Love All this Advent


by Erin Bird

So how’s your Christmas season going thus far? According to the Christmas songs, this should be your favorite time of year.

But is it?

When you are at the office Christmas party, and Randolph has had a little too much to drink and begins to dance with the plant in the corner of the hotel ballroom, you begin to wonder if this really is your favorite time of year.

Or when Aunt Sally launches into another opinionated political tirade right as the family sits down for Christmas dinner, you roll your eyes and wonder why people say this is the most wonderful time of the year.

To be quite honest, it can be quite difficult to love certain people this time of the year. How do you show love to someone you would rather bash on the noggin with the elf on the shelf?

Well, if you don’t want to spend your Christmas in jail for assault, but rather truly Love All, here’s some advice:
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1. Pray
It’s seems cliché and overly-Christian-y, but you really should try it. If you know you are headed into a situation where you’d rather deck someone than deck the halls, pray before you walk in. Ask God to help you love like Jesus loved. (Because some of those Pharisees that judged Jesus were mighty irritating, but we don’t see Jesus sticking those dudes on the cross, rather he died for them and their sin.)

Oftentimes when you pray for someone, you end up caring about them. So the starting point to Love All is to pray for those you struggle with.

2. Plan
Make a plan for what you are going to do when Grandpa starts ranting about some fringe theological viewpoint. What would show love to him and help him be emotionally healthy? Is it listening? Is it to calmly walk away? Is it to gently share an opposing view and help him see he isn’t nearly as right as he thinks? Prepare now for what would truly help the other person feel loved without enabling him or her to offend others.

In other words, apply Peter’s advice: “[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

3. Give
Last week, we looked at the topic of Give MoreWhat could you give to the “extra-grace-required” person in your life that will communicate the love of God to them without giving them continued permission to be a jerk? It could be a meaningful present, it could be something homemade, it could be your time, or maybe you could give a donation to a cause in their name.

As Proverbs 25:21-22 says: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

A Real Life Example
I remember a couple years ago, a friend of mine was complaining about her husband. They weren’t getting along. He was spending his time on things of which she didn’t approve, and he knew she was silently judging him. Even the kids were noticing the tension at home.

Because she knows I am a pastor, she asked me what she should do as a Jesus-follower. After we talked through some of what the Bible says about marriage and her role as a wife, I asked what her husband’s love language was. She said, “Gift giving.” So I suggested she get him a gift to indicate she still loved him and that he is important to her.

She glared at me for a moment, then grunted, “Darn it! You’re right. I don’t like it, but you’re right!”

Well, that very night, she was browsing a clearance rack and found some super-soft pajama pants at an amazingly low price. Immediately she knew her husband would love them. She told me she didn’t want to do anything nice for him, but she sensed God telling her to get them. So she prayed God would change her heart toward her husband as she threw the pajama bottoms into her shopping cart.

Well, guess what… it worked! Her husband LOVED the gift, felt incredibly honored, and then apologized for his behavior and decisions. She was overwhelmed that because:

  1. she had prayed about the situation,
  2. made a plan (reluctantly) to show love,
  3. then gave him something,

it helped to repair the breach they were both feeling in their relationship.

I can’t guarantee if you follow my friend’s actions, you’ll also experience immediate relational connection. But I do know that God calls you to love.

And yes, that includes your crazy Uncle Joe with his wacky conspiracy theories.

Give More

by Erin Bird

In last week’s post, I talked about Spend Less, one of the four tenets of the Advent Conspiracy movement. This week, I want to touch on another tenet: Give More.

At first glance, these two tenets (Spend Less vs. Give More) seem to be contradictory. If you are going to give more, don’t you have to spend more?

hand playing piano

Let me use an illustration from musicto explain. I was a piano major in college, so I used that knowledge to give each of my children piano lessons at home. When each of my kids were learning the difference between playing loud and playing soft, they naturally would want to speed up when the song got louder or slow down when a song got quieter. But it is quite possible to play a song loud and slow (like a national anthem), or quickly and quietly (like a movie soundtrack adding suspense to an intense scene).

Likewise, it is VERY possible for you to Give More while simultaneously Spending Less. For instance, you can give more of your time by making presents this year or by volunteering someplace. You could give someone “coupons” for things like “shovel your drive,” “do your laundry,” “go on a date,” or “wash your car.” All it takes is a little creative thinking. And oftentimes you’ll find presents like these actually mean more to the recipient.

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Along with this idea to Give More, I want to challenge you to consider how you can give more financially outside your family. Whether it be to Riverwood’s Impact Gift (which we will collect on Dec 16 for Eight Days of Hope), or a great Christ-centered organization like Compassion or International Justice Mission, giving helps relieve the tension that so often grips our hearts. Giving financially to others frees us up so that our hearts aren’t wrapped up in money but free to enjoy God and truly live life. Giving to others actually gives us joy.

This is why several years ago our family changed how we did our three gifts to each of our kids. Remember last week, I mentioned how we give each of our children three gifts based on the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child. The “myrrh” gift we give as a “practical” gift.

But it dawned on us. Whenever we need to get our kids something practical, like socks or jeans or winter boots, we just go out and buy it without much thought. Once we realized this, we made a decision with our kids to  give away their myrrh giftsThey get to choose giving something like clean water or food or mosquito nets or something else really practical that those in less fortunate circumstances need. The first year we did this, I remember one of our kids saying, “I’m really glad we’re doing this!”

Giving More to others gives more joy to you. And it frees you up to enjoy Christmas more. So I encourage you to Spend Less so you can Give More. If God can Give More by giving us Jesus, and Jesus can Give More by giving up his life for us, we can follow His example and Give More of our self this Christmas.

Spend Less

by Erin Bird

It’s been one week (most likely) since you enjoyed turkey and football and giving thanks with family and friends. Which means, it’s now the Christmas season! Radio stations are now pumping out Christmas music over the airwaves. Houses are being decorated with colored lights. And loud advertisements on TV and in the newspaper tempt us to purchase gifts for our loved ones.

Well, those advertisements must work. Because Americans spend a LOT of money on Christmas.

Our Addiction to Spending
According to Forbes, last week’s Black Friday saw Americans spend over $6.2 billion – a new record. And Cyber Monday was even crazier, with Americans spending $7.8 billion (of which over $2 billion was purchased via smartphones). Investopedia estimates that Americans will spend around 4.5% more in 2018 than in 2017, meaning we will spend approximately $720 billion for the holidays.

That’s a lot of moola. But what does that equate to for the average consumer? Almost $900. And most of that $900-per-American goes on credit cards, which takes some people months to pay off (making it actually far more than $900!).

But while Americans are making VISA rich, global crises continue. For instance, Advent Conspiracy claims it would only take $10 Billion dollars to provide safe water to everyone on the globe.

So what if we spent a little less on ourselves this Christmas so we could give more to those in need?
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The Simple Power of “Spend Less”
As I have for the past three Christmases, I want to once again encourage you to Spend Less. Rather than convey your thoughtfulness to others through the amount you spend, I challenge you to convey your love through creative means such as:

  • handcrafting something rather than buying it
  • writing your loved one a poem or a song
  • giving a gift of food rather than a gift certificate to a restaurant
  • or even giving a homemade “coupon book” full of chores or tasks you will do for them

These types of gifts will be better for your bank account, better for your heart, and quite possibly better for your relationships.

A Real Life Example
I have shared this before, but here is one way my family lives this tenet out: LeAnn and I decided years ago to not give each of our kids 5 or 6 (or more) presents, nor focus on spending an equitable dollar amount on each of them. Instead, we give them only three gifts. Each gift is representative of the gifts the Magi gave the Christ Child in Matthew chapter 2.

  • The “myrrh” gift is something practical,
  • the “incense” gift is something to help them grow spiritually during the next year,
  • and the “gold” gift is the thoughtful, valuable gift – something we know will be meaningful to each of our kids.

We then set a budget for these gifts and stick to it. This helps us to Spend Less each Christmas while making Christmas more meaningful for our kids.

The Purpose of Spending Less
Keep in mind, the tenet of spending less isn’t so we’ll have more to spend on ourselves, rather by spending less, you are freed up to Give More (which is next week’s topic). Until next week’s Notes, though, think about how you can Spend Less this Christmas, while still making this one of the best Christmases you can remember.

Forgiving God

Today, we finish up our short three-part email-only series on the topic of forgiveness. Hopefully you’ve caught the first two entries in the series. (If not, you can catch up on the Riverwood website.) We’ve talked about forgiving others, as well as forgiving yourself. But today, I want to finish things up by talking about forgiving someone we rarely think of forgiving – and that’s God Himself.

I suspect you might want to push back at me for a moment. Because forgiveness usually comes as a result of someone doing something wrong against you. But God, we theologically know, can’t do anything wrong. Everything He does is good.

Forgiving God blank 350x196 - Forgiving GodBut if we are honest with ourselves, our feelings sometimes betray our theology. We may know intellectually God is good, but sometimes our emotional reaction to a horrendous experience can lead us to believe He isn’t good.

That’s exactly what happened to Job.

God has Wronged Me
Job’s story is told in the Old Testament book that bears His name. Early in the book, we learn that Satan approaches God and asks for permission to ruin Job’s life. Satan ends up killing most of Job’s family, most of his servants, and taking all of his wealth. In other words, Job lost everything. (Talk about a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.)

Initially, Job responded amazingly well. But eventually, as he thought more about the situation (thanks to some “friends” that came to “comfort” him), Job felt God was to blame for his devastating loss. Which is why he cried out…

“…God has wronged me and has closed His net around me!” (Job 19:6 – NASB)

Job was mad. He was emotionally hurt. He was in deep mourning. And in his pain, he couldn’t understand why God would let all of his kids die, most of his servants die, and all of his wealth be taken from him. (And on top of it all, his wife left him.) So Job blamed God for doing “wrong.”

Ever felt like Job did in that moment? Ever felt like “God has wronged you” and royally screwed you over?

If you have, you’re in good company.

How to “Forgive” God
So what should you do if God has “wronged” you. I think you need to do two things.

But before I share them with you, please hear this: The two ideas I am going to give you are not to sound trite or shallow. The hurt, pain, and anger you might feel won’t instantly disappear if you just do these two things. These two things aren’t like a magic incantation that will make your pain vanish instantly. It might take some times to truly come to a place where you can forgive God. But as your pastor, I long for you to have a deep abiding spiritual connection with your Creator, fully trusting Him with every area of your life.

So what are the two things I advise you to do?

1. Re-Understand “Good”
Each of us have an idea of the definition of “good.”

  • Chocolate is “good.”
  • Hanging out with friends is “good.”
  • Helping a sweet little old lady across the street is “good.”
  • Lending a helping hand to a neighbor is “good.”

But, if you are a parent, when you discipline your child, your little one does not think your correction is “good.” She will probably get mad at you for not letting her eat a 36th piece of candy, or he will howl when you won’t let him watch a fourth episode of Paw Patrol. But the reason you are correcting your child is because you are trying to do what is truly good for them. They may not understand it, but with your greater wisdom and insight, you do.

Likewise, when we face horrible situations, even evil ones like rape or murder, we need to realize that while God did not make the evil happen, He can still work it out for good. He has far greater wisdom and insight than us. He sees to the end of time, knowing how all things will work together. This is why we can say nothing happens outside of His control.

And so we need to allow our definition of “good” to change. Even when our circumstances aren’t “good,” He still is. And when our definition begins to change, we can do the second thing:

2. Worship God
How do you know you have truly forgiven a fellow human? When you can walk into a room, see the other person, and not internally recoil. Likewise, you know you have forgiven God when you can truly worship Him.

But sometimes, you have to seek God before you feel ready to “forgive” Him.

As you read the Psalms, you see David do this all the time. In Psalm 22 (which I linked to above), right after David accuses God of doing wrong, he immediately begins to worship God. Notice what he says:

“Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.”
(Psalm 22:3-5)

I don’t think David fully understood why God was letting certain things happen to him as he penned this psalm, yet he didn’t wait until everything was right again to worship God. It seems as if David was reminding himself, “You know, my ancestors went through some tough things like slavery in Egypt, being trapped against the Red Sea, and wandering in the dessert for 40 years, yet God led them through each thing. So just as my ancestors didn’t understand why God was working in those ways, I don’t understand what He is doing right now. But I guess if they could end up trusting Him to deliver them, I can trust He really is good and will deliver me as well.”

It seems to me that David allowed worship to recalibrate his heart so he could see that God was still good, even if he mistakenly believed God had wronged him.

Ultimately, forgiveness of God comes down to trust. Do you trust that God is good, in control, deeply loves you, and is with you through the struggle? If not, you will find forgiveness of God nearly impossible to attain. But when you look at the cross, and see what God has done to release you from your sin, you can know He truly is good and can be fully trusted, even when you have gone through hell on earth.

If you are struggling to forgive God, feel free to reach out to me or to another Jesus-follower who you know will listen to you and encourage you. Sometimes just sitting and talking about these things begins to remind you that God loves you. And as you remember, you’ll find yourself “forgiving” Him.