Martyrs in America? Maybe

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They died bravely in the first century. Will we follow Jesus when this happens to us?

Believers must reconsider the issues of being salt and light in our flourishing pagan culture. For instance, the Church has tried hundreds of approaches in evangelism, and I know of several first-hand. I’m afraid that most of them are rather stale. Sorry.

Sometime ago, someone suggested that I see,  The Passion of The Christ directed by Mel Gibson. At the time, it was shattering box-office records when it came out in 2004.  Personally I found it both compelling and disturbing.  We saw ‘Jesus’ beaten and tortured,  but it seems the splattering of blood did not translate well into spiritual change.  If perhaps anything, it may have hardened people to God’s Spirit. But who knows?

We definitely must use everything that is available to broadcast the gospel.  Art–both fine and popular, music and theater, movies and sports. I worked with a christian brother who wanted to put billboards up proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” along the highways. (He might be onto something.) I’m personally praying for a street artist like ‘Banksy’ who would witness for Jesus publicly. We need to squeeze out of every venue, in every medium every gift to share the good news. We must take it to the people. In order to do this must make the choice:

  • To be true. Endure. Continue to pray and witness.
  • To be prayerful. At least working on it. I know prayer is supremely powerful, linking my inadequacy with God’s capability.
  •  To be joyful. Sing often. Thanksgiving all the time. Our tormentors hate joyful hearts. It seems to disturb them.
  • To be real. Being faithful to Jesus. No lies, no illusions. Every aspect of our lives is to be the truth.
  • To be giving. Time or talent, it’s a stringent test of a believer’s maturity. Money is secondary.
  • To be convinced. We need to become fully convinced of the message of the gospel, and to be sure of His love.

In the time of ancient Rome, the only time Christians were in the limelight were as martyrs, front and center.  And the lions of the Coliseum made quick work of their witness. But they succeeded in reaching thousands by their witness, and a pagan empire was brought to Christ, en masse!

Die before you die, and your fear of death will die.

Perhaps martyrdom will be our path to reach America with the Gospel.  The New Testament word for “witness” is martyr.  It very well may be that our blood will be the seed for a new generation of believers. It should come as no surprise.

martyrdomI preached once on the UC Berkeley campus.  It’s a  challenging place; a condensed stronghold of a godless ‘intellectualism’ (if you can imagine that).  There is always a few people that for the most part bright and engaging.  But as I got ready to leave, I met a university professor.  He looked at me in his tweed jacket and sweater vest and said something I will never forget.  “Too bad we can’t feed you to the lions”.  That is all he said. It was a flat-calm statement; terse, cold and frightening, mostly because I knew he meant it. (It was eerie and quite weird.)

In this ‘enlightened’ campus, there was a coldness–a hatred that I never encountered in the areas of inner San Francisco–Polk Street. or the Tenderloin.’ The Haight/Ashbury neighborhood in SF can be a little ‘rough’ at times, where I once was punched in the face while preaching, but nothing like ‘Berzerkeley‘ (that’s what we called it.) In three years of full-time evangelism I never met another man that was as hateful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This incident in Berkeley was a darkly brazen calculation against the Gospel. Perhaps persecution by hardcore intellectuals will be the catalyst for the martyrdom to come.

We are in God’s hands. Period.  Our obedience to Jesus should be a decision we must make ahead of time.  We can’t just hope to make the gospel work, unless we change.  “Die before you die, and your dying won’t be death”, the somebody once wrote.  This could very well be our cue. Get ready. And “watch and pray.” And prepare to die the death now.

 

 

Post art from The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

 

Post art from The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Speaking Out of Our Pain, [True Authority]

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In “Letters to a Young Poet“, the author deals with the subject of weakness, difficulty and trouble.  As a person who struggles with depression on a substantial scale and yet can try to speak the Word of God to his brothers this is remarkably good news.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

“Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.

His life has much difficulty and remains far behind yours. Were it not otherwise he would never been able to find these words.”

*-Rainer Maria Rilke

@Inevitably, as Christians we  find ourselves helping other disabled people that have somehow worked  themselves into our lives.  The irony is that our illness has taught  us something, but somehow we don’t communicate well. Inevitably, we miss the point and speak even more confusion into their hearts. That is frustrating.

When we are finally work up the courage to speak, we seem to only deliver pious platitudes and inane ‘babblings.’ We know we can help them, but alas, we can’t do it. This is when we must meet the Holy Spirit first. Hearing Him will guide us and direct us. We will be able to speak something, that will really mean something.

We so want to be mature and wise.  We want to be in a position of strength. We aspire to that.  But the truth is, life doesn’t work that way. We are always sabotaged by our weakness. We discover that we have no place to go.

I believe life is constructed so that we’ll learn the reality of desperately humble prayer.

A child plays with two colors of “Play-Doh”.  After a while separating them is no longer possible.  The colors blend and become a completely different color.  As simple believers in Jesus this “mixing” can cause despair and frustration. We must live with the realities of being seriously weak and unconditionally loved, simultaneously. We must blend the two.

St. Paul would come to the conclusion that he “would boast in his weaknesses, that the power of God would be revealed in his life”.  It seems to us that “boasting” is a bit of exaggeration or hyperbole.  And “weaknesses”, are those terrible flaws that need to be painted over or ignored.  But we can’t seem to see them as the starting point of the spiritual life.  (Oh God, please teach us to boast in our flaws, to let You use our weaknesses.)

Strength comes in a frustratingly weird way.  It’s the very opposite of our heart’s inclination.  Admitting that I am weak is my starting point.  I suppose you might say that as a physically and mentally ill person,  I may have a step on the average person.  I can be strong because I am so pathetic.  I can speak something that may bring life and hope to someone else.

But I am distinctively flawed, and I can’t pretend that I am otherwise.  I now have the liberty to speak without pretense to my wounded brothers and sisters.  But let us have no foolish talk that I’ve been able to fix myself somehow.  That is not going to happen.

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8

In Love with a Lion

 

“I will not leave you alone. You are mine.  I know each of my sheep by name.  You belong to Me.  If you think I am finished with you, if you think I am a small god, that you can keep at a safe distance, I will pounce on you like a roaring lion, tear you to pieces, rip you to shreds, and break every bone in your body.  Then I will mend you, cradle you in my arms, and kiss you tenderly.”

Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb

God stalks us.  He never lets up.  We can never, never out run Him.  A popular 182 line poem, from a generation ago, was called “The Hound of Heaven“.  It described a person being pursued by God. This is part of it.

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated.

                                        –by Francis Thompson

The very remarkable thing is not our prodigal hearts; rather it is the amazing love the Father has by chasing us.  Jesus is consistently reckless about capturing us, and making us his own.  His love is like a homing mechanism in a missile shot at us that defies our escape.  We can weave and dodge all we want, but we have been targeted, and He is coming for us.

The way we talk and posture, it as if it is us that does the choosing.  I’m not saying we don’t to a degree.  But the Bible paints God in a different light.  He initiates, and He chooses.  He superintends our life, choreographing our movements.  If you remember the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis it will support this reasoning.

My Bipolar depression and epilepsy issues can never thwart or nullify Jesus’ love for me.  I can’t point at them as reasons not to be his follower.  He is not intimidated by my medical condition. My brain tumor and the death of my daughter didn’t phase Him. They are merely physical footnotes to the story of my life.

We opened with a Brennan Manning quote. He observes that life with Jesus will involve being torn to pieces and such.  He will not complacently love us, He just isn’t fond of you because you’re sort of a likable person.  His love is rough, and savage and furious.  He is quite tempestuous and intractable.  He won’t let go.  Your issues are probably not as significant as you think.

If you’re depressed, manic, paranoid or delusional you can still surrender to Jesus.  These are not your identity, they are not permanent. Yes, I get depressed and have incredible issues with anxiety.  I have a hand tremor almost all the time.  And I can get really paranoid.  But, I am his follower–first and foremost.

Let Him love you today.  His kind of love will heal you completely.

He will seize you and draw you close. You will find the rest you seek leaning on Him.

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, NLT

“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”

 J.I. Packer

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The complete text of the “Hound of Heaven” can be found at:  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hound-of-heaven/