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Advent Devotionals

Greg Strand – December 1, 2017 Leave a comment

This Sunday is the beginning of the season of the Christian year known as Advent.

Advent (from the Latin Adventus, meaning coming or arrival) is part of the larger season in the Christian year (think of the incarnation, which is celebrated at Christmas, and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is celebrated at Easter), an aspect of the church’s gathered worship leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

Although not a biblical mandate for the church, Advent has been and remains an important aspect for many churches for most of Christian history. In fact, according to the Christian year, Advent marks the beginning for the people of God in their annual calendar, not January 1. Our lives are not only lived between Christ’s first and second comings, they are also marked, formed and shaped by His two comings.

This year I offer two possible resources for your advent devotional reading, study and worship. It may be worthwhile to make both available so people have an option. I include the links below along with an explanation of each of the series. May the Lord use them in your preparation for and in your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, as you celebrate his first coming as a baby, and as you await his second coming as a King.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Christmas In the Storyline of the Bible: Peace In the Midst of Tribulation

The advent devotional theme for this series comes from Jesus’ words at the conclusion of his farewell discourse. Jesus says to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). If we are to understand these words of Jesus, it is important to understand who he is and what he has done. In the midst of sure and certain tribulation, Jesus promises peace and the peace comes from him. In this world we will have tribulation. That is certain. But for believers, it is also certain that we can take heart and be encouraged and hopeful, because we are in Christ in whom is peace, and he has overcome the world.

This is the truth of Christmas. In our devotional, we are going to go back to the beginning and follow the storyline of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption and consummation. What we celebrate at Christmas in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the culmination of this story. But this is not the end of the story, as we await the return of Christ, which is the key truth we celebrate during Advent. As we remember the first coming of Jesus in the incarnation, we await and prepare for the second coming of Jesus.

  1. Introduction: The Meaning and Significance of Advent
  2. Theme: The Peace Christ Promises
  3. Week One: From Very Good to Enmity, Pain, Cursed and Banishment: Creation and the Fall (Genesis 1-3)
  4. Week Two: From Tribulation to Peace – The Prince of Peace: Redemption Promised (Isaiah 9)
  5. Week Three: A Birth, Glory and Peace: Redemption Experienced (Luke 2)
  6. Week Four: A Cradle, A Cross, and A Crown: Consummation (John 20; Revelation 21)

Songs of Christmas: Advent Readings From the Gospel of Luke

This Advent Devotional focuses on The Gospel of Luke and the Songs of Christmas. We will highlight four songs “sung” by four key people surrounding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man, the truth we celebrate at Christmas, yet experience every day throughout the year. Over the next weeks we will study, mediate and ponder these Lucan songs.

The first we will look at is Mary’s Song, otherwise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Next we will hear the song of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, also known as the Benedictus. As you will recall, Zechariah was stricken mute because he did not believe the angel Gabriel who said that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son. After John’s birth, Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and he immediately praised God (Luke 1:68-79). Then we will celebrate with the angels as they sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14), the Gloria in Excelsis. After this we will worship with Simeon as he sings of salvation, the appearance of Christ (Luke 2:29-32), known as the Nunc Dimittis. We will conclude the series in the New Year when we sing “A New Song: The Song of Eternity” from Revelation 5 (cf. Psalms 96, 98).

  1. Introduction: Luke and the Songs of Christmas
  2. Week One: Mary’s Song, Part 1: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
  3. Week Two: Mary’s Song, Part 2: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
  4. Week Three: Zechariah’s Song: Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)
  5. Week Four: The Angels’ Song: Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:1-20, cf. v. 14)
  6. Christmas Day: Simeon’s Song: Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)
  7. Conclusion: A New Song: The Song of Eternity (Revelation 5)

Today is the first of the month in which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses: October 31.

Desiring God is providing a month-long study of the Reformation leading up to the October 31, the actual day of the posting of the Theses: Here We Stand: A 31-Day Journey With Heroes of the Reformation Each of the studies focuses on an individual used of God in the Reformation.

This study is described as follows:

In one especially memorable scene, he stood before the emperor and declared courageously, risking his own life, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

But Luther did not stand alone. The Reformation was not about one or two big names — Luther, Calvin, Zwingli — but about a massive movement of Christian conviction, boldness, and joy that cost many men and women their lives — and scattered the seeds that are still bearing fruit in the twenty-first century. Not only was Luther surrounded by many Reformers in Germany, but lesser-known heroes of the faith rose up all over Europe. Heroes like Heinrich Bullinger, Hugh Latimer, Lady Jane Grey, Theodere Beza, and Johannes Oecolampadius. Luther was the battering ram, but he ignited, and stood with, a chorus of world changers.

And here we stand today, 500 years later. Luther wasn’t alone then, and he’s not alone now. To mark the 500th anniversary, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey of short biographies of the many heroes of the Reformation, just 5–7 minutes each day for the month of October.

The first one in the series was officially published today:

Jon Bloom, The First Tremor: Peter Waldo Died by 1218

One was published last week as a precursor to the series:

Stephen Nichols, The Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe c. 1330-1384

Here are a few that were published leading up to this 31-day journey of learning.

John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

Ryan Griffith, Luther Company Remember the Rest of the Reformers

Tony Reinke, The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts: Five Hundred Years of Fighting Idolatry

I encourage you to sign-up and join many others in learning about key individuals, known and lesser known, but all important as they were used of God, in the great work of God in reforming the church, and bringing God’s people back to affirm and embrace the solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).

As Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) wrote, which captured the heart of the solas and of the Reformation, “We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin.”

Essentials of the Doctrine of Creation

Greg Strand – September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In the EFCA, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Article 1, God)

When you ponder biblically and theologically, what does it mean to confess and profess “God [is] the Creator of all things”? In affirming this truth, What are the essentials, the non-negotiables, that must be affirmed/believed in order to affirm this truth?

This was a question posed to Tim Keller, Russell Moore and Ligon Duncan: Keller, Moore, and Duncan on the Non-Negotiable Beliefs About Creation

In this 12 minute discussion between Keller, Moore and Duncan, this is the very issue they address, focusing on the non-negotiables of the doctrine of creation. They focus on what ought to be communicated in discussions with unbelievers, and what ought to be included in discussions with believers.

In sum, they conclude there are three non-negotiable truths that must be affirmed: (1) God created all ex nihilo; (2) God’s creation is good; (3) God’s special creation of Adam and Eve, who are historical and unique, and they serve as the fountainhead, or federal head (primogenitor/progenitor) of all humanity.

In the EFCA, added to the essential belief of affirming God being the “Creator of all things,” we have given the following biblical and theological parameters (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 34):

To be sure, Genesis 1 expresses truth about God as Creator and his creation, but because of the uncertainty regarding the meaning and literary form of this text and the lack of Evangelical consensus on this issue, our Statement does not require a particular position on the mechanics of creation. However, to be within the doctrinal parameters of the EFCA, any understanding of the process of creation must affirm:

1. That God is the Creator of all things out of nothing (ex nihilo)
2. That he pronounced his creation “very good,”
3. that God created with order and purpose,
4. that God is the sovereign ruler over all creation which, by his personal and particular providence, he sustains,9
5. that God created the first human beings—the historical Adam and Eve—uniquely in his image,
6. and that through their sin all humanity along with this created order is now fallen (as articled in our Article 3).10

 9  We deny the notion that God is simply the Creator of the universe but is no longer active in it, as is espoused by deism.
10 This Statement does not speak to the precise process of creation or to the age of the universe. To be acceptable within the EFCA any views on these specifics must completely affirm this Statement of Faith and align within these essential parameters.

And to the doctrine of God’s unique historical creation of Adam and Eve, “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image” (Article 3, The Human Condition), which expounded biblically and theologically means the following (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 76-77):

There are legitimate differences of opinion about how one understands the nature of the language used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the actions of God in the world. However, our Statement affirms that Adam and Eve were historical figures16 in the following sense: 1) From these two all other human beings are descended (Acts 17:26).17 2) These two were the first creatures created in God’s image such that they were accountable to God as responsible moral agents. And 3) these two rebelled against God, affecting all their progeny.18

What is essential to the biblical story-line is that the problem with the world is not ontological-that is, it is not a result of the material nature of creation itself nor is sin an essential part of our humanity.19 The problem is moral. The first human beings from the very beginning, in a distinct act of rebellion, chose to turn away from God, and this act not only affected all humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), but creation itself (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). This leads us from considering the dignity of humanity to acknowledging our depravity.

16 The historical reality of Adam and Eve has been the traditional position of the church (so Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin) and is supported elsewhere in Scripture. Particularly, Paul compares the “one man” Adam with both Moses and Jesus (cf. Rom. 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). In addition, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Luke 3:23-37; cf. also 1 Chron. 1).
17 We take no position on the manner in which the human soul is passed on, either by natural heredity (“traducianism”) or by a unique work of God in each life (“creationism”).
18 Consequently, no human beings existed prior to these two, and, consequently, no human beings were sinless and without the need of a Savior.
19 This also gives us hope that human beings can be redeemed from sin.

“We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. . . [And] We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image.”

 

Corporate Confession

Greg Strand – September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Many Evangelical churches do not often include a time of corporate confession as part of their weekly services. This is, I believe, a weakness of our gatherings.

Most of our service – singing, praying, greeting, sermons, etc. – reflects an overrealized eschatology. We speak and respond and expect as if the kingdom is already fully here. The emphasis is on the now of the kingdom. Much of the sharing of life together reflects the now of the kingdom, as if troubles and trials are unexpected, and marriage and parenting are all perfect. What this creates is a false exterior and a heavy heart because it does not match reality. There is seldom a place to share hurts and pains and struggles. It is as if there is no not-yet of the kingdom.

And yet we know doctrinally and experientially that we live in the not-yet-fully-realized kingdom. There is sin, ongoing struggles of sin, suffering, trials, lament, etc. In the midst of these existential realities, God’s kingdom has truly broken in, and the way in which we live in and through these matters reflects the now of the kingdom. The kingdom is truly here, even though not in full, and the presence of the kingdom is manifested in the way we live under the Lordship of the King, the Lord Jesus, and the way in which we live a life of faith and trust.

And yet, the kingdom is not yet here fully. We await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to make all things right, and all things new, when there will be no more sadness, sorrow, weeping. But not yet.

The strong bend in most Evangelical churches is to emphasize the newness of the kingdom, which is right, but they do so at the expense of the not-yetness of the kingdom, which is wrong. Too many have imbibed too much of the prosperity gospel, or an Americanized version of the gospel, and not enough of the true, biblical gospel.

In every corporate gathering, there ought to be a confession and manifestation of the now of the kingdom, where we hear and see manifestations of the work of God in our midst. But there will also be manifestations of the not-yet of the kingdom, where we hear and see manifestations of life in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified world, and yet in the mist of that reality the now of the kingdom manifests in a life of trust, crying individually and corporately, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17-18). This is why the early church cried, and we ought to pray regularly, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

In this link you will see an example of a corporate confession: A Corporate Confession of Faith Based on the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount Repentance is not only the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s life that bears fruit in confession of sin and profession of Christ resulting in new spiritual life (Mk. 1:14-15), repentance is also a mark of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, a bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8). It is important we live and lead a life of repentance.

Might this be one resource of helping you to do this. It is through repentance that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20). May it be so!

 

The Gospel: Professed and Practiced

Greg Strand – September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

“The gospel which we possess was not given to us only to be admired, talked of, and professed, but to be practiced.” J.C. Ryle

This expounds the commitment of Evangelicals through history. One of the more recent manifestations of this was the Evangelical Awakening in Europe in the 18th-19th centuries.

More recently, and not just with the EFCA, this captures what we have been talking about for quite some time. Although Evangelicals have been saying it, and are committed to it, the final statement has been limited in its scope of application. Racial reconciliation is one of those limitations.

We need to remember that when we address patience, or being long-suffering, we will live with a tension. For the white or majority community, some are coming to realize these limitations in application. They need some time to figure this out and work through what this means. It is important this be done in community, and not just with other majority folk.

For our brothers and sisters in the minority community, they have generally suffered long and experience some racial fatigue. How many times do they have to go through fits and starts, how often do they have to hear public and corporate repentance, both of which are good and right, but they are waiting for the next step, the costly and sacrificial step of love lived out and “practiced.” And, as noted previously, a vital way to do this is in community, to engage in dialogue together in the context of relationships.

May God give us the wisdom, grace, kindness, patience and courage to speak and live the gospel.

Please plan to join us at our upcoming Theology Conference, where we will address the theme, “The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA.”