Practical Prayer

Practical PrayerI remember when I was searching for my first job, and I kept getting turned down because I didn’t have any “experience.” And I kept thinking, “How am I supposed to get any experience if you won’t hire me?!” It’s frustrating being in a place where the only way you can get the job is to have experience, which you can’t get because you don’t have the job!

Sadly, I think this is how many people—even many Christians—feel about prayer.

Mature Christians says, “You need to pray.” But newer Christians keep thinking, “I don’t have the experience to allow me to come into God’s presence, because I haven’t been praying before. Does God even want to hear from me now?” It can be frustrating being in a place where you feel the only way you can get to God is to have advanced prayer experience, which you can’t get because you don’t know how to pray that way!

This Sunday I am beginning a new nuts-and-bolts series on how anyone can learn what prayer really is. We will be looking at some of the most basic things that anyone can do to get the prayer experience they need. The series will be called Practical Prayer, and I believe everyone is going to find it highly practical.

I hope you can join me at 10:30am this Sunday. If you cannot join us in person, be sure to check out our live broadcast on Periscope every week (search for @craigtowens).

2015 Year-End Review

Theme for 2016The last Sunday of each year I take some time with our church family to look back to review what we’ve learned. Then we look forward to a theme God is impressing on us for the new year. Check it out here—

O Holy Night & O Holy Day

O Holy NightIn 1847 an unnamed parish priest sent an unusual request to Placide Cappeau, the commissioner of wines in a small French town: “You are well known for your poems. Would you consider writing a poem for our Christmas mass?” Cappeau was both intrigued and honored, and he soon penned an essay called Cantique de Noel.

Cappeau felt that his poem was more worthy of a song, than just merely a poem, so he turned to his friend Adolphe Adams. Adams was a classically trained musician, but he was also a Jew. Adams said to Cappeau, “You’re asking me to write a melody for a poem that celebrates a man I do not view as the Son of God, and a poem that celebrates a day I do not celebrate?” But because his friend Cappeau had requested it, he gave it his best effort. Three weeks later, Cantique de Noel was first heard for the first at the Christmas Eve midnight mass.

Cantique de Noel quickly became popular throughout France. But when it was discovered that the lyricist Cappeau had left the church to become a socialist, and the musical composer Adams was a Jew, the Catholic Church banned the song from being sung in any of its churches. Still the song grew in popularity.

During the build-up to the American Civil War, an abolitionist named John Dwight was especially moved by a line in Cantique de Noel: “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.” Dwight published his version of Cantique de Noel in his abolitionist magazine with the new title O Holy Night. The song quickly caught on in America.

The opening words of O Holy Night speak to our hearts today, as much as they did to those present at the First Advent—long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. To pine for something means to long painfully for something just out of our reach. It’s what the psalmist in ancient Israel capture too when he wrote, My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God (Psalm 84:2). There is a longing in all of us to know the Lord!

That’s why Christ’s First Advent is such a blessed, joyous event! In the second stanza we sing—In all our trials born to be our Friend; He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. Indeed the writer of Hebrews tells us why Jesus was born as a human (Hebrews 2:14-18), and why we can approach him confidently (4:15-16).

Christ’s Incarnation allows us to put our faith in Him. When we do, we experience the Atonement. I like to remember this word by saying it at-onement. In other words, the Heavenly Father now sees us at-onement with His Son—when He looks at us, He sees Jesus. That’s why God forgets our forgiven sins (Hebrews 8:12)!

Then the third stanza of O Holy Night begins to tells us how we live out the at-onement every day by loving one another, enjoying His peace, living free and helping others get free too, singing joyfully to God day after night after day after night!

The First Advent was a holy night. But because Christ’s Atonement it makes us holy. So all our nights are O holy nights, and all our days O holy days, and all our work O holy work, and all our relationships O holy relationships!

Christ’s First Advent changes EVERYTHING for those who put their faith in Him. Is that you? Are you living in Christ’s at-onement? If not, you can be today by simply asking Him to come into your life.

You can check out some of the other Christmas carols we have looked at here. And check out the video of this message too—

Links & Quotes

link quote

“Here’s an Advent illustration for kids—and those of us who used to be kids and remember what it was like. Suppose you and your mom get separated in the grocery store, and you start to get scared and panic and don’t know which way to go, and you run to the end of an aisle, and just before you start to cry, you see a shadow on the floor at the end of the aisle that looks just like your mom. It makes you really happy and you feel hope. But which is better? The happiness of seeing the shadow, or having your mom step around the corner and it’s really her? That’s the way it is when Jesus comes to be our High Priest. That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.” —John Piper (check out Hebrews 10:1-10)

“God desires to be remembered by man. He has taken unspeakable pains to keep Himself before His creatures, so as to make forgetfulness on their part the greatest of all impossibilities. In everything that God has set before our eyes or ears, He says, Remember Me. In every star, every flower, every mountain, every stream—in every joy, every comfort, every blessing of daily life—God says, Remember Me.” —Horatius Bonar

“God gives us a new revelation of His kindness in the valley of the shadow.” —Oswald Chambers

“Allow yourself one excess: be excessively obedient.” —Francois Fenelon

“satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon of the devil is taken out of his hand. He cannot make a case for our death penalty, because the Judge has acquitted us by the death of His Son!” —John Piper

“Without Jesus, we’re trapped in the expectations of others. We’re trapped in living for the approval of our peers. We’re trapped in addictions. We’ve tried to change over and over again, but we don’t have the power needed to escape. Jesus came to give us that power.” —Rick Warren

“Holidays are about history, and if we fail to remember that history or to remind our contemporaries of it, then we will only be confirming their narrow and narcissistic view of ‘history’ as ‘my-story’ and my supposed right to make of my life whatever I will.” —T.M. Moore

John Stonestreet points out the power of hype in our modern culture—Ronda Rousey, Reality TV and Jesus.

Calvary Assembly of God helping the Cedar Springs community see the true meaning of Advent.

Is it really that big of a deal for a Christian to date a non-Christian?

Detroit Tigers fans and New York Yankees fans will enjoy this comparison of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.

The Non-Christmas Christmas Carol

No more tearsImagine that I invited you to my house for a Christmas party. When you arrived, I greeted you at the door with a cheerful hello and warmly welcomed you into my home. But as you hung out with the other guests, you might begin to wonder if we were truly celebrating Christmas. After all, when you looked around my house, you saw no Christmas tree, no ornaments, no wrapped gifts, no mistletoe, no Christmas stockings, no manger scene. You might be tempted to say that you were invited to a non-Christmas Christmas party! (By the way: my house IS fully decorated for the season!)

One of our 300-year-old Christmas carols sounds remarkably like my make-believe party. Joy To The World has no mention of angels, no wisemen, no manger, no nativity scene, no virgin birth, no star in the east. It seems like a non-Christmas Christmas carol! 

That’s because at this time of year, Christians aren’t celebrating Christmas, but we’re celebrating Advent. Actually we’re celebrating both Advents. 

Jesus was born in a Bethlehem manger (His First Advent), but He is also coming again to bring all of earth’s history to a close (His Second Advent). So we celebrate the First Advent, and then look with hopeful anticipation to the Second Advent. That’s exactly what Joy To The World does!

Each of the stanzas of this well-known hymn looks forward with joy to Christ’s ultimate fulfillment of all the prophesies of the Bible. The final joy comes when He reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But we can still live with joy right now!

The third stanza of this hymn says that Christ has come to make His blessings known far as the curse is found. The Apostle Paul says the same thing—sin used to reign, but the grace of God far exceeds the thorns of sin (see Romans 5:19-21; 6:8-12).

Our ultimate joy comes at the Second Advent of Christ when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

So the next time you hear the non-Christmas Christmas carol Joy To The World, be reminded that it’s not Christmas we are celebrating, but Christ’s First Advent. And it’s not some shapeless, indefinable future that awaits us, but we can live in the joy of anticipating Christ’s Second Advent.

Check this out—

We’ll be looking at another Carol of Christmas this Sunday, and I’d love to have you join us!

6 Facts About Angels

Angels from the realms of gloryAngels play a fairly visible role in the First Advent story. As a result, we can begin to piece together some facts about angels from the biblical accounts. In my series on The Carols Of Christmas, I was looking at Angels From The Realms Of Glory, and there is information about the angels in this carol that is well-support from the Scripture.

  1.  Angels were created before the Earth was created, and they celebrated as God created our universe (Job 38:4-7). The Christmas carol says, “ye who sang Creation’s story now proclaim Messiah’s birth,” which we see in Luke 2:8-14.
  2. Angels are messengers sent from God, and they carry a message from God to turn people toward God (Daniel 10:12; Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:11-20, 26-38). In the Christmas carol they remind us to leave our contemplations and “seek the great Desire of nations.”
  3. Angels are not to be worshiped, because they are created beings. Lucifer’s desire to be worshipped is what led to his rebellion against God and expulsion from Heaven (Isaiah 14:13-14). And he still tries to appear today as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
  4. Angels long to look into the Gospel that humans can know by personal experience (1 Peter 1:12).
  5. Angels know that Christ’s First Advent is a reminder of His Second Advent (Acts 1:10-11; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  6. We have been given an angelic responsibility to tell others about Christ’s First and Second Advents (notice that the messengers in the churches are called angels in Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 22:16). The carol reminds us that it’s “all creation” (that includes us!) that joins the angels in praising God.

One of the biggest lessons we need to learn from this Christmas carol, and the corresponding verses about angels, is that we aren’t just celebrating the First Advent. We are anticipating and looking forward to the Second Advent as well! 

Next Sunday we will be continuing our look at the rich messages in the familiar Christmas carols. Please join me!

In the video below, we had some slight technical difficulties. But it clears up about the 5-minute mark, so hang in there!

Living Nativity

We are always excited to portray the story of the First Advent at an annual event in Cedar Springs called “Mingle With Kris Kingle.” My thanks to all of the folks from Calvary Assembly of God who help assemble the set and portray the characters from the biblical story each year. Also glad for all of our 4-H shepherds who help us out each year.

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