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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Quote of the Day

"At the beginning of a new year, many people have nothing better to do than to make a list of bad deeds and resolve from now on - how many such "from-now-ons" have there already been! - to begin with better intentions, but they are still stuck in the middle of their paganism. They believe that a good intention already means a new beginning; they believe that, on their own, they can make a new start whenever they want. But that is an evil illusion: only God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past."
                         - Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Friday, December 30, 2016


 As another year draws to a close, I find myself contemplating the words of the song, "Peace" sung by Michael W Smith. It has become a heart-cry for me as 2016 ends and a new year is within reach. It's message drives home to me the meaning of author G. K. Chesterton's words when he said, "The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul."
I'm committing in 2017 to striving for greater holiness in my walk with Jesus and daring more in the journey of faith!

Michael W Smith

"I have come from so far away
Down the road of my own mistakes,
In the hope you could hear me pray,
O Lord, keep me in your reach.
How I longed through these wasted years
To outrun all the pain and fear
Turned to stone through my un-cried tears
And now, it's Your grace I seek.

Love won't compromise;
It's a gift; it's a sacrifice;
My soul renewed and my heart released
In You, I'll find my peace. 

Wondrous child of whom the angels sing,
Know my joy, feel my suffering;
Shining star, make this love You bring
So bright that I may believe.

That my way will not be lost
From now on till that river's crossed,
My soul renewed and my spirit free
In You, I'll find my peace.
In You, I'll find my peace."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My 2016 Inspiration Awards

This is now my third year of doing what I call my "inspiration awards." Modeled after the long-running "10 Most Fascinating People," it is my attempt to list the inspiring people and things that have caught my attention during the year. It's my way of recognizing the brave ones among us who are making the world a better place one day, one life at a time. 
Here now are my 2016 Inspiration Awards: 

Most Inspirational Service Member Award

  This year, I am giving this award to a very special young man. Thanks to the extensive coverage of the Paralympics this summer, I was able to find out more about this former Naval officer and was touched by his cheerful attitude and his courageous outlook on life. Lt. Bradley Snyder attended the United States Naval Academy and was captain of the swim team while going to school there. After graduating in 2006, he was deployed to Afghanistan where, while serving, he lost his eyesight in an IED explosion. The injury also gave him the scars on his face as well as a ruptured eardrum. Enduring weeks of rehab and adjustment to the fact that he would never see again, Snyder decided to get back into swimming as a way of staying in shape and dealing with his injury. According to him, being back in the water made him feel like he was normal again, helping to give him his zest for life back. Snyder has gone on to represent the United States in two Paralympic Games and has won 3 gold medals and 1 silver medal. He is also the current world record holder among all fully blind athletes in one of his events. His story is a special one, and his acceptance of the way life's story unfolded for him is one we can all learn from. 

  (Here is a view of Lt. Snyder's gold medal win in the 100 freestyle in London during the 2012 Paralympic Games...only a year after his injury and loss of eyesight.)

I am proud to honor this amazing military hero with this award. Congratulations, Lt. Bradley Snyder. Many blessings to you in your life going forward!  

Courage Award

  Yet another blind athlete and his running guide stole the hearts of viewers everywhere during the Rio Paralympics this year. David Brown has never been able to see the track on which he runs. He's fast...mighty fast. But he can't see. At three years old, he lost one of his eyes to a rare disease and, by age ten, he had lost the other eye as well. Not to be stopped because of his unfortunate turn of events, David simply put his faith in the fact that, as he puts it, "God had a plan." And he started to run. Most people in his situation would be tempted to withdraw themselves from much of life and it's adventures, but David was just getting started. At age 23 he is a Paralympic World Record holder and has also become the first blind athlete to run the 100 meter dash in under 11 seconds. David met his guide, Jerome Avery in 2010, and the two have become inseparable. Jerome had pursued an Olympic dream of his own but instead, many years later, his first medal was a shared Paralympic Gold in sacrificing his own dream, he helped David to achieve his. Tethered together by a small cord, it is a prime example of how we all need the help of others in order to be successful in life. 

  I wish both of these young men nothing but the best in life, both on and off the track. Thank you, David and Jerome, for giving your country (and the world) something to cheer for! 

Perseverance Award

  My 2016 Perseverance Award goes to two young ladies whose example of sportsmanship and perseverance brought tears and applause from people all over the world. Bound by mutual faith and friendship, they put aside rivalry and competition to help one another on the biggest stage of track and field: the Rio Olympics. Neither runner was favored to win a medal in their event, but both ended up receiving special recognition for their actions in the wake of a fall during the race. Abbey D'agostino of the United States collided with Erin Hamblin of New Zealand about 3, 200 meters into a 5,000 meter race, possibly because Hamblin had slowed her pace to avoid a runner who was being lapped. Whatever the reason, D'agostino hit Hamblin from behind, and both fell to the track. D'agostino got up but noticed that Hamblin was in distress and paused to help her up to her feet. They tried to continue the race, but D'agostino was in pain from an apparent injury to her leg. She could hardly stand up. Hamblin then helped D'agostino to her feet, but D'agostino told her to continue the race and go on. Both ladies finished the race, limping their way to the line. 

In the hours and days that followed, their story made headlines all over the world. In a day and age where people are often too independent to lend a helping hand to one another, these two gals touched our hearts with their care for each other and their display of the principle that it's not so much winning that counts as how you ran the race. Thanks Abbey and Erin for teaching us all what really matters! 

Sportsman Of The Year Award

    The man and the moment I've chosen for Sportsman of the Year is one that probably many of you didn't see. But sometimes, what goes unnoticed and is simply done for the right reasons is what matters the most. For many years, Allistair and Jonny Brownlee have been running triathlons and have even shared the podium together many times. In the final race of the 2016 triathlon season, both brothers were contending for first place with Jonny slightly ahead and Allistair close behind him, another runner slightly ahead of both of them. The race looked to be headed for a dramatic finish. But then, dazed by heat and dehydration, Jonny slowed and started to stagger toward the sideline. Coming around the corner and seeing his brother in distress, Allistair veered over to where Jonny was plodding along and pulled Jonny's arm over his own shoulders. He then proceeded to haul him along toward the finish line, eventually pushing him over the line for a second place finish and thus sacrificing his own chance at victory in order to help his brother. 

For this selfless act and for his example to people everywhere of what true sportsmanship is, I am pleased to award British triathlete Allistair Brownlee the 2016 Sportsman of the Year Award. 

Also, in Honorable Mention for this award this year, I wanted to congratulate United States Olympic divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson for their silver medal performance in Rio this summer...but more importantly, for their public witness for their faith. In many interviews, they both took the opportunity to honor God with their talents and put Him first in all that they did. Even when some urged them to back off on their "Jesus talk," they continued to speak about their faith. Thank you, David and Steele, for inspiring us all this year! 

Team of the Year Award

  There were two teams this year that I felt were worthy of this award; therefore, they will be sharing honors for my selection of Team of the Year. Both overcame much adversity en route to a championship at the end of their respective seasons. 

Princeton University's baseball team had endured a 7-32 season the previous year and seemed to be a long ways away from a championship year. However, spurred on by a book that the coach had given out at the beginning of the year, the team put together a season that landed them in the Ivy League Championship series where they pulled out two wins - both on walk-offs - and took home the trophy. Perhaps most impressively, they went from being the second-worst team in the country to being Ivy League Champs and earning a berth in the NCAA tournament in one year's time! The resilience and perseverance of their team truly was one of the best sports stories I witnessed all year. 

 The Chicago Cubs. All we say is simply - wow! 108 years of waiting for a championship finally ended this fall in dramatic style with the Cubs winning Game 7 of the World Series. I was impressed by the team spirit which the Cubs displayed throughout the season and the resilience they showed...even when their backs were against the proverbial wall. The mentoring of veteran catcher David Ross showed that we can always take time to impart knowledge into the lives of those who follow in our steps, and we're never too old to enjoy life and appreciate what we do. The gentlemanly way of first baseman Anthony Rizzo taught us all that respect will always get you far in life. There were so many other moments surrounding the Cubs run to becoming world champions that warmed our hearts and made us appreciate the game of baseball...even if we didn't care much about the sport itself. More importantly, at a controversial time with the election and all, it gave us something to come together around as a country.
It is my pleasure to present my 2016 Team of the Year award to the Princeton Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. Thank you (to both teams) for inspiring many people this year!

Singer of the Year

  Jordan Smith was (hands down) my favorite and most inspiring singer in 2016. The Season 9 winner of "The Voice," Smith can bring the presence of God into a room through music in a way I have never seen before. The hush that falls on a crowd when he first begins to sing is truly remarkable. Most importantly, I was drawn to how this young man so clearly stated that his purpose was to sing for God and to use his talents for a higher calling. Through his choice of songs during "The Voice," he made it "cool" to sing a hymn like "Great Is Thy Faithfulness":

...or a contemporary Christian song like "Mary, Did You Know?":

For the beauty he has brought to modern music and for the love of Jesus which he allows to shine inside him, Jordan Smith is my 2016 Singer of the Year. Thank you, Jordan, for using your gift of music to better this world and bring glory to the Lord!

Movie of the Year

 My choice for Movie of the Year was a difficult one this time. I just hadn't seen one so far that really made the kind of impact that I had experienced in the past...just hadn't watched one that merited this award...until the Christmas season. I taped this movie up and saw it recently with my family and was profoundly touched. The story is of a group of postal workers who desire to make Christmas wishes come true...but things take an interesting turn when their own personal wishes start to intersect with the wish they are trying to fulfill for a young girl. Surprisingly, the Christian message really comes through in this movie, making the lessons of hope, forgiveness, and love come alive in even greater measure. 

This movie is definitely one that I will look into purchasing and owning a copy of. I would encourage you to do the same! Congrats to the actors and producers of "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered for Christmas" on being my selection for Movie of the Year!

Book of the Year

    There were two books in 2016 that drastically changed my life - quite unexpectedly. I had intended to read both for sometime but now I see that, in looking back, God delayed my reading of them for very important reasons. Each one took my faith to new heights as I learned to pray more deeply, believe more sincerely, love more fully as a result...which is why I couldn't select only one.  Here now are my picks for Book of the Year:

A friend of mine had recommended this book to me sometime ago, and I had purchased it months before. It had sat on my bookshelf for awhile, other reading taking its place. But I finally picked it up this summer, needing a book that would increase my faith at a time when it was being stretched thin. With my dad in the hospital at the time and work challenges mounting, I needed something that would renew my faith in God's ability to do the impossible. Little did I realize that this book would do that and so much more. I learned how to pray big prayers as a result of this book. In reading the story of this pastor and the growth of his church as a result of God blessing His people when they pray, I came to see how I had prayed small prayers most of my life. I didn't see God's large-ness to the extent that I would then pray through impossibilities...would ask God for miracles. It was a convicting read, and I recommend it to anybody looking to hedge your biggest fears and dreams in prayer. While I don't agree with everything in here, I would still see as being a profitable read. 

Around the time of the Olympic Games this summer, I read the amazing story of Olympic diver, David Boudia. I was already familiar with his amazing testimony, having watched him compete four years earlier in London and win the gold medal. I knew that David is not ashamed to acknowledge his Savior in public situations, so I expected a great read when I began this book. However, what I did not expect was that it would inspire me to tell my own story in ways I never thought I would. David has a way of redeeming the stories of his sinful past and lacing it with the Gospel to such a degree that I realized the time had come to share my own story in an entirely different manner. It was in the wake of reading this book that I posted my two-month-long series on my personal journey to grace. If it weren't for the reading of this book, I'm not sure I would've shared the details of my past in the way that I did. David's story freed me to tell my own and, for that, I am humbly grateful. 
Both of these books blessed me deeply, and I am confident that they will bless you also if you choose to read them for yourself. 

Song of the Year

  My favorite singer, Jason Gray, never fails to write songs that speak to the longings of the human heart. I purchased his most recent album "Where The Light Gets In" earlier this summer. It arrived just after my dad's hospitalization, and I soaked in the song lyrics continuously this summer. This particular song was one that became quite dear to me as God challenged me throughout 2016 to thank and praise...even in the hard times. Without a doubt, "Thank You for Everything" is my 2016 Song of the Year. Thank you again, Jason, for speaking life to wounded hearts and showing them God's love. 

I hope that you've been blessed and encouraged by my 2016 Inspiration Awards. Every year, I look forward to sharing with you the people and things that have inspired me. I am excited to do this again in 2017...and who knows what awesome things might make the list next year?! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Renewal is rooted in faith, not in resolutions! They are made for New Year's and forgotten on an average of thirteen days later, say the surveys. Faith is the result of a decision about Christ. I cannot make a new me or a new you, but Christ can make you new and me new, as well, if we decide for Him."
                                  - Frank Harrington 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In Review...And Looking Ahead...

 On January 27 of this year, I made a simple statement that God was placing on my heart. Five words that ended up holding so much weight in 2016. Five words that are still speaking to my soul nearly twelve months later: "this year is for faith." 
To quote a bit of that post (the full post can be read in the archives under 2016 January "This Year Is For Faith")...

"He has spoken with clear distinction: 2016 is the year for faith. There will undoubtedly be moments of uncertainty and trial, moments that are intermingled with joy and everything prosperous and plentiful. But through it all will sound this message: this is all Mine - trust Me. Believe. 
Perhaps this is where I can sense Him the best: in those times when the road is unclear and the steps seem only marked one at a time - put your feet here...then here...and so on. Perhaps this will be the way in which He will show up the biggest: in those times when I simply say, I may not understand, but I still believe; I may not see it all now, but I still trust. I choose faith over fear. "

It was a promise spoken to my waiting heart as I looked ahead to a New Year. When I wrote those words, so much had already happened. I had seen God show up big...and the year was only a few weeks old. It was clear that God would be asking me to greater heights of belief than ever before...but I could never have imagined just how great those heights would be! Sometimes, I am glad that God doesn't reveal everything about our future to us...I think He knows we might simply run away and want to hide. As the months rolled on, I had to deal with unexpected challenges that threatened to tear my faith right through into shreds. I had to face fears that often seemed like mountains standing in my way. There were days and even minutes when I felt I had nothing left. There were times I only felt like throwing in the towel and telling God, I can't do this. 
But...through it all, that message I had received at the start of 2016 kept coming back to me - with the question: will you choose faith over fear? I heard it when work left me with some situations that tested my trust and my perseverance; I heard it when I sat in the hospital parking dad facing yet another medical crisis...over and over, God kept bringing me back to the one thing I could hold onto in an uncertain world: there is a Sovereign God who is holding everything - holding you - in His hands, and your offering back to Him is thankfulness. Will you bless Him...even when the trials mount and hope seems impossibly distant? 
Every time I thought I would run...just try to get away and flee the fight of it all, He would remind me: remember this. And I would return to my place of rest. Faith over fear. It became the anchor for my soul-worries and when the storms hit hard, I could hold onto this truth and know that all these tests were for my benefit. God was still good, and I was still loved - no matter what. 
Looking back on this year, my faith has been tried, tested, and proven in some of the hardest things imaginable. But the constants have remained - the love of friends and family, the truths of His Word, the comfort of the Savior. And, as I reflect on what sustained me on the hard days, these were all I needed. At the start of 2016, I had no idea what lay ahead, but I did have a sense that big faith was required. 
Fears were conquered this year. And for that I'm grateful. Perhaps that is what I'm thankful for the most as this year comes to a close - that I'm not who I was at this time in 2015 leading into the New Year. And I know that God will make me even better in 2017. He's making all of us new from year to year, redeeming the dark places, filling the empty spaces with His love and grace. If we open our hands and hearts, it's amazing how He He shows us miracles in the ordinary that become extraordinary. Moments of His grace that turn us into believers in His ability to do the impossible. On so many mornings, I would hold open my hands and pray, "do with me what you wish." That simple heart-cry led to so many amazing things that I can look back and only say, "that was Him." 
Soon, another year will be placed in our hands. It will be another 12 months where we have the opportunity to be more. We will be granted more chances to make the daily choice (and it's so daily) to face fear with faith. To step out of our comfort zones and make bold steps of belief and obedience that lead to blessing. Last month, I announced my #365dare that encourages us all to stop playing life safe when it comes to following Jesus and to turn our thanks-giving into thanks-living - to look for little things to bless Him for, even when the moments tell us otherwise. His goodness isn't contained to merely the times of prosperity when all seems to go along well. Perhaps His goodness is more perceived and understood and His grace is more magnified with things lie in a heap and we feel broken....perhaps He is most glorified when we choose to praise and thank Him regardless. That seems to be my goal in 2017: dare big. I'm tired of putting myself (and God) into a box and setting limits on how far, how deep faith can take me. And I can't wait to walk into the New Year with great expectations and watch what He will do! I know already that He has special things in store, just waiting to be revealed. I'm going into a New Year with my eyes open and my heart full.
I invite you to come along with me...and let's all "dare big" in 2017! God only knows what we'll all have to share looking back in one year from now! 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Quote of the Day

"The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are...people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God."
                          - John Piper 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

"Rejoice, that the immortal God has come, so that mortal man may live in eternity!"
                              - John Huss

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! May we celebrate together the realization of God's promise that was fulfilled so many centuries ago when He sent His Son to earth!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"So God throws open the door of this world - and enters as a baby. As the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you. What religion ever had a God that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us? What God ever came so tender that we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death."
                      - Ann Voskamp

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ comes uninvited."
                      - Thomas Merton 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Carol Of The Day

 This may be a relatively new carol to most of you, but it is one that I have fallen in love with over the years. The lyrics speak to the joy of Christmas as we hail the birth of the Sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth! May this remind us all of the true meaning for this season, and may it inspire the deepest gratitude within our hearts! 

See Amid The Winter's Snow
Edward Caswell 

See, amid the winter's snow, 
Born for us on earth below,
See, the tender Lamb appears,
Promised from eternal years.

Hail, thou ever blessed morn,
Hail, redemption's happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies;
He, who throned in height sublime,
Sits amid the cherubim.

Say, ye holy shepherds, say,
What's your joyful news today;
Wherefore have ye left your sheep,
On the lonely mountain steep?

"As we watched in dead of night,
Lo, we saw a wondrous light:
Angels singing 'Peace on Earth'
Told us of the Savior's birth."

Sacred Infant, all-divine,
What a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss,
Down to such a world as this.

Teach, O teach us, Holy Child,
By the face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble Thee,
In Thy sweet humility.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Little Things

 In my bedroom, I have this little sign that says, "Enjoy the little things." It's a simple statement...but filled with more meaning than I often give it credit for. I was reminded of it's truth a couple of times this past week while driving to and from town. A sunset the other afternoon - sky all blazing fire-orange and the clouds streaking golden glory; a snowstorm while the Christmas carols floated over the stereo, speaking of Christmases all white and memories to cherish. Yes...these are the moments that make me. These are the Grace-moments that change who I am and how I see life. How I live life. 
 I often find that my days roll by too fast. I am left to fall into bed after a long day and wonder...where did those 24 hours go?!? The older I get, the more I want it to slow down. The more I want to slow down me. Because life isn't about this giant race against this thing called time. When God created this beautiful gift called life, I don't think He intended that His created would be running around wild, trying to fulfill everything and anything in an effort to do more, to get ahead,!? 
 We call it living but it's really merely existing. I learned the difference awhile back...and it has changed everything. Existing means you're breathing; you are a functioning human being, and you have a beating heart. Living means that you understand how to slow down your racing self and learn to find your purpose in something greater than what the world calls success. You start to live when you begin to thank, to praise. You reach new levels of appreciation for what you have when you stop and consider that even the breath you just took is a heavenly gifting. Living happens when you face your fears with Grace-given bravery and choose faith instead. Living happens when you stop seeing everything as a problem and rather, choose to see as a possibly...a chance for God to show up big. 
 As I journey further into this Grace-living, I pray for greater sight. I don't want to rush by things that God desires to use to open my heart further. I could just drive through the snowstorm but miss the beauty along the way. I could be so focused on my to-do list that I fail to see the sunset and to acknowledge the Giver of all things. 
 And so I say it out loud...and long...and often: enjoy the little things! It needs to not be just an inspiring message on a sign in my needs to become a life mantra. It needs to shake up my soul apathy and spur me to greater levels of communion with my Maker. This Christmas...and every day...may I choose to live with open heart and open hand. In so doing, maybe I will come to behold little miracles I can only dream of now. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Carol Of The Day

 I was recently listening to a Christmas album that had this beautiful song on it and was touched by the amazing lyrics. The words are bursting with truth and life as a prayer is birthed in the heart of the song. Let our hearts be full of thanks-giving to the One who Himself is the essence of hope eternal. 

Born On A New Day
Phillip Lawson

You are the new day.
Meekness, love, humility
Come down to us this day:
Christ, your birth has proved to me
You are the new day.
Quiet in a stall you lie,
Angels watching in the sky
Whisper to you from on high,
"You are the new day."

When our life is darkest night,
Hope has burned away;
Love, your ray of guiding light,
Show us the new day.
Love of all things great and small,
Leaving none, embracing all,
Fold around me when I fall,
Bring in the new day.

This new day will be
A turning point for everyone
If we let the Christ-child in, and
Reach for the new day.
Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life;
Healing sadness, ending strife;
You, we welcome, Lord of Life,
Born on a new day.
You are the new day.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. For one who wanted to make a display, the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But for Him who came to heal and to teach, the way was not merely to dwell here but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it."
                  - Athanasius of Alexandria 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Favorite Christmas Music

So...I've had several of you who have asked me for some suggestions on Christmas music. I've decided to share with you some of the top Christmas albums that have been a staple in my family's home over the years and to include a pick or two of my favorite song(s) from each one. (This list in not in order of preference, by the way!)
 Perhaps you may want to add any or all of these to your own Christmas collection! Enjoy my list of favorite Christmas music...

Christmas Is Here
Artist: Danny Gokey

Favorite Songs: 
"Lift Up Your Eyes"
"Mary, Did You Know?"

Holiday Spirits

Artist: Straight No Chaser 
(Don't let the name fool you: these guys will rock
your Christmas, and the songs on here are musical genius!)

Favorite Songs:
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have
Heard On High"
"Indiana Christmas"

I'll Have Another
Artist: Straight No Chaser

Favorite Songs:
"Joy To The World"
"Lully Lullay (Coventry Carol)"

Christmas Cheers
Artist: Straight No Chaser

Favorite Songs:
"Christmastime Is Here"
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"
"Jingle Bells"
"The 12 Days of Christmas"

God With Us
Artist: Laura Story

Favorite Songs:
"Love Is Here"
"Just Another Christmas"
"O Come All Ye Faithful"

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas
Artist: Mannheim Steamroller
(If you've never heard of this group, you're
totally missing out! Christmas is not complete
in my family's house without the sounds of this
amazing musical combo! I got to hear them live
a few years ago, and it was one of the best concerts
I've ever attended! Look them up if you don't 
know about them!)

Favorite Songs:
"Deck The Halls"
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"
"Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella"

A Christmas Extraordinaire
Artist: Mannheim Steamroller

Favorite Songs:
"Silver Bells"
"Winter Wonderland"

A Fresh Aire Christmas
Artist: Mannheim Steamroller

Favorite Songs:
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
"Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming"
"Traditions of Christmas"

Artist: Michael W Smith

Favorite Songs:
"The Happiest Christmas"
"I Saw Three Ships/Joy To The World"

It's A Wonderful Christmas
Artist: Michael W Smith

Favorite Songs:
"Christmas Angels"
"Highland Carol"
"Son Of God"

The Spirit Of Christmas
Artist: Michael W Smith & Friends

Favorite Songs:
"Somewhere In My Memory"
"Almost There"
"All Is Well"

Artist: Josh Groban

Favorite Songs:
"Little Drummer Boy"
"Silent Night"

Christmas Stories
Artist: Jason Gray

Favorite Songs:
"Christmas Is Coming"
"Forgiveness Is A Miracle"

Unto Us
Artist: Aaron Shust

Favorite Songs:
"Unto Us"
"God Has Come To Earth"
"Advent Carol"

Christmas With Julie Andrews
Artist: Julie Andrews
(This woman's voice touched millions before it 
was sadly damaged during a surgery several years
ago. Her recordings have blessed my home with
the joy of Christmas since my earlier memories.)

Favorite Songs:
"See Amid The Winter's Snow"
"What Child Is This?"
"The Secret of Christmas"

The Christmas Album
Artist: Libera 
(The angelic voices of this British boy choir
will be sure to delight your heart every time
you listen to them sing!)

Favorite Songs:
"Joy To The World"
"Sing The Story"
"Carol Of The Bells"

A Family Christmas
Artist: The Piano Guys

Favorite Songs:
"Angels We Have Heard On High"
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
"Winter Wind" 

A Christmas Festival
Artist: John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers
(For decades, this choir's music has filled my
home. Christmas just isn't Christmas without it!)

Favorite Songs:
"Rejoice And Be Merry"
"A Christmas Overture"
"Born On A New Day" 

Christmas Day In The Morning
Artist: John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers

Favorite Songs:
"Wexford Carol"
"Fantasia On Christmas Carols"
"Donkey Carol"
"We Wish You A Merry Christmas"

Christmas Night
Artist: John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers

Favorite Songs:
"Christmas Night"
"Candlelight Carol"
"All My Heart This Night Rejoices"
"Nativity Carol"

Buon Natale
Artist: Il Volo
(These three tenors have become a new favorite of mine
in recent years. Their Christmas album does not disappoint!)

Favorite Songs:
"Silent Night"
"O Holy Night" 
"White Christmas"

Tis The Season
Artist: Jordan Smith

Favorite Songs:
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
"It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"
"The Christmas Song"

Friday, December 16, 2016

What Is Your True Wish?

What do you really wish for? 
I mean...think about it...what is it that you deeply long for above all else? For many, this season brings back longings that hurt deep. It conjures up remembrances of people lost during the year, of friendships gone cold, of all things meant to steal the joy right out of the Christmas-time. People long for love, for hope...for Grace to light the dark parts and renew the faith. And all the while...songs of peace on earth, goodwill, and cheer to all ring through the stores, shops, and radio...but somehow, the longings still remain. 
 And yet...even while we feel this pressing neediness, this desire for belonging, this want for true living...we put our wishes on things that don't last. We ask for better jobs, vacations, promotions. But what we really want are the things that last. 
 Recently, I watched an interesting movie that precipitated this post. The movie is called  "A Dream of Christmas." The main character is on a quest for personal success. She has many ambitions and things that she wants out of life...but when she wishes for all those things, she discovers that she loses more than she ever gains. Toward the end of the movie, she realizes that, in the love of family and friends, she has everything she ever truly wanted. 

 What do we really want? Is it not to be loved, to belong, to live fully? To be thankful for the little Grace-moments that make up our days? To slow down the racing of time, to savor more and cherish those we care about?  To notice the blessings that fill our seconds, to open our hearts to the One who is the reason for our existence? 
 Perhaps a little honesty is needed...instead of asking for things, maybe we should open our eyes to what is already there right in front of us. Maybe the gifts we seek the most have already been granted to us and our ingratitude reveals what is truly lacking! Just maybe...our wish should be for a thankful heart. Just maybe...slowing down time and appreciating what God has already gifted is the best Christmas present ever. Because...if we're honest...are not His giftings always the best?! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Carol Of The Day

 I recently bought this new Christmas album and this opening song rang deep in my heart this holiday season. May our hearts be lit anew with the hope of Grace as we celebrate the miracle of our Savior's entrance into this world. 

These Christmas Lights
by Matt Redman 

All the lights are shining brightly
As the choir of angels sing,
Singing praise now in the highest
At the birth of Christ the King.
Yes, all the lights are shining brightly
As the choir of angels sing,
Singing praise now in the highest
At the birth of Christ the King.

Open my eyes; O heart, believe
The wonder of that Christmas night
Be born in me. 

Sing again that sacred song
Of how that star lit up the sky
And how this world lost in the darkness
Felt the hope of Heaven's light.

All the lights are shining brightly
At the glory of the King;
All the lights are shining brightly
For the glory of Your name.

We hold a flame in our hearts now,
Say a prayer that in this world
All these lights, these Christmas lights
Will shine for You, and You alone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"It is impossible to conceive how different things would've turned out if that birth had not happened...for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him."
                    - Frederick Buechner 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"We cannot approach the manger of the Christ child in the same way we approach the cradle of another child. Rather, when we go to His manger, something happens, and we cannot leave it again unless we have been either judged or redeemed. Here we must either collapse or know the mercy of God directed toward us."
                        - Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation."
                     - J. I. Packer

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"Weakness. It's a pretty big deal to Jesus. Even His birth was a carefully constructed teaching moment. He didn't step off a helicopter, waving at the movers and shakers. We've looked at so many manger-scene Christmas cards that we've built up an immunity to the point here: he came in appalling weakness - by way of a poor teenage girl with almost nothing going for her. Mary and Joseph couldn't even pay for the sacrificial lamb at their child's birth, as required by Levitical law. They had to choose the cheap alternative, offering two birds. Irony? The parents of the Sacrificial Lamb of the world couldn't offer an ordinary sacrificial lamb. The Prince checked in as a pauper and proceeded to grow up on ten acres of nothing called Nazareth. 
 We love the image of a serene, sweet manger scene, but let's face it. This was a feeding trough for livestock. It was the smelliest delivery room imaginable...We sing, 'The cattle are lowing' without thinking about how upside down that really is. Why poverty? Why a stable? Why blue-collar shepherds? 
 Because He's God, and God chooses weakness as the best setting to display His strength. Weakness creates the space that God fills with His strength. Do you think it all happened by chance - that God entered history in flesh at that moment, as planned before the foundation of time, without doing his research? Forgot to make reservations at the inn for His Son? Hardly. 
 An artist knows how to make something 'pop,' as they say on interior decorating shows on TV. You set something off by putting it in a setting where it can't be missed because it's framed to its best advantage. And God is the artist of all creation. On a field of pure weakness, poverty,  and obscurity, power and royalty pop. 
 He could've disembarked in one of the world's greatest cities. People would have said, 'Right time, right place. Look what fate can do.'
 He could've been born into a billionaire financial dynasty. People would have said, 'Look what money can do.'
 He could have come by way of a celebrity family. People would have said, 'Look what fame can do.'
 Instead, He stepped into poverty, weakness, and obscurity, and all we're left to say is, 'Look what God can do.'"
                                     - Kyle Idleman in The End of Me

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly...God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as His instruments and performs His wonders where one would least expect them. "
                      - Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"Our God is the God of the unexpected. A few things could be more unexpected than the King of Heaven being born in a stable."
                          - Bill Crowder

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why Three Words Change Everything

God with us. 
Who could've thought that those three words would change everything...would change me
If we let it, sometimes I think the Christmas story can become redundant...old...because we've heard it all before. We know the characters in it. We've sung the carols. At one time, it had become stale for me, too. 
But then...I came to see the story of God's redemptive plan in a new light when those three words became real to me. 
God - the Creator-King of the Universe who has existed for all of time chose not to leave us in our self-induced misery. Think about it for a minute...when our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden, God could've ended his interaction with mankind for all time. He could've just said, "You all blew your chance. I'm done. You're done." We rightly deserved it to be so. As Adam and Eve sat hiding in the bushes, God instead chose to call seek put into action a plan that would redeem us. Would win us back. Would heal our broken condition. We sometimes fail to realize that our sin problem didn't make us Adam's victims but rather, Adam's participants. We continued the curse he sent into motion, and all of history has suffered because of it. But while God didn't remove the affects of our disobedience and we still live in a fallen world, He did provide a way for us to be rescued from it's eternal consequences. His actions proved that, while He doesn't need us, He wants us. And He calls us to Himself even when we turned our back on His love. Incredible!
With us - God didn't just remain in Heaven and decide He was going to take some remote action in order to reverse the eternal curse our sin had placed us under. God chose to send His only Son. God chose to dwell with us. To breathe the air we breathe, to experience pain just as we feel, to walk the earth we walk and, in so doing, identify with the sin-sick hearts of mankind in a way no other being ever has. No other ruler or king could ever boast of the fact that they were ultimately and eternally perfect. Every human who has ever ruled on this earth has carried a sin-sick soul like us...something only God's redemption can fix. When Jesus came, He did something that demonstrated love and forgiveness at a whole different level: the perfect came and gave His life for the imperfect. He didn't come to conquer nations...He came to win souls. He didn't come to prove His strength...He came to show us His weakness. He didn't come in power and fanfare...He came in the form of a little baby, born in a stable where animals reside. The Eternal God did the most un-kingly thing imaginable...and He came in the most unlikely way...because He chose to meet us in our greatest need. 
God. With. Us. 
Somehow, the more I think about it, the more these three words create greater vulnerability and humility in my heart. Because the more I see how vulnerable and helpless God was willing to become on my behalf, it makes me desire to be more open toward Him about my need. It makes me want to welcome other hurting souls in this shared longing for a soul-rebirth. For the Savior to set things right inside us. 
We all come to the manger in the same condition: hurting, broken, sick, and dying. The darkness of our past lies firm on our conscience. Even for those of us who know the Christ-Redeemer as our Lord, we still see the result of our mistakes, our sinnings, our fault-pains and we cry out for hope. Here, in the story of an unlikely teenage pregnancy (supernaturally conceived), a carpenter, and manger we see God stoop low. We see God revealing Himself in human form to the lowliest: shepherds, carpenter, teenage girl. 
Think of how many in Bethlehem missed the miracle in their midst that night! How many thought the shepherds announcement of angels singing and a baby lying in a stable were ludicrous and simply chose to go back to bed and sleep on...little knowing that their eternal redemption was at hand!  
Think of the rough hands of Joseph, Nazareth-born carpenter, delivering God's Son into the world, and realizing that, while this wasn't his child, he had been chosen by God to be the earthly father for the King of the Universe!
Think of Mary, a sweet Jewish girl, whose life was turned upside down by the choice of God to bring forth His Son through her! 
The unlikely signified God's plan. The impossible made it happen. This is how our God comes to us. The One who holds the universe together, the One who created all we know, the One who didn't owe us anything after our rejection of Him...He comes to us still. He welcomes us repentant ones to Himself and loves us...still. 
Just maybe it will change our Christmas if we realize that the God of Heaven and Earth made His entrance in the weakest and lowliest manner possible. He could've chosen differently. And nobody would've thought anything of it if He had. In fact, lots of people would've found Him more understandable because of His arrival being more King-like. But God isn't about being "more understandable." He's about relationship...and can't we relate better when we know that He suffered as we suffer? When we realize that He knows what we deal with in this fallen world because He saw it too? 
No other ruler would've ever taken such a matter how much they cared for their subjects. But God did. Emmanuel did the hard thing...because He knew we couldn't come to Him any other way. 
God with us. Who would've thought that those three words could change everything...can change us

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God."
                  - C. S. Lewis

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas Carol Of the Day

This Christmas carol, while ancient, may be quite new to some of you. It sort of was to me until recently, and I wanted to share it with you all. The words are beautiful and so reflective of what the Christmas season is truly all about. You will notice that the choir only sings verses 1, 3, and 6 in this rendition. However, I did include all of the verses for your enjoyment. Here now is, All My Heart This Night Rejoices by Johann Eberling:

"All my heart this night rejoices,
As I hear, far and near, sweetest angel voices.
'Christ is born,' their choirs are singing,
Till the air, everywhere, now with joy is ringing.

Hark! A voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, doth entreat:
'Flee from woe and danger;
Brethren come: from all doth grieve you
You are freed; all you need
I will surely give you.'

Come, then, let us hasten yonder;
Here let all, great and small, 
Kneel in awe and wonder;
Love Him who with love is yearning;
Hail the star that from far
Bright with hope is burning.

Ye who pine in weary sadness,
Weep no more, for the door
Now is found of gladness.
Cling to Him for He will guide you
Where no cross, pain or loss, 
Can again betide you.

Blessed Savior, let me find Thee!
Keep Thou me, close to Thee,
Cast me not behind Thee!
Life of life, my heart Thou stillest,
Calm I rest on Thy breast,
All this void Thou fillest.

Thee, O Lord, with heed I'll cherish,
Live to Thee, and with Thee
Dying, shall not perish,
But shall dwell with Thee forever
Far on high, in the joy
That can alter never."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas Quote of the Day

"If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: God with us. We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!"
                          - John MacArthur

Friday, December 2, 2016

Favorite Christmas Movies

 Many of you, like me, live for the time of year when Christmas movies are again in season. As I do, you're probably on the lookout for some good, family-friendly movies to see that warm the heart and reflect the spirit of Christmas. I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you in case you want to see any of them for yourselves. I didn't include the classics on here like It's A Wonderful Life and White Christmas because so many are already familiar with those. Still, I hope this list is helpful and enjoyable to you. Feel free to leave any review comments on here once you see these! Enjoy!

A Crown For Christmas

A Grandpa For Christmas

A Cookie Cutter Christmas

The Christmas Choir

Christmas Angel

A Princess For Christmas

Christmas Under Wraps

Holiday Inn

Three Gifts

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

The Christmas Card

The Christmas Shoes

The Christmas Note

Christmas Song

A Christmas Melody

A Royal Christmas