3 Great Christmas Devotionals!

three-great-resourcesChristmas is a fantastic time to celebrate Christ. Historically, the church has dominated the Christmas season. Though Hallmark movies, T.V. specials, and stories of an overgrown elf-man sporting a white beard and red suit have cut into the Church’s monopoly on the holiday, the word Christ still remains prominent. According to Lifeway, 6 of every 10 Americans will attend a Christmas service this year. If you and your family find yourselves drifting from the gospel, I encourage you to reengage with the gospel this Christmas season! I have attached links to three great resources below. These three little books will help you and your family refocus your hearts on the gospel!

1. Good News of Great Joy: John Piper

good-news-of-great-joyJohn Piper encourages our hearts by expounding the texts of the Christmas story. Piper begins each devotion with short Scripture passage. He spends two to three pages reflecting upon our glorious savior so that God may “deepen and sweeten” our adoration of Jesus. Christians looking for quiet-time books and family devotions will find this little book helpful. Click here to download the book for free! 

Quick Peek:

For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people – the little Mary and the little Joseph who have gone from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children.

2. The Dawning of Joy Indestructible: John Piper

the-dawning-of-indestructible-joyJohn Piper wrote his second Advent devotional to remind and stir up Christians who have found themselves forgetting the glories of the gospel during the Christmas season. Interacting with short Scripture passages, Piper highlights the great truths of the Bible by connecting them to the nativity store. Christians looking for a quiet-time devotion or for a family devotion will find this book helpful. Click here to download the book for free!

Quick Peek:

Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the reconciliation that he bought. Don’t put it on the shelf unopened. And don’t open it and then make it a means to all your other pleasures. Open it and enjoy the gift. Rejoice in him. Make him your pleasure. Make him your treasure.

3. Come Let Us Adore Him: Paul David Tripp

9781433556692Paul David Tripp seeks to restore our awe in Christ this Christmas season by helping us reflect on the amazing truths of the Scriptures. Writing with a counselor’s heart, Tripp encourages his readers by expositing the Scriptures of the Christmas story, by sharing illustrative stories, and by calling for readers to respond to the gospel with meaningful action. Tripp also writes with families in mind. He ends each three to five page devotion with a further study verse and with a “For parents and children” section that includes the day’s main theme and discussion questions. Lastly, Tripp separates his Advent devotion from others by penning devotions for all of December’s 31 days. Both individuals and families will find Tripp’s devotional to be a source of encouragement this Christmas season!

Quick Peek:

In truth, that beautifully decorated tree, those gorgeously wrapped presents, and all that tasty holiday food, which make us happy during the Christmas season, are poor representations of the world into which Jesus was born and what his everyday life would be like. Jesus didn’t show up for a celebration…It means something profoundly important that the cradle of his birth was a feeding trough in a borrowed barn….These conditions…announce to us that the Messiah came not to be served but to serve.”

Is Divorce Ever An Option?

divorceWestern society, which once used bemoan divorce as shameful, now wants to celebrate the moment when two people break their vows asunder. A quick Google search reveals that Americans can now buy divorce cake toppers featuring a groom being drag off to the trash can, divorce party banners celebrating singleness, and divorce party buttons courtesy of Pinterest and Etsy.  As a woman told the Daily Mail back in February, “My divorce party was a form of closure that made me feel in charge of my destiny…If you’ve been unhappy in marriage, why not celebrate the fact that you are free and single again?” Why not celebrate divorce?

Many in our churches are asking the same question. I have repeatedly heard church members state how their divorce is a good thing. Because a divorce will free them from their toxic relationship, they can and must get divorced. If they do not dissolve their marriage vows, they risk losing their chance at true happiness and fulfillment. As the English author and activists, Julia Stephenson said about her first marriage, “I became fixated with the idea that I’d made a dreadful mistake in settling for someone whom I had mistakenly assumed was the best I could hope for.” Many Christians agree. If they can do better than their first spouse, they should have the freedom to get divorced and remarried.

More and more people both inside and outside the church are concluding that divorce is an inescapable reality. As relationship therapist Marisa Peer said, “we’re living longer, which means those who marry in their 20s can expect to spend 70 years with the same person, which is often unrealistic.” Thus, divorce appears to be both needed and inevitable if we are to have fulfilling lives.

Although our western culture is clearly embracing divorce as a natural and needed phenomenon worthy of celebration, should we as Christians normalize and embrace the growing divorce culture? How should react to the news that our best friends are hiring attorneys? What should we tell our loved ones when they come to us detailing their marriage problems? How do we deal with divorce?

Admittedly, divorce is a tricky and difficult subject for the church to engage. In Mark 10:1-12, we read that the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce because they hoped to stump him. They hoped that discussing the topic would hurt and harm Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees knew that when Jesus addressed the topic of divorce he would be saying hard things to hurting people.  Yet, Jesus tackled the question head-on. The text says, “He answered them.” And, we must do the same.  We must bring the Scriptures, God’s words, to bear on every subject regardless of its complexity.

And now, we are back to the question that Jesus faced and that we face, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” How should we think about, approach, and react to divorce?

We must value marriage above all else. God never intended for us to get divorced. The guidelines for the divorce arise after the fall of Adam and Eve because of sin. Jesus says in Mark 10:5, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” Divorce is always and in every way caused by sin. But in supporting marriage we must neither go beyond the limits of Scripture nor take away from God’s Word.

Back in Jesus’ day, many of the Jews interpreted the Old Testament law found in Deuteronomy 24:1 to imply that a man could divorce his wife for any indecency. They thought a man could divorce his wife because she messed up his clothes or overcooked his dinner. The Jews had essentially created no-fault divorce culture and were often quick to get divorced.

Jesus wanted them to understand that this view of marriage was antagonistic to God’s design. As Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” God created Adam and then created Eve. He created one man and one women and designed them to live together forever, a life span that far exceeds 70 years.

Instead of being the outliers, the exception to the rule, Adam and Eve are the rule for marriage. Notice what Jesus says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast two his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:7-9)

divorceGod designed us to live with our spouse for “as long as we both shall live.” We should embrace marriage as good and right. Marriage is not the creation of man. God created marriage. He created Eve to be with Adam. He created the female to be the perfect helpmate and complement to the male (Gen. 1&2). God did not create multiple Eves and multiple Adams. No. He created one of each. He made one man from the dust and one woman from Adam’s rib. The union of marriage is between two people. It is not a three pronged or four pronged human relationship. God is not open to open marriages and to polyamorous relationships. No. God designed all of us who get married to be with one woman or one man for life.

As we reflect upon the church, we see this truth again. God has one bride, his church. He is committed to her irrespective of her many faults (and she has many). Jesus died for her. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:31-32,

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

God’s design is for one man to be married to one woman for their lifetime.

Consequently,

When a couple speaks their vows, it is not a man or a woman or a pastor or parent who is the main actor- main doer. God is. God joins a husband and a wife into a one-flesh union. God does that. – John Piper

When a husband and wife come together, they become one. They become one physically in the marriage bed. As they become one, they should seek to make much of the other. The husband seeks to fulfill his wife. The wife seeks to fulfill her husband. As each make more of the other, they both experience completeness and oneness.

But sex is not the sole definition of our oneness. As Paul David Tripp says, “Sex is not the fuel of a good relationship; it is the expression or fruit of one.”

The oneness in marriage is ultimately a covenant bond. It is a covenant of love. It is an oneness created when two people come together promising to overlook faults, promising to point their spouse to Christ, and promising always to forgive. It is an agreement based upon the work of Christ. Because Christ has loved us in our weakness and imperfections, we can and must love our spouse regardless of their imperfections. We must be vulnerable and allow them to be vulnerable with us. As we share our thoughts, receive the thoughts of our spouse, and proclaim Christ to both of our souls, we experience the oneness of marriage. Instead of running to our mom or dad with our hearts, we share them with our spouse. Instead of yelling at our wives, we lovingly confess our sins to them and point them to truth. When this level of spiritual and emotionally oneness exists, we can expect the physical to oneness to follow.

And when it comes to parenting and to God’s design for the family it is also extremely evident that both a man and a woman are needed. The family, the very core of society is rooted in this oneness. Sociologist David Popenoe writes,

“The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary – culturally and biologically – for the optimal development of a human being… While mothers provide an important flexibility and sympathy in their discipline, fathers provide ultimate predictability and consistency. Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane child rearing regime.”

Consequently, the greatest indicator of whether or not a child will succeed is not their IQ or their social standing. The best measure of whether or not a child will succeed in life is their parents. Children from broken homes are much less likely to succeed than children from families with a mother and a father. Both parents are needed because together they are one.

As John Piper rightfully notes, “Marriage is God’s doing because spoke the earliest design of it into existence, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”

God created marriage. We must value marriage. We must not and cannot celebrate divorce with parties, cakes, and vacations. Divorce is not a good thing. It is the shattering of God’s institutions. We cannot simply opt out of a marriage because we realized that we settled or did not marry up as much as we initially hoped No, marriage is God’s design. To shatter that design is to bring harm and injure upon all involved.  Malachi 2:16 says,

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

And even many of the people involved in these divorce parties admitted as much. One woman said, “’I was too shocked to eat, was prescribed antidepressants and didn’t have the confidence to leave the house,” Another said, “’I felt like my heart had been ripped out,’

Divorce is violent. It brings pain, doubt, depression, debt, despair, and all kinds of sinful consequences. It is as God said, “violence.” And those who pursue divorce, cover their family with violence. Divorce is never a good thing. Hence, Christ tells us to cling to our spouses. We should value marriage and hate divorce.

But in our desire to defend marriage we cannot exceed the bounds of God’s Word. We cannot prohibit all divorce. At times divorce is necessary and needed because we live in a fallen world. Writing about Jesus’ use of the phrase “the hardness of your hearts,” Pastor Tim Keller notes,

Sometimes human hearts become so hard because of sin that it leads a spouse into a severe violation of the covenant, without prospects of repentance and healing and in such cases divorce is permitted.

God hates divorce and is against divorce. But when an unbelieving spouse leaves his wife and when a husband commits adultery, the spouse that has been sinned against is free from judgement and may remarry. Paul restates this truth clearly in I Corinthians 7:12-13. The believing spouse, the spouse seeking to honor God should always seek to have their marriage restored, because Christ sought us out while we were still sinners. But if your wife still wishes to run off with her high school boyfriend, you can let her go and you are free to remarry. If your spouse has committed sexual immorality, if they have had an affair, you can get divorced and remarried.

But, we should never long for or want a divorce. The covenant of marriage is a covenant built on forgiveness. Yet, there are times when divorce is our only option.

I knew a man who had to have his foot amputated to save his life. The surgery was a necessary thing. Without it he would die. He knew it was better for him to live with one foot than to die with two. But he still mourned the loss of his foot. Amputation is never a great practice, even when necessary.

In much the same way, there are times with divorce is the best option. Divorce is needed because nothing else will save the innocent parties. But, divorce is never a good thing. Someone has sinned and someone has been sinned against.

As John MacArthur and the elders of his church wrote,

Since divorce is a concession to man’s sin and is not part of God’s original plan for marriage, all believers should hate divorce as God does and pursue it only when there is no other recourse.

We are to love and cherish marriage and yet, recognize as Jesus did, that sin sometimes leaves us with no other option but divorce. Divorce is permissible because of the hardness of people’s hearts. We must be sure not to go beyond the bounds of Scripture when talking about divorce.

But, we also must not take away from Scripture to justify our actions or the actions of our friends. We cannot justify those who sinned by pursuing an unbiblical divorce.

To make this reality very clear, Jesus tells his disciples “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:10-11.

If a church member decides to divorce his wife for anything other than sexual immorality, he commits adultery. If a woman decides to forsake her husband for anything other than immorality, she commits adultery. There is no gray space with God. What Julia Stephenson did was wrong. She committed adultery when she got divorced in an effort to find a better mate. In God’s eyes, she is not free to remarry. She needs to repent of her sin and go and be reconciled with her husband if possible.

We must give the same advice to the man in our church who is convinced that he can leave his wife for Susie next door because she is his soulmate. We must preach this same truth to Sally when she longs to leave her husband for the kinder coworker who can empathize with her pain. Divorcing your husband or wife so that you can be with other people is just a bad as having an affair with them. Divorce for selfish reasons is sin. Do not miss this.

It is not pleasing to God. It is sin. It is for this very sin that Christ died on the Christ. He did not die so that you could live out your sinful fantasies. He did not die so that you could call evil good. He died so that you could escape these evil desires by clinging to Christ. The solution to our marriage and life problems is not divorce. It is repentance.

When we encounter men and women considering divorce, we must speak truth. We value you marriage because God created the institution. Yet, we must never go beyond the bounds of Scripture. We must realize that divorce is permissible in cases of unfaithfulness and desertion. And, we must never take away from Scripture blessing those who sinfully seek out divorce.

Admittedly, our society is increasingly at peace with divorce. Couples will be spending more and more time together. They will need more grace from above to survive their marriages. But, the best remedy for a troubled marriage is not more divorce. Rather, we need to value marriage, showing how Christ’s reconciliation on the cross provides us with the power to survive and thrive in the covenant of marriage.

Are you ready to do this?

3 Great Devotions For Christmas/Advent

Why Advent?

Do you know what November 27 is? It’s the start of advent! advent-christmasAnd now, you probably have another question: What is advent?

Historically speaking, it is when Christians set aside the four Sundays that proceed Christmas to fast and pray. It is a time where the church contemplates the full implications of what it means that God become a man to save sinners.  Although not a necessary practice, observing advent can help us and our families focus on what Christmas is really about. As we set aside time to pray, meditate on the Scriptures, and to sing, we can help our families see that, “To understand Christmas is to understand basic Christianity, the Gospel.”  In short, this Christmas season is a great time for family worship and for sharing Christ with our children. Below are three great resources that will help us do just this this December!

 

3 Great Resources For Advent

Prepare Him Room – $14.99

Marty Machowski

blog ready prepare him roomDesigned around nativity scenes, lighting candles and Scripture, the book is newer resource with a traditional feel. The devotions are built on the biblical Christmas story and also are tied to the compelling story of thieving orphan. In addition to being biblical and easy to understand, the devotions are also infused with object lessons, Christmas carols, and crafts. Marty Machowski has helpfully planned out your entire family’s Christmas devotional calendar. Moreover, you can download the music mentioned in the book here. And you can buy a teacher’s guide here if you want to bring this study into your Sunday school class room.

 

 

The Expected One $9.99

Scott James

51-9us6x6ul-_sx357_bo1204203200_This great little book is designed for your children by a Children’s Pastor. Each devotion contains a Scripture passage, a small explanation of the verse(s) and 2-3 questions (with answers) to prompt some family discussion. There is also a small question to help the parent apply the passage to their life. This book begins on December 1 and ends on the December 25 so it does not follow the traditional advent calendar and it does not come with song suggestions. But if you are a touch creative and have young children, I think you will really like this Christmas/advent guide.

 

 

 

Good News of Great Joy – $7.99

John Piper

Good news of great joy daily adventThese thoughtful two-three page devotions are gospel packed and will make you think more highly of Jesus. My wife and I have read this little book together. It has proved to be an encouragement to our souls and has helped to keep the Christmas story fresh. The devotions are not directly tied to Christmas carols or to the traditional advent wreath. But in terms of helping us mediate on Christ, I have found none better. This is a great resource for those on the go and for families with older children, or younger children who are mostly passive participants (i.e. the babies!).

And if you like this Piper resource, I encourage you to also get The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. Very similar in style and to Good New of Great Joy, this book focuses more on the secondary or theological texts of the Christmas story looking at Acts, Hebrews and the Pauline Epistles.

 

 

Bonus Books!!

Hidden Christmas $13.75

Timothy Keller

51s-avtup0l-_sx351_bo1204203200_
Have your forgotten why Christmas is so magical? Then this book will do your heart good. Timothy Keller pithily unpacks the Christmas story in a fresh manner that helps us to realize just how amazing it is that light of the world appeared as a little baby in  Bethlehem. This is a great book for moms and dads to read this Christmas season, especially once the kids are out of school and are asking for ten’s and twenty’s!

 

 

 

The Biggest Story – $11.99

Keven DeYoung with illustrations by Don Clark

Biggest Story Every ToldKevin DeYoung invites families to come cuddle up by the fire as they listen to the Christmas story. But instead of starting with gospel of Luke, or the Shepherds or even baby Jesus, DeYoung begins the story in Genesis. From Genesis on, he shows how all of the Bible’s stories point to Jesus. The Christmas story is not about a baby. It is about a king who redeems his people from their sin. A King who rescues the lost and who will one day take men and women back to a paradise that is even better than the one Adam and Eve left. Divided into ten short chapters, the book could be your advent reading this December or could be a great way to read the Christmas story on December 25! And as an added bonus, Crossway released an animated version of this book on DVD earlier this year. I encourage you to check it out here!