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Memorial Day 2017

arlington

While many consider this weekend to be the official start of summer, it has a very different purpose. Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who died in service to our nation.

An estimated 7,000 American service members have died in combat since 2001. That huge number represents the greatest sacrifice that one can make. They counted others greater than themselves. They stood up to fight for a cause. They died so that someone else could live.

In John 15, Jesus teaches his disciples to, “love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Selfless service and sacrifice are not words to idly throw around. They demonstrate the love of Christ, the one who was crucified for the entire world. His example shows the tremendous love of heaven. His example shows how much he values us. His example shows how deeply he cares for you and me.

When someone dies in our place, as a substitute, we should take note. It is humbling. It is loving. It is the ultimate sacrifice that one can offer.

As conflicts continue across the globe, let us remember those who have died so that we may live. Take time to remember those who protect our freedoms. Remember to pray for our service members, their families, and our nation.

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palm sunday

It is easy to get into a rut during Holy Week. While the music, pageants, processions, and lessons can easily feel the same consider where you are standing.

As we enter into Holy week, we should enter into the story. We should imagine ourselves watching and cheering as Jesus passes. But we shouldn’t just watch. We should go with him. We should join in the procession ourselves. We must follow along after Him and continue to shout and sing in the praises of our Messiah.

As Christians, we are not to remain spectators cheering from the sidelines. We are to fall in line. We are to join the procession. We are to become part of the parade itself. We are to follow Jesus, marching with him, moving wherever God’s voice is calling us to go.

Precious God, allow us to see Palm Sunday and Easter with new eyes.  Help us to see Jesus and follow after Him with our entire heart. Amen.

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lent

Lent is an important time where Christians focus on personal sacrifice and ready themselves for the celebration of Easter. On the liturgical calendar, Lent runs six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a religious observance where Christians focus on fasting, sacrifice, and abstaining from different foods, acts, or luxuries.

I have to admit that observing Lent is new to me. It is more common among liturgical or “high church” faith groups. I was not raised in that tradition, but I have an appreciation for the concept of subtracting something in your life to grow closer to God. While many will give up meat, sweets, soda, chocolate, or doughnuts during Lent, I like the idea of adding a spiritual practice in your life to grow closer to God. These practices can include daily devotions, a focused prayer time, creating a spiritual journal, volunteering at a charity, or performing community service projects.

This year I added a practice to help me grow closer to God. I will read through the Book of Psalms. King David was a warrior and a proficient soldier. He experienced great joy and rejoiced with reckless abandon. He also experienced dark times of sorrow, loss, and isolation. Through all of life’s ups and downs, he pursued God. There is much I can learn from that example and relationship.

While this approach may not be for everyone, the key is to find spiritual practices that appeal to you and honor God. It is also helpful to find a practice that will test or stretch your faith. Don’t fall into a rut and do the same spiritual discipline year after year. That would deny you the growth and opportunity God wants from us.

As we get closer to Holy Week, may your spiritual practice draw you closer to God.  Whether you are subtracting or adding a practice continue the daily journey toward the cross of Christ. Discover the great love that took Him there. See and understand the sacrifice of Jesus. Allow the atoning and redeeming work of Jesus to transform your life.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

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protest

Protests, riots, general strikes, and shouting matches, oh my! Where did all the big boys and big girls go in America? Every time I watch the news or read a story, it seems that all the adults are on vacation.

Coastal elites are burning more American flags than the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Today’s coalition of discontent wants to make a lot of noise, set things on fire, and boycott their jobs. Everyone is entitled to shout and protest. But worse yet, no one seems willing to listen to each other.

We cannot plug our ears and runaway if we do not agree with the message. No matter which protest you attend, those protesting must be willing not only to shout, but also to listen. Folks should be civil and respectful.

When people behave in a purely secular manner, we will witness a purely secular response. The ultimate result is a place more destructive and bitter than what we have today. There is a better way.

In John 13, Jesus shares this with his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus teaches a meaningful and difficult lesson for people to learn in the first century and in 2017 – love those around you. Jesus was frequently criticized for the company that he kept. Jesus acquired a reputation for being a wild child. Jesus knew tax collectors, fishermen, zealots, and other rowdies. Jesus went to their homes and befriended them.

Jesus was a loving, laughing, Lord, someone who enjoyed a good time. He befriended the leper, the lame, the outcast, the downtrodden, the soldier, and the saint. It was done out of pure, perfect, and heavenly love. He showed the kind of affection that transforms lives and honors God.

When people are given that kind of respect and love, they are willing to listen to each other. The challenge is demonstrating the love that Christ commands. May God empower us to love one another, no matter what others say or how they express it.

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4-chaplains

On the morning of February 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a converted cruise ship, was crowded to capacity with 903 service members, including four chaplains. The Dorchester, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland.  It was struck by a torpedo and began to rapidly sink. Panic and chaos had set in on the ship. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded.

Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend to the wounded, and guide the disoriented toward safety. By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. When there were no more life jackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.

As the ship went down, survivors on nearby rafts could see the four chaplains–arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. All four voices were heard offering prayers until their last moments of life.

Today, a grateful nation remembers Chaplain George L. Fox, Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, Chaplain Clark V. Poling, and Chaplain John P. Washington for their heroic deeds as soldiers and spiritual leaders.

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fig tree

Things aren’t always as they seem. How long was the Hundred Years’ War? It lasted 116 years. When do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? They celebrate it in November. What country sells the most Panama hats? Ecuador is known for the famous straw hat.

In Mark 11, Jesus makes a similar observation. Jesus is walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.  From a distance, He sees a beautiful green fig tree. It looks wonderful. It is full of leaves and seems to be a bastion of good health. When Jesus arrives at the tree, hoping to eat a hand full of young fig buds, there is nothing. The tree is barren. It has no fruit. It produces nothing.

Typically, fig trees make buds each March and they eventually turn into delicious figs. The buds are green like the leaves of the tree, so you need to carefully inspect the tree. When Jesus looks it over, there is nothing to find. The tree gives shade but no nourishment. It gives comfort with no provision. Help but no hope. The green, leafy, tree unfortunately produces nothing.

Jesus curses the tree for that very reason. It yields nothing. Despite all of the right signs and appearances, the tree is not what it seems to be. Jesus doesn’t condemn leaves, they are necessary for trees to live and grow. But we cannot be content with leaves alone.

Things aren’t always as they seem. A church might appear to be “healthy” when you look at it from a distance, only to be disappointed on closer inspection. The fruit it bears will tell the story. Individuals are the same way. A person may show all the right signs of “health” like a leafy fig tree, but bear no spiritual fruit.

The lesson of the fig tree is that we should bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). If we only appear to bear fruit, then we have missed the point and purpose of what God desires. God judges fruitlessness, and expects that those who have a relationship with Him will “bear much fruit” (John 15:5-8).

May our lives yield a bumper crop of spiritual fruit that benefits mankind and pleases the Lord.

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closet

I had the privilege of officiating a wedding on Saturday. Everyone dresses up for a wedding. The bride and groom look sharp. The wedding party put on fancy outfits and fix up their hair. Even guests get into the act. They dress up, no matter how hot the weather may be. People always want to look their best for a wedding. We clothe ourselves differently from day to day attire, because a wedding is a special occasion.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

As Christians, we should clothe ourselves in love each day. We should “look sharp” all the time, no matter the event or the location. Love is not a unique garment that should be worn on special occasions, but an item to wear every single day.

Before you put on your socks or lace up your shoes, remember that there is one more item to wear before you head out the door. Clothe yourself in love.

 

 

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