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Does anyone really observe the National Day of Prayer?

National Day of Prayer ndop-2013-sccacc-wordpress-pageI typically listen to the radio when I have “mindless” tasks like curling my hair, cleaning the bathroom, etc. to do. I’m an auditory learner, so I really am engaged. This morning I was challenged and humbled at the number of men and women who called in to the Focus on the Family broadcast – not to ask questions, not to air their opinions, not to challenge authority, but to pray on this National Day of Prayer. The response was huge!

Each one of them prayed for our country

  • our government leaders from the President down to the janitors in the White House
  • our Congressmen and women
  • our state legislators
  • our local officials
  • our military
  • our Supreme Court Justices and throughout the court system – I should have added lawyers to the mix.

Other groups I had not thought to add to my original list were the families of the military, especially those who were still grieving the loss of a child, spouse or sibling who had given the ultimate sacrifice.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge and emphasis was not for the President and leaders, but for the church in America that we might be humbled and focused to seek God with our whole hearts. This is indeed a challenging thought. If God is going to be glorified in our nation and if we are going to have any measure of peace and safety, cleansing of hearts and lives will have to begin with God’s people and that includes me. I told you I was challenged. How about you?

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February’s Facination with Phil

Groundhog Day 2013It’s really quite clever when you stop to think about it – taking an otherwise common nuisance and transforming him into a local hero with a win-win message. Not only does he promote goodwill but he also brings people to a place where without him, they would never go! I’m talking about Punxsutawney Phil, the hero of Groundhog Day.

Each February 2, folks come from all over to see the Punxsutawney, PA dignitaries don their top hats and with ceremonious accord, drag this otherwise vile creature from his winter’s nap in the old oak on Gobblers Knob. If he sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter will remain, but if not, spring will follow right around the corner. Either way, you can’t lose as the time frame between the two is negligible. (Actually, Phil’s prognostications have only been correct 39% of the time.)

To view the 2013 event, click here. Caution: You’ll have to bear with a TV ad for just a few seconds prior to watching Phil make his debut.)

Whoever thought about capitalizing on this local tradition put a rural Pennsylvania town on the map. Yet, when you think about it, isn’t that what God does to us? We’re just like this ignoble woodchuck. When left to his own resources, his deeds are far from wholesome as he forages a destructive path through farmers’ fields and wreaks havoc in homeowners’ gardens. We are all sinners, both by birth and by choice. Though the level of damage each of us makes will vary, we cannot escape this fact that makes it impossible for us to enter heaven.

Punxsutawney Phil’s transformation from an ugly despised creature to the town hero results from a strong hope for resurrection from the desolation of winter. We also, when we take God’s message of redemption that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection come as payment for our sin, are saved, and in accepting this truth for ourselves, we are permitted to enter His glorious Heaven. We become new creatures in Christ and a harbinger of the true Gospel message that does not change from year to year but remains unchanging for eternity.

I wonder if whoever came up with Groundhog Day knew he had copied God’s plan and message.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. I Corinthians 15:3 – 4

Which do I want — a donut or a radish?

I have always found teens to be fantastic people, which is one of the reasons I so loved teaching in our local Christian high school. Of course these students still struggled with growing pains in lots of areas, but I loved to listen to their ideas and offer resources to help them reach their potential. Yet there ensued a problem in these conversations.  The students came to know me as well, maybe too well.

Donuts anyone?

jelly-donuts-11299689394INgFrom our more light-hearted conversations, it did not take long for them to discover I had a penchant for donuts, especially cream or jelly filled ones. On holidays, they’d often bring me a whole box of these fried and sugared cakes oozing with various jellies to take home. I remember my mouth watering at the thought of devouring these delicacies. I could not wait to dive into them. They were that good. Fortunately for my figure, I had teenagers of my own at home who helped to polish them off.

During those years, we lived in a rural area with no Yum Yum or Dunkin Donut shops within a 45 mile radius so when you got a real donut, it truly was a treat. Later when we moved to the suburbs of a larger metropolitan area, you could find a donut den on almost every corner. Now I could indulge more frequently. Alas, you know what happens to those sweet snacks that are so delicious on the lips. Yes, they end up on your hips. So as I dieted to try to lose weight and even as I strove to eat healthier – reduced sugar, natural fruits and vegetables, just because I should – I gave them up but the donuts still called my name. More times than not, I could pass them by, but they had not lost their appeal until just the other day.

What’s up with the radish?

bunch-of-radishesThat day I ran into the grocery store on a mission – trying to find the soursop fruit.  As I headed to the produce aisle, a bunch of the largest, most beautiful radishes caught my eye. And whoa! They called my name, just like the donuts used to, and I REALLY wanted those radishes. You will be proud of me as I did wait until I purchased them and returned home before eating them, but they really were GOOD and not just something good for me.

Moral of the story

This experience was really strange, but I think I can find a moral to this story. The more I focused my eyes on the right foods and chose them over the sugary unhealthy ones, the less attractive the empty calorie items became until I really desired the good ones. Can you imagine the transformation in my life if I fix my eyes on Jesus? Wow.

Can you develop claustrophobia from reading a book?

jam_up_caveDid you know that 5 to 7% of the world’s population are severely affected by an anxiety disorder that stems from a fear of being in closed or small spaces with no way of escape? Many others may suffer from occasional bouts of claustrophobia and are surprised when they experience a fear of restriction or suffocation. Their palms and body sweat, their hearts begin to race and their lungs feel as though they need air … now! Why am I even talking about this? And where’s the connection to reading a book? Glad you asked because I’m about to share a weird experience.

The other evening I was reading a book by John Ortberg called “the me I want to be.” In it, Ortberg was describing his friend Danny who had embarked on a spelunking adventure. Although thrill-seeking exploits that border on dangerous were not foreign to him, he did not enter the cave alone. He had employed the expertise of an experienced guide. Ortberg described Danny’s journey explicitly.

“The man guiding took him deep underground, then said he would lead Danny through a passageway into a spectacular chamber. The passageway was small enough that Danny had to stoop at first. Then as it grew still smaller, he had to get on his hands and knees. Eventually the only way to go forward was to lay on his back and push his body forward with this feet. Then the ceiling was so low that when he inhaled he could not move at all! He had to stop, inhale, and exhale, and only then was his chest low enough to allow him to move. By this point it was physically impossible to back out. If the passageway had gotten any smaller they would have lain there and died in that cave. … He was terrified. He tried fighting his fear, but he kept picturing his dead body moldering in the cave.”

Without realizing it, I was with Danny in the cave. In fact as I was reading, I began struggling for air. In my mind, I was in that cave and everything was closing in. It was a weird experience, but good writing and so was Ortberg’s main point. As Danny finally told the guide he felt he couldn’t make it, the guide told him to stop listening to the lies in his head. He told him to close his eyes, listen to his voice and follow his instructions. “Focus on my voice.”

When Danny did so, it freed him from panic and fear. Instead of listening to what appeared to be true, i.e. he was going to die, there was no way out, etc., Danny heard the voice of one who knew the truth and would lead him out. It worked, and Danny finally enjoyed seeing the spectacular chamber and a safe return home.

Do you have lies running through your head? I often do. “Who am I to do this? How can I accomplish that? I’ve wasted my time and now it’s too late …” Can you add some of your own? When these (and others) start shouting in my head, I find that spending time in the Bible can free me from the panic mode and set me back on track. As I hear God leading me through His word and apply it to my life, it is the same as focusing on His voice. He is the way, the truth and the life. I can’t go wrong with that.

Do you hear what I hear?

Do you hear what I hear 5451378Some songs resonate with us because their lyrics touch a chord in our hearts. Others impact our souls with their melodies. On rare occasions, a song will do both, and that impact often masks the writers’ original inspiration. Such is the case with the Christmas song, Do You Hear What I Hear?

Who’d have thought the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, would have inspired such a piece? During that period, Cuban Dictator, Fidel Castro feared the US would attempt to invade his small country and partnered with Nikita Khrushchev allowing the Russians to set up nuclear missiles – aimed at the US – on his shores. Although the negotiations eventually averted what historians term the closest the world ever came to nuclear war, tensions were extremely high –  not only here in the US but also around the world. The political situation prompted the husband-wife team of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne to combine their talents to write a song expressing both their deepest desires and hope for peace.

Interestingly Noel, who usually wrote the musical score while Gloria wrote the lyrics, reversed their roles. Stirred by mothers pushing their babies in strollers along the sidewalks of New York City, he penned the words describing how the Night Wind brought the message of the baby Jesus’ birth and how it spread to the small lamb, the shepherds and eventually to the king. It went to people everywhere, and here he added his own plea – “Listen … Pray for peace, people everywhere.” Now a traditional favorite, Do You Hear What I Hear reminds us that true peace – goodness and light – only comes from that special Child, sleeping in the night.

You too can listen with greater understanding as you review the words below and hear Mannheim Steamroller’s version of this carol.

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

Who would tell lies about Rudolph?

In this age of commercialized Christmases, I thought it might be fun to look more deeply into some of the songs, carols and traditions of the season. I’m not sure how close any of these things will come to the real reason of the season, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but it may prove interesting. Regardless, these traditions, real or imagined impact our lives, so let’s see where the potpourri of nostalgia leads.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

LITTLE_GOLDEN_BOOK_RUDOLPH_THE_RED_NOSED_REINDEER_CHRISTMAS_FRONT_COVERRudolph’s prominence and popularity may make you think this red-nosed member of the deer family has been around forever, and to the children of today, he has. But in reality he did not appear until Christmas of 1939. Though one account states that Robert L. May wrote the fable to comfort his daughter, Barbara, after the death of her mother and sold the rights to Montgomery Ward Department Stores to pay off the medical bills, this is a stretch of the truth. It would make a great Hallmark movie, but if you’re looking for facts, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper – makes you wonder why someone would lie about Rudolph, but I digress.

According to Scopes, Montgomery Ward tasked May to write the story for the purpose of distributing it to children who visited Santa. As a member of their staff, the rights for the story belonged to Montgomery Ward. Writing in verse and couplets, May did test the story on his daughter to ensure of its appeal to children. Initially, Montgomery Ward compensated him only as their copywriter, but deeply in debt because of his wife’s medical bills, May negotiated with Ward’s president, Sewell Avery, to restore the copyright to him in 1947.  The key to Rudolph’s success came later when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, crafted the song made popular by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. (Today’s kids likely never heard of him, either.)

The story about the ostracized reindeer does contain a message of hope for all those kids out there who don’t travel in the popular crowds or are sought out because of skill or beauty. Rudolph had none of this, yet he had a purpose for life that would not surface until the year Santa encountered fog on Christmas Eve. This situation led to Rudolph’s discovery. As lead reindeer, his glowing nose allowed Santa to transport his sack of toys safely and deliver them to all of the good boys and girls around the world. He became a hero.

I guess this does bring us back to the real reason for the season after all. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness for each person, regardless of their station in life, skillset or outward appearance also indicates He has a unique purpose for each one. Human beings aren’t cookie cutter creatures, and God has a plan for every one. Each one is special, yet all have a choice to follow God’s plan or their own. The story of Rudolph leaves Jesus out of Christmas, but you can gain some measure of truth from the illustration as you watch him wait for his time to shine.

Shopping for gifts in the cold?

In the northern areas of the US, winter is here. Maybe in some areas it’s here with a vengeance, but not yet where I live. Here it’s just cold with a dusting of snow – just enough to remind you that the season has now crossed over regardless of the date on the calendar. For some like my grandson, visions of snowboards, snowmobiles and hot chocolate dance through their heads, but for me, it’s layering just to keep warm. Then there’s the sense of overwhelming that comes with so many things to be done for the holidays. If I let it, it could really get me down.

Should this combination cause your spirit to plummet, just bundle up and go outdoors after dark to see the first tokens of Christmas. The bright and colorful lights are cheery and inviting. If you need a broader smile or even a hearty Ho, Ho, Ho, keep looking. Some people really go all out covering every inch of their home and yard with Christmas memorabilia. Whether you think such displays are way too much or if they bring you great pleasure, either perspective will benefit from these demonstrations. Music is also a fantastic mood changer. Renowned to sooth the savage beast, music is a fantastic and easy-to-access resource to pull you back on track. If you don’t have your own iTunes, you can always fall back to the radio’s Christmas collection. Sing along to obtain the full benefit. Can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Just make a joyful noise and watch your spirit perk.

Although these suggestions may seem simplistic, outward acts in the right direction often pave the way for making a real attitude change. It’s kind of like paying it forward to you. Once your mood shifts from reverse or neutral and begins to move in a more positive direction, you’ll feel better and be better equipped to impact others. For some who may be facing more serious issues because of health, family or finances, their problems are often heightened by cold and the onset of the holidays. Sometimes they need a helping hand and sometimes just a listening ear. Either way you can’t do anything to relieve the situation if you’re down in the dumps. Even if you’re battling any of these things yourself, your positive attitude will provide hope you can share with others as you refocus on the real reason for the season and give a gift of you.