“Can an individual or a society live with complete disregard for a moral and spiritual center and not suffer from the wounds of wickedness? Can the soul of a people who have lived without restraint be left unravaged? Is there a point at which one must cry a halt to the passions and the whims of unbridled appetite and admit that enough is enough?”
The pastors and interns gather weekly for a sermon prep meeting (my pastor has written about on his blog here, here, and here).
At Home Depot, I usually spend about 2 hours alone stocking the shelves before the store opens at 6. During this time, I’ve started listening to the Romans section that we’ll discuss in our next sermon prep meeting. For example, if we’re meeting to discuss chapter 6, I’ll listen to 5-7 to get the feel for what the letter said before the passage, what the passage says, and what the next passage says. I feel like this helps me think about the passage in the larger context of the entire letter of Romans. Also, I’ll listen to it mostly in the English Standard Version, but will listen to the New American Standard Bible, the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and sometimes the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I feel like this helps me see it from multiple perspectives and forces me to actively listen because each one is subtly different.
Okay, now that we’re all caught up…
For the last few weeks I’ve been obsessing a little bit about Romans 6-8. I used to think I loved Romans 8, but not compared to how much I love it now. You see, in Romans 6, we’re taught that we who have died to sin (Rom. 6:6) are now alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Furthermore, we are now slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:18) and follow a path and process that leads to eternal life (Rom. 6:22). In the same way that a woman is no longer legally married to a man after he dies but can freely remarry, we are remarried to Christ so we can bring glory to God (Rom. 7:4).
The only problem is our death to sin is a spiritual reality that has not yet been physically manifested; that doesn’t happen until after our physical death and resurrection (Rom. 8:23). We’re stuck in an in-between state; the check has been written but it hasn’t been cashed yet. This is why we still sin (Rom. 7:14-15); because there is a tension that exists within us (Rom. 7:25).
But!!! Even though we make mistakes, there is no condemnation for Christians (Rom. 8:1) because Jesus condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). We may be influenced by the flesh (Rom. 7:20), but we are not dominated by the flesh (Rom. 6:6; 8:11). This means we battle the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 7:13) because we have been adopted (Rom. 8:16). We have a new identity that isn’t determined by our actions or even our failures but who God says we are. The fact that we are part of God’s family means that we are heirs with Christ and will be glorified with Christ, but we will also suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17).
However!!! The suffering we endure in this life pales in comparison to the glory awaiting us (Rom. 8:18) and we wait patiently to meet the Father who has adopted us because we understand that it will be worth the wait (Rom. 8:25). This is the check that has been written but is not yet cashed. In fact, the Holy Spirit helps us (Rom. 8:26) as we continue to be transformed to look more and more like Christ so that, when we ‘go home,’ we’ll fit in the family of God (Rom. 8:29).
In fact!!! Because Christ is on our side, no one and nothing in all creation (Rom. 8:38-39) can stand against us (Rom. 8:33). We have been irrevocably adopted by God; He chose us before the creation of the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).
So here’s what I’m realizing. Chapter 7 spends about 17 verses talking about our failures and our inability to be perfect. But this is bookended by Romans 6 & 8 where God spends almost 70 verses assuring us that we are free from sin (Rom. 6:7), and are now slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18); that we have a new identity and belong to Christ (Rom. 7:4); that we face no condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 33-34); that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26) and that even Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34)! Romans 9 continues this line of thought by explaining that God’s choice cannot be revoked by any mortal (Rom. 9:16).
So, my question for Christians is this: why do you let your failures haunt you and condemn you if God does not? The whole ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ idea applies to you, too! If God is for you, how can you be against yourself?
Who will condemn you? You? Christ Jesus is interceding for us. Will you condemn yourself? Do you really think your guilt outweighs the power of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ interceding on our behalf? Do we think our failures revoke God’s choice to adopt us? Who do we think we are? God? If God is for us, who can be against us? Our failures don’t define us in God’s eyes; Christ’s finished work and resurrection define us. God doesn’t look at our failures; He looks at our new identity as His slaves/children (seems weird to us, but that’s what the text says; think of us as adopted slaves).
During Christmas time, all these thoughts swimming around in my head help me appreciate the lengths to which Christ was willing to go to make sure that I could be adopted into God’s family. I praise God that, despite my failures, He chose to adopt me. I praise Christ because He chose to come and bridge the gap between sinfulness and God’s mercy. I praise the Spirit for helping me as I await the redemption of my body. God was willing to bridge the gap so that I could be adopted into His family; for that I am eternally grateful.
During the holiday season, most retail locations play festive music to fill shoppers with the holiday spirit and perhaps encourage them to add a few more items to their shopping cart. Home Depot is no exception but they do something that I hadn’t heard before. For the first half of the holiday season, they play older, more traditional songs (none newer than probably 1980) and then during the second half they play newer, more modern songs (most within the last 5-10 years).
I noticed something troubling about the mix of those two different generations of holiday songs. The older songs had a mix of about 50/50 between Christmas songs and holiday songs. By Christmas songs I mean tune such as:
Angels We Have Heard on High
Away in a Manger
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Joy to the World
Little Drummer Boy
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Holy Night
The First Noel
By holiday songs, I’m referring to songs such as:
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Frosty the Snowman
Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
The Twelve Days of Christmas
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
The difference, in case you hadn’t noticed already, is that the first list consists of Christmas songs whereas the second list contains secular songs about Santa, Frosty, Rudolf, and gifts under the Christmas tree.
What I found disturbing, and why I’m writing this post, is that the second wave of seasonal songs—the ones mostly produced within the last decade—consisted overwhelmingly of holiday songs. (In fact, I don’t remember hearing a single Christmas song in the entire bunch!) As I listened to the words of the songs, I realized that, speaking very broadly, they can almost all be summarized in two categories:
Sock It To Me Santa – Bob Seger (I realize this one breaks my rules because it doesn’t fit in either category very neatly and is more than a decade old)
Another disturbing clue I noticed is that, out of the hundreds of holiday decorations we sold, I didn’t see a single nativity scene. Instead, I saw 8-ft tall inflatable Santas, plastic snowmen, stuffed moose, stockings with puppies that sing while their mechanical ears flap, and other secular holiday paraphernalia.
The most disturbing thing I saw was a Santa, dressed in camouflage, who sings “Proud To Be An American.” Somehow, it almost seems as though we’re making patriotism synonymous with the Holiday Spirit. When I originally saw this, I thought “who in their right mind would buy this?”
We sold out of them!
The most ironic decoration I saw was a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree:
To appreciate this, you have to remember that A Charlie Brown Christmas is about rejecting the materialistic, meaningless sham that this holiday has become and rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas. But now we sell Charlie Brown Christmas Trees!!
So what am I getting at? My point is simple: we have subtracted Christ from Christmas.
It’s insane! We’re spending more, earning less, going deeper into debt, and saving next to nothing. But, if Christmas is not about the incarnation—about the Savior coming down to earth as an infant—then we have to fill that void with something, don’t we? And what makes us happier than spending a couple hundred dollars on gifts?
It saddens me to see what we, as a society, are doing to Christmas. Even more so, it saddens me to see this tendency within my own heart. My love language is gifts; I love presents! I love receiving gifts but, if memory serves me correctly, it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). So, I turn to you, the reader, and ask: What can we do to recover and preserve the true meaning of Christmas?
“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. You would never get me interested in the old maids’ social club with a little bit of Christianity thrown in to give it respectability. I want all that God has, or I don’t want any.”
“Individualism is the growth-stunting, maturity-inhibiting habit of understanding growth as an isolated self-project. Individualism is self-ism with swagger. The individualist is the person who is convinced that he or she can serve God without dealing with God. This is the person who is sure that he or she can love neighbors without knowing their names. This is the person who assumes that “getting ahead” involves leaving other people behind. This is the person who, having gained competence in knowing God or people or world, uses that knowledge to take charge of God or people or world.”
Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company), 112