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John McCain: A Life That Reminds Us Why We Value Sacrifice

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Scrolling through Facebook over the past weekend, a post caught my eye. My friend had shared a video link to the speech American Senator John McCain gave when he received the Liberty Medal last year (the Liberty Medal recognizes leadership in the pursuit of freedom). His comment that went along with the video included the statement, “Thank you for your great service to our country”.

I remember thinking the comment was peculiar because, at a time when political debate via Facebook is so commonplace, I had grown  used to seeing this friend post particularly left-winged, Democratic articles. If I knew one thing of John McCain, it was that he was a lifelong Republican Senator, and two-time Republican presidential nominee—far on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Shortly after my friend’s post, Senator John McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25th, 2018, after a year-long battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Twitter, former president Barack Obama of the Democratic Party spoke out to highlight the shared fidelity he had with McCain to “the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.” Obama continued, praising the Senator who ran against him in the 2008 presidential election for his great courage and dedication to putting the greater good above his own.

Echoing the same sentiment, former president George Bush, who competed with McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries, also shared his very high opinion of McCain’s public service, and his vibrant, vivid life.

Since the news of his passing, I’ve seen a wave of posts across political lines that show due honor and respect to this man’s long life of service. On my social media feed, friends from competing parties have displayed a common outpouring of sympathy to his family and tributes to his long career serving our country. Many have even dubbed him an American Hero.

As a young man, John McCain served in the Vietnam War. When his plane was shot down, he was captured and kept as a prisoner of war for over five years. After enduring injuries caused by the plane crash, as well as torture at the hands of his captors, John McCain was eventually released. Later, he entered into what would become a lifelong career as a public servant.

Personally, what I find most striking about the life of John McCain, is that he had a big-picture view of life. He made sacrifices, but always with purpose. He believed in the history of sacrifice that built up this nation with ideals like freedom, prosperity, and justice—and he strongly urged the U.S. to be a champion of these ideals abroad in order to build a better world. He knew that this position didn’t come without costs, but believed in an innate moral obligation to do good where good could be done.

This man’s death had a way of humbling an entire nation, and called for a brief respite where political differences could be set aside, and people across party lines could express gratefulness for how he served. John McCain fought for our country. He was wounded and tortured, and it didn’t deter him from continuing to fight for what he thought was best. He was willing to make sacrifices because he believed they were worth it.

John McCain was a determined, dedicated man. But, to be sure, he had no shortage of critics and contentious moments of service…especially in relation to his congressional voting record. He often challenged traditionalists in his own party and ruffled many feathers. He had a “do what it takes” reputation that could come off as offensive to those who weren’t totally on board with what he thought needed to be done.

Despite his faults and shortcomings, after his passing, most will remember him for the sacrifices he made for his nation. And it is in his sacrificial moments that I see a reality that should point us to the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The outpouring of tributes to Senator John McCain shows that people are drawn to this idea of sacrifice. We respect and long for an example of someone who knows good, and will give anything up to pursue it. But Jesus is the only one who can truly meet those longings.

Jesus knew the costs of His sacrifice, and yet He willingly gave himself up. He suffered at the hands of men who tortured and wounded Him. But the Bible says that He endured the cross for the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus had joy in the sacrifice He made because He knew it was worth it. It was worth it because by His single act, He achieved the ultimate good. He gave up Himself, and in turn, an entire world of people were saved.

Human effort and human sacrifice is limited—even the sacrifice of someone dubbed an “American Hero”. No human effort will ever lead to a perfect world. But Jesus, in all His power, gave Himself up so that He could make us perfect by His blood.

As I see a nation honoring and praising a man who gave up so much for our country, it challenges me to remember that the highest honor and praise belong to Jesus alone—because it was Jesus who gave His very life for the truest “ultimate good”. The good Jesus brought is perfect relational restoration to the God who created us, which is the only way we can know real peace, joy, and freedom.

Do We Die Alone?

Written by Kim Cheung, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

Granny lay breathless on her bed, making occasional groans and moans due to the pain and discomfort she was feeling. Her wrinkled face seemed to have aged further.

I sat by her bedside, never once taking my eyes off her. Summoning up all her strength, she opened her eyes, looking me straight in the eye.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. My question was met by silence; she didn’t have any strength left to speak.

Three weeks had passed since Granny first returned home from the hospital. Including her time spent at the hospital, it had been 17 days since she last ate any solid food. It never occurred to me that she would ever become so weak.

Aside from the fact she was 92 and had a history of heart disease, Granny’s health was always in tiptop condition. She didn’t require much care in her daily life; she ate and slept well every day, so much so that she seemed even healthier than those much younger than her. Furthermore, she always had a positive outlook on life (unlike her peers) and often said that she had to live well to keep up with the progress of our world today.

And yet at this very moment, she was a dying old person struggling in the final moments of her life. She looked like she was in intense pain. A whirlwind of emotions raged in my heart beneath my calm exterior, and I wondered: How could I best comfort her and bring her some relief in this situation?

The answer came quickly—there was nothing I could do but pray.

At this point, she gently stretched out her hand and held on to mine. Though her hand was frail, it felt exceptionally warm. I quietly prayed in my heart: Lord, You are with her. Please come and comfort her with your presence. Only You can bring true comfort . . . After a while, Granny seemed to have fallen asleep; there was a peaceful look on her face. I slowly removed my hand and prayed that the Lord would hold on to hers.

This was the very first time I witnessed someone struggling in her final moments. And yet, death is something all of us will eventually experience ourselves one day. Who would accompany us on this long and lonely road then?

I recalled a sharing from many years ago which stuck with me: All of us come to this earth alone and will have to leave in the same manner—alone. Though it sounded pessimistic, the reality of it hit home at that very moment. Our family and friends can only be with us in our final moments on earth, but it’s impossible for anyone to accompany us on the journey to the afterlife.

And this is what leaves many in despair. Death is already what many fear the most—to think that we have to face our deepest and darkest fear all alone!

Thankfully, I found hope in Christ. Because the Lord is always with us, there is never a single moment in time when we are alone. He goes with us through the mountains and valleys of our lives. David said in Psalm 23:4 (ESV), “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

And beyond that, Jesus has also gained victory over the stronghold of death, as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” So we no longer face ignorance and despair after we die, but rather life, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This shows the extent of God’s love for us—He is always with us and He wants to bring us new life.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that we only come to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s presence when we are approaching life’s end. This is because we we can no longer depend on anyone or anything else. Only in our loneliest moment do we  discover that God alone is our surest, stable Rock in whom we can place our trust.

Only He can bring us true comfort and help in our darkest time. Only God will be with us forever—everything else is temporal and will fade away.

I thank the Lord that I’ll never be alone even as I finish my journey here on earth.

So for my remaining days here, I live with that perspective in mind, trusting in His faithfulness and leaning on Him as my dependable Rock.

Dearest Lord Jesus, please hold on tightly to my hand.

Getting to Know Billy Graham After His Death

Just as I was prepared to turn in for the night, a text notification popped up on my phone screen. It was a web link to an article titled: “US Preacher Billy Graham dies”.

That was the first of a string of other text messages I received last night from friends who had read the news that the world’s best-known modern evangelist had passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, USA. He was 99.

Truth be told, I was surprised . . . that he had still been alive all this while (to all Graham fans, please pardon my ignorance). All I knew was that he was a really old and renowned television evangelist and I had heard my pastor mention his name a couple of times on the pulpit.

 

Who is Billy Graham?

Not wanting to look ignorant or miss out on what seemed to be the passing of one of the most influential men of the 20th century, I decided to do some research.

Needless to say, every report I read pointed to one thing: Billy Graham was no ordinary man.

He’s been called the world’s most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul, a counselor to American presidents, and a great uniter. He’s preached to millions of people all over the world, including North Korea, the Soviet Union, and some of the poorest Third World villages.

As I pored over the tributes and obituaries, it’s evident that this man had made a great impact for the gospel in his 99 years of life. In fact, one of my friends just told me that his father had become a Christian after attending an evangelistic rally by Graham held in Singapore 40 years ago.

So, if like me, you’re wondering who this guy is and what’s the big deal about his death, here are some key facts about the man:

  • Graham was born in 1918 and brought up on his family’s dairy farm in North Carolina, USA.
  • After hearing a travelling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, he became a committed Christian at the age of 16.
  • He became a full-time evangelist with Youth For Christ, a Christian youth organization that reached out to young people and service personnel.
  • Over six decades, he preached to 215 million people in 185 countries.
  • Through radio and television, he’s reached hundreds of millions.
  • He preached his final revival meeting in New York in 2005 at the age of 86.

Though Graham—like every other person—was not perfect, what struck me as I read through all the reports of his life and death, was how he managed to keep his life untainted amid financial and sexual scandals that plagued other church ministers, leaders, and TV evangelists. Graham exemplified what true religion was: he kept a tight rein of his tongue, went out of his way to reach the orphans and widows, and kept his life unpolluted by the world (James 1:26-27).

And the other aspect of his life that intrigued me was how he kept his life and ministry sharply focused on one thing: proclaiming Christ. Yet he never made a big deal out of the influence and reach that he had, recognizing that salvation is only by God’s grace alone.

“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me’,” he once said.

What a beautiful reminder. As we celebrate his life and mourn his passing, may we all aspire to echo his words at the end of our lives as well.

An Open Letter to A Friend Gone Too Soon

Written by Agnes Lee, Singapore

Dear Joshua,

I will never forget October 23, 2017. It seemed so surreal seeing you lying motionless in the casket, dressed in your best. Tears swelled up in my eyes as I remembered how you had been such a good friend to my husband and me.

Your abrupt departure from this earth caught us completely off-guard. Your mother shared with us the details of your sudden heart attack as you were preparing to leave for work that fateful morning.

As I stood by your casket, I pictured you right there with us, comforting us with your smiles as you stood together with Jesus—a reminder that you were off to a far better place than before (one where there would no longer be any tears or pain). That image brought much solace to my aching heart.

It’s hard to express the pain we felt from losing you. We shared so many good memories together and on some days it’s hard to believe that you’re gone.

You were truly a beacon of light that shone brightly wherever you went. I remember how my husband and I would quarrel over the most minor details on our trips together (especially in our early days of marriage) and how you would be the peacemaker. Your oft repeated phrase, “Please don’t quarrel, it troubles me when you do” still rings in my ears today and is something that I always remember whenever a quarrel is about to erupt between my husband and me. You can’t imagine how many unhappy quarrels you’ve saved us from! Your gentle nature and desire for peace reminds me to walk in the same manner and exercise the spirit of gentleness and self-control.

I know it was tough for you to have this perpetual heart condition. It mustn’t have been easy having to consume medication on a daily basis for the past 10 years (after having your heart bypass surgery). You also had difficulty catching your breath after walking a certain distance and would perspire profusely. Yet, I never once heard you complain or blame God for this sickness you had.

Instead, whenever you were feeling down, you would choose to bow down before God and worship Him. I witnessed firsthand how you lived each day for God, leaning on Him for the strength that you needed and trusting in His sovereignty over your circumstances.

You reminded me of Job in the Bible through the way you dealt with your sickness and how you responded to God in the midst of the most trying of circumstances.

I remember the times when you planned to go out with us but had to stay at home because you were feeling unwell. Whenever we met, you always had a smile on your face even if your heart condition caused you great discomfort.

You always placed the interests of others before your own too, showing consideration to others in the midst of your own pain and discomfort. Remember the time we were on our way back to Singapore from our short trip to Batam? We were in a hurry to catch the ferry and both of us were lagging behind because we could not run as fast as the others. You noticed that I was struggling with the bags of crackers I bought and in the midst of trying to catch your breath—and the ferry—you still stopped to take the load off me.

This small act of kindness left a deep impression on me and I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me.

As I recall your life, the words of Joshua 1:9 come to mind (I remember that it’s your favorite verse too!): “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 You displayed such strength and courage even though your heart was weak and your body was gradually breaking down. You knew that the Lord was with you at all times and you never despaired of life, no matter how tough it got.

Through the way you related with all around you (especially caring for your elderly parents who have yet to come to know God), you have inspired me to want to live a faith-filled life with God.

Thank you for leaving us with a legacy of your faith that stirs our hearts towards our Creator.

You have fought the good fight, ran the race and kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Now it is my turn to run this race well, just as you have.

Farewell and till the day we meet again . . .

 

Your friend,

Agnes.