I'm With Him
Why I Feel Small - A Lesson in Grace
I'm indebted to multitudes of people, yet there are, in turn, so few
who are indebted to me. When I look at the young generation
of Americans today, I see millions of men and women who have taken it upon
themselves to fight our enemies in distant lands in order that I might
have the freedom that I've come to take for granted. I can
come and go as I please; enjoy my family and friends; have plenty to eat;
and even live a life of luxury compared to those in most other countries.
Just as these heroes have fought to keep the war in foreign lands, so
that I can freely go about my business here at home, so too are most
consequences of war foreign to my thoughts. Wars are so much
more convenient when they're not fought in one's homeland, and our troops
continue to ensure that ours are fought on our enemies'
shores. Otherwise, civilians like myself are much more apt to get caught up in
their ugliness. I've read about Hitler's attack on Russia in
1941, and how he destroyed the supply routes into Leningrad, leaving
the city to wither away through the harsh winter. Some two
million innocent civilians died of starvation and the freezing weather.
Although my freedom comes at a cost, I've paid little of it
myself. I've been given a free ride. Most of the
cost of my freedom has been paid by the members of our military
services. Many paid by giving their lives for their country--that is, for
me. Many others paid by giving their lifetime of health for
me--living the rest of their life without an arm, a leg, a vital
internal organ, or their mental health. I've never known what
is was like to receive that dreaded visit or phone call from military
officials, thanking me for the heroic efforts of my son or daughter on
the battlefield, but then regretting to inform me of their ultimate sacrifice.
This makes me feel quite small. I have never even served in
the military. I don't even know what it's like to train into
optimal physical condition, to be chastised through stern discipline, to learn
the strategies of war, and then to walk onto the battlefield prepared
to kill the enemy. I'm 55 years old, and I literally have
armies of men and women 35 years younger than myself who are doing that for
me. Yet, I didn't do the same for the older generation when I was
their age. How can that be fair? On the few occasions when
I've had the opportunity to thank one of these young heroes, they have
always indicated that I didn't need to thank them, and they were only
doing the job that they signed up to do. Possibly, in their
youth, they don't really understand what they're giving me.
Yet, all I can do is to graciously accept their generosity.
If I move back in time, to my parents' generation, I again find that I
am the object of their grace as well. My dad served in the
Marine Corps in the South Pacific for 39 months during World War II.
Like millions of other service men and women, he was willing to die so
that I might be free. Furthermore, he was willing to make
inhumane sacrifices for me. For three years of his life, he
lived every day either in a pup tent, fighting mosquitoes and disease, or
aboard a ship, spending most of his time with his head hung over the
side of the boat, vomiting due to seasickness. Then, at a
moment's notice, he would be engaged in some of the most intense
conflicts that had ever been seen throughout the history of the Marine
Corps. Then, just as quickly, that battle would be over, so
he would help to prepare the damage reports, and look around to see how
many of his buddies he had lost that day. When not on the
move or engaged in battle, he fought the tropical diseases of the jungle, as
well as the boredom-induced anxiety brought on while anticipating when
the next battle might be. There was simply no place to rest
comfortably, and not even any nearby towns where he could spend a weekend furlough.
Again, all I can do is graciously accept the freedom that my dad, and
others, earned for me. Parents want their children to have
more than they had, and they want to leave them an inheritance. My
dad was always poor financially, so he wasn't able to leave me a
significant financial inheritance. However, he did bequeath
to me the freedom that he fought for. It was undeserved, but it's mine nonetheless.
If I then go back in time for two more generations, I find that my
great-grandparents sold everything they had and boarded a transatlantic
ship during the 19th century, and set sail from Russia. After
checking in at Ellis Island in New York City, they then sailed all the
way around Florida to the port of New Orleans. They made
their way to Oklahoma and Kansas, with a do-or-die fortitude. They
somehow made lives for themselves, for their children, and for their
great-grandchildren--like me. I don't have their rugged
individualism, and I've never been tested like they were.
Yet, again, I can only graciously accept the life they built for me, making
extreme sacrifices themselves so that I can have the easy life I have today.
Five generations before that, my ancestors had made a similar migratory
move, from a life of enslavement to the government in Germany, to
better opportunities along the Volga River in Russia.
Likewise, they sacrificed for me, often with their lives, sometimes due simply to
the unforgiving elements of the freezing Russian winters. I
didn't deserve their sacrifices either. Yet, I have all the advantages of the fruits of their labor.
My family tree becomes quite clouded at that point. In order
to continue this analogy, I have to move back some 54 generations before
that, to the year 4 B.C. Another hero of mine was born at
about that time. He too made sacrifices for me, but His sacrifices
have far more significance than the ones mentioned above. His
sacrifices resulted not only in a better life for me in this life, but
they also have a very profound significance in eternity. My
savior, Jesus Christ, was born of a virgin, and he had no sinful flesh,
like mine. He lived a life of perfect righteousness, and He
never sinned, like I have. Yet, he gave Himself up to be nailed to
a cross, suffering and bleeding to death on my behalf. On the
third day He was raised from the dead, to live eternally on His heavenly
throne. He was the only man to ever conquer sin and death,
and He was willing to impute His perfect righteousness to me, so that I might
share in his eternal inheritance. I needed to do nothing,
other than to believe, by grace, through faith, that His experiences did
indeed qualify Him to be the savior of all mankind. Again,
what did I do to deserve such an offer? Absolutely
nothing. Yet, I accepted it, and salvation is mine, nonetheless.
I once heard Dr. E.V. Hill preach a sermon in which he used a story
about the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Dr. Hill was privileged to be
included in Rev. Jackson's entourage on an international
trip. Everywhere they went, everyone knew who Rev. Jackson was, but nobody
knew who Dr. Hill was. Although I'm unable to relate the
story as eloquently as Dr. Hill, he told of several occasions when he found
himself detained by authorities and security staff because he was not
recognized as a member of Rev. Jackson's party. On such
occasions, Dr. Hill would yell to Rev. Jackson, indicating that he was
in trouble. Each time, Rev. Jackson would turn around, assess
the situation, and give a command to the authorities, "It's OK.
He's with me." Consequently, Dr. Hill would be allowed to continue in Rev. Jackson's company.
Dr. Hill then used this story as a profound analogy. He said
that someday he would die, and, as some believe, he might find himself at
the pearly gates of heaven, facing more authorities, such as Saint
Peter. Perhaps Peter would detain him, and ask why he should
be allowed into heaven. He could imagine himself trying to
articulate the finer tenets of the gospel message, while at the same
time stumbling over his words in his excitement. At about the
time it appeared as though Saint Peter would remain unconvinced, the
powerful voice of Jesus Christ could be heard from beyond the pearly gates, saying, "It's OK. He's with me.
So why do I feel small? The honest answer is, because I am_
small. There's no shame in that. God made each of
us to be the size that he wanted us to be. While growing up, I was
always smaller than most boys my age. Oh, how I wanted to be
tall. Yet, I never grew above 5' 10". (Matthew 6:26 says that we
can't add a single hour to our life by worrying.) Was I a disgrace
to my family because I never reach six feet in height? Of course
not. I'm small in stature, and I'm small in comparison to the
character of those who have fought for my freedom. In both cases, I'm small, and that's fine.