Money autobiography

By Matt DeBall

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Crossovers always have the potential to be energizing and enjoyable. Sometimes they happen on our favorite TV show or in a beloved movie series (special shout out to fellow fans of DC Comics or Marvel). Other times they happen in real life. For your edification, a crossover is happening on the COMPASS blog this week.

This month COMPASS has focused on our relationship with money and invited us to explore this relationship by writing a money autobiography. Marcia Shetler began unpacking this helpful tool and Beryl Jantzi helped us consider four categories that reveal our approach to money, debt management, and generosity. What follows in this blog are a handful of questions and answers related to my money autobiography (that can also help you write your own). A wonderful CROSSOVER has occurred because I didn’t answer these questions alone.

In February, COMPASS explored how essential it is to talk about money with loved ones, live-chat-wedding-rings-image-copyand Rafael Robert from Brightpeak Financial led a great Live Chat about money, marriage, and meaningful conversations. Connecting those conversations with our topic for this month, my lovely wife, Chelsea, has joined me in answering the money autobiography questions below. We answered these questions individually and talked about our answers afterward. While we have different relationships with money, it is our relationship with money together that shapes how we manage our finances. This money autobiography process proved to be meaningful for us, but also allows you to hear two different relationships with money that contribute to our money autobiography. We hope you will find this blog to be as meaningful and helpful as we did.

Question: Describe the role of money in your childhood. What was your attitude toward money as a child? Did you feel poor or rich? How did your perceptions make you feel?

Chelsea: Growing up, my parents didn’t have a lot in terms of money. But they never let us know or feel that strain. It wasn’t until we were older that we realized that we were somewhat poor for a lot of our childhood.

Matt: Money served different functions in my childhood. It paid for food at the grocery store. It was the two quarters that my parents gave me each week to put in the offering plate. It was how people supported my Boy Scout troop through buying popcorn. Money was just around. I didn’t feel like my family was rich or poor—just average. My parents taught us to be thankful for what we had and they didn’t talk much about money in front of us.

Q: What was your attitude about money as a teenager? What memories do you have related to money?

C: As a teenager I was obsessed with making money. I had two jobs through most of high dollar-1362243_1280school. I loved having my own money to spend on what I wanted.

M: Money was a means to have fun. It allowed me to buy snacks and games, and participate in activities with friends.

Q: In your current situation, how have other sources shaped your thoughts about money?

C: Nothing has really shaped my thoughts about money. I appreciate it more now that I am an adult with actual expenses to pay for.

M: Society at large and media has influenced me to see some debts as good (homes, college degrees) and other debts as bad (credit card). The church has helped me see money as a tool that God gives us to meet our needs and to carry out His purposes in the world.

Q: How do you feel about your present financial status? Do you worry about money? How does having or not having money affect self-esteem or sense of self-worth?

C: I do worry about money. Mostly because there are things I’d like to be able to buy (a new car) or do (remodel our home) but our financial status keeps us from doing that. Not having as much money as some of my peers does affect my self-esteem. I do find myself getting jealous of those who can buy nice houses, go on vacation, or stay home with their children instead of having to work.

M: I feel proactive and content about our current financial situation. I very rarely worry about money (only when large bills are paid right before a payday). Though I wouldn’t consider it a large factor in my self-esteem or self-worth, our money providing for our needs does have a positive effect on me.

Q: Do you spend money on yourself easily or with difficulty?coffee-1273147_1280

C: I used to be able to spend money on myself with no problems. But recent life events
have made me think more before I make a purchase for myself.

M: Somewhat easily for things under $10 (coffee, lunch, a book), but hesitantly for anything else.

Q: Do you feel generous or stingy with your money?

C: I am generous in terms of gift giving, but I know I am stingy with money. I would hesitate greatly before loaning someone money.

M: It depends on the day, but I typically feel more generous.

Q: Do you give to your church or other charitable organizations? Why do/don’t you give? How does this make you feel?

C: Yes, we give to our church. At first I was very reluctant to do so because I didn’t want to give away our money. But now I am more comfortable with donating to our church.

M: Yes. I like to give because it is an opportunity to show love to God and support God’s important work in the world. Giving makes me feel happy and like I am being faithful to God’s call to give.

Q: How do you feel about asking other people for money…for yourself, a worthy cause, your church community, etc.?gift-1278395_1280

C: I am very hesitant asking people for money. I never want anyone to feel obligated to
give to me based on our relationship and I wouldn’t want my asking for money to affect our relationship.

M: It would make me uncomfortable to ask for money for myself. For my work, I am a fundraiser, and because I believe in the ministries of our organization, I am comfortable with asking people to support them.

Q: Consider the following idea: how you handle money reflects your deepest values. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

C: I agree. What we spend our money on may reflect what we care about the most or what we consider a priority in our lives.

M: Agree because of Matthew 6:21, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When we spend money on anything, it reveals what is important to us.

Q: What future hopes or plans do you have with money?

C: I hope that we are able to continually support ourselves financially. Being independent financially is a great feeling.

M: I hope we can plan to pay off our debts, save for retirement, increase our savings for unexpected emergency circumstances, and increase our giving to church as we are able. I also plan to open savings accounts for our kids early in their lives to prepare for their needs and aspirations in the future.

In addition to answering these questions for your own money autobiography, you can learn more about this helpful tool on Tuesday, May 30 at 8 p.m. ET at our next Live Chat “Your relationship with money” led by Mike Little, director for the Faith and Money Network. Sign up while spots are still available at marcia_5.gr8.com.

About the Authors

C&MDeBall-9-15Chelsea and Matt DeBall live in northern Illinois. Chelsea works as office coordinator for a Special Recreation Association, and is pursuing a Master’s of Mental Health Counseling from Judson University. Matt serves as the COMPASS communications coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and as coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary. They enjoy caring for their Welsh Corgi (Watson) and being involved at the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

Taking Something on for Lent

By Timothy Siburg

sanctuary1-copyThis month on the COMPASS blog, we have been thinking about giving something instead of necessarily giving up something for Lent. As we are about half way through Lent now, I can say that I haven’t necessarily given anything more for Lent, but I have somewhat taken something on for Lent.

Getting to know “The Big Red” State

In my work and ministry, I have the privilege of getting to meet people across the state of Nebraska, my new home as of last fall. (I am not a native of Nebraska. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent a few years for seminary and work in Minnesota.) Traveling across Nebraska has allowed me the chance to get to know many new people, new places, new congregations, new perspectives, and in some ways, new cultures too.

This Lenten season I have been traveling quite a bit to meet with different congregations of all shapes and sizes. The one thing I have noticed myself doing even more though, is making room for conversation and especially making room for myself to listen. Listening to one another is a critical part of relationship, service, ministry, and leadership. And as I look at the larger communities and country I live in, it is something I believe is sorely needed.

With that in mind, I guess I have unintentionally taken something on for Lent– more deep intentional listening.

Our Lenten Journey

During this Lenten season, we journey to and through the cross. We return more intentionally in our worship to reflect on the insanity of such a pure gift of life for us, a gift that we can do nothing to earn. We are also confronted by our human frailty on Ash Wednesday, and again when we face death directly on Good Friday. During this season, no matter what separates us, we are each confronted by the realities of life and death which are true for every person.

Meeting a congregation-copy

Meeting a congregation

Every person faces questions of life and purpose. Every person needs to face their own mortality. Most people hope and dream that they can do something positive for their families, loved ones, friends, and communities, and leave a legacy.

I have been reminded of all of this so far this Lenten season by meeting with people across the state of Nebraska. By listening to them, by hearing their stories, I have seen their stewardship at work, but also heard how they are wrestling with their faith in their daily life. It’s a holy thing, this act of listening, sharing, and wrestling.

Some Faith and Stewardship Questions and Wrestling

It takes a level of trust and vulnerability though. Which, not to get too theological here, is probably only made possible because we believe in a God who is and was vulnerable for us, by coming into the world as one of us, growing and living, and then dying and of course being resurrected and ascended. To be willing to be human (both human and divine), our God took on our vulnerability to know us, and to know the good, bad, and ugly of life more fully.

A Nebraska sunset-copy

A Nebraska sunset

This Lenten season, we remember this. I am remembering this every day, when I hear stories of joy, but also of sorrow; when I hear stories of how people are stewarding that which God has entrusted to them; when I hear questions of “why,” or “what does this mean?”; when I can wonder with people about what God might be up to?

I don’t pretend to have any answers. But at least during this Lenten season, I am sitting, walking, and meeting my new neighbors across this state, listening, and hoping to grow in my understanding.

What are you giving as part of your Lenten journey?
Or, like me, what are you taking on?

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: Timothy Siburg

Give Something for Lent

Give Up Something for Lent

By Marcia Shetler

church-535155_1280-copy“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes
he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.“
– 2 Corinthians 8:9

Last Wednesday you may have noticed people with a black mark on their foreheads. Or maybe you were one of those persons. March 1 was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season on the Christian calendar. Lent is the 40 days—not counting Sundays—between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The 40 days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Ash Wednesday and Lent have been observed since the early days of the Christian Church. Ash Wednesday’s invitation to wear ashes as a visible symbol of repentance begins a time of a call to remember Jesus’s sacrifice, and to mirror that sacrifice through self-reflection in preparation for the Easter celebration. Traditionally, that has included spending additional time in prayer and study, fasting, and giving up something, like a favorite food or activity.

But what if we not only gave up something, but gave something for Lent? What if Lent was volunteer-1888823_1280more than a time to think about ourselves, but to find ways to turn our sacrifices into
doing good for others?

  • If you give up your Starbucks coffee, can you give the money you would have spent to
    your church or another worthy cause?
  • If you give up spending time online, can you invest it in volunteering?
  • If you decide to fast, eat less, or give up a favorite treat, can you buy some healthy food for your local food bank instead?

In the 2016 issue of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine, Maribeth Westerfield shares her story about giving up something for Lent that blessed someone else. A Facebook post from her pastor-friend suggested that instead of giving up food or beverage for Lent, it would be good to clean out closets, garages, drawers, and the like and contribute 40 bags of stuff to a suitable recipient. Maribeth used this challenge as giving-volume-18-cover-5-x-7-150-dpian opportunity not only for giving but for jump-starting her goal of living a less consumeristic lifestyle. While she didn’t gather 40 bags of stuff together, her friend’s church was the recipient of three bags of shoes for their Soles for Souls ministry.

As Christians, our financial decisions should not be just about us:

  • As stewards of what God has given us, we live our lives in response to God’s bounteous grace;
  • We give generously and joyfully;
  • And we understand that our faithful stewardship and generous giving is an opportunity to be channels through which God’s generosity can flow and God’s love can be shared.

What will you give for Lent this year? Your thoughts could be someone else’s inspiration! Share your comments here on the COMPASS blog, or on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Money, Marriage, and Meaningful Conversations

By Belinda Bassene

FriendshipLife is busy. Calendars fill up fast.
To-Do lists are created. In the midst of the chaos, conversations with our spouses are happening….

When are we going to do the laundry?

Should we get a dog? What kind?

Are we ready to buy a house?

I don’t feel like making dinner; shall we get take-out?

As these exchanges are happening, we may find ourselves desiring more when it comes to our conversations. It truly is difficult to pause for meaningful chats, let alone around topics that are hard to talk about. Especially money.

If you find yourself having a hard time talking about money, you are not alone. According to studies, almost 70% of couples argue about money.

Let’s beat that statistic and create a new normal: one where 70% of couples are confident when having meaningful conversations about money.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Don’t Avoid Itlm_blog_3-things-to-do-when-saving-money

This seems like common sense. However, Lab42 conducted an online survey of 1,000 people in October of 2015 and discovered 77% of Americans actually avoid talking about money. And according to our Love & Money Project partner, Dr. Sonya Britt of Kansas State University, the risk of divorce for those who disagree about money frequently, increases by almost 70%. So, if we know money has the power to break-up marriages, let’s not avoid talking about it! Take a step towards financial strength and a happier marriage by beginning the conversation about money.

But where do we start?

lm_blog_5-ways-to-prevent-the-biggest-money-mistakes2. Ask Questions

It is easy to assume that we know so much about the person we are spending the rest of our lives with. Yet, as we work with couples we see that many have no idea what each other thinks about money. They don’t know their story. Here are a few questions to explore this topic together:

What do you believe to be true about money?

  • Whether they are actually true or not, we all have beliefs about money. These ideas were created before we even realized and we carry them with us through our entire life. Examine together how these beliefs play out in each of your lives individually, as well as in your relationship.

What is your earliest memory of money?thinking-277071_1280

  • Pause to learn this about one another, and reflect on how it plays out in your own life.
    You’ll be surprised to see how it continues to show up in your life.

How do you feel about money?

  • Take time to share what makes you feel confident or anxious. Share what creates a sense of freedom when it comes to money. As you reflect on this, you may find that you have more feelings about money than you ever realized.

3. Use “Yes, and…”

Implement a common communication and improv comedy rule by using the words “yes, and.” When we use “yes, and” instead of “yes, but,” we naturally begin to build solutions and possibilities together instead of tearing one another down. Try this tip out in your next conversation. You’ll be amazed where the dialogue can go!

4. Schedule Time to Talklm_blog_how-to-nurture-your-spouses-love-styles-and-money-styles_final

This will assist in not avoiding the conversation. We’ve already talked about how full our calendars can be, so hold a spot to make meaningful conversations a priority. You may want to check in quarterly, every month, or even every other week. Find the best cadence for your life together.

5. Offer Generosity and Gratitude Every Day

At some point in your day, take a moment to identify what you are grateful for and how
you’ve experienced or offered generosity. This comes in especially helpful when you are feeling lm_blog_what-the-bible-says-and-doesnt-sayfrustrated and it can completely change your conversations because it changes your heart. Crazy, right?! Try it. I dare you.

Tackle the money talk in a meaningful way. You’ve got this. Check out more to strengthen your relationship in love and money at www.loveandmoney.com.

About the Author

Belinda Bassene is a part of The Love & Money Project, an initiative of brightpeak financial helping couples and families grow stronger together by improving their relationship with money. When she isn’t passionately talking about love and money you may find her kayaking or planning a party. She resides in Minneapolis with her family.

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Join us tonight at 8 p.m. ET for this month’s COMPASS Live Chat  led by staff from brightpeak financial. Join with the following link. stewardshipresources.adobeconnect.com/compasschat217

Photo credits: loveandmoney.com, pixabay.com

Returning to “Why,” in Hopes of Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Timothy Siburgwhy-1432955_1280-red

Over the past three weeks we have pondered about the ups, downs, and challenges of riding and being on the consumer escalator. We have recounted many reasons why we might want to rethink our spending and the way we steward our time and resources around Christmas and Thanksgiving. In the previous November posts, Marcia, Matt, and John have done a beautiful job of offering alternatives and insight into positive ways to reconsider consumerism.

This week, I want us to dig into the question of “why?” What really matters this time of the year, and how might focusing on that question make for a more faithful response and richer holiday experience?

For a Christian, the why can be found in the heart of the Christmas gospel in Luke 2:1-20, often read every Christmas Eve. Within that rich text, we hear the proclamation from the angel of the Lord,

 nativity-scene-1807602_1280-crop“Do not be afraid, for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
– Luke 2:10-11, NRSV

 It might sound trite to say that this is the “reason for the season.” And I am not exactly trying to say that. But if we remember that this is at the heart of the celebrations, festivities, food, fellowship, and all of the gift giving this time of year; if we remember that it is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets which guide our journey through the season of Advent to the manger; we might just have a chance to get off the consumer escalator.

I am one who loves to give gifts. My wife Allison and I see that as one of our love languages. We also love to say thank you, which is why Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays. But at the heart of our gift giving, joy, and gratitude, is a knowledge that we give gifts because it is one of our joyful responses to the pure gifts and good news of God who we know through Christ Jesus.

We don’t give gifts because we want to earn something in return. We give without the expectation of return. We give, because we can’t help but feel so overjoyed with the good news of a God who comes near, becomes incarnate, walks with us, is given for us, and loves us. In our joy, we can’t help but want to share our joy through the sharing of our stories, time, the giving of gifts, living fully in God’s abundance and love.

envelop-576252_1280 Of course, Allison and I don’t give without a plan. We always sit down and make our Christmas budget each year prior to Thanksgiving. We include plans for our annual Christmas letter and the costs associated with printing and mailing it, as well as our hopes for what we are willing to give to family and friends, our congregation, and other needs, nonprofits, and ministries we feel connected to and passionate about.

So, why do you give? Why do you do what you do this time of year- spending, wrapping, cooking, eating, decorating, gathering with friends, families, and colleagues? What part of the promises of God and the Christmas story motivate you and lead you into the way that you spend your days and evenings this time of year?

However you may answer these questions, I hope and pray that you have a meaningful journey to the manger, and are so caught up in the promises of the good news, that you can’t help but want to share it. And for those of you who feel like you are stuck on the consumer escalator, I hope that by thinking deeply about the “why,” you might feel comfortable and confident in your ability to get off it.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Reconsidering consumerism

By John Withum

It was Christmas Eve 2014, and I was in panic mode.

vrcvr4qdFor a few years, my wife and I set Christmas budgets on what we could spend for each other. We left a little wiggle room, but always tried to stick to it. I had spent my budget, but the pile of presents under the tree seemed unimpressive. She was having a rough year at work, and I felt guilty that I had not put more effort into selecting her gifts. And that explains how I ended up spending almost $100 on last minute gifts at Target.

What in the world caused me to attempt to satisfy an emotional response with inanimate objects? Searching for the answer led me to re-examine the messages consumer capitalism has sold me about my self-worth, particularly around the winter seasonal celebrations.

Beginning almost immediately after the front doors have closed on the last trick-or-treaters, retailers roll out deals and decorations for the variety of celebrations between November 1 and December 26. Interestingly, very few of these sales focus on Thanksgiving, and most of them skip straight to the end of December. Why? No one gives Thanksgiving presents.

Consumer capitalism, at least the variety found in the United States, utilises every opportunity it can to earn money on the emotional response to various holidays and special days in cultures. As winter celebrations have continued to evolve in the U.S., consumer capitalism has ensured it has a hand in shaping public formation around two traditions: traditional winter cultural celebrations and the actual Christian holiday of Christmas.

Where did most of what we know as the “holiday season” in the United States originate? The long, dark winters of northern Europe is as good of a place as any to start. Think yule santa-claus-1628845_1280logs, wassail, the various iterations of “Santa Claus” (such as Sinterklaas from the Netherlands, Father Christmas from England, Kris Kringle from Germany), trees, and stockings. There are many, many more to be mentioned, but hopefully this is enough to make the point. It is easy for capitalism to co-opt these winter celebrations because, being cultural, they have developed over long periods of time. They can be further exploited by retail marketing, advertising executives, and businesses who are interested in cashing in on good feelings. Most of these traditions being exploited are from northern Europe, where the lack of daylight in winter months has encouraged celebrations revolving around community, light, warmth, and rebellion against the darkness.

What is surprising is how easily marketers have drawn in classic Christian celebrations of Christmas. The whole message of Christmas, in the words of Christian author Scot christmas-1010749_1280McKnight, is “about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” It is about Israel’s true king being born into a feed trough while the false king of Israel murdered children. Christmas, situated at the end of Advent, must deal with looking back on the moment when our help in this world arrived and looking forward to the day when justice and righteousness reigns in fullness through Jesus’ return to Earth.

There is a long history—dating back to the late 300s—of Christmas being used to lure followers of Jesus away from the sort of northern European pagan celebrations mentioned earlier. It seems, sadly, that Christmas has a bad reputation for being compromised. For whatever reasons, Christians have constantly been willing to trade the deep, world-shaking message of Christ’s arrival for a more comfortable place in society. It is not insignificant to consider the trade-off of message for comfort began after Constantine imposed the will of the Roman empire on the church by declaring Christianity the official religion in 317 C.E.

And here we are today. We are still trading comfort for our witness in the world. We would still rather tell our children about Santa Claus than have them be outcasts. We continue to drain our wallets and pile up debt in the name of hoping our loved ones feel our love in the weight of the possessions in their hands. We want to go with the flow of society, except on Sunday when it’s time to proclaim and sing the Scriptures of old about the arrival of our Saviour. Jesus Christ, Son of God, forgive us.

fireplace-croppedConsumer capitalism helps all of us to feel better about all of this by appealing to the same sensitivities that gave birth to the aforementioned winter traditions. The sunlight grows short, the darkness grows long, the cold creeps in—so bring us light displays and fireplaces. The change in the season often brings loneliness—so tell us it is time for families and parties at your local chain restaurant. We become thankful for all the people who help us get through the tough seasons of life—so thank them with lots of gifts, purchased online or at your local retailer.

But what if we flipped the script on consumer capitalism and collusion with old pagan traditions? When we realise God is not far from us (Acts 17), we see there could be one thing the winter celebrations have to offer: the focus on light.

Read John 1. Read Isaiah 9. The arrival of Jesus Christ is a light in the darkness. These old winter celebrations are awake to a reality that darkness is difficult to live with, and light is necessary for survival; what they miss is how the light truly arrives and is manifested. God sent his light in the world to illuminate the darkness, and has called followers of Jesus out of the darkness to be witnesses to this light.

When we are confronting the darkness as followers of Jesus the Light, we must be careful not to fall prey to the traditional consumer capitalistic agendas for our world. Splashing the cash on a bunch of gifts is not going to bear witness to the Good News of God being born to rescue the world. There must be a difference between the way we behave towards Christmas—a Christian holy day—and whatever this watered down, consumer capital nonsense is. It begins by asking ourselves what is actually redemptive, especially in the face of what the rest of culture tells us.

Most of us, at this time of year, have calendars full of events and activities. What if we reconsidered which of those were actually important? Colossians 4:5 (NLT) tells us to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.” Carefully consider what is occupying so much of your precious time. Which social events will be enhanced by your presence and allow you to spread the light? Which events are merely obligations and only require you to “make an appearance”? Your presence and absence is a message to others, and we are poor stewards of our time if we say yes to every gathering.

If our time matters, then it makes little sense to spend our time in stores (or online shopping!) when that time could be used to remind your starbanner-boxloved ones, children, etc. that they are actually a priority in your life. Use the opportunity to rest and recharge (which is absolutely a biblical response to free time) or to find a way to increase the light of Jesus in your neighbourhood, community, or family. Again, if how we spend our time makes a statement, it will make a statement to our families if we are spending time with them rather than being elsewhere.

What about the thorny business of gift-giving? We can fairly thoroughly dismantle lots of the persuasions of consumer capitalism, but since childhood, we have been taught to expect we will give and receive gifts at this time of the year. Our desire to please our loved ones is not intrinsically bad; our desire to quantify our love with possessions is. We have a choice of whether to buy presents for a few people who we truly love and care about, or a lot of people we feel obligated to give a gift to. When we pare down the list, we can reduce the time and potential financial damage due to guilt, and we can increase how much the gift means to us. My uncle regularly travels throughout the country, and takes beautiful pictures everywhere he goes. One year for Christmas, he combined some of his photographs with my mother’s favourite hymn out of an ornate older hymnal and presented it to her in a beautiful frame. It was very thoughtful, and it hangs on her wall to this day.

This is also an excellent time to teach our children new expectations when it comes to gifts. I grew up making lists of desired toys from adverts in the newspaper, then eagerly storming the living room on Christmas morning to see the piles of presents I expected. No matter what the haul was, I always felt empty by Christmas evening. The presents were opened, the meals were eaten, and there was no longer anything to look forward to. If we teach our children early about the good news of Christmas, and tell them in their terms about our priorities for Christmas, we create an opportunity to form their lives around the Gospel rather than consumer capitalistic desires. Consider the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” approach. It involves buying one thing your child wants, one thing she is in need of, one thing to wear, and a new book to read. This allows children to see gifts as purposeful, meaningful, and that there is more to Christmas than wrapping paper.

Reconsidering our behaviour towards Christmas is not nearly as tidy as tweaking a few shopping habits or taking back our calendars. These long-held consumeristic patterns are tied up with our emotions and, often times, can mingle with our fears of hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing our children if we change these ways. To be sure, toes will be stepped on and boundaries must be created and enforced.northern-lights-984120_1280

Since the fateful trip to Target two years ago, my wife and I have slowly taken back Christmas’s meaning in our lives. We started a Christmas morning pancake breakfast and service at our church for anyone who needs a warm, bright, inviting place to be. We have tamed the number of people we buy gifts for, and focus on gifts that involve spending time with the ones we love. And this year, rather than giving each other gifts, we are scratching an item off our bucket list and going to Minnesota to see the northern lights.

Reclaiming Christmas is hardly easy, but it is worth it.

About the author

Processed with VSCOcam with kk1 presetJohn Withum is the associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aurora, Illinois. He also serves as the recess supervisor at a local elementary school. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Journalism from Marshall University of Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Katie, live in Northern Illinois with their dog, Bacon.

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Enough: a faith connection

By Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34, ESV).treasure-chest-619762_1920

Jesus talks about the intimacy our hearts have with our treasure before he gets to reminding us not to worry. He encourages us not to store up stuff that that breaks, rusts, wears out and can be stolen. In other words, any stuff stored up is what captures our hearts and becomes what we love. It can take us away from what God intended in the good creation as abundance for all. Rather it becomes scarcity for ourselves.

How do we go from our hearts getting caught up with stuff and move toward the relational possibilities of abundance for all? Maybe it’s possible to journey into such an adventure of discovering enough with our friends, life partners, small group at church or dorm floor.when-you-have-less-stuff-j-becker

I keep going back to an inspirational story about finding enough in the book, Basic Trek: Venture Into a World of Enough: The Original 28-day Journey, edited by Dave Schrock-Shenk, Mennonite Central Committee. In this book Deborah Fast shares a story (Day 16):

Preparing for a three-year term of service in Kenya, my husband and I spent hours carefully packing. “If in doubt, leave it out,” was our motto, as we proudly fit everything into three boxes, two backpacks and various carry-ons. Almost three years later in Kenya, we helped a young Maasai man prepare for a year in Canada as an exchange visitor. We explained Canadian customs, food and weather. We also met at the airport to send him off.

We found Julius near the check-in counter. “Where is your luggage?” I asked. “Here,” he said gesturing to the small bag he carried. “That’s it?!” I exclaimed. “It’s not even full!” “It’s enough,” he said. But Julius also brought two vans, rented for the occasion, packed full of Maasai friends and relatives coming to say good-bye. Dressed in brightly colored traditional garb, they surrounded him with concern and goodwill.

This deeply moving experience has stayed with me. A young Kenyan man, carrying fewer possessions than I would consider “enough” for a weekend trip, heading off for a year in a distant, unfamiliar country. What Julius did carry with him was far more significant – the love, support and sense of identity embodied in the bright red, yellow and blue-clad throng of chanting, singing, and waving fellow Maasai.

Jesus knew that we would discover enough not by ourselves but in the company of others. The good news to which Jesus invites us is to imagine together what new and joyful options there are for living in the reality of God’s abundance. And as Jesus promises, when we put our efforts there “all these things will be given to you as well.”

About the Author:
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Dori Zerbe Cornelsen is a Gift Planning Consultant with Abundance Canada, encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where lots of generous, warm people live in cold temperatures for 6 months of the year.