A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Monday May 25, 2020
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Al Asad Marine Corps Base, Iraq – November 2004:
“God has a very special plan for each of your lives and wants you to know him personally. Remember that no problem you will ever have is to big for God to handle. No matter what happens, God always has your best interest in minds. That means that God always does what is best for you—even when it seems hard. He loves each one of you very much.”
On January 26th, 2005, just two months after writing this letter to a 5th grade class in his hometown of Albany, Vermont, Marine Sgt. Jesse Strong was killed in Iraq along with three other Marines, when his convoy was ambushed and the Humvee he was riding in was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. Jesse was the little brother of my good friend and mentor Matt, who volunteered with my youth group when I was in high school, and at college I got to know their sister Heather as well. I only met Jesse once, but those few hours together left a deep and lasting impression on me. Jesse, along with the rest of his family, had an unquenchable sense of humor to go along with some truly inspired dancing skills and a huge heart for others. Jesse had joined the Marines because it had the reputation of being the toughest boot camp, and he graduated two weeks before September 11, 2001 after which he told his concerned mother, “Mom, I’m ready to go if they need me.” Jesse was in seminary in Virginia when his Marine reserve unit was called into active duty and sent to Iraq, but he was more than willing to serve.
Jesse fully knew and understood the constant danger that he was surrounded by and he was willing and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if asked, all because of his deep faith in Jesus. On the fateful day, Jesse volunteered for the mission because another soldier was sick. He was voted the honorary chaplain of his platoon because he was constantly encouraging everyone, from his fellow Marines to fifth graders that he had never met, to know the love of Jesus for themselves. Jesse understood that because Jesus had been willing to lay down His life on his behalf, that there was nothing too big for God to ask of him. As a result, Jesse’s faith was infectious and contagious even in the valley of the shadow of death. When I received the news that Jesse had been killed, I remember sitting in the back of the dimly lit college chapel stunned and deeply hurting for my friend and his family. Jesse’s life was an inspiration to many, including my own brother and another close friend of the Strong family, who enlisted together in the Army a few years later to honor his memory.
Of course, Jesse Strong is not the only one to have given his life on behalf of his country. Over 645,000 men and women have fallen in combat. Every one of them carries a story, and every one of their families still holds a pain in some way today. To the families of these heroic men and women we simply say, “Thank you.” Thank you for the beautiful gift of love that we can never repay.
Memorial Day always reminds me of Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15 where He ways, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” God didn’t just tell us He loved us, He showed it to us in a way that we could never deny. At the cross, Jesus voluntarily gave up His life for us, He took our place, He took the punishment that we deserved, so that He could call us His friends. This is the God that Jesse Strong knew and loved, and it is the God he wants us each to know for ourselves. Jesse now knows Jesus with a richness and deepness that we can only experience when we get to be with Him where He is.
Thank you Jesse. Thank you Jesus.
There is so much more to the story of Sgt. Jesse Strong, if you are interested in learning more I would highly encourage you to visit www.jessestrong.com
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we pause today to thank You for the unfathomable gift of love shown to us by our friends in the military. We pray Your blessing of comfort and presence upon their families and loved ones everyday, but especially today, as we recognize and honor their sacrifice. Just as they laid down their lives on foreign fields of battle for our benefit, You also waged into hostile enemy territory to lay down Your life for us. Jesus open our eyes to Your incredible gift, empower us to graciously offer it to our desperate world that desperately needs it.