Advent Conspiracy 2009 part 2
Spend Less
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 6, 2009

The Advent Conspiracy – it’s all about getting back to the meaning of Christmas and entering the story by learning to worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. That’s what we’re focusing on here during this Advent season as we head toward Christmas.

Last Sunday, we started this series off by talking about how Christmas provides us with the opportunity to worship fully. We looked at some of the people involved in that first Christmas… when Jesus was born… and we saw how they worshipped… by being obedient to God, by placing Him above their own self-interest, by expressing gratitude and adoration, and ultimately by giving Him the best that you have not of your stuff but of yourself.

And one of the things we observed is how in our society we’ve distorted Christmas so it’s not so much about worshipping Jesus, and instead we’ve turned it into a spending frenzy. It’s now all about who can buy the most and the best stuff. So if we want to get back to what Christmas is really all about, worshipping Jesus, then we need to start by learning to spend less.

Which is a nice thought but not the easiest thing to pull off. Because we all tend to get sucked into this vortex of holiday spending. It’s expected of us to spend everything we’ve got and maybe even more, all to show love and appreciation to the people in our lives.

And while giving gifts to people is a nice idea and I don’t want to do away with it, if we’re honest we’ve got to admit that it’s gotten out of hand.

Consider this: Last week in the U.S., on Black Friday – the day after American Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year – consumers spent a total of 10.7 billion dollars. That’s all in-store, not counting online sales. For the whole weekend, including online spending, they spent over 41 billion dollars. And that’s actually down from what it usually is!

And in total, Americans will spend about 455 Billion dollars for Christmas… that’s half a Trillion dollars! And I think we’re just as caught up in it here in Canada.

Well, $10 Billion U.S. – the amount spent in stores on that one day last week – would mean we could provide clean water to every person on this planet. As it is, there are close to a billion people in our world who don’t have clean water. In fact, a child dies every 15 seconds because they do not have access to a source of clean water.

So really, I’m talking about spending less this Christmas so you get to a level you can actually afford, and then spend less on meaningless gifts so you can give in more meaningful ways.

So let me break that down for you. Let’s talk about what you and I should spend less this Christmas. I’m going to give you five reasons, and you can use the notes provided to follow along and fill in the blanks as we go.

Why Should I Spend Less this Christmas?

1.    Wealth does not buy happiness

We’ve all heard that before, haven’t we? But do we really believe it? I mean, how many people really think that if they just had a little more money, they’d be happy? It you had just that one more gadget, they your life would be complete?

We get that mindset about life in general, and so we head into Christmas thinking that we’ll be able to really make someone happy if we can just find the right gift.

But one of the books of wisdom in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, sets us straight…

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 (NLT)
Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!

Now there’s a happy thought. But it’s so true! The more money you have and the more stuff you have, the more complicated life becomes. Listen, there’s nothing wrong with having money. There’s nothing wrong with having belongings. But don’t expect them to bring you happiness. Because what you really end up with is more stress, more people trying to take advantage of you, and more stuff to be repaired or replaced.
In chapter six of the same book it says…

Ecclesiastes 6:9 (NLT)
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

That’s in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus said…

Luke 12:15 (NIV)
 “…A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And in the passage that Abby read for us earlier, Paul talked about how…

2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)
We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

Paul understood that having material wealth is not the same as spiritual wealth and does not guarantee happiness. So don’t look to what you can buy as a source of happiness.

2.    My love is measured by how much I give of myself, not how much I give of my stuff.

This is something that’s really gotten out of whack. We think the extent of our love is reflected in the expense of our gifts. But my love for someone is not measured by how much I give them of my stuff; it’s measured by how much I give of myself.

I saw a commercial the other day – which is rare since I own a remote control. The truth is, I see very few commercials. However, I was watching a hockey game and the commercials were short, so I didn’t bother flicking the channel. This was the commercial…

[VIDEO – Show 2009 Honda commercial, featuring a husband and wife looking out their window on Christmas morning. The wife is holding a small box – apparently a gift from her husband – and they’re watching their neighbours out in their driveway. That wife was jumping up and down in excitement, hugging her husband in response to the gift she just received – new car wrapped up with a bow. The first wife takes the gift she’s been holding, shoves it into her husband’s hands, and stomps away.]

There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Your life is not measured by the abundance of your possessions.” Well, can I paraphrase it to say, “Your love is not measured by the abundance of your presents.” It’s not measured by your presents; it’s measured by your presence.

One of the classic Christmas carols that you hear this time of year is, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” And it’s based on a prophecy found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The prophecy was about the birth of Jesus… about the Creator of the Cosmos entering into His own Creation in order to bring salvation to His people.

So the prophecy was about this child being born and being called “Emmanuel.” But “Emmanuel?” What’s up with that? I mean, His name was Jesus, wasn’t it? I don’t think “Emmanuel” was even His middle name.

No, it wasn’t about His name being Emmanuel; it was about Him being called Emmanuel. It was a description of who He would be. Let’s take a look at the verse from Isaiah, written 700 years before the birth of Jesus.

Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)
Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

So Emmanuel means “God with us.” That’s who Jesus was. That’s what He gave to us that first Christmas… He gave Himself. He gave His presence.

Earlier in the same book, God expressed His displeasure at the Israelites who tried to express their love for Him through gifts. While all the time, they were essentially cheating on Him. They were going through the rituals of worship, offering incense and sacrifices to God, but at the same time they were participating in all kinds of evil. So God said to them…

Isaiah 1:13 (NLT)
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

So basically, He was incensed at their incense. He would rather they gave Him nothing if they weren’t going to give themselves first.

King David understood this principle. When someone offered to give him free of charge what he needed in order to offer a sacrifice to God, David replied…

1 Chronicles 21:24 (NIV)
“No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

Because it wasn’t about just giving the sacrifice… it was giving of himself.

So this Christmas, don’t just give stuff. Give of yourself. How? Well, if you’ve got a particular gift or talent, maybe you can look for ways you can use it. Of if you share a hobby with someone, maybe you can set some time aside to work on it together. How about giving someone a scrapbook of shared memories? Or maybe buy two copies of the same book, so you can read it at the same time and get together to talk about it. For your spouse, how about a gift certificate for a movie night together at home, pizza and popcorn included? For your kids, how about giving them an uninterrupted afternoon with you? Go for a hike with them, have a snowball fight, go on a sleigh ride, go skating together…

I’m not saying to spend no money, but I am saying to spend less, and to make your gifts more personal… more meaningful.

A third reason to spend less is that…

3.    Debt will consume my life.

But yet, so many people are willing to go deep into debt in order to impress people with incredibly expensive gifts.

There's an Old Testament Proverb that says…

Proverbs 22:7 (CEV)
…those who borrow are slaves of moneylenders.

Isn’t that true? Those of you who are, or ever have been, in debt – wouldn’t you say that’s true? So why would you even consider going deeper into debt, even at Christmas time? Being short on cash isn’t an excuse to pull out the plastic; it’s a reason to get more creative.

Because whenever you sign up for debt of any kind, you surrender a slice of your freedom. People you owe money to say “jump,” and you have to ask “how high.” They demand, especially in this economy, “Pay me first, and I don't give a rip what's going on in the rest of your life.” People you owe can threaten you and say, “If you pay me late, I'll lay claim on everything you have. If you don't pay me enough or if you don't pay me on time, I'll ruin you.”

There's no freedom in this kind of living.

Let’s take a little quiz here. Let's assume you are in debt with a credit card balance of $10,000. That’s not at all uncommon. And let’s say your credit card has an interest rate of 18-percent. With me so far? Let's also assume that you’re just going to pay the minimum monthly payment, which is typically around three percent of the outstanding balance, or $10 (whichever is greater).

You have a debt of $10,000, you have an interest rate of 18%, and you’re going to make the minimum monthly payments. How long is it going to take you to pay it off?

A. Four years
B. Seven and a half years
C. Twelve years
D. Fifteen years
E. None of the above

What do you say? Just whisper to your neighbour what you think.

The correct answer is… “E: None of the above”. It will actually take you close to 23 years to pay it off, and you will pay a total of $9800 in interest. So you’ve pretty much doubled the cost and taken a quarter of a century to pay it off, and that assumes you don’t out anything else on the card in the meantime!

And all of that time, you owe your creditor money. You’re working to earn money for someone else. And as long as you owe them money, that’s the way it’s going to be. You will in effect be their slave.

“Once you're in debt, interest will be your companion every minute of the day or night, and it's working against you. It has no love, no sympathy. It is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff, and you cannot dismiss it. Whenever you get in its way or you cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you. It just crushes you.”
~ J. Rubin Clark

Listen, I understand that sometimes emergencies and the circumstances of life demand a little debt. But for most people, it’s not that kind of debt that gets them in trouble. It’s going into debt for luxury and for convenience… and yes, even for gifts. And so you go into debt, giving away your freedom and become enslaved to your creditor.

Even if you don’t technically go into debt, but you still spend everything you have, is that wise? You say, “Greg, I agree with you about not going into debt. But how about if I just push the margins? How about if I empty my bank account without pulling out the plastic?”

Well, Proverbs has an answer for that…

Proverbs 21:20 (NLT)
The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get.

So what we’re really talking about here is balance. Yes, I want to give gifts. Yes, I want to surprise them with that special something. But I need to balance that with good financial decisions… to not go into debt to do it and to not compromise myself by pushing it to the limit. I need to maintain some financial margin in my life. The Apostle Paul offers some good advice on this…

2 Corinthians 8:11-14 (NLT)
Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need.

So give in proportion to what you have, not what you don’t have.

And along with that, a fourth reason I should spend less is because…

4.    I want to give generously, but not foolishly

Now, in talking about spending less, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: There is nothing wrong with being generous. Our God is a generous God, and He wants His people to be generous, too. Generosity is one of the most admirable qualities a person could have. So I’m not trying to convince you to not be generous.

But what I am cautioning you against is allowing the consumerism of the season to hijack your Christmas. Do not equate the extent of your love for someone with the expense of the gift you get them. Don’t buy stuff just because you feel you have to buy stuff. And in the end, don’t spend more than you can afford.

Because that’s really where so many people go wrong, isn’t it? We do it all year long when we buy stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like, and we amplify it at Christmas time when we spend spend spend because we don’t want the other person to out spend us.

Generosity is good. The Bible says…

Psalm 37:21 (NLT)
The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers.

Proverbs 11:24-25 (NLT)
Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

So it’s good to be generous. But again, we need some balance. Because when the Bible talks about being generous toward others, it’s almost always talking about being generous toward the poor, the outcast, the disadvantaged. So in your generosity, are you generous toward those who could most benefit from your generosity?

That’s really the fifth reason I want to spend less this Christmas…

5.    I want to be free to give in more meaningful ways.

This is the spending less to give more part of the Advent Conspiracy. We want to spend less on meaningless gifts so we can give more generously in meaningful ways.

Proverbs 22:9 (NLT)
Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor.

Maybe you can start to sponsor a child through Compassion International. Or donate some groceries to the Food Bank. Give some time to help the Salvation Army with their annual Kettle Drive. There are all kinds of meaningful ways you can give of your time and your resources to make a real difference.

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT)
Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.

What we’re encouraging you to do here is spend less on gifts for each other so you have more funds available to give toward providing clean water for a village in Sierra Leone. I talked earlier about how close to a billion people do not have access to a source of clean water. So we’re going to receive an offering on Christmas Eve to go toward that project. If you’re not going to be here then but would like to give anyway, you can place your gift in an offering envelope and write “Water” on the front.

With this whole Advent Conspiracy movement, providing clean water has been a focus. Here’s a video of one of the people who started this movement…


So spend less so you can give more generously in more meaningful ways. We’ll continue with that next week…



Copyright © 2009