With our armed services having conducted operations in Iraq and Bosnia not long ago, many of us may be familiar with no-fly zones established to prohibit the aircraft of a belligerent nation from passing through the region. Any planes breaking the no-fly zone could be shot down.
During some of my family recreational maneuvers, we found it necessary to employ similar tactical methods. We declare certain times No-Scold Zones (NSZ). These established durations prohibit overprotective assaults from flying though the airways targeting the buildup of potentially fun activities. At times such force becomes necessary to keep the kill-joy comments at bay. Anyone caught breaking these no-scold zones may be gently shot down according to the terms of the NSZ agreement.
My family isn’t the only place that could benefit from NSZ. We are often too quick to reproach children, students, young people, family, strangers, or even ourselves for what we may consider inappropriate behavior. It can severely damage the joy of our freedom in Christ. Paul explains we should guard against attacks upon our freedom, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1-3). We can easily become obsessed with changing our own behavior, or that of others, to the point that we criticize, nag, rebuke with authority. It can quickly become overkill.
A few verses later, Paul qualifies his statement, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). So, we aren’t free to be selfish. However, the only thing which should continue to enslave us is our love and consideration for others. Paul reminds us, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
The pressure to keep the law often leads to unbalanced attitudes. We begin to focus on preserving the purity of the church and protecting our witness to society. If our crusade produces massive carnage of lifeless souls sucked dry of joy, then so be it. After all, we shout: God will not be mocked! That’s true. He won’t, but we should lighten up. He doesn’t need our help as much as we might think.
We don’t have to relax our standards to relax in the freedom Christ has given us, but sometimes we need a break from protecting God’s law and His reputation. Christ came and died to free us from this obligation.
So why are we so often worried about our righteousness, which is more like not-even-closeness? We forget that through Christ we have the very presence of God.
During their pilgrimage to the promise land, God warned Moses, “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:3). If God remained among His people alongside all of their sinfulness and faithlessness, He would end up consuming them by His holiness. Even God’s own people were just too disgusting for His presence.
That doesn’t bode well for us today. Although we are God’s chosen nation by our faith in Christ, we are no more His people than Israel was. We aren’t any less repulsive either.
In our pride, we think all of our technology, civility, eloquent sermons, beautiful churches, Christian schools, seminaries, well-worded devotions, democracy, charities, etc., make us more acceptable to God. They don’t. They only build up our pride and help us to put more confidence in ourselves. We become tricked into thinking we don’t need to trust in Christ’s death alone for our salvation, sanctification and approval.
Fear not. There is hope. It’s called Christmas!
No amount of pleading from Moses would convince God to remain among His people during their exodus from Egypt, but a few thousand years later that would all change. At just the right time, God was pleased to send His only Son to His people. One of the conditions of this amazing gift was that this boy was to have the name Emanuel, which means God with us. Instead of filling that silent night with all the contemptible reasons God should destroy us by His presence, God chose to come and dwell among us in a way He had never done before. His presence, in the person of His Son, meant peace to us, not annihilation. As a result of the comprehensive forgiveness Jesus secured on the cross, God came to His people and remained. God’s absolute refusal to Moses all those years ago changed to an unconditional “Yes!” in a barn filled with smelly animals in the insignificant town of Bethlehem. Jesus remained with us for a while, accomplished all He came to do, and when it was finished, God remained with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. From that night on, God’s people were no longer contemptible, but would house the very Spirit of God. That is really good news! No wonder all the angles were singing. They knew the hopeless losers, the human race, just had the rules changed in their favor.
Yes, we are still going to be inappropriate at times. We’re going to offend others. We’re going to act immature. We still aren’t very lovable in our sin, but what has changed is how God looks at all of our depravity. He considers us as He considers Jesus. He only knows the perfection of Christ. Our imperfection no longer matters.
Do we continue to teach our children not to offend others and not to be vulgar? Sure. Do we encourage one another to be as righteous as we know how, to stand out as a light to a dark world, to set the standard of our society high and to love others well? Yes, but sometimes, we need to relax and enjoy the unconditional peace we have with God. Christmas is an awesome time for that!
Usually it’s on our family outings that no-scold zones are enforced, although Christmas is a good time for that, too. It’s a good time to remember that although His unapproachable holiness kept Him from being among His people, His love found a way to make it happen. Christmas is all about God’s love which would not be denied.
So maybe, we don’t have to be quite as concerned about keeping others in line or worrying about our witness—at least for one day. We have God’s presence! There’s plenty of time to worry about our righteousness—or the lack of it—next year. If any day should be a no-scold zone, Christmas Day should! (I believe He wanted me to remind you of this.)