Christmas 2021: The Perfect Gift at the Perfect Time

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

As this year’s holiday season approached, media began sharing images of cargo ships parked off the coast unable to unload. Threats of supply chain disruption and shipping delays prompted announcements that we must “shop early” if we hoped to take delivery on gifts in time for the holidays. Some even went so far as to question if Christmas could be cancelled.

I immediately flashed back to childhood with a smirk, curious if these reporters had ever seen a classic holiday special. I grew up on animated threats of the holidays in peril, yet saved at the last minute by some fanciful change of heart. And, I mean, every Who down in Whoville knows you can celebrate without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags, right?

But beyond the amusing nostalgia, I wondered if they knew of the circumstances surrounding the first celebration of Christ, when Jesus was born. He came in spite of, and even because of, the disruption of imperfect people throughout history, including those in his own family line. And His delivery on Earth would provide a far greater delivery every one of us needs.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” -Galatians 4:4-5

This gift of God was presented to the world at just the right time, a child celebrated by shepherds, prophets and angels at His birth. He was born into a world that had largely forgotten and ignored God. But God still loved the world so much He came to be with us in the person of Jesus. His perfect life, death and resurrection were also precisely fulfilled, providing that way of redemption and adoption into God’s family for whoever believes in Him.

It’s been a while since that first delivery, but Jesus promises to return right on time again, this time to deliver the joyful restoration of our sadly broken world. Just like before, some wait with anticipation and some ignore Him altogether, but He continues to be patient with us. To quote 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” That is, we have this opportunity to trust Jesus over anything else, and to receive the ultimate change of heart that comes from knowing God’s love forever.

In this world, gifts might get stuck in transit. Plans might go right off the rails. But with Christ, the celebration can never be cancelled. As the holidays roll on, I pray you’ll know the joy of celebrating more deeply, anticipating the greatest gifts still to come in Jesus.

Scripture: ESV / Art: Unsplash.com


Free Options for Advent Reading

The season of Advent is about to begin, a time for the Church to look back in celebration of the birth of Jesus, and to look ahead as we anticipate His return.

A reading plan can be a great guide to help keep focus on the Lord through this often busy time of year. Here are a few free guides we've found online.

For a couple downloadable options, check out "Good News of Great Joy" and "The Dawning of Indestructible Joy," available in various formats from Desiring God. Each one contains 25 meditations.

A 31-day Advent Scripture reading plan is available to follow with a free ESV.org account. You can also receive each day's verses via e-mail.

And for kids, "The Jesus Storybook Bible" has a free downloadable Advent kit, which includes music, coloring pages, ornaments, memory verse cards and more.

Take advantage of any of these resources, or your own daily time in Scripture, to remind yourself, your family and others around you of Who we truly celebrate. I pray you find great joy and encouragement in remembering all we have now and all we have to look forward to in Jesus.


10 Days of Prayer: St. Louis in 2021

In late summer, 10 Days of Prayer: St. Louis again met in various locations around the region. This was the third year for 10 Days in St. Louis, and it's worth taking a look at what the Lord is doing as we lift up this city to Him.

For some context, and in case you're just learning about 10 Days, I also documented the events of 2019. Last year was, of course, largely virtual due to pandemic mitigation measures. However, if you'd like a more detailed historical overview, you can check out the new archive page to get an idea of how we've seen Jesus moving here.

In 2021, we began to see the Lord’s work in new ways as we considered the active obedience that must follow prayer. From September 7-16, our theme was “Reliving Acts Today,” emboldening us to follow the threads of prayer and obedience found in the Book of Acts. Each day included a unique area of focus through which God has moved His Church in St. Louis as we were encouraged to “pray and go.” This seemed a logical next step, taking us in an increasingly outward focused direction.

As a desire for unity among churches and believers has been a core tenant from the beginning, we have been encouraged to see new partner churches and locations each year, along with several area pastor groups becoming more involved as they work together to address significant needs in their respective regions.

Below are highlights from each of the 10 days, plus a more recent follow up event.

Day 1 opened in West County, as we prayed for the Spirit's Power to fill us and our region. You can view this evening's service here.

Key Scripture: Acts 1:4-15, 2:1-13, 37-41


Day 2 was a great time of prayer for community in community. This South City meeting united believers across the spectrum, all focused on Jesus in the desire to see true unity amongst the body of Christ in St. Louis. This was also in support of a new regional leader's group just forming across denominations, which met for the first time this evening.

More on this in the 10 Days Follow Up section below.

Key Scripture: Acts 2:42-47


Day 3
we met outdoors with Mid-Town Pastors in University City to pray for boldness from and for Jesus as we go into our city.

Key Scripture: Acts 4:1-13, 23-31


Day 4
was an evening of prayer in South St. Louis against violence in our city, and opportunity to hear from and pray for a representative with Cure Violence. The day's focus was that we might serve holistically, in word and deed.

Key Scripture:
Acts 6:1-7


Day 5
was a powerful time of prayer in St. Charles for our youth and youth workers, and what we prayed was the beginning of connecting youth ministry leaders from across the region. Personally, it was also a great time with several ministry friends I've worked with over the years, and opportunity to catch up with a few I hadn't seen in a while. The day's general focus was on showing God's mercy.

Key Scripture:
Acts 7:54-59


Day 6
we prayed with West County Pastors for the Spirit to breathe life into our city and into His Church.

Key Scripture: Acts 9:36-43


Day 7
was a unique evening around the Table of Fellowship. Hosted by North County Pastors, this was an opportunity to gather with others of diverse ethnic backgrounds around a moderated table to share Christ and listen to stories of life in diversity, providing opportunity to
discuss and pray for issues of race and reconciliation. This group has worked for many years toward connection and interaction between predominantly black and predominantly white churches, addressing racial concerns with Gospel clarity.

Key Scripture: Acts 10:1-34


Day 8
we joined with South County Pastors to worship and pray together in surrender to our Lord's will.

Key Scripture: Acts 12:1-17


Day 9
was a first opportunity for 10 Days to meet in St. Peters with St. Charles County Pastors, uniting to ask the Lord to lead on His mission of sharing Jesus in our city and beyond.

(I was personally unable to attend this evening, as I joined the conversation at Theology at the Bottleworks, a monthly public discussion group providing opportunities to speak from a Christian perspective on significant topics, and to build relationships with individuals from many backgrounds and beliefs. Several of us appreciated that today's missional theme made this absence especially appropriate. Also, much thanks to Bethany for the photos.)

Key Scripture: Acts 13:1-3


Day 10
was our final day, and a time to pray with North City Pastors, asking the Lord to bring His salvation and to move in every place in our city. We also had opportunity to hear from and pray for representatives from Love the Lou.

Key Scripture: Acts 16:25-34

DAY 10


Following 10 Days, we also had another opportunity to gather related to Day 2. Just last week, on November 2, a group of intercessors joined for 2 hours in North City to pray for the second meeting of this new group of church leaders. The group is now considering several areas of service they might join in to better serve the region together. A newly united effort to "pray and go."

Intercessors' Meeting in North City

It seemed no accident that on this same evening, Lester Holt with NBC News reported live from St. Louis. Not surprisingly, the focus was on crime in the region. On a positive note, there was also consideration of possible solutions, including mention of the efforts of Cure Violence.

As we asked the Lord to increase unity and love among churches and leaders, and to end the various issues affecting us all, we also dreamed of a time when the national news would have to return to pick up the story of a city so affected by the Gospel that the changes could not be explained, even through any of our best human efforts. We envisioned the sheer, collective manpower and resources of God's people, united in the Spirit to serve in love and draw others into His Kingdom. We requested the type of transformation only Jesus can bring.

Upon reflection, it is amazing to see how the requests of every one of those 10 Days flowed right into this night.

I hope you'll continue to be encouraged and keep watching for what God is doing. While His timing and method may differ from what we expect, there is always a greater story than even these small snapshots reveal. That unfolding story is true in our city and any other where God's people are looking to Him. We can be thankful the news, and even our own experiences, don't get the final word. That finale belongs to the true Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.

As always, keep praying, St. Louis!


not scary: halloween & the Gospel

Alright, Christian, once again, we have an incredible opportunity and time to plan for it. So here's my ever refining Franken-article to help get you motivated. Read on...

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16

Once a year we have the world coming right to our own doorsteps begging for treats. So we encourage Christians to do something incredibly easy—on Halloween night, turn your porch light on and share the love of Jesus along with your treats. In other words, be present with people.

Remember, this is as simple or complex as you want it to be. (We tend to go a bit on the complex side, but here's some inspiration if you like: All Hallow's Garage)

Need more ideas? Have a few:

• Dress up your goodies. Purchase some bags, plain or decorated. Add a small toy or something fun. Give the best treats on the block.

• Provide hot chocolate for your guests. Kids and adults love this. It can lead to time spent together and potential for deeper discussion.

• Set up a fire pit and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Same effect as above.

• Do something big at your house to draw attention. Set up spotlights, games, fun scenes, whatever. People tend to remember these houses, and what you gave them.

• Use your skills, or those of a friend, and do magic tricks, balloon animals, music or something else fun and entertaining.

• Invite the neighbors to your house for a “getting to know you” party early in the evening or a day or two in advance. Pass out invites that week to let them know.

• Invite Christian friends to help out, especially if they have fewer children in their neighborhood. That way, you can double your efforts.

• Alternately, if you don’t have many children in your neighborhood, actively find someone who does and work with them. Or maybe go to a party. Be where people are.
• Consider having some Bibles available to give away as appropriate in case the opportunity arises.
• Pray, both before and after the evening, for the people you will meet and for a true love for your neighbors.
Whatever you do, don’t hide behind closed doors. The world is coming to us. Let’s give them something “sweeter than honey.” (Psalm 119:103)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

Sharing the Gospel on Halloween (or any time) 

The Gospel is all about what Jesus has done, is doing and will do. Throughout Scripture we see reminders of the Gospel given to believers, or those who claim to be (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). So don’t forget, the Gospel is for everyone all the time, Christian or non, not just a one-time event in which we hope someone responds and we move on. This is what our salvation is based on, and we need to remind ourselves and each other of that every day.

As a summary, we might say:
• God is perfect, and He says we have to be perfect too. Unfortunately none of us are perfect. We think and say and do things God says not to, or ignore things He says to do, all the time. Our relationship with God, others and our world is broken.
• Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t, took on punishment by dying for imperfect people like us, and came to life again, proving He’s God. Only He could repair our relationships.
• God calls us to stop focusing on ourselves and what we want, and to focus on Him, trusting Jesus as Lord, and the One who does everything we can’t.
• Through faith in Jesus alone we can live with him in a renewed Earth forever.
(This example limits religious language and jargon. Always explain words such as “sin” or “repent.”) 

If you choose to include printed handouts with your treats it’s important they include the basic truths stated above. Don’t go for handouts designed to draw attention without sharing the true Gospel, never give out tracts instead of treats, and don't use paper in place of relationships when you have a chance to engage people in person.

While summaries such as this can be useful, especially for review, they by no means express all the depth and richness that is the Gospel of Jesus seen through all of Scripture. There is a lot of theology behind the statements above that disciples need to have explained. There are also many ways to draw people more personally into the wonder of Christ and His beauty. Consider creation. Listen for ways the individual might see the Lord’s work or provision in life. Ask how they are doing and how you can pray for them. The possibilities are as endless and amazing as Jesus Himself.

When speaking to someone, we need to remember we aren’t doing the saving work, nor is the person saving himself with a response. God is Savior, and He knows who He has enabled to respond and when they will. Ask questions to understand where the person is spiritually. Don’t do all the talking, and certainly don’t aggressively attempt to force someone to “seal the deal” with an on-the-spot prayer. This creates confusion and could end in false assurance, especially if you can’t or don’t follow up. We are to make disciples by sharing who Jesus is and what He’s done, encouraging others to believe and obey Him, and to further encourage love of and joy in Christ for those responsive to Him.

Never forget the importance of listening and relating. If someone feels they can trust you, they will often tell you a lot about their life. This can help you discern where they are spiritually and how ready they are to hear more. Rather than approaching with a formulaic method, listen for concerns and needs, and consider how Christ meets that need. (Example: They’ve been unemployed for months. Jesus is Provider of both physical and spiritual needs. How have they seen Him provide?) Be ready to pray with them while present. Many people are touched by this act alone. Pray the Lord gives you a heart of compassion for anyone you meet.

If someone claims to be a believer but you feel unsure, you might ask them to explain the Gospel to you. Then you can commend or gently correct as necessary.

Should a person truly be ready to receive Christ as Lord and feel compelled to pray in repentance to Him, let them pick the words and see how He leads. Ask if they are comfortable with follow up so they can be continue to be discipled. 

Even simple discussions with neighbors just letting them know you are a believer could easily lead to deeper relationships born on Halloween night. Be ready to follow up with your neighbors in any way necessary to show them the love of Christ throughout the whole year.

More treats for you:
>> Check out some additional related articles by Verge Network.

>> Also, an excellent 3 minute video by Jeff Vanderstelt, who encourages us to "Open the Door to Halloween" in order to engage our neighbors.


Easter 2021: Epic Garden Battles

With spring having sprung, gardening is a hot topic at our place. After last year’s bumper crop, and the very long winter that followed, the spouse is all-in on getting the food stuffs growing again. And while he obviously loves it, so much of his focus sounds like all-out war. Guarding against adorable vermin or undesirable pests, overgrowth or underwatering, he’s ready to protect this new plant life at all costs. And as the celebration of Easter approaches, I’m reminded of a few garden battles of biblical proportions.

Battle Lost
Genesis 2:8-9: “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

The Bible starts out in a perfect garden. Just imagine: No weeds, no disruptive creatures, no drought or floods. Better yet, no issues even between people. Humans and the rest of God’s creation humming along harmoniously. But the story takes a turn with a sudden battle for control. Should we trust the one who first planted the garden and its tree of life, or ignore him in an effort to gain more? Caving to greed, the humans harvest from the wrong tree and lose it all—the garden, their trust in each other and their friendship with God. As overfertilization leads to plant death, the battle is lost. Sickness spreads. Thorn and thistle now dominate the landscape.

Battle Won
Isaiah 11:1-2: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him…”

As years of thorny battles wear on, one day a new shoot comes up. A baby grows to be a man, and that man turns out to be the ultimate gardener. He arrives to show us how to cultivate our relationships again. Expected by some, yet unrecognizable to others, he is ready to fight with his own blood, sweat and tears for his people in his garden, even as we decide to fight against him. In a garden called Gethsemane, he’s arrested. Despite no fault being found, he is prosecuted and placed on a wooden cross, sometimes referred to as a “tree.” Crowned with thorns on this tree of death he does not deserve, this man called Jesus dies...

While this looks like no victory, no one even imagined that 3 days later, life would emerge from a tomb. Even a woman finding the grave empty and seeing a man nearby thinks he's just the local gardener—until he calls her by name. But as a seed falls into the ground and dies to reproduce exponentially, Jesus died and rose to bring new life into the world. The garden battle is won! As the original gardener, he naturally knew what was needed to help it heal. And to each of us, He asks an old, familiar question: “Will you trust me to heal you too?”

Battle Done
Revelation 22:1-2: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

Much as it began, the Biblical story closes with a perfected future garden. We get a glimpse of renewal to come, of a world growing complete and healthy again, of harmony between God and people restored. The thorns have gone, and the tree of life we once rejected now heals us. For all who trust that ultimate gardener, the garden battles are done.

Anyone who gardens is positioned for a unique perspective on loss, triumph and restoration as you guard and nurture your own vegetation. Yet even if you lack a green thumb, every new bud and petal can call to mind these garden battles lost, won and done, even as we navigate the thorns of life that still remain. So as the flowers bloom this spring, I pray you do trust Jesus, the ultimate gardener, for the complete nurture and healing only he can bring.

Enjoy the greenery and happy Easter!