All Gave Some | Pastor Mike Fortune | May 29, 2010


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All Gave Some
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 29, 2010

YouTube: The Conscientious Objector 

"Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage, and wisdom moves the world." - Ammon Hennacy [Catholic activist, 1893 - 1970]

  1. Love moves the world [John 10:11; Acts 17:6]
  2. Courage moves the world [Ephesians 6:10-15; 1 Corinthians 4:4]
  3. Wisdom moves the world [Acts 20:22-24; 1 Corinthians 2:14]

On this Memorial Day, many Americans will place on the grille a hot dog, or a burger, and as they listen to the hiss of the steak or corn on the cob charring just right on the grille, they will not recall the sacrifices of those who gave their lives as they look at the glowing embers of the hot coals. It will be just another day off from their busy lives. Nothing in particular to ‘remember’ as they frolic in the backyard. Or go shopping for a new mattress, lazy boy chair, or electronic gadget. They will not understand that the families of these heros often sacrifice just as much. In their absence or death. Which is what I was reminded of again this week when I saw on the bicep of one man a tattoo that read: “Some gave all, but all gave some.”

Desmond Doss was one of those guys who gave all. Infantry men who once ridiculed and scoffed at Desmond’s simple faith and refusal to carry a weapon in war owed their lives to him. In the midst of a fierce firefight on Okinawa, Private Doss refused to seek cover and carried his stricken comrades to safety one by one. This and other courageous acts earned him the highest honor America could bestow on one of her soldiers—the Congressional Medal of Honor. From an accident-prone childhood to World War II gallantry, from the tragic loss of his first wife Dorothy to his battles with deafness and cancer, Desmond Doss has, as our video clip described, lived a life of unsurpassed devotion to his country, his convictions, and his God. He died on March 23, 2006. But his bravery is legendary and his story is still being told.

But he’s not the only one who has lived in such a way. Our very own Dr. Burgess Bills and Allan Wolfson have also made similar sacrifices during their lifetimes while they were serving in our military. You’ll hear more about both in a few minutes. But before that, what I thought we would do today, is pause in our normal routine of congregational life here at Toledo First Church so we can reflect on the love, courage, and wisdom that still moves the world today. And to say thank you to the men and women who along with their families “all gave some.”

This, by the way, is a completely appropriate thing to do. Especially because Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Did you know that? It emerged from the grim shadows of the American Civil War. Before the close of the war, women began decorating the graves of soldiers who had died in that war. The practice quickly spread, and a few years later May 30, 1868, was designated as Decoration Day—a day for placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers throughout the United States.

But in 1882, Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day, and soldiers who died in other wars also began to be honored. Over the years, it has become a day when all loved ones who have died—in war and otherwise—are remembered. So in 1971, the United States Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be observed annually on the last Monday in May. So if years ago we could pray for the Union and Confederate soldiers and their families, perhaps today, we could again add to the developing tradition of Memorial Day and also sincerely pray for all people created in the image of God who are actively making peace and showing love. Because following your convictions, whether you live in Iraq, Sudan, or America, still takes courage and wisdom. So we’ll end that way with prayer.

But to begin, let’s remind ourselves of a universal truth embedded in the lives of every person on this planet created in the image of God. And this is point number one: Love moves the world. Award winning communicator and children’s author Karyn Henley says it this way in her controversial little book Love Trumps Karma, “Even if people don’t believe in God, they know that Perfect Love is the highest goal to aim for. And they sense that if there were a God, the most important Truth would be that God loves them and that there is hope for all humanity. We don’t have to prove any of this. Our gut tells us it’s True” [p.34].

In our Christian background, we believe this principle is taught is most specifically and clearly taught in the life of Jesus who said in John 10:11, “11"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” But what does lay down his life for the sheep mean? It means the Good Shepherd was willing to die defending his sheep! The Shepherd would lay down in front of the gate to the sheep pen. So that any robber would literally get to his sheep over his dead body.

We just finished a series of sermons based on how Scripture says Jesus did that on the cross. We noticed how Jewish law within the Sanhedrin had multiple fail safe measures embedded within the law to prevent the execution of an individual falsely accused and tried. As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus was familiar with all these rules and exceptions to preserve the sanctity of life, but with each step down the Via Dolorosa, he chose not to exercise them. Just like he chose before the creation of the world to die for our sin [Revelation 13:8;]. Philippians 2 says Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [or held onto].” Nobody took his life. He gave it. Because God SO loved the world. Like crazy.

And because He did, Acts 4:13-14 says unschooled ordinary men [and undoubtedly women too] went all over the world telling people that. The authorities tried to stop them, but active resistance and civil disobedience have always been in the toolbox of Christ followers. Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men” [Acts 5:29].

Paul and Silas were a couple other active resisters. They took the Gospel to Thessalonica and Acts 17:4 says “ 4Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. 5But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men [Paul and Silas] who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’” Paul and Silas peacefully but actively caused trouble all over the world. Christ’s love compelled them to go [2 Corinthians 5:14]. So they did. Point number one: Love moves the world.

But love without courage is mere sentimentality. And this is point number two. For it takes courage  to follow your convictions. And while it undoubtedly requires courage to be a soldier, to defend our country, to put yourself in harm’s way, to be willing to lay down your life, especially in defense of the least of these who may live in places where evil reigns and unspeakable atrocities would continue to occur without brave men and women willing to stop them, what I wonder is why the church has stopped recognizing that it takes just as much courage to actively resist evil without the use of force or a gun?

After joining the church, Dr. Bills trained in first aid through the Red Cross. The church provided training to those who were to be drafted called the Medical Cadet Corp. This was to teach members how to respectfully follow military orders without compromising one’s beliefs and with their Red Cross training, join the medical corp. This included basic Army procedure and close order drill. Dr. Bills was drafted in 1942 and assigned to a military police battalion in Hawthorn, California [a suburb of Los Angeles]. Every morning they drilled, but they did not have enough guns to go around. He managed to always be at the end of the line so as not to carry a weapon.

Dr. Bills was classified as a 4FA which meant that he was a conscientious objector, but the Army really didn’t know what this meant. When they asked him to carry a weapon, he respectfully refused stating his 4FA status. He was called out of formation when he refused to carry a weapon. He was placed under house arrest. But members of his platoon encouraged him to stand firm in his beliefs. As punishment and as a means of changing his mind, his superiors issued him a shovel and had him dig holes in the ground 12'x12'x12'. Pressure was placed on him by his Sargent to give in. He was threatened by the Sargent that his platoon members would “work him over.” This never occurred.  Instead, he was moved to Fort Lewis Washington for advanced basic training.

At Fort Lewis, his 4FA status was understood and he was not asked to carry a weapon. He taught first aid there and did not have any problems. He was then moved to Recreation Park Long Beach California and became a clerk for the medical detachment. They ran “sick call” under the care of a doctor and he took care of the paperwork. One night he took care of a drunk man who had gotten into a fight with another soldier. He had been cut in the neck. An ambulance was called and the man was taken to the Emergency Department. Thereafter he met up with the Colonel who had first caused so much trouble for dad at Hawthorn. The Colonel was inquiring about the injured soldier and also wanted to know if dad had “learned anything in Ft. Lewis. Dr. Bills replied that he had learned a lot, but not about bearing arms. The Colonel did an about face and walked away. Eventually, Dr. Bills was shipped out to Hereford, Wales where he became ward master for the orthopedic ward of the 122nd General Hospital. He took care of wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Bulge and housekeeping duties for that ward. He also took care of  lighting the 11 charcoal stoves that kept the ward warm during the winter of 1944.

This experience exposed him to medicine and he was able to pursue a career as a physician after the war. The GI bill helped fund his schooling through Andrews University and then Loma Linda.  By holding true to his beliefs and trusting in God, a negative experience was turned into a positive one.

During the 1950’s, hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist men aged 18-26 were drafted into military service. They too loved their country and wanted to serve it. But they also wanted to be obedient to their understanding of Scripture and their convictions including Sabbath keeping and non-combatancy. So in late 1954, when the US Army Medical Unit and the Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army met with officials of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they offered to use Adventist draftees as volunteers for human trials of defensive vaccines and antibacterial medicines.

Long story short: Operation Whitecoat was born. And during is during its 19 year long existence, approximately 2300 Seventh-day Adventist Army veterans served as Operation Whitecoat volunteers. Members like our very own Allan Wolfson were tested with some of the world’s most dangerous biological agents such as Queensland (Q) Fever, Tularemia, Sandfly Fever, Typhus Fever, Typhoid Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Yellow Fever, and Plague. Whitecoat veterans wore a breathing apparatus inside the so called “Eight Ball” room at Fort Detrick, Md., which was a huge spherical chamber where scientists would discharge bacteria or viruses. The Whitecoats became seriously ill, but none died and there was no permanent health damage. Although Allan is sure his inability to recall much of anything stored in short term memory had something to do with his service during Operation Whitecoat.

Today, there are still numerous Christians in the military. Some carry a gun. Others, like Desmond Doss and Dr. Bills and Allan Wolfson, choose not to. But both decisions take incredible courage. And that’s one reason why Chaplain Steven Cozzens serves in the military and sacrifices his time away from his family we have grown to love here at Toledo First to support our men and women in their convictions. And perhaps, that is the best thing we can do this Memorial Day. Remember their sacrifices. And thank them for following their convictions.

Because it takes courage, especially today, to take God seriously when he says in Ephesians to be mighty in the Lord for the sake of the Gospel of Peace. Ephesians 6:10-15 says, “10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

1 Corinthians 4:4 adds, “4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” And Paul said in another setting, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” [Romans 14:5]. But make no mistake: It is love and courage that moves the world. But not without wisdom. And this is point number three.

Paul says in Acts 20:22-24, “22And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.”

Most people would say putting yourself in harm’s way is not wise. But if that were true, Jesus would have never come to this earth! Paul knows as he says goodbye to his friends in Ephesus that this could be the last time he sees them this side of eternity. And he knows that in Jerusalem, even though it’s a religious place, there is still danger there. But when you’re serving God, there is danger everywhere! In Iconium, the Bible says in Acts 14:19 that a crowd dragged Paul outside the city and threw Paul off a cliff and then rolled big stones onto him. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the same city! Did that take love? Courage? Wisdom? Maybe maybe not. I guess that depends on whose wisdom we’re talking about! God’s or man’s! Maybe that’s why 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Man’s wisdom would say get out of there! God’s wisdom told Paul to go back in! So it doesn’t surprise Paul when he’s convicted, the Bible says compelled by the Spirit in Acts 20:22, to go to Jerusalem anyway. Even though he knows doing so will put himself in harm’s way. That he could end up in prison or dead.

But the wisest thing we can do is follow your convictions and testify to the Gospel of God’s grace. And this is point number there. That’s the hill you want to die on. There are many issues and positions and areas of life in which sincere Christians disagree. But this one thing we all have in common. Our job is to testify to the Gospel of God’s grace. Catholic activist Ammon Hennacy is right. He said it this way: “Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage, and wisdom moves the world”—Ammon Hennacy [Catholic activist, 1893 - 1970].

May God continue to give all his followers, wherever they are in the world, the love and courage and wisdom they need to make God honoring decisions. For some gave all, but all gave some. If you or someone in your family has served or is serving in any capacity their convictions allow, would you please come forward? I’d like to give you something and pray for you as our Toledo First way of saying thank you this Memorial Day weekend.