Should I Give This to a Friend?

I got this email through my website yesterday:

Hi,  Paul. A friend loaned me a copy of your book and I read it. I enjoyed it, so I bought a couple of copies. My pastors wants to read it. Here’s my question: I have a friend who served in Iraq some time ago, maybe 15 years ago or more. He did lose some friends and saw action that had casualties. Do you think this book would be appropriate to offer for him to read? Would it bring some perspective or healing? Or take him back to relive the horrors of war? I would appreciate your input.

And here’s what I wrote back to him:

Hello, friend. Great to get your email. Thank you. I think the book would be a good thing for your friend to read. While it mentions some of the painful stuff and the danger, it also shows how some of us processed the PTSD and got better. The Lord is a huge part of that, and I think it could be helpful for your friend. I’ve had a chance to talk with other veterans who went through some pretty horrible experiences, and they told me it was helpful. So go ahead and share it with him, and tell him he’s welcome to give me a call or an email if he wants to talk about his experiences over there.

The man’s pastor wants to read the book, which leads me to say this: Anyone looking for a book to use for a book group, a Bible study, or a home group discussion might consider using Safest Place in Iraq. There are discussion questions in the back. Plus, there’s a separate study guide. Consider using it in your group or at your church.

Walking Annapolis

Our weekly excursion in the Washington DC area was a bit closer to home this week. We decided to spend the day downtown Annapolis, exploring the sites, stores, and restaurants. It’s definitely worth coming back, because there’s way too much to see and do in one day.

We have done a few walking tours in England, and got to see places and hear stories we’d never experience otherwise, and we wanted a similar experience in Annapolis. Fortunately, we had met Mr. William Ridgley of Colonial Tours Annapolis, and spent a delightful couple of hours with him, traipsing through the town, learning a ton of history, asking questions, and receiving in-depth knowledge in reply. The man is brilliant, and definitely worth the tour.

Right next to the downtown dock is a bronze of Alex Haley telling a group of children the story of his Roots. Apparently, Haley’s ancestor arrived from Africa and disembarked in Annapolis, providing a historic side to the city we hadn’t imagined existed. Of course, Francis Scott Key was a graduate of St. John’s College here in Annapolis, which adds to the texture and complexity of the city’s history.

Downtown Annapolis is full of boutiques, cafés, pubs, gift shops, general stores, and specialty shops. The Galway Bay Irish Restaurant and Pub is a local favorite, as is Chick and Ruth’s Delly. We particularly enjoyed the Café Normandie, and of course Kilwin’s Chocolate & Ice Cream is definitely worth stopping in.

Near the state capitol, we chanced upon The Annapolis Pottery and met the owner/potter. Of course, we added to our collection of teapots and locally-made wares. Then we walked up King George Street along the outer wall of the Naval Academy.

The famous, beautiful dome of the chapel is being renovated, and had scaffolding all around it, but the cupola at the very top stood out against the clouded, blue sky. We plan to go back when the rest of the dome is completed, showing off its new copper skin.

At the Hammond-Harwood House, we learned a lot about early American architecture, furnishings, and lifestyle. But we also gleaned some interesting tidbits about the values and culture. Our guide was pretty knowledgeable.

We want to experience more of Annapolis, such as the Colonial Players’ Theater in the Round, when it opens. And many more attractions that we just didn’t have time to see yet.

The picture at the top of this article is an image on the wall of the Naval Academy near the main entrance. There’s much to see inside the Academy itself, but that’ll take another whole day.

Gettysburg

Since I was a little boy growing up in Southern California, Gettysburg has been a point of fascination and awe for me. It was a turning point in the Civil War. That’s where President Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches. Anybody with an interest in American history wants to visit the site. And now, for the first time in my life, I got to spend a day there. Gettysburg is only 79 miles from home.

The Visitor’s Center houses a Museum, Theater, Cyclorama, Café, and super-important for us . . . the Bookstore.

First on the to-do list was an introductory film, which was brief, but well done.

The museum itself was fascinating. It started with the events leading up to the election of 1860 and the secession of the Confederate States, then transitioned to the battle itself. I must admit that some of the quotations, images, and artifacts were quite disturbing. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people justified slavery and the horrendous mistreatment of human beings.

Cycloramas used to be a popular way for people to experience art “from the inside.” Originally created by an Irish painter in 1787, they became popular in the 1800’s. The intent is to allow viewers to be surrounded by the images as if they were standing in the middle of the actual location. The Gettysburg Cyclorama accomplishes this so well.

After the museum and the Cyclorama, we got a drink and a snack from the Battlefield Café, and then spent some time exploring the bookstore. We love books and we love learning, so this was special for us. The store also has clothing and souvenirs.

And then on to the battlefield tour itself. We like going at our own pace, which is almost always slower than if we were in a guided tour. The reason we are slower is not because we are slowpokes. Oh no. We can keep up with anybody. The reason we prefer to go at our own pace is because we want to learn more and see more. OK, let’s be totally honest here . . . LINDA is the one who wants to learn more, read more, see more, do more. The woman can’t get enough information, knowledge, and detail.

So, we did the self-guided audio tour, using the Gettysburg National Military Park app on her phone. It’s the exact same information and videos available on the park’s website. The park ranger featured in the videos is Ranger Christopher Gwinn, Chief of Interpretation and Education, and he was fantastic.

The last stop on the driving tour was the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and is definitely worth visiting. This is where President Lincoln gave “a few appropriate remarks.” Interestingly, he wasn’t the main speaker that day. The primary orator was Edward Everett, a nationally known speaker who spoke for over two hours. Later on, he wrote a letter to President Lincoln, saying that he wished he could have accomplished in two hours what Lincoln had done in two minutes.

When the tour was over, we got to choose from among several interesting restaurants. We selected the Dobbin House, and enjoyed a delightful candlelight dinner, the highlight being the Date Nut Bread. Yes, we brought a loaf home.

During our meal, my wife asked her typical question: What was one of the most meaningful experiences of your day? I’ve been on her famous study abroad trips to England, so I know she asks her students that very question at the end of every day. My answer on this particular day in Gettysburg was twofold. First, the absolutely horrible attitude that slaveholders had about their African American “property.” Second, being on the battlefield and seeing the terrain and the distances.

We plan to return to Gettysburg in September to continue to experience and learn a little more. Or maybe a lot more. One day merely whetted the appetite.

Wednesdays in Washington

When my wife and I had an invitation to take a job in Annapolis, Maryland, we thought and prayed about it, and accepted the invitation. Not only did we value the position and the work we would be doing, we also liked the idea of being near the nation’s capital.

We’ve been to Washington DC several times, but now that we’ll be living here for at least a year, we want to see as much of the area as possible. And, since Wednesday will be my day off, at least for now, that’s when we plan do our excursions. We’re calling them Wednesdays in Washington.

Our first trip to the city, we drove to the Metro station in New Carrollton, parked the car, and took the public transportation. We were stunned to find nobody else in our car. Not one other person. When we landed at the Smithsonian, we climbed the steps to exit, but I wanted a picture of the tracks below, and was surprised to find nobody there. Again, the place was abandoned. Maybe because of Covid, but it was quite strange to see a Metro station so empty.

We knew that most of the museums in town were closed, but we wanted our first visit to be at the National Mall, anyway. We were hoping there might be some cherry blossoms still on the trees, but alas, not one blossom remained. But there were three memorials we had never visited.

Walking around the basin, we came to the Jefferson Memorial. Despite the fact that it was scaffolded for renovation, it was open, and we got a chance to read about the man and his impact. His writing and speeches on liberty and freedom were probably among the greatest influences in the founding of the United States. Freedom of thought, religion, and conscience. Political liberty, education, and the equality of all people. These were some of the values and commitments he proclaimed and worked into the fabric our founding documents, laws, and policies. It’s a shame our country has taken so long to implement these concepts that were stated so long ago.

Another site we hadn’t visited was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. FDR was president at a crucial time in history. It was a tough time not only for the United States, but around the world. The Great Depression brought poverty and ruin to millions of people, and was followed by World War II. President Roosevelt rose to the occasion in both crises and took action. One of his quotations engraved on the stone walls declared, “There should be no forgotten men, and no forgotten races.”

This allowed us to segue to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and saw the sculptor’s portrayal of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech: This is our hope . . . We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” is carved into the stone which Dr. King is portrayed as emerging from.

From there we walked to the Lincoln Memorial, the Viet Nam Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument, talking, reflecting, and taking pictures as we walked. We had totally missed lunch, and were starting to feel the effects of not eating. Fortunately, we came across an ice cream vendor who rescued us. After resting a bit while eating our ice cream, we walked back to the Metro station and retraced our journey til we arrived back at our home. Tired, but perhaps more-informed and wiser.

Writing Challenge Winner!

I just found out that an article I recently posted won the weekly writing challenge from FaithWriters. The article titled “Running a Marathon” is an excerpt from a brand new book I’m co-writing with Dr. Keith Travis. Our book is titled Military Ministry: Chaplaincy in the 21st Century.

Some comments from readers of the article:

“I liked the idea of comparing training for a marathon for the training of everyday living. Both types of endeavors are only successful with God’s help.”

“Your article has good content and speaks of experience.”

“I really liked this! It wasn’t hard hitting, yet had a very definite message. It was great.”

“Your title drew me in, and I wasn’t disappointed! Sounds like someone that knows about running in a marathon physically and spiritually! You’re running to win!”

“This is a great devotion. I liked your real life lesson and your biblical one too.”

Running a Marathon

Nobody shows up the day of a marathon without taking the time, the effort, and the expense to get ready, because running a marathon will require months of preparation. The training has to include long distances several days a week. Eating habits need to be modified because nutrition can work for or against the body and the mind.

A marathoner will become an expert on things like foot care, clothing, and how to prevent chafing. Research will determine the best shoes for the particular shape of the foot and the unique way each athlete runs. Just as important is the training of the mind for the grueling ordeal of running 26.2 miles, because anyone who loses the mental game is already in trouble.

Another aspect of preparing for the race is being careful to stretch and warm up before every run. This is crucial in the prevention of injury. It also enables the runner to extend the stride for maximum reach, which equates to more ground covered each step of the way, and when running 26 miles, an inch or two per stride adds up, which means less time to complete the race, and a greater chance  of winning the race.

The same attention to detail must be considered when preparing for life, marriage, a career, or ministry. Putting in the time to pray, do the research, and count the cost will pave the way for long-term success. And in the same way a runner will stretch before running, the Christian will stretch and warm up spiritually every day. This is done by reading the Bible, singing a few worship songs, or spending time in the presence of the Lord. This daily “quiet time” enables you to reach a little farther each step of the way, just like stretching helps lengthen the runner’s stride. And it helps prevent spiritual or emotional injury, the same way stretching prevents physical injury. In the big picture, this daily practice will enable you to proclaim with the apostle in 2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (HCSB).

We never know what we might face in the future. That’s why it’s so important to continually add to our training, our learning, and our growing, both personally and professionally. The price of success is high, and we have to count the cost. Is it worth it? You have to decide for yourself. On your mark. Get set. Go!

Recommendation for Safest Place in Iraq

I pray that all of you are doing well after a week of glorifying God during Holy Week.  As I compose this email, I have a lingering awe over the profound power of Jesus’ resurrection . . . how that day changed everything for everybody for all of history and all of eternity . . . how it changes you and me every time we bow our heads in prayer!  God is so good!

Here is a recently released book by a chaplain:

“Safest Place in Iraq: Experiencing God During War” by Chaplain Paul Linzey, is an excellent resource for chaplains, as they consider how they might handle combat ministry.  Great vignettes throughout.  Honest and inspiring.  It’s widely available and costs about $20 in paperback.  It is published by Morgan James Faith.

From Rev. Jim Denley, Retired Navy Captain, now the military chaplain endorser of the Assemblies of God. The book may be purchased on this website, from the publisher, or ordered from any bookstore.

He Ain’t Heavy; He’s My Brother

I posted this about a year ago, but it was featured on CBN.org today as their daily devotion, so I wanted to play it again on my blog.

Walking along a country road, a little girl struggles under the weight of a heavy load. A passerby stops to see if she needs help, and notices that she’s carrying a rather large baby boy, not much smaller than herself, it seems.

“Don’t you get tired carrying him?”

The little girl matter-of-factly replies, “He’s na heavy; he’s mi brither.”

The story first appeared in Scotland in 1884, in a book on the Parables of Jesus. It showed up in the September 1924 Kiwanis magazine. Then in 1941, Father Edward Flanagan discovered a similar story with a picture in Ideal Magazine, and got permission to use the motto and image at Boys Town, the home for boys he founded.

The movie Boys Town came out in 1938. A 1941 sequel, titled The Men of Boys Town, included the line, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” In 1969, Bob Russell and Bobby Scott wrote a song by the same name. It became popular and was song by dozens of pop singers in the 60s and 70s. In addition, there have been numerous paintings and sculptures on the same theme.

There’s something about the story of the little girl that captivates the imagination and begs to illustrate a key theme in the Bible. In Genesis 4:9, The Lord asks Cain about Abel, and the murderer replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer implied in the scripture is simple. “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.” Leviticus 19:18 instructs the people of God to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which Jesus quotes in Matthew 22:37. The apostle Paul adds in Galatians 6:2 that we are to “Carry one another’s heavy load, and by doing so, fulfill the law of Christ.”

In Victor Hugo’s timeless novel, Les Misérable, Jean Valjean is a former criminal who changes his name and his lifestyle in order to hide his past, eventually becoming the mayor of a town. But the new chief of police is the very same officer who was a guard at the prison, and is looking to re-arrest Valjean for breaking parole. One day, one of the men in town is trapped under the heavy weight of a horse-drawn wagon, and nobody is able to get him out from underneath. Then, while Javert, the police inspector, is watching, the mayor hefts the weight of the wagon, lifting it off the ground high enough for others to pull the man to safety.

The officer remembers a time when a prisoner had done something similar in the prison, and wonders if this is the same man. Knowing what’s at stake, Valjean risks his identity and his freedom in order to help the man.

Carrying one another’s burden is the essence of loving someone in the name of the Lord, loving someone enough to lighten the load, loving someone enough to risk everything in order to offer a helping hand.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 has a similar motif. In this story, several righteous people see the injured man, but they don’t stop to help him. The one who provides the desperately needed assistance is an outsider, a despised Samaritan, someone you’d least expect to offer help. But he does stop, and he does help. In fact, he pays the innkeeper to care for the man until he returns.

After telling the story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” An expert in the law replies, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

It is this Go and Do Likewise that Jesus asks his followers to put into practice. Are we big enough to see every human being as our neighbor, and every person out there as a brother or sister? To put it into the words of the little Scottish girl, “He’s na heavy; he’s mi brither.”

Brothers

Christmas Present

If you’re wondering what to give someone for Christmas, let me suggest the book Safest Place in Iraq. The emphasis is on the presence of Christ during tough times. And that’s the meaning of Immanuel . . . God is with us.

As one reviewer wrote, “It is very clear that even in the greatest uncertainties of life, God makes a difference for those who turn to Him. Lives touched for Jesus Christ are given the opportunity to be changed for a lifetime.”

Give the gift of faith, hope, and love this year. And if you order it from this website, it’ll get there faster than ordering it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Just click on the Books menu above.

Forgive & Forget?

Lewis Smedes wrote a book about forgiveness in which he discusses some of the psychological, spiritual, and relational dynamics of being hurt and then moving towards healing and forgiveness. He wanted to title the book, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, but the publisher insisted on something catchier, something that might spark more interest on the popular level.

So the people at HarperCollins decided to name it Forgive and Forget, a title Smedes hated because as he says, “Forgiving has nothing to do with forgetting. In fact, sometimes the best forgiving happens because we remember.” The negotiated compromise kept the publisher’s preference, of course, and Smedes’s working title became the subtitle. This solution worked. It has sold more than a half million copies.

Of course, the book itself is excellent. It is interesting and helpful. Smedes starts with a European folk tale about a husband and wife who are unhappy. The husband is devastated when he learns that his wife had an affair. But they manage to work through their unhappiness, come to forgiveness, and experience personal growth. Their end state is better, despite the affair.

Of course, Smedes keeps it interesting all the way through with examples, information, and personal experiences of betrayal, pain, struggle, and triumph. Each anecdote in this nonfiction work reengages the reader, pulling her back to the author’s theme, and ways to more effectively handle her own struggle of hurt, hate, healing, and forgiveness. Each page reveals a little more of the complexities and dynamics involved. Each issue is common to every one of us.

Jesus knew how to forgive. He prayed “Father forgive them . . .” And he taught, “Forgive and your sins will be forgiven.”

The Apostle Paul understood forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” He himself had been forgiven of some pretty ugly sins.

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all felt the sting of betrayal in one way or another. But have we all learned how to forgive?