What should Christians do with Christmas Symbols?

I recently read a portion of a book written by Noel Piper (John Piper’s wife; he’s pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN).  In it, she talks about their own personal practice of excluding Santa from their celebrations.

She explains why they did it – her reasons made sense to me.  Things like presenting confusing or mixed messages to the children: it’s about Santa!  + it’s about Christ!  Parents often expect their kids will be able to figure out what’s real and what’s not….

Rather than comment on Noel and John Piper’s practice (which is theirs to do as they please), how about Christmas Symbols?

I began our family Advent devotions this morning after I spent some time considering the stockings hanging from our mantle….What do we do with them?  What do they mean?  What do I want my little ones concluding about them and why they appear there yearly?  I think I owe my children a framework to understand all the symbols – they need to be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff, no?

Let’s begin where I began with them: what’s the deal with all the Christmas lights?  A buddy cornered me yesterday and said, “Dude, have you seen my house?”  Um, not recently.  “I’m telling you, you’ve got to see what I’ve done with the decorations!”  Keeping up with the Joneses?  “Crushing the Joneses, dude.  Seriously, take a look!”

So, fully loaded with 14 eager eyeballs, we drove by his place.  We found a resplendent display of white Christmas lights!  I think he might’ve even had some lights not on but the ones that were lit were beautiful.  This morning, then, I asked the kids about Christmas lights – what are they for?  What do they mean?

Once I got past the typical responses (which were correct but…you know me…) I asked them about symbols.  “What does a stop sign represent?” I   asked.  My middle one said, “safety” (Ah, music to my ears…).  RIGHT!  It symbolizes safety when it is obeyed; even potential death when it is not.  I pointed out that many, many things are symbols of other things.  “And Christmas symbols mean special things.”

I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life – John 8:12

“What does light represent?  It is a symbol of what?”  Jesus!

Have you ever noticed how we wrap lights all around the Christmas tree?  Now, I’m not sure why I’ve been doing that all my life, but my wife has as well – maybe you do, too.  One could conclude that it is this way so that there is never a place you could stand and fail to see light.  Since light symbolizes Christ, the implication is that He can never be obscured – He can always been seen by those who look for Him.

I concluded the devotion by telling my kids that it isn’t just Christmas lights that represent Christ.  It is light, period.  Street lights, bathroom lights, oven lights, flood lights, stadium lights, sunlight, car head lights – any and every light is a reminder of the One who is the Light of the world.

Think about it.

Tomorrow, maybe trees and stockings.

Wait to Smooch – #1

I thought that I’d handle my 11 reasons why not to kiss before marriage in reverse order just to give the appearance of creativity…actually, I think this is one of the strongest reasons so I will start here.

11. You will likely be committing spiritual adultery – loving someone more than Christ; if you loved Christ, you’d treat people like sisters and brothers and not spouses

Keep in mind what I’m trying to do here.  Twice now by good friends I’ve been warned against “binding the conscience” with this viewpoint.  Well taken.  I wholeheartedly believe in Christian liberty and have NO desire to cross a line into either license or legalism (I am very thankful for the challenge!).  So, I understand “bind the conscience” (principle taken from passages like Romans 14) forcing people to live by restrictions that are not stipulated in the Bible.  As if to develop some kind of unbiblical, restrictive code that people must live by.  If my dear Christian family mean something other than that, then that’s fine – that’s where I am, however.

If I can demonstrate that PDA (pre-marital displays of affection captured by K-I-S-S-I-N-G) is regulated in the Bible, then I am not engaging in conscience-binding.  If I succeed then I am simply teaching what the Bible says regarding PDA (even though PDA isn’t a biblical phrase).  I hope to demonstrate that PDA is not a matter of conscience but a regulated activity created for and practiced within the confines of marriage alone.

Why this viewpoint?  To safeguard us from the culture-creep?  Maybe.  Because of my own history.  Possibly.  Because of the wreckage that I’ve seen PDA do in marriages?  Could be.  Mainly, because I believe male-female relations are so complex and significant that these things are spoken of by God.  The stakes are very high.

How high is the subject of my first reason. James 4:1-5 is where I draw this from.

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?

There were fights and quarrels in the church according to this passage because there were heart-wars breaking out and spilling onto each other.  What was the subject of those wars?  Desires.  These desires (pleasures, NASB; passions, ESV) can be good or bad.  Bad desires are clearly bad.  Good desires (security, companionship, svelt-ness (!)) become sinful when they are inordinately wanted.  A look at the verbs indicate great strength: lust, envy, asking with wrong motives; these are strong.

There is a process to all of this.  Desires don’t just break out into full scale battle.

Fact 1.  We are married to Christ (v.5) and He is jealous for us

Fact 2.  We have built in human desires.

Fact 3.  At times, we crave apprehending these things more than we want Him or wait for Him to provide.

Fact 4.  We forsake Him and commit adultery against Him (v.4), become His enemy and become friends with the world; we leave our marriage bed with Him and hop into the sack with what we’re seeking

Fact 5.  We pursue these now-sinful, adulterous passions in and through each other mostly (v.2) and other things, secondarily

Fact 6.  Our jealous Husband, Jesus Christ pursues us and frustrates our pursuit of our own pleasures in and through each other (v.4) and other things

Fact 7.  Rather than accept His rebuke, we are frustrated / angry and quarrels and fights break out (v.1)  among us – “If you would just give me what I’m asking for….”

This is the logic of sin.  It starts with the fact that we are married to Christ and being married to Him means seeking from Him our desires (Psalm 37:4; relevant context in that Psalm – check it out).  It is our marriage to Christ that is at stake in our lives.  Sin does many things and means many things but it FIRST is adultery against our Husband.

James states this process slightly differently in 1:13-15.

14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Here we read of our own desires (same word as 4:1) that lure and entice us and lead to sin.  The overall picture is that we have desires / passions / pleasures that are constantly at work within us.  They bait and entice us and if we follow, we sin.  In chapter 4, James tells us that if we don’t manage those we will commit adultery against Him which will lead to violence against each other.

The marriage metaphor is striking given our discussion, no?  It is a legitimate question, “can you kiss and tell Christ?”  Can you walk hand-in-hand with two lovers?  I ask the people who come to me for help and who have committed PDA, “why did you do it?”  “What were you seeking that couldn’t be found in Christ?”  The answers always lead to a desire (sometimes legitimate) that they couldn’t wait to get in marriage or didn’t even try to seek from Christ (see Psalm 34:8).

PDA does not exist in isolation – it is fruit of desires (not just sexual desires but also inordinately sought legitimate desires: closeness, companionship, excitement, loneliness, isolation…).  I maintain that PDA is fruit of desires that God has given us that we would quench, a) in Him while single, and b) in our spouse when married.  Can one give reasons for PDA that maintain fidelity to Christ?  Why should PDA be done?

There you have it.  Reason #1 to Wait to Smooch.