Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Reflections from the Home Team, November 21, 2018

“May we all put the “giving” back in Thanksgiving as we celebrate that we can ALL give to each other of our time, talents and resources while being thankful to God for the gift of life.”

Greetings from Cedar Falls,

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the Thanksgiving Holiday we are in the process of celebrating. We all certainly have reason to give thanks!  I have many things to be thankful for, most importantly, the gift of life as well as the gifts of “encouragement” both given and received over the years.  Thanksgiving is most certainly a day to be thankful, but often, we are not reminded for whom or what to be thankful... 

Historically, many will be taught that the settlers who came to our shores from Europe (the Pilgrims) set aside a day to show gratefulness to the "Indians" who showed them how to plant corn. Unfortunately, that misses the mark by a mile!

The story of the Pilgrims is a complicated one. Let me begin with just a few of the basics. Being a “history guy”, I enjoy sharing them. 

The Pilgrims were a group of Separatists who broke away from the Church of England in an effort to return to a more biblically based way of life. On September 16, 1620, 102 passengers boarded the Mayflower with the hope of finding religious freedom and a better way of life.

The 65-day voyage across the storm-tossed Atlantic was itself very dangerous for the Pilgrims. Nevertheless, feeling God's calling, they pressed forward, and sighted Cape Cod on November 19th 1620.  Hundreds of miles north of their original destination of Virginia, the Mayflower dropped anchor at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 21. In December, they made their way across the bay to settle at Plymouth. As they looked out at the gray, windswept coast on that cold November day, many of the Pilgrims must have wondered if it really was God's will for them to relocate to this desolate land. Little did they know that the true test of their resolve was yet to come. 

That first harsh winter was devastating to the men, women, and children who had already traveled far and sacrificed so much. Poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and the unforgiving winter took their toll. Many died. The new year brought more of the same.  By the time spring descended on the North Atlantic coast, nearly half of the original group was gone.

Christopher Jones, the captain of the Mayflower, anchored his ship in the harbor throughout the winter. He felt so sorry for the settlers that he allowed many from the colony to take refuge in the hull of his ship since shelter was scarce and the winter was so fierce. Finally, on April 5, 1621, he decided that he'd had enough, and resolved to return home. 

Not one of those remaining settlers left with Captain Jones when he set sail that day. Each one of them felt the call of God deep within his or her heart, and as a group, they refused to go back. Undoubtedly, they were afraid, and they probably didn't have a lot of optimism about the uncertain future lying before them.

What an amazing display of faith and resolve in the face of adversity! Without a doubt, it was the Pilgrims' reliance on the Lord that carried them through that incredibly difficult time. God used the gritty determination and the spiritual leadership of men such as John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, and William Brewster—some of our earliest national heroes—to create a firm foundation on which our country would be built.

The faith that motivated those first settlers is best described in their own words. William Bradford, one of the original leaders who would go on to serve as governor of Plymouth Colony for more than 30 years, wrote a firsthand account of the Pilgrims' journey, when  he wrote:

     "But these things did not dismay them (though they did sometimes
     trouble them) for their desires were set on the ways of God, and to
     enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His providence, and
     knew whom they had believed."

Looking back on these traumatic events, it's hard to believe that they laid the foundation for the holiday that we now know as Thanksgiving! 

Despite the trials and difficulties that our forebears endured, the Pilgrims did indeed hold a feast of thanksgiving to praise God after their first harvest in 1621.The Native Americans joined them in this gathering of goodwill, as one of their own, Squanto, had been instrumental in teaching the Pilgrims how to plant corn, and in showing them where to fish and trap beaver.

The Apostle Paul shared some thoughts in Philippians that I'm sure were an inspiration to the Pilgrims in their plight, and I often think those words were also intended for our encouragement. They read:

“. . . for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

Perhaps that should be the theme of our Thanksgiving remembrance as we bow our heads in humble gratitude for this great land and its Creator. Never in the history of the world has a nation been so blessed as we. As we gather with our families, we need to remind each other about the sacrifices made by the Pilgrims who helped pass along the freedoms we enjoy today. And may we be eternally grateful for the men and women who shed their blood on battlefields and on ships far from home that we might conquer tyrants and dictators who would have enslaved us. We must never forget what they handed down to our generation and those yet to come. Their faith has been a model for us all!

Perhaps a Thanksgiving message that was recently shared with me by a good friend, which was written back in 1960 by her father, speaks to the importance of yet another reason to celebrate what is often lost in the “Holiday shuffle.” It is a message from the heart that is timeless and encouraging. It reads:

Three days ago most of us remembered to give thanks. Historically (1621) and religiously a service of gratitude for the good things received. And we, in a way that is becoming mechanical, expressed our gratitude for the good things we have received. And how many of us stopped to think of the good things we could give?

Pilgrims gave up home, security, jobs and lives. This caused me to stop and think that Thanksgiving is two words.
We have little difficulty remembering the Thanks, but we substitute “getting” for “giving”, and instead of Thanksgiving we celebrate a “Thanks getting”.

We are thankful for the many blessings we have received, yet one of the richest blessings for which we might be thankful is the blessing of having something to give. The blessing of having something to give.

What are some of the things we give thanks for? We customarily think of giving thanks for our prosperity, national and personal. Yet, this is by no means shared by all; those who have it at this moment are not certain of possessing it in the next moment.

Our farmers give thanks for a good crop year and we should, for without the cycle of seedtime and harvest, life would cease to exist after a few short years. But good growing seasons do not happen every year, nor everywhere. So this blessing is not one that everyone receives all the time.

Our health---a blessing to be sure but certainly not a blessing in which we all share. Those of us whose ministry is medicine know that there are many families who at some Thanksgiving season will not be able to give thanks for health because sickness and disease are an ever present threat.

There is however the blessing that we all possess at all times and that is the blessing of being able to give. What can we give?

In the stewardship season we think of gifts of money and we should. To those whom God has prospered far, far beyond our necessities, comes the opportunity of giving some of our money so that others less fortunate might meet their necessities.
Talents---not all have the great talents of our few great men and women. The world is too small for a great many people with great talents. But we all have some small talents and it is the giving of these many small talents that make our world a better world, Columbia a better town, Trinity Presbyterian a better church.

Time---the one gift we all have in equal amount. Not all have equal money, not all have equal talent, but all have the same number of hours in our day, 24. And 168 hours a week. Yet what are we most reluctant to give up? We will give of money, we will share our talents, but our time is “well (we say) my time is my own.” Is it? Of course not, then why not share this greatest gift we have and give others our time?

So these three things we can give and for this we can be thankful. We can see Thanksgiving not as a time of thanks for what we get, but time to think of what we can give. 

Finally I would like to mention that there is something permanent we can and should give thanks for.

It is not like prosperity because that shifts like sand…
It’s not like a bountiful harvest because that swings from feast to famine…
It’s not like health because sooner or later the ills of man beset us all…

What is this then for which we can always be thankful?
It is a person, given to us by God. It is a gift. Just as our greatest blessing is what WE can give, our greatest gift is the person of Jesus of Nazareth. What does he give us?

Not wealth. The Christian has no guarantee of prosperity. Jesus appealed to the poor. And often wealth is a stumbling block---eye of a needle, rich young ruler.
Not health.  Christians sicken and suffer just like their pagan brothers… in Job, rain falls on just and unjust.

What does he give us? “I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”The promise is that we would not just exist but really live and live abundantly…to be vitally alive, not because of good things we happen to have--- prosperity or health, but in spite of adversity, poverty, and sickness. Eternally alive”- John 5:24

This is God’s Promise, and all because 2000 years ago this man was willing to give and give of himself so that we might live. It is because of this person and because of this promise that we can be truly and everlastingly thankful.

In the words of Paul, we give thanks to God always (for you) because of the grace of God which was given (you) in Jesus Christ. The Christian Thanksgiving----thanks that we can give and thanks to God for the gift of life.

A Prayer for Thanks-“giving”…
God we give thanks to you for the person of Jesus Christ.
May we receive this gift with faith and commitment.
May we open our minds to the facts of his life and our hearts to the truth of his life.
The truth that we who hear his word and believe in the One who sent him have eternal life, having then passed from death to life.
This is our Thanks-“giving”.

A Thanksgiving Message;     Dr. Ned D. Rodes MD      November, 1960

May we all put the “giving” back in Thanksgiving as we celebrate that we can ALL give to each other of our time, talents and resources while being thankful to God for the gift of life.

Wishing you all a blessed Thanks-“giving”!


Are you or someone you know fighting cancer... struggling with the physical, emotional and spiritual issues that accompany a cancer journey? If so, Reflections from the Home Team... Go the Distance was written to offer strength, hope and comfort when confronted with a cancer journey's challenges. Share a message of positivity with those you care about. Learn more at this link:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reflections from the Home Team, November 4, 2018

Lord, Your ways aren’t always our ways. It sounds so simple, but I so often need help in letting those words sink in… Rather than blame God when things go wrong as is so easy to do, I need to remember He is always right there beside me as I crawl through the fires of life’s challenges.”

Greetings from Cedar Falls,

I wanted to take some time to provide an update regarding the past few weeks of my journey…  As I shared earlier, I was scheduled for surgery back in mid October to deal with some issues that have been troubling me for sometime resulting from my original treatments for cancer. The surgery was successful in helping correct the problems and I’m very thankful for a skilled surgeon who is a caring and supportive person. The positive news is that the biopsy tissue samples taken tested negative and I’m so very thankful for that! I had a few complications following the surgery, which landed me in the ER a couple of times, but I’m continuing to heal and managing the pain as I recover.

A thought that continued to go through my head before and after the surgery was a comment one of my college coaches always used to ask whenever we were “hurting”… It went like this; “Welter, is it pain or injury? If it’s pain, can you play through it? If it’s injury, let’s get it fixed!” If I were to reply to him after the past few weeks, I’d have to say “coach this was some of both!!” I have had the “Injury” fixed and I’m now focused on playing through the pain. That brings me to this reflection regarding disappointment, pain and suffering, something we all go through at some time in varying degrees with the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges that come our way.

Let me begin with disappointment…

The past few weeks I’ve been thinking back to an experience I had in a conversation in Iowa City with an inmate who was in Iowa City for treatment of terminal liver cancer.  As we both waited for our chemo treatments, I had just had a conversation with a young mother who was sitting beside us who had recently had both legs amputated due to cancer.  She was so very upbeat despite her circumstances and I asked her how that could be… She shared; ”Just look around me, I have three beautiful children, a loving husband and a God who loves and cares for us always.” As I struck up a conversation with the inmate, he shared no one had really ever cared about him. He acknowledged that he had abused his family and friends to help support his drug and alcohol habits, which had gotten him to this point in his life. I shared there really is someone who cares, you just have to open the right book… He responded “I’m not really riding the God train right now.”  His voice was rough, his words raw, harsh and angry. But anger wasn’t what I saw in his eyes. It was disappointment; disappointment with a God he’d felt had let him down. 

It’s easy to blame God when life goes wrong. He can do anything. Stop anything. Change anything. But sometimes He doesn’t. People have free will. The world is full of death and disease and sin. Bad things happen to good people—even good Christian people. 

I’ll be honest. If I were given the choice, I’d choose to live in a bubble where I’m safe and happy and whole at all times. Too bad that’s not ever been my reality. But maybe it wasn’t supposed to be. God never promised I’d get what I want, that my days would be easy, that just because I chose to follow Him I wouldn’t suffer, or that He’d let me skip the bad parts of life. And that’s where disappointment comes in; hitting the hardest when I confuse what I think God owes me with what He actually told me. He said I should give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you.”

Given the past few weeks, I haven’t had as much time to read as much as I would have liked. Reading usually helps bring me peace during challenging times. The day following my surgery, Fr. Richard Rohr  (Daily Meditations for Action and Contemplation) had some wonderful and timely thoughts that I felt were written specifically for me and have helped me process my situation over the past few weeks.

He shared that people who have suffered in some way can usually understand and relate to others who are experiencing similar struggles...They have the space and the capacity for compassion and understanding for others who may be struggling. Deep understanding and compassion are formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure. I’ve felt that understanding and compassion from many of you over the past number of years, and in particular the past few weeks while being surrounded with your prayers.  What a blessing to experience that “Home Team” support as those life challenges have come my way.

Fr. Rohr focused his remarks on Luke 22:31-32. 

Jesus told Peter, “You must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers”. 
Peter, like all of us, did not realize that pain and suffering can have power over us only when our faith fails. Jesus prays for us and waits to restore us so that we can learn from our suffering and pain so that in turn we can use those experiences to strengthen others who may be facing similar situations. Christ continues to intercede for us, always!

Exactly how I’ve felt the past few weeks! I can relate to the visual of being “ground like wheat”. Those ER visits certainly brought that to mind. 

Fr. Rohr goes on to write:

“The cross, rightly understood, always reveals various kinds of
resurrection. It’s as if God were holding up the crucifixion as a cosmic object lesson, saying: “I know this is what you’re experiencing. Don’t run from it. Learn from it, as I did. Hang there for a while, as I did. It will be your teacher. Rather than losing life, you will be gaining a larger life. It is the way through.”

When I can see and accept my suffering as a common participation with Jesus, and literally all of humanity, I find peace feeling “whole in Him” while learning from each experience in my life and in turn reflecting it toward others. I fully admit this is often hard to do when we are still in the midst of our suffering, and we just want to be delivered from it. God’s peace in the middle of my trials these past few weeks have helped me keep my sanity!  I’m hoping and praying I can keep my focus on Him as I deal with whatever the future holds for me. 

I’ll close this reflection with some wisdom from author James Finley that rings true to me as I continue my life’s journey.  He writes:

“Although it is true that there is no refuge from suffering; it’s also true that suffering has no refuge from love that permeates it through and through and through and through and through. Love protects us from nothing, even as it unexplainably sustains us in all things. God’s love protects us from nothing, and sustains us in everything.” — James Finley

Knowing that God’s love is sustaining and guiding us in unexplainable ways can bring us peace in the midst of any challenge we may face, just as it did for the young mother in Iowa City in the midst of her painful trials. My most recent experience has helped remind me of the verse “Lord, Your ways aren’t always our ways.” It sounds so simple, but I so often need help in letting those words sink in… Rather than blame God when things go wrong as is so easy to do, I need to remember He is always right there beside me as I crawl through the fires of life’s challenges. May each of you experience that peace as you face any of life’s disappointments, suffering and pain that may come your way.

Blessings your way!


Are you or someone you know fighting cancer... struggling with the physical, emotional and spiritual issues that accompany a cancer journey? If so, Reflections from the Home Team... Go the Distance was written to offer strength, hope and comfort when confronted with a cancer journey's challenges. Share a message of positivity with those you care about. Learn more at this link: