Acorns From Oakes

Seeing With Our Father's Eyes

Cold Righteousness

A week ago, I drove past a church sign placed so as to be very prominent to drivers on a state route here in Ohio. The sign said, “Does God command us to celebrate Christmas? No! Colossians 3:17, Galatians 1:6-9, 2 John 9.” The sign also designated the church building as one which housed a church of Christ. I cringed when I read the sign…and again when I saw it was for a church of Christ. When you note the passages attached to this uplifting message, the implication was to place any celebration of Christmas on a par with a soul-destroying false gospel.  

In Luke 18, Jesus has a word for some, who Luke tells us, were confident of their own righteousness. There were two men praying in the temple. The Pharisee was either standing by himself as he prayed, or he was praying about himself. The translations don’t seem to be real clear about that. It looks to me like the context would favor that he was standing by himself. As we listen to his prayer, his aloneness could be because he preferred to be at a distance from people like the publican…or it could be that because of his attitude no one wanted to stand near him. His prayer is not about praising God. He didn’t ask God for anything for himself or for anyone else. He is very obviously enamored with himself. He proceeds to thank God for His wise work in producing one such as himself. He carefully lists his sterling character traits…“I am not a robber. I’m not unjust or an adulterer. And I’m very glad I’m nothing like this publican.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t accuse him of lying. He was telling the truth. He really wasn’t a thief or unjust or adulterous. And he was no tax collector either (his lips would have curled in disgust at the very mention of such a despised person). No…he was not like other men. But let me ask you some questions, “Would you have wanted to meet this Pharisee? Would you want to spend time with him…maybe have a meal with him or invite him to your home to meet your family? If you were in some kind of trouble would you have called on him?” Me neither! Why? In a nutshell, he’s a liar. No, he didn’t lie about what he hadn’t done or about not being like the tax collector. That was true. But his whole life is a lie. He is a lie. He is a lie about what matters most. He is a lie about prayer. He is a lie about people. He is a lie about real relationship with God. He is a lie about salvation. And when he left the temple that day, he was still alone.

Now listen to the plea of the publican/tax collector. Don’t we tread lightly at this man’s prayer? Are you hushed into reverent meditation as you listen? “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And this man, far from being confident of his own righteousness, would not so much as lift his eyes heavenward, as he smites his own breast in penitence over his sins, which were many. This man’s prayer exalts God…the God of amazing grace Who abundantly pardons and devises ways for prodigals to come to their senses and return to Him. This man admits his sinfulness and his need to God. This man reveals his broken heart and his longing for better. Now let me ask you, would you want to meet this man? Invite him home and spend time with him? Would you feel you could call on him if you needed help? Me too! Because his life is true. He has told the truth about God…the truth about his own sins…the truth about righteousness and salvation. He lights the way for other sinners who are willing to be honest also. When the tax collector left the temple that day, he wasn’t alone. There is a form of “righteousness” that is very, very cold. It puts people off while it puts people down. It offers nothing warm…nothing helpful…nothing inviting. It builds walls, not bridges. It’s full of what one doesn’t do and empty of what one should do. In contrast to this, our Lord went about doing good (Acts 10:38a) and helping others. He was Light…not the glare of a spotlight, but the warmth of the candle in the window. 

I personally have enough in my life that is so unlike my Lord that the last thing I need to do is put up a sign to alienate people further. What do you think?

Merry Christmas!

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10 thoughts on “Cold Righteousness

  1. Amen, Dad. I find it way too hard to have a cold righteousness when I get lost in thought over the warm presence of the True Light that gives light to all men coming into the world…whether that be Dec. 25th or any other day of the year.

    • oakesclan on said:

      There is a “form” of righteousness that ends up denying the power of true righteousness. As we grow in the righteousness of our Lord it is reflected in our spirit…in our attitude, example and approachability. At least, so it would seem to me.

  2. Email girl on said:

    I think I’ve told you before about how Christmas was difficult for me due to a traumatic event 2 days before Christmas when I was a teenager. For 23 years I have dreaded Christmas because it always brings up negative ugly memories that I would rather forget. Panic attacks usually set in at the first sign of Christmas sometime in November. The last few years have been really really bad and I thought I would never have a Christmas I could enjoy again. That changed this year though. A lady I know, a mentor of mine, encouraged me starting back in September to let this Christmas be about Jesus. It was awkward at first because I was raised in a church that made a big point to not celebrate Him at Christmas. But it made sense to me that if Jesus makes everything else in my life better, then surely making Him part of my Christmas would make it better too. I bought Christmas ornaments that reminded me of Him. I purchased my first ever nativity set and displayed it in my house. I talked to my children about His birth and His life and shared with them what I was doing. I watched their faces light up just because their mother was ENJOYING Christmas for a change. I’ve had a wonderful Christmas and I can only praise HIM for it. He changed a destructive pattern I’ve been stuck in for 23 years. Jesus is quite literally the “reason for the season” for me this year and I couldn’t be happier about it. Do I still think about those old mindsets that were engrained in me as a child? Sure, it’s hard not to….but they are being erased and THAT is changing my life.

    Merry Christmas Doug…praying God’s blessings on you and yours.

    • oakesclan on said:

      I’m truly thankful for the revival of the joy of Christmas for you, dear sister. I love visualizing the effect of your joy on your children. What a delight! I’m so glad the blessed Lord is making all things new for you. I agree He is the reason for the season…and would only add that He is the reason for every season…for every day…for every good thing or person that comes our way. He is truly our all-in-all! God bless you.

  3. Yea for you e-mail girl! Glad you had a better Christmas this year, so glad.

    You know I always remember my friends talking about Jesus at Christmas time and I was always trying to explain that we were not sure if Jesus was born this time of the year or not. It seemed like our church never celebrated much at Christmas about Jesus. In fact, we tried really hard to avoid it because we thought everyone else was wrong about it. And we always seemed to be trying to tell people you are wrong about this. Then I remember being taught that whenever the world wants to think about Jesus, including Christmas Time, shouldn’t we see that as a good thing. After all they are thinking of Him and Singing Praises to Our King. I remembered we wanted to argue that Jesus wouldn’t have been born in the cold season of the year. Not really an argument worth having.

    Anyway, some of us have come to the conclusion that whenever people in the world stop and worship Him and remember what He did for us, it is GOOD.

    We always thought we had to be so different just to show them we were different and God accepted us more because of that.

    We can always keep learning things better where we don’t have to always stay the distance from people but join them in worshipping Him whenever we can. But people should be worshipping Him everyday in their lives and hope they can learn that in their lives if they don’t know it yet. But keeping people at a distance from us they will never learn.

    We even avoided singing hymns associated with Christmas in our worship. I remember this.

    I believe we should be a people that help people become closer to Our God and give them a chance to do that and not stifle them. Cold righteousness not a good thing at all. Thanks again Doug for pointing this out and refreshing our thinking in this area.

  4. Thanks Doug for your thoughts. I didn’t grow up in churches of Christ so I am somewhat surprised by some of the silliness that passes for interpretation. I enjoy Christmas – Jesus coming into this world. Many of the songs we sing go beyond the birth of Jesus to the purpose of His life and death as well as the resurrection. “We Three Kings” (I know we don’t know how many there were) is a song that explains His purpose including His death, and the last verse (often not song by artists) speaks of the resurrection.
    My view is that since people are at least thinking something about the birth of Christ, we have a great opportunity to draw them into God’s story.

    Considering some of the other songs we sing which often emphasize what “I” do rather than what God does/has done, I find it sad that people think this will influence others. I’ve been fortunate where I am now to preach on the birth of Christ for the last five or six years and to sing the traditional carols. Brethren look forward to the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I am glad.

    The idea that “Christmas” isn’t in scripture, therefore we do not do it ignores the many things that are NOT in the Bible that we do do. When we like it, it is expedient; when we don’t, it is false teaching. Go figure.

    Well have a good New Year and keep the thoughts coming.

    • oakesclan on said:

      Well said, George. With regard to celebrating the birth of Jesus…I see it somewhat similar to David’s joyful, unrestrained dancing about the ark as it was returned. Was he commanded to do that? Of course not. But he could not contain himself. This action doesn’t fit into the category of carelessly going beyond the word of God and adding to doctrine. David didn’t create any doctrine regarding dancing. It was his response to God’s goodness in bringing back the ark and was entirely appropriate for the occasion. It would simply be impossible to legislate all such matters. I appreciate your input, George, very much. A blessed new year to you and all yours.

  5. I’m saddened by cold righteousness and church signs like that. Definitely not the way to draw people to Jesus … but more the opposite. Taking scripture and twisting it to make a point about Christmas is sad. I pray that we as a brotherhood will continue to move away from such foolishness and unchristlike behavior.

    Blessings

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