By / May 31

Today, we celebrate Memorial Day. This national holiday is often accompanied by time off from work, barbecues in the backyard, and, of course, the local furniture store’s savings. But there is more to Memorial Day than a burger, a flag, and a day off.

The history 

The origins of this holiday are not entirely uniform. Sometime following the Civil War, a host of towns and communities began to set aside their own day to commemorate and remember the lives of soldiers lost during America’s deadliest war. Some Southern states even set aside dates to remember Confederates lost in the war. The form we recognize today didn’t come until 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Memorial Day an official national holiday.

The significance 

The fact that a host of different communities felt it necessary to mark days to remember the fallen strikes a chord of transcendence that is present in every human heart. We rightly recognize that to sacrifice one’s life for their country and friends is noble, honorable, and courageous. And among the countless sacrifices our troops have made, we rank and give more reverence to those that are deemed greater. The highest award that can be bestowed upon anyone in the American military is the Congressional Medal of Honor. The famous words that accompany the citation of this honor traditionally read, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

The sacrifice

Any given sacrifice is measured by two questions. First, what was given up? And secondly, what was achieved? The greater the sacrifice and the accomplishment, the greater the reverence and awe that brushes, and even haunts, our sense of wonder. Memorial Day, in all its tradition and splendor, is but a distant echo of a sacrifice that should stir our hearts to marvel and long for an even greater sacrifice; something superior to the collective valor our finest heroes could ever muster. 

Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten son of God from all of eternity, taking on flesh and giving himself up to die for his sheep is so marvelous and glorious that it is hard for us to comprehend  it unless it is measured against the greatest of human sacrifices. 

While a Medal of Honor recipient made a tangible sacrifice, it is temporal; yet Christ’s is eternal. 

While the sacrifice of a service member who dies in combat is the most any one person can give, what Christ gave up was the only perfect life to have ever lived. 

While a solider can die for their comrades, it is Christ who died to make it possible for enemies to be reconciled to him as friends. 

And while we can honor the freedom we enjoy in our country because of the many who have fought and died for it, we must not lose sight of the truth that Christ’s death brings the greatest freedom one can hope for — a freedom from the bondage of sin and death.

The shuffle of Memorial Day makes it easy to overlook the weightiness of remembering the lives lost for noble causes. Yet, more tragically, the pace of our lives often leads us forget to the greatest sacrifice in human history. This Memorial Day, enjoy time with your family, grilling out, and time off from work. But, Christian, do not let your heart fixate on a temporal human sacrifice and forget the Lord of glory, who purchased you with an eternal one.

By / May 28

A book on natural law and religious liberty that I am reading for an academic colloquium I am participating in is bringing to the forefront of my mind the uniqueness of the American founding and the moral principles that birthed our nation.

First, a word upfront: I offer the following comments in no way trying to advance a “Christian America” thesis. As a Baptist, I am resolutely committed to the idea of a nonconfessional state. At the same time, as a Baptist, I am firmly committed to the ideal that religion has tremendous latitude to shape a nation’s soul, even its laws.

The religious and moral backdrop of the nation informed the philosophical premises of the nascent American founding.

While the question of whose religious or moral vision reigned supreme during the Founding era is of perennial debate, it seems indisputable, to me at least, that Christianity was a moral grammar offering a rich tapestry of moral influence on the country’s philosophical architecture.

America’s founding and Christian ethics

In light of that presupposition (and knowing that historians will quibble and dispute what I will argue for), let me state what I believe are the three irreducible principles that made America, well, America; and then explain their relationship to Christian ethics:

  1. A belief in a stable and identifiable human nature.
  2. A belief in a universal morality known as Natural Law.
  3. A belief in limited government.

While I cannot say that the above principles are exclusive to Christianity alone, I do believe that Christianity informs each. In brief, let me walk through how Christianity touches on each.

When looking at the Founders’ understanding of humanity, they saw a portrait of the human person possessed with the capacity for virtue and vice. Humanity’s essence was not merely constructed; it is recognized as a divinely-endowed creature. There was a stable “nature”; that is, a way in which a human is expected to exist and function in order to fulfill the purpose of their existence. This is very much a pattern paralleling the Genesis account of God creating humanity (Gen. 1:26-28). The vision of government assumed by the Founders understood that citizens comprising the country would respond to the blessings of liberty and shirk at coercion as a constituent aspect of who humanity is as a liberty-seeking and meaning-making creature.

Perhaps looming most largely is the idea of natural law—the idea of a universal morality binding on all of humanity and accessible using one’s reason. The universe, in the Founders’ view, was orderly. Flourishing and “happiness” was found in accordance with a people and a country honoring the universal morality binding on its people. For the nation to prosper and its people be free, Americans would need to be virtuous. To live the virtuous life is to live in accord with right reason exhibited in one’s interactions with the world. For people to thrive, they need to obey what the Apostle Paul refers to as the “law written on the heart” (Rom. 2:14-15).

Lastly, limited government. Limited government springs from the idea that government does not have absolute power over every sphere of human existence. Many scholars point to Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 22:21 as the foundation for this idea: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” While most of us are familiar with Jesus’ teaching on this point by the sheer fact of familiarity, it is not an overstatement to say that this statement was revolutionary when first declared. According to Jesus, and how it has been understood through church history, government has legitimate areas of authority—paying taxes, punishing evil, etc. But government’s authority is not autonomous; it is a derived authority originating from God’s ultimate sovereignty.

A government that does not absolutize itself over the people under its watch is a government obeying its enumerated limits. This implies there are “pre-political” realities that dictate human purpose that the government has no say in dictating or defining, but in recognizing.

Why these principles?

Why these three principles? Why not mention “inalienable rights” or the “pursuit of happiness” or “checks and balances” as the abiding foundations of the American founding? Because each follow downstream from a prior moral ingredient. You do not have “rights” without a belief that humanity’s essence is identifiable and worth protecting; you do not have “happiness” and the worthwhileness of its pursuit apart from a universal concept of what “happiness” is, which implies natural law. You do not have checks and balances apart from a belief that human nature and the governments they form have a propensity toward amassing concentrated, absolute power that needs checked.

I am uncomfortable calling America a “Christian nation.” To say that, however, is not to dismiss or fail to recognize the profound ways that Christianity has impacted and informed basic elements of our constitutional order that we take for granted. May Christian influence remain.

By / May 25

In 1915, Canadian medical officer John McCrae published what has become one of the most popular poems from the First World War, “In Flanders Fields” 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

After reading this poem Moina Michael , a college teacher and YMCA War Worker, was so moved that she was inspired to write a response. Hastily written on the back of an envelope, she penned the lines to We Shall Keep the Faith :

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

From that day on, Michael vowed to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. Others, inspired by the personal memorial, joined in the practice. The Poppy emblem was eventually adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol, a reminder of those who had not returned home from war.

As Michael wrote, the blood of heroes truly never dies. Their sacrifices truly do live on, enriching the fertile soil of our memories, bringing forth red poppies that grow in honor of those who’ve passed on the torch.

Who are you remembering this Memorial Day? Tell us your story in the comments section on our Facebook page, or simply leave the name of the loved one and which war they died in protecting our freedoms.