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.

Owen 2010