Sunday, May 22, 2016


“Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.  Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.  
Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors.  He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of theLord.  For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell.  Think about it:  Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.  “So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.  For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills.  It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey.  It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking.  It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills.  When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  “But that is the time to be careful!  Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today.  For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!  Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.  Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry.  He gave you water from the rock!  He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors.  He did this to humble you and test you for your own good.  He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’  Remember the Lord your God.  He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.  “But I assure you of this:  If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed.  Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God.   Deuteronomy 8:1-20(NLT)
Memorial Day is sometimes called Decoration Day.  It is one of many celebrations in honor of our country’s history, in particular, the day we commemorate the valor and sacrifice of those who have died on the battlefield defending our freedom. 
“On Memorial Day, people place flowers and flags on the graves of military personnel.  Many organizations, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and fraternal groups, march in military parades and take part in special programs….Memorials are often dedicated on this day.             
Military exercises and special programs are held at Gettysburg National Military Park and at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.[2]
How many of America’s bravest have died in gaining and protecting our free way of life?  According to the Veteran’s Administration,
– is the number of American service members killed in wartime since this nation declared independence nearly 240 years ago.[3] 
You might understandably ask why so many have been willing to be in harm’s way down to the ultimate sacrifice.  What is so important, so vital about America to evoke such patriotism, such loyalty?  What makes us even remember?  What is the cost of so great a concept as our freedom?
For an answer that helps us remember, let us turn to the story of another nation, one like our own.  It is the story of a nation coming out of an oppressive bondage to seek freedom and their own land. 
Two thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the descendants of Abraham were living in Egypt.  Abraham had been promised they would have Canaan, the land we now know as Israel.  However, the king of Egypt, Pharaoh, managed to enslave Abraham’s people.  For four hundred years, Israel served Egypt as slaves.  Then came Moses!
God’s people were released into the Sinai desert, bound for the Promised Land.  There was a forty-year detour in that desert, as the disobedient children were disciplined to learn how to better follow the God they said they wanted to serve.
When finally it was time to go into the land, occupying it as the nation of God, Moses gathered all the families together and gave them God’s charge that they rememberremember the LORD your God!
This one sentence gives us insight into why Americans have been giving their lives on battlefields for more than two centuries. 
·       Some died unwillingly, conscripts who served only because they had no choice. 
·       Some died accidentally, absent of any so-called heroic or higher motive. 
·       However, an overwhelming majority died valiantly, willing to pay the ultimate price for a principle.  That principle is freedom!     
As a nation we have been committed to guaranteeing a free society.  As a nation we have discovered that no freedom comes at a cheap price. 
Our spiritual freedom cost God the blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus.  In this nation our forefathers carried out that principle.  As the hymn has it, As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.[4]  Americans take freedom seriously!
As a nation we have also discovered that we are likely to forget all of that if we do not take pains to frequently remember the cost.  Hence Memorial Day; this is why we take the time to understand the REASONS WHY we remember…

I.  Our Freedom Was a Costly Gift

God’s gift of freedom (spiritual or national) is always costly.  In the case of Israel, God wanted their remembering to cause a few things.  He wanted it to cause thankfulness.  It was God who led Israel through the wilderness of Sinai, feeding them with manna all the way.  It was God who kept their shoes and garments from wearing out for the whole forty years of detour.  It was God who protected and kept them free from the Egyptian storm troopers that pursued them into the desert.  Thankfulness for that kind of Providence should be a “no-brainer”. 
The same principle applies to Christians and the cross.  Jesus Christ came to die for our sins; He took our wilderness and our detour.  Many people will privately recognize Jesus, but will never publicly express their thankfulness for a saved soul.  What a costly gift.  If someone gave you a Rembrandt, or a Mercedes, or a house in an upscale gated community you would thank them from the rooftops; you’d take out a front page on the Times.  What do you do for a soul saved for all eternity from sin and Hell?
God wanted more than thankfulness, He wanted obedience. 
“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.  Deuteronomy 8:6(NLT)
Why did God cause Israel to wander for forty years?  Was it just for punishment?  No, He knew they were in for a difficult time of adjusting to life as His people.  He knew if they failed at the simplest things like trusting Him for small things like food and shelter, they would never accomplish the larger victories which required strong faith.  God was training them for a tough assignment.
Have you served in the military?  If you’ve been through “boot camp” you know they put you through endless repetitions of seemingly meaningless tasks.  They would be totally meaningless IF you didn’t care about staying alive on the battlefield.  Obedience is learned by surrendering your will to the will of the commander.  That is necessary on the battlefield; immediate compliance to orders can mean the difference between victory and utter defeat.  It can mean life or death.
It is that way in the Christian life.  You begin the new birth, life in Jesus by surrendering YOU to HIM.  We have an assignment as a church, as believers to win the world for Jesus Christ.  Is that a job for disobedient saints?  Without obedience to Christ we waste this costly gift of God’s Son dying for us on the cross. 
God wants thankfulness and obedience.  That’s why we remember!

II.  Our Freedom Was a Priceless Gift

God always gives the best.  There was a commercial on TV about giving diamonds to your mate.  The end line said something like, when you care about giving the very best.  That’s what God did.  How often the Scripture tells us just how priceless:
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 
Romans 6:23(NLT)

In the case of Israel coming out of Egypt and heading for the Promised Land it was more than the land – it was the promise of God’s continual blessing, forever!  That’s priceless! 
God had established a covenant with Abraham that guaranteed his lineage would number as the grains of sand on the sea shore.  That’s priceless!
In the case of Calvary’s cross, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection guarantee He will never leave nor forsake us.  When this life is done He will take us to heaven for an eternity of joy around the throne of God.  How priceless is that?
We honor our service persons who have given the last full measure.  I tell you, beloved, as an American, that is warming to my heart; as a Christian I know there is no measure to comprehend the grace of God in providing us that free gift of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. 
His gift of freedom – costly, priceless, and therefore…

III.  Our Gift of Freedom ust Be Used Well

On Memorial Day weekend our thoughts go to the families who have lost loved ones in the wars.  We also attempt to teach the significance of the sacrifice of others who have gone before.  Why?  We teach so that future generations do not become arrogant, and come under judgment.
We are so prone, and it is so easy to forget, that America is a journey, not an owned residence.  The moment we sense all should be at ease in Zion, America, land of the free, can be wrenched away by a letter laced with Anthrax, or a hi-jacked 757 jet pointed at our Trade Center. 
More than ever we need to use our freedom well.  Today’s children are told to expect their rights, to look to the likes of MTV stars who glorify hatred and self-promotion, professional athletes who can’t put two sentences together without profanity or an actual thought worth printing, or to Hollywood’s elite for qualities to emulate.  Rich, pampered and spoiled – ARE THESE OUR ROLE MODELS?  
On the other hand, literate, clear-thinking, right living Christian leaders are ridiculed.  Teachers are emasculated and handcuffed as educators.  Some kids make more than the teachers by selling drugs or worse. 
What are we inviting with this upside-down mentality?  We are inviting the judgment of God, as we teach the children they have no responsibility.  When  we teach them that they are entitled to everything, they learn they owe nothing to God or anyone. 

If this parallel with Israel holds for America, we must never forget!  Forgetting brings judgment. 
In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew's devastation, as [Billy Graham’s’] grandson, Stephan Nelson, was working night and day helping the survivors to get water and food, he noticed a sign on the roof of one house which read: "Okay, God. You've got our attention. Now what?"[5]
If forgetting brings judgment, the opposite is true:

Remembering brings blessing!

If we expect God to bless us it will mean this nation (starting with each person in this room) getting serious about using this gift of freedom well.  We must teach our children what the last measure of sacrifice meant for those who died on battlefields, and for those who lived lives of sacrificial service to their fellow-man. 
We must teach our children well what the last measure of sacrifice on the cross meant, and how we all really do owe someone something:  we owe God the right use of this freedom, not to bless our bank accounts, or our personal sense of satisfaction.  We owe our service, our allegiance, our very lives if required, to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  
We can stop asking, What’s in it for me? 
We can begin remembering to ask, What can I contribute?

IV.  Steps To Reclaim Our National Memory

A pastor told about two elderly women in church were discussing the problems of growing older.
One commented:  The worst thing is when your memory starts to go. I've known you all my life, and I can't think of your name. What is it?
The second lady thought for a moment and said:  Do you need an answer right now?[6]

We need an answer RIGHT now

I want to suggest three actions we can take to begin to reclaim the memory of how we are freed, and what it means we must do and be.

First, we need to forget about hoping and praying for some Good ol’ days to return.  

The best day is not the past.  The best day is not tomorrow either; you never live in tomorrow, you only waste today anticipating. 
The very best is today; this is the time God gave you, and we must begin to live higher and stronger than what we see in the world today. 

Second, we need to repent of our forgetting.  

We have not made America great; nor did Thomas Jefferson or George Washington.  God used the brokenness of people such as you and me in past times, people who understood all comes from God, to build this great country to be the missionary force and bread basket to the world.    
We need to repent of thinking we can do anything apart from God.  That would be acting like grace does not exist.  Grace is when God does it all, such as at the cross.  Jesus died for our sins, and Scripture declares he did it all alone

Third, we need to rebuild family altars and sacrifice the flesh there every single day.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2(NLT)
Sacrificing the flesh has nothing to do with animals on an altar.  It has everything to do with every day surrendering to the will of the Father for the sake of the Kingdom.  It means we live like Christians, because we don’t know what God is up to, but we trust that He is preparing all things well.
In his book, I Almost Missed the Sunset, Bill Gaither writes:
Gloria and I had been married a couple of years.  We were teaching school in Alexandria, Indiana, where I had grown up, and we wanted a piece of land where we could build a house.  I noticed the parcel south of town where cattle grazed, and I learned it belonged to a 92-year-old retired banker named Mr. Yule.  He owned a lot of land in the area, and the word was he would sell none of it. He gave the same speech to everyone who inquired:  "I promised the farmers they could use it for their cattle."
Gloria and I visited him at the bank.  Although he was retired, he spent a couple of hours each morning in his office.  
He looked at us over the top of his bifocals.
I introduced myself and told him we were interested in a piece of his land.  "Not selling," he said pleasantly.  "Promised it to a farmer for grazing."
"I know, but we teach school here and thought maybe you'd be interested in selling it to someone planning to settle in the area."
He pursed his lips and stared at me.  "What'd you say your name was?"
"Gaither.  Bill Gaither."
"Hmmm.  Any relation to Grover Gaither?"
"Yes, Sir.  He was my granddad."
Mr. Yule put down his paper and removed his glasses.  "Interesting.  Grover Gaither was the best worker I ever had on my farm.  Full day's work for a day's pay.  So honest.  What'd you say you wanted?"  I told him again.
"Let me do some thinking on it, then come back and see me."
I came back within the week, and Mr. Yule told me he had had the property appraised.  I held my breath.  "How does $3,800 sound?  Would that be okay?"
If that was per acre, I would have to come up with nearly $60,000!  "$3,800?" I repeated.
"Yup.  Fifteen acres for $3,800."
I knew it had to be worth at least three times that.  I readily accepted.
Nearly three decades later, my son and I strolled that beautiful, lush property that had once been pasture land.  "Benjy," I said, "you've had this wonderful place to grow up through nothing that you've done, but because of the good name of a great-granddad you never met."[7] 
There are generations coming after us who don’t yet know – don’t have a clue – what freedom costs, how priceless a gift it is, and how important it is to use it well.  None of us can afford the luxury of spreading trash on those grounds.  That which we do today – such as
*    committing our lives to Jesus,
*    being faithful with our tithes and offerings,
*    purchasing the new land for buildings we may never build,
*    living a clean and pure life for Jesus,
*    sharing our faith every day –
All of it is for the future, for the ones who will need to know when we’re gone what it is like to live free. 
It is called passing along the faith, the freedom, the gift. 
It’s why we remember!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Go to VIDEO of Service

[1] By Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Sharon G. Uhler, “Memorial Day,” World Book Online Americas Edition, May 21, 2002
[3] America's Wars: Casualties and Veterans. (657,487 battlefield & 308,800 related theater)
[4] Julia Ward Howe, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, UMC Hymnal, (Nashville, 1975) 717
[5] Billy Graham in Storm Warning.  Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 5.
[6] Jacqueline J. Warner, Florence, Kentucky, Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
[7] Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.

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