An Appreciation for Sacrifices

Hello my friends, I hope your Memorial Day weekend may be a blessed, and filled with gratitude of the many men and women who gave their all for our benefit.

The summer of 2002 was the first time I had the privilege and opportunity to visit Washington DC. How unfortunate that our nation’s capital is more known for the dirtbags in offices making shady deals and building their bank accounts, rather than the graves and memorials to keep the remembrance of many heroes alive.

I was there for nearly a week. Each day was emotionally charged, as I was on the verge of tears nearly constantly. The Vietnam Memorial Wall is much bigger and longer than photographs can capture. I have two uncles who were in the Vietnam War. They never talk about the war, but I’m fortunate that I got to know them. Sadly, I passed by name after names, literally thousands engraved on the Wall, of uncles, dads, brothers, and sons of families who did not get to see them or know them. To see so many names engraved cannot be described. I still remember the older gentleman, whom I saw from a distance later, taking off his hat and bowing his head as he walked beside the Wall. 

I remember the statues of soldiers standing silently, yet crying out to remember the brave ones in the Korean War. And how can I forget the Arlington Cemetery and the somber Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers? Each of these memorials are reminders of persons, both living and dead, who made great sacrifices of which benefit others. 

During this week I realized everything I enjoy came at the sacrifice of others. My salvation came at the Sacrifice of the Savior who loves me so, and the sacrifices of many saints who continued to share and preserve the gospel and Scriptures. My freedom I’ve enjoyed comes at the expense of multitudes who have fought for it for, and before that sacrifices of some who sought a new land for a new beginning. Without any disrespect for the fallen, but only to honor the sacrifices of many. I think of my mom who worked and worried, sacrificing so much to raise me. I did not die for my salvation, or fight for my freedom, or raise myself by my own hard work and know-how. These came by the sacrifices of so many before me.

How shameful that so many in our society lack gratitude, let alone the showing of honor, for the many who made sacrifices for them. I hope you will not be among them. These persons deserving of our honor experienced sleepless nights, fear, nightmares, and pain many of us will never understand.

Rest In Peace, fallen heroes. You are  honored and not forgotten.

The Humility and Sacrifice Love Requires

Hello, my friends, I hope this finds you well in these crazy times in which we are living. I am sure you are well aware that there so many things to stoke anxiety and fear within us. Like a chain reaction, fear fuels anger, anger ignites hatred, and hatred results in a lot of disunity, destruction, and unhappiness. All one has to do is turn on any news program or social media to find a myriad of reasons to be afraid, angry, and even hateful. In fact, there are certain individuals, groups, and organizations whose ambition is to propagate these in various forms.

Recently I began reading the Gospel of Matthew again. I have been stuck re-reading and reflecting on the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 and Luke 6). These teachings are not about what one is to strive to become, but what one will increasingly become as he or she surrenders to Christ and His teachings. Yet I admit, I posted on Facebook, “I’ve grown a lot, but the Beatitudes remind me I still have a lot of growing to do.” See, the Beatitudes are the seeds that must begin sprouting before the rest of the Lord’s teachings can become fruitful in one’s life. Have you read the Beatitudes lately? Blessed are:

  • the poor in spirit (spiritually destitute and acknowledge such)
  • those who mourn (for their own sinful wretchedness)
  • the meek (humility + gentleness + self-restraint [e.g., not reacting in anger, etc.])
  • those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness
  • the merciful 
  • the pure in heart
  • the peacemakers 
  • those persecuted for Christ’s sake

Meekness, God’s righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, and persecution without retaliation are made possible through humility and the sacrifice of one’s own agendas and sense of entitlements; and these become possible through genuine love. Many of us like to think of ourselves as these incredibly loving individuals, but how many of us handle it well when our spouses, family members, or friends humiliate or upset us, let alone strangers or foes? How well do many of us handle other drivers? Yet, check out what Jesus teaches:

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. ~ Luke 6:27-28, 35

Did you catch these? Love your enemies; do good to them; bless them; pray for them—all without expectation. Our adversaries might not ever change, but we are called to still do good, extending goodness. Now, this does not mean to ignore justice. For example, if a man murderers or violates another, love does not turn a blind eye for the sake of “forgiveness.” This is not love. But love does not delight in cruelty, torture, and for its foes to die a thousand deaths and suffer the flames of hell. These are the traits of hatred. Love, on the other hand, desires redemption, restoration, and reconciliation.

Our society talks a lot about love and justice, but these go hand in hand. Yet, are you seeing the difficulties? Love is both patient and kind, and it delights in the truth; it is neither envious nor resentful; it does not demand its own way (see 1 Cor. 13:4-8). Do you and I see these being lived out in society? 

Love must begin with humility. When going back to the Beatitudes, the poor in spirit recognizes he is no better than anyone else, and he knows he, too, is in need of mercy. The one who mourns grieves over his own sins rather than simply hark on others about theirs. The meek refrain from retaliation, even though their blood might be boiling. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire what is right, and they know that man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God (see James 1:20). Love extends mercy rather than seek to distribute retribution. The pure in heart does not view others as objects or pawns, nor does he pursue his own agendas at others’ expense. The peacemaker is willing to extend a hand instead of a fist, to let bygones be bygones and try to find a way to live in peace without compromising principles.

A practical description of love is shared by the apostle Paul:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:9-21

“I’m not going to show them honor!”  “I’m not going to pray for them!” “I’m not going to live in harmony with them!” “Eye for an eye, baby!” If this is our attitude, then why bother talking about love or justice?

A passage that is often taken out of context is when Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Jesus is not saying to never make judgments, but rather cautions us as to how we judge. Jesus tells us to get the board out of our own eye before we try to get the chip out of another’s eye. Is this not one of our major problems today? We want to demand people to get the leaves out of their pools while ignoring the sewage and toxicity in our own? Only as we begin dealing with our own will we gain compassion and proper perspective in helping others. Indeed, we must make judgements, wrongs and evils will always be wrong and evil. But we must begin with dealing with the wrongs and evils creeping in our own hearts, and only them can we properly judge others with mercy. Jesus says, “and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).

You and I can talk about love all we want, as well as our devotion to Christ, but only to the extent we are willing to humble ourselves and surrender our rights and agendas do we really mean business. Contrary to popular belief, love is not for sissies. Genuine love is difficult, painful, and costly. Love is easy to talk about, but not easily demonstrated and lived out.

Sacrifices of Praise

A sacrifice comes with a cost. It is to surrender something we desire for something better, and the cost can be undesirable as the heart breaks. 

Typically, “praise” is associated with joy, gladness, and an eager willingness. Honestly, often it is. However, have you ever been in a church service with a broken heart and fractured soul? You still loved God, although you might not have “felt” like it, because your heart ached and your mind was being bombarded with an onslaught of questions. Perhaps only you and God knew what was tormenting your heart, mind, and soul: loneliness, guilt/shame, loss/grief, anxieties, betrayal, etc. And while those around you sang with enthusiasm, it was an extraordinary accomplishment that you got out of bed and made it to church.

What does all this have to do with sacrifices of praise? During these times praise is a sacrifice, feeling heavy as lead as our feeble voice struggles beneath the strain. Chances are, for many, during these times you do not want to offer such a sacrifice. Believe me, I have been there (and still am, at times). Such an offering is not without pain, but it is a sacrifice for something better (albeit, not immediately). While seemingly small sacrifices, God accepts the sacrifices of tear-sprinkled praise arising from broken hearts: “You are faithful, God!” “I love You, Jesus!” “I trust You, Lord.”

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. ~ Hebrews 13:14-15 (ESV)

The Risk, and the Courage, to Love

To love. I do not mean the raging hormones seeking to find release that is mistakenly called “love” and so extolled and worshiped in music, novels, and film. No, I mean LOVE: genuine benevolence, compassion, and desire of wellbeing for others.

Authentic love requires courage, because it is accompanied by sacrifice and risk. On this side of eternity, love will always result in heartache. Such heartache will come by means of being nonreciprocal (rejection or resistance), betrayal, or loss (separation or death). Each pain is different, but each hurt immensely to the core of our being.

Without romanticizing or glamorizing love, we must be willing to ask ourselves, is it worth the risk? One should not be overly critical of those who have felt the wounds of heartache stemming from what, from their part, was true love: loss of a parent, a friend moving away, the betrayal of a lover, the death of a pet, rejection by one greatly admired, etc. Such internal pain can embitter a person. There are those who choose to harden their hearts and close them up securely, so that they might protect themselves from such suffering again. Their hearts become like walls of Jericho—none shall enter and they shall not come out (see Joshua 6:1). Yet, this too, comes with great risk.

Only as a person is open to love, both willing to extend and receive it, can he truly experience the wonders of love, joy, connection, and true humanity. Furthermore, as much as we can extend and receive love can we truly appreciate another’s kindness or sacrifice, a baby’s dependency, a dog’s kisses, a friend’s good intentions, another’s sincere apology, the beauty of life, etc.

As mentioned, to choose to not love also comes with risk. One can choose to protect themselves from further pain of heartache, but not without imprisoning themselves to a place void of joy, peace, and true purpose. A person might protect themselves from the heartache of rejection, betrayal, and loss; however, replacing these is the pain of loneliness, friendlessness, disconnect, bitterness, and resentment. Furthermore, he misses his deeper purpose, as our species is created to be relational. In other words, he imprisons himself and forfeits freedom. Sadly, there are many who find such imprisonment worth it—just as long as they can protect their hearts. But in the long run, do they?

To love does not mean we are to be naive or stupid. We are to be discerning who we befriend, keep company with, and give our hearts to. Indeed, the Scriptures command us to love others—including our enemies. However, we are also told:

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. ~ Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:33

Love does not mean condoning or passively putting up with abuse and meanness. Let us be clear on this. However, we should not close and harden our hearts, suspecting the universe—and everyone in it—is against us. We should not set standards so high as being impossible for others to attain. We should not erect a wall, and having a grotesque gargoyle appearance on our face—intimidating anyone who would dare approach us. And we should not shoot back a cold, empty stare when someone greets us with a warm smile.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ~ Romans 12:9-13

Notice, genuine love abhors what is evil, and it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. Love is not about phony niceness, becoming a doormat, or giving allowance to anything and everything. Nevertheless, love is patient, kind, and honorable with others. In other words, love does not wink at corruption or turn a blind eye to injustice. However, love does not condemn everyone guilty until proven innocent or withhold mercy at every shortcoming. Love remembers, compassionately, that no one is perfect and grace is required.

Yes, there is sorrow and pain that come with embracing the risk to love, but there is greater risk in not doing so. The sorrow that comes with love is mingled with times of joy, delight, and connection. The closed heart prohibits such mingling but remains as a dank, lonesome dungeon.