We live in a world where there are very few real heroes or positive role models. Hardly anyone today comes to mind of whom I can unequivocally say, ‘Hey, this guy is a real hero – please emulate him’. One can only say the opposite about most well known folks today: “Hey, do not imitate this guy. Do not follow that woman”.
If anything, we now have plenty of anti-heroes. There are all sorts of super celebs who offer almost nothing of positive and lasting value to society, yet they are known the world over, and wherever they go, hordes of journalists and paparazzi are on their tails.
Think of two women for example whose every move is followed 24/7. If they sneeze it is front page news. I refer to Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. I still cannot figure out what they are so famous for. I guess they are famous simply for being famous, if that makes any sense.
Yet the whole Western world seems fixated on them, and waits with bated breath for any new word or act of theirs. We even have entire television series devoted to their mundane and uninspiring lives. Their totally self-absorbed and unedifying lives are followed by millions, and they have somehow become role models for far too many impressionable kids.
One even just had a wedding lasting all of 72 days. Many think it was just a big bucks sham; all the more grist to her PR mill. Whatever the case, this whirlwind marriage was not exactly the sort of thing to be modelling to our young people. Yet because she did it, countless others will think it is neat and worth emulating.
Indeed, we have had many heroes turn to zeros. This happens on a regular basis. In the sporting world, we have Australian footballers like Ben Cousins plunge from the heavens with a glorious football career to shame and scandal. Or we have professional golfers like Tiger Woods also falling from grace big time.
And of course the church is not immune from all this. Plenty of big cheese pastors have been shot down in sexual scandals or other public acts of disgrace. It seems for every true hero we find, there are dozens of anti-heroes and lousy role models.
And a generation of kids raised on no or few decent role models and heroes, but instead reared on lousy role models and anti-heroes, is going to turn out to be a fallen generation indeed. No wonder our society is in such a mess. We have kids emulating every sleazy, selfish and sinful celeb around, and society is going down the tubes fast.
But real heroes are what make for great societies. That is why all the world’s great literature is made up of great heroes. Those mighty heroes who slay dragons, rescue princesses, battle enemy armies, triumph over adversity, and overcome tremendous odds, are the stuff of our great stories.
We love reading such stories. They inspire us. The great courage, dedication, selflessness and heroism are like magnets, drawing us out of our narrow and self-centered lives, calling us forth to do great deeds and perform great exploits.
And all the popular, best selling films also feature a hero saving the day. We love such films and applaud such heroes. Whether it is the various Superman films, Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones’ flicks, Matrix trilogy, Lord of the Rings series, or any of the many other superhero films, such movies always tend to do really well.
Sure, all the special effects and razzamatazz helps sell movie tickets, but we love the storylines. Some sort of major conflict requires resolution, and a brave individual or group overcome the odds to save the day and make things right. Often a great injustice is dealt with, or a horrible crisis is averted.
Whatever the actual plot, we love seeing good prevail, justice triumph, and the good guy win. If even secular Hollywood filmmakers know this so very well, then believers certainly need to stand up and take notice. But where are the heroes in our churches today?
I actually gave a sermon on this topic this morning. I said our kids are crying out for real heroes, not all the lousy antiheroes they are inundated with in popular culture. I encouraged everyone there to be the heroes the world is crying out to see.
I had Hebrews 11 read at the beginning of the service. This is the famous hall of fame chapter, where so many great biblical heroes of the faith are mentioned. I then looked at three relatively recent examples of men and women of faith who were great inspiring role models: William Wilberforce; three Oxford students who turned their world upside down (John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield); and Mother Teresa.
I closed by mentioning a TV documentary I had seen just hours earlier. Late Saturday night (and early Sunday morning) there was a World War II doco being aired. It focused on a number of individual heroes, as well as entire armies of heroes.
One group were pilots and airmen stationed in Britain toward the end of the war who flew sorties into Europe and Germany. Bomber squadrons would make the long, arduous and dangerous journeys over enemy territory, deliver their cargoes, and hope to return home.
They were often roused early in the morning, briefed about their mission, and sent on their way. There were many hundreds of bombers with many hundreds of crewmen flying many hundreds of missions, seeking to soften up the German war machine and slow down the Nazi war offensive.
These courageous men faced huge obstacles and fierce resistance. On every mission many of the planes and many of their crew never returned. All were presumed killed or captured. Yet over and over they went again, knowing that the only way to end the war and stop the Nazis was by risking their lives in these air raids.
They also knew something really big was being planned, and they were all on edge in anticipation. Finally D-Day arrived: June 6, 1944. Woken at two in the morning, after just a half hour of sleep, they were brought into the briefing room and finally informed of this final assault.
Landing on the beaches of Normandy would be the biggest amphibious assault in history. Over 5000 ships with nearly 200,000 Allied personnel were involved. And the bomber crews also had a key role to play. They were told of their mission, and the documentary covers a key moment in all this.
As they were lined up, ready to board their planes, one of the military leaders informed them that in this mission, not all of them would return. Some would return. But all that did not really matter, because they had a job to do. What they were involved in far outweighed concerns about individual life or death.
Sure, every single soldier hoped and prayed for a safe return, but they know that many simply would not return. Casualties would be high, and the dangers would be ominous. But the liberation of Europe, and the defeat of the Nazis was paramount, and such heroic sacrifices had to be made to bring about this vitally important outcome.
And tremendous sacrifices certainly did occur. On the first day of battle alone there were some 10,000 Allied casualties. But a year later V-E Day would be celebrated. The final victory in Europe was well worth all the suffering, sacrifice and death. Millions of lives were lost, but many more would have been lost – and freedom itself – if this fight to the finish did not take place.
I reminded my listeners today that the church is in exactly the same place. Satan has taken over planet earth, and has enslaved and destroyed countless millions of souls. Jesus came to planet earth, established a beachhead, and now we, his foot soldiers, are in the mopping up operation.
D-Day was the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime, but it still took a year of very heavy fighting to make that victory certain. In a similar fashion, Jesus ensured victory with his death and resurrection at Calvary 2000 years ago, but calls us to be part of his army to see this victory realized on planet earth.
We are in a very real war – a spiritual war to be sure, but a war that manifests itself in every area of life. And God is calling us to join his army, to leave our life of ease behind, and come and follow him, releasing the captives, pulling down the strongholds of the enemy, and planting the flag of Christ and his Kingdom.
Of course our chief weapons are prayer, intercession and spiritual warfare. But the battle fronts are many, and we must get involved at all levels. Everywhere people are under the powers of sin and darkness, languishing and dying in spiritual concentration camps.
We are called to set the captives free, and we have a real job on our hands. And as in any battle, complete sacrifice and selflessness is demanded of us. We cannot serve our heavenly Commander in Chief in a half-hearted fashion. Indeed, there is no sitting on the fence when we are in the middle of a war.
What we need now are men and women of faith, courage, determination and zeal. We need some heroes. And we need them desperately. Will you stand up and be counted? As that general said some 67 years ago, “Some of you will not return. Some of you will. But that does not matter. We have a job to do.”
(First published November 2011)
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