Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving in a World of Hurt

No one likes being left out of a party. There’s nothing quite as stinging as those times when you are so close to a celebration that you can smell the food, hear the laughter, and feel the vibrations of the music yet, you never received the invitation and you’ve been left to fend for yourself. But what about the times when you have received an invitation, are in the midst of partying heartily and suddenly notice a face in the window, full of sadness from having be left out, that looks in on your enjoyment with a pain you can’t ignore and quickly disappears into the darkness outside? How can you celebrate when you know someone else is hurting? This situation is a pale reflection of what I feel this Thanksgiving, knowing that people I deeply love and care about – my family and compatriots in the Philippines – are experiencing much suffering as we here enter a season to remember and celebrate comparative abundance, well-being and blessing. I also struggle with the needs of which I am aware close to home, where many struggle and have little material wherewithal within their grasps and are truly immersed in a time of hardship. How can I prepare a feast, when so many are suffering and barely able to eat? Am I being calloused? Do I really care? These thoughts are part of the great struggle of seeking to understand and combat the problems of evil and suffering in a world created by a God the Bible presents to us as supremely and completely good. It is proper to wrestle with this problem. Nevertheless, what is even more important, is what we do with our inner struggle. There is a concept of mature Christian faith that has always resonated with me and that I believe addresses the questions and problems like the one with which I am wrestling and that has given me a meaningful way to engage these issues. The concept is this: When you find that you have been blessed when others appear to have been abandoned, realize that you have been blessed to be a blessing, and that you are duty bound to share those blessings with as many who are hurting as is possible. I have found this principle to be a powerful vehicle for good in every arena from academia where those who had strengths in certain areas, shared their knowledge and know-how with others who were not a prodigiously blessed as they, as well as in desperate places steeped in poverty and want, where individuals and groups who were mightily blessed with money, education, determination, connections and compassion, used all those resources to address the immediate and long-term needs of the people they knew were in extreme situations of deprivation and despair. I have learned that there is no intrinsic sin in being blessed with material wealth, educational depth or powerful political connections. The challenge lies in how one uses such powerful blessings in one’s day to day life and how one uses them in the face in devastating tragedy and neediness. The Scripture says, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” For those of us who have received much, let us celebrate what we have been given, because it is appropriate to be glad and to give thanks. However, let us also commit ourselves to use our blessings to be blessings for those who are struggling and who are not in a position to celebrate, knowing that while we are supposed to give thanks, we are also charged to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those who suffer with the comfort we ourselves have received. Will this approach solve all the world’s ills? No. But in this season we dedicate ourselves to giving thanks, I am compelled to level this challenge to you and to myself. My message is to stop lamenting what you can’t do or what isn’t being done and to do what you can. Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.” Luz and I can’t feed a million people, but the Lord has given us the resources and connections to feed a few thousand. You may be able to do more or less. Put a dollar in a bucket. Buy some shoes for someone who needs it. Share a meal or make a meal. Build a school or help a school that is doing work you know needs to be done. Hug someone who hasn’t been hugged in a long time, if ever. Thank someone who served and now no one seems to care. Give a big gift for that project that needs just a bit of a boost to make a huge impact. Support someone who is dreaming of doing great things for others but just needs someone who has a little pocket change to believe it them. It won’t solve every problem, but it will reduce the overall problem by the extent you have helped, which is movement in the right direction! I ask you simply to be thankful for what you have, consider the needs you know about both near and far, figure out how helpful your blessings allow you to be and act on it! Now is the time to give thanks and to stop cursing the darkness! Celebrate and be thankful! Celebrate and be helpful! Light your candle and help light up the world! You’ve been blessed now BE a blessing! Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Your Brother, Sam.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Shall Return – The Power of Commitment

One of the first quotations I remember learning as a child was General Douglas MacArthur’s defiant proclamation “I shall return!” MacArthur uttered the timeless declaration in the face of the stunning Japanese takeover of the Philippines, promising that in spite of having to leave at the onset of the Japanese occupation to avoid capture, he and other U.S. forces would return again to the Philippines to liberate our staunch ally and unrelenting friend. MacArthur kept his promise, returning to Leyte Gulf in dramatic fashion, along with Philippine Leaders, including President Manuel Quezon. As the U.S. and Philippines faced the remainder of the War together and continued to walk together in the post war years as friends who found themselves occasionally at odds, MacArthur’s words took on a life of their own, symbolizing an unyielding commitment to friendship, in even the toughest times. Nevertheless, time wears down memories and in the face of changing eras and leadership, words often lose the power they once held to rally and inspire…or so we might think. Philippine news sources reported that when a contingent of U.S. Military personnel arrived in Leyte this week with relief supplies in hand, children who are too young to remember even more recent U.S. Military heroes like General Norman Schwarzkopf or General Colin Powell, began chanting repeatedly words that even many Americans no longer remember, “I shall return! I shall return!” I lost a breath upon hearing that report! Who could believe that words uttered almost 70 years ago, would rise up in the voices of children much too young to remember who spoke the words or for what reason? Who would think that MacArthur’s voice would once again serve as a symbolic rallying point to remind those who had come to help of the bond of friendship and the years of mutual sacrifice that demanded a helpful response in this most terrible time in Philippine History! Yet his words rose up, and the power of the friendship formed many years ago continues to gain strength in the midst of unimaginable hardship! These types of deep, caring, and longstanding friendships can build powerful foundations for standing against the storms of life. Followers of Jesus Christ are called to a life of building such friendships and to strengthening them through service – the type of service that is characterized by consistently responding to all manner of life situations with purpose, courage and selflessness. The historic words and actions of General Douglas MacArthur served as proof of this level of commitment and friendship – commitment proved to such a degree that more than 50 years after his death, his legacy survives to benefit those who come in service, wearing the same uniform! I have now spent over a quarter of a century falling in love with and being committed to the Republic of the Philippines. I am married to a woman who represents everything that makes the Philippines the great nation that it is. Over the years, I have forged a growing number of friendships that have evolved into brotherly and sisterly relationships and have cemented my commitment to stand with the Philippines in good times and in times of trouble. More than that, as a Christ follower, there is a call on my life to do good to all people and to touch those in need. This call and my love for the Philippines pushes me into action now more than ever! As the world knows, the Philippines is faced with one of its greatest tests in history. For those of you who are my friends, I call on you to walk with Luz and me in prayer and encouragement as we identify the ways we can most effectively reach out to those to whom we’ve been called to minister during this time of testing. Our representatives on the ground, Youth With A Mission missionaries Ramon and Nene Bautista, have presented us with a daunting and challenging report of the situation. Every aspect of life in the region hit by the earthquake and storms has been affected and the level of loss is epic in scope! Nevertheless, our missionaries – along with many others - are courageously engaged in the effort to comfort, support and strengthen those who are in need and they will not rest until the task is done. I have witnessed this commitment first hand. The love and steadfastness of Ramon and Nene touches me in the deepest way. But they cannot do their work alone. I have walked with Luz during our entire marriage and seen her undying commitment to the people of the Philippines in every circumstance as well. I have also stood with her in support of Ramon, Nene and the YWAM Philippines Team and have had the pleasure of walking alongside them literally as they carry out the ministry entrusted to them. In the face of these tragic times, by God’s mercy and grace, I will not merely support the work of rebuilding in the Philippines, but I SHALL RETURN to work alongside my brothers, sisters and friends to do what the Lord requires! And you, my friends around the globe, please pray for the Philippines and consider how you might help at this important time! Check out our website at for more info on how you can help towards the healing of a nation! Until next time… Sam

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Can You Feel the Love?

My Dear Friends, A question that was repeated a few times over the course of my birthday weekend was, “Can you feel the love?” A person who couldn’t feel love after the avalanche of kindness, affirmation, encouragement, celebration and love directed towards me in the last 4 days would be a person totally lacking of even a semblance of emotional intelligence! I am awed, overwhelmed, stunned and glowing after being nuked with an atomic level love by you dear friends. My family outdid themselves as well, putting on a party that rivaled a wedding reception, complete with slide shows, “How well do you know Sam?” quizzes and enough food to feed a battalion! I was showered with gifts and greetings from friends, affection from my children, sons-in-law and grandson, special blessings and fellowship from Luz and inundated with love from everyone! Saying thank you seems so inadequate, yet thanks is what I offer to you dear friends who celebrated Five-O with me in a hugely positive and uplifting way. I ended some very brief remarks at the party by saying, “with friends like you, I may be an only child, but I certainly am not an orphan!” Thank you for being my brothers and sister at heart! I am blessed, rich and grateful! Now, I press on in faith, emboldened by more than a little help from my friends! Grace, mercy and peace to you all! Your Brother in Life, Sam

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Five - O!!

As a child, 50 years seemed like an eternity. It was the definition of the phrase “a long time” and the very embodiment of the word “old”! What would one possibly be able to do once the Big Five-O barrier was reached? Well, years have passed since I viewed 50 as the “beginning of the end” – exactly 50 years! Having finally reached that quintessential milestone of maturity, I am delighted to report that I do not feel washed up, burned out or “through” in even the slightest degree. While it has not escaped my notice that I have achieved an accumulation of years that has given me experience, perspective and seasoning, my years have also given me context to understand that I still have much to learn and that I remain young enough to have the energy to eagerly engage new discoveries. I am fortunate enough to understand how to achieve results in an “old school” way, while at the same time being deeply appreciative and fully embracing of the new school of possibilities and realities that on-going progress afford – Yes, I am fortunate and appreciative! I am fortunate that I was blessed with caring and loving parents who guided me, protected me and prepared me for a world filled with possibilities, challenges and mystery. I am fortunate that they did not shelter me from reality in their parental work nor did they quench my ability to dream and to hope for a better future. I am fortunate that their steadfast work prepared my heart to embrace my own familial responsibilities. I am fortunate that as I enter my fifth decade of life I am blessed with parental responsibilities that include encouraging my two grown children who are charting amazing courses of life with families of their own, walking alongside a college-aged child as she traverses her own path of self-discovery and embracing the world of wonder that everyday uncovers for our youngest 9 year-old girl. I am also appreciative of the countless blessings the Lord has extended to me in my half-century of life. I am appreciative of many precious friendships defined by exceptional people who have stood by me like family and who embraced this only child like a brother through trials, tribulations and difficulties while assuring me that whatever challenges I might face, I would never face then alone. I am appreciative of the best friend and most loyal companion anyone could ever ask for, my wife Luz. I am appreciative that Luz has encouraged me at my lowest, supported me at my worst and confidently walked beside me at my most insecure moments. I am most appreciative that the Lord has so richly blessed me, in spite of my not deserving such benefits, and that He has touched my life deeply with rich mercy and amazing grace. As I face the 50 + future, I wish to directly express my thanks to you, my friends who have accompanied me along my journey. None of us can be absolutely sure of what tomorrow holds, but I do wish to make a few important commitments as the “third period” begins. I commit to walk in truth – to seek the truth, to teach the truth and to defend the truth in my daily dealings. I commit to walk in love – to love others in spite of how they feel about me, to promote love and understanding among everyone that I meet and to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I finally commit not to give up on life until the Lord takes me Home. I have experienced just enough loss to know that there are heartbreaks that are so deep and so painful that escape and surrender seem to offer the only solace in times of unbearable angst. I commit to keep trying. Though pain and suffering may await me, I will do my best to give my best for as long as the Lord allows me to live and to help all those I can to do the same. Thank you my friends – my family – for making my 50 years thus far more wonderful than anyone could desire. I eagerly and hopefully look forward to the wave of opportunities that the future will bring, facing all sorts of triumphs, challenges and opportunities. May God grant me the ability to run the remainder of the race and face the unknown future with dignity, skill and honor! May the Lord bless you all! Your Brother and fellow sojourner, Sam