Today is Veteran’s Day, and we pause to thank those who have served in America’s military. If you are included in this group, thank you. Your sacrifice is always on my mind. When I vote at the polls, gather with my church family to worship, or merely drive unmolested through a state border I reflect on how these simple moments are matters of life and death for millions of people around the world. It is hard not to take freedom for granted, unless we have seen the other side. Thank a veteran today, and if you know someone who is still healing from the wounds of battle, physically, emotionally or otherwise, hold them tight and tell them you love them.
This special day led me to think about “kingdom veterans.” The word “veteran” means “old” and we use it to classify those who have served for many years, and perhaps continue to serve.
A few days ago, a special servant in our church turned 92. Her name is Evelyn and throughout the course of her life she has served wherever and whenever she was needed. Her passion for the mission of the church hasn’t waned.
Sometimes servants in the church are veterans of ministries they no longer perform. When my grandmother stepped down from playing the organ in her church she was honored for many years of service. She was placed on active reserve and occasionally came out of retirement as a substitute. But she was no longer the organist, so I guess in that sense she was a veteran.
There are long-time servants in the church who continue to do what they have done all of their lives. I know some children’s Sunday School teachers who have battled cancer and heart disease, are well into their retirement years, but continue to teach. They trudge through rain, sleet and snow to make sure they are ready for the children God is sending to their classroom.
I don’t know if I would consider myself a veteran, but I’m definitely not a fresh recruit. For the first time in my life I am able to reflect some on what it feels like to be an “old-timer” and what makes me feel affirmed in my service to the kingdom. Obviously, we all like to be recognized for our service because it reminds us we have made a difference in people’s lives. But I have discovered the accolades others give us are just a surface reflection of some things that matter even more.
For example, stories matter to kingdom veterans. Several years ago I attended a mission event where our son was being commissioned for an overseas ministry. I found myself at a table with a man who had taught my Sunday School class as a young teenager. I hadn’t seen him in years. When he heard my story and realized one of the young men being commissioned for mission work that evening was my son, he wept. It is possible he wept because seeing me reminded him of the great pain I brought into his life as a teacher. However, I suspect his emotions were a result of the story God had told him about a squirrely kid who turned into a decent human being after all.
One of the best things we can do for kingdom veterans is tell them our story. If you have those who have ministered to you in the past, let them know how God has directed your steps and how their example helped you find your way.
Challenges matter to kingdom veterans. People who have given their lives to the mission of the church don’t want to be put out to pasture. They want to feel useful. It is highly possible they are the kinds of people who are energized by a good challenge, and although we all have to be realistic about our capabilities as we age, we still want to be productive for the kingdom. This means one of the best ways we can show a kingdom veteran we love them is to help them continue to find a way to be involved in what the Lord is doing in His church.
Finally, encouragement matters to a kingdom veteran. Veterans get tired and even kingdom veterans carry wounds around in their lives. I know some servants who still break down when they talk about tragedies in their past, but they have continued to allow God to use their experiences for His glory. They don’t mind sharing their experiences with others who are hurting. We take veterans of all kinds for granted because they carry themselves with confidence. Never forget we are all human, and a small word of encouragement goes a long way on a day when someone is battling the demons of the past.
We want to honor our military veterans today, and I don’t mean to diminish their day by using them as a metaphor for servants in the church. Perhaps we might say veterans in any field need to hear our stories, be reminded they are useful, and hear an encouraging word now and then.
And so from this kingdom veteran to my military veteran friends, my story has only been possible because of your sacrifice. Thank you for continuing to serve and for always looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of others. I love and appreciate you and pray God will heal any wounds you carry in your heart. Your dedication has not been forgotten.
Have a blessed Veteran’s Day!