A veteran named Alfred Norwood, Jr. was walking past a home in Austin, Texas, when he saw a man dangling from a second-story roof. He immediately stopped to help, trying unsuccessfully to use a ladder that was leaning against the home. He then called to people who were passing by, but no one stopped to help. So he called 911.
It turned out, the “man” in danger was a mannequin meant to look like Clark Griswold in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s so realistic that it’s easy to see how Mr. Norwood was fooled.
The homeowners tracked the veteran down and thanked him. One pointed out that hundreds of cars go past their house every day, but he was the only person to stop and help. A reporter commented: “It’s nice to know there are still good people in this world who care.”
Let’s consider Mr. Norwood’s experience as a parable for our day.
Services for a war hero
President George H. W. Bush’s body is lying in state today in the US Capitol. It will remain there until tomorrow morning, when it will be taken to Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral. Tomorrow afternoon, the body will be transported to President Bush’s church in Houston for a service Thursday morning, followed by burial that afternoon.
His services are being conducted as a military operation befitting a war hero. They involve military units coordinating movements in at least three states and the District of Columbia.
The procedures are detailed in a 133-page manual titled “State, Official and Special Military Funerals.” As many as four thousand military and Defense Department civilian personnel will be involved in some capacity.
Mr. Bush was prepared to die. He knew that life is uncertain and death is coming for us all (unless Jesus returns first).
Good Samaritan stabbed to death
Unlike the former president, our culture does all it can to avoid the subject of mortality.
Like those who passed by the mannequin in Austin, we drive by dying people every moment of every day. But we evade the issue of death as if such denial could prevent its reality. We’re like people who find a lump but refuse to see a doctor because we’re afraid of what he or she might tell us.
It wasn’t always this way. People in the biblical era faced death as a daily reality. The Old Testament is filled with regulations for responding to a dead body; the Scriptures warn us repeatedly that death is coming for us all (cf. Hebrews 9:27).
I’m old enough to remember the Cold War and practice sessions in school where we were shown how to hide under our desks in the event of a bombing attack. The threat of nuclear war was more real than many of us knew. You could make the case that ours is the first generation in human history that can live with a reasonable expectation of not dying in a war, famine, or epidemic.
But unless Jesus returns first, we’ll all die of something.
A Baltimore woman rolled down her car window to give money to a woman holding a sign stating, “Please Help me feed my Baby.” A man then approached the vehicle, reached in to grab the driver’s wallet, and stabbed her to death.
A bus carrying a youth football team crashed in Arkansas yesterday, killing one child and injuring forty-five other passengers. The elementary-school age children were returning home to Memphis after playing in a tournament in the Dallas area.
God’s word is clear: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
Leaning against the wrong wall
But there’s a “but.” In the back of your mind, is there a feeling that this doesn’t really apply to you, at least not today? You’d never claim to be immune to death, of course. But if you’re like most of us, you’d rather ignore the subject than respond to it now.
This is one of Satan’s most subtle strategies. He wants us to live for this world with little thought for the next. He knows that the only safe way to die is to be prepared for eternity. But he doesn’t want us to know that.
Our consumptionistic culture cooperates, of course. Businesses are in business to make a profit. The more they can convince us that we need what they sell, the more they sell.
By the time we discover that the materialistic ladder we climbed was leaning against the wrong wall, it’s too late.
“There is only one relationship that really matters”
I was impacted recently by David’s description of God: “He is my steadfast love” (Psalm 144:2). “Steadfast love” translates the Hebrew chesed, meaning “unconditional grace” (the word is the Old Testament equivalent of agape in the New Testament). David’s words could be translated, “He is the one and only source of unchanging and unconditional love in my life.”
No one you know has the ability to love you unconditionally. To look to anyone or anything but God for the love our souls need in this life and the next is to commit idolatry.
This is why Oswald Chambers’s observation is so profound: “There is only one relationship that really matters, and that is your personal relationship to your personal Redeemer and Lord. If you maintain that at all costs, letting everything else go, God will fulfill His purpose through your life. One individual life may be of priceless value to God’s purposes, and yours may be that life.”
What relationship matters most to you today?