By / Dec 20

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent discuss their end of year focus on the Psalm 139 Project. They also talk about the status of immigration reform in the United States, and an update on the Respect for Marriage Act. 

ERLC Content

Culture

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted territory. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Dec 13

I recently had the opportunity to visit the U.S.–Mexico border at El Paso and Ciudad Juárez with a group of SBC leaders to learn and gain a better understanding of what is happening on the ground at the border. We spent time with migrants at shelters in both Mexico and the United States, a retired border enforcement officer, and with those involved in meeting the needs of these migrants when they arrive.

This was not my first trip to the border, and it is always an emotional experience for me as I see the great need, pain, and desperation of many migrants and those on the front lines of both enforcing our laws and addressing a humanitarian crisis. This trip, though, offered me a new lens with which to view this experience: Advent.

A time of waiting and yearning 

Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time in which we both remember the great anticipation with which the people of Israel awaited the Messiah’s arrival and simultaneously look ahead to Christ’s second coming. It is a time where we often see the brokenness of our world more acutely and yearn with greater urgency for Jesus’ return when all will be made right. It is a time of both immense grief at what is and great hope of what is to come.

As I spent time with many young mothers and their children at a shelter in Mexico, it was as if I was watching this Advent reality play out physically in front of me. Many told of the great tragedy from which they fled. They spoke of poverty, threats to their children from gangs, and incredible trauma that forced them to flee their homes. Much was left unsaid about what they had experienced on their journey to Ciudad Juárez, though data tells us that it is likely that many of these women faced rape or sexual assault on their journeys, extortion from cartels, and some may have even lost loved ones on the way.

As I looked at their weary eyes and bodies that had carried so much tragedy, I thought of Mary and Joseph. I wonder if they similarly looked scared and tired to Egyptians when they fled, as what we would consider modern-day asylum seekers, with a very young Jesus. Were they met with help along the way? How did they sacrifice to protect their son? I wonder if Mary, much like these women, pleaded for strength from God to keep going amidst her fears and exhaustion.

These women and children find themselves in a time of waiting. As the United States’ border policies continue to change, many find themselves waiting for an opportunity to request asylum. Depending on their country of origin and circumstances, that day may come quickly for some, and for others, they may not have that opportunity for weeks, months, or years. They sit in a shelter, graciously run by a church, waiting for policies to change, waiting for safety, waiting for a new life. They wonder what opportunities they might have in the U.S. They look at their children and ask what opportunities will be granted to them—a decision largely made by lawmakers thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. 

Resting in the first Advent 

Yet in the midst of their uncertainty, grief, and fear, there is incredible hope among these people. They trust God to provide a way for them and have sincere hope that someday they will make it to the U.S. and that their sacrifices will have been worth it for their children to grow up safe, free, and with opportunity. 

This type of experience can make me feel overwhelmed by all of the ways that our world is not as it should be. In a perfect, sinless world, people wouldn’t have to leave their homes. Women would not have to take birth control before migrating out of fear of rape on their journey. Children would not have to grow up with unspeakable trauma in their most formative years. Young people would not have to grow up in shelters and refugee camps instead of stable homes and schools. People would be able to flourish in their own neighborhoods.

But that is not our reality. Our world is fallen and broken, and people, made in the image of God, suffer as a result. This reality of our world makes me long for the reality of the new world. A world that is perfect—where there is no suffering, no tears, no tragedy. Advent reminds us that in a day coming soon, all will be made right.

Until then, though, we can rest on the first Advent—that Christ himself came as Emmanuel, God with us, to walk through the tragedy and hurts of our world with us. I wonder if this is why so many of our treasured Christmas hymns point to the truth that Christ has come to free his people from oppression and bondage spiritually and someday will do that physically as well.

For now we say, “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our sins and fears release us, let us find our rest in thee.” Be the “joy of every longing heart” even as we wait. Someday the weary world will rejoice and these women and their children will victoriously proclaim with us, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease.”

Emmanuel sees and knows those women in that shelter. Someday those women in ragged clothes and with worn-out faces who have trusted in Christ will be glorified as co-heirs with him, and they will find the ultimate rest, peace, and safety that they have longed for. Each of us this Christmas, regardless of whatever we may be walking through, can cling to Emmanuel’s presence as we are overwhelmed by the burdens, tragedy, and grief of this life. He knows you and cares for you, and he has paid the greatest price to redeem this broken world.

By / Nov 28

“Kill it again, Charles! Kill it again!”

I’d heard the punch line a dozen times, but it never failed to send me into a fit of giggles. That my grandma, the strongest, bravest woman I knew, would be the source of it made it even funnier.

She’d grown up in the mountains during the Great Depression, the middle child of 10. Her people were farmers who understood the goodness of hard work, laughter, and family, so once a year, we’d make our way back to their hills for a reunion where the siblings swapped memories and told tales on one another. I remember passels of cousins by varying degrees, games of softball, an outhouse, a creek, and tables full of food—potato salad, ham, and butterscotch pie.

But my favorite time for stories was curled up in my grandma’s bed on the nights I was allowed to stay over. Our days together were for work—cleaning, blackberry picking, and gardening—but the nights were for storytelling. She’d dress me in layers and socks and tuck me in under piles of blankets. Sweating, I’d throw them off, but she’d put them right back on, determined that I wouldn’t be cold.

Then in the darkness, I’d whisper, “Grandma, tell me about the time . . .”

I had a whole repertoire of stories to choose from: the time she’d overturned the churn and spilled the family’s cream for the week or how she walked three miles to high school in good weather and boarded in town in bad. But one of my favorite stories was when she and her older brothers were out making hay under a blazing summer sun.

She’d been assigned to the top of the wagon, and as her brothers threw up pitchforks of hay, she’d stamp them down to make room for more. The system was working fine until a tremendous black snake came flying through the air straight at her—an unfortunate hitchhiker on someone’s fork of hay. As quickly as it had come up, she sent it back down, where her brother stabbed it. But satisfied with nothing less than the reptile’s eternal damnation, she screamed, “Kill it again, Charles! Kill it again!”

The snake and the promise 

In all fairness to the snake, seeing one in a hay field isn’t uncommon, and most are entirely harmless. There’s the black racer—long, shiny, darting here and there; the northern ring- necked with its yellow collar; and the eastern garter, a striped snake that apparently to someone, somewhere, once resembled the aforementioned accessory. You will occasionally spot more harmful snakes, the kind that send a shiver up your spine and have earned the aversion we carry against the species as a whole. Timber rattlers make their home in wooded areas, blending into the underbrush, while their neighbor the copperhead prefers more open habitats like overgrown fields, dilapidated barns, and rock ledges.

When you encounter a snake, however, the best thing to do is nothing. Even a venomous snake would rather move along than bite you. So catch your breath, calm your heart, and watch it for a few seconds before it glides out of sight. If you do, you’ll see one of the most unexpected, and unnerving, spectacles in the animal kingdom.

Limbless, a snake propels itself in waves, writhing and slithering along the ground. To climb, it will coil around a tree or pole, scrunching and creeping upward. To burrow, it relies on “rectilinear locomotion,” a unique coordination of scale and muscle movements that allow it to push its body forward in a straight line. Surprisingly, this uncanny way of getting around is the first specific animal phenomenon recorded in Scripture. And perhaps even more surprisingly, the snake is the first to receive the promise of Christmas.

According to Genesis, after God made the man and woman, he placed them in a garden which they shared with the animals. For a while, everything was good and beautiful and exactly as God planned; but a twist was coming, a twist in the form a winding, coiling, curling reptile. One day a snake shows up, and with subtle, hissing words, convinces them to do the one thing God had forbidden: to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Immediately, a curse descends; the man and woman are banished from the garden; and nothing is the same again.

For its part in the deceit, God sentences the snake to its unique movement:

You are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal.
You will move on your belly
and eat dust all the days of your life.

But then he promises this:

I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Gen. 3:15).

Theologians call this passage the protevanglium, or the first announcement of the good news, because it foreshadows the birth of the One who will undo the serpent’s deceit along with its lethal aftermath. Eve’s hope—our hope—was that this coming Promised Son would crush the serpent and all it represents, even as he suffers in the process.

But here’s something curious: the news of a Redeemer wasn’t given to Eve, not directly at least. It was given to the snake. And it was given in the form of a warning: judgment is coming. The power you hold over the earth will one day be taken from you. So for the snake, Christmas is far from good news. Or is it?

Of course, the snake of Genesis 3 is not simply a snake, not like the ring-necked and garter snakes in my backyard. Revelation 12:9 speaks of an “ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world.” And elsewhere in Scripture, snakes represent sin and our own bent toward falsehood. Romans 3:13, for example, says

There is no one who does what is good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips.

But here’s something even more unexpected than the fact that Christmas was first announced to a reptile. In John 3:14-16, Jesus likens his redemptive work to a miracle that occurred centuries earlier when God healed the Israelites of poisonous snakebites by having them look to a bronze serpent on a pole. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,” Jesus says, “so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

And just like that, those who once followed the snake into damnation, now proclaim the grace of Christ in salvation. Those cursed by their own disobedience are now blessed by the obedience of another. I wonder about this. I wonder how the snake—so long associated with sin and death—could be associated with Christmas. I wonder until I remember the heart of the Creator for his creation. The God who knows every sparrow that falls, who numbers the stars, who holds the seas in his hand—would this same God let his creation be taken from him? Would he so easily give up what he has created and called “good”?

No. This is a God who redeems. This is a God who restores—both for those who have suffered under the deceit of sin and those who have deceived others. Because one day, evil will be crushed under the heel of the Promised Son, and his blessings will flow “far as the curse is found.”

And when he does, the snake that was once a sign of sin’s dominion will become a sign of our complete and final redemption. In Isaiah 11:8–9, the prophet tells us of the day when the Promised Son will finally and fully reign over his creation. In that day,

an infant will play beside the cobra’s pit,
and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.
They will not harm or destroy each other on my entire holy mountain.

The hope of the snake is our hope. We, who with poison on our lips have deceived and been deceived, to us, the promise is given: a Savior has come, and a Savior will come. And when he is lifted up, all who look to him will find life—everlasting and eternal.

This article is an excerpt from the new book, Heaven and Nature Sing by Hannah Anderson from B&H Publishing (2022).

By / Dec 16

In April of 2021, we found out that my 37-year-old-husband had a tumor in his small intestine that indicated the presence of a very rare cancer. The diagnosis and surgery to remove it took place this year. But he was sick for most of 2020, undergoing tests, scans, and blood work that mostly provided no answers.

As we began to visit a cancer center in our city and acclimate ourselves within this new community, I realized that I was assuming a new identity at the same time that my husband had become a cancer patient. In addition to my other roles, I was now a caregiver. As the illness progressed and he underwent surgery, I began to assist and care for my husband in unprecedented ways, along with assuming more responsibilities in our home. We have three boys, now ages 10, 7, and 3, and I found myself feeling like a single parent.

As we enter the Christmas season, I think of all the men and women who find themselves caring for someone who in years past would have been shoulder to shoulder with them, or maybe even leading, through these weeks that are supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” I think of those looking at the busy calendar, the Christmas menu, or the bank account, wondering how they will manage it all. I think of those with young children who are blissfully content with the presents under the tree and the older kids who are searching their parents’ eyes for comfort and peace. If that’s you, I want to share a word of encouragement from the scriptures. 

Finding hope in the minor prophets 

In the spring of 2021, an amazing and diverse group of women studied the minor prophets together at my church. It was a wonderful anchor for me in this season, keeping me in the scriptures, as well as giving me a group of women who encouraged and prayed for me. To the surprise of some of the attendees who were less than thrilled about looking at these books with strange names and even stranger language, we loved our study of the minor prophets. 

My greatest encouragement through my husband’s diagnosis and surgery was found in an unlikely place: the book of Nahum. I’m not sharing this with you as a biblical scholar, but as someone who went to the Word for manna on the hardest days of my life. If you are a caregiver at Christmas, I want to share the hope I found in this little book of the Bible.

Nahum 1:15 states: “Look to the mountains — the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace. Celebrate your festivals, Judah; fulfill your vows. For the wicked one will never again march through you; he will be entirely wiped out.” There are five things I clung to in this passage, and I pray you will, too. 

1. “Look to the mountains”: Suffering reminds us of our humanity. In seasons of immense difficulty, the challenges around you can feel insurmountable. More than that, if you look only to yourself, you will quickly run into your very human limitations. A diagnosis doesn’t usually come with clear answers for the questions of “how” or “why,” and that shatters the false ideas of strength and being untouchable that tend to creep up in lighter seasons.  

You must, “set your eyes on things above,” as Colossians 3:2 says, and remember, as Isaiah 55 proclaims, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so [God’s] ways are higher than your ways, and [God’s] thoughts than your thoughts.” As we “look up,” we can trust in his good purposes, even when they don’t make sense in our present circumstances.

2. “The feet of the herald, who proclaims peace”: We must look to the one who comes “to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isa. 61 and Luke 4). Ephesians 2 reminds us that Jesus “is our peace.” Jesus proclaims peace to you! The image of him found in Nahum, coming down from the high places — even the mention of his human feet — reminds me of how he left heaven to come to earth as a baby. He did not leave us alone in our suffering. He embodied his love and came into our reality for the purpose of making peace with God. The only way to have peace in your heart when fear threatens to steal the joy from this Christmas season is to remember Christ.

3. “Celebrate your festivals, Judah”: This obscure verse of Scripture became my meditation and gave me purpose for the way I was leading my family through this season. Because of Jesus, we still had reason to celebrate — Easter, the end of the school year, birthdays, the Fourth of July, and now, Christmas. I was determined that cancer would not cast its long shadow over every area of my children’s lives. A dear friend always tells me to “choose joy,” and we fought for every ounce.

4. “Fulfill your vows”: Nahum was obviously not reminding the Israelites of their marriage vows, but I could not read those words without remembering my own pledge to care for my husband, “in sickness and in health.” Like so many elements of our faith, the true tests come in private and in suffering. It was ironic to consider how the words I said in my very expensive dress and in our beautifully orchestrated wedding ceremony were truly coming to life in a tiny hospital room, when neither of us had slept or showered, and no one was watching. 

5. “For the wicked one will never again march through you; he will be entirely wiped out”: I know cancer is the result of our broken and wicked world. It is not as God intended. I also know that one day sickness and suffering will be done away with. I also know that my husband will be perfectly healed eventually, and it was and is my prayer that his surgery “entirely wiped out” the cancer from his body. I know that God is able to do so, by whatever means he choses, and we give him glory. 

In this Advent season, we remember how God fulfilled his promises and gave us the Messiah as a baby 2,000 years ago. Emmanuel, God with us, has come. You are not alone. No matter what you are facing and the burdens you are carrying, our righteous King will sustain you. And he will prove faithful once again when he returns: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21). 

By / Dec 9

The word advent means arrival. For kids it may mean the never-ending weeks before the arrival of Christmas gifts. 

But the season of Advent is when Christians remember the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah. During these weeks, as we look forward to Christmas, we stand in the sandals of those who waited centuries for the arrival of the One God had prophesied would come. 

One of these prophets was Isaiah. His prophecy spans 66 chapters and contains over 37,000 words in English. Isaiah uses some of his words to paint pictures — flocks and fruit, roots and roads, swimmers and shepherds. He helps us see the real-world connections between God’s truth and God’s world. 

The Advent devotional Wonders of His Love: Finding Jesus in Isaiah will help your family visualize the main portrait Isaiah paints — of the promised and long-awaited Messiah. 

In each week of this family devotional, there are five short devotionals to read aloud. Each one is intended for even little children to grasp. You’ll also find fun bonus sections, as well as crafts and activities to help make family memories together. 

I hope this family devotional will help you prepare for celebrating the arrival of the Messiah — and as you prepare, for delighting in the wonders of his love.

An example excerpt 

The following is an excerpt from this resource. It includes a reading from the third week of this Advent devotional as well as family discussion questions. You can also download these sample spreads that will give you a taste of what the devotional is like.

During the third week of Advent, families reading this devotional together will be reminded of that week’s theme: Jesus Is the Good Shepherd and He Carries Us Close.

Day One: Jesus Leads Us Gently

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. Isaiah 40:11 NLT 

When someone comes back from the store with food for a Christmas party, isn’t it fun to help carry in the bags full of Christmas snacks and surprises! 

If you’re a good helper, do you carry everything the same way? 

What if you set down the eggs like you’d throw down the paper towels? What if you held a bunch of tomatoes just like you would a bag of potatoes? What if you grabbed the bread like a can of soup? 

There might be a mess and another trip to the store. 

But think for a moment, how you would hold a baby. Not like potatoes, not like tomatoes. And not like bread or eggs. As a good helper, you’d be careful and gentle. Soft but strong. Why? 

Because little babies can’t protect themselves. And they aren’t strong enough to hold on for themselves. So when they need to be carried, you pick them up. And when they’re crying, you hold them securely. And even when they’re heavy, you just don’t quit. 

Did you know that this is how the Lord treats his people? In the Bible, we read how God’s people decided not to obey God anymore. The Bible describes them as sheep wandering away from their shepherd. 

Even when his people wandered, the Lord promised that he would still take care of them: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Isaiah 40:11 NLT). 

Questions 

Have you ever wandered away from the Lord — doing your own thing? 

How do you think the Lord thought about you when you wandered from him?

This blog post is adapted from “Wonders of His Love: Finding Jesus in Isaiah—A Family Advent Devotional” by Champ Thornton (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2021). Used by permission.

By / Nov 22

The holiday season was the time when I learned how to lead my family devotionally. A pastor shared a devotional website with our family, and then we set up a tiny one-and-a-half-foot Christmas tree from the discount store in our living room. As the devotional challenged us, we hung a laminated paper ornament for each day of Advent. Each ornament on the tree corresponded to the story of a person from Jesus’ family tree. By reading through the devotionals I printed out and hanging the ornaments, we developed a habit of reading the Bible together as a family that stuck with us beyond that first year. 

Does your local church or family have a devotional path that you walk each Advent season. If not, take advantage of this holiday season to build new discipleship habits on top of the family traditions you’re already keeping. Last year, I wrote about Advent habits and provided a list of  resources that I thought you might find helpful. Here is a list of five additions that I’d add to that list for the coming year: 

  1. More than a devotional, the Advent Blocks set provides a daily visual and tactile reminder of the Advent season. The wooden blocks are numbered for each day of Advent, and the symbols on each block correspond with the days in the accompanying devotional, The King is Coming.
  2. Brite Families, the homeschool program of Awana International, provides tools for parents to have 30-minute discipleship conversations with their children. Their free Advent resource, “The Promise of a Savior,” is a five-week family resource that will equip parents, grandparents, and guardians to lead intentional time and conversation about God’s promises from the Garden of Eden to the manger in Bethlehem, and celebrate the Savior who came to conquer sin and is coming again. Each week includes a video lesson, devotional, Scripture reading, fun and age-appropriate activities, questions to spur on conversations, and ways to live out what is being learned.
  3. If you’re looking for a simple daily reading, Scott James’s The Expected One: Anticipating Jesus in All of Advent (B&H Books, 2021), is a perfect resource. These revised and updated daily devotions, which can be used by both families and individuals, are meaningful (and doable!) reminders of the true gift of Christmas.
  4. Barbara Reaoch’s A Better Than Anything Christmas (The Good Book Company, 2020) explores 25 reasons why Jesus came. Each day, there is a passage to read together, questions to think about, an explanation, and a prayer. There are also age-appropriate application questions, some for younger children and some for older children, as well as journaling space so that each family member can write or draw their own response to what God
  5. Sarah Rice’s Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible (10 Publishing, 2021) is a 24-day Advent devotional. It begins by looking back at the creation of the world in the book of Genesis and ends by looking forward to the new creation in the book of Revelation, tracing the glory of Jesus Christ from start to finish. In each day’s reading, there is a key Scripture to look up, a devotional commentary to read, and a helpful summary highlighting the key point and showing how that particular Bible passage points to Jesus. This is a book to treasure that young children will grow into through the years as well as a flexible resource that can be used with children of all ages.
  6. And finally, Champ Thornton’s Wonders of His Love: Finding Jesus in Isaiah (New Growth, 2021) is the perfect resource for busy families with younger children. Each week of Advent focuses on one of Isaiah’s key images — the Light, the Branch, the Shepherd, and the Savior. Each week also includes fun stories, discussion questions, crafts, recipes, games, and suggestions for family service projects. 

Advent season always seems to draw our family back to time in the Word together. After all, our Bible-story Christmas tree and the other Advent devotionals we’ve collected over the years are kept with our boxes of Christmas decorations. And when the kids see them, they ask, “Which book are we reading this year?” Maybe this Advent season will be one where your family starts a devotional routine. My prayer is that one of these six resources will help you to begin that tradition this year. 

By / Nov 19

The Christmas season is one of the busiest and brightest times of the year. Houses and store windows shine with twinkling lights, while smart phones and televisions are lit up with dazzling advertisements for the latest and greatest goods. During the month of December, there’s no shortage of hustle and bustle, festivities and feasting. We decorate, cookie-bake, and fill our days with parties, programs, and present-shopping. Whether these activities excite or exhaust us (or both), we can agree that the Christmas season is significant, not only in our culture but in our hearts as well. Although it has been commercialized, there is a glory or “weight” to the season as it completely invades an entire month of the year and our lives.

Are we enthralled by Jesus at Christmas? 

As Christians, we know “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We recognize that all the bright and beautiful traditions and celebrations of December should point us and our children to the ultimate glory of God himself — the God who took on flesh and entered history as a human baby to save sinners. Yet, while we know what is true, the gloriously good news of Christ’s first coming often seems a bit muted next to the flashy glories of the holiday season itself.   

Let’s be honest. The events, traditions, and “stuff” of Christmas tend to enthrall our hearts and consume our minds more than the reality of the long-awaited Messiah and King, who came and is coming back for us again. Our children are more quickly and easily enamored by tales of Santa Claus, with his flying reindeer and bag of shiny new toys, than by the story of the Christ child in the manger. And that’s not too surprising if all they hear is a serene story about a baby born in Bethlehem thousands of years ago to save them. Save them from what? Santa brings kids stuff they can see, touch, feel, and enjoy right now! What does this baby of old have to do with their lives (and their parents’ lives) today?

The answer is: everything. We just need eyes to see it. In his book What is Biblical Theology? James Hamilton writes: “What we think and how we live is largely determined by the larger story in which we interpret our lives. Does your story enable you to look death in the face? Does your story give you a hope that goes beyond the grave? . . . The world does have a true story. The Bible tells it.”

Jesus Christ is the hero of the world’s true story — a story that’s epic, true, and able to bring meaning, purpose, and hope to our own stories. The world’s story is really God’s story, found in the pages of Scripture and told through many smaller stories that all connect to form one grand narrative. This narrative begins with the creation of the world in the book of Genesis and ends with the consummation of all things in the book of Revelation. Between these bookends, the story climaxes in the life, death, and resurrection of the story’s hero, Jesus the Christ — the one who changes everything about our lives.

Jesus is the connecting thread who binds each individual story and book of the Bible together to reveal something greater. So, when we disjoin his nativity from the larger narrative, it loses its luster, so to speak. In fact, the birth of Christ really makes no sense when removed from the context of the larger story. When we read it and teach it to our children as an isolated event, we fail to realize the personal and cosmic significance — the sheer glory — of Christ coming to earth and taking on human flesh. Without the whole story, we don’t understand why we needed him to come in the first place. 

Helping your family trace glory

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible is a daily advent reading for the month of December that seeks to help individuals and families see and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ within its proper context of the Bible’s big story. Written with children, teenagers, and adults in mind, it begins looking back at the creation of the world in the book of Genesis and ends looking forward to the new creation in the book of Revelation, tracing the glory of Jesus Christ from start to finish. In each day’s reading, there is a key scripture to look up, a devotional commentary to read, a helpful summary highlighting the key point and showing how that Bible passage points to Jesus, and questions to prompt discussion with your families. 

Tracing Glory was written to help my children and others see that the Christmas story we read in Luke chapter two is much more than a sweet tale of a baby lying peacefully in a manger under the warm glow of the stars. The birth of Christ is the pivotal event in history and the climax of the Bible’s storyline, a story full of captivating themes like good and evil, power, love, war, sacrifice, redemption, mystery, death, victory, and glory. It’s all there, and it’s all true. As we start to truly grasp God’s big story, it draws us in and enables us to make sense of our own individual stories. It tells us why we’re here, what has gone wrong in our own hearts and in our world, and what (or, rather, who) is the solution to our problem.

The reality is that the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ outshines all the flashy glories of this present world, even, and maybe especially, during the holidays. When we truly “see” him, our lives are forever changed. God alone can give us eyes to see, and he does this by revealing the beauty and sufficiency of his Son through his Word and by his Spirit. The goal of this resource is to take you and your family to the Word of God during the Christmas season and help you trace the glory of Jesus Christ from start to finish. As you do, my prayer is that Christ would become more desirable to you and sufficient for you than anything else. During this bright and busy season, may you and your family more deeply love the story and more joyfully reflect his glory. 

By / Dec 21

The Advent season is about waiting for the Lord with hope-filled anticipation. As the people of Israel waited for Christ to come, so now, we wait for Christ’s return. Yet, we are waiting in a waiting room that is full of pain and sorrow. We are waiting in the midst of ruin, longing for redemption and restoration.

Within our own hearts and in the world around us, depression and disaster creep. We’re living in the midst of a pandemic. We bury our loved ones, we lose our jobs, we watch our children rebel against everything they were taught. Our marriages struggle. Our children get bullied. We have hard bosses at work. We get sick and weak. Our joints hurt. Our society does not appear to be fairing any better, as it appears in the news that we are losing our collective mind. Sexual immorality and perversion of all sorts permeate our world. 

We are waiting on the Lord in the midst of a whole lot of ruin. How does one wait for the Lord in such times? I believe that we can find an answer to this question by considering Isaiah 64:1-12. In this passage, we encounter a series of complaints and petitions from Isaiah the prophet regarding the failure of humanity to obey God and the question of whether or not God would allow the people to persist in their disobedience. Isaiah is frustrated by the rebellion of the people who show no regard for God. A divine intervention needs to occur. The people are in tremendous need. They are waiting for God to show up and deliver them. 

From this passage, I believe we have three examples of how to wait in the midst of ruin:

First, we must wait expectantly. As we look at verses 1-3, we must note Isaiah’s affirmation of God’s ability. He asks the LORD to “rend the heavens and come down.” The language is reminiscent of the miracles in the wilderness and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai when the earth quaked and the skies thundered at the sound of God’s activity, leaving the people in awe-filled wonder and reverent fear. Isaiah knows that because he has done it in the past, the Lord can do it again. Thus, he calls upon the Lord with expectation, which is where we are instructed today.

As we find ourselves in this period of waiting, we must not forget what our God is capable of doing. We must wait with an expectancy that reflects confidence in his character and ability. We must make bold request of our God, as Isaiah did, “O’ Lord, would you rend the heavens and come down?” Would you shake the world again with your presence? Would you intervene in your mercy? This is what it means to wait expectantly.

Secondly, we must wait faithfully. Consider the first part of verse 5, where we read, “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.” The idea of “gladly doing right,” which parallels “remembering your ways,” refers to living faithfully. The point is not to suggest that God blesses us because we are perfect. Such a myth will quickly be dispelled in the next few verses. Instead, the idea is that those who place their trust in the ways of the LORD and seek to walk in them with faith and repentance can be certain that God will deliver them.

For us, this means that we must not allow the circumstances of our waiting to dictate our faithfulness to God. We do not judge God’s goodness toward us on the basis of the difficulties that we face. He does not just love us; he is the very definition of love. We must wait with faithfulness to him, not wandering away from him because things get difficult. He has not promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us through the difficulty.

We must wait with faithfulness to him, not wandering away from him because things get difficult. He has not promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us through the difficulty.

Finally, we must wait humbly. As verses 5b-12 reveal, we can never forget that we are always dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. We must wait humbly on the LORD, recognizing that he alone is God, not us. His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. The LORD is not indebted to us for our faithfulness. Even our righteous deeds are like “filthy rags” before his perfect holiness. As verse 8 reminds us, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This verse declares the absolute sovereignty of God over his creation. We as God’s creation do not get to challenge his authority. 

The clay does not say to the potter, “I believe you got this wrong. I think you made a mistake.” Our God does not make any mistakes. He is working out his purpose even in the midst of the pain, the suffering, and the sorrow that we are facing in this waiting room of ruin. And yet, we also know that he is good and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion, according to the abundance of His steadfast love, for the Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone” (Lam. 3:31-33). Thus, we can wait humbly because we know he is trustworthy.

Let us not mistake waiting with passivity. The act of waiting is a profoundly theological statement. Waiting is not passive. Waiting is rooted in active trust in God. And the ability to wait expectantly, faithfully, and humbly ultimately comes from Christ’s work for us. The work of Christ reminds us that while our lives and our world are often a mess, he has not abandoned us or his plan. When all we had to offer were the filthy rags of our own works, Christ came willingly and took our place under the just wrath of God in order that we might be declared righteous, fully accepted into God’s family, not on the basis of our effort, but on the basis of his grace and mercy toward us. Now, as a result of Christ’s work, we can persevere and wait with hope because we have known and experienced the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-5).

As we remember the first coming of Christ and anticipate his second coming during this Advent season, may we worship as we think of how Christ came down from the heavens to deliver us. He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And one day, just as the prophet prayed in Isaiah 64, the heavens will be torn open and all of the Lord’s enemies will be vanquished and we will reign with him forever. In light of this reality, let us wait for our full and final redemption in the midst of the ruin that will one day be made right.

By / Dec 17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

As a younger mom, I was a master at creating Christmas traditions for our little family of five.  Some of these were carried over from my own growing up years (or my husband’s), and a few were new traditions designed just for us. The obvious ones included decorating the Christmas tree, baking cookies, and opening little windows on an Advent calendar each day.  Others were unique to where we grew up, such as eating tamales on Christmas Eve (Texan folks will get this).  Still, other traditions were, let’s just say, “pinterest fails” such as creating a special activity to do every night of December. I exhausted myself by Dec. 2 and called that one off. Caroling the neighborhood with hot cocoa didn’t last long either—though we still enjoy the cocoa by the fire on cold evenings. Christmas represents the perfect opportunity to help teenagers grow in their faith and long for the coming of their Savior.

Meaningful Christmas traditions

As my children have grown into teens, I have found that our Christmas traditions have become even more meaningful and important. 

Jesse tree: What used to be an Advent calendar meant to open daily with a piece of chocolate turned into creating a Jesse tree to add an ornament to each day and unveil the entire Christmas story starting with creation. 

Reading Scripture: My husband and I felt it was important that as our kids were getting older, they could begin to understand the full redemptive narrative of Christ, not just the celebration of his birth. So, we let our teens take turns reading the scriptures that point to Jesus throughout the entire Bible—Old Testament and New. We have marveled at the depth we as a family have experienced by adding this tradition to our Christmas season each year.  

Christmas represents the perfect opportunity to help teenagers grow in their faith and long for the coming of their Savior. 

Giving more: We have also “flipped the script” on the tradition of gift-giving with our teens. Not too long ago, our kids were lavished with many gifts, from us, their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so forth. Now that they are older, we encourage them to be gift-givers, not only receivers. My daughter has a job, so she likes to shop and buy her brothers small things that she knows they want. My boys have no cash, so I encourage them to offer gifts of service, such as offering to do a chore for a sibling, or help their dad with yard work (with a great attitude!). 

Knowing that grandparents enjoy handmade gifts, sometimes they even get around to creating an ornament or simple stocking stuffers to hand out on Christmas morning. More than anything, this tradition has helped them understand that biblical truth, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In the age of mass consumerism, I am happy for them to receive less and give more out the abundance of love they have for others. This ultimately points to how we worship Jesus, out of the overflow of love for him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It’s important to note that we haven’t thrown out all the childhood traditions. That would make my “big kids” quite sad. We still bake and decorate sugar cookies with my grandmother’s famous recipe. We still watch The Grinch and Polar Express with hot cocoa, and, yes, we still get a chocolate Advent calendar to count down the days. I may or may not have my very own dark chocolate version each year. However, as the years I have with them under my roof start to grow fewer and fewer, I don’t want to miss the chance to deepen their affections for Jesus. Christmas represents the perfect opportunity to help teenagers grow in their faith and long for the coming of their Savior. 

By / Dec 8

I didn’t know about Advent growing up. We had an Advent calendar—a blue cardboard illustration of Bethlehem with punch-out doors that revealed mini Bible verses—that my sister and I dutifully unpacked every year and remembered to open in fits and spurts. I heard the term in church from time to time during December and ultimately came away with the idea that “Advent” was just a grown-up word for “Christmas season.”

But Advent is not the same as the Christmas season; at least, not by default. A person can do Christmas-y activities every day without observing Advent. But participating in Advent inevitably leads to a celebration of Christmas.

The word “advent” simply means the beginning of something important or the arrival of someone important. In the case of Christmas, it means both. In the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we think about, look forward to, and finally celebrate the advent of God’s incarnation—his showing up on Earth as a human. That’s a very big deal, and it is very hard to understand. Christ’s coming was anticipated for a long, long time, and it foreshadows another, final advent of Christ that hasn’t happened yet. It’s a lot to think about. No wonder Advent is so long.

Part of what I love so much about Advent is that it doesn’t carry the same expectations that Christmas sometimes does. There is no pressure to be cheerful, no need to get everything (or anything) just right. Advent is about waiting. It is about struggling with weighty thoughts and sitting with the reality that things aren’t as they were meant to be. It’s about accepting all over again that we need saving.

Yearning for Advent 

It wasn’t until I was a new mother—new not only to motherhood but to the world of rare genetic disease and medical fragility and disability—that I found myself yearning for an Advent practice. 

My son’s life started with a long stay in the NICU. Then a feeding tube. Then seizures. Then a diagnosis that told us nothing certain other than that things would be difficult. By that Christmas, I had been living in pure survival mode for months, barely functioning during some of that time. More than any other time in my life, I felt myself deeply wrestling with the thought, This is not how it’s supposed to be. And in response, I felt my soul cry, Come, Lord Jesus. Advent resonated with me that year in a way it couldn’t have before, and I wanted to participate in it meaningfully.

Advent is about waiting. It is about struggling with weighty thoughts and sitting with the reality that things aren’t as they were meant to be. It’s about accepting all over again that we need saving.

The sensible thing would have been to choose a simple practice, perhaps a daily reading to start with. But I craved something hands-on. My life was so messy and up in the air that it felt important to me to make something concrete and beautiful.  So, together with a couple of friends, I hatched plans and made craft store runs and worked and worked and worked. What I ended up with was a hand-crafted Advent calendar consisting of a garland of hand-sewn felt envelopes, each embroidered with the number of the day. I selected my own progression of Scripture, wrote each out by hand on fancy paper, cut it with fancy edges, slipped it inside the envelope, and fastened the hand-sewn button to seal it up like a present. 

My family did use that calendar for years, but it was the making of it that impacted me most deeply. It was unnecessary and over the top and felt desperately important. Every step of the process echoed the wonder of Christ’s birth back to me in the midst of some of my darkest hours. Christ’s coming is an affirmation that our physical world matters to God. Therefore, what happens in it matters. And, therefore, my suffering matters. Simultaneously, his coming is a reminder that our physical world isn’t everything. It isn’t the end. In a way I didn’t fully grasp at the time, making the calendar was stepping into those truths. With my hands and my time, I was crying out, I need You so much more than I ever knew. I need to be reminded of the promise of beauty and wholeness to come.

Even though the crafting of that Advent calendar was so meaningful for me, it was not a sustainable tradition. I never took on a task of that scale for Advent again. But it did teach me the importance of doing something tangible during the season when I’m turning my mind to God’s physicality, to his humanity. 

A stick-with-it approach to Advent 

As my son got older and was joined by cousins, my sister and I wanted them to establish their own hands-on Advent practice. The trouble was that we couldn’t find resources we could stick with through the whole month. Some had too many words for little ears and some required too many steps or supplies for tired moms. So, we started experimenting with designing our own activities. Over time, our project evolved into Unexpected Gift, a storybook and activity book set that was published this year

Our goal for Unexpected Gift was to provide an all-in-one resource that would make the observance of Advent meaningful and accessible for a wide range of ages, abilities, interest levels, and life situations. It needed to be simple, hands-on, and gospel-centered. For several years, the development of the books was part of our own Advent practice, and we still use the completed materials every year.

In our home, we don’t have a regimented program for practicing Advent, but more of a small handful of (more-or-less) daily rhythms that quiet us down and focus our attention. These days, our Advent practice involves three main things:

  1. Slow down. After Thanksgiving, we start to wind down for the year. We shed commitments as the month of December goes on, stopping therapy sessions, ending school early, backing away from regular social commitments. We slow down and make space wherever possible. The point of Advent is to prepare him room in your heart and mind and life, and that can be tricky if you’re cramming too many extra things, no matter how fun or good, into already full days.
  2. Do one day from Unexpected Gift. I help my son make the day’s craft (we almost always do the most basic version), we read one page and one verse (from the ornament). Sometimes we’ll talk or pray about it a little bit. It’s just right for us.
  3. Shut down early. In the evenings, we stop a few minutes early. We turn off our screens, turn down the lights, and sing one Christmas carol together. Everyone takes turns choosing and sometimes we try to learn more verses than we knew the year before. Most nights, this little ritual turns into extra minutes of closeness and quiet. Ten easy minutes well spent.

If ever there was a year to establish an Advent practice, this is it. We are all carrying more fear, more sadness, and maybe more anger into this holiday season than we have in a long time. I encourage you to choose something simple, tangible, and gospel-centered: a touchstone for the coming December days. Let it remind you that your life on those days matters and that Jesus came to us to give you the promise of beauty and wholeness.