Advent How-To’s and Hot Tips

Thanksgiving is going to be over (Thanksgiving–the holiday, not thanksgiving–the act) in a blink and Advent will be in our sights. Here are some tips for making this a tradition that sticks.

Zeroth tip. The most important tip that comes before all the others is to subscribe to my “Come, Lord Jesus” blog. During the month of December (and only then) daily Advent posts will magically appear in your email and will include everything you need for your celebration (except the snacks). 

  1. Don’t make Advent an add-on to an already busy holiday schedule. Make it a replacement. If you’re already in the habit of having daily family devotions, put them on hold and do the Advent celebration instead. Substitute celebrating Advent for a 1/2 hour of screen time. Scale back on the more stressful elements of the season (you know what those are for your family) and focus on something of lasting value.
  2. Prepare. If you’re doing the trinkets in the envelopes or jars or whatever, get them all ready by the weekend prior to Advent. If you’re doing the coloring pages from the “What’s In Those Jars” page print them out and bind them or put them in a folder. Make sure you have a plan in place for taking turns opening the envelopes, lighting the candles in the jars, blowing the candles out, reading the passages etc… to avoid unnecessary squabbles. 
  3. Download the songs from the “Advent Music” page links onto a playlist. If you’re planning on singing the hymns/carols together print out song sheets for each family member. I’ve included a page number from Hymns of Grace for most of them and they can be downloaded for 25 cents a song straight from that website
  4. Stock a secret Advent “pantry” with treats to serve each day. We have a simple treat (cookies or popcorn and hot chocolate or a candy cane etc…) set out on the table before we even start so the kids can enjoy it as soon as we’re done with the song and reading. We also play the day’s selection from Handel’s Messiah while they’re having their treats.
  5. Invite your friends and neighbors to join in. We usually do this on the 4 Advent Sundays but it also happens spontaneously at other times. This has been one of our favorite parts of this tradition. Neighbors that would never be open to reading the Bible and singing a hymn are suddenly willing to participate during the holidays. We even had my professors from the Philosophy department at a secular university join us for our Advent celebrations while I was still in school. 
  6. Take Advent on the road. If you’re traveling during the holidays, the daily blog posts have all the music and scripture links included so all you need is your phone. You can even hit the audio icon in the upper left hand corner of the ESV scripture reading links and it will read the passages to you! The coloring books and special Advent road treats can make this a truly memorable time.
  7. Remember Advent isn’t just about Christ’s first coming. It’s about His second coming. It’s a time to prepare our own hearts and the hearts of our children for that great and awesome day. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Tolle Lege: Strangely Bright

If you don’t already have your hands on this book, it’s time. When I’ve already started reading it for Crossway and am looking at a 5 star review after only a few chapters, AND THEN the Sheologians Book Club chooses it to read and discuss and that hour becomes one of the highlights of my week AND THEN the highly respected ladies leading my church’s womens ministry decide to hand it out to all the women– THEN it’s definitely time to just tell everyone to read this book. And by everyone, I mean EVERYONE, not just women. Just because there happens to be a recipe for a legendary Pumpkin Crunch Cake tucked in the back in no way feminizes the book’s masculine voice.

Strangely Bright by Joe Rigney (the newly appointed President of Bethlehem College and Seminary) couldn’t be more timely. In 7 intensely poignant but delightfully breezy chapters, Rigney asks and answers the question, “Can you love God and enjoy the world?” Long time readers of this blog know one of my main purposes is to encourage first my children and then others to see how God has made Himself known through the world He has made, the Word He has breathed and the workers He has appointed. Rigney goes a step further and reminds us that indeed ALL of the good and enjoyable gifts God has lavished upon His creatures are a means of revelation into His kind and benevolent nature.

While this message is surely timeless in nature, think of what it means for us specifically in 2020. This year we have by various “authorities” and in varying degrees been told to give up God’s good gifts of work (2 Thes. 3:10), of enjoying and indeed rising in the presence of our elders (1 Tim. 5:16, Lev. 19:32), going out and bringing our food from afar (Prov. 31:14), of breaking bread together (Acts 2:246), of showing hospitality (Rom. 12:13), of assembling together in His Name (Heb. 10:25), of encouraging one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5;19), of extending the hand of fellowship and greeting one another with a kiss (Gal. 2:9, 2 Cor. 13:12), of sharing the cheerful countenance that comes from a glad heart (Prov. 15:13), of proclaiming truth in the public square (Prov. 1:20), of weeping and rejoicing with those who weep and rejoice (Rom. 12:15). The list of these, God’s good gifts, goes on and on. But friends, these are not just suggested indulgences in the life of the believer. They are COMMANDED for our enjoyment.

Is there ever a time when God removes these good gifts from the life of the believer? Yes. It’s called suffering and Rigney addresses this in chapter 6 “When the Things of Earth are Lost.”

Is there ever a time when the believer should voluntarily give up one or more of God’s good gifts? Yes. It’s called self-denial and Rigney addresses this in chapter 5 “Denying Ourselves and Sharing Our Riches.”

Is there ever a time when the Government, worldly influencers and other Christians can command you to give up God’s good gifts? That’s the 2020 question, is it not? Alas, Rigney has no chapter to answer that one specifically. But I believe taken as a whole “Strangely Bright” does in fact address this very thing.

I for one, couldn’t read this book and come to the conclusion that the forced closure of businesses, the isolation and neglect of our elderly, the loss of neighborly interaction in the public market place, the forsaking of fellowship and the breaking of bread, the silencing of our public worship, and prayer and preaching of the Word, the withdrawing of hand shakes and hugs, the masking of our smiles, the censoring of opposing view points, the canceling of weddings, the prohibition of funerals, etc…were in any way Biblical responses to our current problems. If anything, it is Satan himself who is rejoicing over our lack of enjoyment of God’s good gifts.

Has it not been so since the garden? Had our benevolent Creator filled the earth with abundance and variety and perfect goodness and then commanded His creatures to eat freely and enjoy His bounty? There was only one restriction and that too was a good and loving and protective gift. But oh, what music to the serpent’s ears to hear Eve add the prohibition which God had NOT given, “and neither shall you touch it.” With what delight did he witness Eve’s seemingly good intentions to be healthy and wise and take what looked good to the eyes rob her of every pure pleasure on earth? Was he not gleefully observing the now infected pair cease from their God-given labors, isolated from fellowship with their only True Companion, hiding behind leafy masks to cover their shame?

Next week is Thanksgiving. Dear Christian, do not be fooled into thinking that the healthy, wise, good looking thing to do is to refuse God’s bountiful provision, close the door to others made in His image, and silence your joyful public declaration of Thanksgiving to the One who has given us EVERY GOOD THING. Let us love God AND enjoy His gifts. And let us do that as the Giver intended, together.

I’ve had to do one too many “Shred It” reviews for Crossway. Mainly their stuff has been ranking a bland “Shelve It” of late. But “Strangely Bright” has earned a solid “Share It” in my book and I hope it will in yours too.

Resolved

During a weak moment in our ladies Bible study this past Thursday, I admitted to having resolved once upon a time to NOT have a daily personal quiet time. I had a VERY good explanation for having done so at the time and the more I think about it the more I realize some of you moms with a littles at home might need to do the same thing. So I scrolled through my files and found an essay I had written explaining my rather unorthodox devotional habits. Not sure if I ever posted it or not, so here it is for either your reading pleasure or open rebuke.

Why I Resolved NOT to Have a Daily Personal Quiet Time

If I had a picture of a steaming hot latte next to my journaling Bible with a plethora of colored gel pens strewn about on the quant cafe table, I’d insert it here. Of course that would not be my reality but apparently it is for scores of Christian women whose Instagram and Facebook posts provide photo documentation of this most essential element of our faith: the Daily Personal Quiet Time. Just Google “quiet time with God images” and you’ll see what I mean. For years, I listened to authors and speakers who insisted that this was the key to a meaningful relationship with Christ and I tried desperately to duplicate these images in my own life. As a young single woman I met with only some success in developing devotional habits. Once married it was even more of a challenge to carve out “alone time.” By the time our fifth child arrived, I realized if it was impossible for me to even go to the bathroom or make a phone call without constant interruption, it was probably unrealistic of me to keep trying to recreate these daily personal quiet time experiences in my own life. After all, the life God has blessed me with is anything but “personal” or “quiet.” If I can’t even manage to shower daily, how could I possibly be expected to slip away for any substantial amount of time for a “washing by the Word?” (Eph. 5:26)

As a wife and homeschooling Mom of five active boys, the fact is, my time is not my own. At least for this season, it belongs to the ones the Lord has placed in my care. One of the most freeing moments of my life was when I realized that my home and family and the myriad of demands associated with them were not road blocks to a closer walk with the Lord. They were the path on which I journeyed. God put my feet on this ancient path called Marriage and Family and my job is to stay on it, ignore the distracting detours and run with endurance this race that’s been marked out for me. Sticking close to The Shepherd isn’t a matter of scheduling my time. It’s really a matter of surrendering myself to the role He has given me. The Shepherd Himself promises to stick close to me through this season. Isaiah 40:11 says, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

The fact that The Good Shepherd acknowledges the unique needs associated with this mothering season of life should give us pause to consider the unique place time in the Word might have for mothers of little ones and how that might look very different from a young college woman or an empty nester. For example, I am blessed to be the beneficiary of relationships with “older-ish” women whose season of life allows them the luxury of long, quiet hours in the Word. They, like the Psalmist can say, “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice (Psalm 5:3)” and “I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalm 63:6).” But they, like the Psalmist, also are not in a season of life in which their whole being is completely consumed with the never-ending task of caring for the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of little ones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our Shepherd knows those demands well enough to have outlined some of them in Proverbs 31. Please note that the one thing that got our Proverbial Icon out of bed before dawn was the job of putting food on the table. Nowhere do we read of the Proverbs 31 woman or any other mother in scripture ducking out for private devotions. But somehow we’ve been led to believe that if we could just achieve everything on that list of 31 AND maintain a picturesque personal devotional life, that THEN we will be on track to a meaningful walk with the Lord. Or, we take another route and let the actual demands of a wife, mother, and homemaker fall by the wayside in order to pursue the path of personal devotions.

Consider, my friends, Titus 2:3-5. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self- controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, THAT THE WORD OF GOD MAY NOT BE REVILED.” In other words, when we neglect our duties as wives, mothers, and home-keepers, even for as noble a reason as a daily personal quiet time, we are actually causing the Word of God to be reviled! Is it possible that this standard of spirituality pervading our Instagram and Facebook pages is nothing more than a subtle form of idolatry? In today’s image-driven culture the quiet-time image is a pretty attractive picture of the Christian walk. And the pictures make it look so easy! If being a Christian woman means a journal and gel pens at the local coffee shop, who wouldn’t be in? But then as soon as we set out to recreate that image in our own lives the “distractions” set in and we fail miserably at our pursuit. I can’t tell you how many women have shared with me the same sense of frustration and failure at not having achieved a consistent daily personal quiet time alone with the Lord. Sadly, I think the result of this sense of failure has been that the precious Word of God is more neglected today than it’s ever been. We come to the Bible looking for an idealistic experience, when God wants us to come looking for Him. How will we ever find the Author if it’s an idol we’re after?

When the Israelites were given the law in Deuteronomy 6, it came with these instructions, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall TEACH them diligently to your children, and shall TALK of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise.” Notice how God didn’t tell them to grab a cup of kosher coffee, find a quiet place alone in the desert, journal their responses and repeat daily. The Word was first and foremost a corporate gift and thus deserves a corporate grappling. And the primary place God has provided for it’s flourishing is within the family. But I don’t see a lot of Instagram posts with the caption, “this is me diligently teaching God’s Word to my children.” Or “here’s our family talking about the Bible on our way to the store.” That aspect of the Christian walk just isn’t quite as picturesque. Yet, the mother who sequesters her Bible reading to a quiet corner of solitude is missing out on the greatest opportunity of her life and one that is guaranteed to exponentially reap the greatest reward. After all, the Author Himself does promise in Isaiah 55:10-11,

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

If I could encourage mothers in any way it would be take their Bibles out of the coffee shop and put it back in the family room. Go ahead and resolve to start reading your Bible. But who are you kidding? If you’re a busy mom you could probably count on one hand the things that actually get done every single day. So don’t set yourself up for failure. Is the living, active, God-breathed Word important to you? Then live like it. But live it in a way that matches the life God’s given you; which for most busy Moms is a) not personal, b) not quiet, and c) not exactly brimming with leisure time. So gather your little flock around and make them a part of your ALMOST-DAILY-NOT-SO-QUIET-TIME with the Lord. Just open your Bible and read it. Out loud. To your children. And if they don’t get it, explain it to them.

And if you don’t get it. Keep reading. Scripture is pretty good at explaining itself and eventually you’ll come across a passage that will make whatever you didn’t understand make sense. Psalm 19:7 says the Bible can make wise even the simple. But be diligent in your teaching and determined in your talking. When you are sitting together, when you are traveling together, from sunrise to sundown, determine that the Word of God will dwell richly in your conversation.

So if you, like countless others this year, have failed in your resolution to have a consistent daily personal quiet time maybe you should consider your situation, your season in life. Is it marked by the crowded, noisy, chaotic, messy, demanding nature of motherhood? Then consider your Shepherd. He knows this and wants to gently lead you through it. He’s given you a flock of your own to nurture and is calling you to feed and feast TOGETHER on His Living Word.

Resolve to give it a taste and you will see that THE LORD IS GOOD.