Seasonal Family Devotional Bookmark

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A couple of months ago, I posted a series of devotional readings for Advent and Christmastide, which walked through the highlights of the Old Testament and the Christmas narratives from the gospels. Then, just last week I shared a plan for reading through the Gospel of Mark throughout the season of Lent, supplemented by messianic psalms on the Sundays throughout Lent and Eastertide.

And now, here’s a printable bookmark that includes both these sets of readings in a handy format you can stick right in your Bible.  I hope you find it useful!

Also, I should note that I shortened some of the Advent readings, since they were potentially taxing on kids’ attention spans. So, if you found them too long, you might prefer this revised version.

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Christ is Born: A New Christmas Carol

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I love Christmas carols. From standards like “Joy to the World” and “What Child Is This” to lesser-known carols such as “The Wexford Carol” or “The Holly and the Ivy,” I love singing and listening to the traditional songs that celebrate the birth of Jesus.

This is a carol that I wrote a couple of years ago. Though the words are new, I tried to give it a traditional feel (the tune is from and old English drinking song), and I drew heavily on Scripture (mostly Luke 2, but also Isaiah and the Psalms). My hope is that it will move you to sing, celebrate, and rejoice in the amazing news of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.2013-christ-is-born

P.S. This carol is free to download. You may reproduce, use, perform, or distribute it as much as you like, provided that you do not charge for such services or make any changes without permission.

Image Credit: Rebecca Adeney, © 2013. Used by permission.

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From Longing to Rejoicing: Devotional Readings for Advent & Christmastide

Updated 2/28/2017: After some beta testing, I’ve slightly revised this devotional plan to make some of the readings shorter and more suitable for reading in a single sitting.

Twelve days from now, Christians around the world will begin taking the the four weeks leading up to Christmas to observe the season of Advent. The name “advent” comes from the Latin word for “coming” (adventus). Advent is thus traditionally a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, both as a re-enactment of the expectation of believers in the Old Testament and as an expression of our continued longing for Christ’s second and final coming.

I really love both the anticipation of Advent and the celebration of Christmastide. This year, I’ve designed a new Bible reading plan to guide our family’s observance of this special time of the year. We’ll walk through the grand gospel story of how God prepared the way for the coming of his Son, from the promises to the patriarchs to the deliverance of Israel to the visions of the prophets, culminating in the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ. Along the way we’ll be infusing the New Testament descriptions of Christ as Lion and Lamb, Prophet and Priest, Son of David and Seed of Abraham, with the richness of their original Old Testament significance.

If you’re familiar with the Jesse Tree, this is basically the same idea. The key difference is that I’ve planned these readings to reflect the historic distinction between Advent and Christmastide. As I’ve already mentioned, Advent is traditionally a advent-1430862time of preparation, while Christmas is a time of celebration. But this doesn’t mean that we need to cram the whole party into December 25. Christmas Day is actually just the beginning of the season of Christmastide, which runs for a full twelve days (yes, that’s where the song comes from) leading up to the feast of Epiphany on January 6, which is usually associated with the visit of the Wise Men. (In some cultures, Epiphany is known as “Three Kings’ Day.”)

Advent is about longing; Christmastide is about fulfillment. During Advent, our family chants, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every evening when we light our advent wreath. In Christmastide, we give each other gifts and sing, “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!”

I find this distinction really helpful for keeping my focus on Christ during the holiday season. While all the world around is caught up in a frenzy of sentimentality leading up to a big crash on December 26,  we get to experience the rising anticipation of Advent culminating in a full twelve days of feasting to savor and celebrate the good news that the Promised One has finally come to save us and reconcile us to God.

In this new Bible reading plan, the weekdays of Advent are spent tracing the high points of the Old Testament story, while the Sundays highlight visions of the final coming of Christ. Then we spend Christmastide soaking in the first few chapters of Matthew, Luke, and John. Because Advent begins on the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas, it varies in length from 22 to 28 days, so I’ve designed this plan to be able to expand and contract by including several optional readings. As it happens, this year we get the longest possible Advent, so we’ll get to do all 28 readings!

In my last post, I noted the importance of gaining an understanding of the main storyline of the Bible. This reading plan can be one way of building and reinforcing that foundational perspective on the overarching message of Scripture. That’s a big part of why I’m looking forward to leading my family through these readings year after year. Because the Bible is God’s word, I take seriously my calling to feed my kids on it directly every day. We read a chapter of the Bible together every evening after dinner; if we keep it up, each of our kids will have been through the whole Bible three or four times before they leave the house. But, while I love getting my kids into direct contact with all of Scripture, I don’t want them to lose the forest for the trees. Taking a break every year to review the big picture should help us all keep our bearings as we dig into God’s word together.

If you’d like to join us on this journey, you are more than welcome. You can use this plan for either family or personal devotions, and you can even use it at other times of the year if you’re so inclined. If you’re interested in checking it out and giving it a try (or using it as a springboard for creating your own plan), you can download it here.

I hope and pray that reading these passages builds your anticipation of Christ’s coming and joy in the good news that the Lord has come. Let every heart prepare him room!

Image credit: Veronica Moore, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/advent-1430862

The Coming of the Savior

christmas-1185912 (2)Christians around the world are observing the season of Advent. This is not the same as Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation and birth of our Savior. Traditionally, Christmastide begins on December 25 and runs for 12 days (hence the song with the partridge) until Epiphany on January 6. Christmas is a time to celebrate that Jesus has come; Advent is a time to look forward to his coming. So we take time to remember the longing of prophets and saints of the Old Testament for Jesus to come, and we experience afresh our own longing for Christ’s second coming, when he will make all things new.

The thing is, Christians aren’t always all that excited about the thought of Jesus coming back.

There can be a couple of reasons for this. One can be that we don’t want Jesus to interrupt our own plans. There’s something we want to do or achieve, something we are looking forward to more than we are longing for his appearing. We have our own kingdom to build; we don’t want God’s kingdom to come until we’ve finished.

Of course, very often our dreams for life in this world are good and worthwhile, even laudable. We may hope to glorify God and bless our neighbor through our labors, and we may long for our loved ones to come to faith. These are, indeed, godly desires that every Christian should have. The problem comes when we want these things more than we want Jesus. When we would rather Jesus stay away until we’re finished, when we demand that he come when we say it’s time, and not a minute before.

God’s word promises “the crown of righteousness” to those “who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Too often, we tolerate his appearing on certain conditions. Sometimes, we may even dread it. Instead of crying out, “Maranatha!” we plead, “Not yet, Lord!”

Another reason for being less than thrilled about the prospect of Christ’s return is not about our plans for the future, but our regrets about the past. We know that when Christ comes, all secrets will be revealed, and our sins will come to light. And we just can’t bear that thought.

A couple Sundays ago we were talking at church about Christ’s return, and one of my friends voiced this kind of feeling with the statement that he didn’t know how he could look Jesus in the eyes when he comes back. I get where he’s coming from. I have enough trouble with keeping the good opinion of the ordinary people around me – how can I possibly face the Judge and Maker of all things, who sees my heart and knows me better than I know myself?

When we feel that way, we need to remember that we are looking forward to Jesus’ second advent. Jesus didn’t just show up in power to sweep away all sin and unrighteousness in one final judgment. No, before he was to come in glory, Jesus came in humility and in weakness. Before coming to condemn sin, he came to bear it in our place. Before coming as the Judge, he came as one of us, born as a baby and crucified as a man so that we could face judgment unafraid.

Yes, we are sinners. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) But here is “a saying that is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

God’s judgment should indeed humble us; but if we are in Christ, it shouldn’t frighten us. Least of all should it keep us from longing for the appearing of the Savior who loved us and gave himself for us.

Maybe, in your mind’s eye, you find it hard to look Jesus in the eyes. If that’s so, look him in the hands. What you see there will be enough to assure you that he will never stop loving you, no matter what you have done, as long as you keep on trusting in him. And it should be enough to get you longing to see him face-to-face at last.

“‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

Image credit: Martin Boose, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/christmas-1185912

Nurturing the Spiritual Life of My Kids

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These days, my four-year-old son is learning a whole host of new skills, like writing the alphabet, singing in tune, riding a bike, and drawing ladybugs. He’s making up jokes and figuring out how to cut a sandwich (see picture) and covering his mouth when he coughs. He’s developing the desire and ability to be genuinely helpful with everyday tasks like getting dressed,  setting the table, and getting the stroller out of the garage. Seeing him growing and maturing – and helping that process along – is one of the most satisfying things I have ever experienced.

There are lots of things I want my kids to learn as they grow up. But what’s most important? What is the biggest lesson I want my kids to learn during these few years I have them in my home before they get launched out into the world?

As a Christian, I know the answer: the most important thing I can teach my children is to know, love, and trust in Jesus Christ. This means more than getting them to pray a one-off prayer asking Jesus into their heart; it means training them for a life of trusting and following him no matter what. It means nurturing a faith that will stand the test of time.

Nurturing my children’s faith can come in many forms. It happens when I rebuke them for self-serving and rebellious behavior, or when I ask them to forgive me for my own sinful actions and desires. It happens in everyday conversations about our gracious Creator when we’re looking up at the stars or talking about where cheese comes from. It happens when I sing over them while they’re falling asleep at the end of the day. It weaves its way into all of life; we talk about God and his goodness when we sit down and as we walk along the road and when we wake up and when we go to sleep (Deuteronomy 6:7).

A crucial part of my job of nurturing my children’s faith is the discipline of family devotions. While there are opportunities to disciple our children all throughout every part of our daily life, setting aside (i.e. “devoting”) a regular time to focus on God and his word is absolutely indispensable. It anchors and enables all our other efforts and spiritual nurturing. Stopping everything else to listen to God’s word consciously and explicitly demonstrates that God’s purposes are more important than ours. It reminds us all that faith in Christ is not some optional extra that we can just plug into our own agendas.

Just as my own spiritual growth and health depend on getting a personal daily devotional time, so my children need me to nurture their spiritual life by leading them in family devotions.

So, how do we do it?

In our home, we do devotions in a couple of different ways. Most mornings, Rebecca reads to the kids from a Bible storybook. (Our favorites so far are The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible.) Every evening after dinner we pray for one of the missionaries pictured on our fridge and then read a chapter of the Bible while we eat our dessert (because God’s word is sweet!). Then we talk about what the Bible said, pray, and get ready for bed.

There are, of course, lots of pre-packaged devotional resources out there. Some of them can be helpful, and like I said, we do read Bible stories out of picture books in the mornings. But we really want our kids’ main devotional diet to be the Bible itself. They don’t understand everything, of course, but that’s OK. They’re picking up things as they go, and we help them by re-telling the story and explaining the message. (A bonus of this is that it forces us to really think about and understand the Bible ourselves. Knowing you need to answer someone else’s questions is a great motivator!) And there will be opportunities for review; we’ll cover all this material a couple more times for each of our kids before they turn 18.

Advent is actually the one time of the year when we don’t just read straight from the Bible. Instead, we go through The Advent Book, which contains a slightly-reworded version of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth hidden behind 24 exquisitely-designed paper doors. This year, we’ll also be reading some passages about Jesus’ first and second comings on the four Sundays of Advent. On November 29, we’ll read Isaiah 40:1-11; on December 6, we’ll read Isaiah 9:1-7; on December 13, we’ll read Isaiah 11:1-9; and on December 20, we’ll read Revelation 21-22.

If you want to develop a practice of nurturing your kids with regular family devotions, Advent is a great time to start! You can follow the same plan we do, find another one you like better, or make up your own. Whatever you do, get your kids (and yourself) into God’s word; then watch them grow in loving and following Jesus.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4).