A Line of Duty Death

Died in the line of duty.

This is what we commemorated on Memorial Day. Those who died serving our country. None of them wanted the death that stalked them, overcoming them far too soon, but that was their story.

I began the day at the National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This park with its pavers, statue, and eternal flame honors those firefighters who also lost their lives in the line of duty.

My father has a paver there to denote his support of the memorial. His name isn’t

on the plaques of those who fell fighting fire or risking their lives to save others.  He fought fires, he risked his life, and he put his own safety aside to rescue others, but each time, by God’s mercy, he survived.

It made me think, not about dying in the line of duty, but of all those who live in the line of duty – every day, for decades. And not just soldiers and first responders – but Christians.

Martydom is nothing to seek out, but it comes to some. Jim Elliot’s death at the hands of men from the Huaorani people of Ecuador shaped my understanding of Christian faith. He died in the line of Christian duty and we rightly honor that.

However, my spiritual formation was more deeply impacted by the response of his widow, Elizabeth Elliot, who picked up the baton from her husband and served those responsible for his death. Her writing and her long life of faithful, passionate, daily service to God, despite deaths, disappointments, and detours, provided me an education in a type of living martyrdom. Elizabeth lived into old age – every day in the line of duty.

My father fully expected to die fighting fires or rescuing someone from troubled waters. When he neared retirement age, it was as much as surprise to him as to anyone. By then, he couldn’t imagine living a day that wasn’t in service to others. Fortunately, his department agreed, and he continued as chief until his retirement at age 79. Over fifty-one years living in the line of duty.

Dad also served one stint in the Marines, stationed in Okinawa at the end of the Korean war. Many soldiers died in the line of duty in that war, but Dad came home and moved on to a civilian life.

Some of his fellow servicemen and women, however, continued for a lifetime in the Marines. Their names aren’t etched in stone or marble on any national monuments, but their lives are no less remarkable because every day for decades they laid their lives down for others – living entire lifetimes in the line of duty.

There are Christians who see our early days of faith much as my father saw his life as a Marine. We recall the excitement and passion of those first years. How we treasured every word of their Bibles! How we enjoyed deep fellowship with other believers! How eagerly we shared our faith with those around us and sought to represent Jesus with every moment of our days! Some even served a time in foreign lands in the name of Jesus.

Sadly, over time, many of us then settled into a type of domesticated, civilian practice of our faith. Our passion cooled. Our radical commitment to live the life we saw in Acts succumbed to the relentless inertia of religion.

Our attentions diverted to soccer games, paying bills, committee meetings, and church buildings. As if we’d been discharged from our single stint in the faith. Yes, like the Marines, we know once a believer, always a believer, (we even have the bumper sticker), but somehow, we retired from active Christian duty.

It is a precious few who re-enlist daily with Jesus. Yes, we’re willing to lay down their lives, if God ever calls us to that, but beyond martyrdom, we’re also willing to lay down our selfish ambitions, our personal agendas, our comfortable safety, and our smaller stories to serve Him and others for endless days in the greatest story ever told.

We choose to sit by the door of the church because our faith is wild, our passion more pronounced now than when we first met our Lord, and our wonder swelling to such heights we fear it will not be contained within the sanctuary walls. We’re wrestlers. Weepers. Wailers for the lost and the numbed.

We cry out to all who will listen. We call on the name of the Lord loudly enough to discomfort our well-behaved religious neighbor. We long for comfort and security and we battle with our own fears, but then we put our fears in order with fear of the Lord reigning over all the lesser trepidations.

So we appear to courageous, and yet it is not courage that drives us but a boundless, expansive love that we receive from Christ and that passes through us like a deluge of living water, like an explosion of ancient light, like an eruption of life resurrected from a fetid, stinking tomb.

Living in the line of duty. Perhaps, to die, but certainly to die to self. This is the call of Christ and blessed are those who hear and answer yes with their words but also with their days. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter Amen to God for his glory.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV Even yes, to living until glory in the line of duty.

The only eternal flame that truly matters is the one burning within our hearts. Is it time yours was re-ignited?

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1 Comment

    The Conversation

  1. Sherry Carter says:

    I definitely needed my flame re-ignited, Lori! I came to Blue Ridge feeling lukewarm in my faith – and we all know what Jesus thinks about lukewarm faith from Revelation 3:16. The encouragement I received there and the classes I took on spiritual renewal brought my flame to life again. I came home ready to write again!