Today, June 14, is Flag Day. It marks the date in 1777 when the Continental Congress adopted the first American flag.
When I typed the title of this blog, “The emblem of the land I love …” I paused, for as a missionary kid, I consider Nigeria West Africa and the United States of America my “home” and I love both of them. They hold special places in my heart. I am grateful for the experiences, some very positive and some negative, that I had growing up in Nigeria. And, I am grateful that I live in the USA, with all of her faults and problems.
My dad loved America, the country for which he fought during World War II as a Navy Corpsman attached to the 3rd Marine Division on Guam and Iwo Jima. And, he loved the US Flag, and taught us to love and respect it as a symbol of America, and a symbol of the freedoms we have because of the sacrifice of so many men and women throughout the years who have fought for those freedoms. The flag gave hope and spurred on those Marines on Iwo Jima as it was raised on the top of the volcano, Mt. Surabachi. After the first smaller flag was raised, Joe Rosenthal took the now-famous picture of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
Our nation has so many serious problems, and collectively we seem to have lost the ability to be civil. Yet, the flag still stands for our freedom!
George M. Cohan wrote, You’re a Grand Old Flag that says:
You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag,
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of the land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
The final verse of our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key says:
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Many people today are trying to rewrite history and the future by removing anything that points to God and limiting our freedom as Americans to worship freely. Regardless of these things, our nation was founded by men and women, flawed and sinful as they were, who placed their trust and hope in God.
I pray that on this day, as the news is filled with the horrible account of the shooting in Alexandria VA, that we would all take a moment to reflect upon the events of today and the current state of our nation and world, and give thanks to God for His blessings, and commit ourselves anew to be beacons of the Light and Hope of God! The only HOPE for us individually, for our nation, and the world is in and through the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-19)!
A couple of years ago, I stopped at a fast-food restaurant to eat breakfast and prepare for a Bible study I was teaching that evening. Sitting at a table across from me were two men, one in his early 90’s and the other in his 30’s. The elderly gentleman was in a wheel chair, his voice raspy, his gray hair yellowed, his skin weathered and wrinkled. The men were talking about the Veteran’s Day parade they hoped to be able to enjoy later that day. The parade in Birmingham, Alabama is the oldest and largest Veteran’s Day parade in the country.
I had my laptop out and was typing notes about “thankfulness” until the following exchange caught my attention. (I began typing furiously so I could remember the exchange. The Southern gentlemen spoke slowly which helped me get it all down.)
“I wish I could march, or even shuffle, in the parade. Guess those days are long gone.” the elderly man said wistfully.
“You couldn’t pay me enough to walk all that way,” proclaimed the younger man.
“I would give almost everything but my soul to march alongside my fellow veterans,” replied the elderly man.
With a look of confusion on his face, the young man said, “Your soul! What do mean?”
With this question, the elderly man perked up a bit, “Your soul is the sum of your heart and mind. It is that part that Jesus Christ died on the cross and was resurrected to save from eternal death.”
“Pops you are a strange old man, but I love you,” the young man retorted.
At this point tears began streaming down the elderly man’s cheeks, making the younger man extremely uncomfortable, “Come on Pops, quit crying. Let’s enjoy our breakfast and not have another one of our (making the ‘in quotes’ sign with his fingers) ‘discussions.’”
“Mike (not his real name), I don’t want a discussion, I want you to sit still and listen carefully to your great-granddaddy. It is so sad that you do not understand sacrifices.”
“Yes I do!” protested Mike.
Pops continued, “Please listen. You see, if you understood what sacrifice is, you would indeed want the privilege of marching alongside those who had sacrificed and put their lives on hold to serve in the military; to march with those who were not killed during the war.”
“Well, everyone didn’t always go willingly, many were drafted!” mocked Mike.
“Yes, you’re right,” was Pops’ pensive reply. “Yet, drafted or volunteered, their sacrifice was equal and worthy of our gratitude and respect.”
The somber change in his great-granddaddy’s tone caught Mike’s attention, “I’m listening.”
At this point Pops began speaking adamantly, “If you understood the battles that were fought during the wars, you would understand sacrifice. Military men and women fought to give you and your children freedom. Freedom to own a home and a car, get a good education, come here for breakfast, criticize your government, vote into office those in whom you think the future of our nation can be entrusted, and to do so many other things. The most important of these freedoms, not that we will have it for long though, is the freedom to sit here in the open and talk with you about my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, to freely worship Him!”
Mike shot one of those dismissive “here he goes again” looks.
Pops lovingly admonished, “Mike, I know you don’t want to believe that there is a God Who is over all things and Who sent His only Son to die on the cross. But whether you believe it or not—HE DID! Because of His death, burial, resurrection and ascension to heaven all those who believe on Him as Savior and Lord will be free from the hold of satan, the bondage of sin, and eternal punishment in hell.”
“Pops, I thought we were talking about Veteran’s Day, not GOD!”
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13 NKJV)
“Can’t talk about Veteran’s Day without talking about sacrifice. Can’t talk about sacrifice without talking about the greatest sacrifice, Jesus. The sacrifice of the veterans is a picture, flawed and incomplete as it is, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Christ died to take our sin and punishment so we can walk in the freedom of God’s grace. Veterans serve and many give their lives so that Americans can walk in the freedom that is America. BUT, until you, the American people, and the government come to understand that God is in control and that He is to be worshiped, praised, and served, our freedom will be incomplete!”
Sadly, I had to leave for work, but as I passed by their table, I stooped down so I was eyeball to eyeball with Pops and said, “In what branch did you serve?”
Pops proudly replied, “I’m a Marine!”
I was so excited to hear that, and said, “My dad was a Navy corpsman attached to the 3rd Marine Division on Iwo Jima and Guam. Thank you for your service to our country, and more importantly, our God!”
“Semper Fi!” Pops said in a raspy, broken voice. Both of us had tears free-flowing down our cheeks as he began to sing various lyric portions of “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates.
“America! America! God mend thy every flaw, Confirm my soul in self-control.”
“America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!”
I could barely hear the Marine as he asked me to join him in praying that God would have mercy on our country, because several people around us began standing and applauding. I turned his wheelchair around so he could see what was happening. As he looked around, different ones nodded and said, “Thank you.”
AMEN AND AMEN!!
Please take time today and every day to thank all the veterans and their families with whom you come in contact. And more importantly, our Savior and Lord Jesus Whose blood paid the price for your eternal freedom!
We are all aware that today marks the last day of 2015. Some people I know are spending this day: celebrating with family and friends whom they did not see during the Christmas holiday; sleeping all day to recover from the hectic pace of the past two months of Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations and celebrations; implementing the New Year’s Eve party or celebration they have been planning for weeks; gathering information for their 2015 taxes; hunting; reading the books they received at Christmas; saying farewell to a loved one who died; and myriad other things.
As we go through this day, I wonder how many of us are cognizant that today we write the final sentence in the final paragraph of our life’s Chapter 2015.
As is my practice, I have been reading through this year’s Prayer Journal entries. They always remind me of the depth and frequency of my sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
It would be easy to dwell on my own sin and failure and the disappointments that have come my way. However, I CHOOSE to focus on God’s faithfulness to forgive me and His grace that empowers me to live free from the guilt and bondage of that sin.
Here are some things that always come to mind during this annual journey through my prayer journals:
I am so grateful for God’s unchanging and unending grace, mercy, and love, that has undergirded, surrounded, and elevated me in each and every situation I encountered; and thereby propelled and compelled me to honor Him more.
I have been grateful for the abundant gift of many family and friends.
I have been privileged to observe the “joyful confidence” (a friend’s phrase) of so many Christ-followers as they have walked in and through very dark times.
I have been honored to be present as several dear saints have gone home to meet their Savior and Lord!
Through tears of grief, I have rejoiced over and celebrated the lives of many saints who are worshiping at the feet of their, and my, Savior and Lord!
I have been amused by, and in pain from, the consequences of still being in my awkward adolescent phase at age 57!!
I am thankful for the ministry opportunities—counseling, teaching, writing—that the Lord has given me.
I have been in awe of the sanctifying work of the Holy-Spirit-inspired Word of God in my life; yet I sigh at all the work to still be accomplished!
I pray that the final sentence in the final paragraph of my Chapter 2015 reads,
This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. –Lamentations 3:21-22 NKJV