Our Familiar Celebrations

We often say that familiarity breeds contempt. Our contempt starts with that statement itself; it’s contemptible to hear about how easily we’re made contemptuous. But our condition is one in which we get dirty and forget about it, we develop callouses and live with them, we fall down and it’s easier to stay there. We need to be washed, we need to have the hard parts cut off or filed down, and we need to get back on our feet.

We’re familiar with Christmas. Jesus is the reason for this season, we know, so how does He fit in our familiar celebrations? It’s hopefully more, though not less, than reading the story of His birth on Christmas morning. For sake of scrubbing our holiday grime, let’s start with our Christmas trees.

Consider our pine tree configurations. We stand our trees in a location for maximum visibility. We place our presents under the tree for others. We hang lights and garland and other ornaments on the branches. We typically perch a star at the top most point. Which part is for Jesus? Which part is meant to honor Him?

Isn’t He pictured and honored every where? He is the visible center. He is the Father’s gift to sinful men. He is the light of the world, the creator who decorated the universe. Not only did a star mark His birthplace for travelers, He Himself is the guiding star. We can’t limit where we honor Him. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, worthy to be honored from top to bottom. He ought to be so in our Christmas celebrations.

We cannot be overly familiar with Christ, only wrongly familiar in a way that doesn’t honor Him everywhere at all times. If we don’t honor Him with every part of our Christmas trees, are we honoring Him everywhere else?

Hard to Take

It’s hard to take responsibility. It is much easier to push, not only blame, but to push work onto others. That’s no good. When we’re lazy, when we wait to see who else will serve first, we remove ourselves from the channel of joy.

God didn’t make us to be idle or to find others to do our work for us. He created us to labor. He often uses an agricultural metaphor to encourage us when He says that we will reap what we sow. He’s established the world the way He wanted and in Him this principle holds together. We ought to believe it and work accordingly.

A farmer who plants corn seed should expect corn to grow, not wheat. But the point is not necessarily about produce genus, the point is that everyone reaps. “From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him” (Proverbs 12:14), which also means that a lazy man’s hand will receive another sort of fruit. A farmer who plants nothing reaps something, he reaps starvation. He may blame it on the weather. He may complain to his buddies down at the co-op. “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4). If he doesn’t plant any seed, his field is just empty.

We have many areas of application. We will not reap sanctification if we’re not sowing God’s Word into our schedules. We’ll not raise our kids to maturity if we’re not diligent to love them with discipline (see Proverbs 13:24). We won’t reap godliness unless we worship Him in spirit and in truth and see more clearly what we’re to become.

This may sound like a lot of doing. Don’t Christians live by faith, not works? Yes. But faith trusts God. So we trust what He says when He says that our shelves will be full of whatever we put on them, or don’t.

Our Side of the Pendulum

Is it more important that God is light or that God is love? Is it more necessary for us to know Him truly or for us to love Him deeply? These are tough questions, impossible questions. What God has joined together let no man tear asunder (separate).

Some men are quite sincere, authentic even. They believe and feel and experience. They look alive. They appear to really care. Heat radiates from them. We might even say that they have real zeal for God. Of course, Paul said his brothers, his kinsmen, had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). Their ignorance kept them from the righteousness of Christ and, therefore, kept them from salvation. Heat without light is disobedient heat.

Light without heat is no less disobedient and equally damning. The great commandment requires, it commands love, affection, heart strings, movement out of the brain and into the bowels. The demons have better theological libraries than we do. It doesn’t matter because books and brains by themselves only make men more guilty, not better worshippers.

God’s own people have many sins to confess, including criticizing all the people who aren’t hanging on our side of the pendulum. We must also confess as sin, some of us more than others, a disregard for true knowledge, proper theology proper, and an absence Scripture study. Likewise, we must confess as sin, a different some of us more than others, lightweight loves and lazy spiritual tastes and frozen affections. The Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. We should confess that we don’t do both too well.

Informing the Trinity

Who do we confess for? I don’t mean, do we confess for someone else’s sin or for our own. Instead I mean, do we confess for our sake or for God’s sake? Who needs the confession?

God already knows all our sin. He is omniscient, yes. Jesus knew the sin of the woman in John 4 before He met her at the well. But also, if the Father poured out judgment on His Son for the sins of all who would ever believe, then He had to know all of the sins that Jesus needed to pay for. The Father knows every transgression committed by us, including the ones we’ll commit after church, and the Son died for them all. Also, the Spirit isn’t waiting for us to tell Him. The Spirit’s convicting work brings sin to our attention.

We do not confess in order to inform the Trinity of anything. Rather, we confess to acknowledge that we now understand what was keeping us from fellowship with Him and we acknowledge His graciousness to forgive us. He doesn’t call us to confession because He’s spiteful or because He’s trying to embarrass us. He’s saving us out of sin’s crippling effects. He’s inviting us to life, offering us the living water, and we won’t drink unless we sense our dryness.

“Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29). We start by confessing.

Bullet Points Like Them

Thanksgiving is this week and it seems almost obligatory to address our weak attitudes of gratitude as an area for confession. It is true, we are probably not as thankful as we should be. I often feel as if I’m still sitting at the kids’ card table when it comes to thankful feasting for the Lord. But our personal half-hearts of thanksgiving are only half of the problem. Thanksgiving should be a weapon.1

Many of us will sit down around a table on Thursday and think we’ve done our duty if we muster a few things that we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving is basically a list; some lists are shorter and others longer (from the godly people, who probably have verses, too). We share our lists and call it a holiday. A list is fine, but a list doesn’t fool our kids who watch us stressing out as we prepare the abundance of menu items. A list doesn’t make our cranky family members say, “Hmmm, I wish I believed in Jesus so that I could have bullet points like them.”

We will sit down with others who are not thankful. How should we combat that? How do we overcome the passive aggressive thanker, or the relative that can’t wait to complain as soon as she comes in the front door? As Christians we’re to be thankful to God in our hearts,2 yes, and thankful to Him obviously in front of others. Being thankful to God in front of our kids trains them for the war against sinful selfishness. Living in thankfulness overcomes the hopelessness of unbelief.

Others will learn and imitate what they see. Gratitude should incarnate our faith, not itemize it. We are happy if we’re thankful but we keep that thankfulness internalized like we keep a sword in the scabbard. Our sin isn’t only ingratitude, our sin is not fighting with gratitude.

  1. For an excellent extended article on this point, read Deep Peril, Deep Thanksgiving.
  2. Colossians 3:16.

Negotiating Submission

No one can negotiate the past. A person may not like the past. They may wish it was different than it was. They may try to forget about it. They may tell another version of the story. They may want to run far away from it. But they can’t do anything about it. What has happened can’t be changed. History is the record of reality before now, and we can’t bargain to modify a different past for ourselves.

Revisionism, rewriting reality gone by, is a show of unbelief. Unbelief also gets pushy as it incites us to negotiate present realities just as unchangeable as the past. Some things are true just because that’s how they are. The dark unbelief doesn’t care.

One of unbelief’s favorite whipping posts is the truth that Christ is Lord. A person may not like that He is Lord. They may wish it was different. They may try to forget about it. They may tell another version of the story. They may want to run far away from His reign. But they can’t do anything about it. Who is Lord can’t be changed. The world exists under His lordship, past, present, future, east, west, north, south, up, down. We can’t negotiate our submission to Him.

What has happened can’t be changed and a man who refuses to believe the facts is a fool. Who is Lord can’t be changed either, and a man who refuses to believe and obey is out of touch with reality.

He Gets What He Wants

John Calvin wrote that the heart of man produces idols like a factory, like Detroit produces cars: many makes and models that require more work than their worth. You and I were made to worship, and we will supply something or someone to meet that demand.

One of the gods of men that comes off the product line is the god named Attention. He has other names, too: Fame, Recognition, Approval, Popularity. Attention talks about sharing, assuring everyone that there’s enough to go around, but he never seems to actually know when his turn is done.

He’s a fantastic contextualizer. He wears different clothes among junior high girls than professional academics, he works differently at ladies’ Bible studies than in Hollywood. It’s surprising how well he gets around. He sneaks into car leases, prayer requests, hair styles, social media statuses, diets, good grades, bad grades, employment titles, political campaigns, military campaigns, even Bible reading programs.

It’s also surprising how much damage he can cause. From backstabbing whispers to international battles, he starts wars. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” “You covet and cannot obtain” (James 4:1-3). Of course, Attention has siblings, such as his older brother Materialism. But Attention wants more than the thing, he wants people to know that he has the thing, or that he doesn’t. He can get what he wants either way.

Interestingly, James follows up by saying that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:3). Why wouldn’t we ask? Because that gives someone else the attention.

Attention is a mean and expensive idol, with heavy taxes and high repair costs. He steals joy and peace. He splits churches and spouses and friends. He must be toppled, and Christians should fight him by confessing and then by turning from him to serve the living and true God in Christ.

Unafraid of Light

Jesus commanded His disciples, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Good works can’t save, but they are fruit of our salvation and a witness to the world. That said, there may be even a better description than doing good. Christians should be doing truth.

I do not mean that believers should do the truth in contrast to those who merely hear or know the truth, though that is true. I mean that they should do truth rather than do evil.

The apostle John contrasts evil-doers with truth-doers in John 3:19-21. Those who do evil hate the light and don’t come to the light in order to keep their evil covered. Those who come to the light, however, aren’t branded as those who do what is good, but those who do what is true. Why? The express reason is so that they don’t take credit for the good works. That’s how a person can both do good and give God the glory. It is also true, and this is why I bring it up now, that those who do truth have their not good deeds exposed, and they don’t mind. They don’t want to hide anything because sin messes up the fellowship in light.

Christians aren’t perfect, just unafraid of the light. Believers have nothing to cover up; they love the light. The light shows everything, good and bad. There is freedom, not just in forgiveness, but freedom in open fellowship with our Father. Failure to confess presses us toward darkness and fear and isolation, and hides our light under a bushel.

Pouting in the Corner

God possesses many weapons in His judgment arsenal. One of the most dangerous weapons is abandoning wrath, when He gives men over to their sinful desires. Romans 1 documents different groups that love sin so much that God confirms their sinful loves, maintaining their trajectory to destruction. The danger not only relates to the certain end of destruction, but to their blindness, a deceived heart that thinks its getting what it wants.

Christians thank God for any and all interruptions, interventions, convictions, and arrests of conscience. Our Father’s love doesn’t let us get away with lesser loves. His grace doesn’t let us get away with being satisfied in separation.

Sin seeks satisfaction apart from God in broken cisterns that can hold no water. Sin breaks fellowship with the only One who is good for us. He doesn’t let His own pout in the corner. He pulls the lonely out of isolation, even if that’s sometimes a painful process.

Be thankful for conviction. Be thankful for His Spirit that uncovers sin, that pulls sin out at the roots, that pokes at pride and self-pity. Be thankful for His Word that pierces and lays bare so that there would be nothing keeping us from Him or each other. Be thankful for His Son who endured separation from the Father so that we could come to the Father. If it leads to confession, a guilty conscience is a good thing.

Welcomed Back

What is the point of confessing sin? Why is it so important?

The point of confession is not primarily to confirm our understanding of the rules, not primarily to agree with God’s righteous requirements. His law is perfect, His commandments pure, His rules true. We acknowledge the standard and submit to His authority when we confess our sins. But confession is not mostly a test of our ability to define righteousness with exactitude.

Nor is the point of confession primarily to express sorrow over our disobedience. Blessed are those who mourn; there is a godly grief that produces a repentance that leads to salvation. But confession is not mostly a time for God to rub our noses in our mess to make us feel extra bad on top of the pain already in our consciences.

So what is the point? Confession gets us back into fellowship.

Sin disrupts relationships, both up and down (with God) and around (with each other). Unrighteousness separates. So disobedience breaks fellowship. We don’t confess to ratify that we were walking in darkness. We don’t confess to apply dark lipstick to our guilt. We confess to be cleansed and restored.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6–7 ESV)

John goes on to say that nobody can claim sinlessness, and that means we all get out of fellowship. So what do we do? We confess our sins and He is faithful to forgive us. He doesn’t forgive us by yelling at us from across a long room with His faced turned the other direction. He forgives so that we are welcomed back with Him so that our joy may be complete.