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No. 1 | Christ Came into the World

Advent begins. With it comes strife, hardship, and sorrow. You wonder how you’ll be able to rejoice this season, if any of Christmas’ delights will delight you, if any of its warmth will warm you or penetrate the heart you’ve kept guarded from further disappointments and grief.

Christmas is either the most wonderful time of the year, or the most difficult. It’s either laden with nostalgia and favorite things, or it’s full of memories that cause your heart to ache and your spirit to yearn for relief. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

For the suffering, Christmas seems to carry with it a sharp edge and a sour taste. When the pain feels unbearable, the relationship unchangeable, the grief immovable, and the disasters irreparable, what we need most isn’t relief; we need a Savior who can enter into our pain.

The next four weeks of Advent, we’ll look at Jesus Christ, our Suffering Savior, how he came into the world and into hostility; how he came to save sinners, and to overcome.

Bethlehem’s Suffering

When Jesus, the incarnate God, came into the world, yes, there was joy. Shepherds guided by a prophetic star. Angels gloriously rejoicing on high. A wonder-filled Mary and Joseph, beholding their newborn, the Son of God, in the simplicity of a stable, and treasuring him.

But there was also suffering. Grief. Evil running rampant at Herod’s jealous hand, as he ordered all male infants stolen from their parents and murdered. Imagine the wailing in Bethlehem, the unexpected pain, the helpless torment in knowing nothing could be done about it.

Jesus Christ came into this world. A world infected by sin, scarred by human hatred. A suffering world full of suffering people.

Christ’s Submission

God himself came. We don’t worship a Creator who stands far off, aloof and disinterested, having once spun the world into motion only to leave it be. We worship a King who has entered into our pain, who chose to cede his rightful throne for the humble birthplace of a stable. A Savior who was born into literal chaos. A suffering God, still fully in control.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

What kind of Creator is this, who enters into the very suffering caused by the sin that first scorned his rule in the garden? What kind of King is this, who not only comes into a sinful world, but sees fit to enter it as a baby? What kind of Lord, who patiently spares us from just wrath so that many more will reach the repentance of faith? What kind of suffering Savior, who chooses submission over entitlement, humility over reign, service over demand?

The Sufferer’s Savior

Christ Jesus came into the world, into suffering, and because he did, rest assured he knows your pain, your grief, your disappointments. Rest assured, he understands, empathizes, and weeps along with you. He walks alongside you, even in your lowest depths (Hebrews 4:15).

But he doesn’t leave you there.

Sufferer, your Savior is just that—a savior.

The original sin that’s caused all the suffering you now see and experience will not have the last word, for Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and has had the final victory. The Savior suffered to defeat death’s sting and to ground you in a firm hope, his promise that resurrection is your future—not pain, tears, or death—but life. Life with him. Forever.

The advent of Jesus is the advent of hope for a suffering world. For suffering people. For you, and for me. This is our God who came into the world, our suffering Savior.

For further reflection, watch John Piper’s “The Innkeeper.”

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Thanksgiving: A Gospel Guide

The Bible frequently uses the metaphor of food to stir our senses and move us to a deeper understanding of the all-satisfying nature of the glory of our Lord Jesus. Consider these verses:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:5).

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

The way we as humans relate to food is but a small picture of how we are to relate to Christ. This imagery speaks to us because – let’s be honest – we love food. We love it, and we need it. There is nothing quite like a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter night or a crisp, healthy salad on a hot summer day. And there is nothing quite like Thanksgiving: the feast to end all earthly feasts!

As we prepare to gather with family and friends this Thursday, let us keep in mind that every aspect of Thanksgiving offers us a glimpse of God’s goodness toward us. If we unpack the good gifts of the holiday, we’ll see that they reflect, at their deepest level, the gospel.

Preparation and Planning

Though it can feel hectic, it’s fair to say that many of us enjoy preparing for big holiday events. There’s a sweet anticipation in planning the Thanksgiving meal, drawing our grocery lists, assigning duties, preparing our homes, and setting the table. Our anticipation points to the culmination of the holiday.

Before time began, God had prepared a sovereign and wise plan for the salvation of the world (Ephesians 1:9-10). He planned to unite all things in Christ, “things in heaven and things on earth,” and would do so by sending his Son to walk the earth as a human. He planned that Christ would humbly lay down his life for his friends, dying the death they should’ve died in order that they would receive his life. He planned to send his Spirit on those who believed in his name by faith. Christ also said that he would prepare a place for his sheep in eternity (John 14:2-3), that where he is we may be also.

So our planning and our preparations for this Thanksgiving are a reflection of what God has done for us in the gospel. His anticipation of the salvation of believers in Jesus points to the eventual culmination of all things: the new heaven and new earth.

Invitation and Gathering

Similarly, for many Americans, Thanksgiving represents an opportunity for friends and family, normally scattered, to gather in one place. The holidays are perhaps the second greatest opportunity, outside of weddings, to gather loved ones. We call our relatives, extending invitations to our homes, or we are the ones invited to gather elsewhere.

In the gospel, Christ calls. He did not absorb God’s wrath on the cross; he did not rise to life; he did not ascend to the Father only to sit back and see if dead sinners would respond. A response from a dead person is impossible! No, Jesus says, “Come to me.” He brings to life those who are dead. He lovingly invites us to put our faith in him, to be saved, by calling us in the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16).

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). Jesus is the living water, and he invites us to come and drink of his salvation freely.

So our earthly invitations are but a reflection of the image of God in calling sinners to himself, to faith in Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, consider to what lengths God went to redeem you from death. If you’ve not known this Christ, what is keeping you from coming to him wholly and completely? He calls you to come. Don’t wait another day.

Feasting

Now for every American’s favorite part of Thanksgiving: the moment when we take our seats around the table and pass the food. This is a long-awaited moment, as Grandma’s sweet potato casserole and the roasted turkey make their rounds. We eat until we are satisfied.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Food satisfies for a time, but several hours later our hunger proves that we need more of it. The steadfast love and faithfulness of Christ, however, satisfies totally and eternally!

The person who trusts in the Lord “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). Christ nourishes our deepest desires by giving to us himself: holy, perfect, loving, kind, faithful, strong, true, and eternal. He is the solid rock on which believers stand, steadfast and sure. Nothing else, not even the greatest Thanksgiving feast, compares to his glory!

Christ alone satisfies. Nothing on this earth, not even the richest of feasts, compares to his glory. What worldly pursuits are you seeking to be satisfied by, which will only leave you wanting more? Confess these to the Lord, and ask him to fully satisfy you with himself.

Celebrating

Thanksgiving will be an unfortunate, vain pursuit if God’s glory is not held as supreme: in our minds as we pray and meditate on the gospel, and on our lips as we profess God’s goodness and praise him for the miracle of his Son.

When we celebrate and proclaim the greatness of God, extolling his power and glory, confessing his name to unbelievers, and welcoming others into his presence by our hospitality, we bring glory to him and find ourselves infinitely more satisfied than any mere Thanksgiving feast can provide.

So whether you’re the one planning or the one receiving; whether you’re the one calling or being invited; whether you go for round two, or save room for dessert; may the gospel be on your mind and on your lips this Thanksgiving. And may all the glory be to God!

[Post credit: Unlocking the Bible | Photo credit: Flickrcc.net | Originally published in November 2014]

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22 Prayers for Your Bible Reading

Reading the Bible before praying is like putting the cart before the horse.

The proverbial horse is the Holy Spirit of God, who empowers and enlightens our Bible reading as we mine the depths of his Word. The proverbial cart makes up our willing eyes and hungry hearts, the Spirit-led choice to crack open our Bibles and pursue his everlasting truth.

The cart must be pulled by the horse; our efforts to read must be motivated and helped by God’s grace and power. Christians come to God’s Word willing and hungry because he first made us willing and hungry to receive—but only he can enable us to receive. This is why we ask for help before we start reading.

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#AnyGivenSunday: A Video Encouragement for the Election Season

I love serving at Unlocking the Bible. This video is just one of the many reasons why. It’s a compilation of 50 sermon clips from 50 pastors in all 50 states, from one particular day: Sunday, September 18, 2016.

If you’re discouraged heading into this historical election week, watch the five-minute film and praise God for the Word-filled work he’s doing around our country.

Then, if you feel so inclined, share it with others using the hashtag #AnyGivenSunday!

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God Knows When You Don’t

Right now, there’s a lot I don’t know.

I don’t know what today will bring. Or tomorrow, for that matter. I don’t know how long I will live, or when I will die. I don’t know how many kids my husband and I will raise, or if we’ll be able to have them at all. I don’t know where we’ll be living in a year, five years, 10 years. I don’t know when this season of pain will end—or if it ever will.

I don’t know a lot of things. But regardless of what I don’t know, God does.

God knows.

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10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Posting on Social Media

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Love, because it keeps me connected with friends and family, and is a useful tool for communicating information, events, and resources. Hate, because I see the controversy it spikes and the pride it stokes. I love to hate social media; most weeks I threaten to rid of it altogether. And I hate to love social media because of how it fuels the selfish ambition and vanity within my heart.

But everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving—unless, of course, it is inherently evil (1 Tim. 4:4-5). So, if God has given humans the vision to create a tool like social media, God’s Word says that it is good and is not to be rejected—if we can thank God for it.

We can only thank God for what is good, helpful, and honoring to him and others. So, our overarching question is, Can I thank God for social media by embracing it as a good, helpful, and honoring tool?

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God Will Not Be Used

Most people know when they are being used. It’s obvious. A friend likes the perks of being around you because you can afford to pay. A family member emotionally manipulates you to get their way. A coworker sticks close because you do the better work.

We dislike being used. It feels slimy. We can see through a person’s attempt to keep us near, right to the heart of their agenda. But God’s ability to look on a person’s heart far surpasses our own. He can clearly discern that what we often want isn’t him, but what he gives us.

The good news? The gospel is for users like you and me. But first, a story.

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Five Reasons You Desperately Need Your Bible

Why is Bible reading important? Most Christians know they should read their Bibles. But often, our Bible reading can feel dry and insignificant. Why is it so important for us to read this book? What’s the urgency of it?

Ruth and Naomi’s story in the Old Testament reveals some urgent truths through illustration about why we need our Bibles right now and every single day. We should not bypass these truths because they are the difference between spiritual life and death; between conviction and apathy; between joy, peace, and strength and discontentment, anxiety, and fear; between knowing some things about Jesus and knowing Jesus intimately.

Here are five reasons that you desperately need your Bible, as illustrated in the book of Ruth.

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Three Ways to Welcome Others as Christ Has Welcomed You

 

Another ministry year has begun. Our small group kicked off last week with good food and discussion around the purpose of our time together. In preparing for the women, and in adding some new women to the group, the idea of “welcoming warmly” has been on my mind.

This morning’s sermon drove these thoughts home, as the pastor asked us to consider how Christ has welcomed us. Christ’s welcome and our ability to welcome go hand in hand:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

In what ways has Christ welcomed us, and how does this enable us to “welcome one another”? Whether you’re leading a small group, hosting friends and family, pastoring your flock, or getting to know your neighbors, consider a few ways to welcome, based on how Jesus has welcomed you:

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When God Feels Far Away

It seems to be one of the most common experiences of the Christian life. God feels far away, like he is hiding himself, or at least withholding his reviving presence. We feel destitute, spiritually dry, and desperate for a sense that he is still there, still listening, still caring. But we can’t seem to eke out a prayer because even our prayers feel empty, and they seem to return to us with an echo of defeat.

Where are you, Lord? Can you hear me? Why are you hiding yourself from me? I am your child, so why, Father, does it feel like you are ignoring my cries? How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will I seek you, only to find that the silence remains? I am languishing, O Lord. Do not delay, O my God…

If this sounds like the cry of your heart today, be comforted that you are not experiencing anything new or abnormal. You are in the same boat as your brothers and sisters in the Lord, as your forefathers, as a multitude of other Christians who have gone before you and who now walk beside you. There is some comfort in this reality.

But it cannot fully cradle our fragile hearts because feeling far from God can be a frightening experience.

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