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 / Nov 9

Daniel Kish has been sightless since he was a year old. He was born with an aggressive form of eye cancer and had both eyes removed by the age of one. He is a man of many talents. He likes to hike, mountain bike, make music, cook and write. He enjoys children and loves nature. He has earned two master’s degrees from the University of California Riverside.

Kish is emphatic that there is nothing exceptional about him or his abilities. He uses clicking noises with his tongue to understand his environment. He calls his self-taught method “flash sonar,” but it is technically referred to as echolocation, where he listens to the echoes as they bounce off of surfaces. Daniel says, “I wasn't aware I was doing it, just as sighted people don't consciously teach themselves to see.”

He was a rambunctious child, and everyone assured his mother that the most important thing was to keep her blind child safe by limiting his activities and opportunities to get hurt. Daniel’s grandmother actually told his mom, “You should wrap him in cotton balls, so he will not get hurt when he bounces into things.”

When he would climb trees, neighbors and police officers would knock on his mother’s door and tell her that blind children should not climb trees because it is too dangerous. She was constantly asked, “How can you let him do that?” His mother rejected all of the advice and embraced a “no-limits because of blindness” philosophy in raising her son. According to Daniel Kish, the low expectations for what blind people can do functions to limit what they can actually do.

Daniel Kish concludes the TED talk he gave with an important takeaway, “We get so overwhelmed by challenges—and I do too, but I was raised without fear. There were lots of things to be afraid of, but the emphasis was on facing fear.” His words are reminiscent of those of Theodore Roosevelt, “There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” Regarding this courageous and fearless mentality as a blind person, Daniel Kish says, “Running into a pole is a drag but never being allowed to run into a pole is a disaster.”

In the This American Life episode about Daniel Kish, he says, “Often, sighted people will jump in a half a second too soon, and they rob the blind student from that learning moment.” My son, Will, a high school senior, pointed out this podcast about Daniel Kish to me. He said, “This is what you would be like if you were blind, and this is the way you and mom try to raise us.” I doubt that is true about me, but I am thrilled he understands that we are not raising him to believe that his safety is the top priority.

But here is my fear: Many of our children are not blind, but we are still wrapping them in cotton balls.

Daniel Kish’s story causes my mind to race with implications for Christian parenting and discipleship. Merriam-Webster defines courage as, “The ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous.” Courage always demands a dose of danger. Our current cultural cult of safety treats willingly pursuing a difficult or dangerous task as foolish, sinful even—not heroic. G.K. Chesterton argues, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. 'He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,' [Matt. 16:25].”

Genuine Christian courage, according to Chesterton, combines “a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying.” Recklessness and self-protecting safety both have the same sinful root: self-centeredness. A culture where everyone values safety-first is a very dangerous place to live. This ought to be self-evident to the followers of a crucified Messiah who are called to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Rather than promoting human flourishing, a self-referential worldview is the root of all sin and human languishing. Taking up our cross and following him is not a call to safety-first (Luke 9:23). Love, biblically understood, is always courageous and sacrificial. Fulfilling the Great Commission demands calculated risk-taking. Biblically, safety is not a virtue, but self-sacrificial courage certainly is. It is difficult to cultivate self-sacrificial courage wrapped in cotton balls.

By / Apr 2

Wayne Mitchell was not simply the head baseball coach at Robert E. Lee high school in Montgomery, Ala. He was a local baseball institution. He attended Robert E. Lee high school as a student and excelled on the baseball team. In 1964, Mitchell graduated from Lee and enrolled at Huntington College where he was a star left-handed pitcher. As a freshman, he was 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, and when he graduated, he held the school record for 20 career victories.

After college, he became an assistant baseball coach at Robert E. Lee high school from 1971-1974. He left to become the head coach at Huntington College from 1975-1978 and then returned to Robert E. Lee as the head baseball coach in 1980. When I was playing Dixie youth baseball for the National League in Montgomery, Ala., I dreamed of wearing that distinctive “L” emblazoned on a fire red baseball cap for Robert E. Lee and playing for Mitchell.

I will never forget the first time I put on that Robert E. Lee high school baseball uniform in 1984.

I did not know it at the time I made the team, but in 1978 Mitchell had been diagnosed with cancer. In January 1986, my senior year, Mitchell began experimental cancer treatments that prevented him from being with the team. Jim Arrington had the unenviable task of filling in for a local baseball coaching legend during that season. Our team prayed for coach at every practice. On two occasions, I visited him in his home with one of my teammates. On those visits he would not talk about himself, but he lit up when he talked about the team.

Mitchell was a Christian, and it was evident in the way he coached baseball and the way he persevered in the face of cancer. He could be stern, like the day he told me to decide whether I wanted to be a rock star or a baseball player, and if it was a baseball player, I should get my hair cut. I heard it as a command, not a request. He was a walking encyclopedia of baseball information and strategy, but it was very evident that coaching high school baseball was far more to him than a way to earn a living. I did not think about it this way at the time, but reflecting back, I think it baseball was his mission field. Now, I am not suggesting he was overtly evangelistic, because he was not, but that he saw coaching baseball as a way he served Christ.

He never made it back to the baseball field, dying shortly after the 1986 baseball season.

Seeing coach’s lessons in a new light

To say that I wasn't very reflective as a high school student and athlete would be an understatement. I had always loved baseball, and coach Mitchell knew as much about the game as anyone I had ever met. Three years after graduating high school, I became a Christian while following in Mitchell's footsteps playing baseball at Huntington College. It was then I realized just how much Mitchell had impacted me. It was very common for me to be in a Bible study and link what I was learning to life-lessons Mitchell had taught me on the baseball field. I would hear his voice in my head and began to understand that he had been teaching me more than baseball.

Winning by routine plays

One of his mantras was that baseball games are not won or lost by spectacular plays. According to Mitchell, baseball games were won or lost by routine plays. He would say that everybody loves the home run, the strikeout, the diving catch, but there are plenty of players who can do all of those things and make too many mistakes on routine plays. He drilled into our heads that playing time was dependent upon consistency and making the routine plays.

He also taught us that one of the most beautiful plays in baseball was a sacrifice. I distinctly remember him saying, “If someone hits a home run or makes a diving play, I don't care what you do. But, if someone lays down a sacrifice bunt or hits a sacrifice fly to move a runner over, then you better be out of that dugout cheering them when they return.”

The beauty of sacrifice

Mitchell helped teach me about the beauty of sacrifice on a baseball diamond. I began to understand something of the importance of sacrifice for a cause bigger than the individual before I ever came to saving faith in Christ. When I read that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and that Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), I could not help but think about baseball and about coach Mitchell, and that is still the case. The first time I read about that the great missionary, William Carey who said about his ministry, “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything,” I remembered coach Mitchell telling us to focus on consistency and making the routine play.

Passing on the legacy

I was probably one of those players that Mitchell assumed he wasn't making much of an impact on at the time. One of the most embarrassing moments of my high school years was the time Mitchell asked me to lead the team in quoting the Lord's Prayer at the end of practice. There was a moment of awkward silence that probably lasted 5 seconds, though it felt like five hours, until I said, “I'm sorry coach, but I don't know it.” He quickly said, “No problem. I will lead us.”

Well, I do know the Lord and his model prayer now. In fact, by a miracle of God’s grace, people now call me pastor and a seminary professor. My love for the game of baseball and the influence of courageous and gracious men who also love the game, like Mitchell, have helped form and shape my life.

I am thankful for the many lessons I have learned over the years on a baseball diamond. No one will ever convince me that baseball is not the greatest game mankind has ever known. I have passed many of those lessons I learned while playing the national pastime down to my three sons as I have tutored them in the great game. My oldest son will be graduating high school this year, twenty-nine years after my last season wearing a Robert E. Lee baseball uniform. I wish he could have met Mitchell. In a sense, he has through what coach taught me, which I have passed on to him.

I am thankful for a great baseball coach who taught me about more than baseball. I think it would please him to know that I am still trying, as a Christian, to consistently make the routine plays, celebrate the beauty of sacrifice, and help my children and others to do the same.