For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, December 28, 2020

This is For the Glory of God

For some time, the unofficial "theme verse" for our church family has been 1 Corinthians 10:31, which tells us to do all things for the glory of God.  As we approach a new year, with all the uncertainty that it holds, I wanted to challenge us to keep that thought consciously before us.  No matter what the new year brings, good or bad, it is out of our control.  But it is ultimately in God's control, and we need to focus on seeking His will for His glory in all things.  Here is Sunday's message if you want the longer version of that basic idea 😉.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Have A Mary Merry Christmas (again)

 This is a re-post of a blog article I wrote on Christmas Eve, 2013.  In thinking about a "Merry Christmas post" for this year, I read this again, and decided to simply share it again in its entirety. 

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Believe it or not, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was not a fan of Christmas.  He once said in an early sermon “I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred.” (#57, December 23, 1855)

However, he did go on to say that the recognition of our Lord’s Birth was certainly a worthwhile exercise.  And nearly a decade later he issued a call for the church to enter this season with a “merriness” that imitates that of Mary.  Here are his words preaching on the text from Luke 1:46-47, on December 25th, 1864

Observe…the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.”

Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

And, yet, Spurgeon revealed his fear that many would not be focusing on this true joy during the holidays, and ends with a plea for God’s people to join Mary in her merry song.

There will be much music to-morrow which would not chime in with hers. There will be much mirth to-morrow, and much laughter, but I am afraid the most of it would not accord with Mary’s song. It will not be, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” We would not stop the play of the animal spirits in young or old; we would not abate one jot of your relish of the mercies of God, so long ‘as ye break not his command by wantonness, or drunkenness, or excess: but still, when you have had the most of this bodily exercise, it profiteth little, it is only the joy of the fleeting hour, and not the happiness of the spirit which abideth; and therefore Mary must sing alone, as far as you are concerned. The joy of the table is too low for Mary; the joy of the feast and the family grovels when compared with hers, But shall she sing alone? Certainly not, if this day any of us by simple trust in Jesus can take Christ to be our own. Does the Spirit of God this day lead thee to say, “I trust my soul on Jesus?”

My dear friend, then thou hast conceived Christ: after the mystical and best sense of that word, Christ Jesus is conceived in thy soul. Dost thou understand him as the sin-bearer, taking away transgression? Canst thou see him bleeding as the substitute for men? Dost thou accept him as such? Does thy faith put all her dependence upon what he did, upon what he is, upon what he does? Then Christ is conceived in thee, and thou mayest go thy way with all the joy that Mary knew; and I was half ready to say, with something more; for the natural conception of the Savior’s holy body was not one-tenth so meet a theme for congratulation as the spiritual conception of the holy Jesus within your heart when he shall be in you the hope of glory.

My dear friend, if Christ be thine, there is no song on earth too high, too holy for thee to sing; nay, there is no song which thrills from angelic lips, no note which thrills Archangel’s tongue in which thou mayest not join. Even this day, the holiest, the happiest, the most glorious of words, and thoughts, and emotions belong to thee. Use them! God help thee to enjoy them; and his be the praise, while thine is the comfort evermore. Amen.  (#606

And Amen.  May you like Mary, enjoy a truly Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 12

 Well, here we are.  As I said in the last post, as far as my wife is concerned, there are only two versions of this song that even matter; these last two.  And this one is unparalleled. 

After Petra, the first band I latched on to after becoming a Christian was White Heart.  I bought their debut record, then saw them on the Vital Signs tour in '84, and the fandom was on.  I think they really hit their "groove" once Rick Florian came onboard as lead singer, but I enjoy all the various lineups.  I love the layered vocal style and their classic 80s/90s rock sound. 

In 1988, Sparrow Records put out a Christmas compilation record with their "stars" of the day.  Some are names folks would still recognize today, a couple, not so much.  If you really want something different check out Steve Taylor's mariachi band arrangement of "Winter Wonderland". 

But on that release, the White Heart rendition of Little Drummer Boy was destined for greatness.  I played that song over and over, and still do.  Even our kids pretty much don't think it's really Christmas until we've heard White Heart's Drummer Boy.  

So, if you actually followed this entire 12 post series, congratulations. (And, honestly, maybe you need to get a hobby or something).  But here is your reward.  The greatest version of this song ever.  The chord they hit at about 3:06 still gives me chills.  In fact, those layered vocals I mentioned from about 2:13 on are just amazing.  As an added bonus, the video here is one posted by Saxon Lights who do those fun Christmas light shows to songs.  Enjoy. And Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 11

When I started this little 12 day project, I confessed that I actually have a play list with nothing but various arrangements of Little Drummer Boy.  Yes, I know that seems obsessive.  But if you've been following along, you will admit that many of these arrangements are so different, that it's not really like listening to the same song.  Anyway...

When I shared my playlist with my wife, her only response was to say, "There only needs to be two songs on it."  And when I showed her these posts, she kept saying "there only needs to be two songs and you haven't done either of them."  I kept telling her to be patient, because we would eventually get there. 

In truth, it's easy for me to decide which two arrangements of this song should be at the top.  These last two, are in my opinion, by far the best.  Number one is far and away the best.  But first, the runner up. 

Some years ago we attended WinterJam (a amazing conglomeration of a wide variety of Christian bands/artists on tour together, though I admit the older tours were better) and one of the "opening acts" was a relatively little known band fronted by two brothers.  In fact, they were the little brothers of one of our daughter's favorite artists, Rebecca St. James.  Little did we know at the time what For King and Country would become. 

Fast forward several years and FK&C is a huge success, and they put out this live Christmas record which is just amazing.   If you have ever seen this band in concert, you know how appropriate it is for them to do Drummer Boy, and this immediately became a favorite.

Let me specify, though, that this is the live version.  Just this year the band put out a studio Christmas project with many of the same songs, and while they are mostly the same arrangements, I'm just not as "moved" but it.  Drummer Boy, in particular, lacks the "umph" of the live version.

So, here at last is one of the two versions approved by my wife.  Check back tomorrow for the all time greatest version.  

Monday, December 21, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 10

 Most of the arrangements of the song on this favorites list of mine have been around awhile.  Some dating back to that ancient decade (according to my kids) of the 80s!   This one just came out a month or so ago. 

One of the bands I have recently discovered is a newer, somewhat lesser known band called Bayless.  Fronted by a husband and wife team, I have really been enjoying the unique sounds of this hard rock band.  They are quickly getting some notice, with a couple singles starting to move up "the charts."  When I first heard it, I couldn't stop listening to "No More Suffering", but the whole "Ready. Aim." EP is worth the time to check out.   

When they released a four song Christmas EP I was pretty excited, and when I heard this arrangement of Drummer Boy, I knew it would move on to my all time favorite list.  This is probably the most unique arrangement on my list, sounding more like another single in the unique style of the band instead of the old Christmas standard.  But I hope someone else out there might enjoy it as much as me.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Advent Message #4

 Christmas, for most of us, is a family time.  I was grateful to have most of our kids with us in church this morning, some even participating in the service with songs. 

So it's appropriate, I think, that this would be a time to focus on the family aspect of Christ's work; namely, the doctrine of adoption.  As we finish up this little series on Galatians 4:4-5, I tossed in verses 6 and 7 as well, which remind us of this amazing blessing God has given, to be adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God.  May we never take this privilege for granted.

Friday, December 18, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 9

 And now for something a little bit different.  

Several years ago I walked into a meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention, and heard the most amazing sounds coming from the auditorium.  In high school, and some in college, I played in jazz band and I absolutely loved it.  And here at this not-always-exciting meeting, I'm hearing some very exciting music.  Because this year, the convention had enlisted the services of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra to provide some of the "pre-session music."  

This "Nashville based horn band" first got national attention by making it the finals of a FOX contest show called The Next Great American Band. From there they went on to produce a dozen or so projects, my favorite of which is a collection of big band arrangements of hymns; appropriately titled Mile High Hymns

They also put together two different Christmas projects, a mix of their own arrangements of standards and some originals.  If you really want to have some fun, check out "Frosty the Bluesman", as well as DMHO's version of the song "You Ain't Gettin' Didly Squat" by Heywood Banks

But for now, sit back and enjoy the big band sounds of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra performing The Little Drummer Boy. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 8

 One of our family's favorite Christian bands over the years was Audio Adrenaline.  "Big House" was a staple in our house, like so many others.  One of the favorite concerts to which I took our oldest two was the Until My Heart Caves In tour, which we didn't know at the time would be the last tour.  Singer Mark Stuart was struggling with some vocal issues which stole his voice from him, and the band pretty much shut down. 

Years later, another version of Audio A came about with Kevin Max (of DC Talk fame) as the lead singer, and we loved that record.  We even saw them in concert as well.  Not quite the same as the old days, but still great.  That incarnation only lasted one album, sadly.  But anyway...

In 2002, the folks that put out those WOW collections of Christian songs, decided to try a Christmas Collection.  Thankfully, Audio Adrenaline was part of it, because this is one of my absolute favorite versions of this song.  At this point in my list, the differences between them for me get closer, and it's harder to pick an order.  In fact, at times I may change my mind.

But for now, here is day 8, with Audio Adrenaline. 



Tuesday, December 15, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 7 (with bonus "Animated Christmas Sweater")

 Once in awhile you come across an artist whose musical talent and style and message all come together with your own tastes and place in life, and the result is an instant connection.  A couple years back, a good friend of mine introduced me to the music of Neal Morse, and this was indeed the case. 

Hugely successful in prog rock's Spock's Beard, Neal came to know Christ and left that band to pursue making music that reflected his faith.  I can't even begin to list the amazing output from Neal and the various projects he has worked with/on. If you've never heard of him, it is so worth checking out. 

The project that got my attention was an epic 2 cd masterpiece retelling the story of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.  Technically, this one is produced by the entity now known as The Neal Morse Band.  Entitled The Similitude of a Dream, it is that aforementioned perfect blend of music and message.  It so grabbed my attention that I ended up purchasing nearly all of Neal's prior material. 

The follow up, The Great Adventure, follows the story of the Pilgrim's son, and is another nearly perfect epic prog masterpiece.  I took my youngest son three hours in an ice storm to see this one live, and it was worth every minute of it. 

Anyway, years ago Neal put together a project called the Prog World Orchestra and released a Christmas project.  Some really good stuff on there, but of course this will be the Drummer Boy arrangement. 

And as a bonus, a year or two ago Neal put out a new, original Christmas song called Worldwide Sleigh Ride.  It's an enormously fun song, and the video is mind blowing.  As the title of this post suggests, it really is an animated Christmas sweater.   Hope you enjoy  (And do check out Neal's other work!)

Monday, December 14, 2020

Advent Message #3

 We're continuing to look at Paul's words in Galatians 4:4-5, this time focusing on the phrase "to redeem those who were under the law."  Redemption is what Christmas is all about.  This is the purpose for which Christ came. 

It's not just mangers and shepherds and angels; it's the cross that should occupy our minds at this time of year.  Our Sovereign King sent His Son to secure our salvation, and that indeed is worth celebrating. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 6

 When I first came to Christ, I knew I had to make a change in my music listening habits.  At first I was a bit concerned, because much of what I heard from the Christian market wasn't quite my "style."  Then I heard a little band called Petra.  

I saw Petra the first time in 1983 during the Not of This World tour, and it was a defining moment for me.  Not only was it one of the first dates with Cheryl, my now wife of 30+ years; but it started a life long passion for Christian rock music, even leading me to work in Christian radio for awhile.  It influenced not only me, but my kids after me.

To say I was disappointed when Greg X. Volz decided to leave the band is an understatement.  I just didn't see how Petra could go on with out that distinctive voice.  And honestly, it took me awhile to warm up to this guy named John Schlitt.  But warm up I did, and I have not only loved his work with Petra, but his subsequent solo projects as well.  

(Side note, Petra concerts have been a family affair, from that first one in '83, to taking our older kids to the Farewell Tour in 2005, and then just recently taking my youngest to see the Reunion Tour.  And the whole family considers those concerts a highlight.  But I digress...)

One of John Schlitt's solo works was a Christmas album a few years back.  Since it's release, it has found a regular place in my Christmas playlist.  His version of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" is worth the price of the cd.  What a voice!  I could go on all day about my love for all things Petra...

Anyway, here is the arrangement of Drummer Boy from that album, featuring those classic Schlitt vocals.  And stay tuned for the top half of my list...

Friday, December 11, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 5

 I remember way back in my college days, the first time I heard a Bryan Duncan solo record.  I was blown away. He was/is part of Christian music pioneers Sweet Comfort Band, but really gained fame as a solo artist.  Have Yourself Committed (1985)  and Holy Rollin' (1986) took CCM by storm, and working at our college radio station, I played these over and over. 

I actually got to meet Bryan.  He was opening for Steve Taylor on the On the Fritz tour.  Our station was helping sponsor the concert in Kansas City, and so my radio partner, David King, and I got to do the on stage announcing/introductions, as well as interviewing both performers.  

My clearest memory of that encounter was when I said something to Mr. Duncan about really liking his jazzy sound, and he immediately corrected me:  "It's Blue-eyed Soul."  Well, whatever you call it, I love it.  

Duncan went kind of pop/AC for several records, but later came back to those "blue-eyed soul" roots, recording a couple projects with what was called the NehoSoul Band.  One of those was a Christmas album, from which today's entry comes from. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 4 (with bonus)

 A few years back I stumbled upon what has become one of my all time favorite bands: Theocracy.  I recognize that a little prog metal is not for everyone, but if you like long-form, story songs; and don't mind a little loud guitars, then you really need to check out the song "Mirror of Souls."  It's an amazing story, and has even inspired an upcoming book by Wayne Thomas Batson

Actually, the first song I heard from Theocracy was the Martin Luther/Reformation inspired "Nailed," which is from my favorite album As The World Bleeds.  The epic "I Am" leads off this masterpiece, and is worth your time. 

Anyway, the genius behind Theocracy, Matt Smith, has over the years offered a handful of Christmas songs.  Some are arrangements of old standards; and some are just fun originals ("Rudolph vs. Frosty" comes to mind).   

Of course, this series of posts is about the "Little Drummer Boy," so that's the video I need to get to.  Just a fun arrangement of this classic.  However, as a bonus, I've also included the original song "Snowglobe" which is a wonderful story with a very meaningful message.  Enjoy.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 3

 As I continue to share about my obsession with this Christmas song (well, maybe not "obsession", but certainly "passionate appreciation"), I'll move on to one with some family memories attached.  

Back in the day, as they say, our family really enjoyed the band Jars of Clay.  In particular was a song called "Flood."  The chorus has a repeated line saying "lift me up."  When our kids were much younger, and much smaller, and I had much more energy; we would listen to that song and when that line came along, the kids would get thrown into the air by dear old dad. 

In later years, I was a bit disappointed when the band felt the need to "distance" themselves from evangelical Christianity.  Then there was the big kerfuffle when the lead singer made some public remarks regarding Scripture not having authority on the issue of same-sex marriage.  I really won't go into all the point-counterpoint stuff that happened after all that. I'll leave it with "I was a bit disappointed."

Nevertheless, this 1995 release of their arrangement of Drummer Boy is still on my "favorites list."  Hope you enjoy.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Advent Message #2

 C. S. Lewis called it the Grand Miracle, that miracle that stands out as being above and beyond all other miracles.  Is it the deliverance from Egypt?  Creation itself?  The Resurrection?  No, it's the Incarnation.

Some may want to argue, but I think he's right.  The idea of the infinite God, creator of the universe, taking on the finite flesh of His creation is the most mind boggling miracle of all.  Or course, we know the purpose of that miracle was to provide the miracle of salvation through the death of Christ and His miracle resurrection.  But it begins with this amazing miracle we celebrate each and every year at this time. 

Here is yesterday's message as we continue to look at Paul's brief comments in Galatians 4:4-5.  Last time I focused on the "fullness of time."  This time, it's that miracle of God sending His son, born of woman, born under the law. 

Praying you have ears to hear, and eyes to see the grandeur of this miracle and the salvation it leads to. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 2

 As I said in the previous post, I have what might be considered an unhealthy fascination with one of the least biblical Christmas songs ever.  The Little Drummer Boy may not be in the Bible, but he's been in my list of favorite songs for a long time.

From one of the older arrangements by E.T.W, I move to one of the newer arrangements in my collection.  Marc Martel entered our home through his band Downhere.  Their "Christmas Song" How Many Kings is a real gem.  Our youngest daughter was a big fan, and after that band faded out, and Marc started doing solo stuff, we kept following. 

Long before he became well known for looking and sounding like Freddie Mercury in Queen tribute bands, we appreciated Marc's talents.  In fact, I took the aforementioned daughter on a three hour trip to catch Mr. Martel doing a solo gig at a club in St. Louis.  Though there were only about 30 folks there, he performed like he was on stage before thousands, giving it 110%.  That effort cemented my appreciation for him as an artist.  

Well, it seems Mr. Martel has his own unhealthy fascination: with Christmas music.  Over the last few years, it seems, the only thing he's done outside of the Queen stuff is to record a handful of Christmas EPs.  And of course, I love his Drummer Boy.  So without further ado...

Thursday, December 3, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 1

 Over the years, some of my favorite arrangements have been of one of the least biblical Christmas songs.  There was obviously no Little Drummer Boy at the nativity.  Cute story for a claymation holiday special, but it just ain't in there.

And yet, as I've collected all these Christmas projects over time, our favorite bands and artists adding to the mega pile of Christmas music out there, it surprises me how often their arrangements of Drummer Boy end up being my favorite. 

I'll confess, in my Christmas collection of MP3s, I even have one folder that is nothing but Drummer Boy.  I never said I was normal.  

So, I thought I'd share my fascination with this song with the world.  Between now and Christmas I'll be posting the Twelve Days of Drummer Boy.  I was going to do the twelve days right before the big day, but I knew I would probably miss a day or two.  So I thought I'd get a little head start.

Day One is way out there.  Back in the 80s there was a Christmas project put out called Yo Ho Ho.  It was a collection of songs from 80s hip hop artists like Stephen Wiley, Transformation Crusade, and of course DC Talk. 

The Drummer Boy was offered by E.T.W. (End Time Warriors).  We actually saw this group in concert, opening for another band.  They never became as big as the DC Talk guys, but they held their own for awhile.  And this arrangement is just downright fun.  Enjoy.