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Memorial Day 2013 

(Presented at Luck WI Memorial Day Celebration)

Nestled along the beautiful shores of Hawaii, the Waikiki Natatorium stands as a reminder of the 10,000 men who volunteered to protect the US Territory of Hawaii during World War I. The memorial now crumbles after years of neglect, budget cuts and the deteriorating effects of salt water and time.

Tourists and locals alike once flocked to the memorial to enjoy its beauty and to reflect on the sacrifice of these brave men. However, the building now gets but a fleeting glance from passersby before they move on to enjoy the sun, the surf and the beach. Many have no idea what the building is for, others simply don’t care. Plans were unvieled in early May, 2013 to tear down the memorial and develop the prime, beach front property for recreational and commercial purposes.

The story of the Waikiki Natatorium is being repeated across the country. Memorials once built to remind us of the over 1.1 million men and women who have given their lives to win and protect the freedom enjoyed by our nation, as well as many other nations around the world, are neglected at best and usually deteriorating with little regard for their significance. The memory of the sacrifice of human lives has become lost in the cares and concerns of the modern world.

The real tragedy, however, is not the deterioration of these structures of mortar and wood. The real tragedy lies in the fact that Memorial Day, which began in 1868 as a day to remember those who have given the ultimate gift of life for freedom, has become a holiday of picnics and leisure. A defining characteristic of our American culture is celebration and BBQ’s. However, while this in itself is not wrong, we must never allow ourselves forget the sacrifice the men and women of our armed forces have given for us.

Former President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Now more than ever, we realize the fragile state of peace in our nation and our world. Now, more than ever we need to not only remember what these men and women did for our country, we need to learn from them the importance of standing for the principles of freedom and justice that have always been a hallmark of the United States of America.

Normally, we measure legacy by the passing of time and the number of accomplishments one has in their lifetime. But these men and women left us a legacy of another kind. If you look at the dates on many of the stones of remembrance, for our veteran’s in cemeteries across our nation, you will soon realize that far too many of them were taken from us at too young of an age.  They weren’t given the opportunity to live long years and develop to their full potential. We often say these men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice but we too paid a huge price. We are the ones who didn’t get to see our little boys and girls grow to their full potential; we are the ones who never got to meet the fathers and mothers and grandchildren they would bring into this world.  We are the ones who lost friends and neighbors and classmates to the cruel realities of conflict.

Thankfully, there were many others that were fortunate enough to return to us. They have raised their families and lived productive lives in our communities. Some have suffered, and continue to suffer physical and emotional scars as a result of their sacrifice. Let us use today to remember, not only those who have gone before us, but those who are still in our midst and those who are currently putting their lives on the line for us every day so that our freedom will continue to be a reality and not just a memory.

There five lessons we can learn from those who have gone before us. Lessons they lived every day of their lives; lessons that continue to make this nation the greatest nation on earth. The lessons we can learn from our veterans spell the word SERVE because the one thing that makes us great as an American people is our willingness and desire to serve each other. Each of these qualities are qualities all of us should endeavor to practice in our homes, our schools and our communities.

  1. Selflessness: They believed in themselves.

The “S” in serve stands for SELFLESS. People who think of others do so because they believe in themselves strongly enough to realize their worth comes not from what they can get, but what they can give. They live out in reality the old adage that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.” All of us have been touched from time to time by pictures of soldiers carrying young children, caring for the elderly and helping their comrades.

Selfless people gain from realizing the best gift they can give themselves and each other is the gift of service. Service based on our desire to give and not to receive monetary gain.

  1. Embrace: They believed in their cause

The ‘E’ in serve stands for EMBRACE. Embracing reminds us that the men and women of our military believed in their cause. This cause they believed in was not the battlefield for no one wants to go to war. The cause that drove these brave souls was a belief in freedom, the sanctity of life, and the right for all mankind to be treated as equals.

Each of us needs to embrace the freedoms they fought for by working to make our communities places of safety, respect and acceptance.

  1. Resolved: They believed they could make a difference

The “R” in serve stands for RESOLVED. The men and women who gave their lives in our military did so because they believed they could make a difference, not only at the local level, but globally. That same resolve continues today. In many of the nations where the US has served, schools have been built, roads improved and social institutions developed. They went, and still go, firmly believing they can achieve something great.

We too need to truly believe that our God-given gifts were given to us so that we can make a difference in our corner of the world.

  1. Value: They believed in the value of others more than themselves

The ‘V’ in serve stands for VALUE. The American soldier has proven throughout history that they value life and freedom for others more than for themselves. To value others doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them socially, culturally or in areas of faith, but it does mean that each of us has God-given qualities that must be preserved. Freedom can not happen without a commitment to valuing the sanctity of life.

  1. Encouragement: They made a difference

The ‘E’ in serve stands for ENCOURAGEMENT. Encouragement is a double-sided coin. For the American soldier encouragement comes from a realization that they have made the world a better place to live. Freedom never comes without hard work, tenacity and risk. Our veterans lived that every day of their lives. Those who returned have continued to serve this nation well.

The other side of the coin of encouragement is our part. We have the opportunity today to honor those who have gone before us with a moment of silence this afternoon at 3:00. To spend just 60 seconds thanking Almighty God for the freedom we have as a result of their sacrifice. We have an opportunity today to thank those in our midst who have served this nation in the past, some who still bear the scars of their service. We have an opportunity today and into the future to thank those who are currently serving at home and abroad with our prayers and our support, and to remember their families who wait at home, praying for their safe return.

As he neared the end of his life and looked towards his own death, the Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy and he wrote these words. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

These words could well be the inscription on every tomb of the American Soldier. They have fought the good fight. You have finished the course set before you and our continued freedom proves that. You have kept the faith and the freedom to express that faith. Not every battle was won. As long as mankind exists there will be conflict. But you fought the good fight. You ran the race well, and for that we express our deepest gratitude.

I found this poem on the internet and was unable to give credit where credit is due, but I share this with you in closing:

I do not know your name – Nor for which battle you died.

I do not know your home, nor the tears that were cried.

I do not know where you rest – Nor the promise broken.

I do not know your uniform, and your fears lay unspoken.

But, I know your spirit exists – That your courage is admired,

and your sacrifice is honored by each soul that’s inspired.

And I offer you from my heart, Thank you, to guardians unknown,

for offering yourselves for all of us, that we may keep freedom… Our home.
Bless you!!!

Thank you once again for allowing me the honor of joining you in this time of remembrance. Thank you to all those veterans in our midst and to their families for your sacrifice. And lastly, may God Bless America.

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:21 (NLT)

Remember the game you played in Jr. High? A friend punches you, kicks you or plays a prank of some sort on you and yells, “Even”. Maybe this was more of a guy thing, but I remember it well. It usually started out relatively harmless. Sometimes it could escalate into a full-blown war. It may have started with an accidental push and usually you never knew who really started it. One thing you did know is that ‘Even’ never happened because you always had to get in the last act of (usually) playful violence.

There is, deep within us, the desire to win, to stand for ourselves, to be victorious. It may be buried under years of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. It still lies beneath the scars of our pain, but it’s there. It’s longing cries out to us. Its desire cloaks itself in anger, hopelessness, fear and worry. We use chemicals, lifestyle and other control issues to soothe its longing.

The fact of the matter is, we’ll never be victorious as long as we have the attitude of “It’s me against the world.” Until we realize we are nothing more than pawns in a cosmic, spiritual battle we’ll continue to try to win a battle we can never emerge from victorious.

The lifestyle of the Christ-follower is one of dichotomies. The war for our souls is no exception. The best way to ‘win’ is to ‘lose’. The best way to ‘be strong’, is to ‘be weak’. The best way to ‘get even’ is to ‘give in’. The best way to combat the evil in our lives is to do good. Evil acts will always conceive more evil. The only remedy is to allow the Holy Spirit of God enter into your life and develop his fruit in your soul. “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways” (Galatians 5:22-23CEV).

The Christian life is one of dichotomies. Society says, “Revenge is the best way to handle conflict”. God says, “Doing good in the face of evil destroys evil.” Society says lives by the adage, “I did it my way”. God says, “It’s my power working in you, not your power that accomplishes things.”

When faced with the desire to ‘get even’, remember you will accomplish much more by taking a step back and seeking God’s power and wisdom to know how you can best turn this evil into good; to show Christ-like character to those needing the freedom grace has to offer.

PRAYER: Father God, there are so many times when I’m mistreated, offended, ignored and blamed. During those times when I seek to get even give me the wisdom to follow your path and show Christ’s love in response to those who persecute me. Amen.

Echoes of Joy

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit . . .” (Psalm 34:18)

The recent tornadoes that ripped through Moore, Okla., as well as Shawnee and the surrounding areas, have left us all reeling. Those of us who live in Oklahoma are familiar with the damage tornadoes can do. Each spring, we prepare for severe weather, even though we know it can happen at any time. We’ve been cautioned to register our storm cellars with City Hall in case we need to be rescued after a storm and to keep a first aid kit and an emergency supply of water in the cellar in case we’re trapped for a short time. And we pray that we won’t need any of it.

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No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NIV)

Military service is far more appealing during times of peace than in times of war. Growing up in the 1960’s, I remember the protests and controversy surrounding the Vietnam War. Every year the military drew dates for the draft. Those dates became the order in which men were required to report for military service and inevitably deployment overseas. The higher your number, the more likely you were to be chosen.

With few exceptions, there was no way out of fulfilling your requirements. Those that were called and survived left as boys and, the lucky ones, returned as men who’d seen things no man alive would want to see. But they hadn’t been called to be tourists. They were called as soldiers with a job to do.

It’s interesting that Paul makes the analogy of the servant of Christ and a soldier when he writes to his young protégé, Timothy. All those in the Mediterranean world knew about soldiers. Rome’s tight grip on the world was due to the presence of a well-trained and disciplined army. There may have been atrocities, but the main goal of the soldier was to keep Rome strong and they did very well at it for hundreds of years.

Soldiers aren’t called to live in peace, they are called to acquire and keep the peace. As soldiers for Christ we must remember that we are at war. Our main charge is not to develop strong churches and cool programs. While worship of almighty God is essential, one must never forget that we have but one command from our commander and that command is spelled out very succinctly in Matthew 28. We are to make disciples and teach them about Jesus.

Jesus didn’t make disciples from good, church-going men and women. He didn’t spend his time preaching to the choir; in fact he made it clear he was called to make disciples and followers from the sick, the destitute, and the immoral. The healthy don’t need a doctor, the sick do.

Each of us is called to be a soldier for Christ. Our primary job is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ out in a way that shows the world they can experience forgiveness and freedom from the sins and struggles that hold them captive.

Whether you are in full-time ministry or a factory worker, a teacher or a hamburger flipper, your mission is the same. Disciples aren’t made through well-designed programs or social media. Disciples are made through hand-to-hand combat.

As a soldier for Jesus, who can you touch today? Who do you know in your circles that need to feel the encouragement, forgiveness and freedom of the grace you have received through Christ? They don’t need to hear your sermons. You don’t need to have a seminary degree to show them the way. You just need to be willing to share your life with them.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you have called us to be a soldier in your army. Empower us with your Spirit to stay true to our calling so that we may win others to you. Amen.

When King David heard all this, he was furious. 2 Samuel 13:21 (NIV)

King David had many wives and children from those relationships. One day, one of his sons, driven by passion and lust tricked David and his half-sister into having her deliver food to his house. Once there he raped her.

There was no way that word of the attack didn’t reach the palace. In fact all of Jerusalem probably knew about the incident. Yet there was no ‘official word’ from the King as to any punitive action taken, other than the fact that David was reported to be very angry with the situation.

Two years later, another of David’s sons, Absalom, made good on a promise he’d made to his sister, the rape victim. He murdered his half-brother in retaliation for the incident that had been festering in his soul from the day his sister came sobbing to him with news of the attack.

Again, no ‘official statement’ came from the throne. However it was reported that the king was ‘deeply grieved’ over the events surrounding the death of his son.

Three years later, Absalom returned to Jerusalem. This time his goal was to gain the throne of his father, David. The ensuing civil war nearly cost David his throne…and cost him the death of one more of his children.

Absalom story is a perfect example of what can happen when sin isn’t confronted. Although David is referred to as ‘a man after God’s own heart’ his failure to lead his family speaks volumes!

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. There is an old saying that ‘time heals all wounds.’ This is a lie. Don’t believe it. Wounds that are left to heal on their own are like cancer that goes untreated. The outside of the person may appear healthy and doing well, but inside a hideous beast is waiting to surface.

Allowing time to heal usually gives frustration, anger, resentment and bitterness to get a foothold on ones soul. That’s why Jesus taught us that if someone sins against us we are to leave everything and get it resolved. Paul tells us that we are called to ministry of reconciliation and that we shouldn’t let the sun set before we attempt to resolve the issue.

Conflict is inevitable. There will be some who simply refuse to reconcile. As children of God we are called to live at peace with all people regardless of the differences we have. Who do you need to forgive today? Who needs to be forgiven by you? What wrong have you been avoiding any involvement in? As a follower of Jesus it’s not an option to resolve conflict, it’s our duty.

PRAYER: Father God, you know how easy it is for me to become avoidant in the midst of conflict. Empower me with your Spirit to be a minister of reconciliation and grace to those who have wronged me and to those I’ve wronged. Amen.

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May 2013
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