Links for the Weekend (2023-12-22)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

A quick programming note: this will be the last WPCA blog post of 2023. Look for a new links post on January 5 and a new original article on January 10.

Small Group Saved My Parents’ Marriage

This is a moving story about how some men from the author’s church intervened in her father’s life and helped to turn him around.

First, the gospel changes lives. My dad came to terms with how his anger and pride hurt the people he most loved for many years. Seemingly overnight, he changed from a man of anger to a man of patience and love. When he was confronted with the grace, forgiveness, and mercy of the gospel message, those traits infiltrated his life as well.

My Grandfather Died with Dignity

This article describes some of the concerning problems with Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), which is gaining popularity in Canada and some countries in Northern Europe.

The conversation around MAiD puts front and center the questions of what makes life worth living and, by implication, in what circumstances a life might no longer be worth living. In the modern Western ethos of entrepreneurial individualism, the cardinal virtues include efficiency and productivity. As Justin Hawkins reminds us, our cultural fixation on accomplishment and achievement has influenced the way we view the moral worth of those who cannot achieve or accomplish. Old age and chronic illness increase our dependency on others; each simple cold or stumble on the stairs can become a greater and greater battle for lesser and lesser recovery. The moral hazard here is for the suffering to view their struggles not only as a reduction in their own value and dignity, but for those charged with their care to take offense at being asked to sacrifice their autonomy and capacity in the service of those dependent on them. Those so affronted could be tempted to ask, as Canada’s healthcare system writ large is doing right now, “why should I forego what makes my life valuable for the sake of one whose life is becoming less and less valuable?” In the moral logic of accomplishment, efficiency, and productivity, giving someone the option to die eventually imposes upon them an obligation to die. 

A Harmony of the Birth of Jesus: Matthew and Luke

If you’ve ever wondered how the chronology of Matthew and Luke fit together surrounding the birth of Jesus, Justin Taylor provides a helpful chart.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-12-15)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Think You Know the Christmas Story?

How many of our go-to Christmas images are shaped more by myth and misconception than the Bible?

These five misconceptions remind us that sometimes our picture of scriptural stories is shaped more by popular perceptions and modern retellings than by the text itself. But when we take a closer look at the biblical clues, a wonderful—and hopefully more accurate—picture emerges of what happened that night nearly 2,000 years ago.

15 Strategies for Men to Strengthen Their Friendships

It’s no secret that friendship for men can be difficult and rare. Drew Hunter offers some strategies for men to build up friendships.

Isn’t this what the God of love has done for us? Jesus came to be face-to-face with us, and he walks in friendship with his people. This is why the best strategy for stronger friendship is to enjoy friendship with the friend of sinners.

There Is No Inconvenience Too Great For Godliness

Here’s a compelling call to pursue godliness regardless of the cost.

We love comfort. We love the path of least resistance. But here’s the question for a Christian: What wouldn’t you do to be godly? Is there anything too hard? Is there any inconvenience too great? When Jesus says to cut off hands and pluck out eyes, He’s not saying it with a wink. He’s communicating something deadly serious. We can’t wear kid gloves when dealing with sin. Sin leads to hell. What would we wish we had done if we were to find ourselves there?

More Light, Lord

Here’s your poem for the week. (It’s short and lovely.)

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Immanuel: The Story of Christmas. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Immanuel: The Story of Christmas

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:22–23)

I have contended that we can summarize the entire story of the Bible with the name Immanuel. Thus, Immanuel is more than the story of Christmas, but it is certainly not less.

God with us

The inescapable, mind-bending miracle of Christmas is that God became man. The one who breathed humanity into existence took human breaths as a baby.

The reason is not particularly romantic. The Creator set the rules in the garden and we set them aflame. Divine action was the only path to reunion.

We did not need a superhero, a military general, or a crowd-rousing activist; we needed God himself to come. To breathe. To cough and walk and laugh and cry in our midst. We needed Jesus to do all that we could not and would not do.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

God with us

We once had easy access to and comfortable fellowship with God in the garden. Adam and Eve were with God before the curse was found anywhere.

God has come near at times after Eden. He visited patriarchs, delivered stone tablets, and filled temples. But even those who knew God intimately experienced profound, confusing distance from him.

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

On this side of eternity, we have a longing to be home, to once again walk with the God who made us. We want to be with God, without any of the danger and panic such an encounter arouses within sinners.

Even as the Son of God came, he was with us for a mere moment. Jesus died. God was with us temporarily so that God might be with us (by his Spirit) and so that his people might be with him permanently.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

God with us

Christmas brings about community almost by definition. Immanuel means God with us, not God with me.

We all relate to God individually, but we don’t relate to him alone. Those who are God’s are brought into a community and family.

We are no longer alone. God is with us, and by virtue of God being with us, others are with us too. This may not be a physical reality for some Christians now, but it is a mystical truth and a coming reality. Christmas means the dawning of the end of loneliness.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:14–16)

Post credit | Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (2023-12-08)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

9 Biblical Methods for Encouraging One Another

Caleb pulls examples from the Bible of how we can encourage each other.

But, we need to learn how. How do we learn to use this great tool? How do we move beyond Christian platitudes that feel shallow? How do we give more than simple, secular affirmations (like the all too common “you got this!”)? The best way to learn how to encourage is to watch others do it. The Bible models this for us in a variety of ways. Let’s look at the examples and learn how we can we use this powerful tool.

You Will Never Regret The Sins You Do Not Commit

The title of this article is a short phrase Tim Challies tries to remember when he is tempted: you will never regret the sins you do not commit.

Like you, I know what it is to regret a sin and to wish that I hadn’t committed it. Hence, I often repeat to myself that little phrase: You will never regret the sins you do not commit. It reminds me of the obvious fact that regret comes when I succumb to temptation and joy comes when I resist. I’ve never once regretted resisting a temptation, never once mourned turning away from a sin, never once felt guilty for obeying God’s Word. To the contrary, I’ve felt such satisfaction when temptation has given way to righteousness, when I’ve slammed the door instead of opening it, when I’ve fled the devil instead of welcoming him in. Regret and sin are close neighbors, but regret and righteousness exist a world apart. 

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

The Gettys have released a version of one of my favorite Christmas songs: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. (The link takes you to a video for the song.)

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Movie Recommendation: The Star (2017)

Sometimes your kids out-Christian you. It’s a complicated emotional moment, because on the one hand, you’re a great parent since your kid did the good Jesus-y thing! On the other hand, you didn’t. 

So when my daughter eliminated all of my Santa-themed Christmas movie options and insisted on something about “the real reason for Christmas,” I had to scramble a bit.

I landed on The Star, a 2017 film about the Christmas story from the animals’ point of view. It looked like nativity-meets-Madagascar. It has a cast full of big to mid-sized names, such as Keegan Michael-Key, Zachary Levi, Tyler Perry, Tracy Morgan, both Kelly Clarkson AND Mariah Carey, and even Oprah. Weirdly, Joel Osteen makes an appearance voicing one of the wise men. 

The story follows a donkey named Bo who dreams of doing something truly great. He ends up in the company of Mary and Joseph and has to choose between staying with this lowly couple or pursuing his dream of greatness. There’s a veritable heavenly host of funny animal companions, from a tiny jerboa to three camels from the East who can’t agree if they’re on their way to a baby shower or a birthday party. 

It was delightful! The movie is playful with the story, but it’s overall faithful to both the plot points and the themes. Mary and Joseph clearly state that the baby will be the Messiah foretold by the prophets. The baby is also identified as the Son of God, though a comic relief character dismisses the statement. True biblical scholars will quibble with the timeline of the wise men and the age of Joseph. I liked the other-wordly representation of angels and that the characters’ skin tone is, well, Middle Eastern. 

I was impressed by how the movie handled Joseph learning of Mary’s pregnancy. Parents and Sunday school teachers know that this can sometimes raise questions we’re not prepared to answer. The Star sidesteps questions of adultery and instead focuses on the significance of the coming baby. Joseph’s distress in the film is more about his overwhelm at the responsibility of raising the literal Messiah and King.

You won’t hear a clear gospel declaration in this movie, nor will you hear the words “sin” or “savior.” But, there is what I would call a gospel moment near the end of the film. It’s a slight spoiler so I’ll put in a paragraph break if you want to skip. 

In this retelling, Herod sends a hunter with two evil dogs to find Mary and destroy the soon-to-be newborn king before he’s even born. In a final showdown, the good animals knock the hunter and his dogs over a cliff. Bo saves the dogs and pulls them to safety, releasing them from their chained collars. One of the dogs, Rufus, says, “We’re bad dogs.” Bo tells them, “You don’t have to be. You’re free now.” As the dogs approach the newborn Jesus, Rufus asks, “Are we good dogs now?” to which the other dog responds, “We have to try.” 

Watching this scene in view of the whole of Scripture, we can see the full journey from repentance to justification to sanctification. They acknowledge their wrongful actions–and even that their sin sits at the root of their identity. As they approach the infant Savior, they are forgiven and reconciled to the other animals and, in response to the grace they’ve received, they want to be better.

It’s the story of Saul on the road to Damascus in miniature: They were trying to kill the baby Jesus, but now that they’ve seen him, they want to serve him. It’s the biblical image of the chains of sin being broken and the forgiven sinner being freed to a new life in Jesus. 

You probably won’t watch The Star unless you’re watching it with children, so a quick content note: This is a remarkably clean movie. No bad language, no adult innuendos. There are some mild poop and butt jokes. The mean dogs were a little intense for my two-year-old, but he stuck it out.

We watch the original animated Grinch at least once each Christmas, and my husband just introduced our kids to the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I think our oldest girl will love White Christmas this year (the costumes! the dancing!). But if you’re looking for a fun family flick about the real reason for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than The Star.

Links for the Weekend (2022-12-23)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why Is the Virgin Birth So Important?

How central to Christianity is the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus? J. I. Packer shows that it is very important indeed!

The church fathers appealed to the virgin birth as proof, not that Jesus was truly divine as distinct from being merely human, but that he was truly human as distinct from merely looking human as ghosts and angels might do, and it was probably as a witness against Docetism (as this view was called) that the virgin birth was included in the Creed. But it witnesses against humanitarianism (the view that Jesus was just a fine man) with equal force.

Was Christmas Like This?

Some of the typical Christmas narrative is not really from the Bible. Some of it probably didn’t happen! So, how would a more realistic telling of the Christmas story read?

In what follows, I will try to stick to what the Bible does say, but I will fill in some details from my reading of history and my experience of living in other cultures around the world. What results, is – I believe – a more believable story and hopefully, one which is closer to the reality than our traditional reading. 

Mary Consoles Eve

I ran across a lovely piece of art recently. It pictures a pregnant Mary standing next to Eve. Here’s an interview with the nun who drew the picture (and you can see the picture in the middle of this article).

I never intended to share the picture with anyone outside the monastery, but I liked it well enough, so I showed it to some of my sisters. Sr. Martha asked if she could use it for making the community Christmas card. I was surprised, but told her if she wanted to use it, she was welcome to it. A few people who received our card started posting images of it online. It has been both surprising and touching to see how the image moves people.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Christmas Music Recommendations

I love music. I love that it can change my attitude and refocus me so quickly. Christmas music is no different for me. I love it all: from Rudolph and Frosty, White Christmas, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to songs and carols with deep, soul-touching lyrics; songs that remind me of singing in choirs throughout the years, songs I remember from childhood, songs that make me remember those I loved who are no longer here; songs that have the power to bring me to tears as I realize my need for a Savior, His amazing grace, and His love for me. 

Here are some of the albums I have been playing on Amazon Music this month. (I have included Spotify links below, but most of these albums are available widely.) 

Disclaimer: This list is not exhaustive and you should put it through your own theological vetting process. (I may not be as reformed as some in my musical selections. 😉)

Kids Music

Sing Christmas Songs by Ellie Holcomb

Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots 

Slugs & Bugs Christmas 


Midwinter Carols by Joel Clarkson (volume 1 & volume 2)

Other Selections

Majesty & Glory of Christmas (Warning: If you have sung in choirs you will have a hard time not singing along. Your children may make fun of you!)

Prepare Him Room by Sovereign Grace

Heaven Has Come by Sovereign Grace

Sing! An Irish Christmas by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Joy! An Irish Christmas by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Christmas by Sandra McCracken

The Manger by Anne Wilson (Because I can’t help myself, I do still love country music!)

Resting in God’s Love

May music help you rest more deeply this Christmas season in God’s love for you and the joy He brings. Merry Christmas!

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (12/18/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Is Christmas a Pagan Rip-off?

Kevin DeYoung addresses the idea that Christmas is a copycat of a pagan holiday. Though this is a longstanding and accepted argument, DeYoung says that it’s just not true.

Unlike Easter, which developed as a Christian holiday much earlier, there is no mention of birth celebrations from the earliest church fathers. Christian writers like Irenaeus (130-200) and Tertullian (160-225) say nothing about a festival in honor of Christ’s birth, and Origen (165-264) even mocks Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries as pagan practices. This is a pretty good indication that Christmas was not yet on the ecclesiastical calendar (or at least not widespread), and that if it were, it would not have been tied to a similar Roman holiday.

Advent I: The Face of God

Brad East has written a nice Advent meditation on the face of God over at Mere Orthodoxy.

Advent is the season when the church remembers—which is to say, is reminded by the Spirit—that as the people of the Messiah, we are defined not by possession but by dispossession, not by having but by hoping, not by leisurely resting but by eagerly waiting. We are waiting on the Lord, whose command is simple: “Keep awake” (Mark 13:37). Waiting is wakefulness, and wakefulness is watchfulness: like the disciples in the Garden, we are tired, weighed down by the weakness of the flesh, but still we must keep watch and be alert as we await the Lord’s return, relying on his Spirit, who ever is willing (cf. Mark 14:32-42).

Liturgy for a Pandemic Christmas

To quote a part of this would be to ruin the whole, so I will just urge you to read this lovely poem written by Jessica Merzdorf at Fathom Magazine about Jesus coming for (and identifying with) his people.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called A Contrast of Kings at Christmas. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

A Contrast of Kings at Christmas

Secular Christmas scenes are full of snow, wreaths, lights, and cookies. The roaring fires and flannel pajamas that appear on so many cards paint the holiday as one of coziness and warmth.

While there’s nothing wrong with these seasonal elements, none of them capture the biblical reality. Christmas is the time to rejoice in the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus.

But even in the Bible, Jesus’s birth was not an occasion for universal joy. While there was great celebration, the Christmas narratives are also serious, dark, and cautionary.

Herod the King

The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel offers a stark contrast. Right from the beginning, we read that in the days of Herod the king the wise men came looking for the king of the Jews. This contrast seems intentional, as Matthew refers to Herod as “king” a total of three times (Matt 2:1, 3, 9).

While the wise men traveled a great distance to worship this new king (Matt 2:2), they went to Herod only for information. The wise men rejoiced when approaching the house where Jesus was, and they brought extravagant gifts, falling down in worship. Since God warned them away, the wise men didn’t even speak to Herod again.

Herod was “troubled” by this talk of a new king (Matt 2:3). The Jewish religious leaders reported that prophesies pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of a “ruler” who would “shepherd” the people of Israel (Matt 2:6). This was not good news for Herod.

Jesus the Child

The contrast between Herod and Jesus is heightened by the difference in their ages. Herod was an adult; Jesus had just been born. In fact, Jesus is referred to as a “child” nine times in this chapter.

Given the difference in physical ability and political power between Jesus and Herod, it seems bizarre that Herod was threatened by this baby. But Herod was so enraged when the wise men did not report back to him that he ordered the death of all male children in and around Bethlehem under two years old.

We should pause here and note the violence and devastation that Herod caused. His fear and his lust for power proved to be a murderous cocktail. These deaths were unspeakably cruel, selfish, and senseless, and they must have left Bethlehem residents horrified and empty with grief.

While Herod took drastic, human steps to eliminate Jesus, Matthew’s text shows us the supernatural elements used to honor and protect Jesus. The star that the wise men followed (“his star” in Matt 2:2) appeared both before and after their visit to Jerusalem (Matt 2:9–10) and led them directly to Jesus. Additionally, God acted through dreams to warn the wise men (Matt 2:12) and to direct Joseph and his young family (Matt 2:13, 19, 22).

Finally, notice the role of prophecy in this chapter. In his birth in Bethlehem (Matt 2:5–6), his exile to Egypt (Matt 2:17), and his settling in Nazareth (Matt 2:23), Jesus fulfilled what the prophets had spoken. On the other hand, the prophecy that Herod fulfilled was one of tears and lamentation (Matt 2:17–18).

Worship Christ, the Newborn King

Jesus was declared a king at his birth. And the contrast between Jesus and all other kings continued through his earthly life and beyond.

Because Jesus is the great, high king, he is a threat to all who hold power. God demands (and deserves) our undiluted worship, and this is a problem for anyone who craves any glory that belongs to God.

This is a warning to all in authority: Worship Jesus as the high king willingly while you can. One day every knee will bow, whether willingly or not (Phil 2:9–11). Your power is delegated power and should be used to help those around you to flourish.

And for everyone, this is a call to worship Jesus. He is no mere human king; he is the Lord of all. And as Lord, he shows himself to be vastly superior to Herod.

Though he is powerful and his authority is absolute, he is merciful and gentle. We have all grasped for power; we have all neglected and rejected proper worship. But king Jesus offers love and forgiveness for those who turn to him.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (12/11/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Surprising Ministry of Encouragement

“Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture.” Ray Ortlund writes that encouragement is essential to this gospel culture that the best churches cultivate.

Encouragement is what the gospel feels like as it moves from one believer to another. The ministry of encouragement, therefore, isn’t optional or just for people with a knack for it. Real encouragement has authority over us all. It deserves nothing less than to set the predominant tone of our churches, our homes, our ministries. So, let’s think it through. And then, let’s get after it.

Christmas in a Minor Key

If Christmas is merely a superficial celebration, this might be a year to pitch it. How can we drum up interest in tinsel when the pandemic has made life so hard and so sad for so many? Doug Eaton argues that these miseries give us a greater reason than ever to celebrate this year.

The arrival of Jesus into our world is the answer to a world lost in darkness. Christ, God incarnate, entered our sin-riddled world. From his first breath, he was to be known as the Man of Sorrows, and he would endure it all because of his great love for us. We have a Savior who can sympathize with our weakness, and he went to the cross to atone for our sin.

The Gentle Tug of Spiritual Disciplines

I enjoyed the way Craig Thompson contrasted his dog’s need to go outside with his practice of the spiritual disciplines.

There is more. Your spiritual disciplines will not usually yell at you, but when you neglect them, there are reminders. Learn to tune your heart and mind to the gentle tug of spiritual disciplines. Do you feel stressed and overwhelmed? Could it be that you have allowed the noise of the world to drown out God’s love in your life? The gentle tug of spiritual disciplines is a bit more like a hunger or a longing than a begging and demanding.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.