Deck the Halls…Lock the Doors: Holidays as a Radical Disciple of Jesus Christ
We have officially rounded the corner into my favorite time of year. The changing leaves, the colder temperatures, the roasting turkeys, and the Christmas music puts a skip in our step and a smile on our face. Bing will sing again. We’ll sing our hearts out with him, decorate the home, make lots of stuff with cinnamon, and plan the holiday visits.
Ah, yes. Those holiday visits. Now don’t get me wrong. In my immediate and extended family, we enjoy an amazing unity even with our diversity. All of our visits are times of retreat and great fellowship. We love our gatherings. Big time.
But I know that not everyone looks forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas visits. Whether you are company or host company, you may be recoiling at the thought of who will be there. It’s not that your family is a rerun of the Hatfields and McCoys. You love your family and friends who gather to celebrate. Most of them.
Well. There is always that one person or couple that makes the gathering…all about them. They may dominate the conversations, isolate themselves rudely from participation, or take up their favorite game of criticism. This may be the result of their being unsaved or undiscipled. Either way, having them at a holiday gathering can be like trying to take a snow sled down a dirt street. Uphill. Against the wind.
Here’s my question for you: If I just described your apprehension about an upcoming holiday visit…what is your plan as a radical disciple of Jesus Christ? If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, if His Spirit fully indwells you, if His Word is your delight, if you anticipate His return for us…shouldn’t it be you who takes the initiative at these visits to reach out to the unlovable? You say that the Lord’s resurrection power is at work in you, right? How about seeing that power at work over by the cookies and egg nog…and the “stand-out” guests?
Let me give you a pastoral nudge this year. Instead of running to the back room to watch Disney DVD’s with the kids (as a hideout), do something different. Something radical. Every time you are tempted to cringe and escape the room, take a look at five realities that will keep you in the room and genuinely engaged with those people that no one else gravitates towards. Specifically,
1. Take a look at your Lord. No matter how repulsive someone’s demeanor may be, never forget that you were even more repulsive to a holy God…and He pursued you. Paul’s reminder is timeless: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). He also never got over this when sharing his personal testimony: “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1Tim 1:16). Look at it this way–when you were the least lovable, Christ loved you the most. Every time you are around a porcupine guest at a holiday gathering this year (e.g. they have a few good points, but it’s hard to get close to them), change that moment into a mini-worship time in your heart, thanking Christ for His drawing near to someone far worse…you. That’s grace.
2. Take a look at your Opportunity. Next, Piper in his book This Momentary Marriage reminds you to take what you are treasuring vertically (i.e. God’s love for you) and bend it out horizontally. You never look more like your Lord than when you are loving someone with true agape–a love which is unconditional and unilateral. No expectations for any return or reward. The Spirit graces you with agape(Gal 5:22); it’s up to you to find an opportunity to express it. Guess what? It’s likely to happen in a crowded home with a tough “case”. That “special” person has now been transformed for you into an amazing opportunity.
3. Take a look at your Gospel. You only have two choices: either the difficult person is an unbeliever or a believer who is undiscipled. Either way, the gospel is their greatest need this holiday season. Yes, the gospel that you say you treasure. The gospel you sing about every week at worship…and every moment in your car. The gospel you love to read about. If your difficult visit involves an unbeliever, they need to see this gospel with great clarity in your life and words. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). If your difficult visit involves a believer who is undiscipled, they need to learn, from your example, the transforming power the gospel in the life of the believer. As Jerry Bridges so often reminds us, “Preach the gospel to yourself every day.” You can’t touch a life with the gospel from across the room. The gospel will propel you into that uncomfortable, up-close realm with the unlovable. Then watch its power.
4. Take a look at your Eyeball. Jesus gives you an amazing illustration for your holiday gatherings this year. It’s tucked away in His Sermon on the Mount. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:3-5). Contextualization Warning–”Why do you fixate on the piece of Christmas glitter in your cousin’s eye, but do not notice the Christmas tree that is in your own eye?” Honestly, it seems pretty easy to criticize the critic during visits. Instead, it’s highly likely that the Lord is using the critic to give you a glimpse of what you are blind to in your own life. This may be a more humbling Christmas season than you realize. But remember–any time the Lord shows you what is un-Christlike in your life, it’s a gospel mercy to you. Yes, steward the critic well this next month.
5. Take a look at your Crowd. Even if that “special” person during visits reacts to your gospel efforts, always remember that other people are in the home too–children, teens, spouses, extended family and friends. They know about the person, they may even react against the person…but they also know about you and Christ living through you (Gal 2:20). They are spectators. You can still “lose” to that difficult person and yet “win” the bigger picture by discipling others with your example. Show them what it means to not be “overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). It takes no special skill to mirror a sinful reaction, but someone with “wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (Jam 3:17). Bring it. There’s more at stake than just the difficult person. They become a staging ground for grace.
Now, if you draw this person’s name for a Christmas gift this year, I’m not saying that you can’t have a little fun. Perhaps you can pack a box full of breath mints, Mahaney’s book Humility, and a large print ESV with all the “fool” passages already highlighted in Proverbs. Just don’t indicate who the present is from.
Seriously, the gospel gives you a confident entrance to every visit this season. Enjoy.
And go easy on the Egg Nog.