Over the last couple of years, if you’ve been with us, you know that we’ve tried to do Christmas a little differently as a church family. If you’re new here, let me give you some background: the last two years we sponsored a program in which we encouraged people to spend at least a little less on Christmas and then, instead, give what they saved to support projects sponsored by our missions.
We like to refer to the people we work with in our missions as “Strategic Partners.” In Nigeria, our Strategic Partners are a hospital in Jos and an orphanage in Abuja. There, we were able to build wells that now provide clean water, along with it a safer, healthier, more productive life-styles for about 90,000 people.
Last year we asked parishioners to spend less and support our work in Haiti with our strategic partner there, St. Anne’s Church in Labrande. As a result we were able to rebuild their school cafeteria (which had been destroyed by the earthquake). We also funded a school lunch program that feeds 600 children every school day.
The program is incredibly important, because the kids will only come to school if they get lunch (their only meal of the day). If they don’t get lunch they have to go try and find food in some other way. Lunch ensures they get nutrition and education (and education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty in Haiti).
This year we’re making it even simpler for parishioners to participate in our holiday giving program. During Advent and Christmas, we’re simply tithing our offerings, to continue to fund the ongoing work of both those missions in 2012. So that means, every dollar you give here, every dollar that we receive, from now through and including Christmas (which, by the way, is our largest collection of the year) we’re giving 10% away to our missions. This is the approach to outreach and giving we would like to rely on moving forward. In other words, everything we do is funded through our Worship Offering (no fundraisers!).
We’ve also simplified our schedule. Besides our weekend services, our small groups program and Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds, we’re not doing anything this Advent. Just back to the basics. That’s the message we’re preaching too. Today we launch a new series we’re calling “Simply Christmas.”
Over the next few weeks we are going to look at the value of simplicity and how to apply it to our celebration of Christmas. Simplicity is first of all freedom: the basic definition of simplicity is freedom from complexity. While complexity can bring a kind of restriction, simplicity brings freedom. So whatever our taste or preferences or lifestyles, there is something about simplicity that is naturally appealing to us, because freedom is appealing to us.
Besides that, simplicity succeeds. Oftentimes the candidates that are successful in public office, the companies that are successful in business have very simple messages or very simple strategies.
If you have ever read Good to Great by Jim Collins (and if you haven’t, you should) he hammers this idea home: the most successful companies, great companies (think Apple or Starbucks) have straight forward, simple strategies.
The growth of our church over the last few years has been in no small measure a story about simplifying what we do, doing less, not more. We’ve been criticized for that from time to time, I’ve certainly been criticized for it quite a lot, because people want more, they expect us to try and do more. But we’ve stuck to our resolve to just do a few things that we think are the most important things, things that only we can do, and then set out to do them as well as we possibly can.
Simple is liberating, and it is usually successful as a strategy so it only stands to reason we want it. And we want it at the holidays more than any other time of the year. We want it, but how do we get it and sustain it?
Simplicity is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, it’s not simple at all. It’s not simple and it’s not easy.
True simplicity is a grace, a gift from God. And we must receive this gift with discipline, specifically the discipline of prayer. If you struggle with prayer, as most people do, here’s an easy strategy: sign up for our daily devotional, “Worship Fully.” Just go to our home page, click “Messages.”
Once your signed up we’ll send you a daily Scripture Reading and reflection which will form the foundation of your conversation with God. Even if you take 10 minutes a day to step aside and get with God, talk to him and let him talk to you…Christmas will be very different this year.