Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lifes Lessons From A Third Baseman

I can't think of a better way to end 2010 and encourage you for the New Year which we are about to embark on than with this:

On December 3 Chicago lost a legend in Ron Santo, a 9-time all-star third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. When you mention the name Ron Santo you most likely associate him with the Cubs and with diabetes and his perseverance to survive. Ron Santo for years endured: diabetes, amputation of both legs, heart problems, and bladder cancer, only to succumb to all of this at the age of 70.

How many of us had to have persevere through something this past year? Whether it's a loss of job, an illness,or a death in the family, it is always a struggle to persevere and get through that difficult time. But Ron Santo had a way of dealing with his struggles in a very unique way.

First, he took his diabetes and did something with it:

His Juvenile Walk To Cure Diabetes raised over 250 million dollars alone for diabetes and Santo effortlessly raised more awareness to the disease than anyone else I could ever think of. What he did was take a negative and made a positive out of it.I believe that is the key to living, surviving, and persevering. And whether you are a spiritual person or not, making a positive out of a negative is the way to overcome and bring light into the darkness.

Secondly, Ron Santo never gave up the fight and endured with a light-hearted, winning attitude. Ron Santo was a Chicago Cubs analyst on their radio broadcasts since 1990. In the booth he was somewhat comical at times and his passion and love for the Cubs showed through his enthusiasm on the air. On the day of his passing I heard the following story on the radio from one of his co-workers who worked in the radio booth with him:

During the middle of a game one of Ron's knees was hurting and swelling up. He took off his prosthetic and there was a lot of blood. Ron wrapped it with a towel and continued working until the game ended. His co-worker, named Dave, asked Ron if he could drive him either to the hospital or home and so Ron chose home.

Ron Santo gets into the passenger seat, props his stump on the dashboard, and they begin to chat. On the ride home Dave told Ron about him being his idol growing up and how he wore his number 10 jersey to school everyday. Dave says he can't understand how Ron can handle everything he is going through: going to the doctor three times a week, losing both legs,diabetes injections everyday and being on all sorts of medication.Dave then admits to Ron Santo that he doesn't think he could handle what he goes through on an everyday basis and doesn't feel worthy of wearing Santo's number 10 jersey. Ron's simple reply was,

"Dave,you are bumming me out dude. Why are you so down? Gee wiz,the Cubs won today!"

This story exemplifies what Ron Santo was all about. Though he went through all of these health struggles for years, he kept the right frame of mind, treasured each day as if it were his last, and carried a winning attitude.

Now I could bum you out totally by having you compare your difficulty to Ron Santo's, but I won't. Instead I encourage you to tackle that circumstance you may be going through and start the new year with a more positive outlook and attitude.Take that negative in your life, build on it, and make something good out of it. I believe our attitude is what overcomes our thoughts and fears. Einstein once said,

"Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character."

May we all enter the New Year of 2011 with a: winning attitude,an attitude of gratitude,treasuring each day as if it were our last, and carrying an attitude of praise to whom all praise is due which is Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Elf: Movie Review

Imagine yourself walking through the downtown streets of Chicago or New York City at Christmas time and you see a 6-foot-three man dressed in an elf costume. Now if it were a much smaller elf your natural instinct would be that he is an assistant to a store front Santa at Macy's. But seeing an elf as tall as a tree walking the streets your instinct would probably be it's a crazy man wandering around. But if you've seen the film Elf and you still believe in Santa, then you would think otherwise.

In this Christmas film which is becoming another cult classic, Will Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf who is in search of who he really is and searching for his real father played by James Caan. Buddy also learns his father is on Santa's naughty list.

As an infant and being raised in an orphanage, Buddy crawls into Santa's bag on Christmas Eve night, and therefore ends up living at the North Pole. As he grows older and learns he is not like all of the other elves, he decides to go search for who he is. Buddy the Elf takes a journey to the magical land of New York City where he encounters a whole new world:

1. Buddy comes face to face with a snarling raccoon in the park and tries to
give it a hug. Big mistake.

"The little furry animals in New York are not as cute and cuddly as the ones
back home."

2. While passing through the streets of downtown Buddy sees a sign that reads:
Worlds Best Cup of Coffee.
He enters the establishment excitedly declaring,
"You did it! Congratulations! Worlds best cup of coffee! Great job everyone! It's great to be here."

3. I love it when Buddy takes a ride through a revolving door, spinning around profusely until he pukes.

Buddy finds the workplace of his father Walter Hobbs and upon entering the large office building he obviously gets quite the stare for wearing an elf costume. When he reaches his father's office, the receptionist thinks Buddy is there to give Walter a singing telegram. Walter Hobbs consciously asks Buddy to go ahead and sing.
(on a side note here, Buddy loves to sing)

Buddy creates a song to sing and stutters through it,

"I'm herre, with my daaad, and we never meeet, and he wants me to siiing him a sooong (ummm...)I was adopted, but you didn't knooow i was booorn. So I am here noow,
I found you daaady! And guess what,I looove you, I looove you!"

Walter doesn't believe that Buddy is his son and has security kick him out. Walter also has the notion that Buddy is just some nut walking around town in an elf costume.

Throughout this film you witness the crazy antics of Buddy and his acting like a little kid in a big person's body. I love his fixation on all foods containing sugar, especially his adding maple syrup to everything from spaghetti to coffee.

When Buddy discovers Gimbles Department Store and finds his way to the toy section and Santa's big chair, he gets mistaken for being an employee,as all of the workers in the toy department are dressed as elves. Buddy is dazzled by the beauty of an elf employee named Jove,to whom he will eventually build a relationship with as well.

The next day when Santa officially makes his grand entrance for the holiday season at Gimbles, Buddy goes banana's with jubilee along with all of the little kids. And then it happens.Buddy sees that Santa doesn't recognize him as one of his actual elves so Buddy reveals to everyone in the store that this Santa is an imposter,

"You smell like beef and cheese, you don't smell like Santa!"

All of the ruckus that Buddy creates lands him in jail, and his one phone call to bail him out is to Walter Hobbs. Walter bails Buddy out and then takes him to a physician to get a DNA test to determine if Buddy is who he says he is, his son.
The test is positive and thus a relationship begins between Buddy and his father, but not without conflict. Buddy's aspirations for adventure with his dad are,

"Today, my dad and I are going to make ginger bread houses, and eat cookie dough, and go ice skating, and maybe even hold hands!"

But Walter is too busy. In fact, the reason why Walter Hobbs is on Santa's naughty list is because he puts his work before his family. So naturally Buddy begins to bond with his neglected new step-son Michael.

Buddy rescues Michael from an ambush of snowballs as he puts together about 50 snowballs in about five seconds. Buddy has a rocket for an arm, and not figuratively speaking I might add, as he retaliates by firing snowballs 50 mph at the other kids. And so the relationship between Michael and his new brother takes a turn for the better,for in the beginning Michael felt the same way as his father did,that Buddy was crazy. Which may have had something to do with Buddy's insisting on being an elf wouldn't you think?

Along with repairing a family torn apart, Buddy also fixes what was missing in New York City: Christmas Spirit.

Walter Hobbs works for a publishing company of children books and faces a deadline of Christmas Eve in coming up with a new idea for a book that will get the company out of the red. When Buddy and Walter have an argument stemming from Buddy going toe to toe with a prospective author named Miles Finch, who happens to be a little person(a very funny scene in the film) Buddy runs away on Christmas Eve.

When given the demand to stay at work to finish the project or lose his job, Walter chooses the latter and goes with his son Michael to search for Buddy.

Throughout this film we witness the joy of Christmas through Buddy and the joy he brought to others. Buddy's whole philosophy was,

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing aloud for all to hear!"

In the Hobbs' search for Buddy and Buddy's adventure of running away,they all find each other and in the process run into Santa himself,whose sleigh has crashed into Central Park. The claus-o-meter on the sleigh is broken and the only fuel the sleigh can run on is that of Christmas Spirit, which is lacking in New York City.

And so Michael and his dad gather near a television news reporter, who is reporting on the scene with a large crowd of onlookers, and begin to sing Christmas Carols. Santa's sleigh now has enough Christmas Spirit to fuel the sleigh and he can finish his job of delivering presents.

The message this film delivers is simple:

"Christmas Spirit is about believing not seeing."

So what can we take out of this story in a positive spiritual manner? I believe we need to remember who it is we are celebrating at Christmas:the birth of Jesus. And those of us who are believers in Christ should spread that joy of His birth and everything that God has to offer to those who are lost or hurting.

May we all find that Christmas Spirit and spread it throughout the world 365 days a year.

Have a Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Carol: Movie Review

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843 by Charles Dickens in Britain. It was at a time when the real meaning of Christmas was being forgotten and Christmas trees and greeting cards were first introduced. This story still stands as one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the Christmas Spirit in England.

Although there have been many versions made of this classic tale, this 1951 original film remains true to form with the book of the same title and stars Alastair Sim as the callous miser Scrooge. Anyone who is familiar with the name Scrooge and it's many references to someone as being: cranky, cold-hearted, or just plain mean,knows the story well. It is the story of how one can change the future by revisiting their past. Though many of us know the story, I still find the case study of how Scrooge changed through the years interesting. It was the choices he made in life that turned him from being a simple man into a man who's life revolved around money.

Ebenezer Scrooge was a shrewed, hard-nose, callous business man. In today's culture he would be known as a one-man, big box corporation all by himself. His all business and and no fun personality comes out in the very beginning when he exclaims,
"Christmas has a habit of keeping man from business. Humbug on Christmas!"

And so when his assistant Bob Kratchet, who appears in a joyful holiday mood, asks Scrooge to have Christmas Day off from work, Ebenezer just laughs. Scrooge is so mean he puts down Kratchet for being so happy at Christmas when yet earning such small wages; as if happiness were only depended upon money.

So what happened to Scrooge to make him into this monster and to be known as the most hated man in town? This is what's revealed to us when Ebenezer is visited by 3 ghosts on Christmas Eve.

One of the more frightening scenes in this film is when Scrooge is first confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his one-time assistant for 18 years. The ghost of Marley appears in chains which are a reflection of the business callousness forced upon him by Scrooge. Marley warns Scrooge that at the stroke of midnight he will be met by the first of three spirits. And so this is where the story begins of how Ebenezer, a once happy man and in love, turns into a stingy, cranky old miser known as Scrooge.

At the stroke of midnight the first ghost, known as the ghost of Christmas Past, appears to Scrooge to remind him of shadows of the things that had been. The ghost takes Scrooge on a journey back to his childhood where he was just like any other child growing up with dreams and aspirations.Ebenezer confronts the ghost for a reason why he was chosen to visit him. The ghost's simple reply,
"It is for your welfare."

Upon revisiting his childhood, Ebenezer learns that his father, who lost his wife after giving birth to Ebenezer, actually blamed his son for her death. Though his father never vocally expressed this to him, it was the main reason for the breakdown of their relationship, as it would deteriorate for many years to come. Ebenezer's only love within his family was for his sister Fenn.

We also find out that Ebenezer even fell in love with a girl named Alice. And Scrooge even exclaims to her that he did not care if she were poor. Ebenezer gives her a ring promising to marry her someday, but for the moment he is only interested
in establishing himself in the business world.

In the job market Ebenezer becomes an apprentice at Fezzwig and Company and is taught that there is more to life than money. But when Fezzwig turns down a chance to expand his business with a Mr. Jauking to increase his profits, Scrooge jumps ship and takes a cleric job with Jauking for more money. This is where we see a turn in the attitude of Scrooge as a man. Alice even sees a change in him, noticing his priorities in life were now for financial gain and replacing what had become lost between the two of them was not going to happen. We are now given the solid fact of Ebenezer Scrooge: a golden idol has taken possession within his heart. Alice says goodbye to Ebenezer, "May you be happy with the life you've chosen!"

A few years later Ebenezer's sister Fenn dies. Upon her death bed she asks her brother to promise to always be there for her son. Scrooge asks his sister,the only one in his family that he truly loved, to forgive him for never reuniting with their family. Though we see an emotional side to Ebenezer, it never fully develops within his life. Scrooge, now a cold-hearted business man, gathers up investors to buy out Fezzwig's company and renames it Scrooge and Marley.

Eighteen years later we see how much the harshness of the business world has changed a once young, energetic man who was in love. His faithful assistant Marley is dying and Scrooge refuses to go visit him until closing time of his business. He even coldly remarks that Marley can choose to die now if he wants to, I have a business to run. In other words, I think Scrooge is suggesting here that Marley should wait to die until after business hours when it is more convenient for him to visit his ailing assistant. I believe this speaks volumes into the man that Scrooge has become.

When Scrooge eventually does go to visit his friend, Marley's last words he whispers to his boss are, "Save yourself."

"From what?" Ebenezer asks.

Scrooge's answer wouldn't come until seven years later on Christmas Eve with the visitation of the 3 ghosts.

The second ghost, the Spirit of Christmas Present, first approaches Scrooge with the question, "Is your heart still unmoved, Ebenezer?"

Ebenezer replies, "I am too old to be redeemed! Let me have Christmas the way I want it!"

The ghost explains, "Christmas should be in your heart 365 days a year. The boy that was born in a manger lives in our hearts not just one day a year, but everyday. And you have chosen not to seek Him with your heart. Therefore you will come with me and seek Him through the hearts of men of good will."

And thus their journey begins. Their first stop is at the home of Bob Kratchet his assistant. The family, poor but content and grateful, are also in a celebratory mood. Scrooge takes pity upon their young son Timmy who is sick and is a cripple. And so we see another emotional side to scrooge as he asks the Spirit to let Timmy live. This is a curious event here because we also take note of the fact that the Kratchet's don't care for Ebenezer Scrooge and his negative attitude toward Christmas. Here and the next stop of his journey shows just how unwanted Scrooge is by his family and friends.

The ghost next takes Ebenezer to the home of his nephew,the son of Scrooge's sister who had asked Ebenezer to look out for. During a dinner party we see champagne, music, dancing, laughter, and negative words about the wealthy yet stingy Ebenezer.

The last stop of their journey is a homeless shelter. And within the crowd of the unfortunate is an old, poor in health, Alice. And yet within her dilemma, Alice chooses to remain in a joyful Christmas Spirit. The ghost of Christmas Present asks Scrooge, "Will you profit from what I've shown you?"
A beleaguered and confused Scrooge answers, "I don't know!"

The third ghost to visit Ebenezer is the Spirit of the Future. By now Scrooge has simply had enough and just wants to be left alone.

"I am too old and beyond hope. I cannot change." Scrooge pleads.

The Spirit brings Scrooge to the home of Bob Kratchet where the crippled boy Timmy has passed away. But within their sadness there is still an inner peace and joy found in the home.

The next stop on their adventure is a pawn shop where Ebenezer's servant Mrs. Dibler is found hocking some of his possessions, as we also learn of Scrooge's death.

Another chilling moment in this story is at the grave site of Ebenezer Scrooge. Ebenezer has revisited family and friends to see their reaction to his death and views just how harsh a man he had become toward all of them. This brings Scrooge to his knees at his tombstone as he asks the Spirit,

"Are these the shadows of things that must be? Or the shadows of things that might be?"

Scrooge lies beside his grave screaming,"Tell me I am not dead! Tell me I am not dead!"

Scrooge bows to the Spirit in repentance, "I am not the man I was! Spirit, I am not the man I was!"

Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up in his own bed with those repenting words flowing from his lips. He is overjoyed as he discovers he is alive and it is Christmas Day. Scrooge scares the wits out of Mrs. Dibler with his dancing in jubilation and within his craziness vows to give her a raise.

Scrooge has been transformed as he becomes ecstatic at the sound of church bells ringing. He sticks his head out the window and fetches a passing boy on the street and sends him to the butcher to have a large turkey sent to the house of Kratchet.

Ebenezer surprises his nephew Fred with a visit to his home and asks for forgiveness for being a pig-headed old fool.

The next day Ebenezer gives his assistant Kratchet a raise and vows to help his family in any way that he can. Scrooge would also become a second father to Timmy, who would get well and live.

If there were ever a time to revisit this story and learn a lesson from the choices Scrooge unwisely made, it would be today. For in it we see the value of not wealth or possessions, but the destruction that worldliness can bring to the soul.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Christmas Story: Movie Review

Some of the most recognizable lines in film history come from this story. Lines such as; "You'll shoot your eye out!" and "I triple-dog-dare you!" will forever be in the hearts and minds of both young and old.

Believe it or not this movie was not a big hit at the box-office when it came out in 1983. In fact it was considered a blockbuster dud. But today it is the most watched Christmas film on television, replacing It's A Wonderful Life as the cult classic everyone has to watch at Christmas time. And our thank you's for this should be directed at the cable channel TBS which has been showing the film since 1997 on Christmas Eve night and running it nonstop for 24 straight hours. Each year there will be over 44 million people who will have viewed it at one point or another during this 24 hour marathon.

A Christmas Story is the adaptation of Jean Shepherd's novel based on his childhood in rural Indiana. The movie is narrated by the author and features the nostalgia of Christmas through the eyes of a nine-year old wide-eyed, imaginative boy named Ralphie.

The film takes place in the 1940's when kids were not distracted by electronics such as television or video games. This was an innocent time for children when books, radio, and imagination were all they had to escape from reality. Oh, and there was Christmas too.
Back in this era a child's whole year revolved around Christmas and what gifts they were going to find nestled under the Christmas tree. And in Ralphie's case it was a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action rifle.

In between all the calamities Ralphie's family faced on this particular Christmas, Ralphie also had the devious task of dropping hints to his parents of his wanting the Red Ryder bb-gun. Ralphie's family was a unique bunch of characters:

1. Mom was an overzealous woman, protective of her two sons. When Ralphie suggests to her his wanting the Red Ryder rifle, mom's reply was simple and direct,
"No, you'll shoot your eye out!"

Another scene that best describes mom would be when the youngest son Randy would rather play with his food then actually eat it. She decides to play a game with him and the next thing you know Randy is snorting up his food like a little pig.

They say that a mother's work is never done and this holds true within this story as the narrator explains, "Mother had not had a hot meal for herself in 15 years!"

2. Dad was kind of a softy except when things went awry. I like the narrator's description of his father, "He's a tapestry of obscenities when things go wrong."

Dad also took pride in the car he drove and treated it like a beauty queen. So when the car overheats, the narrator implies,

"Some men are Baptist, some men are Catholic, my old man's an Oldsmobile."

The father also attracted some strange company, in this case it was the neighbor's dogs. Every night after work he would pull into the driveway and be greeted by the Bumpus' hounds.

"The Bumpus', our hillbilly neighbors, had at least 785 smelly dogs and they ignored every human being except my old man."

And then probably the most famous scene involving dad was his winning a contest and the prize: a very risque leg lamp. But he cautiously reminds his neighbors when he proudly displays it in the front picture window for all to see,
"It's a major award!"

3. Ralphie always carried the task of looking out for his kid brother Randy when walking to school. I love it when mom overdresses Randy, packs him tightly into a snow suit and doesn't realize it until her son complains, "I can't move my arms!"
Then we see the two boys headed for school and Randy having trouble standing up, let alone walk.

And then we have the misadventures of Ralphie.Within Ralphie's strategy of getting the Red Ryder bb-gun for Christmas we see some of his wild dreams, one of which is:

When Ralphie's teacher assigns the class to write a theme on what they want for Christmas, Ralphie envisions himself of not just getting an A for his composition on wanting a Red Ryder action rifle, but an A with an emphatic amount of plus
signs to follow(A+ + + + + + + +).

One of the great themes in this film is the nostalgic look back at what all of us may have went through as children. Everything from being confronted by the school bully to kids daring us to do the unthinkable.

On Ralphie's way home from school each day he and his friends are confronted by a school bully named Scott Fargus. And the narrator suggests,

"A bully, a toey, or a victim, in our world you were either of these."

After many days of being scared and bullied to death by Fargus and his sidekick, Ralphie finally lets him have it. Fargus would nail Ralphie in the face with a snowball and then,

"Something happened. A fuse blew. And I had gotten out of my skull!"

Ralphie tackles Fargus to the ground and begins to wail on him with fist-a-cuffs until blood appears. As the crowd of school children look on in amazement at what Ralphie was doing to Fargus and cheering Ralphie on, Ralphie's mother shows up just in time to pry her son off the school bully who had been wrecking havoc in the lives of every child within a five mile radius.

Later that evening Ralphie lies in his bedroom awaiting the wrath of his father while brother Randy hides under the kitchen sink tearfully exclaiming the inevitable,
"Daddy's gonna kill Ralphie!"

And then the unexpected happens. While eating dinner at the table Ralphie's mother doesn't turn him in to his father. I think this is just another example of mom showing her tender side of trusting her sons and understanding the things they may go through in life's journey as children.

Another memorable scene in this story is the dare game in the school yard. A kid named Shwartz dares Ralphie's friend Frick into sticking his tongue on the frosty flagpole as Frick insists that nothing will happen.

"I triple-dog-dare you!" exclaims Schwartz.

Back in those days you were not allowed to back down from a triple-dog-dare otherwise you would be known as a coward for the rest of your days. So naturally Frick goes ahead and does the unthinkable and as soon as you could say,"Uh,oh", here comes the police and the fire department to rescue him. Frick is now quite the spectacle for all the school to see as his tongue is icicly glued to the flagpole.

One of the adventures I think all kids looked forward to was the great Christmas tree search. But for Ralphie this was one adventure he wished he never would have taken.Upon heading home with a Christmas tree in tow, the family vehicle has a tire blow out.Ralphie assists his father in changing the tire and then it happened; Ralphie drops all the lug nuts in the snow and,

"I slipped out the queen mother of all dirty words,'Oh, fudge!' Only I didn't say fudge."

When they arrive home Ralphie becomes what the narrator describes as,
"A connoisseur of soap in the mouth."

That night Ralphie dreams of placing guilt upon his parents for punishing him with the soap in the mouth routine, as he shows up at their doorstep years later blind,

"Your soap poisoning caused my blindness!" Ralphie declares.

On Christmas morning it is in the heart of every child to expect to receive what they had so gallantly been wishing, hoping, and asking for all year. And the opening of gifts always brings at least one surprise which falls into the category of an
"Oh, gee wiz!" moment. And for Ralphie it was a gift from his Aunt Clara.

"Aunt Clara was under the delusion for years that I was four and a girl!"

Ralphie's mom demands he try on the gift he has just unwrapped from Aunt Clara, and so when he reappears in a pink pajama outfit his father claims,
"He looks like a deranged Easter bunny!"

Despite all of Ralphie's misfortunes, mistakes, and failures throughout the year, Ralphie's father knows his son's heart. And so Ralphie receives the desire of his heart on this particular Christmas, the Red Ryder 200 Shot Carbine Action Rifle.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bishops Wife: A Christmas Movie Review

Yes, it's that time of year again! I thought I would kick off this holiday season with an original classic. In case you missed any of last year's reviews you can search through the archives column of November and December 2009.

This 1947 classic starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young is one of the forgotten films in the genre of Christmas films. This movie delivers a great message on restoring people's faith and putting others before ourselves. Although the remake of this film, The Preachers Wife , starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington is also a good movie, it seems a bit watered down with it's message compared to the original version. What also pops up is too much Hollywood fluff in the remake, so I suggest you watch the original version first.

Most Christmas films deal with the human emotions that we go through at Christmas time and the infamous "loss of Christmas Spirit". In the very first scene Cary Grant, who plays an angel named Dudley, is seen navigating his way through the hustle and bustle of Christmas on some downtown streets. We see: Christmas Carolers, children laughing and smiling in awe of the decorated store window displays, people helping people, and you can feel the spirit of Christmas in the air.

One of the messages this film touches on is that of Pastors and wives who are in ministry together and their struggle to find a balance between both church and family. In this story Henry the Bishop, is tirelessly trying to raise funds to build a new cathedral for his congregation and in the process is neglecting his wife and family. At first glance you get the sense of Henry being a stubborn man: one who is in competition with the other churches in town and wanting what they have which is a great cathedral to worship in.

Throughout this Christmas season Henry has been spending most of his attention toward trying to please Mrs. Hamilton, a widow who has pledged to donate 1 million dollars to the church. Henry's wife Julia obviously feels neglected and is unhappy with Henry's choice of women to direct his attention and affection upon.

But Julia comes across as the strong level-headed one in the family, understands the duty of a Pastor, and stands aside, but not without giving her two-cents worth into the matter.

After making a promise to spend a day with his wife, Henry's church secretary reminds him of fund raising meetings that have already been scheduled. While in his study, Henry pleads with God for help because he knows this is taking a toll on his relationship with his wife. All of a sudden Dudley the angel appears and tells Henry that he has been sent there to help him. After some lengthy humorous bantering between the two men, mostly from Henry and his disbelief of Dudley being an angel,Henry gives in to Dudley's offer to help. When Henry introduces Dudley to his wife he leaves out the part of Dudley being an angel. A wise move on Henry's part for the moment!

Dudley works his magic while taking Julia out for an afternoon of fun. A couple of humorous scenes that appear:

1. Dudley helps Henry and Julia's daughter Debbie get selected to join in a snowball fight at the park with some not so friendly children. With Dudley's help Debbie fires
a snowball as fast as a rocket and nails one of the leaders of the pack. Debbie is now the favorite of all the snowballers.

2. When Dudley and Julia meet with a Professor, an acquantance of Henry's, Dudley has a little fun with the guy. Everytime the Professor would take a large sip from his glass Dudley would wave a finger and refill the glass full, causing the Professor to wonder how potent was that drink that he had been drinking.

When they return home and Henry sees the joy upon his wife's face, Henry feels a bit slighted as jealousy begins to settle in. As he and Dudley meet in the study, Dudley explains to Henry he is spending too much time focusing on building a church and not building up peoples lives as a Bishop should be, and the money he is trying to raise to build a cathedral could be better used in the area of food and shelter for those who need it.

On Christmas eve Henry gives his secretary a copy of his Christmas sermon for her to recopy. Dudley sends the secretary off to do some Christmas shopping and promises her that he will recopy the sermon for Henry. Of course you really don't think Dudley would recopy Henry's sermon word for word, do you?

Dudley pays a visit to Mrs. Hamilton and woo's her by playing a harp that is found in the living room of her mansion. He impresses her so much with the composition he plays that Mrs. Hamilton is overwhelmed with joy. When Henry and Julia show up at the mansion to press upon Mrs. Hamilton to proceed quickly with her large donation to the church, the overjoyed woman declares,

"I have changed my mind! I am going to donate the money to help the poor and feed the hungry instead."

An angry and distraught Henry confronts Dudley for meddling in and not helping the situation but making matters worse. Dudley reminds Henry that his prayer that day in the study wasn't for a new cathedral, but a prayer for help and guidance.

I love the powerful ending to this film, just a simple message through a sermon preached by the Bishop but written by an angel:

The Empty Stocking That Isn't Hung

"All of the stockings are full except one. And we've forgotten to hang it up, the stocking for the child lying in a manger. It is His birthday we are celebrating and let us not ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves,'What would He wish for most?'

And then let each of us put in his share:loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand for tolerance, all the shining gifts that make peace on earth."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

The other day I saw a church sign that read:

Thanksgiving is good, but thanks living is better

Having a heart of thanksgiving everyday, what a novel idea!

But sometimes it is hard to have a grateful heart when you are going through a difficulty. My Pastor often reminds us to look at what we have and where we live and compare it to places that don't have any of these essential items: We have a Walgreens drugstore at every major intersection to buy our medications. There are several choices of grocery stores within reach that have aisles upon aisles of food at our disposal. We have running water,flushing toilets,bathtubs and showers with clean water. In some countries this would be called living in luxury.

I often reflect back to the hymn It Is Well With My Soul
penned by Horatio Sprafford back in the 1800's. He wrote this hymn after losing his daughters in an accident out on the ocean. Not only did he have to endure this but he had lost much of the property he owned in the Chicago Fire a short time before this. Yet he was able to say in the worst of times, "It is well with my soul."

We all know that our faith grows the most through our circumstances, and we sometimes
probably even ask ourselves, "Why can't my faith just grow during the good things in life?"

Here's one good answer,which comes from the book Power in Praise:

Why can't our faith grow in pleasant, easy circumstances? It can, and as we come to trust and rely more and more on God's promises, it does. But the purifying, the testing of our faith, comes through circumstances that are a challenge to our determination to believe, trust, and rely on God's word, in spite of what our senses tells us. For too long we've trusted our senses, our emotions, and our intellect to dictate our beliefs. We must break that habit in order to exercise faith.

Remember, faith means a deliberate determination to believe something we can't see or feel the evidence of.

So if God is telling us He's working everything out for our good, and we see everything go wrong, our faith grows when we stand on God's word and thank Him for everything that happens.

I guess this would be called Thankful Living. May we all find something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Inspiration Through Creation: The Pelican

The pelicans are one of the more unique birds that is so easily recognizable. They definitely stand out in a crowd with their large pouched bill. These birds can easily catch fish just by opening their mouth and expanding their throat pouch in the water. But once they reach a surface above the water they need to drain all that water before actually swallowing their meal.

One of the pelicans more acrobatic acts is that of catching the large fish. They use their bill-tip to snag a large fish than toss the fish into the air and catch it with their open mouth. Mmmm, fresh fish sounds good, doesn't it?

There are 8 species of pelicans and they can all be found in the warm regions of all continents except Antarctica. In our region you will most likely find them in the Gulf states and Louisiana has the distinct pleasure of having the pelican as it's state bird.

In the two above pictures you see some pelicans who were rescued from the recent BP oil spill. If you look closely you can see a discoloration on their feathers. These birds were brought to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago as part of a global rescue operation. The pelicans you see here are able to do everything but fly. After residing at the zoo for a few months they will be sent to a wildlife preserve to live out the rest of their lives.

This is just another example of the importance of supporting your local zoo.

The pelicans are unique birds that fall into that special group we call
God's creation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dressed For Success

No,this is not a report from the fashion police,and no snoddy remarks from Joan Rivers, nor am I going to try to persuade you to switch your clothing attire. But I will try to point out to you a whole different approach into your dressing for success.

If you follow football and even if you don't but watch other sports, you are aware of the team with the star on their helmet and coming from Texas. Better known as America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys. Two weeks ago they fired their coach after starting off with a 1-7 record. They were a team destined to go to the Super Bowl because of all of their talent. But talent alone does not make a team. These players were undisciplined. So a new coach was brought in and laid down the law on them. Along with taking a strict approach to discipline, the coach is making them wear suits on their flights to and from road games.His reasoning on this was that he wanted the players to have respect for the team and the city they were playing for and to have some pride when representing that star on their helmets. It worked as they finally won another game this past Sunday.

About three years ago a Pastor at a large church in California had his congregation wear their faith on their sleeve, or should I say wrist. The month-long experiment was this:

Each member was given a bracelet to wear that included words of faith on them. They would wear the bracelet on their left wrist and then whenever they found themselves grumbling and complaining or having a lack of faith they would switch the bracelet to the other wrist.

At the end of the month just about everyone had switch their bracelets from wrist to wrist several times. The pastor himself even exclaimed he had switched his so many times that the bracelet actually broke.

This experiment was more than just a test of their faith. It was to make the members more conscious of their faith.

If you are a believer and know the Word of God than you should be familiar with the passages instructing us to put on the whole Armor of God each day of our lives.(Ephesians 6)

But just as Jesus instructed His Disciples, He instructs us to have faith in God and do not doubt in your heart, but believe.

Wearing your faith on your sleeve and living it out each day represents well that Christ is in your heart and is an important part of your life.

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."


Friday, November 12, 2010

Inspiration Through Creation: The Sled Dogs

One of the few outdoor winter events I enjoy viewing is the sled dog races held at the local Arboretum every January. There is nothing more incredible than hearing 45 dogs all howling together in the cold winter air, as they wait to be hitched up to their sleds. It is amazing to see how excited these dogs get when its their turn to run.

Today there are many distinct breeds of dogs used in racing. Some of the more well known pure breeds are: the Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute,and the Siberian Husky.

A sled dog team consists of the leader dogs, then the point dogs, the swing dogs, and finally the wheel dogs. And obviously the lead dogs are the fastest, but the wheel dogs at the end are just as important, they are the dogs that are powerful enough to pull the sled out of heavy snow. It is in the blood of these distinct breeds to run for miles,to love the cold frigid air, and to pull a fairly large amount of weight(up to 85 lbs.). Dogs have been used for work since the 10th century; most notably during the Gold Rush Era.

The Alaskan Iditarod race is probably the most famous sled dog race, and has been around since 1973 and begins on the first Saturday of March. The race covers over 1100 miles in 9 to 15 days. To train for this race some sled teams will run up to 2,000 miles in the months leading up to the big race. The race itself has 26 checkpoints where veterinarians stand by to check the health and safety of each dog. Each dog has to go through a health inspection prior to the race as well. At certain checkpoints the teams camp out overnight to rest the dogs.

The record time for the winner in this race was this past March; just 51 seconds short of 9 days.

The sled dog races have grown in popularity in the Midwest the past few years and I can see why.

These dogs are very special and unique. They are one of God's great creation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Know God, Know Peace, No Fear

I still marvel at the fearlessness of these big guys as they choose to nap in the strangest positions in such high places. They can choose the smallest of branches and lie there in complete peace with no fear.

Having peace within our everyday lives can be a daily chore. We all struggle with it at one time or another. Whether it's a circumstance we are facing,a physical ailment suddenly occurs, our life isn't going the way we want it to be, or we just wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, these can all be obstacles to our having peace.

Charles Dickens suggests-

"Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some."

When we choose to remember our present blessings and go to God with our circumstances and make the decision to follow and trust in Him then peace will overtake our fear.

The other day I was driving through a neighborhood on my lunch break. With the unseasonably warm weather my windows were down. At the doorstep of one house stood a very large hawk gawking at a large hedge as I could hear many small birds hiding inside the hedge.A large hawk will not attempt to go inside a hedge because he would get stuck in there. So these small birds knew where to go for that "hedge of protection" from their enemy.(sorry for the use of a pun here!)

The best place for us to run to for that "hedge of protection" is to God. He is our source of strength, comfort, protection, and peace. And nothing or no one can take that away from us.

Here's another thought from the book Power in Praise:

Just look at all the provisions our Father in heaven has made for us- every blessing in heaven. Not because we are worthy, but because we belong to Christ!

If you belong to Christ and are walking in faith then you should be walking in peace.

And when you do have peace, you should be able to confess in all things,"Whatever is front of me I choose to sing Hallellujah!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Inspiration Through Creation:The Panda Bear

The Panda Bears are one of my favorites of the warm and fuzzy animals.Their uniqueness is obviously in their black and white patches and scientists have absolutely no explanation as to why all Pandas are born with these patches. When Pandas are born they typically weigh only 3-7 oz.and the male bear can grow up to 330 pounds.They are part of the bear family, are an endangered species, and live in the habitat of China.

If you live in the United States you may find the Panda Bears living in only 4 zoos:
San Diego, Memphis, Washington D.C., and Atlanta. The reason why they are only in a small amount of zoos is simple: it costs each zoo $1 million dollars per year on a ten-year contract with the Chinese government.

I live in the Chicago area so I found it interesting that the first Panda bear (named Su Lin) to live in our country was at Brookfield Zoo in 1936.

A couple of interesting facts about these fuzzy bears:

1. Their diet consists of 99 percent bamboo.

2. In the wild of China these bears do not hibernate, they just seek an elevation with warmer temps.

3. Instead of visual memory they navigate by spatial memory which is recording information in their brain like us humans.

On my last visit to San Diego Zoo I was blessed to view these remarkable animals and watch one of them use his climbing skills. He casually climbed up a tree, sat on the highest branch for about 60 seconds, then retreated back down.

Thanks for the show Mr. Panda Bear, you are definitely a unique animal and one of God's great creation.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Crafts,Chikin, and The Baylor Bears

"Welcome to Atlanta, where it is proper to eat chikin"--a cow dressed as
Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind.

"Chikin zone next 3,000 miles"-- a cow in a safety vest in a construction zone.

These are a couple of the humorous billboards posted in the southern states for

This chicken fast-food restaurant, second largest to KFC, has been expanding to other areas of the country, including the Chicagoland area. They may be famous for their chicken, but they are also recognized as being one of the few businesses that is closed on Sunday. And they've been doing it since 1967. The owner, Truett Cathy, wasn't a big fan of working on Sundays, no matter what job he had, and says,

"I don't want to ask people to do what I myself am not willing to do."

His other reason to be closed on Sunday was of course,

"Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and directing our attention to things more important than business."

So even with today's fluttering economy, here is a business that chooses to honor God first and finds themselves prospering and growing. They even have a college bowl game named after them: The Chik-Fil-A Bowl.

Another business that is still thriving amidst the economy and chooses to honor God by staying closed on Sunday is Hobby Lobby, which began in 1972. As soon as you come up to one of their entrances you will find a sign on each door: We are closed on Sundays so that our employees can spend time with family and worship.

This arts and crafts store now has close to 500 stores in the U.S. One of the unique things you will find when you visit one of their stores is the fact that they do not use a bar code pricing system on the items they sell. This allows them to stay competitive with other stores.

And finally we have the University of Baylor Bears football team. One of their alumnus,worship leader David Crowder, wrote a new fight song for the Bears called "Rise Up". The football team is now off to one of it's greatest seasons ever as they stand at 7-2 and are ranked in the top twenty in the nation.

When you mix God into everything you do, you will succeed.

Remember: Impossible is not a word, it's a reason not to try.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Inspiration Through Creation: The Black Squirrel

Wherever you find trees you will also find a bushy tail critter known as the squirrel. Some are gray, some are black, some are red, and there are some that even fly. Some other animals that are in the squirrel family are: chipmunks, woodchucks, and prairie dogs.

It is in the early spring when you will see the trees inundated with squirrels. This is due in part because the buried nuts are beginning to sprout so they rely on the buds of trees for food. And my guess would also be that the food they stored for winter has pretty much been eaten by spring.

Though the squirrel is small in body size, they have large eyes with excellent vision. It makes you kind of wonder than why they choose to run out in the street when cars are driving by. Perhaps they find enjoyment in the game of dodge the tires.

One of the more unique of these critters is the black squirrel. I actually caught a glimpse of my first one just a couple of weeks ago. They are most common in the Midwest, the Northern states and in Ontario. So where do the black squirrels originate from? The gray mating pairs may produce black offspring and so obviously mixed litters are common.

Though the black squirrel is common, their overall rarity (1 in 10,000)has some small towns and colleges taking pride in their local population of these unique animals by holding festivals in their honor. The black squirrel can even be found as an official or unofficial mascot for some colleges.

1. Haverford College in Pennsylvania has the black squirrel as their official mascot for the athletic teams.

2. Kent State University in Ohio holds a black squirrel festival and uses the black squirrel as the imprint for the Kent State University Press.

3. Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County, New York carries the black squirrel as their unofficial mascot and their bookstore sells plush squirrels.

So if you are bored and looking for something fun to do and your small town or neighborhood has a large population of black squirrels, you can celebrate these unique critters by holding a festival in their honor.

The black squirrel, truly unique, and certainly one of God's creation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"It was a sweet feeling. All the work I put in was for that moment. I pictured it playing out that way. It was the best ending I could think of as far as the whole story." -- Cain Velasquez,the new Ultimate Fighting Champion,spoke this after defeating the sport's biggest star in only 4 minutes and 12 seconds.

I am not in the habit of using quotes from fighters and especially from a sport I have no interest in, but I love this quote. How many times have we ever felt of wanting that story book ending, or a story book life? Those of us who are believers in Christ already know we have a story book ending to our lives,one that's eternal. But how about that middle part of each of our stories?

I am sure we all want to succeed in every facet of our lives, and we know that God wants that for our lives as well, but it's what gets in the way of our story from becoming a victorious one: our grumbling and complaining.

How many times have we ever felt like God was short changing us? Or that things aren't going our way, so we must do something because God has no clue as to what He is doing in our life and we feel we can do it better? Now we all know what happens when we do take matters into our own hands and not trust God; we make a mess of it!

I am now finishing up my first year of non-grumbling and complaining. Or should I say, succeeding at trying to make a conscious effort not to complain. I used to be a habitual grumbler and complainer, even when trusting God in certain situations I still found myself complaining. But then I realized that grumbling and complaining is just really accusing God of mismanaging your life.

What is quickly becoming one of my favorite books is Power in Praise
by Merlin Carothers. Here is his take on this subject:

"We can't change ourselves from unbelieving grumblers to thankful, cheerful believers. God has to do the changing. We must decide to stop complaining and start thanking and praising God, it is God's power that works the transformation.
Our job is to keep our eyes on Jesus and thank God for what He is able to do."

I think one of the biggest things we can do when we feel like God is short changing us is to: start loving God more than life itself, and love the person that God has made you to be. And remind yourself of this:

Psalm 139:14:

"I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Inspiration Through Creation:The SeaLion

One of my all-time favorites at the zoo are the sea lions.I love the way these characters can hamm it up for spectators and bark for attention from the trainers.
Four years ago I got to spend some time at the zoo behind the scenes with these amazing creatures and their trainers and of course, I had a blast. They truly are one the most intelligent animals of God's creation.

The sea lions are one of 7 species of pinnipeds. And how can you tell a sea lion apart from the others? By the presence of: ear flaps, long front flippers,and they can walk on all four flippers on land. Along with their dog-like bark, these fellas teeth will eventually turn black. But no need to fear Mr.Dentist or Miss Hygienist! Whether they are in the wild or in captivity, these flippered felines teeth turn black due to a normal, healthy bacteria.

These guys love swimming and can seal their nose shut and swim underwater for up to 15 minutes. Wish I could do that!

The California Sea Lions are the most intelligent of this species and are so easily trained that you will find them at most any zoo you visit. And some are even used by the U.S. Navy:

The Navy trains and uses them to detect underwater land mines and for equipment recovery. Since these animals can swim silently underwater they are used in the Persian Gulf. They are trained to swim behind an enemy diver who may be approaching a ship, can attach a clamp(which is connected to a rope)and attach it to the enemy's leg in seconds without the diver ever knowing the clamp is attached to his leg.

Hmmm, perhaps these guys are the "real" Navy Seals.

The sea lions, another one of God's amazing creation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Major Miner Miracle

I am sure by now you have heard of the amazing rescue of the 33 miners in Chile who were trapped underground for a record 69 days beginning on August 5. The whole world watched diligently and many people prayed for a successful rescue.

Once the rescue officially began with the miners being successfully pulled up from underground individually,one rescue operator had commented that these men were "extraordinary lucky". And of course the media ran with those two words as far as the eye can see. But here are the facts to dispute that these men were "extraordinary lucky" but were a part of something far greater:

1. The miners were trapped a half-mile underground. If you were to take the Empire State building and stack a second Empire State building atop of it, that is as close to being how far these men actually were underground.

2. The safety shaft that these miners were trapped in held enough food to survive for 48 hours. They rationed this food to last 17 days before anyone was able to make contact with them. The first hole drilled to reach the men was the size of a grapefruit,the hole was then used to send down water and nutrition gels.

3. There were 700,000 pounds of rock between them and the earth's surface. The rescuers drilled 3 individual holes through this rock for 24 hours straight in shifts, and this went on for 52 days. Each hole had to be drilled with such precision in order to avoid any further collapse in any open spaces around the men.

4. The men were rescued on the 69th day of being underground in a dark and dusty, humid climate. Each man was raised individually by riding inside a capsule.

If this was all by extraordinary luck then that is one giant magic rabbit's foot someone was carrying!

This rescue operation will forever be a part of history and perhaps these lyrics to the worship song Might To Save should always accompany this piece of history:

He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lessons Learned From a Dog Named Hachiko

You may want keep a box of kleenex close by when reading this one.

After waiting a few months on Netflix it was finally "my turn" to watch the film
Hachiko starring Richard Gere. It is an adaptation (and a good one) of the true story of a dog who faithfully waited for his master who wasn't coming home. I will part ways with the Hollywood version and give you the real story:

Hachiko was an Akita mix and was born in Odate, Japan in 1923. The dog was 2 months old when he was given to Professor Uyeno in Tokyo. The two of them would become inseparable as the Professor obviously showed great love and affection towards the dog. Living in a small village in Tokyo, the Professor took the train at the Shibuya station to Imperial University everyday. Hachiko would accompany his master to the station everyday and would then return later to the station and wait for his master's return.

This went on consistently for two straight years and the local townspeople had taken notice of this amazing loyalty. And despite the fact Hachiko was only two years old, the bond between him and his master was strong.

Then one day the Professor did not return. He became ill and passed away at the University. Hachiko remained vigil in hopes of his master's return as he would return to the station everyday at 5 pm and wait. He would faithfully do this for the next nine years.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you to stop for a moment to think about this: Hachiko went to the station everyday for nine years to wait for his master.

At times Hachiko would not return home for days at a stretch. You would find him at the station just waiting.

On March 8, 1935 Hachiko died at the very spot he waited each day for 9 years. The local townspeople erected a bronze statue in his honor at the Shibuya train station.

Today that statue is one of the largest tourist attractions in Tokyo.

This story is billed as one that represents: loyalty, faithfulness, and unconditional love. You do not have to necessarily be spiritual to relate to any of these character traits. If any of us want to be successful at our job, in our home, in our relationships, we need these characteristics within us.

A few days later and still pondering this story (I just cannot get this story out of my head), I began to also wonder this about Hachiko:

The dog was still young when his master died, so why didn't he have a short vigil and just go on being a dog and do the things that dogs enjoy doing?

Perhaps it was the unconditional love that he had received from his master, and so he chose to remain loyal and faithful and wait for his return.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Inspiration Through Creation: The Giraffe

When someone mentions to you the giraffe you instinctively think of the animal with the long legs and long neck. So when you look at the unique features of this animal and see how they live, it makes you wonder who else but God could create such an animal.
This was part of a lunchtime conversation with some co-worker friends a couple of weeks ago.

Here are some interesting facts I found about this long-legged creature:

1. A new born giraffe measures about 6 feet

2. Every step a giraffe takes is 15 feet long, so if you were to walk alongside one
you would literally have to run to keep up with them.

3. A giraffe sleeps no more than 5-30 minutes in a 24 hour period.
How do they do that without caffeine is what I want to know!

4. Each time a giraffe lifts it's neck it is picking up 550 pounds.

5. A giraffe's heart is 24 pounds in weight and 2 feet in length.
And their blood pressure is twice that of a human.

And here is the most fascinating fact I found about this peaceful animal:

The elastic blood vessels in their necks makes it possible for them to drink water from a stream without fainting. And this is because their jugular vein contains many one-way valves that prevents the back flow of blood.

Next time you see a giraffe at your local zoo think of who created this
magnificent animal.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gotta Keep On Singing

Princess Giselle wakes up to an absolute mess in the apartment, opens the window and begins to sing.
All of a sudden birds fly through the window, squirrels, mice, and rats appear. The next thing you know the Princess is now prancing around the room with the vacuum and singing "The Happy Working Song", while the rats and mice are scrubbing the sinks, tub and toilet.

This is one of the many humorous scenes from the Disney film Enchanted. Now it's hard to imagine any of this actually happening if you were singing while cleaning your house and I would suspect you wouldn't want any mice or rats scrubbing your sink, tub or toilet either.

But I do think that singing while doing work, whether it be at your job or around the house, can have an effect on your attitude. And that is exactly what praise can do. In the morning it sets the tone for the rest of your day. Just like breakfast being the most important meal of the day, praise also brings the nourishment you need to start your day. Now this doesn't mean everyday will be a cartoon-land day like Princess Giselle, but your attitude will remain in check when something unexpected should happen to pop up.

I listen to praise music on my way to work. Listening and/or singing worship songs in the car on your way to work lifts you up to a higher level. Then while you are at work, if your fortunate to sit at a desk for some of your day
and are able to listen to music, put on or any worship music of your choice. If you work at a job that lets you listen to an IPOD with headphones then pump up some praise. Once you feel you are now in the flow of things spiritually, go ahead and seize the day.

The hardest part of praise is obviously when things are not going right for you and your struggling. You may be going through a financial crisis or maybe out of work, but if you have surpassed the believing in God stage and know you are in the trusting in God stage,then praising your way through it shouldn't be difficult for you.

But I know that it is still hard to praise God when you are wondering how that next bill is going to get paid. When you begin to praise God in all circumstances that's when your confidence in God begins to grow. And through that praise you are also reminding yourself that God is in control and He is going to come through for you.
God is bigger than the battle.

If you want peace in your life you have to put in the effort to get closer to God. Worship is a divine exchange between you and the Father.

For to be carnally minded is death,but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.(Romans 8:6)

To the spiritually minded we have the promise of life and peace. Isn't that what we all long for?

I'll leave you with a hymn of praise written by Isaiah at a time when he was struggling (12:1-3), this is one of my favorites because it reminds us of: who God is, what we gain from being close to Him,and why we should all praise Him:

O Lord, I will praise You;
Though You were angry with me,
your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.

Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
For Yah, the Lord is my strength and song;
He also has become my salvation.

Therefore with joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Git Your Praize On

Marshmallows roasting on an open fire, moonlight shining on the bay,words of praise being spoken by a choir of men, git your praise on, git your praise on, one and all!

Last weekend at my church's men retreat we sat around a bonfire the first night and talked about the power of praise and how it keeps that spiritual fire within us still burning. Some 14 hours later that same bonfire was still smoldering. That is exactly was praise does.

And that power within our praise will only work when we put it into action everyday and not just on Sunday.

Praise places an important role in our lives.

Last week I also learned something new: the lesser the amount of water in a pot the quicker it will boil. So how does this relate to praise? I am so glad you asked!

If you tend to get angry quickly at anything pertaining to life, and you've reached that "boiling point", you may be in a dry season and need some more water in your pot. In other words, your soul needs more refreshing, this comes not just from God's Word but through praise.

If you attend church on Sunday and then go to work or school on Monday feeling crappy and mad at the world, then you didn't get the refreshing you need, your tank is empty and it needs to be refilled.
That is why praise is important everyday.

I have learned much through my church in the last couple of years about praise, how to praise, why to praise, and what praise does.
And now the way I approach each day with praise has made a world of difference in my life. So I think I would be remiss if I didn't help others to "git that praise out".

Before you can even conquer the world and your life with praise, you need to surpass from the believing in God stage(accept as truth) to the trust in God stage(having a full assurance). Once you have made the commitment to trust in God the praise should come more natural to you.

I'll share on my next post some simple steps that I do to help and encourage you to
"git your praise on".

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Picture Worth 393 Words

"Sometimes you just gotta do it, cuz you know it's the right thing to do!"

I think we can all relate to the fact that even when we want to be left alone, for one reason or another, sometimes we just have to give in and let that someone special get close to us. Whether that other person is seeking comfort,solace,peace,or just wanting to feel safe; it is the right thing to do.

This picture says a lot about feeling safe and secure. It is hard to figure out momma gorilla's demeanor because gorillas are not known to smile. But somehow I get the feeling she is content in giving in to the little one.

Last week the Dallas Cowboys Jay Ratliff lost his grandparents in a tragic house fire. The firefighters couldn't get to them in time due to the intense flames and smoke. Jay's grandfather was a WW2 Veteran and a double amputee who was in a hospital bed at the home. A distraught Jay said,

" They found my grandparents, and my grandmother was, I guess, holding my grandfather. She climbed back in bed, like if they can't get him, she's not leaving him."

There is something to be said for feeling safe and secure in someone's arms, and for Jay's grandparents it truly was "till death do us part".

Within the most widely used scripture, Psalm 23, King David writes:

Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,they comfort me

The Greek word for "comfort" here is "nacham" which means: not casual sympathy but actually weeping with those who weep, or sighing with those who sigh.

The majority of the psalms that David wrote, 73 to be exact,deal with God bringing comfort and peace to those who need it, or simply, being safe in His arms.

Those that have chosen to follow and walk the Christian walk can rely and trust on God in any situation. Oswald Chambers once said,

"Worldly people imagine that the saints must find it difficult to live with so many restrictions, but the bondage is with the world, not with the saints."

And that is because the saints have a comfort and peace that they can run to:
into the arms of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Unselfish Act of Submission

Brian Wood, a 33 year old video game designer, is called a hero by his wife. But I would also call his heroic act a submission to love. Last week they were heading home when a car driven by an intoxicated young woman was in their path and going to hit them head on. Brian swerved his car so it would only hit the drivers side in order to protect his wife and unborn child on the passenger side. Brian was killed but his wife and soon-to-be child were unharmed. Two passengers in the backseat of the other car were also killed. The police say if not for Brian's unselfish act, his wife and child would've died also. Hopefully many men will take note of this unselfish act of heroism.

Submission is an act of love.

Today our society has more children living without a father(and not due to the likes of this unfortunate accident) than at any other time in history. Mans role as fathers has diminished in our society because of the lack of one simple word:submission.

In the documentary film March of the Penguins we learn submission through the reversal of roles of the penguin.In the Arctic, after the initial mating takes place between the male and female, and once the egg is laid, it is the male penguin who will tend to the unhatched egg for more than 3 months. The male penguin will go without food for more than 125 days, while protecting the egg through harsh winter temperatures of minus 80 degrees. And for warmth all of the males will huddle together to protect those eggs from the bitter winds and cold.

While they are enduring all of this, the mothers will have traveled over 70 miles to sea for food, then trek back to their partners to feed nourishment to the babies who have hopefully been hatched successfully.

The male penguins then begin their journey to sea for food, and will no doubt be hungry, for they will have gone an astounding 4 months without food.

Submission is an act of love.

Submission is more than just yielding or surrendering ourselves to the will or authority of others. It is submitting ourselves to responsibility, choosing to go that extra mile for that friend in need, providing food to that brother or sister who may need it.

Submission is an act of love.

And the single greatest act of this love was Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.
Jesus submission is an example each of us should follow. Not just a submission to God, but having that unselfish act of love toward each other.

Thank God for people like Brian Wood today, to remind us what submission is really all about in a world filled with selfishness.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

The waterfall was non-existent. No crashing sound of rushing water. No gurgling sound of the creek as it once rolled through the rocks and pebbled shore.

This was what I came across as I began my usual after work run the other day. Part of the creek below the dam was kind of dried up. I used to be able to hear the crashing of the waves, but this day it was silent. It made the surrounding area feel empty, deserted; kind of dead I guess you would call it. When this usually happens it means the area has been in a drought.

Once I started my run on the beginning of the trail I only made it about a quarter of a mile when all of a sudden I was stopped. A very visibly pregnant woman and her young daughter, who had been walking the trail, had stopped me so I could enjoy the same view that they were being captivated with. A fawn was nestled within some thicket eating shrubs.

So, what was once a dead feeling in the area, had now sprung up hope.
Life in the form of a new born animal appeared.

And so here I was, standing and watching this great scene with a woman who was also about to bring new life into the world herself. Finally, a sense of hope and peace had taken the place of the empty dryness that filled the air.

When you think about it, sometimes each of us kind of find ourselves in a dead, dried up situation within our daily lives. Or our soul is dry and needing a touch of life. We know that life is not perfect, there will always be ups and downs, but there's also hope within those valleys of darkness. A hope and peace that only comes from God. The Lord says that, "He who comes to Me will thirst no more". What an awesome promise that is!

If you're feeling tired,lost,impatient in waiting for God to do something,or your soul is feeling dried up; all you need to do is rest in Him.

Colossians 1:27-

Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Great Answer to that Burning Question

This passed through my eyes via email a couple of months ago, a little ditty that answers the question, "Does God Exist?":

A man went to the barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God the barber said,"I don't believe God exists."

"Why do you say that?" asked the customer.

"Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist.
Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering or pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things."

The customer thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.

Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long,stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkept. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and said to the barber:

"You know what? Barbers do not exist!"

"How can you say that?" asked the surprised barber. "I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!"

"No!" the customer exclaimed. "Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside."

"Ah, but barbers do exist! That is what happens when people do not come to me."

"Exactly!" affirmed the customer. "That's the point! God, too, does exist! That's what happens when people do not go to Him and don't look to Him for help."

Another favorite comeback of mine when someone says to you that God doesn't exist:

"Sure He exists. I just spoke with Him this morning."

Have a Great Weekend!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Big Fish

Did you ever wonder if it is actually possible to be swallowed up by a large fish and survive just as Jonah had done? In the last few weeks the mens class at my church has been studying the Book of Jonah, and one of the men brought up some actual evidence of strange occurrences similar to that of Jonah. Naturally this peaked my interest and I did some research and found this:

The large fish that most likely swallowed Jonah was a sperm whale which can reach up to 80 feet in length. Some of these whales have been captured and skeletons of entire sharks have been found inside of them. These monster size fish have 3 stomach chambers. One is called the fore stomach; they use this stomach to store food for later.This is most likely where Jonah was inside the fish.

In 1891, the crew of a ship off the Falkland Islands spotted a sperm whale. They sent out two rowboats of sailors to capture the beast. Amidst their struggle after harpooning the whale, one of the men fell overboard and the crew thought he had drowned. Six hours after capturing the fish the sailors started to remove the blubber from the beast. This lasted till well after midnight so the crew decided to get some sleep and resume their task in the morning.

Then low and behold, that next morning they discovered some sounds coming from the whale's stomach, and there they found the missing sailor James Bartley.

The sailor later recalled being hit by the whale's tale and had been encompassed by great darkness, and he felt he was slipping along a smooth passage that seemed to move and carry him forward. His hands would come in contact with a slimy substance, which seemed to shrink from his touch. He said he could easily breathe, but the heat was terrible. His face, neck, and hands had been bleached white, but he survived.

So the moral to this story and that of Jonah would be: if you find yourself near a large body of water and God is asking you to do something,it's best not to think twice about it. Just do it!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional

Have you ever been entrapped in anything for any length of time? Or maybe just stuck in a tough situation where there seems no end in sight? And through it all your mind is racing with fear,doubt,and anxiety. Then when you do get out of that what you are entrapped in, a big sigh of relief comes over you. But have you been changed?

It has been said that you learn from your mistakes and your faith grows the most through trials. The one constant we all know is there will always be change in our lives. A change of workplace, a change of living quarters, a change in direction of life, a change in relationships and friendships. Change is all around us and is a part of life. And what we do within those changes can make a difference that will last a lifetime.

When I give the dog more water in his bowl I sometimes have the choice of either just topping off what's left or I can dump what's left and give him fresh water to drink. I think this is similar to the changes we go through in life. We have a choice. It is up to us to be willing to grow within those changes and make a fresh start.

The dictionary defines the word "grow" as: develop, become bigger.

So if we can take advantage of the situation we may be in and choose to become a bigger person, not in the physical sense, but greater in faith and spirit,this will only strengthen us for the next battle we may face. Sometimes our biggest challenges in life are needed to prepare us for something greater.

Jonah was stuck in the belly of a fish for three days and those hours spent inside that fish pretty much changed his attitude with God and possibly his outlook on life.

"If they make it, if they get that hole drilled, when they come out of there, they'll feel like they're being born again."

This was quoted from a miner who survived 3 days in a mine shaft a few years ago and was speaking of the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped since August 5th.
These men are stuck in a shelter underground and it may take until Christmas to get them out. The rescuers drilled 3 holes 2,200 feet underground in order to send them water, food, medicine, and special clothing to keep them dry.

I can't even imagine what these miners are going through not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. The shelter they are in is large enough for them to walk around in, so their chance of survival is good as they are not cramped in one position or another.

The media really hasn't given much detail on these men so we don't know what kind of character or spirituality they carry. But I do have to say that when they do come out and are able to look to the sky and see the sun, clouds,the stars and the moon,and they're families, they're lives will be changed forever. Changes on the outside and on the inside.

And may we all keep them and they're families up in prayer until that happens.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Wisdom of Don Henley

One of my favorite all time bands is the Eagles and I consider Don Henley as one of the great song writers of our generation. In recent years you can see a change in his spirituality through the songs that he's written; such as these lyrics to the song "Hole in the World":

They say that anger is just love disappointed.

They say that love is just a state of mind.

But all this fighting over who will be annointed

Oh how can people be so blind?

There's a hole in the world tonight

There's a cloud of fear and sorrow

There's a hole in the world tonight

Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

I believe the cure for that hole in the world would be this:
1John 3:16-18:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in Him?
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jonah and the 60 Million Dollar Man

This past Sunday the guest speaker in my church was Father Zakaria Botros, the Coptic Priest who has a 60 million dollar bounty on his head by Al-Quada. Father Botros is the most effective Arab-American evangelist, and has been reaching Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ for over 40 years. Since being exiled from Egypt in 1989, he preaches in the Middle East via satellite radio and television, and reaches many here while living in the states.

I thought it was perfectly fitting that this man, who was imprisoned at a time for preaching to Muslims, made his entrance during our worship service while we were singing "How Great is our God".

Before giving us a presentation on understanding Islam and Muslims, Father Botros explained:

"Christianity teaches us to love all man-kind and love our enemies. But by no means does it tell us to be blind to reality and truth, or be misled by misinformation."

Father Botros also made it quite clear that:

"Many Muslims are good constructive members of society, therefore the problem is one of Islam and not of Muslims in general."

So Father Botros' mission is to reach Muslims with the truth by exposing the false religion of Islam. Here are some facts on Islam:

Islam is the only religion that adopts "terrorism"

There are 35,213 verses in the Quran that speak about terror and killing those that are not Muslim

In the West, Islam is viewed as just another religion

Father Botros explained that Islam has 2 faces:

1. Mohammed's character in Mecca:

In 610 A.D. Mohammed started out as peaceful and loving because he was not yet strong
An early verse in the Quran is "Let there be no compulsion in religion".

2.Mohammed's character in Medina:

Now that he has become stronger he spreads his religion by the sword

He also makes claim that Allah told him to kill whoever rejects Islam, primarily Christians and Jews

A later verse in the Quran,"And slay them wherever ye catch them".

Father Botros chose to follow Christ at an early age when discovering some notes in his older brother's Bible after his brother was beheaded by Muslims in 1947 for preaching the truth.

So here's Father Botros in 2010, reaching Muslims by the thousands with The Truth.

Now your probably thinking, "How does Jonah fit into this?"

Well if you can remember, Jonah was extremely loyal to the Jews and God wanted him to go deliver the Good News to the Gentiles(the non-Jews,who Jonah considered to be the enemy). Jonah was reluctant to obey on that one and chose to run the other way. Next thing you know he's inside the belly of a large fish for three days!

Once being deposited to land, and his mind obviously changed about the situation, (which my guess would happen to any of us if we were inside of a large fish for three days)Jonah agreed to declare God's message, and much to his dismay the Ninevites "responded" to God's call.

I think if Jonah knew that it was going to be that easy to reach the enemy with the gospel he probably would have had a different response then running the other way.

Father Botros obviously trusts God as he delivers the Good News to Muslims who follow the Islamic religion. He chose not to run away from the will of God but move forward in response to the call.

So I guess the question for us is: Do we need to spend three days inside the belly of a large fish in order to decide? Or do we follow the example of Father Botros and respond to our call with complete trust in God?

Monday, August 23, 2010

View From The Back Pew

One of the advantages I have of sitting in the back of my church on Sunday mornings while recording the service for podcast, is viewing the congregation during worship.
Yesterday I witnessed:

African Americans
Asian Americans

all worshiping God together in one accord. So when seeing this diverse group of people singing together "Jesus Messiah Lord of All" naturally it struck a cord with, what else?... all of us being in one accord.

"With one accord" means: being unanimous, having mutual consent, being in agreement, having group unity, and having one mind and purpose.

Throughout the New Testament we see the leadership carrying this dominant trait of "being of one accord". Whenever church leaders gathered in Jerusalem they were in unity and harmony with each other and with God.

It's obvious that these leaders were setting an example for the church today,
to put aside our theological differences and work together for the greater purpose: that of reaching others with the gospel through His Word and through His love.

When we sing "Jesus Messiah Lord of All" it really means that God is Lord of all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Successful Seed

While running on the trails the other day I came across a detour, (yes even in the woods there's some kind of construction these days), the trail I usually don't go on had some interesting nature info signs such as the one in the above picture. Of course what came to mind for me when seeing this sign was the interesting parallel between this seed and the seed mentioned in The Parable of the Sower:

1. Seeds move in many ways to find sun, water, and soil they need to grow and succeed. Some seed gets eaten by birds, squirrels, and other animals.

2. Jesus explains in the Parable that the sower(us) sows the Word of God. Some seed is sown by the wayside and the enemy comes and takes away that Word that was sown.

Then there's seed sown on stony ground where some receive the Word with gladness, endure it only for a time, then stumble when a situation arises.

The seed spread among thorns are the one's who hear the Word but become distracted with the things of the world which chokes the Word and it becomes unfruitful.

Then finally we have the seed that is sown on good ground: those who hear the Word, accept it and bear fruit.

Something of importance in all of this is: that seed (the Word of God) needs to be tended to. It needs to be watered and nurtured in order to grow on good ground.

Oswald Chamber once said,

"God is not saving the world, it is done. Our business is
to get men and women to realize it."

Does God make you feel good? Has He ever turned you down in the time of need? If God is worth having in your life, isn't He worth sharing with others?

I like how one author describes himself,and this sums it up best:
"I'm just one beggar telling another beggar where I found bread."