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What’s Your Birth Verse?

This is pretty neat. Punch in the month and date of your birthday and find out what your “birth verse” is:

My birth verse is Matthew 6:30:

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Ouch. My birth verse is a rebuke! From the Lord Himself!

I decided to look for a more upbeat verse, but I’m not having much luck. My birthdate is June 30. Here are a couple of other choices:

* Judges 6:30: “The men of the town demanded of Joash, ‘Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.'” No, that’s not lifting my spirits.

* Jeremiah 6:30: “They are called rejected silver, because the LORD has rejected them.” Oh boy, another zinger.

I guess I’m going to have to go with 2 Chronicles 6:30:

“Hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men).”

That’s from Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. It’s a powerful prayer. But I don’t understand Solomon’s plea. Yes, God knows my heart. He knows how worldly and foolish and selfish I am. Absolutely, I join Solomon in praying: “Forgive! Forgive!” However, I’m pretty sure I don’t want God to deal with me “according to all I have done.”

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Thanks to my old friend, oops, good friend Vieni Sisson King for pointing this out. What’s your birth verse?

Mall Fist Fight Prompts Outbreak of Christmas Spirit

I saw a mass outbreak of Christmas cheer during a fist fight at the mall cineplex on Christmas Day. Everyone in the concession stand line seemed to agree that what we witnessed was much more interesting than the movies we were there to see.

Christmas Day is the busiest day of the year at movie theaters. That no doubt riles the religious sensibilities of some. After all, the Bible certainly doesn’t say that the proper way to celebrate Christmas is with popcorn and soda at the movies. However, I confess that it has been our tradition for years to cap off our holiday observance with a family trip to the theater on Christmas evening.

We aren’t the only ones. I knew what to expect, so we arrived at the 24-screen Oklahoma City mall theater almost an hour before our movie was scheduled to start. Good thing we did. We stood in line for 20 minutes to buy our tickets. Then the rest of the family went to claim our seats, while I stood in line at the concession stand. That line was longer than the first; it took me about half an hour to get our popcorn and drinks.

So picture the scene. About 75 people forming several long lines at the concession stand. It is Christmas evening. People are exhausted from weeks of holiday activities. And they are growing impatient, as they are kept waiting in their second line of the evening.

I was standing about 20 people back in line, when a couple of women in their 20s walked up to the front to join a friend who had reached the front of the line. I thought, “Oh, great. If everyone in line is standing in for a group of friends, this is going to take forever.” Then I thought nothing more about it.

Less than a minute later, loud voices drew my attention back to the front of the line. A fellow close to the front, also in his 20s, and one of the young women who had cut into the line were standing face-to-face, about an arm’s length from each other, speaking in loud, angry tones. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it obviously had something to do with the young ladies’ poor manners. I heard the fellow shout, “Ask anybody else in this line if they don’t agree with me.”

Then, as the heated exchange continued, the irate young man reached out and batted the woman’s large-size Coca Cola out of her hand. That changed the situation completely. Some shoving and pushing ensued, but so far no blows had been thrown.

A man in the next line said loudly, “It’s Christmas, folks!” Whatever he thought that might accomplish, it did not have the desired effect. He repeated it again. “It’s Christmas, folks!” Again, the concession-stand scufflers paid him no mind. Then the man with glad tidings broke out into the first verse of “Silent Night” at the top of his lungs.

Amazingly — yes, this really happened — just about everyone else standing in line immediately chimed in. Several dozen people, all singing “Silent Night” more loudly than they had ever sung it at church, singing it with a certain pointed emphasis with which “Silent Night” has probably never been sung before. As we sang, the carolers all watched to see if our group sing of an old Christmas hymn would have any effect on the fracas.

“Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

“Silent Night” turned out to be an excellent choice for crowd control. Its mention of “calm” and “peace,” not to mention Jesus and Mary, were just right. It was a much better choice than “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (after the first line, most people would have stumbled on the words) or “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (no religious content to cause the desired shame) or “Deck The Halls” (which might have incited them further). I would be very interested to see how the same scene would have played out if the fellow had launched into, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

But “Silent Night” seemed to be doing the trick. In response to a large crowd of fellow citizens communicating in unison that for them to keep fighting was an egregious affront to Christmas and everything holy, the fighters lowered their voices and backed off from each other a bit.

However, the Christmas spirit which had enveloped us was disrupted suddenly, when a large man can bounding out of nowhere to the front of the line. My impression was that he was a friend of the women. I guessed that someone had gone to fetch him, probably about the time that that large-size Coke was slapped out of the girl’s hand. I guessed that this fellow had been pulled out of a theater and was not feeling the afterglow of the crowd’s rendition of “Silent Night.” It all happened very fast. Suddenly the fuss was transformed into a full-fledged fist fight.

Then another large man trotted up from another direction. He grabbed the first man and hauled him a few yards away, which resulted in them standing about 6 feet from where I stood. That put me in an awkward situation. If they starting throwing punches, one of them was quite likely to come toppling into me. But I had been standing in that line for a long time, and I sure didn’t want to give up my place. It was an easy choice. I stood my ground.

I heard the second large man tell the first, who was taking a swing at him, “I’m a cop. I’m a cop. You better cooperate.” I would love to know if that guy really was a cop or not. He was wearing a green army coat. He never flashed a badge. Maybe he was an off-duty cop. Maybe he was a security guard. Maybe he watches a lot of TV. But it worked. The first guy stopped fighting and the undercover cop escorted him to some other part of the theater. By then, a uniformed security guard showed up and took the rest of the brawlers away.

The question I always ask when I get into line at the grocery store or a concession stand is whether I chose the fastest line. As I wait, I measure the progress of the other lines to see if I made the right choice. Fortunately, during the entire fracas, the clerks behind the counter had continued to serve customers. With a few people yanked out of our line by security personnel, it turned out I had chosen the right line after all. Yes!

What is the moral of this little Christmas tale? I haven’t figured that out yet. Perhaps it is a testimony to the power of — what? Christmas? Music? The Oklahoma spirit? The ability of one man to make a difference? It would not be too hard for a clever sermon-writer to develop the theme of the life-changing power of love over brute force, of grace over the law. But it would probably be more intellectually honest to see this as a demonstration of the tremendous power of peer pressure. Apparently angry people will back down when several dozen of their peers clearly communicate that their behavior is unacceptable.

I do know that I may never be able to sing “Silent Night” again without thinking of a fist fight at the movie theater on Christmas Day. Oh well, I can live without “Silent Night.” I’m thankful the glad tidings guy didn’t choose my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I’d hate for that Christmas classic to be ruined for me.

The Christmas Envelope

This story, by Nancy W. Gavin, was originally published on Dec. 14, 1982, in Women’s Day magazine, with the title, “For the Man Who Hated Christmas.” It is a true story.

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It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas — oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it — overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma — the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing that he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly. “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”

Mike loved kids — all kids — and he knew them, having coached youth league football, baseball, and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.

On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year, and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition — one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, their toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there.

You see, we lost Mike last year to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown, and someday will expand even further, with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation, watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us. May we all remember the true reason for the season, this year and always.

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Nancy Gavin, the author of the above story, died less than two years after her husband, Mike. Nancy also died of cancer.

Another family, the Lawders, heard the Gavins’ envelope story and made it one of their own family traditions. In 2006, the Lawders established a non-profit, The White Envelope Project ( to promote the spirit of giving.

Beginning of the End of Tax-Exempt Ministry?

The letters sent to at least five televangelists by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa-R), ranking member and former chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, were pretty strong medicine from, as his website claims, a Republican farmer and “Baptist Church” member (the exact denominational affiliation is not stated). Sen. Grassley, though he claims to be a consumer advocate, is more of a business advocate. He “reformed” bankruptcy, i.e., made it more difficult for those crushed by debt, regardless of fault, to get a fresh start, and he “reformed” class action lawsuits so that corporate America might litigate less about its accounting practices and its claims about its financial performance in order to influence investors. In both cases, Sen. Grassley thought federal judges, state judges and jurors were not capable of managing and balancing these types of matters.

While I’m certainly not a fan of many televangelists, and while I’m in favor of transparency in charitable and tax-exempt organization accounting, I am concerned about how far this will go. While I am not an adherent of Word of Faith doctrine, as are the ministers and ministries targeted by Grassley, and while I certainly agree that any ministry that misuses donated money should face consequences, I am hesitant to agree that the federal government should be the policing agency.

Our protections under the 1st Amendment seem to be dwindling. The separation of church and state seems headed toward oppression of religious organizations and people by government’s attempt to remain separate. Then, abruptly, the government crosses the chasm of separateness and bludgeons some ministries.

The letters to Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and “Pastor Benedictus Hinn” by Grassley demanding voluntary disclosures of numerous financial facts should be the templates used by the Christian media to demand that same information. But, in his role as a U.S. senator, Senator Grassley is crossing the chasm of separateness in an aggressive and provocative manner.

Admittedly, he feels he has to protect the donors who are trusting those ministries. Admittedly, use of the enormous power of the U.S. Senate, including its subpoena power, to gather this information from understandably reluctant persons, may be the only way the information will be obtained. Admittedly, he wants to prevent tax-exempt status from being used to shield what is really being stolen, or used as undeclared income. Nevertheless, these very important goals are insignificant compared to the importance of separation of church and state.

Christian news media should be doing this job. It should have been done a long time ago, and it should be a mainstay of Christian news media to test the transparency of Christian charities and ministries. If donors have been abused, once alerted by the Christian news media, they can stop giving. Donors may even demand an accounting in class action lawsuits. If these televangelists are treating donations as income without paying income taxes, then the government has a legitimate reason to audit them, like any other taxpayer, and demand the money. In the final analysis, after the Christian news media has done its job, if donors want to continue to support these ministries, if they really are ministries and not scams, the separation of church and state should make that a private matter.

I wonder, too, if Sen. Grassley has not started a ball rolling. The Christian “right” seems so fragmented that it will be largely ineffectual in influencing next year’s elections. Indeed, as a result, won’t the Christian right retreat from government to avoid, if not Sen. Grassley, then governmental audits and restrictions potentially arising from his inquiries? Will that cascade into a deepening swell of support for the seemingly inevitable Clinton Administration? Wouldn’t the next Clinton Administration institutionalize Grassley’s senatorial “audit” of religious organizations to further drive them underground and further reduce their influence? Would the eventual trend be that tax-exempt status would be ultimately unavailable to churches and ministries?