Advent is About Jesus


Now that Thanksgiving is over and this is the first Sunday of Advent, we are officially singing, thinking, talking and shopping for Christmas.

Some people have noticed that many retail establishments busted out the Christmas stuff back in October and lamented it the another example of commericialism at work. While this may be true, it’s also true that Christmas can’t be contained on December 25th or even in the 12 Days of Christmas. We only stop officially celebrating because you have to draw the line somewhere.

Many Christians are familiar with the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible reading, giving, fasting and the like. The season of Advent and Christmas is a prime opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the fundamental biblical discipline of joy. There’s more than one reason to get the Christmas stuff out early.

You heard (or if you didn’t hear) our announcement about resources for making Advent significant and festive. We would never require anyone to observe this season, but this is a time when our culture still has a remnant of traditions driven by biblical truth. It’s lawful and we find it helpful. Observing Advent, celebrating in small ways to get in shape for Christmas, is not adding a burden to an already hectic season. It’s being thoughtful and intentional to remember and celebrate the rich truths of the incarnation of the eternal Word of God.

So consider for yourself and your family how you will incarnate the wonder of Jesus being born for sinners, for all the Bible gives us to ponder and enjoy. The singular focus of Advent is Jesus. Focusing on Him never allows us to ignore anything else that matters. He is the answer to all of our problems, born to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

A Day at a Time


One of the things God gives us is enough troubles of our own. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrrow because that is what tomorrow is for: “33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:33-34).

These should be the most liberating words to us. We’re not allowed to worry about what might come. This of course doesn’t forbid us from being prudent, buying insurance, and having a plan. But it does forbid us from worrying.

If Jesus forbids us from worrying about our own troubles, how much more should we not worry about the troubles of others? If we can’t see what’s ahead on our own path, how much less can we see what’s ahead of others? If we don’t even have enough information about ourselves, we certainly can’t plot a course for others.

When we follow Christ and discipline our thoughts and actions, the surprising result is that we are ready for what comes. When Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing but faith in God, they found out that God provided for them, and that was why He sent them out with nothing. God teaches us over and over that we are not in control of our own lives much less the lives of others, and when we embrace that truth, and cheerfully acknowledge that He is in control, we have peace and wisdom for what to do.

God the Father

When we think of the Fatherhood of God, it’s important not to make Him in our image. God is not our Father because He is like an earthly father. He is not our Father because He became one at some point, or when Jesus took on flesh and became His incarnate Son.

No, Scripture teaches us that the first person of the Trinity, the Father has always been the Father because the Son is eternally begotten.

Malachi 1:6 says, “A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor?” In Ephesians Paul writes, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).

All Fatherhood, (Gr. Patria), comes from the Father of Jesus Christ. As we see our culture disintegrating around us, at the very center of our troubles is our disdain for our God and Father, and therefore for fatherhood that derives from Him.

At the end of Malachi, we have this solemn warning and promise: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:4-5).

When we turn our hearts to our fathers, first we honor them for that fact that God gave them to us. They bear a noble office, and we salute the uniform regardless of what they have done or not done. Second, we honor the ways they imitate God the Father, and we imitate them as far as we can. The first kind of honor kills all resentment. You can’t turn your heart to your earthly father without first turning it to your Heavenly Father, and to turn to Him requires us to forgive the way we’ve been forgiven. The second kind of honor, or expression of honor, fosters gratitude and holiness.

God our Father gave His own Son that we might become His children, and so that we would be partakers of their divine life of the Trinity. But we must turn our hearts to Him.

A Constant Battle

If we want to thrive in our faith and continue to grow in God’s grace we must always be engaged in a fight against sin. The apostle Peter writes, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

The battles we often face present themselves as coming from outside of us. Christians have identified our three enemies as the world, the flesh, and the devil. It’s easier to see our exterior enemies and focus on them—the world and the devil. But in order for us to ever be overcome by these, we have to have already given in to the flesh. This why Jesus said that defilements come not from the outside, but from within. Continue reading

Ask, Seek, Knock

Our God is a Father, is the Father, and He has revealed Himself as one who is eager to provide for us. Jesus said, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Lk. 11:9-10).

We are regularly tempted to feel that we don’t have what we need, and certainly not what we want. But not only is God is openhanded, He is also attentive, knowing exactly what we need. A good father is far more aware of what his child needs than he is. How much more is God aware of our needs? Continue reading

Members Whether We Like It or Not

Because the Church is the body of Christ, every member of Jesus is related to all the others. The right pinky toe might be a long way away from the left eardrum, but they are organically and vitally connected.

This is true of Christians whatever our station in life is and whether we even know it or even deny it. Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?” (1 Cor. 12:13-19).

What does it mean and what does it matter that Christians are members of Christ together? It means we really do need each other. Continue reading

A Day To Give

The Church is a hospital for sinners and not a rest home for the saints, as anyone who has been in a church for more than fifteen minutes will be aware.

Many, many people experience this and then burn out. Why go to church, why be part of a community when it’s simply another place to have to deal with people, but these ones by voluntary association? I have to do this at work, why do it here?

If you approach the question like this and run a social financial cost-benefit analysis on what you get for connecting to Jesus’ Body, you will certainly come up short. But if you think this way you will also come up short in everything—in marriage, friendship, at work and in your family.

Of course this not how it actually is, but selfishness in grabbing more for oneself always makes us feel empty, and generosity and obedience always makes us feel full and overflowing. If we run a biblical cost-benefit analysis, we see all the blessing God has poured out upon us. What does it cost to give it away? What do we get if we do? It was given us to in order to love others, and the only way it will be a blessing to us is if we do. This applies to every area of our lives—relational, vocational, emotional, financial, and spiritual. God gives to us so we can give, and when we do He entrusts us with more so we can give again. He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much.

The Church is a hospital for sinners, but it’s also a factory for saints. This is where God works on us, and He never burns out on us. God’s grace is abundant in the body life of His Son. Come to Him and find rest.

Seek First the Kingdom

As you begin the new year, 2016 AD, it’s good to look back and consider the past year, what you’ve done, how God has blessed you, and what to ask Him for and how to serve Him in the new year.

This can be counterproductive endeavor, like asking a kid to list all the things he wants for Christmas next year based on all the things he didn’t get this year. But it doesn’t have to be like that, and it won’t if we dedicate ourselves first to the Lord, and specifically to worshiping Him. Continue reading

Pick Your Battles

In Matthew 17 the disciples came into Capernaum and the tax collectors asked Peter, “Does you Teacher not pay the tax?” Peter said “Yes.” And then we they were in the house Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

The kings of earth ought to take customs and taxes from strangers rather than squeezing their own people, thereby treating sons like strangers. The first century tax code was unjust, but what was Jesus’ point? Why are we told this?

“Nevertheless, lest we offend them…go pay the tax.” Jesus taught his disciples to know that there are some injustices worth fighting for, and some not. And there are some central injustices that when they are defeated, the lesser ones will be worked out. Jesus took this conversation indoors to his apostles, those who would listen, and taught them. He said pay the tax, it’s not worth offending them.

There are many applications from this story, but here are two.

Speaking of injustices, the political presidential season is upon on us and we must remember there are some issues that are bigger than others. There are many injustices but which ones are important, worth praying about, worth talking about? The right to life is important because human beings bear the image of God. This issue is front and center and should stay there. As you think about issues and candidates, let God’s Word inform your priorities.

And a second application on more personal level, there are many sins in the lives of those around us, and God tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Most things are not worth bringing up, but worth covering in love just like God does for us. Where would we be if He didn’t? So let go of what isn’t important, challenge graciously what is important for the other person’s sake, and forgive as you have been forgiven.

The Called Out

As the church we must always remember that we are God’s summoned people. We are the ekklesia, the called out ones, drawn to the Father through the Son by the Spirit in relationship. As one big family we are brought together each week on the Lord’s Day to be renewed and blessed.

What we do in gathered worship is not like the Kiwanas or any voluntary association where we decided to have a meeting and therefore could decide to cancel it or not show up because we found something better to do. This doesn’t mean God calls us to meet with him against our will; if we are loving him, this becomes refreshing and our greatest joy. This is a weekly day of rest, rejoicing, fellowship, and covenant renewal with our creator and redeemer.

But we want to be disciples in worship, and remember that everything we do here is about God, and not us. We’re not the customer, nor are the unchurched. Everyone is welcomed and in fact also called by God to taste and see that he gracious—but God is the customer. He is the one we are trying to please.    Continue reading