Tag Archives: God

What Is On My Mind Today? Memorial Day Hymn…I Vow To Thee My Country


Introductions in Capitol Rotunda

I spent almost two decades working for the State of Minnesota.  Mostly, at the State Capitol.  I worked for a Senator in the Republican Senate Caucus, As a Constituent Writer and Committee Administrator for the Republican House Caucus, and as Press Secretary and Assistant Communications Director for Democrat Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

I also spent several years working for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs as Assistant Director of Communications and Management Analyst IV.   I was the project manager for Minnesota’s World War II Memorial Dedication ceremony.  Over 25,000 people came to that event.

I experienced a lot of diversity during those years of employment in both political parties, but one thing was always the same.  Whether in my office or tacked to a wall in a cube there was a copy of this hymn, “I Vow To Thee My Country.”

The words to this song always remind me of my Uncle Wendell and the thousands of young people just like him who gave their lives for our nation, freedom….and you and me.  Their sacrifice was not abstract it was real and personal.

The words to this hymn captures the power of love and sacrifice. Just reading the words would steel my spine on days when:

  • it seemed like every taxpayer in the state had yelled into my ear about the senator that was my responsibility.
  • frustrated political or bureaucratic leadership got snarky, because they made a dumb decision and felt it was their sworn duty to take it out on staff.
  • try as hard as I might there was just no helping a veteran or the family of a veteran.
  • an entire nation and world is watching a recount between two senators and, lucky me, got to answer press calls….and calls….and calls.
  • Surprise!  The complete crash of a neither internally, externally or user-tested new business services online filing system which was foisted on an unsuspecting public and untrained staff the weekend that sales taxes were due. I was instructed keep the issue from the media and help the “really angry” business folks…because I was good at it.
  • you are told to go fix the business services online filing system disaster.

During those times and many others, I would read the words to this hymn to remember why it was that I decided to be a civil servant. In my case, it was because I love my country, people and wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, and the military had rejected this girl with the equivalent of one working lung.

Then, I would remind myself that there is no crying in baseball or at the State Capitol and that at least I wasn’t getting shot at.

The people that this song was written about were shot at in World War I.  Cecil Spring Rice wrote this poem sometime in either 1908 or 1912.  It describes how a Christian’s loyalties are to their God and country.

In 1912, Mr. Rice was appointed Ambassador to the United States of America.   He successfully lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to join Britain in its war against the German Kaiser.  Before he returned home to Britain, he re-wrote the first verse to emphasize the love and sacrifice of soldiers.

This beautiful patriotic poem was privately distributed among friends and acquaintances for years before it was set to music by Gustav Holst.  It was first published as a hymn in 1925 in the Songs of Praise Hymnal.

I hope you enjoy this beautiful patriotic song.


I Vow To Thee My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

God Bless all of our soldiers and their families!  Thank you! 



What Is On My Mind Today: The Shadow of Death and Then….There Was Light!



Genesis 1:4
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.

My favorite time of the day is the early morning.  Specifically the crack of dawn. I like its silence, coolness and potential. This morning, like most mornings, my dogs got me up just as the first rays of sunlight escaped the eastern horizon.  The light danced across the landscape and bathed my backyard in a gentle golden haze.

As I was searching for recipes in my computer’s archives, I found this poem I had written well over thirty years ago.  I guess my likes and dislikes really have not changed much through six decades.

The Child Inside

When I was a child, meek and young
I vowed to myself to never miss a rising sun
Excited to greet the hues of new day
Determined not to let life slip away
This morning I watched a new day evolve
I wondered what happened to that small child’s resolve
Her promise was honest
Discovery was real
This morning’s sunrise, again, held a childlike appeal

I love light. It is reassuring, revealing, comforting, illuminating, clarifying and brightens up its surroundings.  Most importantly though, light chases away shadows. Which is important to me, because I have always been afraid of the dark.

Darkness is frightening. It blinds and disguises. Evil seems to be forever lurking within its depths just out of reach of light’s illumination. Light exposes the ominous secrets of darkness and erases its shadows.

Having light at the ready to chase away the shadows of life is essential. Darkness can descend without warning and at any time…like an unexpected pounce by a large wet puppy. Sometimes dark shadows just muddy you up a bit, but there are those times when they knock you completely off your feet.

It doesn’t matter if you are good, bad or indifferent. Christian or not, life’s shadows befall all. Nobody….nobody….gets to dance in the sunshine their entire life. There will be days of illness, anxiety and a time to face your own or someone you love’s death. Morality is a kept promise and death the black hole of shadows.

Matthew 4:16
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

Job was a fellow in the Bible whose life and very existence became consumed by shadows. One right after another. Really, really dark ones.  His home was destroyed. All of his children killed.  He became sick, covered with sores, homeless, bankrupt and the object of disdain, ridicule and mockery by his former friends and neighbors.  His wife, instead of supporting him and providing help, told him to just hurry up and die.  Yup, Job definitely experienced the shadows of life.

Amazingly, though severely tested, Job’s faith in God never wavered.  He wrote, “The key to surmounting life’s shadows is and always will be light.”  No matter how dark and overwhelming the shadows became, Job looked to the light…..God.

As a Christian woman who has lost several babies, loved ones, suffered through a major depression and who has fought cancer twice, I know a bit about how hard it can be to see light at the end of a long dark tunnel.  In truth, that tunnel often felt more like an escape-proof, inky black quick-sand filled bottomless pit. At times the darkness seemed to suck the air from my chest and light out of my soul.

I have sat alone in darkness and learned that even during vicious shadow attacks when  I couldn’t see God, he always saw me.  Believers in Jesus Christ don’t need to fear that disease, death or any of the other multitudes of shadows in this world have the power to separate them from the love of God.  God and Jesus are the hope for the hopeless.  They do not abandon their children in times of need.

John 10:27-30 

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”

There comes a peace that passes all understanding when you cease worrying about holding on to God, because you know that he holds on to you.  He will never let go.

Deuteronomy 31:8
And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”

During those times when I was overcome by shadows and my heart and mind silently screamed, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me!.”  I may not have seen light, but there was light. The light of God’s love shown though others. It was there when my husband cared for me, when a nurse was extra gentle just to be kind, when a doctor provided hope or humor, when family, friends and neighbors stopped by to provide love, help and encouragement.  And when complete strangers let their lights shine by praying for me.

Matthew 5:16
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Shadows will come and go. Light lasts forever. Look for it. Choose to seek and love the light.

John 8:12 . 
Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” 

What a wonderful promise! 


Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare….Abraham Lincoln, the Donner Party and the Zombie Apocalypse Catastrophe

Dear Kids,

I hope that you have put down the electronic gadgets that were your entertainment for the long cold winter days, and are outside enjoying Minnesota’s beautiful spring weather.  I had yellow finches, an oriole, a ruby-crested gross beak and an army of squirrels at my bird feeder so far this week. I have my new bird bath out there, but no birds have used it yet.

We sure did have a long cold winter this year.  Cold early and then blizzards through April.  Oh, well, it just makes one appreciate the other three seasons of the year so much more.

This past winter reminded me a very severe winter of long ago.  It is still considered one of the worst winters to ever hit the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It was the winter of 1846-47, and it trapped a group of emigrants bound for California in the mountains.  This group of folks became the infamous Donner Party….the “Cannibal Emigrants”.

In case you don’t know, cannibals are people who eat other people.  You have them in some of your video games. For the Donner Party cannibalism was no game…it was to survive.

There is so much more to the story of the Donner Party than just getting grossed out by their dining choices. It is a really good illustration of a really bad case of poor listening skills. An extreme example of what happens when good advice is ignored and the foretold disaster strikes with a vengeance.  Like when parent’s or grandparent’s advice is disreguarded, and there is nothing left to do but dry the inevitable tears.

They chose to take an untried shortcut, and, like with most untried shortcuts, this one led to…catastrophe.

The Donner Party was a group of 89 men, women and children that set out from Springfield, Illinois in 1846 to homestead in California. Yes, they were from the same town as Abraham Lincoln and knew him.  In fact, James Frazier Reed, a member of the Donner Party, and James Clyman, mountain man, actually fought in the same military company as Lincoln during the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832.

JamesMargaretReed-EJames and Margaret Reed, Springfield, Illinois residents and Donner Party members.  

Interestingly, the friendships with members of the Donner Party were not the only Lincoln connection. More than 163 years after the Donner disaster a set of military documents partially penned by the 16th U.S. president was found among Mr. Reed’s papers.

The documents were the official soldier lists for the company of mounted Illinois volunteers that Lincoln had joined. The documents show that Private Abraham Lincoln, was 23 years old, owned a horse worth $85 and had $15 of additional equipment.  Lincoln also had a government issued tent that he was to return at the end of his military service.

lincoln lawyer
Early Photograph of Abraham Lincoln

Several Lincoln scholars have confirmed that Lincoln had handwritten the title of one of the muster rolls.  A muster roll is a list of names a military officer uses to take attendance of his soldiers.  Just like a teacher would do at school. It reads, “Muster Roll of Captain Jacob M. Earleys [sic] Company of Mounted Volunteers Mustered out of the service of the United States By order of Brigadier General Atkinson of the United States army on White Water Rivers of Rock River on the 10th day of July 1832.”

Lincoln’s company never saw any military action, but he was elected captain. He later said this was one of his life’s greatest honors.  Years later speaking on the floor of Congress, Lincoln summarized his soldiering experience, “By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military Hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away…. I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes; and, although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.”

Hunger was often a constant companion to those traveling west to California during the 1800’s.  They had to carry all of their food, and much of their water with them.  The small wagons pulled by either oxen, mules or horses had to contain everything needed to survive the almost 2,000 mile trip.

donner cover wagon with oxen
In the 1800’s there were no grocery stores along either the Oregon or California trails.  There was a trading post or two, but they were few and far between.  You had to take personal responsibility for your own welfare. So, to ensure your family’s survival all of  food needed for the entire journey was packed into your covered wagon.

A family would usually travel in one or two small sturdy wagons pulled by six to ten oxen.  They often had a milk cow or two along.  As the buffalo and other prairie fresh meat disappeared from over hunting, emigrants began to take cattle with them to provide a fresh meat.

There was no extra space inside one of those canvass covered ships of the prairies. They were filled to the brim.  Food for a family of four consisted of 600 lbs. of flour, 120 lbs. of biscuits, 400 lbs. of bacon, 60 lbs. of coffee, 4 lbs. of tea, 100 lbs. of sugar, and 200 lbs. of lard. In addition there were often sacks of rice and beans and dried fruit. When found on the trail, berries and other wild fruit were picked and made into jam or dried.

donner packed-wagon-watermark

In the spring of 1846 almost 500 fully packed wagons left Independence, Missouri, the starting place of the Oregon and California trails.  The very last group of pioneers to leave that spring were the 32 original members of the Reed and Donner families and their employees.

donner CaliforniaTrail

There was a tight travel schedule on the California Trail.  Wagon trains needed to head west in the spring as soon as the winters snows had melted, but after grass became available for their mules, horses, oxen and livestock.

donner WagonTrain

The best time to start out was mid to late April. That gave the travelers plenty of time to cross the prairies and deserts and reach the mountain passes well before snow began to fall.

The Donner party not only left last, but they had a late start.  They did not set out until May 12, which did not leave them with any extra time for trail troubles such as illness, broken wagons, bad weather or other natural disasters.

After their first week of travel, the Donner Party was joined by another group of fifty wagons. They traveled 450 miles their first month, but by June 16, they were obviously behind schedule and still had 200 miles to go before they reached Fort Laramie, Wyoming.

Reaching Wyoming was a big deal.  It was there that most wagon trains to California would choose, actually all of them but two and one of those was the Donner Party,  to follow the well-used traditional trail that went north through Idaho before dropping south and across Nevada or try the newly discovered “Hastings Cutoff.”

In 1846, a crook by the name of Lansford Hastings wrote a guide book that promised a straighter and faster route through the mountains and across the Great Salt Lake Desert.  While this idea sounded wonderful to trail weary travelers, there was a problem.  No one, had used this route with wagons not even Mr. Hastings himself!

At this point in  the Donner Party’s journey, James Reed accidentally met up with his old friend from Springfield, Illinois, James Clyman. An experienced mountain man, Clyman had just ridden his horse over Hastings’ trail.  He strongly advised the emigrants not to use the Hastings trail.  He told them, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it because you can’t take wagons that way. Go the old route. Be safe. You’ll perish.”

By July 18 the wagon train had traveled 1,000 miles.  They still had another 1,000 miles to go before they reached California.  On July 20 they were at the crossroads, the members of the wagon train had to decide whether to take the well-established path or try the new Hastings’ route.


Most of the members of the train chose to take the known route.  However, twenty wagons, including the nine belonging to the Reeds and Donners turned left towards Fort Bridger and the entrance to the “Hastings Cutoff.”  It was at this time that this wagon train officially became the Donner Party, when George Donner was elected to be their leader.

George Donner
George Donner

The “Hastings Cutoff” decision turned out to be a bad one. The trail itself almost killed off these poor folks long before they got trapped by snow in the mountains.  There really was no trail.  The pioneers had to make the trail themselves by cutting down trees.  Their progress slowed to about a mile and a half a day.   Rather than saving them time, Hastings’ shortcut ended up adding nearly a month and an extra 150 miles to the Donner Party’s journey. 

Donner salt Lake
Salt Lake Dessert

In the late August with desert temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, their thin oxen fatigued and their water supply nearly gone, the Donner Party began to cross the Salt Lake Desert. The desert crossing of 40 miles that had been promised by Hastings to take only two days, in reality was over 80 miles and took six days…..at great cost.

Although Donner Party members were called pioneers, many had left behind middle class affluent homes. They had been town folk. Few had the specific skills and experience necessary to travel through deserts and mountains.  They had no experience in making camps or compounds that protected their livestock. Nor did they know how to interact with Indians.

While no humans lives were lost during the desert crossing.  Oxen became so weak that they, and the wagons they pulled, were abandoned.  That means that all of the supplies in those wagons were lost.  The Reed’s lost nine of their ten oxen when the poor beasts became crazed with thirst, broke free and ran off.  More wagons had to be left behind. Cattle, horses and mules were lost to the desert.

Unfortunately the desert crossing was not the end of livestock loss for the Donner Party. The oxen, cattle, mules and horses that remained were now half-starved and very lean.  Some were too weak to go on and just died.  Others were chased away or killed by Indians.  Indians chased away all the horses owned by one family.  Therefore, another wagon filled with supplies was left behind.

In the dry terrain there was less and less grass which meant that the cattle wandered farther away to graze.  This presented an opportunity to the local Paiutes Indians who captured 18 one evening and a few days later shot another 21.  Indians have to eat too.

By the time they exited the desert, the wagon train had lost almost 100 oxen and cattle and was already running low on food supplies.  The Eddy family’s oxen were killed by Indians and their wagon abandoned.  The family had no food, and other families refused to even help feed their children. Forced to walk, the Eddy’s carried their hungry and thirsty children.  Margaret Reed and her children had also lost their wagon and were on foot.

The loss of human decency is like a ball… it picks up speed as it goes down hill. If the level of civilization in a society is measured by how its strongest members treat its weakest members, the Donner Party quickly became the poster child for the uncivilized.

Spite and selfishness quickly replaced kindness and generosity.  Soon, the cry of a hungry child did not matter unless it was your own.  Hearts hardened.  A seventy-year-old man was thrown out of the wagon in which he was riding.  The wagon’s owner telling him to walk or die.  A few days later the old fellow was last seen sitting next to a stream with feet so swollen they had split open.  He was never seen again.

A younger member of the group pleaded that they should help him.  Nobody listened to him.  All of the other members of the wagon train had decided that a seventy-year old man was a waste of resources. Which is a shame as maybe he was the one who knew how to catch trout, build a fish trap, cache meat above snow levels or make a roof that did not rot or leak.  There is more to human value than youth and physical strength.

A collective sigh of relief was breathed by the Donner Party once the desert was behind them.  Many of them thought the worse was over.


Donner Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada Mountains

The most difficult part of the trip was the last 100 miles where the emigrants, wagons and their tired animals had to cross over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  These are big mountains and are extremely steep.  There are over 500 different distinct peaks, some tower over 12,000 feet high.  Located so close to the ocean, this range of mountains naturally receives more snow than most of the other mountains ranges in western North America.

After losing an additional two months by taking the “Hastings Cutoff”, the Donner Party finally rejoined the traditional trail. (See map below.)  Sadly, it was now well into the month of October.


Fearing being caught in the mountains the exhausted wagon trail tried to speed up their progress by taking less time to rest themselves and their animals.  Tired and sick of all of the opportunities for personal and profession growth the trip had provided, they began to turn on each other. It wasn’t long before the have’s were charging the have not’s double for food.

Desperate to get over the mountains the Donner Party made one final push in late October.  Surely there was still plenty of time.  They had been told that the mountain passes would remain open until about the middle of November.

Donner Pass

As it turned out, they got there one day too late.

Snow began to fall.

One family did make it up the nearly vertical 1, 000 foot slope to Truckee Lake (now known as Donner Lake).  However, there were still three impossible miles to reach mountain’s summit.

Truckee Lake, now known as Donner Lake

Soon the pioneers were blanketed by 5-10 foot snow drifts.  The first storm lasted for eight days. Others followed. While they made many attempts to cross over the mountains, they were never successful.  The snow continued to fall, eventually reaching depths over twenty feet.

Trees cut off by the Donner Party show snow depth. 

The Donner party was stranded until relief parties from California could reach them and that took months.

And so the famine began…..

Members of the Breen, Graves, Reed, Murphy, Keseberg and Eddy families along with  their workers became stranded at Truckee Lake. They lived in three windowless pine log cabins with dirt floors and flat leaky roofs made out of ox hide or canvas.  There was a hole cut into the side of the cabin to go in or out.


The Breens occupied one cabin, the Eddys and Murphys another and the Reeds and Graves the last.  The Keseberg family lived in a lean-to attached to the Breen Cabin.  The group at Truckee Lake numbered about 60. Nineteen were men over 18, 12 were women and 29 were children. Six of the children were toddlers or younger.

The Donnor family set up tents several miles away by Alder Creek. These tents housed 21 people; 6 men, 3 women and 12 children.

Right from the beginning there was a food shortage. Each cabin horded their limited supply of food. As oxen died their frozen bodies were stacked.

The lake had not frozen over yet and they could see that there were Lake Trout, but those eastern town folks did not know how to catch trout.  Although, why they did not build a fish trap or blast them to the surface with either dynamite or a gun powder charge is beyond me.  Obviously, their great uncles did not fish with dynamite or teach them how to make fish traps like mine did.  Furthermore, it was shocking to learn that horse and oxen carcasses became exposed in the spring thaw.  If you didn’t have the strength to dig down to the meat, fire melts snow.

One fellow did shoot a bear, but that wasn’t much meat to share among so many people.

Desperation grew.  Still. there was no cannibalism…

Franklin Graves made 14 pairs of snowshoes out of parts from oxen harnesses and hide.  Then, on December 16, a group of 17 set off to attempt to get through the mountain pass and bring back help. They packed lightly and only took a six-day supply of food and a blanket each.  In addition the group were armed with a rifle, hatchet and a couple of pistols.  Two of those without snowshoes had to turn back almost right away.  The first evening out the party made one more set of snowshoes out of a pack saddle.

This Donner Party group became known as the “Forlorn Hope.”  They had a terrible time, just reaching the mountain’s summit.  It took almost three days. When they started down the other side the bright sunshine on the snow made most of them go “snowblind.” They couldn’t see, were running out of food and became lost.

After walking in the deep snow for another two days without food, it was proposed that they needed to kill one of their members to feed the others.  They drew straws, then did not have the heart to kill the person who lost.

On they went.  Only to have another blizzard stop them.

As they huddled together in the storm, two fellows died.  Another fellow went nuts, stripped himself naked and ran into the woods, only to return and die within a couple of hours.  One of the youngest members of the group was dying, to try and save him, the others decided to eat the dead naked guy.  Probably because he was already undressed and as fate would have it, he had been the first person to suggest they resort to cannibalism.

The next morning they processed the other three dead bodies to use as food.  They dried the meat so it would not rot, then carefully marked it to ensure that nobody ate their own relatives.  I guess thoughtfulness like that counts in moments like those.

Soon, they were again without food.  So they ate the leather in their snowshoes as they eyed their two Indian guides as potential nourishment.   The guides were tipped off to the murderous plans and took off.  Unfortunately about nine days later the pioneers found the Indians close to death laying in the snow. They shot them and ate them.  These poor Indians were the only people known to be murdered for food.

On January 12 the seven surviving members of the “Forlorn Hope” found help in an Indian camp.  The Indians took one look at these scary skeletal figures emerging from the dark forest and immediately decided the zombie apocalypse had begun and ran away.  Eventually, they returned and shared their food with their fellow human beings who were so very starved. The trip of the “Forlorn Hope” had taken 33 days.  Of the seven survivors only two were men.  All  five women had survived.

After the “Forlorn Hope” had left the Lake Truckee camp, two-thirds of those remaining were children.

Life at the camp went from bad to worse. Once food supplies were gone, the pioneers ate ox hide.  They boiled it into a nasty glue-like jelly.  Ox and horse bones were boiled again and again to make soup. The Murphy children ate the ox hide rug that was in front of the fire place.  Mice were caught an eaten. There is about 14 calories in a roasted mouse.

By January the situation had become so severe that the emigrants began eating the ox hide cabin roofs. Soon the lack of food made the people so weak that they spent most of their days in bed.

It became every family for themselves.  In fact, one day, the Graves family came to collect on a debt owed them by the Reeds. They took all of the Reeds ox hides leaving them with no food whatsoever.  Apparently, Mrs. Graves had forgotten the golden rule of doing onto others as you would want them to do for you.  I have read that the only family where all of the members survived, and that did not practice cannibalism, was the Reeds.  Mrs. Graves did not survive and got her just desserts by becoming someone’s dessert.

In California concerns over the missing wagon train caused people to organize several rescue attempts.  Early attempts failed, but on February 18 a rescue party finally reached the camp.  When they got there they did not see anyone.  All of the cabins were completely covered with snow.  Soon heads began to poke out of the snow. The rescue party shared food with the starving emigrants.

Twenty-three people were chosen to go with the rescue party, leaving twenty-one in the cabins at Truckee Lake and twelve at Alder Creek.

There were no deaths in the Donner Party between the departure of the first relief party and the arrival of the second.  This was probably due to them eating their dead.  This is when the cannibalism began in the camps.

The second relief party took 17 emigrants with them.  Only three were adults.  That left five people at the Truckee Lake camp.  At the Donner camp at Alder creek, Tamsen Donner, the mother, chose to stay with her husband who was slowly dying from an infection. She also kept three of their daughters with them.

During the five months that the Donner Party was stranded in the mountains, almost half of that time rescue teams knew where they were.  There were four relief teams and it took well over two months to get all of the survivors back to civilization. The last person to be rescued was Lewis Keseberg.  He was found in  April of 1847, completely crazy sitting among the have eaten bodies of his former companions.

Of the 89 emigrants who left Independence, Missouri on May 12, 1846, 42 died of disease or starvation.  Five people died before the party reached the mountains. 81 became stranded in the mountains.  Of those, more than half were younger than 18.

Age, gender and family support were the most important survival factors.  Those most likely to die were children under six and adult single males over the age 35.  Sixty-six percent of males aged between 20 and 39 died.

Women were more likely to survive, because of their naturally slow metabolism and extra body fat. That is the only light in this otherwise dark tale, I didn’t make me fat, nature did.

Children made up the vast majority of the the Donner Party survivors.  In fact, Isabella Breen, only a year old during that disastrous winter, lived to be ninety-years-old. She died in 1935.

Donner Breen
Isabella Breen

No adults over the age of 49 survived.

Of the dozen or so families that were in the Donner Party, only two families reached California without having any family members die…the Reeds and the Breens.  George and Jacob Donner, their wives and four of the children all died. William Eddy, lost his wife and two children.  The children of Jacob Donner, George Donner, and Franklin Graves were orphaned and most of the Murphy family died.

Donner Breen home
Breen home in San Juan Bautista, California

The story of the Donner party just goes to show that when people ignore the voice of experience, they do so at their own peril.  After a God-given encounter with James Clyman, a friend and frontier man, they chose to disregard his wise counsel and still take the “Hastings Cutoff.”  Their troubles really began when they came to the conclusion that they were smarter than the expert.

The Bible tells us over and over again that knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom.  Knowledge by itself can be dangerous.  Wisdom is superior to knowledge, because it combines knowledge with experience.  Wisdom requires a process of ripening and that takes time.

In truth, had the Donner party listened to the man who had knowledge and experience their cannibalistic catastrophe would never have taken place. They were less victims of happen chance than of pride. I guess in addition to ignoring the golden rule the Donner Party forgot that God tells us that pride comes before the fall or in their case…the snowfall.

I am not going to worry a bit about the grossness of this story, because I have seen the video games you play.

Have a great week and I love you very much.

Grandma Pat

What is On My Mind Today? God Is Dead, Nietzsche, Ego and a Miracle


“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, Nietzsche was on to something. Too bad that his quote,”God is Dead,” has too often been removed from the entire context. I like this quote by Friedrich Neitzsche….it seems so very true. God is dead to many people, because they killed him.

When God died, the human experience changed. Life ceased to be precious, as people became addicted to being precious.  Human existence no longer had any meaning, life became merely a “journey”.  Suicide is an acceptable end to the journey and death a celebration.  The loving God, that cannot do evil or tempt anyone with evil, only resurfaces from his public demise when a scapegoat is needed each time evil rears its ugly head.

Reverence and fear of God has been exchanged for worship of science, nature, wealth, power, social justice, atheism, gender, fashion…basically anything and everything. Becoming gods, humans worshiped at the alter of self-esteem.  Sometimes, I fear our generation’s entire earthly existence will be represented by the “selfie”…the symbolic moralization of self-absorption.

Why did humans kill off God?  They had too!  It became obvious that human brains had evolved to be smarter than God, especially the Biblical God. Nihilism replaced hell and eternal life in paradise.  When nihilism was combined with scientific advancement and social justice God became obsolete.

Obviously the Creator of DNA and all of the laws of physics and chemistry that makes life on this planet possible did not mentally, morally or socially keep pace with human intellectual development.  Those in the know, understood that as humans increased in intellect, reason and stature, God did the opposite.  He became an impediment to the advancement intellectualism and the social goal of extinguishing personal responsibility, conscience and guilt. He had not kept pace and it was time for Him to go.

And, these folks were right!  It is true.  God does not change.  It says so right in Bible.

Hebrews 13:8 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” 

Jesus himself said,

Matthew 5:17-18
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Revelation 22:13

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

So, did you ever wonder why it took thousands and thousands of generations before humans convinced themselves that they were smarter than God because they could ponder the mysteries of the universe?  Thinking requires free time and a certain amount of wealth.  It’s hard to delve into complex theoretical concepts with an empty belly while fighting a saber-tooth tiger trying to save yourself and your prodigy from an unpleasant end with stone tools tied on to a stick. Deep thinking requires uninterrupted time in a safe environment.

The early church, specifically the Catholic Church, provided that safe place.  Christianity and science have not always been diametrically opposed and in reality they are not now. The early church encouraged and helped finance scientific discovery.   After all, what does the church have to fear from science?  Science will not ever prove the existence or lack there of…of God. Science is the study of the known and unknown.  Religion is, by faith, the acceptance of the unknowable.

An example of an unknowable that science cannot explain are miracles.  Most scientists will admit that miracles do occur.  Such as the story this week about Trenton McKinley who was brain dead and woke up after his parents signed organ donation papers.  Even, his doctors attribute his miraculous recovery to God.

Trenton McKinley recalled, “I was in an open field walking straight. There’s no other explanation but God. There’s no other way. Even doctors said it.”

Saints preserve us, but educated doctors in the year 2018 acknowledge that God is alive, well and still performing miracles.  The miracles performed in biblical scripture are no different, than those that defy explanation today.  A miracle is a miracle.

I do not believe that humans will never have the ability to out think the creator of the universe. To think so elevates arrogance to a whole new level.   Only God is all knowing and He is not mocked.  Did you know that God laughs at those who plot against him?  It says so in scripture:

Psalm 2 1-4

“Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.”


Many great cultures that no longer exist have rejected God and worshiped secular humanism.  Human rejection is nothing new to God.  All the same, he continues to love us unconditionally.  His loving and merciful nature provides humanity with a pathway to reject and escape nihilism, give earthly lives meaning and ensure spending eternity in heaven.

John 3:16 

16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.

The real miracle is that God is the same yesterday, today and forever and he loves us. 




What is On My Mind Today: A Recipe for Human Greatness…Back-Pew Christians

church pew

It seems to me that human greatness is rarely found these days because it is sought in all the wrong places.   I am not even sure that our society even knows what qualities define human greatness anymore.

Human greatness is not measured by the size of bank accounts, popularity, power, appearance or charm.  Nor, does it result from attaining higher education or belonging to social movements.  Human greatness can only be found in the very thing that separates us from animals….our God-given soul.

I am not saying that human greatness cannot be found among the rich, famous, showy, socially or politically motivated, rarely it can.  It seems to me that human greatness is most often found in people who avoid drawing attention to themselves as they go about their daily lives.  You know, common people.

One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes is about common people.  He said that God especially loves common-looking people, that is why he made so many of them. Common people spend their lives minding their own business and working hard to provide for their families knowing that their very existence will be judged as unremarkable and earthly history will remember them no more.  Objects of ridicule on this earth, common people, like my grandmother Esther, tend to keep their eyes focused upwards on heaven and God.

Aviary Photo_130940613078927949
Grandpa George and Grandma Esther

My relationship with my Grandmother Esther was very special, because she was special.  I bet you could count the number of store bought dresses that woman had in her entire lifetime on one hand. She wasn’t physically beautiful, had only a fourth-grade education, never had the opportunity to travel much and expressed most of her opinions in Swedish or just kept them to herself.  She was common all right. Yet, she was uncommon in her Christian faith.  Grandmother Esther served God, because she knew God.  She was a back-pew Christian.

You may not have met many of those.  They aren’t showy and are often found in the very back pews in most churches.  They don’t attend worship services to be seen, socialize or sing. Sunday was the day God set aside for them to worship and rest.  It was a time to humbly meet with their maker in his house to repent for wrongdoings, seek forgiveness, express gratitude for blessings, partake of the sacrament of Holy Communion and assess and assist the needs of other members of their faith family.

Grandma knew her Bible and loved the Lord.  She would never have dreamed of shouting out a hallelujah in public for fear of being mistaken for a Biblical Pharisee.  Prayer was private, on your knees and between her and God. To be moved by the Spirit meant seeing human hurt and need and doing something about it. Faith was action. Grandma would stealthily go about doing good whenever and wherever possible, not needing or taking credit for those deeds.

My grandmother would have never stood for anyone teaching a Biblical falsehood. She took very seriously God’s admonishment,”that it would be better to have a mill stone tied around your neck and be drowned that to ever teach one of his little ones to error.”  Grandma believed in right and wrong, she also believed that everyone, including herself, had fallen short in the eyes of God and had no cause to boast. The, “judge not, less you be judged” was taken every bit as seriously as the drowning thing.

Back-pew Christian people, like my grandmother, are quick to turn the other cheek. Their people patience is often misinterpreted as weakness. I will point out that mistaking mercy for weakness is a mistake. These people are strong.  Inside and out. Their steel has been honed. For,they have been tested hard and have survived body and soul.

Yes, grandma weathered the great burdens that often drove her to her knees.  Too broken and weak to rise again on her own, she sought strength through prayer.  Relying on Jesus’ invitation to, ” Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 

The grace from God she experienced during those hard times steeled her character. She developed the patience of a saint; learned that a kind word turns away wrath; forgave and bestowed undeserving mercy.  Most importantly to the best of her ability she followed the moral law of God…to do onto others as you would like done onto yourself.  The law of human greatness.

On this blog when I write history lessons disguised as letters to grandchildren, I deliberately choose examples of good and bad leaders.  The historical record provides many examples of famous leaders whose epitaphs should read, “what goes around, comes around.”   Many of these historical figures spurned the law of human greatness in exchange for earthly pleasures and in the process brought much pain, suffering and death to common people.  They turned their backs on God and humanity in pursuit of self.

Oh, sure these men and women from history had great wealth, power, oratory and leadership skills and found much earthly success, but they never achieved human greatness, because they had no fear of God and lacked a moral compass.

Today common people who value a moral compass are constantly mocked. While common people maybe ridiculed, the Bible tells us that God is not mocked.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7   


“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.”  Psalm 2:4

The good news is moral compass can be restored.  The Gospel of Jesus found in the New Testament is the perfect recipe to help find a moral compass that has gone missing and unleash your human greatness.    However, when it came to practical moral application Grandma Esther had her own recipe.

Grandma Esther’s Recipe for Human Greatness 

…truth will out (liars eventually get caught)
…cheaters never prosper (be honest)
…well, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black (don’t be a hypocrite)
…a kind word can turn away wrath (deescalate)
…leave it go (compromise)
…turn the other cheek (refuse to sink to their level)
…forgive them (forgiveness is good for them and for you)
…move on (accepting that there are things you can change and things you cannot)
…show a little mercy once in a while (everyone makes mistakes so be kind)
…there but by the grace of God go I (have empathy)
…no good deed ever goes unpunished  (do good anyway)
…pretty is as pretty does (manners and social skills count)
…have you lost your mind (do not make blatantly stupid decisions)
…if your friends all jumped off a cliff, would you do that too (think for yourself)
….who do you think you are (practice humility)
…who do you think you are talking to (show respect to your elders, they are your betters
enough is enough (there are times to stand up, stand firm and fight)
…if you aren’t the limit (Love, “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7)

Human greatness is, as human greatness does.  It can only develop through the consistent utilization of the God-given parameters of the soul…conscience.  Souls need feeding as much as the stomach.  God’s holy word, found in the Bible, is nourishment for the soul.  It will make any conscience grow.

Conscience is like a grandmother….listen to it more or ignore it at your own expense.

Just saying……


Bloggers Note: After teaching Sunday School for over 30 years and being a Christian mentor to middle and high school young adults for decades,  I have been asked lots of questions about my faith, Jesus, God and the Bible. Maybe answers to some of your questions can be found in these blog posts:

What is Easter?….A Promise Fulfilled By A Loving God

Believable Bible?…The Criterion of Embarrassment and Translation Accuracy

Historical Jesus?…Non-Biblical Evidence

Intelligent Design?….The Bible, Science and Scientists

He has Risen, He has Risen Indeed!…Resurrection Witnesses
God Bless You!






What Is On My Mind Today? Happy Easter!

Easter quote

Charles Wendell “Chuck” Colson was an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship, Prison Fellowship International, and BreakPoint. He served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973.

Here are links to other recent blog posts I have written about Easter, the Bible, the Historical Jesus, the Bible, Science and Scientists and who were the witnesses to the resurrection.

What is Easter?….A Promise Fulfilled By A Loving God

Believable Bible?…The Criterion of Embarrassment and Translation Accuracy

Historical Jesus?…Non-Biblical Evidence

Intelligent Design?….The Bible, Science and Scientists

He has Risen, He has Risen Indeed!…Resurrection Witnesses

Jesus, has risen, he has risen indeed!

God bless all of you!

What Is On My Mind Today: Easter…He has Risen, He has Risen Indeed!…Resurrection Witnesses

I have decided to write a series of blog posts on Christianity and Jesus:

What is Easter?….A Promise Fulfilled By A Loving God

Believable Bible?…The Criterion of Embarrassment and Translation Accuracy

Historical Jesus?…Non-Biblical Evidence

Intelligent Design?….The Bible, Science and Scientists

He has Risen, He has Risen Indeed!…Resurrection Witnesses


                                               He has Risen, He has Risen Indeed!
                                                            Resurrection Witnesses

Who are the witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? 

Death, the empty tomb, non-christian witnesses, christian witnesses, hallucinations, and science.

There are four truths about the resurrection of Jesus that are widely accepted by  serious historians.

  • The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.
  • Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ.
  • As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its
    the Christian church was established and grew.
  • Without the Resurrection, there would have been no conversion of Saul into the Apostle Paul

Accounts of an historical Jesus, his death, crucifixion and resurrection are recorded within and outside of the Bible.  After Jesus rose from the grave He appeared to friends and foes alike. (The disciples and Saul who later became the Apostle Paul).  Within less than a half dozen years the story of Jesus’ resurrection was recorded within the Jerusalem Church. Far too soon for a legend to develop, and while many eyewitnesses to the events were still alive and available to confirm or deny the story.  There were also eyewitnesses to the conversation of Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.

Then, there is the empty tomb. Found by women. The people of Jerusalem saw Jesus die on that cross, knew where he was buried and that three days later….that tomb was empty.  The Romans knew it, the Jewish leaders knew it and his disciples knew it. Also, no serious author during that period of history would document that women, whose testimony was worthless, were the only witnesses to a minor event, let alone one of the magnitude as the Resurrection on which the whole of Christianity is based.

Was Jesus ever really dead? 

There is plenty of evidence that Jesus, an historical figure, was crucified on the cross by Romans. But, was he really dead when he left the cross?  Or, was Jesus like the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts where we are told that Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city and left for dead only to get up and re-enter the city.

Acts: 19-20 

19 And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.

20 Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”

There is plenty of evidence that both Hebrew and Roman authorities were experts at inflicting and recognizing death. One of the major differences between the events described about Paul and Jesus is that people had prolonged contact with the body of Jesus. They had watched him suffer and breathe His last on the cross, took the body down from the cross and carried Him to the tomb.  All of these events took time.

Jesus hung on the cross for hours before He died and hung on the cross for a time after He died.  We know this because He was the first to die of the three men being executed that day.

Non-Christians who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion were the first to determine that He was indeed dead.  Roman soldiers knew how to kill and paid with their own lives if they allowed a criminal condemned to death to escape their sentence.  Because of this, Roman soldiers were vicious and meticulous killers that carried out capital orders with enthusiasm and precision. They killed often, well and recognized the signs of death.

John 19:31-35

“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”

Roman soldiers would not have hesitated to break the legs of Jesus if there was a sliver doubt that He was not already dead.  Roman ruler Pontius Pilate, who ordered Jesus’ execution, personally certified that Jesus was dead.

Mark 15 43-45

“43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.”

Then, too, John, an eyewitness to the crucifixion, in his Gospel records that water and blood flowed out of the side of Jesus after the Roman soldier pierced him.  In first century Jerusalem, this simple fisherman could not have known he was describing Circulatory Shock.

Circulatory Shock often occurs when a person dies from traumatic injuries. Death causes fluids, blood and water, to build up around the heart and fill the lungs. This fluid accumulation is called Pericardial or Pleural Effusion. It would have been impossible for a first century Jewish fisherman to include this information in his account of the crucifixion for reasons of deception. Therefore, it must be considered a true observation.

It is a Hebrew tradition to bury dead bodies as quickly as possible, usually the same day. Even so, preparing Jesus’ body for burial would have taken a considerable amount of time. His body would first have to be taken down from the cross and the nails removed from His hands and feet.  Then, it would have to have been carried to a burial location outside of the city…a considerable distance.  The body would have been washed and prepared for a traditional Hebrew burial.  Ointments and spices would have been rubbed onto the body, and it would have been wrapped in linen before being placed in the tomb.

There were no undertakers or mortuaries to prepare dead bodies for burial during Bible times. During the first century handling the dead bodies of loved ones and preparing them for burial was a common practice. A tradition born of necessity.  Considering the high infant, child and adult mortality rates during that period of history, Jesus was probably not the first body handled by those who prepared him for burial. These people would have certainly recognized the signs of death.

The first signs of death are the heart stopping to beat and the lungs ceasing to breathe. Soon, other signs of death appear such as Algor mortis, Livor mortis and Rigor mortis.

  • When the heart stops circulating the blood, there is a steady decline in body temperature (Algor mortis). Bodies begin to cool immediately after death.
  • Once the blood is no longer being pumped by the heart, it settles in whatever part of the body that is closest to the ground. When the heavy red blood cells sink they produce large black and blue bruise-type discolorations (Livor mortis or lividity) . This process begins within the first half hour after death and can be seen with the naked eye within two hours.  Size of the discolorations increase over the the next three to six hours, peaking between eight and twelve hours.  After six hours  the marks made by lividity becomes permanent and cannot be altered by moving the body.
  • When breathing stops oxygen becomes depleted and the body can no longer make the adenosine triphosphate reguired to break the actin-myosin cross-bridges that allow muscles to relax. Due to the fact that the actin-mysin bridges are not broken, muscles stiffen and Rigor mortis sets in.  This process affects all of the body’s muscles and begins within the first hours after death.  It becomes initially noticeable in the eyelids, neck and jaw.

The people who carried the body of Jesus to the tomb would have felt His body becoming cold and stiff and seen the marks of lividity.   So, yes, Jesus was absolutely cold stone dead when His body was put into the tomb.

Was the tomb really empty? 

On that first Easter morning women did discover an empty tomb. Even the Roman and Hebrew attempts to deny the resurrection are based on the premise that the tomb was indeed empty.  The very fact that Jewish leaders, hostile witnesses, accused the disciples of stealing the body, declares that the tomb was empty.  Dr. Paul Maier, a former Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University,  says this about the Jewish claim that the tomb was in deed empty, “positive evidence from a hostile source. In essence, if a source admits a fact that is decidedly not in its favor, the fact is genuine.”

Also the existence of the empty tomb is supported by historical authenticity.  The accounts of the burial and empty tomb have linguistic and grammatical similarities indicating that they are the same account. Therefore, if the elements of the burial are accurate, the revelation of the empty tomb would also be accurate.

The Resurrection was first preached by the disciples in Jerusalem, the same place that Jesus had been crucified and buried.  They could not have done this if Jesus’ body was laying in the tomb for all to see. People in Jerusalem knew where Jesus was buried. If the tomb was not empty the message of the Resurrection would have been disproved on the spot and the disciples declared lunatics and liars. The spreading of the Christian faith would not ever have occurred.

Then, too, there is Joseph of Arimetha.  He is the man who is named in the Gospel of Mark who went to the Romans to ask for Jesus’ body.

Mark 15:42-46
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.

Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrein.  This council would be something equivalent to our nation’s supreme court.  Its members would have been very well-known and respected.  Mark’s gospel was written within the first decade after the death of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea, his friends and family would have still been alive. If Mark’s account had it not been true, it would have been quickly exposed by Joseph of Arimathea, the Christian-hostile Sanhedrein and many others who would have relished exposing Christians as frauds.

Furthermore, it was a custom during the first century to set up shrines at the sites where holy men’s bones were buried.  History tells us that there were a least 50 such sites when Jesus was alive.  Many people believed that Jesus was a very holy man and prophet, and they knew where Joseph of Arimathea had buried his body.  Yet,  Jesus’s tomb was never made into a shine. Why?  Because His bones were not there.

Last but certainly not least, the criterion of embarrassment tells us that the story of the empty tomb is real, because no first century Jew in his right mind would expect anyone to believe anything said by a woman. The testimony of women during that time period was considered absolutely worthless.  The only reason for the Biblical writers to say that women discovered the empty tomb, was, like it or not, they did.

Yes, the tomb was empty.

Who were the first people to see the risen Jesus? 

There were many witnesses to the Resurrection.  Non-Christian sources include: the  empty tomb itself; the Roman soldiers ordered to guard the tomb: Jewish officials who began spreading rumors that the tomb was in deed empty, because Jesus’ disciples had, in spite of armed, war-trained Roman guards, had stolen the body,  and the conversion of Saul (Apostle Paul.)

The Apostle Paul writes,

1 Corinthians 15: 3-8

“3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

What the Apostle Paul was saying when he wrote this is that many of those who were eyewitnesses to the resurrection were still alive.  If you don’t believe me, go ask them.

Is there a difference between an apostle and a disciple?

Yes. The Davis Dictionary of the Bible says that an apostle had to be an eyewitness of the events of the life of Jesus.  An apostle had to have seen Jesus after the resurrection.  A disciple is a more general term used for a follower, pupil or scholar of a public figure.

Who were the women who discovered the empty tomb?

Mark 16: 1 and 2 

“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.”

Who were the twelve apostles?

Andrew, Bartholomew, James the Elder, James the Lesser or the Younger, John, Judas, Jude or Thaddeus, Matthew or Levi, Peter, Philip, Simon the Zealot, and Thomas Didymus.

The following biographical information is provided at: http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/who-were-twelve-disciples


Andrew was the brother of Peter, and a son of Jonas. He lived in Bethsaida and Capernaum and was a fisherman before Jesus called him. Originally he was a disciple of John the Baptist (Mark 1:16-18). Andrew brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus (John 1:40).

According to tradition, it was in Achaia, Greece, in the town of Patra that Andrew died a martyr. When Governor Aepeas’ wife was healed and converted to the Christian faith, and shortly after that the Governor’s brother became a Christian. Aepeas was enraged. He arrested Andrew and condemned him to die on the cross. Andrew, feeling unworthy to be crucified on the same-shaped cross as his Master, begged that his be different. So, he was crucified on an X-shaped cross, which is still called Saint Andrew’s cross and which is one of his apostolic symbols. 

Bartholomew or Nathanael

Bartholomew Nathanael, son of Talmai, lived in Cana of Galilee. His apostolic symbol is three parallel knives. Tradition says he was a missionary in Armenia. A number of scholars believe that he was the only one of the 12 disciples who came from royal blood, or noble birth. His name means Son of Tolmai or Talmai (2 Samuel 3:3). Talmai was king of Geshur whose daughter, Maacah, was the wife of David, mother of Absolom.

Bartholomew’s name appears with every list of the disciples (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). This was not a first name, however; it was his second name. His first name probably was Nathanael, whom Jesus called “An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47).

The New Testament gives us very little information about him. Tradition indicates he was a great searcher of the Scripture and a scholar in the law and the prophets. He developed into a man of complete surrender to the Carpenter of Nazareth, and one of the Church’s most adventurous missionaries. He is said to have preached with Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis; also in Armenia. The Armenian Church claims him as its founder and martyr. However, tradition says that he preached in India, and his death seems to have taken place there. He died as a martyr for his Lord. He was flayed alive with knives.

James the Elder

James, the Elder, Boanerges, son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of John the Apostle; a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem. He preached in Jerusalem and Judea and was beheaded by Herod, AD 44 (Acts 12:1,2). The New Testament tells us very little about James. His name never appears apart from that of his brother, John. They were an inseparable pair (Mark 1:19-20; Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:1-11).

He was the first of the twelve to become a martyr. 

James the Lesser or the Younger

James, the Lesser or Younger, son of Alpheus, or Cleophas and Mary, lived in Galilee. He was the brother of the Apostle Jude.

According to tradition he wrote the Epistle of James, preached in Palestine and Egypt and was crucified in Egypt. Still another tradition says that he died as a martyr and his body was sawed in pieces. The saw became his apostolic symbol.


John Boanerges, son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of James, the Apostle. He was known as the Beloved Disciple. A fisherman who lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem, he was a member of the Inner Circle. He wrote the Gospel of John, I John, II John, III John and Revelation. He preached among the churches of Asia Minor. Banished to the isle of Patmos, he was later freed and died a natural death. (The only apostle to do so.)

John was one of the prominent Apostles. He is mentioned in many places in the New Testament. He was a man of action; he was very ambitious; and a man with an explosive temper and an intolerant heart. His second name was Boanerges, which means son of Thunder. He and his brother, James, came from a more well-to-do family than the rest of the 12 Apostles. Since his father had hired servants in his fishing business (Mark 1:20) he may have felt himself above the rest. He was close to Peter. They were acting together in the ministry. Peter, however, was always the spokesman for the band.  


Judas Iscariot, the traitor, was the son of Simon who lived in Kerioth of Judah. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and afterwards hanged himself (Matthew 26:14,16).

It is said that Judas was a violent Jewish Nationalist who had followed Jesus in hope that through Him his nationalistic flame and dreams might be realized. No one can deny that Judas was a covetous man and at times he used his position as treasurer of the band to pilfer from the common purse. There is no certain reason as to why Judas betrayed his master; but it is not his betrayal that put Jesus on the cross-it was our sins. 

Jude or Thaddeus

Jude, Thaddeus, or Lebbeus, son of Alpheus or Cleophas and Mary. He was a brother of James the Younger. He was one of the very little-known Apostles and lived in Galilee. Tradition says he preached in Assyria and Persia and died a martyr in Persia.

Jerome called Jude “Trinomious” which means “a man with three names.”

It is said that Jude went to preach the gospel in Edessa near the Euphrates River. There he healed many and many believed in the name of the Master. Jude went from there to preach the Gospel in other places. He was killed with arrows at Ararat. 

Matthew or Levi

Matthew, or Levi, son of Alpheus, lived in Capernaum. He was a publican or tax collector. He wrote the Gospel that bears his name. He died a martyr in Ethiopia.

It was a common custom in the Middle East at the time of Christ for men to have two names. Matthew’s names mean “a gift of God.” The name Levi could have been given to him by Jesus. It is likely that James the lesser, who was one of the twelve Apostles, was Matthew’s brother, also the son of Alpheus. 

Of all the nations in the world, the Jews were the most vigorous haters of tax gatherers. To the devout Jew, God was the only one to whom it was right to pay tribute in taxes. To pay it to anyone else was to infringe on the rights of God. The tax collectors were hated not on religious grounds only but because most of them were notoriously unjust.

In the minds of many honest, Jewish men, these tax collectors were regarded as criminals. Such was Matthew. Yet, Jesus chose a man all men hated and made him one of His men. 

Matthew was unlike the other Apostles, who were mostly fishermen. He could use a pen, and by his pen he became the first man to present to the world, in the Hebrew language, an account of the teaching of Jesus. 


Simon Peter, son of Jonas, was a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida and Capernaum. He did evangelistic and missionary work among the Jews, going as far as Babylon. He was a member of the Inner Circle and authored the two New Testament epistles which bear his name. Tradition says he was crucified, head downward, in Rome.

In every apostolic list, the name Peter is mentioned first. However, Peter had other names. At the time of Christ, the common language was Greek and the family language was Hebrew. So his Greek name was Simon (Mark 1:16; John 1:40, 41). His Hebrew name was Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5 and Galatians 2:9). The Greek meaning of Simon is rock. The Arabic meaning of Cephas is also rock.

By trade, Peter was a fisherman. He was a married man (1 Corinthians 9:5) and his home was Capernaum. 

Among the twelve, Peter was the leader.  It is he who saw Jairus’ daughter raised to life. Yet, it is he who denied Christ before a maiden. He was an Apostle and a missionary who laid down his life for his Lord. It is true, Peter had many faults, but he had always the saving grace of the loving heart. No matter how many times he had fallen and failed, he always recovered his courage and integrity.

Peter was martyred on a cross. Peter requested that he might be crucified head downward for he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died. His apostolic symbol is a cross upside down with crossed keys.


Tradition says that disciple Philip preached in Phrygia and died a martyr at Hierapolis. Philip came from Bethsaida, the town from which Peter and Andrew came (John 1:44). The likelihood is that he, too, was a fisherman.

The Gospel of John shows Philip as one of the first to whom Jesus addressed the words, “Follow Me.” When Philip met Christ, he immediately found Nathanael and told him that “we have found him, of whom Moses … and the prophets, did write.”

Nathanael was skeptical. But Philip did not argue with him; he simply answered, “Come and see.” This story tells us two important things about Philip. First, it shows his right approach to the skeptic and his simple faith in Christ. Second, it shows that he had a missionary instinct.

It is said that he died by hanging. While he was dying, he requested that his body be wrapped not in linen but in papyrus for he was not worthy that even his dead body should be treated as the body of Jesus had been treated. 

Simon the Zealot

Simon, the Zealot, one of the little-known followers called the Canaanite or Zelotes, lived in Galilee. Tradition says he was crucified.

Simon was a fanatical Nationalist, a man devoted to the Law, a man with bitter hatred for anyone who dared to compromise with Rome. Yet, Simon clearly emerged as a man of faith. He abandoned all his hatred for the faith that he showed toward his Master and the love that he was willing to share with the rest of the disciples and especially Matthew, the Roman tax collector.

Simon, the Zealot, the man who once would have killed in loyalty to Israel, became the man who saw that God will have no forced service. Tradition says he died as a martyr. His apostolic symbol is a fish lying on a Bible, which indicates he was a former fisherman who became a fisher of men through preaching.

Thomas Didymus

Thomas Didymus lived in Galilee. Tradition says he labored in Parthia, Persia, and India, suffering martyrdom near Madras, at Mt. St. Thomas, India.

Thomas appeared in the raising of Lazarus (John 11:2-16), in the Upper Room (John 14:1-6) where he wanted to know how to know the way where Jesus was going.

In John 20:25, we see him saying unless he sees the nailprints in Jesus’ hand and the gash of the spear in His side he will not believe. That’s why Thomas became known as Doubting Thomas.

By nature, Thomas was a pessimist. He was a bewildered man. Yet, he was a man of courage. He was a man who could not believe until he had seen. He was a man of devotion and of faith. When Jesus rose, he came back and invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail prints in his hands and in his side. Here, we see Thomas making the greatest confession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas’ doubts were transformed into faith. By this very fact Thomas’ faith became great, intense and convincing. 

Who replaced Judas Iscariot?

Either Matthais or Joseph Barsabbas also known as Justus were chosen by their fellow apostles to replace Judas.  Lots were cast to choose one. The lot fell to Matthias and he was elected.  (Acts 1:15, 26). Matthias was with Jesus since His baptism until his resurrection.  According to historical sources Matthias lived til 80 A.D. and was stoned to death.  After his stoning he may or may not have also been beheaded.  A burial marker for Matthias is located in the ruins of the Roman fortress at Apsaros.

The title “apostle” was not limited to the twelve, for Barnabas (Acts 14:14), and James (the Lord’s brother, Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7) were called apostles also.

What changed the disciples of Jesus from scared bunnies into fearless lions? 

The disciples had hoped that Jesus’ would be king of a kingdom here on earth and that He would destroy the powerful Roman government.  After Jesus was crucified His disciples were frightened.  They feared for their own lives.  They were confused and disappointed.  They scattered.

Yet, all of a sudden they were all ready and willing to die for what they knew to be true.  Jesus was alive and had risen from the grave. The Resurrection itself is what emboldened these terrified humans. Obviously these people no longer had a fear of death for they began proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus right in the very streets of Jerusalem. A city filled with eyewitnesses and the authorities who had so recently sentenced Jesus to death. These simple men were well aware of the fact that they were openly opposing both Roman and Hebrew authority.  They were all willing to pay the price for that. 

Acts 5:17-40

“The priests and the captain … came up to Peter and John … They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead…They seized Peter and John… put them in jail…When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished… “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked’.. (Acts 4:1-16)
‘Then the high priest and all his associates,… arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. …they were furious and wanted to put them to death….They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” 

The twelve disciples were not the only people to witness the risen Jesus.  He appeared to entire groups of people and to Saul (Apostle Paul), a Jewish Roman citizen known for his unrelenting persecution of early Christians.  Paul writes,

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

“3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.And last of all he was seen of me.” 

This passage of New Testament Scripture is part of the earliest known Christian statement of faith or creed.  Jewish Scholar Pinchahs Lapide, Jewish theologian and Israeli historian, says that this creed “may be considered the statement of eyewitnesses.”

Just because the disciples appeared to sincerely believe that they saw Jesus after his death doesn’t necessarily mean they really did.  There are three possible reasons for the disciple’s behavior: they were lying; they hallucinated; or they really saw the risen Christ.

Did the disciples lie about the Resurrection?

In today’s world we have all seen people willing to die for causes that are lies. However, these people truly believe that the lie is truth.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the disciples would have known that to say so, was a lie.  Therefore, they would not have been dying for a lie they believed with their whole hearts to be true, they would have been dying for a lie, that they knew was a lie.  It is impossible to believe the disciples, to a man, would so bravely give up their lives and suffer so much pain and persecution for a known lie.

Easter quote

Charles Wendell “Chuck” Colson, Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship, Prison Fellowship International, and BreakPoint. He served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973.

Even if the disciples, who never sought political power, were crazy enough to give up their lives for a known lie.  I can assure you that after working for politicians and government for almost two decades, no reasonable person would believe that human beings, sane or not, could have all remained on the same page, as they traveled independently throughout the known world and successfully covered up such a lie. Just think of all of the recent leaks to the media regarding the current President.  Impossible!

Could the disciples have been deceived by an hallucination?

Most historical scholars concede that at least the disciples sincerely and completely believed that they had seen Jesus alive after he had been killed on the cross. Could the disciples have been deceived by an hallucination?  After all, they had been were under intense emotional distress.

The very descriptions of Jesus’ appearances discount the hallucination theory.  Hallucinations are individual experiences, not group projections. People cannot share dream experiences and they cannot share hallucinations.  Unlike the flu or colds, neither dreams or hallucinations transfer from one individual to another.

Nor, does the hallucination theory explain Apostle Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus which occurred three years after the first reports of the Resurrection.  It is not reasonable to think that the mind of Paul, a persecutor of Christians, conjured up a vision of Jesus, in front of his guards, that was so intense that it blinded him for days and changed his life forever.

Nor, can the hallucination theory explain the empty tomb.

Then, too, the disciples did not just “see” or “hallucinate” the risen Lord.  They experienced Him. They spoke to Him and He spoke to them. They touched the wounds in His hands, feet and side; and ate, drank and walked with Him. The disciples believed that they had experienced the risen Jesus, because they had.

The most believable explanation for what turned a pack of quaking fearful cowards into fearless preachers of the Resurrection of Jesus, is that they did in fact experience the risen Lord.

1 Timothy 2:5-6

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Was Jesus the promised Messiah? 

Old Testament prophecies centuries before Jesus’ birth predicted his life, death, and resurrection.  The highly respected scientist Blaise Pascal describes these prophecies as, “tangible proof” for people who want evidence that God exists. These prophecies provide specific details about Jesus and His followers over which they had no control.  For example, Psalm 22:16, written centuries before the Romans invented crucifixion describes the piercing of Jesus’ hands and feet.

Psalm 22:16 

“16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.”

There are over 350 prophesies in the Old Testament about Jesus.  These texts are not little bits and pieces of information gleaned from Scripture by Christians to support their narrative.

I know that Jesus, was an excellent  scholar of the Scriptures. He would have certainly  known about the prophesies about the Messiah.  Now, maybe a person facing certain and painful death at the hands of the Romans maybe could have remained silent in front of their accusers to fulfilled prophesy. However, Jesus did not and could not chose the type of death he would suffer. Nor, could he control whether or not he would be beaten and flayed by guards. It was highly likely that Jesus, a Jew, would have died from the Hebrew sentence for death which is stoning, and not by crucifixion as foretold in the Old Testament.

And, Jesus was already dead when the rich man Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and placed it in his own tomb.  Isaiah 53: 9. “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death;” 

The purpose for Jesus’ life, His physical appearance, the reason for His Crucifixion, His silence before his accusers, His physical beating before His death, and the meaning of His Resurrection is all foretold by Old Testament prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the events occurred.

Isaiah 53 

“53 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. 

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Can Science disprove the Resurrection? 

Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, offers three hypotheses regarding the Resurrection.

Hypothesis one: There wasn’t a literal bodily resurrection, because that contradicts the laws of nature. Jesus’s spirit may have lived on while his body remained in the tomb.

Hypothesis two: There was in fact a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Hypothesis 3: Those that believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus were brainwashed as children.

It is important to note that Professor Hutchinson discovered his Christian faith as a young adult and did not grow up in a home that taught the resurrection of Jesus. He came to faith as an undergraduate at Cambridge University and was baptized in the chapel of Kings College on his 20th birthday.

Professor Hutchinson writes,

“My Christian colleagues at MIT – and millions of other scientists worldwide – somehow think that a literal miracle like the resurrection of Jesus is possible. And we are following a long tradition. The founders of the scientific revolution and many of the greatest scientists of the intervening centuries were serious Christian believers…”To explain how a scientist can be a Christian is actually quite simple. Science cannot and does not disprove the resurrection. Natural science describes the normal reproducible working of the world of nature. Indeed, the key meaning of “nature”, as Boyle emphasized, is “the normal course of events.”

“Miracles like the resurrection are inherently abnormal. It does not take modern science to tell us that humans don’t rise from the dead…Maybe people were more open then to the possibility of miracles than we are today. Still, the fact that the resurrection was impossible in the normal course of events was as obvious in the first century as it is for us. Indeed that is why it was seen as a great demonstration of God’s power.”

“Science functions by reproducible experiments and observations. Miracles are, by definition, abnormal and non-reproducible, so they cannot be proved by science’s methods.”

“If science is not able to adjudicate whether Jesus’ resurrection happened or not, are we completely unable to assess the plausibility of the claim? No. Contrary to increasingly popular opinion, science is not our only means for accessing truth…a bare presumption that science has shown the resurrection to be impossible is an intellectual cop-out. Science shows no such thing.”

Professor Hutchinson is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He may not be an eye-witness, but he, dozens of his colleagues, and all born-again Christians are Resurrection witnesses. For they have studied scripture, asked hard questions and through much soul searching and thought have come to believe that Jesus, God’s only son, did in fact rise from the dead on Easter morning.

Today is Good Friday, a day that Christian’s all over the world observe Jesus’ death on the cross. Sunday will be Easter, a day that celebrates Jesus’ Resurrection and victory over sin and the grave.  If you have never read the parallel gospels accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to do so.  (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16; Luke 24: 1-44; John 20:1-29)

I invite you to learn more about the Christian faith and a just and loving God who keeps his promises by reading His holy word in the Bible.  If you are new to the Bible, begin by reading the Gospel of John in the New Testament.

I pray that you will consider accepting the risen Lord, Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  It isn’t hard to do.  The Apostle John beautifully simplifies why Jesus died and explains how everyone can be assured of eternal life.

John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Yes, Jesus has risen, He has Risen deed!  Happy Easter! 


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