Pastor’s Perspective – July 2019
I have just concluded a very interesting week. It is not every day that you are invited to the White House. No one expects to be greeted by the President of the United States. Nor does one ever consider that their baby brother will be recognized as a true American hero. All of this happened in the last week. To say this was surreal is an exercise in under-statement.
For those who have yet to hear, my brother David Bellavia received the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 in the East Wing of the White House. I was able to accompany him with his family, my mother, my wife and my four sons. I was personally allowed to join him and witness the President sign the official Medal of Honor document.
There is much to say and many stories to tell, but for today I will share a few brief observations from my journey. I will frame these observations with an interpretation for the modern Church; for we can glean valuable lessons from how my brother is presenting himself to the world in this moment in time.
It is all about grace. It was an honor to be present, but it was not my honor. Like everything else in my life as a pastor, I did nothing to merit this experience. During my time in Washington, D.C. I was able to bask in the borrowed favor of another man. Even my presence at the signing ceremony was predicated on my standing in the position of my father. I did not deserve to be in the White House or the Pentagon and have done nothing to merit attention.
My brother David did the heavy lifting. He showed honor and valor. David showed courage and sacrifice. I can’t even claim that David was a product of my training or evidence of my superior genetic structure. The genes and the training did not come from me but were the blessings of our parents. This is not a bitter pill to swallow, but reflects the core of the gospel message. We are not worthy, but by grace we are welcome.
This is what we mean when the Church discusses grace. It is unmerited favor. Grace is receiving something that we did not earn. It is being blessed because of the actions of another. I am not worthy of God’s favor and love, but because someone else (Jesus) bled and died for me I receive it.
It is all about love. My brother David is not comfortable with this attention. He does not want to be singled out and has consistently refused to strut or crow about his accomplishments and valor. He does not consider himself a hero for killing the enemy or even saving his men. Instead he speaks of love and the need to act based on that love.
Over and over I have heard David say that anyone would have done what he did. That is not entirely true, because if anyone could have done what he did, they would stepped into the breach. What David showed was a level of self-sacrificial love that confounds most of us civilians and many of those who call themselves Christian. Jesus told us that, “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.“
David’s love is evidenced not only in his willingness to place himself in harm’s way for his men, but also in the humility that he has shown in the years that followed. Loving people don’t need to be appreciated in order to act. Loving hearts simply act because they are compelled to service by the needs that they see. You can train any animal to act in an acceptable fashion, but love shapes the soul of a person to act in ways that can not be taught. Following orders may be a sign of obedience but acting in a manner that goes off book and simply does what the situation demands is a true sign of love.
Many Christians think they are loving because they are obedient. This of course is an act in the correct direction, but it is not truly the agape that God desires. When we show God’s love we act above and beyond expectations, not simply giving what is expected but more than seems humanly possible. How many times should a lover of God forgive? Seventy times seven? Lovers of Jesus will exceed even those lofty expectations.
No one does life alone. David’s White House award ceremony included two unique moments. The first involved his family being invited to the platform, but the second was even more telling. For the first time in the history of the award, David invited his entire unit onto the platform with the President. Furthermore in an action that showcased his heart, David stepped down from the platform so that they could all find a place.
Most people live for the applause of others. Our society is infused with this type of prideful thinking. David reminded us that none of us get where we are going without the help of family and co-laborers. We may have acted in ways that make us feel alone, but we are never truly alone. We bring with us the love and prayers of others, the support of family, the small incidental actions that so frequently go un-noticed but change the trajectory of our lives. Even the things that might be considered mistakes or failures might well have been the difference makers in our lives.
God uses everything and everybody to shape us into the people that he intends us to become. Do not presume to choose who you wish to thank. Recognize that a victorious team needs every member on the platform even as the body of Christ needs both the “good” and the “bad” members in order to accomplish the will of God in our lives and in our world.
Recognition demands endurance. David had to wait 14 years to receive for the recognition that most people knew he deserved 14 years ago. David didn’t stew or grumble. He didn’t wait for the recognition. Instead David continued to work on behalf of the Iraqi veterans. He continued to sacrifice and speak. He reached out to wounded veterans and sought to assist his men in any way possible. Soldier after soldier told me how my brother saved their life. And soldier after soldier told me how he helped them since they returned home. He lobbied the Army to bring Iraqi interpreters to America, and one of them, Sami, was present at the ceremony less than a month after becoming an American citizen. When he exited the platform on Tuesday his embrace of David’s was tear-filled and long.
It is a mistake to think that our struggle is over. We must never stop giving or acting in love. Our job is never complete. The Church is not a community that simply remembers the past. We are a living community that never stops projecting the work of Christ into our tomorrows. Churches that rely upon their past while waiting for an eternal reward will soon grow lazy and resentful. Our blessings will come, eventually. Don’t stop blessing others while waiting for that day.
I am proud of what my brother David has accomplished. I am also reminded that the work is never done for the soldier or the citizen. David should inspire us all to be better and act in nobility and Christian love. My brother David is an American hero. The lesson that his heroism should teach us is that we can be heroic also.
Love God. Love your neighbor. Act in that love and watch as the world is slowly but certainly changed for the better by the hand of God that works through you.