You may or may not be aware that I have taken an extended leave of absence from writing my monthly article, “In Other Words”, for the online version of Singing News.

I felt it only right to offer an explanation for my absence and, in the process, ask for your prayers.

2017 has been a challenging year. First, my wife, Cherry, has been dealing with some physical issues for the past few years that made cervical surgery the best medical option. She underwent surgery the first week of July in which the doctor fused three vertebrae in her neck. The years of pain leading up to that decision were spent doing and trying everything known to man to avoid what became the inevitable outcome. Unfortunately, surgery has not yielded the results hoped for and she continues to seek the proper balance of pain management.

In that process, she had to quit her position as a physical therapist assistant (PTA) due to the physical requirements of her job, which only exacerbated her own pain. Losing her income necessitated us selling our home and down-sizing considerably. For anyone who has moved after living in a home for many years, you know what a huge undertaking that was.

Lastly, and maybe most significantly, my youngest daughter had been making some very poor choices and heading in a very troubling and dangerous direction for some time, which necessitated her being admitted to a psych hospital for teens (she is 17 at this time). She is now in a Christian boarding school for teens struggling with life issues.

This has weighed extremely heavy on her dad.

Lest I seem like I’m complaining, I’m really not; just informing. I look around and see people who would gladly change circumstances with me. I think of my buddy, Mike Helwig, our lead singer for five years, who is fighting the terrible disease of ALS at 40 years of age, watching his quality of life disappear like a vapor. I think about another friend, who shall remain nameless, who has recently been diagnosed with emphysema and has little resources to provide for himself.

I am a very blessed man. I am married to the most beautiful, sweetest, woman I know; I have five wonderful children, two great sons-in-law, two adorable step-granddaughters, friends I don’t deserve, a ministry I certainly don’t deserve, and most importantly, a deep and increasingly wonderful relationship with my heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit. To top it off, my eternal destiny is a place of unimaginable beauty and fulfillment.

So, I’m really just like you; a flawed human being with challenges and struggles, but with an abiding hope in a Daddy God Who loves me more than I can comprehend.

As we celebrate the Greatest Gift this Christmas season, we have so much for which to be thankful. “In this world you will have tribulation but, be of good cheer. I have overcome the world!” YES! (John 16:33)

Being a part of the body of Christ affords us the opportunity of being in relationship with precious brothers and sisters who are a blessing to know. One such person in my life is Bill Hatcher. In 1999, he wrote the following piece that instantly became one of my favorite Christmas readings. I share it every December in hopes that, whether you’re reading it for the first, or reading it again, it will minister to you as much as it has to me.

THE WAY IN A MANGER

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger….” (Luke 2:7)

God has an amazing way of choosing the undesirable things of earth and placing His beauty there. The presence of God changes our perceptions. It opens our eyes from the physical into the spiritual. It illuminates our vision. God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary; the natural, supernatural; the worthless, priceless. So, it was that first night in Bethlehem. Only the God of the universe would have chosen a manger as the place to bring His Son into the world, a feeding trough for Mary and Joseph to lay the Word made flesh; certainly not a place of splendor or a palace for a king.

For many people that night thoughts were anywhere but directed towards a stable in Bethlehem. How different today. Now nativity’s are found in homes or front yards of families right in your neighborhood. The manger today has been transformed into a thing of beauty and holiness. But the beauty of the manger is not because of what it is, but because of Who resided there. When we see the manger, we see Jesus. And He makes it beautiful.

Far from the material extravagance of Christmas today, the first Christmas was born of humility. And Humility is the great extravagance, even to the death on the cross.

That first night probably found many people staring down wrong paths and dead-end streets. But I have a feeling that on that same night all of heaven had their eyes fixed on a tiny manger. Outside the atmosphere may have been noisy, but I wonder if all heaven was suddenly silenced as the Son of God came forth from the womb of a virgin. There were no scents of cinnamon or potpourri that evening, but surely Mary and Joseph breathed the very fragrance of God as they cradled the Savior in their arms. No sparkling lights hung from the exterior of that little manger, but the Light of the world filled the interior. And although there would be no decorated Christmas tree in the corner God would choose another tree for His Son; the cross.

The manger seems such an unfitting place for God to have chosen for His only Son. And yet even today God still looks to place His beauty in undesirable places, dirty and unlovely mangers that now take the form of you and me. It is the love of God to look down from heaven and say, “There is another manger, and I would love to dwell there, too.” And so He knocks to see if we will let Him in. And if we do, He takes our manger and transforms it. And over time it becomes a beautiful and a holy thing.

But the beauty of our manger is not because of what we are but because of Who resides in us. And I pray that when others see our manger, they will see Jesus. For He alone can make a manger beautiful.

Merry Christmas!
Billy Blackwood

Please direct your comments or questions to Billy@BlackwoodBrothers.com.

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