Spend Less

By Erin Bird

With Christmas rapidly approaching, let’s jump back into our “Advent Conspiracy” series, conspiring together to make this the most meaningful Christmas ever. And to do so, here is the blog post from the Advent Conspiracy website on the topic of “Spend Less,” one of the four tenets of this “conspiracy.”

Spend less is an ambiguous goal. Spend less than last year? Spend less than my neighbor? The truth is there is no formula. The challenge of this tenet is to be willing to ask more questions and then be open to hearing what God says in return. Some questions you could ask might be…

  • Is this something I want or something I need?
  • Why do I want to buy this?
  • What kind of company am I supporting if I purchase this product?
  • Can I afford to spend this amount?
  • How many presents do we actually need?
  • What did we do with the presents from last year?

You see, spending less requires us to plan. Instead of mindlessly shopping online and ordering more than we know what to do with, we take the time to think about each purchase. We strive to thoughtfully evaluate what we support with our spending, and allow our spending to support products, people, and causes worthy of being supported. By spending a little less on ourselves we are able to more joyfully give to others in need.

It is not enough to say “no” to the way Christmas is celebrated by many; we need to say “yes” to a different way of celebrating.

It’s important to remember that when we choose to spend less on Christmas presents, it doesn’t mean that we love our friends and family any less. In fact, for many of us, we’ve found that the creative, intentional gifts we give showcase our love – and perhaps God’s – more clearly than ever before.

More than just an invitation to say no to overspending, this is an invitation to a new way of celebrating. This year start a new tradition of spending compassionately and responsibly.

Some ideas to help you Spend Less this Christmas:

  • Make a Christmas budget and then stick to it. Don’t compare yourself to others; pray and do what is best for your family.
  • Research companies that are Fair Trade.
  • Pray for the people on your Christmas list before purchasing anything. Make spending a conscious decision that engages your heart.
  • It’s not just about the presents. Notice how much you’re spending on other Christmas activities (going out to eat, new outfits, wrapping paper, decorations, etc.). Find one area where you can cut back this year.
  • Write down five things you’re thankful for. Take inventory of how blessed you already are.
  • Set a spending limit as a family. Let everyone have the same amount to spend on each other. You’ll be surprised at how creative your kids will get!
  • Donate old and unused clothes, toys, and books to a local organization. Notice how much stuff you actually don’t use or need.

By “Spending Less,” you set yourself up to “Give More” which we will talk about next week. ‘Til then, have a great week!

Making Christmas Meaningful

by Erin Bird

How are you doi…

What’s that? Oh, the topic. Yeah, um… about that. Yes, yes, I know, we just got through Halloween and barely are past the Election, but yes, we actually are going to talk about Christmas.

Ok, ok, simmer down. I hear you. I suspect by your complaining you are like me: no “Christmas” stuff until AFTER Thanksgiving.

Now, perhaps I’m wrong and you are of the I-listen-to-Christmas-music-beginning-in-August crowd, but I’m a fairly strict “no Christmas” kind-of-guy until I’ve had Turkey Thursday and spent the day with family thanking God for all He’s given. Then on “Black Friday” I whip out Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas album as my family makes the annual trek to cut down a Christmas tree.

I’ve taken a bit of the same approach at Riverwood. We talk about Christmas during the season of Advent, but not before (excluding Operation Christmas Child). If you’ve been part of the Riverwood family for more than a year, you’ve probably figured this out. For the past two years, we’ve talked about the four tenets of Advent Conspiracy.

But as I talked with Christine Blessing (who edits these blogs) about upcoming plans for the future, it didn’t make sense to wait until December to talk about Advent Conspiracy when many of you will possibly have already begun your Christmas shopping.

And so, I want to be proactive and influence your Christmas purchases & choices ahead of time. And to do that, I want to talk about Christmas a month earlier than I normally do.

But why talk about the four tenets of Advent Conspiracy yet again? I’ll let the Advent Conspiracy team tell you:

“Advent Conspiracy isn’t a formula or strict set of rules; it is about reorienting our hearts back to Christ. It’s about letting go of traditions that actually take our focus away from God during Christmas. Things like overstuffed schedules, credit card debt, stress, and dread that have replaced the hope and peace the angels speak of.”

So, even though we’ve barely gotten the political ads out of our mailboxes before the Christmas catalogs start to appear, we are going to talk about Christmas to proactively make this Christmas incredibly meaningful. So join me next week right here as we dive into the first of the four Advent Conspiracy tenets – Spend Less.

United Through the Gospel

United Through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

All Together Now

We started this series all the way back in August when I returned from my sabbatical. For the past three months, we have seen eleven different “facets” of the Gospel – being spiritually born, adopted, reconciled, ransomed, justified, rich, and so many more. (You can catch any you missed or want to re-read over on the Riverwood blog.)

While we could keep going with several more facets, we are going to end on the facet of “unity.” But this facet is like a “two for one deal” because it actually has a double meaning –  like two sides of a coin.


United with Christ

The first side of this coin is the unity we experience with God through the Gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6  that we are united with Jesus in both His death and resurrection (verse 5), and we see this beautifully illustrated in the sacrament of baptism (verses 3-4).

This powerful facet lets you know you are never alone at any moment during your time on earth. And when you breathe your last and appear before the Father, Jesus the Son is standing right there next to you. But it is even deeper than that.

To be united with Christ means your identity completely changes. Just like an American bride goes from single to married with a new last name upon exchanging wedding vows, a brand-new Christian goes from “single to united” with a new identity when they place their faith in the Gospel.

This truth means you are not your own. If you are a Christ-follower, you do not have autonomy – you are completely connected to Jesus.


United with Christ-followers

The other side of this “unity” coin is that through the Gospel, Jesus-followers are also united with one another. This is SO important for us to remember, especially in the divisive days in which we find ourselves. If your life is in Christ, you need to know that you…

  •  spiritually have more in common with someone of the opposite political party than someone in the same party who doesn’t follow Jesus
  • are more tied to someone who cheers for the rival of your favorite sports team than your fellow fan who doesn’t know the Gospel
  • are far more connected with someone spiritually who is of a different race or different income level than someone with an almost identical background as you

This truth is why the Apostle Paul talked about the Church as being a “body” in 1 Corinthians 12. Some of us may be more like an ear hearing from the Lord, others of us like a hand serving those around us, while still others of us might be more of an elbow jabbing those who are complacent in their faith. 😉  But no matter what role God has called you to, you are part of the Body, united with others through the Gospel.

And because we are united to one another through the Gospel, we need to live out the “one anothers.” You know, like love one another, be patient with one another, carry one another’s burdens, and such. To follow Jesus isn’t a call to solo-Christianity, but rather a call to live in community, helping one another follow Jesus.

So may you this week bask in the beautiful truth that if you are a Jesus-follower, you are united with Christ. But then let that truth bleed into your everyday life, fulfilling the “one anothers” of Scripture because you are united with fellow Jesus-followers.

Growing Through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

The Princess Bride is a classic movie beloved by many. If you haven’t seen it, it is about a Spanish swordsman avenging the death of his father who was murdered by a government official who happened to have six fingers.
Now, if you HAVE seen the movie, you might be taking issue with my synopsis. “Yes,” you admit, “there is a story line of revenge against the six-fingered man, but that’s not everything the movie is about! You left out the love story of Wesley and Buttercup, and Prince Humperdink’s treachery, and the R.O.U.S.es, and Vizzini’s death to iocane powder, and The Machine, and what about the Impressive Clergyman?!?!?”

And you’d be right. There is so much more about The Princess Bride.

Many people do something similar with the Gospel. They tell people the gospel is what “saves” a person spiritually. And while that is very true, salvation isn’t the totality of the Gospel. The Gospel is so much more. It isn’t just what saves you, it is also what sanctifies you. As Tim Keller says in his article entitled “The Centrality of the Gospel,”

“We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

This is why the Apostle Paul said  to the Jesus-followers living in Colossae…

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

In other words: How does a person receive Christ Jesus the Lord? Through the Gospel. So how should a person “walk in him” (i.e. growing spiritually)? Through the Gospel.

This is SUCH an important facet of the Gospel. Throughout this series, we’ve seen how we are redeemed,  justified,  adopted,  ransomed, and so much more through Jesus’ life, death, & resurrection. But too many Christians accept these truths, but still try to live out their faith through their own power and strength, rather than let the Gospel be at the center of their spiritual growth.

But if you are going to become the person God calls you to be, it is going to come through your continual surrender to the Gospel. That surrender can be seen by surrendering:

  • your time to read the Scripture, to pray, and to serve others
  • your possessions to bless others
  • your activities to avoid the things that draw you away from Christ and invest in activies that draw you to Him.

But those activities alone don’t help you grow spiritually. They have to be paired with the gospel where they are motivated by the Spirit.

So may you, this week, seek to grow spiritually by surrendering your time, your possession, your activities, and your affections through the Gospel, so you might find the joy God offers to you through Christ.

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