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A cause worth its cost

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 2 Samuel 5:1-10

Red Rountree is a 91-year-old man who walks with a cane, is hard of hearing, and pled guilty recently to stealing nearly $2,000 from a bank. According to the Associated Press, this is his third such robbery in less than five years. He held up a bank in Abilene, but a bank employee got his license plate number as he left the parking lot, and authorities arrested him 20 miles outside the city. He first robbed at bank a week before his 87th birthday, and was arrested within minutes. Less than a year later he robbed another bank, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Now he faces another 20 years in jail. If he does get out, he needs another line of work—he’s not very good at this one.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “This is the true joy in life…being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.…I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

This weekend our nation remembers the 1.1 million men and women who have died in the service of America and freedom. How do we honor their sacrifice and further their cause? How do we hold up the torch they have handed to us? Is your life dominated by a mighty purpose, by a cause worth its cost and more?

David the warrior king

When we last left David, he was a fugitive from King Saul and Israel. After hiding in the wilderness and among the Philistines, he gathered 400 other fugitives into a guerrilla army stationed in a remote part of Judea. His brothers and family joined him there, as his band of warriors protected wealthy farmers in the area in return for their financial support. They were mercenaries, a security force of sorts.

Saul continued to hunt David. Twice the shepherd could have killed the king, but both times he refused to strike God’s anointed. After Philistine warriors killed Saul, the nation of Israel was thrown into chaos. The Philistines would grow stronger, and soon destroy the entire nation. If the Kennedy assassination had occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we’d have been in somewhat the same situation.

So the tribe of Judah made David, the shepherd-guerrilla leader, their king. One of Saul’s sons claimed the throne in the north, but reigned only two years before two of his officers assassinated him. Then the entire nation made David its ruler (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

The Philistines immediately attacked this united kingdom. And David’s well-trained troops just as quickly struck back, defeating their enemies (2 Samuel 5:17-20). David then initiated assaults against the Philistines, something no Jewish army had ever attempted (2 Samuel 8:1f; 1 Chronicles 18:1). As a result, he was able to secure the first peace the nation had ever known in Canaan.

Seven years after he began to rule the country, David led his armies on the conquest of Jerusalem. This fortified city was one of the most formidable in the ancient world. Its high walls stood atop Mt. Zion, and had repelled the invasions of countless other armies.

But David and his men were successful where others had failed (2 Samuel 5:6-9; 1 Chronicles 11:4-8). Apparently David knew of a secret water tunnel, a shaft which led behind the walls. Joab and others climbed through this shaft and captured the city. It is called the City of David to this day.

Here David reestablished the worship of Yahweh by bringing the long-neglected ark and installing it in a shrine in Jerusalem. Here his son would build the Temple in the next generation.

From this base David then consolidated his entire kingdom. He subdued the hated Philistines, then conquered Moab, Edom, and Ammon to the south and east (2 Samuel 8:2, 13f; 10:1f) and Syria to the north (8:3-12).

At Saul’s death, the kingdom of Israel was a weak vassal of the Philistines and other surrounding enemies, with no certain future of its own. Its army was in disarray, its leadership in chaos, its borders controlled by its enemies. At David’s death, the kingdom had reached its highest military power and stature, and become a secure nation through whom one day the Son of David would come to save us all. He had found a cause worth its cost and more.

Lessons from a warrior king

On this Memorial Day weekend, what do we need to learn from David the mighty and victorious warrior king?

My father fought in the Second World War, and his father in the First World War. Both fought for freedom, for America, for our survival and way of life. Today, some 138,000 men and women are deployed in Iraq, and multiplied thousands more in other troubled places around the globe. More than 800 soldiers have died in this war against terror, and others will likely pay the greatest price in the coming weeks and months as this conflict continues.

They are fighting for the same causes: to preserve and promote the freedoms we exercise by meeting for worship this morning. To protect us. In this war against terror, the president explains that our soldiers fight in Iraq so we won’t have to fight in America. They fight in the streets of Baghdad so we won’t have to fight in the streets of Dallas.

What must we do to continue the struggle so many have died to win? How can we live in a way which makes their sacrifice worthwhile? David would sound these notes of truth and challenge.

First, some of us are called to military service. God called David to be the commander of his armies, to win freedom and peace for his people. David was as called to be a military general as he was to be a king or a psalmist. If he had refused God’s call to arms, he would have had no nation to lead.

In the same way, some of us are called to arms today. I met a young lady on the shuttle bus last Sunday who has graduated from high school and our youth ministry to enter the Air Force. I pray weekly for a young man who graduated recently from our youth ministry and is serving our country at war today. It may be that God calls your children or mine to military service, to a mighty purpose, a cause worth its cost.

Some of us are called to political leadership. David was called to be a warrior, but also a king. He ruled the nation he defended. Some of us are called to the same challenge.

A dear friend in our congregation has asked me to pray for him as he considers his future in this direction. Others of you are engaged in various levels of public service in our community and beyond. God is likely calling still others to such leadership, to a mighty purpose, a cause worth its cost.

And all of us are called to spiritual warfare. David was a warrior, a king, but also a worship leader and psalmist. He fought for his nation on the battlefield and in the throne room, but also in the halls of worship. He led the nation to return the Ark of the Covenant to its rightful place, and led his people in the worship of the God of that Ark. He wrote some of the most moving and transformative worship literature in biblical history. He fought and he led, but all from his knees.

In the same way, we are each called to join the spiritual war which rages around us. Scripture teaches that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

How do we fight this war? Paul commands: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (v. 18).

Pray with gratitude. Not just on an annual Memorial Day weekend, but each day. If America’s wars had ended differently, we would still be British subjects; or we would still live in a world of slavery; or German, Japanese, or Communist aggressors would rule our globe; or al-Qaeda terrorists would today determine the future of our nation and our faith. If the men and women we remember today had not defended our nation and our freedoms, those freedoms would not exist today.

Pray with urgency. As you thank God for their sacrifice, pray for the loved ones they left behind. Intercede for grieving mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Pray for those who are fighting for our freedoms today. Fight at their side in prayer.

And pray for spiritual victory in the spiritual war for souls to which our church is called.

Paul adds: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (vs. 19-20).

Pray that for me and for us. Pray for your church to take Christ to this community and beyond. Pray for God to empower our ministries and missions this summer, for him to draw lost souls to Jesus each weekend, for our people to become the ministers they are called to be. This is a mighty purpose, a cause worth its cost.

Conclusion

On this Memorial Day weekend, remember George Bernard Shaw’s words: “This is the true joy in life…being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.” Are you dedicated to a mighty purpose? One which is worthy of the sacrifices made by millions on your behalf? One which is worth your life and your all? A cause worth its cost?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying, “If a man hasn’t found a cause worth dying for, he isn’t fit to live.” Nineteenth-century British missionaries found such a cause. As they departed England for Africa, many packed their belongings in long, narrow wooden boxes—their own coffins. They knew that, more than likely, they would return home in those coffins. Felled by disease and violence, many did. But their cause was worth its cost and more.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, the English runner Harold Abrams races against the Scottish champion Eric Liddell and loses. It’s the first loss of his life. The pain of his failure is so great that he tells his girlfriend he will never race again. “If I can’t win, I won’t run,” he insists. She wisely replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

Today we remember 1.1 million men and women who ran the race for us and won the freedom we celebrate this day. Now we must answer their sacrifice with our own. We are called to a mighty purpose, to a cause worth its cost. We can do no more to honor their sacrifice.

We must do no less.