December 22, 2014

Mud is Muddy: How To Annoy Your Unbelieving Family Less This Christmas

by Clint Archer

Christmas 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.bride in the mud

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 annoying, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou hypocrites.

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.

If 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. stylite saint

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 bootsJesus 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.

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.
  • MR

    “They get their teeth whitened by a Christian dentist and their oil changed by a Christian mechanic.” Ha ha, good one. Sometimes it’s hard to be around these types, even for us believers.

    • Yup, that’s life in the saltshaker.

  • Johnny

    The hard one for me isn’t the unbelievers around the holidays, it’s the squeaky-clean, moralistic, nominal Christians, the united methodists he see nothing wrong with their woman pastor or with their liberal church flavor. Oh, and don’t dare bring up the topic of their wonky theology or its cold stares and stomping out of the room.

  • Brad

    Great post. Christmas is about being on mission! Let’s all be on mission during this season – and all the seasons of our lives – as we become all things to all people that we might win some to Christ!

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Good reminder as I enter into celebrations that include shots being slammed to shouts of “Here’s mud in your eye,” swearing with apologies of “Pardon my French” and hearing stories of their latest incarcerations. Sigh…I long for a Christmas where Christ would be honored, but alas, this is not our home. #shineinthedarkness

  • I love this post! It is a great reminder!! Thank you!

  • dave

    Good post Clint. Have you written on 1 Cor 5:11 with the unrepentant believer still wanting to have close association? Have a Merry Christmas & thanks for your articles! (I’m also about 1/2 way through “Home Team” – good thoughts and a few stingers I need to work on)

  • Ha, I remind my bride all the time:

    “Sinners gonna sin.”

  • Karl Heitman

    You mean I should be excited about my kids being inundated with the deification Santa, flippant profanity, shameless blasphemy, and such on Christmas Day? I’ll need to work on that. 😉

    • MR

      Let our children see us being like Christ in these times.

      1 Corinthians 6:11

      11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

      • Karl Heitman

        MR, being too much like Christ might annoy some people. Merry Christmas!

        • MR

          I don’t think we can ever be to much like Christ, but I know what you mean. I don’t think we need to go out of our way to offend either.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Yup. Clint was saying exactly that.

      Clap when they swear.

      Giggle like a ninny when they blaspheme.

      Bring an offering for Santa, making sure to prostrate yourself before their bearded deity and pour out libations of eggnog whilst chanting in Latin.

      And if your family is like the unregenerate families of some people I know, when the booze and narcotics come out, claw your way to the front of the line.

      The last shall be first, right?!

      Are we being sarcastic or serious?

      • Karl Heitman

        Dude, first of all, I don’t know Latin. Second, I’m all about the fun in “fundy,” so booze in moderation doesn’t bother me (keep that on the DL, OK?). Third, if I don’t giggle, they might feel uncomfortable and get annoyed, right? I wouldn’t want to annoy them more by asking them to hold back on the blasphemy in front of my 7 & 5 year old. Jesus wouldn’t mind if He was there cuz, ya know, he’d just be hanging out with the sinners.

        • Lyndon Unger

          I hammered something a little more serious out down below. I think you’re addressing something that Clint isn’t really talking about. We agree about the stuff that you’re talking about.

    • Merry

      Hold on. Your ridiculously exaggerated sarcasm (who said anything about being EXCITED about sinful behaviour?) implies this post got it seriously wrong and there was nothing helpful from the author.

      So…are you planning on staying away from the above behaviour for the sake of your kids (you sounded most concerned about their exposure)? Fine, do that. I don’t believe the author told you to go LOOKING for mud.

      Or do you disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t be a snivelling, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou jerk to unbelieving family? So…your plan is to embrace BEING that holier-than-thou jerk in the family gathering?

      I’m so confused by the intent of your sarcasm.

      • So, I think Lyndon is on my side on this, and he is parodying Karl’s comment. either way, let’s all calm down and go eat some food.

        • Karl Heitman

          All is calm. All is bright. Merry Christmas, brother. (No sarcasm intended here.)

        • Merry

          No confusion there. I was replying directly to Karl. 🙂 I didn’t understand the intent of his sarcasm.

      • Karl Heitman

        Forgive me for the confusion, Merry. I don’t wanna be thought of as a jerk. I hope that this Christmas God will open up a door for the Word…even if it annoys my pop! Merry Christmas!

      • Lyndon Unger

        I think it gets worked out below Merry.

        I think Karl is just talking about something that wasn’t even on Clint’s radar.

        There’s probably just a few knees jerking here a little much. Mine too probably.

        • Looks like a few jerks kneeing each other, actually.

          JUST KIDDING. HAHA. It was a fun read, and I think there’s a CLEAR difference between having a meal with blood relatives around the holiday and participating in the celebration of sin.

    • Well, obviously we don’t need to get excited about exposing each other to sin; but what choice do we have? Paul sys to avoid sinners is to leave the world. Also, it depends on the age of your kids, but we are told to teach them how to love God in every circumstance, in our standing up and sitting down for dinner and going into the mall and driving past the billboard (Deut 6). I think that applies to what I am saying, right?

  • Jon

    “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;” (1 Peter 4:3-5)

    “Sensuality, drunkenness, drinking parties, lawless idolatry” A description of some of my unbelieving family christmas celebrations. This verse seems to be saying that just because I do not participate I will aggravate and annoy them, hence the reason they will malign me.

    And I do not fit your description of some christians. ( I actually haven’t met any like that since I have been a christian.) I used to be right there with my family doing the things they did for the first 21 years of my life.

    • Karl Heitman

      I’m with you, Jon. Guys like you and me who got saved later in life and didn’t have the best influence growing up tend to lean on the other side. It’s a hard line to walk. We don’t want to unnecessarily isolate ourselves and act Pharisaical, but on the other hand, our holiness and obedience to Christ will always make people feel uncomfortable. And it should. I think Clint has it out for the fundamentalist separatists for one reason or another. That’s the “type” he’s talking about it seems. What many fail to mention in this discussion is that Jesus didn’t hangout with his family much either…because they didn’t believe in Him (John 7:5). And He just didn’t hang out with sinners without annoying them while being unsurprised about what He saw and heard; He spoke truth. I’m sure it annoyed some people when He said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Merry Christmas!

      • Jeff Schlottmann

        Im not sure if you’re just being sarcastic in all you posts. But if not…

        If Christians were meant to be separatists, wouldnt Jesus have told the apostles to keep it to themselves? We’d all be in trouble.

        How are we to witness if we fear being tainted by all those sinners?

        I guess ‘separatist mentality seems to be something like “i got my salvation, everyone else is on their own. Not my problem.”

        Anyways, just some thoughts. Again if you were being sarcastic, you can ignore this.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Guys, let’s just calm down a second. Clint gave some parameters for what he was talking about:

      “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.

      If you guys get invited to a Christmas kegger, or a Christmas orgy (what kind of family even has THAT on the list of options?), feel free to give a resounding “NO!”, grab your kids, and run for the door like Joseph.

      “Kids, forget the coats! GET IN THE CAR!”

      Clint was talking about stuff on the level of carving a turkey.

      You guys are talking about stuff on the level of carpet bombing Tyson meats.

      • Exactly. I wouldn’t go to a drinking party with or without my kids on Christmas or any other day with family or friends or enemies.

      • Karl Heitman

        Brothers, sarcasm aside, I don’t think it’s reasonable or fair to say it’s annoying for Christians to have set standards when visiting unsaved relatives. For example, if my dad excessively swears in front of my young children, I’d respectfully ask him to refrain. Knowing my dad, this would certainly do more than annoy him. If he refused, then it would not be violating Paul’s word to change our holiday plans. To me, this post didn’t leave room for beleivers to have those kinds of standards. If we’re holy people, we will be different and that usually annoys people. In my experience, simply refusing to take a shot when everyone else is comes across in a “holier-than-thou” way (whatever that means). When people think we’re annoying because of our holiness, I tend to think that’s a good thing. Merry Christmas!

        • Lyndon Unger

          Of course you have standards.

          Nobody is challenging that Karl.

          I think Clint isn’t even talking to someone in your category. If your parents are dropping bombs at the dinner table, or telling racist jokes, or making sexual innuendos about the latest neice to hit puberty, that’s not really the category that Clint is in.

          Think of it more like the person who picks a fight at Christmas dinner because someone else in the family attends a church that does yoga.

          That level of stuff we should expect and endure.

          People gushing over “Heaven is for Real” we should expect.

          People using “uncouth” language we should expect.

          People bragging, being rude, smoking outside on the porch, etc.

          The stuff that is on the list that scripture explicitly says will prevent a person from inheriting the kingdom of Heaven…that stuff isn’t even on the table.

          I have friends who have families that finish Christmas dinner with a crack pipe. They simply tell their folks that they’re not coming to Christmas because they literally don’t want their kids doing crack with grandma. The families are horribly offended and don’t refrain from voicing how utterly judged they feel.

          I encourage those friends with Matthew 10:34-37:

          “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever
          loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever
          loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

        • Merry

          Man, if this had been your first comment, there wouldn’t have been any confusion. Thanks for communicating in a clearer manner.

          seems your point of issue is perhaps not understanding the
          “holier-than-thou” response to swearing and such…? Which is what I
          believe this post is mainly tackling. It’s not about not having
          standards or getting wishy washy morals around Christmas time.

          about what manner in which we handle excessive swearing and the like.
          Using your example, giving your dad one (or whatever) warning that if he
          swears in front of his young grandchildren, he will be deprived of
          their further company…telling him you won’t stand for your young
          children to listen to that kind of language is not wrong, nor was the
          author saying it was.

          It’s when believers treat
          unbelievers’ sin as if they are the judge, when Christians act like the
          swearing is the worst problem in their family’s life (instead of the
          fact that they don’t trust in Christ for salvation) that has believers
          looking holier-than-thou. I think the annoyance comes (and rightly so)
          when we hold up OUR standard as the Right One, instead of communicating
          that we live according to God’s standards and not our own.

          believers are not their final authority, nor is our aversion to, say,
          swearing based on our lily-white, fragile, Christian ears. It’s because
          God is our, and their, final authority.

          believe the author of this post, and probably you as well, Karl, would
          agree: let’s annoy our unbelieving family like crazy…with the Gospel,
          instead of prissy Christianese moral allergies.

      • grat

        Lyndon – This article has too many “extreme strawmen”, and seems a bit vindictive and unloving written by a Pastor who is probably surrounded by Christians most of the time. I personally want to be in a Christ honoring environment on the most special day of the year, and it is not “fair” to ridicule Christians who want to lead their family in this direction. I also believe most true Christians do not have a “holier than thou” reason for wanting to be separate on Christmas from the sins of the world, and even if they did I personally believe it is better to ere on this side of the line that the other.

  • Chaylon

    The Author has a good point however it’s just not that easy and it’s just not that simple. I strongly think that unless you are prepared to compromise on some levels they are still going to think you’re a sanctimonious prick. There are some family situations and some venues in which it would be a blessing to the believing family not to be re-invited.

  • Grant

    I am going to have to disagree with the tone of this post. We attended family Christmas Eve gatherings where the central focus was Santa coming (another relative dressed up), my 2,3,4 yr old boys were afraid of this ritual and would run and hide. Having tried it for a couple yrs. and giving up we decided to leave the gathering before the Santa ritual, which then led to a physical confrontation, which led to us being asked not to attend any longer. Obviously there deeper issues here, but there comes a time when it where a Christian must avoid strife, I personally want to be around people who love God and want to Glorify him on the celebration of his birth, we can wallow in the mud the other 364 days of the year.

  • MR

    Clint,I really enjoyed this post, and I think the majority of the comments were from people that were reading a completely different post than what I read. Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

    • Thanks MR. I happened to be on vacation and unable to check the comments as much as I usually do…and kinda glad it worked out that way!