Two years ago I wrote this letter to the church I serve in Cape Coral. It still expresses my concerns.
Dear Church Family:
It is easy to complain about how bad things are "in the world" as we are bombarded with evidence of our culture's rapid descent into moral anarchy. Every year during the Advent season this temptation to "curse the darkness" wells up inside me. For most Americans there is very little Christ in Christmas. That is so self-evident that it does not bear repeating any more. But there is a perverse, self-righteous kind of pleasure that seems to keep drawing this observation out of us--or at least out of me.
If I can point out how Christ-denying the world is then I can take some comfort in the thought that I am not that way. But isn't that the same tendency that our Lord condemned in the Pharisee in Luke 18? "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.'"
A far greater problem than the Christ-denying world is a Christ-forgetting Christian. Worse still is when this problem so permeates our churches that it becomes the norm in evangelical Christianity. Before we allow ourselves to get angry or depressed or disgusted with Christless celebrations of Christmas, we should ruthlessly evaluate our own lives. How Christ-centered am I? How Christ-focused are my thoughts? How Christ-saturated are my conversations? How Christ-honoring is my use of time? How Christ-exalting are my desires?
A friend recently sent me the following editorial that was written by William Peterson, former editor of Eternity magazine. It was written in 1979 but is perhaps more applicable today than even when it first appeared. He expresses the concerns of my own heart as I look beyond Christmas to the year ahead.
Keeping Christ in Xians
Annually about this time, people begin thinking about keeping Christ in Christmas. Each year Santa and Co. encroach more and more on the true meaning of the Incarnation. But I have a deeper concern. I feel like launching a crusade to keep Christ in evangelical Christianity.
The other day a friend was talking about a veteran Christian leader. "You know," he said, "he's been a leader in evangelical Christianity for nearly fifty years, but he still hasn't lost his devotion to Jesus Christ." It bothered me that he had to say "but." Yet, it's true. Evangelical Christians are allowing all sorts of things to dim their vision of the Lord.
There's the "bigger barns" syndrome. We call it "a giant step of faith" or "vision." But too often we get so wrapped up in our big barns (that we are building for God's glory, of course), and in properly equipping them and adorning them, that we neglect Jesus Christ. Oh, we still sign our letters "sincerely in Christ," and say "in Jesus' name" before we affix an Amen in our prayers, but our warm commitment to Jesus Christ has evaporated.
There's the "anti-biggest-sin-there-is" crusade. In your mind, the biggest sin may be Communism, homosexuality, abortion, social injustice, or militarism. And I'm not knocking anti-sin crusades. But sin-fighters can get so wrapped up in the evil-out-there, that they may overlook a growing void inside that can be filled only by an expanding devotion to Jesus Christ.
Even church renewal concerns can get in the way of our vision. Evangelistic and mission-minded churches are not necessarily Christ-focused. It's interesting to note how little space Paul gives in his epistles to exhortation to evangelism and missions. It's certainly not that he didn't believe in them, but rather it was more important for his readers to grasp the truth of being "in Christ." People [do] need fellowship, churches need creative ideas, Bible study groups need solid exegesis based on historical-grammatical-textual considerations. But, "Sir, we would see Jesus."
Can you imagine what it would have been like if our modern evangelical world were transplanted into the Bethlehem of 2000 years ago?
We would have groups debating whether the angelic chorus sang or spoke in dramatic unison. We would have planned a convention bringing in the top rabbis from all over the Diaspora. We would have a company manufacturing "Babe of Bethlehem T-shirts," made, of course, from wool provided by local sheep.
We would have sent out appeal letters to collect enough money to build a Christian Inn in Bethlehem so that this might never happen again. The activists among us would have picketed King Herod for his baby slaughter. And we would not have noticed that Mary, Joseph, and the Babe had skipped town and gone to Egypt. After all, our evangelical business in Bethlehem could be carried on without him.
What a tragedy to do a thousand Christian things at the expense of knowing, loving, communing with or hoping and glorying in Jesus Christ!
Will you pray with me that the Lord will grant us the grace and honesty to examine our own lives in the light of all that Jesus Christ has done for us? If the world uses the birth of Jesus as an excuse for indulging in decadence, it is only acting according its own principles. If believers, however, live as if the eternal Son of God has not come into the world to rescue us by His life, death and resurrection, or if we order our lives as if we do not believe in His return or in heaven, then we are denying the very Gospel we profess to believe.
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 2:1-3).
May the Lord empower us to remember and believe the truth so that we will live Christ-saturated lives. May our fellowship and conversations and worship and acts of love and kindness and ministry all work to encourage each other to revel in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray that God will make it so!
Praising the Lord for the privilege of serving as your pastor,