December 7 – Manger Throne

December 7

Manger Throne

I love how our house looks at Christmas time.  Lots of meaningful decorations fill each room.  In our house, we have the great blessing of three nativity scenes.  These nativity scenes are all different, yet the same.  Each set has different characteristics.

One set is a “Willow Tree” nativity.  The characters have no faces, but their long carved bodies evoke emotion like an impressionist painting.  I love the simplicity of this set.

A second set is a “Precious Moments” nativity.  This set was a gift to my wife from her parents as she was growing up  . . . a different piece every year.  Because of that history, this set is a yearly reminder of the “good deposit” Kimberly’s family gave her by telling her the truth about Jesus.

The third set is a “Little People” nativity set that we acquired when our son was only a couple of years old.  It allowed our two year old to play with the pieces in an interactive way, and learn the Christmas story (or at least his version of the Christmas story).  A short time after he got this nativity set, he started to tell me the Christmas story using the angel and Mary.  The angel came to Mary’s house and told her (in his words), “Good news about Jesus.  He came to take away our badness.”  I was so proud.  Then the angel tackled Mary.  We asked him what Mary said to the angel, and he said, “Thank you for coming to my house and tackling me.”  I think that last twist must have come from a Dan Brown novel.

For all the differences between these three nativities, there is one striking similarity.  They all have Jesus as a baby, asleep in a horse trough full of hay.  As I look at that each year, I am awestruck again by the fact that the God of the universe would humble Himself to THAT point.  The independent God coming as a dependent baby.  The One who sits at the right hand of the Father, lying in a cow’s cafeteria.  This just seems so drastic . . . and so odd.  However, there is a plan in it all.  Jesus comes as a baby to fully identify with our experience (Hebrews 4:15).  Jesus came in a mortal Body so that He might be able to die to bring immortality to His people (Romans 5:8).  The baby in the manger looks out of place until we place it in context.

In the Old Testament, the presence of God hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.  First this was in the Tabernacle, then it was in the Temple.  The Holy of Holies was a place of great grandeur and formality.  Because of this, it is surprising to find the Savior in the manger in the Christmas story.  I think it is possible that Jesus was born in the stall to announce to the world in a very definitive way that the presence of God would not reside behind a curtain any longer.  The Spirit of God was moving away from a super-protected room inside the Temple that only a few people would ever see, to a public location where lowly Shepherds and foreigners could visit.  This move of the presence of God from private to the public, helps set the stage for the Spirit of God taking up residence in the hearts and lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ today.  The same God who lay in the manger, now resides within us!

This awesome truth is spoken of in today’s song for reflection, Julie Miller’s “Manger Throne” (recorded by Third Day with Derri Daughtery and Julie Miller).  May you be reminded of God’s residence in your life each time you see the baby in the manger in a nativity scene this Christmas.  ”Our heart is a home for God’s Own Son!”

Manger Throne

What kind of King would leave His throne

In Heaven to make this earth His home?

While men seek fame and great renown

In loneliness our King comes down

Jesus, Jesus, precious One

How we thank You that You’ve come

Jesus, Jesus, precious One

A manger throne for God’s own Son

You left the sound of angels’ praise

To come for men with unkind ways

And by this Baby’s helplessness

The power of nations is laid to rest

What kind of King would come so small

From glory to a humble stall?

That dirty manger is my heart, too

I’ll make it a royal throne for You

My heart is a throne

My heart is a throne for God’s own Son


To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.


To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

December 6 – Anthem for Christmas

December 6

Anthem for Christmas

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem marked the beginning of many things, most notably the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life.  However, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was not the beginning of Jesus’ existence.  His “beginning” goes way before that first Christmas.  John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  This verse is absolutely full of meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word.”  In other words, in the time that we know of as the beginning (referring of course to the events of Genesis chapter 1, and the creation of the world), the Word ALREADY “WAS!”  The One known as “the Word” was already in existence when everything was created.

“The Word.”  John 1 lets us know that the “Word” is Jesus.  Words express things.  Jesus as the “Word” expresses to us who God really is.

“The Word was God.”  This verse also lets us know that Jesus is God.  What that means is that Jesus not only did not have His “beginning” in Bethlehem, He has no “beginning” at all!  God exists eternally.  He was not created, has always been, and always will be.

This verse places Jesus in an appropriately eternal context.  At Christmas we celebrate the Eternal God humbling Himself in a human birth . . . God became man so that man can be with God.  Michael W. Smith’s song “The Anthem of Christmas” tells this cosmic story – from creation to the cradle and beyond.  In this song may we all find the words to proclaim His love this Christmas.

Anthem for Christmas

In the space of the beginning

Was the living Word of Light

When this Word was clearly spoken

All that came to be was right

All creation had a language

Words to say what must be said

All day long the heavens whispered

Signing words in scarlet red

Some failed to understand it

So God spoke His final Word

On a silent night in Judah’s

Hills a baby’s cry was heard

“Glory!” sang the angel chorus

“Glory!” echoed back the night

Love has come to walk among us

Christ the Lord is born this night

All creation sing His praises

Earth and heaven praise His name

All who live come join the chorus

Find the words His love proclaim

Find the words His love proclaim


To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.


To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

December 5 – All Praise to Thee Eternal Lord

December 5

All Praise to Thee Eternal Lord

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Church was in desperate need of reform.  The Scriptures, songs, and liturgies that filled the worship services were in languages foreign to most people.  In the “high church,” God was kept distant from the people who were “lowly” and less educated. 

Though this was the pattern of the church in the middle ages, it was not the plan of God.  God does not require that we speak Latin to know Him or read His Word, and Martin Luther knew it.  Luther set out on a mission to strip away the mystery of the church regalia to return the beauty of the Gospel to the people.  Luther translated the liturgy, the Scripture, and the songs of the church from Latin into German — the language of his fellow countrymen.

One song that Luther translated was “All Praise to Thee Eternal Lord” a Christmas song written by Gregory the Great in the sixth century.  One of the lines of this song states, “A little Child, Thou art our guest, That weary ones in Thee may rest; Forlorn and lowly is Thy birth, That we may rise to heaven from earth.”

This line reminds us that God has not stayed distant, speaking foreign languages.  He came us in the lowest common denominator – a human baby – so that ALL of us may know who He was and so that all of us would have a chance to find rest and rise to heaven one day.  As John 1:14-18 says, “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. . .  For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. . .   No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He (Jesus) has made Him known.”

Luther translated “All Praise to Thee Eternal Lord” into German – what a gift!  Jesus “translated” an understanding of who God is to the world – what an unbelievable gift!  Today, sing a really, really old song and be thankful for the translation of God’s glory that Jesus has done for us:  because He came, we can know God.

All Praise to Thee Eternal Lord

All praise to Thee, eternal Lord,

Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood;

Choosing a manger for Thy throne,

While worlds on worlds are Thine alone.

Once did the skies before Thee bow;

A virgin’s arms contain Thee now,

While angels, who in Thee rejoice,

Now listen for Thine infant voice.

A little child, Thou art our guest,

That weary ones in Thee may rest;

Forlorn and lowly is Thy birth;

That we may rise to Heaven from earth.

Thou comest in the darksome night

To make us children of the light;

To make us, in the realms divine,

Like Thine own angels round Thee shine.

All this for us Thy love hath done;

By this to Thee our love is won;

For this we tune our cheerful lays,

And sing our thanks in ceaseless praise

To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.

To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

December 4 – Light of the World

December 4

Light of the World

3,500 years ago, God called His people (the Israelites) out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the land that He had promised them.  This is the story of the Exodus, and is recorded for us in the second book of the Bible.  As the Israelites left Egypt God led them at night represented by a fire the people could see.  Like a child is comforted by their night light, so the children of Israel were comforted in their journey by the fire in the sky, reminding them that God was with them.

Fast forward 1,500 years to the time of Jesus.  While the rest of the Israelites were celebrating the Festival of the Tabernacle (remembering when God led them like a fire at night), Jesus makes an amazing assertion.  He says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In this statement, Jesus was making a few VERY important points:

  • Jesus is the light.  In the time of the Exodus, the people saw a fire cloud in the sky.  That was nice.  But, Jesus is even better!  The fire in the sky was a presence, but it was a presence that did not talk or provide a 3-D example of what God was like.  Jesus is our reminder that God is with us, a Living Light!
  • Jesus is the Light of the World! In the time of the Exodus, the fire was only for the people of Israel.  However, by saying that Jesus was the light of the world, Jesus was pointing out that ALL people, regardless of nationality can be encouraged by His presence.
  • Jesus invites us to Follow Him. His Light is not just meant to comfort, it is meant to direct. 
  • If we follow Him we will not walk in darkness. Jesus will never lead us to sin.  He only leads us towards righteousness.  He is out for our growth, not our destruction.
  • If we follow Him, we will have life.  Darkness leads to death.  Don’t believe me?  Put your favorite flower in the dark closet for a week and see if it survives.  Jesus is the Light of Life . . . He came to give us life, not take it from us!

At Christmas time, we often have lights as a part of our decorations:  on trees, on our homes, etc.  This is so appropriate, because Jesus is the Light of the world!  Lauren Daigle’s song “Light of the World” reminds us of that as well.  As we sing this song, or look at Christmas lights, be reminded of God’s presence with us, and His desire that we walk in obedience following Jesus’ commands and example.  If we do, we will have life as God intended!

Light of the World

The world waits for a miracle

The heart longs for a little bit of hope

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel

A child prays for peace on Earth

And she’s calling out from a sea of hurt

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel

And can you hear the angels singing

Glory to the light of the world

Glory, the light of the world is here

The drought breaks with the tears of a mother

A baby’s cry is the sound of love

Come down, come down, Emmanuel

He is the song for the suffering

He is Messiah, the Prince of Peace has come

He has come, Emmanuel

Glory to the light of the world

For all who wait

For all who hunger

For all who’ve prayed

For all who wonder

Behold your King

Behold Messiah

Emmanuel, Emmanuel

Glory to the light of the world

Glory to the light of the world

Glory to the light of the world

Behold your King

Behold Messiah

Emmanuel, Emmanuel

The world waits for the miracle

The heart longs for a little bit of hope

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel


To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.


To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

December 3 – Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

December 3

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

The very first churches I knew were Methodist.  Most every Sunday for the first 18 years of my life you could find me somewhere around East Cross United Methodist Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  Of the many blessings I received from that heritage was a knowledge of John and Charles Wesley.  Though the Wesley’s never set out to start “Methodism” God used them to reform the Church of England and call it to both passion and application.  If Luther’s reform in Germany was about orthodoxy, the Wesley’s reform in England 200 years later was about orthopraxy . . . as much about what we do as what we believe.

While John Wesley was the preacher, Charles Wesley is best known for the hymns he wrote.  One of the 18 Christmas carols Wesley wrote was “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”  This song not only laid out sound theology and Scriptural references, but called followers of Jesus to act in certain ways.

The first verse points out Jesus has released us from our “fears and sins” (Romans 6:5-11).  This is a theological truth . . . but the application of this truth is that we would find “our rest in Thee.”

In the second verse, Jesus is described as “a child, and yet a King (Isaiah 9:6-7).”  Charles takes the next line, though, and drives it home, saying that Jesus was “Born to reign in us forever . . . Rule in all our hearts alone.”  The application is not just to say that Jesus is the “King of Kings,” but to have Him be our King – the ultimate authority in our lives. 

This Christmas, as you sing Wesley’s song, may you have a reformation of your practice.  May you find your rest in Jesus, the ultimate authority in your life!

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, thou long expected Jesus
born to set thy people free
from our fears and sins release us
let us find our rest in thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
hope of all the earth thou art
dear desire of every nation
joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
born a child and yet a King
born to reign in us forever
now thy gracious kingdom bring
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone
by thine all sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne

You draw the hearts of shepherds
You draw the hearts of kings
Even as a baby
You were changing everything
You called me to Your Kingdom
Before Your lips could speak
And even as a baby
You were reaching out for me

And now we are awaiting
The day of Your return
When every eye will see You
As heaven comes to earth
Until the sky is opened
Until the trumpet sounds
The bride is getting ready
The church is singing out

Come, thou long expected Jesus
born to set thy people free
from our fears and sins release us
let us find our rest in thee
Come Thou long expected King


To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.


To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

“Joy to the World” Sermon Audio

On Sunday, December 2, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Psalm 98.  This message was part one in “The Christmas Carols” series and focused on the meaning of the song “Joy to the World.”  Below is the sermon audio from the message to listen to or share.


To listen offline, click on the link below to download audio:

The Christmas Carols #1 12.02.18


To listen online, use the media player below:


“Joy to the World” Sermon Questions

On Sunday, December 2, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Psalm 98 and the song “Joy to the World”.  This message was part 1 in “The Christmas Carols” series.  Below are a set of questions related to this message for further reflection or group discussion.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Psalm 98
  3. In your opinion, when is it too early to begin to celebrate Christmas?
  4. “Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts and is based on Psalm 98.  This Psalm (and Watts song) reflect on the past, present, and future of God’s people.  Take a moment to list out some of the things people can learn about God regardless of where they live in the world.
  5. Why do you think we are commanded to sing to the Lord concerning His salvation with our voices and with instruments, etc.  In other words, what do these elements ADD to our experience of relating to God?
  6. What are some ways you can “fill your home with the songs of the Lord” this Christmas?
  7. What are some evidences you see in the world today of the “curse” mentioned in Genesis 3 and “Joy to the World’s” third verse?
  8. What are you looking forward to most about the return of Jesus to the earth one day?
  9. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

December 2 – Joy to the World!

December 2

Joy to the World!

When is it too early for you to listen to Christmas music?  Halloween too early?  How about Thanksgiving?  Black Friday?  December 1?  When is your “starting line” for changing out your playlist?

Whenever your start line, at some point, most will begin listening to Christmas music by the time December rolls around.  However, there is one Christmas Carol that was intended to be sung in July . . . and April . . . and February!  What is that song?  Well it is only the most popular Christmas song in North America – “Joy to the World!”

In 1719, prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote this song, and published it in his book, “The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament.”  Its inclusion in this book lets us know the origins of the song.  Long before Watts arranged it with a Christian perspective, the Psalmist wrote the message in Psalm 98 (way back roughly 3,000 years ago!).  What is interesting about this, is that Psalm 98 is not a Psalm about Jesus’ birth.  It is a song about when the LORD will come “to judge the earth . . . with righteousness, and the peoples with equity (Psalm 98:9).”

The earth celebrates with joy, in Psalm 98 and in Watts’ hymn, when the Messiah comes in righteous judgment upon the earth.  This reference is clearly NOT to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but to Jesus’ return at the end of the world as pictured in Revelation 19:11-21.  The earth rejoices on that day because the sin and sorrow that has grown on the earth and infested the ground will finally and fully be dealt with.  Jesus will rule the world with truth and grace at that time inside His Kingdom, and all will see the “wonders of His love” (see Revelation 20).  After the establishment of this Kingdom, Jesus will also usher in a new heaven and a new earth that will make His blessings flow upon the earth in opposition to the effects of the curse (compare Genesis 3:14-24 with Revelation 21-22.) 

Knowing this background is it bad for us to sing “Joy to the World” at Christmastime?  Absolutely NOT!  This song is great any time of the year, including Christmas.  When we think of Jesus’ birth, we also can sing for joy at His coming, even if the full effects of what this song promises will not be felt upon the earth until He comes again.  The historical reality of His first coming, is a down payment on the reality of His second!  Just as Jesus brought forgiveness for our sins and revelation of who God really is at His first coming, He also will bring judgment and righteousness to the earth at His second coming.

So, join the world in singing JOY this year . . . knowing that God’s redemption is coming.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.


To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.


To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

December 1 – O Come, O Come Emmanuel

December 1

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Some songs are old, having been sung for decades.  Then there is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  This song has a history that goes all the way back to the eighth century – over 1,300 years ago!  The words were originally written as a poem and not arranged to music as a Christmas carol until the twelfth century.

Have you ever wondered what causes a song to endure for that long?  Why are we still singing it?  Though the music is beautiful, there are many beautiful songs.  I think the enduring nature of this song is found in its message of hope. 

The song is really a beautiful expectation.  In fact, the poem on which it was based is arranged as an acrostic that spelled out the phrase “ero cras” which translates to “I will be with you tomorrow.”  The underlying theme of the song is that the world is not yet what it will be.  Drawing its imagery from the nation of Israel in the Old Testament days waiting for the arrival of the promised Savior, these lyrics talk about how the arrival of God the Son (Jesus — “Emmanuel” means God with us), began to make good on a number of promises God had made to His people. 

Today as we sing this song we still have a sense of expectation.  The world still is not yet what it will be.  We still live in a world of sin, pain, violence, illness, etc.  We long to see this world change . . . to be redeemed and restored.  As Romans 8:19-25 says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we are saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

So as you sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this Christmas, may you remember the first fruits that came from Jesus’ first coming at Bethlehem.  May that give you hope that “He will be with us tomorrow.”  And, when Jesus comes back, our bodies will be redeemed and the world will be restored.  Therefore, we sing (and wait) with a patient hope.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

From depths of Hell Thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel


O come, Thou Day-Spring

Come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel


O come, Thou Key of David, come

And open wide our heavenly home

Make safe the way that leads on high

And close the path to misery

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel


O come, O come, Thou Lord of might

Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height

In ancient times did’st give the Law

In cloud, and majesty and awe

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel



To access all 31 days of “The Christmas Carols” Devotional, click here.


To access playlists for all 31 songs, visit:

Previewing “The Christmas Carols” . . .

I love Christmas time.  Yes, the schedule is busy.  Yes, the weather is unpredictable.  Yes, we spend more money than normal.  BUT . . . I love the confluence of our spiritual lives and our everyday lives.  Music about Jesus is playing at the mall.  It is normal and natural to invite friends to church with you for a special holiday service.  Worshipping with your local church is normal on the weekends . . . and families even build worship into their times of celebration.  People are more generous with their time and money.  For these reasons (and many more), “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

I think it is especially appropriate this time of year for the Sacred and the secular to blend . . .  after all, at Christmas time we remember that the SON OF GOD, the Creator of all things, the all powerful, all knowing One . . . He humbled Himself and was born as a BABY and laid in a MANGER!  If this is not a mashup of all facets of life, I don’t know what is.  And He did it to identify with us, to show us the way, and to BE the Way so that we might be reconciled to God.

In the midst of this season, we can get moving so fast that we never stop to reflect on the words of the songs that surround us.  We may hear “Joy to the World” sung 1,000 times this month . . . but what does that song mean?  What does it point to?

This Sunday at Wildwood, we will begin our new sermon series, “The Christmas Carols” by looking at “Joy to the World” together.  We will find this song’s roots in Psalm 98, Genesis 3, and Revelation 21-22 . . . and in the midst of this, we will come to know the HOPE of Christmas past, present, and future.

Make plans to join us Sunday (and bring friends!) at Wildwood in our 9:45 and 11:00 worship service.


P.S.  All December long, I will be posting a devotional each day reflecting on the meaning of a different Christmas Carol.  You can find these posts daily beginning Saturday, December 1, 2018 . . . or download the entire devotional now by clicking here.