“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18a).
It’s January. My family is beginning to think about when to take down the tree. We have an artificial tree because of allergies, so the disintegration of a “real” tree does not spur us on from our lethargy. I think one year it was late February before we took the tree down.
It would be nice to think our delay is because we want to preserve the Christmas spirit in our home, but that is not the case. Rather, taking down the tree is a chore, and there is no gratification coming my way for doing the job. What is there is finality; Christmas is over.
So, when you look back on this past Christmas, how was it? Are you ready to put everything back in its place?
One of my favorite Christmas hymns is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (based on a poem from 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). I am moved by the lines, “And in despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.’”
When Christ is presented to the world, “whether in pretense or in truth,” He requires a decision to be made about “who” He is, and that decision point creates conflict for everyone, not just on December 25th, but 24/7/365. Christmas just seems to accentuate that truth.
Anxiety over Jesus materializes in the news almost on a daily basis in December. This year, Duck Dynasty and the removal of nativity scenes from public buildings created fodder for the press, in years past it was something else, but there has always been something to get excited about. Such jarring acknowledgements that Christians are different populate every December, and every December battle lines are drawn.
I am not a good gift wrapper. A few years ago I noticed with great delight that the back pages of wrapping paper contained outlines for cutting straight lines. This year, I noticed the lines were checker boarded, and it impressed upon me that the battle lines formed over differences in fundamental beliefs are not a single line, either. We stand with lines drawn all about us. When anyone expresses a remark about God that catches the ear of the press, the alarms sound for everyone.
I can understand how Christians find themselves at odds with the world, but why are Christians so often at odds with each other? You would have thought the Duck Dynasty conversation was as Luther in the Reformation with Christians of good will sounding off against each other. Many voices speaking the truth in love sounds like chaos rather than unity, but to paraphrase Pilate, “What is truth?”
My opinion is Christian disagreements such as those caused by the Duck Dynasty conversation are rooted in our human nature struggling with the death of self for the surpassing greatness of life with Christ as our Lord. Our zeal for the Lord can reveal itself in intolerance for others, Christian or otherwise, who do not exhibit our same zealous behavior over things we find important. Stones seem to find our hands more easily than tweezers to remove planks from our eyes.
What is the Christian prescription for plank removal? Certainly we could work towards a more harmonious dialogue with each other, but I believe the dialogue has to be with our Lord, one on one, and in our hearts, where He can sift truth and reveal it.
Fix your eyes upon Jesus—and your hearts, and your minds, and your strength. Love Jesus with all that you are and all that you have. Spend time with Him, study His words and reflect on their meaning; seek wisdom and understanding. Do the work.
Peter admonished the early church to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5a). Christ is our Lord and Master, and Christ will lead us into spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is worth pursuing for many reasons, but chief among the blessings it provides is peace—the peace that passes all understanding—as we sojourn here in a fallen world looking forward to a better home and eternity with God.
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.’”
We hold in our hearts, in our “jars of clay,” a priceless treasure—knowledge of God and His love for us. A Christian can be joyful in December and all year long because the outcome of everything in this world—the things we agree on, the things we disagree on, the things that make us happy, the things that infuriate us, the honesty and the deceit, the shrewdness and the naivety—all of it—is outside of our control. None of it is in our hands.
Let that sink in. God wins, or to say it more exactly, He has won. If we are on His side—we win, too. And we can love because He first loved us.
A Christian learns to be tolerant of others, love one another, and still maintain his zeal for our Lord and King because it is Christ working in us, who enables us to live and breathe and to submit our wills to His. It may be a bumpy road, but the bells are pealing loudly and deeply.
Happy New Year!