“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1).”
Last Christmas a friend gave me a neat 2012 calendar. We both are Civil War buffs, and this one had that theme.
Each month I look forward to seeing the cool painting depicting some scene from the conflict. I refuse to look ahead and spoil it.
When I woke up on May 1 I turned the calendar over from a picture of Grant leaving the Battle of the Wildnerness and surprisingly turning south. Heretefore, every Union general before him had retreated north.
As a southerner, I was glad to move on from April, though I surely wouldn’t have wanted a surviving Confederate States of America today! I just have a lot of admiration for the South, my home state of Virginia and the spirit they took into their fight with the North.
The new painting confronting me the other morning was befitting of the spring day ahead of me, with bright colors and plants. It showed a woman in a light purple hoop dress standing in front of a mansion.
Next to her was a man in a Confederate uniform, looking at her from the side. Both had troubled looks on their faces.
The caption of the picture read: “Duty, Honor, and Tears”. The full description explained that the painting depicted Captain Hugh Nelson saying good bye to his beloved wife on May 24 after a fast overnight visit from the battlefield.
It was the last time they would see each other. In August, Captain Nelson died of malaria.
Nelson was a Unionist and represented his county with that position in the Virginia state secession convention. But when Virginia voted to secede he followed his home state, and he died defending it.
As the painting by artist Mort Kunstler reflects, it must have been extremely difficult for Captain Nelson to leave his wife and go back to the battlefield: devastating in fact.
It was quite a sacrifice to leave his beautiful wife to do his duty. Indeed, Nelson eventually paid the ultimate sacrifice and left her arms for good.
However, at the time Nelson’s death was probably only viewed as an honorable one by his fellow southerners. The people of the North considered him a traitor.
In an episode of the TV medical drama “House”, another soldier is shown doing what he believes is his duty. This soldier, a veteran of the current conflict in Afghanistan, blows the whistle on his fellows.
PFC Brant Macklin is carried off the plane when he gets home by military police. Collapsing at the airport, he is taken to the hospital, where he meets up with Dr. Gregory House and his medical team.
By his side is his brother and fellow soldier Hayes Maclin. Brant’s brother, a by-the-book army captain, has a difficult time dealing with his brother’s treason. So do some of the doctor’s, who think Brant is a turncoat.
Brant was in charge of archiving a video of an attack by American soldiers on Afghani enemy troops. However, as he watches the tape, he learns that it was actually a massacre of civilians. He tells House:
My job was to log that tape, get all the details in the official record. After the tenth time of watching it, I stopped trying to convince myself that the shovel could have been mistaken for a gun. ‘Cause all I could see were the victims’ faces. All I was doing was trying to read that kid’s lips to make out his last words. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t eat. Think I like the cue ball look? My hair turned gray in three days. My body was telling me I had to do whatever I could to make sure that something like this never happened again.
So Brant leaked the tape to the public. He put it on the Internet. Given his military background, with a father and brother who served honorably, this was a big step.
As General William T. Sherman told a group of military cadets years after what the South calls The War Between the States: “War is Hell.” If we Christians are truly engaged in the spiritual war we fight, having to make the kinds of choices made by Captain Nelson and PFC Maclin should probably be our experience.
We are up against a terrible enemy who will stop at nothing to defeat us, but he doesn’t come at us with guns and other physical weapons. The devil and his army of demons attack us spiritually. The Scriptures say:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12).
Thus, our own fight against Satan and his followers is spiritual also. The author of Ephesians goes on to detail our spiritual offensive and defensive weapons (Ephesians 6: 13-16)).
However, although our weapons are spiritual, we may find that in order to do our duty to God and honor Him we will have to sacrifice in very practical, life-altering ways. We indeed may have to follow the actual course Captain Nelson and PFC Macklin did to serve honorably. Those who follow God may have to risk their futures, perhaps even giving them up.
A young Jewish girl named Hadasshah learned this after it appeared her life had become quite rosy. She went from being an everyday young lady to sitting on a royal throne, only to be faced with losing it all in short order.
Hadasshah was made the Queen of Persia, the world power of her time. She became known as Esther.
Unfortunately for her, she was faced with a dilemma when her husband, King Xerxes, listened to his prime minister and ordered the death of every Jew in the land. The conflict came when her cousin and the person who raised her, a man named Mordecai, implored her to go to the king and intervene on the Jews behalf.
Esther sent a message to Mordecai which expressed her fears at what he was asking her to do:
“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law:that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” (Esther 4:11).
The Scriptures describe Mordecai’s response:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:12-14)
Esther went to the king even though she risked her life in doing so. As a result of her actions, the ripple effect of events led to the Jewish people being saved from destruction.
Is it possible God may want us to give up a relationship or a goal, even honorable spiritual ones that look good on the surface, in order to follow His better plan? From my personal experience, you’s better believe it!
I’m not bragging, though. When I look back on my life, I can only think of a couple occasions when I took a step which I believed God wanted me to take which was self sacrificing. Most other times, if truth be told, there could be a case that I tried to light my own fire and manipulate the circumstances to my advantage.
Those couple times of giving up my future possibilities for what God wanted were heart-wrenching. The decisions were made with pleas, prayers and tears for a different outcome. I can only hope that when the final book is published recording my life on this Earth that those sacrifices paid eternal dividends.