I love the Advent season! Since I was shown the wonders of this liturgical season, I believe I have uttered the word “Advent” more in the last three years than I had the entirety of my life. This year is the first year that I have taught through the meaning of Advent in my several years of serving in ministry and I have to confess: The season of Advent has been more refreshing this year than it has ever been in my life.
I think there are many reason for this. First, teaching through the four words which typically represent Advent (hope, peace, joy, and faith) have helped me gain a more appreciative perspective of how they are represented in the Bible and how they relate to the current season. Second, and this is what I would like to focus on, given the mess of a year which has been 2020, the season of Advent reminds me that we not only celebrate the Son of God coming to this earth as a baby, but also that we wait for His second coming in which He will vanquish sin, disease, and death forever.
As I think further about this second reason for my immense love for Advent this year, I am reminded about how early Christmas lights went up this year. These two topics might seem completely unrelated, so let me explain. The day after Halloween this year, I saw many of the houses in my neighborhood setting up their Christmas lights. It was to the point in which these lights were up by the 2nd of November. I thought it might have just been the families in my neighborhood, but apparently this has been a common pattern in other neighborhoods as well. To me, its a further reminder that this season, Christmas to some and Advent to others, is a reminder of hope and peace and joy and faith. Our non-Christian neighbors may never express it exactly like this, but there is something awe inspiring about this season even if you don’t celebrate the coming of Christ.
This year has only exacerbated that feeling. In the dread and dreary year of 2020, people want something to hope for. They want something to put their faith in. They need something that brings them joy. They desire peace from the never-ending news cycle of the election and Covid. They need only what Jesus can bring! Again, they cannot express their need for Christ, but they do know that they are looking for all those things above which only Christ can bring. It all points to a resounding truth: We need the message of Advent!
If you are a Christian and reading this, maybe this year has been a real struggle for you. Maybe you have lost a job, lost a loved one, or have been terribly depressed. I pray that you would take hope in the fact that you have placed your faith in One who has come to this earth, lived a perfect life according to the law, died on a cross taking your sin, and then rose again and ascended to the Father. 2020 will end. This virus will end. Your job loss will end. Your depression will end. But your Lord and Savior will reign forever! He will return and set all things right. Advent is a promise of that!
Maybe you’re reading this and you don’t know Christ. You have heard of Him. You know that at it’s origin, this season is a celebration of Christ’s birth. But the Gospel message, that is the message that God sent His Son to live a life we could not live,die a death on a cross that we deserved and be raised from the dead so that those who place their faith in Him can have eternal life, has eluded you. You may have a hard time believing something so wonderful can be true. In 2020, you are just trying to make it to tomorrow. I pray that you would ponder how faith in Christ might bring you hope, peace, and joy not only in this season but for the rest of your life.
Perhaps in 2020 we need the season of Advent more than we have in previous years. If anything 2020 has reminded all of us who are in Christ that this world is not our home. Life in Christ is incalculably better! This Advent season, may we cry what many have before: Come O’ Come, Immanuel.
“Discipleship is not cool, it’s hard,” I thought while drinking my six-dollar pour over coffee in a hipster coffee shop, wearing a cardigan.
I understand the irony of the statement above. But isn’t this what we have all been taught at some level in American Christianity? Doesn’t the best discipleship happen over a cup of ‘probably-overly expensive coffee’ in a hipster coffee shop? Maybe a McDonalds is more your speed? Nonetheless, I think we have all bought the charade that discipleship is for those who know what they are doing every step of the way.
When in reality, discipleship is so messy (and I mean ‘so’ with like a thousand o’s behind it). It takes time and effort. It means stagnation in your life and in the life of the one you are discipling. We are often too afraid to mention this, even in a blog post, because we are supposed to be the ‘experts’ when we begin discipling someone else. In a culture of ‘experts’ (because they spent 10,000 hours or some other arbitrary number in this craft or because they read a couple of blog posts on the subject which is more likely), discipleship is not one of those things we should ever feel like we have mastered. I would venture to guess there is only one person who ever believed they were worthy of discipling someone else.
The rest of us, who are not the Son of God, have found ourselves stumbling through a slew of awkward conversations which consist of many different ways of encouraging the younger believer to pursue Christ more fully in their lives, to see Christ as more magnificent than they already see Him, or to call them to repent of ongoing sin in their lives. All of these conversations are not simple. They are not cut and dry, black and white. They are difficult! Battling our own sinful flesh and our own pursuit of Christ is hard enough, but encouraging others to battle their flesh and pursue Christ is not easy.
This is why I am encouraged when I look at Scripture and see messed up, broken, sinful men and women who still see their role in discipleship as one which cannot given up. They knew the cost. They knew the difficulty. They realized that some of the people they discipled might not continue in the faith. But they all did something profound: They continued to disciple those who needed to be discipled because they believed in the message of the Gospel to change them. They believed in the Spirit which dwelled in each of them to bring to completion what was not yet complete. They believed that they were called to, as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, share not only the Gospel of God but also their own selves.
So let me encourage you. Press on! Press forward! It will still be hard. But be thankful that Christ is always with you in your work to encourage, exhort, and disciple others. And we shouldn’t want it any other way.
I winced a little as I wrote the title of this post because I know that I’m guilty. It’s is far easier for me to criticize what others are doing than to look at how I can encourage them. It’s far easier for me to poke holes than it is for me to help build up. Let me say, before I get too far, there are times in which criticism is necessary. Criticism, if used correctly, can lead to some positive change in a Christian’s life. For example, I have been helped immensely by criticisms my wife has given me in the times she has heard me preach. If I take these valid criticisms and apply them to my preaching, they will only make me better preacher and communicator.
But this is not the sort of criticism I am writing about. The criticism I’m concerned about is the overall critical spirit that I have seen on social media among Christians (some of you reading are already criticizing this post because once again I am calling for charitable living and love of neighbor). This pandemic season has not been an easy one for most. Loss of job, loss of social interaction, and loss of life have plagued us all. The stressful situations around us have created a natural breeding ground for discontentment and complaint. Unfortunately, this has manifested itself in criticism which goes far beyond matters of discerning between right and wrong. Social media has been filled with overly-critical posts on a variety of issues, but one such incident has bugged me more than any other. I will try to tread lightly as I mention this because I know that I can easily display the same overly-critical spirit.
When the pandemic began, churches closed rather quickly in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. The hope was that if churches stopped gathering, they could best slow the spread of the virus and protect those in the congregation, especially those who were most vulnerable. As the spread of the virus slowed and it became safe to gather again, some churches began to meet again at half or less than half capacity. Some churches were creative in the ways they could meet which included outdoor services, drive-in services, and a combination of indoor and outdoor services. Some requiring masks, some did not. Other churches chose to continue to meet online. Fast forward to mid-to-late July and the Coronavirus is still raging through the country, over a hundred thousand people have died, and churches are still asking similar questions about regathering. This has forced church leaders to make difficult decisions impacting the spiritual and physical health of their congregation..
Two weeks ago now, Grace Community Church issued a statement from their elders which stated that they “cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings” even though the state of California passed an order which mandated churches to limit or suspend their church services. Their statement is well written and filled with Scripture, containing many points that pastors should honestly think through. I have no qualms or quarrels with John MacArthur or Grace Community Church for deciding to continue to gather. It was rather what has been said or written by some other Christians who zealously support JM and GCC. A number of tweets and status updates from this group have criticized other churches for “bowing to Caesar” because they are not following in GCC’s footsteps. This is a problem.
I will repeat what I wrote above (with more emphasis): Church leaders in this pandemic have a nearly impossible job. It is hard enough trying to sift through the confusing and contradictory information that is floating through the internet. It’s even harder to make a decision with all of this contradictory information when they are being criticized for their decisions. Christians, instead of criticizing the leaders of other churches or the leaders of their own church, should be in constant prayer for them. Given the debate over whether churches should gather or not, I find it a bit ironic that one of the places this word encouragement shows up is in the same passage that promotes gathering as a church
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
The gathering of believers is important. Scripture is clear on this. But its the reason for gathering that should draw our attention. We are to consider one another to provoke love and good works. We are to encourage one another. We aren’t gathering (physically or digitally) in order to criticize them for their incorrect response.We are gathering for the purpose of spurring one another up in love. We are gathering in order to encourage those who need encouragement.
First Thessalonians relays a similar message:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14)
The commandment is once again very clear. We are to encourage and build each other up. This is what the family of God is supposed to look like! Yes, we call out sin as sin. Yes, we condemn false doctrine. But we should still always be defined by how we love each other! We should always be looking for ways to encourage our brothers and sisters in this time! This is how the church will be attractive to a world who doesn’t know Christ. We must ask ourselves: How can we expect the world to desire being a part of our churches if we are constantly complaining and criticizing those who are in them?
I want to reiterate that this is not a post to criticize the decision JM and GCC have made. That being said, I don’t necessarily believe that churches are bowing to Caesar if they are restricting their services or changing their normal formatting during this pandemic. There have been several great articles (linked at the bottom) written addressing the decision by GCC. I think they are worth reading and considering for anyone who wants another godly perspective. My hope after reading this is that you and I won’t be so quick to criticize those God has placed over us. Instead, may we devote ourselves to prayer for these men who lead our churches. May we find ways to encourage them in this tough season. It may be a letter, a text or simply a status update/tweet stating your appreciation for them. Seek to build up, not tear down. May God be glorified by our love for neighbor and for Him!
The above line is not in Scripture in case you were wondering. It is a clever distortion of a phrase I’ve heard from quite a few people after some recent events in my life. The line above should read: You shall know them by their love. This phrase is also not found in Scripture. So why then do I write something with a “semi-clickbatey” title? Am I here to talk about how true Christians should give up their rights and wear a mask in order to love their neighbor? No, I don’t really have the time or the energy to make an argument like that, although I’m sure I could. I’m sure there are other articles that have done that well enough. Am I writing this because there is a difference between the Christians who wear a mask and the Christians won’t or refuse to wear a mask? No (I’m sure there is a difference but the spectrum is so large that it would take a year-long LifeWay Study to figure it out).
The reason I write is because of the poorly paraphrased verse in that first paragraph. It should say this:
By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Through all of these arguments of wear a mask vs. don’t wear a mask; this is a government conspiracy vs. this isn’t a government conspiracy; the mask doesn’t help vs. the mask does help, I’ve seen more animosity and anger between people who claim to be Christians than I’ve seen love for one another. I’ve seen more fruit of the flesh than I have fruit of the Spirit. I’ve seen more online interactions which carry an heir of superiority than a Christ-like humility.
As someone who also is a Christ-follower with firm opinions on these issues, I know I have the same temptation to consider my opinion on this issue as greater than theirs. I have the same proclivity to consider their side as unloving and less faithful to scripture than my own. The reality is that we all have blindspots in our Christian lives. None of us always see where attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions fall far short of Christlikeness. We can always sacrifice love for the pursuit of truth.
But this is not what we have been called to as believers. Instead, let us take time to listen and consider how we can best respond to someone who disagrees with us in a loving manner. Lord willing, Covid will be over one day and when it is many of us will forget the smaller arguments that were had. But one thing people will alway remember is how they were treated by their fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Will it be filled with love? Or will others find that a surgical mask wasn’t the only mask we were wearing?
Hiatus – A pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.
Year – The time taken by the earth to make one revolution around the sun.
It feels like it was just yesterday when I had grand aspirations for this blog. I was going to post roughly two times per month. I was going to write, as I saw it, the connection between Christ and culture. I was going to stick with it and develop my writing chops slaving away at a keyboard or something like that.
But here I am, two years later. I wrote above that it feels like yesterday, but these last two years…
these last two years…
You know when people describe periods of time as if they ‘lasted ages.’ They describe it as time ‘having slowed down.’ They describe it as ‘painful and fraught with worry and panic.’ The last two years, in my life and many of my friends lives, could be described in this very same manner.
You may be looking up at the definitions above and wondering why I defined both of those words. Defining hiatus makes sense. It’s not a word that we use all that often..but year? Why did I define year? It’s because if you were to ask me what these last two years have been like, since my last post, I would have to double check to make sure it hasn’t been four or five or ten years (ok, ten might be an exaggeration, but you understand my point). Two years have passed and with it I have experienced or witnessed the following: a church split, my son’s hospital visit, personal mistrust of character, destruction of another church, backbiting, bitterness, anger, frustration, a miscarriage, more mistrust of character, a pandemic, political polarization, racial injustice and on and on the list goes. Who would imagine two revolutions around the sun could contain all of this?
Before I start throwing a pity party for myself, I want to reassure people that good things have happened, dispersed in among the bad. I’ve celebrated two anniversaries to my lovely wife, this year making our sixth. My son is healthy and will turn three later this year. I watched one of my best friends get married. God continues to be faithful to me and my family in spite of my severe shortcomings. Friendships have grown and new friendships have blossomed.
This leads to that first word up there, hiatus. While there has been a hiatus from writing these past two years, there is never really been a hiatus in seeing culture intersect with Christ. No pause button has been pushed on my life which has allowed me to simply stay where I was two years ago. Wisdom has been gained through experiences (I hope). God has revealed His immense and wonderful grace through each of these circumstances, good and bad. He has been Faithful and Present in each of these things, just as He will continue to be Present and Faithful because that is Who He is.
So the two-year writing hiatus is over, but the hiatus of observing and trying to makes sense of what God is actively doing, has never actually, really ever happened.
This is an older entry of mine. It was written in the summer of 2016. Hope you enjoy.
- Students partake in the Great Commission
- Students realize the things they have been blessed with
- Students see modeled for them Kingdom work
- Students live out their faith
- Students learn their spiritual gifts and talents
- Students learn to love each other
- Students get a true vision of the Church