Tag Archives: sacrifice

Believe it or not

Around this time of year you can count on media attention on the person and story of Jesus. A few years ago, an article appeared in Newsweek magazine where the religion editor explained that “Easter is a celebration of the final act of the Passion, in which Jesus rose from his tomb in his body three days after his execution. The Gospels insist on the veracity of this supernatural event. Jesus died and rose again so that all his followers could, eventually, do the same. This story has strained the credulity of even the most devoted believer. For truly, it’s unbelievable.”

Unbelievable? The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we the most miserable people in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Is it all fanciful? Has the story of the itinerant preacher who walked the earth two thousand years ago been transformed by mythical proportions? Can we really believe what the Bible has to say about Jesus of Nazareth?

In his marvelous book, King’s Cross, Timothy Keller offered “a meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives. Said another way, the whole story of the world – and how we fit into it – is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus.”

So this is not a debate about one of many historical figures who shaped the way we think or live. It is far more important. There is no list. He has no peers. There is no one like Jesus.

As we enter Holy Week, much of the world will shift its attention to the improbable story of God entering His creation, becoming human, suffering an ignoble death, and stirring a following that exists to this day. In Christian symbol, the Lion of Judah became the Lamb of God. The altar of sacrifice was a crude Roman cross where one innocent man died for the sake of every human. Isaiah called Him a man of sorrows who carried the burden of every sinner and every sin.

We don’t expect gods to act that way. He came into the world in the most primitive way possible. His abode was not a palace. He had no human-devised credential. He was a common man who came from an obscure village in the hill country of Palestine.

As the week began, He rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of the festival where great crowds had gathered. But He didn’t ride on a war horse as a conquering king might have done. Keller described His triumphal entrance this way: “Here was Jesus Christ, the King of authoritative, miraculous power, riding into town on a steed fit for a child or a hobbit.”

Jesus did a lot of things in unexpected ways. He focused His attention on the outcasts and the downtrodden. He refused to cater to the powerful. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. He who knew no sin became sin so that humanity be freed from the punishment we deserved

As we experience this most important week in the entire year, I pray we remember what Jesus determined each of us is worth … whatever it took.

Scars

“Presumably [Jesus] could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why? I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin WAS the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering. I take hope in Jesus’ scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe – the crucifixion – Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start.”                                                                                                                       Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

Friday comes before Sunday every week … just like the cross comes before the tomb. We cannot truly celebrate if we do not understand the cost of the victory Christ won for us. “Jesus fought the battle, but it would be against the forces of evil, corruption, and death itself. Jesus came to believe that the only way one could defeat death itself, and thereby launch the new creation was to take on death itself.”

He bore the wounds of the battle. He carried the scars. The cross is not a piece of jewelry; it is a stark reminder of a cosmic contest that used the most powerful weapon against our most powerful enemy. With His love, Jesus killed death, robbing it of its power.

Easter is about new beginnings, renewal of life, hope, and joy. But the scars … don’t forget the scars. His scars make ours bearable. He is risen! “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again” (John 11:25).

Respect

Comedian Bob Newhart once said, “I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’.”

Funny, right? Depends on your perspective. In our over-the-top politically correct world, public discourse is anything but a joke.

Something seems to be missing. Civility? Common courtesy? Dignity? Good manners? Honor?

Someone posterized the idea of respect this way:

“Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Talk to people the way you want to be talked to.

Respect is earned, not given.”

Okay … this isn’t new. Check out Matthew 7:12. It’s been called the Golden Rule. I’m not certain I agree with the last line, though. I wasn’t brought up that way. I think you start with respect, not end with it. Paul wrote that wives should respect their husbands; he didn’t say that husbands always deserve respect (Ephesians 5:33).

These days you could substitute a number of things for Newhart’s  dig at country music fans. It’s easy to show disrespect in our world. We can always find someone to look down on. Or, we could choose another path.

Too quixotic? I don’t have the power or influence to change the world, but I do have the power and influence to affect my world. I don’t have to yield to my baser instincts to pre-judge others. I could begin with a page that is blank except for the word “respect” that I could hand to every person I meet. It would require an attitude that starts with this simple truth: I will never meet a person whom God doesn’t love.

On this weekend, it somehow seems appropriate to honor the highest values we can name, to be truly thankful for those who have paid dearly for our freedom, to leverage that freedom in impacting our world with something other than self-service and absorption.

I believe I can respect that.

Grateful

Sacrifice – a sacred act, an offering at great cost to the giver; giving up something of value to benefit another.

Jesus told His disciples: “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Sometimes “laying down your life” is the ultimate sacrifice. We honor such acts on Memorial Day. For too many this weekend, this is a time of grief and sadness. For all of us, this is time of gratitude and appreciation.

Sometimes “laying down your life” doesn’t mean dying; it means living. Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in November of 1861. In her original version, the third verse has a line that reads: “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” During World War II, Fred Waring changed the line to “let us live to make men free.”

I believe we are called to lay down our lives every day. There is a solemn dignity in watching someone live for something other than self-satisfaction and personal gain. There is joy in seeing people put others before themselves. There is inspiration in knowing that humility is a virtue to be exalted.

The writer of Hebrews urged us: “With Jesus’ help, let us continually offer our sacrifice of praise to God by proclaiming the glory of His name. Don’t forget to do good and to share with others in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to God” (13:15,16). Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave Himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like a sweet perfume to Him” (5:2).

Lord, may we please You with the fragrance of our living sacrifice!

Remembering

 

Memorial Day approaches. For any country who has suffered the loss of life among its citizenry, remembering their sacrifice is a sacred duty. For Americans, next Monday is far more than just a holiday or break in our routine. It is a day for remembering.

This Memorial Day, we recognize and honor those who have served our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice. This day will be more poignant with the tragic news of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers. They died, not in a combat operation, but in a relief mission for those in need after another earthquake hit the region.

Every life is precious. Those who risk their lives for their comrades and their countries deserve our respect and gratitude. The families and friends they leave behind deserve our prayerful support and tribute.

In a perfect world, we would need no military or police force. We have not solved humanity’s problems and ills through force of arms. Are there times when evil must be confronted? History answers with a resounding “yes.” But we yearn for the day when peace is not just the temporary cessation of hostilities. We pray for the day when the Prince of Peace will return. Perhaps it will be soon.

God does wrap Himself in the red, white, and blue, but perhaps not the way we might think. Take a look at the Christian flag. The red stands for the sacrifice of Christ for our ultimate freedom. The white stands for purity and peace. The blue represents the faithfulness of Jesus and the hope we have of heaven.

As I write this, I am looking at a picture of a 28 year-old US Army Warrant Officer, standing at parade rest. He served his country and risked his life. If, like so many, he had fallen while fighting Nazi Germany, many lives including my own would have been affected. I consider that when I think about those who have lost a loved one. As grateful as I am that my father returned safely, I cannot help but grieve over broken dreams and hearts … people who have not been as fortunate.

Whatever you do this Memorial Day, make sure you remember.

Know a Hero when you see one?

Hero: a person admired for courage, nobility, exploits, ideal qualities, and achievements.

Do you know anyone like that? Most people who are heroic never consider themselves in that light. Someone who claims to be a hero is normally dismissed as arrogant or delusional.

I always thought the term “unsung hero” was interesting. I’ll give you an example:

Have you ever heard the name, Benjamin Clark? Out of the horror of 9/11, a number of people emerged into public consciousness because of their actions. Benjamin Clark was one of those but few know his story. He wasn’t a firefighter or a police officer, one of the numerous first responders who acted so bravely on that terrible day. Benjamin Clark was a chef.

He worked for Fiduciary Trust, preparing meals for the company. On that fateful Tuesday morning, he acted quickly to begin urging people on the 96th floor offices in the South Tower to get out of the building. First clearing his department, he went around the floor telling people to leave. A Fiduciary official credited Clark with saving hundreds of lives that day.

On his way down, he encountered a woman in a wheelchair. He wasn’t going to abandon her. His mother said of him, “My son was a Marine, so you know he wasn’t going to leave anybody behind.”

Like so many others, Benjamin Clark died that day. A chef known for his fabulous meatloaf, for remembering peoples’ names, for noting favorite meals, he sacrificed his life to help others.

As Michael Daly wrote of this unsung hero, “The enormity of Benjamin Clark’s sacrifice is made apparent by the photos of his own five children hanging in his mother’s home. He had been happily married to a wonderful woman, LaShawn Clark, and he had been the happiest of dads.”

More than 1200 people attended the memorial service for Benjamin Clark. Many in the crowd that day were alive because of his heroic efforts.

Perhaps the heroes in your life haven’t performed in such dramatic fashion, but we all have them. There are people in your life who might escape your notice if you don’t take the time to pay attention. Make a list, pick up the phone, craft a message to someone who has been heroic for you. It might surprise them to know you feel that way about them.

On Good Friday, a man was standing in the crowd watching a procession of condemned men on their way to the cross. The last man in the pitiful line stumbled and fell. The execution detail knew that the man was so weak from the torture he had endured and the blood he had lost that he couldn’t make it without help. They picked that man, Simon the Cyrene, out of the crowd to carry the cross beam the rest of the way. Some might say he was forced to do it. I believe he was willing to do it. And he did.

People don’t get up in the morning and decide to be heroic. Circumstances present themselves, opportunities are available. Simon made the most of the moment. So did Benjamin Clark.

Thank you, Lord, for people who seize the moment and do things that matter.

What’s the cost?

We usually ask that question when we are trying to decide to spend. It could be our money, but it also could mean our time, our energy, our focus, our talents – usually some combination of these.

Ken Chafin, long-time Baptist pastor, professor, and writer, taught at Southern Seminary when I was a student in the mid-70’s. One of the most influential conversations I had with a mentor took place in his office one day. His wisdom was much appreciated by a young minister trying to figure out what it would cost to follow God’s call.

Chafin was asked to write a book for a family renewal emphasis. In the book, (entitled “Is There a Family in the House?”), he told a number of stories about his own family. One really stood out to me.

Busy with his pastoral duties and teaching responsibilities, nights at home were rare. He had made a promise to his daughter that they would do something special together. He was going to take her to dinner and a movie. Just as he was headed home, he was notified about an important meeting he needed to attend. His plans with his daughter quickly moved off his radar.

When he got home that night, his daughter was waiting. When he saw her as he drove up, he remembered their date. The disappointment on her face crushed him. Her tears were soon joined by his own. He wrapped her in his arms and asked for her forgiveness.

Then he made a pledge. “Honey, I want you to make a list of ten things we can do together. Starting tomorrow, we’re going to start down that list. When I get home from work tomorrow, you have that list ready.”

When Chafin got home early the next afternoon, he found the list taped to the front door. He pulled it off and began to read. As he read each item, he noticed something. Not one of the items required any money. She didn’t want him to spend money on her; she wanted to spend time with him. She wanted her daddy to herself.

He told me that story in his office that day forty years ago. He wanted me to heed a lesson he learned the hard way.

What’s the cost?

  • What’s your relationship with God worth?
  • How about the relationships in your home, office, school, church, and neighbors?

When the final accounting takes place, what will our balance sheet look like … the one that really matters?

Speaking of costs: This Friday, June 6, marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. We are losing WWII veterans quickly – more than a thousand each day. They were willing to pay the cost.

Memorial Day

Jemima Warner accompanied her husband on a military mission in 1775. He was a soldier with the Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion. While on the way to Quebec, her husband died from pneumonia. She stayed with his unit, serving as the battalion cook. During the siege, she was killed by an enemy bullet. She wasn’t officially a member of the military but she has been recognized by The Women in Military Service Foundation as the first American woman to die in action.

On May 20, 1917, nurses Edith Ayres and Helen Wood were sitting on the deck of the USS Mongolia during a live fire drill. The ship, carrying troops and equipment to France, also had a contingent of nurses on board. The nurses were desperately needed as the US became more engaged in World War I. During the drill, a gun misfired, spraying the women with shrapnel. The two nurses died of their wounds. They were the first to die in the line of duty. More than a thousand women have followed – nurses, Marines, soldiers, sailors, pilots.

Today is Memorial Day. For many families in our country, it is a day of grief and mourning. The high human toll due to warfare not only costs fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons but also mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. We cannot glorify war, but we can honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives.

Today we remember.

 

Three Things We Forget About Faith

On this day in 1945, after spending two years in a concentration camp, Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for being involved in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and couched his resistance to the Nazis as an act of faith, refusing several times to leave Germany to preserve his safety.

Bonhoeffer is among ten 20th century martyrs whose statues stand above the remodeled west entrance to Westminster Abbey in London. Incidentally, he’s joined in that place of honor by a Baptist pastor from Atlanta named Martin Luther King, Jr.

bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is not just remembered for his principled stand against the Nazis. His books continue to be widely read, and he continues to influence new generations of theologians. In The Cost of Discipleship, he talks about the relationship between belief and obedience using the calling of the disciples and the parable of the rich young ruler as examples. He argues that belief and obedience are inextricably bound as two sides of the same coin of faith. In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer–and in preparation for Easter–let me suggest three things we usually get wrong about faith.

Three Things We Forget About Faith

Many of us live as if faith were only an intellectual exercise.  Faith is more than intellectual assent to a set of propositions. Faith is behavioral.  Faith is emotional.  And faith is experiential.

Faith Is Behavioral

Faith is at least as much about what we do as it is about what we believe. Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship that “faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” At Easter we are reminded that it is through Christ’s faithfulness, even to death, that we find our salvation. Christ’s faithfulness was not merely intellectual. Christ’s faithfulness led him one step at a time toward Jerusalem. Christ’s faithfulness led him to endure trial, scorn, mockery and death. He calls us to be faithful by taking up our own crosses. Faithfulness is lived out in grand gestures and simple actions every day.

Faith Is Emotional

Faith–if it is faith–encompasses our whole being. Faith changes our hearts. Hard-heartedness is incompatible with Christian faith. Hardened hearts are turned toward selfless generosity. Our bias toward legalistic judgmentalism gives way to compassion.  Our tribal tendency to mistrust those who are different from us is transformed into open acceptance of all of God’s children. Those who follow Jesus will discover in Christ a love that trumps self-preservation.  For Bonhoeffer, that meant execution in a concentration camp. You may be called to that kind of sacrifice,too. But for most of us it might just mean a steady shift away from indifference toward those who are suffering.

Faith Is Experiential

Faith is not faith as long as it is based on someone else’s experience. You can’t get faith from a book or lecture. You don’t inherit faith from your parents. It doesn’t rub off on you if you hang out with the right people. Faith is the result of a personal experience with Jesus Christ. Some people think that the mystical experience of faith is nothing more than overly emotional sentimentality. I disagree. This Easter, read the first part of Luke 24. It is the remembered experience of Christ that brings faith in the resurrection…a remembrance encouraged by the mystical presence of angels.

This Easter remember those who have been willing to make great sacrifices to stand up to injustice and advance the cause of Christ. And remember that faith is more than an intellectual exercise.  God wants every part of us, not just our heads.

See you Sunday.

Wounded Warrior

A man on the radio this morning had two reasons to call in. First, he wanted to thank all veterans for their service. Second, he asked for prayer for his son who had served two tours in Afghanistan and had returned home wounded.

The men and women who have worn the uniform of their country deserved to be saluted and appreciated. Those who come back with the horrific injuries of body, mind, and soul need more than our gratitude. The Wounded Warriors Project is one of the organizations that have responded to offer practical and continuing care to those who can easily slip through the cracks when our government, our society, doesn’t respond as we should. We cannot allow these veterans to be forgotten.

There are many vivid images of Christ in Scripture. He is Lion of Judah, the King of kings; He is the Alpha and Omega and the bright Morning Star; He is the Lamb of God and the Savior of the world. One of the most striking portrayals is found in the book of Isaiah when He is described as the Wounded Warrior, the Suffering Servant.

Often we like our heroes to be bold, dashing, attractive, and larger than life. Here is how Isaiah’s hero is pictured: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our back on Him and looked the other way when He went by. He was despised, and we did not care” (53:3 NLT).

It would be rare to find someone who woke up one morning and decided that he or she would be a hero that day. On May 26, 2008, Sergeant Leroy Petry, on his seventh deployment, was a member of a team of soldiers tasked with capturing a Taliban target. In the ensuing firefight, he was wounded in both legs and continued to fight. When a grenade landed between him and two other soldiers, Petry grabbed it and tried to throw it away. He saved his two buddies but lost his right hand. Still he fought until his comrades took him to safety. For his heroic act, he was awarded the nation’s highest recognition, the Medal of Honor. Wearing a prosthetic, Petry re-enlisted in the Army and now assists wounded soldiers and their families.

And how was the Wounded Warrior in Isaiah rewarded? “Because of this, God raised Him up to the heights of heaven and gave Him a name that is above every name. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Wounded warrior Leroy Petry saved his two buddies. Wounded Warrior Jesus saved the world. Such sacrifice humbles us.