|Out On the Wire
Register now for the sixth annual Chicago Area Men's Retreat:, "Men of Purpose" -- April 20-21 at Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort, Illinois.
April 6, 2001
On February 18, Dale Earnhardt was killed when his race car crashed into the wall on the final lap of the Daytona 500. He died as he lived; trying to get to the end of a race faster than everyone else. His age at his death, 49, makes it a tragic end. The pain his family must feel makes it a sorrowful end.
But -- and this is in no way intended to minimize the tragedy -- it could hardly have been a more appropriate end.
The writer of John Henry had the title character, a “steel-drivin’ man” for a railroad, die “with his hammer in his hand”. Jack London wrote, “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” Asked what London meant by that, former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler said simply, “Throw deep.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. knew what it meant to throw deep. So did Malcolm X. And Ghandi. Their names are known because they had a sense of mission, a sense of purpose, and everything else retreated into the background. And when it came down to a decision between sacrificing their missions or sacrificing their lives, they gave their lives. What else could they have done? Their lives were their missions.
Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the Flying Wallendas, once said, “Life is being on the wire. Everything else is just waiting.” For him, there was no greater joy in life than walking a high wire, one misstep away from death. Apparently, he believed that he was put here to walk that wire. Either he was doing it, or he was biding his time. Appropriate that he, too died doing what he loved.
Here’s the point: Don’t live life halfway. Know your purpose, live for it, and be willing to die for it.
“The truth is,” Jesus once said, “a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone -- a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels -- a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24) The punch line is the statement right before that, though: “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.”
Glory in death. Isn’t it typical that Jesus would turn the notion of glory on its head? Isn’t it typical that he would find the glory of God where everyone else would see only two rough timbers, three nails, and a slow death? Jesus saw his death as the planting of a seed. And every farmer in Palestine knew that the planting of the seed isn’t the end of the story. It’s the beginning, the first act of a story that ends with the harvest. And Jesus had come to make sure that harvest happened. “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead?’ But that is the very reason why I came. Father, bring glory to your name!”
Did he want to die? No. Did he welcome the nails that held him to the wood? Not on your life. But God’s purpose burned hotter in his heart than his own idea of the way his life should be.
He walked onto the wire of humanity. He braved sin, rejection, pain, and death. He died with God’s hammer clenched in his fist. He blazed across the sky in a quick three years, yet the light of his passing still hasn’t burned out two millennia later. “Life is dying,” he paradoxically said. Foolish words, unless they come from the mouth of God. Foolish words, unless they come from one who would walk out of his own tomb.
It’s two thousand years later, and still the seed of his death is producing new life. After him came others, countless others who laid their lives on the line in grateful imitation of his sacrifice. Fueled by his love, stoked by his Spirit, his fire has blazed through the world. His first disciples gave their lives. Many have done it since. “The seed of the church is the blood of the martyrs.”
“Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Those of us who wear Jesus’ name must live with the same sense of purpose, the same commitment to the will of God that is stronger than even the instinct for self-preservation. “All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me” -- even if we have to follow him to Calvary. “My servants must be where I am” -- even if where he is is on a cross.
Life is being on the wire. Life is walking behind your Lord, doing what he wants, living as he lived, touching who he touched, dying every day. Every martyr who ever carried a cross or felt the edge of a sword or took a bullet for his faith died long before that moment. Death, for a Christian, comes in the decision to renounce sin, accept forgiveness, and call Jesus Lord. And it comes in the moment-by-moment decisions we make every day after that. His will, or mine? Others, or self?
Are you living out on the wire, or are you biding your time, enjoying the deceptive comfort of the world? Only in dying can you find life. And only if you die can the Lord use you to bring life to others. There is no greater joy on earth than to die doing what you were made to do.
Take a step out onto the wire.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
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