Friday, June 3, 2016

In Remembrance (John 15:12-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance.  Memorial Day remembers and honors those Americans who have died in this nation's wars and made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.  Today we honor the fallen heroes, America's armed service members who never came back.

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, Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  The day was originally called Decoration Day.

I quote a section 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.

Memorial Day events locally have been scheduled at two national cemeteries – Miramar National Cemetery on Sunday and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Monday.  Memorial Day is of course about sacrifice.  We have the freedom to choose to sacrifice for our nation, or for a person.  God doesn't force you or me to give our life away in helping other people, encouraging other people, or serving our country.

In light of this, we ask: 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 power?  Yes, many would answer, “that's exactly what life is about.  Grab as much as you can before you die.”

But scripture is clear – the answer is 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 sacrifice, to share your gifts and talents, your time, your passion, your energy, your resources, and sometimes, sometimes, you are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and give your life as those whom we remember on Memorial Day.

Civil War General William T. Sherman said: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”  An appropriate question then is can anything good come out of war, can God bring anything good out of the horrors of war?

For example, is there any good news in the Middle East?  Yes!  Despite intense persecution, we are hearing about Muslims turning to Christ.   When you think of Christianity in the Middle East, the first word that probably comes to mind is persecution.  But another word should come to mind – harvest.  I quote from a recent article titled Growing Converts to Christianity in Muslim Countries by pastor Tom Doyle and his wife Jo Ann, who have been serving the persecuted church in the Middle East since 2001.

“The year 2015 was certainly a year of persecution for followers of Jesus Christ in the Muslim world.  One of the reasons for this is the large number of Muslims who have left the religion of Islam and now embrace Jesus as their Savior.  That said, persecution is not stopping the spread of the gospel. To the contrary, the killing of Christians is accelerating the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church.  In fact, over the centuries, oppressors have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative.  It doesn’t destroy the church; it makes the church grow.

Muslims all over the region are coming to faith in Christ.  What’s more, they’re willing to suffer persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ in part, because they see a great harvest of other Muslims and want to be faithful in proclaiming the good news of salvation in a world of such darkness.

The pastor goes on to say:  Here is one of many examples of the things my wife and team and I have been seeing as we travel in and out of the region:  In Syria, Farid – a pastor and national Christian leader said: “We’ve never seen Muslims come to Jesus like this. The ongoing civil war in our country has soured many to religion since this is essentially a religious war.  Jesus brings something that religion can never deliver. He brings hope and reconciliation. ”Farid says that the Syrian underground church is growing rapidly and in some home groups Alawites and Muslims worship together. “In the streets of Syria, they are killing one another, but when they find Jesus and reconcile with the Father, only then can they reconcile to one another. Jesus is the only hope for Syria. We have seen more than 1,000 Muslims come to faith in Christ in Syria in the last few years. This brings us great joy in Syria.”

The Gospel of 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 me, for us, for the world and because God in Christ offers new life today and forever.

God sees 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 are you investing your life in something that's going to outlast it, the kingdom of God, the will of God, the purposes of God, other people, family, even strangers.

I close with this story.  In 1993, Lt. Col. Gary Morsch joined the Army Reserves as a doctor to care not only for U.S. soldiers, but also for wounded civilians and prisoners of war. In 2005, as a part of the war in Iraq, he was called up to serve as the field doctor for a battalion near the Iranian border. He writes:

“The Saturday before I left Iraq was one of the most amazing days of my life. I was scheduled to see patients and make rounds at the POW camp, and I asked the chaplain to join me. I wanted to say goodbye to the prisoners. Many of these Muslims had become Christians, and they had been asking for a baptismal service.

The chaplain suddenly decided to conduct a simple service. The POWs gathered their water bottles, and we pulled a cot out of one of the tents, setting it in the middle of the compound. One by one, the POWs sat on the cot and leaned back while we poured water over their heads and baptized them in the name of Christ. We baptized about a dozen that day.

During the baptisms, we asked each man if he wished to take a Christian name. One man named Afshin, asked me to suggest a name.  I suggested James, the brother of Jesus, and told him that my father and brother are named James.  Since my family name was on my uniform, Afshin asked about Morsch as well.

The chaplain asked me to baptize Afshin. I asked my friend what name he wished to take.  He said, "I wish to take the name James Afshin Morsch." With tears in my eyes, I poured water onto his head, baptizing my Muslim friend into the fellowship of Christ.   We hugged and said a tearful goodbye, and then I walked out of the POW compound. It was time to return home.

I left on a plane full of wounded soldiers. The airstrip was under attack even as we taxied for takeoff.  But I was at peace. God had brought me to Iraq to serve soldiers, civilians, and the enemy. But I saw that those categories are meaningless before God. He loves them all, and calls us to serve them all.”

Jesus says: “My command is this, love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends.”  Amen!

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