A Jolly Conspiracy

In one of those awful Disney movies about dogs who talk, there is a scene where a sleigh pulled by puppies is trying to get back to the North Pole. Yet these puppies had never pulled a sleigh before, and they didn’t fully believe in the North Pole anyway, so they had to ask how to get there. The driver of the sleigh, another puppy, said, “Just follow the North Star!”

My family watched that scene, just last night, and after the sleigh puppies were told to follow the North Star, one of my daughters said, “That’s not how you get to the North Pole. That’s how you get to Jesus!”

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Saint Nicholas is everywhere. His image is on boxes of cereal and band aids and chocolate goodies. He is featured in countless commercials, seated on firetrucks in local parades, and is embroidered on those really bad Christmas sweaters. He’s mostly caucasian, with a white beard and a red suit. And he’s always smiling.

It struck me as odd, though, that for an annual season, an entire culture (the entire world?) promotes a belief in a supernatural benefactor that requires an inherent goodness from people before gifts are given — and his name isn’t God. And mostly, we are fine with that, until we realize that we are the ones giving gifts in the name of the patron saint of both thieves and children.

We spend money so gifts can be given in the name of someone who really isn’t even alive. Inordinate amounts of money, by the way — amounts that are probably disproportional to our income. We spend gobs just to make sure that this jolly conspiracy is perpetuated.

I wouldn’t call it lying.

But I would call it a masterful deception.

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One day a year, children awake with sleepy eyes and generous dreams, with the hope that Saint Nicholas has visited their home. They soon hold in their hands the gifts and presents that were given to them in the name of Saint Nicholas. (“We don’t need no stinkin’ parents!”)

Parents smile, and create Instagram shots of their kids. Grandmothers call and say sweet things like, “Santa was good to you this year, wasn’t he?”

And then, a few days later, when the tree becomes a nuisance, parents receive the credit card statements, and wonder why they spent so much money on gifts that are already forgotten.

So the budget-shuffling to pay those bills begins, because the minimum monthly payment has just grown by more than moms and dads had expected.

(“We just wanted them to have a good Christmas!”)

__________

We are slaves to something that, in the end, does more damage to our family than does it good.

This jolly conspiracy is built around debt, over-consumption, and excess, and it enslaves us. Moreover, it becomes difficult to find the mission of Jesus in the midst of soaring credit card bills. Yet we continue to be a part of it, even when it hurts.

When it’s put that way, it sounds almost diabolic, doesn’t it?

Or, like an addiction that needs some serious therapy.

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It’s hard — really hard — to not look at this jolly conspiracy as it is filtered through a gospel lens. Read no farther than Luke 4, and Jesus’ own mission statement, where he believed his divine mission was to feed the poor, to give sight to the blind, to give freedom to prisoners and to give freedom to the oppressed.

Freedom.

Freedom!

Jesus’ mission was to give freedom, yet our national spending habits from November 25 through December 25 rob us of freedom.

We willingly make decisions that teach our children about the gross excess of Americanism, at the expense of the very freedom Jesus offers.

And, by default, our kids will continue the cycle of ignoring the the most profound blessing of Jesus on the biggest gift-giving day of the year.

I’m not sure that’s exactly what we want to teach our kids, especially if we believe in Jesus, and believe in his message of freedom.

(An iPad mini just doesn’t seem to compare to that kind of freedom, does it?)

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Isn’t it interesting that we are partial to such a conspiracy, though? To underscore the point, consider this question:

What would Christmas morning look like if our children received gifts from their parents in the name of Jesus, instead of the name of Santa?

I think gift-giving, and gift-receiving would change. I know, because I speak from experience.

My family ended this jolly conspiracy a few years ago, telling our own children that the gifts they would receive, meager though they may be in the eyes of some, and extravagant in the eyes of others, would be because we were blessed by God to give those gifts. These gifts would no longer come in the name of a man in a red suit. And, we told them,  there may come a day when the Lord gives us trials, and gifts would be sparse. I am not a pessimist, but no one is spared from times of desperation, and I didn’t want to find myself enslaved to something, and someone, that — if that day ever came — wasn’t even real.

So, no more conspiracy. No more strange men visiting our home in the middle of the night, while everyone sleeps.

(And no more strange rabbit delivering eggs, either.)

In fairness, it took us almost a year to reach this decision, in large part because our culture says to uphold this jolly conspiracy as long as we can. For the longest time we thought perpetuating the deception was the right thing to do.

In the end, though, I grew tired of my kids “praying” to Santa — in the form of a Christmas list — and asking him for the things that would make their lives complete. I found myself to blame for those strange moments, when I began to believe that this loved tradition ignored the God who had graciously provided for my family.

I wanted to praise God on Christmas morning, and I wanted my kids to do the same.

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I’m dreaming of a better Christmas — a Christmas that doesn’t mix a fictional character with the birth of the Messiah. Our world has very little against the man in the red suit, but is quick to disregard the baby in the manger. I, for one, am tired of that.

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So here I am, and here you are, together, on some strange corner of the Internet, talking about Christmas. We haven’t discussed children in foster care, who wish to be reconciled to their families. We haven’t discussed the poverty experienced by some children, and we certainly don’t want to discuss it when we gather around a table of plenty. We haven’t talked about those who sleep in their cars on Christmas eve, or those who wake up with a hangover on Christmas morning. I’m not sure we need to.

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If the reason for the season is Jesus, then let Jesus be that reason. Let the gifts we give be in his name. Let those in our circle, in our community, know we care because we become the hands that give the gift of freedom in the name of Jesus. Let our kids see Jesus throughout the season, not only in pedantic Christmas specials on television, but in the face of the hungry who are fed.

It’s time to end this jolly conspiracy.

I’m not trying to start a movement. I just want you to pray about it, and let the Lord show you what you should do next.

Snapshot

The times are changing.

I compiled these statistics for the leadership of our church. They are just brief snapshots of our culture, as well as statistics on church growth and membership.  Our unique American brand of life is evident here, and is noticed in statistics that are current.

While these statistics may cause a bit of culture shock, the statistics on declining church membership should be equally, if not more, shocking. And it is not a far stretch to assume that the first series of statistics are relevant to the second series of statistics.

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Culture

  • Social Media
    • There are, now, 800 million Facebook accounts.
    • More than 50% of active users log into Facebook every day.
    • There are more than 2 billion posts liked and commented on every day.
    • 250 million photos are uploaded every day.
    • 75% of Facebook users are outside the U.S.
    • It is available in 70 languages.
    • 47% of Facebook users have swear words on their Facebook profiles.
    • The average Facebook user spends almost 8 hours on Facebook every month.
    • Facebook links about sex are shared 90% more than average.[1]
    • 41% of teenagers are very unsure about the future of email, and 15% already consider it dead.[2]
    • The words “retweet” and “sexting” are now part of the Oxford English Dictionary.[3]
    • And shopping on “Cyber Monday” – the Monday following “Black Friday” – this year added sales in excess of $1.25 billion, up 22% from the totals of 2010, breaking last year’s record high.[4]
    • Americans viewed 42 billion online videos in October, 2011.
      • That is 21.1 hours per viewer.
      • Half of those were watched on YouTube, or other Google sites.[5]
  • Millennials
    • Half of all 12-year-olds are on Facebook (some 1.78 million), and they are evading Facebook’s age limit requirements.[6]
    • 45% of Millennials (those between 18 and 34 years old) use their mobile devices to research product details before buying big ticket items. (As compared to 34% of those between 35 and 54.)
    • 28% of these use their devices for location-based apps multiple times a day.[7]
    • 33% of the more than 1400 18-29-year-olds surveyed said that Internet access has become a basic need ranking behind air, water, food and shelter.
    • 64% said they would prefer an Internet connection to a having a car.
    • 40% said that the Internet is more important than dating or going out with friends or even listening to music.[8]
  • Video Games
    • Seven of the top 10 video games, sold in America in 2011, were “shooter games.”[9]
  • Music
    • “92% of the “Top Ten” Billboard songs are about sex.”
    • Of the top selling 174 songs in 2009, each contained, on average, 10.49 sex-related phrases per song.[10]
  • Family Time
    • “The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children.”
    • “Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children.”
    • “Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds.”
    • “Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders.”
    • “Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week.”[11]
    • “Family time has decreased since 1976.”
      • “The percentage of respondents who engaged frequently in attending religious services together decreased from 38 percent in 1976 to 29 percent in 1997.
      • The percentage who engaged frequently in watching television together decreased from 54 percent to 42 percent.
      • The percentage who engaged frequently in sitting and talking together decreased from 53 percent to 42 percent.
      • The percentage of respondents who frequently have the main meal together on weekdays decreased from 72 percent to 58 percent — and the percentage who take a vacation together decreased from 53 percent to 38 percent.”[12]

Church Growth, or Lack of, In America:

  • “How many people do you know who will, most likely, not walk into a church building? They are not alone. Western cultures are facing a major crisis. With 83.6% of America not attending a conventional church on a given weekend and approximately 95% of the people in other western cultures not attending a conventional church …”
  • “Approximately 80% of all churches in North America have reached a plateau or are declining. The vast majority of the church’s growth comes from “switchers” – people who move from one church to another.”
  • “There is precious little conversion growth. Researchers suggest somewhere between 1-3%.”
  • Church attendance is declining:
    1990 — 20.4% of Americans attended church on a given weekend
    2000 — 18.7% of Americans attended church on a given weekend
    2005 — 17.5% of Americans attended church on a given weekend
    2010 — 16.2% estimated church attendance
    2020 — 14.4% estimated church attendance
    2050 — 10.7% estimated church attendance if Jesus has not come.
  • “Other western cultures, like Europe, Australia, and New Zealand record church attendance ranging between 2% – 8%.”
  • “As of 2008 over 3,500 people leave the church every day.”
  • “The yearly decline in the percentage of people attending a Christian church was faster from 2000—2005 than it was from 1990—2000.”
  • “The average church in the United States will spend as much as 64 percent of its budget on staff salaries.
    Additionally, it will spend as much as 30 percent of its offerings on maintaining its buildings.
    Researchers say that churches spend between 82 – 96 percent of their financial resources on maintaining themselves.
    In 2001 “the total cost of Christian outreach worldwide averages $330,000 for each newly baptized person. The cost per baptism in the United States tops $1.5 million.”
  • “Fuller Theological Seminary did a research study that found that if a church is 10 or more years old, it takes 85 people to lead 1 person to Christ. If a church is less than 3 years old, it takes only 3 people to lead 1 person to Christ.”
  • “Between 1990 and 2050 church attendance will grow from 50 million to 60 million.
    Census estimates forecast a population growth from 248 million to 520 million people.
    In other words, America would need (as of 2008) 15,000 new churches of any kind every year to keep up with population.”
  • “Every year, approximately 4000 new churches open their doors. Every year approximately 7000 churches close their doors for the last time.”
  • “Agreeing with other researchers, George Barna, in his book Revolution, has confirmed that many are going to house churches, in a spiritual quest of a more relevant relationship with God.”
  • “The new Revolution differs in that its primary impetus is not salvation among the unrepentant but the personal renewal and recommitment of believers. The dominant catalyst is people’s desperation for a genuine relationship with God. The renewal of that relationship spurs believers to participate in spreading the gospel. Rather than relying on a relative handful of inspired preachers to promote a national revival, the emerging Revolution is truly a grassroots explosion of commitment to God that will refine the Church and result in a natural and widespread immersion in outreach.” (From George Barna’s book, Revolution.)[13]

[13] simplechurchathome.com/Why.html