- Christian, husband, dad, friend, leader, communicator - Life Purpose = Love & Encourage, Offering Grace & Hope - Life Motto = Living for the applause of nail-scarred hands - Life Verse = Matthew 25:21

PR31 was determined to work some Christmas magic… as you learned she is prone to do in yesterday’s post (click here if you didn’t get to read it yet & you’ll understand). Today, she attempted making a Yule Log, or Bûche de Noël. Yeah, she blows me away all the time.

Well, things were going pretty well until she got to the filling for the classic European Christmastime cake. It just wasn’t setting up like it was supposed to. She set it aside, and moved on to the other parts of the dessert, determined that she would figure it out. I’m getting over some allergy-sinus stuff, and I opted for a nap while she “figured.”

When I woke up from the nap, she informed me that way on over into the process, she came across more steps that had to be completed for the filling to set up properly. It had simply had to be set aside in its current condition, and then further steps would transform it into what it was ultimately supposed to be.

We’re not so different from that Yule Log filling, you know. There are times in life when we just can’t seem to figure out why our lives are not turning out to be what we know they are supposed to be. Perhaps the Lord has put a dream in your heart, and it hasn’t come about yet. Maybe you feel called to do something significant in this world, but the right door hasn’t opened yet. It could even be that a relationship hasn’t developed like you thought it would.

My suggestion? Keep reading the recipe. God may have more steps that He needs to accomplish with you before you turn into what you envisioned from the picture on the website. You can trust that it will turn out right if you leave it in His hands. Philippians 1:6 tells us that, “…God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished.”

His work. You may have been set aside while He works on some other elements of the situation, but it’s His work, and He will come back to you and finish what He started. You can count on it. And when He does, it’s going to be oh, so good!

We had only been married several years when PR31 decided that she was going to try, without telling me, to get me the best possible Christmas gift she thought I would be able to dream of. One day, it hit her. She knew something I would love because I had owned it at one time.

Flashback Scene… It was the spring of 1995. Angela and I had just gotten engaged, and I suddenly realized that as we graduated college and got married, I would need money. So, I did what any sane college student would do… I started selling anything I owned that wasn’t nailed down or wouldn’t be needed in married life. This included a significant portion of my massive collection of 1980’s Christian rock cassettes. It was hard to part with some of them. In particular, I had every Petra tape made to that point, and I sold them as a set to my friend, Chris. I don’t recall how much he gave me. I just know it was hard to let them walk away.

Back to the story… Angela remembered how much stuff I sold so that we could start our life together. And she remembered those Petra tapes. Somehow, she got me talking about it one day, and I relived for her selling them to Chris. That’s all she needed.

She secretly hunted down an email address for Chris… this was before social media existed… unless you count chat rooms. She got in contact with Chris and asked if there was any chance he still had those tapes. He laughed, and told her, “You won’t believe this. I’ve moved three times since then, but I’ve never unpacked the box they’re in, and I know exactly where they’re at.”

Jackpot! She told Chris that she would pay any reasonable price he asked plus shipping cost, but he laughed and said that she could have them because he had never really wanted them in the first place. He just wanted to help me out. She gave Chris our address, and he sent the tapes.

Since we were going to be with family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we opened our gifts a day or two before we left. We sat in the living room of the double-wide parsonage and gave our gifts to each other till there was just one gift left under the tree. PR31 launched into a speech that sounded more like a disclaimer… “I wanted to get you something special, and I think you’ll love this, but it may not be anything big. If it’s not, no big deal.”

I had no clue what I was about to open. I didn’t know how to prepare myself. Slowly, and more carefully than normal, I removed the tape and wrapping paper. I opened the small cardboard box, and pulled away the paper packed around the gift. Then my jaw dropped, and tears filled my eyes just like they are right now as I type this story.

I couldn’t believe it. These were not just replacements of the very tapes I had loved over the years. They were my Petra tapes! And not just some of them. All of them!

I fumbled around through the tears with some, “How did you…” and “I can’t believe this!” As PR31 told me all she had done to get the tapes, I realized what an act of love this was. She thought of my likes. She thought of something I sacrificed. She went to all that effort. And then God worked a miracle to let Chris have the tapes, know where they were, and be willing to part with them. It was one of the times in life when I felt the most loved.

Those tapes may have been the best Christmas present I ever got… outside of God giving the gift of His own Son, Jesus, that first Christmas. If they’re not, they’d sure be hard to beat. But it wasn’t about the dollar value… it was about the love invested through care, time and effort.

What if we all tried to live out that kind of love this Christmas? Not just with the gifts we give each other. I mean, what if we really considered what mattered to others? What if we went out of our way to do something special… something we knew would mean a lot to someone else?

Better yet, what if we tried to live out that kind of love all year long, and not just at Christmas? Maybe we can’t do something that special for every person we meet every day of the year. But maybe we could once a week… or at least one time each month. And how much more love would be people sense in their lives if they “opened a box” like I did one day, and realized how much we really care about them? Well, I can tell you. In fact, I just did.

In Monday’s post (click here if you missed it), I mentioned that part of our enjoying the snow miracle was making snowmen. The snow was perfect for packing together and rolling around into ball shapes to set on top of each other. As a windy day previously had dropped a bazillion more leaves on our property, our snowmen were a terrific blend of fall and winter, but to us they were beautiful and amazing.

Later on snow day, I had to get out to run some errands, and by the time I made my return trip to the house, almost all the snow everywhere had melted. The sun had begun to shine brightly, and there was no more snow in the trees. There was barely any to be found on the ground.

Yet, there stood our two snowmen.

We went on about our day, and they stood guard overnight. I took the picture above the next day. It struck me that all the other snow had long since melted away, yet the snowmen remained. That’s because the snow they had been made from all stuck together.

There’s value in sticking together. Like our snowmen, though difficult times may leave you not looking like much, you will still be there in the end when all those who decided to go it alone are no longer anywhere to be found.

King Solomon said that, “Two are better than one… and there are even better.” He understood what made our snowmen survive… together matters.

So, today… especially during this Christmas season, stick together. Whether it is with your military band of brothers… your fellow nursing home patients… your co-workers… your PTA or neighborhood watch… or your church… stick together. Overlook offenses. Put up with idiosyncrasies. Laugh at humorless jokes. And love a lot. Stick together. You’ll be better off than all those alone folks.

And by all means, stick together as a family. Stay married. Stay engaged in your kids’ lives. Help an aging parent with some task that isn’t as easy as it used to be. Work together on a project. Laugh a lot. And love a lot. Stick together.

I wish I had waited another day or two to take the picture… because those snowmen were still there… together… worse for the wear, but still there. When all we had were memories and pictures of all the other “alone” snow, there stood… or laid… our “together” snowmen. And I smiled even more as I realized how good together really is.

Most days, I get to blog in the morning. Not today. It has been one full day. But I’m grateful today for a wife with a crazy-hard work ethic… for sons who believe in their goals and work hard to achieve them… for friends who think of us and not only pray for us, but bless in different tangible ways… for opportunities to make a difference in this world… for health and strength enough to do what I need to do… and for God giving the gift of His only begotten Son, Jesus, that first Christmas.

I am blessed. May my life reflect that.

Last week’s snow here in the Deep South was more than just a fun day off from school for our son Alex. It was an answer to his prayer based on his faith.

Alex had told me at the beginning of the week that it was going to snow. He started off telling me that it was going to snow Monday or Tuesday. Then he began to tell us specific times that he believed it was going to snow. He was so sure it was going to snow that he would go to the window at those times and look outside for snow.

One morning in the middle of the week, he came in the living room where I was doing my devotions, and he expressed that he couldn’t understand why it had not snowed yet. He said something along the lines of, “I put it in my prayer journal, so I know it’s going to happen. I thought it would have snowed already.” I tried to figure out how to discuss the deep theological ramifications of God’s sovereignty with him, but opted to say that sometimes God says, “Not yet,” because He knows what is best for us and has a better plan. Then, before he could get too dejected… I didn’t want him to lose that powerful faith… I added that I would pray along with him and believe for it to snow before the end of the year.

Now, you have to understand, we’ve lived in this area for a little over thirteen years, and it has only snowed four or five times total. Two of those were in the same week. And only once before had it snowed in December. The conditions just aren’t right for it usually.

Alex was not to be deterred, though. One day he said something about it snowing, and with my best stab at having his intense level of faith, I told him we should check the weather to see if it had changed in our favor. His reply caught me off-guard as he reminded me that I had told him meteorologists are not in control of the weather… they’re just making educated guesses based on trends from the past. I had told him God was in control of the weather. So he told me not to tell him what the weather report said because that doesn’t stop God from being able to make it snow. Well, I couldn’t argue with that. He was right.

Thursday night, I did check the weather and saw a chance for possible flurries at 3am Friday. I told Alex, and once again we all prayed for snow that night as we put the boys to bed.

Friday morning, Angela and Alex came into the bedroom and woke me up. I knew it had to be big if they were up before me and felt it important enough to rouse me from my slumber. Then it hit me… Snow! I hopped up and looked out the window. Sure enough, it had snowed that morning and there was a small accumulation across our property.

We all quickly dressed, and headed out to throw snowballs, make snowmen, and of course make the obligatory snow angels. We laughed, we played, we took pictures and shot video. And that day, we thanked God for answering prayers based on the faith of a nine year-old who just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Alex was absolutely convinced that God would come through for him with snow. He prayed for it. He believed it was going to happen. He ignored the circumstances. He put his trust in the One with all power. And God responded to that faith.

So, for others, that snow was fun. But for us, that snow was faith becoming reality! If you enjoyed the snow last week, you can thank Alex. He believed when others didn’t.

I want to be like Alex when I grow up. I want to be that giant of faith. I want to trust God unswervingly. And if you’ve got something you need God to do for you, let me encourage you today to apply a little Alex-type faith to it!

I know you may have thought I was going to go with something like “Silent Night” or “Silver Bells,” and the truth is that I love them almost as much as my fave five. But there is no Christmas song… and I do mean no Christmas song…that does it for me quite like my number one.

And it’s not just any version of it, although some other versions still touch my heart. Basically, any other version simply makes me think of the one ultimate version. The song is, “Little Drummer Boy,” and the group who performed it is Whiteheart. Prepare to have your Christmas transformed forever by clicking here.

Like any great Christmas song, it starts off soft and magical, but part way through the song it crescendos into such power that it sweeps me into glorious celebration. Lest you think I jest or overdo it with this description, I assure you that I mean it from the depths of my soul. I get chill bumps and cry every single time I listen to this song.

There’s something about the focus being placed on recognizing Christ’s deity and majesty… about how deserving He is of our highest praise and honor… that captures my heart. Then there is the realization that we are so little and have so little to offer Him which could even come close to what He deserves. There, in that moment, we are struck with the reality that we will never be good enough on our own. We need a Savior. A Savior who understands what it’s like to be one of us. A Savior who would give His very best for His Heavenly Father.

All we have to offer Him is that which He has given us… those talents, those abilities, those gifts with which He has endued us. That is truly all we have to give Him, and yet, when we give our very best… though it does not scratch the surface of what He deserves… He smiles at us and accepts it as praise for who He is.

I am a poor boy, too… I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King… Shall I play for You?… I’ll play my best for you… Then He smiled at me.

Gets… me… every… time.

All I want is to please Him. All I want is to one day stand before Him, have Him smile at me, and hear Him say those words, “Good job, bud! You did it! You took what I gave you and used it to honor Me. You obeyed Me. You stuck with Me all the way. Let’s celebrate together!”

That’s what this song screams at my heart and mind. Literally. When Rik Florian hits that high note, I come unglued. Can’t help myself. Play that song, give the altar call, I’m coming!

I don’t know if anyone will ever top this for me. I do know that For King & Country have just recently released a video of their version, and I must admit that it runs a very close second as far as putting the passion and energy into the song that it deserves. If you need to compare for yourself, click here.

So, perhaps you’re underwhelmed by my pick for number one. That’s okay. It’s my list. I hope you have your own. I hope you have songs that point you toward the love, joy and peace that Christ brought when He came to this earth over 2,000 years ago. I hope you have songs that draw you to Him. He is the reason for the season, and the songs of the season can help us remember that important fact if we will let them.

So, deck the halls… and ring the sleigh bells… ask for a hippopotamus… hang the mistletoe… roast the chestnuts… and whatever you do, O come, all ye faithful, to Christ the Lord!

Merry Christmas, y’all! And I look forward to telling you Monday why today’s snow in our part of Louisiana was so significant…

If my trips to Israel have taught me anything, it is that I read the Bible with my westernized, Americanized, modernized thinking… and this probably causes me to not see what really happened 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem in all its power and truth. Yet, I don’t let what I’ve learned keep me from enjoying a good sugar cookie or setting up a wooden nativity barn. Instead, when I hear a song like my second favorite Christmas song, I let my mind travel back to those places I’ve visited as I let the singers tell me the story of the greatest birth ever in the way they know how.

My #2 top Christmas carol is of the modern variety. People have not been singing it for decades. In fact, many people may have never heard it. I’m obviously… and unashamedly… a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. So songs by other Christians about the Savior and Friend I love so very much are what I naturally gravitate toward. Since this song is by a Christian group and has not been out a really long time, I would not expect most people to know it.

The song is called, “Come And See What’s Happening In The Barn,” and it’s performed by the Gaither Vocal Band. You can listen to it by clicking here.

Now, we don’t know that Joseph and his virgin-yet-pregnant fiancee’, Mary, arrived in Bethlehem the night before Jesus was born. And we cannot confirm that there were inns, or hotels, like we know them. We can’t even confirm whether the stable was more like a barn, or more like a cave. But what we do know is that Jesus was born to common people… in a common setting… yet in a most uncommon way. The night He was born, strange and miraculous things took place. That’s what this song reminds me of.

About 2/3 of the way into the song is where it really takes on life for me. When the person letting them use his stable realizes something significant is happening, and the shepherds encounter an angelic army choir heralding their Master’s arrival, I start getting chill bumps all over, and tears begin to brim in the edges of my eyes. I can’t help myself.

Oh, to have been there! No doubt, I would have been like the shepherds, who went and told everyone they could about what they had just experienced. Who wouldn’t have? Listening to this song takes me back… not necessarily to the Church of the Nativity, nor the Shepherds’ Grotto, which are both amazing to visit… but it transports me back through the millennia to an evening in the Middle East when God changed history forever.

I hope you’ve been enjoying this series of Top 5 Christmas Carols, and that it has caused you to think of those songs which move your heart toward the Christ of Christmas. Tomorrow, I will share with you the one Christmas song that always brings tears of joy to my eyes and causes my heart to swell with love for Jesus every time I listen to it. What’s my overall, favorite, top Christmas Carol of all time ever in the whole universe? Come back tomorrow, and find out! 😜

Christmas is obviously a spiritual celebration. It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the very Son of the living God, born through a teenage virgin more than 2,000 years ago in Israel. It is sacred… that moment when the infinite God wraps Himself in limited flesh and becomes Emmanuel, God with us. There is no explanation. It is simply miraculous.

Yet it is so easy in the hustle and bustle of this season that we forget that very spiritual incarnation. We forget that we travel to see family because Joseph and Mary returned to their family homeplace for the census. We forget that we give gifts because God gave us the gift of His Son. We tend to overlook the very reason for the season.

So, I love my 3rd all-time favorite Christmas carol because it always takes me back to that moment… that mystery… that miracle. This song is deeply spiritual, even though my favorite version of it is performed by someone who may or may not be a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s my favorite version because I have never heard another person sing it with such passion… such emotion… and such power. I am moved every time I hear it, and feel like I want to join an angel choir to declare once more how special and important the birth of that baby was and is for all of us. My 3rd all-time favorite Christmas carol is… “O, Holy Night” performed by Celine Dion. If you’ve heard it, you know, and you’ll click the link for sure. If you haven’t, and you doubt my estimation, go ahead and click here to see what I mean.

I know, I could have gone with “Ave Maria” performed by Harry Connick, Jr., or “Mary, Did You Know?” performed by Mark Lowry, but the night is holy because of Christ, and this song turns my heart toward Him in worship each time I listen to it. For that, it ranks pretty high on my list.

I suppose most of these could be rearranged in different positions on my list. I love Christmas music, and I’m not afraid to listen to it throughout the year at times not between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve. And when I listen, you can rest assured that “O, Holy Night” makes the playlist.

Let’s remember and celebrate Him most this Christmas!

Have you noticed that people seem to smile more at this time of year? People actually look up from the screen in their hands and speak to each other… kindly. It’s because this season brings joy to the heart. And this season brings joy to the heart because Jesus brought joy to this world when He came to inhabit it like us.

So that’s why my fourth favorite Christmas carol is none other than… “Winter Wonderland.” It speaks of the fun, joyful element of Christmastime… sleigh rides, building snowmen, warm fires, being together. The Lord intends for us to live joyful lives year-round, and this song evokes that in my heart.

Now as a younger person… and admittedly still as a little older young person… I was particularly captivated by Stryper’s version of “Winter Wonderland.” But it’s not for the faint of heart, nor those looking for classic Christmas joy. Yet, if you enjoy, blazing guitar licks, drum solos, and guy’s in leather and spandex singing as high as ladies… and you’re feeling extra bold today, perhaps riding alone in your vehicle where you crank up the volume to 10 and break off the knob… just google it or search for it on YouTube.

Otherwise, you might want to check out my other favorite version of this song from Point of Grace, which is more mild and acceptable for playing in public places… like the office, or your kitchen. Don’t worry, this one features incredible harmonies as well… and all the vocals are actually performed by ladies. To enjoy this version, simply click here.

My hope is that just listening to this song will cause a smile to break across your face… not just your mouth, but into your eyes, and down to your very soul. This is the season to be reminded that Christ came to give us an abundant, joyful life. Let’s celebrate that as we celebrate Him this season!