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July 17, 2010

"we died before we came here"

While working in Asia, Amy Carmichael received a letter asking what her m--------y life was like. I wonder if the young lady sending the question wanted exotic stories. Elephant rides, jeweled children, bright colours. Amy wrote back honestly: "M--------y life is simply a chance to die." It was from this statement that Elizabeth Elliot took the title of her book about Carmichael's life and ministry.

Recently my mom passed along the following story. "A ship captain tried to dissuade James Calvert, [an] early m--------y to the New Hebrides, from going ashore by saying, 'You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among the cannibals of these islands.'" Calvert's stoic reply blows me away: “We died before we came here.” Another new m--------y to the same area was also warned as to his possible destiny. His response? “In the resurrection it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals (on the m-----n field) or by worms (at home).”

The zeal and discipline of these m----------s puts me to shame. But the "death" of which they speak is not just for m----------s. Every believer must die to self if he is to be productive for Christ. "...Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24). As Addison Leitch said, "When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die." Elizabeth Elliot writes, "Life requires countless 'little' deaths--occasions when we are given the chance to say no to self and yes to God." At each crossroads, big or small, I want to say with unquestioning allegiance, "I died before I came here." In death we find life abundant.

July 10, 2010

learning to receive

It was the kind of day for which ice cream must have been invented: blistering hot. Walking into an ice cream shop with some younger people, I asked each of them choose a treat and offered to pay for their snack. All but one accepted my offer fairly easily. The last one held her head high and said "I am too proud to let you buy ice cream for me." I was a bit shocked. Finally she allowed me to purchase her little treat, but not without a struggle. I was frustrated that she would so valiantly try to thwart a small effort to share with her--I felt that she sought to rob my blessing as a giver.

Only days later, I was cornered by a fellow believer who wanted to share a generous gift with me. He knew of a specific need that I had and wanted to fill it. Backing away, I explained that I'd just received a surprise sum of money from my employer that would cover the extra expense. He insisted. With the image of aforementioned proud teenager in my head, I took his gift and thanked him for it. Smiling, he thanked me for my willingness to allow him to share. I am not sure if I had ever before been thanked for receiving, but after the previous week's incident, I could suddenly relate.

At the risk of sounding mooch-like, I will say that some believers could use some instruction on receiving. Christianity teaches generosity. This is Christ-like and it is an attitude to be commended. But if we would train cheerful givers, we should also be ready to (at least occasionally) be thankful receivers.

Granted, our fallen condition makes us much more likely to want to take than to give. I am certain that we must spend much more time learning to give and share than learning to receive. (When I talk to small children after Christmas, rather than asking the typical "What did you get for Christmas?" I try to ask "What did you give this Christmas?") But somehow in our efforts to teach self-sacrifice, generosity and humility (noble efforts!) sometimes we don't notice that our children become adults unwilling to ever accept a gift or a favour.

Maybe you already have everything you really need. In North America, that is often the case. But who is to say that you have to keep the gift you are given? The early chapters of Acts speak of the early church having all things in common. Their sharing and generosity has been an example for Christians in following generations. We can accept freely, and give freely as well. All that believers have is really Christ's, anyway.

I don't speak as though have a handle on this. I thought I had learned my lesson about letting others give to me, but last Christmas brought a few more I-don't-think-I-should-be-receiving-this moments. There was one moment in particular, when I was handed a cheque. It was for a service that I had given, to a ministry, free of charge, and it was difficult to accept payment for it. I'll admit, I argued with the givers. I was not a very gracious receiver this time. But I've watched the disappointment on Christ-filled people's faces when they want to share and are not permitted. Doesn't Christ give us with a desire to share? Why allow our pride to steal someone else's joy? So I thanked them for the gift. (They don't need to know if I pass it on).