Welcome to the FirstChurch Champaign Advent Conspiracy blog.
Each day, we'll add a daily devotion to help you think through the AC Themes: Worship Fully / Spend Less / Give More / Love All. On the right, you can listen to the AC Sermons from the Launch. Also check out the links to all kinds of Advent Resources.

Feel free to click on the "Comment" word at the bottom of each post to leave your own thoughts and ideas.

May Christ be the heart of your Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday's Daily Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
by Rebecca Motley, Director of Administration and Operations

Revelation 21:6 (NIV)
He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.

Along with coffee, my drink of choice is water. It takes me about 10 seconds to get up from my desk and get some water from the cooler in the office. I don’t even think about it, unless the cooler is empty and then I just tell someone and it is re-filled.

Women in Africa are responsible for gathering water for their families. One statistic from Living Water International (www.water.cc) is that rural women spend an average of 26% of their day trudging to and from a well which can be 5 or more miles away and is very likely polluted.

Because of the time this takes, the women are often unable to do household or other work to earn a better living. Young girls are expected to help with this chore and, as a result, often can’t attend school, depriving them of the education they need to better themselves. 4,900 children per day die in Africa from diseases caused by dirty water.

A $10 donation to help build a well in a village can save a child from disease, a mother from this time-consuming labor and a daughter from illiteracy.

As I mentioned, I am giving up my $2.16 latte special each week. This amounts to $112.32 each year. Or, in another view, 11 children saved. Easy decision. Don’t even have to think about it.

Dear God, please give me perspective and encourage me to share my resources. Amen.

Tuesday's Daily Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Spend Less by Jaron Kamin, Director of Worship for Southwest Campus

The wise men went on a great journey to find the one who was born King of the Jews. Matthew 2:10 tells us that when they saw the star revealing the birthplace of the King : "...they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." (NASB)

We are all on a journey. We are all looking for something. Some of us think we are going to find what we are looking for by acquiring more cool stuff. It makes us feel good for a while when we get something new, but it doesn’t last, and I’m pretty sure for most of us, the feeling of getting a new thing doesn’t result in rejoicing exceedingly with great joy.

Now I know Christmas is almost upon us, and most of the gifts have probably been purchased, so instead of telling you not to go out and buy something, I’d like to offer an invitation. Pursue Jesus. Wherever you are, and in whatever circumstances, may you seek Him with passion and devotion. And if you search, you will find Him. And when you find Him, may you experience the exceedingly great joy that can only be found in Jesus. It’s the kind of joy that frees you from your burdens. I pray that you will experience wholeness and freedom in His embrace, both during this season, and for the rest of your life to come.

Luke 12:15- "Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’" (TNIV)
Life consists in Jesus.

John 9:10 "‘...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’" (TNIV)

Monday's Daily Devotion (catching up a bit)

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Monday, December 22, 2008
by Pastor Rick Snyder

Scripture: John 4

During Advent, we are seeking to live a more Christ-centered life, a life that is, in fact, counter-cultural, very different from what our culture teaches. We seek to Worship Authentically, to see worship as a lifestyle not a weekly "obligation." We seek to Spend Less, to live a life governed by compassion, not consumption. We seek to Give Wisely, evaluating what gifts will make the most lasting impact – such as the gifts of time, listening, attention, and assistance for the poor. And we seek to Love All, to expand our horizons, looking for those on the margins, who are cut off from the blessings that we take for granted.

Worship is where the Christ-centered life begins. As we offer God praise, we remember that we aren’t the center of the universe. As we offer confession, we repent of the ways we contribute to our world’s brokenness. As we humbly listen for God’s word, we receive our marching orders for how we are to live. As we pray for others, we more fully enter into their joys and sorrows. When we offer our tithes and offerings, we also offer ourselves, for we are the offering God desires the most.

Then in the sacrament of communion, we see a vision of what the world is to be like – a place of inclusion, oneness, shalom, and sharing – with Christ at the center. Our hope is that the worship service leads to a lifestyle of worship, which in turn leads to this vision of communion being fulfilled. So each day may we worship "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday's Daily Devotion

What the World Needs NOW
by Leslie Barr, Interim Director of Children & Family Ministries

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12:30-31

If you make out a Christmas list, do you list the things you NEED or the things you WANT? Do you list the socks and underwear? The vacuum cleaner to replace the one that’s giving out? How about the kids? Do they list some extra school supplies? Probably not.

Does God need our love? God IS love. He’s going to be there for us and love us no matter what. He SO loved the world that he gave His one and only son. He’s got loads of love. And yet, I think it must be near the top of his wish list. How can we show God how much we love him? How can we give Him the gift of love this advent season? We can share His love with the world. We can love our neighbors. Think of love as a verb. And if God is love, think of God as a verb. Having affectionate feelings towards your neighbors is not enough. Put it into action. How can you SHOW love to your neighbors TODAY? Do you know of someone who could use a helping hand? Is there a way for you to reach out to someone in need? Challenge yourself to put God’s love into action in some way today.

Let us pray.
Father, your love is so amazing. Help us to receive this love and return it to you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Help us to put that love into action, Lord. Help us to love our neighbors as ourselves, by serving them—in small ways and big ways. In your loving son’s name we pray, Amen.

Show God’s Love (The following happened in the church office this past week.)
I have an example of why I should not be allowed to answer the phones in the office.
Yesterday, I was waiting for the computer tech to de-virus my computer (thanks, Scott) and was reading a book called "Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration" about global poverty, its root causes and how we in America are unbelievably privileged. The average per capita ANNUAL income in Ethiopia is $90. Wow. Lots of stories of children living in devastating conditions.

So, the phone rings and Patty and Marcia are gone.

The caller tells me that her daughter and six grandchildren (ages 2 months through 11 years) just moved into a house near Stratton School. They have the house, but no funds for Christmas presents for the kids. They missed all the deadlines for the organized programs through Salvation Army, WLRW, Cops for Kids, etc. They need warm gloves and hats, plus some toys.

The staff has decided to adopt the family but could use some help because of the size of the family and the close proximity to Christmas. Would you be willing to join us in showing God’s love? We are hoping to gather some things by Wednesday, Christmas Eve.

Here are some details about our family:
Mother: She doesn’t want anything for herself, but I asked if she needed anything for the house. They have very little kitchen things, like pots/pans, dishes, silverware, etc.
11 year old girl
Wishes for: pillow/curtains in Tinkerbell theme, plus anything to do with HS Musical, size 6 ½ (women’s size) winter boots
5 year old boy twins
Wishes for: pillow/curtains in Wall-E theme, Playstation games, educational games (letters/number recognition)
4 year old girl
Wishes for: Tinkerbell comforter/sheet set & pillows(shares room with Shanella), plus educational games (Dora theme)
3 year old boy
Wishes for: Sponge Bob themed educational toys
3 month old girl
Wishes for: musical/educational toys, winter clothes

**used things in good condition are more than acceptable

We are happy to shop if cash would be easier. Thank you for any consideration you can give in helping us give this family a special Christmas!!!

Advent Conspiracy Offering

Just a reminder that this Sunday at both campuses of FirstChurch, we'll be taking up a special offering for the Advent Conspiracy Fund.

100% of the funds collected will go to support 2 causes. We will be providing support to some of the local agencies that feed the hungry right here in Champaign and we will be digging wells to provide clean drinking water in the village of Lisinjala in Malawi. You may designate your giving if you wish it to go specifically to either hunger or thirst. Otherwise we will split that offering in half in support of those 2 causes.

Thanks to everyone who has taken simple steps this Christmas to Worship Fully by rethinking the way we use our resources this Christmas so that we can make a life changing impact on the world. It has been so overwhelming to hear so many stories about families who have found so much more meaning this Christmas by focusing on giving to those in need instead of getting more stuff we don't really need. I'm quite sure that Jesus is really digging the way we are celebrating his birthday.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday's Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Love All #3, by Chuck Carlson

Advent is a call to place faith in love’s actions. Love enabled Joseph to stay attended to Mary through a mysterious pregnancy. Faith in God’s love allowed him to stay open to what God is doing even amid the questions and confusion of the moment.

Joseph learned that behind God’s love lie the promises of God. God tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. She is going to conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. The angel proclaims the promise, "She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

Where are the places in your life that you need to trust God’s love? A marriage? A job? Finances? Family relationships? May this Christmas be a time when you "make an act of trust toward all of life, where fears preside and distrusts keeps watch…make an act of love toward
friend and foe, where trust is weak and hate burns bright." (Meditations of the Heart, Thurman, p. 152)

Wednesday's Daily Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Give More, #3by Rebecca Motley, Director of Administration & Operations
2 Corinthians 8:9, 13-15 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through
his poverty might become rich.Our desire is not that others might be relieved
while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present
time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will
supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who
gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too

This letter from Paul in 2 Corinthians was encouraging the church in Macedonia, which was going through a hard economic time, to be generous. This country is certainly in a difficult and precarious time right now. Although Champaign-Urbana, in general, is on a bit surer footing than some other areas, we are all affected.

Every time I start to think about my insecurities regarding my family’s financial future, I try to remember that there are those, in our own community and throughout the world, who don’t have the basics of food and water. This year, we are asking you to reflect on your needs vs. your wants and try to give up something you want so that others might have something they need.

I am giving up my $2.16 latte special each week. It’s honestly not much of a sacrifice to me and next year, I hope to do better. What are you doing?

Dear Lord, your children are hungry and thirsty and I have plenty. Please keep nudging me to be generous with my resources. Thank you.

Tuesday Dec. 16 Daily Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Spend Less, #3 by Jaron Kamin, Southwest Campus Worship Director

When I was a kid, I could not sleep on Christmas eve. Maybe I’d nod off around 2 am and then wake up at 5:30 and run upstairs to rouse my parents. "Merry Christmas!!", I’d holler, with my little brother in tow. We were so excited. This was the best day of the year. This was the day that we got a load of stuff that we had been wanting. Granted, I don’t think I even heard about Jesus till I was in Junior High, but even then, the big thing on my mind Christmas morning was the presents.

I know I’m not alone. If you spend five minutes in front of a television screen this Christmas season, you will discover that all of the US is totally preoccupied and enamored with all this stuff. There are a few reasons I’m not crazy about all of this, but one reason is that while we are spending all this time on stuff, we are totally missing the awe of Christmas. God made flesh, come to save us from sin and death, and make us whole, and I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about all the goodies I’m going to get in the morning.

It’s interesting. When Jesus showed up as a baby, it wasn’t an event that captured the attention of the world. A very small number of people were aware that it had even happened. Christ came to the world and at that moment, the world was still going about it’s business. That moment when the story of our lives was beginning to be rewritten from one of sorrow and defeat to one of joy and victory, and hardly anyone was paying attention. The question is, has that situation changed? Do we just continue to go about our business?

I would encourage you to take some time in the next week to be silent for a bit. Let the rush for stuff subside and make room in your hearts for the awe of Christmas to sink in. God made flesh, like one of us- for you. Merry Christmas indeed.

Revelation 1:8-"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

Isaiah 53:2-He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

Matthew 1:23-"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

Monday Dec 15 Daily Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Worship Fully, #3 by Rick Snyder
Scripture: Psalm 95:6-76 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice.

Archbishop William Temple was a British scholar who offered an eloquent statement about the meaning of worship. He said this,

To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind
with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open
the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this
is gathered up in that emotion which cleanses us from selfishness because it is
the most selfless of all emotions--adoration.

So authentic worship concerns transformation. As we read the words in Isaiah 6, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory," we sense the majesty of a God who is, in the words of Karl Barth, "wholly other." As we meditate on Scripture, God’s truth feeds our minds, offering perspective, guidance and hope. As we focus on the beauty of God’s character and grace, we begin to be able to avoid discouragement and cynicism. As we open our hearts to God’s love, and commit ourselves to following Him, we find meaning and purpose.

Worship helps us, then, find life as it is meant to be lived. And finding such life, we respond as does the Psalmist, "Come, let us bow down in worship. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How is your family doing Christmas differently this year?

We've heard from lots of people who are coming up with some very creative ways to Re-think Christmas as a part of the Advent Conspiracy.

We'd love to hear your ideas.

Click on the word "comment" just below this post and you will be able to type a response. If you don't have a google account, just choose the anonymous option.

I look forward to hearing your stories

Thursday's Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Love All by Pastor Chuck Carlson

How can I love the unlovely? Good question. Jesus calls us "to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. This the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37)

Advent is learning to love as God loves. It begins in recognizing my relatedness to God. Being open to experience and witness God’s power and energy at work in life’s mysteries makes it possible for me to endure anything that life can or may do to me. No time is wasted in trying to reduce God to my particular logic. In simple quietness I give myself in love to God.

I’m challenged to share the love God gives me with my neighbor, even to the extent of loving an enemy. Allow me to leave you with a thought from Howard Thurman in Meditations of the Heart:

"I shall study how I may be
tender without being soft,
gracious without
being ingratiating;
kind without being sentimental;
and understanding
without being judgmental.
Here in the quietness, I shall give
myself in
love to my neighbors." (p. 47)

Wednesday's devotion

I. Gifts of the Magi, part 2 (Matthew 2:11-12)
“On entering the house, (the wise men) saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2:11-12

There is a wonderful short story by O. Henry, first published in 1906, called The Gift of the Magi. In it, a desperately poor young couple sells what possession they love the most to be able to buy their spouse a Christmas gift. Ironically and poignantly, each buys the other a gift to be used with the possession they have sold—they sacrificed for each other the greatest treasure of their house. The story ends with these words: “…let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest…They are the magi.”

This story has appeared numerous times in popular culture TV and movies (even in a “Rugrats” episode, according to Wikipedia). Its lesson remains: a gift that is given with pure love and joy is most precious.

The wise men gave Jesus things, but also gave their worship, adoration and devotion. These gifts of themselves, particularly that of the devotion that led them away from reporting his location to King Herod, were much more valuable.

As you think about giving more this year, try to think of a gift of yourself that will be treasured by the recipient. For some ideas: www.rethinkingchristmas.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Spend Less #2

Click on the above image to watch the video that is the basis for today's devotion.

At the conclusion of this video, we learn that a little can really go a long way. While it might be easy to be discouraged by this video, maybe in the end it is actually empowering. This video tells us that even a few simple decisions to forgo a few American luxuries-even just once, can mean life for a child in another part of the world.

Matthew 25:34-40:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Take time to reflect today on how God might be calling you to serve Him this Advent season. You might just make the difference between life and death.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daily Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Monday, December 8, 2008
Worship Fully #2 by Pastor Rick Snyder

Scripture: Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

You and I are made for worship. Our Creator designed us with a need to offer our love and praise to Someone greater than ourselves. So St. Augustine put it this way, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Likewise the Psalmist declares, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2).

If we don’t have an intimate relationship with God, we will feel scattered and restless. We may be busy, but bored. We may feel that life doesn’t have meaning or purpose. Rabbi Kushner, who wrote the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, wrote a sequel which puts the point clearly, When Everything You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough.

How we can incorporate worship into our daily lives? We can take time to pray and connect with God. We can offer praise for the beauty of creation, for the giggle of a child, for the mystery and wonder of loving and being loved. We can enumerate specific things for which we are thankful. We can sing or listen to worship music. Day by day, then, let us “worship the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday's Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Saturday, December 6, 2008
by Pastor Scott Keeble

We’re all pretty familiar with the story of Christ’s birth told in the gospel of Matthew and with a few nuances, in the gospel of Luke. It is a beautiful narrative, full of drama and imagery and meaning.

But have you ever thought about John chapter 1 as another telling of Christ’s birth?
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

In the Message, Eugene Peterson retells the first part of that verse this way:
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Christmas is the story of Jesus moving into the neighborhood. Imagine if that were true today. Imagine if Jesus moved into your neighborhood. Imagine pulling into your driveway after a long day at work where nothing went right and there’s Jesus walking out to his mailbox. You know he had a long day of miracles and parable telling, but he smiles at you and somehow you know that there’s nothing he’d rather do at that moment than sit down over a cup of (insert favorite drink here) and hear about your day.

Guess what? Jesus still dwells in the neighborhood. Towards the end of his gospel, John records these words of Jesus to his disciples: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” As the Father sent Jesus (to move into the neighborhood,) so Jesus sends us (to move into the neighborhood).

In many ways, the Christmas story is not just the story of Christ’s birth, it’s also our story. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the presence of Christ to our neighbor, and to one another. We are the body of Christ, who moved into the neighborhood to be with us.

May this Advent season bring to you opportunities to give away the limitless love of Jesus Christ to your neighbor.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday's Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Friday, December 5, 2008
What Do You Get a Boy Who Gave Everything? by Leslie Barr, Interim Director of Children & Family Ministires

What Do You Get a Boy Who Gave Everything?
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.“
Psalm 95:6-7

Are you making your lists, checking them twice? It’s that time of year again.
The time for lists. So much to do, so little time. Who’s getting what?
If I add that ‘one more thing’ to child #1’s list, will I need to find another
‘something or other’ for child #2?

Soon, the lists keep getting longer and the piles keep growing higher and before I know it, I’ve completely lost control. As parents, we love watching our children open presents, but sometimes our generosity can lead them down a greedy road. So how can we maintain control?

Maybe BEFORE we start figuring out who gets what we should think of at least a few gifts for the Birthday Boy. Remember HIM? The Good Shepherd? Emmanuel? For starters, I think he would love to have our honor, praise and devotion. Let’s offer him our presence through prayer.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we joyfully sing your praises. You are our steadfast shepherd; guiding us and watching over us.. We thank you for your love and care and for sending your son, Jesus, to save us from our sin.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Today's Advent Devotion

Advent is the anticipation of love. Love assumes that things are not the way things have to be. Love directs us away from ourselves to the other. It is not self-referenced but loses itself in service to others.
This kind of love is a gift. It comes from outside of us. Yet it finds a place within us. This love has a face. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This Advent open yourself up to the love we see in the face of Christ. Set aside some time to meditate on John 3:16-17. Such love is inclusive and all embracing. No one is excluded.
-by Chuck Carlson

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wednesday's Devotion

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotion
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The Gifts of the Magi by Rebecca Motley

“On entering the house, (the wise men) saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2:11-12

The Playskool nativity scene in my house includes the three wise men. My two young daughters play with these figures and talk about Jesus’ birthday presents, which is part of the “popular” story we may tell our children.

In the Bible, though, the wise men were not present at the birth, but arrived later, maybe even a year or two. And, the gifts they brought were much more symbolic than fun or practical for a poor carpenter’s family. The gold was traditionally given to kings and frankincense to priests, while myrrh was an ointment used for burial, foreshadowing Jesus’ crucifixion. They give with no expectation of a gift in return and they leave, following a different road, changed by the experience of being in Jesus’ presence.

So, where then, did we get the idea that exchanging gifts with everyone one we’ve ever met should be associated with Christmas?

This year, we are challenged to “Give More”, while spending less. For me, it will mean thinking of ways to give my children and dear friends the gift of my time and presence, which Jesus gave to us selflessly. In this busy, busy life we lead, the memories to be created can be more precious than gold. For some great ideas on how to do this, go to www.rethinkingchristmas.com.

Take some time this morning to consider the gift of Jesus. Pray that you would be aware of that gift

Advent Conspiracy Video

Monday, December 1, 2008

Daily Devotion: Spend Less #1

Spend Less #1: Searching for Home

What is it about stuff? We seem to need it. We think everything will be better if we get it. Sure, very few people would actually say: “Man, if I could just get that one thing, everything would be fine,” but we tend to act that way. We fixate on that one thing that we really want, or even think we need, and if we don’t get it, we feel deprived, and if we do get it, we’re happy for a bit, and then we move on to the next thing to possess.
To a certain extent, this condition is natural, given our current circumstances. Clever advertising convinces us that we need things that we probably do not, and our culture values possessions as a means to increase stature. But I think there is something much deeper going on when we are driven to consume and possess.
When we have things, we feel in control, and ultimately, we hope those things will make us feel more complete. The problem is, that completeness is probably not something we can hope for this side of heaven. Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and yes, it is breaking into our lives and our world at this very moment.

But it’s not done yet.

One day we will live fully in the reality of scripture from the book or Revelation, which tells us:

...“‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’" --Rev 21:3-4 (NIV)

Until then, there is a little bit of waiting. Advent is about waiting for the coming King. When he comes, he is going to work everything out. When we see him face to face, we will be made new; set free from the hindrances that plagued us all our lives. We will be complete, and we will be free of the urge to try and find that completeness elsewhere. Maybe it sounds too good to be true, but there it is.

Maybe if we can remember this, it will help us think differently about the things that we buy. Maybe if we know the things aren’t going to do the trick, we can buy less of them. And Maybe we wont expect the things we give to others to make them feel complete either. Instead, we find fulfillment in doing the work that God has sent us to do, and we love people by giving more of ourselves to them, and maybe a few less things.

Possessions are by no means the only way we try to fill the holes we feel in our lives. The problem is not that we are looking only to possessions, it’s that we’re not looking to Jesus to make us feel complete. We can look any number of countless other places, but they just wont do the trick.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. --Matthew 6:19-21

If you’re feeling like your heart is missing, try looking for it in heaven: I couldn’t find it at Wal Mart.

Daily Devotion: Worship Fully, part 1

Scripture: Micah 6:6-8
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

During Advent, this time of preparation for the coming of our Lord, we want to honor God in all that we do and say. We want to offer gifts to the Christ child, as did the magi when they visited the manger. The magi offered symbolic gifts -- gold, the gift for a king, frankincense, the scent used in temple sacrifices which ascended to heaven, and myrrh, used to embalm bodies (expressive of Christ’s crucifixion). But what are the gifts that we should offer Christ?

The prophet Micah give us a hint when he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you what is good . . . To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).

The gift Christ wants most is . . . us. He wants our worship, which is more than just attending a service on Sunday. Authentic worship means “doing justice,” actively seeking what is right and fair for all concerned. It means “loving mercy,” practicing a spirit of grace, patience and kindness. Authentic worship means “walking humbly with our God,” seeking intimacy with Jesus and walking with Him in the direction He shows. In the coming days, our Advent challenge is to worship – but to worship not only with our lips, but with our lives.

Take some time to pray today. Pray that God would draw near to you as you seek to worship fully this Advent season. Pray for a constant awareness of God's presence and God's love as you go through your day. And pray that God would give you one little idea for how you and your family might give Jesus wonderful gifts by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Advent Conspiracy begins...

Does Christmas ever make you feel like this sign? Do you think about Christmas and get depressed just thinking about a mountain of Christmas presents, gifts to return, toys that get played with for a week, months of bills, traffic jams, stress, and a big empty feeling at the end of it all.

Imagine if Christmas could be a world changing event...
It (still) can.

This Advent Season, what if you could:
Worship Fully
Spend Less
Give More
and Love All.

Welcome to the Advent Conspiracy. We are joining together with thousands of other churches all over the world in this journey of entering the story of Christ's birth and of celebrating Christ's birth in a way that the King of Heaven deserves. Last year, the churches that participated in the Advent Conspiracy raised over 3 million dollars (just by re-thinking the way they celebrate Christmas) and that money made life changing differences in countries all over the globe. The Advent Conspiracy funded clean water wells in villages in Africa, Asia, and South America. The Advent Conspiracy also funded countless local initiatives in communities across our country as churches redistributed their own Christmas spending in order to meet the real needs of their neighbors.

This year, at FirstChurch Champaign, the Advent Conspiracy funds we raise will meet 2 significant needs: We will provide clean drinking water in Malawi by digging life saving shallow wells. We will also meet the very real needs of our local neighbors who don't have enough to eat.

Food and Water for the hungry and the thirsty.

That's a gift worthy of the Christ child!!!

Check out our local Advent Conspiracy blog. Advent Conspiracy Champaign . You can share stories and ideas about what you are doing. We'll also be posting a daily Advent Devotional on that page. If you'd like to receive that via email, just let us know at the church office.

Lastly, there are tons of ideas and resources at the official Advent Conspiracy website: www.adventconspiracy.org