Let me respond a bit more regarding my concern over the Advent Conspiracy film (and for all you friends of AC, I was contacted by the creative director of AC, Tony Biaggne and had a great conversation with him — which I look forward to continuing at a later date). I need to make clear that I’m reacting to the 2008 video since that’s all I’ve seen. I have not read the book, I had not even seen the blog, or the facebook page until Tony told me about them, so all I know of AC is the video — and it’s the video to which I’m objecting.
Passing over some of the assertions that are made (which I do have some questions about), there is certainly a great deal said that no one can argue with:
— Do many people spend more than they can afford on gifts and sin by going into unnecessary debt? You betcha.
— Do we have a problem with materialism in our culture? Indeed we do.
— Do we often think that money and things can bring happiness and contentment? We sure do.
— Do we fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than we do upon the privilege of giving or upon the far more valuable relationships God has given us? Absolutely.
— Should we spend more time together with loved ones and work on building our relationships and loving one another? Of course.
But, you see, if this was the point of the video, then it would simply be an exercise in stating the obvious. Nobody, however, goes to the trouble and expense of producing a snazzy video to say things that everybody already knows, right? So the question is, what is the real message here?
Here’s the way it hit me: “Why are we spending $450 billion on Christmas when it would take only $10 billion to solve the world’s drinking water problems. What’s more important? An unnecessary toy or saving lives? An ugly sweater or water that won’t kill people? A stupid gift card or giving a cup of clean water? And you could accomplish that for only 2% of what you spend on these useless, unnecessary, mindless gifts. What is wrong with you? When are you going to quit being so selfish and materialistic and start caring about someone aside from yourself? Stop wasting your money on Christmas, you fat slob, you eat too much anyway and you already have too much stuff. It’s not going to kill you to eat less, and not have a new toy. Quit being such a selfish pig and try being compassionate for a change.”
Ok, that’s over-stated, and Tony has assured me that this is not the message intended, but honestly, that’s how it came across to me (and to quite a few others as well).
My question is this: If you’re tithing and being generous with your wealth, is it wrong to spend your money on “unnecessary” gifts and celebration? Should you feel guilty that you’re doing so? Is it wrong to buy things already made or should I try to make all the gifts I give? Is it wrong to give something to another that is not needed? Does my son need that truck or space ship or xbox? And if not, is it wrong to give it to him anyway? The implication of the video is that it is – or at least, it is not the most God-honoring use of your resources.
Contrast the apparent message of the AC video with Deut. 14:22-27. Here Israel is commanded to take a tithe and spend it on anything they desire. The rule for determining what you obtained was not what you needed but what you desired. And you were not to be concerned about the amount. You were to purchase as much as your tithe allowed. Which, for some, would have amounted to quite a bit of stuff.
It’s impossible to know the average income of the average Israelite, so let’s just put it in terms that we can understand. What if you spent a tithe of your income for a celebration — and spent it all for the celebration? What would the folks at AC think of someone if they heard he had spent $5000-6000 for Christmas presents and feasting? Does this sound like gross extravagance to you? But, this (or something like it) was what Israel was commanded to do not once in their lifetimes, but every year! And they were to do this in spite of the fact that the world around them was filled with scarcity, sickness, and tremendous need.
AND further, notice why the Lord wanted Israel to do this (v. 23 “that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.”). This extravagant celebration was to teach them to fear Yahweh. It is the same phrase as is used for the reason they should read the law every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13). God viewed Israel’s elaborate celebration and feasting as important to their sanctification as hearing His Word. The expensive celebration would teach them to fear Him as much as the hearing of His law.
Every year when they ate and drank and enjoyed the abundance of good things that they probably couldn’t afford during the rest of the year – they were reminded of God’s extravagant grace and mercy to them. And the experience of His goodness and generosity would in turn make them generous people. They would fear Him and be conformed to Him.
God wasn’t afraid that they would become covetous and materialistic. Nor was He fearful that they would be less compassionate toward the world around them. He made this lavish celebration a weapon against covetousness and selfishness. Do you see? The covetous man doesn’t have any desire to spend his money for others. The materialist has no regard for the joy he might bring to others with his wealth. This grand celebration was to teach them to see the ugliness of covetousness and materialism.
See how this works? Our giving is to reflect God’s generosity to us. The man who is always concerned that he’s going to spend a penny more than is absolutely necessary or that he’s going to give more than he needs to, is not showing the spirit of the Savior. He’s not loving like Jesus loved at all. Rather, we show forth the glory of God by being generous to others and sometimes by being extravagantly generous (see the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with the expensive oil, John 12:1-8; and note who objected).
God gives unnecessary gifts all the time. He gives us things that are simply for the purpose of increasing our joy and enjoyment. This is why we have such an amazing variety in creation. There’s not just one kind of tree or rock or fish or bird or sunset or rainbow or flower – there are thousands of varieties.
We don’t need thousands of varieties of oak trees. We don’t need hundreds of kinds of apples or over 1200 varieties of watermelons! Why all this wasteful abundance? Because God is a God who loves to lavish His people with gifts. He supplies all our needs and then gives us far above all that we can ask or think. And He never worries about spending too much on us.
Unbelievers may be spoiled by God’s abundance sure enough, but His people are humbled by His lavish grace. Rather than making them more selfish, they are brought to shame over their self-centeredness and stinginess.
God doesn’t attack consumerism and materialism by being stingy with His gifts or restricting the number of them or by commanding His people to “spend less” on gifts and feasting. Rather, He lavishes His gifts upon you so that you will learn to be like Him.
We don’t need to tolerate or excuse or overlook materialism, greed, selfishness, or any sort of lack of generosity. Let us condemn them without a second thought and with no hesitation. But the best way to combat these sins is not to make people feel guilty about giving! Indeed, if I were the devil I couldn’t think of a better thing to do than to make people feel guilty over being generous to their families and friends.
Rather, let’s oppose the consumerism and materialism we see all around us like God does. By celebrating generously, zealously, lavishly. Nothing is a greater testimony to a world filled materialists than this. And nothing teaches your children the great goodness of the Lord in giving us all things richly to enjoy than showing the same spirit.