Can I Get a Witness?

30 Oct

Witnessing is one of the scariest things that a Christian faces in our world today. The believer has difficulties that her or she faces that creates such fear in the face of witnessing. One such difficulty is the likelihood of rejection. There is great fear at the thought of rejection. No one want to face rejection from another individual. Yet, Jesus has clearly stated that anyone who follows Him will experience rejection as some point or another.

The believer who is overcome with fear may chose to simply not witness. But this is a mistake. The answer to our fear is not to retreat. The answer is to ask God for wisdom and strength and reliance upon the Holy Spirit. When we spend time in the Word of God and pray, God will give us boldness through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

After spending time in the Word and in prayer, we still need to know how to witness. How to witness is another difficulty that needs to be addressed. If we are true disciples of Jesus, we will be like Him and He witnessed to people who needed to come to faith in Him and into a relationship with God. If Jesus felt that witnessing was important, so must we. So, we must look to how He did it and follow His lead. In John 3 and 4, Jesus puts on a clinic for us on the topic of witnessing. In these chapter, He demonstrated two distinct approaches with two very different individuals who needed to come to faith. In each case, He brought the individual to the point of understanding their need for Him.

There is a principle that I see in Jesus’ witnessing that is important for us to grasp. He was intentional to meet people where they were and take them to where they needed to be. We need to have the mindset that Jesus had. He was intentional about rescuing people from their lostness. He still works today through His people to bring the lost to Himself. In Luke 10:2, we read: The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out people into the harvest field.

Will you choose to be intentional to witness for Jesus? He urges us to be so! He beckons us to pray for laborers to enter into the harvest field. Will you be one of those laborers?

The Spirit Infused Life

15 Apr

In our current sermon series, we are looking at the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us grace that we would otherwise not have. Just as salvation is a gift of God’s grace, so are the character rich qualities known as the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. The fruit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-26 is graced upon us and becomes abundantly evident as we yield our lives to the working of the Holy Spirt.

They are listed by Paul in the order of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. This is not to say that the list is exhaustive. But they are representative of all that God wants to do to grace us with His own character. The graceful fruit that we display as Christians mark us out as being wonderfully different from people of the world who don’t know God.

In a previous message from our current series, I mentioned that our faith is something that is not private. We are to live in the world like an open book, so that people can see our good works and praise our God in Heaven. Jesus said in His sermon on the Mount: ““You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, ESV)

So, as we believers live our spirit infused lives, we are on display for the world to see. We want to shine for the Lord so that people will give glory to God for us. It is a daily discipline that requires that we rely upon the Holy Spirit to fill us and control us. It is not hard to accomplish this work of fruit bearing. It simply has to be intentional and prayerful. We are basically tapping into the power source that comes from God. If the Spirit lives in you and me, we already have the power that is ready to be unleashed as we yield Him control in our lives.

Make Spiritual Growth a Priority

7 Jan

As we start this new year, I thought it would be a good idea to bring a challenge for spiritual growth. I just read this great article from a fellow blogger named Gary Rohrmayer and wanted to share it here. The article offers a great, practical means of disiplines that facilitate spiritual growth.

How To Develop A Biblical Plan For Spiritual Growth

Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” I find this both humorous and sad. Humorous in a pessimistic way but sad in a spiritually shallow way.

What would God’s reaction be towards the goals and plans we have set out for our lives? Would he approve them, laugh at them or cry over them.

In order to develop a solid spiritual growth plan we must recognize the biblical ingredients for such a plan. As I toured the wisdom literature of scripture I discovered some great truths for developing a solid biblical plan for spiritual growth.

Five Essentials for a Personal Growth Plan

1. Our plans must be God centered.

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3

Our plans come out of our relationship with God. When God redeemed us it meant he bought us back at a great price – the death of His own Son, Jesus. So our lives are not our own. Doing our own thing leads to estrangement from God, but seeking God’s ways leads to great intimacy and awareness of God in all we do. Solomon wrote, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) The key to living life skillfully and with perspective comes out of our relationship with God.

2. Our plans must be aligned with God’s purposes.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

What is God’s purpose? Where do we find His marching orders for our lives?

Solomon concluded it this way, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Ecclesiastes 12:13

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

When we think of purpose we must take a close look at the Great Commission passages, Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15 ; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21 and Acts 1:8. It is here we discover the marching orders of Jesus. He calls us to be a part of his great redemptive purpose. Recent surveys have revealed that 60-70% of those who call themselves followers of Jesus don’t think they need to be engaged in evangelistic activities.

We are called to love God and others within His mission. This is why I love the missional language and why I have infused the concept of Living Missionally into my writings.

3. An honest assessment must take place.

“For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths.” Proverbs 5:21

“Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” Proverbs 4:26

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.” Lamentations 3:40

When I developed the Spiritual Journey Guide I wanted to provide a picture of what it meant to be a spiritually mature follower of Jesus. If leaders don’t define spiritual maturity in their churches the definition will always drift to “Who has the most bible knowledge?” Now bible knowledge is important, we need to know the commands of Jesus in order to obey them, but bible knowledge without transformation will always lead to Pharisaical Christianity.

This is where the concept of living missionally was developed for me. I believe the goal of every follower of Jesus is to love God and to love others, all within the context of God’s redemptive mission. I’ve narrowed down six areas of life that help us evaluate how well we are living within God’s mission.

Craves intimacy with God through spiritual disciplines – Devotional Life (Mark 12:29-31)
Shares their faith effectively with others – Evangelism (Philemon 6)
Mentoring others spiritually – Discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20)
Gives generously – Stewardship (II Corinthians 8:7)
Serves in their community – Servanthood & Compassion (Mark 10:45)
Understands the centrality of the gospel – Character Transformation (Titus 2:11-14)
By assessing your spiritual life around these six areas you can easily develop a focused spiritual growth plan that seeks to fully or more fully work out these areas in your life and relationships.

4. Wise mentors need to be secured.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

“Plans are established by seeking advice…” Proverbs 20:18

The craze for personal coaching and mentoring really stems from the fact that we have moved from the Information Age to an Age of Implementation. We are so overwhelmed every day with the barrage of information that we struggle with applying it into our lives. This is where a mature wise mentor or experienced coach comes into play to provide accountability, encouragement, and insight while helping you grow in your spiritual your life.

5. Work out your plan diligently but not hastily.

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5

Have you ever responded emotionally to a situation and made a reckless commitment? Solomon’s advice is that we don’t want to just jump into something but we want to thoughtfully develop a spiritual plan by seriously considering and reflecting on points 1-4. I strongly encourage people to put their plan in writing because you need to think it, then ink it, if you are going to achieve it.

For instance, my January goals all have to do with recharging and expanding my devotional habits. Last year I focused my goals around the discipline of fasting. I read two books on fasting which took my practice of fasting to a whole new level. I practiced several types of fasts throughout the year. I wrote a devotional guide on fasting and recruited over 100 people to join me for a 31-Day Daniel Fast.

This year my focus for January is on my prayer life. Focusing on upgrading my daily prayer rhythms, expanding intercessory practices, reinstalling my monthly prayer retreats, finding a prayer partner for accountability and reading a devotional on prayer that will expand, inspire and challenge my prayer life. This month I am reading Prayer A Holy Occupation by Oswald Chambers.

All of us need a plan because there is no arrival point as long as we are traveling in this world, there will always be areas of growth needed.

The Apostle Peter wrote, “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” II Peter 3:17-18

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

Let us worship the new born King. The words to the famous hymn: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” give us the true meaning of Christmas. You can be sure that the world will use all the glitter, tinsel, and toys to detract us from the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas. Let us take time today to ponder the reason why we give each other gifts at this time of the year. It is because we have been given the best gift that could ever be given, the gift of God’s one and only Son. He came into the world as God in human flesh to take away our sins and to give us eternal life. By receiving Him, we receive the message of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Take a moment to reflect upon the words of this great hymn and then worship Him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Worship Him who gave His life on the cross of Calvary so that His life could be in us.

Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies.
With the angelic host proclaim Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored Christ, the everlasting Lord.
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born king.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace;Hail, the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His throne on high, Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born king.

Come, Desire of nations come, Fix in us Thy humble home;
Oh, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart.
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled
Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new born King

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp Thine image in its place.
Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain, Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Giving Thanks

26 Nov

The following is from Ligonier Ministries and is great food for thought on this Thanksgiving Day.

What Is Thanksgiving Day?
FROM Stephen Nichols Nov 25, 2015 Category: Articles

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that stretches all the way back to a time long before America became a nation. The Pilgrims landed in 1620. They faced brutal conditions and were woefully unprepared. Roughly half of them died in that first year. Then they had a successful harvest of corn. In November of 1621 they decided to celebrate a feast of thanksgiving.

Edward Winslow was among those who ate that first thanksgiving meal in 1621. He noted:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we gathered the fruit of our labors. …And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”
In addition to the fowl eaten that first Thanksgiving, the Indians also brought along five deer as their contribution to the feast. Presumably they also ate corn.

Over the centuries, Americans continued to celebrate feasts of thanksgiving in the fall. Some presidents issued proclamations. Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for a perpetual national holiday set aside for thanksgiving. In 1863, with the nation torn apart by the Civil War, he declared:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
So we have a holiday of thanksgiving born in and further nurtured during times of great adversity and struggle. We might think that times of adversity and challenge would spawn ingratitude, while times of prosperity would spawn gratitude. Sadly, the reverse is true. A chilling scene from the animated television show The Simpsons demonstrates this. Bart Simpson was called upon to pray for a meal, to which he promptly prayed, “Dear God, We paid for all of this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”

Prosperity breeds ingratitude. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism knew this. Question 28 asks what it benefits us to know that God creates and sustains all things. The answer is it gives patience in adversity and gratitude in prosperity. Moses also knew this. In Deuteronomy, he looks ahead to times of material prosperity for Israel, then sternly warns, inspired by the Holy Spirit, not to forget God. “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’” (Deut. 8:17). We did this all ourselves. Thanks for nothing. Human nature trends toward ingratitude.

Another culprit breeding ingratitude is our entitlement culture. Simply put, why should we be grateful for what we deserve and what we have a right to? I was owed this, goes the culture, therefore why would I say thank you?

A third culprit concerns what UC Davis professor of psychology Dr. Robert Emmons calls the “to whom” question. In his scientific study of gratitude, Emmons came to the realization that gratitude raises a singular and significant question: When we say thank you, to whom are we grateful?

The interesting thing here is that if we trace this “to whom” line of questioning back, like pulling on the threads of some tapestry, we find a singular answer at the end of each and every thread. The answer is God. To whom are we grateful? We are grateful in an ultimate sense to God.

Our Benefactor does “good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). Theologians call this common grace. God as creator cares for all His creation and provides for our needs. He gives us our very lives and our very breath.

Our Benefactor also does good by giving His most precious gift, the gift of His Beloved Son. Theologians call this saving grace. Gifts often cost the giver. What a costly gift the Father has given us in sending the Son. So Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

When we consider God as the “to whom” we are thankful, we may well be seeing both the necessity of thanksgiving and the eclipse of thanksgiving. As culture veers more and more towards a secular state it shrinks back from gratitude. So vainly we think we did this all ourselves. So wrongly we think we deserve, or even have a fundamental right to, all of this. We also know what is at the end of the string if we pull on it long enough. We know that we will be confronted with a Creator. We know we will be accountable to a Creator. Saying thank you means we are dependent, not independent. We would rather be ungrateful. Paul says we know God from all the evidence He has left of Himself, but we don’t want to “honor him or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:21). Then the downward spiral begins. A culture of ingratitude careens ever downward into decline.

We should not be counted among those who see the fourth Thursday in November as nothing more than a day of football and over-indulgence. We should be thankful for one day set apart to consider all that we have and realize that all that we have has been given to us. Of course, such gratitude should in no wise be limited to one day out of 365.

Having been imprisoned for one year, four months, and eighteen days in a Nazi cell measuring 6 ft. x 9 ft, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote what is certainly a reminder of the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday:

“You must never doubt that I’m traveling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I’m being led. My past life is brim-full of God’s goodness, and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified. I’m so thankful for the people I have met, and I only hope that they never have to grieve about me, but that they, too, will always be certain of and thankful for God’s mercy and forgiveness.”
Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and teaches on the podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.

Cycling through Life’s Ups and Downs

4 Mar

Each Monday, I start the day at the gym in a cycling exercise class. This Monday, our trainer, Heidi, had us perform a drill called “Up and Downs.” We raised our gears and our rpm’s for a set time, followed by a lower rpm at our established threshold gear for a set time. We continued the drill for a half hour, repeating the interval of ups and downs. Raising our gears at a higher rpm is like going up a steep hill. A lower gear takes less effort and allows our heart rates to adjust.
In the world outside the gym, life is full of ups and downs as well. When things are going rough, it is like going up a steep hill. The difficulties, disappointments, trials and tragedies of life are a strain on us emotionally. When things are going well, it is like going downhill with your hair blowing in the breeze. (Well I guess that depends on whether you have hair). When things are easy in life, we are more care free and enjoy life more. We would choose to free wheel downhill over the challenges of straining to go uphill. That being said, real life can be demanding. The things that happen to us in life produce these ups and downs and are often beyond our control; life if full of them.

One thing that is helpful to remember is that God is with us in our ups and downs, if we let Him. I was thinking of Matthew 11:28-30 in this regard. Jesus tells us to come to Him during the down times of our lives. He says something interesting in this regard. He says, “Take my yoke upon you.” This is unfamiliar language to our non-agrarian ears. A “yoke” was a wooden object used to connect two oxen together to plow a field. The metaphor is to give the picture of Jesus sharing our burden, lifting our heavy load, plowing through the tough times of life with us. What a beautiful picture Jesus gives us!

He is there to celebrate with us during our up times as well. In one of His times with His disciples, Jesus was welcoming them back after He had sent them on a mission. The mission was to go two by two into the towns where He was about to visit and to tell the people the good news of His kingdom. Their mission was a spiritual one that was met with opposition. But these disciples had prayed before they started out. They returned rejoicing because their mission had been successful to the degree that Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” But then Jesus went on to say to them, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20).

Let these words from Jesus minister to you during your ups and downs; for He is with us, yoked with us in down times and rejoicing with us in our up times. And the best thought is that of knowing that if we belong to Him, our names are written in Heaven. That can get me through any kind of circumstances that come through the ups and downs of life.

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

10 Sep

Question: “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”

Answer: This is one of the most difficult questions in all of theology. God is eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Why should human beings (not eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent) expect to be able to fully understand God’s ways? The book of Job deals with this issue. God had allowed Satan to do everything he wanted to Job except kill him. What was Job’s reaction? “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). Job did not understand why God had allowed the things He did, but he knew God was good and therefore continued to trust in Him. Ultimately, that should be our reaction as well.

Why do bad things happen to good people? The biblical answer is there are no “good” people. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that all of us are tainted by and infected with sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Romans 3:10-18 could not be clearer about the non-existence of “good” people: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Every human being on this planet deserves to be thrown into hell at this very moment. Every second we spend alive is only by the grace and mercy of God. Even the most terrible misery we could experience on this planet is merciful compared to what we deserve, eternal hell in the lake of fire.

A better question would be “Why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Despite the evil, wicked, sinful nature of the people of this world, God still loves us. He loved us enough to die to take the penalty for our sins (Romans 6:23). If we receive Jesus Christ as Savior (John 3:16; Romans 10:9), we will be forgiven and promised an eternal home in heaven (Romans 8:1). What we deserve is hell. What we are given is eternal life in heaven if we come to Christ in faith.

Yes, sometimes bad things happen to people who seem undeserving of them. But God allows things to happen for His reasons, whether or not we understand them. Above all, however, we must remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. Often things happen to us that we simply cannot understand. However, instead of doubting God’s goodness, our reaction should be to trust Him. ”Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Recommended Resources: Wrestling with God: How Can I Love a God I’m Not Sure I Trust? by James Denison and Logos Bible Software.

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New Year Resolutions vs Disciplines

6 Jan

I mentioned at church last Sunday that my tactic for starting New Year resolutions is to make them easier to keep. This is because I have failed in the past to keep them. This year I decided that I would try and keep one new resolution, which is to drink more water. You can recognize that the resolution is very general and pretty easy to achieve. Water is something that our bodies need and one of the things that is easy to neglect. So now, when I sit down with my morning cup of coffee, I pour myself a tall glass of water also.

I should add that unlike resolutions, I am more committed to the daily disciplines that I am very serious about keeping. I read 4 chapters a day (approximately) from the Word of God. I have a daily quiet time that includes praying with my wife, Debbie. I have a private ritual that I keep for praying through Scripture and reading what are called “Morning Affirmations.” There are 10 affirmations that I read and reflect upon and use to commit myself to God, each day.

All of this takes approximately an hour, but it is what I use to keep my life in step with the Spirit. If something comes into my schedule that interrupts my disciplines, I find time in the day to complete what was left unfinished.

The disciplines are something that I believe help immeasurably to keep my focus for the day, where it needs to be. And they are not the same as resolutions. Disciplines that are spiritual in nature come from deep conviction. They are essentials, like having to get up every day and work. They are like brushing our teeth and other proper hygiene. They can and will though constant practice become habits of conviction, rather than resolutions.

I believe that my resolution to drink more water will probably become a natural habit and a discipline. But as easy as it was to make this resolution, I already broke it once. I resolve to do better. I do better with my disciplines.

Why Celebrate Advent?

28 Nov

To help us understand why we choose to observe this tradition, I invite you to read the following article from Timothy Paul Jones, which explains how we need to find time to wait upon the Lord and allow Him to speak to our hearts about His coming. I’ll let Timothy Paul Jones elaborate:

Why Celebrate Advent?

Once upon a time, there was a season in the church year known as “Advent.” The word comes to us from the Latin for “coming.” The purpose of the season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.

As early as the fourth century A.D., Christians fasted during this season and ended their fasts with celebrations either of the arrival of the wise men or of the baptism of Jesus. For many Christians today, the most familiar sign of Advent is the lighting of candles—two purple candles, followed by a pink and then another purple—on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

Advent has fallen on hard times, though. In the Protestant and free-church traditions, the loss is somewhat understandable; we Baptists in particular tend to be quite suspicious of anything with origins in ancient or medieval tradition. Yet, even in congregations that closely follow the rhythms of the church year, the meaning of Advent seems in danger of being misplaced. By the closing week of November, any sense of waiting has been eclipsed by the nativity scene in the lobby, the tannenbaum in the hall, and the list of Christmas parties in the church newsletter.

The Awkward Intrusion of Advent

Why this displacement of Advent as a distinct season?

Perhaps it’s because, for believers no less than non-believers, our calendars are dominated not by the venerable rhythms of redemption but by the swifter currents of consumerism and efficiency. The microwave saves us from waiting for soup to simmer on the stove, credit cards redeem us from waiting on a paycheck to make our purchases, and this backward extension of the Christmas season liberates us from having to deal with the awkward lull of Advent. And so, before the last unpurchased Halloween costume has made it back to the warehouse, halls and malls are decked with plastic holly and crimson ribbon. Thanksgiving provides a pre-Christmas test run on basting turkeys and tolerating relatives—but the primary function of Thanksgiving increasingly seems to be to supply a convenient time to gather for that orgy of consumption and consumer debt known as Black Friday.

Why this Advent-free leap from All Hallow’s Eve to Christmas Eve?

Perhaps because Christmas is about celebration, and celebrations can be re-construed to move products off the shelves. Advent is about waiting, and waiting contributes little to the gross domestic product.

In a religious milieu that has fixated itself on using Jesus to provide seekers with their most convenient lives here and now, Advent is a particularly awkward intrusion. Advent links our hearts with those of ancient prophets who pined for a long-promised Messiah but who passed away long before his arrival.

In the process, Advent reminds us that we too are waiting.

Even on this side of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, there is brokenness in our world that no cart full of Black Friday bargains can fix; there is hunger in our souls that no plateful of pumpkin custard can fill; there is twistedness in our hearts that no terrestrial hand can touch. “The whole creation,” the apostle Paul declared, “has been groaning together for redemption.”

In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning and recognize it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for a divine banquet that Jesus is preparing for us even now. In Advent, the church admits, as poet R.S. Thomas has put it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent that is yet to come. Just as the ancient Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah in flesh, we await the consummation of the good news through the Messiah’s return in glory. In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word.

Learning to Celebrate the Waiting

I am not contending that lighting a few pink and purple candles will somehow, in and of themselves, trigger a renaissance of patience or a yearning for the presence of Christ. Neither am I suggesting that everyone should dismantle their yuletide trees and mute every carol until Christmas morning. But I know that I need this yearly reminder of the meaningfulness of waiting—and I do not believe that I am alone.

Left to myself, I turn too quickly from the God of the gospel and kiss the feet of the gods of efficiency and convenience—false gods that proclaim waiting a waste, a “killing of time.” Advent reminds me that time is far too precious to be killed, even when that time is spent waiting. Advent is a proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ through the discipline of waiting.

So, this Advent season, consider how your family might celebrate the discipline of waiting. Set aside a few moments each evening to consider biblical texts that tell about the first and second comings of Jesus. Or select a book for the month—maybe a novel that guides your family to glimpse both the beauty and the brokenness of God’s creation—then turn off the television each night and take time to read to one another. Or work together to list some ways that the world is broken; then, even as you long for the return of Jesus to make the world right, recognize that God’s work in the world is already underway. God is making the world new even now through the power of the resurrection among his people; so, plan a family activity that joins in God’s redeeming work by setting something right or relieving human suffering in your neighborhood. Whatever you do, let it remind you that, because God has promised to make the world new and has vouchsafed this promise through an empty tomb, no moment of waiting is meaningless. Every passing instant is pregnant with wonder and beauty and glory.

When I recall that there is meaning even in times of waiting, the question that occupies my mind as I stand in line at the supermarket is not whether I’ve chosen the quickest line but how I might invest this waiting in something weightier than my own to-do list.

When I sit in traffic, I am not merely anticipating a shift of color from red to green; I am awaiting the coming of Christ, and there is meaning in this waiting.

When I walk hand-in-hand with a dawdling child who stands in awe of common robins and random twigs, there is every reason to join this child in worship, for there is holiness in her waiting.

Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once suggested that “all happenings, great and small, are parables by which God speaks. The art of life is to get the message.” Advent reminds us to listen for the message that God is speaking, even in the waiting.

The Romans Road

12 Nov

This Sunday we will continue our mini-series on sharpening our witness. We will be looking at the classic Romans road passages that are used to lead a person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Every believer should know these key verses from the Romans Road and have them memorized for the purpose of sharing with the lost. I will continue to post articles on this blogsite this week that emphasize the need to be equipped and ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope we have.