A good friend of mine passed away last week after his brave fight against cancer. He was a good man who loved the Lord and lived his life in a way that honored God and those around him. He will be sorely missed. He was a very private person and while we all knew he was battling cancer again we did not know he was near death. It was shocking for all who knew him as we had just seen him a few weeks ago. My only wish is that I had one more day with him. One more day to say goodbye. One more day to tell him how he was a positive influence in my life. One more day to tell him I appreciated him. One more day to thank him for always encouraging me and lifting me up. Just one more day; but the reality is that I don’t have nor will I ever get another day with my friend here on earth. The good news is that I will see him again in glory.
His death has reminded me once again that life is truly fleeting. James 4:13-14 says 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” We truly do not know what will happen to us tomorrow and tomorrow is never promised. Even if we do wake up tomorrow, the length of our lives in the breadth of human time is minuscule, a mist, a vapor.
His death has also reminded me of the trivialness of my life. I worry, get angry or upset and spend time doing things that in the end mean nothing. The things I am worried about will not be a concern a month from now or a year from now. The things I fight for or stand for or feel emotionally (looking back after the fact) are just not that big of a deal. Yet I spend valuable, precious time that I can never get back worrying or being angry about something that in the grand scheme of space and time means nothing. It does not affect me, my family, my life or the lives of those around me yet I spend my time that God has given me on things that don’t matter.
In war time, the two parties fighting against each other would fight for the high country (hill). It was the best vantage point in a battle because you could easily see all around you and identify the enemy as they approached. Many men and women have fought for these hills and many have given their lives for these hills. There efforts were noble, their sacrifice great and their fight courageous. There are battles that have been fought that have changed the course of human history, set oppressed people free, changed the way of life for the better and the list goes on and on. These battles were fought with others in mind and with the belief that my life is worth laying down if others can be free and the world can be a better place. In other words, these were hills worth dying on.
Today in America, I don’t see the same outward thinking. I don’t see us treating others better than ourselves. I don’t see us thinking of others before ourselves. What I see is a self-centered people who are in it for themselves. I see a people who are climbing, fighting and dying on the hill of ignorance and stupidity. I see a people who are fighting for the wrong things. Things that are trivial and will not even be an issue soon. We are concerned with our own well-being, opinions, beliefs, causes (that benefit us), and our fight is not a fight to change the world but make others think or believe the way we do.
I have never seen a people more divided, blinded and troubled than I do now as I look across the landscape of America. We have played into the enemy’s tactics. We have been lured up onto hills and fought and been willing to die on these hills. However, these hills are not to better mankind, or to help the oppressed etc. We have been lured up these hills to fight for things that do not unite but divide us. In the end these things that we have fought and are fighting for will destroy us because the enemy is cunning and desires to tear people apart and not bring them together. We have been blinded to believe that these things are important and will change the world or make a difference. The things we are now fighting for will do nothing but divide us and in the end, they mean nothing and they will not even be an issue for us within a few months or a year. Many have lost friends and family ties, churches have been torn apart over these issues. Battles have been fought and we have given the enemy just what he wanted, division. A house divided cannot stand and that is the state of one of the greatest country in the world, America…..we are divided. There are three hills we have put all of our chips into and have died on and continue to die on.
The first hill is the hill of politics. I have lived through Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama and now Trump. If the Lord tarries and my number is not called, I will make it through many more before my days are up. The reality is no one president has ever had a profound effect on my life to the point of me feeling scared or angry, or losing my job or going hungry etc. There are checks and balances that keep any president from becoming a tyrant or dictator. Yet this last election was one in which many people climbed that hill, fought and died on the hill of the President of the United States election. They were willing to lose friendships, family ties, church family relationships etc. They isolated themselves on this hill and put all their chips in a single man. Now for many there is no turning back, no making amends. They died on that hill and that is their legacy. Broken relationships and friendships, bridges burnt, and lives destroyed all because they believe that a single human being can change things.
The second hill is that of nationalism or patriotic extremism. There are many who have climbed this hill ever since Colin Kaepernick took a knee in a NFL football game and have fought and died on it. Whether they sit, kneel or stand really has no effect on anyone person’s life at all. This is another hill that people have climbed and been deceived and blinded into thinking that it matters to the point of isolating their friends and family.
Now I love the flag. I gave 13 years of my life defending this flag. My wife is a retired disabled veteran who defended this flag. I love America and the freedoms we have as a nation. However, it is a flag. I am proud of what it represents and stands for. I sing the anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I am by many accounts patriotic, but it is still a flag and the truth is that I defended the freedoms the flag represents so that people could be free to not stand for the Anthem written about the flag. That is what freedom means. It means having the right to disagree without the fear of reciprocity or death which happens in many other countries, when you disagree with the establishment.
The point is that this hill is a hill that is not worth dying on. A year from now or maybe sooner this issue will be a non-issue and many will have destroyed friendships, relationships and even their possessions over someone’s right to protest (which the flag also stands for).
The final hill is the hill of racism. Now I believe we should fight against racism. This hill is the hill that people are climbing and fighting and dying for their race. It is ignorant to think that your race has all the answers or is superior in any way. It is hill of lies, stupidity and ignorance. Yet, people are again blinded by the enemy of their souls and are being fed lies that fill their hearts with hate. The media just fuels this racial fire all the while there are people being seriously damaged and lives destroyed because of this hill. The truth of this hill is that there is racism in every single culture in the world. It is human nature to fear what you do not know, to shun what does not look like you. It is wrong, but it is the human tendency. There are those in Muslim countries that fight against each other (same blood, same race, different title). India has a complete caste system in which people are judged and opportunity or lack of opportunity comes simply because of which caste you were born into. All of this is racism and yes, it still exists even in America. It needs to be dealt with, but fighting on these hills of white, black or any other color will never solve anything, and it keeps us from the truth that if divided, we will never succeed.
America is so caught up in the new this and that. Celebrities rule the speech of the day and the media fuels the non-issues of the day. We are constantly climbing hills and destroying each other over things that do not matter. They will not change the course of history or make anyone’s life better or worse. They will not help find a cure for cancer or give a homeless mother of four another shot at life. These hills are not worth dying on but there are many that are.
Americans have lost sight of what really matters. We see glimmers of hope when tragedy strikes but we too soon go back to our false causes and self-indulgences. We have forgotten just how important life is and how precious it is. We spend more time on a Presidents tweets or a celebrity’s lifestyle than we do on thousands of lives that are lost each day through murder, tragedies, cancer, etc. We fight on a hill of politics that changes every few years and is never life or death. But what about fighting for the 600,000 (some have it as high as 900,000) babies who were aborted last year? Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting for the social injustices that are happening all around the world and even here in America? Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting against the opioid epidemic that is destroying America from the inside out? Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting against the pornography industry that is literally destroying people’s lives, families and marriages and is proven to lead to rapes and even killings. Pornography has been scientifically proven to change the chemical makeup of the viewers brains. I have seen it destroy good people. Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting for the millions of girls that are being trafficked for sex destroying these girls lives before they ever really get started? Let’s die on that hill. What about children who go to bed without a father or food or the homeless mother of four that I mentioned earlier who needs another chance or lease on life, but no one is hearing them or helping them? Let’s fight and die on that hill. Let’s come down from these trivial hills that we are currently on and march up the hills of poverty, gang violence, fatherless children, orphans, child abuse victims, rape victims, abused women and the list goes on and on. Let’s fight and die on those hills because it is those hills that will affect a person for the better. These hills can change the course of human history. These hills can unite us in a fight that will make the world a better place to live.
There was always some type of sports to be played as a child. Whether it was dodge ball, backyard baseball, kickball, or touch football I tried them all. I can remember always waiting in the crowd of children for the two best players (we called them captains) to call my name and hoping that I was not picked last. I was waiting to be CHOSEN. I must admit because of my lack of sports skills I was often chosen last. Still that never deterred me from giving it my all.
Today I am so thankful that we serve a God that has chosen us and chosen us first. We don’t have to wait for other names to be called or picked before us because HE has chosen us from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6). Each one of us has a specific purpose on this earth that only we can accomplish. God has chosen every one of us and He has a plan and purpose for our lives. I no longer have that fear of not being chosen or especially being chosen last because I know God, the creator of the universe, the one who hung the stars and knows them by name, the one who’s very thoughts of me are more than the sands of the sea, has chosen and called me to Him.
Now back to the childhood memories of playing sports. Once the captain chose you it was your job to do whatever he said to do. After all he was the best player, and the captain, so it was of great importance to listen to him and do what he said if we wanted to win the game. Just like those pickup games we played years ago it is still my duty to listen to the Captain, Jesus Christ. He speaks to us constantly and if we want to win we must do what He says. Now we won’t always get it right as I often did not do what the captain of the team said or at least I did not do it the way he wanted it done or as good as he wanted it to be. I tried my best but messed up and all I was asking for was forgiveness and another chance to play. However, there was not much forgiveness on that ballfield. There was yelling and screaming, name calling and often fights over who said what and who was the best and I always seemed to be on the losing team and ultimately ended up holding the bag as the “reason” my team lost. I would replay the game over and over in my mind believing that if I had just done this or that we might have won and I could be a hero instead of a zero, but that chance never came.
Those childhood games we played are much like the life that many of us live. In this life we may miss the call, we may get it wrong, we may not do what God has told us to do. We live with regrets and replay the scenarios in our minds over and over hoping for a different outcome but it does not change our reality. We often go and do things our own way but the one thing that was not on that ballfield of child’s play is always in the heart of God; FORGIVENESS. I am so grateful for the forgiveness of God and His mercy to give us another chance even when we blow it big time. God is always right there to pick us up off the dirt, dust us off, and encourage us to give it another try. We don’t have to wish things different we just have to ask God for forgiveness and try again. (1 John 1:9) For that I am forever grateful. Praise God that He does not condemn or shame us or put us on the “no pick” list because of our past.
This “no pick” list was where I often found myself when attempting to join the boys in childhood sports. If being chosen last was not bad enough there were times when I would not get chosen at all. They would either have enough boys to play or would play without me simply because they felt they had a better chance to win without me, even if they were one man short. I just was not worth the risk to the captains of the teams because of my prior mess ups and failures as a ball player.
The boys simply gave up on me, but God did not. They were not willing to forgive and forget and restore me to another position on the team, but God is. God is willing to take that risk on you and me even when we mess up and blow it. Why? Because He has called us, chosen us (John 15:16) and has a plan for our lives (Ephesians 1:3-6 / Jeremiah 29:11).
Those days are long gone now and the fear of being left out is a thing of the past but I remember how I felt when I was rejected. I always thought that if I just had one more chance I could do it right and be accepted. Years later I have realized that the one who holds it all never rejected me but accepted me even with all my mess ups and faults. Not only has He accepted me but He has made me His child, and put me on His team as a starter. Praise God!!!!
Accept and believe that He has chosen you today, that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), you are His child and no matter where you find yourself in this ballgame we call life, whether you have blown it a little or blown it a lot, you can find joy in knowing that Jesus Christ has chosen you. He has called you, He loves you unconditionally, He forgives you and He stands ready to restore you because he has a plan for you that will change the world.
Pastor Russ Harper
Hope Church Newport News