Who is your hero?

Who is your hero?
I have a hero;
Jesus is my hero;
My only hero;
No other do I have;
He worked selflessly
For me and you;
While here below,
He defended;
He protected;
He provided for me:
And continues to do so;
No other do I so admire,
As I admire this son
Of the Almighty GOD;
The king of kings;
The king of the universe;
The universal king;
The second in the trinity;
One with the Father;
And the Holy Spirit;
Who forever lives
And reigns, Amen!

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Remembering Pearl Harbor and Raising The “Greatest Generation” [Video]

Pearl Harbor, Greatest Generation

December 7, 2019, was the 78th anniversary of the attack by Imperial Japan on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In 1941, it was a typical early Sunday morning an entire lifetime ago.

Families were getting ready to head to worship services all over the Hawaiian islands. Others were enjoying the blessing of another day of beautiful weather in Hawaii. That included the Naval personnel not on duty at Pearl Harbor.

It began like any typical Sunday, with no one believing that only a few hours later, 2,400 of them would be dead. That only a few hours after sunrise on December 7, 1941, the world would change forever, putting a terrible lie to the phrase, a ‘typical’ Sunday.

The Children of the Great Depression Go to War

The Greatest GenerationThe Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was one that America didn’t see coming and we weren’t adequately prepared for it at the time. The nation was shocked and sorrowful and roused to righteous anger as America plunged into World War II.

The young Americans who fought and died in that war have been called the “greatest generation.” However, before they were the “greatest generation,” they were children in the Great Depression, which the country was still mired in more than a decade after it began when Japanese bombers and fighters ravaged the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.

It is no overstatement to say that these young warriors from America literally saved the world those many decades ago. Yet, many of World War II’s first American victims at Pearl Harbor lived their formative years steeped in poverty and desperation.

What made these children into men and women strong and courageous enough to overcome the fearsome enemies that threatened the freedom of the entire globe? There are many factors that affect the formation of any person, but arguably the most important of these is the family environment.

Therefore, a key to understanding the “greatest generation” is to understand something of what their families were like when they were children. What was family life like in America during the Great Depression and how did that shape those who would later be thrown into the greatest and most devastating war in history?

Family Life in the Great Depression

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A rare color photo of a Depression-era family

The family unit was strained and though divorce rates plummeted during the Depression, more men, in particular, were abandoning families than in the past. Yet, compared to such statistics today, the family was a far more stable unit during the 1930s.

Of course, survival in such tough times had a significant impact upon keeping many families together, as one would expect. Family life necessarily varied depending upon what part of the country a family occupied.

In both rural and urban areas, the hardships forced families and communities to become innovators at being co-operatively frugal. One such example was the creation of community “thrift gardens” in many urban areas which helped serve the needs of multitudes of people.

Many families strived for self-sufficiency by keeping small kitchen gardens with vegetables and herbs. Some towns and cities allowed for the conversion of vacant lots to community “thrift gardens” where residents could grow food. Between 1931 and 1932, Detroit’s thrift garden program provided food for about 20,000 people. Experienced gardeners could be seen helping former office workers—still dressed in white button-down shirts and slacks—to cultivate their plots.

Many rural families had to contend with the father leaving for extended periods to find work. Other families moved to the cities in search of better fortunes and small towns got smaller and the residents more tightly-knit together for mutual survival.

However, none of these facts and statistics can adequately tell the story of how the “greatest generation” was raised. It is the family stories alone that can provide better insight into what it was like to be a child in a Depression-era family.

“The Walton’s”, a True-to-life Family Story Amidst the Depression

December 19, 1971, a new Christmas movie entitled “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” aired on television and the world was introduced to the “Walton” family. The movie was characterized as the “pilot” episode of a new TV series which began a nine-year run with weekly episodes from 1972-1981.

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The original family house of Earl Hamner Jr., creator of “The Waltons”

The series was a fictionalized account based on the real-life of its creator, Earl Hamner Jr., who also narrated each episode. It became enormously popular especially in America and allowed viewers a glimpse into the life of a rural family through the Great Depression and World War II.

The role of John Walton Jr., aka “John-boy”, played by Richard Thomas, was modeled after Hamner himself, and the series revolved around his life in rural Virginia during the 1930s and 40s. This remarkable program showed many millions a family unlike the ‘modern’ family of the 70s and 80s, and totally alien to what are called “families” today.

For instance, three generations of Waltons lived under the same roof of a two-story country home in Virginia. Grandparents, parents, and children, 12 people in all, lived in the Walton/Hamner home.

Family life under the best of circumstances was a constant battle with soul-crushing poverty, and viewers of “The Waltons” observed the manifestation of an adopted motto from the Depression,

 “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.”

One of the most profound parts of the Hamner’s personal, and the fictional “Waltons” family was the place of faith in the household. In this short video clip, that is reflected via a conversation between ‘John-boy’ and ‘Grandpa’ Walton about God at a moment of decision for the Walton family’s eldest child.

Were ‘The Waltons’ a perfect family? Far from it. Their weaknesses and setbacks were displayed many times during the series.

However, the portrait of a family such as the Waltons reveals that before the “greatest generation” went to war, they were molded in the toughest of times with fierce family loyalty and respect for God, country, and family values.

Life is far different nowadays, and of course, there is no going back in time no matter how much we may long to do so. What can be done is to bring the unchanging truths from the past into our individual lives and families first.

Relearn the truth that faith and patriotism must go hand-in-hand at the basic level of the family. This can be promoted even today if we start with one person, one family, and one community at a time.

Will there be loud opposition to those attempting to live with respect for God and dedication to a renewal of family values in the land? You can count on it.

But will it be any worse than the struggles of the Depression-era family in America? I think not, and moreover, whatever obstacles are placed before us should first drive us to our knees calling upon the God of the universe for strength and wisdom.

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! Psalm 105:4 [ESV]

D.T. Osborn

Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001

Featured and Top Image courtesy of Daly Sorvongsavanh’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Robert Huffstutter’s  Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Evan Bench’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of Kipp Teague’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

All other sources linked or cited in the text

Originally published in TIL Journal

How Wise Were They?

The most beautiful story in history is the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Christmas. Joseph and Mary, along with a string of other characters, remind us of how holy His birth was to all Christians. But through centuries of translations, this special event has become inundated with a lack of facts and/or misinterpretations. Let’s revisit a section of the nativity’s chain of events – that which involves the three wise men. I think it will surprise you to learn a few details never explicitly revealed in the Bible. For this blog, I will refer to the nativity story as written in the Book of Matthew 2:1-12.


Who Were the Three Wise Men?

Matthew tells us they came from “east of Jerusalem.” If we examine the historical facts, east of Jerusalem was the Parthian Empire (also known as Persia), which is today’s ancient Iran. They rivaled Rome during the time of King Herod’s reign and occupied much of Palestine.

Image of Persian Empire courtesy of Wikipedia

When the Medes (ancient Iranians) and Persians conquered Babylon, the Persians formed a priesthood of wise men known as magicians or magi. This appears to be the point of origin for the wise men, who held dual priestly and governmental authority. They were called the magi of the Parthian Empire but were NOT considered kings. (So, how did we invent the Christmas song, We Three Kings??) They were perhaps advisers to the kings.

Most residents of the empire practiced the Zoroastrianism religion, now considered being the oldest practice in the world. They believe in one universal, supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, or the “Wise Lord.” Despite their religion, they understood a new Savior would be born through the prophet Daniel’s prophecy. (Daniel 9:24-27)


Names of the Three Wise Men

Following the format of most stories in the Bible, the three wise men were never named, and only legend and many interpretations assigned the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The Catholics kept the names and honored them as kings and saints, but their real names were never revealed in scriptures.

The three wise men, today, are called “Magi,” “the Three Wise Men,” and “three kings.” We’ve already confirmed they were not kings. “Wise men” translated is “magos,” which means an Oriental scientist, magician, sorcerer, or wise men. They interpreted dreams, were fortunetellers and royal astronomers. The gospel writer, Matthew, referred to them as ma’goi, or magi.


How Did the Wise Men Become Involved in the Birth of Jesus?

Many territories around Bethlehem had close links with King Herod, including the Parthian Kingdom. They knew Herod as a treacherous king who committed many murders, including his wife, her brother, and father, many friends, and military leaders. He didn’t trust anyone.

Image of King Herod courtesy of Wikipedia

The day arrived when the wise men appeared in Jerusalem, and they began asking questions around town. They wanted to know where they could find the new King of the Jews. A major stir developed because people believed their earthly king was Herod.

When Herod learned of the chatter, he became furious because he was the only king of the land. He approached Jewish religious leaders who told Herod what was written in God’s word. They told him the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

Furious at the news, Herod secretly called a meeting with the wise men. They told King Herod they witnessed a star which they believed to be the prophecy of the Jewish King. (Many Christians conclude the wise men followed the star, but the Book of Matthew only says they SAW a star).

King Herod, the conniving leader he was, acted thrilled about the magi’s news, but he was seething inside. He sent them to Bethlehem to find the Messiah.

“Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:8


The Magi’s Journey

The Gospel of Matthew does not place the wise men at the birth of Jesus. It is written they arrived at a house with a young Jesus, by His mother’s side. It’s estimated He was about forty days old to two years of age, but not in a manger. They dropped to their knees and gave praise to the new Savior.

Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

The evening of the magi’s visit, David, the archangel, paid a visit to the wise men. He warned them not to return to Herod, and he also told Joseph that night to pack up his family and move to Egypt for safety.

The wise men “departed into their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12) Realizing he was snubbed by the magi, King Herod madly ordered the death of every boy between the ages of birth and two years old. He thought he would find the Messiah, but not before his death.


How Wise Were They?

I believe they were quite wise men! The word wise means having good judgment. They studied the word of God and obeyed His commands, even though they were of another religion.

Are the three wise men fact or legend? We can decipher the answer by reviewing the written facts above, but there is one profound message in their story… wise people acknowledge their need for a Savior.


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Before There Was Santa

The excitement of Christmas is right around the corner. Shoppers fill the malls while jolly men dressed in red suits with a white beard chuckle, “Ho Ho Ho,” to the smiling children. Oh, there’s nothing better than good cheer this time of the year!

Santa Claus, a commercialized entity in the United States, was a mere Coca-Cola sketch in 1931, which grew into a life of its own. But, before there was Santa, the true patron saint of children, St. Nicholas, filled the shoes (quite literally). Yes, this is the true story that links the roots of Santa Claus and a man named Nicholas.

Nicholas was born about 280 A.D. in the village of Patara on the southwest coast of Turkey. A devout Christian, he was left with a large inheritance when his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. He gave all of his money to the needy, sick, and those in distress. A servant of God, they blessed him with the title of Bishop Nicholas at a young age. His heart, though, remained with children.

One would not think such an honorable man (and the first Santa) could be a victim of Christian persecution, but this event tells us otherwise. In 325 A.D., Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea meeting, and the fundamentals of Christian faith was the topic of discussion. He challenged a lecturer, named Arius, on the beliefs of Orthodox Christianity. An argument ensued, and Nicholas slapped Arius in front of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Council put Nicholas in chains, stripped him of his leadership position, and jailed him for assault.

Nicholas prayed for forgiveness and humility. He hoped God would forgive him. A recall of the story claims the Lord visited him in prison one night, removed his chains, and returned his garments. The next morning, prison guards discovered him praying and dressed in his bishop attire. The Emperor received word of the mysterious event and ordered Nicholas to be released – it was divine intervention. Nicholas rejoined the Council of Nicea and helped to create the Orthodox Christian religion as we know it today.

Many stories are told of Nicholas’ good deeds through the centuries, and they portray him as a gift-giver. But how did he receive this name? The following incident forever links him to Christmas stockings…

A poor man had three daughters whom he wanted to marry off to prospective husbands. In those days, however, a woman’s father offered a dowry for marriage. The larger the payment, the better the chance of finding a husband. Having no money, he knew his daughters would soon be sold into slavery.

Nicholas learned of the family’s harrowing story. On three different occasions, bags of gold balls were tossed through an open window of the poor man’s house, and they landed inside the stockings and shoes, drying near a fire. Today, three gold balls are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. Do you recognize the connection to Christmas stockings?

You may also ask how St. Nicholas was linked to Christmas, so I will tell you. After his death in 343 A.D., many miracles involving children occurred, and they were all contributed to St. Nicholas. Small gifts and candy silently appeared for poor children on the holiday celebration, Feast of St. Nicholas, which is celebrated on December 5 and/or 6. Are the stories true? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Most European countries still celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas today. It is a day about giving and recognizing those who contribute to society. Good children receive treats or small gifts in their shoes. The Europeans teach us that to celebrate Christmas, large amounts of gifts unnecessary – keep it simple to retain the real reason for the season.

Over the centuries, St. Nicholas transformed into another similar figure called Santa Claus. Known as Sinterklaas in Holland, their customs entered the United States and the fat man in a red suit, was soon born. But, let us not forget the roots of St. Nicholas, who came before there was Santa. Compassion, charity, and giving the greatest gift of all – himself – took center stage. This should be the image of Christmas!


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A pact with God

Do you know why
I am having
Too many victories?
Do you know why
I keep moving
From victory
To victory;
To you know why
It is like
I was born
Always to win?
Do you know the source
Of my spring of victories?
It is God;
My victories come
From God,
They don’t come
From me,
No matter how hard
I try.
God is the source
Of my strength;
My wisdom,
All that I need
To shine.
And because
I have tied with him,
Everything goes well
For me.
Seal a pact with God;
And respect the terms
Of the pact.
God will respect them too.

Who is coming?

Advent, waiting time;
Coming;
Getting ready for
The coming;
A time of joy;
A time of grace;
But who is coming?
Jesus of Nazareth;
Christ the king;
The king of glory;
And king of king;
Will soon be born;
And the world
Will celebrate.
Shall you be in the boat?
As for me,I will be.
That is why,
I join millions
Around the world,
To celebrate this waiting.
The Lord is coming.

I trust fully in you

My faith in you, O Lord,
Is the source of my strength;
I have full trust in your power;
I know there’s no power
Greater than yours;
I know you always stand
By those who depend on you;
I know that each time
That I run to you,
You are always there for me;
To protect me;
And every time I call on you,
You cater for my need.
That is why I am confident,
And bold;
And courageous;
I am sure of great things
In the years ahead;
If not the months or weeks
Or days ahead.
Thank you for granting me
The grace to trust
Fully in you.

Sing praise

I will sing praise
To no human like me;
To God alone,
I will sing praise;
I will adore Him;
I will sing praise
To his name;
I will worship him;
And give him all
The honour and glory;
All that I have,
Belongs to him;
It comes from him,
And will return to him;
My life, my time,
Everything I possess,
Belongs to him.
He is a mighty God.
To him alone
I will sing praise.
No praise will I sing
To any human.

Creating Creches

Last Christmas, my wife and I attended the largest private showing of manger scenes in the world. Made of every substance possible, I was in awe of their delicate beauty. I immediately knew we would have to collect nativity sets – I was hooked! The inspiring creches represented almost every country in the world, and every cost range too.

Nativities from all over the world – images owned by Bicks Books LLC

So, this year, as we began gathering topics for the Christmas blogs, I remembered the local church’s display of nativities. Detoured from my train of thought, I began searching the internet for sets made in Bethlehem. I couldn’t believe the splendor of these handmade creches of biblical olive trees. With my mind really ambling now, I wondered how long ago people made the sets, which signifies Jesus’ birth, thus today’s Christmas blog.

It surprised me to learn Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1223, created the first nativity scene in the town of Greccio, Italy.  He wanted to make an extraordinary experience for people who attended Mass at Christmas, and others who visited the area. But, his scene differed from those we purchase on the internet because he brought it to life!

Saint Francis of Assisi

Inspired by a recent trip to the Holy Land, he set up the Christmas scene in a cave just outside of town. It featured a wax figure of the baby Jesus, costumed people playing Mary and Joseph, a live donkey and ox, which a friend loaned St. Francis.

During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story, then delivered a sermon. Afterward, many people strolled to the cave to watch a live enactment of the sacred event. He told the story of Mary and Joseph with tears and piety, and people responded with joy. His first manger scene became so popular that others soon followed his lead.

With time nativity sets evolved into an artisan craft. Today, the oldest set remains in Italy. Constructed in 1289, out of marble, it is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. He was an Italian architect and sculptor whose most famous work was the bronze statue of St. Peter now placed at St. Peters Basilica.

Creche sets of the 1300s were made of marble, wood, or terracotta. They placed most of them in chapels and churches for year-round displays. The most famous of these was a set carved in wood, in 1330, for the Poor Clare Sisters at the Convent of Saint Clare in Naples, Italy.

As Christianity progressed, Martin Luther used these holy scenes to counteract the pagan beliefs of Christmas trees. The creches became front and center of holiday celebrations for Christians.

Today, the tiny town of Bethlehem, in Connecticut, boasts a restored 300-year-old handcrafted nativity scene displayed in a barn on the grounds of a monastery. Thousands of people stream through the doors to view one of the country’s most exquisite artworks, dubbed the Rembrandt of creches. A coronation gift to the King of Sardinia in 1720, this masterpiece sits in a 15 by 10-foot area. The sixty-eight terracotta figures adorn colorful silks with gold embroidery. The creche is a lasting impression, for all walks of life are represented throughout the artwork. This must go on my bucket list!

Image owned by Robert Fenton Houser

Creating creches, whether in a live show or by the loving hands of true workmanship, will always remain the resounding reason for the season. They are a simple reminder of the humble King who would grow up to sacrifice His life on a cross for sinners. Let us never forget the gift of Jesus coming to earth to offer salvation to all people.

Be blessed!

www.danabicksauthor.com