Dear Friends, my prayer letter this week is a bit of a departure from the normal prayer letter. This one is more personal and is a reflection on the meaning of Memorial Day. Surprisingly, Memorial Day has become somewhat controversial. There are those on the Religious Left who disapprove of this day because it celebrates war in their view. There are those among Evangelicals who disapprove because it smacks of patriotism, and they don’t like the connection that has existed between faith in God and patriotism. I find both positions lacking.
Last year, I was invited to speak at my hometown Memorial Day service. It was an honor to be asked, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to think about my own feelings and beliefs with regard to this day of remembrance.
A condensed version of that message comprises the body of this prayer letter. Yes, it’s longer than our usual prayer letter. However, if you can take the time to read it, I pray that it will help you in your own thinking about the meaning of and significance of Memorial Day. The week’s prayer requests follow the message.
Memorial Day Speech
May 30, 2016
While I don’t know the exact number, I believe I have attended the Memorial Day ceremony in my home town well over 50 times in my life. And as I reflected back on this, I asked myself, “why have I attended this ceremony nearly all my life?” I came up with at least six reasons:
- I had no choice because my parents brought me.
- I had to because I was involved in the service as a band member.
- Because I wanted to honor my parent’s service to this country.
- I wanted to because it became increasingly important to me for my own sake as a means of remembering just how much my freedom cost others.
- I still want to be here because it has become a significant marker for me on my way to eternity. The older I get the more I realize how much I am indebted to those who have served to uphold freedom and justice—not only on American soil, but around the world.
- I want to be here because it inspires me to live my life in a noble manner for the good of others and for the glory of God Almighty.
The purpose of Memorial Day, after all, is to remember the lives of those soldiers who lost their lives in the fight for liberty and freedom for all. While we rightly celebrate the contributions of all veterans to our freedom, this day is meant to highlight the greatest sacrifice a person can make—to give his life for the sake of others.
Why is it important to remember?
You might ask, “why is it important to remember?” It’s important to remember because if we forget just how costly our freedom is, we will cease to value it as much, and then, ultimately, we will cease to preserve it because we won’t understand how precious it really is. This is true in all of life. Anything we stop thinking about, we will cease to value. It’s that simple. Therefore, it is critical for us to remember just how this nation became, and has stayed, a free nation. Remembering this should instill in us an attitude of thanksgiving and deep gratitude that, in turn, will lead us to humility and charity toward others.
My parent’s example of serving selflessly (during the war and then beyond it) and how it inspires me yet today.
As a boy, I know I didn’t appreciate or understand nearly enough about the price paid for my freedom. I knew that both of my parents served during World War II. Mom was an “air-WAC,” and Dad was in the Army. Over the years, I learned a little more about their experience, but still not enough to appreciate their service to the extent I should. Mom served for two years with the Army Air Force in Fort Kearney, Nebraska and in Washington, D.C. Dad entered the army in September 1941 and served for nearly four years in the Pacific theater before being discharged at the end of May 1945. He fought on the island of New Guinea and on several of the island chains in the surrounding area.
Dad, like so many other combat veterans, didn’t talk much about his experience in the war. I’m sure some of it was just too painful to remember and recount. But even though Dad obviously didn’t get killed in action, or even wounded, I now realize he paid a great price for my freedom and my generally pleasant life. He did not see his family for over three and a half years. While he was overseas, his family lost their farm because Dad wasn’t there to work it. He contracted malaria while in New Guinea and had several recurrences of it in his later life. He witnessed the brutal deaths of many of his friends on the battlefield. Dad was in Company B, of the 163 Regiment of the 41st Army Division. The Company had 190 men. According to his journal, during their first combat mission, nearly half of the men were either killed or wounded. He kept an account of every man in his outfit and what happened to them. Most didn’t survive. His experience was by no means unique. So while it’s true that most soldiers don’t die on the battlefield, they all pay a price for their service to their country.
What is a hero?
My Dad was, and still is, a hero to me. He served willingly in the largest scale war in history and in one of the most difficult places—the hot, humid, disease infested jungles of the south pacific region. All those who have served or are serving in our armed forces, all those who were wounded, and especially all the fallen soldiers, are heroes of the most noble sort. The “hero” label has been greatly watered down in our day, but here is my definition of a hero: “A hero is an ordinary person who, on principle, does something extraordinary, by overcoming great obstacles, for the good of others or for a great cause and often at great risk to themselves.”
I thank the Lord for those of you who have served in the military—especially during wartime. For what you were willing to do, even at the possible cost of your life, is a precious thing in our sight and in the sight of the Lord. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, chapter 15:13 that:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus was, of course, speaking in this verse about his own willingness to lay down his life for his friends (us!), by dying on the cross for the forgiveness of their (our!) sins. Even so, the general truth of the statement applies to all of us. Sacrificing our life, for the good of others, is the most profound act of love we can possibly perform. There is no greater demonstration of love than being willing to die for the sake of others.
It is a noble thing, therefore, to serve the cause of freedom, to serve your country, and to be willing to die, if necessary, for such causes. The prophet Isaiah said:
“[But] he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.” Isaiah 32:8
Oh, that God would raise up more noble people! We need more and more people who are willing to live for the good of others and to uphold truth, and justice, and freedom. We need more people who will do what is right and what is necessary—no matter what the cost.
Our inspiration (and exhortation)
Oh, let us not waste the great sacrifice of those who fought and died for our sake! Let us live in such a way as to honor them for what they have given us—the gift of freedom.
Freedom is not free! It never has been. No, freedom is very costly, very precious, and gloriously good for all of us.
May all of us be inspired by those who have served us so bravely and so well. Thinking on their sacrifice for our freedom, we should be inspired to live our lives for something beyond ourselves, beyond our own earthly pleasures. Live for your family. Live for your spouse. Live for your community. Live for your church. Live for righteousness. Live for truth, justice, and freedom. And, ultimately, live for the glory of God our Maker.
May the Lord bless you,
Bethlehem College & Seminary
- Please pray for our students and faculty as they enter into the summer break. Pray that they would be able to accomplish both work and times of refreshment with their families in order to recharge for the fall.
- Please continue to be in prayer for our college admissions processes. We are still assembling the fall Freshman class at the college and we need wisdom from the Lord to bring in just the right class for this coming Fall. We want the students that the Lord wants to be here.
- Please be in prayer for our graduates. Many of them already are employed or have been accepted to graduate schools. Pray for their transitions out of college/seminary life and into full time employment and ministry. Pray also for those who are not yet settled on what they will be doing in this next phase of life. Pray for the Lord’s clear leading for them.
- Please continue to be in prayer for our financial growth. We have been blessed by the Lord in so many ways so far! Now, we are asking him to provide for us some substantial gifts that would help make us strong for the long-term future. Please pray that the Lord would be gracious to us as we have an important meeting this Friday pertaining to this goal.