“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

There is a powerful scene towards the end of the World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan.” (The movie was originally released in 1998 with an R-rating mostly for its violent war scenes, but is also available in a PG-13 version, including the D-Day 60th Commemorative Edition.)

It is shortly after the D-Day landings in Normandy, and Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and his squad have the unenviable task of scouring the hostile countryside to find Private James Ryan (played by Matt Damon).

As the sole survivor among four military brothers, the high command orders him found so he can be sent home.

Enduring sacrifice after sacrifice, fight after fight, and the death of several of his men to find and then protect this one soldier from harm, Captain Miller ultimately lays mortally wounded on a bridge.

He pulls Private Ryan to him, and in his trembling, dying voice tells him …

“Earn This …”

Two simple words, yet bountiful enough to convey a total appreciation for life and all its freedoms, and the sacrifices that make it possible.

Earn This…

The selfless heroics in “Saving Private Ryan” are partly fictional and partly truth, inspired by the Niland family, who lost three of their four sons in World War II. Fritz Niland survived. It was not an isolated incident.

Four of five Borgstrom brothers were killed within a few months of each other in 1944. Boyd Borgstrom survived. The five Sullivan brothers all died when their light cruiser USS Juneau was sunk in 1942.

Sgt. John Basilone

Sgt. John Basilone

A true-life scenario that was immortalized in the HBO series “Pacific” retold the story of Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the fighting on Guadalcanal during World War II.

His 15-unit crew was whittled down to two men. Basilone manned a machine gun and helped keep scores of Japanese troops from overrunning his position.

He could have had a desk job. But that wasn’t who he was.

He went back into action and would be killed Feb. 19, 1945 during the first day of battle on Iwo Jima. He was 28.

There are many such real-life stories played out during World War II and other American wars where selfless acts of courage were commonplace and where brothers-in-arms died for each other on the battlefield.

The True Nature of War

War is an ugly business, and anybody who thinks it is romantic is merely deluding himself.

War, by its very nature, brings out the worst and best in men.

We strive to remember the best.

War gives rise to the “times that try men’s souls,” as political activist Thomas Paine called the start of the American Revolution.

But like a light piercing the darkness, such tests of will bring forth a deeper gratitude for what is often taken for granted: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Let’s add to that a greater appreciation for the men and women who make it all possible.

So we honor our dead on Memorial Day, May 27, remembering the sacrifices they made so that we can live in freedom.

We can honor the living by remembering the past.  

They have earned our respect. 

Not for dying, but for being willing to answer the call to duty; for leaving mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and children behind to fight in some hostile land on the far side of the Earth.

We live in the best country in the world, but have we earned this?

If we do not honor the memories of the fallen, we have not earned anything.

If we don’t understand by “who and how” freedom is defended, then we have not learned anything either.

If we do not pay tribute to the awesome sacrifices these men and women have made, many giving up their lives in the process, then we have not earned this thing called life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Wars teach us that:

Freedom is precious.

Freedom is not free, someone always pays for it.

Freedom requires sacrifice … often the ultimate sacrifice.

What Christ Has Done For You

God had to sacrifice to give us our freedom. He sacrificed His Son, Jesus, on the cross. By doing so, Jesus earned our freedom.

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The blood of Jesus Christ cleansed us from all our sins (1John 1:7) and set us free, and the blood of our fallen soldiers was sacrificed so we could have this wonderful freedom of ours to worship our God.

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we do not earn our eternal salvation because it is a gift from God so that no man may boast (Ephesians 2:9).

We honor God with how we live our lives as Christians. We honor the sacrifices of our service men and women by how we live our lives as citizens of this great country.

Can We stand and Say We Have ‘Earned This?’

The father-soldier killed when his Humvee was blown apart by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan is telling us, “Earn This.”

The mother-soldier killed by mortar fire at an Iraqi base is telling us, “Earn This.”

The husband-soldier who died defending his position at Da Nang in the Vietnam War is telling us, “Earn This.”

The boyfriend-soldier who froze to death surrounded by Chinese infantry in the hills of the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War is telling us, “Earn This.”

Pray at the Wall of Soldiers

In the foyer at Calvary Chapel South Bay, there is a wall dedicated to the men and women serving in the armed forces.

How often have we passed by it without much thought or even a glance?

Sunday when you come to church, stop for a minute.

Pick a soldier or two.

Touch them.

Pray for them.

Tell them Jesus loves them more than they may ever know.

Tell them how God will send his angels to protect and guard them (Luke 4:10).

Pray for their safe return.

Pray for their families.

God hears the prayers of his people, and the soldiers will hear you, too, no matter where they are.

This Memorial Day weekend, make a decision to stop by the wall and pray for our service men and women.

This Memorial Day, make a decision to honor Jesus, who we freely worship, by honoring our troops, who help keep us free.

This Memorial Day, make a decision never to take your freedoms for granted.

Earn This.