Tag Archives: inspiration

Tailgating with the Greatest Generation

USNA class of 1942It was a gorgeous, warm, sunny Saturday afternoon on the grounds surrounding the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. My family was in our regular spot setting up our canopy, tables, chairs, and food for yet another tailgate party. That’s our tradition before every home Navy football game, and it’s been that way for my wife Blairlee and my in-laws for many years. Noticeably hoisted in our little camp is the United States Naval Academy Class of 1942 banner. Blairlee’s grandfather, Commander Robert Childers, USN (ret.), was a Class of ’42 graduate. When he and his wife died in 2000 and 2001 respectively, my mother-in-law took on the duty of hoisting their class’s banner. That banner has been posted in the same spot for many, many years and to this day reminds every passerby of one of the greatest classes the Academy has ever known.

Over the years, the number of Class of ’42 graduates who show up to their tailgate party has steadily dwindled down. They’re all in their late 80’s and early 90’s now. So at most of our tailgate parties, my family members, the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Robert Childers, USNA 1942, are the only ones present.

But on this past Saturday afternoon as we were setting up for the much-anticipated Navy-Air Force game, two men from the Class of ’42 parked and strolled over to join us. They came with coolers of food and drink and plenty of conversation. One of them seemed to be particularly careful to make sure we each had enough to eat and drink. I guess that was his grandfatherly side showing itself! As I asked them questions and got to know them, I saw that these men carried an air of both strength and humility. Like so many other women and men in uniform, they served, often in dangerous assignments, defending our country and asking for very little in return. They were sailors who spent the better part of their adulthood as officers in the United States Navy. They served all over the world, retired in the early 1970’s, and worked civilian jobs until they reached their second retirement. They weren’t quick to tell war stories or talk much about the things they accomplished. It’s almost as if their service in the Navy was as much a part of their being as breathing. (I mean, who waxes eloquent about taking a breath?)

As I got to know these men from the Class of ’42, I learned the distinctive mark of their class: they graduated and were commissioned a semester early. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, launching the United States into World War II. Eleven days later, on December 19, 1941, the USNA Class of 1942 graduated and were deployed into war. 44 of them died during the conflict. Now, out of a class of 563, there are about 100 left.

These men are a part of a dying breed, a generation once dubbed by journalist Tom Brockaw as “the Greatest Generation.” Born in the late teens and early twenties of the last century, this generation grew up during the Great Depression. Over 10-million of them served in World War II while the rest stayed home to operate an extremely efficient war machine. When the war ended, they started families and built an enormous industrial, academic, economic, and military force which would elevate the United States to be the greatest superpower the world has ever known.

Never before or after this generation has our country seen the kind of ingenuity, loyalty, and hard work they produced. They were the parents of my parents, and they were my grandparents. And there are fewer of them as the years pass along.

Sadly, this will be the last Navy football season in which the Class of ’42 will host a tailgating spot. With so few who come to games anymore, the survivors of their class elected to give up their spot. So, we’re doing it up big this year, celebrating and remembering a class of true heroes. Long after the last of the USNA Class of 1942 dies, their legacy will live on, not only in the United States Navy, but throughout the country and our world. They forever challenge future generations to live up to our best– to live a life of service, honor, sacrifice, faith, and hard work for the betterment of the world around us.


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More Inspiration from the Early Church Fathers: The Dying Prayer of Polycarp

PolycarpI’m still reading through some of the writings from our early Church Fathers, the ones known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (those who wrote before the Nicene Council of 324 AD.) To make a long story short, these writers were among the second generation of the Church, mentored by Apostles like Paul, Peter, and John. They provide a rare glimpse of what church life was like in the years immediately after the biblical records. They also show the tremendous perils the early Church faced, everything from dangerously divisive heresies to life-threatening persecution.

Polycarp, mentored by the Apostle John, was the leader of the church in Smyrna, a town located in modern day Turkey. He was eighty-six years old when he was captured, arrested, and publicly executed by the Roman authorities, and after his death, Polycarp became a widely celebrated hero of the Church throughout the Roman Empire. We still have some of his writings and the detailed description of his arrest and death called “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.”

Persecution and execution of Christians during this period of time was no rarity. The Roman Empire regarded Christians as “atheists” and “heretics”, atheists because they did not worship Roman idols and heretics for not acknowledging Caesar as a god. Christians were rounded up, coerced, tortured, and threatened with death to offer incense to idols and to say, “Caesar is Lord.” In response, most of these Christians refused and replied, “Christ is Lord.”

In the famous “Martyrdom of Polycarp” we have a story told by eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Polycarp’s arrest, trial, and death. There are a lot of obvious allusions to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death, specifically Polycarp riding into Smyrna on a donkey, his silence before the questions and accusations hurled against him by the governor of the city, and the roar of the crowd demanding his death. One memorable scene occurs in Chapter 9 when the Governor of Smyrna demanded Polycarp to denounce his faith:

The Governor, however, still went on pressing him. “Take the oath, and I will let you go,” he told him. “Revile your Christ.” Polycarp’s reply was, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

But my favorite, most moving scene from the entire account is Polycarp’s final prayer before the Roman authorities attempted to burn him alive. (I say “attempted” for a reason. You’ll have to read the account for yourself to find out what happened!) Here is what he prayed, rendered into current English:

O Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of yourself; you are the God of angels and powers, of the whole creation, and of all generations of the righteous who live in your sight. I bless you for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered among the martyrs, to share in the cup of your Anointed and to rise again to everlasting life, both in body and in soul, in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among them this day in your presence, a sacrifice rich and acceptable, even as you appoint and foreshadow, and now bring to pass, for you are the God of truth in whom there is no falsehood. For this, and for all else, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you; through our eternal High Priest in heaven, your beloved Son Jesus Christ, by whom and through whom be glory to you and the Holy Spirit, now and for all ages to come. Amen.

If only you and I could faithfully pray with such passion and love! So often, though, our comfortable existence reduces our prayers to formalities and formulas. Maybe if were more like Polycarp and stood a little taller and bolder for Christ, we might be forced into learning how to pray something like this. And then we’d rediscover just how much God honors the prayers of the saints to reveal the fullness of God’s glory and power.


Filed under Christian thought, Musings

Everyday Inspiration from the Early Church Fathers

IgnatiusHave you ever noticed that in the large, lucrative frenzy of Christian media, we rarely if ever hear from ancient Christian voices? Yes, we read biblical texts from the Apostle Paul, John, Peter, James, and the gospel writers. But what about the writings of those whom they mentored– the writings of 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Century Christians? For the most part, they’ve been lost into obscurity, tucked away on the bookshelves of seminaries and church history professors. Meanwhile, everyday Christians never get to benefit from the wisdom and inspiration that comes from the writings of our ancient Church Fathers. Foundational Church leaders like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Augustine, and many others have such wisdom and inspiration to share with us 21st Century disciples of Jesus, but so few of us ever get to hear from them.

So what awakened me to give them a second read?

I recently alluded to them in a sermon illustration by saying that we Christians often look to the saints of the past for direction and encouragement in the present. I then rattled off names of several prominent Christian saints, realizing right then that most of my congregation may never have heard a word from any of them or have easy access to their writings. To them, people like Augustine, Julian of Norwich, and Francis of Assisi are just names and faces. What’s to learn from that?

Sensing a desire for their wisdom and inspiration, I felt drawn to hear from these saints again. Ministry can get downright draining and frustrating. Ancient brothers like Clement or Ignatius just might have something to say to me in my day to day struggles. I had studied a sampling of their writings while taking seminary church history courses, but since then, I haven’t  read those books again to read them just for myself, for my own benefit.

So today I dug up one of my seminary books: the Penguin Classics edition of Early Christian Writings. Not too long ago I finished reading Clement of Rome’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Clement was the presiding elder (traditionally “bishop”) of the church in Rome, writing out of concern for the divisions and factions he had heard about in the Corinthian church. Apparently, some folks were trying to uproot and replace the leadership of their church. Clement wrote his letter to encourage humility, repentance, love, cooperation, and a respect for the authority which Paul himself probably appointed. His writings were laced with Old Testament scripture and allusions to numerous New Testament scriptures. Clement even referenced Paul’s first letter to them, what we now call First Corinthians, which had already become a widely circulated letter among the early church. (I thought that was way cool!) All in all, Clement was passionate, unquestionably thorough, sometimes less than perfect, but authentically sincere in encouraging this sister church of his to seek out Christ’s healing and reconciliation.

Here’s a sample from Clement’s letter:

If there is true Christian love in a man, let him carry out the precepts of Christ. Who can describe the constraining power of a love for God? It’s majesty and its beauty who can adequately express? No tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us. Love binds us fast to God. Love casts a veil over sins innumerable. There are no limits to love’s endurance, no ends to its patience. Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance. Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship. It was in love that all God’s chosen saints were made perfect; for without love nothing is pleasing to Him. It was in love that the Lord drew us to Himself; because of the love He bore us, our Lord Jesus Christ, at the will of God, gave blood for us– His flesh for our flesh, His life for our lives. (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, chapter 49)

Did you hear echoes from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter”? That was intentional on Clement’s part. He pulled his Corinthian listeners back to those all-too-familiar words of Paul in order to address their present crisis. There’s also an allusion to 1 Peter 4:8.

Clement’s entire letter reads like this. It was really a joy to wipe the dust off this book and give it a fresh read. I can’t wait to dig into the letters of Ignatious and Polycarp, too!

One more thought: as I was reading, I kept thinking how fantastic it would be for an influential Christian publisher like Zondervan, Tyndale, or Thomas Nelson to re-translate and publish these ancient Christian writings into a book for contemporary Christians. It might create a new surge of interest in the early Church Fathers who would provide far more biblically based wisdom and inspiration than much of the popular tripe that passes for Christian teaching these days. Otherwise, these ancient writers will only stay buried on academic bookshelves while we miss the priceless treasure they offer us.


Filed under Christian thought, Musings

The Unbridled Power of the Word

Hebrew Bible

As a pastor, I spend a lot of time each week studying the Scriptures for for the teaching and preaching I do. But I’m also a consummate student of the Bible. If somebody dropped a large wad of cash in my lap and I had my choice of PhD programs, I wouldn’t hesitate to pursue biblical studies. I love the discipline of studying the ancient languages that formed Bible’s original texts, while learning the historical, political, religious, and cultural backgrounds that shaped their composition. Drawing on all these skills along with my undergraduate background of literary analysis, it’s a thrill to unpack and explain the Bible’s meaning and its timely intersection with everyday life in the here and now.

However, there’s an inherent danger in my work. Dr. Craig Hill, my New Testament and Greek professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, pointed it out. He warned us that even in all our attempts to critique and examine the Bible, as Christians we must allow the Bible’s rightful place to examine and critique us. I understand his warning  to mean that we must develop a “second naivete” towards the Bible, free from critical and analytical thinking, that allows the Word of God to speak for itself, forming us into the image of Jesus.

This happened to me on Saturday as I was putting the finishing touches on Sunday’s message. As usual, I formed my sermon around a few passages of Scripture. In this case, one of them happened to be Ephesians 3:14-21, which reads:

…I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

If you’ve ever read through the book of Ephesians, then you know how magnificently it reads. The author, in his attempt to describe the heavenly reality he sees, spills out his words to overflowing in long, breathtaking, ornate phrases. For him, our experience of Jesus Christ is so astounding that the words can’t flow fast enough from his mind to the page. From beginning to end, the whole book of Ephesians reads this way.

Now, I’ve just given you my brief analytical synopsis of the book of Ephesians’ style and tone. I was prepared to share something like this on Sunday morning. Yet as I was reading the above passage one more time in preparation, suddenly those thundering words showed themselves for what they really are: the unbridled, eternal, earth-shaking Word of God. No longer would this passage sit passively to be analyzed, parsed, and explained. The Word burst the bonds of my feeble thinking to resonate with a tremendous, holy power. I began to see a truth, which if heard and believed, could completely revolutionize my life and the life of my congregation.

I saw a Word which spoke of being strengthened by the Holy Spirit’s power. Then I remembered this same power raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:18-20). And not only is the power of the Holy Spirit in us, but the risen Christ dwells in us as well. This power gives us the strength to comprehend the vast, multidimensional, infinite love of God. God’s love is greater than any human knowledge to be had. I could Google anything I wanted for an eternity and come to know all things, but God’s love would far surpass any of it. Knowing this love fills us with everything that is of God. Wow! Did you hear that? The God who formed the universe fills us completely as we grasp the powerful presence of his love. This same love can accomplish anything beyond the outer limits of our wildest imaginations… Everything of this great love and power culminates in the glorification of God, for all time and in all people.

Whew… When I let go and allow myself to be raptured into the sweep of this Word, life is no longer the same. And what’s amazing still: this is just one small passage of Scripture. Could you fathom what would happen to us if we stopped to listen long enough to the rest of the Bible, to every word of it? We would be unrecognizable!

Oh Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Humble us to the unbridled power of your Word that would blow through us, crush us, form us, and set us ablaze with your Holy Spirit. Make it so in my own life, God. Please do it… Amen.


Filed under Christian thought