A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.
As I prepare this week’s podcast, I’m also in the throes of preparing for a special Veterans’ Day service at my church. USAF Col(Ret) Thomas “Jerry” Curtis graciously accepted our invitation to speak for us. If you haven’t heard his name before, Carole Engle Avriett wrote the account of his 7 ½ years of captivity as a POW during the Vietnam War. As I read the harrowing story of his capture, imprisonment, and unrelenting torture, I could not imagine the suffering Col Curtis and his fellow prisoners endured.
There is a similar group of individuals who demonstrate that selfless service. Men who stand in the face of danger and demonstrate incredible courage in the face of the enemy. I’ve been extremely fortunate, especially in my later assignments in the service, to meet some of these incredible people. At the Army Medical Department Center and School we often invited Medal of Honor recipients to address classes of young students as they began their new careers. I enjoyed the honor of meeting with most of them in my office for some conversation and a cup of coffee before they spoke to the class. What a privilege!
Invariably, when asked about the event that resulted in their earning of our nation’s highest award, these humble men remarked, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just did what anyone would do. My buddies were in trouble and I did what I had to do.” I always read their citations before I met them and I have to tell you, there are few men who would do what these heroes would do. This collection of 3521 men and one woman (Dr. Mary Walker) are truly outstanding examples of selfless service. Dr. Walker and five other civilians received the award after the Civil War. Not quite half of the Medals came from the Civil War era. Many of the awards were given to next of kin postumously. The service members recieving the awards dieing as a result of their actions to save others.
I was consistently mesmerized by these men’s stories. I was equally mesmerized by Col. Curtis’ story. The courage of the POWs remind me of the selfless sacrifice our veterans and their families make so we can enjoy the freedoms enumerated by our Constitution. It’s easy for us to forget those sacrifices today since less than 1% of our population has any connection to the military these days. They endure the separation from home and family, often living in abysmal conditions in far off lands, to keep war from our shores so that we can sleep peacefully at night.
They also remind me that Jesus and his disciple, Paul and those early Christians knew well the suffering veterans like Col. Curtis and his fellow prisoners endured. Paul was beaten, enslaved, moved from prison to prison. He never knew if he would live or die at the hands of his next jailers. He was cold, hungry, thirsty, lacked basic hygiene we take for granted. He had nothing to call his own. He was ridiculed for his beliefs and told he was nothing. Our POWs, some living in those conditions for almost eight years, endured those same atrocities.
Why do I bring these things up today? A couple of reasons. First, as we celebrate Veterans’ Day, it is a good time to thank a veteran for his or her service. We enjoy what we have today in large part because of their willingness to sacrifice for us. And thank their families because they too sacrifice. While veterans deploy to far off shores, families stay home and wonder what is happening. They worry about their safety. They wonder if they will even make it home again. Spouses act as single parent as often as not. Reunification when service men and women return is never easy either as that service member returns to take their place in the home...changed because of their experiences. Remember families.
Second, as we think about the atrocities that humans can inflict upon other humans, pray that peace can break out in places like the Middle East and the Pacific Rim and Africa. There are dangerous places around the world that put everyone at risk because of the interconnected nature of the world today. There is no such thing as isolationism today. There just isn’t.
Third, remember that as Christians we are soldiers of the cross. Jesus said to expect the world to hate us because of him. Knowing what our military enemies of the past have done to our service men and women and reading the accounts of men like Col. Curtis and the Apostle Paul, I think we can expect similar treatment at the hands of evil me as Jesus’ return gets closer. Pray that we, like those who have gone before us will have the courage to endure to the end. I fear that as we progress toward the final battles that John wrote in the Revelations he penned on the Isle of Patmos we will feel the pain and torture evil men can inflict on others.
Finally, you will find that blessing others is so much more rewarding that complaining about others. Whether talking about politics or work or family or neighbors or any other topic, blessings will go so much further than curses. Just bless those around you. When you read and understand Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, you find again and again his admonishment to treat others well regardless how they treat you. He tells us our behavior show mimick God’s sharing mercy when mercy is not deserved. He says to extend grace when grace is the last thing on our mind as we suffer because of him.
Remember what we mean by grace. We sometimes forget the difference between justice and mercy and grace. I think it important to remember the difference as we extend God’s grace to others. Justice is what we deserve, punishment for our wrong behavior, sin. Justice requires our eternal punishment for our disobedience to God. Mercy says we are forgiven. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can accept his sacrifice as our own, ask forgiveness, follow him, and we experience his mercy. Forgiveness we do not deserve. But grace. Grace is overwhelming. Grace stuns us. Grace makes us fall on our face in awe of God’s indescribable love. He gives more than we deserve, expect, imagine. God gives all he is to us. He sacrificed himself. He became like us to show us who he is.
I’ve shared this story before to describe his grace. You come into the parking lot and see a young thug with keys in his hand standing next to your brand new Lambergini. There are streaks all down the side and flakes of paint still falling to the ground beside it. The young man’s keys are stained with the same paint and his eyes grow big as you approach your car. He’s caught. Trapped. No where to go. He knows your know exactly what has happened.
Justice says you call the police. Justice says the young man pays to have your brand new car repainted. Justice says punishment is coming quickly for this young man caught in the act. But you extend mercy. The young man is afraid. You see it in his eyes as you walk up to him. But mercy says. Young man I forgive you for what you’ve done. You know it was wrong. I know it was wrong. I think you’ve learned your lesson, though. It’s not about being caught. You understand that, right? Now, go about your business, I won’t punish you. I won’t call the police. I won’t make you pay for the damage. You are forgiven. I only ask that you don’t do something like this again. That’s mercy.
But grace. Grace says this. You walk up to the young man who obviously has fear in his eyes. And here’s what happens. “Young man, I see you’ve scratched up my car. I forgive you. It’s only a car, but here are the keys. I want you to have it. I think you know it was wrong and you won’t do something like that again. Let me sign the title over to you. Oh, and let’s go to the body shop and get the scratches fixed. Don’t worry about the cost. I’ll pay for it. The car is yours and I want it to look perfect for you. One more thing. I want you to take this credit card and if you need gas or tires or any kind of maintenance, be sure to charge it to me, okay?” That is grace. Awesome. Unbelievable. Beyond what we can think or imagine. Stunning. That is the grace God give us.
What does Jesus want us to do? Forgive our enemies. Extend his mercy to them. Then love them the way he loves them. Extend his grace to them. Can we do that without knowing him? Not a chance. We cannot understand his grace until we experience it ourselves. And how do we experience it? Ask him into your life and obey him. You will know his grace. He gives it freely to all who let him in.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.