Am I the only person who’s noticed a steady erosion of the value placed on personal sacrifice for the sake of others?
It used to be a common refrain you’d hear—that unless a grain of wheat actually falls into the ground and dies, there is no future crop. Those are Jesus’s words, paraphrased. Nothing much comes out of the life that is lived for oneself.
Somewhere along the way things got turned upside down. “Doing what’s good for me” has become downright cool over the years. Or in the recent words of Joseph Epstein, “the shift has been to a culture that has no greater purpose than richness of living in and for itself.” It’s an age, he says, where “repression is illness, confession is cure, with the impulse satisfaction, self-esteem and personal happiness the paramount goals.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. And believe me, I feel the pull.
If I think with a secularized mind, it’s just looks smart to do what makes me happy. It’s the mantra that comes through every day in a hundred ways—even if you don’t turn on re-runs of Oprah.
Enter the funeral this week of Ray Moody Seigler. He’s been a staple in these parts for over thirty years. You had to get to his funeral, you knew, at least an hour ahead of time because the huge sanctuary would be—and was—filled to capacity. You wanted one of those seats.
What on earth did Ray Seigler do in his short 63 years to warrant such a turn-out of people in flu season and biting cold?
Well, mostly, Ray spent the last thirty years getting with Young Life guys, who eventually became young-men-with-families—for a cup of coffee. He helped Young Life clubs start all across the state of North Carolina. Sitting to my right at the funeral was a man who was there because Ray had driven to Boone for 13 years to meet with him once a month.
Ray just stayed after it—year after year. He was the guy who met you for coffee, who invested time and energy just simply encouraging you, whether you were 17 or 70, to follow hard after Christ. Love your wife, love your children, do your business or ministry well, love Christ. Ray lived a sacrificial life with a timeless message.
No big awards or front page news or large congregation—Ray just invested faithfully in individuals for the sake of Christ. For his whole adult life.
My favorite moment in his funeral was the vignette his daughter, Carol, shared. A few days before Ray died, he reminded his three daughters of the words he spoke at their birth. He held each of them in his arms and he said, “Your daddy loves you. Your mother loves you. And Jesus loves you. And that is who you are.”
Yes, death would separate them all for a little while. But not forever. Ray had the mental presence to remind his wife and daughters what the resurrection actually means—that if the life before us is real and the victory in Christ already won, then our best memories together are still to come.
The best memories are still to come. I doubt anyone who came to Ray’s funeral will forget those words.
Ever so often you get to see with your own eyes the fruit of a life lived with sacrificial faithfulness. All the life that comes from an actual, old-fashioned dying-to-self. It’s staggering.
It pulls me back to reality. No matter how glamorized the choices and desires of one’s individual Self and the temptation to organize your life around getting what you think you want, that’s not how God set up the universe. It’s just as Jesus said. The grain of wheat that falls into the ground like a dead dream becomes a field of such bounty it stretches into the horizon. You can hardly get a seat at the funeral.
So in those moments that no one would notice but you, when you have to die in some small way to what you’d really rather do in order to care for your children, or your aging mother, or when you go out of your way to strengthen someone else’s hand in God, and you think none of it matters much and you will never turn out to be anybody special, and the ‘sacrifice’ of something you cherish appears a bit dumb by current standards, remember my friend, Ray.
As will l.