Monday Music: Top 5 secular Christmas songs

(Seems like Ray could have found a better sleigh for the picture!)

The Christmas season is officially upon us (just ask anyone who is working retail). This means Hallmark movies, decorated homes, and Christmas music on the raido (I’m sure Pandora has a few good stations!) If you are like me, then you have a sort of love/hate relationship with Christmas music. I very rarely drive around listening to the station on my dial playing 24 hour Christmas songs because so much of it is soooooo bad (I’m looking at you Paul McCartney and your ‘Wonderful Christmas time’). But even if it is rare, I do love the good stuff.

So in hopes of spreading my love of Christmas music (and not so much the hate), I am going to spend the next few weeks posting about my favorite Christmas songs. I have broken the genre into three categories: secular, religious but not hymns, and hymns. Also, I am limiting my lists to actual recordings, which makes things a bit tricky with the hymns category, so that you can actualy find these songs and add them to your ‘Best Christmas Songs’ playlist on iTunes (if you don’t have one, you should start one with these songs).

Today we begin with my top 5 secular Christmas songs:

5. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (Jack Johnson): To be fair, I chose this one more for the recording than for the song. I like Jack Johnson on occasion and this is a fun version of the silly song about a reindeer (with a surprise ending): Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

4. Carol of the Bells (Glenna Marshall): There is something haunting about the melody of this song. Of course, there are some poor versions of it, but my personal favorite is my wife playing it on the piano combined with ‘What Child is This.’ We recorded this a few years ago for an album that we did for our Church. You can listen and download it for free here: What Child is This/Carol of the Bells.

3. White Christmas (Bing Crosby): I cannot claim to be a huge Bing fan, but I do love hearing this song around Christmas. And truth is, I always want Christmas Day to be covered with snow, unless I am driving through 3 states to get home (which has happened on a couple of occasions). The song and recording is a classic: White Christmas.

2. The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole): There is a reason why this song is near the top of everyone’s favorite Christmas song list. Cole’s voice and simple tickling of the ivories combined with the nice strings makes for a great song. Yes, it is overplayed and yes, it is a bit cliché, but it is still a great recording: The Christmas Song (sorry about the Thomas Kinkadesque video, it was the best one I could find of the song without Frankie singing along).

1. The Spirit of Christmas (Ray Charles): So there is a particular Christmas movie that I enjoy that features this song in one scene that I love (perhaps the only semi-serious scene of the entire movie). And maybe I would not like the song as much without the scene, but as it is, I love this song. Everytime I hear it I am both happy and sad at the same time (a little shout out to ‘Inside Out’ for helping us understand the importance of that mixture of emotions). Great song Mr. Charles: The Spirit of Christmas.

Enjoy these great songs on your Cyber Monday!  More to come!



Tuesday Books: Advent Selections

Advent begins today (Dec. 1st). It is a great time to spend reading with your kids about the birth of our Savior. And there are some great free resources to help you do just that! Let me list a few:

  1. “Behold the Lamb of God” (Russ Ramsey): This book of 25 devotions was inspired by Andrew Peterson’s ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ album (probably my favorite Christmas album). You can download the book for free today here: Behold the Lamb of God.
  2. “The Arrival of the Savior” (wm): I wrote these 25 devotions for my Church a few years back to help us celebrate Advent together. You can get them free here: The Arrival of the Savior.
  3. “Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Calendar”: If you have a copy of the ‘Jesus Storybook Bible’ (Sally Lloyd-Jones) then you can use this free Advent Calendar that coincides with some of the stories here: Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Calendar.
  4. “Solid Joys: Devotions for Advent” (John Piper): Piper is one of my all-time favorite authors and apparently you can get free devotions from him, particularly during the season of Advent: Solid Joys. I found some more from Piper for free here: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.

I cannot encourage you enough to pick one of these free resources and celebrate the incarnation over these next 25 days. O come let us adore Him!


(I broke the routine and posted this early so you can pick your devotional and get started tonight!)

Thursday Links: ‘Immigration policy must be based on more than an appeal to compassion’ (Kevin DeYoung)

I have read several (well a few at least) Christian articles concerning the current immigration crisis this week and I found DeYoung’s very interesting. He does not really offer a solution as much as highlight the various factors for Christians to consider (some of which he feels are being ignored or at least downplayed). I agree that it is a complex issue and that we should try to avoid oversimplifying it. Give the article a read here:

Immigration policy must be based on more than an appeal to compassion


Wednesday Word: Head Coverings and me? (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

The bible always means what it always meant.

I am just finishing up my first bible interpretation class and my hope is that if the students have learned anything about interpreting Scripture they have learned the signifiance of authorial intent (I had them finish the above quote on almost every test!) What Paul meant when he wrote 1 Corinthians is what it still means today. We must always approach the text with this in mind. Every time we start asking the question: ‘What does this passage mean to me’, we start moving away from faithful interpretation.

So then, you might ask, what are we supposed to do with Paul’s instructions for the Corinthian women to wear head coverings in corporate worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16)? Have we missed this passage completely? If the text always means what it always meant, then shouldn’t women always wear head coverings to church?

In order to answer, we must remeber another important guideline for biblical interpretation: while meaning never changes, applications of the meaning will. For example, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. No matter where or when we live, we must love our neighbors. But love for neighbor in 2015 will look different than love for neigbor in the first century. Likewise, loving my neighbor in Sikeston will perhaps look different than someone loving their neighbor in Tokyo. The principle is true for all followers of Christ, but the application will vary (even from person to person at times). Of course, this does not mean that every application is valid. Just because I want to love my neighbor by running over their Alabama Crimson Tide mailbox (it is for their own good), does not make such an action a valid application of the text (no matter how much I wish it was).

So what about head coverings? Paul begins the passage with the headship principle (v. 3) and then applies that principle to head coverings in Corinth. He ties the principle to Creation, since woman was made from and for man (v. 7-9), but I think the application was for those who live in a culture that views head coverings as a sign of respect. Since we do not live in such a culture, that particular practical application does not apply today.

These are tricky issues and there are those whom I respect greatly who disagree with my conclusion. Yet, we do agree on the fact that while applications will change, the truth remains the same. Culture may impact how we apply the text, but it does not change the meaning.

Because the Bible always means what it always meant.


Tuesday Books: ‘Onward’ (Russell Moore)

When I am looking for a good biblical response to current issues, I normally turn to either Al Mohler ( or Russell Moore ( I trust these guys first and foremost because I know that their goal is to be faithful to the text no matter what. But I also trust them because they always seem to be well read (particularly Mohler who reads like…everything) and well spoken (I love the humor and music references often found in Moore’s work). I believe that they are some of the best at responding to current cultural issues.

Thus, I was excited when my pastoral reading group decided to read Russell Moore’s latest book ‘Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.’ As with his other material, Moore does a great job of biblically responding to important cultural issues. And the writing is great. Sometimes the chapters got a bit long for me, but otherwise I have thoroughly enjoyed the book. He repeatedly addresses the problem of churches and individuals believing in an ‘almost gospel’, which is, like other gospels, no real gospel at all. The problem today is not that the lost have gotten more lost but that many in American Christianity have settled for a substitute gospel, which leads to unbiblical solutions to the cultural issues that we face. Moore seeks to call us away from the ‘almost gospel’ and back to biblical truth.

Some good quotes include:

“For a long time, the church in America has assumed that its cultural conservatism was American, that most people at least ideally wanted to live up to our conception of the good life. Those with eyes to see ought to recognize that if those days ever existed, they are no more.” (p. 3)

“The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself.” (p. 7)

“The church now has the opportunity to bear witness in a culture that often does not even pretend to share our “values.” That is not a tragedy since we were never given a mission to promote “values” in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgment, of Christ and his kingdom.” (p. 9)

Those are all just from the Introduction, some others:

“If the Bible Belt had held to a truly “radical” sort of religious vitality, we ought to see regions with higher church attendance strikingly out-of-step with the rest of the country when it comes to marital harmony, divorce rates, sexual mores, domestic violence, and so on. We’re not the culture warriors we think we are, unless we’re fighting for the other side.” (p. 18, from his chapter on the Bible Belt)

“Our vote for President of the United States (for those of you who are Americans) is important. We are held accountable, as we’ll discuss, for the discharge of our ruling responsibilities in this life. But our vote for President is less important than our vote to receive new members for baptism into our churches. A President is term-limited and, for that matter, so is the United States (and every other nation). The reception of members into the church, however, marks out the future kings and queens of the universe. Our church membership rolls say to the people on them, and to the outside world, “These are those we believe will inherit the universe, as joint-heirs with Christ.” That’s a matter of priority of each, not a pullback from either.” (p. 62, in his chapter on the Kingdom of God)

“A church that loses its distinctiveness is a church that has nothing distinctive with which to engage the culture. A worldly church is of no good to the world.” (p. 82, from his chapter on Culture)

I could go on (great writers are very quotable), but I’ll stop with those. I have enjoyed this book and I think you will as well. If you are looking for biblical responses to current issues, then this is a great place to start.


Monday Music: ‘Skin’ (Vigilantes of Love)

Vigilantes of Love garnered a good following in the Christiam music scene in the 90’s. Their frontman and songwriter, Bill Mallonee, is sort of a combination of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty (with the band being the Heartbreakers I guess). Mallonee is good at turning a phrase and writing honestly about truth and love and Christianity in America. I am not a huge fan of their sound, but they have a few really great songs (‘Resplendent’ off the Audible Sigh album and ‘Double Cure’ which I can’t seem to find anywhere).

One of my favorite songs of theirs is about Vincent Van Gogh (another artitst I really enjoy). The story goes that Vincent was in love with a woman who did not share the same feelings. Thus, Vincent did what any normal man in love would do and hacked off part of his ear, literally. It is an odd story about an odd artist who created some of the best art the world has ever seen. Mallonee saw in it a good idea for a song and wrote ‘Skin.’ It is a song about the difficult labor of love and the fight to persevere through the suffering it often brings. Some of my favorite lines include:

“Now I’d seen him despondent,

a few times as of late

Sometimes the answer that love gives

is the hardest one to take”


“If you’re gonna come around here

and say those sorts of things

you’re gonna take a few on the chin

You talk about sin and redemption, you

better bring your thickest skin.

Sometimes you can’t please everyone,

sometime you can’t please anyone at all

You sew your heart onto your sleeve

and wait for the axe to fall.”

It’s a great song. Give it a listen here:



Friday Sports etc: The Power of Sports

You are probably aware of what happened at the University of Missouri this week. Although my ignorance   of the situation forbids me from commenting on the larger issue of racism on the campus (many have commented in spite of that), I cannot help but be struck by the fact that the football team got the president fired. By refusing to practice and play, the president of the univerisity was forced to resign. As many have pointed out, such a move could have far-reaching consequences.

For example, let’s say that the players decide that they want to get paid for playing, an idea that is regularly tossed around concerning college athletics. Seemingly all they have to do at this point is demand it by refusing to play. If enough teams and coaches got together next year and refused to play without pay, then the powers that be would be left with few options:

1. Fiiiiirrre e’rbody: One option would be for the administrations to just fire the coaches and staff, find new players who would play for free and just start over. Practically though, this would never work. How could you find coaches and staff in such a short amount of time? And how could you replace the players? Nothing like watching the walk-ons duke it out on Saturdays, final score: 0-2 (the seventh overtime ended the game with a safety).

2. Cancel e’rything: No more season openers. No more TSIO (Third Saturday in October, for the non-Tennessee/Alabama fans). No more watching the polls to see who is going to make the playoffs. Heh, no more playoffs. Yeah, that ain’t going to happen. (We cannot comprehend how much revenue would be lost, which is really what is driving the whole thing).

3. Pay em’ their money: Write up the contracts (expecting negotiations and hold-outs). Write down the rules and salary caps and what-nots. And write your name on the checks!

Seriously though, in light of what happened at Mizzou, why would we not expect something like this happening in the near future? It seems like it is just a matter of time. And it is not that hard to understand how we got here: millions and millions of dollars (I didn’t actually do any calculating to arrive at that number, but it is fairly accurate). When the athletes realize how much their willingness to play is worth (especially in the sports of football and basketball), then they will know just how much power they have. It seems we are heading in that direction. Just not very confident that such power will be wielded well. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.


Wednesday Word: Meet with me (Ezekiel 36, John 12, Psalm 86)

If you have ever followed a Bible reading plan for an extended amount of time, then you know that there are days (even weeks and months) where it just feels like you are going through the motions, checking off your assigned reading in the Bible, and not ‘getting much out of it’ (I put that in quotes because that is actually never the case, we always benefit from reading the Word). I have had plenty of those times. Yet, there are other times when the Providence of God is so obvious its as if He planned all of history for you to read that passage that day. This happened to me yesterday.

A little background will help. Many of you know that my wife and I are in the middle of adopting our second child. As is common with adoption, we have faced several obstacles along the way. I won’t go into the details, but yesterday was supposed to be an important day in the process (for the record, not much really happened, which unfortunately happens all of the time). Needless to say, I woke up a bit anxious about how the day would go. I brought all that with me as I sat down with my cup of coffee to read the passages from my Bible reading plan for the day (I am using the ‘5 Day plan’).

Three passages were on the schedule: Ezekiel 34-36, John 12, and Pslam 86.

Ezekiel 36: I began with Ezekiel, which I have to admit is not always easy reading (he is not afraid to leave you disgusted with his picture of sin and rebellion). At the end of this passage, beginning in 36:16, the Lord began to speak with me about my current situation. He reminded me of His passion for the glory of His name. He says to Israel through the prophet:

“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name…” (v. 22)

We have been praying that the Lord would be glorified through our adoption situation (particularly in light of 1 Corinthians 10, which I preached this past Sunday). He reminded me that He would glorify His Name through Ezekiel 36.

John 12: Next I read from the Gospel of John. Jesus says to His disciples in John 12:

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (v. 27-28)

Jesus died for the glory of the Father. He died to justly justify a people for the praise of His great Name. The Father is glorified through the death of the Son and the redemption of a Bride. And He will be glorfied in my current situation. It may not play out like I want it to, but I can trust that no matter what, His glory will be known.

Psalm 86: Finally I read from Psalm 86. Although I was encouraged by the reminders that God was working everything for His glory, I was still struggling with the day ahead. If I am honest, I was still struggling to know that God is not just there, not just existing, not just watching from a distance (no matter what Bette Midler sang), but that He loves me and knows me and hears me when I cry to Him. And the psalmist writes:

“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy…Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.” (v. 1-7)

Apparently I am not the first to feel overwhelmed by my troubles. Apparently the Lord has made a practice of hearing the cries of His people, those who plead: “Show me a sign of your favor…” (v. 17).

The Lord speaks to us everytime we read His Word. He is never silent, even when we aren’t listening. But sometimes, through His providence and grace, in His sovereign goodness, He meets with me in a very real and practical way when I open His Word. He meets with me as a loving, kind Father, reminding me that I am never forgotten or forsaken and that all my difficult circumstances will result in His praise. And for a moment I can hear His voice above the wind and the rain whispering: “Peace, be still.” It is not necessarily like this all the time, but sometimes it is. And we should be thankful. Thankful for His Word. And thankful that He meets with us through it.