Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What is Christmas All About? Understanding Advent

The Question.

"What IS Christmas all about?" That is the question I never asked which God brought to bear on my heart and mind about a few years ago.  It's not that I did not know the basic Christmas story that was revealed to me.  I simply had not thought of it from a perspective that moved beyond the manger.  Others don't know the story at all or have any idea that there is a different perspective either.

My Exposure.

I grew up Southern Baptist.  From there I was associated with a non-denominational church for the last nineteen years.  In neither of these environments was Advent or Lent something that was practiced or taught as a theme throughout the holiday seasons.  At least not at the Southern Baptist churches I remember.

It is important to note that I am not saying this in order to insult or slight those ministries in any way. I have learned from both of these ministries, the first of which, my father was the pastor.  While I believe that this perspective is important, it does not necessarily have to be spelled out at Christmas time every year.  It really needs to be taught the whole year through.  I have since been blessed to become a part of another church family which does draw attention to the Advent season. With that said, it is the seasonal practice of Advent which caused me to think more deeply. This is why I felt it was important to flesh out thoughts about it here.  

Advent seems to be one of those seasonal faith themes that is practiced more by some churches than others.  It does not seem fair to narrow it down by denomination because I am using a wonderful Advent app on my Ipod that is based on the Advent curriculum from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. This church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is also being promoted by The Gospel Project website which is a multi-denominational organization.  I say all of that only to give some background as to my experience and exposure to this faith based, seasonal celebration.

Other protestant denominations such as Presbyterian and Methodist seem to keep Advent as part of their church calendar celebrations.  I believe Roman Catholicism does as well.  Whether they all give it the same weight or not I do not know.  What I do know is that Advent, when properly understood, should paint a much larger scale picture than just a baby in a manger.  For some, this is the sum of what they think about when it comes to Christ and Christmas.


The word Advent means "to arrive" or "coming".  As I am learning, Advent is a time of the year, if done right, that ties the story of the birth of Christ into the entire historical narrative of redemption in the bible.  In fact, many call the return of Christ the "second advent" or "second coming" because it will be the final "arrival" which consummates the story and brings all of His children home.

I have learned much about this narrative and the importance of understanding it properly.  The story of our redemption bought by Christ's perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection runs from Genesis to Revelation.

However, I had never considered the ways in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus into this world as it's own little moment, without ensuring that we are remembering and sharing with others it's place in the grand scheme of redemptive history.  This was a surprise to me.  I had never really thought about it.  Partially, because it is not something I am accustomed to hearing every year at Christmas.  So I figured, if I have been in church all of my life and had not properly thought through this truth and it's application, perhaps there are others.

The Greater Question.

The fact is that Advent is the answer to the question, "What is Christmas all about?"  So if someone asks the question, can you answer it?  Greater still the question should be, will you tell them even if they don't ask?  Will you start the conversation?  What will you tell them?

The Answer

The answer to this question, "What is Christmas all about?" should never simply be, "It's about the birth of Jesus."  Yet this is the typical understanding and response.  While it is true, it is incomplete. 

The answer should be that Christmas is about the coming of a Messiah, a deliverer, a rescuer.  This then should prompt the questions, "What's a Messiah?"  "Why do I need a deliverer?"  "What do I need to be rescued from?"  If they don't ask those questions, we should suggest them.  Then we can answer them.

There are many verses and ideas that are involved in this answer.  If it is being taught or studied through over the month of December they should all be meditated on.  

This Advent app is a great way to do that.  

The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent - LifeWay Reader

It has an introduction that fleshes out the plot.  It then has six parts that are broken down like this: 

1.) the promise of His coming, 2.) the promise of His birth, 3.) the promise of His life,  4.) the promise of His death,  5.) the promise of His resurrection, and 6.) the promise of His eternal reign.  

Then an epilogue of promises kept.  All of these promises are crucial to the overarching historical narrative of the story of redemption. 

Advent as Evangelism

Now, if we are in general conversation and this topic comes up do we need a six point response?  Of course not.  However, it is a prime opportunity for a basic gospel presentation in which the birth of Jesus is included.  For example:

"This is what Christmas is all about.  The creator of the universe created man in his own image to fellowship with him, that man might glorify the name of Almighty God and enjoy Him forever.  God blessed man and gave him the authority to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.  

His instructions of what not to do were minimal.  In spite of these instructions, Man was deceived by the evil one and disobeyed God.  This brought the curse of sin, death, and destruction into the world to be experienced by all of creation.  

However, from the beginning God knew this would happen and had already put in place a plan of redemption that would defeat the curse of sin.  God's plan was His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.  

Throughout the Old Testament, God provides prophecies about the coming of His Son.  This is known as the first Advent.  His Son would be known as the Messiah.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  God's son, Jesus Christ, conceived of the Holy Spirit, would be born of a virgin and live a perfect life of obedience to God, being both fully man and fully God.  

He would be a righteous branch springing up from a broken or cut down tree.  He would not be esteemed.  He would be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief eventually being crucified by His very own people, the Jews.  He would die on a cross, taking the punishment for and removing the guilt of, the sins of all who would believe.(Isaiah 53)  

But on the third day, Jesus would be risen from the dead by the power of God's Spirit, thus defeating death and making His righteousness available to all who would believe.  After a little more time with His disciples, Jesus would ascend to the right hand of the Father and there He would remain, praying for His people and directing the Holy Spirit whom He would send as our comforter and helper.  

One day, He will return again.  This is the second Advent.  On that day He will complete the story. He will destroy the evil one and every consequence of sin will be wiped away as the new heaven and the new earth are created.  He will bring all of those whom have put their faith in Christ to reign with Him forever in glorious perfection and endless worship."

Only By God's Grace

Or something like that.  It doesn't have to be quite that detailed in order to get the point across.  But wouldn't it be awesome to have such a comfortable handle on the basics of the redemptive narrative, from beginning to end, that you could do that.  What I just wrote is maybe a minute or two worth of explanation.  I just wrote that off the top of my head.  I don't tell you that to brag.  It is certainly not perfect.  I tell you that to say that I am better at writing it, than saying it out loud and I could not possibly give you all the scripture references for that little quote from memory.  But, there is something exhilarating about being able to write something like that down.  Because I know it means that this story is really getting on the inside of me. 

That is humbling, because I know it is all of grace.  God has saved me and God is helping me to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus.  It is also a thrilling adventure in which I play a part.

It is like being on a boat, on which I have to work. Sometimes I have to row hard.  Sometimes I have to work a little to get the sails up and then I get to relax a little as the wind carries me along.  Sometimes there are sunny days, sometimes there are stormy seas.   However, all the while God is giving me strength to work and is keeping me safe for eternity.  He is ever at the helm, navigating and steering my life where He wants it to go.(Philippians 2:12-13, Psalm 37:23) 

You Can Do It Too

I want to encourage you to consider this.  1 Peter 3:15 says, "But in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." 

Consider making Christmas, not only about Jesus' coming as a baby, but that you would take this season as an opportunity to consider the entire story of what the Holy Trinity has done for us in this grand narrative.  Be ready to have genuine, knowledgeable conversation about this season which draws the Old and New Testaments together.  Be ready to make known the awesome plan of redemption that God had in place from before time began and glorify Him for it.(Ephesians 1:3-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10)

Remember, by our time table, we think of what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did, are still doing, and are going to do.  By God's time table, it is already finished.  From beginning to end, the story has been told.

Because of this we have a great hope that carries us through every difficult time with joy and drives us to share this awesome story with a lost and dying world.  We do this hoping that many of them may come to possess this same great hope and share this gospel with that same joy!

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Vote Your Conscience And Pray Like Crazy

Hello Everyone!

It's been a while.  Life has not made writing regularly an easy thing to do this year.  I don't know if anyone misses my musings and challenges but I do miss writing and having the occasional dialogue in response.  So why today and what am I about to say with a title like the one I have given this post?

Believe it or not, I am not planning to say a lot all things considered, because so much has already been said.  For certain this has been one of the most unusual election cycles this country has ever seen.  It has definitely been historic.  It fascinates me to see a country so divided regarding the candidates that are available to choose from and yet so united, in many ways, regarding how confounded we are as to how we got the choices we have and how unhappy we are to have them.

I have pretty much summed up my thoughts in the title, but I will flesh them out just a little here and leave it alone.  After all, it will not be long until the votes are in and we have someone with whom to deal with as President of the United States presumably for the next four years; barring impeachment or heaven forbid....assassination.

Are You Gonna Tell Us How To Vote?

Image result for pics of hillary clinton and donald trump

Absolutely not!  At least not in any certain terms.  There have been more than enough opinion pieces written from both Christian and secular authors suggesting the who and why of our voting choices.  There has been judgement galore and mud-slinging has been at an all time high; not just between candidates, but between the voting public.  Nasty doesn't begin to describe it.

We are a little under a week out from Election Day and early voting has already begun.  If you don't have some idea who you will be voting for on the presidential ticket by now, it is not likely that anything I say will affect you.  And if you have made up your mind, I am not convinced that I will be able to change it.  Anyone who wants to make an informed decision has all that they need to work with.

No, I will not tell you who to vote for but I will strongly suggest THAT you vote.  As my Pastor said Sunday, 
"even if you leave the top of the ticket blank and don't vote for a presidential candidate, there are many other important positions on the ballot that need your vote."  
 I too believe that it is our right and responsibility, as Christians especially, to play a role in the political aspect of our country. Personally, I hold the opinion that a third-party vote or no vote at all is still a vote for someone and is not the most effective way to vote.

However, you will find no judgement here, no matter what you decide.  My humble suggestion is that you vote and then PRAY!!

I Will Tell You To Pray!

Image result for pics of prayer
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!!!  Pray like the dickens....for BOTH candidates.  One of the reasons that I am writing this now is that I believe the church in general has dropped the ball in praying for their leaders and candidates across the board and I don't want anyone to be able to say that I am suggesting prayer only because a particular candidate was elected. Regardless of who you voted for or who wins, the President Elect and the conceding candidate still need our prayers.

The bible teaches us two things for sure regarding ruling leaders, government in general and how our approach to them should look.

1.) Government and it's leaders are appointed by God and were created and given to us for our good.  We are to respect, honor and obey them.  For example, Romans 13:1-7 tells us:
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  
 Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrong doer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  
 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."
2.)  WE MUST PRAY FOR THEM!!!  1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells us:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Now mind you, this was written when Caesars were in power that were ruthless and not at all friendly to the Christian faith.  We in American cannot fathom what it would have been like to live under that kind of rule.  For all of our issues, we truly do not appreciate all that this country and our form of government affords us.  There is vast room for improvement, but we cannot conceive of the kind of persecution that the first century church experienced, not to mention what many around the world experience in our day; and yet these passage still applies.

Can We Handle It?

The prayers that I am suggesting are not, please don't allow them into office or please remove them from office asap.  Those are not necessarily bad, but we must go deeper than that according to the scriptures I have quoted.

Not only are we to pray for them as rulers placed over us for our good, whether we can understand it or not, but we are to pray for their salvation.  The bible knows nothing of half-hearted, "I would rather not be praying this but I know I should" prayers.  We must be passionately committed to it. We must actually be praying for the wisdom, guidance, leadership AND salvation of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, whether they become President or not, and mean it.

Not only this, but did you notice that "thanksgivings" are to be made.  Can you fathom trying to be thankful for whoever wins this mind-bending election.  Well, that is what seems to be suggested here.  Why?  Because, ultimately God has placed them there and we should always be thankful for what God has ordained to be so as a demonstration of our trust in Him.  I am not however, suggesting that this is easy.

Consequently, I believe that as we begin praying for these candidates and stepping up our prayers for the Presidency, as well as all of our other leaders and lawmakers, we must first examine our hearts and begin with ourselves.  For certain, this applies to me as much as anyone.  I believe it is pride to believe that any of us are above the need to ask God to reveal the weaknesses in our own hearts in order to pray effectively for our neighbors, enemies, leaders, etc. 

Regardless of the situation, prayer must always begin with us. For Christians, it is a vital behavior for all of life.

Image result for pics of prayer

I don't know what is going to happen in this election, much less in the next four years, but God does.  I trust his will and wisdom.  However, I do not believe the bible teaches that His sovereign rule and reign negates our responsibility as human agents intended to help effect God's will on this earth.  We must own the role that He has given us.  For me that means voting.  For all of us, that means remaining plugged in to what is going on and praying for all of our leaders.

Because I believe that, as Christians, there IS peace to be had in all of this, I will end with this passage from Philippians 4:4-7:
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let our reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
May it be so in Jesus name,