Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32They seem larger than life. I am from a generation that deeply admires heroes—people who seem larger than life. They do the most amazing things. They lay their lives on the line for their country, the put on a badge and go into dangerous situations for a few dollars a week. They charge into burning buildings when everyone else is trying to get out. Those are just a very few…the list goes on and on. There are also other kinds of giants—-larger in life in the quest for excellence, to change the world or perhaps, to be like Jesus. These are some of the people I admire the most—true spiritual giants. A couple of years ago I met one. I was amazed by her story.
It all started when we were invited over to a friends house for supper. When we arrived we had the opportunity to meet her mother who lives with her. That is when I realized it probably wouldn’t be a normal evening.
When her mom spoke to us you could tell she was struggling with her voice. Before long, she explained and that was the beginning of an incredible story.
She explained in 1950 when she was 19 years old, she was diagnosed with polio. If you know a little about that time period, there was an epidemic of this terrible, dreaded disease. It struck without warning and without rhythm and that was the case here. It left this dear saint partially paralyzed and also affected her vocal cords. I was enthralled with her story as she shared they said she would never walk—but they were wrong.
Then she shared more and more her story. When she was born (and remember this is around 1930) there were twins and she weighed less than two pounds. She was a fighter from the beginning and fight she did. Later, when she was eleven, she basically was put out to fend for herself and she did. She had a strong constitution and work ethic. I was amazed.
She married and had three miscarriages before giving birth to her daughter. She would end up having 21 surgeries for various reasons and also lives with a colostomy. She has been told that she has cancer though they really can’t pinpoint the source. I know there are several things that I am leaving out but that is enough for you to get the picture. She life has been difficult from the get-go but that is not the main story.
The most amazing story is her faith. Receiving Christ at a young age, her journey of faith has been strong and steady. Instead of turning bitter, like Job, her love for God only grew deeper and stronger. She shared that evening how blessed she was that God had entrusted her with this suffering. From her lips poured words of praise for her Savior. Then came stories of incredible generosity to those in need—both physically and spiritually. It really was amazing.
Judy and I both left that night refreshed as if we had drunk deeply from a cool spring. We were blessed, encouraged and challenged by a saint who had given more than she took. She isn’t the only one. Over my almost four decades of pastoring, I have bumped into so many spiritual heroes. You had to bump into them because like most heroes, they don’t brag about their lives and stories.
When I left that night I also left strengthened. It is instances like this that solidify my own faith. When I see and hear stories such as this one, it shouts to me, “God is real.” It also does one more thing. It causes me to examine what kind of story am I writing. When people read my life, what does it say about me…and about the God I serve.
Each one of us are writing a story and during this hot mess called COVID-19, we all have special opportunities to write a saga. The way we live, act and speak will tell a tale. Hopefully it will be one of grace and kindness. Paul wrote in the Bible that we should be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
That is a tall order but God is in the business of filling tall orders. Why not take a moment and ask your Heavenly Father for a little, or maybe a lot, of help. Let Him know you’ve been treading water a lot these days and you could use a little rest. Don’t worry—He is ready and willing to help. He’s got this.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13
I’m not sure how I found my way there, but I was grateful. During my assignment in Sembach, Germany we had the opportunity to see so much. From Hitler’s hideaway called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden to the windmills of Holland to the Alps of Switzerland we were constantly amazed at what was all around us. But nothing prepared me for Luxembourg.
We had some friends that we had known in our days at Moody Air Force Base in South Georgia. They received orders to Germany several months before we did. They were only a couple of hours from us so we saw each other pretty frequently. It must have been during one of our forays that we came to it—Luxembourg American Cemetery. It was one of the most hollowed sights I have ever seen.
There, in the cemetery, are 5,075 white Lasa marble crosses and stars of David. Row after row of headstones that mark the final resting place of American heroes. Each one made the ultimate sacrifice for us, for you and me, that we can live in freedom. General George Patton is buried there. Two Medal of Honor recipients are also buried there: David G. Turner and William D. McGee. Twenty-two sets of brothers lay buried side by side throughout the cemetery. Some, 371 in fact, were never found. They are simply listed as missing in action. 102 are just unknown.
This place of honor was established on December 29, 1944. Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge…Hitler’s last push to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor. It failed but it came at great cost to the Allied forces. It was a harsh winter and because of the urgency of the times many were sent to fight with little or no winter gear. The desperate Germans showed little mercy to those taken prisoner. And, all this occurred just nine months, nine months, before the war ended. So many had survived D-Day and countless days of combat only to make the ultimate sacrifice months before the grand reunion with family.
Heroes. It is a word we throw around lightly these days. In a world where everyone gets a trophy we are in danger of losing the value of this incredible word. Hero. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person noted for courageous acts.” Oxford says it is a person who is admired or idealized for courage. Webster defines it as an illustrious warrior or one who shows great courage. Another place said it is a person who at great danger to themselves puts others first.
I went to Toys-R-Us one time and there they had several aisles of super hero stuff. As I turned the corner a sign caught my eye. It simply said, “Real Heroes.” Along that aisle were the soldiers and sailor figures as well as police, firemen, and other emergency responders. If I went to that aisle today it would have to include doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. Real heroes…real people putting others first at peril to themselves.
But there would be one missing. Jesus Christ, the Hero of Heaven, who willingly, who bravely, gave Himself to a Roman cross that men, women and children could be free. The cross was so horrible it was called the death of deaths. It was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen. And yet…He went. Why? He loved me. He loved you.
Amazingly it was not for some of us but all of us. Skin color, economic station, language, nationality, capacity to be bad or good doesn’t matter. The Bible simply says, “He came to seek and save that which was lost.” It simply says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It simply says He is not willing for any to perish but all to come home. Anyone—I like anyone. Anyone who acknowledges their need for a rescue will find one in Jesus. And this Hero not only does a meet and greet, He invites you to join His family. How about that! So when you hear the national anthem, place your hand over your heart as a salute to those who paid the price for our freedom. When you see a veteran, thank them for his or her service and sacrifice. When you walk through a cemetery with your kids, point out the graves of the men and women who served and tell them why they are so special. And when you talk to the Hero of Heaven next time, thank Him for forgiving your sin. Thank Him for always being there. Thank Him for giving you a place to rest. And, thank Him for having this….because He does.
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.” (Colossians 1:21-22)
It was a moment I will probably never forget. My wife and I love adventures. We look for ways to do things on a limited budget and we’ve actually gotten pretty good at it. A few years back we discovered we could take a train from Carbondale to Chicago, stay downtown at a nice hotel for a couple of nights and enjoy whatever was happening around us.. all on a shoestring budget. We would usually go around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. It was pretty awesome.
Last year we went the week of the 4th. We grabbed a very nice hotel room and managed to snag a room that literally faced the fireworks display. It was awesome. At Millennium Park they have these incredible free outdoor concerts. Thousands of people from all walks of life gather on the large lawn to listen. Because it is the 4th, the music centers on America. They usually have a section where they honor the veterans by asking them to stand when the theme for their branch of the service is played.
I am a veteran. I served in the United States Air Force for 12 years and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And that’s the problem. You see, because it was so rewarding I always felt awkward standing to be honored because I felt like I received so much more than I gave. So that night, I knew that part of the concert was coming and I was dreading it. I knew that Judy would urge me to stand, I would say no and she would give me the look. Again. But that night, for some reason, something changed.
It was time. The stirring songs from each branch of the service began playing. Soon, the Air Force theme was playing. I looked at Judy and said, “I’m going to stand just for you.” As I stood something happened. First, I saw others standing that had served in the Air Force and I felt community…I stopped feeling apart and instead felt a part—a part of the family. But what happened next was amazing.
There was a mother with a couple of young boys sitting about eight or ten feet from me. The younger of her sons, probably seven or eight, looked at me and said this, “Mom, is he a hero?” And I watched and listened as she said, “Yes. He served our country so that we can be free.” Then she turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you for serving.” Well that was the highlight of the trip for me and it was the day an unexplainable wall fell.
I am certain that I do not deserve the title hero. The men and women with crosses over their graves in all the national cemeteries deserve that. The warriors who came back from the various wars and conflicts bearing the physical and emotional scars of war deserve that. But the one thing that I realized that night was we should be thankful for our freedom. We can and should honor each person who served for their willingness and sacrifice.
So I’m still shy about standing at Veteran’s Day events. I still feel awkward at concerts when veterans are asked to stand. But it’s not because I’m ashamed to say I served. No, it is because I received more than I could ever give back. I was privileged to wear the uniform of my country. And that is pretty awesome. But wait. There’s more.
As I write this story another one is stirring in my heart. It flashed in my mind that this isn’t the only time, the only circumstance, that makes me feel this way. It is also my faith in God. That day when I followed Christ I also received more than I could ever give back. That day I was welcomed into the family of a God who loved me enough to give His Son to a Roman cross. Paul in the Bible tells us that we went from being alienated and hostile toward God to being able to call Him Father. Jesus caused my billion failures to disappear so He could present me faultless and blameless to His Father. We all need heroes. This Memorial Day would you take the time to remember those who bled and died that we could be free? Would you take your kids to the cemetery for your community’s Memorial Day service? I hope that you will. But I also hope you will pause and thank the Hero of Heaven for sacrificing His life so that people like you and me can be truly free. And finally, next time you have the opportunity to stand not as a hero but because of the One, stand proudly and thank Him. Thank Him that you can rest in Him. Thank you because He’s got this.