Posted in Christmas, Family, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Military memories, priorities, Southern born, thankful, USA

Care Packages

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15

You never knew when they were coming.  When God and the Air Force decided to send us to Germany—well, it was an exciting adventure that we just thoroughly enjoyed.  But there was a downside…we were a long way from home…a real long way.  We were there from 1977 to 1980, we were young, and we were newlyweds.  Back then there were no cell phones and a landline call to the States was hugely expensive, so that just didn’t happen.  There was no internet.  The world moved at the speed of ship or a plane if you were lucky. The only option was snail mail and well, that could take a while.

Sometimes during the year, our parents would send us a box through the mail.  We called them “care packages.”  The reason was that when one came it was clear that someone back in the United States loved us and they cared—about us.  That was important because as much as we loved being there—there wasn’t home—or anywhere close to home.

There were two times a year that you could almost always count on a care package—that was somewhere around your birthday and then Christmas.  I can still feel the excitement as the days clicked by.  We didn’t know when, but we just knew that my Mama or Judy’s Mama would spend the money and equally as important take the time to say, “I love you.”  We would go to the Post Office every day, looking for the yellow slip in our mailbox that said, “You have a package.”  Instantly it was like Christmas Day.

We would open the box that day—that hour if possible.  There would be wrapped presents and those we would save till the special day.  But there would always be just stuff—candy, trinkets, small things that could only be gotten in America.  Sometimes there were home baked goodies and even if they were stale by then—they were still from home and we gladly ate them.

The care packages were an important link to home for us.  Like I said, it told us that someone was thinking of us—that we had not been forgotten.  What we need to realize, especially this morning, is that God is the greatest sender of care packages.  His ultimate gift, His Son, made the way so broken people like us could not only come into the presence of Holy God but that we could call Him Father.  The Jewish people could never understand that.  To them God was a far off, unapproachable deity that they worshiped.  But for Jesus followers—well we know Him as Dearest Daddy and that is not a term of disrespect or looseness—it is a term of His love for us and our love for Him.

Even in the midst of this incredibly difficult year, God has continued to send His care packages along the way.  The Bible tells us this day, and every day, is a day that He made.  He makes the air that we breathe. Everything…everything…that we eat, enjoy or own is a care package from Him.  Every sunrise and sunset, every perfectly different snowflake is a care package from Him.  And every single night that I lay my head down on my pillow in the peace He provides—well, that’s a care package too.

Now to be honest, sometimes we would get things in our care packages from home and wonder “what in the world they were thinking”.  I’m sure Judy and I laughed at more than few.  But do you know what?  Those things were notes of love too.  And the things that God allows and sends our way that we don’t understand—well, each one in its own way is a care package.

Well, the days of care packages are gone for us though we occasionally get one via UPS or Amazon Prime.  But they are rarely the same as days gone by.  But the care packages from God never change—He still sends them—every day—sometimes every minute.  He just loves us so much.  I hope regardless of your circumstances that you will make the choice to trust Him and to wait expectantly for His care packages.  Keep looking, keep waiting because each one tells us, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Family, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, USA, wisdom

December 7th

If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Mark 3:25

December 7th.  A day that will live in infinity.” Though it was before my time I know the story well. It was a beautiful morning in Pearl Harbor.  Those who weren’t painting the ships or swabbing the decks of the powerful U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet were home enjoying a round of golf or a tropical breakfast.  And then, at 7:55 in the morning local time, without warning or provocation, bombers, fighters, and  torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy swept in.  They began to systematically destroy the American fleet and its supporting aircraft.  That morning thousands of sailors and civilians lost their lives and thousands more were wounded.  Over eleven hundred sailors died instantly when a single bomb hit the ammunition magazine on the battleship Arizona.

In a  hour and fifteen minutes the attack was over and the United States was drawn into a global war.  The nation had long been divided over what role the United States should take in the war that raged in Europe.  That was all settled when, after the attack, Japan declared war on America and Hitler as an ally of Japan did the same.  Like it or not, the United States was embroiled in a war that would last for almost four years and cost the lives of 407,316 Americans with another 671,278 wounded.  But by the grace of Almighty God, in the end, America and her Allies were victorious in defeating the tyranny  of the fascist governments.

Thirty-eight percent of those who served were volunteers and sixty-one percent were drafted.  The average enlisted person was paid $71.00 per month while the average officer was paid $203.  Drafted or volunteer, officer or enlisted, they were all willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom and the cause of defeating countries bent on oppressing those weaker than they.  Many valuable lessons were learned during that time—lessons that we must not forget.

First, is the power of unity.  Before the Pearl Harbor attack the nation was clearly divided over the war.  After the attack, the nation pulled together on a unified front to protect and defend—first the United States, and second, the millions of innocent people being oppressed by Germany, Japan, and Italy.  It is tragic that it took a Pearl Harbor to bring the nation together, but if America had entered the war divided the outcome would have been much different.  Today, we need to understand that it is time to come together again.  We have allowed a virus named COVID-19, a contested national election, and blatant racism to divide our country. Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  Neither can families.  Neither can churches.  We must come together or we will fall together.

Second, is the power of owning it.  As in any national tragedy, the event happens and almost immediately the finger pointing begins.  Pick the historical event and the pattern is sadly the name.  Political parties and even ordinary, everyday people will use a tragedy to promote their cause.  We have seen it on the national front.  We have seen it on the local front.  We have seen it in the churches.  It is not a time to point fingers, but rather a time to rise to help solve what is broken.  Seventy-nine years ago today, December 7, America rose to the challenge.  I wonder if we will have the wisdom to do the same today?

Last, is the power of wisdom.  There is not much debate that storm clouds were gathering in the days leading up to December 7th.  Some would say that there was blatant evidence that an attack was coming.  Sadly, those warning signs were largely ignored and the cost was horrendous.  Today, right now, there is something we need to remember.  There is one enemy and it is not our neighbor, not our brother or sister in church, and not even the person who belongs to another political party.  The enemy is Satan, who wants nothing more than to destroy us. Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  It was true when He said it…it is true today.  The second part of that verse is filled with hope. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

You see, God is for us.  He is very aware of Satan’s tricks and schemes and He wants us to be victorious over him.  That is what Christmas and Easter were all about.  God became flesh and lived among us and then ultimately and deliberately died on a Roman cross that all people, regardless of nationality, race or economic station, could be forgiven and have eternal life.  With the wisdom of God, we don’t have to have a “spiritual” Pearl Harbor. With God’s help we can come together.  With God’s help we can be victorious.

You see, it’s not about religion.  It is about a relationship with the God who made it all. And with the relationship comes hope, comes peace, comes forgiveness, comes unity.  If we are wise enough to believe what God says, and act on what He teaches, our best days won’t be in the rearview mirror but rather ahead.  So this Christmas season, let the Prince of Peace bring His peace into your world.  Rest in Him.  He’s got this. 

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, travel, USA, wisdom

Black Friday

Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.” Psalm 62:5

We stumbled into Black Friday.  It was 1980.  We had just returned from a three year tour in Germany while serving in the United States Air Force.  It is amazing how things can change in three short years.  We enjoyed our time in Germany immensely but it was so good to get back to the greatest country in the world…the USA. We were being assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri.  No, I am not kidding.  We quickly settled into the new version of our old life.  See, you only thought “new normalcy” was something new!

We got back in the country in August and before we knew it, Thanksgiving was right around the corner.  I don’t remember anything about Thanksgiving Day, but I sure do remember the day after.  I was off on Friday and since Kansas City was only about 45 minutes away, we decided to drive into the city and go shopping.  It sounded like a great idea.  It probably was a great idea before we left for Germany in 1977, but things had changed.  It was a new normal.

We got up on Friday, ate and headed into town.  Visions of good deals and the excitement of the Christmas season were dancing in our heads.  We picked our mall—there were several to choose from—and off we went.  As we drove down the highway and neared the exit and the mall, much to our surprise there was traffic everywhere.  The exit was jam packed and once we got into the parking lot we realized it was stuffed to the gills.  We kept saying over and over again, “What in the world is going on?”

Well, I can’t remember if we gave up on that mall or not.  I don’t remember finding a parking spot but I may have blocked it from my memory.  We tend to do that with nightmares!  Anyway, we headed to mall number two.  It was much larger, with a very, large parking lot and plus by now the initial rush was slowing down some.  After circling the area several times, we did manage to find a parking spot.  Hey, what if it was ten miles from the mall?  Smile.

We hiked to the mall and joined a sea of people as they weaved their way through the stores.  It was about that time we finally asked someone, “So what is the deal with all the people?  Why is everyone here?”  It sounds almost humorous now, but we were sincerely in the dark.  The clerk looked at us like we had just returned from the moon or something and I guess in that instance, we had.  Apparently while we were in Germany this thing called “Black Friday” was either born or exploded.  We had walked into a feeding frenzy of holiday madness. Since that time, it has taken on a life of its own.  Stores that opened at crazy hours were now opening on Thanksgiving Day itself.  People would storm the doors and fight for the right to get a good deal.  But.Not.This.Year.

This year it is going to be different.  Because of this year’s new normalcy, many stores that were open on Thanksgiving last year will be closed.  Employees who last year had to work will now have time with their families.  In the recent weeks leading up to Black Friday, stores have been offering, promising, Black Friday pricing for weeks and not for a day.  That might just save someone’s life.  Perhaps Friday morning will look more humane and not so much like the Allied troops storming the beaches at Normandy.

I know it is hard to find good things in bad days but maybe, just maybe, if we look hard enough, we might find that parts of the new normalcy will be a better normalcy.  It seemed from the beginning that part of this COVID thing was a forced Sabbath. God tells us in His Word to rest in Him alone because all our hope should come from Him. It was like He said, “Enough is enough of this madness we call life. Slow down, already.”  And, we have.  Maybe this holiday season we will rediscover the blessings all around us. Maybe we will rediscover the wonder of a little Baby born in a feeding trough to save the world from the madness of sin.  Maybe we will rediscover the value of family, of others, of generosity, of love.  I hope so.

After my initial baptism into the fires of Black Friday I have not been much of a fan.  I’ve never stood in line at the door, I’ve never fought someone for a deal, and I’ve never gotten up at 2:00 am to go shopping. But I have rushed through the holidays like a bull running the streets of Spain.  Maybe this year I will slow down.  Maybe you will too.  Sound challenging?  It is.  But pressing the pause button is not a bad idea…especially if it causes us to rest next to our Dearest Daddy.  And, especially if it causes me to realize…He’s got this.

Posted in Family, gratitude, life, loving others, Military memories, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel, USA, Veteran's Day, wisdom

A Penny and a Nickel

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I had never noticed it before.  A couple of weeks ago my wife Judy and I visited the national battlefield at Dover, Tennessee.  I was so impressed.  Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a Civil War battle site sandwiched between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  The South had built two forts there for the purpose of controlling those two rivers.  It was a major supply line for the South.  Many of the original earthworks are still there.  You can imagine the Union and Southern soldiers huddling down rising only to fire at one another.

One spot on the tour showed where the big Southern guns were mounted.  In fact, many of them were still there.  There were three on one side and seven on the other.  The guns could hurl a 30 pound shell over a mile and were some of the deadliest weapons of the war.  At that spot, an American Bald Eagle was perched in a large oak tree right on the bluff.  It was as if he was watching over the sacredness of this hallowed ground.  Men—both Union and Southern, shed their blood on these grounds.  One side dying to preserve the Union and the other dying to tear it apart.  After more than a few minutes the eagle took his leave and so did we.

The car tour then took us out of the park and down the road a mile or so.  There we found more earthworks, more cannon and more ground stained with blood.  Leaving there we headed down the road to the National Cemetery established after the battle. The Union soldiers won the day but the cost was high on both sides.  Judy and I parked the car and walked around the cemetery.  There were hundreds of graves…all men who had fought for the Union.  Sadly, the Confederate dead where dumped into mass graves and covered over.  They remain that way today.

At the cemetery, there were many graves from the Civil War era but since it is still an active military cemetery, warriors from virtually all the wars are buried there.  Judy and I saw graves from the World War I, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.  We even saw one grave from what was called the Second Seminole War or the Florida War. Row upon row of graves, some older ones with only a last name and their assigned unit, lay silently giving testimony to their last full measure of devotion to their country.  There was one more thing.

We noticed that laying on top of many of the headstones there were coins.  They were mostly pennies with a sprinkling of silver coins also.  I didn’t really know what they meant but I had an idea and I was right.  There is a tradition that honors men and women who served their country.  You mainly see it in national cemeteries but also at others scattered throughout our Land.  When you see a penny on top of the headstone of a veteran, it means that someone stopped and reflected on the soldier’s life and service. It is a form of remembrance.  And, when a family member returns to the grave, they have the assurance that someone remembered and honored their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

If there was a silver coin, and back in the old days a nickel in particular, it meant the person who stopped by had a special relationship with the fallen soldier.  They may have gone through basic training together or were assigned to the same unit.  There has always been a special bond with men and women who fought together…who perhaps died together.  It is a bond that lives on beyond death and those silver coins honored that bond.

The Bible is full of renowned, well known, verses but one that stands out is where Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  That is what those silver coins were saying.  It was a silent testimony of loyalty one for another.  This band of brothers were willing to die for the other…and many did.  What an amazing story of love and commitment.

Today we honor the men and women of our great country who served or are actively serving in it’s armed forces.  For 244 years brave soldiers have put their lives on the line.  As the saying goes, “All who served gave some but some gave all.”  We should be incredibly grateful for both.  As you journey through life today and you recognize a man or woman who was or is member of the armed forces, take the time to thank them for their service.  The freedoms we enjoy came at great cost whether it was the ultimate sacrifice or the daily sacrifice of hardship or separation from family.  Be sure and let them know you appreciate it.  It is just the right thing to do.  Oh, and don’t forget to thank the One who provides the ultimate freedom…Jesus Christ.  Because of Him, we can rest…because of Him we can have the peace of knowing…He’s got this.