Connections | Tuesday, December 12, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Notable Quotables

“I want to be on a rampage of appreciation every single day!” (Wayne Dyer)

“Jesus never met a person he didn’t love, nor a life he couldn’t change.” (Ron Edmonson)

“The Bible is not a record of good people earning God’s blessing; it’s a record of bad people receiving God’s blessing because Jesus earned it for us.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“Painting: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” (Ambrose Bierce)

“Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.” (Jean Sibelius)

Around the Net

His Name Shall Be (Paul Tautges)
Isaiah 9:6-7, which was proclaimed 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, is one of the most-often quoted prophecies of the Savior’s first coming, but the prophecy longs to be completely satisfied when Jesus returns a second time to establish His perfect reign on the earth.” Who is this Jesus? What has he done? What will he do when he returns? In this passage, the humanity of the Savior is made clear, says Tautges. The deity and ministry of the Savor are also made clear.

10 Critical Trends for Churches in 2018 (Thom Rainer)
“Never in my lifetime have I seen local congregations at such a critical juncture. Cultural Christianity is all but dead. The ‘Nones,’ those without any religious preference, are increasing. Many of the communities are no longer friendly to local churches; some have become adversarial. But in the waves of these seas of negativity, are mercy drops of hope and possibilities. Look at these ten major trends carefully. See how God would have your church respond.”

Children and the Peril of Internet Fame (Samuel James)
A parent records their child doing/saying something moving/saddening/remarkable. The parent then posts the video of their child to social media. Social media reacts strongly to the video, and before you know it, the video—and the child—are ‘viral’ digital sensations. They start trending on Buzzfeed, being re-shared by celebrities and athletes, and almost everyone seems to be talking about this child and what he or she said or did.”

When Sinners Adopt It’s Beautiful . . . and Really Difficult (Katie Hughes)
“I think that in order for the church to really embrace adoption and foster care, we must do away with this notion of “special” people being called into it. It’s become an easy thing to point to in order to avoid really praying about and considering it. It also sets adoptive parents on a pedestal, which they certainly don’t need. Normal sinners adopt. God is the one who works the miracles that make it possible.”

A Stupid Bumper Sticker and American Christianity (Russell Moore)
“A stupid bumper sticker is a stupid bumper sticker. I wouldn’t even mention it if the only problem here was that the combination of biblical illiteracy with temporal obsessions too often sums up American evangelicalism. The problem is that the message of that bumper sticker often does too. The idea is that Jesus would not have been victimized had he just had the power to defend himself.”

Something to Ponder

Giving Like God at Christmastime

“The Son of God . . . divested himself of heavenly wealth and became an impoverished child so the fragile flesh of humanity could be taken up into God’s embrace. The circle of the Eternal Intimates opened up, and gifts traversed its boundaries to reach those in need. Our gifts [at Christmas] shouldn’t just travel on a two-way street so givers and receivers can delight in one another; they should travel on a one-way street so that the needy may be helped, being imparted to those who may not be able to give in return.

“At Christmas we should celebrate two kinds of gift giving, not just one. Christmas should be a feast of reciprocal giving in a circle of intimates, a provisional enactment of the advent of God’s future world. But it should also be a feast of giving to those outside the circle, a small contribution helping to align the world of sin and need with the coming world of love. . . . Gifts should therefore chiefly flow out to the needy; they shouldn’t largely circulate among friends.”

– Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

The Glory of Creation

Holiday Horses

horses-two-white-snow-gallop
Image Credit: Mario Mendes

Into All the World

“Put money in the red pots. Talk to the bell-wringers. Ask if you can buy them a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, since many work in the cold. Give them a kind pat on the shoulder or shake their hand. Pray for them. Do this all for Christ, who is in them.” (Doug Groothuis)

Connections

Connections | Monday, December 11, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
(Isaiah 11:1-6)

Notable Quotables

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” (Henry David Thoreau)

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” (Mark Twain)

“Behind that accusing voice that whispers, ‘Look at what YOU have done!’ is the absolving voice that shouts, ‘Look at what I have done!’” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“God’s gift to his sorrowing creatures is to give them joy worthy of their destiny.” (Johann Sebastian Bach)

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” (George Addair)

Around the Net

Just Drop the Blanket (Jason Soroski)
“Charlie Brown is best known for his uniquely striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up. Until this moment. When he simply drops it.”

Christmas: The Day God Waged War (Aaron Armstrong)
“This year, remember Christmas not just as ‘Jesus’ birthday’ as some of us tell our kids, but as the day God waged war on sin and death. For when we do, it changes the celebration. It doesn’t remove the joy or the excitement. It doesn’t turn what should be thrilling into a funeral procession. If anything, remembering this only deepens our excitement. For Christmas is the day God waged war—and it’s a war He wins.”

Anxiety and Depression, My Strange Friends (Scott Sauls)
“The ‘very crazy, very damaged’ people in Scripture seem to be the ones through whom God did the greatest things. Hannah experienced bitterness of soul over infertility and a broken domestic situation. Elijah felt so beaten down by ministry that he asked God to take his life. David repeatedly asked his own soul why it was so downcast. Each of these biblical saints, in her/his own way, was empowered by God to change the world—not in spite of the affliction but because of it and through it.”

Can You Really Just Do It? (Paul Tripp)
“Only when I humbly embrace my weakness, humbly admit my limits, and humbly recognize how small I actually am, can I begin to reach out for the help of the loving, powerful, and gracious Redeemer who is the true source of my strength, wisdom, and hope. Only then can I begin to function as an instrument in his powerful hands, rather than being in his way because, in forgetting who I am and who he is, I have been trying to do his job.”

How Mind-Wandering Spurs Creativity (Juila Christensen, et al.)
“Art appreciation is held in high esteem in most cultures and societies. It is often portrayed as a laborious cognitive exercise, but this is to forget that the arts provide an opportunity for intense emotional experiences, positive mind-wandering and psychobiological self-regulation. Dürer perhaps captures the activity of such inactivity best of all. ‘If a man devotes himself to art,’ he wrote, ‘much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle.’”

Something to Ponder

Don’t Let Christmas Distract You from Jesus

“There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.

“I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by ‘Jesus.’ This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.”

– Jared C. Wilson

The Glory of Creation

Arching toward Winter

winter-snow-trees-branch-bend
Image Credit: @irina3529

Into All the World

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” (Ben Sweetland)

Connections

Connections | Friday, December 8, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:2-7)

Notable Quotables

“God gave us memories so we could have roses in December.” (Vin Scully)

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play.” (L. P. Jacks)

“My only hope is in the goodness, grace, and mercy of a God who knows everything about me and loves me anyway.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“The real measure of our wealth is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money.” (J. H. Jowett)

“People who are greatly loved usually got that way because they loved others greatly.” (Ron Edmonson)

Around the Net

8 Ways to Become More Humble (Jane Tooher)
“At every stage of our Christian development, and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. Jane Tooher, Director of the Priscilla and Aquila Centre, an organization for the encouragement of the ministries of women in partnership with men, offers eight ways to become more humble. Some of them (e.g., confess your sins regularly, and be ready to accept humiliations) are quite challenging.”

Recovering from Burnout (Elizabeth Grace Saunders)
“You might think, ‘Everyone else is to blame for my burnout.’ But this victim mindset only blocks you from doing anything about your situation. . . . It’s far better to adopt an ownership mindset, that sounds like this: Others may have contributed to my situation, but I have the ability to make choices that can improve my present and future. Thinking in this way gives you the license to choose, even in small ways, to take action to recharge and build momentum. Realizing you have autonomy opens up hope for the future.”

7 Reasons to Trust the New Testament More Than a Blind Poet (Dan DeWitt)
“The Greek poet Homer was thought to be blind. He lived about seven or eight hundred years before Jesus. His writings, the Iliad and the Odyssey have more ancient copies than any other piece of literature from the distant past. Except, that is, for the Bible. But no one is praying to Homer or basing their lives on the Odyssey. Why do we treat the Bible differently than we treat Homer’s writings? They are both old. They are both classics. Why do Christians go one giant step further and say that the Bible is the basis for our beliefs and our lifestyles?”

Shaped by God: Thinking and Feeling in Tune with the Psalms (John Piper)
Free e-book on the Psalms by John Piper. “The whole Bible teaches truth and awakens emotions, but the Psalms are in a category of their own. They do not just awaken the heart; they put it in the foreground. They do not merely invite our emotions to respond to God’s truth; they put our emotions on display. . . . My aim in this book is God-centered, Christ-exalting, Psalms-saturated thinking and feeling. I believe this kind of thinking and feeling will bear fruit in the kind of living that cares for people and magnifies Christ.”

A Historian’s 5 Tips on Writing (Justin Taylor)
Kevin Kruse is professor of history at Princeton University. He is the author of two important works in American religious history: White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (2005) and One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (2015). At his Twitter account, @KevinMKruse, Professor Kruse did a series of tweets on writing advice. With his permission, they are reprinted here in a more permanent format.

Something to Ponder

A Visited Planet

“It is fifteen hundred years ago that the apparently invincible Roman Empire utterly collapsed, and all that is left of it is ruins. Yet the little baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history. It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic can ever explain away.

“That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.”

– J. B. Phillips

The Glory of Creation

Winter Dusting

branches-berries-snow

Image Credit: Mario Mendes

The Friday Funny

Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance in the Chocolate Factory

Into All the World

“We might impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our weaknesses.” (Craig Groeschel)

Connections

Connections | Thursday, December 7, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:6-12)

Notable Quotables

“Hope has a thick skin and will endure many a blow.” (John Bunyan)

“Trials without God will break you. Trials with God will make you.” (Unknown)

“It is crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him.” (John Piper)

“Some people are hurting so bad you have to do more than preach a message to them. You have to be a message to them.” (Unknown)

“A guilty conscience is more terrified by imagined dangers, than a pure conscience is by real ones.” (John Flavel)

Around the Net

The Night the Author Entered the Story (Dan DeWitt)
“For Hamlet to know Shakespeare personally, intimately even, the author would have to write himself into the story. As Lewis said, ‘Hamlet could initiate nothing.’ For the two to meet, ‘it must be Shakespeare’s doing.’ This is the basic claim of the Christian narrative. There is an author to our story, to our world. If ever we would meet him, it will not be of our own initiation. He must act. He must write himself into human history. And he has. As the Apostle John says, ‘In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh.’”

When You Grieve a Prodigal’s Sin More Than He or She Does (Churck Lawless)
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) has a happy ending. The wayward son comes home, and the father throws big feast for him. But what did the father do before do while he was away? “If it hasn’t happened to you yet as a believer, I suspect it will—that is, you’ll face a time when you grieve someone’s sin more than he or she does. When you walk in the footsteps of the father of the prodigal son, hang on to these thoughts.”

Stop Trying to Grow the Fruits of the Spirit (J. D. Greear)
“Some Christians approach spiritual growth like stapling roses to a dead rosebush. But stapling roses on a dead plant doesn’t fix the real problem. In the same way, you won’t grow spiritually by trying to add love, joy, peace, and everything else to your life. You can only do it by driving your roots deep into Christ. The more you embrace his love and promise in the gospel, the more spiritual fruits will appear naturally in your life.”

Faith and Healing One Month after Sutherland Springs (Silvia Foster-Frau)
Frank Pomeroy pauses outside his daughter’s room, unable to enter. He knows what’s inside: Annabelle’s bed, her One Direction poster, and various items in shades of purple—her favorite color. But Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, can’t look in her room yet. It reminds them too much of the girl they lost. Four weeks after the church massacre, time stretches and snaps for people in this town of 600 south of San Antonio, shifting from fast to slow to fast again. One moment, it’s as if their loved ones were just there with them. The next, there’s a gaping hole, a monumental loss.

Just Say ‘Thanks’ (Zach Barnhart)
“Some of us have lost all of the thanksgiving in our Thanksgiving (and the days that follow), despite what the Instagram posts might say. But the Christian need not lose heart. Holidays, despite whatever they represent culturally, are powerful opportunities for us to remember, reflect, and, most of all, to recover Christian thankfulness, propelling us into the year to come. The same God who can make dry bones live can revive even a dead consumerist back to his glory and praise.”

Something to Ponder

The Awe-Inspiring Humility of God

“What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance. For Christians believe that so great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man. Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day’s celebration we do well to remember that God’s insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility. There was no advertisement, no publicity, no special privilege; in fact. the entry of God into his own world was almost heartbreakingly humble. In sober fact there is little romance or beauty in the thought of a young woman looking desperately for a place where she could give birth to her first baby. I do not think for a moment that Mary complained, but it is a bitter commentary upon the world that no one would give up a bed for the pregnant woman—and that the Son of God must be born in a stable.”

– J. B. Phillips

The Glory of Creation

Birds of a Feather

winter-birds-two-pine-branch

Image Credit: walpapersafari.com

Into All the World

“Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.” (Robert Half)

 

Connections

Connections | Wednesday, December 6, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Notable Quotables

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” (Unknown)

“There’s nothing that makes you more miserable, or less interesting, than self-absorption.” (Tim Keller)

“There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian.” (Eugene Peterson)

“Good news. God will stop caring about you when he stops caring about Jesus. Until that day, you matter to God.” (Stephen Altrogge)

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Around the Net

Advent: The Birth of Christ Is Too Big for One Day (Ed Stetzer)
“Part of celebrating Advent is slowing down and letting our hearts and minds be reoriented around the coming of Christ. This season is a celebration of many things, but mostly—powerfully—it’s a celebration of a baby boy born 2,000 years ago in the tiny town of Bethlehem. He is Jesus: the long-awaited Messiah. He spent his days on earth healing the sick, speaking life to the hurting, and bringing sight to the blind. . . . The child in the manger wasn’t just a sign of God’s grace on a fallen world, but a guarantee of the redemption still to come.”

Is the Genealogy Really Such a Let Down? (Peter Mead)
So, you arrive in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 1. Here it is! This is the good news! And then you find . . . a genealogy. Disappointing to say the least. Surely God could have launched the New Testament with something more exciting than a list of old names? Actually, the genealogy at the start of the New Testament is a reason to celebrate. More than that, it gives us reason to press on in our ministry. Here are three reasons to be thankful for the genealogy that launches our New Testaments.:

Three Men Who Taught Me to Love Theology (Aaron Armstrong)
Here’s a brief testimony that might launch your own love for theology. “Chesterton, Packer, and Lewis. These men didn’t teach me what to think, necessarily. They didn’t teach me what I was supposed to believe. Instead, these are the men who are to blame for creating in me a hunger for something I never knew I wanted. A wonderful gift that has sustained me throughout some of the most difficult times of my adult life. A deep love of theology. One I am forever grateful for.”

3 Ways Your Faith is Tested When God Says ‘No’ (Colin Smith)
“For all eternity, who you are and what you will be will rest on Jesus Christ and all that he has done for you. That’s grace—and understanding grace takes the sting out of disappointment. When you know what it cost the Savior for your name to be written in heaven, for your sins to be forgiven, and for your eternal future to be secured, you will find great joy in what he has done for you, irrespective of what you may or may not get to do for him.”

5 Reasons the Homogeneous Church Is Declining and Dying (Thom Rainer)
“When you are in your worship services next Sunday, look at the people around you. Do they all look like you? Do they all come from the same economic backgrounds? Are they all about the same age? If so, you are in a homogeneous church. As the old homogeneous unit principle implied, ‘We attract people who are like us.’ That principle was a point of contention and debate for decades. . . . I contend that the homogenous church is declining and dying. Why? Here are five key reasons.”

Something to Ponder

Indifference toward Christmas

“The particular danger which faces us as Christmas approaches is unlikely to be contempt for the sacred season, but nevertheless our familiarity with it may easily produce in us a kind of indifference. The true wonder and mystery may leave us unmoved; familiarity may easily blind us to the shining fact that lies at the heart of Christmastide. We are all aware of the commercialization of Christmas; we can hardly help being involved in the frantic business of buying and sending gifts and cards. We shall without doubt enjoy the carols, the decorations, the feasting and jollification, the presents, the parties, the dancing and the general atmosphere of goodwill that almost magically permeates the days of Christmas. But we may not always see clearly that so much decoration and celebration has been heaped upon the festival that the historic fact upon which all the rejoicing is founded has been almost smothered out of existence.”

– J. B. Phillips

The Glory of Creation

A Path to Winter

snow-field-path-winterImage Credit: @ntomova1

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to This New Life co-author Sonya Valentino. She’s not getting older, she’s getting better!

Into All the World

“Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” (Anonymous)

 

 

Connections

Connections | Tuesday, December 5, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” (Micah 5:2-5).

Notable Quotables

“Grace is the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Grace keeps the lamps lit and the door open.” (Paul Zahl)

“The father does not trade forgiveness for good behavior. He kisses the prodigal son before he gets his confession out of his mouth.” (Robert Capon)

“The great basis of Christian assurance is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably his heart is set on us.” (Tim Keller)

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” (Denis Waitley)

“God save us from gloomy saints!” (Teresa of Ávila)

Around the Net

The Worst Time for Advent is the Perfect Time for Advent (Aaron Earls)
“Maybe you’re struggling to begin the Advent season. With all of the chaos happening nationally and globally, perhaps even locally and personally, is it difficult to transition into a time of reflection and festive preparation? But this is the perfect time to celebrate Advent because as we’ve seen it echoes the first Christmas. It seemed to be the worst possible time, but God called it the ‘fullness of time.’”

3 Prayers to Help You Be Hospitable This Holiday Season (Michael Kelley)
“Here we go, friends—it’s the holiday season again. And that means a lot of things, including an increase opportunity to practice hospitality. This is the season of the year when we tend to host more people in our homes and churches than most other times of the year. These few weeks, then, are a chance for Christians to take hold of this quality that characterized the New Testament church.”

The Likely Culprit behind the Increase in Teen Depression (Jean Twenge)
“Not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time spent online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets. We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.”

Doctors Prescribe a Dose of Nature for Anxiety (Shamard Charles)
“Huddle’s treatment plan is part of a growing field of medicine called “ecotherapy”—nature-based programs and exercises that can help patients cope with mental and physical illnesses. Instead of prescriptions for more pills, doctors around the country are increasingly prescribing trips to the park for a range of conditions, including anxiety and depression, attention deficit disorder and chronic illness such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Something to Ponder

The King Will Be Seen for Who He Is

“The New Testament is indeed a book full of hope, but we may search it in vain for any vague humanist optimism. The second coming of Christ, the second eruption of eternity into time, will be immediate, violent and conclusive. The human experiment is to end, illusion will give way to reality, the temporary disappear before the permanent, and the king will be seen for who he is. The thief in the night, the lightning flash, the sound of the last trumpet, the voice of God’s archangel—these may all be picture-language, but they are pictures of something sudden, catastrophic, and decisive. By no stretch of the imagination do they describe a gradual process.

“I believe that the atheistic-scientific-humanist point of view is, despite its apparent humanitarianism, both misleading and cruel. In appearance it may resemble Christianity in that it would encourage tolerance, love, understanding, and the amelioration of human conditions. But at heart it is cruel, because it teaches that this life is the only life, that we have no place prepared for us in eternity, and that the only realities are those that we can appreciate in our present temporary habitation.”

– J. B. Phillips

The Glory of Creation

Winter’s Approach

winter-woods-sun-rays
Image Credit: @yasir553377

Into All the World

“The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” (Stephen Covey)

Connections

Connections | Monday, December 4, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14)

Notable Quotables

“Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle.” (G. Scrivener)

“Those who are in the most dangerous place are not those who know they are adulterers and murderers, but those who think they aren’t.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“‘I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself” means you’ve failed an idol, whose approval is more important than God’s.” (Tim Keller)

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us if the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.” (C. S. Lewis)

“When you talk, you are repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” (David Roads)

Around the Net

Advent: Four Elements of ‘Wait Training’ (Rich Villodas)
“It’s hard for us to wait—and not just because we are impatient. It’s hard to wait because we often don’t believe God is at work in our lives. But Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s the annual reminder that God is for creation and moves towards us. Even so, it’s hard to wait. One of the primary reasons it’s hard to wait is because our understanding of waiting has been incomplete. I’m frequently asked to help people understand what it means to wait on the Lord. I submit to you a few things I have learned along the way.”

Charles Dickens Still Haunts Christmas (Laura Kenna)
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a movie about Charles Dickens’ six-week period during which he wrote A Christmas Carol. It’s “a thoroughly pleasant, sometimes funny, and occasionally reflective story with a PG-rating and storybook aesthetic that recommend it as the go-to family film of this holiday season. Dan Stevens—once a star of Downton Abbey—delivers an eccentric, anxious, animated young Dickens to the screen. He gets incredible mileage out of his expressive blue eyes and conveys Dickens’s writerly flights of inspiration with a near crackling energy.”

My Default Assumption Is Wrong (David McLemore)
“The default assumption I bring to my relationship with God is that he loves me for what I do. I bet you assume the same thing, too. But where did this idea come from? I have three sons and each one of them was lovely in my eyes from the moment I knew they existed. As soon as the news came that my wife was pregnant, I loved a person that had not yet done anything good or bad. . . . But when I think about God, I assume that he loves me based on what I do, not merely for who I am. And that assumption is a lie.

Our Crushing Snare (Trillia Newbell)
“Preoccupation with what others think is pride. Perhaps you long to be highly regarded. Maybe you hate the idea of being misunderstood (oh, how I relate). Whatever it is, it’s pride, and we know God opposes the proud (James 4:6). Every true believer longs for gospel humility. None of us wishes to stay as we are—we want to be transformed into Christlikeness. Christians don’t desire to disobey God and grieve the Spirit. Besides, it’s no fun being consumed by what you think someone else thinks.”

Multiverse: Is Our Universe One of Many? (Danny R. Faulkner)
“Scientists today increasingly talk and write about the multiverse. What is the multiverse? The multiverse is the belief that our universe is just one of many universes. Presumably, each universe exists parallel to and independent of one another. If this sounds like science fiction, philosophy, or religion, it is, because the multiverse could be classified in any one of those categories. Whatever the multiverse is, it definitely is not science.”

Something to Ponder

The Towering Miracle of God’s Visit

“By far the most important and significant event in the whole course of human history will be celebrated, with or without understanding, at the end of this season, Advent. The towering miracle of God’s visit to this planet on which we live will be glossed over, brushed aside or rendered impotent by over-familiarity. Even by the believer the full weight of the event is not always appreciated. His faith is in Jesus Christ—he believes with all his heart that this man, who lived and died and rose again in Palestine, was truly the Son of God. He may have, in addition, some working experience that the man Jesus is still alive, and yet be largely unaware of the intense meaning of what he believes.

“Does he, for instance, as he daily treads the surface of this planet, reflect with confidence that ‘my God has been here, here on this earth’? Does he keep his faith wrapped in a napkin as a precious thing and apart; or does he allow every discovery of the truth to enlarge his conception of the God behind this immensely complex universe? And does he then marvel and adore the infinite wisdom and power, which so humbly descends to human stature? We rejoice in the fact that God has actually been here.”

– J. B. Phillips

The Glory of Creation

Super-moon

supermoon-lakeImage Credit: Philomena Gabriel 

Into All the World

“Life is about making an impact, not making an income.” (Kevin Kruse)

Connections

Connections | Friday, December 1, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“Now Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.’ And now, O Lord, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true.” (2 Chronicles 6:16-17)

Notable Quotables

“I am imagination. I can see what the eyes cannot see. I can hear what the ears cannot hear. I can feel what the heart cannot feel.” (Peter Nivio Zarlenga)

“If we have learned anything else it is that the ideas of the poets and artists penetrate where everything else has failed.” (Norman Cousins)

“The value of the cleansed imagination in the sphere of religion lies in its power to perceive in natural things shadows of things spiritual.” (A. W. Tozer)

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the . . . purifying of imagination by his beauty.” (William Temple)

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” (Michelangelo)

Around the Net

God Is Worthy of Your ‘Wow’ (Josh Parsons)
“I’m sure you have some ‘Wow’ moments in your life. But how often in a church or ministry setting do we stop and say, ‘Wow’? I’m talking about stopping and saying, ‘Wow’ at the absolute majesty and breathtaking beauty of God. The Psalms do this often. But are you like me, sometimes coming to church interested only in information? ‘What can I understand about God? What can God give to me? Tell me facts about God, preferably facts that fit what I want him to be. Then I’ll maybe think about saying ‘Wow.’ Psalm 117 is a remedy to this sad impulse within us.”

5 Reasons We Switched from Small Groups to Sunday School (Jim Davis)
“This fall we did something that will seem crazy to many. We moved from a small group model to a Sunday school model (under a different name). Most church-growth material over the past 20 years would advise against this move. We are a young, growing, contemporary church. Why would we make that change? Here are five reasons. . . . The Lord has and will continue to use the small group model. We would, though, like to challenge the assumption that small groups accomplish all they claim. There is a growing sentiment among pastors in younger churches that small groups will go the way of the church organ. We’ll see.”

Why Did Matthew Write His Gospel? (Jeremy Bouma)
“Why did Matthew write his gospel, and in the way he wrote it? Consider the material the Evangelist added to his narrative: He began with an extensive genealogy. He grouped together Jesus’s teachings into a sermon. He has Jesus sending the disciples first to the Jews. He made a big deal about Peter’s confession. He added several parables after the Olivet Discourse. Bouma identifies four threads of purpose: (1) Jesus as the new Moses; (2) Jesus loves gentiles, too; (3) Jesus and the not-yet kingdom; (4) Jesus’s “who” is what’s important. My own view is that what gathers up these four threads is reading Matthew as “Jewish apologetic.”

Letting Go of Self-Sufficiency (Lara d’Entremont)
“The sin of self-sufficiency isn’t one that we discuss often. Probably because we haven’t taken the time to consider it to be a problem. Not only that, our culture is constantly preaching to us that we need to strive for self-sufficiency; be the girl boss that you are and run your business all by yourself, you can achieve your dreams all by yourself, you can be the church all on your own, and you are capable of conquering your mountains. Here’s the problem: That is all a detrimental lie.”

How to Let Go at the End of the Workday (Deborah Bright)
“According to a seven-year study on workers’ performance, an inability to make this break between professional and personal time ranked among the top-10 stressful situations that people were least effective at handling. Technology has, of course, exacerbated the problem, offering both convenience and imposition, by putting our workplaces just a touch screen away. How can we all do a better job of leaving work at work, so our home lives become more pleasurable and less stressful? In my practice counseling executives, I encourage them to use end-of-day routines to create a psychological barrier between their two worlds.”

Something to Ponder

Sacrifice Your Preferences on Sundays

“Now, if we walk into church and the music feels stylistically foreign, laying down our personal preferences is a real sacrifice. It’s difficult, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. Every church has a musical voice, a certain cultural home base that depends on any number of factors. It can’t be avoided.

“Any church’s music will feel more comfortable for some people, and more awkward for others. We should acknowledge and even honor the weekly sacrifices some make when the church gathers—particularly those who belong to an ethnic, cultural, or generational minority. And if possible, church leaders should take proactive steps toward making our music more hospitable and less alienating for a wider variety of folks.

“But the local church is never the place to demand that our personal preferences be met. In fact, it’s precisely the opposite. It’s where we can obey Paul’s countercultural exhortation: ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:3–4).

“If I struggle to enjoy any of the songs at my church, I should consider how God might be using these songs to build others up. I need to learn how to rejoice when the church sings someone else’s favorite song or style—especially if they are of a different generation, ethnicity, or culture than I am.”

– Matt Merker

The Glory of Creation

Milling Around

mill-wheel-woods-fallImage Credit: @kattakuri

The Friday Funny

Brian Regan: ‘Get Some Leaves!

Into All the World

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Harold R. McAlindon)

Connections

Connections | Thursday, November 30, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.
Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.”
(Numbers 24:17-19)

Notable Quotables

“Suffering is a bone-breaking school of theology, but it graduates the best students.” (Chad Bird)

“Anyone can pedal hard going down the hill, but you win the race of life by pedaling hard up the hill.” (William Paisley)

“Throughout his ministry, Jesus kept telling his disciples that his ultimate mission was to die on their behalf. There is no kingdom of God without his death for us.” (Michael Horton)

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” (Anonymous)

“There are two ways to get enough: One is to accumulate more and more, the other is to desire less.” (G. K. Chesterton)

Around the Net

C. S. Lewis: The Bridge to Something More (Aaron Earls)
“C. S. Lewis may be the most quoted and beloved 20th-century writer. Because of his ability to speak so clearly and intelligently on deep theological subjects, Christians often misuse and occasionally misjudge Lewis. We often view him as a professor of theology instead of English literature. In that role, Lewis would serve as a bridge to connect students to pieces of literature they had never been exposed to or experienced. That is the primary role Lewis played as a Christian for many during and after his life. He is a bridge.”

The Bible Is About Jesus (David Qaoud)
“An important aspect of understanding the Bible is understanding it as a story. One crucial aspect of understanding this story is how the story’s hero—Jesus Christ—relates to certain figures, events, and institutions in the Old Testament. Without understanding how these figures ultimately point to Christ, you’ll miss out on a wealth of Bible understanding. How exactly do certain Old Testament realities point to Jesus?” Qaoud highlights the approaches of Tim Keller and Christopher Wright.

Enlarging Our Capacity to Give Grace (Daniel Darling)
“The gospel offers something both shocking and hopeful to relationships. It reminds me of my own need for grace, a poverty I share with the person who has provoked me. This new vision empowers me to see others in a new light. When my wife sins, I stop using it as leverage to get my way. Rather, I offer forgiveness, knowing my capacity for sin is no smaller than hers. When my children disobey, I’m not surprised—only eager to correct them in love. When I read about a famous celebrity who can’t seem to make wise choices, I’m less likely to join the mocking chorus.”

8 Ways Churches Can Leverage the Ubiquity of Smartphones (Jonathan Howe)
In 2011, smartphones were almost a novelty. Just 35% of American adults had one. That number has more than doubled in the past six years, and more than 9 in 10 adults under 30 have a smartphone. When someone is considering a new phone, the question is no longer ‘will I get a smartphone?’ but ‘which smartphone will I get?’ Now that this device has become almost attached to us 24-7 (I’ll be the first to admit, I’m tethered to mine), how is the church adapting? Or better yet, how should the church adapt and engage the smartphone? Here are eight ways.”

How to Block the Troubling Stories in Your Media Feeds (Leigh Anderson)
“Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to keep up with family and friends, and even a bare minimum of news, without being forced to see every dreadful thing that the Facebook sidebar throws in your face? Well, there is. It’s called Sadblock, a browser extension that will hide all the sad and troubling stories in your newsfeed. It’s a kind of digital-age version of soma, the opiate in Brave New World that makes people forget they’re living under a repressive regime.”

Something to Ponder

Beauty and Truth

“True Christianity produces beauty as well as truth. If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim. This is a common blind spot among Bible-believing people. An orthodox doctrinal statement on paper might make us proud, but it alone will not make us convincing. Gospel doctrine must create gospel culture. Without the human beauty that Jesus died to create in us, we only show that we are trifling with his truth even as we think we are upholding his truth.”

– Francis Schaeffer

The Glory of Creation

A Different Kind of Dogwood

doggwood-surprising-nature
Image Credit: @SurprisingNature

Into All the World

“Dare yourself each day to be a blessing to someone.” (Anonymous)

Connections

Connections | Wednesday, November 29, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, O Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.
He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.”
(Genesis 49:8-11)

Notable Quotables

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” (Babe Ruth)

“We impress people with our successes, but we connect with people in our failures.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“We don’t begin to know what freedom is until we come to a place in our lives where we have no need to impress anybody.” (Anonymous)

“In nature we see where God has been. In our fellow man, we see where he is still at work.” (Robert Brault)

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” (Albert Einstein)

Around the Net

Single Is Never Second Best (Lydia Brownback)
Marriage is good, but it’s not inherently better than singleness. In this article, Lydia Brownback writes about her experience as a 40-something single woman, and how God has taught her about her unique privilege. “Singleness isn’t second best. To the contrary, it’s a privileged calling with unique blessings to enjoy and to pour out for others. Are we willing to embrace it unless or until God calls us to marriage? That’s the real question. And those who say yes will never be disappointed.”

Glorification (Tom Clewer)
“The Bible looks to a final chapter in the story of redemption called glorification. It is the moment when Christ returns, the dead are raised, and all the redeemed are instantaneously transformed into the glorious likeness of Christ. Paul describes the scene, ‘the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’ (1 Cor 15:52).vIf you’re a Christian, your death won’t be the end of your story. You will pass into the presence of God, and you will know complete peace and joy, but that still will not be the end.”

8 Reasons Why I Choose to Be a Friend to My Pastor (Chuck Lawless)
Chuck Lawless was my doctoral supervisor in 2008-09. His ministry focus is prayer, evangelism, spiritual warfare, and pastoral health. He is gracious, wise, and dedicated to the success of the local church. “I’m excited to be a part of our church in Wake Forest, Restoration Church, and I love my pastor. I’m proud of him and enjoy working beside him. I’m also honored to carry some of his burdens for him. Here’s why all of us need to be a friend to our pastors.”

It’s Time to Emancipate Our Theology from Western Culture (Carl Ellis)
“All theology is contextual—historically and culturally determined. . . . Addressing cultural concerns theologically is to be expected. There is nothing wrong with this. However, we get into trouble when our theology is bound by those ‘cultural concerns.’  While theology is contextual, it needs to be emancipated when it is constrained by the limitations of its context—in this case, Western culture. The only ‘limitation’ theology should have is a biblical one.”

Sexual Assault and the Scandal of Repentance (Trevin Wax)
“Larry King is not a Christian. But he knows where the scandalous power of Christianity is found. It’s in the narrowness of insisting on universal, eternal condemnation for all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and in the broadness of calling everyone to repent of their sins, trust in Christ and be saved. Everyone, even the ‘vilest offender,’ in the words of the old Isaac Watts hymn. The ‘vilest offender’ today is the person who engages in sexual assault and abuse.”

Something to Ponder

God’s Prior Love for Us

“God was seeking us before we ever thought of him. He loved us before we were born; therefore, his love for us could not be based on what we did yesterday, or will do today, or tomorrow. He has pardoned our sins of yesterday, today, and all those not yet committed. We are the object of his delight and care while we sleep. We awaken to his delight in us. All of our seeking, serving, praying, investigation of truth, love to him and other humans, is a response to his prior love for us, his first seeking us.”

­– Malcolm Smith

The Glory of Creation

The Fire of Fall

fall-trees-sunburst-stream
Image Credit: @amordivino20131

Into All the World

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

Connections