Celebrate Advent at Home This Year!

child lighting advent wreathMy family and I have loved celebrating Advent since we arrived at Immanuel Bible Church.  To enter into a tradition of looking forward to the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas even while anticipating His Second Coming has helped us keep Christ central to Christmas.

As Christian parents, we all want to keep Christ at the center of our families’ Christmas celebrations both inside and outside of church.  Advent is one way to do that.  Maybe you have been wanting to start Family Devotions…what a wonderful way to get in the habit of regularly talking about God’s Word as a family!

Here are several ideas and free resources for you to use in your own families’ Advent celebration.  Joy to the world–and joy to your family this Christmas season!

  • There are Advent wreaths available at Christian book stores, but there are simple, free instructions and ideas on page 2 of this Focus on the Family booklet from 2012.  Don’t let not having an Advent Wreath stop you from celebrating Advent at home!  You can still have a very meaningful time looking to Christ as a family without the wreath or candles.  However, last year was the first year that we used an Advent wreath at home and lit the candles almost every night and I can’t imagine not doing it now–it only added to the anticipation of celebrating Christ’s Incarnation as the kids would talk about how soon before the other candles were lit.
  • I encourage you to pick it right up again if you miss a night–or several nights because of the busy holiday season.  The general consistency of looking to Jesus in a special way together as Christmas approaches is what will impact your family!
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible is what we used with our family last year.  As this blog points outbaby jesus…there are twenty-one stories in it from the Old Testament—each ending with a paragraph that ties in to the imminent birth of Jesus—and then three stories from the New Testament leading up to (and surrounding) the birth story of Jesus.”  Celebrating Advent at home was as simple–and meaningful–as lighting the wreath, reading the story for that night, and one of us praying.  There is a free PDF from the same blog that lays the readings out from December 1st to Christmas Eve!
  • This year we will use Focus on the Family’s free 2014 Advent guide, “Journey to the Manger.”  Journey to the Manger Advent 2014It includes a full color printable poster with a Bible character our kids will tape on the poster every night of Advent, and of course a Scripture reading, prayer idea, “opener” and discussion for the family.  There are even printables for each day such as puzzles, that our 6 year old will love doing, that will further cement what he is learning–while the younger kids will benefit from the bright poster that goes along with the Scripture readings.  It won’t stop us from using it, but do be aware that there is one issue with this Advent guide: the first cut out to put on the poster is a cartoon picture of “God the Father.”  For that first day, we will color light on a paper to put on the poster instead of using that cutout, and explain to our kids how God lives in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).  This aside, I can’t wait to use this Advent guide in our home this year!
  • I was excited to hear about a brand new devotional, “Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Advent Devotional.”  Prepare_Him_Room_3D_Thumb__67756.1404693711.451.416This is written by the author of “The Gospel Story Bible,” which is an excellent children’s Bible that I have read in it’s entirety with my 6 year old.  There is even a video that you can watch explaining why the author wrote this Advent guide!  We will surely be using this devotional guide for Advent as my kids (currently 2, 3 and 6) are a little older, but it may be perfect for your family this year.
  • Nancy Guthrie has written an Advent devotional book, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” that is designed for the entire family–from school age children to teenagers to parents. [HT: Mike Pohlman]
  • If you have teenagers in your home–or would read an Advent devotional yourself, I encourage you to consider John Piper’s new “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” free from Desiring God.
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Thanksgiving In (Not in Spite Of) Suffering

thanksgiving in sufferingNote: This is reposted from last year.  Happy Thanksgiving!  

Although there were many Thanksgiving feasts and observances throughout the United States for almost two and a half centuries before Lincoln, the nationally recognized holiday that we will soon celebrate was put into place in the middle of the Civil War.  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, while the war was raging and the country was truly divided.  While citizens were becoming widows and orphans daily, Secretary of State William Steward wrote:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Even in the midst of great pain and hardship, they were recognizing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  One of the ways that they gave thanks in all circumstances, even horrible ones such as civil war, was by looking to blessings that God had given:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…

They were looking for God’s good providence and for things to be thankful for, so that God would be praised no matter what, recognizing that He is the giver of all good things (James 1:17).   I recently taught a Bible study on Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”  The word “granted” is the same word used in Romans 8:32 about God graciously giving us all things:  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  We expect God to “graciously give” us blessings, but we often don’t understand how suffering could be a grace gift.

One answer is because God uses it all.  Nothing is wasted in God’s providence.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)  This is why the Apostle Paul could write, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” (Col. 1:24).  As our Senior Pastor preached on Colossians 1:24-29 recently, he asked, “Who talks like this?  Rejoicing in our sufferings?  Christians do!”

We can bubble over with genuine thanksgiving at any time if we look to the blessings God has given us, even if mixed with suffering.  Our God is both sovereign and good.  He is the God who promised Romans 8:28, a promise that rests on the bedrock of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Blessings.  Thanksgiving.  Hope.  Even in Civil War.

Gaze Upon the LORD Even When You Feel Like You Will Be “Eaten”

Paul David Tripp recently helped me to keep my focus where it should be during the storms of life, firmly on the LORD of glory, as I listened to a sermon from Psalm 27.  I think Psalm 27 will help you too.  Here are 4 practices we need to do daily.
cave

1) Gaze
It appears that David wrote Psalm 27 either when he was in a cave hiding for his life from King Saul, or running for his life during his son Absalom’s grab at the kingdom.  When David wrote, “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh…” (Ps. 27:2a), he literally may have had an army encamping against him (Ps. 27:3a).  It can’t get much more dire than your enemies breathing down your neck, like hungry wild dogs who want to eat your flesh.

What would you ask for if you could ask the LORD for anything if you were in a similar situation?  Maybe for weapons?  If you were honest, maybe for a bomb that would wipe your enemies out, or for the situation to simply change radically–like being beamed right out of the problem to another location?  Listen to what David asks for: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4)

2) Remember
 When we gaze upon the beauty of the LORD, we are not only reminded of who God is, but also who we are.  We have a new identity as His child.  The LORD is not just “light” and “salvation,” He is my light and my salvation!  Because of this personal truth, David can exclaim, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)

3) Rest
Resting in the LORD is not a passive activity, but a vigorous spiritual activity.  We can rest because we continue in the fight of faith.  This gives our hearts rest and hope: “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” (Ps. 27:3)

4) Act
After gazing upon the beauty of the LORD, remembering who He is and thus who we are as His children, and resting in Him, we can then act with great hope and courage when the time comes: “…be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14)

This One of glorious beauty has been connected to you by faith.  Because of Christ, we can be confident and hopeful even when we feel like we will be “eaten”!

HT: These main points are from a wonderful message by Paul David Tripp given at the Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors, “Living the Gospel That You Preach.”  You can listen to it for free here.