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Category: Church Calendar

Reflections from Ash Wednesday

Yesterday I attended my first Ash Wednesday service at the Cathedral of St. Stephen, a few blocks from my office in Brisbane city. It was a remarkable, foreign, fascinating experience with which I found a number of resonances (not just off the Cathedral walls) and a few reservations (because hey, they’re Roman Catholic). Before I begin, you might want to read Four Thoughts on Lent 2018 to get a picture of where I’m coming from, before you decide to come for me. A few thoughts:

A Time to Focus on Sin

The opening words were a solemn call for repentance. The speaker highlighted that the world knows nothing of sin proper; they understand making mistakes, errors of judgement, and bad decisions (consciously, or in hindsight) but not sin—because sin requires thinking in terms of God as the one whom we sin against. Therefore as believers in Christ, we have a foreign category to the world when it comes to considering our wrongdoing, not only because of God’s law to which we are held accountable, but also because we know God himself and his righteousness requirements. Further, we know of Christ’s finished work on the cross of Calvary on our behalf, we acknowledge that we are sinful creatures who are unable to pay the penalty due us apart from the saving work of Christ, and so we come to God without anything in our hands except the sin that made our salvation necessary, and plead Christ’s atoning sacrifice. On this point, I say a hearty “amen”, and am struck by a profound sense of my own poverty before a holy God—something that lies at the heart of Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the Lenten journey.

Oh The Irony

The liturgy of the service was almost completely made up of responses from the congregation; for which there was no paper or guide, and it was at this point where I’m certain those around me noticed that ‘one of these things is not like the other’ as I remained still, not knowing what to do or say for the bulk of the responses (I did try hard to look appropriately contemplative). Apart from the Lord’s Prayer, I had no clue what to say, and no way to participate. Lastly, it wouldn’t have been a Roman Catholic Mass if not for a ceremony replete with the respectful bow or bending of the knee to the crucifix before entering or leaving the stage or the pews (respectively), the Bishop frequently kissing the altar, or signs of the cross being made over various things throughout the service. For me, the contradiction of being saved by grace alone yet frequently performing all of these works was hard to miss.

Repent and Believe the Gospel

When it came time for the imposition of ashes (the tradition that paints an ashen cross on your forehead as the outward sign of beginning this season of repentance), the words “repent, and believe the gospel” are spoken over you. Here—all the Roman Catholic pomp and ceremony aside—I found myself recognising these words straight from the lips of Jesus at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and found it to be possibly the best exhortation one person could give to another. I returned to my seat with eyes that were pointed to Jesus, considering the words of John Newton that I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Saviour.

Overall, I was grateful for this experience as one that helped to put me into the right frame of mind entering the season of Lent, contemplating Jesus’ journey towards the cross and our great reward because of his great sacrifice. While there is a time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord over the entire created order, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that to be raised to life again, there must first have been death. Surely the reward tastes so much sweeter once we first take time to remember the cost.

Four Thoughts on Lent 2018

Every year as Lent approaches, I encounter mixed opinions in the Christian world regarding this season on the church calendar. Here are a few simple thoughts on why I embrace Lent as a season of anticipating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and honour him by making space to examine myself as the one in whose place he died.

Lent Reminds Me of Who I Am

John Calvin wrote that true wisdom consists in two things: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. For Calvin, there could be no knowledge of self without first knowing God. Like the rhythm of a regular Sabbath, or unplugging from technology once or twice a year, Lent is an invaluable period in my calendar where time is deliberately carved out to consider that the same God who made me is also the God who came and saved me. My identity is found in Christ, without whom I am a wretched, evil sinner condemned to a just and eternal punishment for my offences to this holy God. During Lent, I drop something of lesser importance, in order to dwell on truths that are of the greatest importance.

Lent isn’t Purely a Catholic (read Not-For-Christians) Practice

For many, Lent is so identified with Roman Catholicism that it’s difficult to imagine an evangelical observance of it. I often hear the question “what did you give up for Lent” met with the quip “Roman Catholicism”. But Lent (like Advent leading up to Christmas) is what we make it, and it is no more exclusively Roman Catholic than Easter itself. Personally, I’ve found great benefit in intentionally practicing something for the days leading up to Easter; and far from wearing the symbol of the ashen cross on my forehead all day on Ash Wednesday, there are many ways in which I can intentionally be reminded of why Christ came to die. After all, he didn’t die purely for the Roman Catholics.

Lent Gives my Family a Framework to Consider the Cross

Also like Advent, Lent allows for Easter to be more than Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. By pausing on the journey towards Easter through reading a Lenten devotional that walks the Passion road towards Calvary, my family and I are reminded of the journey that Jesus walked; the determination that he had, the love that he displayed towards humanity in his every word and deed. It reminds us that before the creation of the world, our loving Father had a plan to rescue us and restore us to relationship with himself. Devotions for Lent are easy to come by, and these brief daily glimpses of gospel celebrate how God’s love and wrath came together for our good and his glory.

Finally, Remember that Lent isn’t a Show

As with everything in the Christian life, the purpose of Lent is to grow into a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ, becoming like him in mind and action. So, when it comes to taking up the practice of sacrificing something (whether it be a particular meal each day, social media, or something else of value that takes much of your time), any practice than creates more space than usual for personal reflection is a good thing. However, the popular counter-argument is this: many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. But the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Also, Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18).

So, when it comes to giving up something, there’s no need to announce it. “Hey everyone, I’m giving up Facebook for Lent”—do that, and you’ve already received your reward in the recognition of man.

Where to from here?

My hope for Lent 2018 is that it would be a time of prayerful introspection; examining the heart, revealing and uprooting sin, and soberly remembering that the only thing that I contributed to my salvation was the sin that made it necessary. Lent is a time of contemplating what it means to be human, who we are in light of God’s saving grace, and how those things lead us inevitably to consider the cross. I pray it would be a gospel-soaked stock take of my life, to help me see what things can be set aside in order to make more room for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.

Finally, the attitude behind Lent should in no way be reserved for this short season leading up to Easter; the Christian life is characterised by thinking and acting upon this process continually. But I (and I suspect I’m not alone) appreciate the discipline of a season for focused prayer and penitence, and so I’ll be practicing Lent, and I know I’ll be better for it.

Unending Joy

Could it be that many of the pursuits that pervade our magazines, cover stories, and current affairs today are simply differently sized and shaped searches for real, lasting joy? Of all the gifts that we can receive at Christmas, perhaps the most meaningful for our world today is joy.

Few would deny that amongst shining pockets of hope that dot the landscape like lonely Christmas lights, the world is mostly getting worse. Wars, slavery, abuse at an all-time high, and many people powerless to the machinations of world leaders that no longer seem to hold to a system of ethics that aligns with traditional Christian values. So on this, the third Sunday of Advent it’s more timely than ever that we remember that Joy has come. Even as we see so many in oppression, turmoil, or depression we know that there is hope. Joy is not only a possibility; it’s a promise.

Joy Past

We look back to the stable in Bethlehem, of which the angels announced “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) and we see what John Piper has called the dawning of indestructible joy. The Creator has become the created in order to do what we could not to secure our redemption, and restore us to the relationship for which we were given life. We experience this joy firsthand when we hear the news of the birth of the saviour of the world, and bend our knee to the reality of his reign. This announcement rubs against the pursuits we see on our billboards and commercials, because we come to realise that joy is not found in something inside us, nor is it found in stuff. Oswald Chambers wrote “Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor even in seeing God’s work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with Him that Jesus Himself enjoyed.” Joy might be sought in many ways in many places, but the Christmas story is that Joy has come, and his name in Jesus.

Joy Present

Second, joy is possible for us today because when Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t simply leave us to our own devices, but he gave us the promised Holy Spirit, the evidence of which is our possession of joy (Galatians 5:22-23). When we look at the very words of Jesus, we see that his aim in all he taught was the joy of his people: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The story of the arrival of Jesus is a story of joy, but so much more than this: God himself is our joy!
Psalm 16:11 reads

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Joy Future

Finally, Advent is not only a time of patient anticipation as we look forward to celebrating the day of the arrival of true and lasting Joy, but we also look forward to the great Day when the baby boy of whom Isaac Watts wrote ‘Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” will return again as the reigning sovereign King, coming to bring all things to completion in himself; and fullness of joy for those who are his.

As Christians, we have a message which is joy from beginning to end, and we don’t have to wait until heaven to live a life characterised by joy, nor should we hesitate to share this good news continually. Rather, in the midst of trials, suffering, uncertainty, and a world which is increasingly hostile towards those who hold fast to Jesus, we possess an indestructible, eternal, all-conquering joy. May we rejoice today as we remember Christ and his promises, and may our hearts be filled with unending joy.

I’m Glad Today is about Hope

If there is one thing that the world needs more of, certainly it would be hope. We live in a world which continues to suffer as a result of moral decline. Drawn-out periods of war, political ignorance of the plight of the poor, and widespread support for issues which contravene the created order. On one hand, its easy to see that the world is increasingly a place without hope. However, as I sat with our two youngest boys this morning, we talked about the significance of today in the calendar of the church. Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the season of anticipation in which we look forward to the coming of the saviour of the world; both the arrival of the Saviour at Christmas, and his immanent return. It’s a season filled with hope; but what exactly does that mean?

What I Love about Hope

Scripture speaks of hope as an expectation of the unseen and of the future (Rom 8:24-25), the ground upon which our hope is based (i.e. “Christ in you the hope of glory”, Col 1:27), the confidence of the coming resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6), and objectively about God himself as the author of hope—not merely the subject—the “God of hope” (Rom 15:13). Unlike the poor parody of hope that the world offers, hope for the Christian has its foundation in a God who has already come and fulfilled his promises to us, giving us every reason to trust that what he says, he does. Hope came to the world that night in a stable in Bethlehem; and with his life, death, and resurrection hundreds of God’s promises made known to humanity over hundreds of years through a dozen different authors all came to be fulfilled. So when I talk about hope with my boys, I talk about the joyful anticipation of seeing all of history continue to unfold in the exact way that Jesus promised. For our family, this includes the confident assurance of being reunited with deceased loved ones in the presence of Jesus. It means new, perfect bodies suited for life in heaven. It means no more tears, or pain, or mourning, or depression, or unforgiveness, or hate.

Today is the Sunday of Hope. And this Advent season as we fix our gaze toward the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas morning and the wonder and magnitude of the invitation that accompanies the news of that event, our hearts are filled with joy knowing that the one who came to save the world will soon come again to claim what he has redeemed. Jesus Christ has proven himself to be utterly trustworthy, infinitely powerful, totally sovereign, and unquestionably supreme. Our hope is built on nothing less.

Come, Lord Jesus. Soon.

Not Halloween, Reformation Day!

The fact is, there are plenty of Christians—not to mention everyone else—who struggle to see the relevance of Reformation Day on October 31, and fewer again who could give a comprehensive reason as to why it’s so important. Who was Martin Luther? Isn’t October 31 actually Halloween? And why is he trying to hijack this popular day?

Reformation Day is the symbolic day on which the Protestant Church celebrates Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to the castle door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. These theses were largely a protest against the current practice of indulgences, but included other calls for Christians to return to a more gospel-centric life. While Luther had no intention of sparking a revolution, his actions started a wildfire which spread all across Europe.

The truth is, I don’t know as much about Luther or the Reformation as I would like, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m thankful that I don’t have to pay indulgences. In a nutshell, indulgences were the practice that for a price, sins (either yours or your deceased family members’) could be forgiven for a sum of money, thus reducing or preventing time spent in purgatory (a place the Catholic church invented) before entering heaven. This money then went to help complete construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Seems like a good deal, right? Well, Luther was adamant that it was nothing short of blasphemy, and he said as much in his passionate denials throughout the 95 theses.

The Reformation also gave to the Christian church what have come to be known as The 5 Solas (they weren’t officially called that until the 20th century):

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)—The bible alone is our highest authority
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)—we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)—that salvation comes as a gift of pure grace
Solus Cristus (Christ Alone)—Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and Lord
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)—Glory belongs to God alone.

These 5 Solas sum up everything about the Christian faith and serve as the foundational pillars for the Protestant Church.

Salvation is by God’s grace alone,
on the basis of Christ alone,
received through faith alone,
to the glory of God alone,
made known to us through the authority of Scripture alone.

In addition to the Solas, I’m also grateful for Luther because on this side of the Reformation, we have the bible in our own language; we don’t have to pay financially to lift the guilt-trip (because money never saves); and we don’t have to go through a pastor, priest, or any other mediator to have access to our loving God. So this October 31st , as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation arrives; I’ll be celebrating Reformation Day. And there is much to celebrate.

Engaging Diversity for God’s Purposes

Australia faces many challenges at present. Economic. Political. Spiritual. Integrity. Globalization. Morality. Others? Which challenge concerns you the most?

One of the significant issues occupying my mind constantly concerns diversity engagement. I know this choice is different to the standard or common selections from the options above. However, diversity is a feature of Australian life, creating potential threats to social cohesion and unity. Numerous headline stories in recent weeks highlight the tensions present currently in society and the struggles to respectfully dialogue with opposing views. The Same Sex Marriage postal vote is causing animosity and igniting extreme acts to shut down the opposing side. The statues in Sydney vandalized over the debate concerning Australia Day have polarized the population. The constant reminder of the fear associated with terrorism threatens to paralyze. Use of the name of Jesus in playgrounds could be banned. The debate over the wearing the burqa is set to continue. As well as the call to abandon Father’s Day and replace with Special Person’s Day. These are just to name a few.

My concern is the potential damage and impact inflicted on social cohesion from such confrontations, and the lasting legacy. Numerous consequences arise. Bullying results in profound hurt, broken relationships, hatred and fear. Respect for the other suffers. The world of blame, rejection, confrontation and insult intensifies. Overzealous minority voices impact freedom of speech as they attempt to seek conformity for their perspective and silence the majority. Enclaves form.

The current Australian context should ignite Christ’s followers to theologically reflect and evaluate the nature of a godly response to handling all forms of diversity. Following Christ brings with it expectations, beliefs and values concerning the response. Paul’s reminder to not conform to the patterns of the world (Rom 12:1-2) comes to mind here. The response contributes to the discussion and communicates non-verbally to the world an alternative pathway for engaging diversity.

My own life journey with diversity commenced when born into an international marriage over 50 years ago. Ever since then I have lived and worked in at least 4 countries, travelled to over 20, parented a son with disability issues with my British born wife and struggled with ongoing generational issues within Christian organizations.

Therefore, I bring some encouragement from my own response to diversity and the intrinsic sources for motivation to manage the threats, fear and relationship challenges. Diversity becomes opportunities for me to learn, grow and deepen my walk with God. Three theologically grounded concepts guide my response for culturally appropriate relationships and cross-cultural servanthood.

Firstly, attitudes to diversity set the tone for behavior. Romans 15:7 where Paul encourages the Roman Christians to accept one another as Christ accepted them is crucial for me. Acceptance builds off an openness to difference and communicates esteem even when differences exist. The combative, selfish-driven and confrontational spirit subsides. The value is seen in Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritan woman (John 4). Elmer in his book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood (IVP, 2006) explores this further.

Secondly, culturally appropriate knowledge and skills deepen the message of acceptance in contexts of diversity. God crossed borders to engage humanity through the incarnation of Christ. Jesus’ example provides clues for intercultural engagement. David Livermore’s book, Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Multicultural World (Baker Books, 2009) proposes a model/tool to approach caring for the other and building bridges across cultural chasms. Cultural intelligence is the capacity to function effectively cross-culturally through 4 capabilities around motivation and perseverance (CQ Drive), knowledge (CQ Knowledge), strategic planning for intercultural encounters (CQ Strategy), and participation in speech and non-verbal acts (CQ Action). Having the skills and knowledge to respond assists the capacity to address diversity and understand the other.

Thirdly, God’s control of all things and activity in the world means functioning in the community and the margins without fear, even of difference. God empowers believers to cope and engage. Frost and Rice’s recent book, To Alter the World (IVP, 2017) encourages believers to consider embracing the role of midwives for God in place-crafting and dialogue.

May the manner in which we engage diversity reflect God’s heart and expectations, and implement the knowledge and skills available to us, especially when empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 


This post was contributed by David Turnbull. David is Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies at Tabor College of Higher Education and has a passion to see God’s people engage the nations with the good news of Christ in a just and culturally intelligent manner. His cross-cultural involvement has spanned over five decades and four continents (primarily Africa) in the areas of training, equipping and facilitating through local churches, mission agencies, Missions Interlink locally and nationally and the Lausanne Movement. He is currently working on his PhD in the area of cultural intelligence.

The Heart of Holy Saturday

Yesterday we paused to remember that God the Son was crucified – for blasphemy, of all things. In churches around the world the death of the one and only saviour of humanity was proclaimed on Good Friday morning. We came together to worship God by giving him thanks; acknowledging that the death of the saviour Jesus Christ was an act of pure grace extended towards us, and that without God’s grace-filled intervention on our behalf, we would all be lost.

I also observe every year that for some pastors there remains a strong temptation to make sure that their service doesn’t end on a sombre note; after all, we need to remember Jesus’ death… but we don’t want to risk sending people away sad, so we remind them that “Sunday’s a-coming”. We’ll preach his death, but close the service with a happy song about resurrection victory.

But the paradox of Good Friday is that it does convey a deep seriousness and sadness, and it’s good for us to allow that seriousness to linger longer. Firstly because at the very lowest level of understanding, the fact that the saviour had to die such a scandalous (on many levels) death on our behalf demonstrates to us the seriousness of our sin, and communicates to us in clarion call that we should own the weight of that sin this Holy Saturday. Secondly on this day, Jesus is in the grave. His disciples aren’t reassuring each other that he’s currently securing for himself the very keys to Death and Hades before he emerges from the grave, resurrected in glorious splendor. No, they’re in confused, disoriented grief. What hope do we have now?

This Holy Saturday, let’s not miss the profoundness of this day by being too quick to move from the death of the saviour of the world directly to celebrating the resurrection. Rather (in the words of Jonathan Edwards) let’s remember that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that made it necessary. Let’s take a moment to think hard upon our sin, remember the infinitely costly price that we could never have paid, and live in thankfulness of the one who gave his life for us.

Give Up Lent for Lent?

Recently The Cripplegate published a thoughtful piece on why evangelicals should consider giving up Lent. Like everything on the Internet, it was praised or pummeled with opinions from every point along the spectrum. The post contained a helpful overview of (Catholic) church history pertaining to the development of Lent, followed by a self-diagnostic of sorts where we take a good look at our motivations for participating in Lent and step back to look at the way in which we’ve choosen to engage with it. In short, this author felt that the act of giving something up as a way of preparing for Easter is simply anachronistic. Far from a response that would be titled ‘here’s why I think he’s wrong’,  I offer these thoughts to encourage what I think is a biblically faithful approach to the season leading up to Easter.

For many, Lent is so identified with Roman Catholicism that it’s difficult to imagine an evangelical observance of it. I often hear the question “what did you give up for Lent” met with the quip “Roman Catholicism”. But Lent (like Advent leading up to Christmas) is what we make it, and it is no more exclusively Roman Catholic than Easter itself. Personally, I’ve found great benefit in intentionally practicing something for the days leading up to Easter; and far from wearing the symbol of the ashen cross on my forehead all day on Ash Wednesday, there are many ways in which I can intentionally be reminded of why Christ came to die.

Coincidentally this Sunday just gone I listened to two sermons, both of which contained a discussion about sin. In the first sermon, I was encouraged to look around and see the state of the world and the fallen nature of man and respond with the thought “this is not the way things should be”. In the latter sermon, I was reminded that the wages of sin is death, and that Jesus bore the wrath of a holy God, being crushed in my place even while I was still his enemy. The former had a dangerously diluted, underdeveloped doctrine of sin; the latter an orthodox one. For me, Lent is a season of brokenness leading to repentance as I consider that (in Bonhoeffer’s words) “what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

The biggest takeaway about Lent for me is remembering that it isn’t simply a practice of “putting off”. Unlike the Roman Catholic notions of fasting (or other forms of self-penance), I take this season as a time to be reminded of the crushing weight of sin, that I am nothing apart from God, and that through a costly, scandalous act of pure grace, Christ paid the full penalty of my sin. I’ve used different resources and practices to help orient my heart to repentance and gratitude as Easter approaches, and sometimes I find that my plate is full and I need to take something off in order to make room (hint: we’re not talking about food anymore) but whatever the vehicle it travels in, the outcome is not “self-made religion” but a deeper gratitude and a humbled love that sings of the glorious grace of God through Christ.

Love: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Having re-lit the candles of hope, peace, and joy, we take this fourth Sunday of Advent to reflect on the coming of love. In God taking on humanity to seek and save humanity, we see clearly the greatest loving act that the world has ever known. This transcendent God – who himself made everything that was made – loved broken humanity so much that he humbled himself to take the form of a man and lived among us. The arrival of God incarnated in human flesh was itself a wondrous, supernatural, history-changing event; yet the Bible tells us that he had no great status, handsome features, or charismatic personality with which to draw a crowd. But come the crowds did. This Jesus, born in a stable to an unmarried virgin, had the greatest gift any person could receive: love.

Advent is a season of expectancy. Much like a pregnant woman who knows that her time will one day come, so we too look forward to the coming of the expected Saviour of the world, promised hundreds of years before his birth by God through the prophet Isaiah:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel”
(Isaiah 7:14)

When the angel Gabriel came to Joseph in a dream to announce that Mary would be the one about whom the prophet spoke, Gabriel makes clear that these things are taking place that the prophecy of God through Isaiah might be fulfilled. While the events of Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension were full of supernatural, God-glorifying miracles, it is important for us to remember that they are also actual, real, historical events grounded in space and time. We look forward to the second coming of the Expected One because we can look back with certainty regarding his first coming, and the concreteness of the events that surrounded his words and deeds.

Love isn’t a word that we use to describe God in the sense that this adjective captures a part of his character while still being abstracted from him. No, rather it is distinctly the other way around. When we want to describe something else as love, we first look to God and who he is, because he alone defines it, and he alone embodies it. God is love. And God’s love is demonstrated for us in such immeasurable, limitless expression in the person and work of Jesus Christ that nothing short of our full love and worship will do as a fitting response.

The life of Jesus reveals to us what God the Father is like because (Colossians chapter one tells us) he is the image of the invisible God. When it comes to grasping the true meaning of Christmas this season we see love shared around a dinner table, love exchanged in presents around a tree, and even love demonstrated through helping those less fortunate than ourselves during a time of giving. But let’s remember during this Advent season the incomprehensible blessing of God giving us the ultimate gift of love; not another possession or thing, but himself. And with this gift, we will never seek a greater gift ever again.

Joy: The Third Sunday of Advent

Having spent the last two weeks considering that Jesus is both our hope and our peace, we come to the third Sunday of Advent and remember that Jesus is our joy. We live in a society that is pulled between two poles when it comes to joy. Either life and the world pull us down so much that we have no joy or we find our joy in our life and the world. To both of these positions Christmas reminds us that Christ is our joy.

For many people this year has been tough; it seems like everything has gone wrong and to top it off the world around us is becoming increasingly unstable. Culturally the Church has become largely irrelevant at best and hated at worst, standing against the oncoming moral revolutions. In the midst of this turmoil God reminds us through Christmas that Jesus is our Joy.

(Although everything is going badly…)
“yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
(Habakkuk 3:18)

When the world is crumbling around us we can rejoice that we have a God who isn’t content to leave us in our turmoil and our sin but actually chose to come and save us.

To other people – and sometimes the same people on different days – the world can bring us so much pleasure. Whether it be music, sport, a good book, the latest Marvel movie, friends and family, there are many things in life that bring us pleasure. When everything is going well for us God also reminds us through Christmas that Jesus is our Joy. The little pleasures in this life are not bad (mostly) but they are temporary. Paul says in Philippians 3:8

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”

Christ is so much greater than the little pleasures that we experience here on earth. It is not for nothing that the Westminster Shorter Catechism opens by saying that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” In Christmas Christ opened the way for us to truly fulfil our purpose in glorifying God and in doing so we can and will have eternal joy. Hear the words of Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

This advent, let us not get bogged down by the troubles of the world or distracted by the pleasures of the world but let us fix our eyes on the true source of joy.

 


This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.

Peace: The Second Sunday of Advent

Having lit the candle of hope last Sunday, we take time this week to remember that as well as being the hope of the world, Jesus is also our peace. In the busyness of the Christmas season, it’s easy to get carried away with the pressures and anxieties that society places on us through the expectations of the season (or, what we in the West have imposed on it). But God desires that those who place their trust in him should not live as ones who are characterized by stressfully straining to succeed with the perfect presents or the most magnificent meal.

Rather, we remember that after God created the heavens and the earth he rested (Gen 2:2), that Jesus taught us seek to peace and reconciliation with our enemies (Matt 5:24), and that one Day there will be no more tears, or conflict, or mourning, or death (Rev 21:4).

This Advent season we take encouragement from God’s words to us spoken through the prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Jesus did come. He was born. And John the evangelist records for us this great gift that he bestowed upon his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The good news is that the peace Jesus bestows wasn’t only for his disciples back then. Nor is it only a future peace for which we must wait. Rather, this peace is available to us today, and Jesus not only gives it to us, but he calls us as his followers to be peacemakers; those who would carry his peace with them to a world that is definitely not at peace. He entrusts it to us.

This Advent, we ask for this peace as we prepare for our Lord’s birth. May divisions in ourselves and in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Lord, help us to see the choices that cultivate peace in every aspect of our own lives, and then give to us the courage to choose. Lord, let us remember that in you only will we truly find peace, and continue to look forward with longing for your arrival.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Hope: The First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent; the season of anticipation leading up to the celebration of the arrival of the one Lord and Saviour of the world. But before we rejoice and sing “it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth”, we remember our desperate need for such a Saviour to save us from sin which is not only in us, but is us. We look to the history of Israel – which the apostle Paul tells us is our shared history through the finished work of Christ – to their hope for God’s coming Messiah to save, forgive, and restore them.

Traditionally, the Sundays of Advent are marked by the lighting of a candle. The candle for this first Sunday is hope. As we join with Christians all around the world this Sunday in preparing our hearts for the coming of God’s Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, may we receive that hope as we hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’

Come, Lord Jesus.

The Light Has Come

In many Protestant churches – particularly those who don’t closely follow the rhythm of the traditional liturgical calendar – Advent has faded into the background, and the gap of silence between All Hallow’s Eve and Christmas Eve is filled only with the red and green consumerism that fills store shelves from November 1. But this tradition is rich with meaning and beauty that serves to enhance the significance of not only the coming that it looks back on, but also the future coming to which it points.