December 19, 2016

Mud is Muddy: How To Annoy Unbelievers Less This Christmas

by Clint Archer

muddy_christmasChristmas is traditionally a time for family. And since no family tree can be completely homogenous Christians will be dining with unbelievers on Christmas Day. And sadly, some Christians I know are dreading that time.

You know the type: the believing bubble babies who were birthed into a Christian home, were either homeschooled or attended Christian school K-thru-college, and got a job in a sanitized and Christianized office where even the janitor has a fish sticker on his minivan. They get their teeth whitened by a Christian dentist and their oil changed by a Christian mechanic.

But the one time of the year they can’t escape rubbing shoulders with spiritual grime is at Christmas. Perhaps they even wish God would do some pruning of their family tree to make life neater.

Having been an unbeliever for many years I have news for that crew: your unbelieving family members are also dreading time with you. They view you as an annoying, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou hypocrite.

This species of believer is not going to change its ways by reading a blog post. They will either mature into loving, gracious, witnesses for Christ, or they will become more entrenched in their judgmental ways until no family invites them over anymore. But if you are one, and would like to try change, here is one simple strategy to employ this Christmas to be less abrasive to unbelieving family and friends: accept that mud is muddy.

living-in-a-bubbleIf you know that you are visiting a muddy venue (think motor cross on a rainy day) you will wear boots and expect them to need a wash afterwards. If you dressed for a wedding and stood in a puddle wearing your polished Florsheims, you would be understandably unimpressed. Going into a Christmas dinner with unbelievers is only as frustrating as your expectations. Expect sinners to sin and you will take it in your stride; if you expect unbelievers to treat Christmas the way you do, or converse without punctuating their speech with scatology, then you will be as frustrated as a lady wearing pumps on the beach.

Paul said to expect unbelievers to behave like unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians 5 the Apostle to the Gentiles gave clear instructions that Christians who try to avoid being around sinful unbelievers end up needing to leave the planet.

1 Cor 5:9-10  I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

Paul is clarifying that though it is prudent to avoid close association with unrepentant professing believers who are under church discipline, it is not right to try escape being near unbelievers. How else are you meant to be salt and light? How else are you meant to be like Jesus?

Being in an environment that is 100% free from swearing, perverse innuendo, gossip, lying, bragging, and other things your unbelieving relatives do without blinking, is not normal life. Yuri Gagarin, David Blaine, and stylite monks are not paragons of normalcy. And yet, the quest to avoid people sinning against you or even around you is not what God had in mind for us this side of Heaven.muddy-xmas-dog

Jesus left his sinless world to live in our sinful one. And he endured it without sinning himself. He didn’t join Levi’s party to contextualize his message or make the tax collectors think he was hip; he went there because he was invited, and because he came into the world to save sinners. And they hung out at Levi’s house. And I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t surprised by what he saw and heard at that gathering.

When you feast with family this Christmas remember that it isn’t sinful to be around sin. You can avoid participating in sin, without being judgmental in your demeanor. The secret is to adjust your expectations, warn your kids about what they might encounter, use what they see as a teaching opportunity, and get your mud boots on.

 

[This is post was first published on 22 Dec, 2014]

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • What a difficult task. It cannot be done apart from God’s grace. I will pray I can follow these guidelines this year. Thanks for the edifying word, Clint.

    • Hey Michael, good to hear from you again. I’ll pray with you for that.

  • Linda Rice

    Thanks for reposting this.

    • My pleasure Linda, thanks for reading!

  • Ira Pistos

    You’re a treasure Clint. Thanks.
    Maybe it’s more appropriate and accurate to say that I really enjoy the way you share and treasure the treasure.

    • That’s a very sweet thing to say, Ira. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Many Sons

    “You know the type: the believing bubble babies who were birthed into a Christian home, were either homeschooled or attended Christian school K-thru-college, and got a job in a sanitized and Christianized office where even the janitor has a fish sticker on his minivan. They get their teeth whitened by a Christian dentist and their oil changed by a Christian mechanic.”

    Speaking of Sanctimonious…!

    I was reared in non of what you poke at above, but it seems to me that while grace for the saints to show in great kindness and mercy to the lost is a very right point to make, your post is rather simplistic. James also states that we are to visit widows and orphans in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world.

    You almost speak mockingly of the youth who has been reared in a more wholesome truly Christian manner as if they are the problem with causing sinners to sin. I beg to differ.

    Paul states that bad company corrupts good morals.

    Paul tells Timothy to flee youthful lusts ( thus many settings with unbelievers)

    And many more commands all in scripture, such as pure in heart, etc.

    Grace toward the lost is VERY important, but your point is haughty in my opinion. Jesus never spent time with sinners engaging in their sinful deeds. When He was with them, He called them out of it. Haughtily no, but clearly, yes. Go and sin no more.

    As I stated at the beginning, I was not reared in any of those settings upi described in the quote above in my youth – on the contrary corrupt ones but given the propensity for Christians to be rather like the world these days ( evidence is all around in our churches), maybe you ought to consider the need for grace toward our sinful families, but boldness enough to kindly not go along with the party at the holiday gatherings.

    That is ultimately the most loving thing a Christian can do with a lost friend. To be a Daniel, albeit, graciously.

    • Thanks for taking the time to interact. I was thinking of people who won’t be salt and light as Jesus said to be; like the Pharisees who chided Jesus for fraternizing with tax collectors. But you’re right and I’m all for us being gracious to everyone, even Pharisees.

      • Many Sons

        Clint – my point was trying to be gracious with your wrong assumptions too. It is unjust of you to categorize all those young folks who have not grown up in a worldly home, but a home where Christ is honored in the whole of life, including education, been around good and honorable men and women, now work even in “christian settings” and broadly imply they are Pharisees, even your reply to me still says that.

        Your response is hypocritical. What of all your now christian young men who are in seminary or pastorate, who are in a totally Christian environment most of their daily lives…this does not make them Pharisees. They are called to interact with the lost, of course, but much of their work is ministry to the saints. That does not make them Pharisees, to be walking in the narrow way and trying to keep themselves from being unstained by the world, as James wrote.

        Your post about being ungracious is all correct, however, may I say as an older man that you ought read your own words and consider them. They are as ungracious as the ones you condemn.

        • Jane Hildebrand

          So are you equally offended by Jesus’ words in Luke 7:47 when He said, “Whoever is forgiven little loves little”? Was that a wrong assumption?

          • Many Sons

            Jane – I am not speaking of an unwillingness to forgive anyone. All of us are damned sinners that need Christ, even if we came from the kind of home that Clint speaks deriddingly of at the beginning of his post. I was only speaking to Clint reminding him that it is a blessing for children to be reared in a home that is separated from the world, as long as those reared in such a home do not think themselves better than others, including their family. That said, for young people to come from such a home, does not make them a Pharisee, even if they desire to remain “unstained by the world” See James 1. The desire to avoid family gatherings that are putrid when you have no opportunity to change the focus of the activities is not pharisaic. Jesus changed all those less than wholesome encounters into goodly situations where he could speak the truth in love – he did not leave the gathering in its evil conduct. It is not right to deride youth who desire not to be polluted because they do not want to be in family settings that are ungodly and they have no control over the evil that takes place while they are present. Paul makes this very clear point in Eph 5:11.

            I never wrote anything unkind about not loving others nor forgiving others. We are all evil sinners, no matter our upbringing. Only Christ can purify us, but those who have been purified from the deepest places of their heart and mind by Christ’s grace at Calvary should have no desire to walk in the company of the impure, unless the impure are willing to hear our heart and prayer to turn from evil.

            Being with them for a time is not wrong, but participating in their deeds IS wrong. If a youth in their family setting must endure evil in practice in that setting, he is not a pharisee for fleeing such.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            “Those who have been purified from the deepest places of their heart and mind by Christ’s grace at Calvary should have no desire to walk in the company of the impure, unless the impure are willing to hear our heart and prayer to turn from evil.”

            And yet who determines their ability to hear and turn from evil? And when do we judge that God’s arm has become too short to ever reach those ungodly, evil sinners?

            I cared for my mother for eight years while being derided for my faith, mocked as a “born again crazy” and being told I was a fool for my hope. That’s not easy to hear while scrubbing someone’s toilet or helping them bathe. And yet I stayed, remembering that if Christ washed the feet of Judas, who was I to think I did not owe the same to my mother.

            And in God’s immeasurable grace and mercy, He allowed me to lead her to Christ two weeks before she died.

            May we never give up on those, as you say, putrid family gatherings, in hopes that God’s kindness, as dispensed through us, leads them one day to repentance.

    • grh

      There is a grave danger in what Clint wrote. This could lead Christians to minimize the offense of the cross in an effort to “annoy unbelievers less”.

      Perhaps it should be better rephrased to “If someone is going to be offended this year, make sure it’s Christ and the cross they’re offended by and not yourself.”

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  • Jane Hildebrand

    Thank you, Clint! Such a needed reminder this time of year. I have read it several times so as not to slip into that subtle superior attitude that so easily creeps in when spending time with those who are lost. I’m grateful for the conviction, and Merry Christmas to you and yours!