Category Archives: Caring

Thanksgiving Table Set 11-26-14I love the Thanksgiving holiday that we celebrate in America on the last Thursday in November. Jodi sets a magnificent table and our children gather with their children. Food, family, and football are the usual American components to celebrate the day.

In addition, it marks a time to reflect on our blessings over the past year which includes giving thanks for the good things provided, and giving thanks for the bad things that we have been spared from. It is also a time to consider ways to help our neighbors and share with those less fortunate in our community and around the world.

I love Thanksgiving, but  sad to say, I am not always thankful. It seems like a cliché, yet pausing to count our blessings and reflect on the gifts provided is one of our greatest privileges as humans in a life well lived. The author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

The Bible has a lot to say about thanksgiving, mentioning it nearly 140 times.  In the book of Psalms alone, we are told over 30 times to “be thankful” and “give thanks unto the Lord.”  Psalm 92:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.”  Nineteen out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament mention the need for thanksgiving.   1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Regardless of the hardships we may face in life, we can be thankful for the good things God provides. And it is always helpful for me to consider the circumstances of the Pilgrims when they celebrated the event we now call “Thanksgiving.” When we think of that first thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims, we might assume it occurred during the first year of their residency here after their arrival in 1620. In fact, we know they did have a 3-day feast in the fall of 1621 where wild fowl and venison were served.  A letter by Edward Winslow is the only surviving description of the event itself.[1]  The hard winter months that followed brought extraordinary suffering and even more deaths to the small band of Pilgrims.

But the first real extended thanksgiving celebration took place a full three years after their arrival in 1620.  Those three years were filled with much hardship, toil and suffering.  Their days were spent combating sickness, drought, inner conflicts, and the elements.  But it wasn’t all bad news.  The Native Americans had taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod, hunt for game, and skin beavers for coats.   They had planted gardens, built a blockhouse for their protection, houses for their own comfort, and a meetinghouse to worship God.

Just when things seemed to take a turn for the better, they again got worse.  In the summer of 1623, a drought threatened to destroy their vital crops.  So the colonists prayed and fasted for relief.  When the rains came a few days later, disaster was averted, and their crops were saved. Not long after, Captain Miles Standish arrived with staples and news that a Dutch supply ship was on its way.  Because of all these blessings and answered prayers, the Pilgrims held a day of thanksgiving and praise.  This 1623 event appears to have been the origin of our Thanksgiving Day because it combined a religious and social celebration.[2]  It was a time for expressing gratitude to God and sharing with their Indian neighbors.  Governor Bradford made the following proclamation:

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

 Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meetinghouse, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”[3]

The provisions for that thanksgiving feast included:  “twelve tasty venisons, besides others, pieces of roasted venison, fruit pies, roasted wild turkeys, plums, nuts, grapes, corn, popcorn, vegetables of all types, fish, roast pork, etc.  But before all this, the first course was served:  on an empty plate in front of each person were five kernels of corn. . .lest anyone should forget” (the hardship of the previous winters.)[4]

“Lest anyone should forget.” Like Chesterton said, “the critical thing in life is whether we take things for granted, or with gratitude.” Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] http://www.plimoth.org/Library/Thanksgiving/afirst.htm

[2] http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmah/thanks.htm

[3]Federer, William J.  “America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations.”  Coppell, TX:  Fame Publishing, 1994, p. 66-67.

[4]Marshall, Peter and Manuel, David “The Light and the Glory.”  Old Tappan, NJ:  Revell, 1977, p. 144.

Letting Go!

Letting Go - remote controlPut down that remote control. Now! Yes, I’m talking to you. Even if you are a male. Especially if you are a male. Put it down, slowly, on the coffee table. Then step back.”

Hard to do isn’t it? We’ve all watched siblings or spouses wrestle over the remote control. Nobody wants to wrestle to a draw. Everybody wants to wrestle to win. But what if the person you’re wrestling with is yourself?

Giving up control is seldom easy. Neither is losing. Unless by losing you are actually gaining. Like the times you might have lost at a game or something you knew you could easily win. Instead, you let somebody else win because you knew losing at that moment was actually winning. Winning a friend, or winning the heart of a child, or winning the wrestling match between your humility and your selfish pride. Tough choice to make, but often worth it. Because keeping your hand on the remote control is not the most important thing.

We come into this world crying with a closed fist. We generally leave with a final sigh and an open hand. What if we lived every day in between our first and last with an open hand? Instead of being grabbers, what if we moved toward opportunities for letting go?  Instead of trying to get at the head of the line, the closest parking space, the corner office, how would it feel to let it go?

“What a loser of an idea,” you might conclude. Taken to an extreme, I would agree. But most people don’t take it to an extreme. Most of us have to daily make a conscious effort to even think a little about others. Because we default to think a lot about ourselves. We are hardwired to think like a crying, grasping baby. Only maturity and an awareness of God’s grace makes us think more like Mother Teresa. What if we took a bit more seriously these words from the Bible?

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8 TNIV)

Remote. Control. What do those words really mean? I think they mean “distant” and “demanding.” Not qualities we normally admire. Quite the opposite of Jesus who humbly drew near the human race by becoming one of us, and took on “the nature of a servant.” Even though he could have been a “remote control” God, he did not choose to do so. Relationships thrive, not when we are distant and demanding, but when we draw near and serve one another.

“Put down that remote control.” Trust me, you’ll feel better if you do. Let somebody else win that wrestling match. What you gain will be so much more than what you lose.

Semper Fi: Enduring Influence – Part 2 “Heroes”

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence“We’re looking for a few good men”

– The U.S. Marine Corps.

I remember frequently seeing or hearing that phrase as a boy growing up during the Viet Nam era. In print, television, or radio commercials, the message was the same: it requires something to be a Marine. It requires faithful service, and only a few meet that requirement.

Though not a Marine, our nation yesterday (4/11/13) honored a faithful hero. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously by President Obama to U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun, a hero who died in 1950 during the Korean War serving and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Chaplain Kapaun heroically saved the life of a wounded soldier who was about to be executed by the enemy by running to and lifting the wounded man. Both were captured and sent to a POW camp, where the chaplain continued to serve as a representative of Jesus, frequently giving his own tiny ration of food so other soldiers could live. He modeled faith and virtue. While keeping hope alive for others, he died of starvation in that camp.Chaplain Kapaun US Army Hero - Congressional Medal of Honor - Korean WAr

One iconic image of Chaplain Kapaun captures his story. The photo shows him helping a wounded soldier, with his arm around his shoulder. In an online article in Time magazine, Chaplain Col. Kenneth W. Stice describes Chaplain Kapaun’s heroism:

“I’ve read his story and wondered what were the influences that shaped him to be such a man of influence, willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for others.  Well there’s the obvious formation of his abiding religious faith and practice. That is common to all chaplains.

But there’s also the influence of his family life – as one who grew up in rural Kansas, on a farm, within a tightly-connected community. It was in that context that he learned the value of hard and honest work, loyalty and support of neighbors, and simple a lifestyle with meager possessions.

Both of those streams of influence were absolutely vital in preparing him to endure captivity with such humility and courage, so that he became the inspiration of other POWs to carry on.  Chaplain Kapaun was consistent in his daily walk, and how he lived his faith.

The remarkable acts of bravery under direct fire in November of 1950 were reinforced through those daily acts of religious faith. All chaplains have the opportunity to make that impact on others with consistent living that was epitomized by Chaplain Kapaun’s example. His consistent walk and witness encourage me on my own journey of faith. But that same witness serves to convict me of areas that I need to be more faithful.”[1]

Did you notice how many times Col. Stice used the word, “influence” to describe this heroic man? I was touched reading about Chaplain Kapaun’s faithfulness and enduring influence. And I had to ask, What do all faithful heroes have in common? Here’s what I came up with:

  • They are present and available rather than absent and inaccessible. Can my loved ones count on me to be present and available–to be there for them when they need me?
  • They are alert and engaged, rather than pre-occupied and distant. Am I present when I am present, or neglecting my duty to pay attention to my family, my friends, my responsibilities?
  • They are courageous and sacrificial, rather than playing it safe out of harm’s way. Will I protect and serve others, or only myself?

The Marines are looking for a few good men who will be “always faithful.” It’s not a gender thing, anybody can be a hero to somebody by being faithful in who you are and faithful in what you do. Enlist today, your faithful influence will endure. Semper Fi!



[1] U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Kenneth W. Stice, “Medal of Honor: Chaplain Kapaun’s Heroism Feted Today. Time, April 11, 2013 at http://nation.time.com/2013/04/11/medal-of-honor-chaplain-kapaums-heroism-feted-today/ accessed 4/12/13.

Easter Hope: Resurrection & Reconciliation

Easter hope Resurrection & Reconciliation - PorcupineThe German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. He said, “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness.”[1]

But winter does not last forever, and in the Spring Easter warms the cold heart with hope. Christ provided us an alternative: to forgive each other for the intentional and unintentional pokes we receive. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have hope. Forgiveness, kindness and compassion are at the heart of the Gospel. Even in the face of injustice and sinful arrogance, Christians must have hope. Even in the face of anger and hate, Christians must have hope. Even in the face of war and violence and death itself, Christians must have hope. That’s what Easter is all about: hope for resurrection and reconciliation.

The Civil War was the most un-civil period in American history. It is hard to imagine the hatred, animosity and strife, not just between the states, but also between families and friends and neighbors.  620,000 American soldiers on both sides lost their lives in battle or as a direct result of the conflict. To place that in perspective, we must realize that the entire population of the United States at the time was a little over 30 million – thus over 2.0% mortality from the bloody war! All told, there were more casualties in the Civil War than in all wars America has fought combined from then until now.

During the war, half the men of military age in the state of Iowa served in the Union army and more than 12,500 of them died and more than 8,500 of them went home with serious wounds. The devastation in the south was even worse. Ten billion dollars in property damage – 40% of its livestock destroyed. The state of Mississippi spent 20% of its budget on artificial limbs for the wounded in 1866.[2]

In 1913, the Federal government held a fiftieth anniversary reunion at Gettysburg. It lasted three days. Survivors of unspeakable atrocities bivouacked in the old battlefield together, swapping stories, and looking up old comrades. They had witnessed the worst of the human race, but now these aged soldiers and one time mortal enemies came together for a final memorial meeting.

The climax of the gathering was a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch as the Union veterans took their positions on Cemetery Ridge, and waited as their old adversaries emerged from the woods on Seminary Ridge and started forward toward them across the long, flat fields. Philip Myers, (who witnessed the event as an 18-year-old) wrote, “We could see not rifles and bayonets but canes and crutches.  We soon could distinguish the more agile ones aiding those less able to maintain their places in the ranks.”

As they neared the northern line, they broke into one final, defiant rebel yell.  At the sound, “after half a century of silence, a moan, a sigh, a gigantic gasp of unbelief” rose from the Union men on cemetery Ridge.

“It was then,” wrote Myers, “that the Yankees, unable to restrain themselves longer, burst from behind the stone wall, and flung themselves upon their former enemies. . .not in mortal combat, but reunited in brotherly love and affection.”

“It was,” says Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Union hero of Gettysburg, “a transcendental experience.  A radiant fellowship of the fallen.”[3]

“A radiant fellowship of the fallen.” With all due respect to those Civil War heroes, that also seems a fitting description for a community of believers in Jesus Christ. Though fallen in sin, we are picked up and redeemed in Christ.

If members of the Civil War could discover reconciliation and forgiveness, surely we can find hope through reconciliation for the uncivil way humans—friends, strangers and family members alike—sometimes treat each other. And on this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let’s not forget what He said on Good Friday as He suffered unjustly at the hands of those He created:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 22:34 NIV)

Maybe the quills of broken promises and broken lines of communication have popped your balloon of hope. Maybe things just haven’t turned out as you expected.  Jesus rose from the dead so our hopes and dreams could be resurrected and we could be reconciled to him and to each other.

Jesus Christ is unique for two miraculous reasons: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. As fully God and fully human, Jesus suffered as no man ever suffered, and on the cross took upon Himself the sins of the world. His resurrection from the dead offers hope for the future and makes possible reconciliation for us all. Isn’t that a better choice than being poked by porcupines?



[2]The Civil War by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric & Ken Burns.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1990   pp. 398-404.

[3]From Ken Burns, The Civil War Video series Vol. 9.  http://hardtogetvideos.com/civil_war.html

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

What to Say When You Don't Know What To SaySilence is golden, and there is a time to be quiet. But at other times knowing the right thing to say at the right time is even better. The writer of Proverbs says, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (Proverbs 25:11, New Living Translation) There have been times in my life when the kind words of a friend (or even a stranger) bolstered my sinking spirits as I grasped them like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

Having spent most of my life as a pastor, walking beside people through some of the toughest moments of their lives, I felt the tension between the need for silence and the need to say something spiritual or intelligent (when I did not feel either) during a crucial moment. Even at the risk of sounding clichéd, a word sincerely spoken can make a difference. So, for what it’s worth, here are some simple words I’ve collected over the years; phrases to sincerely say when you don’t know what to say.

  • “May I pray for you right now?”
  • “I am here for you, my friend.”
  • “I have complete confidence in you.”
  • “I am your biggest fan!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “You do that really well.”
  • “How are you, really?”
  • “What you said helped me.”
  • “Where would you rather be right now, and what would it take to get there?”
  •  “What is stopping you from. . ..”
  • “It is amazing the way you. . ..”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I am so sorry.”
  • “I’m cheering you on.”
  • “I appreciate the way you. . ..”
  • “Tell me about your:  day, job, kids, etc.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I still love you.”
  • “God is big enough to. . ..”
  • “I am really proud of the way you. . ..”
  • “You’re really growing.”
  • “Could you come to:  dinner, dessert, coffee?”
  • “I missed you.”
  • “I’m so happy for you.”
  • “I prayed for you today.”
  • “That must have been very difficult for you.”
  • “I’ll be glad to!”
  • “You have a way of making people feel special.  Thanks.”
  • “What is one thing I could do to help relieve some of your stress?”
  • “I’m not sure I would be doing as well as you are.  How are you making it?”
  • “I admire the way you. . ..”
  • “Is there something I can pray with you about?”
  • “You are really making a lot of progress!”
  • “I’ll give you a call tomorrow to see how you are doing. Is that OK?”
  • “I treasure the moments we get to spend together.”
  • “Thinking about you always puts a smile on my face.”

I am sure you can think of your own favorites to create a silver basket full of golden apples for a friend in need. Sometimes words are not necessary, like when a hug or a shared tear do a far better job of conveying how much you care. But there is nothing wrong with being prepared for those times when you struggle to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.