People can deny Christ, dispute Scripture and ignore prophecy, but they cannot deny, dispute or ignore God’s transformational power in someone’s life. –Tracie Miles, Proverbs 31 Ministries
It’s that time of year again. The time when we gather together with family and friends to give thanks and celebrate the arrival of the baby who would save the world. For many, it’s a joyful time, full of anticipation and excitement. For others, it’s a time of dread, full of anxiety and angst. I’ve found myself on both sides of the holiday conundrum. But I recently read a story about a wise father-in-law and a humble son-in-law and got some insight into how to make even the toughest holiday get-togethers a bit more hopeful.
I come from a mixed bag of nominal Christians, agnostics, and atheists. I never knew what it was to talk about Jesus or the Bible at family gatherings. I grew up with the understanding that you didn’t talk about faith to others. Faith was something private, like your political views. So when my family got together with extended family, there was this strange camaraderie of silence on the important stuff of life. Conversation was lively and fun, but without much substance. Don’t get me wrong, my family was loving and kind. But without acknowledging the greatest Love, there was always something missing, and as a follower of Christ I always felt compelled and constrained. Compelled to speak the truth; yet constrained by opening a Pandora’s box of controversy and anger and offense–good-bye happy holiday memories.
As the years have gone by, and extended family gatherings have become a rare event, I’ve searched for a place of grace. A place where I could use these moments to love my family without neglecting to speak of the greatest Love in my life. Then I read the story of Moses and Jethro and I found some key principles to making the holiday gathering purposeful.
The story of Moses and Jethro is at an odd place in the Bible. It’s directly after the Israelite’s victory over the Amalekites thanks to Moses’s outstretched arms to God (with some help from Aaron and Hur), and God’s declaration that He was the banner over His people. And directly before the declaration of the Mosaic Covenant in Exodus 19. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit set the pause button to give us a glimpse into the daily life of these wandering peoples.
In the story, Jethro reunites Moses with this wife, Jethro’s daughter, and their two sons. We know a few things about Jethro. Besides being Moses’s father-in-law, he is introduced in Exodus 2 and the first verses of Exodus 18 as a priest of Midian. He has seven daughters, and he welcomed a “stranger from a strange land” into his family. We can infer from our interaction with Jethro that he was generous and kind and that he loved Moses. And we can tell from Exodus 18:7 that Moses respected and loved his father-in-law.
As we begin the story, Jethro says he had “heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” (18:1) As Jethro entered the camp, he was warmly welcomed by Moses and they spent the evening catching up on the events of the people of God. Can you imagine that conversation? Moses himself telling the story of the exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. What we do know is after Moses “told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.” Jethro did a few things:
He REJOICED in all the good that the Lord had done to Israel. (v. 9)
He BLESSED the Lord. (v. 10)
He CLAIMED allegiance to the one true God. (v. 11)
He SACRIFICED burnt offerings to God. (v. 12)
When Jethro came to visit Moses, he’d heard of God’s goodness. But after talking to Moses and hearing his story of God’s deliverance, HE KNEW GOD.
So how do we take this phenomenal interaction of Jethro and Moses and translate it to the contemporary holiday table?
Listen closely. James tells us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry. Before Moses spoke of the deliverance of Israel, he asked Jethro about his welfare. He genuinely wanted to hear how his father-in-law was doing. Listening is one of the most tender, compassionate ways we can intentionally love our family.
Speak honestly. Moses spoke freely of God’s deliverance and His goodness. And He didn’t leave out the difficult stuff. When we share our lives as followers of Christ, we often believe we need to sugarcoat our struggles. As if we’re trying to protect God, or make following Him more palatable or pleasing. Truth is, being a follower of Christ isn’t easy. We suffer hardship. We walk through stinky circumstances. Basically, we live a real life. But we also serve a real God who gives us hope in the hard places and replaces despair with peace and sadness with unexplainable joy. When we speak truthfully about our lives and about our God, when we tell our own story of deliverance, then HE gets the glory and HE becomes the focus, not us or our circumstances. And a suffering world needs to hear that there is hope.
Speak gently. 1 Peter 3:15 tells believers to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have, but to share that hope with gentleness and respect. We are not called to badger or argue anyone into the kingdom of God. We are called to honor others above ourselves and consider others better than ourselves. Remembering that a gentle answer turns away wrath is vital for weathering a potentially tempestuous holiday conversation.
Speak boldly. Moses was not afraid to speak of all God had done. One of my biggest obstacles is timidity. I worry that I’m going to offend someone. I’m worried I won’t be able to answer a question or a retaliation. But Paul speaks to this fear and his words have become my constant prayer, “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Ephesians 6:19
My prayer for you and your family, whether you celebrate with a family of Christ followers, or whether you celebrate with a mixed bag of wonderful creations who simply don’t know their Creator yet, is a joy-filled, Christ-focused holiday season. Listen closely, speak honestly, gently, and boldly of all that Jesus has done and is doing for you. The reality of His goodness and His salvation is definitely worth a celebration!!