advent

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Why the Angels Were Speaking to You, Too: Jan Shrader reflects on the thrice-repeated words of the angels, “Do not be afraid,” at the first Christmas and reminds us that “There is a heavy price to be paid when you begin listening to fear.”

2.       Why the Tithing Challenge Isn't a Good IdeaYou may have heard of certain churches offering a "money back guarantee" with their challenge to tithe. Aaron Earls made a good case for why that isn't a wise practice, "A tithing refund distorts God’s design for giving by presenting people as owners with nothing to lose, rather than as stewards who sacrificially engage in spiritual investment."

3.       Why You Should Go to Church Even When You Don't Feel Like It: These words from David Sunday are so good, "That’s why we meditate on the teachings of God in Scripture day and night. That’s why we gather in the house of God with the people of God week by week. We don’t do it just for the immediate benefit. We take the long view. We cultivate these rhythms of grace, we practice these disciplines of worship, so that when the years of drought come, we will remember: we will recall when our souls pour dry the days of praise within God’s house. And the very remembrance will sustain us."

4.       6 Ways to Make Yourself Marry-ableI'm not a fan of the title, but if you re-frame this as helpful advice for young adults, then I like it quite a bit. Lisa Anderson concludes that in preparation, "You will no doubt realize you have some things that need to change. We all do. We’re all carrying baggage that was either placed on us by the generations before us or picked up of our own free will. Now’s the time to dump it. Now’s also the time to identify addictions, outrageous debt and spending pitfalls, past or present abuse, bad family patterns, and anything else that’s holding you back from spiritual, emotional, and relational health. Get counseling if you need it."

5.       5 Myths About DepressionMichael Lundy packs a ton of truth in this post. Please read it not only for your sake but for those who struggle with depression in your life, "Gandalf, one of my favorite quotable characters who exists only but no less vividly in the minds of readers, said “despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”6 It is a temptation to think that we do when we do not, and to see an evil end when God has something quite different in mind and in store. Yet, it is a temptation to which most—if not all—of us are vulnerable."

6.       The Thief and the FriendJason Upton might have my favorite voice in Christian music. If you haven't listened to Upton before, try this song.

The Villains of Christmas: The Innkeeper

The Villains of Christmas: The Innkeeper

Every self-respecting children’s nativity play has Mary and Joseph greeted by the gruff Innkeeper who rudely tells Mary and Joseph that there’s no room and then, for good effect, slams the door in their faces. What was the motivation of this heartless hotel manager? Why didn’t he find a place for this pregnant woman? Today we met the second villain of Christmas: the Innkeeper.

The biblical story isn’t nearly as clear as to the backstory of this Innkeeper. There is a just a fleeting reference to the incident and that reference only occurs after Jesus’ birth. Luke tells us simply, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”[i]

Unlike last week’s obvious villain: Herod, the Innkeeper is a little trickier to decipher. In the ambiguity, though, we find ourselves and the reality that Christmas reveals in us the sneaky villain of a lack of prioritization. Surely the Innkeeper should have been able to find a place for Mary and her child.

Let’s first briefly consider who this Innkeeper might have been and why he didn’t have room for Mary and Joseph.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.    Almost No One in the US Believes in a Consistent Ethic of Life:This requires a much longer conversation and I respect those who disagree, but I find the Catholic ethic of life to be compelling:"one of the distinctive features of Catholic theology is what’s been described as a “consistent ethic of life.” In other words, protection and preservation at all stages of life. That’s why the Catholic church’s “seamless garment” condemns abortion, the death penalty, assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research."

2.    Advent and Teaching Children to Wait: Scott James reflects, “If we allow ourselves to be shaped by a culture that views waiting as a vice and being made to wait an unpardonable offense, we’ll run contrary to the path Christ calls us to walk. To push back against this on-demand mindset, here are two ways you can cultivate a more measured approach this Christmas.”

3.    Children Need Close Pals, Not Popularity: A recent study proves what we would intuit: "Chasing after popularity can be stressful for children—and for their parents. A growing body of research suggests that they should give a different focus to their social energies. Having intimate friendships, it turns out, brings more long-term benefits, such as higher self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and depression."

4.    How Do We Become More Effective At Outreach: Ed Stetzer reflects on the changing tide of what outreach means for us in America, " Using attractional elements is not bad or wrong; I believe they are quite useful, and in many contexts, contextual. However, if more and more people are skeptical about coming to a place, then we must teach and train our people to ‘be’ the church—the incarnational presence of Christ in the places they occupy. In essence, teaching and equipping our people about the implications of the gospel lived out in real life is the true attraction." 

5.    Strength in Brokenness: Frank Viola's words are so true: " It’s not hard to spot a Christian in ministry who isn’t broken. Unbroken people don’t know how to lay their lives down and lose. They only know how to try to win. If they’re criticized, they retaliate. If they’re attacked, they return fire. If misunderstood, they defend in anger. They are capable of doing all sorts of damage to others in order to save their own ministries and keep their reputations."

6.    Time Travel Dietician: A hilarious spoof on how the rules of dieting keep changing.

Zechariah's Christmas Song

Zechariah's Christmas Song

There is something particularly beautiful about the righteousness that comes with age. There is a sweetness to it that can only be developed over the years.

There was once a husband and wife who loved God deeply. They had this kind of beautifully aged righteousness. Luke says that, “they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”[i] If you thumb through the scriptures there are very few people commended as highly as this. The husband, Zechariah, had given his life in God’s service as a priest.

“But,” Luke tells us, “they had no child.” This was no small thing and certainly no personal choice. They had yearned for a child and prayed for a child. But no child had come. Any childless couple, any mother who has lost her pre-born child, knows the mark of pain, the empty place that can’t be covered up in the heart. Everyone who has walked through this loss knows the temptation to sin against God in the face of disappointment and shame.

But Zechariah and Elizabeth had walked righteously in the face of grief.

Then one day Zechariah had the incredible blessing of being chosen to enter the Holy Place in the temple to burn incense. He never could have anticipated what awaited him.