Sunday Worship: Merry Christmas

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

This is one of those special Christmas days that actually falls on a Sunday.  And because of that, many of us will get the opportunity to gather and worship in a church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  (For others, this may pose a dilemma as the rigors of celebrating the birth of Christ get in the way with the actual worship of Him.)

But one of the neat things about Christmas the holiday — even in the USA circa 2016 — is that this holiday points us right to Jesus.  No matter what a person’s religious background may be, no matter what stage of life, no matter where a person is, Christmas (like a couple of other holidays) points people right to Jesus.  Whether we love the holiday or loathe it, at some point, the question will cross our minds, “what is this all about?”

The answer to that question is Jesus.  Good news of great joy has come — for all people.  A Savior has been born and given to us.  This is important because we’re all sinners and we’ve all sinned against God, who is perfect and wants nothing to do with sin.  But God, in His state of perfect love, made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus.  And that is what Christmas is about. It’s about Jesus making that journey to us so that we could be reconciled to God through Him. 

Another blessing is that we don’t just worship God once a year. We actually get to worship Him whenever and wherever!  But today, as we wake up on the Lord’s Day which falls on Christmas, let’s especially worship Him.  

“Sunday Worship” is a weekly series that can hopefully be used to help prepare our hearts to worship God Almighty.  You can read all of the posts in this series by clicking here.


Saturday Music: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Emmanuel, God with us.

That’s what the birth of Jesus Christ means.

He would come and live a perfect life so that we could be reconciled to God and live with Him eternally.

He came and did all of this for enemies.  As Romans 5:8 tell us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And now we wait for Him again to return.

O come, o come Emmanuel.

“Saturday Music” is a weekly blog series about the music of our lives.  Click here to read all of the posts in this series.

Friday Picture: The Ultimate Humble Brag

img_1811-1This post is probably in poor taste, but I’m going with it anyway.

It’s the Christmas season and with it come many wonderful things.  Christmas trees, both real and fake, decorated nicely.  Lots of wonderful cookies being baked.  Buying gifts for your loved ones.  These things and many more make this time of year really special as we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

And then there are Christmas cards.

I don’t understand how this tradition was started and I really don’t care.  I care so little that I’m not even going to search Wikipedia for an answer.  I do know, however, that each year at this time our mailbox is filled with pictures of other peoples’ kids.

People, why are you doing this?  What makes you all think that other people want to see pictures of your kids?  In some cases, you also send along pictures of yourself.  What am I going to do with a picture of you?  You do know that we open these things and within a few days they are tossed in the trash, right?

I don’t understand this whole wasted time and energy and money process — for several reasons.

First, most of these postcards have nothing to do with Christmas or the birth of Jesus.  Many cards struggle just to find a place for “Merry Christmas.”  Again, I didn’t check Wikipedia, but isn’t the idea to provide some sort of encouragement to others related to the birth of Jesus?

Second, don’t most of you people have some sort of social media like Facebook or Instagram?  Sweet Wife and I don’t have Facebook, but she does have Instagram, but wouldn’t you think that for the majority of people in the United States they could have — or already have — shared these pictures with their “friends” with the click of a button?

Third, by sending these cards, people ignore one of life’s guiding principles:  other people don’t think your kids are as cute as you think they are.  This applies to me and my kids…and it applies to you and your kids.  Unless I’m the grandparent of one of these whipper snappers (and I’m not — yet), chances are that I don’t think your kiddo is quite as neat as you think.  He’s just another kid who likes standing in open fields, sitting on old trucks and taking pictures with dogs.

So why do we bother with all of these fancy, personalized “Christmas” cards?  Yes, these do provide updates for people, but I think most of us like our families and we want to present them in the best possible way.  This time of year gives us a chance to do that.  We dress ’em up, corral them for a few minutes, snap some pictures, edit a snazzy card and then put them in the mail.  Our lives are mayhem, filled with activity, and these postcard moments give us a chance to present our families as we really want others to see us.  Calm.  Under control.  Good looking.  And doing cool stuff like sitting on an antique truck.  We see other families and we’re jealous of how their lives are perceived to be and we fight back by sending our own card that shows peace and prosperity and favor.

But maybe there are other reasons why I don’t like the cards.  For years, our home life has been a roller coaster ride.  There has been one issue after another and at times life has been pretty hard.  Maybe I don’t like the reminders of the perceived perfection of other peoples’ lives.  Maybe this once a year reminder of perfection reminds me of how imperfect our family life has been.  Maybe I’m disappointed that things have been so tough in our lives that we haven’t had the time, energy or inclination to send out a picture of a smiling family.  Maybe I know that if we sent out a smiling picture that it would be a lie.

Well, that may me true, but we’ve still gone nuts with these cards.

“Friday Picture” is a weekly blog series about life…one picture at a time.  You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.

A Christmas Message for John the Baptist and Us

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:1-6 ESV)

One of the things I find neat about the Bible is that there are real people in it.  By that, I mean that the human authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, didn’t whitewash people or their stories.  If someone had a flaw or question, it was there for all to see.  Take for example Moses as a murderer and David as an adulterer and murderer.  And, also, take for example John the Baptist.  What did John the do wrong?  Well, it wasn’t what he did wrong, it was that he asked a question.

Remember, John the Baptist is Jesus’ earthly cousin and did a Holy Spirit inspired leap in his mother’s womb when Mary, with baby Jesus insider her, visited his mother.  This is the John the Baptist that was used by God to prepare the way for Jesus by his preaching of a message of repentance.  This is also the same John the Baptist that baptized Jesus in the Jordan at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   Yes, this is that John the Baptist.

As this passage notes, John is now in prison.  And despite all of the things he’s done and seen and felt, he now has a question:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

When I would read this question earlier in my Christian life, I have to admit I would sneak in a condescending thought about John.  “What?  You are John the Baptist!  You baptized Jesus and told people to repent!  And now you’re having doubts?”  But now, as an older Christian, I read this with a lot more empathy and it now strikes me as one of the saddest verses in the Bible.

John is in prison and not the cushy federal kind where he gets to play cards and golf all day.  No, he’s in a prison and in the not too distant future, he will beheaded based on the whim of a leader.  He’s in prison.  He may be all alone or he may be in the company of his society’s worst and meanest.  The conditions are probably deplorable and at best he’s separated from friends and companions.  And it’s in this dark moment that he sends a question to Jesus: “Are you the one?”

To someone with an accounting background (like me), a more succinct answer may have seemed the better option.  “YES!” Instead, Jesus answered in a different way.  Instead, He said this:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus didn’t answer like an accountant, “Yes, John.  The Holy Spirit told you in the womb!  You should know this!” Instead, He gently reminded John of the truth.  Jesus told the messengers to go and tell John what they had seen and heard:  the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.

Can you see how this message and the delivery of this message would be an encouragement to John’s faith?   The messengers would go and say, “We’ve seen these things!”  And John would likely tell himself, “Yes, and I’ve seen them to.”

John asked the question even though he knew the answer.  John wanted to hear again the answer to the question, “are you the one?”  Jesus, are You the messiah?  Are you the One who was promised?

Jesus’s answer to Him was essentially the Christmas message.  Yes, Jesus is the One.  Jesus, God’s Son, has come to us.  He is God with us, Emmanuel.  And no matter who we are or where we are, we need to hear this Christmas message too.  If we are long-term followers of Christ, we need a reminder of the gospel.  Or, if we’re that lost soul staring at Christmas, we need to hear the message.

As James Macdonald reminded his listeners this week, during this time of year, the gospel message is being pumped through malls and stores and through radio stations and through music services!  The world is being told that Jesus has come!  Every year, regardless of how crass or over the top with consumerism the Christmas season seems to be, God is blessing us by using this holiday madness to prime others to hear the gospel.  We have the opportunities to either ask the question “what does this mean?” or we have the opportunity to be the ones who explain what we’ve seen and head.


Saturday Music: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

The album, A Very Special Christmas, provided a transition from the Christmas music I enjoyed as a child and the music I would enjoy as an adult.

Growing up, we had a couple of Christmas albums, namely ones by Elvis and Gene Autry, but the month of December wasn’t filled with holiday music like it is now on certain local radio stations.  After Thanksgiving, we would hear the occasional Christmas song interspersed with other music, and then around Christmas Eve, certain stations would start playing them for a few hours in a row.

As a result, there was a very limited range of Christmas music that I knew.  I knew a few religious Christmas carols (that we probably sang at school because I didn’t regularly attend church), the few we heard on the radio and the few from our albums.  But with A Very Special Christmas, things seemed to change.

The songs on this album were covered by some of the largest pop stars of the day, such as John Mellencamp, U2, Bryan Adams and Sting, and they were all really well done.  In many cases, like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” performed by Mellencamp, the songs were performed with a modern sound that made them sound, well modern.  They were performed in a manner similar to the way these artists would have performed their other songs and it made the songs popular and updated for a couple (at least) of generations to follow.

Popular artists of each era have always covered Christmas songs, but this album seemed to particularly well made and served to energize the practice.  And I believe that eventually encouraged so many radio stations to play holiday music non-stop for much of the holiday season.

“Saturday Music” is a weekly blog series about the music of our lives.  Click here to read all of the posts in this series.

Saturday Music: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

I guess it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Black Friday has come and gone.  Bama has won the SEC title game.  The tree is up and the light fairy has sprayed lights all over the trees out front.  So, I guess it’s time to put on the Michael Buble Christmas album.

In terms of secular Christmas music, Buble’s “Christmas” is about the best there is.  Like a lot of his music, he takes what others have done and does it differently — and a lot of the time does it better than the original.  That’s the case with this album.  He covers a batch of the classics and tosses in a couple of original songs.

My favorite song on the album comes down to two of them.  If I hear his version of Mariah Carey’s  All I Want for Christmas first, I usually think that’s my favorite until I hear the song above, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

Shoot, since we’re only a couple of weeks away from Christmas, how about a bonus track today?  Here’s my almost favorite, All I Want for Christmas:

“Saturday Music” is a weekly blog series about the music of our lives.  Click here to read all of the posts in this series.