Standing On Others’ Shoulders – by Greg Albrecht
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton, 1676 –
Hearing or observing someone giving credit to those who helped him/her in the past (or even the present!) is an incredibly beautiful and gratifying experience.
I am forever thankful for the sacrifices made on my behalf, starting with parents and grandparents, who gave so much. Simply being able to know I stand on the shoulders of many, in so many ways, is one of my enormous blessings for which I give thanks. As Christ-followers, the Cross of Christ represents the ultimate sense in which we stand on anyone’s shoulders. On his Cross Jesus was literally lifted up from the earth and in so doing drew us all to the Father’s love and grace (John 12:32).
The Avenue of the Righteous at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which stands on one of the hilltops of Jerusalem, is one of the most breathtaking examples of a grateful generation honoring a previous generation – upon whose shoulders it stands. Of all the restored concentration camps in Europe and memorials/museums I have visited, dedicated to remembering the Holocaust of World War 2, in my case Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is the most compelling and solemn reminder of atrocity and barbarity involved in the systematic extermination of six million people.
Yet, while Yad Vashem is solemn and sobering, one of its features, called The Avenue of the Righteous, is a graceful path of thanksgiving. The Avenue of the Righteous is planted with carob trees, each tree bearing a plaque of a European Gentile, determined by their extraordinary love and courage to be a “Righteous non-Jew.” Individuals so honored placed their own lives in enormous danger, offering sanctuary and safe haven to Jews during that horrendous time of evil. “Righteous non-Jews” sacrificed their time, talents and resources, putting their own lives on the line, to keep Jews safe from Adolph Hitler’s “final solution to the Jewish question.”
Within a few years after the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948), the Knesset (the national legislature of Israel) decided to commemorate the “Righteous Among the Nations.” In the early years of the memorial, individual trees were planted on The Avenue of the Righteous to honor a “Righteous non-Jew” – but eventually, given the lack of space for more trees, a Wall of Honor was constructed in the Garden of the Righteous where many more names were engraved. As of earlier this year more than 25,000 non-Jews have been designated as “Righteous.” You may remember Oskar Schindler from the award-winning 1993 movie “Schindler’s List” – in 1962 a tree was planted in his honor on the Avenue of the Righteous.
Here is a place where the Jews of the world say thank you to those who stood up for them, in spite of racial and religious differences. Those trees on the Way of Redemption sway in the wind and seem to whisper, “Thank you from Jews both living and dead.” Those trees seem to say, “Thank you – we stand on your shoulders.”
You may remember The Greatest Generation, the best-selling book written by Tom Brokaw in 1998. Brokaw profiled members of the generation who grew up during the Great Depression, who fought in World War 2 and raised their families afterwards, laying the foundation for all that we enjoy today. In this second decade of the 21st century, we stand on the shoulders of The Greatest Generation.
About 35 years ago, I spoke at my grandfather’s funeral in Kansas, and I still remember asking all present, particularly the younger generation (I included myself) to give thanks for immigrants like my grandfather from “the old country.” The generation who gave birth to my generation were producers more than they were consumers – factory workers, construction workers and farmers who laid the foundation, through their blood, sweat and tears, for the society and culture we enjoy today. They were soldiers who gave their lives during World War 1 and World War 2. We stand on their shoulders.
Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked, “How little we pay our way in life!” He was speaking of the fact that we are all debtors to others, to a great host of people who have gone before, clearing the way, pioneering, building and producing. We are indeed indebted to so many others, even those we never knew, because we pay very little of our own way in life. What do you have that you did not receive? – 1 Corinthians 4:7
Thus, as we give thanks, we remember that the blood that flows in our veins is that of those who gave and sacrificed that we might have what they never did. An old Greek proverb teaches us that a society grows great when wise men (and women) plant trees knowing full well they will never sit in the shade of those trees.
We North Americans are the descendants of pilgrims, pioneers and settlers. Some of us descend from slaves who were set free. Many of us are the children and grandchildren of immigrants and exiles who looked for and dreamed about a better way of life for their children.
Many of us have experienced spiritual slavery and oppression, and we live now for faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone. We have been set free from the bondage imposed on us by Christ-less religious enterprises and institutions for freedom in Christ, and we now live to pass on the same grace God has given us to others.
Christ-followers are just that, not Christ spectators. We do not sit in the grandstand watching the parade of the kingdom of God go by, but by God’s grace we are part of the parade, making a real and lasting difference in the lives of so many others.
God’s love does not terminate with us. God’s grace is not a cul-de-sac. God’s love and grace is dynamic, and it is given so that it can be passed on. Our lives as Christ-followers are involved in passing on and paying forward the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. As CWR/PTM Friends and Partners we are, as Jesus lives his life in us, somewhat like those “Righteous non-Jews” who are honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. As Jesus lives in us, we live so that others may be given what we have – we live to serve others – we live to pass on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Christ-followers, we sacrifice our own lives so that others who are now hijacked, held hostage and imprisoned by oppressive religion may find peace and safety in Christ. We sacrifice so that others may know and experience rest in Christ, by God’s grace – and what an honor it is to do so!
There is no greater honor, no greater meaning in life than to be able to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and serve others in his name.
As CWR/PTM Friends and Partners we are, as Jesus lives his life in us, somewhat like The Greatest Generation. We are helping to plant the flag of the kingdom of God – we are proclaiming the gospel of The Jesus Way. In this Christ-centered work we are helping, by God’s grace, to focus hearts and minds on Jesus Christ.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:11
What a joy and privilege it is to be able to contribute to a Christ-centered work like the one you and I are a part of! At times I visualize all of us, as CWR/PTM Friends and Partners, connected in one big circle, extending and interlocking our arms, while holding each other’s shoulders, as we celebrate our work together, dancing in a united and connected way.
We carry each other along. Without others, many of us would lose our balance. We dance together, as partners, as a team, for only as a team can we perform this wonderful and beautiful dance of grace and harmony in praise of God.
We give credit to those who have helped us along the way for we stand on their shoulders. We give credit to those friends and brothers and sisters who support us even now, in this life. And most of all we give credit to Jesus, who empowers, inspires and enlivens us. As we remain linked together, sharing our strength and abilities, our collective efforts to serve others in Jesus’ name thrive.
Dancing alone, as individuals, we would never be able to accomplish what we are able to produce, by God’s grace, when we interlock our arms.
I want you all to know of my gratitude for the way you so willingly join with your brothers and sisters everywhere, for together we are able to dance in such a way that we touch lives in the name of Jesus in powerful and inspiring ways.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember the blessings of those who have helped us along the way, those upon whose shoulders we stand, and an inspiring time to consider the blessings of the work we are able, as Christ-followers, to accomplish in the name of Jesus.
I echo the words of Paul, who said, I thank my God every time I remember you (Philippians 1:3). Happy Thanksgiving – may we all be filled with joy and thanksgiving for the wonderful opportunities we are given, by his grace. Thanking God for you,
Your friend and brother in Christ, Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from November 2016: