The weeks leading up to the coming of Christ are known as "Advent" in the Christian church - a period of waiting, anticipation, and reflection.
During this Advent Season, I've been reading through Tim Keller's Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ as one way to foster personal relection on Jesus' coming to earth as a baby. (I'm not all the way through it yet, but I know enough to definitely recommend the book.)
In chapter three ("The Fathers of Jesus"), Keller reminds us what the incarnation (Christ coming to earth as a baby) is all about:
The incarnation did not happen merely to let us know that exists. It happened to bring him near, so that he can be with us and we with him" (p. 55).
And then Keller goes on to write about what it means to be with Jesus, and how can cultivate that "with-ness." The questions he is asking are these: "What does it mean to have Jesus in my life? What does it mean to be with Jesus?"
As he develops his responses, one thing Keller mentions - that we can too easily overlook - is that being with Jesus takes courage. Everything he has to say in this section is worthwhile (again, read the whole book), but let me quote from one of Keller's subpoints, that being with Jesus requires the courages to give up your right to self determination.
As you read through the extended quote I've included below, allow this to shape the way you view Advent, and the way you approach the coming of Jesus (and what that means for your life today).
This last Sunday (Oct 16, 2016) I preached from Romans 8:18-39 on the subject of hope. (Interested in accessing the message? Click here and scroll down to the sermon from Oct 16, 2016.)
I'm a firm believer that hope can be on the distinguishing features of Christians (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), and so I loved the chance to spotlight what Christians are hoping FOR and who we're hoping IN. As we tally these things up, we see that knowing Jesus offers incomparable hope. This is why we can say, along with Paul: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
Here's a summary of these points of my sermon (what Christians are hoping for, and who we're hoping in). Allow these to reinforce the incomparable hope knowing Jesus offers in your own life.
I was spending some time in Leland Ryken's biography of J.I. Packer, recently, and ran across a section where Ryken highlights Packer's ministry-long emphasis on the value of God's Word. I love this - may it remind us all to not neglect the Bible, but to give it our attention both as individuals and in churches.
Everything in the section below comes straight from J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken, pp. 255-56. Section headings are Ryken's; quotes are Packer's:
The Bible has fallen into great neglect among Christians:
"Once, most Westerners knew something of what was in the 'Good Book' to guide us in our lives; nowadays, however, very few know or care what the Bible teaches.”
This is not a minor issue but a major one:
"Ignorance of the Bible remains tragic, for it virtually guarantees ignorance of God.”
Restoring the Bible to the center of life is urgent:
"To reestablish in people’s minds the truth and wisdom of the biblical message…is perhaps the church’s most urgent task today.”
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A few days ago, Brookside's co-lead pastor, Jeff Dart, preached a sermon championing the value of spiritual discipline in the life of believers. (I encourage you to check it out - click here and scroll down to the sermon preached on Sept 25, 2016, titled "Be Disciplined with Purpose.")
The spiritual disciplines are important enough that the Brookside Institute has devoted one of our classes to this topic - "Grow: An Important Class about Spiritual Formation." This class spends 8 sessions digging into the goal of spiritual formation (godliness) and specific disciplines, practices, or habits that will cultivate godliness in our lives. (Check out what others are saying about the "Grow" class here.)
All that to say: Spiritual disciplines are important. We don't drift into godliness as followers of Jesus Christ; rather, we need to take intentional steps to pursue a lifetime of growth.
Yesterday I was reading a section from Steven D. Boyer's and Christopher A. Hall's Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable, and found this excerpt that further reinforces and explains this value of spiritual discipline.
As the Brookside Institute builds and reinforces foundations of the Christian faith, we CAN'T overlook the gospel. It's no overstatement to say you won't have the Christian faith without the gospel (check it out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 and Galatians 1:6-9). Keeping the gospel front-and-center is that big of a deal.
Since that's the case, I figured I'd post a sermon I gave last Sunday (9/18/2016) on the centrality of the gospel from Galatians 2:11-21. Here's a brief outline of the sermon:
I've also included the "gospel-shaped behavior" diagram I used when talking about Galatians 2:20 - you'll see that below under the video. (The time stamp of that segment is appx 29:15-33:38.)
Galatians 2:20 - "Gospel -Shaped Behavior" Diagram
Keep reading to see the "gospel-shaped behavior" pictures I drew out on Sunday.
(This is an updated version of a post I initially composed on July 22, 2014.)
I've recently gotten a few questions from people asking very specifically how they can get emails with updated posts from the Brookside Institute blog, without having to remember to check in periodically on their own. They want to stay in the loop, but they won't always remember to go looking for new content. And when they do remember, they may not be near a computer or it may not be a convenient time.
I love this question. I love it that people want to stay in the loop, and that we're providing valuable enough content that people want to stay engaged.
Here's how I respond to this question:
There's no way that I know of to get emails specifically from the Brookside Institute, providing updated content as new posts are published. (If I'm missing something on this, someone please let me know!) However that doesn't mean there's no way to conveniently stay in the loop. The solution is to subscribe to something called a "feed reader" that will collect the content (the "RSS Feed") you want from sites you subscribe to. Then, you simply monitor your feed reader and can conveniently stay up to date on the content you've chosen to subscribe to.
Below I've included some detailed steps on how to subscribe to an RSS Feed and have it collected into a feed reader. Before I get into that, though, let me briefly share WHAT an RSS Feed is and WHY subscribing to the RSS Feed can be helpful.
Earlier this week in Brookside's 365 Bible Reading Plan, we read through Luke 12. One of the statements Jesus makes in this chapter catches many off guard. Here's what Jesus says that have led some to understandably ask questions (I've heard questions about this more than once this week!):
...anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven" (Luke 12:10b).
What?? An unforgivable sin? How should we think about this?
This last Sunday I preached on "The 'Why?' Question" of Suffering from Job 1:1-2:10. (To find the message, click here and scroll down to the sermon preached on July 31, 2016.) The point I kept making from Job is this: "As you wrestle through the WHY question of suffering, focus on WHO God is and trust in Him."
In my opinion, there was no better song to end this message with than with the old hymn, "It Is Well," written by Horatio Spafford in the late 1800s. Not only do the lyrics of "It Is Well" reinforce the point I was trying to make, but the story behind the song is powerful. Spafford was a successful man who experienced deep suffering himself - losing much of his wealth and 5 children. His song is an example of someone who - in the midst of suffering - focused on God and trusted in Him.
I encourage you to check out this brief video I found that tells the story behind this famous hymn. It's less than 5 min and will be worth the time spent watching it.
Assuming I've been keeping tally of things correctly, you're officially reading Post #200 on this Brookside Institute site! Over the course of the last 12 months, we've had 16,600+ unique visitors to this site, and over 87,500 total page views. Whether this is your first intro to who we are or you've been tagging along for a while, thanks for joining in!
As the posts continue accumulating, I don't want that to keep us from looking back every now and then - to review what the Brookside Institute is all about, and for me to mention posts that are either some of my personal favorites or that have gotten lots of traction. These sorts of "review posts" also serve as a sort of index (or Table of Contents?), organizing the material and helping orient you to who we are and what we're about at the Brookside Institute.
What I've done with this post, then, is organized some links under the following categories:
Underneath each category, I've included a short list of links to pages on this site where you can learn more about who we are and what we're up to.
My recommendation? Scroll through the index that's below, and find 3-4 posts you want to check out. This is a great way to see what we're doing and get to know the Institute a bit better!
I try to champion biblical meditation every way that I can.
If you're new to this idea of "biblical meditation," here's a brief summary: Biblical meditation is choosing to intentionally direct our focus. Specifically, we focus ON God's Word - the Bible - and what we learn there about who God is and what He's doing. We focus FOR Christ-like transformation - so that we slowly and increasingly think and act in a Christ-like way. For a whole post I wrote on biblical meditation, click here.
And before we write this off as a spiritual discipline for the "super saints," I want to quickly point out that we all choose to direct our focus somewhere. (In other words, this habit of meditation is very doable, because most of us are already doing it often. The variable is WHAT we are meditating upon.)
In his very worthwhile book, Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation, author Robert L. Saucy suggests that "If you know how to worry...then you know how to meditate" (p. 155). I, for one, agree. For all of us who have ever re-played scenarios over and over in our mind, or focused intently on some puzzle that needed to be solved, we have practiced "meditation," i.e. the art of focusing our thinking on something.
What followers of Jesus Christ need to do is learn to direct our focus towards the Bible and its Author, rather than being slaves to stray thoughts. We need to fill our minds with small chunks of the Bible - specific verses and short passages - that we choose to think about (i.e., meditate upon) as we're stopped at a red light, performing a mundane task, waiting in line somewhere, or going for a walk.
Looking for some verses and short passages you can start meditating on?
Below I've included a small handful of suggestions. I encourage you to write 2 or 3 of these down on an index card or input them into your phone so they're handy, and then keep returning to these and filling your mind with biblical truth:
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.