I Will Remember

Last weekend, Melanie and I had the honor to visit the National Infantry Museum just outside Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The entrance exhibit is called “The Last 100 Yards.” It is a ramp 100 yards long on which the stories of ten important U.S infantry battles are depicted in dramatic scenes. The infantry, they say, has to own the last 100 yards of the battle field in order to defeat our enemies. The museum also includes an overwhelming amount of the history of the U.S. Army throughout all our nation’s conflicts. It is a stirring tribute. There is something very emotional about seeing these reminders of all who fought and sacrificed for our country. I had to think about why.

Some would say that there is no room for patriotism for Christians. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and there our hearts must be focused. There is no dual allegiance or dual citizenship, they would argue. I disagree, as I have written previously. Yes, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom, but America, at least in its founding ideals, exemplifies many Christian principles.

Duty, loyalty, personal courage, integrity, honor, respect – these are the ideals carved into the glass columns at the beginning of The Last 100 Yards. These are the traits which mark the best of America’s men and women who gave their lives defending our freedoms and advancing the cause of freedom around the world. It was Americans who turned the tide to end the seemingly endless and useless brutality of World War I. It was America who broke the Nazi stronghold on  Europe and liberated the death camps. It was America that fought back Japanese imperialism in Asia and the Pacific. It was America (primarily) who fought back the Communists in Korea, giving South Korea the opportunity for freedom. (Now, South Korea is one of the top three missionary-sending countries in the world.)

But what gets me so emotional when I see the tradition, brotherhood, commitment, and honor of our military throughout our history? At its best, it reflects the ideals of God’s Kingdom and Jesus, Himself. It was Jesus who never swerved from his duty to purchase our pardon from sin. It was Jesus who called us into a community united by a common mission. It was Jesus who walked the last 667 yards (using the Via Dolorosa as an approximation) to Calvary to die on the cross for our sins. It was Jesus whose death and resurrection won the victory over sin, death, and the forces of evil. And it is Jesus whose armor still protects us today as our defeated foe still tries to ambush us (see Ephesians 6:10-17).

So, as Memorial Day approaches, I will remember. I will remember those who gave their lives, so that I might have freedom. I will remember the families who grieve and mourn and, yet, carry on. I will remember there are missions that are worth the cost. And I will remember the Savior who remembered me.

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The Power of the Cross

Atheists make me laugh sometimes. Did you know that they are organizing efforts to remove roadside memorials? You know, the on-site memorials that people create when a loved one has died in a car accident. Apparently, they are a menace to society. Who knew how dangerous they were? While the atheists claim it is about safety and convenience, they are most perturbed by the religious nature of the displays. If a cross appears on a public right of way, someone might think the government is sponsoring religion. Yeah, the reasoning makes me laugh.

However, I think they are actually pointing out something that we Christians often forget. There is power behind the symbols of our faith. Why did early Christians choose the cross as its most frequent symbol? Why not the empty tomb, the manger, loaves of bread, a servant’s basin, or a shepherd’s staff? Why choose the crude instrument of execution? It would be like us choosing to wear little electric chairs or a guillotine or a noose. Why the cross? It is because the cross is the ultimate demonstration of both God’s holiness and His love.

First – God’s holiness. It is the only characteristic of God that is compounded three times with the recognition “holy, holy, holy” (see Isaiah 6). It is His essential nature, and we know nothing of God until we glimpse His holiness. But when we glimpse it, we instantly feel our own wretchedness. We cannot stand in the presence of one so holy. Isaiah said, “woe is me, for I am ruined.” God does not allow sin into His presence, yet we choose to embrace it every day. Yikes!

God’s settled opposition to sin is His wrath. It isn’t explosive and irrational like man’s anger. He will not abide evil because He is good and holy. Most people agree that we are sinful, but they won’t agree that it is as serious as God says it is. We blow it off as “mistakes,” or not as bad as someone else. But God will not just overlook sin. We are really no different than those who crucified Jesus:

Like Judas, we choose personal gain over faithfulness and loyalty

Like Pilate, we reject truth and try to shift the blame

Like the Pharisees, we resent Jesus’ claim of authority over our lives

Like the Roman soldiers, we are just carrying out orders

Like the disciples, we abandon Him when it seems dangerous or unpopular to follow

Like the crowds, we will shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” but pardon the guilty

But as He is crucified, Jesus shouts, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is a cry of love from the One we would kill. The cross is God’s ultimate demonstration of love. Romans 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”  But instead of marveling at this love, we are still mad about His holiness.

Because of His love for us, Jesus became one of us, took on all God’s wrath, and died for us. His death was not the death of a martyr or a good man unjustly accused. It was the death of God for His creation. It was the death of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It was the ultimate demonstration of God’s sacrificial love.

Can we really be that loved and not respond? If God never did anything else, He has shown His great love in the cross. He wants us to be with Him forever, and He paid the ultimate price for it to be possible. Stand at the foot of that cross; consider his consuming holiness and his stunning love. It cannot leave us unchanged. I never want to forget or walk away unchanged when I look at the cross. How about you?