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)

Battle Scars

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It is a bad habit to try to teach without personal knowledge. We can preach, and yet we do not possess. This is one of the occupational hazards of those of us in our profession. It also seems to carry a horrible curse of spiritual sterility, that the wise believer can discern.

It’s been 13 years since a diagnosis of Bipolar 1 was made. I believe I was BP in my teens. Life is a roller-coaster for me, up and down, with a twist or two along the way. I am now fairly aware at 58 that much of my earthly existence has already been lived. Life can become such a grind. I’m tired and broken and ready for eternity.

“One should go to sleep as homesick passengers do, saying, “Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Billy Bray (a bearer of an unfortunate name) was an illiterate Cornish evangelist in the 1850s. He was heard to pray this: “Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready.” By faith, I think I do understand these sentiments. I am ready to go as well.

I love collecting good quotes. But here’s two more good ones:

“God buries His workmen but carries on His work.”   -Charles Wesley
“If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a “wandering to find a home,” why should we not look forward to the arrival?”  – C.S. Lewis

Sorry if I’m being too maudlin. But the battle is so long, and it doesn’t ever let up, does it? We all can become weary after a while. What we need is to be ‘shut in’ with the Lord. The Word reminds us:

Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

Acts 14:22

“Tribulations” are common, and each must battle through them. And without being melodramatic, we each must walk through the blazing furnace. But I can also boldly attest that there is more than enough grace for each of us. We just need to become desperate enough. (Which shouldn’t be too hard).

Armor is given. Wearing it means you’ll survive (and thrive) to see another day. Those who may suggest that the Christian life is a “bed of roses,” I would say that they haven’t read Ephesians 6. If there is no war, why would the Holy Spirit tell us to put it on?

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” 

Eph. 6:10-11

We are just starting to learn we must fall in love with Jesus. He receives us with a massive kind of love. And His mercy meets us at every doubtful corner. You have His Word on it. Simply ask Him to come to you. 

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Allowing Yourself to Be Weak

Warning: This post might step on some toes!

Our society has pretty much embraced the American cultural icon of the cowboy.  We revere those who ride alone and hard. We are rugged individualists and hardened men making our own way.  Our society reflects this in subdued ways.  No matter what happens, we are fiercely free and independent.  We are ‘desperadoes’–we do whatever we think is best.

This is distinctive to the American sense of being.  We are instilled with a pride and a freedom as our birthright.  John Wayne, the ‘Alamo,’ and the biker with his Harley-Davidson on Route 66 have been our inspiration.  Each are distinctly heroic and carry our hopes and dreams.

But the Bible is not an American book.  A cowboy did not die for our sins (which are many).  The way of discipleship does not take us through Dallas, Texas.  Rather, His Words to us are bold and entirely challenging in an amazingly fresh and different direction.  We are told to wash feet, to repeatedly turn the other cheek, to surrender all our rights, and then take the lowest place there is in every situation.

Jesus is positioned as the Lord over us.  Humility is to become  the way we think and how we act.  We have become slaves to righteousness.  Our vaunted independence has been toppled. The crown has slipped. My wilfulness still wants to stand instead of kneeling. We discover this has been the truth all along.  We have never ever been in control.  He has been the King since before time, and will always be, for an eternity.

“Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness”. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God”.

Jerry Bridges

I want to pose the following questions.  Are we honestly in a condition of being weak?  Can you serve with a basin and towel?  Is your heart that of a child? Do we see the world through the ‘lens’ of a soft and broken spirit?

Our churches often struggle often over issues of pride and stubbornness.  There is often little gentleness and brokenness to be seen.  We still see ourselves as independent, and we call our own shots.  I wonder if the lordship of Christ is even considered.  We may consider it noble to be a Christian, but our lives are not discipled.  (And they are not likely to be until God breaks us of our independence.)  It’s called, ‘the spirit of the age.’

“Holiness has never been the driving force of the majority. It is, however, mandatory for anyone who wants to enter the kingdom.”

Elisabeth Elliot

 

I write these things surveying my own life.  Self will and my hard heart fit ‘hand-and-glove’ with being that desperado.  I ride alone, making my own way, and I don’t make any disciples. I jettison my cross— my cross of discipleship.  I serve no one, unless it suits me.  Am I His disciple, or am I a man of my own?  Is He my lord, or have I decided to claim that right for myself? We must decide these things.

I only hope I have spoken the truth today. Forgive me if I offended.

“Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require.”  Amen.

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A Broken System

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Sixty million Americans – that’s one in five adults – will experience a mental illness in the coming year. That means every one of us knows someone who is living with a mental illness – depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and some additionally have a substance abuse.”

The stats are staggering. They are also easily forgotten. (It seems that we approach life not as it is, but as we want it to be.) But consider this:

• Half of all adults will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
• Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14.
• One in five children will have a mental illness by age 18.
• Ninety percent of people who die by suicide also had mental illness.

Brokenbelievers is not just a “niche” site– we’re dealing with hardcore issues that are significant for far too many. Mental illness is a pervasive and terrible issue in our society. Christians must witness to what Jesus can do in the midst of this. We are his witnesses.

Accentuating this, our mental health care system is broken. Jails and prisons have become “dumping grounds” for afflicted people. I guess that this is considered “routine” for us. Imagine the outcry if, instead of doing this to the mentally ill, we did incarcerated those with diabetes? Yet we do so because that’s the way the system works.

There are many beautifully competent people who toil in the mental health field. Some of the kindest and caring can be found working in these places. They deserved to be commended, not vilified.

The landscape is strewn with casualties. Mental illness will affect half of adults in their lifetimes, and the collateral damage can’t even begin to be quantified. Our therapists, nurses and doctors have a grisly job security. Money can never fix our system of dealing with those with a mental illness.

Many of us will disagree about what to do.

Perhaps we should advocate a multi-prong approach. Brokenbelievers exists for Christian believers that are having to work out their faith in the presence of a tenacious illness. It’s good to have someone that understands depression or other issues in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We must think differently– and do differently. With God’s help we can.

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Sources:

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kay-warren/hope-for-mental-illness_b_8045810.html

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