a tale of two states

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It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.  – From “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens

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Everyone loves a hero, and everyone loves a hero story. There can be a million variations on that story, but ultimately people want to see good triumph through the hero’s actions, and perhaps no story is more memorable than that of the hero who gives his life so that good may triumph. Such is Sydney Carton, the protagonist of Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” who swaps places with a man condemned to die not only so that that man may live and love, but also so that Carton may be redeemed from his previous purposelessness.

We are fascinated by the sacrifice of the heroic martyr. Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight (not the newest one, i wouldn’t share spoilers), Spartacus, Braveheart. Why does this story speak so loudly and painfully to us? Why does it need to be retold in a thousand forms and why does it have such a dramatic impact on us? The answer is twofold:

1) Because we were all made to live like this.

2) Because most of us don’t.

i certainly don’t. Movies like Braveheart, stories like A Tale of Two Cities make me literally burst into tears when i see a man is ready to give it all for what he believes. Every single disciple of Christ, to history’s knowledge, was martyred for what he believed, and many Christians after that. Still today i know people who have given away everything they have and moved to countries that i’m not even allowed to know the name of so that the kingdom of God might be furthered. They go to these places in secret, because to openly declare Christianity there is punishable by death.

And this is what i did last week: had a mediocre week a work as far as my production was concerned, shared the gospel with no one, and spent almost the entire week trying to figure out how to make more money and advance myself in the world. Now, had my aim been to make as much money as possible to give away, so that Christ’s kingdom would be advanced, that would be one thing. But it was not. It was simply wanting to see my own name lifted higher, wanting to see my own reputation built up, wanting to see my power and my glory amplified. i did not even see it as such at the time, because i was so immersed in the lie that is status, but in retrospect i have very clear memories of the motivations of my heart during that time. And interestingly, i still had the gall to be disappointed when the opportunity i was seeking did not pan out.

Everyone loves the story of the man who gives everything for someone else. No one loves the story of the man who takes everything he can for himself. Today’s sermon brought that to light in my heart, and i am grateful that God did not provide me with the career move i was seeking, because even though i would have certainly credited Him with the miracle, i cannot say my heart would have used that position for His glory. i know what i would do if i were Sydney Carton. i would wait for Darnay’s death, then swoop up to Lucie under the auspices of comforting her and seek to angle for my own benefit. i would serve her for the sake of getting her to love me, not because it was the right thing to do. i know i would do this because that’s what i do for my own wife.

i wonder when i am going to have my Sydney Carton moment for Jesus? When i am finally going to be so sold out to him that i will give anything, trade my entire life if need be, for the sake of another, even another i don’t really care for. There is some nobility, some dignity, in trading my life for another man’s, or for love, or for freedom, or for my nation, but noble though these things may be, all of them are perishing. The man whose life i save dies eventually anyway, as does the one he loves. Freedom lasts for a time, but nations crumble and falter and peace is perilous and precarious. Ultimately, there is only one thing worth selling out completely to, one thing that is worth my utmost commitment, because there is only one thing that outlasts decay, that outlasts death, and that thing is the love of Christ. Nothing else is worth living for, and certainly nothing is worth dying for.

i waver then between two states of being: seeking my own glory, and seeking His. My rational mind accepts that the former is absolute rubbish. i pray the Lord leads me ever more to the state in which i seek only His.

***

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  – Philippians 1 : 20 – 21

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