Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport yesterday. According to the Pentagon, thirteen US service members were killed and eighteen others were injured. At least ninety Afghans were killed as well, and another 140 were wounded.
President Biden addressed the nation, speaking directly to those responsible for the attack. “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said.
Many are responding by blaming or defending the Biden administration, identifying the attackers and describing their motives, and speculating on consequences for Americans still in Afghanistan and around the world.
Here’s a point I do not want us to miss: every US soldier who died or was wounded chose to risk their lives to defend America and Americans. Yesterday’s tragedy brings this fact home in a powerful and poignant way we should consider today.
A Navy SEAL’s favorite football game
I have often quoted my friend Clint Bruce, a former US Navy SEAL and NFL player who, when asked to identify his favorite football game, chose the Army-Navy contest. Clint explained: “It’s the only game in America where every player on the field is willing to die for every person in the stands.”
I am moved every time I remember his powerful words.
America’s military is serving today in more than 150 countries on all seven continents. Around 150,000 to 200,000 women and men are deployed at any one time. Each has taken an oath to obey the orders of their Commander in Chief and their superior officers, even if those orders require them to risk or give their lives in combat.
However, defending America has not often required our soldiers to defend Americans, at least not directly.
My father fought to defend America against Japan in World War II; my grandfather fought to defend America against Germany in World War I. But except for their fellow soldiers and American civilians where they served, they defended us at a distance.
Apart from the Civil War, where each side sought to protect its civilians from the other side, America’s wars have seldom been fought by American soldiers in places where American civilians were in harm’s way. As with the War on Terror, our military has often engaged the enemy overseas to keep the enemy from attacking us at home.
However, yesterday’s tragedy in Kabul made their commitment clear and simple: our soldiers were serving there in large part to defend and evacuate Americans still in Afghanistan. As a result, they died because of their commitment to protect the people of their country, starting with those who were where they were.
How to repay a veteran’s sacrifice
Jesus taught us: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In this case, these brave soldiers laid down their lives for people I cannot imagine they even knew.
Their families at home joined them in that sacrifice, giving up their loved ones to duty overseas and now grieving their deaths.
As a result, Americans owe our fallen heroes and their families a debt we can never repay. But while we cannot pay it back, we can pay it forward.
I will never forget the morning I met a veteran who had suffered horrific burns across his face and body from an IED in Afghanistan. He extended his scarred hand to shake mine. As I took it, I looked him in the eye and did my best to thank him for his service. Then I asked him, “What can we do to repay you?”
He replied, “Just make this a country worth dying for.”
How can Christians do what he asked?
“The man who stepped in front of the bullet”
Last Tuesday evening, twenty-one-year-old Dustin Wakefield was dining at an outdoor Miami Beach café with his wife and one-year-old son. When a gunman approached and allegedly aimed his weapon at his son, Dustin’s uncle told the Miami Herald what happened next: “Dustin stood up between the gunman and the baby and he shot him. He shot him multiple times on the ground.”
Dustin’s father and stepmother later issued this statement about him: “He loved God. Every day he lived full of faith and peace, and he shared that with others. It is in his true character that he laid to rest, protecting his family. He is that man. We take great pride and comfort in the fact that we were blessed with the man who stepped in front of the bullet to save others. He has always been and he will continue to be our hero.”
For the rest of his life, Dustin Wakefield’s son will never have to wonder if his father loved him.
Here is what makes Jesus’ death on the cross even more stunning: his Father chose for him to die for you and me. It is as if we had committed a crime worthy of death, a gunman came to execute us, and Dustin held up his innocent son to take the bullet meant for us.
Max Lucado wrote: “God is with us. Prophets weren’t enough. Apostles wouldn’t do. Angels won’t suffice. God sent more than miracles and messages. He sent himself; he sent his Son.” As a result, Lucado noted, “Jesus has been where you are; he can relate to how you feel. And if his life on earth doesn’t convince you, his death on the cross should.”
In a culture that is more antagonistic to biblical truth and morality than ever before in our history, making America a nation worth dying for will require steadfast courage on our part. However, when we remember our Savior’s sacrifice for us, we are empowered and encouraged to emulate his sacrifice in serving those we influence.
“To be a Christian in our culture is no easy thing”
Not only does Jesus’ sacrifice encourage our own: his Spirit living in us empowers us to such obedience.
This week, we have focused on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Let’s close by embracing the fact that he emboldens us to be faithful in our witness and service even in the hardest places of life.
Peter explained the power that enabled Jesus’ public ministry: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38, my emphasis). Now that same power is living and working in us as the “temple” of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Jesus famously promised his first followers: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, my emphasis). His Spirit kept his promise shortly thereafter when he “filled” the first believers and empowered them to share their faith boldly and miraculously (Acts 2:4).
Our Lord assured us: “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12, my emphasis). Peter proved Jesus’ promise when he preached courageously to the Sanhedrin after he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8).
Paul knew the source of his courage and power: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19, my emphasis).
Br. James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston noted: “To be a Christian in our culture is no easy thing, because it demands of us to live in faith, instead of fear; to live in hope, instead of despair; to live in love, instead of enmity. The narrow gate is difficult to pass through because it is so much easier to live in fear than faith. But that is not the invitation we have received, for the One who invites us to follow through the narrow gate is the same one who promises abundance of life to those who do follow.”
Now Jesus offers that abundance to all who abide in him by his Spirit (cf. John 15:4–5).
Four practical steps
After exploring theoretical solutions offered by world religions to the problem of evil and suffering, theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner concluded: “Christianity, on the other hand, ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene—not even this—but that God can turn it to good.”
How can we join God in turning evil to good? With the Spirit’s help, what steps can we take today to help make this a nation worth dying for?
One: Be filled daily by the Spirit.
We have noted all week the imperative of being filled and empowered daily by God’s Spirit. Have you taken the steps necessary to such filling today?
If not, why not?
Two: Stay empowered through spiritual disciplines.
Prayer, Bible study, solitude, worship, meditation, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines do not earn God’s presence. Rather, they indispensably position us to receive all that the Spirit wants to give. Oswald Chambers was right: “If we think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts, we think rightly.”
Are you breathing well today?
Three: Volunteer to die.
Jesus was clear: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, my emphasis). You and I are called to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20) and to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Our commitment every day should be: “Whatever you ask, whatever the cost, whatever it takes.”
Would you make this your prayer now?
Four: Serve where you are.
Whether you are in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, or the “end of the earth,” you are Jesus’ witness (Acts 1:8). Your place today is your kingdom assignment today.
In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren quotes Christian philosopher Dallas Willard’s wisdom in The Divine Conspiracy: “We must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.” Warren adds Annie Dillard’s famous observation: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
How will you spend your day?
A nation worth dying for
America is in mourning today.
Let us pray fervently for the families of our heroes who fell yesterday in defense of our nation and our people. Let us thank God for their sacrificial courage. Then let us respond to their sacrifice by the commitment of our faith and witness to be transformational salt and light among the people for whom they died.
By our prayers, our witness, our influence, and our actions, let us join God’s Spirit in making this a nation worth dying for.
And living for.