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Friday, November 27th, 2020

One of the hardest times for me to preach is Christmas. I know that sounds weird. But it is true. It isn’t that I don’t like Christmas. I love it! What makes it so hard to preach at Christmas is most people know the story so well they could probably do a better job than me. 🙂  So the hard job for me is to find a new way to tell an old story. By new way I obviously don’t mean denying it or the truth of it or the virgin birth or the Incarnation.  The questions are:

How do I make it come alive?

How do I make it appealing and not boring?

How do I tell this timeless story and bring old truths to life?

I’m not sure how I succeed in those but I do try. This year I am calling my series A Grand Production.  I plan to look at it through the idea of a play with the different actors and actresses in their roles. My sermon this Sunday is on the Supporting Cast.  I’m breaking it down into the Messy People and the “Go-Before” people. Do you know who they are? Hint: the first group is found in Matthew 1 and the others are found in Luke 1.  You should be able to figure them out.

If you are unable to come to OVCF don’t forget we live stream at 9:00 and 10:45. I’d love to have you join us. If you can’t would you at least pray for me/us? Thanks.


Monday, December 16th, 2019

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is considered by many to be America’s greatest poet.  He is quoted as once saying, “Believe me, every man has his secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”  He was writing from experience.   A Hallmark movie his life was not!

He was married in 1831 and by 1834 had a wonderful wife, a dynamic reputation, and a house overlooking the Charles River.  He seemed to have it all, yet within a year of moving to that home in Massachusetts, his wife became ill and died.

It took him seven years before he recovered enough to marry again. With a new love, the good life returned to him. The Longfellows welcomed five children into their home. It was during this time that he wrote some of his greatest works- The Song of Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish, to name two. In 1861, at the height of his greatness, tragedy struck again. While lighting a match, his wife’s dress caught fire and she burned to death. Then before he could hit his stride, his faith was challenged by the American Civil War.

He hated the Civil War-it tore at his heart to see the land he loved, the United States, to be so fractured. Longfellow was an ardent believer in the power of God to move on earth, and he pleaded with God to end the madness. When his oldest son was injured during the war, while tending to his wounds and seeing others around him doing the same, his prayers turned to rage. He asked his friends, and his God, where is the peace? He took pen to paper and penned the refrain from the song we often hear at Christmas: “I heard the bells on Christmas day/Their old familiar carols play/And wild and sweet the words repeat/Of peace on earth good will to men…And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

I suspect if we are honest we have all asked the same question about peace and have stated it (perhaps without as much clarity). The angel’s announcement to the shepherds that night was “peace on earth among men on whom God is pleased.”  May we all come to know the peace He promises us.


Sunday, December 16th, 2018

I have said this before and I’m sure will say it again (as I will now): I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. That’s not a put down; it’s reality. I realized early on that I was not without the ability to learn, i.e. stupid or dense, but I also realized I was not one who could probe deeply into subjects. Math and science, for example, have always been challenges for me. Advanced Biology was a required course chore. Chemistry was a train wreck. When it comes to spiritual things I have often taken a rather simple approach to things: “God said it; that settles it; therefore, I believe it.”  I am not into the finer details of things. That does go along somewhat with my Sanguine personality, but in matters of faith, I’m content to trust. So when I come upon something which is so good I want to share it, then believe me when I say I was touched by it.

I recently read an article by a woman named Rebecca McLaughlin (whom I have never heard of) entitled 4 Reasons to Believe in the Christmas Miracle.  I’m going to list those four reasons but I will also include the link so you can read the whole article yourself. So here is the recap. The link will be at the end.

  1. Miracles aren’t hard for God.
  2. Miracles aren’t ruled out by science.
  3. The gospels aren’t mythologized.
  4. Forgiveness is the greater miracle.

This post was written because as Rebecca was reading the Christmas story to her daughter, she said she didn’t believe in the angel visitation. To read more about this here is the link. I’d encourage you to read it in its entirety. You’ll be glad you did.

I would like to hear your thoughts if you have any.


Friday, December 7th, 2018

Don’t you just love genealogies? Aaaaah no. “As a matter of fact I usually just skip over them and go to the end. Sort of like I do when I’m reading all about the clans and offspring in Numbers.”

But there is one genealogy you just don’t want to skip over. I’m sure you know I’m speaking of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1. I used to. I was lost at the first “begat.” You know…the old KJV version of “father of.” And honestly, when people want to talk about Christmas they want to talk about the baby in the manger, the shepherds, the wise men, Bethlehem, no room in the manger, or some other well known part of the story. But the genealogy? Surely you have got to be kidding!

But there it is in black and white and as glorious as it can be! There is the requisite “father of” found in all genealogies. But, as you may know, there are some women included in His. The culture of that day excluded women from any place of prominence, especially in the genealogy. But not Jesus’. I’m sure you have heard it before but here is what we find with the woman:

Tamar– disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah. Find her story in Genesis 38

Rahab– anyone who has read the story of Jericho knows her profession.  She was an idolatrous, an outcast Gentile woman, and a professional prostitute. She became the mother of Boaz who married our next woman.

Ruth– a Moabitess, a lineage that came as a result of incest. (Genesis 19). She married Boaz (Read the book of Ruth) and became David’s great grandmother.

Bathsheba– Is the anyone who does not know who she is? Just say “David.”

Mary- the mother of Jesus. A sinner like you and me. A virgin but still a sinner.  Definitely not perfect and definitely not deserving to be elevated to the heights with Jesus. She was in need of a Savior like all of us.

The genealogy of Jesus speaks of grace. It shows that God accepts outsiders. Like me. Like you.  The genealogy shows people with warts. It is unfiltered.

Grace is my main topic for this Sunday. The Unfiltered Light of Christmas. Your prayers would be appreciated.


Thursday, December 8th, 2016


No…not IT as in technology.

“It” as in what you call your baby until you know its sex.

Jo & I had our two girls in the age when knowing the sex of your baby was, at best, guesswork. They listened to the beat of the heart. Watched the way mom carried it (not an exact science). But before the modern technology, knowing the sex of your baby was, as I said, guesswork. So we tended to call the baby “it.” Unless, of course, you are like me who would not let Jo look at any girl’s clothes while pregnant and then boldly stated from the pulpit on the second one that I put my dibs in with the Lord and this one is a boy.

Yeah…both were girls…and I wouldn’t trade either of them for all the money in the world. I’m convinced God said He was going to have some fun with me for the first one and probably changed the sex of the baby in the womb when I bragged it was a boy. 🙂

I just got a text from an expectant mom Tuesday that their baby was going to be a girl. Oh…modern technology. Takes the guesswork out of the sex of the baby and takes the wonderment out of it as well.

Last week I talked about Emmanuel (God with Us). This week I’ll be speaking on Isaiah 9: 6-7, the passage where names of Jesus abound. While Mary and Joseph knew the baby was to be a “he,” the names given in this passage tell so much more about Him.  It is a good way to prepare for Christmas-to know the names of the future Messiah.

Which one means the most to you?


Monday, December 14th, 2015

Time for another Christmas tradition lesson!

I love mistletoe. Let me rephrase that: I love what mistletoe suggests. 🙂 But then again some sarcastic person will say, “Who needs mistletoe?” and technically they would be correct. If people only knew…

Do you know what the origin of mistletoe is? In Old English, mistel is the word for “dung,” and tan means “twig.” Mistletan is the Old English version of the word we know today as mistletoe. Well…I guess it just lost some of its romantic appeal. Don’t you think?

But, let’s move on. In ancient times, mistletoe was viewed with awe, as a miracle plant. It is actually a parasite, and yet it is radically different from what we think of a parasite. It is a beautiful, flowering plant which thrives in treetops when all else dies. Scandinavian warriors would stop battles if they found themselves under mistletoe (No…not to kiss each other). They believed it would dishonor a plant which stood for life by killing. It became a symbol of peace.

Eventually, the restorative powers of the berries migrated to England and the plant became a symbol of love. When a couple passed under the plant they stopped to kiss. If they did (they believed) God would bless them with everlasting love.

By the time Dickens wrote The Christmas Carol, the plant (for Christians) had become a symbol of life after death, of faith that was so strong it could grow even in the harshest of environments. Like the FISH symbol of the ancient Christians, the mistletoe was hung as a testimony of a person’s love for the God who had sent His Son.

Today, sadly, the message of peace, faith, and hope has been largely lost, but if even in a childish way, the message of love remains. (Sounds strangely biblical doesn’t it? See I Cor.13)  So…the next time you see a mistletoe hanging take advantage of it! Remind yourself it stands for the message of love.  (Had you going there for a minute didn’t I?)

This was adapted from this book:

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Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

Some songs become “fade-aways.” We call them one-hit wonders. Others become classics. Along with White Christmas, The Christmas Song may be the most recognizable song of the holidays. Have you ever heard the story behind it and how it broke down barriers?

Mel Torme was a jazz singer who earned the reputation as “the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man.” (Ethel Waters). Mel was an incredible musician and showman, but also a songwriter. (My parents used to listen to him and other “lounge” singers so I have heard his voice/music). Strangely, if he had not taken a trip across LA on a smoldering hot July day, the song he is most remembered for may have never been.

Nat “King” Cole was a silky smooth baritone who voice fit him like a glove (I also remember my parents listening to him). He earned the name “King” because of his voice and stage presence. He is known for “Unforgettable,” a song his daughter, Natalie, turned into a posthumous duet. He may have never been known for “Chestnuts” if it had not been for a visit from his friend, Mel Torme. After hearing the song in his house on a hot July day, he laid claim to it, made changes to fit his voice, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Mel wrote the song based on the musings of a friend, Robert Wells, one blistering hot summer day. He was trying to keep cool by writing down positive things: “chestnuts roasting…Jack Frost nipping…yuletide carols…folks dressed up like Eskimos.”

One writer + one set of good lyrics + one silky smooth singer = a hit which outlives both writer and singer. The “King” succumbed to cancer in his 40s. Torme lived into his 70s.  The moment for which they are known lives on. Another fact: Cole’s cut of that song became the first American Christmas standard introduced by an African American. Its success opened the door for others to put their spin on holiday classics.  Here is Nat King Cole’s version.

Here is the version I’m listening to.

So ends your music history lesson for today. 🙂 Enjoy! Some material came from the book pictured.

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Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Christmas movies to be exact.

We all have our favorites. Some I wouldn’t walk across the street to see if they offered free admission and popcorn. Perhaps if they offered money to turn around and go back maybe… One of them would be Elf.

But there are certain movies which are Christmas classics. Miracles on 34th Street. Christmas Story (which I am still not fond of except for a scene or two. “Far rar rar rar rah”).

I tend to favor The Santa Clause I & II. Polar Express. White Christmas.

My favorite? Hands down: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And that movie sure had a life of its own. Given up for dead in movie-land during its release, it found an audience years later. George sacrificed himself throughout his whole life-for family and friends- and found himself at the end of his rope. Through the help of a bumbling angel (Clarence), he realizes the greatest gift he had was his life. And what a life it was!

The movie was a dud at the box office in spite of some Academy Award talk. Jimmy Stewart’s performance was too over-the-top. Donna Reed’s portrayal of the wife was too perfect, and the ending of the story too ideal. As happens often the critics were wrong and the story of this “dud of a movie” making its way to the “Best Loved” list is testimony to the fact that time (and TV) changes things.

TV took over. I can remember when TBS must have showed it every day (and seemingly all day) during the month of December. It not only found a second wind but a new audience. Jimmy’s personal credibility helped, but so did the themes of sacrifice, faith, truth, loyalty, honor and “feel good.” People were trying to make sense of a lot of garbage and those themes struck a chord.

Two tidbits:

  • No matter how many times I see the movie, the end (how his friends and family rally to support him) always touches me. We never know the influence our lives have.
  • Our local theater showed it Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. There were close to 150 people of all ages watching. They laughed. I heard some sniffles. And they clapped when the movie was over!! Only in Spencer…. 🙂

What is your favorite Christmas movie?

For more indepth discussion, check out this book.

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Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

One of my favorite Christmas is “White Christmas.” I know…not very spiritual. And also in some places not very welcome (I’m thinking Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and other warm-blooded states). Ironically, for others, if it doesn’t snow then it really isn’t Christmas.

Anyway, I love “White Christmas” and as far as I’m concerned the master of that song is Bing Crosby. Hundreds of others have sung it but NONE hold a candle, IMHO, to Bing’s version. In the remake of Holiday Inn titled White Christmas, they wisely chose Bing to sing the closing song and not Danny Kaye. That Bing could sing! That song was Bing’s 79th charting single; became the most successful of his early years; and forever tied him to the holidays.

Irving Berlin was born Israel Baline in Russia, but spent his youth in NYC. While working as a waiter he wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and he suddenly found himself in the spotlight. In 1941 he was asked to write the score for a movie, Holiday Inn, and he drew on what he knew. As a New Yorker, he pictured snow and Santa, but was more aware of the nostalgia many experience. With that in mind, he wrote what was to become the pivotal song for Holiday Inn-and would make the movie a classic.

Crosby sang it just 3 weeks after Pearl Harbor on his December 25, 1941 radio show. The rest is, as they say, history. Over the course of the next 20 years, it landed on the charts 15 more times. Berlin won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1942 and it hit number one in 1945 and 1946.

Bing died in 1977. Just before he died he recorded White Christmas one more time for a TV special. The voice is now silent and yet still sings on. Just like Jesus. Born. Died. Rose. Ascended. Gone for close to 2000 years. His message of love and redemption still sings on.

The historical information has been taken from this book by Ace Collins.

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