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!
UPDATED FOR 2015: Check out the 2015 Advent Guide here!
Advent is a term originally derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming" or "arrival". During Advent, the Christian church remembers Jesus' first coming and joyfully anticipates His second. From His lowly birth in a feed trough to His humble life among the people of Israel, Advent is a focused time to remember God's humility and faithfulness and to “fan the flame” of expectation for Jesus’ return to gloriously rule the earth from Jerusalem and to be worshipped as LORD by every living creature.
This year, Advent runs from Sunday, December 1st through Tuesday, December 24th.
I've put together a brief guide that provides a schedule of Scripture readings from the Gospels and from the Old Testament as well as several recommended short videos from my Opening Up the Gospels series. I hope it helps you to keep Jesus as your supreme treasure this holiday season.
When something is known to possess worth or value, we seek to honor it, show it, tell others about it, and treasure it for ourselves. Just take one of Apple's latest inventions as an example. Corporate executives, wedding DJ's, high school football players, and stay-at-home moms want to own it and show it off to others. Technology geeks want to do more than just own it - they'll talk about it, write about it, hack it, and buy all sorts of accessories for it. Thieves will break into stores or snatch purses to steal it. Without question, that small metal box of silicon transistors, glass, and dangerous chemicals known as the iPhone is esteemed by many in the modern world as something having a great deal of worth and value. This is externally evident by the lengths many will go to in order to have one.
Almost 2000 years ago, something of tremendous worth and value had captured the attention of a former Jewish Pharisee we call Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the Ephesians, he said:
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,”
(Ephesians 3:8 ESV)
The horrors of sin in this present evil age have ensured that we've all been wronged, taken advantage of, used, or manipulated by someone else in our lives. The fleshly mind responds vehemently to accusation, seeks retaliation on those who have wronged us, and ensures as many people as possible know that we've been wronged.
But Paul said: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)
Paul says that being forgiven by God should shape the way that we deal with others who have wronged us. If Jesus, the One who never did anything wrong, endured the cross and grants forgiveness of sins and eternal life those who put their faith in Him, we too should forgive, not hold grudges, and not be bitter.
This is such a simple point, but I shudder at how much my own heart forgets it and seeks to harbor bitterness instead of forgiveness.
Acts 17:1-4 records a portion of Paul the Apostle's second missionary journey where he traveled to Thessalonica, a large Roman city in ancient Macedonia. While there, Paul preached in the synagogue and laid the foundations of the Thessalonian church. Though he was forced to leave after only three weeks because of violence from envious Jews, his words had persuaded many to put their faith in Jesus.
Paul visits the church again later (Acts 20:1-3) and subsequently writes them two letters of encouragement. In both of the letters, he opens by saying he and his companions continually thank God for them. The gratitude they had about the Thessalonian church was not generic, but rather very specific:
"We give thanks to God...remembering...your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
"We ought always to give thanks to God for you ... because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)
I'm so excited for the launch of my weekly video series, Opening Up the Gospels. In 7-10 minute episodes every Tuesday, I will be chronologically walking through the events of the life of Jesus as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John narrate it. I'm not sure how many episodes I'll have before it's all over, but if the Lord wills, I'll make it all the way to Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 21!
The LORD, the Creator of all, clothes Himself with unapproachable light as a garment (Psalms 104:2, 1 Timothy 6:16), yet there was a time in history where He humbly clothed Himself with human skin and tabernacled among us. In the 89 chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we are privileged to behold the life of our Maker, the Man we call Jesus of Nazareth.
Seeing Jesus as the LORD changes the way we read the first four books of the New Testament that we call the Gospels. This single truth is what makes the Gospels exceedingly important to our growth in the knowledge of God. All four of them open up with the story of Jesus' relative, John the Baptist. According to Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23, John's ministry is set within the context of Isaiah 40:3-10, where the prophet speaks about a voice that proclaims "the gospel" and cries out to "prepare the way of the LORD" and to "make straight in the desert a highway for our God". John the Baptist identifies himself as that voice, and the very next person on the scene is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. This is the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John open and all say with piercing clarity: “Don't forget - Yahweh is who you're actually seeing as you look at Jesus”.
Are you saved?
Evangelical Christians are united in the belief that salvation is essential. However, various streams in the church have deviated in articulating what we have been saved from and when that salvation would be evident. Some say we are saved from sin, others say we are saved from sickness, poverty, and lack, and still others say we are saved from hell and unending torment. Yet as Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writers present straightforwardly, salvation is about being saved from the future wrath of the day of the LORD (Matthew 3:7; Luke 21:23; Romans 10:9, cf. Joel 2:32; 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10, cf. Isaiah 2:12,19; 2 Peter 3:10; Romans 2:5-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2).
The day of the LORD was not just a concept fabricated by the New Testament writers but was spoken about by virtually all of the Old Testament prophets. Since that dreadful day in Eden's garden, the LORD promised to restore all that humanity's fall had torn asunder. Though His patience would afford men time to repent (2 Peter 3:9) before the day He had fixed to renew all things by Jesus (Acts 17:31), humanity would scorn His mercy and the atonement provided in His own Son, "storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5)