Sermon delivered November 8, 2003 by Chaplain John McGraw, US Army

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New King Jmaes Version, NKJV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Never a Matter of Chance

(Chaplain John McGraw is one of our Seventh-day Adventist Chaplains who is serving in active duty and knows what it is to be in the armed forces. He is stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.)

It's good to be here this morning and to share the word with you. When Clarence called, I want you to know I was excited to know that I could come to the McDonald Road Church, but I have to be honest, my daughter is a freshman over here at Southern University, and being stationed in the Army, we really thought we had the world away from her as she went to college rather than five hours. So, it's good to be here, and it great to share the Word and it's good to be back an see family as well.

I'd like to start off by describing a little bit about my uniform. Sometimes people confuse the uniform I'm wearing and are not sure what service I'm in. The third Infantry Division, the division that rolled into Baghdad carried the brunt of the operations in Iraqi freedom, has a song. One sentence in their song is: "I'd rather be a dog-faced soldier than be a fancy-pants Marine." Now, if you take a look at my uniform, you'll see that the coat is a navy dark blue and the pants are a light blue. And so for our choir, which has done such a great job, I'd like to share how that happens. After the Civil War, most of our armed forces moved out into the west to make it safe for settlers as we developed the western states. So, the Calvary was the focus of the US Army. And so, what would happen out there in the West, in the Southwest, there were many months of heat and almost oppressive circumstances for the soldiers. So, they'd often leave their coat back at the fort and they would operate for month on end with just their navy-blue slacks and their shirt. Over time their pants would bleach by the sun and turn to light blue. The military is a great organization for maintaining tradition, and so the folk-lore says the reason we have a navy-blue coat and a light-blue set of pants is that tradition tied to the cavalry. This is called our "blues." This is our dress uniform we wear for banquets and memorial services, things such as that.

I'd like to share a little bit about Veteran's Day as I begin and do that briefly. In 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of a bitter war an armistice was signed. It was a war to end all wars. That was the end of World War I, the Great War. It was called Armistice Day until President Eisenhower changed it to Veteran's day after World War II because it seems we have not yet found in human terms war that will end all wars. I would like to read a brief reading that talks about Veteran's Day. This is from a British tradition.

Four are Fallen

With prideful thanksgiving, a mother of her child, England mourns her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh, they were spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free. Solemn, the drums trill, death august and royal, Sings sorrow up until the immortal fears, There is music in the midst of desolation In the glory that shines upon our tears. They went with the songs of battle. They were young, straight of limb, True of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch, and at the end Against odds uncounted they Fell with their face toward the foe. They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor years condemn them. At the going down of the sun and the morning We will remember them. They mingle not with their laughing comrades again. They sit no more at familiar tables at home. They have no lot in our labor of the daytime. They sleep beyond England's foam. But where our desires are, our hopes profound, Felt a wellspring that is hidden from sight To the innermost heart of their own land They are known as the stars are know at night. As the stars will be bright when we are dust, Moving in heavenly marches on a heavenly plain. As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end they will remain.

We celebrate on Veteran's Day those who have given their lives in service to our country, and those who have served honorably as well. Let's bow ur heads for a word of Prayer.

Father, as we reflect on Your Word, may you let us know that You seek us out, no matter where me may have gone. That Your seeking draws us to You and gives us a vision of that life eternal that You have for each of us. Now, bless us as we study You Word this morning, Amen

It was a week before my senior year. A friend and I had decided to go from Washington, DC down to the Blue Ridge Mountains to camp for the weekend. Now, I shouldn't confess in public, but I will go ahead and admit that I had picked up a few vices during my high school years. And it was only allowed to return to my academy on probation. Sure, I had made a mistake or two, but my problem was; I kept repeating them over and over again. Somehow, my friend and I found ourselves driving on Sabbath afternoon to the campgrounds of Blue Ridge Youth Camp. As we made our way back the winding road, my eyes fell on a sight of beauty. It literally took my breath away. No, it was not the mountains that surrounded this hidden lake. It wasn't the reflection of those mountains in the lake itself. It wasn't the sound of the rippling stream or the birds in the trees, or that peace in the valley. It was a blonde just across the ball field at the far end of that valley. Now, to a seventeen-year-old male, the female human being is the epitome of beauty. So, that day, somehow I made my way across the ball field and met this young woman, and I fell in love. You know, guys can do that in a matter of moments.

But, I tell you that there is more to this story than infatuation that seems to be on the surface, for I believe to this day it was a supernatural event. It was a key event in my spiritual journey, for, twenty-four hours later, Saturday night I drove home, convinced my parents that I needed to go to another academy, Shenandoah Academy, and the next morning after noon I was down there and registered so that I could be near this woman.

I dated her for about two months. In November, I gave my life to Christ completely. In April, I began dating Reba, the brunette who has been the true love of my life for twenty-five years.

Jeremiah 31:3 says, The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you." Do you think that we ever have chance encounters with Christ? Do you think it's accidental when we kind of come up to a point in our lives when we have to make a decision that may impact our spiritual well-being? I'd like for us to take a look at three individuals this morning that I think show how an encounter with Christ is never a matter of chance.

In the very last twenty-four hours of Christ's life, He encountered three individuals. Three individuals that were not seeking Him, but three individuals that met Him. And I'll share these with your briefly.

The first was just doing a soldier's job. And, if he hadn't been quick, he would have lost more than his ear. His name was Malchus (John 18:10), and he was with the palace guards that were there to arrest Jesus. We all remember the story. What happens? Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword. And I can guarantee you that Peter was not aiming for Malchus's ear. If Malchus had not moved quickly, who knows what would have happened to him. But Scripture tells us that Jesus knelt down and in the midst of the beginning of the most trying time in His life, He healed Malchus.

Malchus's life was touched by Christ. Can you imagine Malchus the next morning as he woke up in his barracks room? I'm sure he was not annoyed by the vendors as they made their way down the streets. I'm sure the shout of the camel drivers did not upset him. The donkey's braying was actually music to his ears as he looked over to his cloak and the blood on it in the corner of his room. He remembered his encounter with Christ. Tradition tells us that Malchus became a believer. That encounter with Christ changed his life.

The second person that encountered Jesus rejected that touch. One day we might envision him playing tic-tac-toe in the dust of his cell. And the next moment his eyes were adjusting to the light of being outside of a dungeon. Barabas must have asked, "What's happening?" And they said, "You're free." He says, "How am I free?" He was a terrorist of his day. They said, "They took the Nazarene instead." Barabas had an encounter with Christ, and had the opportunity to make a decision. But, tradition says nothing of him, so our best assessment of him is that he followed the path that he had always led, and rejected that life-changing opportunity in his meeting with Christ.

There was a third person that met Christ in those last twenty-four hours. He was an ornery old cuss. He was a man that had seen criminals die time and time again. He was an efficient executioner, but his words speak volumes of his encounter with Christ. He was the one who had executed the order from Pilate to flog Jesus. The centurion watched Jesus, and innocent man being sentenced by Pilate. He's the one that pressed Simon, the Cyrenian, to bear Jesus' cross. He even cast lots for Jesus Cloak. But through all of this, This crusty old Sergeant, who had seen hundreds and hundreds die, saw Jesus, saw something different in Jesus. In Matthew, he quotes these words at the foot of the cross: Matthew 27:54, "Surely this is the Son of God!"

His encounter with Christ is amazing if we look at it. Here was a man who had never heard Jesus preach. He never saw Him calm the wind. He didn't see him heal a single individual. But somehow, in the way Christ died, he saw the divinity in Him. And he took a leap of faith and declared that Jesus was the God. The centurion's encounter with Christ changed his life. Tradition tells us that he became a follower of Jesus after that experience at the cross.

You know, Jesus meets us in the strangest of places. And He wants to bring that everlasting love to bear in each of our lives. I'd like to share an example that illustrates this.

I was on my first assignment in the Army after pasturing for seven years in Potomac Conference. I was assigned to a Chinook Battalion Unit. You saw the Chinooks in the news this week, the helicopter that went down. In my first week my chaplain's assistant was walking me around the airfield, and he said, "This is where such-and-such aircraft and certain units were. Just before said "There's where the Chinooks are. That's your battalion." As we passed the hangar before that I voice lowered and he said, "There's some top secret aircraft in that hangar, and if you're lucky, you'll be able to go with them."

Well, what had happened was that it was 1988, if there are any of you that are old enough, there were the Iranians were using boats in the Persian Gulf to attack oil freighters. And these were aircraft the Army had put on Navy ships to go out to take care of those small boats. My assistant was right. I made about three trips over the Persian Gulf in 1988 and 1989 to minister to our airmen and our soldiers that were flying the Warriors off of Navy ships and off of special operations barges in the Gulf. In September 0f 1990, Desert Storm arrive and I deployed with my unit to Saudi Arabia.

  Hymn of Praise: #616, Soldiers of Christ Arise
  Scripture: Jeremiah 31:3-6
  Hymn of Response: #612, Onward, Christian Soldiers

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