How to Make the Most of Advent

Today I sent out invitations for a Christmas pajama party, which I scheduled the week after the Christmas cookie exchange I’m attending, but three days before my church’s annual ladies’ Christmas function. We are entering Advent season, and I am busy. I don’t know about you, but parties, baking, decorating, planning, shopping, and wrapping seem to swallow me whole these few weeks leading up to Christmas.

In mid-November, I usually start telling myself that I need to be more intentional and Christ-focused this year, but then December comes and life shifts into hyper-drive, and before I know it, Christmas is here, and I’m left with nagging guilt and fear that I wasted the Advent season.

I’m desperate for change this year. Advent is a unique and precious time to celebrate the incarnation with our families and churches. It’s a special season to rejoice in the life (and death) of our Savior. This year I’m resolving not to let sentimentalism sabotage my Godward intentionality. Will you join me?

The One Thing You Need to Do This Season
I could give you a list of practical tips and tricks to “keep Christ in Christmas” this year, but I won’t. I think we’ve all read enough of those pieces. Instead, here’s your one challenge this Advent season: reflect. Again and again, stop and think. In the rush and race of December’s busyness, it’s easy to forget that Christmas is for looking back. It’s rich with meaning and significance. To make the most of Advent, reflect and remember exactly what this season celebrates.

Our intentionality flows directly from here. If we want to form holy habits in these weeks, we must engage our minds. We can make paper prayer chains, sing Christmas carols, and read Luke 2 every night, but if our minds are not fully present, those things are just empty acts— mere fuzzy, gooey traditions without the stony foundation of truth.

This requires being persistent. Every day we need to reflect. When you’re tempted to distraction or discouragement, when you’re sitting happily in front of a lit tree or a roaring fire, when you’re eating turkey or rejoicing with friends and family, stop and think about what you’re celebrating.

You are celebrating the incarnation of the all-glorious Creator of the universe. You are celebrating the joyous humility of the sovereign king. You are celebrating the Trinitarian love that brought Jesus to earth. You are celebrating the perfect and unstoppable plan of God. You are celebrating the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus. You are celebrating the redemption of God’s people. You are celebrating the generosity and grace of God. This season should be a reflection of your worship.

If you’d like some guidance, the following are excellent, gospel-rich resources that will help you meditate over Advent:

Fight Distraction with the Fruit of the Spirit
All of this remembering should lead to a more active cultivation of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control this season. This should be the time of year that our intentional reflection on the mercy and might of God through the incarnation should spark a passionate pursuit of holiness.

Reflecting on God sending his only begotten Son should motivate us to love others better and more—and not just the “lovable” people, but the annoying, frazzled, frustrating, and difficult ones.

Reflecting on the happiness the news of the incarnation brought (and continues to bring) should reawaken in us a joyful, contented spirit in our celebration of Christmas.

Reflecting on the salvation Jesus brings and the restoration he promises should instill peace in our restless, busy hearts.

Reflecting on the grace God showed to undeserving sinners like us should motivate us to be patient and compassionate in our every encounter this season.

Reflecting on the unmerited and astonishing kindness of God should inspire us to pursue gratitude and acts of kindness (whether little or big, planned or random) with renewed zeal.

Reflecting on the holiness of God should make us desire to chase goodness and fight sin harder and fiercer.

Reflecting on the unwavering faithfulness of God in saving and loving his people should make us more faithful in enjoying the spiritual disciplines this season – time in God’s Word, prayer, sharing the gospel, journaling, meditating.

Reflecting on the meekness of God displayed in Jesus Christ should force us to put away anger, complaining, dissatisfaction, frustration, and irritableness and embrace gentleness instead.

Reflecting on the perfect life Jesus lived should push us into the arms of self-control – especially in our eating, our spending, and how we use our time.

Make the Most of Advent
This Advent season could be a season like too many others we’ve wasted, whiled away in a flurry of stressed, self-focused distraction. Or it could be different. It could be a season where we slow down and reflect. It could be a season marked with thoughtful intentionality. It could be a season where we’re kinder, gentler, and more loving to the people around us. It could be a season where we’re more restful and joyful as we’re more mindful of the incarnation. It could be a season where we’re more generous and gracious and peaceful.

It could be a season where we draw closer to Christ.

Fellow Christian, this season – like every other season – is what you make of it. How will you spend Advent?

Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible. | Originally appeared December 2016.

The Two Things I Want to Do in December

This year I am breaking tradition. Normally I post something every single day of December leading up to Christmas. But not this year. This year my mental energy is getting taxed on other writing projects (currently I have 5 articles on the go for 5 different websites, not including this one).

Besides, I know you're nice and pretty busy yourself, so I'm guessing you're cool with this.

But this day does kick off the month of December. This Sunday is the second week of Advent. They're playing Christmas carols in the mall now. We put up our Christmas tree last weekend. The season is here.

And I'm on a mission to do two things this month: 1) rejoice and 2) rest.

This is a celebration! I don't want to let busyness, distraction, or mishaps frustrate me. I want this to be a happy time. Just think about what we're celebrating  the birth of the Savior. We're celebrating the rescue plan of God. We're celebrating the King. I want to rejoice in that.

But I also want to rest. I don't want to be so consumed by doing that I don't take time to stop and reflect. I want to soak in the meaning of the season through intentional pauses. I want this to be a time of refresh.

Will you join me?

This isn't a crazy call. You'll probably see lots of reminders about it this season. Take heed of them. And really pay attention. Really listen. And rejoice and rest.

Your Saturday Smile: Free Christmas Album

RELEVANT Magazine has created their annual Christmas album and is offering it free for download. That definitely gives me a smile, and I would highly and happily recommend you pick it up.

Download it here.

Growing in Grace: December 2015

It Was Not a Silent Night - This is an excerpt from Russ Ramsey's advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God. It's the reading from December 21 - since I'm reading that book this month, this is what I read yesterday. It was one of my favorite readings so far.

Liberation Letter - "Nowhere is the chameleon-like character of Mormonism on display more than at Christmastime. After a richly-orchestrated, pitch-perfect 'O Holy Night,' one of the Mormon 'apostles' is now preaching. He started out by awarding Luke a brief honorable mention for providing us an account of the Christmas story, but after dispensing with this lip service, he went on to 'another record' in The Book of Mormon."

Saint Nicholas and the Origins of Santa Claus - It's always fun to read an article like this around Christmas time. The Santa who punches heretics in the face is a far cry from the velvet-suited cookie-and-milk eater we see these days.

Thinking Theologically About Islam - "Islam is in the news. Again. Actually, I don’t think it ever left. So where do we go from here? Well, as Christians, it’s never a bad idea to go to the Bible. We won’t answer every policy question, but at least we can put a few important truths in place as we try to think Christianly about Islam."

Just Drop the Blanket - "In that climactic scene when Linus shares what 'Christmas is all about,' he drops his security blanket, and I am now convinced that this is intentional. Most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words 'fear not.'”

The Incarnation is a Mystery - And that's okay.

How to Love God by Getting More Sleep - "My poor sleep hygiene was affecting my family, my work, and my physical health. And it was also affecting me spiritually."

A Day in the Life of Americans - Coolness. It's a data visualization of the typical day in America.

Children, Go Where I Send Thee - My uncle sent me this song by country A Capella group, Home Free and Kenny Rogers. It is really catchy.

Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God - In a comic that even a child could understand, Adam4d explains why this is.

The Queen Personally Thanked This Man Who Mailed Her Christmas Cards for Years - Happiness.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Phillip Holmes writes:

When I was growing up, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley (revised by George Whitefield) was one of my favorite Christmas songs — but the point of the first line went completely over my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood lines like “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled” and “Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings / Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die.” However, there was that lead archaic imperative that escaped me for years: Hark! (Listen!).

In a 2007 Christianity Today article, Gordon Giles notes,

"In the Gospel account, the angels praise God, whereas in 'Hark! the herald angels sing,' they are inaccurately described as praising Jesus. Furthermore, Luke does not say that the angels 'sing,' and so it may well be that this reinterpretation by Whitefield has emphasized the popular but unscriptural picture of angels singing the Gloria."

While Giles is correct, we would do well to listen to and learn from the angels in Luke 2:10. Their praise and adoration towards God about the birth of Jesus is a model for what our attitude should be concerning the Christ Jesus. Why?

Angels didn’t need to be reconciled to God, but man does.

An Advent Reading (December 20)

For the past few Sundays I've been sharing some Scriptures my church is reading to intentionally celebrate the incarnation of Jesus. This is the final passage:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV):

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The Christian Teen's Ultimate Guide to Gift-Giving

My latest piece is up on The Rebelution today. I talk about giving and receiving and gratitude and happiness.


It’s almost Christmas and stores are selling out of wrapping paper and gift tags as fast as you can say, “Happy Holidays.”

For those of us who celebrate Christmas – and the gift-giving tradition that so often accompanies it – choosing the perfect present, finding it, buying it, and wrapping it can be a stupefying process.

That’s why I’ve created this handy guide to gift-giving!

The only thing is, I’m not going to tell you what gifts to buy. Or give you suggestions. Or basically give you any advice about actual gifts whatsoever.

Instead I’m going to give you five principles to consider as you give presents this Christmas.

1. Give out of joy.

Your dad doesn’t want that incredibly cool (and expensive) new piece of tech if you give it begrudgingly. The best gifts are given not out of a selfish spirit but out of servile humility. They’re given without complaining.

They’re given out of pure love and gratitude for the person who is receiving your gift. Let that love spill out in delight for the person and excitement about the gift.

2. Give out of the heart.

Getting someone a chocolate bar from the dollar store for Christmas could be the perfect present. Or it could be the worst. It depends on what your motives are. If you are seeking to choose the best present with thoughtful care and consideration, that might lead you to this chocolate bar.

But if your motives are mercenary or selfish and the person you’re giving to hates chocolate (and dollar stores), then that particular gift has not come from the heart.

When you’re preparing to give someone a present, ask yourself a few questions: What do they like? What do they need? What would bless them? What would edify them? 

Your answers may not even be material or expensive. Perhaps what they’d like is your time or your talent or a casserole or a cut lawn. Get creative.

Christmas Is About Humility

If humility is about lowering ourselves into servants, Christmas is the prime example.

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45, ESV).

What is the humblest stage in humanity? Birth. Babies are dependent on their mothers for their daily needs. For Jesus to give up the heaps of glory as sovereign ruler of the universe and become a newborn is the most crystalline picture of humility.

Thus our response to Christmas should be an eagerness to follow this example of our Savior.

How can you be humble? Serve. Love. Stop comparing yourself to others. Do a random act of kindness. Bake some cookies for the single mom. Visit the shut-in. Stop an argument. Ask forgiveness from someone you wronged. 

Christmas is about love, yes. Christmas is about wrath, yes. Christmas is about war and peace and mercy and judgment but it is also about humility - because Christmas is about Jesus.

Celebrate Love at Advent

In the December 11 devotional in John Piper's advent book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, he shares a meditation on John 3:16. I was blessed by it and I think you will be too.


In John 3:16, Jesus teaches us that the God who exists loves. Let that sink in. The God who absolutely is. Loves. He loves. Of all the things you might say about God, be sure to say this: he loves. 

The same writer of John 3:16 says in 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Which I take to mean at least this: giving what’s good and serving the benefit of others is closer to the essence of God than getting and being served. God is without needs. God inclines to meet needs. God is a giver. God is love. 

So Jesus tells us more specifically what he means by love in John 3:16. “God so loved . . .” The “so” here doesn’t mean an amount of love, but a way of loving. He doesn’t mean, God December 11 40 loved so much, but God loved this way. “God so loved” means “God thus loved.” 

How? What is the way God loved? He loved such “that he gave his only Son.” And we know that this giving was a giving up to rejection and death. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Instead they killed him. And Jesus said of all this, “I glorified you [Father] on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). So when the Father gave his only begotten Son, he gave him to die. 

That’s the kind of love the Father has. It is a giving love. It gives his most precious treasure—his Son. 

Meditate on that this Advent. It was a very costly love. A very powerful love. A very rugged, painful love. The meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this love. “God so loved . . .” And wonder of wonders, God gives this costly love to an undeserving world of sinners, like us.

(Pp. 39-40, copyright © Crossway 2014.)

Advent Reading (December 13)

For the next two Sundays, I will share a few Scriptures my church is reading to intentionally celebrate the incarnation of Jesus.

Philippians 2:5-11:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven

Jesus, joy of the highest heaven,
Born as a little baby
Under a wondrous star.
Like us, crying He takes His first breath
Held by His mother, helpless
Close to her beating heart.
Jesus, laid in a lowly manger,
Facing a world of dangers,
Come to turn me a stranger
Into a child of God.

Jesus, King of the highest heaven
Learning to take His first steps,
That He might bring us life.
Like us, knowing our smiles and sorrows,
He showed the way to follow,
A way that is true and right.
Jesus, take away every darkness,
Steady my simple footsteps
That I might in your goodness
Live as a child of God.

Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty
Copyright © 2011 Gettymusic; admin by Music Services.

Christmas Is About You

We tend to think of Christmas as a celebration of an isolated event - a birth.

We'll cook another big dinner in April when we celebrate a death.

But Christmas is really a celebration of Jesus' entire life and ministry and death and resurrection and ascension. It's really a celebration of Him coming to do the will of His Father (John 12:27-30) and save His people from the power of sin (1 John 3:5-8). It's really a celebration of Him becoming human to save humans.

Jesus came for us. As John Piper puts it,

"Don't leave Christmas in the abstract. Your sin. Your conflict with the Devil. Your victory. He came for this."

Christmas is about a manger, yes, but it's about so much more than just a manger.

It's about how everything wrong in this world is going to be fixed. It's about God's faithfulness. It's about suffering. It's about trusting God even when it hurts. It's about believing in the promise of Immanuel - God with us.

Christmas is about God. But it's also about you.

It's about you trusting in God and worshiping God and glorifying God because Christmas was His rescue mission to save sinners like you.

The True Story Behind "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

Do you know the heart-breaking story behind this beautiful carol? I didn't, but I'm glad that I do now. Justin Taylor shares it here:

"On Christmas day, 1863, [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of 'peace on earth' (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook. The theme of listening recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair."

An Advent Reading (December 6)

For the next three Sundays, I will share a few Scriptures my church is reading to intentionally celebrate the incarnation of Jesus.

Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

John 3:16-21:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.