Christmas on the Couch

Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.


Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays tucked in my least favorite season of winter, So it is always kind of an oasis for me in the midst of cold, blustery weather. But this year was just wow. It was THAT good.

For many an ideal Christmas would include snow, plenty of presents, family, food and friends. A Christmas would include a trip to grandmother’s house, a cracking fire, hot chocolate, special coffee. The smell of mincemeat pie wafting through the air while Nat King Cole plays over our speakers would make things perfect.

So was this the kind of Christmas I just experienced? Not quite. In fact, it wasn’t even close. But still, this year was the best Christmas ever.

My family got sick the Sunday before Christmas. It was a particularly ugly bug. There was throwing up, fevers, chills, stomach aches, sore throats…the whole shebang! This bug decided it liked us so much that it hung around through Christmas (and beyond). Just when we thought it was over, we would have someone throw up again. Couple this with a severe lack of sleep and the recipe was there for a horrible Christmas.

We were on couches with blankets and buckets around. We were physically miserable. But my was this a magnificent day. We looked like a quarantine area for a deadly virus but we had a wonderful day. How did THAT happen?

We re-discovered joy.

Make no mistake, we were not happy. Our circumstances stunk. We were sick and could not do the many things that we normally would do on Christmas. I think that was the point God was driving home to me and my family. Because we were not slowing down, God put the brakes on and stopped us. And it was wonderful.

So how do we rediscover joy when we are struggling? Here are some hints I hope are helpful.


Always remember your position in Christ is unshakeable

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NASB

In Paul’s closing of his dissertation on our deliverance from bondage and our victory in Christ, Paul minces no words, leaves no doubt that our eternal destiny is secure. When you are sick on the couch and the pressure of the now closes in and makes you wonder of God’s goodness, think about your security in Christ, Regardless of what you or I experience, knowing that when this life is done I have an eternity in the presence of God guaranteed makes me rediscover joy though I may not be happy.


Always remember the trial here now is not always going to be around

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB

Here James centers us on some very important truths. First, trials are a part of the Christian life. Second, trials have a divine purpose. Third, that divine purpose is competed in us. Our sanctification is accomplished through these trials. Fourth, trials come in various shapes and sizes. Each trial is custom made to give us a missing part.

Trials come and go. How they affect us though, remains forever. For our Christmas on the couch, we learned through the trial of sickness that we did not need our traditions or preferences. We needed only to focus on Christ.


Always remember that others can help you bear the burdens that come up

 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB

During our weeklong illness we had a number of co-laborers in Christ encourage us and offer to help us. We also had a few who braved our infectious house to drop by and say hello and drop off some yummy treats for when we were feeling better. We received encouragement from our Pastor as well. A final bit of advice about having your unexpected burden shared – be humble enough to joyfully accept the help. Don’t rob those who offer to help of a blessing. Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

So how was your Christmas?

I hope you were well, experienced a wonderful Christmas, shared Christ with others and, most of all, had a joyful time. This is my prayer for you for the coming year – that you will grow closer to Christ, become more like Him and experience life-altering joy all year long.

My prayer is for you to have the best year ever.

What Christmas Did…

Because Christ was laying in the manger, Christ would be nailed to the Cross. 


Another year is quickly coming to a close. We are about to celebrate Christmas 2014. I need to let that sink in for a moment. Christmas 2014. This is my 50th Christmas. Wow, thats a lot.  There are plenty of memories through those years. Plenty of memories for sure.

I remember the expectations rising as Christmas day neared. I remember my brothers and I decorating the Christmas tree my dad would bring home. I remember making my “wish list” out of the giant Sears catalog that would arrive in the mail every year. Ah yes, I remember it well. Over most generations, Christmas seems to be a time of expectation. We are always looking forward to Christmas.

The day itself, of course, is a reminder of what happened in the past. There is little consequence if this is or is not the actual day Jesus was born. What matters is that He was born. And He was born to die. For me. And you. For OUR transgressions. Wow.

Sometimes I wonder if God is remembering Christmas. I wonder if He looks back on the birth of Jesus at all. When I begin to think about that I am reminded that God has always looked forward to Christmas…and I’m not speaking of December 25th. I am speaking about the birthday of Christ which we celebrate on December 25th.

You see Christ being born was determined before man set foot on God’s earth. Before man, before sin, before the world was placed in  the heavens. Yes that long ago, God determined there would be a Christmas. That is, before anything was, God was looking forward to Christmas,


For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.  1Peter 1:20 NASB

What a wonderful truth Peter shares with us here in 1 Peter 1:20. In his discourse in chapter one, Peter begins a talk about the conduct of the Christian and the call to be holy beginning in verse 13. Peter continues to talk about the need to be holy because that is the call of the Christian because God Himself is holy. Peter then speaks about giving a reason for our actions to be pure – because Christ was sacrificed for us. And with that Peter comes to the above passage – that the death of Christ was known before the foundation of the earth. So if God knew beforehand about salvation coming through the death of Christ,then He must have known beforehand that Christ would be born. He declares as much through the prophet Isaiah

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NASB

Isaiah uttered those words a more than 700 years before Jesus was born. And if there is any doubt to whom those words were directed, Matthew states

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 NASB

God planned for Jesus to come to earth before the foundation of the worlld. He declared it to be so  more than 700 years before His birth. But did you know that this event was foretold even before that?

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel. Genesis 3:15 NASB

Right after the fall of mankind – when pronouncing the curse that will befall creation – God brings forth His promise of a Savior. This is sometimes referred to as the first time the Gospel was proclaimed. It certainly is the first time there is a promise of the defeat of Satan. What a place to give hope!


So why do I share this at Christmas? Well the plan of God is not some grab bag of ideas thrown together at the last minute because of some surprising development. No, God’s plan and purpose is a careful one that brings glory to Him. God is not surprised for anything but has planned everything to bring glory to Himself.

And that is what Christmas did. Because Christ was laying in the manger, Christ would be nailed to the Cross. And with Him on the cross were my sins. And yours. The provision for the atonement was planned before it was needed, provided for before it was necessary, and promised before it arrived. In our moments of greatest desperation, God gave us then – and gives us now – hope. That hope came on Christmas.

From my family to you and yours – may you have a blessed Christmas. May your coming year be filled with a new zeal for God and the things of HIm rather than the things of this world. May your life be blessed. Most of all, may all that you think and do, bring glory to God in the highest.


Merry Christmas!

Tuning into Christ at Christmas

During the Christmas season there is a lot of noise. That noise can make hearing Christ at Christmas very difficult. 


When I was growing up in North Carolina my older brother and I would listen to the radio broadcast of the Saint Louis Blues hockey team. We would sit around my brother’s radio and try to listen to the broadcast closely to hear if our favorite player would score. This was long before the days of XM radio, digital radio, and HD radio. All we had was AM, FM and shortwave! What came with the broadcast of the games was static, And there was a lot of static. We would hear weird sounds and some crossover signals where we could here a station we didn’t want to hear. All we wanted to hear was the broadcast of the game. It was hard to hear but we would focus our attention on what we wanted to hear in such a way that we were able to ignore the noise of the other signals.

Just like my brother and I focusing on our beloved hockey broadcast, we too can focus our attention on Christ, in spite of the static and noise of Christmas. It helps to know where the noise is coming from though. And around Christmas there are plenty of contributors to the noise we hear.


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,  full of grace and truth.                    John 1:14 ESV


The Santa Claus noise and static

It seems that we have a lot of this noise. You know the story, A fat guy who lives at the North Pole travels the world on Christmas eve with a sleigh full of toys pulled by flying reindeer. This guy somehow makes it to every child in the world, scooting down their chimney to place just the right toys under the Christmas tree in the house. I grew up with this story and believed it for many years. I (and probably you) chuckle that I believed such a tale.

Many Christians are so upset with this tale that they will go to great lengths to debunk this myth – even to the point of insulting others. We have taught our children the meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. We also have frank and open discussion regarding the multiple Santa’s that are around us this time of the year. We make sure our children understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas like us. We also make sure they understand that we don’t condemn those who believe in Santa Claus but take every opportunity to share Christ.

But we don’t stop there. We talk to our children about where Santa Claus came from and the true story of Saint Nicholas. So if you want to effectively deal with the noise and static of the fat Santa Claus in a sleigh, take a little time to stress that this is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. Also take some time to educate yourself about Saint Nicholas. Research him and tell the REAL story. It is an amazing and inspiring story.


The “This day has pagan roots” noise and static

Critics of Christians – especially those critics who are also atheists – are quick to point out that Jesus was probably not born in December. They are also quick to point out that December 25th has roots in pagan religions. Some Christians react poor to this. Some will deny any such connection to paganism. They’ll huff and puff and get red in the face. They’l deny, deny, and then deny some more. They’ll protest claiming a great conspiracy trying to rob Christ of His birthday. What should our response be to this if or when it comes up?

Once again education is the Christian’s friend here. December 25th was celebrated as a pagan holiday long before Christians made any claim to it being Christ’s birthday. That is simply a fact. We have reams of evidence for this. Google it sometime and you’ll see it for yourself. Also Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th. We don’t know for sure the date of His birthday but the evidence in Scripture appears to lend credibility to the idea that He was born sometime in the Spring.

So what should we do with this information? Should we abandon December 25th as Jesus’ birthday celebration? What should we do?

Well first i think we should admit the fact that December 25th was a pagan holiday. That is just a fact. But I don’t think we should abandon it as the celebration date of Jesus’ birthday. This date is the one we set aside to celebrate His birthday. I don’t think there is anything wrong with designating it His birthday celebration, especially since any date we designate will be just a guess. This plus the fact that this date has been celebrated as His birthday for such a long time that at some point we should give a nod to tradition. Again, while this noise can be loud, focus on Christ and don’t interfere with those who want to criticize.


The consumerism noise and static

This noise is particularly difficult in the United States. I recently read somewhere that the average American spends over $700.00 (US) per person for gifts. Yikes, for a family my size that would come out to $6300.00 (US) every year! I don’t have that kind of money to spend on gifts that will soon be neglected and forgotten. We have made Christmas much more about getting stuff rather than Christ – at least we have in the United States. My wife and I wrestled with this question a number of years ago. What we came up with may not work for everyone but it does work for us to be able to ignore the noise of “You have to buy this for Christmas!” mantra that is chanted every November/December.

We practice a type of minimalist Christmas. Now what do I mean by that? What is a “minimalist” Christmas?

Well, what we do is we draw names in our family. Once we have done that we have a rule that we enforce regarding presents: each person who gives a gift must make that gift with their hands. They can buy the parts they need, but they must put it together with their hands. Normally we’ll buy one family gift and we do buy some stocking stuffers for them, but we don’t go crazy spending thousands of dollars on gifts. After all, we are not celebrating their birthdays…we are celebrating Jesus birthday.


So what now? What about all this noise and static at Christmas?

Though ignoring the noise and static I wrote about is much easier said than done, it is possibe. In our family, filtering out that noise and static has made Christmas a much more meaningful time for us. Christmas is much more enjoyable because we focus on the reason for Christmas rather than simply buying something for someone.

The very best we can do at Christmas to filter out the noise and static – not just the ones I named but also other sources – is to focus our attention on Christ. Just like my brother and I did all those years ago with the St. Louis Blues where we focused so much on those that we wanted to know about, so too about Christ and Christmas. If Jesus is as important as we say He is, there should be no difficulty focusing on Him.

In spite of the noise of Santa, paganism and consumerism, we can hear Christ clearly by making Him the most important part of this noisy holiday – tune into Christ. Focus on Christ. Focus on the eternal.

And have yourself a very Merry Christmas.


The Cross in the Manger

If there had been no manger, there could not have been the Cross. And without the Cross – well, my war with God would still be raging.

When we think about Christmas visions of a cooing baby lying blissfully in a manger filled with clean, perfectly placed straw fills our mind’s eye. Rarely, if ever, do we consider the reason for the manger. We rarely think about the reason for the incarnation of Christ that way? Why is that? Though we seldom think of the Cross when looking at the Manger, we should.

Before Jesus came to the earth to die for sins, I was dead. I was helpless against the power of temptation and sin.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Ephesian 2:1-2 NASB

There was nothing I could do to stop myself. I sinned because it was my nature to sin. That sin was only a small symptom of the rotting of my soul. You see I was in total rebellion against God. Oh yeah, I was there. A war against God I knew – I KNEW – I could and would win. If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump I was Lieutenant Dan on Forrest’s boat in the middle of a hurricane yelling – and challenging – God to an all-out fight. Yep, that was me.

I could hide the bitterness and anger that filled my soul for a while, but it would come out eventually. My long war with God was indicative of my destination. I was headed to hell in the proverbial hand basket. I was heading to hell not because I had neglected to meet Jesus as my Savior. No, I was headed to hell because I was a slave to sin, powerless against it. I was going to hell because I was in utter rebellion against God. I deserved my one-way ticket to hell.

But something strange happened on my journey to Satan’s kingdom.

 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to thekind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight Ephesians 1:4-8 NASB


Jesus interrupted my life and had mercy on me. He saved me. He remade me. He extended grace to a graceless man. He extended love to a loveless man. I did not find God. He found me. Make no mistake, salvation is all God’s work and none my work. And I am so thankful for that.

Since that day when God irrupted in my life things have changed and continue to change. When I was outside of His grace, I could not help but sin. But now, I can resist temptation and sin. Oh I still give in – and that is to my shame – but I don’t always give in to sin. When I was outside of grace I could do nothing to please Him. Now, a recipient of His grace, I can please Him. I am able to obey now, rather than just rebel. I can serve Him rather than fight Him. My long war with God is over. And I was the winner. I am brand new!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.     2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

No I didn’t win because my will or strength bested God’s will or strength. No, I won because He defeated me. Sounds kind of weird I know but it is true. I’ve never been more joyful as I am a defeated human who is victorious in life…because of Christ.

So why consider the Cross – Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection – when looking at a manger? Well that baby in that straw – which probably not too clean – in the manger was born for one reason: to die for a sinner such as I. I can’t help but be humbled at the thought of Jesus as a baby – the only truly innocent baby ever born – born into this sinful world yet untouched by its filth. His mission was to seek and save those who were lost. He came to heal the rotting soul of man…my rotting soul, my lost self. He came for me. For. Me.

So this is why I think of the Cross when looking at the Manger, The wonder of the incarnation is fully expressed in the brutality of the Cross. If there had been no manger, there could not have been the Cross. And without the Cross – well, my war with God would still be raging.

The incarnation is wonderfully awesome because in being humble enough to become human with the purpose of providing the only sacrifice able to wash sins away, Jesus demonstrated HIs great love for me.

What about you? Are you in Christ?

Do you consider the Cross when you see a cute baby all snuggled and comfy in a nice, clean manger? Have you thought about your war against God? Your rebellion? Your inability to resist sin?

Christmas isn’t about a fat guy traveling around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. It isn’t about trees, presents to each other, grandma’s house or anything else. Christmas is less about the manger and more about the Cross.Christmas is about the wonderful incarnation of God the Son, who soul mission was to die for a sinner such as I,  and a sinner such as you.



Expectations. We all have them. We have them for our careers. For our families. For our church life. We expect certain things to happen as we progress through this pilgrim’s journey. 

I’ve always dreamed big dreams. I once had a goal of graduating from high school number 1 in my class. Not. Even. Close. I wanted to be President of the United States. I then had the expectation that I would be one of the greatest, most heroic Marines ever to live. In fact, when I would write home from boot camp I would end my letters “The best since Chesty.” (for the uninitiated, “Chesty” refers to Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, recognized as the very definition of Marine). Well, I guess I made it up to mediocre at best. While I loved the Corps it just didn’t work out the way I thought it would.

I was discharged from the Marine Corps and wandered in California for another ten years or so. I owned a business, worked for some others. Lived what I thought was a decent life. But something wasn’t right I guess. My dad died in 1997. My world changed and so did I.

I moved to northern Virginia to take a job at a Primary Standards Laboratory. That’s pretty high on the food chain in my field. At one point some at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology—THE measurement nerds extraordinaire for the US) were interested in me working there. But it didn’t come to fruition. I felt the Lord leading me to Seminary. So I went.

I thrived in Seminary, loving all the academic stuff and learning all kinds of neat stuff about God and encountering Him in new and interesting ways. I graduated with highest honors, second in my class, in 2004 with an MDiv, a wife, child and another child on the way! We were ready to go and serve. I had high expectations. I was a candidate at a few churches locally. One I was a finalist. I thought I was going to be the one called. I was excited. I expected the call. It never came. I was not chosen. Someone else got the call. Disappointed is too mild a term for what I felt. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.

I served in a church in a bi-vocational manner (I held a job outside of the ministry I conducted). I would preach once a month, teach when and where I could. I thought I could do this for awhile. We were there for a few years until a doctrinal issue created a problem. I expected that it would be resolved. I guess it was sort of, kind of resolved. I was encouraged to find another church since I considered the particular doctrinal issue in dispute as essential. So me and my family left. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.

The years went by with me serving at another church. I filled pulpits and being a candidate multiple times. When the pastor of a church decided the Lord was leading him to another place of ministry, for a moment I thought maybe that I would be considered. That was not to be either as the elders had decided to ask someone else. (a fine choice by the way). I was disappointed again. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.

Well, time continued. The Lord seemed to leading me to plant a church. I met with my pastor about this. He had felt months before that I should plant a church. We spoke about how this should be handled. I wanted to handle it in a God-honoring way. I told my pastor that I would ask no one to come with us. I just wanted the prayers of these dear people. My pastor decided with the elders that they would encourage anyone who wanted to go with us to go with their blessings. Wow! I think we left with four families. We started well at Main Street Bible Church. We grew quickly from the small plant group to about 95. That growth was not because of me, it was because God was blessing the preaching of His word. My expectations rose. I thought that we could become a church that planted churches without regard for growing large itself. I was excited. Then my expectations crashed.

In August 2011, a man I trusted enough to appoint as an elder decided to leave Main Street. Not only did he leave, he left in a manner that caused the church to split. I knew that Main Street would not survive. Not a year later, Main Street Bible Church died. Heartbroken my mind wondered…“What’s wrong with me?” That question rang in my ears for quite a while.

As I have searched for an answer to that question, I figured out I was asking the wrong question. The question isn’t “What’s wrong with me?” The question is “What’s right with me?” An besides that, this life isn’t about me anyway!

I am a sinner saved by grace. I live for Jesus Christ because of Jesus Christ. I am nowhere near perfect. My expectations have yet to be met because I have mismanaged them. I’ve looked at them incorrectly. I have expected too little. When I should have expected to live a holy life, too often I settled for a “good” life. When I should have expected to be a servant, I often settled to be a leader (without the servant part). When I should have expected increased loyalty to God, I settled for expecting loyalty from others. Ouch!

So now what? What do I do now? I have a church split on my resume. The church I planted has died. Not achievements any pastor wants on his resume, that’s for sure. What’s next for me and my family? What is my expectation? Will I settle once again for something less? What do I need to do? How about you? Do you have unmet expectations? What do you expect to be, expect to happen, or expect to become in the coming months? Years? The rest of the life you live?

I expect to be a servant of God almighty for the rest of my days on earth. I do not expect others to follow me because I expect I will point everyone to follow Christ. I will pursue Him with purposed abandon. Though I will do this imperfectly, I will do this faithfully. While I don’t know what form my service and my family’s service to God will take, we will serve. That’s my expectation.