Invictus at Christmas

A Christian look at William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, Invictus.

A Christian look at William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, Invictus.

Julie fumbled with the lock of her dorm room. Laying her purse, nursing notebook, deli croissant sandwich, and coffee on the floor in the hall, she finally opened the door. My biology quiz didn’t go well this morning, and my anatomy project is late. At least I’ll get English right. I’ve got 30 minutes before I have to leave for work.

Sitting at her desk a few moments later, Julie began reading the poem her English professor was expecting an analysis of on Monday morning.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley, Britain, 1875

I have always liked Invictus, Julie thought to herself. My mother read it to me when my father left us. I read it to Michelle when she and her boyfriend broke up and she wanted to drive her car off a cliff. It makes me feel strong and independent. Best of all, Invictus is short. Julie read it again and again. Then she opened her notebook computer to type a few lines.

“Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King” sang a choir outside Julie’s window. She watched the little group, a motley mix of young and old, talented and not so talented. “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…” Once the tune ended, she chuckled to herself. Why would anyone want a king? How could he bring peace on earth? Kings make war, not peace. And who decides what is sin, and who is a sinner? She thought about the carolers for a few minutes, and about her few forays into church as a child. Misguided bunch, but their singing wasn’t bad.

Julie finished her croissant sandwich and returned to work on her assignment. Her phone buzzed, announcing that a text had arrived. “Ramona is in the hospital. She took a bunch of pills and drank a bunch of whiskey.”

Julie’s face turned white. Not Ramona! She was the most glamorous, gorgeous, toughest, smartest girl in high school. Every teacher loved her, every coach recruited her, and every boy in school would have killed to date her. Every girl wanted to be like her. Ramona had it all, and she knew it.

“I liked her, I envied her, and I followed her” Julie remembered aloud.

There was a knock on Julie’s door. Julie answered it. Her friend Michelle stood outside, her eyes red and puffy with tears. “Michelle, I got your text about Ramona. Are you OK?”

“I just had to walk over. The three of us were best friends in high school. Now, just two years later…” Her words trailed off.

“Do you have any more information?” Julie asked, but Michelle was in no shape to talk. “Give me your phone” she ordered, and took it when there was no reply. Julie scrolled through the messages. She found a voicemail from Ramona’s mother.

“Michelle, this is April. Ramona is in the county hospital. She took a handful of Tylenol and drank a bottle of whiskey early this morning. She has been struggling in college – engineering just isn’t her thing. Two days ago, she found out that she is pregnant. When she told her boyfriend Brandon, you remember him from high school, he broke off their relationship. Ramona’s stepfather and I are at the hospital. Call her soon on her cell phone. She needs a friend.”

Julie dialed April’s number, but noticed the clock on her wall. “1243!” she exclaimed. “I got to be at the nursing home at one to start work.” She hung up, rushed Michelle out of her room, choked down her coffee, changed into her scrubs, grabbed her nursing bag, and ran out the door. I’ll call later.

***

Julie raced down the highway. If I’m late one more time, I might get fired. Then, how could I stay in school?  She thought about Ramona. She certainly is in a black pit now, but her soul doesn’t seem very unconquerable.

Hoping to distract herself, Julie turned on the car radio. “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay…”

“Let nothing me dismay!” she blurted as the song continued. “One of my best friends is in the hospital, I am late to work, and I have to listen to stupid music on the radio.” Despite her irritation, Julie continued listening. She sat silently until the song ended. I feel bludgeoned and bloody by circumstances, but I am not wincing or crying. Still, there is something soothing, and even encouraging, in that song. She turned off her radio.

Flashing blue lights appeared in Julie’s rear view mirror. She pulled over, furious for getting caught speeding and furious for being late to work. The policeman approached from the driver’s side.

“Do you know what the speed limit is here?”

“45?”

“35” the officer answered. “And you were going 51.”

“Sorry, I just found out that my friend is in the hospital, and I am late for work.” Julie started to cry, hoping for a quick warning and speedy departure. The policeman looked skeptical.

“I’m going to have to give you a ticket. Please hand me your driver’s license, insurance, and registration.”

Julie erupted. “I can’t believe that you are doing this to me! Give a man a little power and he abuses others.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but you were 51 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone.”

“My head is bloody but unbowed” Julie snapped at the officer.

“That’s great, ma’am, but you still have to pay the ticket.”

“Cretin” she whispered to herself.

The two fell into silence – Julie’s sullen and the officer’s confused. Several minutes passed as the officer walked back to his car and checked her plates and her documents. He wrote the ticket, returned to her car, and handed it to her. She snatched it out of his hand. The officer walked back to his patrol car as she sped away. It was 1308.

***

Julie walked into the Happy Horizons nursing home at 1315. Mrs. Applegate, the head nurse, greeted her at the door.

“Glad you could make it, Julie,” she said with an edge. “Cindy has already started getting the medications ready for your patients. Here is the list.” Julie’s heart sank. This has to be the worst day ever. Why couldn’t I have been sick? How am I going to make it until five? Julie forced a smile on to her pretty face, put her long brown hair into a ponytail, and walked into room 103 to see her first patient.

“Hi, Mr. Gebhart. How are you today?” Cindy snuck his pain medicine into some applesauce while Julie distracted him with stories of her day. Then Cindy slipped a bite into his mouth, and Julie rushed another spoonful of applesauce into his mouth to hide the bitter taste. They were a good pair.

Julie helped patients to the bathroom, walked with them, fed them, moved them, and talked to them. The work, the help to others, and the light that came to their aged faces helped Julie to forget her own cares. Her smile became real, her steps grew light, and her eyes regained their sparkle.

Mrs. Applegate watched from the nurses’ station. “Julie is often late, and can be immature, but she is becoming a terrific nurse” the older woman whispered to herself. Nurse Applegate continued typing her notes in the medical record. Writing nursing evaluations wasn’t nearly as rewarding as taking care of patients.

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining…” sounded from the activity room at Happy Horizons. Julie’s shift was almost over and her work was done, so she walked slowly towards the music. She sat down next to a wizened woman in a wheelchair. “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth…” The music continued, filling the room, and lifting the spirits of everyone around. A smile broke onto Mrs. Applegate’s face.

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” Julie listened silently, drinking in the music. “Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” The choir finished with What Child is This?

What child was this, really? Why do billions of people on earth believe in Him? Why do I feel that I need to know more about Him?

“The choir at Redemption Baptist Church thanks you for inviting us to Happy Horizons, and wishes you a very Merry Christmas” the music minister concluded. “Come by the church for a caroler pot luck tonight at 6” the choir director said to Julie as he walked past.

The woman in the wheelchair next to her looked at Julie. Her face was gray and wrinkled, her back bent, and her skin thin as tissue paper.

Julie didn’t notice. She said quietly:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

I want to be found unafraid, but I dread becoming like this woman. The menace of the years has taken its toll on her. How much longer can she live? How much longer can Ramona live? How much longer can any of us live? How long do we want to?

Julie sat back and took a deep breath. The last four choir members sang as they walked away, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

But perhaps the world really has laid long in sin, pining for restoration. My patients here sure want to be restored. And what child is this, really? Is He the one who will help each person’s soul feel its worth?

“Miss, excuse me, miss?” A feeble voice awakened Julie from her thoughts. It was the crooked old woman in the wheelchair, the one that Julie could barely look at. “Would you please wheel me back to my room?”

Julie snapped back into her professional mode. “Of course, ma’am. My name is Julie. What is yours?”

“Harriet Shaker. You know, I was a nurse too.”

“Wow, where did you work?”

“I worked on the med-surg ward at St. Joseph’s hospital here in town for 35 years” Mrs. Shaker replied. “In 1977 I was voted Nurse of the Year by the whole staff.”

“What an honor! I hope that I can do as well myself” Julie answered. “Was that the highlight of your career?”

“Yes, but the highlight of my life was my family. I was married for 57 years and had seven children. Careers are wonderful, but they end. Family never does.”

Julie smiled a little awkwardly. Noticing, Mrs. Shaker shifted her conversational gears and inquired, “How old are your parents?”

“My mom’s name is Pam, and she’s 43. My dad is 45.” Julie was blunt, “He left mom and me when I was ten.”

“I am so sorry,” Harriet returned. “Family breakups heal, but scars remain forever. Do you have brothers and sisters?”

“No. My parents didn’t want kids, and I was an accident. But they didn’t abort me, which was good, I think. But they made sure that I was alone.”

“You poor dear,” Harriet said as she reached out her withered hands to hug Julie. The young nursing student instinctively leaned back, but stopped herself and leaned forward into the hug. Julie had no idea why she was sharing her life troubles with this stranger, but somehow it seemed like the right thing to do. Julie asked “Tell me more.”

Mrs. Shaker continued, “We needed my job to make ends meet, but my husband and my children were my life. My husband Jerry has passed, but my children and grandchildren still are my life.”

“Didn’t you get tired of living for others?” Julie asked.

“First, you live for God. Second, you live for others. Third, maybe, you live for yourself. What else would you live for?” Harriet puzzled.

“Yourself. Your career. Your happiness. Your fame and fortune.” Julie replied. Her mother had always told her to stand on her own two feet, trust no one, and get what she wanted out of the world. “Your father left us” she said, “and I don’t care. We will get along without him…without anyone.”

Invictus flashed in Julie’s mind. “Aren’t you the master of your fate and the captain of your soul?”

Harriet paused for a moment. “In January 1973, I was in my early 30s, and was sick of my life. Jerry sold tools in a hardware store but didn’t make much. I took care of my five children and worked at a local hospital on Saturdays. Jerry was boring, the kids were boring, my job was boring, and I was bored. I wanted the independent, liberated life of a modern woman. I wanted money and travel, dancing and wine, and romance. I was sick of diapers, dishes, dinner, and even sex.

One Saturday I met a handsome doctor on the ward, not much older than me. His sparkling eyes and toothy smile took my breath away. One day I was holding the chart of one of his patients and he touched my hand. I almost melted. No one else was around, and he put his arm around my waist. I trembled as he glanced about, and kissed me.

Soon we were leaving work together. We were both married and had kids, but who cared? I was in love. I rationalized my actions with the philosophy of the day. Personal fulfillment, whatever the cost, was the goal, and free love was the means. I left my family and moved in with my handsome doctor. It was everything I had ever dreamed of. We danced, sang, and drank. He took me to Mexico, Hawaii, and France. Then after three months, he left. I guess he just got bored with me. I never saw or heard from him again.”

“What did your family do?” Julie implored.

“They couldn’t believe that I left, and especially right after Christmas, although Christmas didn’t matter to us much at the time. Our Christmas was all about presents and parties – all I really wanted was to be done with it. Anyway, Jerry was morose. He spent days at home in despair and almost lost his job. Our children were heartbroken. The older ones started failing school and tried never to come home. Everything was wrong for all of us. My work suffered, and I lost my job, so I moved back in with my parents. Jerry tried for months to get me back, but I refused. My 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son rejected me, and only my youngest three – 2, 4 and 6 – wanted me home.”

“How did it end?”

“I yearned for my family, but was too ashamed to tell them. On Easter Sunday, 1973, I went to church. Jerry and the kids were there, sitting on the other side of the sanctuary. The pastor read 1 Corinthians 15, about the sacrifice of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. Something happened that day which I will never fully understand. I went back to my room at my parents’ house, closed the door, and cried for six hours. Mother brought my old Bible, the one with the dedication from my grandparents. Through my tears I found Christ. On the same day, Jerry did too.

Three weeks later, Jerry asked me to go to lunch. It was really awkward at first, but he just started talking about the kids. One lunch led to another and we began reminiscing about our life together. We all started going to church and sitting together. By Thanksgiving, I had moved back in. We were together again as a family. He had forgiven me…so had the kids. We had the greatest Christmas ever.”

Abandoning my family for a fling was the worst thing I have ever done, but Jesus washed that sin away.

“You asked if I was the captain of my fate, the master of my soul. I tried to be, and you can see how well that went.” Harriet sat back into her wheelchair. “I didn’t need a handsome, rich, young doctor. And I only partially needed a slightly older hardware salesman. I needed someone else, a Savior and Lord, and I found Him…or He found me.”

Julie had heard the gospel before and had rejected it. But this was different. Ramona, her day, her friends, her past, and her worldview, summed up by Invictus, didn’t seem enough anymore. She felt confused.

Julie got up, unlocked the wheels, and pushed Mrs. Harriet Shaker to her room. They hugged as they parted.

***

Michelle read Alice’s text. “Ramona is in the intensive care unit. Her liver has been damaged by the overdose, and her lab tests are rising. We’ll know tomorrow if she will recover or if she will need a liver transplant…if she can get one.”

Michelle, a sociology major, had no clue about medicine and relied on Julie for answers. “What do you think?”

“It doesn’t sound good” Julie suggested.

“Should we visit her?”

“No”, Julie replied. “Ramona went to school in Arizona. Driving would take over 20 hours, and neither of us can pay for a plane ticket.”

The girls sat silently at the table in Julie’s dorm room – desperate for their friend and powerless to help her.

“Shall we pray?” Michelle asked.

“To whom, and why?” answered Julie bitterly. “To whatever gods may be?”

Why did I answer so harshly? Julie thought to herself. Will Jesus be angry? Oh, its no use. I can’t be good enough to be religious.

Julie’s tone softened. “Besides, I don’t know how to pray.” The girls heard a song outside their window.

“Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing over the plains…” the choir sang. Julie recognized them – the group from Redemption Baptist Church.

Julie and Michelle listened until the music ended. “That’s what we need right now…angels,” opined Michelle.

“That’s what Ramona needs” corrected Julie.

The music stopped, and Michelle suggested “Let’s go to church…Redemption Baptist is right down the street.”

“Good idea,” agreed Julie. ““That’s the church whose choir sang at work today! Maybe they can help. Even if they can’t, we can at least get a free dinner.”

The girls put on heavy coats and scarves, locked the door, and walked into the night.

***

Julie and Michelle stepped from the cold dark street into the warm light of the church. They slipped into the back row, hoping to escape notice. Julie was surprised to see the police officer who had pulled her over earlier in the day sitting next to her. He smiled.

“Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright…” the choir sang.

The pastor stood and welcomed the group. Our church choir had a busy afternoon, and we hope this potluck conveys our thanks, both to choir members and guests. Before we eat, we need to remember what Christmas is really about. The pastor opened the Bible sitting on the pulpit and began to read.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

“Now let us continue the Christmas story.”

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

“And now let us complete the Christmas story. The baby who was born on Christmas grew to adulthood and lived a perfect life. His name was Jesus, and He was called Christ, the Messiah, because He was God’s chosen one. Jesus taught the unlearned, fed the hungry, and healed the sick. He performed many mighty miracles to prove His identify. Wicked and jealous men, religious leaders, had Him executed on trumped up charges in a quick political killing. He died as a sacrifice for the sins of all men and women who had ever lived, or ever would live. But that was not the end. The Apostle Paul writes…”

Christian brothers, I want to tell the Good News to you again. It is the same as I preached to you before. You received it and your faith has been made strong by it. This is what I preached to you. You are saved from the punishment of sin by the Good News if you keep hold of it, unless your faith was worth nothing.

First of all, I taught you what I had received. It was this: Christ died for our sins as the Holy Writings said He would. Christ was buried. He was raised from the dead three days later as the Holy Writings said He would.

Julie concentrated intensely on every word. Something was different about this place, and something was stirring in her soul. The police officer smiled at her again, and Julie felt no anger. Instead, she felt a spirit that she had never known before. What does this mean, and what about Invictus?

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.

“Miss, would you and your friend like to join my family and I for dinner?”

Roused from her thoughts, Julie recognized the smiling face of the policeman who had pulled her over earlier.

“We brought lasagna with Italian bread and a Caesar salad” the man continued, “and my wife is a fantastic cook.”

Julie hesitated but Michelle answered for them both. “Sure.”

The group found a table, and Julie and the policeman began to talk while the others stood in line for dinner.

“What did the pastor mean when he said that ‘Jesus died for the sins of men, and rose again?’” For the next hour, Julie and the policeman had one of the most intense conversations of their lives, while the others had a delightful chat. Finally, it was time to go.

Michelle and Julie stepped out of the church, back into the cold December evening to walk the half-mile back to school. Michelle jabbered on, but Julie’s mind was full of thoughts.

My scroll of punishments, my sin, is charged with many, many, punishments. But Jesus took them. He paid the price. Jesus’ paid the price for Ramona’s pride, and later her despair. He paid the price for Harriet’s adultery, and for Alice, Pam’s, and Michelle’s iniquities. Jesus took the wickedness of the whole world on Himself. His blood washed away forever the blackness of their sins.

Maybe Invictus should end like this:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
Jesus Christ is the master of my fate:
Jesus Christ is the captain of my soul.

Easter – Passover Seder for Christians

A Christian version of the Jewish Seder supper that you can share with your family during the Holy Week of the Easter season. 

My wife Nancy is the finest woman I have ever known, and I rejoice daily that we have shared over 27 years of married life together. One thing about her and her family that I have always found so appealing is how they celebrate holidays. For Nancy, Christmas is not a day – it is a six-week party. Easter is the same way. We feast on Fat Tuesday, pray on Ash Wednesday, keep the Lenten season special, and celebrate the Holy Week, even though we are not Catholic. One important part of our festivities is a Christian version of a Seder Supper. The Seder is an important Jewish tradition, looking back at the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. As Christians and Messianic Jews understand that the Messiah has come, we celebrate Christ.

Jews might eat roast chicken for the Seder, since lamb was reserved for the Passover. Typically, our family eats lamb (or roast chicken) and unleavened bread. We have bitter herbs (horseradish), sweet charoset (apples, nuts, cinnamon), and grape juice. I am not sure where the following came from, else I would give credit. But I encourage all of our readers to celebrate the Seder, and celebrate the Savior who is the reason for it.

Celebrating PASSOVER: THE SEDER

 

The Candles

Leader (eldest male of the family)                                           

As we light these candles tonight, we pray that God will light our hearts with His Holy Spirit. We want to understand how God has redeemed His people.

The woman of the house (lighting the candles)

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe. You have your own. We light these festival lights in your Name.

 

The Four Cups of Wine

Leader

When we were slaves in Egypt, God heard our cries. He chose Moses to lead us out of Egypt. These are the four promises that God made to Moses.

Reader 1:  “I bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Reader 2:  “I will free you from being slaves.”

Reader 3:  “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”

Reader 4“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.”

Leader                                                                                           

We remember these four promises at Passover by drinking from our cup four times. The first is called the Cup of Sanctification, the second, the Cup of the Plagues, the third, the Cup of Redemption, and the fourth, the Cup of Praise.

 

The Cup of Sanctification

Leader (pouring wine into each cup)

(If you elect to fill the cup each time, instruct the, family to drink only one sip when it is time to drink the cup. if you want to drain the cup each time, pour only a small amount into the cups each time you are to fill them.)

This is the Cup of Sanctification or setting apart as holy.

Reader 1:  “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Family (lifting their cups)

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. (All drink.)

 

The Hand Washing

Leader

We wash our hands to remind us that God is holy. As we come before Him, we too must be holy. As it is written:

Reader 4

“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” (Psalm 24:3,4)

Leader (lifting the basin of water)

Let us share together in this hand washing ceremony.

(Pass the bowl. Each person dips his hands and passes bowl to next person.)

Leader

Let us also remember how Yeshua (yeh‑SHOO‑ah, or Jesus) took off His clothes and wearing a towel, washed the feet of his disciples.   In doing this, he showed that he came as a humble servant. We know that this water cannot really make our hearts clean. The only way that our hearts can be made pure and holy is by Yeshua’s greatest act of servanthood, his death on the cross.

 

The Karpas (pronounced KAR‑pas)

Leader

We now remember the tears of our people when we were slaves in Egypt.  As it is written:

Reader 2

“The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.” (Exodus 2:23)

Leader (lifting the parsley)(Celery may be substituted for parsley)

Passover comes in the spring, when we see new life around us. The karpas, or parsley, reminds us that life is a gift to us from our great and mighty God. The karpas is also like the hyssop plant which our forefathers used to smear the blood of the lamb on the door frame.

(lifting the salt water)

When we were slaves in Egypt, life was not easy.  It was full of pain, suffering, and tears. This salt water stands for our tears.

Family (dipping their parsley in salt water)

Blessed are you, 0 Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth. (All eat karpas.)

 

The Breaking of the Middle Matzah

Leader (lifting the Unity, or the plate which holds the three matzot wrapped in napkins)

At Passover, three matzot are wrapped together. They are called the “Unity”.  Jewish teachers have many explanations for this.  We who know Yeshua look at the Unity and see God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Leader takes the middle matzah out of the Unity, breaks it in two, replaces one half and wraps the other half in a linen cloth for the afikomen.)

I have taken the middle matzah and broken it in half. One half is wrapped and hidden. This is called the afikomen (pronounced ahfee‑KOH‑men), and it is an important part of the seder which comes after the meal. (hides the afikomen)

 

The Four Questions

Leader:  We now ask and answer the four questions. As it is written:

Reader 3

“When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them.” (Exodus 12:26)

A Young Child:  Why is this night different from all other nights?

1)      On all other nights, we eat leavened bread. On this night, why do we eat only matzah, or unleavened bread?

2)      On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables.  On this night, why do we eat only bitter herbs?

3)      On all other nights, we do not dip our vegetables even once.  On this night, why do we dip them twice?

4)      On all other nights, we eat our meals sitting.  On this night, why do we eat only reclining?

Leader

God has commanded us to answer these questions for our children. But we do so with thankful hearts, for the answers point to the great and mighty works of God.

Leader (lifting one matzah)

On all other nights we eat leavened bread, but on Passover we eat only matzah. This reminds us that when we fled from Egypt, we did not have time to let the bread rise Yeshua often compared yeast, which makes bread rise, with sin. He came to die and take away our sin.

Leader (lifting the maror, pronounced mah-ROAR)

On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on Passover we eat only maror, or bitter herbs. This reminds us of how bitter life was for us in Egypt. It also reminds us of life in slavery to sin.

Leader (lifting the charoseth, pronounced hah‑ROH‑seth)

On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables even once, but tonight we dip them twice. We have already dipped our parsley in salt water. Now we will dip our bitter herbs into sweet kharoset. This mixture reminds us of the mortar and bricks which we were forced to make as slaves in Egypt.

Leader

On all other nights we eat sitting up, but tonight we eat reclining. This is to remind us that now we are free from slavery. On the first Passover, we had to eat in a hurry, with our coats and sandals on, holding our staffs in our hands as we waited to be delivered from slavery. Now we may relax and enjoy this feast at our leisure.

 

The Story of Passover

Leader:  Now we tell the story of Passover.

Reader 1

Long ago, the Lord brought Abraham to the land of Canaan. God promised Abraham that this land would belong to his descendants. Abraham’s grandson Jacob left that land and moved with his family to Egypt to escape a famine. Jacob’s family grew, becoming our people, the Israelites.  Several hundred years passed and by this time, we had become a large nation.  The Pharaoh, or ruler of Egypt, feared that we would join Egypt’s enemies and fight against Egypt.  So Pharaoh decided to make us his slaves.  Even so, God blessed us with more and more children.

Reader 2

This made the Pharaoh even more nervous. He ordered his soldiers to throw every boy baby into the Nile River. One Israelite family hid their baby for three months. When they could hide him no longer, they put him in a basket and floated it out on the Nile River with his sister Miriam watching over him. The daughter of Pharaoh found the basket and decided to keep the baby and raise him as her own son. She named him Moses, which means “drawn from the water.”

Reader 3

Even though Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s court, he knew that he was an Israelite. He saw how we were mistreated by the Egyptians. One day, when he saw an Egyptian being cruel to an Israelite, Moses lost his temper and killed the Egyptian. He ran away from Egypt into a desert land where he worked as a shepherd.

Reader 4

The Lord heard our cries as we suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. He came to Moses in a burning bush and told Moses to go to Pharaoh. Moses was afraid, but he finally agreed that with the help of his brother, Aaron, he would go to Pharaoh and deliver God’s message to “Let my people go!”

 

The Cup of Plagues

Leader

Pharaoh did not want to let our people go. Every time Pharaoh said no to Moses, God sent a plague or disaster to Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh hardened his heart and kept saying no. The tenth time, God sent the most awful plague. This plague caused Pharaoh to change his mind.

Family

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn ‑ both men and animals ‑ and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt; I am the Lord.” (Exodus 12:12)

Leader

It was the Lord himself who passed over us and struck down the firstborn of the Egyptians. In this way he delivered us from slavery. As it is written: On that same night I will pass through Egypt.

Family:  I, and not an angel.

Leader:  and strike down every firstborn‑both men and animals

Family:  I, and not a seraph.

Leader:  and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt;

Family:  I, and not a messenger.

Leader:  I am the Lord.

Family:  I myself and none other. (Exodus 12:12)

Leader (filling the cups)

We fill our cups a second time to remember that many people died during the plagues especially the last one, in order that God’s people would be set free.  We also remember what it cost for us to be set free from sin and death – the lifeblood of Yeshua.  As it is written:

Reader 2:  “I will free you from being slaves.”

Leader

Each of the plagues focused on a being that the Egyptians worshipped. As we say each plague, we dip our finger into the cup and drip the liquid onto our plate. Think about how God showed himself much greater than all the false gods of Egypt.

Family (each plague is said loudly in unison while dipping a finger and letting a drop of wine fall onto the plate)

BLOOD! FROGS! GNATS! FLIES! CATTLE DISEASE! BOILS! HAIL! LOCUSTS! DARKNESS! DEATH OF THE FIRSTBORN! (Do not drink the cup yet.)

 

The Dayenu

(Pronounced die‑AY‑noo, meaning “it would have been sufficient”)

Leader

God has been so good to us! We do not deserve His great and numerous blessings. Any one of His acts of mercy would have been enough to show His love for us.

Reader 1

With lovingkindness He redeemed us from Egypt, bringing judgment on the Egyptians and their gods.

Family:  Dayenu.

Reader 2

With awesome power He divided the Red Sea, allowing us to pass over in safety

Family:  Dayenu.

Reader 3

With tender care He protected us in the wilderness, feeding us with manna and providing for our needs.

Family:  Dayenu.

Reader 4

With great goodness He gave us the Law on Mt. Sinai. With triumph He led us into the promised land of Israel.

Family (lifting their cups)

Dayenu! How many are your great blessings to us. For each act of goodness we are abundantly grateful. Most of all, we are thankful for Yeshua the Messiah. In Him we have forgiveness of sins and abundant and everlasting life. Hallelujah! (Drink the second cup of wine.)

 

The Passover Lamb

Leader (lifting the shankbone of the lamb) This shankbone of lamb reminds us of the lamb that each Israelite family killed on the night of the first Passover. God commanded that we take the blood of the lamb and put it on the top and the sides of the doorframe of their house. As it is written:

Reader 1

“Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.” (Exodus 12:7)

Reader 2

“That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast.” (Exodus 12:8)

Reader 3

This is how you are to eat it; with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.  Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover (Exodus 12:11)

Reader 4

“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13)

Leader

We who trust in Yeshua the Messiah believe that He is our Passover lamb. just as it was God Himself who redeemed the Israelites, so it is God Himself, in the person of Yeshua the Messiah, who redeemed us once and for all from sin and death. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Leader (lifting the roasted egg)

This roasted egg is a special Passover offering. It is a symbol of mourning, reminding us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is also a sign of new and eternal life. It is because of Yeshua, our Passover lamb, that we can have eternal life.

 

The Matzah

Leader (lifts the Unity)

Family

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Leader (takes the middle matzah from the unity, breaks it into olive size pieces, and distributes it to the family)

Let us now share the unleavened bread of Passover.

Family (holding the piece of matzah)

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe. You set us apart as your people and commanded us to eat unleavened bread. (All eat.)

 

The Maror

Leader (Pass horseradish. Each person scoops some onto a piece of matzah.)

Family (lifting matzah with bitter herbs)

Blessed are you, 0 Lord our God, King of the universe, who has set us apart by your Word and commanded us to eat bitter herbs. (All eat.)

Leader

The bitter herb reminds us of our persecution and suffering under the cruel hand of Pharaoh. just as the horseradish brings tears to our eyes now, so then did our great suffering bring tears to our eyes.

 

The Charoseth

Leader (Takes two pieces from the bottom matzoh and puts between them the charoseth, in a sandwich‑like fashion. Pass charoseth. Each person scoops charoseth onto a piece of matzoh)

Leader The charoseth reminds us of the mortar and clay bricks that we made as slaves in Egypt. (All eat.)

Leader

It was at this point in the Passover seder that Yeshua told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. When each asked, “Surely, not I?” Yeshua said that it was the one who dipped his bread into the bowl with Yeshua.

 

The Passover Supper

(Leader offers prayer of thanks for the meal. Supper is served and eaten)

 

The Eating of the Afikomen

(After the meal, the children hunt for the afikomen, the wrapped and hidden matzah from the Unity. The leader ransoms it back by paying money to the child who finds it.)

Leader (unwrapping the matzoh and showing the family)

We call this the afikomen, a Greek word. Jewish tradition has it that afikornen means dessert, but some scholars believe it comes from a root word which means “I have come.” Yeshua called Himself the bread of life. As it is written:

Reader 1

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.”‘

Reader 2

… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”‘

Reader 3

“‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”‘

Reader 4

“‘Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”‘ (John 6:35a, 51, 54, 58b)

Leader

The matzoh is a picture for us of Yeshua and what He did for us. Look at how the matzoh is striped. As it is written:

Family

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Leader:  Look at how the matzah is pierced. As it is written:

Family:  “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10b

Leader

See how the matzah is unleavened. Leaven stands for sin. Just as this bread is without leaven, Jesus was without sin.  As it is written:

Family:  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9, 1 Peter 2:22)

Leader

The middle matzah from the Unity was broken, just as Yeshua, the Messiah was broken with suffering and death.  We wrapped it in a white cloth, just as Yeshua’s body was wrapped in linen cloth for burial. Just as the afikomen was hidden, so Yeshua’s body was hidden for a short time in the grave. Just as the afikomen was brought out of hiding, so Yeshua arose from the grave.

Leader (lifting the afikomen)

Family:  Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Leader (breaking the afikomen and distributing it to all)

It was then that Yeshua added, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Let us now eat matzah, remembering the broken body of the Lamb of God who takes awa

Leader (filling the cups)

Now we fill our cups a third time. (lifting the cup) This is the cup of redemption. It stands for the blood of the Passover lamb. As it is written:

Reader 3:  “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”

Leader

It was this cup, the cup of redemption, that Yeshua took after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20).  Just as the blood of the Passover lamb provided salvation for us in Egypt, so Yeshua’s blood provides eternal salvation to all who believe.

Family (lifting their cups)

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Let us drink with thankful hearts, remembering the Messiah’s sacrifice for us.

 

The Prophet Elijah

Leader (lifting the extra cup from Elijah’s place)

This cup is for Elijah the Prophet. In Jewish tradition, one of the children opens the door to see if Elijah will come to the sederAs it is written:

Family

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5)

Leader

We who believe in Yeshua believe that Elijah has already come.  Yeshua spoke of John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come, and it was John who said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  We set this place for Elijah to recognize that he has come in the person of John the Baptist.

 

The Cup of Praise

Leader (filling the cups)

Now we fill our cups for the fourth and final time. This is the cup of praise. We praise Him especially because of His promise to us:

Reader 4:  I will take you as my people and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7)

Leader (lifting the cup)

With the cup of praise, we give thanks to God in the words of a psalm, just as Yeshua did with his disciples. After each phrase of thanksgiving, the family will join in saying, “His love endures forever.”

Leader: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: Give thanks to the God of gods.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: Give thanks to the Lord of lords.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: To Him who alone does great wonders.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: To Him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader:  And brought Israel out from among them.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: To the One who remembered us in our low estate.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: And freed us from our enemies.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: and who gives food to every creature.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader: Give thanks to the God of heaven.

Family: His love endures forever.

Leader:  Lifting our cups, let us bless the name of the Lord together.

Family (lifting their cups)

Blessed are you, 0 Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. (All drink.)

Leader

The prescribed order of the Passover service is now complete. May we remember throughout the year that our redemption is complete by the sacrifice of our Passover Lamb, Yeshua the Messiah.

Family:  Next year in the New Jerusalem!

Calendar Highlights 2017

Calendar Highlights 2017

Important days

1 Jan – New Year’s Day (US)

4 Jan – Perihelion (earth is closest to the sun, 91,404,401 million miles)

6 Jan – Golden Ratio Day (1.6/1, found in the Pyramids of Giza and many other areas of art, literature, and culture)

6 Jan – Epiphany/Three Kings Day (Church tradition – the Magi Melchior, Caspar, Belshazzar visited the Holy Family)

16 Jan – Martin Luther King Jr, Day

20 Jan – US Presidential Inauguration Day

7 Feb – E Day (2/7, used in exponential and logarithmic functions)

11 Feb – Penumbral eclipse of the moon

12 Feb – Septuagesima Sunday (ninth Sunday before Easter)

12 Feb – Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday

20 Feb – President’s Day

22 Feb – Washington’s Birthday

26 Feb – Annual eclipse of the sun

28 Feb – Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras (feasting and celebration before Lent)

1 Mar – Ash Wednesday (first day of Lent)

14 Mar – Pi Day (3.14159, the radius constant of a circle)

20 Mar – Vernal Equinox (0629 EDT)

9 Apr – Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem)

10 Apr – Passover begins at sunset (commemoration of the Israelite’s release from Egypt)

14 Apr – Good Friday (the day Jesus was crucified)

16 Apr – Easter (the day Jesus rose from the dead)

16 Apr – Orthodox Easter (Easter as celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church

21 May – Rogation Sunday (prayer and fasting preceding the Ascension)

25 May – Ascension Day (the day Jesus ascended into heaven)

26 May – Ramadan begins at sunset (a month of fasting to commemorate Muhammad receiving the Koran)

29 May – Memorial Day

4 Jun – Whitsunday/Pentecost (celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit)

11 Jun – Trinity Sunday (first Sunday after Pentecost, celebrating the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)

14 Jun – Flag Day and US Army birthday

18 Jun – Corpus Christi (second Sunday after Pentecost, honoring the Holy Eucharist)

21 Jun – Summer solstice (0024 EDT)

28 Jun – Tau Day, the other circle constant (6.28318)

3 Jul – Aphelion (earth is farthest from the sun, 94,505,982 million miles)

4 Jul – Independence Day

22 Jul – Pi Approximation Day (22/7 in military and European notation)

7 Aug – Partial eclipse of the moon

21 Aug – Total eclipse of the sun

4 Sep – Labor Day

8 Sep – Gravity Day (9.8 m/s2 is the gravitational acceleration at sea level averaged across the earth

18 Sep – US Air Force birthday

20 Sep – Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, day of shouting/blasting, Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה‎))

22 Sep – Autumnal equinox (1602 EDT)

29 Sep – Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement)

8 Oct – Light Speed Day (3×108 m/s)

9 Oct – Columbus Day

10 Oct – Powers of 10 Day (10/10)

13 Oct – US Navy birthday

19 Oct – Diwali (Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the victory of good over evil)

19 Oct – Diwali (Jain festival of lights, marking the attainment of moksha by the fordmaker Mahavira)

19 Oct – Diwali (Newar Buddhist (Vajrayana Buddhism – Kathmandu, Nepal) celebration by worshipping Lakshmi)

19 Oct – Bandi Chhor Divas (Sikh festival commemorating the release of Hargobind/Gwalior, the sixth Guru, from Mughal imprisonment)

23 Oct – Mole Day (Avogadro’s number is 6×1023)

31 Oct – Halloween

10 Nov – US Marine Corp birthday

11 Nov – Veteran’s Day

23 Nov – Thanksgiving Day

23 Nov – Fibonacci Day (Fibonacci sequence is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34… It describes many natural phenomena)

3 Dec – First Sunday of Advent (the celebration of the coming of Christ)

12 Dec – Chanukah (Jewish festival of lights, celebration of the Maccabees’ victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes )

12 Dec – Gross Day (12×12)

21 Dec – Winter solstice (1128 EDT)

25 Dec – Christmas Day

Chronological Cycles

  1. Dominical Letter Cycle (for calculating dates such as Easter) – A
  2. Epact (the age of the moon in days on January 1. It is used in calculating the date of Easter, and varies by 11 days from year to year because of the difference between the solar and lunar years) – 2
  3. Golden Number Lunar Cycle (Year’s position in a 19-year Metonic cycle, used to calculate the date of Easter. Calculation = Year/19, taking the remainder and adding 1. 2017/19 gives a remainder of 3+1=4) – 4
  4. Roman Indiction (a fiscal period of 15 years used for dating and transactions. For example, periodic reassessments for agricultural or land taxes) – 10th year
  5. Solar Cycle (periodic 11-year change in the sun’s activity and appearance, such as luminosity and sun spots. Activity typically peaks towards the middle of the cycle) – 10
  6. Year of Julian Period (chronological system used mainly by astronomers and based on the consecutive numbering of days from Jan. 1, 4713 BC) – 6730

Eras

1 Jan – Japanese year 2677

14 Jan – Roman (AUC) year 2770

28 Jan – Chinese (lunar) year 4715

22 Mar – Indian year 1939

19 Apr – Nabonassar year 2766

11 Sep – Diocletian year 1734

14 Sep – Byzantine year 7526

14 Sep – Grecian year 2329

20 Sep (sundown) – Jewish year 5778

20 Sep (sundown) – Islamic year (Hegira) 1439

14 Oct – Seleucid year 2329

 

 

Math Days

Mathematics is one of most important fields of study in the modern world, and understanding math must be a foundational goal for every person. Unfortunately, many children, adolescents and adults fear math. It is not easy to understand and so they believe that they cannot understand it.

Families and teachers can celebrate dates that correspond to important mathematical concepts. Using food, games, and prizes, they can teach children, and themselves, that math is fun. In honor of the upcoming Square Root Day (4-4-16), I have provided this list for my readers.

Annual

Golden Ratio Day (1/6) – January 6

For over 2,000 years, scientists and artists have been fascinated with the Golden Ratio. It is defined as two quantities having the same ratio to each other that the larger of the two has to their sum. For example, a line segment AC comprised of segments AB (larger) and BC (smaller) would be in the Golden Ratio if AB+BC is to AB as AB is to BC. The decimal equivalent of the Golden Ratio is 1.618 to 1. Many proportions of the Greek Parthenon are in the Golden Ratio, as is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The ratio is also found in music, art and nature. Do something “golden” for yourself, and for someone, else today.

E day (2/7) – February 7

E is an irrational number used in exponential and logarithmic functions. Celebrants can do things relating to e, such as eating foods (eggs, enchiladas, English muffins, etc) and doing activities (like going to the zoo to see elephants or the aquarium to see eels).

Pi Day (3/14) – March 14

Pi, the constant used to calculate the area (πr2) and circumference (2πr) of a circle, is 3.14159…. The Pi date of the century is 3/14/15. Some families serve pies of various types (pizza pie, apple pie) to observe it. Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology in Virginia band, cheerleaders and fans used to count down to pi in the fourth quarter of football games (3.24, 3.23…3.16, 3.15, Pi!!!) but the same countdown can be used for any sport.

Tau Day (6/28) – June 28

Some argue that Tau, not Pi, is the real circle constant (T=C/r=6.28318). If you are in this select group, express yourself by celebrating Tau day every June. The Tau date of the century is 6/28/31.

Pi Approximation Day (7/22 or 22/7 military and European notation) – July 22

Summer is a time when children often forget the lessons they learned the year before. The fractional equivalent of pi is 22/7 (3.14285…), and 22 July is almost half way between the end of one school year and the beginning of another. Families can celebrate Pi Approximation Day during the heat of summer with snow cones (V=πr3h/3), scoops of ice cream (V=4/3πr3), and of course, ice cream pies.

Gravity Day (9/8) – September 8

The acceleration due to gravity on earth is 9.8 m/s2, or 32 f/s2. Whether you are a pencil or a rock, neglecting wind resistance, you will fall to the ground at that rate. Do a gravity project, or at least gain some weight, on this happy day.

Light Speed Day (10/8) – October 8

October gets a lot of good math days because scientific notation uses 10x rather than adding a bunch of zeroes behind a number. The speed of light (3×108 m/s or 186,000 miles per second) is a fundamental constant of the universe and deserves celebration. Besides, we believe that the more celebrations, the better.

Powers of 10 Day (10/10) – October 10

The greatest power of 10 day is 10/10/10, but math nerds can celebrate powers of 10 day every year. Do ten things, spend ten dollars, or work ten puzzles. Enjoy your tens!

Mole Day (10/23) – October 23

Avagadro’s Number (6.02×1023) is a fundamental constant in chemistry, describing how many particles of any substance make a mole of that substance. Celebrate it from 0602 to 1802 (6:02 AM to 6:02 PM).

Fibonacci Day (11/23) – November 23

The sequence is 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144,… Each number is produced by adding the two numbers immediately preceding. The next number in the sequence above would be 89+144 = 233. The Fibonacci sequence describes many natural phenomena including the branching of trees and generations of honeybees.

Gross Day (12/12) – December 12

A gross is 144 (12×12), whether a gross of quarters or a gross of candy canes. Families can celebrate Gross Day by making a gross of something (Christmas cookies), collecting a gross of something (beautiful fall leaves after Thanksgiving), or enjoying a gross of time (144 minutes) together (playing, singing, eating or dancing).

Every Century

Special Math Days in a Century

Same Number Day Series Day Square Root Day Pythagorean Theorem Day Odd Day
1/1/01 1/2/03 1/1/01 3/4/05 1/3/05
2/2/02 2/3/04 2/2/04 4/3/05 3/5/07
3/3/03 3/4/05 3/3/09 6/8/10 5/7/09
4/4/04 4/5/06 4/4/16 8/6/10 7/9/11
5/5/05 5/6/07 5/5/25 5/12/13 9/11/13
6/6/06 6/7/08 6/6/36 12/5/13 11/13/15
7/7/07 7/8/09 7/7/49 9/12/15
8/8/08 8/9/10 8/8/64 12/9/15
9/9/09 9/10/11 9/9/81 8/15/17
10/10/10 10/11/12 12/16/20
11/11/11 11/12/13 7/24/25
12/12/12 12/13/14 10/24/26

These days are all occasions to party, but unfortunately most of them have passed for this century. Enjoy those that remain with family and friends, and pass this list on to your grandchildren. They will have a great time.

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is a day on which Americans are reminded to give thanks for the blessings that we, as individuals and as a nation, have received. Many spend their Thanksgiving watching football, others travel, and almost everyone eats more than they probably should. Many celebrants thank the people with whom they spend the day, usually family and friends, most thank whoever prepared the meal, and everyone should thank God, ultimately the One who provided everything we have.

Of course, to thank God requires that we believe in a personal God. It makes no sense to thank God if you don’t believe that one exists, and it also makes no sense to thank a god who isn’t a person, someone who isn’t a “someone”; unless you are of the sort who thanks the air that you breathe or the water that you drink. Surveys suggest that about 95% of Americans believe in god in some form, although perhaps 20% of those believe that god is a cosmic force, as opposed to a Person.

The Theory of Evolution plays a role. Those who believe that the universe began in a Big Bang and proceeded to develop into what we see today in the absence of divine intervention are entirely logical if they ask “why thank God for anything that we have received when the impersonal forces of evolution gave it to us?” Even if they believed in such a distant god they would be justified in withholding thanks from someone who never did anything for them.

Of course, in the absence of a personal God it is hard to explain where human personality came from. It is far easier and more logical to assume that human personality is as illusory as divine personality. If people who believed this were entirely rational, they would conclude that there was no point in thanking whoever made their Thanksgiving dinner or gave them Christmas presents. In such a belief system, these actions are equally the result of impersonal, deterministic forces.

The difference in how we see Thanksgiving in modern times is suggested in the above discussion, but it is better illustrated in comparing Presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamations over the past two centuries.

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation – 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation – 1863

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States – A Proclamation

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation 2012

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives. As many pause to lend a hand to those in need, we are also reminded of the indelible spirit of compassion and mutual responsibility that has distinguished our Nation since its earliest days.

Many Thanksgivings have offered opportunities to celebrate community during times of hardship. When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest nearly four centuries ago, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe – a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before. When President George Washington marked our democracy’s first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break. Those expressions of unity still echo today, whether in the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country, the Union our forebears fought so hard to preserve, or the providence that draws our families together this season.

As we reflect on our proud heritage, let us also give thanks to those who honor it by giving back. This Thanksgiving, thousands of our men and women in uniform will sit down for a meal far from their loved ones and the comforts of home. We honor their service and sacrifice. We also show our appreciation to Americans who are serving in their communities, ensuring their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. Their actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.

On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2012, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together – whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors – and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

– BARACK OBAMA

Comparison of the Presidential Proclamations George Washington

Notice the differences of the proclamations over time. In 456 words, George Washington reminded Americans of the providence (care, guardianship and control) of Almighty God and implored them to “obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” He suggested that we spend our time in thanksgiving and prayer, and to “promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue”. God is mentioned or at least alluded to in almost every sentence.

George Washington did not refer to individual ethnic groups but referred only to the “People”. He highlighted science and liberty and his desire for our nation to be a blessing, and for God to bless, all Mankind. Washington referred repeatedly to the People “establishing a government”, “becoming a Nation” and “establishing Constitutions.” He mentioned the importance that each individual do his part “whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually”. Aside from “I”, he never referred to himself. Finally, Washington asked pardon for our national sins.

Abraham Lincoln

In the midst of the terrible Civil War, Lincoln also referred to the providence of the Almighty God and the Most High God. He mentioned the human tendency to forget the source of our blessings, and alluded to the hardness of the human heart. After reflecting upon the blessings that the Union had enjoyed, despite the hellish conflict, Lincoln gave credit to the personal God, not the strength of men. He also referred to the sins of his nation.

“No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

As in Washington’s proclamation, Lincoln focused on God as the benefactor to whom our thanks belong. He never mentioned individual ethnic groups but simply referred to “fellow citizens” and “the American people.” As with Washington, God is referred to in the masculine personal. Lincoln referred to himself as “fellow citizen”. The length is 519 words.

Barack Obama

Only 74 years passed between the proclamations of Washington and Lincoln, compared to 150 years between Lincoln and Obama, but America has become a different nation. We read of “God-given bounty”, “our Creator” and “God” but compared to Washington and Lincoln, the Divine One is barely an afterthought. There is no mention of His providence, His judgment, His service, His glory, or even “Him”.

In 550 words, Obama emphasized “lending a hand”, helping each other and “giving back.” One ethnic group is mentioned, and the word “Americans” is used. Obama honored the military and the rest of the nation separately, while the others did not honor the nation at all. Washington and Lincoln suggested that we humble ourselves, while the word is absent in 2012. Having little history as a country, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln referred to present events. In contrast, Barack Obama spoke at length of history. His only Biblical allusion was “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers” (Genesis 4:9). While Lincoln stated that America’s greatest gifts came from God, Obama attributes them to “our bonds to each other”. He referred to himself as “President of the United States.”

Conclusion

There can be little doubt that the themes of America, as revealed in Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations, have changed. Biblical Christianity has given way to a humanistic communalism. God is mentioned but is in no way central. Sin and repentance are entirely absent, as is the providence of God. Honor is reserved for man, and not for the Creator of all men.

If modern American Christians were to write a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, what would ours say? Would it resemble Washington and Lincoln or Obama? If the latter, can we wonder why America has changed so much over the years? Renewal in our land will not be found first at the ballot box but in the prayer room, at the pulpit, in the home, and at the workplace. If Christians humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways, He will hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Halloween

On those infrequent occasions when modern man considers the landscape of religion throughout the world, he is likely to think of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a smattering of smaller faiths. These religions, the “big five”, encompass the beliefs of more than two thirds of the world’s population, though there are innumerable sects and denominations within each. It was not always so.

Of these, before 500 BC only Judaism and Hinduism existed, and even they were different in many respects from the religions by those names today. Instead the world was a bubbling cauldron of tens of thousands of tribal and regional religions. The Greek pantheon, which became the Roman pantheon, the Celtic religion, and the later Norse pantheon, are among the most well known today in the West. Even after the advent of Buddhism in the early 5th century BC, Christianity in the first century AD, and Islam in the 7th century AD, these tribal and regional religions played an important role in the lives of their followers.

No one knows where the holiday today known as Halloween originated, but there is widespread agreement that it came out of the cauldron of Christian and pagan influences in Europe in the Middle Ages. Some link it to the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer’s end) while others to the Roman feast of Parentalia (the festival of the dead). The name “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve”. The common belief was that the souls of those who had died wandered the earth until All Saints Day on November first, when they would be taken to purgatory. All Hallows Eve, therefore, was their last chance to take revenge on their enemies. To avoid recognition, however, the souls would disguise themselves. Those targeted by the souls of the dead could do something good for them and perhaps avoid retribution. Also, the poor would go from house to house in the Middle Ages on All Saints Day receiving food in exchange for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day, November second. From these practices followed the modern customs of dressing in costume and “trick or treat” on Halloween.

During the Reformation, Protestants objected to Halloween as “Popism” and tried to eliminate pagan influences from the Church. The Puritans in New England opposed the holiday but later Scottish and Irish immigrants brought it with them into the New World. Subsequently celebrating Halloween became widespread in America among all social classes and ethnic groups.

Like all things, holidays take on the color of their surrounding culture. The lives of medieval men and women were surrounded by death. The healthiest could and often did perish in an instant, and as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote in Leviathan “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” As a result Halloween was heavily influenced by death, its main images being skeletons, corpses, and ghosts, or dealers in death, such as witches, demons, and even the unlucky black cat.

Halloween in America today is less about death, which seems distant in a land with good public health, excellent medical care, and where people die in hospitals instead of at home. Rather Halloween is more about sex. A quick look at almost any costume catalog reveals sexy pirate, foxy lady, sexy wench, sexy gangster, Aphrodite, nurse knockout, passionate princess, and a host of revealing costumes for women and even young girls. Men’s and boy’s costumes are more about violence and arrogance, with outlaws, commandos, and fictional superheroes as standard fare. There are, of course, still the historic Halloween standards of witches, ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and other bloody, rotting and scary costumes. And in the interest of fairness, many children and even a few adults dress up as animals, fruits, vegetables, (modest) princesses, and other fun and wholesome choices.

Christians today sometimes eschew Halloween entirely, sometimes participate wholeheartedly and without discretion, and sometimes celebrate a variation, such as “fall festivals” common among church groups. The Bible does not categorically state what the Christian response to Halloween is, since Halloween is a much later development. Nonetheless it does provide principles to guide our conduct.

First, believers in Jesus Christ should never fear. Some people feel that pumpkins, black cats, and other images of Halloween are so associated with this holiday that Christians must not be associated with them at all. This is false; the God who made pumpkins and black cats allows people to use, and even misuse, what He has given them, and uses their actions for His greater plan. Other people fear the images of death. This must not be, because death is a result of our sin and must be faced, and also because Jesus Christ conquered death once and for all at the cross. Still others fear the magic and what they perceive as demonic influences. Evil spirits undoubtedly have significant influence on the world, as do good spirits, and their influence is not confined to Halloween. However, Christ won the final victory, and if our eyes are on Him, we have nothing to fear.

Second, believers in Jesus Christ should avoid sin at all costs. Most everyone fears death, but few fear sin. This is remarkable because sin leads directly to death, and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well (James 1:14-15). When sin is wrapped in such an alluring package as a scantily clad, beautiful young woman, we fear it even less. While sex between husband and wife bears the imprimatur and magnificence of heaven, the same act between anyone else will result in eventual destruction (Proverbs 7). But sex is not the only good thing which if misused becomes sin. Power and pride, so laudable when directed rightly, so lamentable when directed wrongly, and so prominent a theme in the men’s Halloween costumes, can also lead to sin (Habakkuk 1:11).

Our family enjoys decorating, carving pumpkins, going to fall festivals, dressing up in costumes, and eating treats on Halloween. God made, either directly or through the handiwork of man, every pumpkin, every treat, and even every costume and decoration. He will use it all for His perfect purposes and His glory. Our responsibility, not just for Halloween but for every day, is to avoid the twin dangers of fear and sin. In so doing, we can enjoy all of the abundant life that He gives those who love Him.

MLK Day – Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties

Our ultimate authority, the Word of God, teaches that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).” Combined with other Biblical testimony, this means that we are equally created, equally sinners, and equally eligible to receive God’s grace. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us all, rose again for us all, and those who believe in Him are united in the Body of Christ. As the old hymn reads, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

From a political standpoint, the US Declaration of Independence holds that all men are created equal; meaning equal before God and equal before the Law. While people differ in their abilities and their character, their God-given rights and responsibilities are recognized and protected by the law. Minorities are no worse, and no better, than majorities. Neither is any other group. Franklin Roosevelt noted “No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities (Letter, 25 June 1938, to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).”

Despite this truth, man is notorious for denying rights to people who are not like him, and even in denying rights to people who are not him. Everyone does this in ways large or small, whether they do it intentionally or not. No man or group of men is uniquely bad or good, and every person, compared to the perfect nature of God, is a racist, sexist, ageist, bigot, or whatever other term we wish to use. We may not see it and we often deny it, but lurking just beneath the surface in every man, woman, and child is a selfishness and wickedness that none of us ever want to acknowledge (Romans 3:10, 23).

Muslims have oppressed Christians, Chinese have oppressed Tibetans, Europeans have oppressed colonials, and everybody has oppressed everybody else whenever they had the power to do so throughout history. Closer to home in America, whites enslaved blacks and then denied them basic human rights even after they had been freed from slavery. Martin Luther King Jr. a black Baptist preacher named after Martin Luther, the Architect of the Protestant Reformation, was an important leader in the fight for equal rights, and responsibilities, for African Americans.

God Is the Foundation of All Just Law

As King noted in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught that “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” Eternal law and natural law are rooted in the character and personality of God the Creator. How could it be otherwise? If the universe has anything to say about law and justice, it says that only the fittest, those individuals best adapted to their environment, survive. Even if one considers not the individual but the community, those that survive are those that out-compete others in their environment. In a universe without God, inequality and competition, not equality and cooperation, are the lessons written in the stars. Mankind’s sense of justice is rooted in the Lord, not in ourselves or the created world (Romans 1:18-22).

Those who reject God reject this truth, but even their rejection cannot mask the fingerprints of the Holy One. In light of the recent massacre of kindergarteners at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the Washington Post ran an article entitled “Atheist parents discuss death”. One atheist parent said “As far as morality and how to behave, when it comes up I say ‘You don’t have to be religious to know right from wrong; the Golden Rule is what we go by.’” This atheist parent may have been shocked to find that the Golden Rule, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” is found in the Bible (Matthew 7:12). For those who would argue that these words of Jesus merely reflect what is found in other religions that predate Christianity such as Buddhism and Hinduism, the root concept is found in Leviticus 19:18, written around 1400 BC and long before Buddha ever roamed the earth. The universe could never reveal the Golden Rule – someone outside the universe needed to do so.

God Is the Foundation of All Human and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Since law is derived from God, and since humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), human rights are also derived from God. Human rights are generally defined as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” The Bible is clear that men are equal in having been created, equal in being sinners, and equal in being eligible for God’s grace. From these truths are derived the universal human rights noted in the US Declaration of Independence; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These God-given human rights provide the foundation for the civil rights, such as the right to vote, that we enjoy in America today.

There is no genetic or environmental reason why humans should have any rights. If, as Darwin suggested, only the fittest survive in nature, then human rights as we know them do not exist. Individuals have only what they can take. Those who can take nothing get nothing.

Neither is there historical justification for universal human rights because for millennia the only ones with such “rights” were those who could seize them by force. Kings did whatever they had the power and legitimacy to do with their subjects, whether rape, murder, or plunder. Women, the poor, and foreigners often had no rights at all. The caste system in India, the concept of dhimmi in Islam, and the ideas of a “master race” are built on the ideological foundation that all people are not created equal. Concern for universal human rights did not become widespread until the 18th century, and then primarily in Christendom. Because of the inherent sense of right and wrong that God has placed into man, most people feel guilty about doing wrong to others, but history suggests that “thou shalt not kill” has more traction than “all men are created equal”.

“Civil rights” are commonly defined as those rights which are granted by a government to its citizens to promote equality. They are political, social and economic rights that the government must monitor and protect. People who believe that individuals have rights but refuse to believe in God may argue that human rights and civil rights are the same thing. Logically this would mean that in truly democratic countries, those in which the people hold the reins of power, the citizens grant rights to themselves. In non-democratic countries, citizens would receive only such rights as the rulers gave them. In such situations rights might differ between countries or cultures. The end of the story is that without God, human rights and civil rights are neither universal nor irrevocable.

“Civil liberties” are fundamental freedoms that the government must stay out of in the lives of its citizens. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press are examples. One government professor summarized that civil liberties are about freedom and civil rights about equality.

A Christian Approach to Human Rights, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

As Christians approach the issue of human rights we must remember that man has no rights before God. He creates us and sustains us, and the Lord is never in our debt. His character, His will and His laws are the ultimate authority in the universe. The Bible clearly teaches that all people are equal. Certain universal rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are the logical consequences of such Bible truths. Civil rights are not granted by governments but are derived from the God-given human rights which are themselves derived from God’s Law. Civil liberties, likewise, are based on the freedoms that God provides his creatures as revealed in the Bible. As such, human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties are universal and irrevocable.

Once a people abandon the Biblical basis of human and civil rights, so called “rights” can arise which are not rights at all and which can even deny real human and civil rights to certain groups. Controversies masquerade as human rights issues which have more to do with sin and selfishness than real human rights. In the infamous Roe v. Wade decision on abortion in 1973, the US Supreme Court decided that a woman’s “right to privacy”, a tenuous “right” based at most on inference from the Constitution, takes precedence over her baby’s right to life. Christians must have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and must utterly reject such reasoning. The Bible is our guide, and we must be transformed by it.

Ensuring that we know the issues and know the Scriptures intimately, followers of Jesus Christ must advance the cause of Biblically based civil rights wherever and whenever we live. Jesus did no less. But we must also oppose sin and selfishness masquerading as civil rights wherever and whenever we live. Jesus did no less.

Believers should advocate for civil rights in the name of social justice to advance social equality. It is also important for followers of Jesus to advocate for civil liberties to advance freedom in society. We must keep these in balance; taking money from the rich to help the poor may advance social equality but it also hinders civil liberty. Limiting freedom of speech to protect one group necessarily harms another.

Conclusion

Human rights, civil rights and civil liberties ultimately begin at the throne of God. Those who would promote equality and freedom must begin there. In our messy world, however, the fruits of human rights, civil rights and civil liberties are poorly distributed and incomplete. The final solution to these problems lies in the heart of each man. Government can help but can also hinder, whether by ham-handed intervention or by tyranny. Businesses and other organizations can do the same. The best hope of “liberty and justice for all” is found in “one nation under God”, and even more in each man under God. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers (#51):

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

When each man is under God he becomes a better man, more like an angel, and more able to safeguard human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties for all.

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day is a special day in America, whether your candidate wins or not. 

On 21 January 2013 I served as the deputy tactical commander for US military medical forces at the 57th Presidential Inauguration, opening the second term for President Barack Obama. All told, nearly 200 military and hundreds of civilian medical personnel provided care to the estimated 800,000 spectators and 10,000 participants. Hundreds of patients ultimately found their way to the dozens of medical tents, aid stations, roving medics, and others involved. Most people were simply cold and aching but a few had heart problems and other more serious conditions. Our National Capital is a beautiful place and the parade was a panoply of music and color. Regardless on one’s political convictions or voting record, everyone on our team was proud to have been a part of this event.

This was my third inauguration; I was the deputy commander of forces from Dewitt Army Community Hospital in 2009 and a spectator at the Bush Inauguration in 2001. In each case I was struck by how many people stayed to watch the presidential motorcade and how few to watch the parade. Even though the motorcade was delayed by over 30 minutes yesterday most of the people lining the route remained. After the president’s armored limo, preceded by press trucks and surrounded by Secret Service, passed by, thousands of spectators disappeared. It was as if the highlight of the day was a chance to see the President.

Two women, African Americans in their early 20s, jumped with joy as he passed, shouting to him and blowing kisses. They had been Democratic campaign volunteers, having spent hours on the phone and door to door grind. Some other black women argued, albeit good naturedly, with each other about which of them Obama had actually waved at. As the limo crept past shouts erupted from the onlookers. Many donned Obama hats, wore Obama T-shirts and carried Obama bags.

I could not help but puzzle at the fascination; almost worship, shown by many in the crowd to the president. Presidents are not generally exceptional in other things that generate such adoration, such as appearance, wealth, or talent in drama, sports or music. Though Obama has a unique standing among African Americans, who were very well represented yesterday, Bush also enjoyed such attention. What is it about the President of the United States that engenders such devotion? How does this feeling continue, though diminished, into the second term despite the inevitable disappointments?

From an economics standpoint, scarcity is a factor. The country needs a president, there are 330 million Americans and there is only one American president, so the supply and demand curve is heavily skewed in his favor. This is certainly one advantage that the president has over Congress and the Courts.

From a success standpoint, simply becoming president makes a person more successful, at least in the eyes of the world, than most people will ever be. Though presidents rarely have movie-star looks or talent, they have been reasonably well appointed and gifted. Success breeds success, and people feel more successful when they are around a successful person.

From an historical standpoint, presidents are part of history, no matter how good or bad, and people with a sense of history, no matter how small, want their fleeting lives anchored in something bigger than themselves. In 2005 I was deployed to Fort Polk to assist with the rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While there I visited the Los Adaes State Historic Site and met a worker whose ancestor had been the commander of the Presidio Los Adaes in the early 18th century. When visiting Antietam for the sesquicentennial my son and I were guided by a Park Ranger whose ancestor had fought in the battle. Their history had given these men direction and even purpose, and being a part of presidential history can do that for some.

From a personal interest standpoint, the President, more than any other single individual in America, can advance the interests of one person or party over another. Between the bully pulpit, the appointment of judges, the enforcement of legislation, and the control of the massive executive bureaucracy, the President of the United States can heavily influence who wins and who loses in many fights.

The single greatest factor in the appeal of the presidency is power. While the President exerts control on the domestic scene, he also exerts tremendous power internationally. The American president controls the most powerful military on earth, and the most powerful in human history. Insofar as he can work with Congress he holds vast wealth to distribute to whomever he sees fit. Those who claim that the President of the United States is the most powerful man on earth are probably not too far off the mark. Whether he is too powerful (or some might say not powerful enough) will be the topic of a future article.

All of these factors help us understand the fascination of the onlookers yesterday with the president. But in some cases even more is at play.

The president might be the closest thing to God that some accept. Many refuse to believe in the Biblical God and yet understand that they cannot personally make the world as they wish it to be. So they try to find someone else who can do it for them. Perhaps this is the real reason that Americans are giving their presidents more and more power. Perhaps that is why some Americans make their president an object of veneration.

Those who refuse to accept any reality beyond the physical world must attribute to this world the highest priority. Governing this world then gains the highest urgency. Could this be why zealots left and right seem to hate those who disagree with them, even though they are fellow Americans? Could this explain “gridlock in Washington?” Finally, could this explain the emergence of what many have called The Imperial Presidency?

President’s Day – Christians and the President

American Presidents are extraordinary, and they are ordinary. We should value, and can learn from, them all. 

This President’s Day, it is reasonable for Americans who follow Jesus to consider the President of the United States, the man and the office, and to commit ourselves to praying for him, for the rest of our government at every level, and for our nation.

“The conclusion of a brief speech made by Gen. Garfield at a mass meeting in front of the Merchants’ Exchange in New York City, April 15, 1865, the day of President Lincoln’s death. The excited throng was demanding vengeance upon certain newspapers for utterances considered treasonable; two men lay dying in the street for exulting in assassination, and telegrams from Washington gave intimations of other probable victims of a general conspiracy. At this critical moment, a man known to but few stepped forward, and, beckoning to the crowd with a small flag, spoke these words in a clear and impressive voice:

‘Fellow-citizens,—Clouds and darkness are round about Him. His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. Justice and judgment are the establishment of his throne. Mercy and truth shall go before his face. God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives.’
The effect was instantaneous. The crowd listened, and became calm, and the meeting afterwards was quietly dissolved (http://www.bartleby.com/344/187.html).”

The Power of the President

The President of the United States is considered the most powerful man in the world; primarily because the United States is the most powerful nation in the world. He has command of a military of over 3,000,000 and influences a federal budget of nearly $4 trillion dollars. There are over 310 million Americans, almost 5% of the world’s population, and the US gross domestic product is over $15 trillion, over double that of China, who has the second biggest economy. For the brief time that he is in office, the man who is the President is the personification of America. His may be the most recognizable face on the planet, with people everywhere seeing his face on television, on the Internet, in magazines, and in a thousand other venues.

Within the United States, the power of the President is unequaled. He has what Theodore Roosevelt called a “bully pulpit”, the ability to be heard, but not necessarily agreed with, nationwide on any issue of his choosing. The president will always be more popular than Congress or the Supreme Court because, unless he is an idiot or a sadist, it is always easier to like and harder to dislike an individual than an organization. From 1975 to 2010, Congress’ job approval rating averaged about 35% (http://www.gallup.com/poll/145238/Congress-Job-Approval-Rating-Worst-Gallup-History.aspx) while the President’s, though much more variable, has most often been in the 40-50% range (http://www.gallup.com/poll/124922/Presidential-Approval-Center.aspx). The president has the power to unilaterally modify legislation through signing statements and Federal rulemaking, and can move the executive branch through executive orders. He can also decide to enforce certain laws and disregard others. Congress and the Supreme Court can do little except by consensus and the courts can decide on only what comes to them.

The Demands on the President

We have had good presidents and we have had poor presidents, but regardless of the qualities of the man the American people, and many others throughout the world, put great faith in him. Making the world safer in an age of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, encouraging the equitable distribution of scarce resources, protecting the Earth’s climate, and helping safeguard human rights for all is a nearly impossible task, but we expect our president to do all of these things. Simultaneously he needs to laugh when we laugh, cry when we cry, and grow angry when we are angry. Americans expect the president to inspire them when they are discouraged and point the way to a brighter future. It is a burden no man can fully bear, but the best among us can handle for a time.

No one who has never been president understands the diamond-crushing pressure, the microscopic scrutiny, the impossible expectations, and the gravity of the decisions inherent to the office. When Truman was sworn in as the 33rd president of the United States after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia in April 1945, he famously asked Eleanor Roosevelt what he could do for her. Eleanor replied “Is there anything that we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

The Limitations of the President

Though presidents have tremendous power and control an impressive array of resources, people, money and expertise, they are not able to do whatever they wish. The Founders specifically limited the power of the presidency to prevent tyranny. Government was and is limited, and the citizens of America have a vital interest in keeping it that way. This is because government is comprised of people, and we all have the same corrupt nature. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Unlike more autocratic nations, the United States has multiple centers of power which limit the president. Corporations and other organizations can and do vigorously oppose him at times. Citizens vote every four years to keep or replace the president, and the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution ensures that no one can ever be president more than 10 years.

Putting Hope in the President

Too many people put too much hope in a president. For reasons good and bad, his power is always limited. Presidents and other political figures, no matter how good they are, will always disappoint. Presidential satisfaction levels are nearly always high when he first takes office, and drop off significantly thereafter. Presidents are men, and even the best, like Lincoln or Washington, sometimes failed. King David, one of the best leaders in history, failed spectacularly. And as noted in the introduction, presidents die. Through natural processes, accidents or the hands of others, the Great Equalizer strikes down even the most capable, the most likeable, and the most powerful.

What should Christians Do?

As Christians, we must pray for the president, both the office and the man. We must pray for Congress, the Supreme Court, and all of the other executives and legislative bodies that govern our land. Shortly before the 2012 Presidential Election, a woman in my church told me in passing that she was praying for the presidency, but not the president, with whom she vehemently disagreed. Though that opinion might sound good to some Christians, to whom Barack Obama’s policies are anathema, Jesus would have vehemently disagreed. He commanded His followers to “pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” The Apostle Paul wrote “Bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:14).” No U.S. President in history can compare to Herod or Nero.

Believers in Christ should be active in all aspects of life, including politics, to try to “form a more perfect union.” If governments at all levels in the United States are truly governments of the people, by the people and for the people, such governments are not our enemy. When they do wrong, however, the Church must oppose them, as Friedrich Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer did against Hitler.

But we must never place our hope in a man or in any group of men. Psalms 146:3-4 reminds us “Put not your trust in princes, [nor] in the son of man, in whom [there is] no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Though governments seem to have so much power, God still reigns (Psalm 2). When Pontius Pilate, the appointed governor of Judea in the Roman Empire, told Jesus that he had the power to free Him or condemn Him, Jesus replied “you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above (John 19:11).”

James Garfield, on that somber day in April 1865, got it exactly right: “God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives.”

Veteran’s Day

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, the holiday proclaimed by US President Woodrow Wilson on 11 November 1919 to mark the end of the “Great War”, also known as the “War to end all wars”, World War 1. Sadly, the very fact that the number one follows the words “world war” reminds us that another, even more terrible war followed only 20 years later. On 1 September 1939, World War 2 began. After the carnage of this second disaster, veterans petitioned the US government to change the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, honoring all veterans of all American wars. On 1 June 1954, this change became law.

Violence, evil and war are sad but real parts of the fallen world in which we live. Police protect us as individuals from violence at home, and soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines protect us from the greatest earthly threats, personal and even national destruction in time of war. Veteran’s Day is a time to remember those who have stood in the gap between America and her enemies. These men, and increasingly women, have guarded our freedoms and won the freedoms of others through their sweat, their tears, and their blood. All Americans must honor their sacrifice, and must consider what we as individuals can do for our country. All must be good citizens, paying taxes, obeying the laws, and working hard to contribute to their families and communities. Some must take the mantle of military service, taking the place of those who have gone before.

The following letter demonstrates the spirit of a man who truly understood the nature of his life and the necessity of sacrifice. It is one of my favorites. The letter was written in 1940 by the copilot of a Wellington bomber in Britain’s Royal Air Force, Flying Officer Vivian Rosewarne. He was killed in action shortly afterwards.

An Airman’s Letter to His Mother

Dearest Mother:

Though I feel no premonition at all, events are moving rapidly and I have instructed that this letter be forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids that we shall shortly be called upon to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I have handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.

First, it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and on one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately, for I shall have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no one calling himself a man could do less.

I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks; in the way you have given me as good an education and background as anyone in the country: and always kept up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle has been in vain. Far from it, it means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.

History resounds with illustrious names who have given all; yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire where there is a measure of peace, justice and freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilization has evolved, and is still evolving, than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. Today we are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand united for years after the war is won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing: every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principle like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered – I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot nor can anything ever change it.

You must not grieve for me, for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death; only a queer elation … I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat and sleep, prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace.

I firmly believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our mettle because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.

I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and known men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled and I am prepared to die with just one regret: that I could not devote myself to making your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.

Your loving son

The nature of life is that sacrifice never ends on this side of the grave. Parents sacrifice money, time, and much of themselves for their children, and this does not end when the children grow up and leave home. Children sacrifice for their aging parents, and we all sacrifice for the ailing in our family and friends. The rich give to the poor (Leviticus 23:22). Even the sick and disabled are not exempt; they give what they can for the benefit of others. Abraham was preeminent over Lot, but he still gave the younger man the first choice of the land (Genesis 13:8-12). The prophet Jeremiah sacrificed marriage and family for the sake of his ministry (Jeremiah 16:2). The widow had little, but she gave what she had (Mark 12:41-44). On the cross, the dying Jesus cared for the thief (Luke 23:42-43) and for His mother (John 19:26-27). No one is exempt from the requirement of sacrifice for the benefit of others, and that sacrifice has no end.

Flying Officer Rosewarne’s sacrifice ended on the next mission, but thankfully most veterans’ sacrifice does not. America has thousands of veterans who survived despite terrible injuries such as the loss of multiple limbs. Each of us must do our part to help them in their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. We do this in part in gratitude for what they have done, but even more to help them prepare for sacrifices yet to come. Soldiers fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan for the benefit of their countrymen know something about sacrifice; that is why they serve. This does not change when they are injured. Though most can no longer serve in uniform, they can serve as teachers, businessmen, fathers, husbands, and in a thousand other ways. The same is true for injured female veterans. Like all of us, they will continue to sacrifice for the benefit of others to their dying day.

Veteran’s Day highlights the sacrifices of those who have served in uniform. Let us remember their sacrifices, and the sacrifices that we all must make, as we travel life’s highway.