It seems to me that our world revolves around the giving and receiving of gifts. It doesn’t matter the time of the year, we are always thinking about what we can give others to make us look good or what we can get from others that will make us feel better. When it comes to those gifts it is all material based but those are not the gifts we should be focusing on. I think it is time for us to take a deeper look at the gifts we have received so that we can better know how we should be giving.
I am sure you have found yourself searching in the stores or online for the best gift for that specific person. Just with a quick search, you can find the best gift list for anyone or anything under the stars. If you don’t know what to give someone all you have to do is go to Google, Amazon, or any of the thousand other search sites to be given hundreds of ideas. But what if I was to tell you that they are all wrong and not just kinda wrong but completely wrong… The best gift we can give or receive is life itself. We learn this from our savior, Jesus Christ.
Although we know giving our life is the most precious gift we still don’t know how to do that. In my opinion, there are many ways to do that and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The first way is through companionship in friendships, families, or marriage. It is simply sharing our life experiences with others and in return sharing theirs. It is sharing your ups and downs and being there for others’ ups and downs. The second is physical giving life through birth. This one sits very important in my heart as I am preparing to have my first child in the next few weeks. I am both excited and scared of what giving life will look like from now until forever. I am a mother to a child in my womb and will continue to be his mother for eternity. Giving life can also be supporting causes that defend the life of unborn children around the world. The third way we can give our life is by dying for others. 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Jesus set this example for us on the cross and if asked to do so we are to follow in His footsteps. This is obviously the most serious way to give one’s life and the hope is that we are never called to do so. Unfortunately in many cases, this is not true and believers are called to sacrifice themselves for the future of the Kingdom of God. This is known as being a martyr, which by definition is a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
If you are like me you probably haven’t spent much time studying the lives of martyrs because, to be honest, it is somewhat scary and typically pretty gruesome. But, if we are called to lay down our lives for God, then looking into the lives of martyrs might be the right place to start. They devoted their lives to His cause and in the end paid the ultimate price for it.
Joan of Arc (1412-1431) might be one of the most well know martyrs. At the young age of 17, Joan led the French army to victory acting under divine guidance (AKA by listening to God). Because she listened to God instead of the church authorities, she was accused of “rejection of church authority in favor of direct inspiration of God.” The church authorities did not take kindly to being overlooked and basically embarrassed by a young woman, they sentenced her to be burned at the stake.
Saint Lawrence (225-258) who was grilled to death. Roman authorities were out to get the Christians of that time and in order to do something about this, Pope Sixtus II appointed seven deacons to help the most affected. The government did not take this lightly and beheaded the Pope, but that didn’t stop St. Lawrence from serving the people although it was extremely dangerous. He continued to distribute money and possessions of the church to the poorest of the people in the city. The government didn’t approve of this action and wanted these items for themselves so they attempted to make a deal with Lawrence. They gave him three days to bring the fortune to them in exchange for mercy. St. Lawrence brought them something far more valuable than money and gold. He brought the poor and sick of the city. This was not taken kindly and he was sentenced to be grilled to death. He knew what he did was right and so instead of being fearful of his upcoming death he asked his persecutors to flip him over halfway through so he would be fully cooked. Although many of you may feel like this was gruesome to say, I think it shows his humor and the peace he had from knowing he was not guilty in the eyes of the Lord.
Saint Andrew was one of the first disciples of Jesus and the older brother of Saint Peter. Although he was a fisherman before being called by Jesus, Andrew became one of the most important people in our faith today. After the death of Jesus, Andrew set out to share the gospel on the shores of the Black Sea, the area we know as Greece and Turkey. The governor of that area told him to renounce his faith and stop preaching. When he refused to do so Andrew was sentenced to be crucified, but requested to be hung on an X-shaped cross as he felt unworthy to die as Jesus did.
Some more common-day martyrs are Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Flemming, and Roger Youderian. In 1956, this group of missionary friends died while attempting to make contact with the Auca Indians in Ecuador (now known as the Woadani People). They first spotted the people via the air and were able to make contact with one tribesman. When they touched down on the river beach to provide resources for the tribe they were greeted much differently than before and were all killed. Fortunately, their deaths were not in vain and the widows of these men were able to make peaceful contact once again and eventually won the hearts of the tribe.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) was a Polish priest who suffered under the Nazis and was eventually killed in Auschwitz. Throughout the Nazi regime, Kolbe never swayed from his beliefs even in the face with violence and harassment. During his third month at Auschwitz, men were chosen to face death by means of starvation. Although Kolbe was not one of the chosen he selflessly took the place of a man who had a family. Think of a common day Katniss Everdeen. During his last days, he remained calm and led prayers for the other prisoners.
Manche Masemola (1913-1928) was a young woman from South Africa that despite her parent's disapproval followed God until her end. In 1919, missionaries arrived in Manche’s area and she felt the call to be baptized. She began preparing for her baptism into the church by attending classes, but her parents did whatever they could to keep her from attending. Unfortunately, she would not see that day of her, baptism because her parents led her to a solitaire place and killed her for her beliefs. The story doesn’t end there because God intervened and 40 years later Manche’s mother converted to Christianity and was baptized.
As I previously stated, the stories of the martyrs are heartbreaking but they can also teach us many lessons. Just a few of the lessons I can find from the stories above are as followed. First, age doesn’t matter, if you are called by the Lord, He will make a way. Second, peace comes from the Lord and the Lord only, even when faced with certain pain or death God has a way to make it right even if that is a decade or centuries after the fact. Third, the ways of the world are not the ways of God, and opposing the world can be dangerous. Fourth, standing up for God many times looks like standing up against people elected. This can put a target on your back for ridicule, pain, or even death.
Romans 12:1 tells us that true and proper worship is by giving of one’s life, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” I don’t believe that is telling us that we all must die a martrys death but I do believe that it means we much die to ourselves and to the ways of the world. This is truly the ultimate gift one can give and it is not found on any best gifts list.