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Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tribute: Cookie Harris

A Tribute: Cookie Harris

The one thing I have learned in life is that we never know when God will call our name.  Most of us were stunned to learn that God called the name of Cookie Harris early yesterday afternoon.

Cookie was not only the wife of Congressman Andy Harris but she was an outspoken defender of unborn children.  It is hard not to think of the Maryland Right to Life movement and not immediately think of Cookie.

I only briefly met Cookie in person but she was a friend of mine on Facebook and I knew many who were close to her.  

She was Andy's devoted wife and best friend for over 30 years, a mother of five and grandmother of two.  A devote Roman Catholic she served as Director of Special Events for Maryland Right to Life.  She showed no outward signs of illness and was posting on Facebook less than 24 hours before God called her home.  She was actually in the midst of coordinating the Right to Life efforts at the Maryland State Fair at the time she left us.

You notice I am using the phrase God called her and not the term "death" because we as Christians believe that our earthly death is not an end but a new beginning.  When we die on earth, we are reborn into our eternal life.

I believe that Cookie’s work and dedication to the Pro Life cause was fueled by her love for and her acceptance of Jesus Christ as her LORD and Savior.  It is important to realize that Cookie honored and gloried God during her short time with us on earth.

While I never like to assume anyone’s eternal destination I am pretty comfortable in believing that Cookie is enjoying her eternal reward in paradise.

This is a difficult time for Congressman Andy Harris and the rest of Cookie’s family.  They have lost a wife, mother and grandmother and friend, who has been an important part of their lives.  Right now I am certain that they feel an emptiness and have tears flowing down their cheeks.  It is my experience that soon their emptiness will be filled with all the wonderful memories that they have of their life with Cookie.  While her stay with us was short everyone who came in contact with Cookie was blessed to have had her cross their path.

Remember today we cry.  This is normal.  The Bible teaches us that Jesus cried when He learned of the death of His friend Lazarus.  But remember our tears of sadness are for our loss.  For Cookie, our tears should be tears of joy, as she is now spending eternity with her LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today is not good bye.  It is simply until we meet again, as each and every one of us with have the opportunity to be reunited with Cookie and our LORD Jesus Christ. In the mean time we must share Cookie's legacy with future generations and carry on her important work.

I encourage everyone to take time today to read and reflect upon the words that Jesus Christ shared with His friends shortly before His own earthly death in the Gospel of John 14:1-6.

Today we should be offering prayers of thanksgiving to God for having allowed our lives to have been touched by Cookie Harris and asking God to cover her loved ones with His mercy, love and grace as they travel this difficult road.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Heroine of the Bible: Abigail, 1 Samuel 25

A Heroine of the Bible: Abigail, 1 Samuel 25

My small group just recently completed a study on 1 Samuel.  During the course of this study I was struck with the humility Abigail demonstrated in 1 Samuel 25. Before we discuss the humility exhibited by Abigail I will provide some background for those not familiar with first Samuel.

1 Samuel is a narrative of the transition from the period of Judges in Israel to Kings.  Samuel was the last of the Judges and a Prophet.  The narrative documents the rise of Saul as Israel’s first King, his falling into disfavor with God and the surprising selection of a young shepherd boy named David to eventually succeed him as King.

The most famous story in first Samuel can be found in1 Samuel 17  which tells how David, armed only with a sling shot and 5 stones, killed Goliath, a giant Philistine warrior. This accomplishment brings young David great acclaim and fame.

There are three major characters in 1 Samuel 25.  They are David, the future King, Nabal, a wealthy man known for his evil & wicked nature and Nabal’s wife, Abigail.   Abigail is an intelligent yet humble woman.

While Nabal’s shepherds were tending his flock, David’s men protected them and treated them fairly.  When David learned that Nabal was shearing his sheep he asked his men to approach him politely and in David’s name ask for what Nabal thought would be fair compensation.  David’s men went and did as they were asked and when they reached Nabal said “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.  I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel.  Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.”

Instead of being grateful to David and his men, Nabal responded by hurling insults at them.  When David heard this he and four hundred of his men took up swords with the intent of killing Nabal and his men.

One of Nabal’s servants fearing David’s reaction told Abigail what had transpired.  She immediately realized their fate if she did not act quickly.
She took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys and headed to meet David.  When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.  She fell at his feet took responsibility, presented the offering and asked forgiveness.

David was gracious.  He accepted the offering and did not kill Nabal and his men.

Here we see a heroine.  Abigail took responsibility for something she did not do, made an offering and sought forgiveness.  She put others above herself.  Because of her actions the lives of many innocent were saved. Shortly, thereafter Nabal died. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Faith: The Strength of James Foley & His Family

Faith: The Strength of James Foley & His Family

For a comprehensive analysis on the subject I refer you to Randy Alcorn’s 2009 book “If God is Good”.

On August 19, 2014 the world was stunned with the release of a video depicting the beheading of American journalist, James Foley.  In the days following, we learned about his faith and the faith of his family.  How he relied on his faith during his captivity and how his family is now relying on their faith as they walk through the grieving process.

A recent article from the Catholic News Service reports that during the Pope's telephone conversation with the Foley family he was struck by the faith of Diane Foley, James’ mother.  The article also quotes James' parents.  John Foley, James’ father, observed “We think his strength came from God” Diane injected “We know it did.”

Before I examine the faith of the Foley family, some background would be appropriate.  The Foley’s are a Roman Catholic family from New Hampshire.  James graduated from Kingswood Regional High School, a public high school in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  After high school he attended and  graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Marquette is a Roman Catholic university which is run by the Jesuits.

After graduation from Marquette, James began a teaching career but eventually decided to change careers and enter the field of photojournalism.   

In 2011, he was hired by GlobalPost, an international online news service.  He was sent to Libya to cover the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and embedded himself with rebel fighters.  In April of that year, he and three other journalists were captured by forces loyal to Gaddafi.  Foley was released after 44 days. 

After his release he visited Milwaukee to thank the community for praying for his safe return.  He also revealed that praying the rosary helped him get through his ordeal.

James had a commitment to reporting from the front lines of a conflict.  He felt it was important for people to know what was going on.  His commitment was so strong that being held captive for 44 days would not deter him from his mission.  He soon returned to Libya and was on the scene when Gaddafi was captured. 

Then came that fateful Thanksgiving Day in 2012; James Foley was kidnapped, never to enjoy freedom again.

In James’ final letter to his family it was learned that he and the other captives were held together, 18 men to a cell.   James found comfort with them being together.  They were able to support each other.  They would engage in conversations on a variety of subjects, including movies, trivia and sports.  They would also find innovative ways to play checkers, chess and Risk.  They would also spend time teaching each other.  All of these activities passed time and helped them sustain one another.

This and James’ revelation that he relied on prayer during his first captivity reminds me of the lesson which we are taught in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 (ESV), which reads:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

When we are faced with difficult times we need to rely on the others that God has placed in our lives. We are not meant to travel the difficult roads alone.  As these verses teach us we are stronger when we work together but the last seven words remind us that our greatest strength comes when we include God in our lives.

During this final captivity James revealed in letters that he still continued to rely on God.  He often spoke of prayer and told his family that he prayed for them to remain strong. 

We are also are taught in scripture that we will have trouble in this life, this life is not easy but there is hope.  In the Gospel of John 16:33 (ESV), Jesus tells us

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Understanding that there will be tribulation (trouble) in this lifetime is important but it is even more important to understand that there is something after our earthly life.  This is promised to us as clearly as trouble is.  In 1 John 25 (ESV) we are taught: “And this is the promise that He made to us—eternal life.

It is the faith and understanding of this promise that allows us to get through the difficult journeys we face.

This is a difficult concept for us to accept, especially as we are going through pain.  One of the best explanations of this I have heard comes from former NFL Quarterback Trent Dilford.  Trent is a committed Christian who lost his five year old son, Trevor to heart disease.  In an interview for the book "Men of Sunday", Trent discussed his son's death and offered these words,

“If the motivation for your faith is what's going on in the...years we have here on this earth, then you are missing the truth of God's promises. What God promises is eternity. This is not our home. When we make our decision to trust in Him and to follow Him, our home is with Him for eternity."

Many things have impressed me about the Foley family and how they have dealt with this tragedy but one thing stands out.  It is this statement “We thank God for the gift of Jim, we are so, so proud of him.”

In this quote they reveal their strong faith and a good understanding of God’s promises.  They are able to focus, not on their painful loss, but on the gift God provided them in the forty years James Foley was on this earth. It is also clear they have hope.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Depression: My Story, Part 5, 2008 - Present, The Conclusion, Free at Last

Depression: My Story, Part 5, 2008 – Present
The Conclusion: Free At Last

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastics Chapter 4 verses 9 – 12 (ESV).

The conclusion of this series is not an ending but rather a beginning; a beginning of a new chapter in my life, the beginning of a life free of major depression and addiction. 

This post will explore another critical turning point and then it will unpack my life since 2010; a life which through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ is free from the dark tunnel that was my life before I reached out for help.

This series began with me sharing my darkest days in the tunnel of major depression;  when life did not seem worth living, now it will conclude with a story of happiness, joy and freedom.

In my last post I share an emotional story.  That story was sad because “the cool kids” lost a dear friend, but encouraging for me in that I felt my personal relationship with God being restored. 

Once I got to the point of having my personal relationship with God restored I was able to get outside of myself, I began to explore the world.  This was the beginning of another critical turning point.

I had regained focus and was able to explore the world of reading. 

I read constantly. My reading consisted of the Bible and non-fiction books, mostly on the topics of Christian living and leadership.  I read many biographies of successful people, mainly athletes, who had overcome challenges.  Reading how they battled successfully provided me with hope and encouragement.

I also realized that I had to be careful not to isolate myself.  Once I was discharged from the almost daily treatment I was receiving from August, 2008 until May, 2009, I made sure to get out of the house and be around people. 

I would take my books and visit local coffee shops.  This was great, not only did it get me out of the house, but it was amazing how many people would strike up conversations with me about what I was reading.  I started to make new friends. I learned from these friends in our sometimes brief and often extended conversations.  

I began to reach out to old friends.  We would have lunch or coffee and most importantly we would talk and I would learn. I had become a sponge for learning.  I would soak up every story and every fact.

In the fall of 2009, I took a very important step.  The church I attend, Grace Community Church in Fulton, Maryland, offers a Men’s Fraternity programWhen they had that year’s fall kick off, I made a commitment to attend. 

The commitment was important to me because I had attended some of their sessions before but never made the commitment to be part of the fraternity for the long term.  This time I made that commitment.

Normally, about 200 eager men attend.  It’s great to hear that other men face some of the same challenges and have some of the same fears as I do. 

The program at Grace is blessed with a very strong and dynamic leader in Dave Krueger of Search Ministries.

Dave is always transparent and open in his personal sharing.  He creates an atmosphere where sharing is easy.  There is no judgment, no second guessing only support and love.

Having the program presented live is unusual as it is normally done through video teaching, which is very successful and has helped a lot of men.  But having Dave teach it live with his wit and personal antidotes has been great for the program at Grace and helped me tremendously.

The program challenges all participants to do their best to be better fathers, better husbands, better workers and all around better men. 

The part of the sessions I enjoy the most is when we break into small groups. This gives me the opportunity to bond with other men on a more personal basis. 

I have found it valuable to have several men I can share with, pray with, seek advice from and ask to hold me accountable.  Now if you are a woman or a Christian based group does not appeal to you, please do not disregard my experience.

Men’s Fraternity is what worked for me.  It may not work for everybody, but it does not matter what the program or activity is. What is important is to have some place where you connect and bond with others of the same gender.  It is important to share your challenges and fears with others.

The quote from Ecclesiastics which leads off this post reminds us that we are stronger together but strongest when we include God in our lives.  This too has been an important part of my recovery.  It is imperative to me that I spend some time each day in prayer and conversation with my LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is from Him that I find my strength and gain inspiration.