A jet heading from Los Angeles to Tokyo turned around four hours into the flight and returned to LAX. The crew discovered that an unauthorized person had boarded the flight, so they chose to return to Los Angeles.
What one person does can affect multitudes of people.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Sealver Siliga went to dinner with some friends on Christmas Eve. He asked the manager how many employees were still working, then left a $1,000 tip to ensure that each received $100 for Christmas.
By contrast, an employee burned a bagel in a St. Louis airport restaurant Tuesday night. Hundreds of travelers were forced to evacuate into 11-degree cold.
My wife and I recently saw Darkest Hour, a fascinating depiction of Winston Churchill’s leadership in the early days of World War II. As the film shows, government advisors pled with the new prime minister to negotiate for peace with Hitler. England’s troops were trapped at Dunkirk, on the western coast of France, as the Germans advanced.
But Churchill ordered the largest evacuation in military history, sending nearly a thousand vessels to rescue 338,226 Allied soldiers. Describing Churchill’s rhetoric, President John F. Kennedy said that he “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” turning his government from pacifism to courage.
“Being a better person” is our top resolution
In a world that is more interconnected than ever before, what we do today can affect humanity for years to come.
The good news is that we’re becoming more aware of our need to be moral. According to USA Today, a new poll shows that “being a better person” is the most popular New Year’s resolution for 2018. It was also the No. 1 resolution last year.
The bad news is that we’re still not concerned enough about our morality. The Marist Poll cited by USA Today does indeed rank morality at the top of its list. However, this was the choice of only 12 percent of responders and tied with “losing weight.”
Exercising more, eating healthier, and getting a better job each garnered 9 percent; 7 percent want to improve their overall health, 6 percent want to stop smoking, and 6 percent want to spend less and save more money. Thirty percent mention another resolution altogether.
The USA Today reporter asked social psychologists, ethicists, and religious leaders about the meaning and attainment of morality. She was told that we diverge on so many moral issues because we rank our values differently—conservatives place importance on loyalty and authority, for instance, while liberals prioritize care and fairness. And she notes that time and place affect morality: only 1 percent of Germans believe that using contraception is “morally unacceptable,” while 65 percent in Pakistan agree with that statement.
Is religion necessary for morality? According to a Pew Research Center study cited by the reporter, a majority of Americans say it is not.
A temple of works built on grace
As we prepare for a new year, how can we live in such a way that our lives impact others for good? Let’s consider an unusual story that answers our question in a surprising way.
One of the most celebratory events in biblical history began tragically: “Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1).
Here’s the back story. David presumptuously ordered a census of Israel’s military forces, an act of egregious egotism (1 Chronicles 21:1–6). He also violated the biblical requirement that a tax be paid when such a census was conducted, lest plague befall the people (Exodus 30:11–16).
As a result, plague struck the nation, killing 70,000 men of Israel (1 Chronicles 21:14). The Lord then stopped the destroying angel as he stood by “the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (v. 15). This was a flat, elevated area outside of town where Ornan separated his grain from the chaff. I have seen this process at work in Bangladesh—a farmer throws a basket full of grain into the air, and the wind blows away the chaff while the grain falls to the ground.
In this case, Ornan’s threshing floor was located atop Mt. Moriah, the same place where Abraham offered Isaac a thousand years before (Genesis 22:1–19; 2 Chronicles 3:1). At this spot, where the Lord stopped the sacrifice of Isaac, he stopped the plague. On the foundation of such grace, Solomon built the first temple in Jewish history.
In that temple, God’s people would offer their sacrifices to him. But these offerings did not earn his blessing. Rather, they positioned the people to receive the favor God intended them to experience. By grace, he transferred their guilt to the innocent animals they sacrificed and accepted their works of worship.
Today, our bodies are the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). If we stand on grace, we can offer sacrifices of works. If we embrace God’s compassion for us, we can share his compassion with others. If we know how much we are loved, we will be impassioned to love those God loves.
Then, regardless of our political alliances or personal circumstances, we will make a difference that lasts forever. In Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan notes: “God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love.”