Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, Songs, The Bible, writings

O Holy Night

Well, a winter storm has arrived and covered much of the area with snow and bitterly cold winds. With only 2 days until Christmas, it looks like we might as well just hunker down and stay indoors. If you haven’t picked up my present yet, it’s okay. You can give it to me next week. Some of us are frantically trying to ensure everything is wrapped and the stockings are hung with care. Others have been ready for days and are just relaxing to the sounds of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis.

As we come toward the end of Advent and the beginning of Christmas, I wanted to share with you the story of my favorite Christmas carol. In fact, it’s probably my favorite hymn of all: O Holy Night.

In the mid 1800’s a parish priest in France asked a local poet and wine merchant named Plaucide Cappeau to write a poem based on Luke 2 that he could use during the Christmas services at the church. Luke 2, as you probably known, is commonly referred to as “the Christmas story” in the Bible. So Plaucide wrote a beautiful poem. But here’s the catch: Plaucide wasn’t even a Christian!

Plaucide knew the story found in Luke because back then, in a majority Christian country, most people simply knew the story. If they weren’t raised in a Church-attending family, many had religious instruction in school. Beyond that, Christianity had a much bigger cultural impact than now. Cappeau wasn’t chosen because he was a godly man with a heart for Jesus, he was chosen because he was a good poet.

After writing the poem, he asked his good friend Adolphe Adams to put the words to music. Guess what: Adolphe wasn’t a believer either! But the church had a new organ and they were eager to try it out. And the song became an instant hit. People came to the services just for that song. It spread quickly to other churches. But when people found out that this beloved hymn was written by two unbelievers, each wo had a bit of a reputation, there was an effort to remove the song from circulation. But the cat was out of the bag.

Fast forward about 50 years or so to 1906. Reginald Fessenden, a 33-year-old Canadian professor and inventor was playing around with a new invention called the radio. On December 21, 1906, Reginald read Luke 2:1 on the air and then played “O Holy Night” on his violin. It was the very first voice and song broadcast over the radio.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Till He appeared and the Soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, Oh night when Christ was born.

Here’s something to think about today, friends, as we are a mere 2 days from Christmas: The two people responsible for writing the words and music to one of the most well-loved Christmas hymns did so without knowing Jesus. Oh, they knew the story! But they didn’t have a relationship with Christ.

How many people we know, or even us ourselves, get a little teary-eyed when Linus recites Luke 2 and yet still miss out on who Jesus really is?

Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know [God] the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [he] has sent.” Don’t be satisfied with just knowing the story. Trust in Jesus today. Get to know Him. Follow Him with your whole heart.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, The Bible, writings


We’re coming down to the wire with Christmas. Only a few more days to go. Some of us have already started with family get-togethers and office parties. Hopefully, by now you’ve picked up your Christmas spiral-sliced ham and got your ingredients for the scalloped potatoes. Me? Just give me cranberry sauce, ham on a roll, and maybe a bit of stuffing. We eat until we’re stuffed, and then sneak into the fridge for leftovers around midnight.

It’s remarkable how much of our collective Christmas celebrations revolve around food. I mean, as long as you have a good spread and happy people, the gifts under the tree don’t matter as much. After all, what is a celebration without yummy food? It brings it all goes together:  The laughter we share, the stories we rehash from yesteryear. The game of UNO or Euchre that can get dangerous if you cross Aunt Marcie.

For many of us, however, there will be an empty chair this year, and not because of a loved one passing away. For many of us, Christmas brings back memories more bitter than sweet when we consider those who, by our choice or theirs, are not at our table. Maybe they decided they were better than you or better off without you. Perhaps they chose someone else or another family over yours. I know of far too many people who have decided to leave their own families for some dream lifestyle or a fling that ended in disaster. In other cases, I know stories of people who haven’t spoken to their kids or their siblings in years. You know those stories too. You may be one of those stories.

I’m not trying to get into why or if we should cut people from our lives. There are times when God actually encourages it (“avoid divisive people”, etc.). It’s very possible that our lives are far better, even safer with those people not at our table. You can love someone, and care about them, without liking them very much. My point in all of this is to acknowledge the real pain many people feel.

Now, with that alienation in mind, think about God. We are, on our own, each separated by God. Not because God didn’t care enough to invite us to the potluck, but because each of us, in our own way, have chosen to ignore him. To leave our Father’s house and go after something we perceived as better. Some of us are still blinded by the glitz and thrill of deception. Others have come to their senses but not returned because of pride. No one likes admitting they were wrong, so they tend to wallow in pity and blame the innocent for the separation.

That’s where Christmas comes in. Jesus changes things. Listen to the words of Paul in 2nd Corinthians 5:17-21:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I’m an idealist. I’m always hoping that things change, that people come to their senses (and to Jesus), and that things can be restored. I rarely block anyone on social media, despite themselves, because I’m always hopeful. Why? Because if Jesus can bring me, a sinner, into the presence of God the Father, perfect and blameless, then I know He can help reconcile me with others.

This year, even if your table has an empty space, thank God that He has reconciled us to Himself. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll work in someone else’s life too.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, The Bible, Time, writings

Waiting on Christmas

When you live in a home with 4 children, Christmas can be an amazing wonder and a major test of patience at the same time. Over the past several days, we’ve been getting our cards ready for mailing and purchasing the last few items we need for our Christmas celebration. I am a notorious procrastinator, so there is nothing like waiting until the last minute. But we’ve also begun to wrap presents to be placed under the tree for Christmas morning.

In our house, wrapping is a big deal. Gift bags are for people who refuse to take the time or effort, and after all, isn’t it the thought that count? Okay, maybe I was a little harsh. You gift-baggers are alright.  We make it a family thing, where the kids argue over who gets to wrap with me. As I type that, it seems a little dysfunctional. Oh well. Here’s what I am trying to get to: Once the present is wrapped, what do we do? We wait.

Previously in this Advent series, I have talked about God’s waiting. But now I want to hone in on our own waiting. Many times we can be like my son David, who is so eager for all things Christmas, in that as soon as we finish our preparations, we’re continually seeking “what’s next”. It’s both beautiful and exhausting, to have your son so excited but also not satisfied. And while I wish I had his energy level, I’m trying to teach him to wait. It’s so hard when the presents are wrapped and covered with ribbons and bows, just sitting there, waiting to be unwrapped, but we wait.

The theme of waiting on God is found throughout the Bible. In our day, the idea of waiting for someone or something seems rather tedious. It leads to frustrations and we try to invent ways to distract ourselves. We play a game on our mobile devices. We count the tiles on the ceiling or floor. Or worse, we jump ahead of God and try to do it on our own. See the story of Abraham to find out how that works out (not good).

In the Bible, however, we often see waiting associated with positive emotion. There isn’t a dread of the here-and-now, but a confident hope of what is expected soon. In Psalm 27:12, David prays that God will “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.” Ouch. That is what we pastors call a “difficult season”. But instead of despairing, see what David prays/ celebrates in the next two verses:

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

David was strengthened by his hope. He didn’t just hope that everything would be hunky-dory in the life to come. He was convinced that He would see God work things out in this life. He didn’t know how or when. But he was reminding himself, not to just wait anxiously checking his sundial for the time, but to wait, expecting a glorious outcome.

Maybe you have done all you can do. I don’t just mean have the presents wrapped and cookies baked. Perhaps in your situation, you have done all you know to do. You’ve worked hard. You’ve put in the time, the tears, the sweat. And now it’s up to God. Don’t despair. Christmas is coming. Christ is coming. Believe that you will see God at work. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Christmas is all about waiting for the Lord!

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

God’s Ultimate Gift

If asked what the most well-known verse of the Bible is, many of us would respond “John 3:16”, right? If you grew up in a church setting, it is probably one of the first verses you learned. We see it in people’s social media biographies. We even see it painted on the faces of some of our favorite athletes. We can recite it, right? Let’s go ahead: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Very good! Your old Sunday School teacher and I are proud of you.

Sometimes I think that we can become so familiar with something that it loses its significance to us. For example, how often do you just take for granted that the ice machine in your freezer works? Then one day, you really need some ice, and poof, there is none. I think we rush through so much, especially the holidays, that much of what makes them Holy Days (where we get the word “holiday”) is overlooked, or worse, forgotten. It can be that way with John 3:16, too.

God loved the world God “agape” the world. Remember, agape is the most committed form of love. C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” God loved, and loves still, the world, his creation, especially his most cherished creation, humanity. He was and is committed, not to our momentary happiness, but to what is our ultimate good. And by virtue of being our Creator, He knows that better than anyone else ever could.

He gave– Every year, someone will go on about how Christmas has its origins on paganism and that the traditions we observe have nothing to do with Christ. I disagree. While, yes, there are a lot of cultural appropriations in Christmas, things we have taken from culture rather than scripture, that does not make them inherently bad, but I digress. No, we give gifts because our heavenly Father gave a gift. We are most like God when we give and when we are generous.

His only Son– But God didn’t give us a new gaming system or a subscription to the Jelly-of-the-month Club. No, He gave something of much greater value. Quick Bible nerd moment. I’m not a fan of the word begotten in the phrase “only begotten son”, because it doesn’t appear in the original Greek, and gives the appearance that Jesus was created rather than pre-existent with God the Father from eternity past. The literal phrasing should be “one and only Son”. But regardless of the translation, the key thing here is that God the Father gave God the Son to be our Savior, the ultimate gift.

You see, God doesn’t love humanity because of what it is, but rather despite what it is. We didn’t somehow earn a gift from the Father. But because of our sins, the things we do that violate God’s laws, we are separated from Him. Our separation is both now in this life and in eternity. That’s not what God desires. It’s not something He is okay with. God is a relational being and He desires us to know Him and love Him.

And so, Jesus came. Not to condemn us, because apart from Christ we are already condemned. But to save us. To bring light to our darkness, hope to our despair, and healing to our brokenness. That’s why John 3:16-21 isn’t just good news at Easter or Christmas. It’s the Gospel, the Good News for every day. So take some time today and this week and thank God for His ultimate gift.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, The Bible, writings

What Is Love?

We’ve made it to the 4th Sunday of Advent! Christmas is just around the corner, a mere 7 days away. If you’re anything like me, you still have cards to sign and mail, gifts to wrap, and cookies to bake. If you’re one of those special kinds of people who have been ready since December 1, my hat is off to you. Now please come and help me out!

Now is crunch time, you see. It’s where we really get busy. Last-minute shopping. The kids are probably out of school, so we have activities or trips planned. We’re running out of time to go see all the lights and do all the things. Caroling, baking, plays and pageants, mad trips to the store. It’s the most wonderful and hectic time of the year. Here is where the rubber meets the road with our resolve to keep Christ in Christmas. Here is the test of our priorities. Here is where we must slow down.

Because if we don’t, we’re going to slide right past Christmas and before you know it, we’ll be packing away the tree and putting away the nativity set. All without taking the needed time to ponder, wonder, pray, and worship.

The 4th Sunday of Advent is usually devoted to the theme of love. Love is another thing we rush through. We’re too quick to say it, too flippant with its usage, and push the word out of our mouths like an automated voicemail when saying goodbye. No, I’m not advocating the abandonment of love, just like I’m not telling you to avoid baking those cookies or going to the mall. What I am saying is that we need to slow down and consider.

What is love? I’m sorry if I’ve just put the 1993 song by Haddaway in your head for the rest of the day. But what is love? A deep affection? A feeling? One of the disadvantages of English is that we have one primary word for love while during the times the Bible was written, there were several, each distinguishing the kind of love, such as a platonic friendship, a sexual or sensual connotation, or an absolute commitment to someone.

In 1 John 4:9-10, John writes to us, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

You see, sometimes we take the notion that God loves us, well, we take it rather lightly. God wasn’t content to just send a prophet or two to tell humanity, “I love you.” No, he demonstrated it. He made it known. It was made manifest for everyone to see. While some of the Old Testament was shadowed behind ritual and ceremony, the gift of Jesus was shown and available to everyone.

You know those times when someone does something nice for you, so you get them a little something as a token of appreciation. Maybe because you don’t want to feel like you owe them anything? God didn’t give us Jesus because we were good, or because we first loved him. No. That demonstrates his agape or steadfast commitment to our good, that he sent Jesus while we were far from him. Romans 5:8 says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

So today, this week, slow down and consider the great wonder of God’s love for you. Yes, for YOU. And celebrate the gift that is Jesus. He is the manifestation of Love.