addendum to preparation for martyrdom

“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.

“A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.”

Matthew 10:21-28; MSG

I’m not one to write on martyrdom as I did yesterday. It was an honest thought, but one I feel is way over my head. Of course anytime we write about the things of God and Christ, it’s indeed over our head, given to us only by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 10 in Jesus’s sending out of the Twelve we have what I think is helpful for us Christians, even today. Yes, we’re not the apostles, not the original disciples, and there’s much that’s different now. We’re essentially a witness in our communities, as the church and individuals of the church. And we witness to Christ, yes to the salvation Christ brings. And that gospel and salvation is not only about the good news of God’s grace in Jesus, but also the good news of God’s kingdom in Jesus. Both. Our light shines in the darkness, and oftentimes the darkness will try to snuff it out, put the light out, but ultimately through Christ that light will prevail. Even on some scale the light that enlightens everyone in the world (John 1). But the light of the good news of Christ is the main point here.

Grace and humility. None of us is able to even follow Christ on our own, much less be in danger and even worse in doing so. We’re not to run into the teeth of danger, as if that’s nothing. We should do what we can to avoid it, wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. We should try to win over our enemies, love them, knowing that the same grace which has captured us can capture them. Think of Saul of Tarsus.

So it’s not like we want to run headlong into trouble, nor that we can take this on ourselves. But if we can’t avoid it at a particular time, God will be with us by the Spirit to help us in our speech and actions. This is certainly far beyond us, we can’t do it ourselves. But we can know for certain that God helps us with whatever we’re facing, no matter how difficult that may be.

Well, hopefully some balancing words with the post yesterday. A difficult subject. And let me add one more thing. The vast majority of Christians on different sides of the political spectrum here in the United States are not at all desirous to do anyone harm. Quite the opposite. And there is concern of coming trouble on all sides. That said, I think we have to stay true to the witness we have in Christ. One that again is not only about personal salvation, but also about the witness of Scripture from the prophets and elsewhere about the kingdom of God fulfilled and now even present in King Jesus.

preparing for martyrdom

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11

1 Peter 4 and 5 is also a good passage when considering this subject. We live in especially evil times in the United States. If you disagree politically, or especially with a political figure, you can be considered an enemy, an enemy of the state. Death threats and fear tactics are common now. And Christians are complicit in this. It’s an evil day.

As Peter tells us, we’re to arm ourselves with Christ’s attitude, which seems to be acceptance and even embrace of sufferings as taking away our desire for the unhelpful and even sinful dainties of life. Instead we determine by God’s grace to go the way of the cross, the way of following Christ to the end, the way of suffering.

I actually thought of this yesterday when considering this post. So instead of complaining about the nature of what I have to do, which frankly can be more than difficult, I decided to consider it training for martyrdom.

None of us wants to go there. But I also wonder just how many Christians nowadays would be able to. I ask myself that, too. Does our teaching and practice prepare us for that? Perhaps a good question as to how well we’re prepared for it is how well we’re responding to the difficulties at hand. Maybe we need to learn to embrace them, not in our own strength, but in the grace and strength of God, resolutely facing such in prayer, with the goal of finding God’s help to not only get us through, but make us a testimony and light.

This is easier said than done, and words by themselves are cheap. We need corresponding actions. And this involves a process. We’ll have to work through fears. But God is present to help us. As we seek to follow in the way of Jesus. Seeking to be faithful to God’s call on our lives. Leaving what is not of that behind. In and through Jesus.

addendum to preparation for martyrdom: a hopefully balancing word I added.

remembering the persecuted church

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

Open Doors is one of the best organizations in calling attention to and helping persecuted Christians. The recent report for 2018 makes it clear that there are pockets of what actually turns out to be a growing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Here in the United States and in the western world there is none of the persecution experienced elsewhere. We may have laws we disagree with, but one can still be an open witness of their faith without fear of suffering and loss. Not so in many places worldwide including a recent crackdown in China where both leaders and members of churches are being put in prison and tortured.

We need to become more aware of the plight of Christians and we need to be in regular prayer for them. To be a Christian here ordinarily costs us nothing, although we might miss out on a promotion or somehow be marginalized, or we might have to take some ethical stands that cost us. To be baptized as a Christian in many places elsewhere is practically to accept a death sentence, or at least be relegated to a status that is lower and subject not only to scorn, but to a more difficult existence.

There is no question that we here in the United States and elsewhere are shielded and even in danger of becoming complacent in our faith. America like Europe is becoming increasingly secularized to the point where faith is seen more and more as a relic of the past, and even an impediment to civilization. Although that can be exaggerated and misunderstood among Christians here, nevertheless there’s a real element of truth in it. Yet at the same time we don’t suffer the persecution our brothers and sisters elsewhere are facing.

…God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Corinthians 12:24b-26

Paul tells us that if one part of Christ’s body suffers, then the entire body suffers with it. Not unlike my foot which suffered injury some years back, and at times hurts probably due to arthritis that has set in. So that even though the rest of my body may be okay, yet I am not comfortable. Other parts sometimes compensate for missing or hurting parts of our physical existence, when they can.

We need to develop more and more an awareness which breaks the boundaries of ethnicity and denominations and traditions, not to mention nations, to see and begin to understand and enter into the world in which others of our faith live. That by God’s Spirit, we might be a help to them, even as by their faith they’re a help to us. And that together we might be a witness to the world in and through Jesus.

boasting in one’s weaknesses

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

2 Corinthians 11:30

The Apostle Paul was up against it. Impostors had somehow infiltrated the church wowing the people and disparaging Paul. They were not calling people’s attention to Christ really, but ultimately to themselves, and their agendas. Unfortunately you can get a sniff of that here and there today. They were the super apostles, but of course, not really apostles of Christ at all.

So 2 Corinthians 10 right to the end of the letter, chapter 13 (of course, the chapters and verses not a part of the original letter) is Paul’s response to them, and plea to the Corinthians believers.

Paul was defending his apostleship, but it was a defense that would never appeal to the flesh. It was in the way of following Christ, and great suffering in doing so. Certainly the signs of an apostle were present, but somehow the super apostles were able to dazzle the Corinthian church. They spoke well, Paul didn’t. And their appeal included casting doubt on Paul. He was not one of them. And he wasn’t.

I recently read or heard of someone including sins in weaknesses Paul was boasting about. There possibly could be a small element of that, but I rather doubt it. Listen or read 2 Corinthians 10-13 (click link above). It was rather about his weaknesses he struggled with, including the thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan which tormented him. After praying three times to the Lord, finally Christ’s word came to him, that Christ’s grace was sufficient for him, for Christ’s power was made perfect, or evident through Paul’s weaknesses. Paul’s conclusion:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

This is an encouragement to me. I’m no stranger to weakness. Again, I’m not talking at all about weaknesses that are sin-oriented. Like some people might think their addiction to pornography or the like is a weakness that Christ somehow might use. Nonsense, and completely against what Paul was getting at here. If that person repents, and changes over time, then their life might be a testimony of Christ’s strength in helping them, so that they can help others through Christ and the gospel. Paul’s weaknesses came through his humanity in living in this present existence under the curse, death imminent, and especially because of his witness to Christ and the gospel in the face of strong opposition, in the end resulting in his death.

It’s no fun at all, weaknesses. But that’s where Christ’s strength is found. That helps a lot. I look forward to the Day, when all of it will be over. In and through Jesus.

grace to continue

The week of Jesus’s death and resurrection, which we now call Holy Week was a most difficult time for Jesus’s disciples, as we see from the gospel accounts. It is practically amazing that all of them except Judas not only were in it for the long haul, but gave their lives up in martyrdom because of their testimony to Jesus, and his death and resurrection.

This reminds me of the grace we need to continue no matter what. Why do some drop out of the Christian faith altogether? Some do, and there are surely a good number of reasons surrounding that. But the crux of the matter from one angle is the failure to simply continue in the grace of God available in Jesus. We see from various passages in the New Testament that simply to continue on in the grace of God is what keeps us keeping on in Jesus. We all need that.

The grace of God here simply refers to what we need to keep us both believing and following our Lord. Of course there is much involved in that, as we see from scripture. We continue to follow Jesus not because of us, or our circumstances. But always because of God’s gift to us in Jesus. Not even with the natural good by creation that is in us, that we are. But only through the new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so we follow. Only in and through him.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Luke 14:25-35

Jesus didn’t care about popularity, or even about being misunderstood, it seems. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to understand and follow. It’s simply that he knew better than to think that everyone would, in fact, just the opposite. He assumed most people would not (Luke 13:22-30; Matthew 7:13-14).

This passage fits into the “hard sayings of Jesus”. Hating loved ones, as well as one’s own life is not to be taken literally. It is a way of helping one understand just how supreme one’s allegiance to Jesus is to be. So that the disciple who does love their family, and in the proper sense their own life as well, does so out of their supreme devotion and allegiance to Jesus. And ironically to not love Jesus in that way would mean that one loves others and one’s self all the less. But when push comes to shove, there’s only one God and one Lord that we give our hearts completely to. And in so doing we find that there’s plenty of love to go around for everyone, even for, as Jesus taught us, our enemies.

We might as well face reality, because there’s no escape from it. Following Jesus in this world is not always going to be easy, and sometimes will end with the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed that was what Jesus was referring to in this passage, that whoever wants to follow him would have to take up their own cross, which meant one thing at that time: crucifixion. Jesus knew that only those who understood something of what they were getting into, would persevere. The call is stark here, but it is in the rest of scripture. We’re to have no other gods before God, and we’re to realize that the world in which we live is no friend of God’s. This is throughout all of scripture from almost the very beginning, to close to the very end.

Jesus calls us to count the cost. And to realize that unless we give up everything we have, we cannot be his disciple, which means his follower. It’s a matter of allegiance, as well as trust. It involves giving our all to the One who gave his all for us on the cross.

Jesus deserves all of this devotion because he is God. But also because he as God is completely human, one of us. So that he takes us with him on the one true way to life, through his death and resurrection. May we have God’s grace to follow, and keep following to the very end. In and through Jesus.

sacrificial love

The point of living a sacrificial life is love. Loving God and loving others, in the way of Jesus, even our enemies. Martyrdom is when one pays the ultimate sacrifice by losing their lives for the name and honor of Christ. And with the hope that their persecutors will come to faith themselves.

But the love we’re called to in Jesus is mostly an everyday, down to earth, nuts and bolts love. In which the sacrifice we make involves mostly seemingly little things, which can end up making a world of difference. As well as doing what we can when the bigger things come along.

We do this out of love, but in and through Jesus and his sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God and then to others according to God’s will, finding that as we do so, we can better know just what that will is in which we’re to live:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Love gives, the ultimate love seen in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. And we are partakers of that love both as recipients and as those who live out something of that love to others, to those closest to us, as well as to others. The love of God in Jesus. The heart of our existence.

thoughts on the beginning of Christmas season

In the Christian tradition, from the Great Tradition, some feast days follow Christmas, which can seem to be head scratchers. There is the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. And today the Feast of the Holy Innocents, who are considered martyrs as well, preceeding Stephen, so that in a sense we could say that they were the first martyrs of the faith. We feast, but we do so as those who have not yet arrived to the fullness of joy to come, but live in something of what Paul experienced:

sorrowful, yet always rejoicing

2 Corinthians 6

We take comfort in God’s care and vindication of what is right and true, all given to us in and through Jesus in much grace. God sees and understands, and in spite of our unworthiness, God helps us to want to follow to the end, with the knowledge that he will see us through even death itself, even if it comes through martyrdom.

Jesus has come so that someday death is to be no more. In the meantime, we do grieve and we struggle, all in the joy which God gives us in Jesus. It is something like the mix of Paul’s great letter to the Philippians, much joy and rejoicing in the midst of a life in Christ which inherently faces suffering in this life, in the way of Jesus, in the way of the cross. At the same time knowing something of the power of our Lord’s resurrection together as God’s people. As we celebrate the one who has come.

Christmastide and the Feast of St. Stephen

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Christmastide begins December 25 and ends January 5 in the Anglican tradition, called also the Twelve Days of Christmas. Today we remember and honor the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”

To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 6:8-7:2a,51c-60

a defense of “Who Would Dare to Love ISIS? (A Letter from the People of the Cross)”

This video that has gone viral, Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America shared this week with the following words:

My heart is heavy for the families and churches of the Ethiopian martyrs who gave their lives for Christ this last week. Please join me in remembering these courageous individuals and praying for their families, their churches, and their persecutors.

Monday night, our brother and fellow partner in the mission field, The Rt. Rev. Grant LeMarquand, the Anglican Bishop of Ethiopia, said it well:

“The apostle Paul, a great persecutor of the church …of God, was turned to love by his experience of meeting Christ on his way to the Syrian city of Damascus. May God use his church to so act and speak of and from the love of Christ that many former or potential persecutors may be turned and have their named written in the book of life.”

I shared it on Facebook and on this post the next morning: following Paul as he followed Christ.

It wasn’t long after that I realized that the video could well be misunderstood. Watching it again, I have decided that the merits outweigh whatever danger the video has in misleading watchers. It might be thought that the video advocates a reckless laying down of one’s life at the gates of these enemies of the faith, even of all who do not line up completely with them or who do not submit to their rule. However in context it is referring to those who are willing to bear the message as witnesses of the faith, of Christ, of the gospel. It is the willingness of those who continue to live in harm’s way to so bear witness. Such witness is where the word martyr comes from. It simply means witness. But it has come to mean those who witness with their lives even to the death if need be. I don’t believe the video is advocating simply offering our lives to such evil as a witness, but rather the willingness to risk our lives for the sake of the gospel if need be, in order that even those caught up in this evil might be saved. Jesus has promised to build his church, and that the gates of hades will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:13-20).

Archbishop Foley earlier called for the government to protect Christians in Kenya, because God has instituted the state in part for that very reason, to protect citizens from evildoers (Romans 12:17-13:7).

We who bear the message of the gospel are living letters by the Spirit of that same gospel, known and read by all (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). And so while we neither want to suffer persecution and possible death, nor put our families in harm’s way, we also are followers of the one who calls us to take up our crosses and follow. And only if need be, when that time comes, by God’s grace, then we can endure to the end of life as witnesses to this good news found in Jesus, that all might hear and believe and be saved.