Monday, November 21, 2016

The Complete Beginner's Guide to Advent

"Advent" is defined as "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event." The Christian church has entered into the season in which we celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ. Many Christians have never celebrated Advent and are not even sure what it means. The following is a very brief introduction to Advent. It is written specifically for those who want to understand the basics of this season.

The Meaning of Advent

Christmas is a celebration of Christ's first arrival on earth. Advent reminds us that His first arrival was only a taste of what is yet to come. His second arrival will signal the fullness of time and the completion of His plan. All wrongs will be righted, death and sorrow will be banished and peace will rule the world.

Advent is a time to recognize the darkness in which we still live, but to embrace the light that is breaking into our world and which will ultimately overtake and destroy the darkness.

The Complete Beginners Guide to Advent

Decorating for Advent

The advent wreath serves as the primary decoration throughout the season. The circular evergreen wreath may be natural or artificial. The circular shape of the Advent wreath reminds us of the nature of God. He is eternal and his love and mercy have no end. The green of the wreath symbolizes our hope of new life or rebirth.

The wreath contains four candles. Usually three are purple or blue and one is pink. In the center of the wreath is a larger white candle, known as the "Christ candle."
If you would like to create your own wreath, click here for a creative take on the traditional advent wreath. Of course, there is also a pinterest board with many ideas for making your own advent wreath.

The Candles of Advent

The five candles in the Advent wreath each carry their own symbolism. Different religious traditions assign slightly different meanings to each candle, but the general concepts are typically quite similar.
  • The first candle represents Hope or Expectation. Prior to Jesus' first coming, His people were waiting for the Messiah. Today, we are waiting for His second Advent and the fullness of His kingdom.
  • The second, third and fourth candles most commonly represent love, joy and peace. Some traditions also use these three candles to recreate the Christmas narrative. In those situations, the candles may represent angels, shepherds and wise men or annunciation, proclamation and fulfillment.
  • The third candle is usually pink. It represents the joy of the season. Some traditions may reserve the pink candle for the fourth Sunday so that it is closer to the birth of the Christ child.
  • The larger candle in the center is the Christ Candle. Traditionally it is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Celebrating Advent as a Church

Advent Candles: Those Walking in Darkness have Seen a Great LightThe formal celebration of Advent centers around the lighting of the candles each week. As each candle is lit, we are reminded that the light ultimately conquers the darkness. As the darkness recedes, our hope for the new life promised by the Light of the World increases.

Each Sunday during Advent, time during the church service is devoted to lighting a candle, reading Scripture, reading a short devotional and prayer. Each church may have its own tradition which dictates the precise Scriptures used or the readings which are selected.

However the Advent celebration is designed, worshipers are reminded that our hope for the future coming of Christ is rooted in his first coming. Just as the center of the advent wreath is the Christ Candle, at the center of the Advent celebration is the Christ child.

Celebrating Advent as a Family

Many families celebrate Advent in their homes. They may use Advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas. They may engage in fun activities each morning or evening to remind the children of the true meaning of the season. Some families have their own wreaths and light the candles together while reading Scripture.

Find Advent Resources

Learn More About Advent

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

16 Ideas to Make Your Life Better

I was reading this morning in Proverbs 16 and noticed several "better" expressions. Each of these short sayings suggests a counter-cultural idea which is a "better" way of living. So I did a quick search of the entire book and compiled this list from Proverbs of...

The Better Life

  1. wisdom's profit is better than silver and gold.
  2. wisdom is better than jewels
  3. better to be poor and content than to act rich and come to ruin
  4. better to have just a little but respect God than to have much and endure the trouble of wealth
  5. better a salad eaten with those who love you  than a steak with with those who hate you
  6. better to make a little and be righteous than to earn much through injustice
  7. better to have little and share with the poor than to divide spoils with the proud
  8. whoever is slow to anger is better than the might
  9. whoever has self-control is better than a great conqueror
  10. better a grain of rice in a quiet house than a buffet in a house full of strife
  11. better to be poor but have your integrity than to be deceitful
  12. the poor man is better than a liar
  13. better to live in the desert than in a house with a quarrelsome woman (i don't write this stuff...)
  14. a good name is better than riches
  15. it is better to be invited up than to be upwardly mobile
  16. open rebuke is better than hidden love


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Changing Your Relationship with the Bible

How do you approach a cadaver?

Cadavers are that most useful, frightening, intriguing, disgusting, and beneficial tool of medical students everywhere. Doctors and scientists have been using cadavers for thousands of years to gain a better understanding of the human body and the way it functions.

Doubtless, the use of cadavers has saved thousands (millions?) of lives over the years and has led to magnificent scientific, medical, and pharmaceutical advances.

I don't profess to have ever handled a cadaver (I did have one disturbing experience in a funeral home after hours), and I certainly am no expert when it comes to anything scientific. However, let me "simplify" for the sake of brevity the usage of a typical cadaver.

The point of using a cadaver is to be able to pick it apart. If you are exploring a cadaver you will spend enormous amounts of time surveying the body, examining the parts, isolating certain organs, comparing and contrasting different elements, cutting things open, placing some parts under a microscope, analyzing connectedness of different pieces, etc...

But you wouldn't do that to a body that was alive. You can do that, precisely because the cadaver is dead.

How do you approach the Bible?

Do you seek to pick it apart? Do you spend enormous amounts of time surveying the body, examining the parts, isolating certain verses, comparing and contrasting different authors, cutting words open, placing some paragraphs under a microscope, analyzing connectedness of different pieces, etc...?

I wonder if the way we approach the Bible keeps the Bible from really changing our lives? If the Bible is just a cadaver to be picked apart to further our knowledge, then the paragraph above describes exactly how we should approach it.

But, what if it is a living, active thing? What if the whole point of the Bible is not to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives?

Wouldn't that demand a different kind of approach?

What if instead of “reading the Bible”, we allowed the Bible to “read us?” What if we took to heart Peter’s statement that the Word of God is “living”.
Most books are nothing more than slices of dead trees bound up in a dead cow. What makes the Bible different is that the Words on the pages inside the leather binder are actually the Words of God spoken and written to deeply impact our lives.
In a sentence, the subject is the person, thing, or idea that is performing the action. The sentence is about the subject. The verb is the action; it is what the the subject is doing. The verb is the plot of the sentence. The object of a sentence is the person, thing, idea, etc. that is being acted upon. The object is pretty much helpless, subject to the whim of the actions of the subject.

When we talk about objectifying something or someone, we are talking about "behavior in which one person treats another person as an object and not as a fellow human being with feelings and consciousness of his or her own, in other words as, as without agency."

Typically, objectification of someone is a bad thing. To deem powerless the image of God is to drastically mistreat God's creation. You can probably think of a lot of different ways, humans assert power over others by objectifing one another:

  • Bosses objectify their employees to justify huge bonuses while cutting jobs.
  • Generals objectify privates.
  • Pornography objectifies women... and men.
  • Politicians objectify voters.

Objectifying someone is a way to remove the power of that person and impose your will upon them. Here's a silly example:
Liam punched the squirrel.
Who has the power in this sentence? Who is powerless? Who is in control? Who is being affected?

Now consider the object and the subject in each of these sentences:

  • I read the Bible.
  • I study the Bible.
  • I teach the Bible.
  • We learn the Bible.
  • We listen to the Bible.
  • He preached the Bible.

Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these statements, but we need to be careful that we don’t assert power and control over the Bible by making ourselves the subject. What if we were to let the Bible assert power and control over us? What if we thought of the Bible as the subject, and we were the object being acted upon?

  • The Bible reads me.
  • The Bible studies me.
  • The Bible teaches me.

This is a subtle difference, but an important distinction. If I only study the Bible, the outcome is new knowledge. If the Bible studies me, the outcome is lifechange.

The Bible is full of great stories, beautiful poetry, wise instructions, and much more. But these are not like any other stories or poems or rules. They are not written to simply be read or studied or memorized or recited. Simply pursuing in-depth knowledge of the Bible is missing the point.

A few days ago, I referenced James’ words, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.” Those who accumulate vast knowledge about the Word of God but never act on it have deceived themselves.

It is far better to know one verse and allow it to remodel your life than to memorize whole chapters and never change.

When you approach the Bible, do you just read it for information? Learn how to let the Bible read you. Let it expose the parts of you that need to change. Allow it to be alive in your life, making you more like Jesus every day!

Friday, October 7, 2016

10 Neat Tricks To Keep Your Bible Study Fresh

As we prepare to go through our 40 Days In The Word series, I sent out an email today which linked to an article about studying God’s Word. You can link to the article here. The author lists 25 different methods of studying the Bible. I found the list to be fun.

Not every method is for every person, but every person will probably find 2–3 methods that work for them. Below are a couple of my favorites:


Survey the Word
Whether it be the whole of Scripture, an entire book in the Bible, or a given passage, capturing the big picture makes a deeper engagement of the Word more accessible and productive.

Discuss the Word
Discussions about meaning, interpretations, doctrinal substance, and sheer trivia can be a productive means of engaging the Word and driving it more deeply into our hearts.

Hand-copy the Word
Hand-copying the Word slows the brain down and synchronizes the mind with the meaning of a passage. Bible on one side. Journal on the other. Copying the word is a tremendous way to nourish the spirit and align the mind with the thoughts of God. Take. Eat. Enjoy!

Cross-reference the Word
Cross-referencing one passage with another related passage can release as much light into the soul as opening into the night the door of a lit room. Use a concordance. Use in-line references found in a study Bible. Use a computer search capability.

Paraphrase the Word
Good translation can be defined as taking the meaning from one language and capturing it accurately in another language. Paraphrasing is like that, only it is capturing the meaning of a passage and re-expressing that same meaning with different words. The paraphrases don’t have to be of publication quality. Though, if you come to like this type of exercise, you might be surprised by some of what you write and want to share it with others.

Sketch the Word
For the right-brain artistic types among us, sketching the Word is something that is second nature. But even for those of us who do better with straight lines and right angles, sketching the Word can be a rich experience capturing the big idea of a passage or even details best highlighted with a picture or illustration.

Memorize the Word
David said he hid the Word of God in his heart to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11). Scripture memorization is a foundational exercise on which many other forms of Scripture meditation are based.

Display the Word
Some passages are just so wonderful they are best artistically displayed in some fashion. Such passages might be Bible promises to keep in front of us or reminders in our walk with God. Consider commissioning a calligrapher to artistically transcribe your favorite verse in a frameable drawing or painting. Or create a colorful depiction of it yourself in PowerPoint, print it on a color laser printer and have it framed.

Share the Word
What would it do for your own Scripture focus if you were to give away one Bible verse to a different person each of the next 30 days? I encourage you to try. A friend who was studying with me at Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics caught fire with God’s Word and could hardly contain himself. Brian would constantly hand write verses on 3 x 5 cards and leave them in our mail boxes. The personal touch brought these verses to life and I remember feeling like I had received numerous personal messages from God himself. And Brian himself grew deeper as he shared with so many of us. Sharing the Word with others engages us in it more deeply ourselves.


Do the Word!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

4 Ideas To Help You Create More Time In Your Week


People have many reasons for not joining a small group. Some are good reasons and some are not as good. "I don't have enough time" is a less-than-good reason. Consider these four time-creating ideas which will enable you to spend two hours a week in a LIFEgroup (the two hours includes thirty minutes of drive time!)

DVR two television shows for the next six weeks.

At the end of the six weeks, you may decide you don't need to watch that show anymore, or you can find time on a weekend to binge catch-up.

Wake up 30 minutes earlier four days a week.

Organize your schedule to use that extra half hour each day to accomplish the tasks that keep you from being able to go to LIFEgroup.

Skip a workout.

Your spiritual muscles are as important (if not more) than your physical muscles. You may not work out for two hours, but factor in transportation, cool-down, and clean-up as well!

Cut out (or just reduce) your social media use.

The New York Times reports that people spend an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook. That amounts to nearly six hours per week. If you eliminate that time, you will be much more productive and may discover it is easy to invest two hours a week in spiritual growth.
The purpose of this list is not to shame you into joining a group. It is to inspire you to be creative in finding SOLUTIONS that enable you to do something you know will be good for you. If you have other ideas for creating the time necessary to join a group, share them in the comments!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The 2 Questions I Ask When I Vote

I wrote this on election day 8 years ago. Back then, these thoughts were slightly novel and most felt I was being a bit extreme. They seem a bit more relevant today (all but the "write in Rudd" part at least...).

As you vote today, don't forget to "Write in Rudd"!


Seriously. When I vote, I ask myself two questions to determine if I can give my vote to a candidate.



1. Will he/she vote the way I would on legislation?

I don't really pay attention to the specifics of candidates plans. Those are most often empty campaign promises. What I am interested in is the foundational philosophy behind their plans, because that tells me how that person will vote when real live legislation is placed before them. If I don't think a candidate will vote the way I would, they don't get my vote. I do, on occasion vote for a candidate with whom I have a philosophical difference, if I determine the issue at stake is more of a preference issue than a moral issue, the Bible makes this kind of distinction (Rom.14), so I feel like I can as well.


2. Will he/she do more harm than good to the two party system?

I believe the greatest ill in Washington is the two party system. We haven't had a presidential election in which actual issues were at the heart of the candidate's conflict in my memory. Special interests and pork-barrelling run rampant which leads to ridiculous spending because of the two-party system. Senators, Representatives, and Presidents have a greater sense of loyalty to their party than to the people they represent. Therefore, I only vote for those who have demonstrated an ability to be the black sheep of their party, and were someone to pass muster on my first question, I'd be happy to vote for independents. I do think that unfortunately, this election will, in the end, do more good than harm to the two-party system, and that is my greatest disappointment.

What do I do when no candidate meets my qualifications? I don't give them my vote. I still vote... but not for them.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Here's Why I'm Not Preaching A Sermon Series On The Election

We are now entering the time of year when churches all around America have special sermon series that focus on the impending election. Every four years, our country makes a big decision about leadership and some might wonder why our church isn’t talking more about that on Sundays.



On October 9 we will be launching a new sermon series entitled 40 Days In The Word. This series has already been done by hundreds of churches around the country with extremely positive results. This series is an opportunity for us to create and improve our Bible study habits. Through Sunday’s sermons, small group interaction and daily journaling, everyone in our church will have the opportunity to learn God’s Word, love God’s Word and live God’s Word.

I believe focusing on Scripture through the election season is the best approach a church can take. Rather than telling people how they should interpret current events, we’ll point them to the Bible and let God’s Word be their guide.

One of the beautiful things about The Gathering is that we have people from every walk of life. We are all different. Every Sunday we have democrats, republicans, libertarians, independents and even some who don’t care in our worship services. Yet, we all stand shoulder to shoulder and worship the same God, focus on the same Jesus and work together to reach the world.

This election season, we won’t pay much attention to politics on Sundays (I know many of you will passionately work for good during the week, and you should!). In our worship gatherings and small groups, we are going to unite around God’s great gift of the Bible. We are going to immerse ourselves in His Word. We are going to develop habits which lead to life change that lasts a lifetime. As we do that well, we’ll trust God to take care of the rest!