After the American Civil War, our country, both North and South, had much to grieve. Because both sides were Americans, more soldiers died in that war than in any other American war. There were lots of widows, grieving parents, and children who had lost their fathers. Our country needed a season to grieve and for that reason, Memorial Day was established. It’s the day our nation remembers those men and women who have paid the ultimate price for freedom.
Recently, however, Memorial Day has become the official beginning of summer. Everyone takes the day off and heads to the beach or lake, and if they can’t afford that, packs a picnic to watch the fireworks. Most of us never give a thought to the original meaning of Memorial Day.
That’s a shame. As Americans, we have a lot to celebrate. I know how politically divided we are, and yes, I understand that on any given day, somebody is protesting somewhere about something. That’s just the point. In this country, we have the right to protest. We have the right to approach our leaders and make our grievances heard and demand accountability from them. We can do this without fear of being arrested, or worse, simply disappearing.
As a pastor, I never take for granted the right to study, preach, and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ without fear. I don’t have to study in a closed-off room or teach other Christ-followers afraid that someone will storm in and arrest us. I can buy a Bible without being afraid someone has noticed my purchase. My church can gather and worship without looking for spies who will sell us out to the authorities.
We have the freedom to seek God the way our conscience tells us.
I’m grateful for all the men and women who were in places only history remembers and who thought freedom was worth dying for. I pray I would be so brave if I was ever faced with such a decision.
But on this Memorial Day, I’ll remember some other heroes: people who paid a great price and made sacrificial choices, so I could enjoy the opportunities I now find before me.
I’m grateful for my Mom and Dad. Dad used his Air Force training to build a television and appliance store that broke the poverty cycle in my family. My dad worked two jobs all of my life and three jobs for most of it. Because of the sacrifices my mom and dad made, I was able to attend school and not worry about how to pay for it, and yes, I graduated without any school debt. I was free to pursue my life’s work without anything holding me back. Sometimes, I grieve knowing I should have done more with the opportunities they provided me.
I’m grateful for Bill Wilson, the founding pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church. Our church recently celebrated our 50th anniversary. In those 50 years, Brentwood Baptist Church has had 2 pastors – Bill and me. Every day, I build on the missional foundation Bill established in our church. Our passions for church planting, discipleship, evangelism, and even racial reconciliation are harvested from seeds he planted during his ministry. Honestly, I’d like to take full credit for what our church is doing, but there are too many people around here who know the truth.
None of us got to where we are by ourselves. Before we were born, there were men and women making courageous and dangerous stands so we could enjoy the opportunities we have. Sometimes these stands were made on battlefields on other continents. Sometimes these stands were made in local communities and neighborhoods. Sometimes, it was Abraham Lincoln, and other times, it was a teacher whose name no one will ever know.
Who were those people who made your life possible? Whose sacrifice opened up the opportunities you enjoy? Take a few minutes this Memorial Day and celebrate their lives. Tell their stories and remember what their sacrifice cost them and made possible for you.
Then, pay it forward. You and I were not given these moments to squander in personal luxury. We were given these opportunities so we could meet new challenges and solve new problems. Look around. There’s still a lot of work to do. We all know it.
Live your life so next Memorial Day somebody is celebrating you.