Monday, November 30, 2015

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Steven Dilla post at Park Forum:  Why We Celebrate Advent :: Advent's Hope

As a commercial event, Christmas seems to come too soon each year. In the church calendar—observed by Christians around the world for centuries—Christmas morning marks the beginning of the season, and our hearts now rest in the season of Advent. To put that in the language of modern music, celebrating “Joy to the World” before we cry “O Come O Come Emmanuel” misses the hope of Advent.
“The ancient theologians of the Church, such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria, look upon the Christian life as one continual festival,” observes Ida von Hahn-Hahn. “Because the night of sin has been overcome by redemption, because reconciliation with God has brought peace and true joy to the soul, and because from this joy no one is excluded who does not voluntarily separate himself from God.”
Hahn-Hahn, a German countess who wrote a series of books on church history in the late 19th century, highlights the importance of Advent throughout history in preparing the souls of the faithful for Christmas:
Particular times were set apart as festivals, which, like faithful messengers of religion, returned every year, unceasingly announcing the work of redemption, and by their attractive festivity enkindling man, and preparing his soul for the everlasting feast of heaven.
The fast of the four weeks of Advent, to prepare the sinful world for the merciful coming of the Lord… is not to be fulfilled by a trifling and superficial joy, but by the supernatural rejoicing of a heart entirely resting in God, and a life wholly consecrated to Him. Zeal for sanctification should extend over all the aims and objects of life.
Our goal in this season isn’t to usurp materialism only to restore an idyllic image of Christmas-past. Advent is a season where we seek the renewal of our souls in Christ as we prepare for Christmas-present—longing for Christmas-future: the great second Advent where the broken are restored, the dead are revived, and the hope of the gospel brings forth the restoration of all things. So in this season we joyfully, and longingly, sing together, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Jon Bloom:  Prepare Him Room

The season of Advent is beginning again. Advent — a season, so full of tradition, so full of memory, so full of legend. And a season so full, often over-full, bustling and bursting with the exhausting activity of keeping traditions, creating memories, and recalling legends.
And as Advent begins, Luke comes to us, as a kind of a holy ghost of Christmas past, bidding us to lay aside for the moment our Christmas lists, leave the half-trimmed tree, pause the holiday movie, dry our hands from washing the cookie pans, and follow him. And as we do, all we see begins to swirl into an unfamiliar darkness.
Suddenly, we find ourselves standing in what we somehow know is a small, ancient Palestinian village on an unusually starry night. The shapes and shadows of buildings look strange. The human and animal noises sound strange. The smoky scents of fire, foods, burning oils, and manure smell strange. The utter absence of electric lighting is strange. We reach for our smartphone. It’s dead.

Disturbing Advent Sight

Luke leads us beyond the village and down a dark, twisting rocky path to some ignored, ignoble spot where we suddenly come upon a sight that we find surprisingly disturbing. Not ten feet away, asleep on the ground, near a small fire that has burned down to embers, is a peasant girl. She has bits of straw in her long, messy, dark hair, and she is wrapped in dirty cloaks and a blanket. A split-second look tells us how difficult this night has been for her. And she is so young.
Even more distressing, we see beside her a small, crude, dirty feeding trough in which lays a sleeping newborn, wrapped tightly in unsanitary, blood-smeared cloths.
We take a few tentative steps forward. We know this child, and we know this girl. But the scene is strange to us. It does not look anything like the manger scenes and illustrated books of our childhood. Our Advent traditions did not prepare us for the earthy realness of the real Advent.
Mary is not serene. She’s bone weary. And no divine, heavenly glow emanates from the child. He is not even especially beautiful (Isaiah 53:2). In fact, there is nothing about this child to suggest the unfathomable mystery of who he is. We are unnerved to realize that had we not already known, we would not have recognized him at all.
This scene, the real Christmas, has nothing of the feeling of the Christmas we know. It has all the feel of undesired, desperate homelessness — more like a scene we’d find under a bridge than under our Christmas tree. And we are hit with the shock of a truth we’ve known all our lives: this young girl just gave birth to a baby — the Baby — in a pasture!
Our visceral response is pity and sadness. This poor girl and her baby! We know this story, but as we see it as it really was, it seems so wrong. Our impulse is to do something to help them. We look incredulously at Luke. He, calmly looking from the child to us, quietly says, “There was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). No place? No place besides a field for the Maker of the world? The cosmic incongruity stuns us.
“Surely we can find some room somewhere!” we respond. “Can you?” Luke replies. Then he turns and begins back up the path.
We look back at girl and the child, just as Palestinian darkness begins to swirl with a familiar light.

Prepare Him Room

Suddenly, we find ourselves standing where Luke had found us. There are the Christmas lists, the half-trimmed tree, the holiday movie paused, and pans in the sink. The familiar stress of the bustling and bursting schedule of Advent activities reawakens.
But seared in our minds is the pathetic picture of the holy, homeless mother and child. Bustling and bursting Bethlehem had no room for the advent of Jesus. And echoing in our ears are our own words, “Surely we can find some room somewhere!”
Can we?
The real Christmas was nothing like the Christmas we’ve come to know, with its traditions, memories, and legends. It was a desperate moment that occurred for a desperate reason.
The Word became flesh (John 1:14) so that the Word could become sin for us condemned sinners, and die for us that we might be made righteous in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was born outside a village and he died outside a city. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10).
As Advent season begins again, call to mind the only detail the Holy Spirit, who inspired Luke’s writing, decided to provide us about the actual birth of Jesus: Mary had to lay him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
It is no less ironic that Jesus can stand on the periphery of our busy Advent activities than it was that he, the Son of David, lay in a manger in a field on the periphery of the city of David.
Therefore, as we plan our Advent season, “let every heart prepare him room.” Surely we can find some room somewhere.

Readings for Advent

These 25 short daily devotional readings from John Piper begin December 1 and go through Christmas Day. This book of Advent meditations aims to put Jesus at the center of your holiday season. These readings correspond to the daily readings in Desiring God’s free devotional app, Solid Joys (available in iTunes and Google Play), as well as online.
Advent is for adoring Jesus. The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year. But it is also a season of reflection and preparation for that special day when we mark Immanuel’s coming — the arrival of our eternal God in our own frail humanity. These are 25 more brief devotional readings from John Piper for December 1 to Christmas Day. Our hope is that God would use these meditations to deepen and sweeten your adoration of Jesus and help you keep him at the center of your Christmas season.
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. (Watch the video of John Piper reading The Innkeeper.)
For Christmas gift ideas, see Spread the Word for Christmas.

All Is Well - Born is Our Lord and Savior


Friday, November 27, 2015

Examine Your Assumptions

Matt Reagan post:  Seven Sentimental Lies You Might Believe

The Princess Bride (1987) spans the spectrum of film-lovers’ delights. It boasts one of the cleverest movie scripts of all time, and includes a great deal of refreshing honesty about life. In particular, one line from the grandfather and narrator has remained with me since my first watching — and has sunk deeper in my many re-watchings.
The young boy, sick in bed, stops his grandfather’s reading of The Princess Bride during a description of an especially unjust sequence where the princess is being forced to marry the evil prince. He indignantly declares, “It wouldn’t be fair.” His grandfather’s response drips with wisdom from above:
Well, who says life is fair? Where is that written?
Simple and brilliant. And much needed today. The underlying challenge is clear: Examine your assumptions. Our society carries hundreds of unquestioned assumptions, and we Christians ought to ask, astutely and often, “Who says? Does God say that? Is it biblical?”
The following is a list of seven of the most egregiously assumed truth-claims in popular culture today, with a biblical check for each one.

1) “Things will work out.”

Who says? Unless the speaker means that “all things work for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), which is specifically to see them “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29) while they are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), then it is simply wishful thinking.
“Things will work out” is not the mantra of the people of Swaziland, where the AIDS epidemic is out of control, or in Syria, where the terror of ISIS is ever-present. Only the Bible offers a fixed, specific hope that roots such a sweeping statement in the firm soil of reality.

2) “The most important thing is your health.”

Who says? God clearly states, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). When you are sick, Paul is there to remind you that your “outer nature is wasting away,” while your “inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Is it really most important, given this brief mist of a life, to maintain pristine health? God thinks not. He is committed to the display of his glory (Isaiah 43:7) and invites you to embrace that mission as one of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 10:31). God did not think the most important thing about his incarnate Son was his health.

3) “They’re in a better place.”

Who says? Funerals are painful for many reasons, but one of the more subtle ones is this ostrich-like burying of the head that happens so rampantly. Sadly, people whose lives have been characterized by self-centeredness and the denial of Christ are brazenly declared to be in heaven at most any funeral.
But the Son of God says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). It is far better to make a statement founded on the objective work of Christ through faith than to wish that statement into existence simply by saying it.

4) “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

Who says? This statement makes for a great Nike commercial or after-school special, but it is based in the fiction of autonomous self-determination. Autonomy (literally “self-rule”) may be the source of our sickness, but it is not the avenue for our cure. We hate the idea of our limitations, but we are made to be limited. God enumerates those limitations in his breath-taking, four-chapter revelation of Job’s lack of power and understanding (Job 38–41). And perhaps he was even more explicit in displaying our limitations when he shut up sinful humanity under his law (Romans 3:19), leaving us helpless and needy for a Savior (Romans 3:20Galatians 3:22).
We certainly bear God’s image and have amazing creative capabilities, but when it comes to anything we set our minds to, we desperately need the truth, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7–8).

5) “He’s a good guy.”

Who says? On the one hand, the sentiment here is understood. There is God-imaging nobility in the world, and beyond that, Christians have hearts that have been renewed by the Holy Spirit.
But on the other hand, Jesus sings a very different tune. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Paul echoes that judgment when he declares himself the foremost of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). There is never a point when we leave behind the identity of saved sinners, in need of God’s grace, even into eternity.

6) “Follow your heart.”

Who says? For decades, Disney has warmed the hearts of millions with this sometimes overt, sometimes covert theme. But the following of our hearts is not a biblical recommendation. Paul agonizes over his divided heart in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” That’s no ringing endorsement for trusting oneself.
It is death to self, rather than the embracing of self, that saves your life (Luke 9:23;Matthew 16:25). So when unfettered heart-following tempts you, remember the words of Jesus to Peter: “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22).

7) “All good things must come to an end.”

Who says? This widely accepted axiom is a blatant coping mechanism. Since the broken world hurts — and that without fail — we must invent a verbal anesthetic to keep ourselves from being crushed.
But it is a lie. God has a different end in mind. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In God’s economy, all bad things will come to an end, but the best of things will endure for all eternity.

Renew Your Mind

Beware the spirit of the age. Its lips drip with honey. It will tickle your ears, but following its adages leads to death.
So when a sweet-sounding, seemingly obvious statement hits your ears, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

That In Everything God May Be Glorified

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4: 10-11

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Longing for Home

Christine Hoover post:  Thanksgiving Is a Taste of Home

I grew up in East Texas, where the chicken is fried, the pine trees grow tall, and the accents drip thick with “honeys” and “bless-your-hearts.” And on Thanksgiving, it was my family’s tradition to take the two-lane-highway straight-shot over to my grandparents’ house for lunch.
I’d perch on a stool in the kitchen to watch my grandmother turn “a little of this and a little of that” into a traditional turkey feast, or run with my sister through the leaves that the huge oak had molted in their backyard, seemingly for our pleasure alone.
After second and third helpings of Thanksgiving dinner, my grandfather would send me to the freezer for the Blue Bell ice cream. He’d dish it out on top of oversized slices of pecan pie for each family member, and we’d all retire to the living room to watch the Cowboys game or take a nap — or contentedly combine the two.

Longing for Home

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of home, and when I think of home, I think of my grandparents’ house in East Texas on Thanksgiving Day. I smell fried chicken crackling on the stove. I hear my grandfather “spinning yarns” about growing up in the Depression or going to war or working in the oil fields. At the table, I see my parents in their youth, my sister and my cousins playing at cards, and the aunt who taught me to drive in the high school parking lot down the road.
This is still my home, although I don’t live in East Texas anymore. I find myself saying “you guys” far more than “y’all,” and my grandparents recently moved out of their house into assisted living. Their huge oak tree was felled by a storm years ago, and now I’m the one standing at the kitchen counter arranging pecans on the pie while my kids look on.
The world has shifted with age and time, and the will of God has taken me from my home, but my longing for it has only grown stronger. Some might call this longing homesickness. Others might call it sentimentality or nostalgia. Still others, a desire for the simplicity of childhood.
But do we not all long for home?
Do we not all long for that feeling of settledness, of familiarity, of being known in all of our ages and stages?
Do we not, even more, long for a place, a time, or an assuredness that all is right with the world, that it’s been freed from its turmoil and unspeakable atrocities?
Whether our home has been in a high-rise in the city or a farmhouse tucked away in some far-flung place, we think back with warmth to the traditions, the smells, the tastes, and the voices at the table.
We who’ve not had a sanctuary in our youth try to create it for our own children. We desire the simplicity of a satisfying meal and togetherness with others around a table. We long for an eternal peace. We crave time to stop, that we might try to fully ingest the overarching story of our lives and God’s gracious hand weaving there throughout.

Something We Receive

My grandmother will not whisk gravy at her stove this Thanksgiving, but I have learned home from her, and I have become the whisker and masher and baker. I will make mashed potatoes for my sons, and perhaps while I work at peeling them, my boys will perch on a stool at the counter and watch, taking in the sights and smells. More likely, they will wrestle in the leaf pile or run through the house with their cousins while the Cowboys game blares in the background.
Home, I’ve realized, is something we receive, something created and cultivated for us. I work tirelessly to create a place, a feeling, of “home” for my children, but my feeling of home is what was created for me. I imitate what I saw and smelled and learned from those before me.
We’re all, in effect, imitating the One who’s set a longing for home in our hearts. It is a whisper we must lean down to hear, an invitation to carefully investigate. We think the longing calls us back to the places and faces we’ve known, back to the traditions and tastes we’ve enjoyed. Instead, it is coaxing us forward, to look for the place and the face we’ve not yet known by sight. We know by faith what we’ve not yet seen, but we only know it now as longing.
Our Christ is preparing a home for us, you know.
The longing rises, even in the midst of our thankfulness. Something is not yet complete. The world strains under its own pressure. Our hearts cry out — for redemption, for settledness, for rest from this darkness and this flesh. We cry out for our God. The ultimate longing underneath all we crave is to be at home with him, at the table, studying every contour of his face, hearing the tenor of his voice, enjoying his delight, trying the heavenly mashed potatoes, and relating to others without sin. Perhaps the only remaining holiday in heaven will be Thanksgiving.

Home That Is Ahead

In this liminal space, we live with thankful longing. We know that the world has been set right, and this is why we’re thankful, but its rightness is still being disseminated. We are left longing, because God is not yet done pursuing. We must humbly give him space for his own longing.
In this in-between, we create imitations of our real home through the table, the talk, and the giving of thanks. When we gather with friends and family and lift our meager words of thanksgiving to God, we pause the advance of age and time if just for a moment and, with our traditions and tastes, foreshadow our heavenly home. As we will do there, we turn our attention to the host, who has provided a bountiful feast of celebration and gladly serves all who’ve accepted the invitation to the table. We enjoy the company of our brothers and sisters, named so by blood. We accept with gladness the offered food that satisfies and cup that quenches. We receive all we’ve been given ⎯ oh how much! ⎯ with humble thanksgiving and, here only, a prayerful desire for more.
Friends, let this Thanksgiving be a taste of home. Make your family’s traditional foods, watch your family’s traditional movies, and play your family’s traditional games. And when a twinge of longing attaches to your thanks-giving, remember that this was set in our hearts by the great Giver.
We’re all hungry. We’re all thirsty. We’re all weary and heavy laden. Let the longing for a true north lead you to Christ and an anticipation of what’s to come. In your rest from work, know that he who began a good work in us will carry it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Pass out appetizers of grace and truth, preparation for the feast to come. Love wildly. Forgive tirelessly. Thank him unabashedly. In all things, imitate and anticipate the final Thanksgiving table and a place where all our longings will finally find their home.

Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go. Washington

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Praise Him for His Love

Steven Dilla at Park Forum:  Goodness and Mercy

1 Peter 2.9-10
Proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 
As we prepare to spend a day of thanksgiving, I’m reminded that I’ll say thanks to God far more often than I’ll follow the instruction of 1 Peter 2 and proclaim my thankfulness for God.
The Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne, whose Scripture reading plan we follow on The Park Forum, explains why we can be thankful for God:
1. He is good. Believers should praise God for what he is in himself. When a sinner is brought to Christ, he is brought to the Father. Jesus gave himself for us, “that he might bring us to God.” Oh! what a sight breaks in upon the soul, the infinite, eternal, unchangeable God!
Praise him for his pure, lovely holiness, that cannot bear any sin in his sight. Cry, like the angels, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Praise him for his infinite wisdom, that he knows the end from the beginning. In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Praise him for his power, that all matter, all mind, is in his hand. The heart of the king, the heart of saint and sinner, are all in his hand. Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigns. Praise him for his love; for God is love
2. For his mercy, for what he has done for us. “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Praise him, O my people! for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever. You were in the burning; the pains of hell were actually getting hold on you. You had a hell in your own hearts; but the Lord snatched you from the burning. Will you not praise him?
Dear children of God, unite your praises. Let your hearts no more be divided. Join in one cry: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain; thou art worthy to open the book; thou art worthy to reign in our hearts.” And, oh! be fervent in praise. Lift up your voices in it; lift up your hearts in it.
M’Cheyne observes that in the Scriptures “thanksgiving brings down the Spirit of God.” In this way, gathering with our family and friends to say thanks is an act of worship.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Good Father

You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.

1 Peter 1: 17 [Message]

Able to Make All Grace Abound

Jon Bloom:  Jesus Will Provide the Wine

Why did the wine run out at the Cana wedding (John 2:1–12)? Did the hosts plan unwisely? Did uninvited guests turn up and exceed their capacity? Did they run short of funds to provide enough wine?
The Bible doesn’t tell us, which is a mercy. Because whether it was a failure of human wisdom, strength, or resources — all familiar failures to us — there was a need that the human hosts could not meet.
But unknown to the hosts, the Lord of hosts was a guest at this wedding, veiled in flesh. Mary knew, though, and she knew that he was able to make all grace abound so that there would be all sufficiency to meet this need (2 Corinthians 9:8). So she informed her son, the Lord, about the need and glorious grace flowed freely.
But the glory that Jesus manifested at this wedding was more than his omnipotent authority over nature. For those who could see it that day, a deeper, brighter glory of the Triune God’s abounding, all-sufficient love for foolish, weak, sin-impoverished people blazed forth.
Out of Jesus’s fullness the wedding guests received grace upon grace (John 1:16). They drank the very best earthly wine ever created, made by the Creator of grapes himself. But more than that, the wine they drank freely was a foretaste of the gospel.
Jesus knew the time for making the real gospel wine of Calvary had not yet come (John 2:4). But this wedding wine, poured out of vessels of purification, foreshadowed that best of all wines, which would be served after humans had done their sinful insufficient best to meet their need and failed. This wine would flow freely with infinite abundance from the purest Vessel of all time for the greatest wedding of all time.
That’s why when you run out of “wine” today, when you fail in wisdom, power, or resources, or fail to meet the righteous requirement of God’s law, or fail to love the Lord with all your heart, you need not fear. Jesus, your Lord, your Groom, the Master of the Great Wedding feast, has infinite power and infinite love and is “able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
Trust him. Jesus will provide the wine you need. Just do whatever he tells you.