On this, the 101st anniversary of ANZAC Day, we are again reminded of the need to never forget those who paid the ultimate price so that we can be a free people in a free land. The sacrifices they made a century ago should always be remembered and savoured.
But we are often a forgetful people and easily distracted. The Romans knew they could keep the masses pacified with “bread and circuses” and we have plenty of each today in the West. So we forget about things like ANZAC Day and their significance.
Thus few people even know what this day is all about, and even fewer people know about the decided Christian connection with ANZAC Day, as well as the Israel connection. I discuss both here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/25/anzac-day/
But even more recent wars have been lost on us. Whether it be our sons who were killed in WWII, or in Korea, or in Vietnam, for most people those events are distant memories at best. We simply live the good life, and care not about the price that was paid in the past to allow us to do so.
And with this historical amnesia comes a complete perversion of priorities. All we care about now are our amusements, our entertainment, our trivial pursuits. Life is about getting the latest – and biggest – flat screen TV, more fancy cars, more Bali vacations, and more and more objects which satisfy less and less.
With this obsession of self and entertainment, we have lost all sense of priorities, of values, of things worth fighting for. Our only concern is ourselves, and sadly so many churches push the same bogus gospel: how to have a better life, how to be the best, how to have it all.
We care about nothing but ourselves and our comfort and entertainment. And our culture, reflecting that hedonism and selfishness, pushes absolutely useless agendas. Its priorities become having men going into girl’s bathrooms, women killing their own babies so they can keep living the good life, and everyone having the “right” to engage in as much sexual depravity as is possible.
The classical philosophers spoke about the ultimate goal of life as being the cultivation of virtue, both private and public. Becoming better people, becoming people of character, becoming a nation of greatness – these were once seen as noble ends, and things we all should strive for.
The Judeo-Christian worldview also emphasises character, virtue and the good of others. And for centuries God’s people sought just that. But today most of the Western church is simply consumed with self, with carnality, with entertainment, and with trying to feel good.
All the biblical truths of self-denial, taking up our cross, dying to sin and self, and living a crucified life are nearly gone. Instead it is about me, me, me. As such we are no better than the pagans around us. Indeed, we are far worse, because we should know better.
And it shows, when we commit the same sins with the same relish as any non-Christian does. Abortion, pornography addiction, divorce, homosexuality and fixation on self are all rife in our churches, and in many churches they are even defended as somehow being acceptable.
So we live just like our pagan neighbours, yet we think that God is still quite pleased with us. We are so far gone from where God wants us to be that we cannot even see our own lostness. As Jesus put it, our final state is worse than the first (Luke 11:26).
We live like the devil yet think God is happy with us. God’s people have always been at risk in living like this. We pride ourselves in being his people yet we live like we are not. I just read in my daily reading these sobering words from 2 Kings 21:9-1:
“But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. The Lord said through his servants the prophets: ‘Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols’.”
Wow, what an indictment on God’s chosen people: not only sinning just like the pagans, but even sinning worse. Yet it seems that so many people calling themselves Christians today are in the same camp. They are just as bad. Instead of sacrificially serving Christ and the Kingdom, they are selfishly serving only themselves.
And plenty of churches are encouraging them to do just that. They think life is one big party, and we are here simply to get all the fun and all the goodies we can. There is no understanding of what the Christian life is really all about. For many believers life is just a big party – an orgy of self.
But the simple truth is this: we are in fact in a war. No one who claims to be a follower of Christ can forget or ignore this reality. And in a time of war, no one can simply sit on the fence. Everyone must be involved. And that involvement always comes at great cost. How can it be otherwise when war is raging all around us?
A century ago our young men – and others – knew all about this. They left behind everything to be part of something much bigger and greater than themselves. They put aside their trivial pursuits and vain attractions, and devoted themselves to a great cause.
Christians are called to just the same. We are not called to be just like the world, content to live lives of selfishness, frivolity and recklessness. We are called to a life of discipline and self-denial as we enter into battle. And in this we need each other. No one can do it alone. I am always reminded of this scene in The Fellowship of the Ring.
[The intensity of the arguments increase. Slowly, determination dawns on Frodo’s face. He stands and takes a few steps toward the arguing council, trying to make his voice heard.]
Frodo: “I will take it!”
Frodo: “I will take it!”
[The argument dies down. Gandalf closes his eyes as he hears Frodo’s statement. The members of the council slowly turn towards Frodo, astonished.]
Frodo: “I will take the Ring to Mordor. Though — I do not know the way.”
Gandalf: [walks towards Frodo] “I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear.” [places his hands reassuringly on Frodo’s shoulders]
Aragorn: [rises] “If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will.”
[He approaches Frodo and keels before him.]
Aragorn: “You have my sword.”
Legolas: “And you have my bow.” [walks to join them]
Gimli: “And my axe!” [looks grimly at Legolas as he joins the group]
Boromir: [walks over to them] “You carry the fate of us all little one. If this is indeed the will of the Council, then Gondor will see it done.”
Sam: “Heh!” [jumps from behind the bushes and joins them] “Mister Frodo is not goin’ anywhere without me!”
Elrond (amused): “No indeed, it is hardly possible to separate you even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.”
Pippin and Merry: [emerges from behind the pillars to join them] “Wait! We are coming too!”
Merry: “You’d have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us!”
Pippin: “Anyway you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission, quest… thing.”
Merry: “Well that rules you out Pip.”
Elrond: “Nine companions… So be it! You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring!”
We need to do just the same. We need to say to one another (and to the Lord), “You have my pen.” Or, “You have my voice.” Or, “You have my skill as a builder.” Or, “You have my service as a prayer warrior.” Or, “You have my talents as a doctor.” We all have gifts, talents and things to bring into the great war effort.
Nothing will be denied if given to His service with humility and a willing heart. Christ will refuse none. But we have to be willing to enter into the battle. We have to be willing to say no to selfish desires and carnal appetites. We have to, in other words, be willing to say yes to Christ, no matter the cost.
Let me close with a story I have shared before. It concerns two young men who also denied self as they went to another land to engage in a battle over the souls (and physical lives) of others. The two Moravians, inspired by Christ, and their leader Zinzendorf, sought to sell themselves as slaves in order to reach the slaves in a faraway place.
They went, fully prepared to do this, in order to reach the slaves for Christ. It turns out that the slave owner would not accept these two men as slaves because they were white. But their willingness to do this is utterly remarkable, and puts most of us to shame for not even being willing to turn off our TVs. This account is given by Paris Reidhead in one of his powerful sermons:
The Lamb Who Was Slain
Two young Moravians heard of an island in the West Indies where an atheist British owner had 2000 to 3000 slaves. And the owner had said, “No preacher, no clergyman, will ever stay on this island. If he’s ship wrecked we’ll keep him in a separate house until he has to leave, but he’s never going to talk to any of us about God, I’m through with all that nonsense.” Three thousand slaves from the jungles of Africa brought to an island in the Atlantic and there to live and die without hearing of Christ.
Two young Germans in their 20’s from the Moravians sect heard about their plight. They sold themselves to the British planter for the standard price for a male slave and used the money they received for their sale to purchase passage to the West Indies. The miserly atheist planter would not even transport them.
The Moravian community from Herrnhut came to see the two lads off, who would never return again, having freely sold themselves into a lifetime of slavery. As a member of the slave community they would witness as Christians to the love of God.
Family members were emotional, weeping. Was their extreme sacrifice wise? Was it necessary? As the ship slipped away with the tide and the gap widened. The housings had been cast off and were curled up on the pier. The young men saw the widening gap. They linked arms, raised their hands and shouted across the spreading gap “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”
This became the call of Moravian missions. And this is our only reason for being…that the Lamb that was slain may receive the reward of His suffering! Amen.
Millions of young men and women have made the supreme sacrifice for a noble cause, be it in WWI or in other conflicts. They were willing to lose it all. Are you? Are you willing to give everything – even your life – for the cause of Christ?
Or do you keep looking back – back to the good life, a life of ease, a life of self-satisfaction? Then recall the stern words of Jesus as found in Luke 9:62: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”