On July 10, 2014 - exactly two years ago today - I packed up a truck and moved everything I owned from tornado alley in the Midwest to hot and humid College Station, Texas. I had only undertaken such a thing once before in my life. In 2004, after graduating college with a degree in computer science, I left a prestigious tech job in New Hampshire and decided to give my life to full-time ministry. There have been many ups and downs since then, but God has been so faithful through it all.
Advent is a term originally derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming" or "arrival". Advent is a season in the Christian calendar where the church worldwide remembers Jesus' first coming and joyfully anticipates His second.
The story of Jesus doesn't begin with His birth. For centuries, the Jewish Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about Him and what He would do. As the author of Hebrews says: "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:28 ESV)
For a day will come when the lowly baby in the feed trough will arise to rule over the nations from Jerusalem. We do well to remember His first coming and to heed the words of the Prophets, as Peter said: "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises." (2 Peter 1:19 NIV)
This year, Advent runs from Sunday, November 29th through Thursday, December 24th.
A couple of years ago I published a brief guide and reading schedule that included short episodes from my Opening Up the Gospels video series to help fellow believers remember Jesus during Advent. I've updated the guide for 2015, which you can download below. The reading schedule includes both Old Testament and New Testament readings and returns to the story of Jesus' birth each Sunday. Short videos about the story of His birth are on the schedule for you to view throughout the week.
I hope you find this guide helpful as we ponder and anticipate Jesus' coming together.
Humans love stories, especially thrilling stories. This God-given love for stories is something we discover early on in our childhood. Stories engage our mind, move our emotions, and capture our heart. Whether fiction or non-fiction, stories teach us lessons and help us make sense of the world.
Our God has chosen to reveal Himself through a story. He could have merely given us a list of His attributes, accolades, character traits, and qualifications for His role as God and called us to believe and trust Him on that alone, but He didn’t. Instead, He told us about His dealings with weak men like Abraham and Moses and King David. He told us about Egypt, the Exodus, and a nation called Israel. He told us about their prophets and poets and singers and songwriters. And then He gave us Jesus of Nazareth, whose personal story is, in many ways, common to every man - yet it is also so utterly unique because of His identity.
I've been thinking a lot about the 21 Egyptian Christians killed by ISIS in Libya for their faith earlier this week. The media has not only given us glimpse into this horrific situation, but has also put before the world a very potent witness of the worth of Jesus. From the moment I heard about what had happened and from the subsequent details that emerged over the next several days, I was very emotional. I was moved to tears when I saw the brother in the picture above saying his final prayers and when I heard that in the last moments of their lives that the Christians all cried in unison “Ya Rabbi Yasou’”, an Arabic phrase that means “Oh Lord Jesus”.
Over the past several years my friendship with Jesus has grown tremendously by studying His life. The 89 chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John offer far more than surface-level details about our Lord. The more I've sought clarity about Him through the four Gospels, the more I've realized that I've had some wrong assumptions about Him. Because I care about Him, I care about people knowing the truth about Him. So this post is the first of several where I'll talk about some common misconceptions about Jesus' life. I wanted to share some of them with you hoping that it might spark desire to know Him in truth. Here are five to get you started:
Perhaps the most critical period in the lives of young adults in America is their time in college. More habits are formed, more beliefs are challenged, and more long-term lifestyle choices like vocation and relationships are made during those four years than in any other stage of life.
The transition to college also presses questions of faith and spirituality on young adults. Some say that the current generation of college students is the largest since the 1960's, but the lowest percentage to grow up in church. And 90% of the students who were raised in the church may never return after their graduation from college. This means that during the college years, young adults are becoming disenfranchised with the church and with Jesus. This is a full-blown crisis.
It's easy to see that there are millions of Muslims worldwide who need to hear the Gospel, but it's also easy to forget about the prodigals and the unreached from our own churches and workplaces who may have just lived across the street from us.
Why are campus missionaries a vital part of the Gospel witness and the Great Commission? Here are five simple reasons:
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13 ESV)
I believe the heart behind Paul's charge to Timothy was to strengthen his hearers' conviction of the veracity of the Law and the Prophets and to show them who Jesus of Nazareth was in light of those writings. In simpler terms, he was saying "Timothy, tell them the story. Help them believe it. Don't spare the details, and don't let them forget it."
With every new year comes new resolutions, new goals, and a fresh start for many things in life. One of the most important personal choices I’ve made for the past several years now is to read the Bible from cover to cover each year.
The Psalmist says “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). As we sojourn as pilgrims in this evil age and patiently await the return of Jesus, the Scriptures are like a bright light on a dark night, guiding us and strengthening our faith, hope, and love until that Day. And not only does Bible reading remind us of God’s commands and give us Godly examples to follow, it shows us who Jesus really is. If we don’t know Him as He presents Himself in all of the Word, we will never be able to rightly magnify Him with our lives and we will never discover the true purpose for which He created us - to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in my resolve to read the Bible once per year was the hurdle of a schedule. It seemed like an extremely daunting task just to read 1189 chapters and over 31,000 verses, let alone to figure out how to split up all of that material into 365 manageable pieces.
Throughout this Advent season, I've been narrating the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus in several episodes of Opening Up the Gospels. Last year during Advent, I came across a fictional work that was deeply encouraging to me: a poem called The Innkeeper by Pastor John Piper. Though there is much uncertainty surrounding Mary and Joseph's arrival in Bethlehem, their place of residence, and if there was actually an "innkeeper" as we have typically imagined, I wanted to share Piper's poem again this year in hope that your holy imagination would be stirred to ponder the birth and life of Jesus.
A brief description of the poem:
Only two weeks from His crucifixion, Jesus has stopped in Bethlehem. He has returned to visit someone important--the innkeeper who made a place for Mary and Joseph the night He was born. But His greater purpose in coming is to pay a debt. What did it cost to house the Son of God?
Through this imaginative poem, John Piper shares a tale of what might have been. The story of an innkeeper whose life was forever altered by the arrival of the Son of God. Ponder the sacrifice that was made that night. Celebrate Christ's birth and the power of His resurrection. Rejoice in the life and light He brings to all. And encounter the hope His life gives you for today--and for eternity.
Over the past several years I've written, recorded, or published numerous resources to encourage the body of Christ during the winter holidays. As we are progressing through yet another Advent and Christmas season, I wanted to share them with you. I trust they will strengthen your faith and deepen your fellowship with Jesus as you ponder His birth this year.
- The Incarnation and the Life of Jesus - a series of articles looking at some of the familiar and not-so-familiar aspects of God becoming flesh. My personal favorites: The Judgment of God in the Incarnation, The Humility of God in the Incarnation, The Salvation of God in the Incarnation
- 2013 Advent Guide and Reading Plan - a brief guide for the 2013 Advent season (December 1-24) including daily readings from the Old and New Testaments and suggested Opening Up the Gospels videos.
- The Heavenly Armies at Jesus' Birth - an article that highlights the military and political dimension of the angels who were "sweetly singing o'er the plains" to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem.
- Opening Up the Gospels videos - a series of short videos from a larger series walking through the Christmas story, bringing unknown or misunderstood details to light. My favorites on the birth of Jesus: Zechariah and the Angel Gabriel, The Census and the Journey to Bethlehem, The Birth of Jesus, part 2
If any of these resources are a blessing to you, would you spread the word and share them with your friends through email or on social media?
Grace and peace to you this Advent and Christmas!