I grew up in a big house with a long hall going back to 4 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. At the other end of the house was what we called the family room, or den as it is known in Texas and much of the American south. (And by transplanted southerners or their descendants scattered around the USA)
The family room was where we spent our time watching TV and hanging out. It was also where mom and dad would assembly Christmas presents for we 4 children in the pre-dawn darkness of Christmas morning, spread out in 4 distinct piles with enough separation the presents wouldn’t get mixed up.
Dad had one of those very modern then but now very ancient, home movie cameras with a 3′ (1m) long light bar on which were 4 spot lights that lit up the family room like a nuclear blast. It was the first time I ever heard the phrase, ‘Don’t look into the light’.
We would line up at the end of the hall like Olympic sprinters waiting for the signal to run out into the family room to claim our presents. We knew we were getting close when dad’s spotlights went on because that end of the house suddenly became brighter than daylight.
The little bell and what came next
Mom and dad spent their first 2 years of marriage near Stuttgart, Germany, as back then every male in the US served 2 years in the military, and that is where he was stationed. Somewhere in those 2 years they visited Oberamagau and bought a Nativity Scene, carved by local woodcarvers with figures of Joseph and Mary, shepherds and animals, Wise Men, angel on top, and baby Jesus in a manger.
Mom had also bought a delicate little porcelain bell Christmas tree ornament that was the last thing to go on our tree. We had strict warnings not to touch it as it was very special to her – she alone had the authority to ring the bell, and she only rang it once a year. In her mind, when she rang the bell it signified Christ had come as the Father’s greatest gift to mankind ever, and Christmas had officially begun.
But it served a dual purpose; To 4 young children waiting at the end of the hall, the ringing of that bell was the equivalent of a starter’s pistol at a track and field event – GO! We would race down the hall, well, they raced, being the oldest I was too cool to show excitement like my little brothers and sister.
Having said that I suspect when I get to heaven and ask to see those scenes again, I might find I showed a little more excitement and speed down the hall than I recollect here. And I’m sure the house will seem smaller than I remember it as well.
As we burst into the lit up family room, dad standing to the side recording it all, mom would make us pause and look to the Nativity Scene. That Nativity scene had stood in the weeks before Christmas complete, but for one item. Baby Jesus was no where to be found in the weeks before Christmas, hidden from view as mom explained, hidden from mankind until His birth.
On Christmas morning, before we were allowed to open our presents, all attention turned to mom who presented the carved figure of baby Jesus, and delicately placed Him in the manger – signaling He had now come and is the reason we give presents to one another. With Him placed, we tore into the presents.
Respect, honor, reverence
Many Christians take whatever is labeled the ‘new thing’ God is doing, and play with it like a child on Christmas morning without pausing to reverence what we’ve been given. As you can tell by me writing about this, mom’s annual pause to honor the Greatest Gift is with me today. I inherited that Nativity Scene and bell, and continue the tradition.
Even when we 4 young children tore into our presents, our amazement was founded upon a profound respect and honoring of the True Gift. Where is that foundation among believers today? There can be a balanced mix of awe and respect for God and child-like excitement for what God is doing, just as we held that bell and the placement of baby Jesus in the manger as holy in the midst of a 4-child home on Christmas morning.
When I study my New Testament and their home and relationship-based faith, and compare it to the Institutional Church of today, I find in the early house church of the New Testament, the things of God held a place of respect and esteem, and I see that same reverence for Him in house church today, at least in CWOWI. I can only speak of the grace given to me so I can’t say that about all house churches, nor the different but related ‘simple church’ stream.
Paul wrote NOT to be like children who are tossed to and fro by ‘every wind of teaching’ that comes along. He wrote of order in marriage ‘because of the angels’ who are assigned to guard the couple and an out-of-order marriage hinders their work. He wrote about walking out our salvation with fear and trembling, and of our gatherings together as holy and with purpose. Though others in his time (as ours) handle the Word of God deceitfully. (Ephesians 4:14, I Corinthians 11:10, Philippians 4:12, II Corinthians 4:2)
The word ‘fad’ showed up in America in the early 1800′s and meant a ‘trivial pursuit’. By 1881 it was used to describe the newest fashions. It can be traced to the French, ‘fadaise’, meaning ‘nonsense’ or ‘trivial’, and further back to the Latin ‘fatus’ meaning ‘stupid.’
Today a fad is a passing fancy, a momentary focus groups of people place on something that soon fades into memory. There have been many in Christian circles, always proclaimed to be the cutting edge of what God is doing, yet the Lord must change His mind frequently – a couple years later a new fad emerges and THAT is now proclaimed to be the new and cutting edge of what God is doing, and the previous is forgotten.
Some people focus so much on a fad they stay there, making a little spiritual and mental home in their mind, and keep that pet project the focus of their life. Often, one day they wake up, realize the glitter has faded, and wonder where everyone went. When that happens confusion and questioning often happens, coupled with self-doubt and a sense of either missing it or being deceived. They realize they placed their faith in a person or a movement, rather than the Father and our Lord.
I’m not as old as dirt, but I am old enough to remember adults playing with personal prophecy in the mid-1970′s like children at Christmas, complete with ‘prophets’ eager to sit people in the ‘hot seat’ and give extensive personal prophecies that rambled on but rarely said anything. Some 25 years later the new and modern version of personal prophecy became the latest thing God was doing once again, only to fade from view as it did in the 70′s. Though as with any fad, pockets of people will remain holding on to it for years.
Did the Father use our child-like immaturity, playing with Him as a toy at Christmas? Sure He did, He is the Master at taking anything to turn it to His glory. Were people hurt by the personal prophecy movement? Sure they were, as assuredly as the shiny Christmas toy will be dented and broken by New Year’s Day.
The things of God in vain
The first 2 commands God gave were to honor Him alone as God, and not to use His name in vain. The word ‘vain’ is used for instance, when we work hard for something and nothing comes of it. “It was all in vain.”. We also use it to describe a person so caught up in themselves they become irrelevant and useless. They are vain, or pointless and irrelevant to the real things of life. ‘Vain’ means ‘without purpose’ or ‘pointless’.
A vain use of his name ranges from an exclamation like, ‘Oh my God!’ to saying ‘Praise the Lord’ with no true praise behind it, but just as an empty exclamation. There is a Texas TV teacher I stopped listening to decades ago because of his frequent exclamations of ‘OH MY GOD!’ when he taught – it grieved my spirit so much I just couldn’t continue.
Sometimes when I hear believers use His name in vain or play with the things of Him like a child with new toys at Christmas, I want to shout; “Stop before you open His presents and put Jesus in His rightful place!” How did we get to our current condition of no respect and honor for God in the body of Christ?
That’s next week…until then, blessings,