Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., so I thought that I’d provide a little history lesson. Three years after the U.S. Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate, with flowers, the graves of the war dead. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” he urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time; testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” Several states in the south refused to acknowledge Memorial Day and held their own ceremonies to observe the passing of confederate veterans. There are several U.S. cities that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, and the debate continued to fester for almost 100 years. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it was often called Decoration Day. It was then placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays. May we never forget the sacrifices that many made to keep us free people.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the LORD.
Hebrews 12:14

If it were not for the civil war, we would not have Memorial Day. The day was expanded to honor all those that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free. It is a holiday that I wish we didn’t need but I am thankful for everyone that made it possible for me to post on this blog and live an unencumbered life. We must make every effort to live in peace with all men. This verse does is very specific about who we should be at peace with – ALL MEN. This doesn’t apply only to the countries that the U.S. is friendly with; it applies to us as well. Live in peace and be holy. Sounds simple enough but we know it can be hard. There is no exclusion to whom we must be holy with – I have to be holy with the guy with the annoying dogs behind me! This verse is a great reminder that living in peace and holiness is hard and will require sacrifice. Some sacrificed everything for us to live in peace, we owe them our best to live holy lives; without it no one will see the Lord. We should live our lives as Jesus showed us – gracefully with humility, with love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Enjoy your holiday weekend but remember why we have it. Put a little “memorial” into Memorial Day and give thanks for those that made it possible and then go out and be holy.

Attitude? Who me?

There are a number of things that make us who we are; attitude, education, experiences, families, goals, faith and the list goes on. Last week I talked about suffering and how that affects us too. I love to people watch whenever we go out; it’s a huge source of entertainment. I keep saying that people are strange creatures and the human psyche never fails to amaze me. The way we react to things or the way that we think is always interesting. I started to wonder about myself and if I’m just as crazy as everyone else – the answer is yes. I find that I’m really flexible and diplomatic with a significant segment of the people that I encounter everyday. Then, I become this stubborn, crabby old man on the flip side. I try to be consistent and predictable so people don’t have to guess which “Bill” is showing up. There are so many things that affect my attitude or outlook on the issues in my life. We all juggle a number of roles – spouse, boss, worker, leader, follower, friend, brother or sister, neighbor, etc. Knowing how to respond can be the difference between being the hero or the zero. I often try to be more humble than not and the peacekeeper rather the pot stirrer. I’m constantly searching for the middle of the road. “Fair” comes out of my mouth often. As I prepared to write this, I found myself doing a personal inventory of sorts. I wondered how all of these traits come across when someone watches me. I know I’m just as crazy as the next guy, filled with idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I would encourage you to take some time to consider your attitude about life and how others perceive you. Do you like what you see? What can you do to change it? What should you keep doing? What do you want to achieve?

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11

Wow! No pressure here – your attitude should be same as Jesus’. We often tell our kids that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and this tall order is no different. In His usual wisdom, God has given us the directions on how to that as well. He gave us a four-step process to keep our attitudes in check.1) Do not consider yourself equal to God or even pretend to understand why He does the things that He does. It is too big to grasp. We must accept that He is doing what is in our best interests and in His own time. 2) Be a servant. Jesus was the ultimate servant and led others through His willingness to serve. He was a lowly carpenter who made things for other people. You can’t underestimate the power of servitude, so serve others with pride. 3) Do not take yourself too seriously. Humility is a strong character trait that is often confused with being shy. Being humble means that you’d be willing to wash the feet of someone else, nothing is too small of a job. You are not better than anyone else. 4) Jesus is your savior. Your salvation is found in Him and not through anything that you can do. You don’t have to worry about never being good enough or never doing enough; God took care of that for you. Jesus was exalted to the highest place after cleansing us from all sin. You can live your life of faith confident in your salvation and life everlasting. If that doesn’t give you a positive attitude, I can’t imagine what will.

Suffering

Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s my take on it. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I’ve witnessed suffering first hand throughout my 27-year career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I would imagine that is what builds the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory. Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a long list of disappointments before becoming president but he also suffered. He lost his young son and his wife was tormented by depression. Despite all that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction and, if it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:19-21

Why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what we did or what we do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case. We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He needs. People get medical conditions so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that his great recovery to date is a result of those prayers. This message is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.

Give it your all

I had a conversation with my 16 year old son this weekend about his grades in school. He is a really good kid and we are very proud of him. He excels at anything he puts his mind to and there in lies our problem. What 16 year old likes school? We discussed that our high expectations about his grades are simply because we know he is smart. When pressed, he admitted to not really caring this year. The worst grade he is getting is a “C” so we’re lucky there but I like to make my point. He knows that this lasi-faire attitude won’t fly next school year. Ironically, I also heard this weekend from someone whom I had helped prepare for an upcoming promotional process. When he initially asked, he told me that a number of people encouraged him to test because he’d been on the job long enough so he figured “sure, why not”. Based on the sound of his voice, I could tell that he wasn’t really committed to it. When I spent a few hours with him, I knew he hadn’t mentally committed to the promotion and he seemed barely prepared for the rigors of the process. I offered a few tips to get ready, discussed confidence and competence and, wished him well. When he contacted me via e-mail, I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t score high enough to make the list. This grown man and this young man (boy) had in one thing in common – a failure to commit. Neither of them committed to doing the work needed to be successful. They both figured that if they put in some time that they would be okay. Doing something only half way gets you exactly that, half the reward.

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

The moment I read this verse, I knew that I had to write about giving it your all, not doing things half way, especially worshiping God. I had no good idea how to tell the story of giving 100% until these two things happened this weekend. I started to think about what does giving less that 100% to God look like and then I realized the example was me! Sin keeps me from giving God all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. I didn’t mean to be, but I was lucky to be a “C” student. No matter how hard I try, work or school demands get in the way. Sometimes, I’m too tired or simply lazy to break out the bible and start reading my daily devotion. I’m too busy to stop and pray or give thanks, besides God knows. These are the same reasons why my son’s grades are weak or why my friend didn’t pass the test. God knew our struggles would be greater than we could handle so he put a plan in motion to save us from ourselves – He sent us Jesus. He is the one who told us to give our all to God. He knew that He would have to intervene on our behalf and take sin away from us. Jesus left us so many great examples and stories but He took all of the sin out of our lives. God knows that we will not be perfect and he doesn’t expect it, but we can show Him our love by diving in a little deeper, spending a little more time and showing what the love of Jesus means in our lives. Give it your all!