Were You Born In a Barn?

Day Six: The Twelve Days of Christmas


My school had a milk program. Each day a student from each class was selected to be milk monitor and occasionally, they chose me. It was an honor because I would bring in a box of milk cartons so the kids would have milk with their peanut butter sandwiches.


Heaven had a program too. When God his messengers when he wanted to send important messages we know them as angels. One day God sent a messenger to some shepherds to announce the Messiah’s birth. Luke 2:8-11:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were much afraid. 

 The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior’s been born, he is Christ the Lord.”



 Most likely, they were just poor, ordinary men. Or they may have been priests, or shepherds who served the priests, by caring for the sheep used in the temple sacrifices. Either way, when the angel appeared they were frightened but the angels wasn’t sent to frighten them, but to tell them that they had been chosen to see the infant king. Think about it. An angel bathed in heavenly light brought the message to men reeking of sheep. The Lord chose keepers of flocks to visit the Lamb of God.


Where did they find the baby Jesus? In a warm house, a five star hotel or in a royal palace? No, they found him in a stall used for keeping animals.


Were they chosen because the new born King had the smell of the barn?  

In our home, whenever I left the door open my dad would say, “Rick, were you born in a barn, shut the door, I’m not heating all of Texas.” I wonder if Joseph ever said to Jesus, “Hey Jesus, were you born in a barn, shut the door, I’m not trying to heat all of Galilee.”

Well, back to the Shepherds.


 Luke 2:17-18:

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”


I loved being milk monitor, it was an honor and I did my best. The shepherds did a pretty good job too. They were monitors to a message of hope for the world. It was the message of angels, that good news of great joy had come for all the people.

A Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas

Wicked and Wise

 Day Five: The Twelve Days of Christmas 


Nativity paintings typically feature Mary, Joseph, and the little baby Jesus surrounded by angels, shepherds and the animals. And, almost always, the Magi are painted into the scene. I get the shepherds and angels but why the Magi? Who were they and why did they come? 

Mary, Jesus, the wise men and in the background, is Joseph. Maybe not historically or culturally accurate, but it sure looks good at Christmas!


The Magi were scholars, astronomers, and philosophers. In their culture, they were highly important and wielded great influence. They were King makers, so, those on thrones rose to power because of Magi. They were commissioned to serve the royalty of the Babylonian empire.

Do you remember the Daniel of Daniel and the lions den? He became a person of  significance for interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. As a reward, the King made him ruler of the province and made him the chief Magi, Daniel 2:48:

“Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.”

Daniel taught them the prophecies of the one to be born king of kings. As king makers, they took this seriously and each generation passed the prophecies to the next one. They followed the time line that Daniel provided and when the time arrived, they looked for the sign, an evening star leading them to the infant king. 


Herod was King of Judea and a wicked man. He wasn’t a rightful heir to the throne since he was neither Jewish or a descendant of King David. Herod wielded great power and placed his sons in positions of regional authority and used his political connections in Rome to expand his domain. He was possessed with unquenchable ambition and even murdered some of his family to eliminate potential rivals. 

When Herod heard about the birth of Jesus, the newly born King of the Jews, he immediately launched a search for the infant to have him killed. 

Herod: The wicked and violent King of Judea


  1. The wicked sought to kill Jesus while the Wise sought to honor him.
  2. The wicked put down threats while the Wise pursued divine opportunity. 
  3. The wicked feigned interest in worshiping while the Wise worshiped with awe.
  4. The wicked would give Jesus a sword while the Wise sought to give him royal gifts. 


On Christmas Eve, children will leave milk and cookies as gifts for Santa. Come Christmas morning, Santa will have left gifts for children. But I wonder, what will Jesus get? Are we finished giving to the one born the King of Kings?

Will there be praise and glory for our Emmanuel? Perhaps it depends on whether we are more like the wise or more like the wicked.

What does Jesus has on his wish list this year?

What gifts does he look for you to give?

Merry Christmas!

All Alone On Christmas?

Day Four: The Twelve Days of Christmas


All Alone?

In 1992, a relatively unknown singer named Darlene Love recorded a Christmas song that went on to be one of her all time greatest hits. It’s called,

“All Alone on Christmas”

It’s more popular today than it was 25 years ago, as is the artist. The song isn’t known as well as, “The First Noel” or as nostalgic as “White Christmas.” It lacks the Jesus centric  message of, “Away In A Manger.”

However, it is a song about love, family and the heartache of being alone on the biggest day of the year. It’s a rock and roll song and one of my holiday favorites.  

“All Alone on Christmas”


I’m told that the entire grandparent world revolves around their grandkids, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas. I remember one when grandma visited. I remember because she gave me my first skateboard, a present I treasured for years. Nope, no socks from grandma. 

Grandparents and grandaughter


Well, did Jesus have grandparents? It’s hard to say. But we know that he had a grandfather, his name was Jacob. From Matthew 1:16:

“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus”

Jesus had a grandfather, and although I’m just speculating, it’s reasonable that he had a grandmother, and perhaps grandparents on his mother’s side as well. I like to think that Jesus grew up with grandparents who were connected with him and a big part of his life. 


Well, his grandparents didn’t celebrate Christmas. There wasn’t a beautifully decorated tree, or candles, or a little wooden box with a little wooden baby. There weren’t any stockings hanging from the fire place and there wasn’t any eggnog. 

grandfather and grandson at Christmas

Obviously, the celebration of “Christmas” was way off in the future. His birth would be globally observed, but not then. On his birthday, Jesus’ parents weren’t celebrating with brightly wrapped gifts and the grandparents may not have been able to visit. Why? Because Mary and Joseph were not in their Nazareth home to be surrounded by adoring family. They were hiding in Egypt and striving mightily to keep him alive.

From Mathew 1:13

“Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him”


Is there anything better than a house full of family on Christmas? Anything more enriching than a house full of love and holiday warmth? But for the first few years our little messianic family were probably separated from their family.

Can you imagine them huddled together; loving, caring and alone. 

I think Darlene was right, nobody wants to be alone on Christmas.

Merry Christmas

There’s No Place Like Home!

Day Three: The Twelve Days of Christmas


The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies. I’m guessing you’ve either seen or heard of it. The film has an iconic phrase that Dorothy, the main character, repeated three times so she could get back to her family in Kansas: 

“There’s No Place Like Home”


In 1958 my Air Force father received orders for England, so off we went. I was just a toddler and don’t remember much. But what I do remember is how excited we were when it was time to go back. Why? Because:

“There’s no place like home.”


Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home and it would be home for Jesus too, but not in the beginning. It would take a couple of years to get there. We know that he wasn’t born there, but in the small village of Bethlehem. Not long after his birth they escaped to Egypt to flee from King Herod’s intent to murder their infant son, the new King of Kings. 



The strategy was to get out of Palestine and away from Herod’s clutches. But Egypt? I wonder how Joseph made a living? Did he speak Egyptian? Did they live off the treasures presented by the Magi? Was there a Jewish community, or a Synagogue? Could the grandparents visit? Hiding in Egypt must have been scary, difficult and lonely. But when it was safe, they returned to their family home in Nazareth, and so Jesus would be known as, “The Nazarene.”


The world needed him to die, to be sacrificed, but not as an infant and not in Egypt, Bethlehem, or Nazareth. At the right time it would happen in Jerusalem. But until then, Jesus was protected by two courageous people of faith who loved and cared for him.

Thank you Mary and Joseph.


At the right time Jesus died for us. He died because he came to die, he was born to die. In this holiday season we give thanks and praise for Emmanuel, our God who came near. For like Jesus in Egypt, this world is not our home.

Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”

Merry Christmas

Life In Small Towns

Day Two: The Twelve Days of Christmas


I like small towns; they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Life in a small town can be a blessing, an answer to prayer and a place to escape urban  noise, city crime, and high pressure.  However, they have little to offer in terms of their significance to the world.

Our town got excited when a stop light was installed. It wasn’t a light with red, yellow and green, just a blinking red light purposed to blink for eternity. But it was a big deal, as if our town had risen in status. Does a blinking traffic light qualify for a rise in status?

But, once in a while a small-town kid grows up to be a world-class athlete, a superstar entertainer, or even President. Every now and then an unknown town produces a well known celebrity.


Guess who came from a small town? It was Jesus! He grew up in the tiny village of  Nazareth in central Galilee. It was Mary and Joseph’s home town and a place that  never exceeded five hundred in population. It wasn’t prosperous, famous or exciting. Nobody gave Nazareth much thought. 

In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”


Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It hosted the Temple and the Sanhedrin. It was home for famous Rabbi’s and the city of prophets and kings. It makes sense to me that Jesus would be raised in Jerusalem. But he wasn’t.

No, our savior was a small-town boy who was destined for big-time things. 

Not even close to what it was 2,000 years ago.


Nazareth wasn’t anything special, and yet, the world celebrates the Nazarene. Not because of where he was from, but because of who he became and for what he did. 

Jesus came for those in big important cities and for those in small unknown towns. He came for us all, he came for you.

I like small towns, they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Thank you Prince of Peace

Merry Christmas

“Our Son Is Missing”


Have you ever misplaced one of your kids? Ever lose track of one or leave one behind? Have you ever had to go and search for one of your children?


On Sundays we took separate cars to church. I usually left early and the family came later. It was a good system and worked fine. But it wasn’t fine one Sunday when my wife drove home after church thinking our son was staying to ride with me. He didn’t. When I walked in without our twelve year old she looked at me, and said,

“Where is Derek, did you leave him behind?”

Fortunately, I knew where he was and wasn’t frantically searching for him. I drove back to the church and found him there in the Father’s house, eating lunch with a Life Group. He knew we would come back to get him.


Culturally, when a Jewish boy had learned the Torah, he was rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. That typically happened at age twelve. Jesus was twelve years old when he traveled south with his parents to the Temple.

Afterwards, while returning home, his parents realized at the end of the day that their son was missing, that he wasn’t with the caravan returning to Galilee. They left him behind. So, Mary and Joseph went to look for him, probably walking all night to reach Jerusalem by morning. Imagine the worry and fear they must have felt with every step. 


After searching for three days they found him in the temple courts, exchanging questions and answers with the Rabbis, who were amazed with the boy. But Mary and Joseph were less amazed and more exasperated. They were not happy with their first born child.


Mary said,

“Why have you treated us like this? We have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied,

“Why were you searching, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  

But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that for Jesus, to be in the temple was to be in his Father’s house, and to be about his Father’s business. 


Before Jesus ascended back to God, there was a resurrection, an empty tomb, a cross. There were Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth. There were shepherds, wise men from the East and a violent, ruthless King. There was a virgin birth. All of which were his Father’s business.


His being left behind was upsetting to his parents. But Jesus was never lost and didn’t need anyone to seek or save him. He was only moving towards the day when he would be the one to seek and save the lost.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas

Happy Holidays

A Most Wonderful Time

Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas


Do you know what time it is? According to the song it’s the best time of the year. Maybe it is. You may be asking, “What’s all the excitement about?” The answer is found with the guys who composed the song so let’s check in with them. Do you know Edward Pola or George Wyle? No? I’ll wager you know their song,

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

They wrote and published the song in 1963, and that same year Andy Williams recorded it on what would become an immensely popular Christmas album cleverly entitled,

The Andy Williams Christmas Album”


Absorb the nuance and embrace the happiness embedded within the words. Of course it’s the most wonderful time of the year. How could it not?

“With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer,

It’s the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call,

There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Not my typical Christmas, not even close. Maybe if it was in color?


The song paints a picture of a Christmas I’ve never had. The lyrics ring out in joyous rapture about holiday parties, friends greeting you with good cheer, and gay happy meetings when friends stop by. Remember when “gay” meant having a merry time?

The people sure seem happy. With caroling in the snow and toasting the marshmallows, how could they not be happy? It sounds wonderful and it should, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Frankly, Christmas isn’t like that for me. I’m often rushed and stressed with deadlines to meet, events to attend, and things to plan and produce. Kids aren’t jingle belling, nobody drops by and there isn’t any snow for caroling.


Nope, I love Christmas. But the song elevates an experience beyond my reach. Maybe it’s the Christmas you always have, but not me. No, for me the joy of Christmas is found elsewhere: it’s in the Messiah’s birth.

All year, I’m about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But in the holidays, I’m all about his birth. I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world. As the angel said,

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

TheNativity (600 x 300)



I live in Houston, so there probably won’t be snow for caroling. Instead, I’ll be thinking how the universe shivered in awe as Emanuel came as an infant King.

For the next twelve days, I’ll blog about the Christmas story, beginning with his childhood and moving each day towards his birth. Please join me.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Merry Christmas

Saying Goodbye


It’s all natural. No, not food or food additives, but of the natural way of life, that it ends.


Sunday: I took a gift from a family at church to another family from church who very recently lost a child. I knew the gift would richly bless the family who will soon gather around their Christmas tree with their two children, but not three.  

Monday: I had coffee with one of our ministers and the conversation wandered onto the topic of death. I shared about our stillborn child. Our baby boy never saw the light of day. But he was perfectly formed, perfectly whole and perfectly beautiful. During  labor there was a complication. He didn’t make it. 

Tuesday: I attended a Christmas Party for our group of retired seniors. One of the couples I sat with brought their beautiful baby granddaughter Just a few weeks ago I had the honor of conducting the “Baby Blessing” for her and her family. It was lovely.

Wednesday: Today I’ll attend the “Celebration of Life” service for the father of one of our members. This family has experienced a long, cold season of grief and loss. I can’t recall another family who’s endured so much. It’s heartbreaking and it continues this morning at 10:30.



We know that life doesn’t last forever. But we hope it lasts a very long time. And when it does it’s still a soul crushing event. When life doesn’t last a long time, but comes all too early, it’s even harder. People say, “No parent should outlive their children” True enough. But it still happens. 

The writer of Hebrews wrote that it’s appointed once for man to die. Solomon said, “There is a time to be born and there is a time to die.” I think He was right. 

Our minds tell us that death is just a part of the human experience. True enough. But the experience of saying goodbye to a loved one is altogether more difficult than chalking it up to the human experience. 


So far this week I wept with a family who has lost a child. I got emotional in the memory of losing our baby boy. I’ll attend the service of a friend saying goodbye to his dad. And I got to experience the exquisite joy of a radiant infant filled with beauty, light and life. 

We say goodbye to those we lose.

We say hello to those we gain.

And We Say Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord

It’s All Natural


Overcoming Despair

(This blog is an encore to the six topic, “Overcoming Series” concluded earlier this week)



Despair is hopelessness and hopelessnes is despair. To be in despair is to be without hope. To be without hope is to be in despair. 


  • anguish
  • dejection
  • gloom
  • misery
  • sorrow

Despair encourages surrender, not like pride for humility, but of surrendering to the fatalism that all is lost.


  • You will never succeed. 
  • There will never be another chance.
  • No matter what you do, you will fail.
  • Giving up and quitting are the only things you know. 
  • Life has past you by and you’ll never catch up. 



  1. Keep Fighting: failing, falling, and finishing last can be habit-forming. So, no matter what, don’t give in to hopelessness, refuse to believe in it. Some days you won’t have the strength or will to keep fighting, but keep going and keep trying. Persistence will ultimately win the day. 
  2. It’s How You Know: the struggle can be overwhelming, but we strive to overcome what’s overwhelming. If we quit struggling then we accept losing. Battling tough temptations, or the conflict in relationships, or the heartaches of life can threaten to defeat us. If we keep going then we know that we haven’t quit. 
  3. Divine Support: some burdens are too big for one set of shoulders and can lead to deep despair. I can’t carry a bucket of water forever. And what if there’s two buckets? Weighed down, back stooped, neck throbbing, and hands breaking, it’s too much! Prayer and faith can off-load some of the weight. “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7.


Mahatma Gandhi: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won.”   

Marion Bradley: “The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.” 

Despair is hopelessness. And hopelessness is an empty, gut wrenching way to live. Build your life in hope. Believe in the path of truth and love. Do all you can, with divine assistance, to fight against despair!


My son is a film maker and part owner of a production company called

Epoch Filmmakers ( epochfilmmakers.com)

He recently wrote, directed, and produced a short film called:


The story is about a dad who happens to be a minister. He begins to believe that is failing both his ministry and his family. The film portrays “Despair” as a character, an enemy who attacks him and plots to destroy him. Will Despair emerge victorious? 

You will be blessed and uplifted by watching the film.

To See the film, “DESPAIR” click here. 

Overcoming Depression, Part Two


It’s a touchy subject and there are lots of opinions and misconceptions. For example, it’s not unusual to hear someone who has had a bad day say, “I feel depressed.” The word has become an umbrella for almost any emotional stress:

  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • disappointment 
  • grief
  • despair
We get the blues and we get down, but it isn’t necessarily depression. 

In popular culture the word loses identity, so how do you know if you are clinically depressed? Well, there are medical and therapeutic professionals who specialize in the  treatment of depression. Please know that I am neither of those. But as it happens, my wife is a professional counselor and my daughter a practicing therapist. They have helped my understanding. And, I can read. 

NOTE: There was a time when church’s wanted ministers to counsel the members. Many of us had little or no training and were unqualified. We meant well but often waded in to waters over our heads. Today we refer to faith based mental health practitioners. 


Some of the causes of depression:

  • unrealized expectations
  • severe criticism 
  • memories
  • self-preoccupation 
  • cumulative effect from many causes

The encouraging news is that those with depression can get better, they can get help. My advice is to seek wellness with a holistic approach to body, mind, and spirit. But as a minister, I’ll limit my advice to the spiritual. Be sure to understand the following: 

If  you are suffering from depression, or think you are, please seek professional help.

men and women who have failed


  1. Replace your self with your God. A healthy step is realizing that God loves you and wants to help. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, there are no wishes for making your life better. But you need to recognize that the Lord is on your side. He is larger than your suffering. You are not alone. Let God into your life and live in your heart.
  2. Replace your thoughts with God’s truth. Depression produces a negative state of mind, and is a destructive illness. You will want to tear yourself down, to denigrate yourself and constantly play in an endless loop a message of a guilt, failure, and blame. Those debilitating attitudes are not of God. His message for you is that you are loved, wanted, and have great value. Look to replace your destructive thoughts with his message of love. 
  3.  Replace your past with God’s future. When flat on your back in the pit of despair, there seems to be no way out and no way for life to be good again. You feel defeated and broken, with nothing to look forward to. But it isn’t true, it’s only true that you feel that way. You can’t relive or rewrite your past, but you don’t have let it define you. It’s what you choose to do each day that determines who you are. Your future is a reality that God has promised. You can trade your past with God’s future.

I’ll share with you that I’ve struggled with depression. It comes and goes. Sometimes my struggle is the crushing weight of life we all experience and sometimes it’s something for which I seek help. I’ve learned to recognize the triggers that push me towards depressive thoughts and have acquired techniques that help me avoid sinking into the pit. 

We can get better, there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel!


“You can look around and be distressed. You can look within and be depressed. Or you can look to him and be at rest.”

“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 43

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”


In review, I realize how paltry these efforts, how insufficient my words, and what hubris to think a blog post could help overcome depression. I apologize for my inadequacy.

However, I encourage you to make good decisions. Remember, there is more to depression than the spiritual so seek healing of mind, body and spirit. Don’t suffer silently. Help is available. I got better and you can too. 

May God richly bless you as you seek his grace in your time of need.