“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve but believe.” (John 20:27)
Which love will win out? That depends on which is the controlling, the dominant motive of life. “Take up your cross daily…” says the Master. Are you prepared to say “no” to self-interest in favor of their interest? Of God’s interest? So the first question is not, what are you doing? or how well are you doing it? But WHY?
At a commencement, I told the graduating students just that. “I’m not overly concerned with what you do or how you get it done. I want to know one thing: why?” This message reached one of them who had recently talked with me about his conflicting responsibilities. He was disturbed because he felt God wanted him to serve on the mission field, but his father wanted him home in the family business.
“Does your father need you?”
“No, four of my brothers are with him already,” Chet responded.
“How did you get through school? Who paid the bills?” “My father,” he said.
“Then you’re not a free man. You need to go home and work with him. But not necessarily forever. When you stand before God to give account for your life, your father isn’t going to stand in for you. You’ll give account for your own life investment.”
He took my advice, returning home to work with his father. But three years later I met him in Dallas, far from his home in Pennsylvania. He was preparing for mission service in Latin America. Two years later, in language school in Costa Rica, preparing for service in Colombia, he noted in his diary that to reach Colombia someone might need to lay down his life. “…I find this recurring thought that perhaps God will call me to be martyred for Him in His service in Colombia. I am willing.” Two years later, headlines across America told of the abduction of missionary Chet Bitterman, as a hostage of the guerillas. They played out his captivity with constant photographs of Chet, and news releases. They even let him talk and the Colombian newspapers carried the full text of his gospel witness. But Wycliffe wouldn’t pay ransom and three months later they found Bitterman’s body in an abandoned bus. In the battle of the loves — for his father with his filial demands, for his wife and two small daughters, for the people of the unreached tribes of Colombia, for his Commander-in-Chief — every motive was godly and powerful. But God won out, to the everlasting good of multitudes.
First to his own father. Upon Chet’s capture, a father who had drifted far from God planned to raise a mercenary force and go after the guerrillas, but on his son’s death, returned to his first love and became a clear witness for God. Then to the many young people who learned of Chet and followed his example in giving life for reaching the unreached.
Most of us will never face such choices. But there are all the little battles, day by day. I sometimes think our love is best proved, not in the major crises of life, but in the daily choices.
The little conflicts can leave lasting scars. The pastor of a church in Atlanta took me out for Sunday dinner along with a couple from the church. While waiting for our order I asked the “what” question: “what do you do for a living?” He worked at the federal penitentiary as a guard. For how long? 25 years! I blurted out the first thought that popped into my head,
“Show me your scars!” I was joking, but he held up his arms, pulled back the sleeves and revealed a patchwork of scars he had gained in defending himself from contraband and homemade blades. I was astounded. But there was more. His wife chimed in, “Those aren’t all the scars. He’s got scars on his legs. Bite marks.”
I sat there and thought to myself, Someday I’ll sit down to the marriage banquet of Jesus and he’ll show me his scars. “That’s how much I love you,” he’ll say. Then, I thought, then maybe he’ll turn to me and say, “Now show me your scars.”
Will I have to weep and say, “I don’t have any. I didn’t take any risks, I didn’t make any sacrifices.” Or will I be able to say with joy, “Here they are, Lord. That’s how much I love you.”