Rather than posting any new content today, I simply want to drive us to an appreciation and worship of Christ as we celebrate Christmas this year. And I believe that as we fill our minds and hearts with truth about who Jesus is and what's He's done, this can stir the reflection and worship that is so important for us to do.
With that said, here are four passages that show us who the "Christ of Christmas" is, and what Jesus offers.
If you're like me, you've perhaps seen some "Top Reading Lists of 2015" floating around the internet and social media. Rather than adding my own such list (though click here to see some other books I've recently recommended), I figured this year I'd continue my two-year tradition of highlighting some of the "Top Reading Lists of 2015" that I pay attention to.
In other words, check out these book lists and you'll find some books that are worth reading. Of course, keep in mind that not every book is created equal, remember to read discerningly, and always remember that a careful and responsible reading of the Bible should be our final authority. But I generally think these "sources" are worth listening to for some worthwhile reads (I know I'll hope to be reading many of these I've not yet!) - and to see what's current in Christian publishing today.
If you're still looking for some Christmas gift ideas or want some reading material for yourself while taking some vacation days, these lists can come in handy that way too!
Here are my top 5 "Top Reading Lists of 2015" - in no particular order:
What are the best books you've read in the last 12 months, that you'd recommend to others?
I've been a fan of Star Wars since I was kid. That means I've seen the movies and had the action figures. And yes, I was at a movie theater last night for the release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. (And, for the record, I enjoyed it.)
As someone who is also a fan of theology (in a very different way than I'm a fan of Star Wars), I'm grateful theologian Michael Svigel from Dallas Theological Seminary looks at Star Wars through a biblical-theological lens in this recent post, "The Irresistible Force of Star Wars: 3 Theological Approaches". I resonate with his conclusion, and so figured I'd post it here:
As a theologian, I don’t embrace Star Wars as a kind of “fifth gospel.” But neither do I condemn it as devilish propaganda. Instead, I perceive the Story behind the story, the metanarrative behind the myth, and the fact behind the fiction. I see the contours of God’s drama of redemption even in the frames of Star Wars. And I’m reminded of the reality revealed through God’s creation and articulated in the Bible’s creation-redemption narrative—the Story centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ in His first and second coming.
So go, see the movie. Enjoy it. But as you anticipate and enjoy the advent of this latest Star Wars episode, allow it to stir your anticipation and enjoyment of the Advent of the One who has come to defeat sin and all its effects through His sacrifice on the cross.
I love these words attributed to 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon:
The word of God is like a lion; you don't have to defend it, you just turn it loose.
Of course, we still work to help people read the Bible well on their own, and this doesn't mean we ignore other study resources that can help us mine the riches of God's Word. But what this quote communicates that I love is the "livingness" and "activeness" of the Bible - that it is "sharper than a two edged sword" and able to penetrate to the innermost depths of our hearts and attitudes (check it out in Hebrews 4:12). God's Spirit uses God's Word to point us to God's Son and accomplish God's work in us and through us. That's AWESOME.
All of that is why I'm all about spending myself to help people feel the warmth of God's Word and see its light, so they can experience the life God offers us in Jesus. That's why the Brookside Institute values biblical literacy so highly - not as an end-in-itself, but because of what biblical literacy should do in us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and Who it should point us to (John 5:39).
And that's why I'm so excited about this "365" emphasis Brookside Church is leaning into in 2016 - where we're encouraging the whole church family to consider reading the Bible in 2016, and where we're facilitating ways for this to happen individually and in our Community Groups. I'm confident there will be more to come, but for now, be sure and check out our "365" page online and begin ramping up for this. 2016 is just around the corner!
Christmas is officially two weeks away, and that means many of us are considering gift ideas for others in our lives. If you're looking for ideas for the "reader" you know, here are six suggestions. Each of these suggestions has been recently published (in the last 2-3 years) and will be linked to an Amazon page where you can learn more. You'll see they're listed under 6 categories that I try and stay loosely tethered to:
What other books (in any of these categories listed above) would you suggest people consider? List 'em here!
Earlier this week I was talking with a gentleman who communicated a mild "angst" regarding the fact that the church he was attending (a local church that's healthy and vibrant in many ways!) didn't have much in the way of an organized plan for laying a basic theological foundation as part of how it discipled others. As he and I talked, I wondered out loud if that's because of a certain reputation theological instruction can have as dry, divisive, distracting, and more. If that's what theology is, we need to protect our churches FROM it rather than lead our churches TOWARDS it!
But what if, at its best and when approached as intended, theology ISN'T dry, divisive and distracting? What if theology offers a strong foundation off of which to build, fuel that propels growth, a fountain that quenches our thirst, and a fence that provides protection? What if theology helps set our trajectory so we can worship God in all the ways He's chosen to reveal Himself and continue the mission Jesus sends us on? What if theology is an essential ingredient of the individual Christian life and the local church, helping us love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40)?
What if seeing theology and the local church as separate fields that don't necessarily have a whole lot to do with each other is the wrong way to look at things? What if we approach theology and the local church as necessarily interwoven and symbiotic? This is the stance I (strongly!) take and advocate. Theology and the local church go hand in hand. But what else can we say about what this relationship between theology and the local church should look like? Let me suggest at least three things to get the conversation started:
I recently got the just-produced NIV (New International Version) Zondervan Study Bible. I've had a chance to glance through it, and am eager to add it to a list of Bible study tools I recommend. In just a second I'll list some "quick reasons to consider" this latest NIV Study Bible (just in time for Christmas lists!), but let me first mention two prefatory comments.
The Brookside Institute is all about helping build and reinforce foundations of the Christian faith. A key part of this is championing evangelical catechesis, intentional teaching in foundational areas of the Christian faith, for the formation of individual believers and the building up of the church of Jesus Christ.
On this blog I've posted more on what catechesis is, on why catechesis is important, and on the biblical basis for this sort of instruction. I've included many other posts broadly related to this idea that you can find under the catechesis category. And I want to keep producing posts that champion catechesis, and collecting great stuff from other places that lines up with this value.
That's why I'm so grateful for what Kevin Vanhoozer says about catechesis in a book he's co-authored with Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Follow along with me as I take us through some of what Vanhoozer says and provide some of my own comments:
In the flurry of Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday advertisements, the season of Advent has once again crept in. Like Christ's first coming, Advent doesn't force itself upon us. We can miss it if we're not attentive, and we'll miss out on the blessings this season offers if we're not intentional. So let's be sure and approach Advent the right way.
If you're unfamiliar with Advent, this is the season where Christians around the world set aside time to reflect on and celebrate Christ's coming to earth (Christ's first "coming" or "arrival" is what this season of Advent points to). But what does this reflection and celebration look like?
This reflection on Christ's coming includes reflection on the waiting and anticipation that preceded Christ's coming. For thousands of years God's people longed for a Messiah and placed their hopes in God's promises. Advent brings these biblical ideas of waiting, anticipation and trust into the present for us each year. Advent also includes reflecting on the need for Christ's coming - our sin and rebellion against our Creator. The truth that nothing other than the sending of God's Son would deal with THE problem of our sin reinforces God's love for us...and the seriousness of our sin.
The celebration comes when we appreciate everything Christ's incarnation means for us: God has now come in the form of a human to reconcile us to God, and to be a representative (standing on our behalf) and substitutionary (standing in our place) sacrifice. The name Christ is given in Matthew 1:23, Immanuel, says it all: In Christ, God is with us. God becomes man to be with us, so that through His death and resurrection we might be with God.
So this season, set aside time - individually and as a family - to reflect on Advent and all that it means (this post helped me do this in renewed ways recently). Take time to celebrate everything Advent offers and accomplishes.
Find practical ways to give your attention to Advent, knowing that if you're not intentional this season can creep by unnoticed and under-appreciated.
And finally? Respond in fresh faith (and the obedience the follows) to all that Advent intends, reconciling us to God so we might know Him personally and be restored to a right relationship with Him.
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.