The Christmas Story: Consummation

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In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end. 

For four hundred years, no prophet spoke for God. The remnant of God’s people who had returned to their land from exile languished under the control of the Roman Empire with no sign of the promised Messiah. But, one day, the long silence was broken by an angel who delivered a pregnancy announcement—two pregnancy announcements, actually!

The first announcement came to an elderly priest named Zechariah, whose elderly wife Elizabeth had been barren for many years. The childless Elizabeth would give birth to a son named John, a prophet of God who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah!  The second pregnancy announcement came to Mary–an unwed teenage virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph from the house of David. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would conceive and give birth to a Son, who would be called Jesus…the Son of God…a child both human and divine! This Son was the long-awaited child of promise–the victorious King, who would crush the head of the evil snake and reign on David’s throne for eternity.

God’s Kingdom was coming on earth through two unexpected pregnancies to two unlikely women because nothing is impossible with God! Although the nation of Israel had been like a barren woman, failing to bear fruit by mediating God’s blessing to the nations, God would still keep his promises. The virgin conception signaled the inbreaking of a new covenant! The barren woman Israel would now have children…many children from many nations…children with new, clean hearts with the law of God written upon them. God would accomplish his plan to fill the earth with his glory through his people!

The story takes another unexpected turn when Mary gives birth to Jesus in an obscure stable in Bethlehem, and the good news is first announced to lowly, dirty shepherds while watching their sheep at night. Wouldn’t a palace full of important people have been a better place for the birth of the Messiah? How odd for the King of Kings to enter this world quietly among animals! Then again, it’s not so odd when you remember that this baby King was also a lamb–the Lamb of God, born to die for broken, helpless sinners. 

You see, Jesus’s birthplace was no surprise to God. God was showing the world that he was coming down, even to the lowest of places, to rescue his children and live with them again. But this time, the Creator wasn’t going to live among his people in a garden or a temple. He was going to live among them in a human body…a body just like theirs…a body that would one day be broken on their behalf and resurrected to eternal life— the firstfruits of many who would follow through faith in him,

The God-man Jesus Christ was an embodied picture of God’s glory for the world to see… the exact image of the invisible God…-the one who perfectly kept God’s righteous law, yet died a brutal death in the place of sinners. After his death and resurrection, he ascended to the right hand the Father where he now reigns through his Spirit in the hearts of his people, the Church…the mystery finally revealed! 

Jesus Christ is the better Adam, the better Noah, the better Israel, and the better David–God’s one and only true Son! And one day, he’s coming back to finish what he started. The cradle that led to the cross still awaits the consummation of the glorious kingdom on earth. There, Christ will mend all that is broken, dry every tear, and reign in righteousness for all eternity! This is the hope of Christmas! 

So, the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price…and live forevermore. Come, thou long-expected Jesus!

 

The Christmas Story: Creation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. God separated the light from the darkness.

Did you know that the Christmas story begins on the first page of Scripture? It begins with the words, “In the beginning, GOD…” You see, the Christmas story is a long, beautiful story about God. Before anything else existed, God was here. No one created God. He has always been, and he has always had everything he could ever need within himself. God is three in one–Father, Spirit, Son–and he is altogether beautiful and good. 

The first thing the Bible tells us is that God is the Creator of all things. God spoke, “Let there be…” and the heavens and earth came into existence. Something from nothing by the power of his word. When the earth was first created, it began as a dark, chaotic ball of matter. So, the next thing God created was light to illuminate the dark world. Then, God formed and filled up all he had made with the sun, moon, stars, mountains, oceans, trees, and animals. 

Why? If God doesn’t need anything, why would he create everything? The Bible says God created the whole world for his glory. God made the heavens and earth to put his goodness and beauty on display so that he might be enjoyed and praised. God’s majesty is showcased by the mountain range, his vastness proclaimed in oceans deep, and his beauty highlighted in the brilliance of a sunset sky. But none of these creations reflect the truest picture of God. No, he saved his best work for last. The crown of God’s creation is humanity— male and female made in his very image. 

God made a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. These human creatures were both alike and different, but, together, they were meant to reflect the Creator more clearly than any other part of creation as they accomplished the important work he would give them to do on earth. God put Adam and Eve in a garden called Eden- The garden was full of trees with delicious fruit, but the best part was that God’s presence was with his children there. 

God told Adam and Eve to care for and expand the garden as his representatives. He told them to have children and fill the earth with many more little “mirrors” who would reflect his glory. God gave Adam and Eve everything they would need to accomplish this work. He allowed them to eat food from any tree in the garden…except one…the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was a visible reminder that God is the one who decides what’s right and what’s wrong because He alone is the powerful and good Creator. If Adam and Eve obeyed God, they would be completely happy. The garden was a sanctuary full of peace, potential, and…LIGHT. But soon, a different type of darkness would cover God’s good earth, shrouding the light of his glory. This darkness would necessitate a different kind of Light to dispel and overcome it. The Christmas story is about the Light overcoming the darkness. 

Overwhelmed by Grace

The circumstances of my current season frequently leave me feeling overwhelmed. There are constant needs to be met, errands to be run, appointments to be made, meals to be cooked, dishes to be cleaned, and so. much. laundry to be folded. My natural response to the feeling of overwhelm is to press on, work harder, and check everything off the to-do list. I tend to believe that if I can just accomplish everything, I’ll feel better. But this response never actually snuffs out the feeling of overwhelm for long because there is always a new list. There is always more to be done.

When it is impossible to stay on top of my work, I am forced to remember the truth that productivity and accomplishment will never bring lasting peace. When the “tyranny of the urgent” and endless tasks threaten to overwhelm me, I don’t need to accomplish more; I need, instead, to be overwhelmed by something bigger. My gaze needs to be lifted to something (and someone) greater than myself and what’s on my plate today.

When I’m overwhelmed, I need more than a few bandaid Bible verses slapped on my circumstances. I need more than the uncertain “hope” that things might get easier in a future season. I even need more than the false promise that I am enough for the tasks set before me. What I need is the fullness of real hope, both cosmic and eternal in its scope.

The gospel is the only news that offers this kind of hope. Christ Jesus, the one through whom ALL things were created, is preeminent over ALL things (Col 1:15-20). As I rest by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, the glorious reality of his preeminence swallows up in victory every smaller reality I face today.

Gloria Furman writes:

“It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are; the greatest reality a mother [or anyone] can appreciate and rest in is the work Jesus has done on the cross on our behalf. Jesus’s purifying and cleansing work through the sacrifice of his own body is preeminent over the dirty laundry that is threatening to avalanche soon. Jesus’s victorious rising from the dead and triumph over death are preeminent over the chaos of your busy household as everyone is shuttled off to where they need to be for the day. Jesus’s sovereign reign over the cosmos and eschatological harnessing of everything under his feet are preeminent over the plans you’ve made for the evening, your busy schedule this weekend, and the ideas you have about your child’s future.

Even as a mother’s hands can be filled with troubles, back-breaking work, and frightening unknowns, she is being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the future (1 Peter 1:5). Because of the gospel, we mothers can rejoice as we find our hands full of blessings in Jesus, because we know all is grace. There is a circumstance that supersedes all the complexities of your life. It is the simple truth that the one great, permanent circumstance in which you live is that you have been allowed to walk in newness of life as you are united to Christ by faith through grace.”

Whatever he has set before us—blessing, suffering, or a work load that feels too big—God has called us to steward what we have been given with gospel hope as we rest fully in who Christ is and what he has done. As we walk by faith, his strength supplies what we need to do the the work before us. We get the privilege of being a part of God’s work of uniting all things in Christ, and no life circumstance can truly overwhelm us because we have been completely overwhelmed by his grace. As you face what is before you today, stop and look up. Lift your gaze to the preeminent, sufficient Christ!

Tips for celebrating Advent with Kids

The beginning of the Advent season is just a few short days away, and I have been thrilled to hear that so many of you are planning to use my Advent reading “Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible” (to get a link to this FREE resource, see the previous blog post). I am praying God uses this resource to draw hearts to Him and lead us to worship!

I wanted to share a few quick tips for using “Tracing Glory” with kiddos. I have found with my own kids that visuals are necessary for them to better grasp what we are reading together. Also, visuals make the Advent reading more fun! For this reason, I made (or bought) an ornament to correspond with each day’s reading. I have provided pictures of each of my ornaments at the end of the Advent resource (several have asked for written instructions for making the ornaments, but I have not had a chance to pull that together this year). If you do not have the time or supplies to make your own set of ornaments, one easy way to provide visuals for kids is to cut out the pictures I provided. You can glue the pictures on 3×5 index cards (I cut the cards in half), punch a hole, and add ribbon. Voila! You have an ornament. I added a short Christ connection on the two examples below.

If you are planning to use ornaments, putting them in an Advent calendar or wrapping them separately for your kids to open each day adds some suspense and excitement (my kids love unwrapping, and our ornaments don’t fit in our Advent calendar this year :)). You can see in the the picture below how I have wrapped and labeled ornaments for the first two days of December. Another option is to gather supplies and make an ornament with your child/children each day. That option is a lot of work, but creative kids love it! 

Another way to make the Advent celebration exciting is to have a little sweet treat for your kiddos to find in the Advent calendar each day (if you don’t have an Advent Calendar, just give it to them before or after the reading). We usually do our Advent reading after dinner, so I try to have a small Christmas cookie, candy cane or some other special treat for the boys. On the first day of Advent, we usually do Christmas PEZ and dispensers.

Finally, Christ Connection cards are another easy visual you can make to help kids remember the main point of each particular day’s reading. They don’t need to be anything fancy! I made these using index cards and a sharpie. I didn’t write out the entire Christ connection from the end of each day’s reading—-just came up with a shorter version of it.

I hope these tips are helpful as you plan for a special Advent celebration! The goal is to figure out what works best for your family depending on the ages of your children. Be flexible and willing to change things up as you go if something isn’t working! As I’ve come up with visuals for my kids, I’ve had my oldest child (7) in mind. Remember, this is a resource for very young children to grow into.

Praying for a blessed Advent season for all as we reflect on the first coming of Christ and anxiously await His glorious return!

First Podcast – The Glass House

Adam recently asked me to start a podcast with him. My first reaction was “HA! In what time?” Our lives are full to the brim, and starting a podcast hasn’t even been on my radar. But through some convincing from Adam and encouragement from others, I began to realize this could be a valuable ministry and way to encourage others with truth and gospel hope. So, here we are. We’ve recorded our first episode!

We discuss the reason, purpose and hopes for our podcast. Then, we move on to the main topic of this episode: Christmas (even though it’s Thanksgiving week…sorry)! We talk about practical ways to exalt Christ in our own hearts and in our families during the Advent season and why this is vitally important in a culture of distraction.

We hope you’ll listen, comment your thoughts, and share with someone who might be encouraged or challenged! The Glass House will be coming to iTunes soon.

Recommended Resources for Advent:

Books
Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
Come Now Long Expected Jesus, Edited by Nancy Gutherie
Come, Let us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp
She Reads Truth Advent- Joy to the World 
He Reads Truth Advent- Joy to the World
The ADVENTure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Whelchel
Truth in the Tinsel (ebook) by Amanda White

St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd Jones

Music:
Behold The Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson
Prepare Him Room by Sovereign Grace Music
JOY: An Irish Christmas by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Glory in the Highest: A Christmas Record by Shane & Shane
Receive our King by Meredith Andrews
Sing the Bible Family Christmas by Randall Goodgame (Slugs & Bugs)

The Home as the Hub of Life on Mission

The Home as the Hub of Life on Mission

Our family is in the process of moving from one house to another, and I’m kind of feeling all the feels about it. There’s the nostalgia and twinge of sadness as we say goodbye to a house where we’ve made sweet memories and grown as a family, but there’s also the excitement about a new place for a new season. All these feelings brought about by our upcoming change of address have gotten me thinking about the fact that a home is much more than just brick and mortar.

When we think of a house, we may think of shelter or a space to decorate according to our various styles. When we think of a home, we might envision a refuge or place of belonging. But in the Kingdom of God, does a home have a deeper purpose than even these good things? Does the Bible have anything to say about God’s purpose for the home?

Women who are familiar with the Bible may remember that in Titus chapter two, the work of the home is mentioned. Here, the apostle Paul exhorts Titus to teach what accords with sound doctrine (the gospel): Older women are to train younger women to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home . . . that the word of God will not be reviled” (2:4-5). Paul is not here saying that women should only work in the home. The point Paul makes is that the home is significant in God’s gospel mission; therefore, the work of the home is extremely valuable to Him. The Bible is clear that the mission of believers is to spread God’s glory to all the world by making disciples through the power of the gospel (Matt 28:19-20, Rom 1:16). This mission is not disconnected from Paul’s exhortations to women concerning work in the home. When Titus chapter two is interpreted in light of Christ’s great commission mandate, women will begin to see that their homes can serve as a “hub” or effective center for living a life on mission for Christ .

The mission begins within the walls.

I love Mother Teresa’s thought provoking words: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Al Mohler recently made a similar statement: “If we can’t reach our children, we can’t reach the world.” Our mission to reach the world with the gospel starts at home. The people who live within our walls {spouses, children, roommates} are our closest neighbors and usually the people with whom God has given us the greatest influence. Hearts and minds are shaped early and, as parents, we have the hearts of our children first. As we are faithful to love and care for our kids in the day-to-day, we have thousands of opportunities to make intentional deposits of gospel truth into their hearts and lives while praying for God to bring transformation and growth.

When we view the home as the hub of our mission efforts, even the most mundane and exhausting work required in keeping a house and caring for those we love is important and meaningful; yet, at the same time, it doesn’t rule us. Christ rules us. We can work faithfully by His strength and for His glory while recognizing that our joy is not dependent on whether or not we have a beautifully decorated and tidy home, a thankful spouse, or well-behaved children.

To use our homes as the hub of our mission efforts does not mean we are domestic goddesses who keep picture-perfect homes and never make mistakes in front of those who live in our home. In fact, it’s really just the opposite. Being on mission within the walls of our homes means that we really get the gospel ourselves. We understand that apart from Christ we are broken and flawed and weak. We recognize that every failure–every bad attitude, impatient word or careless act–is an opportunity to point to the Perfect One whose righteousness has been credited to us through faith and who is slowly transforming our hearts as we turn from our sin and look to Him alone. The ugly things in our hearts that are exposed in front of those we love give us the chance to demonstrate humility and true repentance as we shout the good news that the gospel of Jesus is our greatest hope in our weakest moments. To be on mission in our homes, we must model our deep need and highlight God’s great grace.

The mission moves beyond the walls when the door is open.

God has provided us earthly homes as temporary places of refuge, not that we may sequester ourselves behind closed doors and only minister to those within our walls, but that we may open our doors and bid others to come in and  see that the it is The Lord is good. These physical structures we live in are just temporary dwellings, but they can be a powerful  tool to point others forward to our eternal dwelling in Christ if we will simply open our doors.

A missional home is an open home, not a perfect home. Are we willing to welcome others into our imperfect (and in my case, messy) homes to share of our time, our food, and ourselves? In the book of Acts, Luke records that the early Church did life together. Followers of Christ gathered daily to learn, worship, break bread, and remember the gospel together. They also applied the gospel together as they generously gave of what they had to meet the needs of others. In short, they lived life with a “what’s mine is yours” mentality. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were beings saved” (Acts 2:47b). As they lived life together with open homes and hands, the gospel spread.

We live in an individualistic culture of locked doors, drawn curtains and privacy fences. The American mentality is “you can only count on what you earn”. But if our homes are going to function as little gospel outposts for taking the good news to the world, we must work by Christ’s strength to keep our doors open regardless of how uncomfortable or costly it may feel.

We each need to ask ourselves questions such as these: Is my home open to those in the Body of Christ? Do I regularly welcome believers in to share a meal or coffee and speak about the things of the Lord together? Is my home a refuge for others in need of a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, godly counsel or just a free place to spend the night? As I welcome the Body of Christ, am I intentionally seeking to build relationships with the lost in my circle of influence while petitioning the Lord to add to [our] number those who are being saved? Do I speak to neighbors and try to get to know them through time? Do I develop friendships with lost coworkers who do not know the Lord and invite them into my home? Do I pray for them and ask the Lord for opportunities? There are countless creative ways to use our homes for God’s Kingdom mission if we will open our eyes and ask daily for his strength and help.

Lest we become easily discouraged, let us remember that we will not be perfect in managing our homes for effective gospel mission. We will struggle and always have room to grow, but weakness itself is a gift. It reminds us that our hope is in something greater than our home and our own efforts at faithful obedience. In the hard moments, let us shift our perspective to the truth that Gloria Furman communicates so well:

The remnant Israelites learned that their home was not their refuge. In our modern time, we need to know this too. We need to know that our home is not a projection of our image but a space in which we work to display the image of Christ. Home points to a peace that is beyond color schemes and adornments. It points to the fact that the Lord is our refuge. Jesus Christ is the greatest missional home manager the world has ever seen. He builds his house, and he sets his house in order. He is head over his church, and he loves her perfectly. He nourishes her with his word. Christ reigns in sovereign superiority; he is the basis of all our joy. We must live our lives focused on his sovereign lordship over the cosmos.“

Yes. And amen.

 

Reflections on 2016

I’ve had writer’s block for a year.

Well, that’s not entirely true. So many thoughts have fluttered back and forth between my heart and head that have just never made it out through my hand. More often than not, my thoughts have found a page by necessity. Typically, it’s been impossible to keep them in. Writing is how I have processed, meditated, and spoken truth to my own heart. Writing is how I have remembered. But not this year.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been too exhausted to write for an entire year. Never really a coffee person, I have found coffee a dear friend of late.

I asked Adam how he would describe 2016. He responded, “Hard!” without even looking up from his computer. And I feel the same way. There has been no major crisis in our family. No one is sick. No one has died. We have numerous blessings to count and countless reasons to give thanks. Nonetheless, the year has been hard. And that is ok. Because hard and good aren’t mutually exclusive. Testings and blessings are often two sides of the same coin.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried . . . we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. -Psalm 66:10,12b

At the close of 2015, just when {I thought} I was finally getting the hang of life with two little boys, we welcomed our third baby boy into the family. What a precious, undeserved Christmas gift! Truly, I could not have picked a sweeter baby. What joy it is to have three sons to love and nurture in the admonition of the Lord–what fun to trod this unlikely journey of “life with boys” —a journey I certainly never anticipated or could have orchestrated for my own life. What a gift for them to have the camaraderie and deep love of brotherhood. Nevertheless, I would be lying if I said the journey has been easy thus far.

Trials and testings are part of living in world that is fractured by the curse of sin. Sometimes testings come in powerful, shocking blows of crisis that knock us off our feet and send us into what feels like a tailspin. In other seasons, trials and testings are more subtle. They come in the form of a daily grind that feels like a weight so heavy it might eventually crush us–a responsibility so demanding that we feel sucked in and fear we might be drowned in the quicksand. Sometimes challenges take the form of numerous little life stresses that compile to wear and tear. Different personalities respond to hardship in various ways, but regardless of the form it takes, hard is hard and very real nonetheless. And no one is exempt.

This year held a lot of adjustment for us. If I’m being honest, it held a lot of “daily grind hard” in both parenthood and ministry. It held a host of real life, real world stress. I could not have imagined the heavy demands wrapped up in the beautiful blessing of caring for three small boys. No one can prepare you for it. And eight years ago, when we moved nine hours from home to start seminary with nothing but about five hundred dollars and {rather weak} faith, I never could have imagined the strength of faith I would need for the journey of vocational ministry–a faith God is still growing in me 8 years later. There were times during 2016 that I distinctly longed for 2017…a new year and a fresh start…an easier day-to-day that hopefully involved more sleep and time to sit in a chair and read.

But when I reflect on 2016, I see more than the hard. I see the good. I see the refinement in us. I am reminded that our God is so merciful that he uses the hardships of a world broken by our making to accomplish his own good and perfect purposes. He uses the fire to refine us until He sees His own image. Beauty from ashes.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

Were we not laid bare in the hardships and trials of day-to-day life, would we ever really see our need? Would we ever cling to God as our ultimate provider and be amazed at his consistent and abundant faithfulness to us? Would our hearts ever cry out with the Psalmist, Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides you, I desire nothing on earth! My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. God is so kind to show us our constant need for him–to force us out of ourselves and into Him. To show us that He is willing to be our portion, a portion that will fill and satisfy. 

The constant demands of marriage and  motherhood have exposed my tendency to worship so many golden calves–self-sufficiency, productivity, order, ease, and “me-time” to name a few. Though I would not trade this season, at times I have mourned what it has required me to lay down. In addition, the unknowns of ministry have exposed my desire for control and my struggle to really trust the sovereign God I proclaim. But where I am weak, God is strong. He is so patient and forgiving–an ever-present help in times of need. He is a Father who loves to give good gifts to His Children and a perfect husband who is burning away impurities and preparing for Himself a holy and beautiful bride.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. {Matt 10:39}

But when we ourselves become refined like silver to the glory of God, the transformation pays back what has been lost or owed. We are not yet “gold”; that awaits the restoration of all things. On this side of heaven, the closest we become is silvered. We gain this gleam from walking with the God who walks with us, and giving Him back the glory and the praise. Our silvering reflects him to a world much in need of reflection. {Carolyn Weber, in Holy is the Day}

God has been faithful every step of the way–through every beautiful and hard moment of 2016. What a joy it has been to see his love and care for us–His perfect {and sometimes unexpected} provision and his abundant grace! I don’t know what 2017 will hold, but I can march forward without fear or angst because our times are in His hands, and He has proven time and again that He is good.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. {Corrie Ten Boom}