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Disheveled Theologian: 'Earn this'

Way back, more than 100 years ago, my great grandfather was in the Merchant Marines in Scotland. One day, the entire crew of the ship he served on was called to come hear an evangelist speak.

The man preached — probably a fire and brimstone sermon, I would imagine — and when he was done, the crew stood in a line to receive Gospel tracts handed to them by the preacher. One after another, they reached out their hands and dutifully took the tracts until they came to the last man in the line. Great-grandpa. But the preacher had run out of tracts.

Instead of saying, “Gee, maybe you could share with the previous guy,” the evangelist reached into his satchel and handed Great-grandpa his own Bible.

I don’t know if he hesitated. I don’t know if he argued, mentally, with the Holy Spirit’s prompting, “But it’s my own Bible, Lord! With all my notes in the margins! How will I ever afford to buy another one? No. I need it for my work. I need it to be a good Christian!”

Whether he struggled with the decision or not, he obeyed.

So there Great-grandpa stood: having been handed not a small tract with a few verses, but holding the whole of God’s word in his hands. What else could he do but read it?

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” after the D-Day invasion and the brutal depiction of slogging across France to find one particular soldier so that his mother wouldn’t lose all four of her sons to war, they finally find Private Ryan. But Ryan refuses to leave in order to save himself. The main character, Army Capt. Miller, is then shot in a subsequent battle. Ryan, knowing that it is because of him that this man is dying, is feeling wretched and hopeless at his side, as Miller, just before dying says, “Earn this.”

Earn this. I just died to save you. Now it’s your job to retroactively deserve it.

When that evangelist handed my great grandfather his very own Bible, it was like he was saying, “Earn this.” This is mine. It’s gone through years and miles and countless hours at my side. Now I’m giving it to you because your need for it is greater than mine.

Earn this.

And my great grandfather did. He was from a poor family, with an alcoholic father, living in the slums of Glasgow. He took that Bible home. He read it. And he believed.

And countless lives were changed. Not just the lives of his future family, but lives across the world as his son, my grandfather, also became an evangelist and he crossed this nation and the world preaching about the God he loved. My Grandpa died in 1974, three days after my fourth birthday. He died while he was preaching — literally had a heart attack in the pulpit in a tiny church outside of Victoria, British Columbia. He wanted to serve God all of his days, and I guess God took him seriously about that. There are still people alive to this day who tell how their lives were changed because of Pastor Fraser’s preaching.

God gave his one and only son for us so that we could be forgiven of our sins. There is nothing we can do to earn that. Nothing we can do to deserve it. It is a free gift; one we just have to accept.

What we can do in response is live our lives to the glory of God. In that way, by honoring Jesus’ gift to us, we can, like Private Ryan, “earn this”.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 1:6, 2:8,9 NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.

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