Don’t Let Counterfeit Convictions Ruin Christmas
- Amie Streater Author, Your Money God's Way
- 2011 1 Dec
Editor's Note: This article is adapted from author Amie Streater's new book Your Money God's Way (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
I know what you're thinking: Here it comes.
Thanksgiving has flown by. Christmas and New Year's are around the corner; Gifts to buy, untold numbers of special meals to prepare, decorating, house guests, parties to attend (don't forget the hostess gift!) church activities, neighborhood events, school productions and a partridge in a pear tree.
It's exhausting, isn't it? And add to that the fact that the last couple of years have been financially disappointing for most of us and it's no wonder we got a heavy feeling in the pit of our stomachs when the calendar page flipped over to November.
Life is about to get a lot more expensive, as if it hasn't been bad enough this year already.
As Christians, we tend to feel guilty just thinking about the price tag that comes along with the Christmas season. After all, this is a time to be focused on gratitude for all that God has blessed us with, especially the fact that He sent His Son so that we might be saved.
It's just not very spiritual to think about money during this blessed time.
Actually, I think it is.
During the time of year we celebrate the ultimate gift of the freedom we have in Christ, I think it's healthy to explore why we feel like we're in bondage in so many other areas, like our money.
It's okay to acknowledge that things don't look the way we would like them to. It's productive to take some time to sit back and ask, "Why does my money -- and my life -- look and feel so yucky right now?"
You could plaster a plastic smile on your face and plow through, and likely no one would be the wiser. But where, exactly, would that get you?
Mark 8:36 says, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
What will you gain by having another plastic Christmas? How will that feed your spirit and connect you more deeply to God? What will you really accomplish if you forge ahead with credit cards in hand, charging your way to what you hope will be a picture perfect holiday season, yet will leave you nothing more come January 2 than bills you can't pay and more levels of uncharted waters in your soul?
What if, instead of choosing to live out that candy-coated lie of the "perfect holiday season," you chose to lay hold of the abundant life Jesus told us He came to give us?
You can do just that if you will spend some time this season pressing in with the Lord and asking the questions that once answered, could really help you heal your heart, not to mention your finances.
I believe that as believers in Christ, most of the struggles we have in our lives stem from Counterfeit Convictions, misconceptions about what the Bible says and what God's will for our lives really looks like.
The tricky thing about Counterfeit Convictions is that they usually stem from some kind of truth. In most cases, a Biblical truth gets polluted in our minds by lies we hear out in the world, lies we choose to believe about ourselves, or both.
God has promised us in Jeremiah 29:11that He has amazing plans for each of our lives, plans to "prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future." So when our lives don't line up with that promise, our human tendency is to ask God why. It's a good question to ask, but it is coming from the wrong perspective. Instead of asking God why His promises don't seem to be true in our lives, we should be asking God what we're doing to keep those promises from coming to fruition.
Remember: God already has the intention to bless and prosper us. While He wants our prayers, He doesn't need our prompting, or our reminding Him, "Hey, things don't look right." He already knows that. He's waiting for us to get it.
That's a brave road to travel though, and frankly many believers just don't have the stomach for it. But if you do, I'm going to help you have the most fulfilling holiday season you've ever experienced, broke or not.
The first step is understanding the Counterfeit Convictions you might be dealing with. In my book "Your Money God's Way," I outline the 7 Counterfeit Convictions most Christians deal with and provide tools to unravel whatever financial mess you might be in.
Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, carry with them their own emotional pull which brings to the surface a few more Counterfeit Convictions, and I believe that's the key reason so many of us are miserable during the happiest time of the year.
God is mad at me
When things don't look the way we think they are supposed to, there is a strong tendency to believe that somehow God must be mad at us and He is punishing us for whatever it is we did.
God is not mad at you.
Whatever you've done, whatever you've said, whatever you've thought, however you've sinned, He's forgiven you as soon as you ask Him to. Or as 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When we confess it, He forgives it.
If it is still hard for you to believe in His forgiveness, consider this:
Moses smashed the Ten Commandments, David committed murder and adultery and Solomon allowed idols of other gods to be worshipped.
But we remember Moses for leading the Israelites out of captivity, Solomon for being the wisest man who ever lived and for building the temple, and David for being a "man after God's own heart."
God remembers them for those things, too.
You probably haven't committed sins nearly as notable as those of Moses, Solomon and David. But even if you had, God shows is in page after page of His Word that we too can be men and women after His very heart.
Accepting that forgiveness and love will help you break any connections in mind to how much you may or may not have in the bank and how much God loves you.
Seasons of lack don't necessarily mean God has withheld blessings any more than seasons of plenty mean He's decided to love us more. Sometimes it just is what it is, and our journey is to learn how to walk through the lean times with grace. In these difficult economic times, that's certainly the case for a lot of people.
But other times we have to come to terms with the fact that maybe it's not just the economy, but perhaps our own choices and behavior patterns have painted us into the very uncomfortable corner we suddenly find ourselves in.
And the financial pressures of the holiday season are certainly a perfect catalyst for helping many people realize that they're in that proverbial corner.
If you've created your own mess, that's okay. I got myself into more than $100,000 in credit card debt. If I can clean that up, I'm sure you can clean up your mess too. Exploring the seven Counterfeit Convictions in "Your Money God's Way," will help you.
In the meantime, shake off any lingering doubts that God loves you and that He wants the best for you. Just accept His love and grace, and you'll be amazed at how much clearer things seem and how much experience the joy God wants us to have during this season.
Christmas is about the gifts
What must Jesus think? It's His birthday, and we're the ones getting all the gifts, as if His gift wasn't already enough. It's a little backwards, isn't it? And yet the Black Friday sales have taken on a cultural significance in America that rivals Christmas Day itself. It's wrong.
The stuff-laded Christmas is an American cultural icon and really has nothing to do with why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. If you're having a tough year financially, I'm not going to placate you by suggesting you focus on making homemade gifts. First of all, if you don't enjoy that sort of thing (I certainly don't!) you'll only be sadder and more frustrated. Second, it still keeps the focus where it doesn't belong, on the gifts.
Christmas is not about the gifts, it is about the Gift. The sooner we all accept that, the happier we will all be. Gift giving is really about showing gratitude and appreciation for one another, and that is done much more effectively with a hand-written note and maybe even some cookies than with some random boxed gift from the corner superstore.
Some families draw names and that's not a bad idea, but why not back away from the whole gifting treadmill altogether? Get the kids some new toys and call it a day. Focus on time well spent with those you love and spend more time with God, thanking Him for His ultimate Gift.
You won't waste much time feeling bad that you can't afford more gifts if you keep your focus where it really belongs.
It's bad to be thinking about my finances and my right now
My grandmother, who raised me, loved Christmas and everything about it. She loved the songs, the cookies, the packages under the tree, the tacky sweaters, the church Christmas productions, the choirs and caroling, all of it.
But she especially loved the gift giving, and every year had to be bigger and better than the last.
By my teens she was retired and her income was very limited. And yet still the piles of gifts got bigger and bigger every year. When I asked questions at the cash register or wondered aloud if we could really afford to buy silver tea sets for each of the cousins I got the same response, "But it's Christmas! We will worry about the money later."
Well, later always came and it always hit hard. And the older my grandmother got, the less satisfaction she enjoyed from the litany of gifts she gave every year. Her last few Christmases on earth were spent with her in tears because even after thousands of dollars spent, it still wasn't enough.
That's no way to live and certainly no way to celebrate.
Jesus does not want us to celebrate his birth by killing ourselves with debt or even overspending. But the messages we get from TV commercials, catalogs and email blasts beg to differ, painting a picture of the holiday made perfect with just the right gift.
Spend an evening really soaking in those commercials and how hard marketers try to get you to equate a happy Christmas or a joyous Thanksgiving with the perfect on-sale sweater, overpriced jewelry or sparkling china.
If you absorb these messages casually, they can soak into your psyche until you start thinking that you really can't serve your Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham on those same old plates and that you really do need a new sweater.
But take the marketers head on and really watch and listen. See how they are selling you. After the fourth jewelry store commercial, you'll be just about cured of the celebration/stuff connection, I promise.
A few years ago, our family had a really tight Christmas. We managed to get the kids a few gifts, but there was no money left over for Scott and I to buy gifts for anyone else, let alone each other. We refused to go into more debt to buy things neither of us truly needed just for the sake of giving a gift, so we decided to just be grateful that the kids had some nice things, all the bills were paid and we were healthy. That would have to be enough.
That Christmas morning, Scott did give me a gift: it was a beautifully wrapped package containing a letter that spelled out, in detail, how much he loved me and why. I cherish that letter to this day.
As I was telling a friend about it later she said, "You know, if you'd had money, you never wouldn't have gotten that letter." What she meant was that if Scott had taken the time to go buy and wrap a gift, he may not have taken the time to write that letter.
And I think her comment is at the heart of what's really wrong now with the holiday season. We're so busy going and doing, we're not thinking and feeling. We're too busy buying stuff to see what we already have, too busy crafting elaborate celebrations to celebrate the simple miracle of every day life.
We're too distracted to remember that He came. He died. He arose. And therefore, we live.
The chaos of the world loves those distractions and loves to taunt us with them. "If you don't have the money to buy into the chaos, how sad. Look what you're missing!"
It's backwards, my friends.
If you can't step into that chaotic world, you can't get distracted. You can see what you have clearly. And if something is missing, you can get on your knees and ask your Heavenly Father how to fix it.
And that, truly, is the gift.
December 1, 2010
Amie Streater is the Associate Pastor of Financial Stewardship at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the author of "Your Money God's Way." She and her husband, Scott, have three little boys, one cat, one dog and one crazy life, but they're truly blessed and ridiculously happy.
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