Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Christ-likeness of a Nation

The 4th of July reminds me of my grandmother's basement. During the mid to late '90's, TNT would annually show the five-hour long movie "Gettysburg" on Independence Day. My family's summer vacations always seemed to take us to Grandma's in early July where my brother and I would play ping-pong in the basement while "Gettysburg" proceeded across the television. To this day, "Gettysburg" stands as my favorite movie of all-time. My second favorite, whatever it might be, stands as far from it as the east from the west.

The battlefield in Pennsylvania from whence the movie draws its name has become my favorite place on this earth. Even before I knew Christ, something spiritual always met me there. I remember traversing the battlefield before dawn when the combination of fog and dark made the scene as eerie a one as I have ever experienced. I know ghosts do not exist because, if they did, I would have seen one that morning. I remember long summer runs, side by side with my brother Brian. I remember sitting on Little Round Top during a Spring Break afternoon, looking down into the adjacent valley where 7000 men and boys lost their lives in an hour and a half in 1863. I remember thinking that on the morrow I would return home to my family. I remember remembering that those 7000 never again went home to their wives, children, and mothers.

This place, these thoughts, never stray far from my mind on our nation's Independence Day.

For the better part of my life, I have felt drawn towards American history, specifically the Civil War. I love reading about the people and events. Even more, I love visiting the grounds where these people acted out the events. I often try to describe my affinity for the time period, but I have never found the word to communicate my emotion.

"There is just something so ____________ about what these men and women did that moves me like nothing else," I say, though in lieu of a blank, I offer frustrated silence in hopes that my verbal constipation might convey the intensity of my feelings.

I have tried many words there. Sacrificial. Tragic. Beautiful. Emotional. Sad. Honorable. They all portray a part, but standing alone, they do not convey the whole.

As I have reflected on today's holiday, a word came to me that may, in fact, explain it all.


There is just something so Christ-like about what these men and women did that moves me like nothing else.

Run with me for a second, friends. The sacrifice of our nation's ancestors draws out my emotions because they placed their lives on the line (and sometimes lost them) for my sake. Insert whatever cliche you prefer here - "be free," "have the life I have today," "live the American dream," whatever. People sacrificed, bled, and died for my sake. More than anything, this is America's story.

Even today, people exist in the world who would murder me on the spot if given the chance. They did so to people not so different than I six years ago September. What stands in their way from hunting me down and ending my earthly existence? The women and men fighting to prevent that from happening.

In related news, an accuser of the brethren exists in and beyond this world who would drag me down to the depths of Hell on the spot if given the chance. He has done so to people not so different than I. What stands in his way of adding my company to his misery? The god-man Jesus Christ who fought to prevent that from happening. And He is not defeated.

Now please do not think I place our national ancestors and military on par with Jesus Christ. Only one has ever been found worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. He is the Lamb. Though both may stand in my church's sanctuary, I shall never submit to the flag before submitting to the cross.

However, the men and women who have given up so much for my sake point me to my Savior who gave up all for my sake. Through their sacrificial actions, they become Christ-like as the Scriptures implore us to do. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Their stories point me to The Story.

Perhaps this explains the unexplained emotions I feel when I read of Pickett's Charge or think about Wesley Culp dying on the hill that bears his name or stand by Plum Run where men took their last drink before passing into eternity. The sacrifice of the one for the many may just be the story of my life. It may just be the story of the world.

God has blessed America over the centuries with men and women who have made Christ-like sacrifices so that we might live as we do now - freely. What's more, He has blessed America with these same folks whose lives point as fingers to the One who sacrificed all so that we might have all.

May He continue to do so for our own good and for His glory.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.


Jeff said...

Well said sir. You've brought up a lot of thoughts in my head, and also connected with some others. But I'll leave my comment as...

Thank God for anyone who acts Christ-like in this crazy and sinful world. And I hope that he will show His glory and point people to Him through me as I live this life.

mwk said...

Thanks, Ben. I needed your reminder...