During the last month, our church veterans have been turning in their photographs. Most have given me pictures in their uniforms from their early days in service. Dennis Elrod actually took a current picture in his old Navy uniform. He said when his unit was discharged they were told to always have their bags packed and their uniforms ready in case they were ever needed again.  He said his bag was still packed, and his uniform was still ready!

Many of the veterans in our church served before I was even born.  Some fought in wars I read about in history books.

The pictures of these men and women are from every branch of service and from many different conflicts from Korea to Afghanistan.

What’s striking to me is how young these men and women were when they committed themselves to service or were drafted into service.

That’s the way it almost always. The military takes our boys when they are barely old enough to shave; our women when they’ve just attended their last senior prom.

Within three months of training, they can be shipped out to a foreign land to protect our country and even die for a cause they may not completely understand. They must be willing to fulfill their duty to our country, to defend freedom and liberty. That much most seem to grasp. Because they do, our country remains free, and our freedom is something we must never take for granted.

As parents who drove our 19-year-old son and dropped him off early one Sunday morning to be bussed off to Paris Island, my wife and I understand what if feels like to send a young man off into the military with no guarantees that he would come home, or come home whole, physically or mentally.

Regardless of what our children decide to do with their lives, we cannot hold onto them, protect them, or keep them from harm’s way. Yet when they go into a battle zone, their mortality suddenly becomes more real. When they return, the blessing of their presence suddenly becomes a greater gift than before they left.

When our son volunteered for Afghanistan, we were both proud of him and afraid that we might also be joining a host of other families who might not have the joy of welcoming him back home.

Fortunately, for us, our son came home. He came back with a few scars but compared to most, he is very blessed.

Today, more than ever before, we are learning the devastating effects of war on the human psyche and the toll these conflicts have taken on veterans that have returned from battle.

Many suffer from survivor’s guilt, nightmares, flashbacks, anger, insomnia, depression, panic attacks, all symptoms of what we now call PTSD. This disorder can shut down an individual’s ability to function and to engage life on a normal level. It can lead to addictive tendencies as people try to deal with the psychological pain of what they saw or did to survive.

This is in addition to the physical problems many have from being wounded or problems that developed as their bodies were stressed far beyond what the human body should have to endure.

Not every veteran has been in a war zone. Most have not. However, even those have made sacrifices doing their job which is worthy of our acknowledgment and thanks. Many spent years away from families and endured many hardships so we can enjoy the freedom we love so much as a country today.

One of those individuals is Ken Wagner. Ken is 85 years old. Ken lives in Pennsylvania. Ken served in Korea from 1950-54.

While in Korea his mother sent him scripture passages to read to give him comfort. One passage she sent to him was Psalm 91.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety: he is my God, and I trust him, for he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies by the day.” (1-5)

Ken memorized all twelve verses of the Psalm and can still recite the Psalm today.

Sandy Graham, Ken’s daughter, said that his mother’s prayers and words of scripture like these got her father through his time in Korea.

In more recent years, Ken took care of his wife through years of dementia, and recently he laid her to rest, a woman who worked beside him in ministry for decades.

Like you and me, Ken’s battles are not yet over. We all have battles to fight, whether a veteran of the service or not, but all of us can call upon the same source of strength to see us through, the same God Ken read about in Psalm 91.

It is essential is that we honor God with all that we have, with all that we are, and acknowledge that God is an essential part of our past, both as individuals and as a nation. In addition, we should ask God to continue to journey with us into the future, both as individuals and as a nation, lest we crumble.

John 3:16 said that “God so loved the WORLD….”  We must be careful that we don’t see ourselves (Americans) as God’s favorite nation that is loved more than any other.  Billy Graham understood this.  He once said that he was “citizen of the world,” since God had ordained him to carry to gospel to all the people of the earth.

Yet he understood how blessed we are as a nation.  Part of the reason we are a blessed is because of our veterans.

Veteran’s Day is a day to honor those that have sacrificed many years of their lives to see that we remain a free nation, one nation, under God, indivisible, so that freedom and justice for all can be protected, and extended to all people.

For Americans, among the most cherished of our freedoms is the freedom to worship God as we choose, and even the freedom not to worship God at all.

For Christians, as we exercise our freedom to worship, let’s not forget the price that has been paid by those who gave us this opportunity to do so without interference from the government and without persecution. That gift should never be taken for granted.

It is one reason when I meet veterans, I try to remember to thank them for the service they have given to our country.

To all of our veterans, thank you for your service!!