The Start of the Christmas Season – Ready or not, Here it Comes

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By: Dan Seale

It finally feels a little bit like Christmas to me after participating in one of my favorite holiday traditions, attending the Behold the Lamb of God Concert with Andrew Peterson and friends. Andrew Peterson wrote a beautiful album that tells the story of the coming of Jesus beginning in the Old Testament and working up through the New Testament. At the start of the concert, he read a reflection entitled “A Liturgy to Mark the Start of the Christmas Season” by Douglas Mckelvey.

I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the reflection and invite you to sit down, take a deep breath and read and reflect. Fight letting the busyness overtake you in the weeks to come. Next week, we will talk about the Dark Side of Advent.

“A Liturgy to Mark the Start of the Christmas Season”
From: Every Moment Holy
COPYRIGHT © 2017 | DOUGLAS MCKELVEY

Leader: As we prepare our house for
the coming Christmas season, we would
also prepare our hearts for the returning Christ.

People: You came once for your people,
O Lord, and you will come for us again.

Though there was no room at the inn
to receive you upon your first arrival,
We would prepare you room
here in our hearts
and here in our home,
Lord Christ.

As we decorate and celebrate, we do so
to mark the memory of your redemptive
movement into our broken world, O God.

Our glittering ornaments and
Christmas trees,
Our festive carols, our sumptuous feasts -
By these small tokens we affirm
That something amazing has happened
in time and space
-
that God, on a particular night,
in a particular place, so many years ago,
was born to us, an infant King,
our Prince of Peace.

Our wreaths and ribbons and colored
lights, our giving of gifts, our parties with
friends - these have never been ends in
themselves.
They are but small ways in which
we repeat that sounding joy first
proclaimed by angels int he skies near
Bethlehem.

In view of such great tidings of love
announced to us, and to all people,
how can we not be moved to praise and
celebration in this Christmas season?
As we decorate our tree, and as we
feast and laugh and sing together,
we are rehearsing our coming joy!
We are making ready to receive the one
who has already,with open arms,
received us!
We would prepare you room
here in our hearts
and here in our home,
Lord Christ.

Now we celebrate your first coming,
Immanuel, even as we long for your
return.
O Prince of Peace, our elder brother,
return soon. We miss you so!

Amen.

Anxiety and the Incarnation

Anxiety and the Incarnation

My four year old insists that I sing “Away in a Manger” every evening before bed. Yes, every evening...even in July. It actually makes a very sweet lullaby. As a kid, I loved Christmas carols and taught myself all the verses to many of them. The lesser-known second and third verses of “Away in a Manger” highlight God's presence with us. As I sing them nightly in the dim quiet, the words have comforted my soul through various trials and anxieties.

Advent Season

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By: Rachel Rogers

Do you feel bombarded this time of year by pictures of happy families in matching sweaters, spending quality time in beautifully decorated homes? My own experience of the holiday season tends to include fewer matching sweaters and more hectic moments searching for the “right” gift, with my cluttered tree in the background. (Have you ever noticed there are never slightly dilapidated homemade ornaments on the trees in those pictures? Never.) Just the word “Christmas” tends to bring a cacophony of emotions in me ranging from excitement to dread, usually landing on overwhelmed. I find myself longing for everything to slow down, for time to enjoy the more meaningful parts of the season.

One of my favorite Christmas decorations to unpack is the Advent wreath. As I put it on our table, it comforts me that in December our hectic and cluttered family will slow down for just a minute (on most days), as we light a candle and read a few verses to remind ourselves what the season is really all about: Jesus, God’s promised One, coming to earth as a baby, the fulfillment of so many prophecies. These family advent devotion times give us some perspective back when we are tempted to get caught up in the shiny, shallow beauty around us.

Maybe you, like us, struggle to do regular family devotions (just setting aside time to read and learn from the Bible as a family). For our family, it is usually just plain hard to work it into our schedule. May I suggest that the Advent season is a great time to start? I get it: the last thing anyone needs is one.more.thing. on their holiday “To Do” list. But if you’re going to start reading the Christmas story is a beautiful starting place. And if you actually pull off reading regularly during the holiday season, how much more possible does it seem to keep it up after the holidays?!

“Advent” is simply the weeks leading up to Christmas day. The word literally means “coming” and although the origins of the celebration are unclear, the ideas around it are really beautiful. Timothy Paul Jones says, “The purpose of the (advent) season was to anticipate the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.” God’s people had been waiting for the Promised One for hundreds of years. We remember that when we slow down during the Christmas season. Jesus promised to come again and we are waiting for Him now. I am fairly certain I do not focus on the waiting very often. Sometimes I wonder if we even know how to wait, let alone if we know how to teach our children how to wait. Waiting is hard. Waiting for Christmas is good practice for some of us. Reading God’s Word together and remembering what it all means while we wait, is good too.

(If you want to learn more about “advent,” Timothy Paul Jones has a helpful article, “Why Celebrate Advent?” (Read it here.)

I’d love for your family to join ours this year as we attempt to read through our devotional. There are several advent devotional books or lists of readings out there that make it easy. (See the list at the bottom for starters.) If you decide to incorporate the wreath and candles, I should warn you: my kids fight regularly about whose turn it is to blow them out. Just saying. Cool tradition, lots of arguing. The main thing to remember about all of the little books and lists is that they are just tools. If they work for you, use them. If not, find something that does work. No matter what, don’t give up. Getting into God’s word together is worth fighting for particularly when Christmas can easily be swallowed up in shallow consumerism. So break out the matching sweaters! Put up some beautiful decorations and plan some quality time together! Encourage one another with the grand truth that right in the middle of our dark sins and deep sorrow God took on flesh and came for us.

Here is a short list of Advent devotional books you might want to check out. My family will be using “Good News of Great Joy” again this year. It’s nothing fancy, but it gives us some structure and is easy to use. Typically a devo book will give you a passage of Scripture to read each day and a quick commentary on it to help you connect the ideas. Don’t get bogged down in the “every day” part –if you miss a day, just pick it up when you can. Here are a few ideas to get you started. If you find a great one, let me know.

Good News of Great Joy: A Family Advent Devotional by Beth Meyers

Little Hearts Prepare Him Room By Holly Mackle

All Is Bright: A Devotional Journey to Color Your Way to Christmas by Nancy Guthrie - PCA

Barrs Advent Readings, Covenant Magazine

Communicating Hope Amidst a Sexual Revolution

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Often when I am pushing an article out via this blog I let you know that the article I am sending is not very long with the hopes that you will be willing to read it among all of your other life responsibilities. 

 

This article by Sam Allberry is long - well, at least significantly longer than most I recommend. It needs to be long for it addresses significant issues in our culture regarding sexuality with grace. Unfortunately, I find many of the things written by Christians on the topic of sexuality to be lacking in clarity, deep thought, or grace.  I think you will agree that this article suffers none of those errors even if you disagree with his views. 

 

The first part of the article is written to help Christians understand why the historical Christian views on sexuality have come to be viewed as dangerous to society in Western culture.  I think it’s important for everyone to have a greater understanding of the items he draws to our attention in order to have reasonable conversations around the issue of sexuality itself. 

 

The second half of the article is meant to help Christians think through how they might respond to people with opposing views.  One of my favorite sentences is, “Rebuttal isn’t persuasion.” He directs this towards Christians to say that stating a biblical position is not enough.  He invites Christians to understand the Bible’s sexual ethic as a whole and learn to explain it clearly with humility and love.  I think it’s well worth your time.  You can read it here.

I don’t want Redeemer to be a friendly church….

I don’t want Redeemer to be a friendly church even though guests often say we are.

I want Redeemer to be more than a friendly church.   

I want Redeemer to be a place where people find friendships.

I want us to be a church where people find friends that enrich their lives as we help each other follow Jesus. 

More than that I want people to find family at Redeemer.

Dishonoring Jesus with Political Animosity

By: Brad Rogers

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I see the familiar campaign signs (and the new-to-me unwanted text messages) that tell me it’s time for Americans to get out and vote. I can't remember a mid-term election more passionately charged than this 2018 election. Like many others have lamented, there seems to be so much passion with precious little substance in the political commentaries that I hear and read. This cultural environment provides a meaningful opportunity for those who follow Christ to show light rather than merely heating the fires of passion in the way we discuss politics. In this short excerpt from a lecture he gave on the biblical book of Revelation, New Testament scholar, D.A. Carson, expresses his concern that American Christians are so busy denouncing everyone that we find it difficult to display the compassionate love of Christ. He wrote it in 2005, and I think it’s truer today than it was then. If we follow Christ we ought to speak and act like Christ when we voice our political views (or any other views for that matter); otherwise, we risk people’s readiness to hear us speak about the love of Jesus for all the political vitriol they have witnessed spewing from our mouths or through our keyboards.

Read the article here


Scripture is Relevant

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By: Sean Scott

There are often sermons, seminars, or other talks that I listen to that hit me as profound in the moment, and even hours afterwards, but slip away from memory and I’ll never revisit them again… Does that sound familiar? Have you ever listened to anything and thought to yourself “I need to write these things down because I resonate with this and ought to use this in my daily life!”

This is an exercise of revisiting a series of sermons from our high school conference this past summer. Reverend Russ Whitfield, who is the director of Cross-Cultural advancement for RUF, was the keynote preacher for the RYM Colorado conference, and spent the week exploring various passages to drive home the larger point that “Scripture is Relevant”. Below, I will link to each talk and provide a short overview of what Russ covered in each passage.

At first, this post was simply aimed at providing a series of sermons in case you were interested in the topic “Scripture is Relevant”, but it has been more than that for me as I went back and listened to these talks. I find myself distracted by how busy my days are, wrapped up in work tasks, preparing a baby room at home, spending too much time on twitter, and often letting valuable resources like these fall to the side. Although these sermons are preached to high school students at a summer conference, I find myself scribbling furiously as he energetically explains and illustrates the ways in which God’s word speaks to our daily life as followers of Christ.

Talk 1: Jesus as the Benediction of God (Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

Russ begins by introducing the series “Scripture is Relevant”. As he moves into Hebrews, he makes the point that “God speaks to different people in different situations, but he is always on target. We need to lift our expectations for what God can do in our lives.”

Ultimately, the truth we find in Hebrews 1:1-4 is that the author was most concerned that the audience heard their need of Jesus. Russ shares that “the most relevant thing to their situation is a reminder of the truth of who God is for us in Jesus.”

Have you ever wondered, specifically, how all the events in redemptive history led TO Jesus and all events thereafter only exist in the light of Him? Russ gets into that as well!

Talk 2: True Healing (John 5:1-17)

It’s hard to leave the life we know. It is hard to develop habits of running to Jesus for absolutely everything, and yet we know intellectually we are to do exactly that! This story in John’s gospel about the healing pool at Bethesda represents a story of a man seeking healing in the wrong places. Some of the questions Russ addresses: Where do we run for healing? Is the truth about who Jesus is at odds with who I want Jesus to be? Am I open to actually receiving true healing mercy?

Talk 3: How fear operates, How faith liberates (Isaiah 43)

We live in a culture of fear. And even though we are the people of God, we are susceptible to being governed by fear as well. God meets us with the command “Do not fear” frequently in the Bible, and yet isn’t that far easier said than done?

Isaiah 43:1-7 is a beautiful passage, Russ will walk through this text with the two points: How fear operates, and how faith liberates. This text describes people at a different time, and yet when we dig into the needs and fears they had, it’s like looking in a mirror. This passage is relevant to us, God’s word understands us and communicates truth about him in response.

Talk 4: God’s standard for neighbor love: Everyone, Always (Acts 10:1-35)

Russ goes through this story from Acts and tackles a hard topic. Do Christians lower the standard of neighbor love so that our lives as God’s people don’t have to look much different than the what we’re doing right now? Do we take a step back and look at the decisions we make in order to not be around people that aren’t already like us?

The proposition made is that “We must begin by seeing our own hearts as they are – then we need to see the heart of God as it pertains to this topic.” God brings people from all walks, all cultures, all skin colors to himself. God is building his church and this story is a beautiful picture of how he converts the most unlikely and will use even the churches greatest enemies for that purpose.

Talk 5: How do we respond to the Gospel…Every day? (Mark 4:1-20)

“You have to get in the script in such a way that the script would get into you … The Bible is a script. It is the story of the world, the story of humanity, highs and lows, character development. We learn the kind of character we are meant to become.”

Do we view the Bible as a book of laws? Or a book of advice? In this final sermon from RYM Colorado, Reverend Whitfield takes the parable of the sower and dives into our place in God’s story through two points: Engaging the script, and Embodying the script. We are to respond to the Gospel every day, and our response to the Gospel is the ground on which we’ll have to answer to God one day. What we do with the word of God matters!

Bringing God into Everyday Conversation with Your Children

By: Brad Rogers

If you are a follower of Jesus with children in your home, you may find it difficult to bring the reality of who God is into everyday conversations with your children. I know I struggle in this area.  Sometimes, it is because I don’t want to force a conversation or say the wrong thing (yes, even as a minister I have this fear).  We can also fear the eye rolls and irritated disinterest our children may have.  However, on the flip side if we neglect to do this, we may unwittingly show our youngsters that following Jesus has very little impact in our daily life.  Not only may this lead to our children feeling God is irrelevant, it could also make it easier for them to believe that this God who they have never seen is a fantastical figment of our imaginations as they grow older.   In “Make ‘God talk’ an Everyday Part of Family Life,” Julie Melilli gives some ideas on how to bring the reality of God into everyday conversation with your children.  Admittedly, there are some aspects of her exact words that I think might feel like you are throwing God in your child’s face.  We do always need to be careful not to be overbearing and so exasperate our children.  We certainly don’t want to give them the felt impression that God commands us to be overbearing with our children, which we can do if we are sinfully disrespectful of their personhood (possibly without meaning to or realizing it) while telling them God commands us to be this way.  However, the idea of what she communicates is important.  A fear of being overbearing should not silence Christian parents all together on a topic we claim is of utmost importance in our lives.  As parents this is an important enough matter that we should be willing to be a little unnatural or awkward in bringing God into our conversations with our children until we become more natural.  Julie Melilli’s article could be the kickstart and encouragement you need.  If you are a Christian parent with children in your home, it is a fairly quick read that is worthy of your time.

Read the article here.

 

 

The Foundation of Sin

By: Mike Newkirk

The Bible is full of stories. Stories are a primary vehicle that our Creator God uses to teach us about reality; the realities of who He is and who we are and what will come to pass. No surprise about that assertion. The Apostle Paul told us that in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11.[i] And stories, ours and others, are how we still learn.

One of the most compelling stories I have heard in recent years is the story of Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to belief in Jesus Christ. Dr. Butterfield first wrote her biography, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, in 2012 (expanded version in 2014). She explains why she wrote it:

“I am often asked to share my spiritual journey. People are interested to know what it is like to travel a long journey to Christ. I am not hesitant to oblige. How our lives bear the fruit of Christ’s spilled blood is important. The stories of our lives can serve to encourage and warn others.”[ii]

Her story of conversion from a tenured professor at a major research university and an activist in the LGBTQ community to a follower of Christ, pastor’s wife, and home-schooling mother of four is dramatic and emotional yet logical and intellectual. Since I read her first book, I have had the chance to meet her and hear her story first hand several times. I learn something new each time. In several addresses, paraphrased, she identified her primary offense against God as unbelief not her homosexual lifestyle even though she saw that as sinful too.  And she said this unbelief was driven by her pride. The first and greatest commandment Jesus said was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. [iii]  Jesus also said that if you love me you will keep my commandments.[iv] Therefore, it follows that if I disregard what He has declared about anything then I am not loving Him. I am loving myself. I am following myself. What I want. What I think is acceptable. At that point I am not believing Him but choosing my prideful and arrogant way.

The reason her statement impacted me was the realization that I am the same. One of the passages in the Bible that most frequently comes to my mind is what the man in Mark 9:24 said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And yes, I also resonate with her declaring that at the root, unbelief linked to pride, is the real issue with my sinfulness. It makes me defensive when criticized although He has said He will defend me. It makes me critical of others when He has said to be gracious and loving. It makes me worried and anxious when He has clearly said He will never leave me nor forsake me and works all things for my ultimate good. I could go on.

I would encourage you to get her books or at least her testimony. This YouTube video of one of Dr. Butterfield’s talks captures the essence of her journey. She is a dear sister in Christ who is a gifted and compelling communicator.


 


References

[i] 1 Corinthians 10 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

[ii] Butterfield, Rosaria. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Kindle Locations 74-76). Crown & Covenant Publications. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Matthew 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (ESV)

[iv] John 14:15   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

 

The Radical Inclusiveness of Jesus

By: Mike Newkirk

Recently, in an adult Sunday class at our church, Tim Philips was leading a teaching series on Worship in which he asked the question “Why does the New Testament talk so much about loving one another?” In the context of the discussion, we were looking at Paul writing in Romans 12:9-11 in particular:

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Immediately, my mind went to the Jesus saying in John 13:34:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This was a big deal at the time. Think of the original audience, tribalistic, mainly Jewish (12 tribes there) and they have been called out to be separate from the cultures around them by Yahweh. How dissonant Jesus’ saying must have sounded to them!

But what about the law as elucidated in Leviticus 19:18b?

“..you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”

It is clear that this was a new commandment as recorded by John. A radically new commandment.

Jesus extended the Leviticus passage in two significant ways.

1.       Jesus modified “love your neighbor” to “love one another”.  Who was he speaking to? All those who are His followers. Regardless of their tribes and tongues, we are to love each other who claim Jesus as who he claimed to be. It’s no longer your tribe, your clan but all people, in all places, in all times. In their mind, my neighbor is my tribe, namely, other Jews. Thus, he is saying the New Covenant community is radically inclusive. No longer are we talking about neighbors as our kinsmen or clans, but all who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, as God incarnate. In our modern context you can’t get any more inclusive than this. All are welcome and invited.

2.       Jesus modified from loving “your neighbor as yourself” to “love as I have loved you”. The standard of love has been adjusted from how we love of ourselves to how Jesus has loved us.  Given that Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet and that this foot washing points to his death the implication is that we are willing to lay down our lives for one another in the family of God.

Thus, Jesus’ marching orders to his disciples on the night before he gives his life for them calls them to imitate his sacrificial love and to love each other across national, cultural and racial boundaries to the point of laying down their lives for one another.  In this sense, He was calling for a profound change in their thinking that should be seen as a most radical shift in culture in their day and especially, even now in our day. The defining characteristic of our Christian witness, of our following Jesus, would be our love for each other. Jesus states this unequivocally in verse 35 immediately following:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As a brief aside, we should note that the call to love one another as followers of Jesus does not harm any of Jesus’ teaching that calls his disciples to love those who are not committed to following him.  Jesus calls his followers to love our enemies even as the Father actively loves his own enemies (Matthew 5:44-45).  This teaching has a different focus and purpose.  It’s not that we are to love those who don’t follow Jesus less, it’s that there is a call within the Christian community to love one another more. 

Our love for one another in the community of Jesus followers is paramount for our witness to this world. What would it say to a watching world if those who claim to love Jesus didn’t love and care for one another.  Consider then also what it says to those outside the church when they see inside the church a deep and abiding sacrificial love for one another across racial, cultural, and national boundaries. My prayer is that Redeemer Raleigh would be a place that radically loves. That we are willing to extend ourselves and push our comfort zones to extend the radical love of Jesus to one another. This is a worthy goal. A goal that our King has set for us. And that makes all the difference, because he loves us and prays for us constantly.