Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Sacrifice is a part of life. It's supposed to be. It's not something to regret. It's something to aspire to.” ― Mitch Albom

In literature we have at least two examples of last minute conversions of evil people who inexplicably do really good and noble things that cost them their lives.  In Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” there is a traitor to MacBeth who at the last minute changes and fights to the death to insure that MacBeth gets the throne.  MacBeth’s friend Malcolm says of this grand and fatal good deed that, “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.”  How much better it would have been to have been able to say that, “Nothing in his life became him like his LIVING of it.”  The eleventh hour conversion was a good thing but it would have been better had he lived a noble, caring, and loving life rather than having been evil and changed at the last minute.  In Charles Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” we have two men in love with the same woman.  One of the men, Sydney Carton is evil and does everything he can to destroy his rival.  Finally, he gets his rival arrested and set to be executed by the guillotine (this was during the French Revolution) which would leave him, Sydney Carton, free to pursue his love.  Instead, at the last minute Carton changes places with the doomed man and has friends help him escape to London with his beloved.  (Hope I’m not spoiling the book for anyone.)  As Carton is in the cart on the way to the guillotine, he says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”   There is no question that this is one of the most famous and wonderful conversions of an evil man to a noble and caring one, but how much better had he lived as a noble, caring, and loving man.  To be sure, these are illustrations from literature, but there are thousands of examples from real life.  The problem with eleventh hour conversions is that you might die at ten thirty.  I didn’t become a Christian, a real authentic Christian convicted by Christ and forgiven, until I was forty-six years old.  I had lived a life much like that of the prodigal son up to that point and had had many close calls with death.  In fact, on January 3, 1977, I was told that I only had a one in ten chance of living for two more years as my malignant melanoma was that advanced.  Obviously, I was in the ten percent that survived, but if I hadn’t there would have been no hope of an eternal life for me.  At forty six, I had been going to church for eight years, had taught Sunday School, had served as a local pastor for two churches, was serving as a pastor of a small church in Boston, and had completed two years of seminary.  Yes, I looked like a Christian, sounded like one, and thought that because I did all the right things and ticked all the right boxes that I was a Christian.  I was wrong.  It wasn’t until I reluctantly went on the three-day religious retreat called “Walk to Emmaus” (in Peacedale, Rhode Island) that I had my “Aldersgate” experience as John Wesley had when he became a real Christian.  Wesley had been an Anglican priest for twelve years when he had his real conversion, so I beat him by a few years but not many.  My point is (Donna Spradlin) that I almost didn’t make it.  Everything changed for me and my family after that event, and it ultimately led to my devoting my life to mission and moving to Africa to spend the rest of my life serving the poor in Tanzania, starting churches, expanding the Kingdom, personally baptizing over 500 souls, starting schools, feeding orphans on a daily basis, putting biosand water filters in enough places to give over 15,000 people clean safe water, and watching my wife and my son, John, dedicate their lives to serving God and these people over the last eleven years.  My years as a missionary, bishop, and teacher only account for about a seventh of my life.  While I am so very happy I have been able to serve here for the last eleven years, it has not been without its suffering and sacrifice.  I have had ten surgeries since I have been here, three to save my life, as well as having multiple bouts with malaria, tuberculosis of the skin (took almost a year out of my life), and other close calls with death, but heaven must wait.  I’ve been close, but have been sent back time and again to continue God’s work—it is obviously not my time for rest or reward if that is to be my fate.  I can, however, confidently affirm that Sydney Carton’s last comments are my own.  He was referring to mere moments and I am referring to years, but the meaning is the same.  I pray it is for you, too.  Don’t wait.  Accept the love and life that Christ is offering you—now.  I pray that you, too, will be able to say of whatever time you have left, that “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”   Amen.

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