No More Plastic Holidays!

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Don’t allow gift-giving expectations to put you deeper in debt and rob you of the true joy of the season 

I know what you’re thinking: Here they come. Thanksgiving,
Christmas and New Year’s; gifts to buy, meals to prepare, decorating,
houseguests, parties to attend, church activities, neighborhood events,
school productions—and a partridge in a pear tree.

exhausting, isn’t it? Add the fact that the last few years have been
financially disappointing for most of us, and it’s no wonder we get a
heavy feeling in the pit of our stomachs when the calendar page flips
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
Thanksgiving and Christmas season. 

After all, this is
a time to be focused on gratitude for all 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.

the time of year when we celebrate the ultimate gift we have in Christ,
I think it’s healthy to explore why we feel like we’re in bondage in so
many other areas, such as our finances. It’s OK to acknowledge that
things don’t look the way we would like them to. It’s productive to take
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 the holiday season, and likely no one
would be the wiser. But where, exactly, would that get you?

Mark 8:36
says, “For what will 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

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 on Jan. 2 face bills you can’t
pay and more levels of uncharted waters in your soul?

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 God and asking
the questions that, when answered, could really help heal your heart,
and your finances.

Counterfeit Convictions

believers in Christ, most of the struggles we have are based on
“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 in the world or lies we choose to believe about ourselves,
or both.

God promised us in Jeremiah 29:11
that He has amazing plans for each of our lives, plans to prosper us
and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. So when our
lives don’t line up with that promise, our human tendency is to ask God

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, what counterfeit convictions we’re living by that are holding them back.

Find out how Amie Streater and her family got in and out of $100,000 of debt at·

God already has the intention to bless and prosper us. While He wants
our prayers, He doesn’t need our prompting or our reminders that “things
don’t look right.” He already knows that. He’s waiting for us to get it. 

The first step is understanding the counterfeit convictions you might be dealing with. In my book Your Money God’s Way,
I outline the seven counterfeit convictions most Christians deal with,
and I provide tools to unravel whatever financial mess you might be in.

and Christmas, however, carry their own emotional pull that brings to
the surface a few more counterfeit convictions, which I believe are the
key reasons so many of us are miserable during what is supposed to be
the happiest time of the year.

Is God Mad at Me?

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 is
punishing us for what we did. 

God is not mad at you.

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’s still hard for you to
believe in His forgiveness, consider this: Moses disobeyed God’s
directions by striking a rock. David committed murder and adultery.
Solomon allowed idols of other gods to be worshipped. But we remember
Moses for leading the Israelites out of captivity, David for being a
“man after God’s own heart,” and Solomon for being the wisest man who
ever lived and for building the temple. God remembers them for those
things, too. 

You probably haven’t committed sins
nearly as notable as theirs. But even if you have, God shows us on page
after page in His Word that we too can be men and women after His very
heart. Accepting that forgiveness and love will help you break the
connection in your mind to how much you have or don’t have in the bank
with 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; maybe it’s our
own choices and behavior patterns that have painted us into the very
uncomfortable corner we find ourselves in. And the financial pressures
of the holiday season are certainly a perfect catalyst for helping many
people realize they’re in that proverbial corner.

you’ve created your own mess, that’s OK. 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. 

In the meantime, shake off
any lingering doubts that God loves you and wants the best for you. Just
accept His love and grace. You’ll be amazed at how much clearer things
seem and how you can experience God’s true joy during this season.

The Reason for the Season

must Jesus think? We’re celebrating His birthday, and we’re the ones
getting all the gifts, as if His gift wasn’t already enough. It’s a
little backward, isn’t it? And yet the Black Friday sales have taken on a
cultural significance in America that rivals Christmas Day itself. It’s

The stuff-laden Christmas is an American
cultural icon and 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.
If you don’t enjoy that sort of thing (I certainly don’t!) you’ll only
be sadder and more frustrated. And it keeps the focus where it doesn’t
belong—on gifts.

Christmas is not about the gifts; it is about the gift,
Jesus. The sooner we accept that, the happier we will be. Gift-giving
is really about showing gratitude and appreciation for one another and
is done much more effectively with a handwritten note and some cookies
than with some random boxed gift from the corner superstore.

families draw names, and that’s not a bad idea, but why not back away
altogether from the whole gifting treadmill? 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.

Let Simple Say It Best

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. Yet the piles of gifts got
bigger and bigger each 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.
She spent her last few Christmases in tears.

That’s no
way to live and certainly no way to celebrate. Jesus does not want us
to remember His birth by killing ourselves with debt or overspending.
But the media messages we get paint pictures of the holidays 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 joyous Thanksgiving with the perfect
gift. If you absorb these messages casually, they can get 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. After the fourth
jewelry-store commercial, you’ll be just about cured of the “stuff”

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 me 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 our kids had some nice things, all the bills were
paid and we were healthy. That would have to be enough.

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.

I was telling a friend about it later she said, “You know, if you’d had
money, you never would have gotten that letter.” She meant that if
Scott had taken the time to 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
everyday life. We’re too distracted to remember that He came, He died,
He rose and, therefore, we live.

The chaos of the
world loves those distractions and loves to taunt us with them. The
world says: “If you don’t have the money to buy into the chaos, how sad.
Look what you’re missing!” 

That’s backward, 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. 

Amie Streater is the associate pastor of financial stewardship at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., 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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