Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering Memorial Day and its Story

“Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:1-7)

  Since the beginnings of human history, remembering our past and how it defines our character and makes us the people of God has been important to our identity. As Joshua lead the people across the Jordan river to finally end their long 40 year journey from Egypt into the promised land, God wanted to make sure they would remember this event. So God instructed Joshua to have twelve men, one from each of the twelve tribes carry a stone across the Jordon for a memorial. So that when their children asked why, they could share with them the story of God's mighty deeds in freeing them from Egypt and leading them to the promised land.

   As humans, we continue to tell our stories through memorials. Today, Monday, May 27 is Memorial Day or when I was child, I often heard others call it Decoration Day. My earliest memories of the day, related to our family tradition of going to the local cemeteries and planting flowers on the graves of family members, so their graves would look colorful during the summer. These moments at the cemeteries gave me an opportunity to learn the stories about our family. As I grew older I learned about the larger story of Memorial Day as a day of remembrance for those who have served our nation in the Armed Forces.

   As many things develop in a society the exact moment in which Memorial Day was born is claimed by many communities. Most likely, it was born out of the hearts of men and women throughout our country who felt it was important to remember the sacrifices of the men and women who died during the American Civil War on both sides. Even before the end of the Civil War throughout the country the widows of soldiers would go out to decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers graves, thereby beginning a tradition picked up by other communities.

   One of the first recorded accounts was on May 5, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, head of an organization of Union veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established May 30, as a day when the country would decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that same year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

   It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Each community and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead after the nation had experienced a major Civil War. Memorial Day became a day not about division, but a day about reconciliation and the healing of a nation; it was about coming together to honor those who gave their all. Sadly, for many Memorial Day is simply the first three day weekend of the summer season, but it should be remembered for the day in our history when we remember ourselves as a nation and the stories of this nation which shape our identity. The sense of duty, sacrifice, and faith of those who gave their all to maintain a free nation is why, we today have the privilege to experience a three day weekend at all.

Friday, May 24, 2013

To The Glory of God Alone

“I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

  As Presbyterian's our theology is based on the reformed theological thought and writings of John Calvin. Calvin had a major influence on the theology and practices of the Presbyterian Church. Calvin's thought and ideas about God has influenced the theology of many pastors and theologians even today, even if they are unaware that the idea may have originated with Calvin.

   Many people have read the book by Rick Warren called “The Purpose Driven Life.” What is the first line of his book? The answer is “It’s not about you.” Rick Warren goes on to say, “If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God.”

   This statement is very much in line with the theological thought of John Calvin in content. A major theme of Calvin was the Sovereignty of God, To God Alone is the Glory. Both Rick Warren and John Calvin believe that knowledge of self requires knowledge of God. And both believe that God was acting in love when he created the world and everything in it. “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world,” said John Calvin, “that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

   It’s not about us; it’s all about God. As a pastor and disciple of Jesus Christ this has been an important theme I have attempted to live by and regularly remind myself of daily. A major error that any pastor, church leader or church member can make is to begin to believe it is about us. Our own egos and ideas can set up boundaries that prevent us from experiencing the full mystery and wonder of God's grace and creation. Jesus never did anything without first knowing what God the Father wanted first.

   Some years ago, I started to sign letters, notes and e-mails with the closing “To God Alone Be the Glory.” I did not do this because it was a clever salutation, but as a way for me to regularly remind myself that, “It's not about me, it's all about God.” This is the chief direction I wish to keep with this blog. As a pastor, I am still a follower of Jesus and I hope I can share some helpful and thought
provoking posts. While at the same time I am still striving and struggling to live out my life in God's presence, continually working to strengthen my life in Christ. I need to stay focused that it is all about God, not me and what God is capable of doing in and through me to God's glory alone.

   Initially, blogs began as online journals were individuals shared their thoughts and activities and I hope to do the same. As blogs evolved they became a means for the author to engage in a conversation with their readers through comments. I very much want this blog to become a conversation about what God is doing within our lives and how we can live the life God intended for us since the time of creation.

   I have enjoyed the writings of many Christian and non-christian writers over the years and I plan to share my thoughts, favorite quotes, and questions. One of my favorite authors, since college has been C.S. Lewis. Lewis simply summarizes my expectations for this blog when he writes, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

   We all have questions, thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams and once we engage in conversations with others we discover others are thinking the same ideas and have the same questions. To paraphrase Paul from my opening scripture “I want your hearts to be encouraged and united in love,” as we take a journey together in “Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” about God.

  I hope to post my thoughts to this blog three to four times each week. I hope you will join me in a conversation about understanding God who is revealed to us through the person of Jesus Christ.