Plaque at Wheaton College honoring Jim Elliot and Ed McCully
for giving their lives on a mission to Ecuador
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
~ diary entry of missionary Jim Elliot just before his death
Yesterday in “What Are You Willing to Die For?“, I posted about Malala Yousafzai and her willingness to confront death for a cause she believed in. There certainly are many more examples I could have pulled from this world and its history and news to illustrate the same point, but I intentionally picked hers.
For example, what of the school bus of people that recently blew a tire on the highway and wrecked, thus killing some passengers and injuring others? I had heard about it in passing, and I located the article “At least 8 dead after bus overturns in Tennessee, authorities say“.
That initial story doesn’t tell it all, however.
On a news program last night, one of the rescuers remarked on how normally accident victims are crying out for help and desiring someone attend to them soon as possible (if not immediately, I would think). However, in this particular case, so many of them told the rescuers to check on someone else, that their concern was not for their own immediate situation but towards that of others.
Yesterday, I asked if you are willing to die for others in the church, should it come to that. Can you imagine two of the groups that claim to be “Philadelphian”, each in its own school bus, collide and seriously injure the passengers on board? Would PCG come to the aid of RCG, or would they instead shun them? Be honest, now. It’s easy to mouth the words, “We are Philadelphian,” but lies come so easy to those who want to be deceived.
Still, that borders on what I’m trying to drive home, but doesn’t quite enter the territory.
Or, yesterday instead of Yousafszai, I could have written about the missionary Jim Elliot, who is quoted at the beginning as an example of the willingness to give one’s life for another. He went to Ecuador on a mission to preach to the indigenous people there, and he gave his life doing so. However, that isn’t quite the point I want to drive home, either.
However, Elliot’s quote does at least enter the territory of what I’m referring to. What is it we really own? Even our very lives are not our own.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
~ Mt 10:39
And, of course we should hopefully be aware that it is appointed for each and every one, with the only exception being a few who are alive at Jesus Christ’s return, to die once (Heb 9:27).
However, Jim Elliot died. Yet, his story does not end there, does it? He left a legacy, and his wife, Elizabeth Elliot, picked up the mantel. Perhaps you have heard of her books or even heard her on the radio at some point. Eventually, she made contact with the tribe that her husband tried so hard to meet. It was after she made friends with them that it was confided to her that the original man in the party that Jim had met lied to the others about Jim’s party’s intentions. Instead of seeking peace, they were told, the strangers wanted to hunt and eat them.
Jim’s legacy lived on. Still, Elizabeth did not face death in the same way, although she certainly did via the death of her husband and overcoming her fear of this violent tribe of people.
Malala Yousafzai faced death in a more upfront way, but instead she lived. Now, she had a choice. She could have allowed herself to still die, albeit on the inside, even though she was physically alive. She could have become embittered. She could have taken the tack that now the world owed her something. Instead, she presses forward even as she did before, but now with her newfound fame, she can ever more push for certain of those goals to become achieved.
Yousafzai did not just have something worth dying for; she had a reason to live for.
It is ironic that most who attempt suicide do not succeed. The ratio of deaths to nonfatal attempts is 1:11! Part of the reason is that the instinct to preserve life makes it so difficult. Many end up with irreparable scars or lifelong serious conditions as a result of their failed attempts.
They have a reason to die. Many of them have no reason to live.
I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t the quote I was looking for exactly, but it’s close enough. In the sci-fi series Babylon 5, John Sheridan comes across the very first of the First Ones named Lorien. However, he meets him at a time in which Sheridan is in some sort of limbo state that is neither dead nor alive. Finally, Lorien asks Sheridan, “It is easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?”
It is somewhat appropriate that by letting go of his fear of death and answering this question, Sheridan is literally given a new lease on life by Lorien. Religious symbolism of various types runs rampant through the B5 series, BTW, even more so than in some other series. In this case, the parallel to Christian to theology is pretty much obvious.
However, B5 is fiction. Lorien is fiction. Jesus is real, and He literally said that by seeking to preserve this life, we could lose out on life eternal. We must let go of the fear of death. However, the Bible also says we have a reason to live, even right now. It is not the restoration of the previous life, but it is an entirely new life.
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
~ Ro 6:4
The NCV and NIV actually translates those bolded words as “a new life“.
It should be evident from that verse that we are to now walk in this new life. Just as life begins at conception, so does our new life begin at baptism and the laying on of hands.
What one is willing to die for and what one is willing to live for are two sides of the same coin. It reveals what is most cherished to us. It reveals our priorities. Jesus clearly gave us our priorities.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
~ Mt 6:33
I would hope it is obvious that seeking God’s righteousness entails keep the greatest two commandments: Love of God and love of neighbor. Are you willing to die for someone in your spiritual family? Are you willing to live in order to be part of that spiritual family? Are you willing to serve in that spiritual family? You know, live for someone in your spiritual family? Only you can choose.
Because in the end, we can split and splinter until we are left all alone by ourselves, and almost surely means that someone is violating both the first and second greatest commandments when you think about it.
John, thanks for your last couple of posts. Both questions really are two sides of the same coin and I believe can be summed up with what it means to be a ‘living sacrifice.’ Out of all of the sermons I have heard over the years on what it means to be a living sacrifice, there is a quote from Jack London’s novel “The Sea Wolf” that describes, I believe, as good, if not better than I have ever heard before, what it truly means to be a living sacrifice.
“The death which Wolf Larson and even Thomas Mugridge had made me fear, I no longer feared. The coming of Maud Brewster into my life seemed to have transformed me. After all, I thought, it is better and finer to love than to be loved, if it makes something in life so worth while that one is not loath to die for it. I forgot my own life in the love of another life; and yet, such is the paradox, I never wanted so much to live as right then when I placed the least value upon my own life. I never had so much reason for living, was my concluding thought…”
Being a living sacrifice is loving someone so much that you would willingly/gladly give your life for that person and yet at the same time want so badly to live for the person. We talk much about love in the Church of God, but you raise some very good questions. Do we really even “get it”? I read a quote on a billboard outside of a 7th Day Adventist Church some years ago that said, “For some it is easier to fight for their beliefs than to live them.” I think that describes pretty well how we have reacted to much of what has happened in the Church over the years. It’s easy to get all fired up about wrongs, hurts, injustices and the like, but how many of us are actually, truly, living the life we’ve been called to live?