Remembering the Fallen

American Eagle on GravestoneToday, on this Memorial Day, we honor the 1.3 million Americans who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Each of them left the security of their homes to defend ours. They left their families and sacrificed greatly. They paid the ultimate price for their nation and for each of us. It’s our duty to remember those who fought for us.

“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” — George Orwell

In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison appointed Wallace Bruce to serve as U.S. Consul to Edinburgh. Serving there, Bruce’s wife, Annie, met a poor Scots woman who was applying for a widow’s pension at the American Consulate. The woman’s husband, Sergeant-Major John McEwan, served in the Union Army with 65th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Rifles before moving back to his homeland of Scotland where he struggled with poverty and medical problems. When he died his family could not afford to properly bury him and his body was placed in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

George E Bissell LincolnMoved to honor McEwan in memory of others who had fought for freedom in the U.S., Bruce asked the Edinburgh Town Council to provide a plot in the Old Calton Cemetery for the Scots who had served in the Civil War and then began to campaign among his American friends for funds to build a memorial atop the plot. The American sculptor George E. Bissell executed the memorial, which features two bronze figures: Abraham Lincoln and a freed slave, as well as the names of the soldiers, McEwan among them, who fought in the war.

Wallace Bruce described the fallen heroes we remember today:

“Who kept the faith and fought the fight;
The glory theirs, the duty ours.” 

God keeps His promises

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All photos from James Langford http://www.langfordphotography.com

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled.” (Joshua 21:45)

Over the past several days, my heart has been breaking over the tragedies across our country and around the world. Closer to home, I have talked with friends whose lives and families are crumbling. I’ve got some fears and some doubts about things swirling around me, as well. We know that God is sovereign, but things, people, and life itself feels out of control.

If God is real, where is He? Why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He show up and make things right? Why doesn’t He change the hearts of people —  including me? Right now.

Langford tornadoAs I was reading through the Bible yesterday morning (Joshua 21:1-22:9), I was reminded of the battles, physical and spiritual, that the Lord required His people, Israel, as they entered the Promised Land.

While they were still in Egypt, the Lord God led them out of slavery’s bondage and promised to give them possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17). After wandering in the wilderness  for 40 years because of their lack of faith and obedience, they finally crossed the Jordan river. But, even then, they had to take the physical land of Canaan and fight the people of Canaan by faith in God’s promises.

The battles were real. The doubts were great. The complaining was pandemic. But Joshua was faithful.

In Joshua 21 we are told, “the Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the Lord handed over all their enemies to them.” (Joshua 21:43-44)

The complete fulfillment of God’s promise was inseparably connected with the faithfulness of Israel to the Lord and His Word.

None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45) God keeps His Promises. All of them. Every one of them.

Langford RainbowThis morning, nothing of significance has changed around me. The storms are still raging. People are still rebelling. The world is the same — maybe even worse. The deep, lonely hurts of my friends, my family, and my heart are still there.

But, I am reminded: God keeps His promises. Trust in them. Rest in them.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Paying what is due 

 “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

We grumble out loud about paying our taxes and under our breath about our government and it’s leaders. We look for loopholes for getting out of paying our taxes and find excuses for withholding honor where it is due.

But followers of Jesus do more than just ask what is due, they do what God asks. Our relationship with Him is characterized by our love for Him and respect for others (Matthew 22:37-40). Our obedience to God is demonstrated by our submission to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1).

“You must submit [to government], not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. ” (Romans 13:5-7)

Jesus taught His disciples to pay taxes willingly — even when the Roman government to which He paid them crucified Him. Rather than dishonoring the Roman and Jewish leaders who unjustly killed Him (Matthew 27:11-13), Jesus entrusted His life to the One who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21–23). He gave back to God what was God’s — His life — and was glorified (Philippians 2:8-9).

Why should we give anything less than the taxes that are due to our government and the honor that it’s leaders are due?

Before you comment on partisan politics, post a rant against the government or it’s leaders, or decide to share an inflammatory article, consider who’s watching and who’s listening. In a culture where more people than ever before claim no religion, we are the only Bible many will read.  Our personal witness has never been more critical to the advance of God’s Kingdom. The way we submit to God’s servant (government) and servants (leaders), says a lot about our trust in God. Let’s pay what’s due — taxes and honor.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ. 

Who are you following?

Social Media

Who are you following? Not just on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram.

Who is influencing your life? Is it your favorite writer or author? Is it a particular blogger that puts words to your thoughts? Is it a specific actor or a favorite show? Is it a musician or band that is always playing in the background? Is it an artist that paints your world? What about a teacher or professor that challenges your thinking? Is it a politician that voices addresses your issues? Is it an athlete that is a role model for you?

Who is influencing your values? Who is shaping your beliefs? Who is impacting your behavior? Whose life is your life imitating? And most of all, who is reaching your heart?

“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

ShipwreckIn our media saturated society, we can’t avoid or escape the Sirens’ Song that lures the unsuspecting to shipwreck their lives on the rocky shores of self-achievement, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and self-indulgement. All around us are “godless enemies” (Philippians 3:18-19) who feed their appetites, find satisfaction what should cause embarrassment, and fall with gravity’s destructive force to the physical, material, and sensual things of this world.

With so many influences that threaten to bring our lives crashing down, we need to follow the godly examples available to us that encourage us to set our hearts on Jesus and things above (Philippians 3:8-10Philippians 3:20, Colossians 3:1-2). In his letter to his friends in the prestigious Roman colony of Philippi, Paul wrote,

“Join in imitating me…” Philippians 3:17

Paul could encourage others to follow his example because he was passionately following Jesus Christ himself. Paul had one clearly defined goal in life on this Earth: to get to know His Savior more and more until he saw Him face-to-face. Knowing Jesus was the greatest, most important thing to Paul. That’s why he could say the same thing to the Corinthians,

“Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Paul’s own example encourages us to make knowing Jesus Christ the focus of our lives. But his example of following Jesus was not the only one available. He went on to say,

“Observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

Who are the godly examples that God has placed in your life that you should follow? Teachers in your school? Parents in your home? Leaders in your church? A mentor or a friend?

Over the course of my life, God has brought so many godly men and women into my life who have dramatically influenced my relationship with Jesus: Jack Reeves has modeled Christ-like love and compassion to me since I was in high school — when I needed it the most. Ken Carozza, Rick Smith, Allen Frans, Mike Cahill, and Russell Allen when I was in college. Walt Baker greatly impacted my life on a mission trip to Haiti and first encouraged me to consider ministry as a pastor. There are so many professors from Dallas Theological Seminary who have my influenced walk with Christ in the classroom, on the racquetball court, around the table, and especially, in the local church: Doug Cecil, Bob Chisholm, Tom and Mary Constable, Charlie Dyer, John and Karen Grassmick, Hall Harris, Bob and Pearl Lightner, Mike and Penny Pocock, and many more. The influence of pastors Don Geiger, Steve Faubion, Roger Raymer, and Neil Ashcraft will forever impact how I serve Christ as a pastor. Faithful friends, like Jonathan Baker, Tony and Lisa Evans, Derek and Tammy Hughes, David and Carol Morgan, and Stan Willis (and his wife/my sister, Lori) have walked beside DeeDee and me and carried us through some of life’s dark days. Likewise, there are faithful people who are a few years older and much wiser, like Dan and Jodi McEvilly, Doug and Linda Salser, Philip and Heidi Graham, Gary and Dionne Coppinger, and Rich and Julie Thomas, who have pointed me to Jesus continuously and always encourage me to trust in Him. The godly examples of faithful servant leaders and friends at PlanoBibleChapel are, also, lives well-worth imitating. Of course, DeeDee, our kids, our parents, and our siblings (Lori and Debbie) are the ones who know me best and see me, most often, at my worst, serve as the greatest examples of Christ-like humility and love because I see them up close, too.

The examples of these great people, and so many more, as well as their passion to follow Jesus continue to impact me today. In fact, if you’re still reading this reflective rambling, you are probably on my heart and mind, too, because you’ve encouraged me to follow Jesus and live for Him.

ClimbingThis week, let me challenge you to take three practical steps of following the examples of godly influences in your life.

1.  Meet with at least one person who has been a Christ-like example to you. Meet them for coffee or lunch. Share with them how God has used them in your life to encourage you in your desire to follow Jesus. Be specific in how their life has been a model for knowing Jesus more and more.

2. Write a note to at least one other person who has influenced your life with Christ, but lives out of town or is, otherwise, unavailable to meet face to face.

3. List at least two ways that you will imitate the Christ-like lives of those people and then live like them, like Jesus, this week.

We all need living examples of following Jesus and, more importantly, we need to imitate their lives to find joy and fulfillment.

“I consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

Follow me, too… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Victory

As we live on this earth and experience great pain, there are unanswerable questions we all ask and there are heartbreaking burdens we all bear. But, in all our questions and through all our problems, God’s great love prevails through the victory Jesus won on the cross in our place.

Cross of Victory

“Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is the One who provides everything I need; so, I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

“No condemnation exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death… if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:1,11)

“In all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:37-39)

Kingdom of Priests

telescopeSo often, especially in the US, our identity seems to get wrapped up in our possessions (homes, cars, finances, etc..) and our value is usually related to what we do (teacher, engineer, manager, etc..). But God has called us to find our worth and our purpose in our relationship with Him. He has set us apart as believers in His Son, Jesus, to magnify Him like a telescope (bring God closer) or a microscope (make Him larger) for others to see and trust Him.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

All the figures that Peter chose to describe the church originally referred to Israel. In contrast with the highly regulated, highly structured responsibilities and duties of the priests of the Israelites, however, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today has a direct access to God through the Savior. We are all priests; we can come near the presence of the Lord without an intermediary. Yet our privilege as believer-priests can only really be appreciated against the background of priests under the Old Covenant. When God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, He said that Israel would be a kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:5-6) who would stand between God and the rest of humanity representing people before God. Within the tribes of Israel, though, God set apart Aaron and his descendants to serve Him as priests to Israel.

“The Lord told Aaron, “You will not have an inheritance in their land; there will be no portion among them for you. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites.'” (Numbers 18:20)

microscopeReading this passage (Numbers 17-18) in my personal Bible reading this morning, I was reminded that God gave all the other tribes of Israel physical land as an inheritance to possess, rule, and manage, but to the tribe of Levi, God promised to provide for their physical needs through the offerings of His people. Most importantly, God said their personal identity and their real worth was to be found in Him: “I am your portion and your inheritance.” Likewise, as believer-priests today, our identity and our worth is not determined by what we possess or even by how we perform, but by our life is hidden in Jesus Christ. In order to discover our true identity, our real value, we have to look for it, but it’s there, revealed in Christ.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

In Colossians 3:3, Paul, likewise, says, “For you have died,  and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.” In fact, Jesus is your life (Colossians 3:4). God has provided all we need for acceptance with Him and godly living in Jesus.

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. “(Revelation 1:5-6)

Rejoice!

Psalm 118.24

Rejoicing in the Lord comes naturally when life is good. Saying, singing, and, more importantly believing, that God is good is much easier when life is going smoothly. But, when difficulty, discouragement, dishonor, and even death, comes our way, giving thanks to God, trusting in His goodness, and rejoicing in Him becomes a decision.

Regardless of how he felt and how others treated him, the writer of Psalm 118 relied on the Lord as his strength and his source of joy, and He had saved him.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

If you’ve ever watched a stone mason building a wall, laying bricks on a home, or constructing a stone building, he discards many stones because they do not fit or were broken. The author of this Psalm seems to have been comparing himself to a stone that the builders (his adversaries) had tossed aside as useless:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone” (Psalm 118:22).

Although he felt discarded like one of these stones, he trusted that God would restore him to usefulness and give him a position of prominence in God’s work. Only God could have done this: The day of his restoration was obviously one God had brought to pass.

This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes. Psalm 118:23

 

Consequently the writer called on everyone to rejoice with him in it.

 “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Resurrection Stone
There are many New Testament references to the rejected capstone of verse 22. Facing rejection and death, the Lord Jesus applied it to Himself (Matthew 21:42Mark 12:10–11Luke 20:17). Peter and Paul also applied it to Jesus (Acts 4:11Ephesians. 2:201 Peter 2:7). God’s amazing resurrection of His rejected Son to the place of supreme universal authority is remarkable to say the least. The day of His resurrection is the greatest day the Lord ever made. It is indeed the basis for our greatest joy. Especially on days when we feel discouraged and dejected, we can rejoice.

Let’s rejoice in the Lord for what He has done through Jesus (Philippians 3:1) and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). Let’s rejoice as we wait on Him during days of despair. Let’s rejoice as we trust in Him.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His faithful love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:29)


Follow me
… as I follow Jesus Christ.