I’ve been there . . . . but I haven’t done that.

I went to the beach for my vacation. But it’s not what you think.

Rather than lay out and soak in the sun, my wife and I just returned from 2 weeks in Normandy, France. We stayed at a little 18th century cottage in the country, spending our time touring battlefields, historical sites and museums, visiting villages, stopping to snack at bake shops, drinking coffee, sightseeing, riding horses and taking in the beauty of Normandy.

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It was our 32nd wedding anniversary trip, and the first time we had been away as a couple in ___ years (insert “you’re a bad husband” vibes here). But it was also a “Bucket List” item for me, as since childhood I’ve been fascinated with the story of D-Day. Let’s just say, it was an epic moment for me.

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I walked on Omaha Beach.

I followed the steps of the Band of Brothers.

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I bought a 70-year-old Army helmet, buried in Normandy ground for over 65 years.

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I walked for hours in and among German gun batteries.

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I strolled with reverence among the over 9,000 white marble crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Over 1,500 are known only to God.

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To say I was overwhelmed and overcome would be an understatement.

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What those men did on that day (the pivotal moment of the 20th century) goes far beyond what a book or a movie can portray. The beach sand at Omaha, now frequented by fishermen, families and tourist, was once soaked in crimson. The average age of a soldier coming off those landing crafts was 22 years old. Some were still in the teens. Many never made it off their boats. Some exited their landing crafts only to be drowned, while others were cut down by an MG-42 machine gun firing down on them from the cliffs above. Men were slaughtered, cut in half, blown apart. But those fortunate enough to dodge the bullets that morning kept moving forward – some in fear, some for survival, but most because it was what they had been trained and ordered to do.

Later that morning, they breached Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, pushing back the Third Reich War Machine, gaining ground, and ultimately establishing a beachhead. And that’s what turned the tide of World War II. That’s why we’re free.

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Today, all these men are dead or dying. One of the Band of Brothers, “Wild Bill” Guarnere, passed away while we were visiting the very battlefields where he fought. Those who remain hobble with canes and roll in wheelchairs. And before long, they will all be gone. They are now feeble, frail and sometimes forgotten. But when they were young, they saved the world.

We owe a profound debt of gratitude to theirs, and any generation that fights for freedom.

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Yes, I’ve been there now.

But I still haven’t done that.

Never will.

Ready for the Red Carpet?

82nd Annual Academy Awards - "Meet The Oscars" New York

Watching this year’s Academy Awards was a first for me . . . well, sort of. For the past 8 years I’ve missed the Television event watched by several hundred million (not a billion) people all over the world. The reason for this is that the church I attend meets on Sunday nights, and well, I kinda have a standing commitment to be there, seeing as how I am the pastor. But Sunday night’s “weather event” here in Little Rock changed all that, and I was forced to cancel our gathering for only the second time in 81/2 years (the other due to a tornado). I don’t like to cancel. And I don’t like to miss.

And so, just before leaving to make the long journey from the building we rent on Sundays to my home 6 blocks away, my wife and I decided to invite a few close friends over for an impromptu dinner and Oscar-watching party. I was so impressed with the overall dignity of the event, with poised and prepared acceptance speeches made by well-deserving recipients. For some of the winners, the award came as somewhat of a surprise. Of course, if you’re nominated, you already know you have a chance to win. But still, if you’re a relative newcomer to the big screen, you typically don’t expect to walk away with the 13.5 inch, 8 ½ pound statuette of a knight holding a crusader’s sword atop a reel of film.

I won a state-wide football competition as a boy. I got this (back when trophies were made of the heavy stuff).Oscar

Some films and actors are recurring nominees, while others burst on the scene out of nowhere, and writing their own version of the Cinderella Story. Good for them. To be recognized as the best in your field, even if only for a brief moment, has to be one of the most satisfying experiences in life.

Some actors have to wait and receive that “Lifetime Achievement Award” while others are honored “In Memoriam”, given a posthumous recognition. But we all long for validation and confirmation of knowing that our lives and contribution to the world have had some real meaning. For actors, you can’t receive any higher honor than an Academy Award. Congratulations to all those who make it look so easy, and whose performances truly inspire, challenge and change people’s lives.

As followers of Jesus, that moment for us comes at another awards ceremony, one the Bible says will occur when we meet the Lord at death or rapture (2 Cor. 5:10-12; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Earthly accolades given by people are affirming and meaningful, and God certainly gives us His approval along the way. But nothing will compare to the Day when Jesus Christ Himself hands out the “imperishable wreaths” (1 Cor 9:25) to those who have brought Him fame during their brief stay on the earth. It will be the one ceremony where the Presenter outshines the award itself.

Don’t ever stumble into the lie that your life is a failure just because people aren’t telling how great you are or how much they appreciate you. Just keep being faithful, moving forward with the confidence that nothing you do for Him will ever be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

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I have a feeling that one day you’ll be glad you did.