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In October of 1983, I was just starting my sophomore year in high school and Huey Lewis had just released his Sports album. Heart and Soul, The Heart of Rock & Roll, If This Is It, and I Want a New Drug were all hits. At that time, I was more of a metal head, so I missed these songs the first time around. In fact, I didn’t even realize I liked Huey Lewis until many years later. But how can you not like a song with lyrics like this:

I want a new drug ...One that won't make me nervousWondering what to doOne that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with youWhen I'm alone with you

You know what he’s talking about. A lot of folks associate this with romance and infatuation. But those who’ve experienced true, deep, abiding love that spans decades know something that romance can’t even come close to touching: this “feeling” is unstoppable. In the words of Westley from The Princess Bride: “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”

In a 2000 LA Times article, Kathleen Kelleher wrote the following:

Call it a natural high, but like drugs, the feeling can become addictive. [When in love], the brain is awash in drug-like chemicals. Michael Liebowitz, a psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, theorizes that there is a substance in the brain called phenylethylamine, or PEA, which quickens the flow of information between nerve cells. PEA is the body's natural speed: It jolts lovers' brains with feelings of euphoria, elation and exhilaration.

Of course, Huey Lewis didn’t invent this idea. It’s been around a while. Consider Proverbs 5:

My child, be attentive to my wisdom, pay close attention to my understanding.Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well.May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife you married in your youth – a loving doe, a graceful deer … may you be captivated by her love always.

That word “captivated” is a Hebrew verb (shagah) which means “to swerve; to meander; to reel” as in drunkenness. In other words, Solomon is calling on his son to be always intoxicated with his wife’s love.

This year, Phyllis and I celebrate 21 years of marriage. They say the legal drinking age in the US is 21, but I can tell you for certain that I’ve been drunk on her love now for over two decades. I suppose now it’s legal. And I’m looking forward to drinking deeply for many more decades to come.
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Good Friday Meditation: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Hands down, my all-time favorite "easter" song is O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. The original poem is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), but in recent years has been attributed to the Medieval poet Arnulf of Louvain (died 1250).

The first time I heard the song was on the 2000 4Him release Hymns: A Place for Worship. Listen to the 4-Him version here:
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded by 4Him on Grooveshark

The music and lyrics both are hauntingly powerful. Let them burrow deep into your soul....

O sacred Head, now wounded
With grief and shame weighed down
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown
How art Thou pale with anguish
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
Which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, has suffered
Was all for sinners' gain
Mine was the transgression
But Thine the deadly pain
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
'Tis I deserve Thy place
Look on me with Thy favor
Vouch safe to me Thy grace

Sacred Head now wounded
Sacred Head with shame weighed down

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend
For this Thy dying sorrow
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever!
And should I fainting be
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee!

Sacred Head now wounded
Sacred Head with shame weighed down
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The Story of the Christmas Tree, Act 3

In Act 1, we learned how the little fir tree became important to Christians. Boniface used the tree as an object lesson to teach about God! Then in Act 2 we learned about the Paradise Tree and its use in teaching about Creation and the Fall. But it would be another 350 years before the final act would take place.

In 1512, a brilliant young theologian named Martin Luther was brought on to teach at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. But Luther was much more than a theology professor. Luther was a passionate student of God’s Word. So passionate, in fact, that it got him in quite a bit of trouble over his lifetime. On October 31, 1517, Luther wrote a letter to bishop Albert of Mainz. In it, he included a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. Luther’s studied objections to “indulgences” and other church practices eventually led to his excommunication by the religious leaders of his time earned him the title of outlaw by the Emperor. In fact, it was made a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. Nevertheless, Luther refused to back down, stating publicly, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.”

In 1525, Luther married former nun Katharina von Bora. Because of Luther’s status, money was often short, but the marriage was strong. The two had six children, and by the time his first child was born in 1526, Luther had already shifted his focus to the organization of a new congregation of believers based on his beliefs.

As the story goes, one wintery night, Martin Luther was returning home to his family. It was dark and cold, but the sky was filled with millions of stars. The trees, mostly tall evergreens, were covered with frost. Legend has it that Luther was meditating on God’s word, preparing a sermon for his people. When Luther saw the stars twinkling in the sky through the icy green pines, it reminded him that Jesus was the light of the world. Luther was deeply moved by the beauty of this natural wonder and the spiritual truth it brought to mind. When he arrived home, he was eager to recount his experience to his family. To help them understand, he gathered some candles and hung them on a little fir tree to represent the twinkling lights he had seen on his walk home. The tradition of lighting the tree with candles had officially begun. Eventually, a “tree skirt” was placed underneath to catch the melting wax from the candles.

Perhaps that walk was the seed for Luther’s thoughts when he would later quote and then comment on Isaiah 60:1 in one of his Christmas sermons: "’Arise, shine ; for thy light is come.’ Undoubtedly, Christ is the light of which Isaiah here speaks, and which, through the Gospel, shines in all the world, enlightening those who rise — who desire him.”

And so, from a tiny fir springing out of the stump of a mighty oak, to a tree decorated for a play, to a legendary walk by Martin Luther, the story of the Christmas tree is born.

But to be fair, the value of the fir tree goes back even further than any of these stories. The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Creator himself, would speak these words more than two thousand years before Boniface or Luther:

“Evergreens will grow in place of thorn bushes, firs will grow in place of nettles; they will be a monument to the Lord, a permanent reminder that will remain” (Isaiah 55:13).

As you gaze at your Christmas tree this week, may it remind you of His Story as recorded in the Bible. He is the creator. He is eternal. He is three in one. And even though Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, He sent the Light, Jesus Christ, to save us.

Thank you, Lord, for the Christmas tree that keeps telling that story year after year. Amen.
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The Story of the Christmas Tree, Act 2

In Act 1, we learned how the little fir tree initially became important to Christians. Boniface used the tree as an object lesson to teach about God the eternal, creator of all things—Father, Spirit, and Son!

As the years went by, churches all over heard about what happened and they too wanted to use the tree to help others learn about God. This eventually led to something called a Paradise Tree.

From the eleventh Century, (during the middle ages), the church celebrated Adam and Eve day on December 24th. As part of that celebration, they used religious plays called “Mystery Plays” to depict the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and banishment from Eden. It’s at this point that our story is more practical than spiritual/

If you were tasked with putting together a winter play or pageant about the Garden of Eden and wanted to fill your stage with beautiful trees in a winter, what sort of tree would you have to use? Exactly: An evergreen tree was the logical choice. And at least one tree in particular was decorated with apples symbolizing the forbidden fruit.

Apples on a fir tree. Seem familiar?

The play ended with the promise of the coming Savior and his incarnation, so gradually flat wafers symbolizing the forgiveness of sins in communion were added to the paradise tree, making it now not just the tree of knowledge but also the tree of life. This resulted in a very old European custom of decorating a fir tree in the home with apples and small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist at Christmas time. These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells.

So in Act 1, Boniface used the tree to teach about God. Then in Act 2, believers used the tree on December 24 to teach how Adam and Eve sinned and why we need Jesus. But there’s still one more very important part to our story, and this part wouldn’t happen for at least another 350 years!
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The Story of the Christmas Tree, Act 1

It’s difficult to imagine Christmas without decorated trees. But do they have any “redeeming” value for Christians? And how did the idea get started in the first place? I think the answer to the first question is a resounding YES! The answer to the second question is a bit longer. Believe it or not, the Christmas tree as we know it today actually took more than 700 years to make! For our family, the “evolution” of the Christmas tree makes the most sense when we think of it as happening in three main acts. I’ve written Act 1 in the form of a rhyme to make it easy for little ones to enjoy:

The Little Fir Tree

© 2012 by Eric Wilbanks, All Rights Reserved.*

There once was a giant oak
That ruled the western lands
It was said the oak was planted
By Thor’s mighty hand
The people there all worshipped
Beneath the ancient tree
Until a monk named Boniface
Refused to bow his knee
This man of faith told of a God
Who hears us when we pray
But the people there all feared Thor’s wrath
And turned their ears away
So Boniface removed his robe
As the people gathered round
And taking up a wooodsman’s axe
He chopped the great oak down
The hours turned to days
Yet Thor’s wrath never came
And one by one the people believed
In the power of Jesus’ name
The monk built a house of worship
From the wood of that great oak
And from that point on the people there
Listened when Boniface spoke
Now, it’s here our story really begins
This part you may have heard
Because Boniface was quite well-known
For his ability to explain God’s Word
As time went by something happened
Within the stump of that oak tree
A little fir sprang up—it’s true!
And its leaves were evergreen
The people marveled at this sight
And they wondered at its meaning
So Boniface used this miracle
To explain three special things
First he set the record straight
Twasn’t Thor who made those trees
Instead, ‘twas the God of the Bible
Whose Hand made all we see
Next he taught them what it means
That our God is always the same
Like the leaves on the evergreen tree
God is eternal and will never change
Finally he used the shape of the tree
To show our God is three yet one
Like the triangle of the little fir
He is Father, Spirit, and Son.
So, Boniface taught three things using the little fir tree as an object lesson. First, God is our creator—He made all trees! Second, God is eternal—He never changes! Third, God is three in one—Father, Spirit, and Son!

So, now we know why the little fir tree became important to Christians. But that still doesn’t explain how the fir tree became the Christmas tree, does it? To learn that, we’ll need to look at Act 2.

*If you are interested in sharing this poem, I’d be honored to have you do so. All I ask is that you attribute the poem to me with a link back to this website and blog post. Thanks!

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How to Select a Winner From Facebook Fans (Page Likes) In 3 Steps

I recently ran a contest for a client designed to quickly get "new Likes" for their Facebook Page. It was a giveaway, with a very desirable prize, so we exceeded our goal in less than 48 hours. Metrics have gone through the roof and even after announcing the winner we have continued to gain new Likes. Win/Win, right?

However, chances are, you are reading this because you have recently experienced the same nightmare I experienced: Facebook no longer permits you to see a list of those who have Liked your Page (Did they ever? Memory fails me...). And it appears that there are no apps or third-party software capable of breaking past that barrier either.

NOTE: If you have less than 250 fans, you *should* be able to see the complete list by using the "page id" of your Facebook Page, then type it into the location bar like so (minus the brackets):

So how can you choose a random person from all your fans if you can't put all their names in the drawing? Great question. Here's the MacGuyver-style duct-tape and chewing gum approach I used to find a truly random winner.

STEP ONE: Random Names

I used a random name generator to generate 20 different first names. This prevented any first-name bias on my part.

STEP TWO: Graph Search

I then used Facebook graph search to search for
“People named [Insert First Name Here] who like [Insert Your Page Name Here].”
In the example above, I searched for people named "eric" who like Facebook guru Mari Smith.
That's me at the top of the list.
I copied and pasted all the results into a document in order to generate a small, manageable list of randomly chosen fans. (Obviously, I had more info about the individuals in my list. The list below is for reference only):

1. Christopher M
2. Chris C
3. Christopher C
4. Chris P
5. Chris B
6. Nikki R
7. Nicole C
8. Alan F
9. Jim W
10. James M
11. Brandon D
12. Brandon C
13. Laura B
14. Erin C
15. Mary A
16. Mary B
17. Sarah H

STEP THREE: Pick a Winner

Amazingly, of the 20 randomly picked first names, only nine of those represented fans, which is why I only have 17 choices in my list. I then used a random number generator to pick a winner from this list.

So, our randomly selected contest winner was #15: Mary A!

As I said, it's a cobbled together approach, but it works and will have to suffice until some smart hacktivist person devises a better approach. If you already know of such an approach, please share your insights and/or links in the comments!
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The End of a Season

Sitting at my computer this morning, my windows are open, it’s 64° outside, and I’m sipping my favorite autumn drink (hot chai). It’s a bittersweet moment for me. Fall brings a rich, crispness to the air. It brings pumpkin everything (which I heartily applaud), a whole new wardrobe of warmer clothes, and beautiful colors. In fact, one of my favorite autumnal quotes is from the "James Dean of philosophy" Albert Camus: "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." But it also means the end of so many things that I value much more than the treasures of autumn.

I’m a warm weather man. I love the sunshine, blue skies, and warm temperatures. I could easily make my home in a tropical climate. My favorite places I’ve ever lived or visited are all near or below the 30th parallel. More importantly—at least for me—is that warm weather returns me to one of my oldest and dearest loves: baseball.

As a kid, I ate, slept, and breathed baseball. When I wasn’t playing or practicing Little League ball, I was playing in the PBL (Plastic Ball League) I started with some friends. Or I was watching a game on TV or listening on the radio. I read exactly two sections of the newspaper: the comics and the sports section. I studied baseball stats as if there would be an exam. I read baseball biographies of my favorite players. I practiced throwing and catching day in and day out by bouncing a tennis ball off a concrete wall. I’ve never lost that love for baseball. And when you grow up in the deep south, baseball is strictly a warm weather sport.

Technically, summer ended two weeks ago. But for me—and I dare say for many baseball fans—summer ends when your team plays their final game of the season. That game was last night for me and my fellow Atlanta Braves fans. It was a good season, 96 wins. That’s pretty phenomenal for a team that pundits wouldn’t even give the time of day until it was clear they were a lock for the postseason.

So, yes, this beautiful autumn morning is bittersweet for me. Somewhere outside my window, a crow is singing its song. Symbolic, really, that—for now—something special has ended. So I’ll put away my summer clothes and baseball paraphernalia and focus on the pleasures of autumn and winter, all the while eagerly awaiting the rebirth of warmer weather and baseball.

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