Friday, December 30, 2005

But I Thought The Paint Was Wet!

by Dan Miller

There is a story about Russia in the days of the Czars. In the park of St. Petersburg Winter Palace there was a beautiful lawn, on that lawn a bench, and next to that bench, two guards. Every three hours the guards were changed. Yet no one could explain why these guards were guarding the bench. One day an ambitious young lieutenant was put in charge of the Palace Guard. He started wondering and asking questions. Finally, he found a little old man, the Palace historian.

“Yes,” the old man said, “I remember.” During the reign of Peter the Great, 200 years ago, the bench got a fresh coat of paint. The Czar was afraid that the ladies in waiting might get paint on their dresses. So he ordered one guard to watch the bench while the paint dried. The order was never rescinded. Then in 1908, all the guards of the Palace were doubled for fear of a revolution. So the bench has had two guards ever since.”*

Every once in a while it’s wise to ask, “Why am I doing this?” The modern definition of “insanity” is to continue doing what you have been doing and yet expecting different results. Are you ignoring years of experience and knowledge only to continue doing what you have always done? If you want different results, you will have to do something different. If the paint dried years ago, move on!

* Paul Lee Tan, Th.D., Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations

There is an old adage that says in essence, “If the horse is dead, dismount.”

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In Memory of My Beloved Pet Cinnamon

Posted by Picasa

Animals Possess Souls Too

Pope John Paul II: 'animals possess a soul'

When Pope John Paul II declared in a public audience in 1990 that 'also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren' some people must have thought this was a new teaching, unaware of the Holy Father's scholarly familiarity with the authentic Hebrew texts.

When he went on to state that all animals are 'fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect' and that they are 'as near to God as men are', animal lovers in the audience were ecstatic!

The Pope mentions the special relationship of mankind with God as being created in His image and likeness. 'However,' he goes on 'other texts state that animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. In this respect, man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures. And so in Psalm 104 there is no distinction between man and beasts when it reads, addressing God: " Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth." The existence therefore,' the Holy Father reminds us, 'of all living creatures depends on the living spirit/breath of God that not only creates but also sustains and renews the face of the earth.'

This discourse caused a stir around the world, and was especially encouraging to Catholic animal welfare groups which had begun to despair that anything 'animal friendly' would ever be heard in Rome.

submitted by Prayer Network Member, excerpt from Animal Liberation Front

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Feast of Stephen & Other Christmas Traditions

by John Loeffler

Good King Wenceslaus went out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.

O.K., Christians of the world: Church history for one hundred. When is the Feast of Stephen and to whom does it refer? (Pause for hemming and hawing.)

It's December 26, the day after Christmas, when the death of the church's first martyr, Stephen, is traditionally commemorated. Trivial, yes, but most Christians can't give me the correct answer.

My preoccupation with this began a year ago, when I found myself sitting in an evangelical church in early December listening to the singing of Christmas carols. "Could the church have lost its mind?" I thought. It has become so much like the world.

In the ancient church, Christmas was celebrated on... Christmas. Everything prior to that was a preparation for the big day but Christmas itself wasn't celebrated until midnight, December 24th, when the Christ child was welcomed into the world.

Christ wasn't actually born on December 25th. The actual date is a subject of debate. But in 336 a.d. the church set the date at December 25th (Julian calendar) to offset the pagan celebration of the winter solstice at the Saturnalia, much as churches today have "harvest parties" to offset what is becoming an increasingly occult Halloween.

Following the time of the apostles, the early church began to develop organization and worship in five major centers around the Mediterranean: Jerusalem (naturally), Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.

Just as the Jewish calendar had an annual series of liturgically rotating feasts that God ordained in the Old Testament, so the form of worship in the early churches rapidly developed into a liturgical calendar centering around the Lord's Supper, which originally they all shared in one form or another.
Distance caused the different liturgies to diverge in the selection of prayers, requirements and customs, but after the Great Schism between the Roman and Orthodox churches in 1054, the liturgical form of worship was still retained. The western church followed the Roman rite (the Mass) and the Orthodox churches followed the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Both still today have major portions of their rites in common.

The Roman church developed a hierarchical structure centered around the papacy and the bishops. The Orthodox churches developed a more networked approach, centering around the bishops, all of whom were in affiliation with each other in what were called autocephalos or independent churches, who reported to a Metropolitan.

During the Reformation, the Lutheran church retained the form of the Roman liturgy and much of the church structure but corrected what it believed were non-Biblical errors that had crept into the Roman church over the centuries. The Anglican church likewise retained the church structure and worship.

Other Christian groups opted to throw out all of it in favor of different, more simplistic and often stark forms of worship. In retrospect, they may have thrown out the baby with the bath water, retaining only key dates such as Christmas, Easter and possibly Pentecost. Some introduced a few new ones, such as Reformation Sunday.

In trying to counter the secularization of its holy days, the church is having a difficult time because it has forgotten the origins of its celebrations.


In western churches the four Sundays prior to Christmas were called Advent, coming from the Latin verb advenire, meaning "to come towards."

The church was decorated in purple, along with the priest who wore the same color, signifying penance. Prior to December 25th, the church was in a period of penance, preparation and anticipation of the Messiah's birth. Fasting was observed several times a week. All of the hymns and prayers reflected this repentance and preparation; a period of darkness into which the Lumen Christi (the light of Christ) must come.

Scripture readings from the Old Testament and the Gospels matched the season, such as the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and Gospel passages about the ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ.

Hymns included "On Jordan's Bank the Baptists Cry" and "O Come Immanuel" but never a Christmas carol. Christ had not yet arrived.

Then Cometh Christ's Mass

For centuries the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was a radical change from the previous four weeks—this liturgical text became the centerpiece of a number of Baroque and classical compositions.

Christmas itself means Christ's Mass—the mass celebrated on Christmas Day. The church was decorated and ablaze with lights. Colors had shifted from purple to gold and white and the traditional green/red themes. Much incense was used. Christ had finally come. This was a time of great celebration, and hence the use of the word "feast" to designate the day.

Other Christmas Traditions

The Middle Ages saw the beginnings of liturgical dramas (often called "mystery plays") designed to portray Biblical stories surrounding Christmas. Recall that the majority of the population of Europe at the time was illiterate and so the mystery plays provided a method of teaching Biblical things. Over the centuries the mystery dramas started to become profane and secular in nature (sound familiar?) and so performances in churches were eventually banned.

Also, manger scenes (or crèches as they were called in French) began to appear, and it was a Christmas custom for every family to visit the crèche.

The Advent Wreath

The custom of the Advent wreath evolved in northern Europe. The wreath has four candles: three purple and one pink. In some cases, three red and one white candle are used.

One candle is lit on each Sunday of Advent at dinner time and the family sings "O Come Immanuel" prior to the blessing. The third Sunday of Advent is a different color, signifying that while we are still in darkness, there is hope and the light of Christ is coming.

In the western church it was called Gaudate (gow-day-tay) Sunday, meaning we should rejoice, for there is hope.

In America, the tradition has started of adding a white candle in the center on Christmas Day to signify that the light of Christ has come into the world.

Some Lutheran churches reverse the Advent wreath process, using a ring of candles, one for each Sunday of Lent prior to Holy Week. Sunday after Sunday one less candle is lit until finally, on Good Friday, the center Christ candle is extinguished.

There are as many Christmas traditions as there are countries and centuries. Many had strictly Christian origins. Others are a mix of vestiges of pagan custom adapted into Christianity. This, and the observance of Christmas itself, has been the source of much debate, which is not the subject of this article.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas ranks as part of the regular Christmas carol fare. So what are they? They are the days when Christmas was traditionally observed, between December 25th and January 6th. January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three Wise Men finally arrived, thus the twelve days when Christmas was celebrated.

In some places presents were given each day of the twelve days instead of tearing into a big wallop of presents on December 25th. Traditionally the Christmas tree went up on December 24th in the evening and came down on January 6th.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28th, commemorating the children who were killed in Bethlehem as Herod sought to destroy the child Jesus.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus means Holy Claus, short for Nicholas. The word "santo" is "holy" in Latin as well as its descendent tongues, such as Spanish and Italian. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, St. Nicholas was born in the ancient city of Patara. As a youth he traveled to Palestine and later became Bishop of Myra. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian and was later attendant at the First Council of Nicea in 325 a.d.

Legend says that he showed unusual kindness to the poor and the weak; oftentimes leaving things for them while they were asleep. In the Middle Ages he became patron saint of charitable fraternities, children, and other things as well as patron saint of the City of Moscow, Russia. After the Reformation, the legend of St. Nicholas died out everywhere except in Holland. It migrated to the U.S. with Dutch Reformed Christians.

Later in Germany, St. Nick would traditionally arrive on his Feast Day, December 6th. A man dressed as St. Nick would go door to door loaded with a giant sack. To those children who had been good during the year, he gave presents. To those who had been bad, a lump of coal was their lot. "How did he do that?" the kids would wonder.

St. Nicholas's red outfit was derived from the red colors bishops wore. The modern version of St. Nick originated in a series of Thomas Nast engravings, which appeared in Harper's Weekly between 1863 and 1886.1

Other Traditions

The Night before Christmas was first published in 1822 and picked up widespread popularity and republishing. During Queen Victoria's reign in England, tree decorating was well under way. Martin Luther is reported to have been the first person to actually put lights on a Christmas tree. (One can only speculate whose house was the first to burn down as the result of a Christmas tree.)
In 1880, Woolworth's first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments and they caught on very quickly.2

In Mexico and southern parts of the United States, Las Posadas has been a major tradition, which is now spreading in popularity. Las Posadas sees children going door to door asking for shelter, just as Joseph and Mary did when Mary was about to give birth to Jesus. The answer from the person who answers is always a negative head shake and the response, "no posada" (no shelter). Candles placed in paper bags (luminarias) serve as chains of lanterns on the ground leading up to the doors to show the expectant couple the way.

Rudolph, the genetically mutant reindeer, is a latecomer and has absolutely no religious significance whatsoever. In 1939, Santas at Montgomery Wards gave away 2.4 million copies of a booklet called "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." 3 It was written by Robert May, an advertising executive in the store. In 1949, western singer Gene Autrey did a musical rendition of the poem and it became an overnight best-seller.

Christians today tend to fight the ongoing secularization of their holidays. Some have rejected anything to do with them, saying they are not Biblically ordained. Others have tried to go back to keeping the Jewish feasts instead. It should be pointed out that the New Testament doesn't really ordain anything other than the Lord's Supper. But it does not prohibit it either, and under grace Christians are free to honor different days if they wish.

Those families who want to keep Christ as the center of Christmas may find it easier to do by understanding the various symbols that have been used to celebrate Christ's birth through the ages and using them to retain the uniqueness inherent in the mystery of the incarnation: the birth of the Son of God.
* * *

This article was originally published in the December 2000 Personal Update NewsJournal.For a FREE 1-Year Subscription, click here.

Who Were The Magi?

by Chuck Missler

Each year, as we approach the holiday season, our preparations for Christmas include revisiting the events surrounding the birth of Our Lord. Bethlehem,1 the shepherds, and the angels are familiar to us all. But not much is generally known about the mysterious "Magi" who came to worship the infant Jesus. The following background may be helpful to stimulate conversations around the fireplace as our thoughts turn to this incredible event from which we measure our very calendar.


Most of what we associate with the "Magi" is from early church traditions. Most have assumed there were three of them, since they brought three specific gifts (but the Biblical text doesn't number them). They are called "Magi" from the Latinized form of the Greek word magoi, transliterated from the Persian, for a select sect of priests. (Our word "magic" comes from the same root.)

As the years passed, the traditions became increasingly embellished. By the 3rd century they were viewed as kings. By the 6th century they had names: Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa. Some even associated them with Shem, Ham and Japheth-the three sons of Noah-and thus with Asia, Africa, and Europe. A 14th century Armenian tradition identifies them as Balthasar, King of Arabia; Melchior, King of Persia; and Gasper, King of India.

(Relics attributed to them emerged in the 4th century and were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the 5th century, and then to Cologne in 1162 where they remain enshrined.)
These are interesting traditions, but what do we really know about them?

The Priesthood of the Medes

The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia.2 (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster.3 That all came later.)

It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian empire and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods. 4

This article was originally published in the November 1999 Personal Update NewsJournal.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Somalia's Islamists - New Crisis Group report


Somalia's Islamists

The international community will only succeed in countering the threat of jihadi Islamism in Somalia if it addresses the real needs of the country: restoring peace and essential services, and helping Somalis establish a broadly inclusive government of national unity. Otherwise, international actors may continue to score victories in their battles against terrorism in the Horn while losing the wider war. Since the collapse of the government in 1991, there has been a rise in Islamist reformist movements, the majority of which are non-violent and opposed to ideological extremism. In fact, Islamist extremism has not become more widespread because of Somali resistance, not foreign counter terrorism efforts. International actors should therefore make clear that their counter terrorism efforts are aimed at a handful of criminals - many of them foreigners - not the Somali population at large.


Crisis Group reports and briefing papers are available on our website:


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

60 Things That Are Happening Right Now

I received this a few years ago when it was being circulated via email. I came across it tonight and it touched my heart again. I hope it brightens your day. -- plk

60 Things That Are Happening Right Now While You Are Reading This Page.

1. Somebody is very proud of you.
2. Somebody is thinking of you.
3. Somebody is caring about you.
4. Somebody misses you.
5. Somebody wants to talk to you.
6. Somebody wants to be with you.
7. Somebody hopes you aren't in trouble.
8. Somebody is thankful for the support you have provided.
9. Somebody wants to hold your hand.
10. Somebody hopes everything turns out all right.
11. Somebody wants you to be happy.
12. Somebody wants you to find him/her.
13. Somebody is celebrating your successes.
14. Somebody wants to give you a gift.
15. Somebody thinks that you ARE a gift.
16. Somebody hopes you're not too cold, or too hot.
17. Somebody wants to hug you.
18. Somebody loves you.
19. Somebody admires your strength.
20. Somebody is thinking of you and smiling.
21. Somebody wants to be your shoulder to cry on.
22. Somebody wants to go out with you and have a lot of fun.
23. Somebody thinks the world of you.
24. Somebody wants to protect you.
25. Somebody would do anything for you.
26. Somebody wants to be forgiven.
27. Somebody is grateful for your forgiveness.
28. Somebody wants to laugh with you.
29. Somebody remembers you and wishes that you were there.
30. Somebody is praising God for you.
31. Somebody needs to know that your love is unconditional.
32. Somebody values your advice.
33. Somebody wants to tell you how much they care.
34. Somebody wants to share their dreams with you.
35. Somebody wants to hold you in their arms.
36. Somebody wants YOU to hold them in your arms.
37. Somebody treasures your spirit.
38. Somebody wishes they could STOP time because of you.
39. Somebody praises God for your friendship and love.
40. Somebody can't wait to see you.
41. Somebody loves you for who you are.
42. Somebody loves the way you make them feel.
43. Somebody wants to be with you.
44. Somebody wants you to know they are there for you.
45. Somebody is glad that you're his/her friend.
46. Somebody wants to be your friend.
47. Somebody stayed up all night thinking about you.
48. Somebody is alive because of you.
49. Somebody is wishing that you noticed him/her.
50. Somebody wants to get to know you better.
51. Somebody wants to be near you.
52. Somebody misses your advice/guidance.
53. Somebody has faith in you.
54. Somebody trusts you.
55. Somebody needs your support.
56. Somebody needs you to have faith in them.
57. Somebody will cry when they read this.
58. Somebody needs you to let them be your friend.
59. Somebody hears a song that reminds them of you.
60. Somebody needs you to send this to them.

-- Author Unknown

Quote of the Day

"Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest." -- Mark Twain

Thought For The Day

The Secret of Giving
(by rick bowles, sunny russ)

In this life we all go through hard times
When we struggle and pray for a lifeline
Just needing someone
To show us the way

To you the glass might seem half empty
But it's half full to those without any
So hold on to hope
And try to have faith
Oh, you've got to have faith

If there's just one secret to living
Whoever you are
It's learning the meaning of giving
With an open heart/with an open heart

If you offer the best part of yourself
Even when you don't have anything else
Honest and true
It'll come back to you
Love comes back to you

Repeat chorus

With your arms wide open
The world opens wide
And you'll believe it deep inside

That there's just one secret to living
Whoever you are
It's finding that true joy in giving
With an open heart/with an open heart

( recorded by Reba McEntire)

Friday, December 9, 2005

Thought For The Day

"The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It's as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer." -- Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari Computer

provided by Staci Stallings' My Daily Insights

Thursday, December 8, 2005

5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Debt

DEBTSMART®: 5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Debt
by Scott Bilker

Scott Bilker is the founder of and the author of Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt, Credit Card and Debt Management, and How to be more Credit Card and Debt Smart. Send your questions about money, credit, loans, mortgages, or debt, to him at: Scott Bilker, PO Box 563, Barnegat, NJ 08005-0563 or online at:

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas people are going to spend $121.4 billion using their credit cards!

The key is not to let this debt stick. Don't allow yourself to get buried by that debt or spend the next year paying off the purchases from this holiday season.

How are you going to pay for the gifts?

Credit cards of course! I'm sure many people are going to criticize me for even suggesting such an idea.

I can hear it now, "Scott, are you crazy? Don't use your credit cards, USE CASH! I thought you were the anti-credit-card guy?"

I'm not the "anti-credit-card guy," I'm the DebtSmart® guy. It's not the credit spending that's going to put you into debt. It's the "spending" itself.

If you're going to spend $1,000, then it doesn't matter what you actually use to pay that $1,000. You can use cash, credit, or gold bullion. Once it's spent, it's gone!

The key is to be smart about how you pay, and using your credit cards is very smart. There are many good reasons to use your credit card for shopping. Here are a few:

  • Interest-free grace period

  • Purchase protection (ability to do chargebacks)

  • Building credit worthiness

  • Automatic extended warranties (on some cards)

  • If your cash is stolen, it's gone! If your credit card is stolen, and you report it right away, you don't lose any money (or at least a limited amount).

  • You may be able to get additional discounts.

  • Rewards such as rebates and other perks.

What keeps you out of trouble is that you stick to a plan. If, for example, you plan to spend $100 on a television and end up spending $200 only because you can use a credit card--you'll be heading for trouble.

Over the years I've been following a few easy steps that have helped me enjoy the holiday season without having to worry about its cost. It's my hope these suggestions can also help save you money as well.

1) Decide how much you can afford to spend.

This is clearly the most important step. Before heading to the store, you must know the total amount you can afford to spend. The total spending for all gifts.

The average amount people spend is around $1,000. That also falls right in line with the response from DebtSmart readers who participated in our survey on 10/24/01.

It's not the amount you spend that counts. It's just important to know your holiday spending limit.

When thinking about your limit, keep in mind how much you would pay if you were going to use cash. In other words, how much money can you have available to pay for this holiday's spending when the bill arrives in January?

2) Make list and stick to it.

Now that you have a dollar limit in mind, you can start to make your list. Larissa and I have been using an Excel spreadsheet to help with our list.

I created a shareware version of this spreadsheet for your use. You can get it by clicking here.

Feel free to distribute the spreadsheet to your friends and family to help them plan a holiday budget.

The spreadsheet lists everyone on our gift list. It shows the person, gift, and cost. The "Star" column indicates if the person still needs a gift. If there is a star by their name, then their gift has been purchased. Once you enter a number in the cost column, the star disappears.

Enter everyone into the worksheet. If you don't have Excel, simply create a list by hand, and estimate how much you want to spend for each person by entering a dollar figure in the "Estimate" column.

After you're done with these estimates, check the estimate total. That total should not exceed your original holiday spending limit. If it does, you'll need to go back and make some adjustments. Refer to your detailed estimate list while shopping, stick to the numbers, and you'll be sure not to go over your original holiday-spending limit.

Revise the list yearly and make a printout. Carry that printout around starting in September just in case you find something on sale that will make a great holiday gift.

3) Contact your creditors for better deals.

This is the best time of the year to make your credit card banks beg for your business! Many people feel at the mercy of their banks, but that's not the case. The banks are at our mercy.

Give each bank a call and let them know that they're going to have to give you a deal or you won't use their card this year. Tell them you want 0% for 6 months on purchases or else you'll use another card that will give you that deal. See what happens; you have nothing to lose and you know the rest of this beaten cliché.

I find that 50% of the time, I'm able to strike a deal with one of my credit card banks. If they don't, then I simply use another card!

Give them a call right now!

4) Take advantage of department store card incentives and then transfer the balances.

Again, I hear people saying I'm crazy for using a high-rate department store card! And again, I say that you just need to be smart about doing it.

Every year I get offers from many department stores for discounts if I use their card--discounts that are 10%, 15%, or more!

I do use these discounts. However, I make sure I transfer my balance from the high-rate department store card to a lower-rate credit card before any interest is charged. This way I can take advantage of the discounts plus get low-cost financing.

5) Pay off the card in full when the bill arrives (if possible).

Ideally, you should pay off all credit card charges, in full, when the bills arrive. If you stick to your plan, then you'd have spent within the holiday-spending limit.

This limit should be based on how much money you'll have when the bills arrive. So, in theory, it will be easy to pay everything off right away. Of course, this doesn't always happen, for many reasons.

That's why it's important to use a credit card that's going to give you a few months with no interest on purchases. This way, if something does delay your ability to pay in full right away, you can have a little time, at no additional cost, to pay off those charges.

Is it worth all the work?

Yes, indeed! Say you spend 3 hours of your time juggling all the transactions, doing the balance transfers, and calling your banks. Most likely you're going to save at least $60 by being DebtSmart. So that's $20 per hour!

Is it worth $20 per hour?

I think so.

Monday, December 5, 2005

What would your parents say?

What would your parents say to you if they were paying for your education and you brought home this report card?

Final Report on 9/11 Commission Recommendations ♦ December 5, 2005


Task ------------------------------------------------------- Grade
Radio spectrum for first responders --------------------- F/C*
Incident Command System -------------------------------- C
Risk-based homeland security funds -------------------- F/A*
Critical infrastructure assessment ----------------------- D
Private sector preparedness ------------------------------ C
National Strategy for Transportation Security ----------- C
Airline passenger pre-screening -------------------------- F
Airline passenger explosive screening ------------------- C
Checked bag and cargo screening ------------------------ D
Terrorist travel strategy ----------------------------------- I
Comprehensive screening system ------------------------ C
Biometric entry-exit screening system ------------------ B
International collaboration on borders and document

security ---------------------------------------------------- D
Standardize secure identifications ----------------------- B

So why not write a letter to your Senators and Congressman and let them know what you think of their performance?

View the entire report at: