Journey to the Summit of Thanksgiving

This morning my mind drifted back to a solo climb I had done of Kit Carson Peak.  This is a remote peak in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains.  It was a tough trek, made more difficult by a chest cold I had been fighting.  After being up above 13,000 feet for a few hours, my body and my mind were saying: “Let’s climb this one another day!!”  They weren’t just suggesting it, they were shouting it.  I do confess that I was ready to call it quits when I decided to stop and take time to pray, giving thanks for the awesome beauty stretched out before my eyes.  Soon after that prayer, I began to regain my strength and determination to reach the summit.  Before I knew it, I reached the summit at 14,165 feet.  It was glorious (as most every summit is)!

There were awesome views to take in and food to munch, but the one thing that stands out above all the rest is when I took time to give thanks to God.  There was surely much to give thanks for at that moment…including my physical well-being.  I pulled out my pocket-sized Bible and read Psalm 8.  That psalm begins and ends with these words: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”   Looking out from the top of Kit Carson Peak brought that psalm to life!  There were several 14,000 foot peaks nearby that brought back memories of other climbs I had made…Crestone Needle (my first 14’er), Crestone Peak (flying a kite from the summit), Challenger (another solo climb), Humbolt (the first 14’er for some of my family), and there far below was the mystery of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument that we had rolled down together as a family. Stretching out to the horizons were 1,000’s of miles of awesome beauty waiting to be explored.  It was indeed a “thankful” and worshipful moment.

Times like that seem natural for giving thanks to God.  Times of deliverance from some great fear or experiencing some great excitement can bring out the thanksgiving in us.  Yet, truth be known, God desires and delights in our giving of thanks at all times.  Ephesians 5:20 tells us to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything.” We are all asked to make that journey to the summit of thanksgiving.

Hopefully, you will be reading this in the days before Thanksgiving Day.  It’s wonderful to have a day set aside for all of us to give thanks.  It is good to have a Thanksgiving Day, but it’s even better to give thanks each and every day.  Today is a good day to focus on the journey to the summit of thanksgiving and make it a regular part of our daily lives.  Even in the midst of what seems to be the absolute worst of times in our lives, pausing to give thanks to our Lord can truly strengthen us for life’s journey.  It can change our perspective in ways we may not have been thinking about.

God has indeed blessed us with so many different blessings.  Most all of these were given as gifts from Him, so that we might be able to bless others.  On this Thanksgiving Day, as you journey to the summit of thanksgiving, may you not only give thanks to God for all His blessings, but may you also use those blessings for His Glory!!

The Holy Apostle Matthew and me

Back in 1982, I was a Protestant pastor on my way to becoming Orthodox. I had never asked a Saint to pray for me in my entire life. I worked up the courage to do this and took a hike out in the desert. After much prayer, trying to make sure this would be okay with the Lord, I asked the Holy Apostle Matthew to pray for me and my wife as we journeyed toward the Holy Orthodox Faith. From that moment on, Saint Matthew would play an important role in my life and ministry. So much so that my dad took the Holy Apostle Matthew as his Saint when he became Orthodox. The Icon for this devotional was my dad’s Icon. Side note: My wife and I became Orthodox in July of 1983 and continue to thank God for this amazing treasure.

Today, November 16th, the Orthodox Church commemorates this amazing Saint of our Faith. Let’s take a moment to look at his life and how it speaks to us now.

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So, he arose and followed Him.

(Matthew 5:16)

And there you have it. The Holy Apostle Matthew has just described his own conversion to Christ. There is no doubt a whole lot more to the story, but for Matthew the tax collector, this summed it all up. At some point in time, most of us have committed our life to Christ. We have decided to get serious about our faith and how the Lord would have us live. Your story no doubt has many details as does my own story. Yet for each of us, it could be boiled down to something like this: 

“And Jesus said to me, “Follow me.” So, I got up and followed Him.”

Jesus may have spoken to you through the Holy Scriptures, through another person, or some event in your life. However it happened, the message was the same: “Follow me!”

For the Holy Apostle Matthew that was the beginning of “the race that was marked out for him.” After proclaiming the Gospel in Syria, Media, Persia, Parthia, he finished the race in Ethiopia in a glorious fashion, dying as a martyr for the faith. You can read the rest of his story at:

https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2007/11/16/103313-apostle-and-evangelist-matthew

Each of us has a “race” marked out for us to run as well. With the Holy Apostle Matthew as our example, may we run our race with perseverance. Here is our encouragement for staying strong to the finish line:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The Holy Apostle Matthew is just one of the Saints of God that make up that “great cloud of witnesses” who pray for us and cheer us on. There is much in this world that can hinder and entangle us as we run our race. These Saints are there to help us. Today is a great day to call on your Saint. If you don’t have a Saint yet, pick one out and ask for his or her help. I began with Matthew and now have many Saints who help me make it through each day keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. May our Lord help us to be faithful all the way to the finish line of our lives, through the prayers of Saint Matthew and all the Saints.

“I am sorry you got offended by what I said (or did), but…”

“I am sorry you got offended by what I said (or did), but…”

When was the last time you did or said something wrong and then immediately found a way to justify your actions or words? If you are like me, it is not a very long trip into the past to find an example. “I am sorry you got offended by what I said (or did), but(add your favorite justification).” It is early in the morning as I write this so I haven’t done it yet today. We are actually following in a long line of folks who try to excuse their actions or words. It began with Adam when God confronts him over doing that which was forbidden: “…but it was the woman you gave me that is the one to blame.” Adam not only justified himself but managed to blame God and Eve. Nice try, but you just can’t get one over on God.

In the amazing story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), an expert in the Law asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him how he reads it and he answers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him that he nailed it; “Do this and you will live.”

We are then told that this man wants to justify himself. His heart is not right with God as we find out he is unable to love certain people because of their ethnicity and their religious beliefs. So, he asks the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus knows his prejudice and his bigotry toward the Samaritans. He tells him the story of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite were both people that the expert in the Law would have admired and accepted as being the heroes of the story. But the punch line comes when it is a Samaritan that is the hero. When Jesus asks the man who is the “neighbor” to the injured man, he cannot even use the word “Samaritan” and says: “The one who had mercy on him.”

The main point of this story is to reveal the inability of the man to love his neighbor because of his own dislike for a whole group of people known as Samaritans. Jesus doesn’t tell this man that he needs to become a Samaritan or even agree with their religious practice, but that he needs to love the Samaritans because they are his neighbors. The issue of the religious and ethnic hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans is far removed from us. If we just take race as an example, it becomes obvious: If someone has hatred toward a race of people, the hero would surely be that race of people.

Perhaps the impact of this passage of Holy Scripture can become more relevant to us if we look at the world we live in today. We don’t have to look far to see the tremendous anger and even hatred being expressed by people on various issues. Let’s look at a few examples from today if Jesus were telling this story. Who would be the hero of the story?

If you are a staunch Trump supporter, who would be the hero of the story? It would be a far-left Democrat.

If you are a far-left Democrat, who would be the hero? A staunch Trump supporter.

If you are a person who angrily demands everyone to be vaccinated? It would be an angry anti-vaxxer.

If you are an angry anti-vaxxer? It would be those people angrily demanding everyone be vaccinated.

You get the idea: The hero toward anti-maskers would be those demanding everyone wear masks and vice-versa. One last one for us to consider: Who would the hero on either side be if the issue was sexual preference?

Our society seems to be seething with anger (even hatred) toward those with whom we disagree on certain issues. Instead of loving our neighbor, we mock them, yell them down, or even worse. God doesn’t ask us to become those whom we disagree with, but He does call us to love them. They too are made in the image and likeness of God and they are in every way our neighbor.  

Did anyone just say: “I know my social media posts may offend (you name the group), but…(add your favorite justification).” No “buts”… We need to begin to love our neighbor now.