Saturday, May 23, 2015

 

Memorial Day: A Short Speech from Ronald Reagan

Typically on the weekend of Memorial Day I post a famous poem by Edgar Guest.  This year I decided to share a different message.  Below is a speech by Ronald Reagan in 1982.  I think a lot of what he says sums up my opinions on the observance of this day in honor of our military and those who served.  I hope you enjoy it!

Speech: Remarks at Memorial Day Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, May 31, 1982 

In America's cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor. 

In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, he noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their "last full measure of devotion'' were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage -- not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words. 

I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. 

Yet, we must try to honor them -- not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice. 

Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final, less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves. 

It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. War will not come again, other young men will not have to die, if we will speak honestly of the dangers that confront us and remain strong enough to meet those dangers. 

It's not just strength or courage that we need, but understanding and a measure of wisdom as well. We must understand enough about our world to see the value of our alliances. We must be wise enough about ourselves to listen to our allies, to work with them, to build and strengthen the bonds between us. 

Our understanding must also extend to potential adversaries. We must strive to speak of them not belligerently, but firmly and frankly. And that's why we must never fail to note, as frequently as necessary, the wide gulf between our codes of morality. And that's why we must never hesitate to acknowledge the irrefutable difference between our view of man as master of the state and their view of man as servant of the state. Nor must we ever underestimate the seriousness of their aspirations to global expansion. The risk is the very freedom that has been so dearly won. 

It is this honesty of mind that can open paths to peace, that can lead to fruitful negotiation, that can build a foundation upon which treaties between our nations can stand and last -- treaties that can someday bring about a reduction in the terrible arms of destruction, arms that threaten us with war even more terrible than those that have taken the lives of the Americans we honor today. 

Our goal is peace. We can gain that peace by strengthening our alliances, by speaking candidly of the dangers before us, by assuring potential adversaries of our seriousness, by actively pursuing every chance of honest and fruitful negotiation. 

It is with these goals in mind that I will depart Wednesday for Europe, and it's altogether fitting that we have this moment to reflect on the price of freedom and those who have so willingly paid it. For however important the matters of state before us this next week, they must not disturb the solemnity of this occasion. Nor must they dilute our sense of reverence and the silent gratitude we hold for those who are buried here. 

The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery. One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GI's of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way. 

Winston Churchill said of those he knew in World War II they seemed to be the only young men who could laugh and fight at the same time. A great general in that war called them our secret weapon, "just the best darn kids in the world.'' Each died for a cause he considered more important than his own life. Well, they didn't volunteer to die; they volunteered to defend values for which men have always been willing to die if need be, the values which make up what we call civilization. And how they must have wished, in all the ugliness that war brings, that no other generation of young men to follow would have to undergo that same experience. 

As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. And let us also pledge to do our utmost to carry out what must have been their wish: that no other generation of young men will every have to share their experiences and repeat their sacrifice. 

Earlier today, with the music that we have heard and that of our National Anthem -- I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: Does that flag still wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? That is what we must all ask.
 Thank you for reading!  And special thanks to all those who have served or are serving in the U.S. military.  You have my respect and my deepest gratitude..  May God bless you and your families!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

 

A Note to Graduates: What will be your Legacy?

About a week ago I had the privilege of participating in the graduating ceremonies for the last graduates from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary.  In the future, students will receive degrees from Liberty University's new School of Divinity.  The name has changed, but the purpose remains the same.  Nonetheless, as I watched these students walk the stage, I couldn't help but think of the things they will do and the people they will influence.  Two verses come to mind as I pray for these new graduates:

Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.

Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.

The current graduating class at Liberty was the largest ever.  This class also marked the first time the PhD in Theology and Apologetics graduated 8 students at one time!  What a proud moment for me as a professor!

At Liberty's graduation, I watched several students and good friends walk across the stage to receive their degrees and launch into their ministries and vocations. This momentous occasion reminded me of beginnings and endings, but more importantly it made me think of the idea of "legacy" and the kind of impact an individual life might have on people. In the next few paragraphs I'll try to explain.

I'm not sure how much we think of the impact of our lives. As I watched the proud graduates walk the stage, I couldn't help but think about what I may hear about these people in the future. Some of them have already made an impact, some of them have a future impact to make. Most of them have no idea what the end of their lives will be, they only have dreams and hopes and (perhaps) plans.

Some of the students who walked across the stage Saturday have already begun their legacy. Many of them left homes and nice jobs to pursue a degree at the seminary. They said "no" to "success" as the world measures it so that they would have the opportunity to labor for God. Some will labor in obscurity, some will never have "the largest church in America," some will never make the "big money," or write the most impressive "how to" book for other pastors. I know their lives, their hearts, and I know that their legacy will be greater than any can imagine.

I once posted a note about "James the Less," and his figure seems fitting here. He was one of the twelve chosen by Jesus, but even church history and tradition have trouble determining who he was. Yet, he was one of the original twelve disciples, one of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Not as famous as James the son of Zebedee, this James nonetheless left enough of an imprint on history to be regarded as one of those individuals who "turned the world upside down" with his life and preaching.

We no doubt graduated a lot of these individuals on Saturday--folks we may have a hard time identifying who will nonetheless make a great impression on many they will bring to Christ or love in God's name. "Less" may describe the knowledge of them, but it will not define their impact on those to whom they minister and with whom they work. I bet there were people in the first century who didn't think of James as "the Less" because of what God did through him. Nonetheless, James built a legacy, and like him, many of these graduating students are building a legacy.  We may not know their names, but God does.  And with his help they are building quite a legacy.

Let me offer a moment of transparency here:  I pray for my students.  Some semesters I pray a LOT!  One of the most frequent prayers I offer on their behalf runs something like this:  "Lord, help these students run further and accomplish more than any of their professors.  May their spiritual progress move the church closer to her beloved Savior, Jesus Christ, and may their growth go beyond what I have experienced."

I pray it, but I wonder if I really mean it sometimes.  I look at students who graduated and who have definitely progressed down the road of godliness in ways I did not imagine.  I see their accomplishments, and I must admit that I am sometimes envious.  Some of my students are accomplishing the very things for which I prayed.  I am proud of them, and sometimes I envy them.  I remember my own seminary graduation well--the dean mispronounced my name, my family was there to support me, and I knew that I was going to be used by God to "set the world on fire" for Jesus.  I promptly went to work in a bookstore.

Yes, a bookstore . . .

Granted, it WAS a Christian bookstore, but I digress.

All those dreams and plans of becoming this pastor or that professor suddenly took a back seat to paying the bills.  My legacy wasn't quite what I expected.

Nonetheless, I wouldn't trade that experience.  Now I pray for students who head out to fulfill God's call on their lives.  I wonder what stories I'll hear in the future.  No doubt there will be stories of churches served, perhaps more degrees earned, books written, mountains claimed, families started, etc.  No doubt there will be stories about changes made in the lives of others because of the love of Christ poured out in the lives of these men and women. 

I want to tell you all a secret--some of you are heroes to me.  I see what you have already accomplished, I see the potential, and I have so much hope and joy for you.

Yes, I know things don't reflect that at the moment.  In fact, for some of you it is simply time to take a break and take a breather.  Others are already launching into the next adventure.  I can't wait to hear the stories, but I want to leave you with some final questions to ask as you pursue these things.

What kind of legacy are you leaving? Where will your footprints lead others if they follow you closely? Like Paul, can you encourage others to imitate you as you imitate Christ?  Will your love for Christ be obvious? Is your love for others real and clear?

God has blessed me to walk with giants (and some giants in training), and I have to admit that I am often overwhelmed by their collective witness. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. William L. Lane. I admitted to him that I didn't think I could live up to his example of a godly life and scholarship, and he said to me, "Never covet another person's gift, and never despise your own." He went on to remind me that God had not called me to be identical to Dr. Lane or to anyone else. God had called me to use my unique gifts and abilities for his glory. I do not have to live up to the stories of these giants, I simply need to live the legacy God has given me.

No matter how obscure or unrecognized or inconsequential a life may seem, if it is lived for God it will have a legacy. What kind of legacy are we leaving the next generation?  I have no doubt that many of you will leave a legacy that will cause your professor to be a bit envious . . . and I look forward to hearing every marvelous part of those stories!  I am so proud of you all, and I will keep praying. 

Thanks to all of the men and women who left their footprints in my heart and life!

Thank you for reading!

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