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Memorial Day, as Americans have come know it, began in the years immediately following the Civil War. But until World War II, most people knew it as “Decoration Day.” It was a day to decorate with flowers and flags the graves of fallen soldiers and remember those who had given, as Lincoln beautifully said, “the last full measure of devotion” to defend their nation. It was a day to remember what the honored dead had died to defend.
A century and a half has passed since Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, effectively ending a national nightmare that filled over 625,000 American graves with dead soldiers. Since then, other international nightmares have ravaged the world and put more than 650,000 additional Americans into war graves in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific Rim, Asia, and the Middle East.
Remembering Is for the Future
Memorial Day is an important national moment. It is a day to do more than barbeque. It is right and wise to remember the great price some have paid to preserve the historically unprecedented civil and religious freedoms we Americans have the luxury to take largely for granted.
But the importance of Memorial Day is more for our future than it is for our past. It is crucial that we remember the nightmares and why they happened. We forget them at our own peril. The future of the United States depends in large amount on how well we collectively remember and cherish what liberty really is and the terror of tyranny. There is a high cost to forgetting. In the words of George Santayana’s famous aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
A Memorial People
Christians, of all people, understand the crucial importance of remembering. Christians are “memorial people” because the whole of our faith depends upon remembering. Those who persevere into the glorious future are those who remember the gracious past.
That’s why God has surrounded us with memorials. The entire Bible itself is a memorial. We meditate on it daily to remember. The Sabbath was a memorial to Israel’s freedom from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15), and the church switched it to Sundays as a memorial to Christ’s resurrection and our freedom from sin. Israel’s great gathering feast days were memorials (Exodus 13:3). And now each time a local church gathers, each Lord’s Supper celebration (1 Corinthians 11:24–26), each baptism, each Christmas celebration, and each Easter celebration is a memorial.
Remembering God’s past grace is necessary to fuel our faith in God’s future grace for us.† This makes the memory one of God’s most profound, mysterious, and merciful gifts granted to us. God designed it to be a means of preserving (persevering) grace for his people. We neglect it at our own peril.
The future of the church, globally and locally, and of each Christian depends largely on how well we remember the gospel of Jesus, all his precious and very great promises, and the successes and failures of church history. Scripture warns us that if we fail to remember, we will be condemned to submit again to sin’s and hell’s enslavement (Hebrews 6:4–8). Such warnings are graces to help us remember.
So as we commemorate Memorial Day as Americans, let us do it with profound gratitude for the extraordinary common grace given to us when men and women laid their lives down for the sake of America’s survival.
by JOE CARTER
9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence
July 4, 2013 will be America’s 237th Independence Day, the day Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Here are nine things you should know about American’s founding document and the day set aside for its commemoration.
1. July 4, 1776 is the day that wecelebrate Independence Day even though it wasn’t the day the Continental Congress decided to declare independence (they did that on July 2, 1776), the day we started the American Revolution (that had happened back in April 1775), the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn’t happen until November 1776), or the date it was signed (that was August 2, 1776).
2. The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776 (although the Declaration was approved on July 4, 1776, it was not made public until July 8), but for the first two decades after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies.
3. After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to come apart and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1938 and 1941
4. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston comprised the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer, wrote most of the document. After Jefferson wrote his first draft, the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes, including shortening the overall length by more than a fourth and removing language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade (which Jefferson had included even though he himself was a slave owner).
5. The signed copy of the Declaration is the official, but not the original, document. The approved Declaration was printed on July 5th and a copy was attached to the “rough journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th.” These printed copies, bearing only the names of John Hancock, President, and Charles Thomson, secretary, were distributed to state assemblies, conventions, committees of safety, and commanding officers of the Continental troops. On July 19th, Congress ordered that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment with a new title, “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America,” and “that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.” Engrossing is the process of copying an official document in a large hand.
6. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two presidents to sign the document, both died on the Fourth of July in 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration. Adam’s last words have been reported as “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He did not know that Jefferson had died only a few hours before. James Monroe, the last president who was a Founding Father, also died on July 4 in 1831. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only President to have been born on Independence Day.
If you’ve been following along with me on Twitter this weekend, you’re well aware that I am in the midst of an extended family reunion in Florida with my (very loud, Irish extended family). And while my family is still proud of our Irish heritage (some of them maybe a little too much), we are also deeply thankful to share in the freedoms the United States offers.
For those of you reading this outside of the US, today is Memorial Day– a holiday celebrating those who died fighting for our country and her freedoms. These freedoms that my family enjoy came at a great cost. And that cost was not just monetary, but blood-bought in wars and conflicts, some name and some now.
- American Revolutionary War – 25,000 deaths
- War of 1812 – 20,000 deaths
- Mexican-American War – 13,283 deaths
- US Civil War – 625,000 deaths
- Spanish-America War – 2,446 deaths
- Philippine-American War – 4,196 deaths
- World War 1 – 116,516 deaths
- World War 2 – 405,399 deaths
- Korean War – 36,516 deaths
- Vietnam War – 58,209 deaths
- Persian Gulf War – 258 deaths
- Iraq – 4,486 deaths
- Afghanistan – 2,145 deaths
These brave men and women gave all they had so that we could enjoy certain freedoms not available to all. For that, my fellow Americans and I are very thankful.That’s a lot to remember. That’s a lot of people who gave their lives for others.
I get that this is a picnic and barbecue day. Nothing wrong with that. But, in the midst of the summer kickoff, be sure to take some time to pray for the families of those who lost their loved ones– parents, children, siblings, and more.
And, contrary some of the comments you may see on social media, it’s OK to be thankful for those who are serving now (or have served) as well, as President Bush modeled in his 2007 Memorial Day speech, honoring the fallen and being thankful for those who serve today. He explained:
Good morning. This Memorial Day weekend, Americans honor those who have given their lives in service to our Nation. As we pay tribute to the brave men and women who died for our freedom, we also honor those who are defending our liberties around the world today.
Yet, the main focus should be on the “memorial,” remembering those who have fallen– who gave their lives for something greater than themselves, or just to serve along side a comrade.
At times like this, I’m always struck by the teaching of Jesus where he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
We come to you and welcome you into this sanctuary.
You are our Creator and Provider.
You formed us in our mother’s wombs.
We are thankful for our mothers!
We ask you to lead and guide and shepherd us this morning.
Our desire, Father is to know and love and worship you!
In Jesus Name, Amen!
By Trevin Wax on Nov 24, 2010
Really, Paul? Give thanks in everything? No matter the circumstance?
Already, you’ve rocked my world. You’ve told me to rejoice always – not just when life is going well. That means that even though I’m tempted to rejoice only in the good times, you want me to rejoice in the bad times too.
You’ve told me to pray constantly – not just when life is going badly. Here, you’ve dealt with the opposite temptation. Even though I’m tempted to pray only in the bad times (when I sense I need something), you want me to pray constantly – in the good times too.
Paul, you’re calling me to a way of life that doesn’t depend on my circumstances. And what bugs me about this call is that you aren’t some idealistic pastor asking me to do the impossible. You are doing this yourself. You’re writing from a prison cell. Your happiest, sunniest letter (Philippians) is written when your circumstances are terrible.
And now, you’re telling us to give thanks in everything. But how? I want to be thankful, but come on… even for bad things? Even for trials?
…That we need to continue to pray for our nation!
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
A myriad of questions have been raised about Halloween. Should Christians participate in Halloween? What should our attitude be towards Halloween? Should we simply ignore it? Should we vigorously attack it? Or should we, as Christians, find ways in which to accommodate it?
Before offering some suggestions on how we as Christians might best relate to Halloween, I think it would be appropriate to first consider the pagan origin of Halloween.
The celebration of Halloween, also known as the witches’ new year, is rooted in the ancient pagan calendar which divided the year into Summer and Winter by two fire festivals. Before the birth of Christ, the day we know as Halloween was part of the Celtic Feast of Samhain (sah–ween). This feast was a celebration of Druid priests from Britain and France and commemorated the beginning of Winter. It was a night on which the veil between the present world and the world beyond was pierced. The festivals were marked by animal sacrifices, offerings to the dead, and bonfires in recognition of departed souls. It was believed that on this night demons, witches, hobgoblins, and elves were released en masse to harass and to oppress the living. For self-preservation many Druids would dress up as witches, devils, and ghouls, and would even involve themselves in demonic activities and thus make themselves immune from attack.
In direct response to this pagan tradition, the early Christian church moved a festive celebration called All Saints’ Day from May to November 1st and renamed October 31st All Hallows’ Eve, from which we get the word Halloween. This was an overt attempt on the part of believers to infiltrate pagan tradition with the truth of the gospel.
On August 28th, 1982, my lovely bride Lois and I were married at Salem Baptist Church in New Brighton, MN.
Each year with Lois gets better and better!