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A Guide to the Advent Season


Advent is nothing new, even though all the cool kids are talking about it now. Here’s a great in-depth summary of what Advent is. Advent comes from a latin word meaning “coming.” Advent covers the 4 Sundays (starting a few days back) leading up to Christmas, followed by a celebration feast for twelve days, ending in what is known as Epiphany.

Certainly Scripture does not force an observance of the Advent season, but for those who could use some extra structure and focus to their daily devotion and prayer time, this post will help steer you in some helpful directions.

Over the past few years I’ve set aside a larger amount of my day for Advent reading and reflection, wanting the Christmas season to feel different, but not different in a cultural way. I’ve long been somewhat of a “Scrooge” when it comes to Christmas and it’s season (more on that next week). I’m a church leader so most of the Christmas stuff is forced on me. Heightening my focus on Christ and His coming has allowed my Christmas season to be more about Jesus than anything else, and that’s always a win in my book.

My hope for all of us is that Advent could be a season of renewal, with increased longing for Jesus through new rhythms and purposeful simplifying. This might seem to be in contrast with how Christmas is celebrated culturally today, but I join with Advent Conspiracy wanting Advent to be a season where you worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all.

Here are some resources I would commend to you for this Advent season:

 What Advent resources would you recommend to others?

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When Obedience Over Politics Puts You in the Minority


“You are the God who sees me. I have now seen the One who sees me.”

The God of the Bible is the God of the outcast, the helpless, the homeless, and the refugee. In Genesis 16 Hagar flees from her angry boss Sarai. Not long before this moment when Hagar is forced to flee the family compound, Sarai asked Hagar to have sex with Sarai’s husband Abram, in order for the family to have an heir of their own.

After fleeing the abusive situation, Hagar finds herself all alone, pregnant, needing help. God calls out to her in the middle of her distress. Hagar responds by saying, “You are the God who sees me. I have now seen the One who sees me.”

The story gives a glimpse of God’s heart for the forgotten, the devalued, the abused, and the refugee.

Yesterday afternoon I tweeted this after a reading a few articles regarding the Paris terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis.

The headline came from this article. While many clearly agreed with my sentiment, I also received comments back saying, “I don’t think you understand,” and other remarks questioning my sanity. This led me to the conclusion that more needed to be said. Twitter, while great, often cannot summarize well.

The Background

Much online ink has already been spilled over the Syrian refugee crisis, but it again entered the headline news over the weekend when reports substantiated that as many as 6 of the 8 ISIS attackers in Paris spent time in Syria. This gave another opportunity for the gaggle of GOP Presidential candidates to get headline quotes off their opinions on immigration, securing America’s borders, and the stupidity of Obama for potentially allowing Syrian refugees into the US (because, terrorism).

Nearly half of the governors around the US are already doing what they can to try to politically maneuver their way out of Obama’s stated plan for allowing Syrian refugees (note: they can’t actually do this, but they’ll try). Why? Partly because they’re following the party line on immigration (legal immigration as well, it seems), and partly because many polling numbers support their decision. Americans are scared. Fear drives the sentiment that Syrian refugees are terrorists, and harboring terrorists at home doesn’t seem like a good idea. Governors want the numbers on their side.

This downward cycle leads toward Christian leaders saying awful things like “just blow the whole country up” and leads many Christians to put their politics over their Christian obedience.

Obeying the Bible

It’s in these situations where Christians are vulnerable. The American society is sweeping toward one direction, while the Bible is unavoidably seated on a decidedly different conclusion. What wins? Politics or obedience? As we’ve come to see through the gay marriage debates (it’s not really a debate anymore), politics usually has the upper hand.

So what does the Bible say about refugees? What does the Bible say about helping the helpless? A lot, actually.

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause ofthe fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 

In case you want something directly from the mouth of Jesus, Here’s his take on helping the helpless:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:37-41

Yes, the God of the Bible is the God for the refugee. The nation of Israel was once the refugee and God invited them in. In fact, they didn’t have to ask, He pursued them. Jesus interacted with those outcast from His Jewish society despite knowing the overtly negative reaction the religious leaders would have.

And that leads you to this simple question…

What is Your Response?

I hope you’ll consider the weight of your response. Politicians are looking to “we the people” to determine their course of action. While Christians do not need the government to determine whether they will live as obedient Christians, this is an opportunity where obeying the Bible flies in contradiction toward the readily accepted conclusion of society, and it must be met with Christians who drown out fear with love.

What’s at stake here? Christian witness to the world. If Christians care more about protection—if they give into fear, then their witness as followers of the God who sees is compromised.

Here’s a few other responses on the same subject you may considering reading as well:

“As information about these attacks continues to pour in, we ask that Christians and churches across the United States continue to pioneer the way for a compassionate response to the ongoing refugee crisis.” Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief, full statement here

“But the most painful part of becoming a refugee is losing your right to think. I used to think about my farm, my goats, and the education of my children. Now, I only think about how to survive each day.” Belinda Baumann on her time with a displacement camp in the Congo

“What is the courageous response? To close the borders for good? To turn away thousands of families and children who, through no fault of their own, have been victimized by war and violence and long for peace?

It is fear that drives out compassion toward our fellow humans suffering under the weight of injustice and violence. Fear, not courage.” Trevin Wax on a Christian response the ISIS and the refugee crisis

“Dear Syrian Refugees: Sorry, but Look At It From Our Perspective” from Tyler Huckabee

“I think it’s important that Christians push back against the fickle fear and political pendulum that turns the refugee into a concept rather than an image-of-God-bearing human being. Refugees are real people with real hopes and fears, just like you and I. In many cases they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.” Brett McCracken on “costly but Christlike” behavior

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Why I Write Less (among other reasons)


I used to post here six or seven times a week. Then I wrote five days a week. Then three days a week…you see where this is going. Now I’m lucky when I get a post up here once a week.

It’s been a slow fade, but a fade nonetheless.

I have plenty of reasons. Good ones too. I work more. I became a dad to a boy. And then a girl too. And I’m married. Oh and I try to have hobbies that take me away from my screens.

But the real reason lies underneath the surface. Every day I see people publish writings online that are sin-gratifying, Christ-abhorring pointless drivel. They use their words to tear down, to draw attention to self, and to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Sometimes those things motivate me to write. “I can publish something better,” I say to myself. But let’s be honest, I’ve done just as much flesh-gratifying, attention drawing, pointless writing myself.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.”

Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.”

Putting those two together forces me to consider the weight of words, and pushes me to wait on publishing them.

If you have read advice for online writing you know the point is to ship, to produce click-able headlines, to use lists and easily scannable text. But what if all this misses the point of publishing words in the first place? Words hold weight—the power to breathe new life, and the power to destroy life.

The book industry puts years of work into every traditionally published book. Maybe the world of online word publishing would do well to consider waiting before shipping. No one will likely follow my lead, but I want my words to carry the right weight rather than just throwing punches.

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To Hell in a Hand Basket


I’ve noticed a common denominator in conversations surrounding me, and conversations I’ve been invited into as well: they start with a current event, and they end with a Christian’s worry about the future. “If things are this bad now, can you imagine how bad they’re going to get?”

I call this Doomsday Theology. It’s the theology imploring for Jesus to return now because things are horrible around here. It’s the theology saying the church is under attack and we must be prepared for the war. It’s the theology saying this is all going to hell in a hand basket.

And I don’t want to mince words, I hate it, the whole thing.

Yes, I want Jesus to come again. And yes, some things are simply awful. You don’t even need to look hard to find plenty of those awful things.

But Doomsday Theology misses a vital aspect of the Biblical narrative, one that takes place long before the bulk of the eschatological writings within the apocalyptic genre.

Often a focus on end times theology (eschatology) can breed an insular attitude toward the world, where we must protect ourselves from the evil around us so we don’t get swept into it. The beauty of the incarnation is that God saw our brokenness and sent his son toward us, not away from us. Eschatology that encourages believers to enter into the brokenness of the world is helpful, anything else is knowledge that when focused on too much, can lead us astray, in part.

Outside of the negative Doomsday Theology often produces in its adherents, there are two more positive reasons to avoid the “it’s all going to hell in a handbasket” perspective.

Jesus is on the Throne

Romans 8:34-35 is a striking passage from Paul:

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

David writes something similar in Psalm 11, quoting his adversaries who are saying to him, “what can the righteous do?” in the face of all that’s awful going on around them. David doesn’t really answer the question, instead responding with these words: “the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (Psalm 11:4).

God is seated on the throne. The picture Psalm 11 provides is of God’s faithfulness and of our purpose in this life. God wants those who bow to Him to get on with His Kingdom building work, not building a wall to provide themselves safety from the impending doom. The worries of this world have no power, because the God of all is on His throne.

How much is accomplished by worrying about the horrific things taking place? Anyone can draw attention to what is going wrong, but the people who make a difference are those who focus on God’s ongoing work.

Heaven Come Down

John writes of this future heaven coming to earth event in his book Revelation, saying, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 22:2).

The Christian has an opportunity to reflect the kingdom that is here, and also point toward the kingdom that is coming. We are Easter people who are living on the other side of the resurrection of Christ. He has announced his kingdom, and the hope that life in Christ can bring.

And we live in a Good Friday world, a world full of despair, broken homes and broken families, people lost in sin, and God is asking for the light that lives within us to shout the announcement that the kingdom is here and it is coming. 

Christians have far too much Kingdom work to be doing now to spend their time and energy getting caught up in a game of fear mongering of what potential evil may overtake us. The evil will not win, but even more, evil loses its foothold when we keep our hand to the plow.

(Image: GeriatricNinja)

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The Problem So Easily Ignored: Race, Education, and Sacrifice

school integration

Recently This American Life released two episodes surrounding Ferguson, Michael Brown, and integration within the American education system. Despite the charged issues, the producers created the kind of episode worth listening to: prompting more questions, wondering where you might fit within progression for all sides.

At the heart of the episodes was the question of why American school districts gave up on the integration focus of the 70s and 80s. Test scores from these periods in history show quite clearly, integration worked. Why? How? A journalist interviewed as part of the episode had this to say:

“It is not that something magical happens when black kids sit in a classroom next to white kids. It’s not that suddenly a switch turns on and they get intelligence, or wanting the desire to learn when they’re with white kids. What integration does is it gets black kids in the same facilities as white kids. And therefore, it gets them access to the same things that those kids get—quality teachers and quality instruction.”

The most striking segment is found toward the end of episode 1, during a parent meeting with their district school board, located outside St. Louis, Missouri. The district (overwhelming majority white) was being forced to accept and pay for the cost of students who had opted out of their poorly performing school district (overwhelming majority black). This was allowed due to the poorly performing school district losing their accreditation, an unprecedented move within the state. The state was essentially saying that the poorly performing school district was so bad that students could be bused to another district, at no cost.

The audio from the parent meeting is heartbreaking. Here were just a couple parent statements that were met with loud cheering:

“I want to know where the metal detectors are going to be. And I want to know where your drug-sniffing dogs are going to be.”

“I shopped for a school district. I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed because that’s the issue.”

On the one hand, I get it, and you probably do too.

Why should students in a great school district be forced to go to school with students from a poorly performing district? Despite studies showing the success this brings for the students coming from the poor situation, someone has to pay a price it would seem.

But it’s heartbreaking, even still.

The whole time listening to the parent meeting, my skin crawling, wanting to scream…

Where are the people of Christlike faith?

Where are the people that welcome those who did not receive what they deserved? Where are the people who weep for the students in underperforming schools?

It’s not as if the question of “who is willing to sacrifice their own supposed wellbeing for the sake of another?” is easy to answer. But for people of faith, it should be. Full stop.

Consider the words of Jesus:

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15

The episodes and the issues raised within them, prompt these all kinds of questions for me. Especially questions for people of Christian faith. If the Gospel has nothing to say to the heart of this issue, the Gospel has no power.

The questions in my head are right along the lines of what Sharon Hodde Miller asked in her piece responding to the episodes. I’ll leave you with Sharon’s questions, which are well worth considering:

  • Rather than ask, “Is this best for my child?” what if we asked, “What is best for the children in my community?”
  • If I am pro-life, how do my pro-life beliefs extend to the education of the poor and underprivileged?
  • Jesus spent the majority of his time with the poor, the sick, and the broken–how might we rethink Christian education so that it reflects Jesus’ own priorities?
  • Can I trust God to protect my child as I seek to follow His heart?
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Drowning in the Stain: Sexualized Swiping and Hook-Up Culture

the stain

In the year 2000, award-winning American novelist Philip Roth published a book titled The Human Stain. The book is a loose continuation of 2 prior books, whose main character follows significant cultural events during his lifetime. The Human Stain follows a college professor named Coleman Silk. Coleman is a fair-skinned black man, who decided in his early 20s that he could pass for a white Jewish man, while in fact not being Jewish or white. Coleman rose in the ranks of college professors, gaining a fair amount of notoriety, so much so that others around him did what they could to bring him down.

Late in his career students in his class misheard him say the word “spooks” in reference to ghosts, but some students believed he used the word in a derogatory manner toward blacks. He, actually being a black man, of course, did not. But accusations swirled and Silk would not apologize, and he was forced to resign into early retirement, his character successfully tarnished.

In trying to process the evil that took place in forcing him out, while clearly ignoring the evil that made him create a whole new identity for himself, he has a conversation with his sister, and she has some profound thoughts related to evil, sin, and what the author Philip Roth calls the human stain:

“We leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error…there’s no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. It’s in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark. Without the sign it is there. The stain so intrinsic it doesn’t require a mark. The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It’s why all the cleansing is a joke. A barbaric joke at that. The fantasy of purity is appalling.”

What the main character’s sister is articulating is something I think all recognize, even if only in a small way. That this world is broken. That, in fact, we are broken, a part of the larger problem. And this goes deeper than our decisions or choices, there’s a stain deep within us that has damaged us, and it’s causing all of these impurities in us.

A few weeks ago Vanity Fair ran a lengthy and sweeping article on the use of hook-up apps such as Tinder among 20-somethings in New York. While it’s use in New York (or as stated within the article) may not represent the overall scope of hook-up culture, it was impossible not to read the entire thing with wide eyes, looking for a chaser.

Here’s the introduction the article has on the increasing phenomenon of hook-up culture:

“As the polar ice caps melt and the earth churns through the Sixth Extinction, another unprecedented phenomenon is taking place, in the realm of sex…Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship.”

The use of mobile apps only adds to ease of the hook-up instead of relationship building. There’s no need to pursue a woman when all you need to do is swipe. An investment banker had this to say about Tinder:

“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

When it comes to sinful behavior, confession of it in trusted community is God’s design. The typical reactions outside of God’s design are either to hide (see part one) or to indulge. While the overindulgence of sinful behavior will often lead to hiding, it does damage on its own.

This hook-up culture of overindulgence in sex and its neighbors creates a narcissistic individual who aims to use their freedom for their own benefit.

Beyond this, hook-up culture would posit God as someone who is so distant that our actions have no consequence positive or negative, and we must always be on the look out for our own good. In the absence of God we choose to drown in our own stain, or sin, as it were.

In Genesis 3 we see from Adam and Eve that you become what you behold. This same story of drowning in the stain we choose to hold more closely than Christ, continues on.

In 2nd Corinthians 3:18 we’re given a glimpse of breaking the cycle when Paul says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

As we contemplate the Lord’s glory, as we behold his glory, as we focus on it, we are transformed by it. Adam and Eve were beheld by fulfilling the desires of their flesh, for giving into the temptation they felt. They became what they beheld, walking down the empty road toward gratifying the desires of their flesh.

What we must be challenged by, is to behold the glory of God, that we might be transformed by it.

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