Culture, Legalism, and Christmas Morning

Eleven years ago, our current building was just finishing construction. While we tried to keep our eyes on ministry around us, “the big move” was obviously a distraction as well. We were receiving nearly week to week updates on when the building would be completed and when we could potentially move in. I remember sitting in a staff meeting in the basement of Fair Street when we started looking ahead at our calendar and it hit us:

Oh no. Christmas is on a Sunday this year. What do we do?


We weren’t alone in that question for it almost immediately became a conversation for Christian radio, podcasts and even blogs. It seemed like two camps were seeking to pull churches in opposite directions. “Jesus should come before family, gifts and figgy pudding. If you are not at church you are caving to idolatry!” one voice would shout. The other side would respond, “What’s one week out of 52? Couldn’t we send a positive message about family by encouraging people to stay home? Besides, we don’t want to be a legalist.”

Ultimately, we decided to go ahead and hold services. I’m so glad we did. In fact, that experience meant that it wasn’t even a debate for our elders when this Christmas Sunday rolled around. We are having our Christmas Eve service at 7 pm and Christmas morning service at 10 am. These are two different services entirely. But now the ball is in your court, and I want to encourage you to consider what you plan to do this Sunday, but also to consider the issue of creating culture in your home.

First off, let’s get the silly “legalism” argument out of the way. Unless the elders stated, “Righteousness will be made available by attending church on Christmas day,” it is not legalism that we stick to our church calendar. In fact, it’s not legalistic for us to also say we really hope you will consider coming, even making sacrifices to family tradition and comfort to do so. I’m not asking you to reconsider your holiday plans out of legalism or guilt, I want you to consider “culture.”

Establishing Culture in your home

Parents, one of your biggest jobs is to establish the culture of your home. This is difficult to describe but critical to the home. In fact, it’s unavoidable. You are creating a culture in your home. The question becomes, “What kind of culture are you establishing?” With this in mind, my challenge goes beyond, “Will you come to church on Christmas Sunday?” but, “What will your attitude be about coming to church on Christmas Sunday?” Here’s some ways I’d encourage you to think:

  • We can view Christmas Sunday as just one out of fifty-two. What’s the big deal to skip? Or, we can view the gathering of saints as an all-to-rare privilege. We could see each of those gatherings as special and rejoice that on Christmas Day we get to celebrate the gift of being the Body of Christ with one another.
  • We can view Christmas Sunday as an interruption to our to our family traditions or we can see it as an invitation to create new traditions. Looking ahead, the next three Christmas Sundays are 2022, 2033 and 2039. For most of us parents, that means your kids will be in your home for two or three Christmas Sundays. What if we embraced the uniqueness of that tradition, and passed it on to our children (Though it feels rare, it alternates between every six or eleven years.)
  • We can view Christmas as a season, more than just a day on the calendar. One reason I love our more intentional discussion of the Advent Calendar is that it has drawn us into anticipation for weeks. The Incarnation of Christ deserves more pause and reflection than just a day or even week. Will a church service disrupt some Christmas plans and traditions? Probably. But what if you embraced those changes as an opportunity to extend out the celebration!
  • We can view Christmas season as culture shaping rather than tradition interrupting. If your home is like ours, we typically start Christmas morning with a special breakfast. We head into the living room where the gifts are under the tree and I read the Christmas story in Bible. As I read, I feel like the gate at the Kentucky Derby, just barely holding the thoroughbreds back. We say the day is to be about Jesus, pray and then “BANG, they’re off!” and the day just doesn’t feel as much about Christ as I wished. This year, the sacrifice of shifting around all our typical plans may be a way for us to insert a slightly more Christ-centered perspective to our holiday.

These are just a few of my own thoughts. In our home, the question has been asked, “Do we have to go to church on Sunday?” Charity and I both grab ahold of that question and respond, “No, we get to go to church on Sunday.” Sure, it brings an eye roll immediately (and we know it’s a slightly exasperating response, so we don’t even condemn it!), but then we seek to bring our kids along to see the beauty of gathering with the body of Christ to celebrate the fact that Christ took on a physical body for our sake.

I understand that for many, you may not even have a say about what happens on Christmas morning, as grandparents and extended family may be making the decisions for the calendar, where you are on Sunday morning may truly be out of your control. If so, go and rejoice with family. Seek to celebrate Christ in whatever environment you find yourself.

But if you can control your calendar, I’d encourage you to seek to gather with the saints on the Lord’s Day–not because you are legalist and think you’ll be more righteous because you did—but because you are a culture setter, and you want your family to truly rejoice in the gift that God’s grace to us is!

why lifegroups

Church Gathered v. Church Scattered: Why do LIFEgroups exist?

According to Scripture, when we worship on Sundays or get together for other large gatherings, we do something unique that we can’t do in small groups, or even alone. When the Church Gathers, we get a regular reminder that we are part of something larger than ourselves and that we, while struggling with this or that, can offer encouragement and comfort to others and be simultaneously encouraged ourselves. We get a perspective adjustment. While we sit under the preaching of the Word, we are convicted of sin; we find true comfort for our suffering and we experience Spirit-wrought confirmation of our security in Christ. We sing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs to each other and the Lord, and in so doing we give a unique and collective praise back to the One to whom all praise belongs. Our gatherings are glorious to God and encouraging to our souls.

“We believe that we can best begin to encourage one another in our daily walks through meeting once a week in small groups.”

Large gatherings are necessary.

We desire to be a people who willingly submit to the call of Scripture. Therefore, we gather under the Word, with praise on our lips for the glory of the grace of God that Jesus Christ our Lord lavished on us. But if that’s all there is to our grace-fueled walk with Christ, we forsake a huge piece of living under His rule and reign –

Community. Being in the crowd when we gather is glorious, but we can hide easily and find a contrived solace in our attendance. Right before the call to not forsake the gathering together of the church in Hebrews 10, the author says that blood-bought believers should be a people who are also marked by the constant consideration of how to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” We believe that we can best begin to encourage one another in our daily walks through meeting once a week in small groups.

In an attempt to be obedient to the call of Scripture like Hebrews 10, LIFEgroups have become a vital part of Greenville Grace. Not because they are a good program, but because they serve as the primary venue for her members to learn to be the Church Scattered…followers of Christ in their day-to-day living. LIFEgroups enable us to live openly and intentionally in an environment that challenges us to become more like Christ.

Our mission, per Hebrews 10, is simple. Whenever we gather, we do so to stimulate one another to love and good deeds – love that finds its example in Jesus and good deeds that find their motivation in the goodness of the Father to send Him. Faithful exposition of the Word should find us itching in our seats to “work out our faith,” to do something as a result of us being made more like Jesus because of what we’ve heard, processed and believed more deeply.

LIFEgroups are our attempt to create the environment for us to learn to love one another well as we are convicted more and more of the deep, deep love of Jesus for us.

And it sounds wonderful. And simple. And it looks so neat and tidy on this page.

And it is.

But it’s also messy.

It’s messy because you don’t get to always choose who’s in your LIFEgroup…or who isn’t. It’s messy because you don’t get to choose how often they come to group…or don’t. It’s messy because you don’t get to choose how much your group members share…or don’t. It’s messy because you don’t get to choose the circumstances that members of your group come from, find themselves in, or seem to be putting themselves in.

And, quite honestly, this messiness of life is what we think makes LIFEgroups work…and enables, even forces them, to declare the glory of God as found in Christ.

We believe that the Gospel is best preached in an environment that seeks discipleship.

And discipleship is, well…messy.

If we are honest with ourselves, it takes a work of God within us to enable us to get along with others. We need a bigger mission, a bigger plan and a bigger goal to bring us together for a common purpose. We desperately need Jesus’ work on our behalf and the ensuing mission of God to make our being the Church Gathered or the Church Scattered have meaning, be deep, or have any potency in us or our context. Like God declared once and for all through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, and like Jesus’ intercessory ministry at the right hand of the Father declares from heaven right now; to be in meaningful relationships takes work. God work. Human work. Hard work. Sweaty work. Tear-filled work. Repetitive work. Soul tearing work. Sacrificial work. Hopeful work. Joy-filled work. Soul mending work. Redeeming work. This is our heartbeat. If Christ is our love and our savior, then He is both our example AND our hope. We don’t gather expecting to be mired in our mess, but redeemed from it.

“We believe that the Gospel is best preached in an environment that seeks discipleship.”

John 1 tells us that Christ is “the Word become flesh”. When we gather as His people, we have Him in our midst…not in a mystical way, but in a very precise and practical way. We have His Word. We should want, then, because we know that we need Him, to have His Word be central in our gathering and scattering. John is declaring in John 1 that when God’s people gather, God comes with them. We don’t need to invite Him. We already have Him. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us.

So, with the Word of God central, we gather. And we scatter.

And as we do these two things around the message and person of His Word, under the direction of the Spirit, we are constantly considering how to stimulate each other on to love and good deeds that result in God getting more glory. This is our intention. Our heartbeat. The thing that we must not lose.

To put it more succinctly: We willingly live among one other, under the sole authority of the Word of God, while comforting, convicting and confirming each other as we joyfully participate in God’s mission.

why lifegroups

Why LIFEgroups? We need each other.

We’ve invited several of our own to post on the blog from the prompt, “Why LIFEgroups?” We hope you enjoy their reflections and are driven to reflect on God’s goodness to you as well. Thanks for reading.

It had been quite the day. I don’t remember the details of it all but my sinful heart collided with the sin of my children and the colossal mess that resulted left me wishing for a restart. We were taking a short drive to meet family for dinner and as my husband drove, I sat in the passenger’s seat contemplating. “Do you ever wish you could just press a button and restart?” I asked the question aloud but my mind was not yet done. I began to play out that scenario in my mind and if the feeling about my current reality was discouragement and failure and hopelessness, the result of letting my mind wander left me just as discouraged and just as hopeless, if not more so. You see, I knew that if I were able, at that very moment, to press a restart button on my life, or even on my day, I would still mess it up. I would still fall far short of perfect or right, far short of even good. Read more

why lifegroups

Why LIFEgroups? Encouragement, Prayer and Accountability.

We’ve invited several of our own to post on the blog from the prompt, “Why LIFEgroups?” We hope you enjoy their reflections and are driven to reflect on God’s goodness to you as well. Thanks for reading.

The Greenville Grace website states that “LIFEgroups are our weekly small group ministry… the Church is to be about encouraging one another, praying for one another, holding one another accountable, sharing with one another, loving one another, teaching one another (and much, much more).” It goes on to note that because it’s simply not possible to meet all these goals solely by participating in a large assembly, at least not as deeply as God surely desires, LIFEgroups exist to help us meet the goals of a healthy, thriving local body of Christ—to promote praying thoughtfully for our fellow group members, to stimulate careful, collaborative study of the Word, to help us care for one another in immediate and tangible ways, and to allow for frequent and intimate fellowship with each other. Read more

white privilege

White Privilege: Thoughts on the recent shootings by law enforcement officers

No one should have to worry about getting shot and killed because of a non-violent crime (especially traffic violations).

That I’ve never ever worried my life was in danger when I’ve been pulled over, and others do, speaks of “white privilege.” It’s only reality for some of us to recognize we don’t face the same obstacles as some of our brothers and sisters around us.

However, to feel “white guilt” is not healthy either. It’s not wrong that a ticket is your greatest fear during a traffic stop. We should not long for their danger to be applied to all of us. We should long for others to experience our safety. Our desire should be for justice. Our hearts should long for any person of any color to be treated justly and as an image bearer of God. Read more

15 More Songs to Invest In

Last year, we introduced a list of 26 songs that would be good to spend some money on. That list represented the most used songs during the period stretching from April of 2014 to April of 2015. Well, it is now May of 2016 and it would make sense to add an addendum to that list: What songs have found themselves among the most used at Greenville Grace in 2016. Read more

mobile apps

Apps That Can Aid Spiritual Growth

Smartphones. We seemingly all have them now, don’t we? Sometimes they feel like more hindrance than help in regards to the hectic pace of our spiritual lives. Doesn’t it seem impossible to finish a conversation without getting a call or receiving a text?

But let me introduce you to a revolutionary concept—your phone can aid your spiritual development in some ways, too. It doesn’t have to just be a distraction, it can act as a stimulus to spiritual growth. Read more


Joy in the Mess: A Blessed Life – Charity Wright

We’ve invited three of our own to post on the blog from the prompt, “what does a blessed life look like?” We hope you enjoy their reflections and are driven to reflect on God’s goodness to you as well. Thanks for reading.

It was 8:15 on a school morning. We were running behind, as usual. I sat my first grade daughter, Rachel, down (again) at the kitchen table, barely holding it together as I tried to impress upon her the urgency of finishing the last couple of math problems from her homework assignment, due that day. The eggs were burning. The baby was crying. My 4-year-old son was having a meltdown because he’d stepped in something (probably his own pee) and gotten his socks wet. And the clock was ticking. I turned around to see Rachel hunched over what I thought was her Math homework, only to find that she had dumped out a box of crayons, and was intently coloring – coloring! – on what looked like a little pile of scrap paper. Read more

a blessed life

Wealth, Fame, and Accolades: A Blessed Life – Tim Swensen

We’ve invited three of our own to post on the blog from the prompt, “what does a blessed life look like?” We hope you enjoy their reflections and are driven to reflect on God’s goodness to you as well. Thanks for reading.

I was in a grocery store recently, idling in the check-out line with my chewing gum, refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough, and—owing to the legacy of B.F. Skinner and my dustbowl, empiricist education in the finer points of operant conditioning—a package of iTunes cards, today’s ultimate specimen of a secondary reinforcer. As I stood in line, I spied a popular weekly magazine with a photo of a highly acclaimed actor splashed across its cover, grinning like a feline who’d just consumed one of the planet’s feathered creatures. A millionaire several times over, dozens of awards keeping vigil on his mantel, the subject of both critical and popular renown, “I FEEL BLESSED!” he proclaimed. Read more

artificial lights

Artificial Lights: A Blessed Life – Libby Lehman

We’ve invited three of our own to post on the blog from the prompt, “what does a blessed life look like?” We hope you enjoy their reflections and are driven to reflect on God’s goodness to you as well. Thanks for reading.

Manchester Road is one of bustle and brightness, and it led us straight to the entrance of our St. Louis apartment. It has four lanes, is dotted with stoplights, and lined on both sides with businesses and restaurants and such, all competing for attention with their signs and colors and lights. Our daily routine would take us mostly to school and work, each of these requiring the most travel on none other than Manchester Road. Between the stoplights, the businesses, the lights of the other cars, and street lamps, there was no lack of bright lights, even at night. It was constant.

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