The original can be found here…
The Last Letter
By Ed Stetzer
The Last Letter
Sometimes a “full and wonderful life” ends abruptly.
She was 22 years old, had just given birth, and was in prison for her faith. Perpetua was a Christian of the 3rd century. Her judges and father begged her to recant for the sake of her child. She refused. Instead she used her final days to write the story of why she chose to die. Upon hearing their verdict, she wrote, “we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits.” Later, Perpetua sang triumphantly as she marched into the Roman amphitheater to face execution.
1700 years later, in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in prison awaiting his execution. One of the few Christians to resist the Nazis, he took a bold stand for the Gospel. Bonhoeffer was arrested after a failed attempt on Hitler’s life. During his last days, he wrote reflections on the end of life. They were mixed with courage and fear as he confessed his loneliness but proudly concluding, “Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!”
Soon after, Bonhoeffer’s “full and wonderful life” ended at the end of a noose. A doctor who was present at his death later wrote, “In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
These stories confront us with the penetrating question: Have I made a difference worth recording? The power of these stories—these last letters—is they lay us bare before the call of the Gospel. The light of these men and women who burned for Christ exposes our lives as dying embers in comparison.
John Piper once noted that in our prosperous culture, Christians are able to “give to the church and then devote themselves financially to building the good life and all the while keep a clear conscience.” He’s right.
For example, giving to the poor is thoroughly divorced from any real sacrifice. New technologies allow us to make giving possible, even when born of greed. I can sign up for programs in which a portion of my purchase goes to help the poor in Third World slums. Nice. We have created a 21st century form of indulgences in which we buy for ourselves—both goods and a clear conscience.
We need to recapture the sacrificial hearts of the Perpetua and Bonhoeffer. Living in a quasi-spiritual generation, there seems no need to embrace their courage. Yet as Christians, we step into a history paved by men and women who willingly died for causes greater than themselves—from fighting injustice to radical evangelism. Jesus was the first, but His followers, in countless numbers, have counted their lives as nothing for the sake of His glory.
How can we continue this legacy? Those stories undoubtedly stir our hearts, but only for a fleeting moment at best. We read, we applaud, we commit, and then we move on. Again. How do we break free of this complacency and step into the story begun for us 2,000 years ago on the cross? It can begin by writing your own story.
It has been the tradition of soldiers and missionaries to leave their families a “Last Letter,” only to be read in the event of their death. These letters not only contained emotional goodbyes, but were also personal statements about why they chose risk over safety. Why the cause was worth dying for.
These Last Letters are harrowingly honest. There’s no room for clichés or braggarts when you’re staring death in the face. You either intend to die for the cause, or you wouldn’t be writing the letter.
These are letters of testimony. In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul writes that our very lives are letters also, written by the Spirit of the Living God. In the spiritual sense, our lives are a kind of “last letter,” the only testimony we will ever have to bear about how and why we live for the Gospel.
If our life letters were assembled, what would be our contribution? Are we taking up our cross and going into the slums of Bangladesh, the brothels of Thailand and the HIV plagued orphanages of South Africa? Are we carrying on the legacy of Robert J. Thomas, who died on the shores of Korea, beaten to death as he tossed Bibles into the hands of his murderers? For all the Christians who quote Jim Eliot’s famous words about “giving what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose,” what exactly are we giving?
Karen Watson was a member of this generation who understood her call. She was a young missionary recently murdered in Iraq. At her funeral, her “last letter” was read:
You should only be opening this letter in the event of my death. When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward…
The missionary heart: Cares more than some think is wise. Risks more than some think is safe. Dreams more than some think is practical. Expects more than some think is possible.
I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience… There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you and my church family.
In His care,
In response to letters—and lives—like these, the Last Letter Campaign has been launched by leaders who want to capture the heart behind them. I wrote my last letter, and in comparison to these, it seemed so… insignificant. I was not near death or about to go on a dangerous journey. But then I realized that we never know when history or death may visit us. We should live as if every day matters. Because it does.
In the writing of it, something happened. More than ever before, I desired to leave a better and lasting legacy, to be a better discicple and to live more for God’s glory and agenda. I want to be the person described in my letter.
As a generation, what will our letter say? Will we be defined by action, sacrifice, and justice, or complacency, caution and social apathy? Triumph or spiritual setback? Lip service or life service?
When the question is, “What would I be willing to die for?” the answer cannot be anything but revolutionary. So I ask you to consider it. How will your Last Letter read? Write to impact someone later but be a living epistle for the Gospel now. And if your time ends abrutply, let them say you had a “full and wonderful life.”
Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research. He will be presenting new research from the Catalyst main stage and leading in a lab on Wednesday. Every attendee at Catlyst East will receive more information about the Last Letter Campaign in their registration packet.