Minimalism Isn’t the Key to Christmas

We need more than anti-consumerism for a healthy Christian holiday.

Three years ago, my husband and I decided that we would no longer travel for Christmas. Our parents, all of them living in the Midwest, were devastated. When we’d moved to Toronto from Chicago, the terms were clear: If we were moving the grandchildren across an international border, we were responsible to bring them home for the holidays. But where was home? Even if our passports declared us strangers, our house in Toronto had begun to feel more like home than the one we had left behind—the one we actually owned.

I’ll be home for Christmas, we sing. And it’s for good reason that Christmas lures us home. As I can attest, waking up in a hotel on Christmas morning and shuffling to the lobby for your first cup of hot coffee does a number on the holiday spirit.

What makes a home a home, then?

For the past several years, IKEA representatives have traveled across the globe to ask people about their domestic experiences and expectations. In 2016, they visited 12 cities and interviewed 12,000 people; in 2017, they traveled to 22 countries, surveying more than 22,000 people. In the first survey, respondents concluded that a home was composed of four intangibles: comfort, safety, belonging, and love.

Even if IKEA’s findings (detailed in their annual Life at Home reports) primarily aim to sell us more furniture, lamps, and posters of Paris, they tell us something about the fundamental human longing for home. For Christians, they also illuminate this surprising truth: Neither consumerism nor anti-consumerism defines a true home.

Roy Langmaid, a psychologist cited in the 2017 IKEA Life at Home Report, talks about home as moderns have come to think of it—as the expression of personal identity. Identity is …

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God Turns Up In All the Wrong Places at Christmas

It’s easy to miss how strange God’s ‘perfect timing’ is in the nativity story.

Recently, at a Christian men’s breakfast that I wasn’t excited about attending, I was surprised to make an unlikely friend in an elderly man named John. At the age of seven, John had been evacuated on the Kindertransport program just before the Holocaust began in Germany. John’s parents were among the 6 million people living in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught on the wrong side of Hitler’s fanaticism. Seventy-six years later, John was able to tell me of his tremendous gratitude for the love and commitment of the family who not only sheltered him but adopted him as their own after it became clear that he no longer had a home to return to.

John’s story was made possible by a man named Nicholas Winton. The Christmas of 1938, Winton had planned to go on a skiing holiday, but a friend persuaded him instead to visit Prague. On that trip the 29-year-old stockbroker came across hundreds of refugees traveling across Europe, and he was particularly overwhelmed by the plight of the children.

Moved, Winton returned to London and orchestrated a total of eight trains to travel to Czechoslovakia evacuating 669 refugee children to safety. He secured homes and sponsorship for them. He also navigated the complex political system, even forging British Home Office documents in order to get children out of Nazi-occupied territory. He did this secretly—apparently not even his wife knew about it.

Winton and John were strangers to each other. Their paths crossed briefly in 1939 and again 60 years later, but Winton’s open hospitality changed the whole of John’s life. The story of Jesus is not dissimilar. Jesus was to dedicate himself to a rescue mission like no other. Strangers around the world …

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Advent Is a Season of Longing

What does the time spent anticipating Christmas have to do with the wilderness?

People are rarely neutral about the approach of Christmastime. Some of us reside at a North Pole of intense anticipation and excitement, while others of us hole up at a South Pole of irritation and dread.

Usually, I am at the north end of the Christmas polarity. But there have been a few Advent seasons during which I have found myself at the South Pole, feeling strangely empty and somehow exhausted by all the hoopla. The first couple of Christmases after my dad died were like that for me. And while I was fortunate enough to have excited children in my home to drag me back into the festivities, I did get a little taste of the sadness that characterizes Advent for many people.

A season that is all about family can be a desperately lonely time for people who find themselves living in isolation, grieving the loss of a loved one, or trying to cope with family stress. And for those of us who follow the church calendar, if Advent happens to come at a time when we are in a spiritually barren place, the call to open up our hearts to the season can intensify our experience of doubt or alienation.

Undoubtedly, some people are just not “feeling it” this Advent, due to temperament or circumstance or who knows what. Perhaps the season finds you at a South Pole of sadness or in a wilderness of spiritual alienation. If that’s the case, it’s important to remember that Advent is a season all about longing and emptiness and waiting. It is a season set aside to help us realize that we need deliverance from our current condition.

Not coincidentally, two of this year’s Old Testament and the New Testament lectionary readings—Isaiah 40 and Mark 1—each begin in the same place. They are both set in the wilderness. …

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Playlist: The Best New Christmas Music

Be of good cheer: We are in a moment of theologically rich, artistically wonderful recordings.

The Advent and Christmas seasons are filled with more than their share of paradoxes. We raid our basements and attics for the nostalgia of Christmases past as we scour websites to buy the latest gadgets as gifts. As the daylight dwindles (at least in the northern hemisphere!) our belief in what we can accomplish in 24 hours reaches new heights. Meanwhile, recording artists are rushing to release their latest attempt to redefine the canon of seasonal classics. As preparations for Christmas productions reach new frenzied heights, I wonder if any church has ever preached Ecclesiastes for Christmas: “There is nothing new under the sun!” The paradoxes of this season can truly be wearying, but there is also endless wonder to be found in the Incarnation. Artists have been finding fresh creativity in meditating on the coming of the One through whom all things were made.

Songs for Advent

In my circles as a worship leader, there has been a growing eagerness to explore Advent and to explore it as more than just a contemplative season before Christmas. The Worship Sourcebook, a key resource for pastors and worship leaders for years, emphasizes Advent not just as a season of waiting but as one “designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. In Advent, we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the Second Coming.”

So it makes sense that most churches sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which explores images of Christ from the Old Testament. But the musical repertoire is growing as more artists observe the season. The Welcome Wagon has a wonderful retune of the James Montgomery text based in Psalm 72, “Hail …

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Friends of Zion’s Christians?

Overtures by US evangelicals to Arab churches tested by Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

American evangelicals rediscovered their brethren in the Middle East in recent years. The promise of the Arab Spring, followed by the threat of ISIS. Beheadings and other martyrdoms, followed by forgiveness.

Many decided we must become better friends, and work harder for the persecuted church’s flourishing in the land of its birth.

However, President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is putting that new friendship to the test, as Middle East Christian leaders have almost unanimously rallied against the decision.

Trump’s decision would “increase hatred, conflict, violence and suffering,” said the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in a statement in advance of his anticipated announcement.

The Coptic Orthodox Church warned of “dangerous consequences.” The head of Egypt’s Protestant community said it was “against justice” and “not helpful.”

But the strongest testimony may have come from Jordan, where the national evangelical council pleaded against “uncalculated risks” that “may well expose Christians in this region to uncontrollable dangers.”

Despite these dire cries, many conservative US evangelicals rejoiced in Trump’s announcement. Support for Israel is a longstanding mark of much of the community.

“Evangelicals in the US don’t spend enough time thinking about Arab Christians,” said Joel Rosenberg, a dual US-Israeli citizen who last month led a friendship-seeking delegation of evangelical leaders to Egypt and Jordan. Many were members of Trump’s unofficial faith advisory team.

“People who love Jesus haven’t been talking to each other. But we should.” …

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God’s Man, for God’s Work: A Tribute to R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

Ligonier Ministries founder was a category 5 hurricane of declaration, persuasion, and instruction.

It is singularly appropriate that R. C. Sproul would go home to be with the Lord in 2017, the year in which we are remembering Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg 500 years ago. Many thousands of people were introduced to the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul through his book and teaching series “The Holiness of God.”

I first listened to it on audio cassette tapes (which dates me), in which he tells the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. The chapter and lecture are called “The Insanity of Luther.” It is classic R. C. You can listen to it on the Ligonier Ministries website, and you should if you have the chance.

No figure in our generation has done more than R. C. to defend, proclaim, and expound Luther’s insights into the Bible’s teaching on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I have met young people on every continent who readily confess their indebtedness to R. C. Sproul (though they have never met him or heard him in person), through the various media of Ligonier Ministries, books, articles, magazines, audio, video, app, and conferences. He is responsible for introducing a generation to the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the glory of the Gospel of justification by faith, salvation by grace, in Christ alone.

I started reading and listening to R. C. as a teenager. My father, a businessman and elder at our local church, served on a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) denominational study committee with him in the 1980s. Dad was somewhat in awe of him after that experience.

My brother John later worked with him very closely as executive producer at Ligonier Ministries for a number of years. My …

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Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Years

“A Christmas Sermon for Pagans” is quintessential Lewis at the height of his renown. “Cricketer’s Progress” is more of a mystery.

Would you imagine that, with all of the cataloging technologies we have working around the clock, one could still discover unknown articles by a very well-known author? While doing research for my PhD, I discovered two such articles by C. S. Lewis. Although published in the 1940s, these articles have been overlooked ever since and don’t appear in the many lists of his works. The thrill of discovery has brought home a few points (of encouragement) in a time when it sometimes seems as though all the stones have been overturned.

In 2013, I was spending my days pouring over old journals and forgotten newspapers from the early 20th century. I wanted to understand just why Lewis had become a household name in Britain during the height of the Second World War for his Christian writings, and why, in the decades since, it has been Americans, rather than the British, who have continued to relish Lewis’s defenses of Christian doctrine.

On one particular, ordinary day, I made my way to the National Library of Scotland in the Edinburgh rain. I stored my dripping coat in a locker and settled myself among the industrious scholars. It was chilly underneath the fluorescent lights. Someone’s phone was chiming intermittently, disrupting the quiet and concentration. After a while, my back ached from hunching over the delicate pieces of paper spread across the table in front of me. I rose to stretch my legs and consult yet another index of British periodicals in the reference section. This small exertion set my blood moving a little freer through my veins. I took down an unfamiliar volume from a nearby shelf, an index to The Strand Magazine. From what was by then a reflex, I flipped to “Lewis, C. S.” To my surprise, …

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Two Marvelous Truths Help Me Say No to Sexual Sin

As a same-sex-attracted woman married to a man, I was struggling to ward off temptation on my own power. Then God showed me I didn’t have to.

Author’s Note: In October of this year I had the privilege of publicly sharing my story of coming to Christ from a background of same-sex attraction and atheism. The response to that story was deeply personal for many. A great number of readers—some straight, most not—wrote to ask me about what my married life looked like now. Specifically, how did I live with an attraction to women that had not been taken away, while following Christ and married to a man? This piece is an attempt to show how God has met me in this. But more importantly, I hope it can be an encouragement to you—that God desires and is able to meet you as well, whatever your persistent temptations may be.

The driving clamor of my heart was the most physical sign of my despair, attended by tears. But it was the emotional weight that truly bore me down. The sickening feeling of complete impotence, the mania of a trapped animal. I had committed no sin—wait, had I not? Was that right?—yet I seemed on a collision course with the sure destruction of my ministry, my marriage, my sense of self in Christ, and my relationship with him.

That this was happening after years of obedience increased the dread. Would I never be safe or free? In my early years in Christ, sexual disobedience had been a frequent, painful tripping point. But slowly, my muscle of obedience grew stronger.

I wonder now if that was less spiritual victory than victories of my will. Each time I chose sin after coming to Christ, the pleasure was adulterated with pain. The embarrassment of failure and the crush of relational strain between myself and God blighted my Christian life, like stubborn weeds. The ugliness of this had a strong deterrent effect over time.

This …

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Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.

Could any Bible verse double as a mission statement for CT’s books section? Perhaps Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on whatever is “true,” “noble,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable.” Or Romans 12:2, with its admonition to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or any number of passages from Proverbs that sing the glories of wisdom.

I suspect, however, that Matthew 19:14—“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”—would not garner many votes.

As CT’s books editor, I confess that children’s books are mostly an afterthought. Sometimes they arrive in the mail, but I instinctively toss them aside. Not that this comes as any great surprise. Magazines like CT cater to grownups. You’re not here for hard-hitting reviews of Goodnight Moon or The Cat in the Hat.

But of course our readers wear many hats, “mother” and “father” prominent among them. As a token of appreciation for parents, we decided to debut a new category this year, Children and Youth, encompassing everyone from little tykes to teens.

With that, let’s get to the awards. As always, we hope you’ll discover a shelfful of delights—for children of all ages. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books

Apologetics/Evangelism

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between

Gregory Koukl (Zondervan)

“The Story of Reality is a fresh combination of apologetics and evangelism in a very readable format. It meets one of the greatest needs of a predominantly secular …

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The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election

It’s not Republicans or Democrats, but Christian witness.

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.

The Hypocrisy on the Left

From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation. They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors …

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