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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.”

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses

There are a number of excellent resources that have been published in conjunction of this anniversary. I include a couple of those resources below, which you ought to consider using if you are interested in pursuing the Reformation further for adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life (six-week video series with an accompanying workbook/study guide)

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life is a new Bible study examining the five core truths that came from the Reformation—often called the solas. Group members will explore these essential convictions of the faith and emerge more immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solas include:

• Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
• Sola gratia (by grace alone)
• Sola fide (through faith alone)
• Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
• Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Ideas That Changed the World: The Four Key Gospel Truths and People of the Reformation (four-week video series with accompanying workbook/study guide)

Around 500 years ago a momentous change was spreading across Europe—a change that has become known as the Reformation.

At the heart of the Reformation were four ideas and four leaders. The ideas: faith alone, grace alone, Bible alone and Christ alone. The leaders: Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and Cranmer.

In this course we will travel together to Wittenberg, Geneva, London, Antwerp and Oxford to see the massive impact of the four key Reformation ideas: that we are saved by grace alone (by God’s gracious initiative in Jesus); that salvation is made available to us through faith alone (not by us being good enough); that we know God through the Bible alone (and not through any church authority); and that we can pray to the Father through Christ alone (and not through the saints).

This was the topic/theme of last year’s Theology Conference: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, what traditionally is known as the beginning of the Reformation. We join the celebration in giving thanks to God for this rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our emphasis will be on the theology of the Reformation and its ongoing historical legacy, with a specific focus on the biblical gospel of grace, rediscovered by the Reformers (Luther referred to himself and the movement as Evangelicals, not Protestants), and its impact historically on the EFCA.

I encourage you to consider using these excellent resources as well. Ask someone to join you in this study. Listen to the messages individually, and then come together to discuss them. You can do this with one other, or consider doing it as an elder board.

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is sponsoring an international conference devoted to the Reformation and the Ministry of the Word on its campus on September 14-15.

The Reformation was a dynamic renewal movement unleashed by God’s powerful Word that changed the face of western Christianity. The conference will explore the Bible’s transformative impact on the theology and ministry practice of Protestant churches then and now.

Speakers include Timothy George, Kevin DeYoung, Michael Horton, David Dockery, Jung-Sook Lee, David Luy, Scott Manetsch, and Michael Haykin.

All are welcome and warmly invited. For more information and registration, please see here.

As we inform you of this excellent conference at TEDS, it also provides another opportunity to remind you of our EFCA Theology Conference earlier this year in which we also focused on the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s 95 theses: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA All of the recordings of messages and other resources are located on the website.

I encourage you to consider using these resources in order to learn about and to prepare for the celebration of the Reformation. One option is to listen to them and learn. Another option is to listen to the messages with others and then share and discuss what you learned or what was challenging to you. This would also be a great resource for an elder study this fall.

The heart of the Reformation, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and the EFCA is found in Theses 1 and 62:

Thesis 1: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

Thesis 62: The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is foundational to everything. And the first manifestation of the gospel in one’s life is repentance and humility.

Although the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville is history, the implications of the rally have carried on. Ripples and reverberations have continued. In the wake, many questions have been raised, and many have been awakened or reawakened to the racism that still exists. This was blatant. This event has also caused one to ask the question about whether or not there is implicit racism within, and what must be done about that in light of the one new humanity in Christ created by the gospel.

I stated a couple of weeks ago, if people were unfamiliar with the alt-right before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, most now know. The alt-right exemplified blatant racism, consisting of white nationalists, white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other racists. As I wrote then, I repeat again: the alt-right is anti-God and anti-gospel.

Below I have compiled some of the specific responses to the alt-right, along with a brief summarizing quote from the author. The first and third resources explain who and what the alt-right is. Carter’s, the first, is a brief FAQ, while Ashford’s, the third, is a helpful and insightful four-part series.

The second listed resource is a 30 minute interview Mark Galli, CT, has with George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Alt-Right.

The fourth, and final, resource consists of the specific statements made in the SBC Resolution “On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy.”

I read an article today in which the author, who has followed the alt-right for some time and written about it extensively, claims that the alt-right “seems to have changed irrevocably after the parade of Nazis and the killing of an anti-racist protester in Charlottesville, Virginia.” Although the author does not state what has “changed irrevocably,” I assume the movement, as little as it is, was seen for what it is, and most have been repulsed by its message and behavior. It would be a good thing, a gift from the Lord, if it would cease to exist. Our prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) reflects that reality.

I include these resources because it is important to be educated, informed and equipped to respond to these kinds of movements that undermine and deny basic biblical truths and the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joe Carter, The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About the Alt-Right

The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.

The alt-right seems to have a particular disdain for gospel-centered Christianity. . . . Some on the alt-right (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity) a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian.”). The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism, which is why the SBC accurately considers it an “anti-gospel” movement.

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. The Christian belongs to a “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9), the elect from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9).

CT’s Quick to Listen Podcast (30 minutes), What the Alt-Right Tells Us About Christianity and Politics

“The alt-right is now mostly ignoring the religious question,” said George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Alt-Right. “That sets it apart from earlier far-right movements. Obviously, the KKK presented itself as an explicitly Protestant movement. … The alt-right seems to be of the view that Christianity is becoming marginally irrelevant, at least in American politics, and as such, it seems to be largely avoiding the subject.”

Hawley joined assistant editor Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli on Quick to Listen this week to discuss the true influence and popularity of this community, its connection—or lack thereof—with Christianity, and what role the church could play in fighting its message.

Bruce Ashford’s four-part series, An Evangelical Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right

[This] serves as a sort of evangelical conservative’s guide to the alt-right. The series summarizes alt-right ideology, profiles its leadership, answers frequently-asked questions, provides a theological critique of the alt-right, and applies that critique to American politics.

The alt-right movement is neither Christian nor conservative, but it claims to be conservative and often claims to be Christian. That fact, taken together with its emergence as a significant voice in American politics and public life, should cause Christians to educate themselves about the movement and be prepared to give a gospel-centered response. I hope this four-part series will be helpful toward that end.

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 1): Introduction to Alt-Right Ideology

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 2): A Profile of 5 Alt-Right Leaders

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 3): A Response to FAQs about the Alt-Right

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 4): An Evaluation of the Alt-Right

We should fight racism tooth and nail, from the pulpit, the press room, and the public square.

In his wisdom, God caused his Son—our Savior—to be born in a Middle Eastern Jewish body. Christianity sprouted in the Middle East, but from there, Christianity exploded into Asia and North Africa, and to Europe and North America, and now, finally, across the face of the earth. One day our Savior will return to consummate his reign as the righteous king. He will be worshiped by a vast multitude of humanity, unique in their ethnic heritages but unified in their religious identity as children of the King.

Until that time, the church’s task is to serve as a preview of that coming kingdom. We can do so by recognizing that our primary identity is religious (referring to Christ, the object of our worship) rather than racial (referring to our ethnic heritage, or combination of ethnic heritages); by affirming that God creates all people in his image and likeness; by declaring that God’s Son shed his blood on behalf of the whole world; and by loving and valuing our “neighbor” even when our neighbor is ethnically different.

SBC Resolution: On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.