best Christmas gifts you’ve ever given to someone. What made it the best, and how long do you think they appreciated it?
3. Name some ways you think Christmas has been hijacked. How have you allowed Christmas to become more about you and/or consumerism than about Jesus?
4. Do you typically use cash only for Christmas, or do you go into at least a little debt? How can you make this year a cash-only Christmas?
5. What are some things you currently enjoy or love about the holiday season? What don’t you like? Is there a common theme between what you like and don’t like?
6. What new tradition(s) can you plan that would focus more on Jesus’ presence than presents?

Challenge: Ask those closest to you, whether friends, family, parents or children, what they would change about the Christmas holiday and why?