3 Helpful Advent Devotions

To keep Christ in Christmas, we need to do more than wear catchy slogans woven into tacky Christmas sweaters. We need to commit to reading the Scriptures, reflecting on the Biblical themes of expectation, fulfillment, peace, salvation, and redemption (to name a few) that comprise the Christmas story. I have found Advent devotionals to be useful tools. They have helped me and my little family to pause and reflect upon the glorious realites wrapped up with baby in the manger. If you are looking for a Christmas devotional that you or your family could use this December, I encourage you to grab 1 of the 3 titles below. If you currently don’t gather the kiddos or spouse for family worship, I encourage you to make use of this Christmas season. Grab a devotional and start a new tradition on December 1 built on the eternal truths of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we be faithful to make much of Jesus today and always!

Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

John Piper packs 25 meaningful devotions into this 63-page book. Each devotion extends across 2-3 pages, beginning with a Scripture passage and ending with helpful applications that challenge our hearts. I came into contact with this book shortly after its publication in 2013 and have repeatedly returned to the volume because Piper writes with a simplicity and potency that beautifully illuminates the purpose of Christmas. April and I have used this book for our family devotions on more than one occasion. I encourage you to grab a copy of the book here. It gets even better. If your Christmas Bank Account has run dry or if you simply want to preview the book before committing to it, you can download it for free here.

Joy Upon Joy: An Advent Devotional

This short 128-page book features 25 Advent readings taken from the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. In typical Spurgeon fashion, the devotionals feature a short verse or phrase and then two pages of Spurgeon’s commentary on the meaning of the words followed by a few lines for notes and personal reflections. Spurgeon has a unique way with words that draw out the deep truths of Christmas. If you love Spurgeon, reading sermons, or desire to see Christmas through a slightly different and yet profound perspective, I encourage you to grab a copy of this devotional here. If you can handle reading the occasional old English phrase out loud, this book can well serve your family worship time. If you wish to explore Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons in more depth, I encourage you to visit the Spurgeon Library Website at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here. And then, search for “Christmas”

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas

In this 142-page volume, editor Nancy Guthrie gifts her readers 22 devotions taken from sermons that have helped Nancy reflect upon the richness of Jesus’s birth. She taps into a wide selection of authors, featuring the thoughts of Augustine, Martin Luther, J.C. Ryle, Alistair Begg, and many more. The chapters feature a Scripture reading, followed by 3-5 pages of reflection, encouragement, and admonishment. Nancy designed her book to serve as a short evangelical Anthology of Advent that provides readers with the space and theology to taste the glories of Christmas anew. Though the volume does not translate well into family worship settings with little kids, I have benefited with the depth of this book and have referenced during my sermon prep. I encourage you to grab a copy here.

Book Review: The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Treager and Greg Gilbert

When Christians leave church on Sunday afternoon and step into office on Monday morning, many do so without the gospel. They leave that on coat rack at home with their kids’ backpacks. They will wear it again when they dive into their church’s midweek Bible study, pray with their family, or go to church. But the gospel seldom makes it to the work floor.

Sebastan Traeger and Greg Gilbert wrote The Gospel at Work: How Working For King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs to remind Christians that they need the gospel at work for it alone provides Christians with fulfillment. The two authors conclude,

No matter what you do, your job has inherent purpose and meaning because you are ultimately doing it for the King. Who you work for is more important than what you do .

They use the next 160 pages to tease out the implications of working for King Jesus.

The acessable book begins with a discussion of the two great errors that transform the beauty of God’s design for work into a mangled mess. Traeger and Gilbert warn, “we can let our job become our idol…on the other hand we can slip into being idle at work.” After providing the reader with six questions that will help him or her diagnose whether or not they have swerved into the ditches of either idolatry or idleness, the authors detail how the theology of the gospel should shape the Christian’s motivation for working. They encourage their readers to use their job as a means to love God, to love others, to reflect God through improving the world, to secure the money they need to care for their family, to find enjoyment, and to create a platform for gospel expansion. In short, Traeger and Gilbert believe the gospel can be boiled down to, “Work Hard, work smart, trust God (71).”

Though the gospel is simple, its influence upon the workplace is anything but trite. The authors reveal the extent of the gospel’s power as they wrestle with the following questions: “How do I choose a job? How do I balance work, church, and family? How do I handle difficult bosses and coworkers? What does it mean to be a Christian boss? How can I share the gospel at work? Is full time ministry more valuable than my job?”

These chapters highlight the book’s true value. The authors avoid the temptation to create a modern version of the 1950 homemaker books that turned societal expectations into morale codes. In the place of heavy burdens, the authors hand the readers freeing biblical principles that can be used by teenagers nervous about their first job and by executives looking for the next great thing. Concepts such prioritizing obedience to God and love for others above our felt needs shows the reader how to avoid jobs that will lead to to his or her financial or spiritual ruin. The decision-making pyrimid found on pages 77 and 81 alone makes the book a must have.

The authors show Christians that an effective work, church, and life balance consists of finding a job that enables one to provide for themselves, care for their families, and share with others. Successes is located in biblical principles as opposed to keeping up with this Christian or that Christian.

All these practical chapters are built around questions or principles that help the reader to tease out what is driving his or her perception of work. Each chapter also contains a list of questions that can be used by couples, counselors, or Bible study groups to further applicaiton and discussion.

The authors also reveal the sustaining power of God’s sovereignty. Instead of worrying about missing out on job opportunities or descending into petty office politics, the believer locates his confidence in the powerful hand of God who is working all things, even the dead-end job, together for his good. Traeger and Gilbert also note,

We compete by working at whatever we do with all our heart, not by undercutting and sabotaging the efforts of our coworkers.

The book should also be commended for addressing the bosses. While many books deal with complaining spirits and unbiblical competitiveness on the ground floor, few books speak to those who occupy the corner office on the second floor. Traeger and Gilbert’s go up the elevator. They remind employers that their authority comes from God. CEOs shuold use such authority to bless others though sacrificial service that should inturn create a platform for gospel expansion. In short, both the employee and the employer should view the jobsight as space for gospel living that will benefit others and facilitate evangelsim.

The authors believe God has sent Christians to career fields with a missional purpose. Christians who work can reach scores of people that would never pick up the phone if a pastor called. But the authors caution the Christian against merging either idolatry or idleness into one’s evangelism. Both the cutthroat Christian and the lazy Christian undermine the beauty of the gospel. To reach the lost, the Christian must work faithfully, speak honestly about God, and love others well while tapping into the resources of the church.

Though Traeger and Gilbert should be applauded for having given their readers a biblical understanding of how the gospel shapes work, their book could be enriched if they addresses issues related to gender. They only briefly touch on the role of motherhood as work. The also do not tease out how the roles of fatherhood and motherhood shape the discussion on work and life balance. Though the book could have been enriched, its content still proves helpful for both men and women who are thinking their work in light of the gospel.  

Those who bring the gospel to work with them will find work to be a joy because it ceases to be a race for money, power, or meaning. The authors correctly note, \

We don’t need work to make us loved or liked or accepted, nor do we need it to prove ourselves that we’re worthwhile. Why? Because all of that has already been secured for us by Jesus!

The Gospel liberates the Christian to work!

Do you know that joy? Are you bringing the gospel to your job?

If not or if you are like me need help thinking through the job-related questions that Traeger and Gilbert tackled, I would encourage you to read their book!

The Books on My Bookshelf 2019

favorite books of 2019Had you told 13 year-old Peter Witkowski that he would be reading thousands of pages every year, his eyes would have rolled upward and his mouth would have broken into a sarcastic laugh.  Despite my youthful misgivings and limited prophetic abilities, I have come to love books. I count them as some of my truest friends. They have guided, encouraged, and challenged my heart and mind.

Given my academic studies and profession, my tastes unapologetically bend towards history and theology. Though I read a good deal of academic literature, I have found such literature to possess an engaging sense of readability. Below are the three books that most prominently snuck into my conversations with April Witkowski and a few others in 2019. Though all are not academic in nature, I found all of them to be enjoyable reads.

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

Thomas Kidd

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“With apologies to the Beatles, George Whitefield was the first “British sensation.” The missionary to Georgia quickly outgrew the confines of his Savannah assignment and metamorphosed into the first great American preacher. He profoundly shaped the America Christianity as he preached to overflowing churches, challenged other pastors to preach the doctrines of grace, denounced the faculties of Harvard and Yale for their lack of spiritual vigor, and employed the technology of the printing press with unprecedented skill. Since his death, historians have either stomped upon the preacher’s grave in frustration or have desecrated his memory by pulling out one or two choice biblical lessons that ignore the scope of his life and ministry. Kidd attempts to avoid both extremes. He explores and defends Whitefield’s robust faith, giving credence to the preacher’s spiritual believes and experiences. But Kidd also wrestles with Whitefield’s faults, chronicling his odd (and at times comical) interactions with women, his self-awarded sense of grandeur, and his promotion of slavery. Kidd provides readers with a sympathetic and honest presentation of the first “British sensation”

Whitefield may have adopted modern marketing and communication methods, then, but his message was traditional and Calvinist. Instead of softening his view on the depravity of man in response to humanitarian critics, he emphasized original sin more. Whitefield spoke regularly of how people in their lost state became “sunk into the nature of the beast and the devil.

America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation

Grant Wacker


Readers who engage Grant Wacker’s book will discover a wealth of insights into the depth of breath of Billy Graham’s influence over America. Wacker looks at how southern culture, the civil rights, the economy, and many other factors shaped Graham and were shaped by him. While Wacker paints an endearing picture of Graham’s heart for reaching the lost, the author also deals with the pragmatic realities of Graham’s life and ministry, discussing how Graham worked with Mormons, interacted with racists, and formed an almost monolithic support base middle-class, white evangelicals. Those seeking to understand the many and varied ways Billy Graham’s life has shaped their culture will find Wacker’s book to be a fascinating and beneficial read.

To say that Graham possessed an uncanny ability to adopt trends in the wider culture and then use them for his evangelistic and moral-reform ability purposes is another way of saying he possessed an uncanny ability to speak both for and to the times. Speaking for required him to communicate in a registrar his listeners could hear. He legitimated their social location by guaranteeing that their values would count…Yet…he spoke to them as well. He helped shape their consciousness…Speaking to Americans mean that he challenged them to live up to their self-professed values of biblical equality, moral integrity, and social compassion.

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat

Giles Milton

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Prior to World War 2, to be British was to be one who championed “decency and fair play.” But as the Nazi military machine filled Europe with death, Winston Churchill decided to liberate the British army from her people’s high sense of morality. The Prime Minister empowered Cecil Clarke, Colin Gubbins and others to research and deploy the dirtiest tools of warfare. The stories that follow appear more fanciful than the tale of Beau Geste. Yet these stories arise not from Milton’s imagination but from the British National Archives. Readers cannot help but be drawn into the tales of misfiring rockets that became for the first anti-tank weapons, daring assignation attempts that snuffed out hated Nazi leaders, and commandos raids that resulted in ships disappearing into the night. As author P.C. Wren noted in 1926, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Milton has rediscovered this maxim afresh, providing his readers with a fantastic read. In addition to chronicling the spies’ bravado, Milton found ways to discuss the humanity of his subjects, weaving details into his book about how their sixteen hour days and long alcohol filled nights strained marriages, enhanced their grief, and resulted in a tank being driven to church. Milton has put together a compelling string of stories that reveal both the strategic benefits and the human cost of Churchhill’s ungentlemanly warfare.

A Ministry of Ungentlemanly warfare. If its name was amusing, its role was anything but. It was to subvert the conventions of war – punch below the belt…Any German target, however soft, was to be considered fair game, and no weapon was to be considered off limits. “This from of activity was of the very highest importance.’ Said Churchill.