Connections | Friday, December 22, 2017

marry-christmas-banner-gold-balls

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Notable Quotables

“He became what we are so that he might make us what he is.” (Athanasius)

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” (C. S. Lewis)

“The babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets.” (J. I. Packer)

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

“The message of Christmas: God runs toward sinners; He doesn’t run away from them.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“Jesus was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again.” (George Whitefield)

Around the Net

Into the Darkness He Came (Jon Bloom)
“Into the world, on a nondescript night, in a small town grown weary with oppression and centuries of unfulfilled prophetic expectation, in an obscure shelter no one would have thought to look for him, in the care of poor, nonresident parents, came God the Son. It was his incarnation, but not his origin. He had preexisted his conception. He preexisted the entire world (John 17:5). Everything in existence, visible and invisible, had been made through him and for him (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16), including his own human DNA.”

Still Human (Darryl Dash)
“I was a young seminary student. My theology professor threw me and the others in my class a curveball. He asked a simple question: Is Jesus still human? I’d never considered that exact question before, and it seemed like the kind of answer one doesn’t want to get wrong. I thought for a moment before offering the answer: Yes. To my relief, I was right. I hadn’t spoken heresy. The one mediator between God and men is the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). He lives in his resurrected human body, fully God and fully man.”

A Christmas Lament (David Roark)
“Advent reminds us that the Christian life doesn’t come with a big bow on it—not yet, at least—but that there is space to be honest about the brokenness of our hearts and our world. Yet, even though we are distraught and disoriented by such fallenness, we are not without hope. We know that our King has come and He will come again. We know that He will, finally and forever, bring perfect peace and endless light. He will wipe away all our tears, and death will be no more.”

Those We’ve Lost in 2017 (The Gospel Coalition)
“Over the past year the church has lost several faithful theologians and authors who have helped shape evangelicals both in America and throughout the world. Here are six men who died this year who were particularly influential on those of us here at TGC.” One is grateful for the biblical truth behind that great line in Charles Wesley’s famous Christmas carol, “Born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.” Even so, Lord, come quickly.

This New Life: Top Posts of 2017 (Tim & Sonya Valentino)
Listed here are the top posts published at This New Life in 2017. Thanks for reading! Thanks, also, for your interest in Tim’s academic article recently published in the Evangelical Journal: “Artistry and Architecture in the Fourth Commandment.” As the Lord allows, we’re going to try to find a larger audience for the important and encouraging conclusions set forth in that piece. Finally, thanks to Sara Elizabeth for her guest post this year about a dearly departed friend. We look forward to more posts from her in 2018.

Something to Ponder

Linger Near the Manger

“Christianity was born in one big heavenly interruption. Just ask the Bethlehem shepherds! They had no expectations of excitement. These are sheep they’re watching. We count sheep to go to sleep!

“Shepherds, however, treasured the predictable. This was the night shift. Any excitement was bad excitement—wolves, lions, poachers. Just because they wanted a calm night, didn’t mean they would get it. Luke says, “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them. The glory of the Lord shining around them, and they became very frightened.” We always assume the worst before we look for the best. Good thing the shepherds lingered. Otherwise they might have missed the second verse. “Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:9-11).

“I hope you’ll do what the shepherds did—linger near the manger!”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

A Cardinal Waiting for Christmas

cardinal-branch-snow-berriesImage Credit: Steven Russell Smith

The Friday Funny

Robbing the Cradle at a Preschool Nativity Play

Into All the World

“Always remember, many babies became kings, but only one king became a baby.” (Anonymous)

Connections

Connections | Thursday, December 21, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)

Notable Quotables

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” (Mary Ellen Chase)

“Something about an old-fashioned Christmas is hard to forget.” (Hugh Downs)

“There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” (Erma Bombeck)

“There are not seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” (Walt Streightiff)

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” (Burton Hillis)

Around the Net

6 Surprising Things about Matthew’s Christmas Story (Jeremy Bouma)
“There are two versions of the Christmas story: the one reflected in Christmas carols and pageants; the other version most forget—Matthew’s Christmas story. ‘Matthew’s version of our favorite holiday,’ Rodney Reeves explains in his new Matthew commentary (SGBC series), ‘is hardly recognizable except for the star and the three wise men. Joseph nearly divorcing Mary, Herod’s diabolical ploy, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, waiting for a wicked king to die—none of these things make the cover of Christmas cards.’”

Meditation: The Word Became Flesh (Sam Storms)
“I’ve often said that the single most amazing, mind-boggling verse in the Bible is John 1:14, ‘The Word became flesh!’ As we approach Christmas, I thought it would be good to post again some observations I made in my book, Pleasures Evermore. I pray you are blessed by this meditation on the paradoxes of the Incarnation. Take a deep breath and ponder what this means. Don’t dismiss it as theological speculation. This is a truth on which your eternal destiny hangs suspended.”

What About When Christmas Hurts? (Janel Barr)
“The holiday season can be painful for many—a time when joy is hard to hold on to and peace seems unattainable. . . . The fulfillment of our Christmas celebrations won’t happen on Christmas morning. Actually, Christmas morning can leave us with even more disappointment. Unlike most holidays Christmas reminds us that there is more, and that we wait for something far more glorious than something that we can purchase on our own.”

Newly Discovered ‘Christmas Sermon for Pagans’ by C. S. Lewis (Gene Veith)
“The scholar Stephanie R. Derrick tells about discovering two previously unknown essays by C. S. Lewis, including ‘A Christmas Sermon for Pagans.’ Dr. Derrick says of the Christmas essay that the editor of The Strand gave Lewis the topic of preaching about Christmas to modern “pagans.”  But Lewis, as he does elsewhere, pointed out the difference between modern day secularists and actual pagans.”

4 Reasons to Show Mercy to Others (Rick Warren)
“God wants you to be an agent of mercy in the world. Everyone needs mercy because everyone has messed up. We’ve all hurt other people and made mistakes. We’ve all sinned and we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups as a result of the mistakes we’ve made. Mercy changes the lives of people who have made mistakes, and we who have received mercy freely can change the world around us by showing mercy to others. Here are four reasons to keep showing mercy to others.”

Something to Ponder

His Love Covers All Things

“Would you do what Jesus did? He exchanged the worship of angels for the company of killers. If you were God, would you? I wouldn’t, but Christ did! Jesus humbled Himself. He went from commanding angels to sleeping in the straw. Why? Because that is what love does. It puts the loved before itself. Your place in heaven was more important to Him than His place in heaven, so He gave up His so you could have yours.

“It’s time to let His love cover all things in your life. Every promise broken, every cross word, and harsh word. His love covers all things. Let it! Do it for His sake. For the peace of your heart. And do it for their sake. For the people in your life. Let His love fall on you so yours can fall on them.”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

A Blue Titmouse Waiting for Christmas

blue-titmouse-branch-snowImage Credit: SaultOnline.com

Into All the World

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” (Andy Rooney)

Connections

Connections | Wednesday, December 20, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” (Luke 2:1-5)

Notable Quotables

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” (Dr. Seuss)

“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” (Roy L. Smith)

“We were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” (G. K. Chesterton)

“From home to home, and heart to heart . . . the warmth and joy of Christmas brings us closer to each other.” (Emily Matthews)

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” (Coolidge)

Around the Net

Christmas Is for Freedom (John Piper)
“The incarnation was God’s locking himself into death row. Christ did not risk death. He chose death. He embraced it. That is precisely why he came. By his death, Jesus wiped away all our sins. And a person without sin cannot be condemned by Satan. Forgiven, we are finally indestructible. Satan’s plan was to destroy God’s rule by condemning God’s followers in God’s own courtroom. But now, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Satan’s treason is aborted. His cosmic treachery is foiled.  The cross has run him through. And he will gasp his last before long. Christmas is for freedom. Freedom from the fear of death.”

Christmas: Not the Beginning of Jesus’ Existence (Eric Davis)
“Jesus Christ is God. The birth of Jesus Christ was not his origin, but his incarnation. He has no origin. Jesus is the only person in history whose birth, or conception, did not mark his beginning of existence. I suppose this made Jesus’ human birthdays awkward. ‘Happy 16th birthday, Jesus!’ ‘Thanks, mom. But actually, it’s my ∞ and 16th birthday, but who’s counting.’ As J. Oswald Sanders, ‘Jesus was the meeting place of eternity and time, the blending of deity and humanity, the junction of heaven and earth.’”

God Meets You Where You Are (Tullian Tchividjian)
“Have you ever felt like you couldn’t share the details of a difficult situation without someone immediately offering a solution or a spiritual platitude? Have you ever responded that way yourself? The required cheerfulness that characterizes many of our churches has produced a suffocating environment of pat, religious answers to the painful, complex questions that riddle the lives of hurting people.”

How to Deal with Grief During the Holidays (Amy Morin)
“The swell of grief around the holidays is a common reason clients enter my therapy office this time of year. People often seek help for the immense sorrow that starts surfacing right around Thanksgiving. I experienced that wave of grief in my own life when my husband passed away. Christmas music, holiday parties, and festive decorations that were meant to bring joy, served as painful reminders of my loss. Like most people experiencing loss, the holiday season was the most painful time of all.”

My 4 Rules for Responding to Nasty Emails (Tommy Preson Phillips)
“Today I want to address this seemingly new phenomenon of human beings launching virtual cannonballs from the comfort of their couch and pajamas. I imagine that the rise in this type of behavior is due in part to the easy access that we have to the people we are upset with. It used to be that when you had a grievance, you would either set up a meeting and prepare your thoughts to be delivered face to face. . . . Here are some simple rules that I follow.”

Something to Ponder

Joseph Went Out on a Limb

“After His mother, Mary, was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18 NKJV).

“Joseph was perched firmly on his branch in the tree. Predictable and solid, Joseph had no intention of leaving it. That is, until he was told to go out on a limb. Conceived by the Holy Spirit? Come on! Who will believe me? Pride told him not to do it, but God told him to do it.

“I have a feeling you can relate to Joseph. One foot in your will and one foot in His. His will or yours? Disrupting, isn’t it? You can bet it won’t be easy. Limb-climbing has never been easy. Ask Joseph. Better yet, ask Jesus! He knows better than anyone the cost of hanging on a tree!”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

An Evening Grosbeak Waiting for Christmas

an-evening-grosbeak-dane-adamsImage Credit: Dane Adams

Into All the World

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” (Charles Dickens)

Connections

Connections | Tuesday, December 19, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Notable Quotables

“The only blind person at Christmastime is he who has not Christmas in his heart.” (Helen Keller)

“All these toys were never intended to possess my heart; my true good is in another world, and my only real treasure is Christ.” (C. S. Lewis)

“Nativity sets should include a set of Herod’s soldiers; that is as much a part of the Christmas story as the shepherds.” (Doug Wilson)

“There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (John the Apostle)

“He comes to make his blessings known far as the curse is found.” (Isaac Watts)

Around the Net

An Angry Prophet and a Forgiving God (Chuck Lawless)
The title alone describes the gap between so much of Evangelical Christianity and Christ. Indeed, believers seldom act so harshly as when they think they’re defending God. But, like Jonah, they’ll become whale food someday, too. “Jonah served a God who is much more compassionate than the prophet had ever considered being—and who has always wanted the nations to give glory to His name. Jonah, in fact, never fully got over God’s willingness to forgive, and the book that carries his name ends with the prophet in a state of anger and frustration.”

Behind the Happiness of Down Syndrome (Alicia Joy)
“Systemic prejudice still runs rampant towards this population. People with developmental disabilities are seen as children to be pitied; as worthless and useless; as angelic and divine; as too difficult to love or too different to be treated human. . . . So it takes a people of a different sort of citizenship on this earth to remind one another to reach out towards those who are different. The margins are where my friends are, and, to put it simply, I would like it if everyone chose to go there.”

A Reflection on Christmas, Cancer, and the Hope of Christ (Ed Stetzer)
“As I get older, I see more people around me go through trials that bring them to their knees. Perhaps it’s always been the case and I wasn’t as aware of it. Or perhaps it’s just that as I get older, so do others. Either way, lately, the importance of God’s nearness has taken on new meaning for me. In my own health struggles, and among those I love, there have been too many times when that chasm between head and heart has appeared too large. What my head knows is not aligned with the emotions that move me.”

The FAQs: What You Should Know About Net Neutrality (Joe Carter)
“The net neutrality principle is the idea that a public information network should aspire to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. At its simplest, network neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website—from Google.com to TheGospelCoalition.org—should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.”

Just for Fun (This New Life)
Sometimes it’s good just to laugh a little. Or groan. Here are some lighthearted objects found while surfing the littered ocean of the internet. (These “Just for Fun” posts have become quite popular here at This New Life. Maybe it’s the cruelty or craziness of this broken world that drives the need for a chuckle now and again. Or maybe it’s the odd sense of humor resident in the compiler of these digital artifacts. Either way, enjoy a giggle or two on us.)

Something to Ponder

It Happened in a Moment

 “It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment. God became a man! Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb. Jesus came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. The hands that first held him were un-manicured, calloused, and dirty. For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. . . .

“To think of Jesus in such a light seems almost irreverent. There’s something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant and predictable. But don’t do it! For heaven’s sake, don’t! Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out!”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

A Blue Jay Waiting for Christmas

blue-jay-snow-branchImage Credit: Creative Commons

Into All the World

“Always give without remembering, and always receive without forgetting.” (Brian Tracy)

Connections

Connections | Monday, December 18, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:39-45)

Notable Quotables

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the worst.” (The Apostle Paul)

“Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior.” (John Piper)

“The requirements were too great the standard too high for us, so the Perfect Man had to come to do for us what was impossible for us to do.” (Paul David Tripp)

“Because we put ourselves in God’s place, he put himself in our place.” (Tim Keller)

“When our depravity meets his divinity, it is a beautiful collision.” (David Crowder)

Around the Net

Christmas and the Jefferson Bible (Eric Geiger)
“The thinking behind Jefferson’s Bible is popular because it invites us to learn from Jesus and not bow before Him. Learning from Jesus’ example is very different from surrendering to Him as King. Because of our sin and our inability to rescue ourselves, we do not need a moral example nearly as much as we need a Savior. And only when we have been rescued by Him can we truly follow His example.”

Political Fear-Mongering Is Not a Christian Option (Mike Leake)
“Those who peddle fear would have us believe that it is on some particular point that the foundation is still teetering. To not follow the party line on this issue will be to surrender every foundation and if this one falls then to the mountains we must go. And so if we desire to protect the foundations then we must hold our nose and vote for immoral men. We must overlook sexual immorality and accept pride and narcissism as a necessary evil to maintaining our foundations.”

God Wants to Shape Your Wants: An Invitation to the Psalms (John Piper)
“Try to imagine the Bible without the Psalms. What a different book it would be! What a different place the church would be. And what a different person I would be. It’s not as though the rest of the Bible does not teach truth and awaken emotions. I learn things and feel things everywhere I read in the Bible. But it’s not the same. The Psalms do not just awaken the affections of the heart; they put the expression of those affections in the foreground. They feature the emotional experience of the psalmist intentionally against the backdrop of divine truth.”

I’m an Evangelical Ecumenist? What Does That Even Mean? (Ed Stetzer)
“I consider myself an Evangelical ecumenist. Big ‘E’ for Evangelical, little ‘e’ for ecumenist, because I don’t follow the classic approach to ecumenism. . . . Some don’t like my ecumenism. I was actually accused by one leader in my denomination of being ‘the most dangerous person’ in the denomination because I was, well, an Evangelical ecumenist. I like that. I mean, the part about being dangerous. Because that’s the kind of danger that Jesus calls us to—acting like the body of Christ.”

Is Christmas a Co-opted Pagan Holiday? Likely the Reverse (William J. Tighe)
“It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically, even in the second and third centuries. The evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date of December 25th was a by-product of attempts to determine when to celebrate his death and resurrection.”

Something to Ponder

Jesus, the Bridge Builder

“God’s plan for humanity, crafted in the halls of heaven and carried out on the plains of earth. Only holiness could have imagined it. Only divinity could have enacted it. Only righteousness could have endured it.

“When God chose to reveal himself, he did so through a human body. The hand that touched the leper had dirt under its nails. The feet upon which the women wept were calloused and dusty. And his tears—oh, don’t miss His tears. They came from a heart as broken as yours or mine has ever been. So people came to him! Not one person was reluctant to approach him for fear of being rejected.

“Remember that the next time you find yourself amazed at your own failures! Or the next time you hear a lifeless liturgy. Remember, it’s man who creates the distance. It’s Jesus who builds the bridge!”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

A Redpoll Waiting for Christmas

redpoll-bird-pine-branch-snowImage Credit: @terri_mekitten

Into All the World

“Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it white.” (Bing Crosby)

Connections

Connections | Friday, December 15, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:29-36)

Notable Quotables

From R. C. Sproul:

“There are only two ways of dying. We can die in faith or we can die in our sins.”

“We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because he holds tightly to us.”

“To know that God knows everything about me and yet loves me is indeed my ultimate consolation.”

“There is no greater state than to get up from your knees knowing that God has forgiven every sin you’ve ever committed.”

“When there’s something in the Word of God that I don’t like, the problem is not with the Word of God. It’s with me.”

“I’ll retire when they pry my cold, dead fingers off of my Bible.”

Around the Net

 R. C. Sproul, Popular and Influential Reformed Theologian, Dies at 78 (TNL)
“Dr. R. C. Sproul, the popular and influential Reformed theologian who served as founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, died Thursday at the age of 78. Sproul was hospitalized on December 3 due to severe respiratory difficulties exacerbated by the flu and complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He died peacefully on December 14 in Altamonte Springs, FL, surrounded by his family. Copious tributes will flow in the Christian blogosphere over the next several weeks, as Dr. Sproul’s impact was both deep and wide.”

Tributes to the Life and Ministry of R. C. Sproul:

From Stephen Nichols (“Remembering R. C. Sproul”)

From Albert Mohler, Jr. (“A Bright and Burning Light”)

From John Piper (“Unashamed Allegiance”)

From Justin Taylor “R. C. Sproul, 1939-2017”)

From John MacArthur (“R. C. Sproul”)

How Advent Teaches the Art of Mixed Emotions (Mandy Smith)
“Much of life brings mixed emotions. The more we embrace this reality the more we’ll have space for one another: we’ll learn to juggle both ‘I’m frustrated with you’ and ‘I love you.’ The more we embrace the reality of mixed emotions, the more we’ll know the heart of God: he both grieves and rejoices more than we ever could. I’ve learned this from Advent. It wasn’t until my church started following the lectionary two years ago that I began to understand the power of this season. Until then I felt a little guilty that I didn’t always feel happy.”

Where Do You Get the Power to Live? (J. D. Greear)
“Many Christians seem to think that salvation is basically Christ paying off our debt and then leaving it up to us to build a new life. They don’t realize we live righteously by the resurrection of Christ. . . . I don’t only need my debt removed. I need the power of a new life. That’s where we are spiritually. Not only were we guilty before God, but we are also incapable of pleasing God or building a life that will endure. The gospel is not just about me being in Christ—where I get his righteousness—but about him being in me, where I flow with his power.”

Burned Out on Revivalism (Michelle Van Loon)
“Revivalism requires from adherents a constant infusion of adrenaline, revving members to live in constant readiness to either fight or flee. When intense emotions, crisis experiences, and a heightened focus on spiritual warfare are celebrated in a church, there is endless pursuit of the novelty of the next Big Thing. In churches marked by revivalism, humility is presented as the currency we must offer to God in order to get our desired result of goosebump-inducing spiritual experiences and packed pews—which, frankly, isn’t humility at all, but manipulation.”

America’s Malls Are Rotting Away (Laura Sanicola)
The worst is yet to come for American shopping malls. As Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores close their doors, the malls that housed those stores are facing a serious crisis. That’s because when so-called anchor tenants leave a mall, it opens the door for other stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent. As one big store closes, it can take several smaller stores along with it like a house of cards. Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years—around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.”

Something to Ponder

Why God Came

“The God of the Universe was born into the poverty of a peasant and spent his first night in the cow’s feed trough. He left the glory of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. Who could have imagined he would do such a thing? What a world he left. Our classiest mansion would be a tree trunk to him. God became a one-celled embryo and entered the womb of Mary. He became like us. Just look at the places he was willing to go: feed troughs, carpentry shops, badlands, and cemeteries. The places he went to reach us show how far he will go to touch us. He loves to be with the ones he loves!”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

Too Cold to Chat

bench-red-snow-trees
Image Credit: @cc_chicco

The Friday Funny

The Shallow Small Group

Into All the World

“You can’t love Jesus and not love his Word.” (R. C. Sproul)

Connections

Connections | Thursday, December 14, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:1-2)

Notable Quotables

“Trying times are not the times to stop trying.” (Ray Owens)

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” (Herman Mellville)

“To know that God knows everything about me and yet loves me is indeed my ultimate consolation.” (R. C. Sproul)

“The Spirit will certainly correct us, but this correction is kind and gentle—and leads to life.” (Winn Collier)

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” (Norman Cousins)

Around the Net 

The Gospel (R. C. Sproul)
The gospel is good news. Watch this brief clip of R.C. Sproul through the years proclaiming the good news of the imputed righteousness of Christ to believers. And then remember Dr. Sproul and his family to the Lord in prayer today. Dr. Albert Mohler tweeted last night: “So many of you have been praying for Dr. R. C. Sproul. Please pray especially tonight. God is sovereign, and gracious. Thank you for praying for Dr. Sproul, Vesta, and the Sproul family.” Health updates are posted by Ligonier Ministries here.

Jesus’ Shocking Words at Hanukkah (Tom Hobson)
There’s a wing of the church that decries all celebrations of Christmas as “unbiblical.” My response has always been, “If you want to condemn me for celebrating an unbiblical holiday, you have to condemn Jesus, too.” Hanukkah was never commanded by God in Scripture, but Jesus observed it (John 10:22-33). And the words he speaks on that occasion at “the Feast of Dedication” are enough to make people’s jaws drop. Who does Jesus think he is?

Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards (Matt Reynolds)
Here are CT’s picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture. A top selection and award of merit are selected for each of the following categories: Apologetics/Evangelism; Biblical Studies; Children and Youth; Christian Living/Discipleship; The Church/Pastoral Leadership; CT Women; Culture and the Arts; Fiction; History/Biography; Missions/Global Church; Politics and Public Life; Spiritual Formation; and Theology/Ethics.

Life without God: Ecclesiastes and the Gospel (Tullian Tchividjian)
“When John Calvin claimed that the human heart ‘is a perpetual factory of idols,’ he meant that we turn virtually anything into a self-salvation project. Good things, bad things, big things, small things. The human heart is remarkably flexible in this regard. I realize it may sound defeating to write about life in these terms. The last thing I would ever want is to come across as cynical or negative. But the truth is, to speak honestly about ourselves is not defeating. It is not shaming to come clean about reality, or the limits of our potential to change it. What is defeating is the insistence that I can save or fix myself.”

The Work of the Holy Spirit and the Christian Therapist (Siang-Yan Tan)
Contrary to some caricatures, Christian therapists outside the biblical counseling movement also rely on the Holy Spirit in their practice. “The Holy Spirit is essential when it comes to the work of the Christian therapist. The Holy Spirit is called the Counselor, Comforter, Helper, or Advocate in John 14:16–17. The work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit can be understood as taking place in three major ways: the Spirit’s power, the Spirit’s truth, and the Spirit’s fruit. . . . Power without love can result in abuse. Power without truth may lead to heresy. But power based in biblical truth and steeped in Christlike love can produce renewal, revival, and deep healing of broken lives.”

Something to Ponder

On Your Knees before Jesus

“A small cathedral outside Bethlehem marks the supposed birthplace of Jesus. Behind a high altar in the church is a cave, a little cavern lit by silver lamps. You can enter the main edifice and admire the ancient church. You can also enter the quiet cave, where a star embedded in the floor recognizes the birth of the King. There is one stipulation, however. You have to stoop. The door is so low you can’t enter standing up.

“The same is true of the Christ. You can see the world standing tall, but to witness the Savior, you have to get on your knees! So, at the birth of Jesus, while the theologians were sleeping and the elite were dreaming and the successful were snoring . . . the meek were kneeling. They were kneeling before the One only the meek will see. They were kneeling in front of Jesus!”

– Max Lucado

The Glory of Creation

Winter Roses

roses-three-winter-snow
Image Credit: Lorne Campbell via Cristina Dobre

Into All the World

“Remember that you are unique. If that is not fulfilled, then something wonderful has been lost.” (Martha Graham)

Connections

Connections | Wednesday, December 13, 2017

From the Word

Journey to Bethlehem

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:24–27)

Notable Quotables

“Christian morality is a response to grace, not a means to grace.” (Tim Keller)

“What is countercultural preaching? Preaching an ‘it is finished’ message in a ‘just do it’ world.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

“God is good not because he gives us answers but because he gives us himself.” (Joni Eareckson Tada)

“The secret is ‘Christ in me,’ not me in a different set of circumstances.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

“Hard times reveal true friends.” (Anonymous)

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What Child Is This? (Paul Tautges)
“This past Sunday, we sang one of my favorite Christmas carols, ‘What Child Is This?’ The carol’s major theme is the humanity of Christ as the lyrics turn our attention to the child who is sleeping on Mary’s lap. Who is this child? It is God who became man. It is the Eternal Word (John 1:1), who broke into human history as the God-man Jesus Christ, through whom God ‘is pleading’ with sinners to repent and be reconciled to Him. As we examine the lyrics, there are three aspects to the life of Christ which emerge.”

Singing ‘Peace on Earth’ When Your Heart Is Heavy (Trevin Wax)
“The reason we hope for the grand finale at the end of history is because the little Baby born in Bethlehem, flanked by animals and laid in a splintery manger, grew up to become the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. He knew suffering, not from a distance but up close. He didn’t give us an answer to satisfy all our questions. He gave us himself to satisfy all our hurts, to take away our sins, to wipe away our tears, to strip away our sorrows.”

God Has a Heart for the Vulnerable. Do You? (Paul Martin)
“When the family with the severely autistic teenage boy has the courage to come to your church, you are given a profound opportunity. You can look at them like the disciples looked at the blind man and his family, or you can see them as Jesus sees them. They are people made in the image of God—the whole family, including their disabled son. The church has the unique privilege of denouncing utilitarianism and extolling the value of every life. The local church, that little outpost of heaven on earth, must be the place where the disabled are esteemed.”

God Makes a Home for the Lonely (Persis)
“As I write this, it is a cold and rainy December day not unlike a day nearly 10 years ago. I was going through one of the hardest seasons of my life. My husband had left our marriage, and my daughter and I felt very lost in the world. We had been out of church fellowship for a number of years. My family lived several states away, so even though we had a few Christian friends, we were essentially alone. Scared and alone.” One doesn’t have to be a Reformed Baptist to appreciate what God did for Persis through the influence of Charles Spurgeon.

10 Ways to Keep Christ the Center of Christmas (Kevin Halloran)
“While things like gift-giving, cookie-baking (and eating!), and spending time with loved ones can be great and memorable things, Christians should seek to make Christ the focal point of Christmas. It is, after all, Christmas! How can we keep our focus on the Savior? Here are ten ways to keep Christ at the center of your Christmas celebration.”

Something to Ponder

Surprised to Be Chosen

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she was honestly surprised that God would select someone like her.

“Though Mary was a virtuous woman, she was not a sinless woman. Mary was a sinner just like us. Privileged? Yes. Called by God? Yes. Sinful? Again, yes. Later, in what has been called the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, she said, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). Even Mary needed a Savior.

 “When people are truly godly, they never boast of their devotion. They will not speak of what they have done for God. Rather, they will always speak of what God has done for them. That is why John described himself in his Gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved. John boasted of God’s love for him rather than his love for God.

“Had Mary been like many other young women of her time, she would have married a poor man, given birth to numerous children, and wouldn’t have traveled more than a few miles from her home. Then she would have died like thousands of others before her, another person who entered and left the human stage. But God chose her, despite the fact that Mary was a nobody living in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.

“Mary was handpicked to fulfill prophecy: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). I seriously doubt that Mary, in her wildest dreams, ever read that verse and thought, That is me. I’m going to be the virgin Isaiah spoke of. I’m going to be the mother of the Messiah.

 “God can use you where you are.”

– Greg Laurie

The Glory of Creation

Let’s Get This One

dog-pine-tree-snow
Image Credit: @LuisaM56_

Into All the World

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” (Charles Dickens)

Connections

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)

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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