In Arlington National Cemetery, the "Old Guard" protects the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier every minute of every day, and has done so since 1948. It's a beautiful thought to me.
The tomb is representative of all the service men and women who lost their lives, with no remains to be found (from World Wars I & II, and the Korean War). In their respective battles and wars, their bodies were separated from their names, but not their honor.
The 3rd Infantry has dedicated their service to keeping the honor of those. Every single day, the sentinels guard the tomb because they remember that there were those before them who put their life on the line. Being a part of this regimen, especially during difficult conditions, is considered a terrific honor.
As I write this, we are in the midst of a huge blizzard. Virginia may get up to 3 feet of snow, with gusty winds up to 35 mph. Old Guard will not stop. The soldiers before them, whom they honor, did not stop, so how could they?
The Unknowns are no more important than the soldiers buried with their names, by their own loved ones. But the idea is that none should be forgotten. All heroic deeds are given their due in this country.
Those in the military are expected to do everything in their power to protect the citizens of their country. Service men and women don't know the name of each person for whom they are laying down their lives, but it doesn't matter. That person is just as much a citizen of the U.S. as their own mother.
The life each military member gives to save others is precious also, regardless of the outcome of the battle. We honor them because it's the love and dedication behind the sacrifice that makes a difference. Every single one of them deserves to be recognized.
It's that life that the Sentinels are guarding. It's their way of saying thank you. A bit too late for those who have died, but not for those who still have a life to give. The military wants to show current soldiers that no matter what happens, they will not be forgotten. Their sacrifice will not be in vain.
As current military look at the treatment of the Unknown Soldier, they know they will never be considered insignificant. If they have to make the ultimate sacrifice, even if by doing so, no one is saved, that soldier will know that what was done was important for their country.
It reminds me of another story. Another sacrifice given for all to remember. A baby born into a poor family and all but unknown thereafter. No one knew Him, but He knew every one of them.
He knew the ones who spat at Him as He walked with His cross to Calvary. (I wonder if there are some Vietnam vets who can relate to that?) Jesus knew each one, and He was still determined to save them.
Not to take anything away from our military, but they are only called to protect those in our country. Not many would lay down their lives for someone on the other side of the battle lines. Romans even tells us that while anyone might die for a righteous man, who would die for someone who didn't deserve it?
Jesus laid down His life for everyone. He put His down so that all could live in the freedom of God's grace. He laid it out for his mother, his family, his disciples, AND for the Pharisees who accused Him, the rulers who suppressed Him, and the Roman soldiers that beat Him, spat on Him, and hung Him. He also gave His life for those who had not even betrayed Him yet.
My friends, we are not the righteous ones. No one is. It wasn't our goodness that made Jesus decide to die for us. It was His love.
A soldier never asks who in our country is worth giving his life for. He knows that he will do it for everybody. No questions asked. Jesus never asked any questions either. And His sacrifice is not limited at all. His love goes beyond borders.
The Unknown Soldiers may never have known if or how many American citizens their life-giving sacrifice saved. Jesus gets to know each and every one that He saved.
We honor the Unknown Soldier with a monument. It is watched 24/7. We don't give up on it in a storm. The sacrifice is never forgotten or put aside. Will we honor Jesus's sacrifice in the same way?
Picture yourself at the foot of the cross. You are there as it's happening -- the very moment when all the sin in the world, every last one: past, present, and future is removed from the shoulders of all mankind and placed squarely on the shoulders of the God-in-man's- body of Jesus Christ. The most monumental event in all of spiritual history, and there you are.
You are among many others. Woman are crying; soldiers are laughing; men are yelling. Somehow, what is being done on the other side of heaven is lost on these people. I would venture to say only one person in that picture really knows what is going on. (And it's not you.)
He's tried to explain it, but no one is getting it. (I can only imagine Jesus's frustration.)
Why aren't we awed? Why are the men still laughing?
Because there is a lack of dramatic music. The brilliant light and rainbows are absent. As a matter of fact, the death of Jesus Christ looks amazingly similar to those of the thieves next to whom his is dying.
This is so disappointing.
We have been trained to only really pay attention when we are told to do so. We have lost the skill of discerning what's important on our own. We have become lazy and sometimes only think what others have already thought for us. If we weren't given a direct sign from heaven telling us we are being cleaned, why would we bother to look at the facts ourselves?
Our King entered Jerusalem to take His reign, not just on a donkey instead of a white steed, but on a baby donkey. Jesus's feet were probably brushing against the ground as it struggled to haul its load. Sure it fulfilled Scripture, but what was up with that? A little awkward for the apostles.
Where are the bells and whistles? Where's the red carpet? Where is the fanfare? Where is that doggone horse?
How are we supposed to stand up to Rome on a donkey? How are we supposed to tell our neighbor Jesus is King when He looks like a beggar?
It's too quiet at the base of the cross. The wrath of God could surely conjure up some lightning. He did it for Elijah when he offered a wet sacrifice. No music, but God put on one heck of a pyrotechnic show.
The propitiation of man's sin is a little more important than Elijah's reputation.
Now, had you been standing in the temple, you would have felt the earthquake. You would have seen the curtain tear. You may have even understood that significance.
But still. No music. Some rumbling, yes. But buildings remained intact.
If anyone is to pay attention to anything today, we need to be attracted and compelled to watch. I live near Philadelphia (that is to say within a 40 mile radius), and we just had a visit from the Pope. No one around here wondered when he was coming. We were told about it on the news months ago. I believe a countdown began last summer. Every aspect of Philly was cleaned up - I can't imagine a single detail was overlooked.
Some people flocked to see him; others fled the crowded hysteria. But there was nothing about this visit that was quiet. And granted, I do not know the Pope personally, but he seems to me to be kind of a humble guy. I doubt he wanted any fanfare. But it was an Event to be sure. (Yes, with a capital "E.") One of the most important in recent Philadelphia history. The city wanted it known that the Pope was there.
Back to 33 A.D. Had camera crews been available at the time, would there have been the same kind of coverage? Doubtful. The government was down-playing Jesus's significance as much as they could.
Even without a light show (and God could surely have provided one), the message is out. But how are we supposed to convince our neighbors that their sin is taken away when they can't see it? We can't even feel it. You become a brand new human being and your heart rate doesn't even budge. There was no music when Jesus executed the means of our salvation, and there is likely none when you accept it. (Don't get me started on massive crowds at alter calls.)
Why isn't there fanfare for such a monumental event? Because that, my friends, is what faith is all about. It's easy to run down with all the crowds to see the Pope. If God would have yelled from the sky, "This is it, people!" when Jesus died, if the angels would have gathered his body in plain sight, while the sound of harps filled the air, who would have remained unsaved?
But who would have understood?
And that is why faith is such a big deal. God wants us to think about it. Faith must have purpose. You must decide to be faithful.
2 Corinthians 5:7
"For we live by faith, not by sight."
I was taking communion at church recently, and as usual, I bowed my head to pray.
I began as I normally do. Lately, almost every prayer I pray is directed to our daughter's medical situation. It has been so taxing on us all, that I never waste an opportunity of prayer get away without asking God to cure her of her T1D.
Most impromptu prayers I have are usually spurred by someone's need, usually not my own. I bet this is pretty common among Christians. We're good people, right? We need to use our focus to turn it outward.
We need to give up our prayers on behalf of others because we're already okay, you know. We're doing fine. We might have a desire, or maybe even a need, but we should really be interceding for those less fortunate than ourselves. Since after all, we're okay.
During that communion time, my mind was redirected quickly. I don't have to give up praying for my daughter, but now was not the time for that. Now was the time to look at myself.
It has to be done.
Not looking at what I want or need. I'm not an infant; I can move past looking at getting myself taken care of. What I needed to look at was who I am. I had to look down deep into my heart and find my sins. I had to see why I am not that "higher than thou" person who can call on God to care for those less blessed than me.
Looking around at others so much has made me forget that maybe I am a fallible person myself. Other people have needs, but I do too - a primary need to be forgiven.
During communion, I need to look at myself and see what I have done. There is a reason I need a Savior to bring me into the presence of the Father, and during communion, I see those reasons individually. If I don't see the reasons for my need of a Savior, then what is the point of having a Savior?
The more I go without looking at myself, the more I see the faults of others. I would venture to say that when you come across a particularly judgmental person, you have probably found a person who has not been looking at his own faults too closely. When the Holy Spirit shows me my sins, I know I am often humble enough overlook the sins of others. Pulling this plank out of my own eye takes up a lot of my focus.
So, the idea of putting others first, of always thinking of your brother before yourself is great for about 90% of the time (give or take whatever God tells YOU it should be). Where two or three are gathered, there Christ is in the midst. You NEED to pray for others. You NEED to turn your focus outward.
But I don't think that can happen with a true heart until you have had the chance to clean out your own heart. If you are praying for someone because you believe another person needs your holy prayers, it's time to look in the mirror again. If you feel badly for that person because their sins are so much greater than yours, stop and look again.
Possibly you are just ignoring yourself, and you feel this is an act of humility. Well, how can you have a relationship with God and converse with Him without being there yourself? You are a part of the "God and me" didactic, so you must work on that fellowship before asking Him to help with another one.
There are times when fellowship is a "more the merrier" situation. But just like in a marriage, if you don't commit some time to the one-on-one aspect of the relationship, you won't be able to know the other person well at all.
So, to get to know God better, you need to be able to see yourself first. Because I guarantee when you look at yourself and see your faults, you most certainly will see God's lack of faults and His awesomeness. And that is the bottom line - why we were created - to see His greatness and give Him glory.
I'm glad we have communion once a month. I should really be thinking about this more often, but communion is a great reminder that I need to look at me to see how my salvation had nothing to do with me, but all about Him.
Statistics was my favorite subject in college. For some reason, numbers and odds and predictability all came alive to me then. So now, I love to think in terms of tangible absolutes. Measurement is as good as fact for me.
Let's measure ourselves, shall we?
Recently, I have been involved in a discussion in one of my Goodreads groups about the virtue of mankind. We all varied in what we believed about how much evil could be found in an individual human being. Let's look at some evidence and get out our scales.
There are the terrorists in some sects of Islam whose sickening deeds have been blasted through the news lately. Men who decapitate children for the purpose of scaring others or use them as shields to protect themselves are 100% evil.
Not to defend their actions AT ALL, but let me throw in this caveat. Those men think they are doing exactly what their god is telling them to do. In their minds, they are holy men.
How about a person of the opposite extreme. There is a woman who is a missionary in a third world country. She lives with nothing more than what she needs to survive and she doesn't complain about it! From the moment she wakes until the closing of her tired eyes at night, she helps the people in her poor community. She farms with them; she serves them food; she shows them how to care for themselves.
Can we all concede to give this woman a 100% good for her selflessness?
Now, let's look at an average person who is not a participant in mass genocide or a pre-cannonized saint.
Since I may not know you, I will be the guinea pig and put my life up for examination.
You might be able to consider me a "good" person. I attend church every Sunday (and not just because I work there.) I even come on days that are not Sunday. I pray every day and read my Bible when I can. I don't cheat on my husband or beat my children. I floss my teeth. I don't kill spiders. I even do nice things for strangers periodically.
I'm not perfect. I have lied. (Perhaps in the above paragraph? You'll never know.) I am greedy; I am selfish; I have said things I should not have.
But more good than bad, right? Great! So what would you give me? 50% good? Nah, how about 90% good? (I always strive for A's.)
Here are my questions:
How did you come up with your answer? and
How are you qualified to give it?
Hmm. OK, so maybe good and evil must be determined on an individual basis. If we use different people to judge - I mean measure! - a man's actions, it could give us different readings. Your 50% rating might be my 90% rating. It all depends on the standard we use.
We need to use one reliable measurement instrument. There is only One standard, one absolute we can use. Since the goal of doing good is so we can see God and be with Him in heaven, we must use Him as the standard.
We know that God is 100% good. (The word "good" was actually derived from the word "God.") So where does that leave the rest of us, in my opinion? Here's where I came down in my Goodreads discussion: I believe that there is no good whatsoever in a person.
0% good. Every single person.
Wow, that's harsh, isn't it? Too harsh, right? It would be akin to saying that we are no better, no more righteous a human being than one of the terrorists I described above. And if it were true, we would be completely unlovable by a perfect, 100% holy God. I mean, why would God create a purely evil being and choose to love him?
Well, first of all, how are we supposed to know why God does anything? ("As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9)
But secondly, that's exactly the point. God is not picking and choosing people to love based on what they do. Where would He draw the line? The Bible doesn't say, "Thou shalt complete forty good deeds in thine lifetime. Only then shall I grant thee welcome into My kingdom."
Nope. Instead it says, "Be holy as I am holy." (I Peter 1:16, as well as 5 other similar references.)
And how is God holy? Completely. There is no imperfection in Him. (Matthew 5:48) THAT is the standard we have to live up to. Do any of us meet that standard? No. Even that missionary woman from Case #2 has committed at least one sin in her lifetime. She is less than 100% good.
For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23, emphasis mine)
Furthermore, I propose that if you have ever committed any sin, you are completely sinful. Just as a little yeast works its way through a whole batch of dough, a little sin makes a person sinful. (Galations 5:9)
God is a God of absolutes. It's all or nothing. (How about that for making statistics easy?) If there were anything good in us, if there were any way to make good on our own, what would stop us from being completely good, all on our own?
If that were the case, we would have no need for a Savior. We could get ourselves to heaven and He would not have needed to die on a cross for us.
But He did die on a cross for us. He laid down his perfection to be seen by the Father as our complete imperfection, so that we could in turn pick up His perfection in the Father's eyes.
We can't be full of His perfection unless we are empty of everything that is ours. We must be nothing good so that we have room for his 100% goodness.
God only takes 100% goodness into his home. Since we can make 100% on our own, He offers it to us freely. I accept! 100% has always been my favorite percent.
T.C. Slonaker writes Christian fantasy novels to point others to Jesus. Read more about her Angelmen series HERE.
It's all about control.
When a child is a baby, you hold him. You control when he is fed, when he is changed, when he is laid down. You practically make every move for him. Maybe that's why we all love to hold new babies.
But even from infancy, children are trying to grow up. THEY control whether or not they actually will eat. (You can lead a horse to water...) THEY control when they actually will sleep or not sleep, and THEY control the amount of noise in the house.
We as parents tend to fight this growth for the entire time span of childhood. We control as much as we can for our kids, because we know best. Don't we?
As a child grows, they take more and more control until they eventually have full control of their lives and move out from our house.
In the case of Jesus, the grown Messiah wants to have control of our lives as well. We adults aren't always comfortable with that.
At Christmas time, we see the harmless baby Jesus, being held by his mother, rocking no boats. Don't we all want a turn holding that placid baby? He never seems to cry. We can do with Him whatever we want, right?
But the baby grew up.
Mary and Joseph got a shock, when Jesus was 12 years old and took control of his own life to wander away from his family and go teach in the temple. His parents thought they had it under control. "Jesus, you will come with us and stay with your family."
But He turned it back to them, asking, "Didn't you know I would be here?" His parents couldn't go as they pleased, they had to do as Jesus directed.
When that baby grew up, He did the same to us. We could continue holding the baby, but then we haven't given Him our life as He has asked. We have to make a choice. We can give Him back when He starts to move and squirm out of our grip, or we can let Him grow and let Him take a hold of our lives.
Passion Under Grace,