As the sun set on a long and difficult day I began to remember that Thanksgiving would soon be coming and I felt a need to call my wife to see what she had planned. A few weeks ago she had sent me some Little Debbie cakes (appropriate since her name is Debbie) and I had shared how quickly they had disappeared out the door of the chapel. She told me that she had contacted friends from our former congregations and some family and that donations were pouring in for her to send forth an abundance of Little Debbie cakes to me here.
I continue to be amazed at the generosity and warmth of God�s many great people. So I say thank you to my friends: Great families like the Walcholz and Engel families. My paintball and gym buddy who makes one great bowl of soup and wonderful desserts Kevin, some generous congregations like Trinity in Cininnati, Emmanuel in Hamilton, and Concordia in Kingsport, as well as family. And the list could go on. But to all I say thank you and God bless.
There is much to be thankful for. Even in the midst of rain and cold (strange adjustment for the dessert) and in the middle of war and all the pain and suffering that comes with war, there is so much to be thankful for. Everyday I see how people back home reach out to make a difference in the lives of service members here whether it be in care packages or in efforts to make phone calls or send notes to lift people up. I visited with one shop that had to build a store room just to process all their mail. That is great stuff!
I had a young airman come to our Contemporary Service the other evening, the first he had attended in years. He had shared with me how he had become disillusioned with church after some rude comments made by some mean spirited people with their opinions of what a good Christian should look like.
It would be easy to be downed by the incredible focus on the negative in our culture. My young airman friend is not the first person I�ve talked to who has had a bad experience inside a church and been turned off by it. As a pastor I�ve known my share of people who claim the name of Christian who were just plain mean in their spirits. People who had been unhappy so long that their faces were creased into deep furrows of unhappiness and discontent. People whose only pleasure seemed to be in causing hatred and discontent. I�ve known my share of people in the pews and even a few in the pulpit that became so discouraged they were tempted to just leave and give up on it all. I think too that in today�s information age, internet and email have increased the problem, because a person of ill will can communicate hurtful words without looking into the eyes of the person they are seeking to hurt. (But that is a whole other conversation.) It is easy to be discouraged when meanness has infected a church or other organization through mean and cold hearted people. Another thing I�ve noticed is that often the coldness and negativity of mean people tend to make them louder and more noticeable making them and their pet issue(s) more important than they really are. This too can increase our sense of discouragement.
I think in a war, the same temptation can face people of a nation, when the focus is on the negative, the painful, the suffering.
But there is so much to be thankful for. There are many opportunities to reach out and make a difference. I am not surprised any longer when I hear stories of how our folks have done something that made a real difference in the lives of the people who live around us. Nor am I truly surprised by the generosity of friends and family whose hearts I�ve gotten to know over the years. I am thankful, for there is so much need, and assistance to do ministry and make a difference is a wonderful gift to receive. But I�ve come to know there are many warm and loving congregations and people moved by the Spirit of Christ and these I treasure.
So the advice I shared with the young airman I share with you. When confronted with the mean spirited and those who seemed inclined to cause hurt and mischief, I�ve learned to ignore them. Not ignore them in the sense of pretending they do not exist or even allowing them to cause harm when I can do something to prevent it, but ignoring them in the sense that I do not allow them to discourage me or lead me to give up on doing ministry that makes a difference. Don�t let the meanness that is in the world and in people narrow your vision to not see the good in warm hearted people or the opportunities to seize to make life better. God loves His people and through His people does tremendous things.
A mentor of mine once shared the story of the stumps. Our founding fathers were successful in their first colonies because they learned quickly as they cleared the fields for produce that when they had a stubborn stump, rather than spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to rip it out, just to plow around it. With the passage of time, nature itself would rot the stump. So in a field fertile and producing, the stubborn stump was hardly worth being concerned about. There is far too much good going on to become too discouraged by those who seek harm instead of good.