For many Americans, Memorial Day represents the start of summer — the promise of warm, sunny days, evenings illuminated by fireflies, barbecues in the backyard, and trips to the beach.
But Memorial Day is not actually about any of that. It is a day to remember how the men and women of our Armed Forces have answered the call to give their lives to defend the people and the country they love. They have entered into the service willingly, knowing that the price of freedom is extraordinarily high.
The history of this national observance goes back to the Civil War. Following the war, people from both the North and South decorated graves with flags and flowers on what came to be known as "Decoration Day," to honor the loved ones they had lost.
Now, we call the day "Memorial Day" to remember all of the men and women lost in all the wars this country has fought—more than one million people. Their sacrifices have guaranteed the freedoms that we enjoy today but often take for granted.
So let us reflect on two important lessons we can learn from these heroes:
1. There Are Things Worth Fighting For
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington. As I looked at the memorial, a sculpture of the iconic image of soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima, I was awed, once again of the brave actions of these men. In the hell of war, they persevered.
Today, many of us are fighting our own kinds of battles. We are battling illnesses, the loss of loved ones, and addictions. We are battling financial hardship and mental health issues. We are battling brokenness within our families and within ourselves. Many of us feel alone, overwhelmed by our struggle. We are tempted to surrender.
But I want to encourage you to keep fighting.
The men and women we remember on Memorial Day braved the enemy's fire because they were fighting for a cause greater than themselves. In fact, if you ask them, many of our service members today will tell you they were inspired to enlist after 9/11, much in the same way the World War II generation did after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They enlisted because they loved their families and their country, and they counted it worthy to sacrifice their lives to protect them. For many of them, their faith compelled them to oppose evil and injustice and stand up for what was right.
Whatever you are battling, remember this: there are things worth fighting for.
2. The Power of Self-Sacrifice
Throughout history, men and women of our nation's Armed Forces have laid down their lives for us, and they continue to do so every day. The selfless actions of these men and women remind me of Jesus' words to his disciples during the Last Supper: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 ESV)
Now, more than ever is time for us to love and serve each other self-sacrificially. I am not saying that we should put our lives needlessly in danger for the sole purpose of a heroic deed. But if it's within our means and ability, we should be ready to help those who are in need and bring comfort to those who are suffering.
John Bunyan, the author of the classic book Pilgrim's Progress, once wrote, "You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."
The truth is, we will never be able to repay the men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedom. Their valiant sacrifices, and the sacrifices of their family members, are priceless. Yet while we may never be able to repay them, we can honor them by remembering them.
The Bible says to "give honor to whom honor is owed" (Romans 13:7). However we choose to celebrate this Memorial Day, let's remember to honor the brave men and women who have fought and died for our freedom. May their patriotism and their love for God and country inspire us to do something selfless for those around us.
Dr. Jack Graham is the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in America. He is also a noted author, and his PowerPoint Ministries broadcasts are available in 92 countries and are heard daily in more than 740 cities.