Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

I’m interrupting our studies in the Sermon on the Mount (SOM) to take note of today as a special holiday in the United States. 
This is fine
Today is “Memorial Day,” a day for us to remember those who gave their lives in military service to the US.  It’s not just about veterans (That’s Veteran’s Day), but specifically about those who died in service.  Here’s the description from Veteran’s Affairs Website:
Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.  In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries. 
The US was begun specifically by and for one idea: freedom.  Our nation’s founders rebelled against their ruler (The King of England); killed or displaced the indigenous people, and took, bought and stole this land in order to provide a place and nation where we could – as much as possible – preserve our freedoms. 

In Christian terms, they violated most of the ideas we hold dear: they disrespected the governing authorities (Romans 13).  Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10.27), we stole from, cheated and murdered the Native Americans.  And we went to war with Spain and Mexico to expand our nation’s geography.  Why?  So we could be free to do what we want.  Shoot, some of our states even rebelled against others for the same reason – to be free to do what they wanted (own slaves, establish different tariffs, etc.).  All of this reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 – he also wanted to be free of his father and do his own thing. 

I may seem un-American, but I’m not.  I vote, pay taxes, obey the law and served in the military voluntarily.  I love the US.  But I will not lie or pretend that it’s a Christian nation, and I will not encourage others to do so.  The US is - like any nation - only as good or as bad as it's behavior, and ours is in decline. 

Rather than invest too much of myself in the US, I find great comfort in the sentiments of Paul:
We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh….  But our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.Philippians 3:3, 20-21
Throughout that chapter, Paul makes it clear that he’s more concerned with spiritual things than earthly (physical) things.  I love America almost as much as Paul loved Israel, but like him, I consider it trash compared to the greater blessings found in my spiritual nation: the Kingdom of God.  America is great, but the Kingdom is Greater.  America is strong, but the kingdom is Stronger.  America offers hope, opportunity and freedom, but God’s kingdom offers more: He offers us hope for eternity, opportunity for salvation, and freedom from slavery to sin and self! 
This is better

He who has ears to hear...

Most of you are so addicted to earthly focused patriotism that you will not accept my challenges, but I'm going to try anyway.  Here are two challenges for you today, if you want to be a loyal citizen of God’s eternal kingdom more than a citizen of a temporary, flawed earthly nation.  

My first challenge is for you to consider today as a memorial day for all the saints (Christians, disciples, soldiers of the cross) who have died as martyrs for God’s Kingdom instead of the USA.  Stephen was the first, and you can read about him in Acts 6, and his last words are recorded in Acts 7.  The first Apostle murdered was one of Jesus’ closest friends: James.  He was murdered by the Roman-appointed king of Israel: Herod Agrippa 1 (Acts 12.1-2). 

Many others were killed in the first century by lions, crucified or burned to death, and martyrdom has continued even to this very day in several places in the world our brothers and sisters are persecuted and killed.  (You can read about some of this online at the Voice of the Martyrs).

And of course our entire message is based on the fact that our Lord was murdered for the kingdom.  Shouldn't we honor Jesus, James and Stephen above American martyrs? 

My second challenge to you is to spend time in Philippians 3, and take it personally. 

This chapter is a section of a letter Paul wrote to a church to warn them about people who were dangerous.  These people were teaching strict adherence to the bible and insisting that others do exactly what it said.  But strangely Paul called them “dogs” and “enemies of the cross!” 

You see, in those days the only bible they had was what we call the “Old Testament.”  There were many religious teachers who said they had to follow “the bible,” and be circumcised and eat kosher foods … in other words, they had to follow the laws for the physical kingdom of God (Israel).  What Paul understood was that we are now part of the spiritual (true) kingdom of God – the church eternal. 

We can learn from this and apply it to ourselves.  We must “forget what lies behind” (our old lives of rule-following rituals and earthly things) and press on to “the prize of the upward call of God.”  We should follow Paul’s example and “observe those who walk according the the pattern” we have from them.  We should learn that to focus on earthly appetites and to focus on “earthly things” instead of spiritual things actually makes one an “enemy of the cross,” and leads to destruction. 

I challenge you to remember martyrs for the kingdom of God today, and to be like they were; and put your faith and trust in Spiritual things instead of this physical nation.  For as great as America is, it’s nothing compared to God’s eternal and perfect Kingdom. 

Pray thanks to God for those who have left a legacy of faithfulness in service – even to death.  And then let’s work together to become daily martyrs to this world ourselves, as our Lord instructed:   

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must:
  • Deny himself, and
  • Take up his cross daily and
  • Follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but
…whoever loses his life (for my sake), he is the one who will save it.”Luke 9:23-24

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