Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day Message ~ May 25, 2014



INTRODUCTION

Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American Soldier. One died for your soul. The other died for your freedom.[1]
My name is Malcolm Rios and I am the Operations Officer for the Army’s Chaplain Recruiting Branch here at Fort Knox. I’m honored to have been invited by Bill Knott to come and speak here at Radcliff First Assembly on this Memorial Day Sunday. I brought my family with me: Amanda, Sophia, and Angus.
You don’t know me from Adam … so I’m compelled to give you a little background about myself … possibly shed some light on why Bill asked me to join you in worship today. I graduated from high school in 1988 and by the end of the summer was at Naval Station Great Lakes for Basic Training. I spent four glorious years in the Navy. Got to see a lot of the world, deployed once, and did a few tours at GTMO. After my tour, I went back home and enrolled in college. I had three inglorious years in college. I think the best thing I did in college was get involved in rugby. I just came off my 19th year playing. It was with Louisville Rugby Football Club.
Jump ahead and in May of 1997 I gave my life to Christ. I gave my life to Christ in an A/G church – Trinity Assembly in Algood, TN, to be exact. Eddie Turner was the Senior Pastor but Mike Campbell was preaching the day I gave my life to Jesus. As a new Christian, I was hungry and jumped in head first. I immediately plugged into Chi Alpha. In 1998, I plugged into Young Life ministry. In 2000, an evangelist shared about the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) in church. I applied and was accepted but deferred to pay off some loans I had taken out to start a landscaping business.
In 2001, 9/11 goes down. On 9/12, I was in a recruiting station trying to figure out how I could come in as a chaplain. The recruiters told me I needed to go to seminary and get a M.Div. so on January 1, 2002, I left home and went to AGTS to begin my pursuit of chaplaincy. I was not picked up by the Navy (because the Navy is where I started). In the summer of 2003, I came back to TN & enlisted in the Tennessee Army National Guard (TNARNG) as medic.
Early in 2004, our Regiment (278th ACR) was mobilized and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III. We returned from Iraq in 2005. In 2006, after six months of decompression and reintegration, I accepted a position as Associate Pastor / Youth Pastor of Livingston First United Methodist Church (LFUMC). That is where I met Amanda and we married almost a year later.
I ended my enlisted time with the TNARNG in November 2007 but always told Amanda that if the opportunity ever came up to be a chaplain, I would go for it. Our daughter, Sophia, was born in 2008. In 2009, I got a call from an old friend who I played rugby with in college and he asked me, “Do you want to be a chaplain?” He told me what I needed to do and who I needed to talk to so I enrolled online to complete the qualifications for a M.Div. through Liberty University. Angus was born in September.
I was commissioned as chaplain candidate in February 2010. Upon completion of my M.Div. in the summer of 2011, I was accessed as a Chaplain for the TNARNG. My heart’s intention was to be an Active Duty chaplain. I wanted to do it fulltime, full-bore. I applied and in 2012, was boarded and selected on an Order of Merit List. God opened doors and I sworn in on Active Duty in September of 2012; my first duty station being Fort Knox and my first position being Operations Officer in Charge, Chaplain Recruiting Branch. Folks … all of that was just a snapshot from 50000 feet of who I am and where I’ve come from … because of who God is and what He has done in my life.

OPENING PRAYER

Let us pray.

Lord … we come to you with open hearts and ask that you speak to our spirits with words of wisdom and direction, that we may know how you wish for us to pray. Help your humble servants to speak words of praise and adoration, for you are the King of kings and Lord of lords. Teach us, Lord, that we may know you and the power of your resurrection. Fill us with your presence and forgive our shortcomings. Lead us, O Lord, to a higher place, that you might be lifted up and draw all men to you. Amen.[2]

SCRIPTURE
1 And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying: “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’” 
Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 
Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” 
And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. 
Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant stood; and they are there to this day. (Joshua 4:4-9 NLT)

PRAYER

ALMIGHTY God, giver and sustainer of life and liberty … we bow our heads in honor and memory of all those who in past wars paid the ultimate sacrifice, that we might enjoy the blessings of governing our own land … according to our own laws … and by our own people. We remember not only those who left their homes never to come back again, but also the mothers in whose windows hangs a gold star; and the tens of thousands of wives who said good bye one last time; and for the children, whose daddies never got to hold their son or daughter again.Lord God of Hosts, be with us, lest we forget. Lest we forget the noble efforts of both the past and the present to free the enslaved, to maintain order in a world of unrest and chaos, to promote social justice, yes, and to preserve our land from terrorism and all who would take from us our freedom of thought … our freedom of expression … our freedom of worship … and our freedom of government.[3]May words of my mouth and the thoughts and meditations in our hearts be wholly and pleasing to you, Father. Amen.

SERMON

What comes to mind when you hear the word “memorial?” Before I prayed, we read about Joshua leading the Nation of Israel across the Jordan. They were headed where? To the Promised Land, right. And what did God ask Joshua to do when they were crossing? Pick twelve men – twelve leaders – to pick up 12 stones and erect a memorial. Why’d God do that? What did these stones mean? Joshua 4:7 says, “You shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” A memorial to the children of Israel forever … that got me wondering, “What else does the Bible say about memorials.”

Exodus 3:14-15 NKJV
“And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’”

So God gave his name as a memorial to the children of Israel. Why? It was to remind them that He is the living God. He’s not just the God of their ancestors or the God of everyone’s future hope. He is the God of the here and now! I AM!

Exodus 12:13-14 NKJV
“Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.”

The Passover is a memorial. God’s work again on behalf of his people! Think about it … God sent “The Death Angel” to make a point to Pharaoh … and an example out of him … and He – God – made a way out for his people. Tell me Passover isn’t important to remember!

Mark 14:3-9 NKJV
And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Do you see a pattern happening here? Somebody doing something for somebody else. A memorial – a remembrance – for someone who has given of themselves – sacrificed – for someone else.
As Christians, what do you think our greatest memorial is? It has to be the cross. Everything after the cross is what gives us hope … but it’s the cross … where Jesus bled and died and gave himself for us … that’s where the sacrifice happened.
Now let me ask you about Memorial Day? What does Memorial Day mean to you? Do you know the history of Memorial Day? There is some debate out there … and I got this off the internet … which only tells you the truth … but this is from the US Memorial Day website

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966.
Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).
It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363).[4]
So what do we glean from that? Memorial Day was borne out of a desire to honor our dead. It was done by decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country. The date was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. So memorials are important because they help us … and future generations … remember the sacrifices that people before us have made so that we can enjoy what we enjoy today.
I gave you three biblical examples of memorials up front. But the Bible is filled with so many more because God wants us to remember the work He has done for us. That’s the whole message of the Gospel … the work God has done for us! That’s all it’s about. Let me share one more memorial with you from the New Testament. Turn to Matthew 17 … this is the story of the transfiguration. I love this story because it constantly reminds me of how zealous Peter was and how humble Jesus really was.

1 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. 2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. 4 Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”5 But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” 6 The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. 7 Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus. 9 As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:1-9 NLT).

Peter wanted everyone to know that he had just experienced something great! Why wouldn’t he? He just saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah … two guys who had been dead for hundreds of years! And then he heard the voice of God! Wouldn’t you be a little excited? He wanted others to know and remember as well but Jesus had other plans. The Bible says that a lot, you know …”But God” or “But Jesus” … and then it’s followed by Jesus doing something or saying something that makes me think, “Silly disciples” or “Stupid Pharisees” or mostly, “Silly Malcolm.”
Jesus didn’t want anybody else to know what Peter, James, and John had seen … until He did something even more incredible … get raised from the dead! But isn’t that the case for anyone you’ve ever met or seen that has done something of any real significance for someone else … they don’t want all the hype.
Now, we’re gonna talk military here but think about it … when was the last time you watched a Medal of Honor Ceremony for a living recipient? What is consistent about those ceremonies? The recipient always says it’s not about him … it’s about the real heroes … the ones who didn’t make it back. Every time! To the recipient … the Medal is a memorial to those men and women he took action to protect and serve. Now there are all kinds of awards that given as memorials to those who serve and have served: Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star … but let’s focus on the one that says, “This guy really laid it all out there.”

MEDAL OF HONOR

I’d like to share with you the criteria for being nominated / awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally, the Medal of Honor is presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America.

The Medal of Honor is presented to the service member who distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
(1) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
(2) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
(3) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

[Besides being given the individual award, the recipients are memorialized one step further.]  The Hall of Heroes is located inside the Pentagon and honors each and every Medal of Honor recipient. Inside the hall, three glass cases enclose the three versions of the Medal of Honor - the Army version; the sea-going version for the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard; and the Air Force version. More than 3,100 thin silver metal strips, each engraved with a name of a Medal of Honor awardee, line the walls in long columns. The Hall of Heroes was opened and dedicated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on May 14, 1968.[5]

For all the Soldiers here, what are the Army Values?
·         Loyalty
·         Duty
·         Respect
·         Selfless Service
·         Honor
·         Integrity
·         Personal Courage

I want to talk about “Selfless Service.”
Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain. The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.[6]

Jesus wasn’t in the Army but isn’t that what he did? His mission was larger than himself Remember what Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV says? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Jesus went a little further. He endured a little longer. He took it upon himself – literally – to be the game changer. That’s what He did for you, for you, and for me.
Aren’t those the very things that we really remember on Memorial Day? Not just their names but what their lives represent. We honor the dead because they lived lives worthy of remembrances. Whether they died on a lonely battlefield thousands of miles away from home or years later in the company of generations of their family … we honor the sacrifices they made so that we can lived blessed lives today. I’m going to close out with one more story. It’s about a guy named Murph.

MURPH
Michael P. Murphy, fondly referred to by friends and family as “Murph,” was born May 7, 1976 in Smithtown, N.Y. and grew up in the New York City commuter town of Patchogue, N.Y. on Long Island. Murphy grew up active in sports and attended Patchogue's Saxton Middle School. In high school, Murphy took a summer lifeguard job at the Brookhaven town beach in Lake Ronkonkoma -- a job he returned to each summer through his college years. Murphy graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994.
Murphy attended Penn State University, where he was an exceptional all-around athlete and student, excelling at ice hockey and graduating with honors. He was an avid reader; his reading tastes ranged from the Greek historian Herodotus to Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Murphy's favorite book was Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire,” about the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. In 1998, he graduated with a pair of Bachelor of Arts degrees from Penn State -- in political science and psychology.
Following graduation, he was accepted to several law schools, but instead he changed course.  Slightly built at 5 feet 10 inches, Murphy decided to attend SEAL mentoring sessions at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point with his sights on becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL. Murphy accepted an appointment to the Navy's Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, Fla., in September, 2000.
Murphy was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy on Dec. 13, 2000, and began Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado, Calif., in January 2001, graduating with Class 236. BUD/S is a six-month training course and the first step to becoming a Navy SEAL.
Upon graduation from BUD/S, he attended the Army Jump School, SEAL Qualification Training and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) School. Lt. Murphy earned his SEAL Trident and checked on board SDV Team (SDVT) 1 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in July of 2002. In October of 2002, he deployed with Foxtrot Platoon to Jordan as the liaison officer for Exercise Early Victor.
Following his tour with SDVT-1, Lt. Murphy was assigned to Special Operations Central Command in Florida and deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning from Qatar, Lt. Murphy was deployed to the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, to assist in the operational planning of future SDV missions.
In early 2005, Murphy was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 as assistant officer in charge of ALFA Platoon and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
On June 28, 2005, Lt. Murphy was the officer-in-charge of a four-man SEAL element in support of Operation Red Wing tasked with finding key anti-coalition militia commander near Asadabad, Afghanistan. Shortly after inserting into the objective area, the SEALs were spotted by three goat herders who were initially detained and then released. It is believed the goat herders immediately reported the SEALs’ presence to Taliban fighters.
A fierce gun battle ensued on the steep face of the mountain between the SEALs and a much larger enemy force. Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Murphy, intent on making contact with headquarters, but realizing this would be impossible in the extreme terrain where they were fighting, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life moved into the open, where he could gain a better position to transmit a call to get help for his men.
Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire.  This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy.  While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point, he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in.  Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.
As a result of Murphy’s call, an MH-47 Chinook helicopter, with eight additional SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers aboard, was sent in as part of the QRF to extract the four embattled SEALs. As the Chinook drew nearer to the fight, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter, causing it to crash and killing all 16 men aboard.
On the ground and nearly out of ammunition, the four SEALs continued to fight.  By the end of a two-hour gunfight that careened through the hills and over cliffs, Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz and Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson had fallen. An estimated 35 Taliban were also dead.  The fourth SEAL, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell, was blasted over a ridge by a rocket-propelled grenade and knocked unconscious. Though severely wounded, the fourth SEAL and sole survivor, Luttrell, was able to evade the enemy for nearly a day; after which local nationals came to his aide, carrying him to a nearby village where they kept him for three more days. Luttrell was rescued by U.S. Forces on July 2, 2005.
By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit and inspirational devotion to his men in the face of certain death, Lt. Murphy was able to relay the position of his unit, an act that ultimately led to the rescue of Luttrell and the recovery of the remains of the three who were killed in the battle.
Lt. Murphy was buried at Calverton National Cemetery less than 20 miles from his childhood home. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His other personal awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.[7]
Murph has been memorialized by his teammate, Marcus Luttrell, in the book Lone Survivor which is also now a major motion picture. His family and close friends have released a documentary titled, Murph, which honors him like nothing I’ve ever seen. I hope we all live lives worthy of being remembered on the scale that Murph continues to be remembered … because he gave all.
On this Memorial Day … remember the fallen. Honor the dead … for “only the dead have seen the end of war.”[8]

 And know this …
1 to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace (Ecc. 3:1-8 NLT).

I pray this is your time of peace. I pray that if you have not picked up your memorial stone – come to the memorial of the cross – make this day your day – make this day your memorial. All gave some … some gave all.
Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: The American Soldier and Jesus Christ. One died for your freedom. The other died for your soul.

CLOSING PRAYER 

Let us pray the prayer of Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light; where there is sickness, health; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." This we pray in Jesus name. Amen


[1] Dennis Edward O'Brien, Sergeant, USMC.

[2] Jack Countryman, If My People …: A 40-Day Prayer Guide for Our Nation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 36.
[5] http://www.navy.mil/moh/faq.html (Accessed May 23, 2014).
[8] Plato.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Identity Crisis



RECAP
Two weeks ago CH Harki preached on “Faith.” He spoke from Hebrews 11:1-16. It starts out: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” and it goes on to remind us of:
o   Abel’s offering
o   Enoch being taken to heaven without dying
o   Noah building the Ark
o   Abraham going to the far country – a foreigner in this world
o   Sarah’s faith for a son
What really impress me are verses 13 and 16:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. ~ Hebrews 1:13, 16 NLT

Now that’s faith! Would you still believe up until your last breath if you hadn’t yet seen it? Sobering thought …
Last week, we were fortunate to have Mr. Pete and Ollie from Team Xtreme join us to share about “God Almighty.” Did you enjoy that? If you did enjoy it, you need to make it a point to let our Garrison Chaplain, CH Simmons, know and please thank him for making it happen. When you let us know – let Garrison know – that you’re enjoying things that the Chapel is offering then we’ll be able to do more things – get more support. I’d also like to thank those of you who helped us clean up afterward. Thank you to CH Broderick and the Fellowship Team for that great meal afterwards. Again folks, if you enjoy the fellowship meals then voice your support and volunteer to make it happen once a month. It only works if we do the work
The title of my sermon is “Identity Crisis. What I’m about to share with you is a devotion from Our Daily Bread titled “Situation Excellent.”

At the First Battle of the Marne during World War I, French lieutenant general Ferdinand Foch sent out this communique: “My center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking.” His willingness to see hope in a tough situation eventually led to victory for his troops.
Sometimes in life’s battles we can feel as if we are losing on every front. Family discord, business setbacks, financial woes, or a decline in health can put a pessimistic spin on the way we look at life. But the believer in Christ can always find a way to conclude: “Situation excellent.”
Look at Paul. When he was thrown in prison for preaching the gospel, he had an unusually upbeat attitude. To the church at Philippi he wrote, “I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
Paul saw his prison situation as a new platform from which to evangelize the Roman palace guard. In addition, other Christians became emboldened by his situation to preach the gospel more fearlessly (vv.13-14).
God can use our trials to work good in spite of the pain they bring (Rom. 8:28). That’s just one more way He can be honored. ~ Dennis Fisher[1]

A few other things were going on here as well: General Foch … like Paul … and like our Hebrew 1 “Faith Heroes” walked in faith! They believed that God was going to accomplish his purpose and they executed their missions accordingly. Each of these people understood who they were and what their purpose was. More importantly – they were fully aware of whose they were. They knew their identity.

SCRIPTURE READING

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:1-11 NLT

SERMON

Most of you all don’t know this … but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. That’s right … I was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. This is rugby jersey is from the college I went to … Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN. Besides wearing rugby jerseys in college … I wore the loafers (I called them boat shoes) … tan slacks … oxford shirt … patterned tie … blazer … pledge pin … and a pony tail. Come to think of it … I guess I was more like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy than your stereotypical fraternity boy.
I went to college after my first tour with the Navy so I was 22 when I enrolled and 25 when I graduated. And just so you know … this was about three or four years before I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But one of the best “takeaways” I got out of college and more specifically from the fraternity … was The True Gentleman.
Has anyone heard of The True Gentleman? The True Gentleman is the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It’s a sentence – a long sentence – that is the best definition of a gentleman that I’ve ever heard. It’s expected that when you pledge the fraternity, you memorize and recite The True Gentlemen in front of all the Actives. Allow me to give you a bit more history on the True Gentleman: “the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis used it in a manual. The author was denoted there as one John Walter Wayland. But before that …"The True Gentleman" had actually first appeared in The Baltimore Sun as part of a competition for the best definition of a true gentleman with Wayland's submission being crowned the winner.”[2]

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe. ~ John Walter Wayland. Virginia, 1899

I don’t expect any of you all to have an “A-ha” moment from me reading The True Gentleman but I do want you to know how much that sentence has impacted my life. Think about it – I was a guy who didn’t want to know God but something like this – truth like this – was put in front of my face … and I had the faith to believe it. Like I said, we had to read it – memorize it – and then recite in front of the whole fraternity ... and if we jacked it up … well, I can’t tell you what happens to those guys.
But the reality was this: I latched on to that creed. It was something that I bought into hook, line and sinker. I still try my best to live by that standard every day. I read it often and try to use to some extent in most of my sermons. I’ve used it quite a few times over the years when writing papers for graduate work. It’s the attitude with which I want to be identified.
I don’t get it right sometimes but that’s who I aspire to be. Sometimes my conduct does not proceed from goodwill at all. Sometimes I wear my feelings on my sleeve and sometimes I simply blow self-control out of the water in certain circumstances. And sometimes … I’m simply not very compassionate. But I still want to be that guy … that gentleman … and I have faith that God will complete his work in me so that I can be a True Gentleman more often and more consistently.
So how does the True Gentleman mesh with the Gospel? I’m pretty sure that John Walter Wayland was familiar with Scripture if not a believer. Let’s look at Philippians again as well as The True Gentleman and see how they complement one another.
Philippians: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love?” The True Gentleman: that’s definitely thinking of the rights and feelings of others rather than your own, right? The Bible tells us that the greatest show of love is laying down your life for someone else; most times that’s as simple as being kind.
Philippians: “Any fellowship together in the Spirit?” The True Gentleman: “Who appears well in any company” … that’s Jesus.
Philippians: “Are your hearts tender and compassionate? The True Gentleman: “Who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity.” If that’s not definitive of Jesus then I don’t know what is!
Philippians: “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” The True Gentleman: “Who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another.” How hard is that? How many of you will step back so that someone else will get the glory? That’s tough sometimes.
Philippians: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The True Gentleman: folks … Jesus did not flatter wealth, He did not cringe before power, and from what we just read together, He didn’t boast of his own possessions or achievements. In fact, He gave up all that He was … so that you and I could be elevated. Think about that …
This reminds me of the Downhere chorus of “How Many Kings.”
How many kings step down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats have become the least for me? And how many gods have poured out their hearts, to romance a world that is torn all apart? How many fathers gave up their sons for me?[3]

So … I’m thinking about all these things … Philippians … Jesus … the True Gentleman … Downhere … all because I’m currently taking a class on Pastoral Counseling … and … I’m about to preach a sermon. As I’m praying … I’m reading … and God drops a nugget in my lap cause He knows I’m hungry. My first assignment in this class is to read David G. Benner’s book The Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. I get about 27 pages into it and that nugget I’m hoping for turns into a meal!
How many of you know that there are times when God speaks so plainly that it’s unnerving – exciting – but unnerving? This was one of those times. Dr. Benner had listed 27 identifying characteristics that supported his claim that Jesus was/is the model soul shepherd – one who cares for souls. Benner defines a “soul care as the support and restoration of the well-being of persons in their depth and totality, with particular concern for their inner life.”[4] He goes on to write, “Shepherds lead their sheep to places of nourishment and safety, protect them from danger, and are regularly called upon for great personal sacrifice. They are characterized by compassion, courage, and a mixture of tenderness and toughness.”[5]
Benner shares some identifying characteristics of Christ. The whole point of this sermon was for you … and me … to take back our identities. Quick one: how are we in the military identified from those outside the military? Uniforms, haircuts, etc. How about within? Unit patches, combat patches, special identifiers like Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger or SF tabs, and so on and so on. So we are identified by who we are and by whose we are – which unit we’re in.
So as a Christian … where should we get our identity? From Christ! Jesus Christ is who we – as believers – should be emulating. Think of it as looking into a mirror. When you physically look in a mirror … you see yourself. How about your spiritual mirror? Is Christ reflected? We should see Jesus as our reflection … and others should see him in us as well.
James tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” ~ James 1:22-25 NLT
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT.
So all this build up because I want to share with you a challenge or two … actually 27 challenges. The overarching one is know your identity. If you’ve given it up at some point then take your identity back. If you’ve never had an identity then I plead with you to assume the identity of Christ today! Be a True Gentleman. Be a Virtuous Lady. Have the same mind as Christ. Be the Christian … the Christ follower … who the world says is not out there anymore.
All right … back to the 27 identifying characteristics of Jesus as the model soul shepherd. I wanted to give you all 27 but for the sake of time I’ll share 10 of them. Remember … these are characteristics of Jesus … as a soul shepherd … as a man of God caring for souls. I have taken them and said, “If this is how Jesus is … then this is how I need to be … this is how Christians should be.”

1.      Be a Christian who meets people where they are.
o   A lot of times we forget that especially when we’ve followed Christ for a very short time or a very long time. Remember … we all sin and we have fallen short of the glory of God. The key is to stay hungry and humble.
2.      Be a Christian who is compassionate.
o   Jesus brought hope for the helpless, rest for the weary and love for the broken hearts
3.      Be a Christian who acts out of an explicit moral context but never condemns.
o   What does that mean? Love the sinner; hate the sin! Remember when Jesus told the mob that brought him the “woman caught in adultery” … “Let any of you without sin cast the first stone.”
4.      Be a Christian who speaks with authority.
o   You have the Word of God … the foundation for truth in our existence … never back down or shy away from that reality … or that authority.
5.      Be a Christian who asks probing questions.
o   Don’t stay on the surface with your relationships or encounters. Every human being has an innate desire to be known. That’s one of the greatest things about small groups. Even for an outsider or new follower, small groups are a place where you can safely go deeper. I encourage you to get involved in a small group somewhere.
6.      Be a Christian who is scandalously inclusive.
o   Jump back to the woman caught in adultery … but this time, which one of you is going to cast the first stone at the homosexual … or the alcoholic … or the or the guy who you know is abusing his wife behind the scenes? Most of the people out there are not in here because they think we’re going to condemn them or not include them. The Church should be a hospital for broken souls.
7.      Be a Christian who never minimizes the cost of discipleship.
o   Be like Jesus did with the rich young ruler … lay it all out there. Don’t mince words that will pierce the heart of a person’s motivation.
8.      Be a Christian who prefers dialogue over monologue.
o   How many of you have ever really sat down and had a conversation with a wall? How about paint as it is drying? What about grass as it is growing? You get my point, right? We must interact.
9.      Be a Christian who never allows your own needs to get in the way of meeting the needs of others.
o   Smack me in the face! Who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own. No greater love than laying down one’s life for someone else.
1.  Be the Christian who challenges people to never settle for less than God’s best for them
o   This should be a no brainer … but a lot of folks are walking around with no brains. Let’s give them some brains … some hope … some direction![6]

So let me sum things up: walk in faith, our God is a mighty God, the situation is always excellent in that equation: faith + God, have the same attitude as Christ, be a True Gentleman, look in the mirror daily to check yourself, take back your identity if you think you’ve lost or given it up, establish your identity in him if you haven’t done so already, be the Christian who God has called you to be, and never forget … we have the greatest message of hope the world could ever hear – go out, be the Church, and give somebody else that hope.



[1] Dennis Fisher, “Situation Excellent,” in Our Daily Bread, vol 58, Numbers 9, 10, & 11 (RBC Ministries: USA, Dec – Feb 2013-14), Jan 10.
[3] Downhere, “How Many Kings,” as performed by Downhere, © 2006 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) Germain and Martel Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
[4] David G. Benner, Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 23.
[5] Ibid., 25.
            [6] Ibid., 27-28.