Author Archives: donaldd777

Thanksgiving Inspiration

What will you give thanks for?

 

The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” – Henry Ward Beecher

For more of my photography, including inspirational posters like this one, visit my photography website:  https://dondetrick.smugmug.com/

 

 

When Circumstances Eclipse Our View of God

 MAIN THOUGHT:  We should not allow the circumstances of life to obscure our view of God’s power and goodness.

The Old Astronomer, by the British poet Sarah Williams: “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

Monday, August 21, 2017 will mark an event that most of us will never again experience in our lifetime, a total eclipse of the sun – even though it will only be about a 90% eclipse in our viewing range. This has not occurred across such a large part of the USA in more than 100 years. And it will not happen again on our planet until 2020 in South America.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is in the correct daytime position to completely block our view of the sun, leaving us in a shadow of darkness. Here’s the deal – the moon is not very big, in comparison to earth. In fact, the earth dwarfs the moon in size, as it would take more than 80 objects the size of our moon to fill the mass of planet earth. So compared to the size of our sun, the moon is tiny, almost like comparing the head of a pin to a mountain. Our sun is so large, that it could easily contain a million planets the size of earth.  Thus, it could contain 80 million objects the size of our moon.

Yet tomorrow morning around 9 a.m., our moon, that comparatively tiny object, will completely eclipse the light of the sun, an object 80 million times larger than itself. It will do so because of perspective. From where we stand, it will appear to be dark, but that is only because we will be in the shadow of the moon, and it will only last about 2.5 minutes at its longest duration in the USA.

Many stories exist in history of people panicking in terror when a solar eclipse suddenly brought darkness upon their part of the world. Ancient people thought that perhaps a dragon was eating the sun and they made loud noises to try and scare it away. Eclipse events became fodder for legends and myths sparking fear and panic about disaster and death.

One time in history when we know the exact date of a solar eclipse was May 28, 585 BC, when two Greek armies, the Medes and the Lydians, were fighting a battle. Suddenly a complete solar eclipse turned day into night, and the stars appeared. The armies immediately stopped fighting, and taking it as a sign that the gods wanted them to lay down their arms, they declared a truce. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone took the eclipse tomorrow as a sign that we should stop fighting each other on planet earth, and we did?

What we will all experience tomorrow is a metaphor for what often happens in life, when circumstances suddenly remove the light, causing us to lose vision and clarity that robs us of courage and plunges us into a pit of darkness and fear. How do we respond when the lights go out and shadows eclipse our vision of God and rob us of hope?

2 Kings 6:8-23 tells a story about the prophet Elisha and a time when circumstances seemed to block the vision of God’s providence and protection.

8  Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.”
10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”
12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.”
14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.
19 Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria.
20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “LORD, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the LORD opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.
21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?”
22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.”
6:23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

What do we learn from this story?

  1. God knows the plans of the enemy and regardless, He can provide for us and protect us.
  2. We do not always see everything – the eyes of faith are required to see how God is working on our behalf behind the scenes.
  3. When we have opportunity, we should show mercy to those who mean to harm us.
  4. When we choose to believe, God can change our circumstances.

Never doubt in the darkness what God has told you in the light. Even if your circumstances seem to eclipse your vision of God’s provision or protection, keep believing in the light and choosing the path of light until you break free of the darkness. God has a bigger plan to thwart the works of darkness to accomplish His will and purposes. So don’t allow unbelief or circumstances to eclipse your vision of God.

Darkness is always temporary. The solar eclipse will result in less than 3 minutes of total darkness. Remember, He is working through your dark circumstances and the light is still shining somewhere, ready to burst through the shadows into a bright future.

Between Your Head and Your Heart

Sandhill Crane on nest ground view vignette 4-30-16 Swaner Preserve Park City UTI posted this photo today on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, taken last weekend at a wildlife preserve in Park City, Utah. This picture of a nesting sandhill crane, so perfectly camouflaged by its bullrush surroundings in the marsh, almost didn’t happen. Except for one thing: before hitting the trail with camera in hand, I stopped by the visitor’s center. The very helpful young student at reception responded to my inquiries about the birds in the area and asked me if I planned to go to the tower observation deck on the third floor.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and I didn’t even know that there was an observation deck on the third floor – another good reason to ask questions and listen. She proceeded to tell me that there existed a pair of nesting sandhill cranes in the marsh that most people never see, because they don’t know they are there. She handed me a handy enlarged photo of the marsh – a bird’s eye view taken from the observation deck – with a big red X marking the spot where the sandhill crane nest sat.

The photos of the cranes are something I will treasure and share with others. And something I would have completely missed because of their marvelous camouflage had I not taken a moment to stop and ask a question, and then followed the student’s directions. The 90 minutes I spent there were moments when I sensed the glory of God and his marvelous creation. All the more amazing because I discovered this place right next to a huge shopping complex designed to provide for the masses of people who visit the area to ski, enjoy the former Winter Olympic sites in the area (2002), or attend the Sundance Film Festival. We had eaten lunch there the day before and I had no idea the nature preserve with sandhill cranes and more than 50 other species of birds I would spot the next day was just a few yards away.

I read something today that I think touches on the fringe of where many people are in our culture who are spiritual seekers. Like me, they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know that God is near, and that he may be speaking to them through the wonders of life and His creation. For them, I pray that the truth of Hebrews 11:6 will become reality to them: “Any person who comes to God must believe that he exists, and he rewards those who diligently seek him.”

That is where faith begins – often with a feeling in the heart that you cannot argue with. It just is there, evoking a sense of wonder and awe, touching the depths of a soul you intellectually aren’t sure you possess. Between the heart and the head. Only about 18 inches, but within that space grow the seeds of faith God plants along the way, creating a hedge to bridge the gap between faith and reason.

Even those who describe themselves as atheists (as this author did at one point in his life, although if you read on you will discover he was raised in a conservative Baptist home), eventually find themselves torn by the dilemma between what their intellect says and what their heart tells them. Whether to follow the wanderings and wonderings of their heart leading them to worship God, despite what their head tells them.

This article takes some wading through to discover the gems by the author, a man battling with cancer, also a Yale professor, who states: “I believe that the question of faith—which is ultimately separable from the question of “religion”—is the single most important question that any person asks in and of her life, and that every life is an answer to this question, whether she has addressed it consciously or not.” And this piece was published in “The American Scholar” of all places:

The American Scholar: I Will Love You in the Summertime – Christian Wiman
Between the rupture of life and the rapture of language lies a world of awe and witness
THEAMERICANSCHOLAR.ORG

 

Reflections on Earth Day 2016

Rattlesnake Lake Reflection 4-19-16

Rattlesnake Lake Reflection 4-19-16

For the beauty of the earth,

For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies.

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise!

Today is Earth Day and while celebrated as a day to consider our stewardship of the earth and its resources, it is also a day for humans to pause and reflect. We reflect not only on the terrestrial beauty and resources our Creator has provided for us, but it also directs our attention celestially. Stewardship should involve worship. And worship should inspire stewardship.

Consider the experiences of the multi-talented poet, songwriter, artist, and psalmist David. Scripture paints a portrait of a man who was not just an artist, but also an athlete and an avid outdoorsman. Having spent more time camping in the wilderness than any of us, David was intimately acquainted with the seasons, the skies, the sand, the dust, the thunder, the rain, and even the hunger and thirst one feels more keenly when experiencing the earth up close and personal. Outside the realm of secured indoor places of convenience where most of us dwell, David experienced a lifetime of days and nights exposed to the raw elements of the earth. Enjoying such an intimate relationship with the earth and its Creator, he declared, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1 KJV).

David was not just an occupant of planet earth, he was a keen observer of nature and all of God’s creation. Those observations inspired him to proclaim: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” (Psalm 8:1 ESV).

As David reflected upon the terrestrial glory of creation, his heart filled with wonder and gratefulness, and his eyes naturally moved upward, toward the horizon and beyond. His gazing outward and upward eventually led to looking inward. That is the beauty of times of reflection, of solitude and silence, while just observing the beauty of the earth and our natural surroundings—especially in parks, lakes, mountains, deserts, or streams that inspire us.

Overwhelmed by the wonder of it all, and looking above, David asked, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Good question, Dave. It’s a question that has been posed for millennia. When we really look outward at creation, upward to the heavens, and inside of ourselves that’s what happens. Filled with wonder—both awe and questions.

In 1863, Folliott S. Pierpoint was wandering through the English countryside around the winding Avon River. As he looked on the peaceful beauty surrounding him, he felt inspired to reflect on God’s gifts to his people. Above all, Pierpoint thought of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who gave his life to redeem humanity. Jesus, the Son of David, answered David’s question. What is man, and why does God care about humankind? Because he loves us!

Pierpoint originally wrote the text of “For the Beauty of the Earth” as a hymn for the Eucharist or what many of us call communion or The Lord’s Supper. The original chorus read, “Christ, our God, to thee we raise this, our sacrifice of praise.” The hymn was meant not only as a song of thanksgiving, but as the only thing we could give Christ in return for his mercy and love: a hymn of praise laid upon the altar as a sacrifice.

We may never know why God loves us, but He does. And the beauty of the earth shows us that love every single day, making every day not only earth day, where gravity keeps our feet firmly planted on terra firma, but wonder-ful days as we gaze upward and then inward, pausing to reflect on the One who made all things, including us.

For the beauty of the earth,

For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies.

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise!

© 2016 Don Detrick

Good Friday – Calvary Covers it All

three crosses “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots.” (Luke 23:32-24 NKJV)

The word “Calvary” comes from the Latin word calvaria and Greek word kranion, from which we get the meaning of a skull or cranium. It was also known as Golgotha in Aramaic. While Calvary denotes the name of a geographical location, and the actual site is disputed today, the term conveys far more than just a geographical spot in history.

Back in 1934 Mrs. Walter G. Taylor wrote a gospel song titled, “Calvary Covers It All.” The lyrics she penned more than eighty years ago convey the essence of the Gospel.  She wrote, “Calvary covers it all – My past with its sin and stain. My guilt and despair Jesus took on Him there, and Calvary covers it all.”

Our past:  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our past sins. That means all of our regrets, all of our guilt, and all of our shame about the past is wiped away at Calvary.

Our present:  Jesus was despised and rejected as the Savior of the world. Instead, he was falsely convicted and crucified as a local criminal. He committed no crimes, but on Calvary paid the penalty for all the crimes of humanity, including mine.

Our future: The days of our lives are filled with uncertainty. Worry and anxiety about the what might lie ahead weighs us down and blurs our vision of the present and hope for the future. Calvary covers our future with the hope and assurance of eternal life.

Jesus’ selfless act of laying down his life more than 2,000 years ago still resonates over the passage of time and space, making a seemingly impersonal ancient historical event something more. Good Friday becomes deeply personal and contemporary for those of us who remember and believe. So on this Good Friday we remember, and are grateful that Calvary covers it all.

© 2016 Don Detrick

Pivot Leadership Book Review

PIVOT LEADERSHIP Cover Display MockupMy friend Angela Craig is a community organizer, among other things. Angela noticed people in our community that were making a difference. People that were giving sacrificially to help others. People who were doing good. And she noticed that not everybody noticed these people who were doing good things because they were the right things to do, whether anybody noticed or not.

So Angela started an awards program that has grown into one of our biggest annual community events, filling our local theater with people eager to honor local heroes and hear their stories. The Give Good Awards recognizes people who are making a difference in the lives of others and in so doing making our community a better place for all. Angela should probably win the award for making the biggest difference. But she is too busy making a difference by taking steps to help others, which is a reward in itself.

Angela possesses core values and convictions that compel her to serve others and make a difference. And she has learned that big projects can be broken down into small increments, making them doable. You just have to be willing to take that first step. And she’s written a book about taking steps to accomplish our dreams and become the leaders we wish to be. I’ve read it, and I like what I read. It made me feel encouraged to keep moving ahead.  In simple terms, this is what the book is about, in Angela’s own words:

The principles of Pivot Leadership are simple. Small steps = Big change. Taking one small step can significantly change your direction. Vincent Van Gogh said: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” When you take many small steps, it can drastically impact and change your leadership and your future. 

I encourage you to read the book for yourself. It is filled with practical steps and application ideas that you can actually accomplish. It’s not just another self-help book filled with high ideals that are unachievable for the average Clark Kent. Nor does it preach you into a state of guilt for being a slacker or failing to measure up. Instead it leverages what you do have with insight and coaching that will encourage you to move forward.

Benjamin Franklin said “Small strokes fell big oaks.” In her book Angela teaches us how to pivot, how to take the small steps and make the small strokes that will effect great change.

In business this is sometimes known as the “Kaizen Effect.” Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. Even though Angela doesn’t call it that, she helps us understand how little changes, small steps, can help us improve our mileage on the journey of life, and arrive at our dreams and destinations.

She shares what she has learned from others and her own experience to make a difference in your life, in your community, and in your future.

I like Angela and I like her book. I think you will, too.

You find out more about Angela and read a sample chapter here: www.angelalcraig.com

Book trailer video here: http://youtu.be/Tye4AcY4qPc

You can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Pivot-Leadership-Small-Steps-Changes/dp/1633931110/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439246340&sr=8-1&keywords=pivot+leadership

A Few Thoughts on Father’s Day 2015

Howard Detrick June 8 1974I miss my dad. Although he went to heaven more than twelve years ago, hardly a day goes by without a memory or thought about him. And that is no wonder, because every morning when I look in the mirror, I see the image of my dad when he was the age I am today and I was a young college student. Today I wish I could ask the reflection of that man I see in the mirror what he was thinking at this stage of life, and ask him more questions about his own father, who died before I was born.

Time has a way of changing our perspective on things. Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the Howard Detrick June 8, 1974                    old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Mark Twain was no child psychologist, but he revealed keen insight into child development and psychology when he said “When a boy becomes a teenager, nail him shut in a barrel and feed him through a knot-hole.  When he turns sixteen, seal up the knot hole!”  Apparently Mark Twain’s limit on both patience and mercy was reached when he finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn! In any event, he pretty well described my own experience as both a teen-ager and young adult.

A number of years ago I was buying a shirt in a department store when a young woman with a two or three year old daughter walked by.  As they passed, I heard the little girl ask her mother “Is he my daddy?”   Her words were almost a plea, and my heart went out to that child.  I wanted to give her a hug and buy her a doll or an ice cream cone – of course those things are not appropriate in this age of scandal and suspicion. Nevertheless, the “daddy” part of me wanted to do something to take away the pain in that little girl’s eyes.  I realized the best I could do was pray for her, so I did.

With 4 out of 10 children today being raised in a home without a father, that little girl’s pain is shared by many. I grew up with the advantage of a full time father and mother, who stayed married more than 63 years “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death did them part.” Even with that kind of security, during my turbulent teen years our close proximity did not mean we always had a close relationship. Since I became a father in 1977, I can honestly say that being a father has been at once the most rewarding and most terrifying experience of my life.

If I could raise my children all over again, I would change a lot of things. Mainly myself. Before Jodi and I had children, as a pastor I preached a message titled “Ten Rules for Raising Wonderful Children.”  When my children were young, I changed it to “Five Suggestions for Raising Children.”   As my children got older I called it to “A Few Helpful Hints for Parents.”   When they became teenagers, I stopped preaching it altogether!  But through it all, I did learn some lessons.  Let me share a couple of them with you:

  • Don’t expect children to act like adults.
  • Rules are important, but when it comes to your children, relationships are more important than rules. If you don’t have a good relationship with your children, they won’t care about your rules.
  • Major on the majors, not on the minors.
  • Cut your kids some slack, but not enough to let them hang themselves!
  • Choose your battles wisely, otherwise you will certainly run out of strategies and lose the war!
  • Never stop loving and praying for your children, whatever age they may be.
  • Give your children something to come home to.
  • The best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.
  • Believe in your children and encourage their own dreams.
  • Everything changes with time – and someday your kids will grow up!

If I could have another conversation with the reflection of that man I see in the mirror every morning, I would say, “Thanks, Dad. You were always there for me. I wish I had appreciated that more at the time. You loved me, believed in me, and invested in me. Happy Father’s Day. I love you!”

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 12 – The Top 10 Most Persistent Questions

Mt St Helens 7-9-11 PSYou don’t know what you don’t know. And you will never know exactly how another person feels or the depth of their personal suffering. I’ve spent almost 40 years of my life as a pastor and counselor. During those years I’ve empathetically listened as people have poured out their hearts and told me their stories. Some are horrific, catastrophic, or tragic beyond belief. All are filled with emotions from violent anger to shocked bewilderment. While the people and stories are all unique, the questions articulated remain very similar and all are a variation of what I’ve been calling life’s most persistent question, “Why?”

“God wants to build character in our lives,” I once mused to a young father with three children who was mourning the loss of his wife from cancer.

“I don’t need any more character,” he shouted at me. “I need my wife back!”

Ouch! His explosion reminded me of the then-recent eruption of Mt. St. Helens (pictured above almost 35 years after the explosion).  I was a young pastor and just trying to make sense myself out of his tragic circumstances. Parroting what I truly believed, but without any comprehension of his own incredible grief, my words, that were intended to soothe and answer, simply applied salt to his wounded heart. I’ve learned a few things about suffering myself since then and would never make such a statement under similar circumstances today.

Based upon many such encounters with grieving souls, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most persistent questions. Much has been written about them, and I seriously doubt what I might say will shed any additional light on the topic. But by their very nature, they persistently remain the questions that cross generational, societal, and geographical boundaries. They are universal questions, asked by all people in all places at all times. And in one way or another, they are also questions considered by the ancients and recorded in the pages of the Bible.

While there are personalized versions of every one of these, the general questions are universal.  And when asked in a real-life situation, every one of them are typically accompanied by a pretext. For example, “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t God prevent tragedy?” or “God answers prayers for other people, why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Here are my top 10:

10.   Why would a loving God send someone to hell?

9.     Why doesn’t God prevent corrupt leaders from coming into power?

8.     Why doesn’t God put an end to all suffering?

7.    Why does God allow innocent children to be victimized and harmed?

6.    Why doesn’t God heal everyone who asks?

5.    Why doesn’t God prevent tragedy?

4.    Why does God allow evil?

3.    Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

2.    Why do evil people prosper?

1.    Why do the righteous suffer?

Before you quickly attempt to provide pat answers to these questions, consider the fact that these questions are consistently universal and ubiquitous—they appear everywhere at all times. If our philosophical and theological answers were adequate to explain the human condition on a level beyond the intellect, wouldn’t people stop asking them, and have stopped doing so years ago?

And please remember that they are posed in the midst of great turmoil of soul and spirit, typically generated by circumstances that have destroyed the fabric of human decency and order. They are not questions that inquire or call for a philosophical or even theological dialogue, although that sometimes occurs and may be profitable. No, these questions are more like a rhetorical shotgun blast, an interrogation generated by an internal explosion of angst and turmoil of the soul—triggered by external circumstances beyond our control.

These are questions that at the same time demand an answer, while not really expecting any single answer to sufficiently explain the catastrophe of a broken life and heart. So, how do we respond? How should we respond? And what do you think about the questions themselves? Are there other questions you would add to the top 10? I’d love to hear what you think, and I’ll share my thoughts in a later post. I will tell you this, Mt. St. Helens is proof that time may bring beauty out of the most explosive of circumstances. It takes time, but time alone does not heal all wounds. Ultimately, only Jesus does that.

Remembering Memorial Day

Don Detrick at David Brainerd GraveI like to visit cemeteries, like this old one in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I visited the grave of Pioneer American missionary, David Brainerd. I know that seems odd to most people. But there is something about visiting a cemetery populated by reminders of the past that makes me more aware of the present. And I always enjoy the history provided there, causing me to reflect on the legacy I might be able to leave behind, or not, depending upon what I do today and whatever tomorrows I have left on this earth.

As a boy growing up in rural Oregon, Memorial Day meant noisy boat races in the nearby Willamette River and a ritual my parents carried out as a sacred duty. They called it “Decoration Day” as it was a day for decorating the graves of our departed family members. Rising early in the morning, we would enter our yard and garden to pick the flowering white blossoms of the snowball tree, pink peonies, orange and yellow day lilies, red rhododendrons or azaleas– anything that happened to be blooming at the moment, colorful and fragrant. Dad was particularly fond of iris, which he always called, “flags.” These cut flowers were carefully arranged in Mason jars and off to the cemetery we would go. My parents would reminisce on the way there and back about relatives I never knew except what I gleaned via those conversations.

Today, many Americans have no idea why we celebrate Memorial Day, viewing it only as a reason for a 3-day weekend.  I once asked an Israeli cardiologist who was a resident at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles what he thought about living here. He replied, “I don’t understand your Memorial Day. In Israel it is a very sacred and serious day when we remember those who have died and given their lives for our nation. In America, it is a huge shopping day and sale.”

Memorial Day has traditionally been a day of remembering the many heroes who lost their lives during the Civil War and other wars in which the United States has been involved. All told, more than 1.35 million lives have been lost in America’s wars since our nation’s beginning.  However, for many people, Memorial Day is also a time to honor all loved ones who have passed on before us.

The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history, and the only one fought on our own soil, with more than 625,000 killed on both sides. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans – the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) – established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared it should be May 30. It is believed the date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered on the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and other Washington officials presided. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day. The Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave – a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom for many families is to remember their departed loved ones by visiting cemeteries and cleaning up tombstones, or laying flowers or decorations on graves.[1]

Why do we need a special day to remember the dead?  The answer is simple – it is too easy for the living to forget about them.  Speaking of the dead, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “For the memory of them is forgotten.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:5b NKJV)  He goes on to say, “Whatever they did in their lifetime – loving, hating, envying – is all long gone. They no longer have a part in anything here on earth.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:6 NLT)

While dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today we know that to a great extent it was the resolve of President Lincoln that brought an end to both the Civil War and slavery, thus creating a “new birth of freedom.”  The United States of America still exists today because of the principles set forth in a graveyard dedication speech, the Gettysburg Address. Thus it is fitting for us who remain in this day to remember and show honor and respect on this Memorial Day in 2015–and maybe visit a cemetery to pay our respects. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it!

[1] Some information taken from “The Origins of Memorial Day” from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs office of Public Relations at http://www.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm.

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 10

Highway to sunset Farm Road Springfield MO 5-2-15On the road to Emmaus, Jesus took the time to offer an explanation to his two questioning friends who were searching for an explanation, for a reason behind all the events they had experienced. He understood the sorrow and disappointment they felt, the loss that had blinded their eyes with tears and dampened their hearts with grief.

“Jesus quoted passages from the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining what all the Scriptures said about himself” (Luke 24:27, nlt).

Jesus is a gentleman. He patiently listened and explained. They had an engaging conversation. As they walked, they approached their destination. He did not invite himself in for dinner. He will not force himself on anyone. He will respond to an invitation, though. He waits patiently for each of us to invite him into our heart. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” (Revelation 3:20, nkjv).

Cleopas and his friend invited Jesus in and he joined them for a meal. Jesus wants fellowship with us. He wasn’t angry with them. He loved them and was concerned for them. As Jesus blessed the dinner bread, they suddenly understood. Their eyes were opened and they immediately knew who he was.

Along with that revelation came something unexpected. God is always doing things we don’t expect. He vanished out of their sight. But even though they couldn’t see him with their physical sight, their spiritual eyes were opened. That is what happens when we journey with Jesus; we walk by faith, not by sight.

An encounter with Jesus changes everything. They had seen the Lord and their emotions went from confused sadness to elated gladness. Excitedly, they told each other how their hearts had felt strangely warm as he explained the Scriptures to them as they walked down the road.

When we can’t clearly see the road ahead because our vision is blocked by tears or by the tangled web of weedy circumstances, we must focus on Jesus. Once we see him, he gives us vision for the road ahead and shows us the way. He can turn our “Why?” into “Why not!”

I don’t know which lonely Emmaus Road you may be traveling. But I am sure that Jesus is with you, even if you don’t see him or recognize his presence. And when Jesus accompanies us on the road less traveled, it makes all the difference.