REO Top Ten: Church Potluck Items (Part 2)

There are few things that are more emblematic of Southern Evangelical culture than the church potluck. Many jokes (some funny) have been made at the expense of faithful churchgoers enjoying a smorgasbord-type feast after service. Deal with it, we like to eat and we like to eat with our friends and fellow believers. Of course, when you open up the menu to any item that any person wants to bring, things can get a little tricky. It takes wisdom and quick decision-making to ensure that your plate is filled with only the best foods available. That’s where REO comes in. We’ve spent the last few months meticulously sifting through every potluck food imaginable to create our top ten. These are the ten items that consistently rise to the top – the cream of the crop, if you will. Unless something in the preparation process goes horribly wrong, these are the ten items that will not fail you. Today, we bring you the best of the best. We crown our victor and celebrate with all our fans.


Recap: 10-6:

10. Meatballs
9. Velveeta Rotel Dip and Chips
8. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
7. Mexican Cornbread
6. Pigs-in-a-blanket


5. Ham N Cheese Hawaiian Rolls

Hawaiian Rolls were created by the King’s Hawaiian Company in the late 1950s. By 1960, California man Joe Cooper had taken an entire bag of these delicious rolls, cut through the middle, and melted ham and cheese inside them. They were a huge hit with Joe’s family and friends, but Joe was an atheist so his creation never made it to a church potluck. It wasn’t until 1983 when Edna Clarkson took Ham and Cheese Hawaiian rolls to an event at First United Methodist Church in Starkville, Mississippi that the phenomenon was truly born. Lives were changed that day and the church tripled in attendance. The rest, they say, is history. (Mike Lytle)


4. Chili

Picture this…you’re standing at the front of the food line and you’ve just grabbed a styrofoam plate and your plasticware. You scan down the tables of glorious food spread out before you, but something catches your eye…wait…is that??? No…it can’t be! But it is! Someone has haphazardly thrown a bunch of meat, beans and peppers together into a crockpot, added a bunch of spicy chili powder to it, and proudly set it out for all to enjoy. (Rarely have I had a chili that I didn’t like. And when I did eat a chili that wasn’t great, a little extra Tabasco sauce or cheese is all it took to kick it up to a normative level again.) You reach down and pick up a styrofoam bowl as well. Time to feast. (D.A. Speer)

For something so delicious the recipe for chili is actually quite simple (look at me pretending I know how to cook!). Despite its basic ingredients, a pot of chili can taste very different from one potluck to another. Yet nearly every kind of chili is delicious. Unless it’s canned chili which is an affront to nature! I’ve read that many churches have amended their bylaws to include the following, “Thou shalt not bring canned chili to church potlucks”*. I digress. Plain chili is wonderful. But when cheese and crackers/corn chips are added it transforms into something divine!

REO pro tip: Chili holds heat better than most foods. So, at potlucks where the food is prepped well before the designated meal time always go for the chili as it will still be hot. (Mark Sass)

*I read this on the internet so it must be completely factual.


3. Fried Chicken

I could be wrong, but I suspect that if potluck chicken was as consistently good and hot as freshly made fried chicken, this would be higher on this list. Maybe this would be the case. However, Number 3 is still very respectable and is well earned. I do know that it is my close second favorite behind deviled eggs. It is so close that it is pretty much a tie. Yeah, sure, potluck chicken is often a mite on the coldish side—maybe lukewarm—but I still love it. It and deviled eggs are always my go-to potluck foods. (Ben Plunkett)

I have deeply fond memories of Homecoming Sunday every October at Horse Branch Free Will Baptist as a child in the 80s and 90s. It meant I got to see the late NFL games since there was no Sunday night service. But it also meant this extravagant, bountiful smorgasbord of a buffet right after church. And every year I made a beeline for the chicken. It was often cold but it was still so good. Other than Uncle Remu’s at Walmart, I’ve never had a bad piece of fried chicken. And those Church potluck dinners in my childhood were no exception. (Gordy Cannon)


2. Sausage Balls

A well-made sausage ball is hard to beat. Unfortunately, I have developed a weird pork allergy/intolerance so I am now deprived of all the wonderful pork related foods, including sausage balls. Still, even with my new-found ailment, I cannot deny the glory and the wonder of the classic sausage ball. You can eat these things hot, cold, warm, or lukewarm. You can dip them in a sauce or you can eat them just as they are. While they do vary in taste depending on the spice level of the sausage used, they are pretty great in any form.

REO pro tip: The spicier sausage used the better. Also, do not use too much breading. You want these to have a nice balance of meat, cheese, and breading. We don’t call them bread balls, after all. (Phill Lytle)


1. Deviled Eggs

Many ill-advised haters of deviled eggs love to point out that it has “devil” in the name and that therefore it is obviously a thing of great evil. However, back in the 1700’s when deviled eggs first became a thing, “deviled” meant “spiced.” That’s not a joke. Look it up. Anyway, that makes deviled eggs a thing of great good. And indeed, it is, my friends, this soft and supple culinary masterpiece deserves to be in here in the upper reaches of the potluck top ten. Its haters be boggled. They’re the ones of great evil, so there. (Ben Plunkett)

There is nothing devilish about these delightful creations. Look. I get it. If you don’t like eggs, or mayo, or deliciousness, you might find these little bite-sized beauties a bit repulsive. That is entirely your loss and entirely okay with me as that will leave more eggs for me to eat. At any church potluck, one of the first items to be completely eaten are the deviled eggs. Mark it down. That is why they finished number one in our bracket. They might be polarizing but for those of us that love them, they are the go-to item at any potluck dinner. A church potluck without deviled eggs is a truly horrific thing. We want no part of that. (Phill Lytle)

To me the beauty of the deviled egg is the balance of the two main ingredients. I used to watch my mom make the yolk mixture and then eat the leftovers and it was so good, but not nearly as good as when it was with the white of the egg. The two together are just sublime and hence, #1 for this group. (Gordy Cannon)


That’s our list. We’re sure everyone will completely agree with all of our choices. Be sure to post your kind and encouraging reactions in the comment section below. We look forward to reading them and celebrating all these great potluck foods together.




In Earnest Praise of the Multitalented Knife

This February, I am bringing to you the next installment in my hotly anticipated kitchen utensil series. This year I introduce to you—drum roll, please…and Triangle, if you don’t mind—well the title already spoiled the surprise so never mind. Anyway, “multitalented” is just one of the many attributes that describe this little sharp slice of silver. It is in equal parts wise, knowledgeable, sober-minded, and lethal when needed. Here are the top five awesomenesses of the kitchen knife:


The Knife has More Use Than You Can Shake A Stick or Knife At.

Like the fork, there are quite a few different kinds of knives. And that’s all I’m saying about that. I am not learned in the many intricacies and various genres of the kitchen knife. There may be a dozen different varieties in our utensil drawer at home. I don’t know. They are all butter knives to me. And then there is the sharp knife holder thingy. As long as I can butter a piece of bread or cut a slab of meat. I’m good, I’m good.


The Knife and Fork are Soul Mates; They is BFFs, Yo!

Last year I named a few of the greatnesses of the royal fork. The fork and spoon are sort of friends, but more like frenemies. The knife and fork, now there is a pair that has chemistry. There is a pair I call true BFFs. The two don’t always work in conjunction with other utensils. However, when there is a silverwarey team-up to be had, its most often betwixt the fork and the knife. Say you have a steak or something that you need to cut. Admittedly, sometimes a piece of meat can be cut with a firm fork push, but sometimes that doesn’t work. In such times, the first utensil the fork calls for help is not the spoon or tongs. No, nor chopsticks or skewers. No, its first call is the knife. It is perfect for the job. Stick that fork in your steak and the knife glides perfectly through those slender prongs and gets the job done. Some are naturally gifted, others were trained by the Central Utensil Agency.


The Knife is the Perfect weapon for the Utensil-Based Superhero.

It has always astounded the utensil superhero world that the Blue Raja[1. The Blue Raja is a hero in the criminally underrated film, Mystery Men. He fights crime by using forks and spoons.] adamantly refuses to wield the greatest of all utensil weapons, but after all, as he clarified for The Shoveler he’s not Knifey Boy or Stab Man. While that does make some sense, the cardinal rule that the CUA teaches all of their superhero students is that the kitchen knife should always be their primary weapon. While it is true that not all kitchen knives are as lethal as a gleaming steak or butcher knife, the serrated butter and table knives can also be worthy servants in daring do.


It is a wonderful bridge for the Tiny Crackeletti.

Not long ago I briefly referred to the relatively unknown sidewalk crack dwelling Tiny Crackeletti Tribe. I mentioned that today they most frequently employ themselves by manning rarely seen sidewalk crack bridges all over the world. One of the of the most famous of these bridges is The Great Butter Knife Bridge, which can be found in a dark alley in New York City. (It’s exact location is a closely guarded secret known only to the Crackeletti world.) Crackeletti from all over the world take a yearly pilgrimage to this gleaming silver structure. It is widely considered to be one of the five Crackeletti-wonders of the sidewalk world.


Certain Knives Are the Most Intelligent Knives in the Kitchen Knifey Kingdom. Nay, of the Entire Utensil World!

You have probably heard the saying in reference to a dim-witted individual, “he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” These days just about everyone takes this as a clever turn of phrase likening ones mental sharpness to the knife’s literal blade sharpness. Oh no, no, no. The knowledge has been lost in the deeps of time that this particular idiom is actually referring to the great intelligence that exists in some knives in the kitchen knife culture. Some are pretty dull, hence “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Truly, some butter knives are so intelligent that they (and some butter and toast) were instrumental in the many visionary innovations of Leonardo da Vinci.





Five Amazing Songs I First Heard On TV Episodes

It is a beautiful thing when I am watching a TV show and a song I don’t know plays behind a significant moment, especially a climax, and I am so blown away by it that I immediately look it up on the internet. It’s cool when music and TV scenes come together with marvelous synergy and it’s a song I already know. Yet when I do not know the song it is even better, as I love being introduced to new music. And when this collision of an unfamiliar song overlaying a TV moment rocks my world, the two will forever be linked in my mind. The song then becomes more than music and lyrics; it becomes part of TV lore.

This has happened dozens of times in my life. Here are five that rise to the top of the list.

[Note: There are major spoilers revealed in these scenes.]


“Not As We” (Alanis Morissette)
TV Episode: House M.D. 04:03 “97 Seconds”

This is my favorite House episode as it chronicles House’s argument against the idea of an afterlife. His mind is not changed after he goes to extreme lengths to find the truth but the fact Wilson cleverly and articulately pushes back against House is a huge part of why I loved this show.

The song itself plays when House, after being told by a man who was legally dead for 97 seconds that there is something amazing on the other side, tries to replicate this experience by electrocuting himself in the hospital. Where he knows he will be revived quickly but not immediately. Honestly, the song lyrics do not match the scene to me and would play far better behind a person trying to move on after an intense break-up or a death. But the music does match the tone of the episode and I’m sure that is why they chose it.

The song reaches deep in its emotion and really pulls me in. Alanis Morissette did this for a lot of people many times over, especially women. This one time she got me as well. I’ve listened to it dozens of times.


“One October Song” (Nico Stai)
TV Episodes: Chuck 03.18 “Chuck vs. the Subway” and 04.07 “Chuck vs. the Fistfight”

Chuck is a sleeper show to me, one that doesn’t have a huge following in my circles but was surprisingly good and very versatile. An action-comedy at heart, it had plenty of romance and drama and heartstring-pulling. It also had some epic guest spots that gave tribute to the 80s, including Dolph Lundgren in a one-off and Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula in recurring roles as Chuck’s parents.

Perhaps the most tear-jerking plot development in the series is when Stephen suddenly gets killed by Shaw at the end of Season 3. This song plays alongside that moment and enhances the emotion and has compelled me to listen to it over and over again. Which in turn lets me relive this Chuck episode. The song plays again at the end of a Season 4 episode and compliments it as well.


“Boston” (Augustana)
TV Episode: Scrubs 05:19 “His Story III”

The Janitor on Scrubs had a pretty simple role on the show: to give J.D. an extremely hard time and to make super weird off the cuff comments that bordered on disturbing. So when we got a chance to peel back the curtain a little and see him as a human being, as we do in this episode, it is special. Make no mistake–the ending moment with the song is set up by the Janitor kidnapping J.D. and making a bunch of random hilarious declarations to a man in the hospital who needed a computer to talk but could not for a while as his computer was broken.

Since no one else would talk to him and because everyone else was busy insulting the janitor for having a menial job, the janitor utilizes this man’s forced silence to vent to him. And, as a result, to bond with him. It’s very subtle and doesn’t really pay off until the very end the conversation when Dr. Cox comes in with the sick man’s new computer and the first thing the man says is “Thank you”. After Dr. Cox accepts his gratitude the man says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” before the camera pans to the Janitor mopping up the floor with a look of humble satisfaction at this small victory in his monotonous work life. At that very moment, the line from this song, “No one knows my name” is heard. Which is just perfect, since the Janitor’s name is never given in this show and since the whole point of this subplot was to highlight his invisible job in a place where the most important life or death jobs are on display.

Honorable mentions for Scrubs would include “Closer” by Joshua Radkin and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hay. This show mastered music and climaxes so well I had my own “Scrubs” playlist on iTunes.


“I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” (Band of Horses)
TV Episode: Psych 04.16 “Mr. Yin Presents”

This is my favorite TV episode of all time, of any genre, and this song helps it achieve that lofty accolade.

The Yang trilogy is truly exceptional entertainment, from the heightened stakes, to the villain’s acumen, to Mary’s presence, to everything that Shawn and Gus say and do. And at the climax of the second part–the episode that honors film Part 2s like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II by being the apex of the series–we get a mind-blowing and goosebump-shattering cliffhanger. And the song that James Roday chose to play along with it was, in his words, the only song he could have chosen that would work for this ending.

It begins with Abigail telling Shawn that unless he can give up Psych and having psychopaths wanting to hurt the people he loves, she can no longer be with him. Then it cuts to a series of poignant scenes without words that melt my heart every time: Juliet finally breaks down in Lassiter’s arms after trying to hold it together after her traumatic experience, Henry cleans the paint off of the Psych office door that Yin used to taunt Shawn, Shawn and Gus attend Mary’s funeral dressed in full racquetball attire, Yang stares ahead from her padded cell and Yin comes home as the camera pans to a picture on his table of….Yang and young Shawn? WHAT???

Just a phenomenal three minutes of TV. It messed with my head for days. And I quickly found the song on iTunes, put it on my iPod Nano and listened to it 50 times the next few days.


“Easier to Lie” (Aqualung)
TV Episode: Lie to Me 01:01 “Pilot”

Lie To Me didn’t have the best series premiere of any show ever (Lost and Friday Night Lights would be shows on that short list) but it was still excellent. And after a twist ending where Cal lies to get a girl to tell the truth, this song helps close the episode over a montage of scenes that gave me chill bumps and let me know this was going to be my kind of show. I also love the added touch of Dr. Lightman telling Rita: “Believe what you want to believe. Everyone else does.” This has never been more obvious than in the social media age.


So that is my list. What are some of yours?





Five Lessons Learned from F. Leroy Forlines

Let me tell you a story. I am one of many who grew up under the ministry of Leroy Forlines, long-time theologian and professor at Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College). There are few people who have had as great an influence in shaping me than Mr. Forlines; my mother, my pastor, and a handful of others.

Mr. Forlines was a teacher, mentor, example whose personal integrity and godly life touched many of us. Now in his 90s, Mr. Forlines is a national treasure to our denomination, and to the entire body of Christ. A few months ago, an REO contributor wrote a tribute to him. My thoughts here are somewhat a tribute as well, obviously, but I want to be more personal and talk of how he influenced me in several ways, both big and small. I hope to follow this article with another that will focus on one of his sayings or approaches to finding the truth: his well-known “poles of tension” that I first heard articulated in the 1970s.

1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.
2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.
3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.
4. Mr. Forlines was important in our movement as a theologian.
5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years – bearing fruit even unto old age.


1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.

It was my first or second year at Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1969 or 1970. I asked a young lady (not Judy; it was before we started dating) for an on-campus date. These consisted of either sitting in the student lounge, outside in certain designated areas or walking around one of the approved blocks on or near the campus. This particular day the young lady and I were walking, probably around Richland-Bowling, and met Mr. and Mrs. Forlines who were approaching from the opposite direction. He greeted us, and then pulled me aside and said: “a gentleman walks on the outside of a lady on the sidewalk.” I hadn’t even thought about it. I learned a lesson in etiquette I remember to this day.


2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.

Every week, usually on Wednesdays, we men students had an on-campus meeting. Usually, Mr. Forlines met with us. Some guys found the meetings boring and a waste of time, but my friend Seldon Buck and I had a ball, listening and laughing (not out loud) as Bro. Forlines shared with the guys. There was always Scripture, some sort of devotional thought, but so much more, especially as it related to living responsibly in a campus dormitory situation. Things like flushing the toilet, knocking on a fellow students’ door before entering, keeping your room neat; things of that nature that some of the guys didn’t do too well. Occasionally, Mr. Forlines would do some entertainment, such as his famous trick of standing on his head and drinking water. Amazing! I don’t know if we realized it at the time, but he was helping us grow up as young men, and even when it was emphasizing rules, it had its value. I personally am grateful for those “Boy Scout” meetings, as they were known.


3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.

I don’t recall the first time I heard him utter the phrase “a passion for holiness,” if it was during my student years or shortly after graduation when I heard him speak at a National Convention or Bible Conference, but I do know that it became a passion of his to stress the importance of striving after personal holiness. It came up frequently and reminded us of how far we often fell short, and how our hearts needed to be focused on holiness. He drove it home every time he could, and I am thankful.


4. Mr. Forlines was importantisimo in our movement as a theologian.

That’s a Spanish word which conveys a little more than any English word could: he was of the greatest importance as the theological voice in our movement. After Bible College, he spent nearly a decade in institutions of higher education, earning multiple degrees, and studying under some of the finest minds in the world. Not only did he shape our movement by training hundreds of pastors and missionaries, he was able to influence others who came to the college who weren’t Free Will Baptist. Additionally, his articles in CONTACT magazine provided theological insight to many more who did not study at the college. His years of service on the Commission on Theological Liberalism was a voice of warning about dangerous trends that threatened the evangelical faith once delivered to the saints. His works such as Systematics, and later The Quest for Truth, showed how he remained current and relevant in theological debate, and did so with grace, kindness, and an irenic spirit, even while standing for the truth boldly.


5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years, bearing fruit even in old age.

Amazingly, while still teaching at Free Will Baptist Bible College, Leroy Forlines and his wife Fay were able to travel to Russia and spend considerable time there teaching Russian pastors. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it immediately became possible to travel to Russia, and the Western evangelical world began to do just that. Russian Baptists have always been historically Arminian in theology, but most of those going from the West were Calvinist and brought a strong Calvinist emphasis. Our brothers there were so thankful to learn of Arminianian theologians from the West who were virtually identical in their viewpoints with them, and Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, Garnett Reid, Thomas Marberry, and Ron Callaway were able to spend much time with them. The Forlines stayed for several months, and covered the entire country. Mr. Forlines also spent time in India with veteran missionary and former college classmate, Carlisle Hanna. I well remember him sharing with me, with tears, the impact the India trip made on his life. I think it was tremendous to see someone his age expand his horizons, and no doubt at great personal discomfort serve His Lord in that way.


I suppose someone might ask, “feeling as you do about F. Leroy Forlines, he must have been your favorite teacher.” Actually, I never had one class under Mr. Forlines! The reason is, I had not determined my area of study my first two years, and when I was called into missions I had to cram a number of missions courses into three semesters, and I was not able to include Systematic Theology or Biblical Ethics.

However…in subsequent years I devoured everything Mr. Forlines wrote. I taught Systematic Theology no less than five times in Spanish in Panama, and Ethics at least four times. Mr. Forlines’ works and thought are so embedded in mine, that I think it’s safe to say no other theologian or thinker has influenced me more. I am truly thankful for his life.

*Image courtesy of ONE Magazine.




Five More Facial Expressions That Are No Longer Acceptable in a Tolerant Society

This weekend, the entire world witnessed an unspeakable horror. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, violent racism was deployed in the most damaging manner possible. A young MAGA hat-wearing bigot got in the face of an innocent and totally upstanding Native American elder. He stood there. He looked through his arsenal of privilege and he chose his weapon of choice.

He smirked.

Everyone of sound mind and heart instantly recognizes the hatred, rage, and condescension that comes with that smirk. Most of us have been on the receiving end of a smirk like that. It is a searing knife, plunged into our very souls. Sadly, it is not the only facial expression deployed by the depraved and craven in their attempt to silence those of us on the right side of history. No, there are many more facial expressions of hate, racism, bigotry, misogyny, and intolerance that confront us on a daily basis. Here are five of the most offensive that you need to recognize and eradicate from your life, posthaste!


The Single Eyebrow Raise

There is nothing wrong with your average single eyebrow raise. You know when you lift one eyebrow a little higher than the other. It is an extremely time-honored expression. Abraham Lincoln often raised an eyebrow at his fighting men. So did Helen of Troy when she launched a thousand ships. Very elegant indeed. That being said, the eyebrow-raiser is well advised to avoid it these days. Such expressions are frequently taken as sarcasm, pretension, and various other forms of belittling. This dreaded expression is often effectual in instigating feelings of rage and inferiority. It is henceforth deemed inappropriate if one eyebrow is lifted a least one millimeter higher than the other, and/or if causes the forehead above said eyebrow to be furrowed.


The Non-Flirtatious Wink

We are all aware of the total devastation that occurs when a person (99% of the time a man) winks at another person (99% of the time a woman). We have made great strides in eradicating such toxic behavior in society. Yet the wink’s destructive powers do not end when decoupled from flirtation. The wink, in all its forms, contexts, and deployments is a thing of unbridled hostility, superiority, and vulgarity. If you are a winker, you are a part of the problem. Repent of your winking ways and come to the side where no non-verbal communication of the visual kind will ever be tolerated or condoned.


The “Jim Halpert” Face

Jim (from TV’s “The Office”) was a nice guy. A decent guy. Almost everyone liked him, except for Charles Miner for some reason. He had fun at work, drove Dwight crazy, and got the girl of his dreams. And while he never had a catchphrase, like so many classic TV characters from days gone by, he had a catch look. The look. The “Jim Halpert” face.

Yeah, that’s the one. The problem with that face is that it was often used as a way to deflect any responsibility for all the sexism, racism, and generally offensive behavior of his boss, Michael Scott. It was the look of a coward. In light of how things are progressing in Donald Trump’s America, we have no room for cowards.


The Yucky Food Face

This is something civilized diners should never do. Naturally, it is not good to offend the food preparer in this way, but that is a secondary issue. Of primary concern is 1) disrespecting the animal, fruit, and/or vegetable who died to give you sustenance and 2) offending a stranger who happens to see you across the restaurant and thinks you have been talking about him or her and therefore also thinks that your grimace is directed at them. According to social media, this second is one of the top ten social problems facing our country today. When eating in a public place it is, therefore, best to maintain a straight face at all times so as to avoid this sort of thing. It may even be a good idea to wear a hockey mask when you go out so no one will be mistakenly offended by your Yucky Food Face.


Smiling

Let us be honest here: there are some of us who are simply not allowed to smile anymore. Our smiles are loaded weapons and even if we intend no harm, they leave a swathe of destruction and chaos in their wake. Smiles are just the latest manifestation in a long line of hate and privilege and we just cannot afford to be party to that sort of evil. Until further notice, stop smiling. Our betters in society will let us know when it is safe and proper for all of us to smile again. One last point: If you are unsure if you are allowed to smile, then your complete ignorance about how a progressive and tolerant society works is a clear indicator that your smile is not needed or wanted for this moment in time.


As you can see, if we are not careful we can do great damage even with something as seemingly innocuous as our face. Therefore, we humbly suggest that until the “all clear” is given, let this be your only facial expression:

 




Early Church Christianity in 2019 and Beyond

If you have a problem, a simple online search will present you with an almost unlimited array of solutions. Most of these solutions will be of the quick and easy variety. We look for shortcuts to save us time and energy. We call these things “life hacks” or “cheat codes” or “quick-fix schemes.” I am definitely not against finding more efficient ways to handle my problems. There is a catch, though, as these schemes and hacks are often fraudulent or ineffective and they end up creating more problems than they solve.

It can be difficult to navigate a broken and sinful culture. Often, we feel our Christianity becomes more about what we do not do and whom we are not as opposed to what we do and who we are. Instead of presenting the positive side of our faith, we feel that we are constantly labeled by the negative side. (By positive, I am referring to being salt and light to the world. By negative, I am referring to sinful behaviors we rightly avoid.) Our faith is reduced to going to church and avoiding sins.

Obviously, that is not the life Jesus calls us to live. That is not the life the Scriptures exhort us to cultivate. As I stated earlier, we are called to be salt and light – things that preserve, flavor, and shine. So, how can we do that? Is there a cheat code to get from where we are to where we need to be? Yes and no. We have clear directions in Scripture to help us but we either overlook them or ignore them. This is not a quick-fix scheme, but these are all practical things each of us can do to make our Christian walk richer, deeper, and more impactful to the world around us.


1. Love without hypocrisy.

This is the foundational piece. Our love needs to be real and authentic. It cannot be reserved only for those that love us in return. We need to love and bless those that curse us – our enemies or those people who hate and mock us. We should be known for our love – love for the church and for everyone around us. Our love should keep us humble as we constantly strive to prioritize others. Our love should spur us to greater acts of service, kindness, and generosity – showing hospitality to all. Love should be our defining characteristic.


2. Hate evil and cling to what is good.

This is easier said than done but it is what we are called to do as believers. The two-part idea here is clear: It is not just about avoiding evil. Our lives should be characterized by good. Clinging brings to mind holding on for our lives. We are drowning people and we are clinging to the hand of our Master who walks on the waves.


3. Be diligent and hard working in our service to the Lord.

This is where it hits me the hardest. It is easy for me to work hard if it is something I love. It is not so easy to work hard if it is mundane and boring. Often, my job is mundane and boring. That should not matter. My work ethic should point to Christ. If it does not, then I am failing in one of the key Evangelism tools I have at my disposal.

I fail too often.


4. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice – even in difficult times.

How often are we commanded to be filled with joy? To look pain, suffering, and loss in the eye and rejoice? Too many to count. We live with hope, unlike the world that has none. So even in times of great trial and loss, the hope that is in us should shine out the brighter.


5. Be peacemakers.

How easy is it to “hate” that person on the news (a person you do not even know) who is espousing some insane political/social/ethical stance with which you completely disagree? How easy is it to dismiss your neighbors who are boorish and loud? How easy is it to lose your temper when driving in horrible traffic, yelling at the drivers around you? These are not the actions of a person of peace – a child of peace. So far as it depends on us, we should be at peace with everyone. It is not a suggestion. It is a command.


Bonus: We should be devoted to prayer. This one is self-explanatory. We all need to pray more often and more fervently.

For what it’s worth, these are not my ideas. I did not come up with this list on my own. I repackaged the second half of Romans 12. We read that passage this Sunday morning in small group and it hit me hard. I have not been able to take my mind off of it all week. I figured God was keeping it in my mind for a reason so I decided to share it with the REO audience. Go read the passage yourself. There is much more I barely hinted at. If we start living this passage every day, everything would change. I am 100% sure of that. I do not live this passage out, as I should. That changes now. Will you join me?




Five Very Cool Songs Written For TV Plots

Music and television go together like music and weddings, or music and long road trips, or music and…just about anything. Between TV opening themes, songs playing behind dramatic climaxes and the topic I’m covering today, TV has wowed me with music too many times to count.

One unique thing I’ve really come to appreciate from my thousands of hours of TV watching over 40 years is when a TV show doesn’t simply rely on an already popular song to help advance a plotline, but they actually write from scratch and perform it as part of the episodes’ plot. This organic approach makes TV more real to me. Today I want to discuss some of my favorites.

Just to set the criteria clearly, I am not speaking to the aforementioned TV theme songs, though there are dozens of those that are awesome and you can read our take on the Top 10 ever here. Also, I will be writing about songs that have lyrics, to help narrow it down (if I only did music and not lyrics, LOST would dominate this list). So without further ado, here are five amazing songs that were written especially for TV episode plots:


“The Pit” [Mouse Rat, Parks and Rec]

“Bye-Bye, Lil’ Sebastian (5,000 Candles in the Wind)” is probably the better song and the standard for all other songs in this odd category, but there is something special about this Andy Dwyer original. First, it’s quintessential Andy. Pure, unadulterated, lovable idiot Andy. Second, I think the fact it ties into a huge PnR storyline makes it memorable. Additionally, it’s lyrically simple but that is part of the appeal I think. Lastly, it got a huge bump in my mind when April played it for Andy as an apology for not respecting his band. But I can’t lie, a huge reason above all others that I love this song is because its guitar music takes me back to 1991. Back when I cared a lot more about music and riffs than lyrics and content. I could listen to this 90 seconds on repeat many days.


“If I Didn’t Have You (Bernadette’s Song)” [Howard Wolowitz, The Big Bang Theory]

Originally written by the modern comedic musical duo Garfunkel and Oates (both of whom you probably have seen in multiple TV shows or movies, including The Big Bang Theory), Simon Helberg used his real world talent to kill this scene as Howard playing and singing an A+ romantic number to his wife. It is perfectly written for the show’s quirky, nerdy-yet-cool personality, summing up the committed relationship between the two scientists by referencing everything from binary code to isotopes to Doctor Who and the TARDIS. And it has a line in Klingon! LOL. It is a song that touches the brain and the heart at the same time, supremely endearing and deeply emotive. BBT will never be my favorite sitcom but this original song is among the best ever on TV to me.


“That’s An Adventure” (Main Cast, Community)

In all of Community’s outrageous episode premises, having a muppet episode did my heart good, having been a huge fan of Kermit, Miss Piggy, et. al growing up, and feeling a deep kinship to Gonzo especially. Even to adulthood.

But what really brought this episode home was that it was, like the Jim Henson Muppet movies, a musical. And the magnum opus of the cast was a jolly, joyful jaunt of a tune called “That’s An Adventure,” that I affectionately refer to as “The Hot Air Balloon Song”. My wife can testify that no song originally written for a TV has gotten to me like this one.

The gang feels like they’re in a rut and they need something original to do together to shake up the doldrums. They need an expedition. They go through some ideas that they disagree about as the song begins before Annie satisfies all of their criteria by suggesting a hot air balloon ride. “Yes! That’s an adventure!” And so one of the most lyrically hilarious, musically magical songs I’ve ever heard takes off.

I’ve actually listened to this song many times while working out and I doubt I have gone more than a month of time without listening to it since I first heard it in August 2017. That’s how much I love this song. It never, ever fails to put me in a good mood.


“White Lie” (Eli Loker, Lie To Me)

Unlike the rest of the songs on this list, this one was from a drama and not a comedy. Yet the song is amusing and compliments the show extremely well.

Loker had to take care of some visiting kids during a crisis at the Lightman Group HQ and he entertains them with a song that goes along with what his company is about yet is suitable for children: white lies. It’s quite charming and always brings a smile to my face.

I confess I liked this show and was disappointed that FOX cancelled it after three seasons and that it never got picked up elsewhere. This simple song is just a small piece of evidence of its originality that I enjoyed.


“Semi-Weirdo” (Gonzo, Muppet Babies)

The Muppets in their various variations dealt frequently with Gonzo’s uniqueness. The movie Muppets from Space chronicles Gonzo trying to get in touch with his kind, who are from another planet. A book called “What’s a Gonzo?” deals with Gonzo’s confusion over not being a regular animal like Kermit or Piggy and trying to figure out what he is, and ends with him realizing ‘You’re a Gonzo” and “Isn’t that enough?”. They always dealt with this in a clever and healthy way.

This Muppet Babies episode is no different. They did plenty of musical type episodes and characters would break into song frequently. Here, Gonzo bemoans the fact he’s odd with a contemplative song that starts melancholy but ends upbeat and, well, weird. It’s a perfect way for Gonzo to express himself, starting off with self-doubt and ending with self-realization. If you think I’m reaching too deep with that, you’re probably not a Gonzo.

So there is my list. Do you have any you like? Please share below!




REO Presents: New Year’s Recommendations

We write reviews often. We’ve also had a semi-consistent book review/recommendation series. (We really need to update that…) This will be a little different. Instead of focusing on one thing: movies, books, music, etc… we are going to try to paint a broad view of things we love that we think you should check out. These blurbs are going to be fast and furious – all around 200 words and all about things we think are pretty great. Consider them our New Year’s gift to you.


Gowdy Cannon

TV Show – Chuck

This is not a popular show but my wife and I watched it this year on Amazon Prime Video. I was blown away. It’s not like any other TV show I’ve watched. It defies any genre box. It may be a comedy at its heart but it has extremely well-executed action scenes and its most important story arc is romance. In a world full of Ross and Rachels it dared to give us Bartwoski and Walker. This show reached deep and pulled wonderful emotion from me often.

Levi, Stahovski, Gomez, and Baldwin are unforgettable as the main players and like any TV show worth watching the role players are dynamite, highlighted by Jeffster! and their hijinks and musical concerts (which were basically the same thing). It is also replete with unforgettable guest stars and if you loved the 80s as much as I did, you will probably get giddy with their choices.

It can be a tad campy and goofy at times, but that never bothered me. It is exceptional at its strengths and it was fantastic entertainment for five seasons.

Food – Bojangles

It’s a shame that so often in America if you claim you like something, people sometimes interpret that to mean you do not like other similar things. I love Chick-Fil-A and think it is blessed by God, but I also eat and thoroughly enjoy KFC and Popeye’s. And to me, the second best chicken place I’ve had in my life is Bojangles, which seems to be less known than these other three. Probably because it is so regional (though its regional fans are pretty passionate from what I can tell).

Whether sandwiches, strips, sides, or those glorious biscuits, Bojangles has excellent quality in taste. There used to be one in Turbeville, SC and any time I was down there visiting family and someone said, “Let’s just pick up some Bojangles for lunch” I would get quite excited. No place has equaled CFA to me but this place is close. And it deserves a huge fanbase.


Ben Plunkett

Book – Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America’s Past

Throughout most of the second decade of my childhood (about 11-18) I was obsessed with what I called fact books (Most people know them as books of trivia, but I prefer fact books. I suppose they might not be useful for a person’s day to day life, but is any information actually useless? I think not.)

Anyway, when I was 16 my parents got me this particular quality hardback fact book for Christmas. While I am no longer consumed with fact books and have sold most of them, I still have this one and still read portions of it now and then. This book does not attempt to cover all the important basics of American history. What it does do is to highlight fascinating stories about its history that are not discussed much or at all in history class. My edition was published by Reader’s Digest in 1989. They published a new edition in 2007. I cannot comment on that edition since I have not read it yet.

TV Show – Better Call Saul

I realize this show is fairly popular but I don’t understand why this show isn’t more popular than it is. My guess is that people were disappointed that Better Call Saul, which serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad, wasn’t a clone of its predecessor regarding its how the story plays out. It is true that the two shows have the same basic outer feel and framework. It is also abundantly clear that the two are part of the same universe (if you are familiar with both, that is). But the individual stories themselves are very different. Better Call Saul is less dark, intense than Breaking Bad. It is also basically an extremely well fleshed out legal story with multiple intriguing plotlines and angles. The show stars Bob Odenkirk who plays Jimmy McGill AKA Saul Goodman but also stars an amazing ensemble cast. Odenkirk and every one of his co-stars bring it every episode. Forgive the hyperbole but most of them deserve every acting award in the history of mankind.

I will probably be destroyed for saying this, but I believe Better Call Saul is better than Break. In fact, it is in the running for my favorite show of all time. It had an extremely good first season and has been greater every season (It recently finished its fourth).


D.A. Speer

Board Game: Dropmix

One of the most off-the-radar board games right now sounds like something right out of the future. DropMix (created by Harmonix studios…you know, the same team that created Rock Band) has players placing cards onto an electronic, Bluetooth-powered board with six spaces for cards. Each card in the deck has a chip inside of it, and each card space is equipped with a wireless chip reader. When you place a card on the board, the game (which runs on a tablet or phone that sits at the front of the board) reads it, syncs it to BPM and the set key, and then incorporates the loop into the mix. There are cards that have drum loops, vocal tracks, instrument tracks, or even custom-designed effects.

You can DJ your own set in “Freestyle” mode, go head to head in a VS mode, or even play a new Puzzle game based on a surprisingly interesting card game that is incorporated. The music source material is all over the place (electronic, rock, country, pop), and more expansion packs are coming out all the time. You can find the base set on sale frequently…I bought a new one for $30! At the very least, check it out on YouTube and marvel at the technical genius:


Phill Lytle

Food – Aldi “Journey to India” Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

In the past few years, my wife and I have fallen in love with Indian food. Unfortunately, it’s cost-prohibitive to get it as often as we would like. Enter: Aldi and their amazing sauce in a jar. I was skeptical it would taste anywhere close to restaurant quality, but I was wrong. We keep things simple with some seasoned chicken we sauté in olive oil and some steamed veggies added to the sauce to make it a bit more “healthy.” We serve it over white Basmati rice and we are good to go. It’s moderately spicy so if that’s not your thing, you shouldn’t be eating Indian food anyway.

Comedian – Nate Bargatze

Maybe you’ve seen him on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Maybe you’ve seen his special on Netflix. Perhaps you’ve just seen clips on YouTube. Or maybe, sadly, you’ve never heard of Nate Bargatze. Well, be sad no more! If you like your comedy clean (yet not lame), dry, and just a little bit odd, then Nate is the man for the job. He holds a special place in my heart because he graduated from the school where my wife teaches and my children attend (Donelson Christian Academy). If Nate came from DCA, then there is hope for my family as well.




The 5 Most Theologically Rich Christmas Songs

Thousands of Christmas songs and hymns have been written these past 2000 years. While many songs discuss sights of Santa and Rudolph, there have been others written to express the significance of God coming to earth and being born into a sinful world. These songs hold theological richness and can edify a group of believers during the Christmas season or any time of year.

Rather than reviewing every Christmas song that has been written since the time of Christ’s birth, this list was limited to those Christmas songs that are familiar to most modern Christians. In assessing the most theologically rich Christmas songs, it was considered: 1) Whether the song does more than cover the basics of the biblical story, digging into the deeper theological implications behind the story and; 2) Whether the song reveals these truths in a beautiful way that sincerely indicates the living presence of the Holy Spirit. Here are the five most theologically rich Christmas songs:

5. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Phillips Brooks penned the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868. The words came to him one night as he rode from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by horseback to deliver a Christmas Eve message.

Many people are very familiar with the first two verses of the song. However, the last two verses are exceptional and should not be forgotten. The third verse in this classic hymn is particularly noteworthy. It speaks of “the wondrous gift” that was given. The thing about a gift is that it is not something we earn; a gift is freely bestowed. This “wondrous gift” is Jesus, who God the Father gave as a living sacrifice for humanity (John 3:16). He came to be our living sacrifice and to give man spiritual knowledge (John 10). In this fallen world we all must humbly accept our fallenness and our need for divine help. Only then can we rightly choose His hand of salvation (James 1:21). When our “meek souls” receive Him, “Christ enters in.” He has called us to eternal salvation through Himself. Will we listen?

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

4. “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”

Emily Elliot wrote “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” in 1864. The primary point of this song is the tremendous humility God expressed by lowering Himself for our benefit. He left His heavenly throne to come as a man to save us.

Echoing Philippians 2:7, the first two verses convey the awesome magnitude of His humiliation in becoming a lowly man. Jesus was born of a “lowly birth” and came in “great humility.” He did this for us—people who don’t deserve it.

The third verse alludes to Matthew 8:20, where Jesus stated that all earthly creatures had a place to rest—all except for Himself. He was saying His life was a difficult one and those who followed Him could expect the same.

The first four verses end with a refrain that declares we can now freely choose to make room for Jesus in our hearts forever. With our entire being, we fully trust Him as our eternal Savior (Romans 10:9). The fifth verse concludes with a declaration of victory, rejoicing that God has made room for us in His heavenly home!

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.

3. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was originally written in Latin, and many believe it dates back to the twelfth century. In 1851, John Mason Neale translated it into English. The English translation of the song contains several variations, and some versions include up to eight different verses.
It is easy to notice all the names and descriptions of Jesus presented in the song: Emmanuel (Immanuel), Dayspring, Wisdom from on High, Desire of Nations. These are all tremendous names and titles that describe the Messiah.

Each verse highlights one of them. What is traditionally viewed as the first verse highlights the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” In Scripture, the name first occurs in Isaiah 7:14. This passage is quoted in Matthew 1:22 in specific reference to the infant Jesus who was God.
Another verse highlights the name Dayspring, which indicates how the Light of Heaven has delivered us from spiritual darkness. This was a name proclaimed by Zechariah in Luke 1:78 under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This song also gives Jesus the title Wisdom from on High. This may be a reference to Isaiah 11:2. The entire book of Isaiah is full of prophecies of the coming Savior. Only through this wisdom from Heaven (Jesus) may we may exit our fallen life and enter a new life with God.

The writer of this song also described Jesus as the Desire of Nations, a reference to Haggai 2:7. This is another prophecy of Jesus in which God foretold that great glory would one day once again fill the temple. Because He has finally come in His glory, we are freed from living lives of isolation and discord.

There are even amazing additional/optional verses of the song that refer to names like “Lord of might,” “Rod of Jesse’s stem,” and “Key of David.”. As this incredible song mentions, Jesus Christ has opened wide our heavenly home and therefore we can rejoice.

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 Dayspring 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.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Additional/Optional verses:
Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From every foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in victory through the grave.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

2. “O Holy Night”

The French poet Placide Cappeau wrote the words to “O Holy Night” in 1847. In 1855 John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, translated it into English. It is considered one of the greatest and most popular Christmas songs of all time, and for good reason. Its theological greatness cannot be denied.

The first verse describes our plight. Original sin introduced mankind to death (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). All of humanity inwardly longed for a deliverer who would set us free from this plight. So long did humanity toil under this that our individual souls got used to being away from God and we “lay in sin and error pining.” But then Jesus came with a message of hope and the “weary world” rejoiced. He did all of His saving work to retrieve each individual person (Luke 15:1-7).

The second verse makes us firsthand witnesses of the holy child. We are one with the wise men who, like us, followed a light by faith to find Jesus. Jesus would not be a mere prophet of God or just a good man. The baby in the manger was the “King of Kings.” He was and is the Son of God who is one with God the Father (John 5:16-18).

The third verse exalts in the implications of Jesus’ earthly ministry leading up to His death. He taught mankind “to love one another” (cf. John 13:34-35) and broke the chains of oppression. Like the first two verses, the third verses finalize the song with an exuberant call to praise God the Son for His wonderful salvific work. This time the call is for everyone to unite in a magnificent song of praise lauding the holy birth.

It is rare to find a song whose melody actually works with and bolsters its message quite this well. In my opinion, “O Holy Night” does that better than any other song under Heaven. The last refrain of each stanza is full of genuine passion, exalting in the beauty that is the incarnation of Jesus.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

1. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Charles Wesley wrote the words to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in 1739. This song is absolutely loaded to the brim with incredible theological meat!

The first verse reveals why the baby in the manger is so special. This is not just any king who has been born. Through this baby “God and sinners [are] reconciled” after a long separation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18). This makes very valid the call for “all ye nations rise” and joyfully rejoice!
The second verse explains how this “offspring of a virgin’s womb” was qualified to do any divine reconciling. He was able to do this because He was the “Christ,” which means, “anointed.” In other words, He was the Messiah and king of mankind (Luke 23:2-3). But He was more than a mere human king. He was God in human form—“veiled in flesh” and the “incarnate Deity.” Jesus lowered Himself by taking on the complete form of a man (Philippians 2:5-7). Our God could have remained in His comfortable position in Heaven but He was “pleased as man with man to dwell.” He was literally our Emmanuel—our God with us.

As a result of the work of Christ, the third verse calls us to praise Him for His infinitely gracious act. He is our “Prince of Peace” and our “Sun of Righteousness.” God’s Son came to give all men the truth of God’s redeeming and life-giving grace. How did He do this? By being born. He did this so we could experience a second birth and be born again into a new life in Him, living forever in His kingdom.

The fourth verse in some of today’s hymnals is a fusion of the original fourth and fifth verses. Since the fused version is the one many are most familiar with, that is what I am including here. It tells us that as a man, Jesus was physically born into a very humble home. Now that He has died for all mankind, we should invite Him to reside within us by confessing full belief in Him (Romans 10:9). Its last few lines hearken both to Genesis 3 and 1 Corinthians. In Genesis 3 we find the world-changing act of original sin. In this same chapter, God placed a distinct curse on each of the two human wrongdoers and all of their descendants. He also cursed the snake (Satan). His curse to the snake included a prophecy of Jesus’ final victory over Satan (Genesis 3:15). This is a prophecy of the Son of God who would one day come to earth to die. In so doing He would finally “bruise . . . the serpent’s head.” Wesley lauded the beauty of this story. Jesus’ work of atonement successfully displayed His saving power. It is in 1 Corinthians 15 that the first man and Jesus are famously referred to as the first and second Adam. Jesus, the second Adam from above, sacrificed Himself for all mankind, reuniting us with God.

Charles Wesley’s beautifully penned words not only bring about a feeling of the Christmas spirit, but beautifully explain the gospel message and give us reason to proclaim “glory to the newborn king!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings:
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home:
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head;
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Final Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

This article first appeared in The Brink magazine




Five Lame Christmas Ornaments You Should Never Make Again

Hey kids, Mr. Lytle here. It’s almost Christmas and just about everyone has their trees decorated and displayed. My guess is, if you are like most kids, you probably haven’t thought of anything to get your mom, or dad, for Christmas and just might be considering throwing together another homemade ornament for the tree. “They’ll love it, right?” No, no they won’t. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no parent at any time or any place has ever loved a homemade ornament from one of their children. (The only exception is if the child that made the ornament is an artistic prodigy of some sort. They have a shot…barely.)

Let’s take this a step further, though. While all homemade ornaments are terrible, there is a handful so awful and so pervasive, that it’s my duty to warn you specifically about them. Here are the five lamest Christmas tree ornaments you should never make again.


The popcorn garland strand

In my mind, this is the gold standard. The king of the mountain. The cream of the crop. There are some who actually think this decoration/ornament is capable of looking pretty. I question their sanity. You are literally stringing food together and then wrapping it around your tree. Let that sink in for a few seconds. It might look okay for a few days but then the popcorn starts to shrivel and wilt a little, it loses a bit of its color – going from a bright white to a faded eggshell – and it turns into a pitiful sight altogether. Do you really want that corpsified looking edible arrangement clinging to your beautiful tree? I don’t think so.


The soda-tab-picture frame

I understand what you are trying to do here. I really do. How could your parents be unhappy with a picture of you to hang on the tree? Easy. You framed it with soda can tabs. There has never been a pretty version of this ornament. They are all ugly, misshapen, and shoddily constructed. And the pathetic little ribbon at the top is an embarrassment to everyone involved. If you give this ornament to your parents, it is their legal right to disown you. That’s the law.


The construction paper links

The biggest problem with this travesty is that it takes so stinking long to actually make it. Scratch that. The biggest problem is that it looks stupid. Or maybe the biggest problem is that it’s fragile and will fall apart before Christmas Day even arrives. In summary, there are many problems with this decoration and you should have nothing to do with something this problematic. There is no upside to this one at all.


Anything with glitter

I’ve made my views about glitter very clear. It’s evil. Altogether evil. I fully believe glitter is a direct result of the Fall of man. Adam and Eve sinned and glitter was born. No theologian will be able to convince me otherwise. So to be clear, do not use it in any way, shape, or form. Do not use it on, in, under, above, within, without, baked in, cooked in, glued on, brushed on, or any other way you can imagine. It is literally the worst. If someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I have this great homemade ornament we can make for your parents. We just need a little glitter to make it absolutely perfect.” You are well within your rights to slap them and then run away. No one of sound mind would blame you.


Any ornament using a combination of Popsicle sticks, cotton balls, or yarn

You are really scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. If Christmas Day is quickly approaching and you have nothing to give your parents, do not reach into the junk drawer hoping that you can rig together some masterpiece using the above items. You can’t. No one can. These are the hand-tools of the lazy – have nothing to do with them. Giving your parents nothing is better than whatever monstrosity you create using what basically amounts to poorly-glued-together garbage.


I know what you are thinking. “If we can’t give our parents one of these, what can we get them for Christmas on such late notice?” I’m glad you asked but unfortunately I cannot help you. I’m not the one that waited until the last minute to think of a gift for the people that love, raise, shelter, teach, and guide you. That’s your problem, chief. Maybe next year you will be a little less selfish and come up with something good to give them in a timelier manner.