How to Be Last in a World Consumed by Firstness

I've read the gospels many times, but I always seem to stumble when Jesus says, "The last will be first." I have an inkling of understanding, but the gravity of the phrase seems to elude me.

What did Jesus mean when he said, "The last will be first, and the first will be last"?

Braden Collum

In providing some commentary on the subject I must first confess something you probably already know about me:

Feeling Weary: Spiritual Encouragement from One Who's Been There and Back

Emma Simpson

Did you know I write a monthly article just for my email subscribers?

This month I wrote about hitting the wall in your spiritual life. Call it burnout, fatigue, or whatever you will, if you're a Christian long enough you'll eventually encounter the spiritual wall.

Here's how this month's article begins:

What I Read in 2019

If you're struggling with reading as much as you'd like, may I suggest a trip (sans children of course) to the beach?

Link Hoang

This past summer Katie and I visited the gulf coast where I finished two books on my list and made my way well into a third. In fact one day on the shore, I had to trudge my way through the white sand and back up to our condo's Wi-Fi so I could purchase and download another book on my list. It was glorious!

Katie and I at the beach.

But even if you can't get away this year, the best approach, of course, is consistent small steps towards a goal. On a typical day, I only read two to four pages and yet on average I finish eight books per year--a paltry number for the avid reader to be sure, but twice as much as the median reader in the United States. All with minimal (but consistent) effort!

With that preamble out of the way, here are three books I read in 2019 I think you might like:

The Only Way to Remove Darkness from Your Life

Anton Darius

Did you know I write a monthly article for my email subscribers?

This month we talked about the principle, first credited to Aristotle, that nature abhors a vacuum. But rather than looking at the axiom through the lens of physics, we turn it sideways and use it to view our spiritual lives.

Here's how it starts:

The older I get, the more I recognize the universality of the axiom, nature abhors a vacuum. 
Want to know where to find my children? Go to whichever room is the tidiest. Once they've wrecked it, they move on to the next. They never play in their bedrooms unless the area is clean. Once it is sufficiently cluttered, they'll search for a neater space. 
But this isn't just true of children and play areas: 
-The newly retired quickly find their calendars fuller than when they had a job.
-In weather systems, high pressure always flows to low pressure.
-Adding more lanes to the freeway should alleviate traffic, right? Well, maybe not. Research shows that increasing throughput might actually promote congestion
It seems in many areas of life vacuums--which we'll loosely define as empty spaces or the lack of something--are unnatural and unstable. They don't last. 
We give the Greek philosopher Aristotle credit for first coming up with this principle even though he never stated the axiom as nature abhors a vacuum. The current phrasing seems to have originated with the French writer Fran├žois Rabelais in the sixteenth century. 
Where am I going with this? 
While we're not as concerned with physics in this space, nevertheless I think the principle applies to our spiritual lives too.

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The Only Thing Harder than Following God

I have a son who loves to do anything but go to bed when it’s time to go to bed. Perhaps you can relate.

On his way, he’ll find a piece of trash that needs to go in the garbage. Or he’ll pick up a toy and put it away. He does this every night even though I tell him explicitly to go to bed.

Jeremy Bishop

The activities he does aren’t intrinsically bad—picking up after yourself is a good thing—but the context makes them wrong. Essentially he’s doing the right thing the wrong way.

King Saul had this same problem.

How to Set up a Christmas Tree and Still Go to Heaven

Arun Kuchibhotla

Did you know I write a monthly article for my email subscribers?

This month I explored the supposed pagan origin of Christmas trees. Are these claims valid or not? If so, how should we, as Christians, respond?

Here's how the article begins:

If your family is like mine, you probably have some unique Christmas traditions. 
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family breaks out our Christmas decorations in accordance with the traditions we’ve developed over the years. First I head to the garage and unfurl the creaky wooden ladder leading to the attic. Once I test a few steps to ensure they’ll hold up another year, I climb up and then start heaving the boxes labeled ‘Christmas’ in Sharpie scrawl down from the upper room. 
As we decorate, we enjoy classic Christmas ballads from Aaron Neville and Sarah McLaughlin. Once all the paraphernalia is in place and the fake fir is erected, we open the ornament box and marvel at the mix of homemade and gifted ornaments, each a repository of memories. 
With the tree trimmed we order a couple of pizzas and prepare one of our favorite indulgences while we wait: Chex Muddy Buddies. There’s something magical about the mix of cereal, chocolate, and peanut butter laden with powdered sugar. The batch usually doesn’t last but a few days. 
When the pies arrive, all six of us pack out the couch and watch the Jon Favreau cult Christmas film Elf. Though we’ve all seen it ten times each, we still laugh till we hack and wheeze from the leftover autumnal colds we’re still getting over. 
With that, the Christmas season has officially begun in the Gilmore household. 
Yet there are some who say having a tree in the house at all is an un-Christian thing to do. They say the practice is pagan in origin and therefore has no place in Christmas festivities. 
Are they right? Am I sinning by erecting a fake fir tree and decorating it in observance of Christmas?
A Brief History of the Christmas Tree 
There are a few divergent issues we must address, so I’ll try to be brief as possible in order to get to the heart of the matter. 
The first is to determine if the claim that Christmas trees are pagan in origin is a valid one.

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Is There a Deeper Meaning behind the Virgin Birth?

Do you ever wonder why God sent his son as a tiny zygote in the womb of a teenage virgin?

The story is totally bizarre and, quite frankly, outlandish without some context.

I'm not questioning the virgin birth; I'm convinced it's true. But you could see how someone from the outside might consider the story mere fable.

Anuja Mary

Nevertheless one can be convinced of the veracity of an event without in the least understanding its cause. Take, for instance, NBC's television program, The Voice, in which singers compete for a cash prize and a record deal with Universal Music Group.* I know the show exists, but I can't for the life of me explain why.

*At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

Still, why didn't Jesus appear as a grown man on earth? Why didn't he come from the sky and boldly announce his arrival?