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)

Wolves at the Door

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Be very careful!

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” 

 Matthew  7:15, NIV

I use my channel changer and I flip through the enormous darkness that exists in the world.  Jesus clearly warns His flock of the cold, hard realities of deception and deceitfulness they face.  Trickery abounds and things simply are not what they seem to be.

Darkness has an dark grasp on so many. The devil’s cunning is his ability to adapt to each person’s weakness. Deception has worked well for him for thousands of years. But understand: Lucifer is alive and well and he is prowling planet Earth.

There should be an alertness for the reality of deception. Sometimes, some sheep will not really be sheep. Our senses are not always trained to look for counterfeit Christians.  We get confused by the outside (it looks like wool to me).  But it’s a lie.  The wolf has deliberately taken on the attire of a believer.

What better place for him to ‘minister’ his evil than through a cold and lazy institutional church?

Jesus alerts us to what is really taking place. (Oh, how He wants us to discern!)  I think every believer should have a holy skepticism of outward displays of faith.  This is not cynicism or negativity; but rather it is a cautious faith– one in which we can discern the realities of a world that routinely destroys people. The first generation Church understood the reality of evil and what it would do when it’s unleashed.

“The first step on the way to victory is to recognize the enemy.” 

Corrie Ten Boom

“…they are ferocious wolves,” (v. 15). 

Ferocious” in verse 15 is a sobering word.  When I read it, I think of my home in Alaska with its wilderness and its wolves and brown bears; or maybe the grasslands of the ‘Serengeti’ with its lions or leopards.   A dangerous carnivore is often hidden by its camouflage.  Ferocity is a ‘predator’ word, a word that intensifies the danger. Satan can patiently stalk for days, and maybe months, and then he springs his trap and ambushes its victims.

wolf-sheeps-clothingWe can become accustomed to an ideal of love and peace in our walks, we are often disturbed and perhaps pulled off-balance by this disturbing revelation of evil.  Jesus tells us that we must possess an understanding of two things: 1) Deception is quite possible for the real believer, that in 2000 years the darkness is still potent. 2) The world is still contested but Jesus is Victor! Living in close proximity to Jesus will protect us in the dark.

We shouldn’t be anxious but trust Him in the matter of the safety of our very souls.

“Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10:3, NLT

Do you know what wolves do to lambs? But yet Jesus still sends them. They might surround us, but we are His own.

“How comfortable it is to have One, day and night, before the throne to control the charge of our enemy, and the despondencies of our souls”

–Samuel Charnock

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(The opening artist is unknown. Not sure who the artist is. Let me know and I can give you your due credit.)

The Breath of Jesus

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artist unknown, but greatly appreciated

“When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:20-22, ESV

Here we have an eye-witness account of the most amazing event in all of human history!  The risen Jesus, who definitely is not dead flesh, appears in a locked room that the stunned disciples hid out in.  He is now flesh and blood, as real as you or me.  The disciples are pretty much freaked out by all of this.  Fearful mutterings can be heard, “What is this… who is this…who unlocked the door?”

The risen Lord walks in with 22 eyes fixed on him.  He is confident,  and walks with resurrection authority.  He holds out his hands–they see for themselves the wounds the nails made.  He lifts his robe, and they kneel down to see for themselves the holes.  In spite of His brutal wounds, He shows He indeed is the Lord Jesus Christ, the living Savior of the world!

The disciples are ecstatic!  They are spontaneously laughing and crying and leaping around the room.  It’s like they just won the World Series, (but without the champagne!)  Pure joy pulsates through them.  He is very much alive! (Hey, isn’t that Andrew, doing a backflip?)

It’s in this ‘gonzo-intense’ moment, Jesus speaks–and they become very quiet.  He proceeds to impart peace into their hearts and minds with a simple command, “Peace be with you” verse 21.  Peace is a vital ingredient in the humble heart of every faithful disciple.

He then directs them to complete the work that the Father gave him to do.  He now extends the torch of evangelistic work to them. Seeing the resurrection up close like this will drastically alter your life’s trajectory. (They’ll be further fortified by the coming of Holy Spirit at Pentecost described in Acts 2:1-4.)

It’s now the time for the excited emotion of the moment to put on ‘work gloves.’

In this Jesus had does something unprecedented, He leans over each disciple and exhales on them. Now this is more than just a really weird ritual.  You see, His breath is saturated with resurrection life, and they inspire into their lungs the life of a risen man!  They now carry his ‘life essence,’ and in the light of Jesus’ previous statements to them are any indication, they will need it.

When God created Adam, he gave him his breath (Genesis 2:7).  Life is more than existence; it is the energy to “live.” When you really experience the resurrected Jesus, you will need more than good and noble ideas.  You’ll need Him, and you will need to rely on his breath to lead you to wherever you’re sent.

Jesus breathes on all His witnesses–those who have been picked to follow.  His breath fills our lungs, his oxygen enters our blood stream, where it now powers us on a biochemical level.  You can never, ever be the same again.  Never, even if you tried.

“If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

 

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