At least one Internet site lists the names of each of the more than 3,400 individuals who have received our nation’s highest military award—the Congressional Medal of Honor. The site also includes the citations detailing what each hero did to earn this Medal. The citations cannot help but humble and inspire us. Let me share part of one with you now. The setting is Korea, 15 September, 1950. The recipient is First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, a Marine who fought his last battle during the Inchon invasion:
Exposing himself to hostile fire, [First Lieutenant Lopez] moved forward alongside a bunker and prepared to throw a hand grenade into [a] pillbox whose fire was pinning down that sector of the beach. . . . Hit in the right shoulder and chest [by automatic weapons fire] as he lifted his arm to throw, he fell backward and dropped the deadly missile. After a moment, he turned and dragged his body forward in an effort to retrieve the grenade and throw it. In critical condition from pain and loss of blood, and unable to grasp the hand grenade firmly enough to hurl it, he chose to sacrifice himself rather than endanger the lives of his men and, with a sweeping motion of his wounded right arm, cradled the grenade under him and absorbed the full impact of the explosion. . . . He gallantly gave his life for his country. (See the official Medal of Honor website for more information.)
How thankful we can be for Lt. Lopez and for many, many others down through the decades who have put their own lives and well-being at risk so we can live in freedom and at peace.
Listening to this one, harrowing experience helps us understand the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” When soldiers go into battle, only the most reckless go alone. They trust their friends to help and defend them, certainly. They trust those who issue orders to know what they are doing. But beyond that, many and perhaps most turn to God or to their idea of him—even if they haven’t lived very religious lives to that point.
Battlefield conversions don’t always stick. Maybe you’ve known someone who came to Christ on the battlefield, only to walk away when the danger had passed. It can happen to groups of people or even to an entire nation. Perhaps we in the United States have experienced this.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, church attendance spiked. But after the shock of the attack passed, attendance went back to about what it was before.
Shortly after 9/11 most people took special care to honor police officers or fire fighters because of their work. But a few short months afterward, motorists caught in speed traps went back to arguing with the arresting officers.
Perhaps on September 12 and 13, 2001, we began to notice the motto on our money—“In God We Trust.” But today, many of our fellow citizens earn, spend, and save their money without knowing and probably without caring very much what that motto means.
We cannot look into one another’s hearts to judge these things. In fact, the Lord Jesus warns us against it (Matthew 7:1-5). Even so, it is helpful for each of us to judge our own hearts to see what lies there. Do we—each of us personally—trust in God? For what do you trust him? And when?
Before the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, trusting God is the last thing we want to do. Rebels and traitors, we fear and hate him and his demands on our lives (John 3:20, 7:7; Romans 1:30). Instead of honoring and obeying the King of the universe, we willingly live as slaves, ruled by sin and Satan (John 8:34). We have no rights before God’s throne of judgment. In perfect justice, God could leave us alone in our rebellion forever, cowering in our foxholes alone, away from him. He could abandon us as our sins explode huge and agonizing holes in our lives and our relationships.
But God did not do that! Instead, in love, he sent his own Son to rescue us. Jesus threw himself on our grenade, as it were. He died the death we had deserved. He let sinners torture and kill him so that we—once his enemies—could become citizens of his kingdom now and forever (Luke 13:29).
There’s even more! The King was not satisfied in giving us full and free citizenship. He has adopted us into his own family, made us full heirs of his estate, brothers and sisters of his Son. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 4:7; and Ephesians 1:5-8.)
No wonder the Bible says that God’s children continually give “thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:12-13 NIV)
As the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, we become able to trust all this. We learn to trust our heavenly Father more and more as we ponder, meditate on, what his Son did for us. In God we trust—in the Triune God who has revealed himself in the Bible and who has revealed himself in his Son! No matter what happens to us here on earth, no matter how many buildings blow up or how many bombs fall or how often human leaders fail us, we have an anchor, a foundation, a place of refuge.
Listen to Psalm 33 with all this in mind, particularly the cross of your Savior. (Read Psalm 33 slowly enough for people to think through the words. Accent especially vv. 12 and 22.)
This week, remember to thank God for our country and for the benefits we receive from our earthly citizenship. Pray for our leaders. But also pause to thank God that you can and do trust him in Jesus and in his cross. Ask for grace to live out your heavenly citizenship in every earthly opportunity!
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