Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Time magazine carried a story about former President George Herbert Walker Bush. It described a trip he took back to the South Pacific. During WW II, Bush had been a bomber pilot, and was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire. The article detailed Bush's return to the very spot where he was rescued from his downed aircraft. During his return visit, Bush met with a Japanese gentleman who claimed to have witnessed Bush's rescue back in 1944. The man related that as he and others were watching the rescue take place, one of the man's friends remarked, "Surely America will win the war if they care so much for the life of one pilot."
In another story Sgt. 1st class Paul Ray Smith could have retreated, but doing so would have allowed Iraqi troops to overrun an American aid station at
Instead, Sgt. Smith grabbed a rifle and antitank weapon and continued fighting,
holding off about 100 enemy soldiers. When a fellow soldier shouted at Smith to
take cover, Smith refused. “He gave me the cut-throat symbol,” the soldier
recalled. “He was not leaving.” Smith was severely wounded and died at his
post. Yet his efforts stopped the April 4, 2003, assault. Baghdad
Two years later, President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Smith’s 11-year-old son David. Drawing from this soldier’s example, the Army drew up a new creed as it tightened training procedures: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Smith’s widow commented, “Paul showed the soldiers what it means to be a soldier.
Some observers argue that the spirit of sacrifice in
is wanning, that its not as prevalent today as in past generations. What do you think? One could argue the point. Today we often hear examples of: "Me
first.” “My rights above others.” “It’s
all about me and what makes me happy.”
And yet, when we see our miliary today and the sacrifices men and women
and their families have made, when we see Americans generously helping others
in situations ranging from neighbor helping a neighbor to an outpouring of
support for communities, nationally and internationally dealing with natural
disasters of fires and floods, I see the spirit alive and well.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice; we remember those who have died in the service of
America. Today we honor the fallen heroes, America's armed
service members who didn’t come back.
Memorial day events locally have been scheduled at two national
cemeteries Miramar National Cemetery
and . Fort Rosecrans
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at
. The day was originally called Decoration Day. Arlington
I quote a part of that original order: “The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.” After WWI, the holiday changed from honoring those who died fighting in the Civil War, to honoring Americans who died fighting in all wars.
Today we recognize the 150th anniversary of
. 150 years ago, in 1864, the first military burials took place in Arlington National Cemetery . We remember the tomb of the unknown soldier,
in honor of the many soldiers who have died in wars with their remains being
unidentified. Arlington National Cemetery
Memorial Day is about sacrifice. Sacrifice is a value, an idea. It is also a choice. We have the freedom of choice. You certainly can choose to lead a self centered, self-absorbed life. God doesn't force you to give your life away in helping other people, encouraging other people, or serving your country. But when you choose self above everything and everyone else there is a consequence; you miss out on the greatest joy and meaning there is in this short life. You and I were made by God to serve and give and to love others. When you do it, it is the greatest thrill of life. It is the secret to happiness. Why – sin is getting off track and following another way. Salvation is getting on God's track and following God's way. The consequences of a self – centered life are serious, loneliness, your list of friends will shrink when they see you are only out for yourself, and that you don't really care about them, and personal unfulfillment, and emptiness, you will feel a void that nothing, certainly not material things, can fill.
Christian faith says the idea that happiness comes from living a self-centered life is a lie. That’s what sin is all about, it’s about self-glorification and self-focus, and self-worship. You are the center of everything. Being created in God’s image means God has wired us to give of ourselves away, to focus outwardly rather than inwardly. And when we come to faith in Christ, when we go deeper in our relationship with God in Christ, we discover this truth.
What is it that makes life worth living? What is it that brings meaning and joy and purpose in life? Is it achieving celebrity status, is it wealth, is it political power? The Bible is clear – it's to love God and to love others. To love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. It's to give, to share, to make sacrifices for others of your talents, your abilities, your time, your passion, your energy, and your resources, and sometimes you are called upon, sometimes the circumstances dictate, that you are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.
John 3:16 says: ”God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” Love and sacrifice are intertwined, they are inextricably bound together. Genuine love is always sacrificial and making a sacrifice is always an act of love. You cannot love somebody, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your child, your grandchild, your colleague, your comrade, you cannot love God, without sacrifice. Words are cheap. Lip service is not love. If you can show me how to love without making a sacrifice, I'll sign up right now! But it can't be done.
Rom. 12:1 says: "So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us such great mercy, offer your lives as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, who is your spiritual worship.” Offer your lives as a living sacrifice for God to use for His purposes.
John 15 says:– “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We have the paramount example of a sacrificial life in Jesus. This is the life God calls us to emulate. We're talking about a giving life-style, a sacrificial life-style. But why would anyone in his or her right mind do that? For Christians the answer is - because God sacrificed His Son for us in order to bring us back to God. Christ's sacrifice forgave us our sins and opened the way to restore our relationship with God. Why? Because Christ commands it of those who claim to be his followers.
A professor was invited to speak at a military base and was met at the airport by an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. As they headed toward the baggage claim area, Ralph kept disappearing: once to help an older woman with her suitcase; once to lift two toddlers so they could see Santa Claus; and again to give someone directions. Each time he came back smiling. "Where did you learn to live like that?" the professor asked. "During the war," said Ralph. Then he told the professor about
Vietnam. His job was to clear mine-fields, and he saw
friends meet untimely ends, one after another, before his eyes. "I learned to live between steps,"
he said. "I never knew whether the
next one would be my last, so I had to get between picking up my foot and
putting it down again. Every step felt like a whole new world.”
In the book The Greatest Generation Tom Brokaw writes: “This generation came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern
America. This generation was united not only by a
common purpose, but also by common values – duty, honor, economy, courage,
service, love of family and country and above all, responsibility for
oneself. This book, I hope, will in some
small way pay tribute to those men and women who have given us the lives we
have today, an American family portrait album of the greatest generation.”
Now in thinking about making sacrifices, we must be honest. Do you ever feel unappreciated for doing the right thing? Do you ever feel resentful for giving and sharing and helping, especially when you don't receive any thanks or recognition? You start thinking: "Why bother?” “What's the use?” “Why make the effort?” “Why should I sacrifice when nobody else is?" Do you ever wonder if your sacrifice is really making a difference? Is it worth the effort? Is it worth the cost? I think these questions run through all our minds from time to time.
I want you to listen to God’s word - God sees what you are doing. God knows what you are doing. God remembers your sacrifices. Hebrew 6:10 says: "God is not unjust. He will not overlook your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help Him." God will remember. God rewards the disciplined and obedient and loving heart.
The question is: How are you living your life? Do you need to make a change in your attitude or lifestyle? Scripture says the greatest use of your life is to invest it in something that's going to outlast it, the
, the will of God,
the purposes of God. Whom is God
calling you to sacrifice for? How can
you live a sacrificial life? kingdom
First, worship God continually. Ps. 50:23 says: "True praise is a worthy sacrifice." When you are singing, when you are praying, when you are worshipping God, you are making a sacrifice. True praise to God is a sacrifice.
Second, minister to others. The Bible says Jesus gave His life for us so we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16 says: “We ought to give our lives for each other.”
Third, give of your time, talents and resources sacrificially. Ps. 50:14 says, "Give your offering to show thanks to God and give what you promised."
Fourth, share Christ with others. Heb. 13:15 says: "With Jesus' help we will continually offer our sacrifice of praise by telling others the glory of His name." Sharing your faith with others is a sacrifice of praise to God.
“Jesus says: My command is this - Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one's life for one's friends.” Amen!
Friday, May 9, 2014
Think for a moment about a time when you grieved the death of a loved one. What was that experience like for you? Grief, mourning is I believe the most intense and painful experience of all of life. For some of you it is a distant memory. For others the sting of grief is still raw and painful. In light of our story from the Gospel of Luke, on the road is a metaphor, for coping with loss in a time of mourning. I know many of you have walked that road. I have as well.
It is in just such a time, that we encounter two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple, who are departing from
and heading back to their home in the nearby . They are trying to come to grips with the
death of their dear friend and teacher Jesus.
At this time they were completely unaware of Jesus’ resurrection. For them it was still Good Friday, not Easter
Sunday. Overwhelmed with grief, they
push on, alternating between moments of silence and quiet conversation. village of Emmaus
“We had hoped that he was the one. The one what? The one to redeem
Israel.” They had hoped Jesus would liberate the
Jewish people from the Romans. And
besides, they loved, respected admired Jesus as their teacher and friend. They had seen him perform miracles, and care
for lepers, and heal the sick. Jesus
taught them wisdom through parables about the ,
like no other rabbi they had ever met.
But that was all in the past, now Jesus was dead. They had seen their master crucified on a
cross. Kingdom of God
True, there were rumors about an empty tomb and a vision of angels announcing that Jesus was alive, but this was undoubtedly mere hearsay, wishful thinking, and nothing more. The two men are returning home to pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on. They trudge on, when suddenly, out of the blue, a stranger appears before them and asks them what they were discussing. They were surprised and I'm sure annoyed by this interruption.
This stranger listens and then gently chastises them for their lack of faith in His teachings and promises. He spends a day with them and then at the right moment, reveals His true identity as the Risen Lord.
In this Easter season, we declare that we don’t grieve a dead Jesus, but believe in and follow and worship a living Lord. We declare to a secular world, to the atheists, the agnostics, and skeptics that God is real and that Jesus is alive. We don’t believe that Jesus was merely a gifted teacher and prophet of the past, but the Lord of today.
What is God saying to us in this story? What is God’s word to you? Here are some things I hear God saying.
First, the two disciples were surprised by this stranger who interrupted them. He appeared out of nowhere. They didn't expect him at all. And this intrusion turned out to be a surprise of grace. It changed their lives forever. It renewed their hope and faith and courage. Sometimes God surprises us in this way. Sometimes it's the surprises of life, the unexpected turn of events, the things you didn't see coming, that later on turn out to be God's hand at work, God's blessing, a blessing in disguise, which has a profound impact upon our lives. Can you think of a time when God's grace surprised you?
Second, Jesus met the two disciples at a time of deep personal need. Here is an amazing truth about God. God is compassionate, gracious, merciful, loving, who meets us in our times of brokenness and need, who reaches out to us when we are hurting and struggling and fearful. I think of how God spoke to my heart, and touched me, when my mother, and later my father died. Can you think of just such a time in your life?
Third, Jesus appeared to them, but they didn't recognize him. Why? I think it was about perception – if you don't expect to see something, you won't recognize it, you won't see it, you will look right past it. I remember that happening when we ran into a friend from
Monica in CO.
They were looking at me and I noticed them, but kept walking, until they
shouted “Hey, Alan, its me.” Our own
perception prevents us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.
Jesus stood before them, but they didn't realize who it was. Yes, there are times when God is acting in our lives, when God is intervening in our lives, when God is reaching out to us, strengthening us, renewing us, guiding us, but we don't recognize that it is the presence and power of God.
Fourth, through broken-hearted, these disciples were not defeated and headed home to start the next chapter of their lives. In my experience as a pastor, people who battle on in times of grief and deep disappointment, who persevere, are more likely to find God or to be found by God, than those who just give up. Having the courage to keep moving forward, to carry on, to keep going, can bring us through the most painful times and in such times there is the real possibility that we will encounter the living God. I have experienced this in my own life and seen it many times in the lives of people I have ministered to.
Fifth, I hear God saying that Jesus the Lord reveals Himself to us in the scriptures. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? The Bible is the written word of God. God has inspired people throughout history as they have turned to His word. God continues to speak to us through the Bible today. The psalmist says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We read in the Gospel of John: “These words were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” II Timothy says: The Bible was written to teach us the truth about God and salvation, to teach us the truth about moral living, to correct unjust or unkind behavior and to change our lives, so that we might mature in faith and grow closer to becoming like Jesus Christ in mind, heart, and behavior.”
The Bible has proved to be a priceless source of inspiration and guidance and strength and wisdom for countless believers over the ages. By the Holy Spirit's witness through the Bible: Bach composed, El Greco painted, and Pascal wrote his Pensees. The Word of God has inspired Christian authors like Catherine Marshall, Charles Swindoll, Charles Stanley,
Pastor Rick Warren,
and Max Lucado to write books and devotionals that have inspired
Finally, I hear one more thing in this story - Jesus reveals Himself to us in the Lord’s Supper.
The church has claimed from the time of the first Easter meal when the disciples ate with Jesus after his resurrection, that the Risen Lord is present whenever his followers gather together for communion. The two disciples sit down with Jesus, break bread and Luke tells us: “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him” Throughout the ages, Christians have testified to Jesus the Risen Lord being truly present in the celebration of Communion. The broken bread and poured wine are occasions of Christ's presence.
We gather around the Lord’s Table because of our common spiritual hunger. We come together for meals to satisfy our physical hunger because physical sustenance is necessary for life. So it is with spiritual thirst and hunger. For we humans are more than flesh and blood, more than primates, we are spiritual beings created in God’s image. We need spiritual nourishment as well.
In the Lord’s Supper, by faith, the Holy Spirit feeds our souls with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and confirms our faith. We participate in a spiritual reality, in a spiritual communion with the living Christ. We receive forgiveness, healing, and spiritual renewal. We grow closer in our spiritual union with Christ and one another as we gather at His table.
Jesus invites us to come to His table regularly. The Lord’s Supper is meant to be experienced many times in a believer’s life. Jesus knows about the human hunger for a transcendent reality beyond ourselves. Jesus knows that there is a hunger deep in our soul that no amount of calories can fill, that only Jesus, the bread of life can satisfy.
Shortly before his death, tennis star Arthur Ashe, who died of AIDS due to a tainted blood transfusion in 1993 wrote these words to his daughter: “Camera, have faith in God. Do not be tempted whether by pleasures and material possessions or by the claims of science and smart thinkers, into believing that religion is obsolete, that the worship of God is somehow beneath you. Spiritual nourishment is as important as physical nourishment and intellectual nourishment. And by it you will grow into a deeper understanding of life’s meaning.”
Christians have said: “At this Supper I experienced God’s forgiveness .” “At communion I have experienced an inner peace and calmness.” “At communion I experienced a healing in my soul.” “At communion I experienced God’s affirmation and love and acceptance.” “At communion I experienced God’s call to some vocation or to serve others or to share with others or to go and reconcile a broken relationship.” “At communion, I experienced a renewed sense of energy and power and courage to get on with my life.”
My friends, as Jesus revealed Himself the two disciples, may we too encounter the Lord in worship and in this supper today. Encounters with Christ are always a blessing and a surprise of grace. Amen.
Friday, May 2, 2014
On this morning, nearly 2 billion people on this planet are worshiping the Risen Lord. From comfy living rooms of house churches to the imposing sanctuaries of Gothic cathedrals, from
Pacific Beach to Jerusalem,
believers are celebrating and rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus.
God surprised us at Easter. Jesus, whom everyone thought was dead, said to the women that morning “Greetings.” And Jesus the Lord is saying these very words to us this morning as well. Easter announces that there is no grave deep enough, no stone heavy enough, no evil strong enough, to keep Christ in the tomb and to keep us from the Risen Lord. Can I get an amen!
On Easter God’s power burst forth to reverse the irreversible, to turn an ending into a beginning, to bring victory out of defeat, to raise life out of death and hope out of despair. God turned the anguish of the women and the disciples into alleluias and amens.
Non-believers and religious critics have spoken about Jesus' resurrection as a paradigm for higher spiritual truths or ultimate ideals within the reach of the human spirit. It is really a metaphor for the triumph of the human spirit: overcoming defeat, courage in the face of death, the resilience of the human spirit, forgiveness, hope, redeeming a wrong. Easter is about what is humanely possible.
Christianity says no, not so! Easter is about the resurrection of one called Jesus of Nazareth. The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. It’s the historical basis and support for the celebration of Easter. We read in the letter of I Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
On Easter morning two women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus body with oil and spices as was the Jewish custom. The women encounter an angel, who tells them that Jesus is not in the tomb but that he has been raised to life. They are to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in
Galilee. Filled with fear and yet overjoyed at hearing
this astonishing news, they leave the tomb when suddenly Jesus stands before
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, saying: “Greetings,
do not be afraid.”
Easter announces that the tomb was empty! Why was the tomb empty that Sunday morning? There are two fundamental arguments. One is that it was due to natural causes. Here are some of the theories critics have promulgated down through the centuries: the stolen body theory as we read about in our lesson from the Gospel of Matthew; the swoon theory, that Jesus was unconscious when he was buried, not dead, and awoke and hid when the tomb was opened; the wrong tomb theory, that the women lost in grief, went to the wrong tomb that morning which just happened to be empty; the hallucination theory, that the disciples and many others were hallucinating when they claimed that Jesus had appeared to them.
The other argument is a supernatural cause. That the tomb was empty because of Jesus' resurrection, which is of course the basis of the New Testament, the basis of the birth and growth of the Christian Church, and the basis of countless numbers of people who have testified about how their lives have changed after repenting and confessing their faith in Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
Listen to the testimony about Easter written a generation later from the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians: “I would remind you, brothers and sisters of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you, unless you have come to believe in vain. I handed on to you what I in turn had received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died, then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me.”
Easter further announces that Christ's resurrection changes lives and transforms people. It forever changed the lives of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on that amazing morning. New life begins when we dedicate, when we commit our lives to one greater than ourselves.
I came across this story about a young soldier who lost his legs in an explosion in
Iraq. Something inside died in him the day he
learned he would never walk again. He
refused to talk with anyone who tried to help him. One day another patient in the hospital
strolled in and sat down on a chair near the bed. He drew a harmonica from his pocket and began
to play softly. The young solider looked
at him for a second and then resumed staring at the ceiling. The next day the harmonica player came in
again, and did so day after day for a week, without saying a word. Then one day he asked the soldier, “Does my playing annoy you? The patient said, No, I guess I like it. So they talked a little bit.”
One day the harmonica player played a sprightly tune and began to do a tap dance. The soldier in bed looked on but was unimpressed. “Hey, why don't you smile once and let the world know you're alive,” the dancer said with a friendly smile. The wounded soldier said, “I might as well be dead.” “Okay, answered his new friend, so you're dead. But you're not as dead as a fellow who was crucified 2,000 years ago, and He came out all right.” “Oh sure it's easy for you to preach,” replied the patient, “but if you were in my fix, you'd sing a different tune.” With this the dancer stood up and said, “I know a 2,000 year old resurrection is pretty far in the dim past. Maybe an up to date example will help you believe it can be done.” With that he pulled up his trouser legs and the young man in the bed looked and saw two artificial limbs. The harmonica player had also lost his legs in the war, and after going through the pain of grief and rehab, had experienced the power of Christ's resurrection. The young soldier's own resurrection began at that very moment. The power of the Resurrected Lord who changed the lives of those two women on that first Easter changes lives today.
Finally, Easter declares that after death there is life. Now of course many people do not share this belief. They are represented by the thinking of actor Johnny Depp: He was interviewed and said: “I went around for years thinking, "Well, what's it all for? All this stuff that I gotta do, interviews and movies and success or not success or this or that. But when my daughter was born it was as if a veil was lifted, and things became clearer, and I went, "Oh, I get it now! That's what life is for … " I didn't have a real handle on what life is supposed to mean or be or anything like that. And I still don't. And I'm not sure life is supposed to mean anything at all. But as long as you have the opportunity to breathe, breathe. As long as you have the opportunity to make your kid smile and laugh move it forward … . I think we're here and that's kind of it. Then it's dirt and worms.”
But in stark contrast Jesus the Risen Lord says – Greetings! Easter claims just the opposite; there is an afterlife, there is a life after death, there is an eternal life beyond this earthly life. Eternal life awaits those who believe in him. Jesus will welcome us into heaven. I can imagine Jesus saying “greetings” as one enters glory. Can you?
The prospect of death, our own death or another's death is frightening. We don't like to talk about or think about our own mortality. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal says, "By all observable metrics, zombies are totally hot right now. Zombies are everywhere. They have become outrageously, staggeringly, mindblowingly popular. With nearly 16 million viewers, The Walking Dead, the hit TV show about a world dominated by flesh-eating zombies, nearly outperformed the 2014 Winter Olympics. So what's the big deal with this zombie craze? Dr. John Ulrich, Professor of English at
University says, "At its most
elemental level, the zombie represents our fear of death." Do you agree? Mansfield
Easter declares God's victory over death. The resurrection shows that even the seemingly indomitable power of death is subject to the sovereign power of God. Death is not the final verdict. Easter promises eternal life through faith in Christ. And this news is indeed something to celebrate. The future is not closed. Christ's resurrection inspires hope and says Jesus holds the future open for us.
A movie based on the book, “Heaven is for Real,” which has sold over 1 million copies since its publication in 2010, is currently being shown in theaters. It's about a little four year old boy's astounding story of his trip to heaven and back.
In the book, his father, pastor Todd Burpo, writes that during the months after his son's emergency surgery in 2003, little Colton began describing events and people that seemed impossible for him to have seen or met. Examples include a little sister who died in a miscarriage before he was born, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before
Colton was born. Colton
also claimed he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in
Jesus' lap, while the angels sang songs over him. Colton
said: “The angels sang to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.” “When was this,
the father asked? “At the hospital, I
was with Jesus, when you were praying and Mommy was talking on the phone.”
Of course the story is not without its critics. Where would we be without skeptics and critics? One critic wrote that the success of the book shows that vast numbers of Americans lack the reasoning ability of adults.
Jesus rose; so will other human beings. Jesus lives and so will other human beings. Jesus is the assurance that people who die in Christ will live again. Jesus the Lord makes these wonderful resurrection promises: “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, I am going there to prepare a place for you, I would not tell you this if it were not so, and I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.” Jesus says: “Because I live, you shall live also.” Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believers in me, even though they die, shall live.”
I close with this rather unusual obituary in our Union Tribune: Juanita Davis Notice Change of Address: I want you to know I have moved. On February 20, 2014, I received a call from my God informing me my new home is ready: My new address is:
2014 Jesus Way, Godtown, Heaven 22014.” Greetings!