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.

Jaquelle

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Your Saturday Smile: Wheelz Edition


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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.

Jaquelle

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Why Modern-Day Christians Need the Minor Prophets

For some reason, many Christians today are scared of the Minor Prophets. Maybe it’s the complex prophecies, or the chaotic violence, or perhaps the puzzling historical context. Whatever it is, we have a cultural tendency to camp in the cozy familiarity of the Psalms and the Gospels—and leave the doom-and-gloom prophets alone.

Yet this is a tragic mistake for any Christian. These books—just like Leviticus, Revelation, and yes, Psalms—are God-breathed words (2 Timothy 3:16). This alone makes them worth studying. But there’s more. Unlike contemporary caricatures and stereotypes, these books practically explode with relevance for Christians today. While we do have to understand them as first and foremost written for God’s people in ancient Israel, these books still bubble over with truth, correction, and meaning for God’s people in the twenty-first century.

How? Here are just four ways.

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About Justice
In the book of Amos, the Israelites are condemned for oppressing the weak through the merciless practice of debtor’s slavery. This was a heinous irony for a people redeemed from the bonds of enslavement themselves. God warns his people of punishment for their sin and demands they turn to justice. In Amos 6, these famous words are declared: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” God is crystal clear in Amos: He hates apathy and pride in the face of suffering and injustice.
The Minor Prophets are replete with calls to love our neighbors, care for the poor, protect the outcasts, love the orphans, speak out against injustice, and do what is right. These are lessons we desperately need in this day and age. The Minor Prophets offer us insight into how we should treat people who are different than us (e.g., poorer than us, richer than us, healthier than us, sicker than us, a different color than us) and the paramount importance of justice.

As we wonder how to think about adoption, abortion, the refugee crisis, homelessness, human trafficking, racism, persecution, and oppression, the prophets sing of God’s love for justice—and they counsel us to do the same.

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About Joy
I believe Zephaniah 3 is one of the happiest chapters in the Bible. After two and a half chapters of judgment and punishment, the shackles of sin are suddenly broken and joy breaks out in the prophecy. Zephaniah begins a happy, hopeful description of the restoration of God’s people.

"Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil." (Zephaniah 3:14-15)

The prophets teach us that humanity was made for joy, created with the capacity for all-satisfying happiness, and they teach us where to find that: Rejoice in the Lord. Find delight in true worship. And look forward to the unbreakable, everlasting joy that is coming.

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About God’s Sovereignty
It’s woven like a golden thread throughout the whole Bible, but it blazes fiercely bright in the Minor Prophets—God’s sovereignty. The Lord destroys, and the Lord builds up. The Lord judges, and the Lord shows mercy. The Lord takes, and the Lord gives. The whole world is absolutely in his hands.

It was true in ancient Israel, and it is just as true today. God is sovereign over the polls and politics. He’s sovereign over hurricanes and tornadoes. He’s sovereign over terrorism and war and sickness and death and life and everything. And our responsibility is to trust him. Have faith in him. Believe him. Seek him.

"Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel." (Amos 5:6)

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About Hope
Evil will not win the day. A time is coming where fears, frustrations, trials, shame, and suffering will be washed away forever. A time is coming when sin will be no more. We will live in constant joy, constant worship, and constant peace. And that’s where we need to place our trust. Not in ourselves. Not in our finances. Not in our marriage or our government or our children or our jobs or our vacations or our success—but in God’s glorious restoration.

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19)

The Final Thing Minor Prophets Teach Us
The Minor Prophets are filled with rich and redemptive themes that should convict, equip, and encourage Christians today. But that is not what they are ultimately about. And that’s not ultimately why you should read them.

Ultimately, they’re about Jesus.

Jesus, the only human who was perfectly just and true, full of compassion and mercy, yet also full of indignation at evil. Jesus, the source of lasting joy, the fount and expression of joy, the one who found peace and happiness in the will of his Father. Jesus, the one who is totally sovereign, who is reigning and ruling for his glory. Jesus, the one who is bringing hope and restoration, the one whose death and resurrection secured life, the one whose return will mark the coming of his unending kingdom.

Jesus, the reason we need the Minor Prophets today.

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

Jaquelle

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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.




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I'm Sick Today, So Enjoy This Video of a Candy Thanksgiving Dinner



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Growing in Grace: November 2016

Watching 'Arrival' and Waiting for Advent - Travis and I went to 'Arrival' last week and left the theater feeling dazed and thoughtful. I appreciated this piece on the film, particularly in light of Advent.

The Life-Changing Power of a Table - A beautiful piece. "Tables are places to eat, connect, laugh, cry, pray, and be human. Most of all, tables are a place to belong and feel included."

Celebrate Christmas with Lore Ferguson Wilbert - This was a lovely, reflective piece.

Lecrae: Here Are Books That Have Helped My White Friends Better Understand Racial Injustice - I'm reading one of the books on this list right now, 'Just Mercy', and it's teaching me a lot.

7 Books That Changed My Life - Here's Russell Moore's list.

Cultivated Podcast - Here's a brand-new podcast that's rocking it. Mike Cosper interviews people about work and vocation and art. The episode with Bret Lott was fantastic.

They Excommunicated My Dad - This was heavy, good stuff.

The Best Two Minutes You'll Hear on TV All Year About the Election - Truth.

Denny Burk's Few Thoughts on the Election - Here's a short piece that was another excellent, thoughtful response to the election.

Set An Example in Your Purity - "Young Christian, you—you, of all people!—are to be the very model of sexual purity. God expects that older people who are struggling with sexual purity will be able to look to you and say, 'I want to be like him' or 'I want to be like her.'"

4 Portraits of Power from a Magazine Rack Near You - "Based on their faithful report, our culture grants power to the strong, the beautiful, the wealthy, and the charismatic."

My Podcast Launches on Friday! - If you're already sick of hearing about Age of Minority, I can only say I'm sorry, because you're going to be hearing even more about it. Especially since our first episode drops on Friday. Sneak preview: Dad and I spend the episode talking about who we are and what the podcast is about. We cover books, bacon, my dad's great preaching voice, hating the Disney Channel, and our cat's cold. It's a good time. You can go to our website here, follow us on Twitter (@AgeofMinority) or like us on Facebook. And watch for Friday!

Jaquelle

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Your Saturday Smile: Autumn Leaves Edition



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How Should Christians View Death?

Last week I was published on Deeply Rooted with this piece on death, fear, and hope.
***

Is there any subject scarier than death?

I don’t mean the death that’s played up in the movies or sugar-coated in story books. I mean death in real life. Am I the only one who struggles with a fear of death? I don’t think so. Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in a culture which, in a sick twist of irony, delights in force-feeding us death daily in headlines and sound bytes, but is too afraid to talk intimately and honestly about the subject. It’s too vulnerable. It’s too painful.

Yet as a Christian, I’ve had to ask myself: is this really a godly way to engage with the idea of mortality? Hide from it? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Mask it with makeup and graphics? My answer is simple: no. So what is the Christian response to it? I believe we should embrace a unique tension—hate death yet be unafraid of it. Even more, contemplate death, but ultimately rest in hope. 

HATE DEATH

The instinctual and absolutely appropriate response to death should be hatred—not of people, but death itself. Decay and corruption are not natural, nor are they good. The Bible makes it clear, death is a cursed result of sin. We can still believe the truth that God is in control and that he is using everything for our good while simultaneously despising death (Rom. 8:28).

That’s a model we get from Jesus. If you remember in John 11, Jesus’ friend Lazarus had just died. And in a striking display of grief, Jesus shows up angry (“deeply moved”) and sad. Even though he knows he will soon raise Lazarus from the grave, Jesus mourns. As Michael Horton comments, “The Lord of Life . . . now found himself overtaken by grief. More than grief, in fact—anger. And why not? There he stood face-to-face with ‘the last enemy’ he would defeat in his crusade against Satan. And ‘he wept.’”

For the Christian, death is no friend. It is an enemy to the end. 

DO NOT FEAR DEATH 

Yet, although death is a fierce enemy, we should not fear it. Why? Because it’s a defeated enemy. A crushed enemy. An eternally powerless enemy. The apostle Paul certainly clung to this truth. He hearkened back to the Old Testament with a sense of unwavering confidence when he wrote: “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:54).

Christians need not, must not, fear death, because it has been ultimately conquered. The king of life, Jesus Christ, tasted death and then was resurrected, winning permanent victory over death. In that work, he secured death’s final end, an end that’s coming soon. Truly, a day is coming where death will cease to exist. What precious comfort!

So we can still hate death and grieve for those cut down by its sting, but we should face it as we would a tame beast. It is evil on a leash—temporarily active but finally doomed. Because of Jesus, life is victorious. 

PREPARE FOR DEATH

That means death has no power over us. In that case, instead of ignoring it, we are set free to actually contemplate it. The Bible frequently displays this example. That’s not because Christians are obsessively morbid. It’s because we’re people who recognize that since time is short, we can use death as a motivation to maximize our lives for God’s glory. Keeping a keen eye on mortality allows us to embrace living intentionally and taking every opportunity we’re given for greater godliness. Death is inescapable, but Christians should use it as a consistent mark for godly living.

This idea is shocking to the world. It persistently pushes us to dwell on youth, to mask death’s approach with cosmetics and pills and surgery—to live quite literally like death does not exist. And when we encounter it, when it inevitably slices into our real lives, we’re to keep quiet, isolate ourselves, and hide its horrors in the closet.

Christianity offers a more compelling way: let death fuel life. Use it as a holy motivation. 

HAVE HOPE

Don’t just be unafraid of death, though. Embrace hope. The last glorious truth is that our stories do not end with death. Happiness will win the day. God promises that. So we ought to embrace hope with everything we’ve got. Boundless hope. Crazy hope. Hope that seeps into our lives and affects every nook and cranny. Hope in the midst of terrorism. Hope in the midst of violence. Hope in the midst of sickness. Hope in the midst of pain. Hope in the midst of grief. Hope spilling everywhere, flooding and flowing all over our lives. Soak your heart in hope. Jesus wins. And that means, so do his people.

So hate death, yes. But do not fear it. Never fear it. Instead, consider how it motivates precious and intentional gospel-centered living. And embrace hope with open arms, fully and outrageously. Remember that everlasting happiness ends the day.

N.D. Wilson says it beautifully, like only he can: “To [God’s] eyes, you never leave the stage. You do not cease to exist. [Death] is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. 

There will be butterflies.”

Photo courtesy of Deeply Rooted.

Jaquelle

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I'm Starting a Podcast!

For a long time I've been disappointed by the lack of podcasts for young people.

I listen to about 35 different podcasts (on and off), but none of them are for teens. Where are the podcasts about life and the gospel for me?

Which is what led my dad to say, "Jaquelle, YOU should do a podcast."

I loved the idea (of course, since I'm a podcast junkie), but I couldn't do it alone. I needed a male co-host. My favorite podcast dynamic is a male-female one, to provide balance and perspective.

Which is what led Dad to say, "I'll do the podcast with you."

And it makes total sense. This is a podcast for young people, but we hope parents will listen too. In that case, who better to host it than a teen and her parent?

So it's happening.

Our podcast is called Age of Minority.

Every week we'll drop a new 30-minute-ish episode with our conversation on some area of life relevant to us young people. We'll talk culture, theology, the gospel, movies, music, books, dating, food, cats, Christmas, and a whole lot of other things. We hope young people will listen, and parents will listen, and pastors and youth workers and friends, acquaintances, and enemies of young people will listen.

(Basically, we hope everyone will listen. Including you. Please listen.)

Our first episode releases on Friday, November 25. Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks!

You can get a sneak peek into our podcast by checking out our website here: www.ageofminority.com. And you can listen to Episode 0, our two-minute introduction, here.

Let me know what you think and what topics we need to cover.

Jaquelle

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