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.

Jesus’s word which only faith accepts

Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3

Jesus’s words to a religious leader of Israel still ring loud and clear and true for us today. Jesus spoke a word in words, from the Father. That is why they have a telling effect for all who believe. Jesus preached the gospel because he preached himself. He did it out of the utmost humility, having humbled himself in the Incarnation by becoming one of us, and taking that much further to the death of the cross for the worst from and of us. Jesus himself was a word from the Father, indeed the final Word, revealing God to us, “full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14).

This is the one word we in Jesus should speak, as well as by grace live and if need be die for. No other words, as important as they are, are on that same level. Though through that word, those lesser words might be shaped and perhaps could begin to share in its life and purpose, either directly or indirectly.

The world spoken by Jesus of Jesus is the word by which we in Jesus live, and which we should share with others, so that they too may come into this new life. The life who entered this world as a little baby boy so many years ago.

Jesus and the message of the cross

On Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, perhaps his last message was on television last night, with more broadcasts of the same program to come. I think the same program can be downloaded here (more). In characteristic Billy Graham fashion, there was a simple preaching of the gospel with an emphasis on how one can find forgiveness, new life and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And there were two powerful testimonies of people who came to the end of their rope in different ways, before they found and became followers of Christ. Not lost in the message and presentation is the powerful truth of Jesus’ resurrection. It is wonderfully illustrated graphically by special effect. But the emphasis is placed on the cross, on Jesus and his death for us. And how the cross confronts us in our sin and challenges us to live an entirely different kind of life. Of course all in and through the salvation God brings in Christ.

I think some have thought that I don’t make enough of the cross myself. Maybe they are right, my guess is that this is probably true. I don’t see anything at all that is good and of God happening apart from the cross which of course includes the resurrection. God deals with the world, with creation through the cross.

Some might falsely think that, for example, the book of James does not deal with the cross enough. In fact it doesn’t mention the cross at all. And a good number of passages in scripture don’t. However all the good that is worked in and comes out of God’s people as well as the forgiveness, which we all need daily, comes through the cross, Jesus’ death for us and for the world. Apart from that there is no hope, no new life, no new world already breaking in, in and through Jesus.  When Jesus’ death, or the cross is mentioned, Jesus’ resurrection is never absent, biblically speaking. And nothing in terms of God’s will can be considered apart from the cross.

At the same time, we can reflect scripture itself, not having to mention the cross at every turn. Maybe some theology does that, but scripture often does not. Arguably we should, given some scripture and what it teaches concerning the cross. But I think not. While also at the same time, we always remember that we couldn’t be trying to understand God’s will, or stand in it at all, apart from the cross, Jesus’ death for us and for the world.

I am thankful to God for the ministry over the years of  Billy Graham. His preaching of the gospel along with my mother’s witness and the influence of the church I grew up in were probably the major factors God used to bring me to Christ at the age of seventeen. And I remember praying to God that day, thanking him for Jesus dying on the cross for my sins, and committing my life to God then and there in that dairy, at work after school. God met me, and even with all its up and downs and my faults and failures along the way, life has never been the same. And that can be true for you, as well. Give this message from Billy Graham a listen. And may God help you to put your trust in him, and commit your life to him, in and through Jesus. Yes, in and through that cross.

moving forward

It’s interesting how the words and counsel of others, particularly friends, can affect one. One such friend has given me advice more than once (unfortunately I fell short on at least the thought that I ought to pursue poetry -maybe someday, not that I haven’t tried my hand at it at all). But one of her thoughts I did take up was to share in my blog writing about myself, my own life, something I didn’t do at all before, or only brief if I ever did it. But now I do share, thanks to her advice, and I think it does reflect what we find in scripture. Truth is given to us in the midst of the lives we live, even through them. And certainly we find this sharing within scripture.

I’m not sure what the future holds as to my blogging. I tend to get into difficult subjects on a number of levels, one of the levels simply being controversy (although I only hit it here and there). There’s a large part of me that wants to shrink back and simply hide away from such, but then one comes into the real world, and the real world simply won’t let one do that. I have to say I don’t find the way many Christians respond to such matters helpful to anyone, and I certainly want to do better that way, myself. We don’t listen well, and we have the answer before the question is even done. I don’t think we comport well at all with the testimony of Jesus found in scripture. That being said, there is a time to speak out on these most difficult issues. And, by the way, simply following Jesus in his call is going to make no sense to the world, no common sense, and so we have to live with that, regardless.

One of the recurring themes that has come up to me time and again, and from which I would like to escape, but there is no escape, is the theme of weakness. I want to shore up my weaknesses and go on in strength. I don’t like the idea of living in and out of weakness. For the follower of Jesus, God’s grace is sufficient for and Christ’s strength is made perfect and known in our weakness. And so I have to be content not only to not have all the answers I would like to have, but to learn to live well in Christ in the midst of great weakness.

I also have felt rather untethered, a bit adrift, not having sufficient moorings. That is not entirely true since I and my wife are happy to be a part of our church. But I do have a sense of wanting to ask, “What’s next?” As if there is a missing part of the puzzle that I haven’t yet found.

I do think I want to move deeper into the kind of life in Jesus that has been shared, particularly coming to the forefront of my thinking through one of our pastors. More in the way of monastic retreats and working this into my normal, day to day life seems important for me now. I am also a word-oriented person, word here referring to scripture. I am oriented to and need to be in scripture regularly. I am glad to be a part of a church which cares for those in need, but I also want to become more oriented to helping those in need, particularly the poor and down and out. Right now we have a situation in our home, close to our heart, family, which we are happy to try to help and be a blessing in.

And so, too many thoughts here, but for now I plan to continue blogging. The habit is ingrained after years, and it would be a major change for me to stop. But I want to be open to what God has for me together with others in Jesus for the world.

Elizabeth, and the testimony of faith

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Faith is beyond evidence, although evidence is not antithetical to faith. Evidence can help and it can actually be misleading, being incomplete or mistaken. What is needed is a word from God and the witness of the Spirit with that word. Evidence eventually corroborates, or perhaps it is still incomplete and in itself inconclusive (or again, apparently mistaken, though evidence as a rule, if searched out will help toward a viable, plausible solution). While the saying “all truth is God’s truth” is true, we can put our full weight only on the testimony of God concerning Jesus found in scripture. That does not mean I reject science, or even mainstream science for that matter. It simply means accepting the limitations inherent in science, while also accepting its work and benefits, the latter for the most part, we all accept.

On that wonderful day when the blessed Mary entered into her relative Elizabeth’s presence, Elizabeth bore witness (i.e., testified) to the witness that had been given to her by God, even to her son, John the Baptist, who was in her womb. We need to speak the word of God concerning Jesus, which God gives us to speak, as well as speaking other words from God related to that.

That is a wonderful part of this Advent time, or Christmas season. We testify concerning God’s great gift to the world in his Son, Jesus. A gift that will keep on giving forever. As we seek to live in him, and in his way together for the world.

turning over a new leaf

Turning over a new leaf is an idiom which has to do with  change and a new start. For me I believe this happened at a silent retreat at the area Dominican center on Saturday. It came through silence and prayer from a pastor who led us.

It wasn’t long into the time when I took as words from God something I’m hoping to be aware of and grow into, in a sense grow away from, if grow is even the best word. The words were something along the line of making myself known to God. The imagery in my mind was the garden narrative in Genesis, when Adam was hiding from a pursuing God. So the thought to me is to endeavor to make myself present and open to God. That somehow I hide behind whatever it might be, a sense of unworthiness, lack of faith, whatever else this may involve.

And then I received prayer for my request that I would leave all the numbness and pain behind, and go on in the present through the rest of my life, in God’s grace and way in Jesus. Something to that effect. Pastor Rob anointed my head with (olive) oil, and prayed over me.

Except for reading a few quotes from saints and mystics, I kept my planned imposed silence within, meaning my attempt to be quiet both inside as well as out, during those six hours. Avoiding the bookstore, even finding that I was better off not opening my Bible, but seeking just to be present to God, silent, open to God and God’s voice.

I am thankful for counsel and prayers from our Pastor Sharon, which set me on this course. Neither Deb nor I really wanted to go Saturday morning, but we both ended up happy that we had. She heard from God as well.

I am not one who is big on experiences for a number of reasons. Though life itself is an experience. I mean as in “highs” or “warm and fuzzy feelings.” Etc. Though I want to be open to whatever the Lord sees fit for me. Nor do I think a special time in itself changes everything. But a time before God can be a turning point after which we go on in a new sort of way. Not in perfection, nor without the world, the flesh and the devil in opposition. But with a new or perhaps better put, renewed walk. One of continued growth, in the way of Jesus, which is a way with others and for the world. Not in a sense at all of arriving, but in a sense of moving forward. That somehow by God’s grace and working, something will be different. Not so much in feeling different, or with the imagination that there will be no more struggle or sin. No. But with a new sense of enablement, and with that, a sense of assurance that God in his grace is with me both in the works he has for me to do, as well as in the sense that I am fully accepted and loved in spite of myself and this or that.

And so is, by God’s grace, a turning over in my life of a new leaf.

grumbling against God

In the Book of James, we do well to note the emphasis on the tongue, precisely on keeping it in check. We are told toward the end of the Book not to grumble against each other as God’s people. Since the Judge is standing at the door. But we also read in scripture that we’re to beware of grumbling against God. Time and time again under Moses, Israel grumbled about their lot in the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. Ultimately such a spirit kept many of them from entering the “rest” God had for them. And actually, as Moses pointed out to the Israelites of old, to grumble against people is really grumbling against God.

I wonder about us. I wonder about myself. When life doesn’t go like we would want, or expect. We may grumble about this or that circumstance, and grumble against people, or an entity that we think is not doing well enough by us. But in so doing, are we not actually grumbling against God?

God’s sovereignty is a powerful theme in scripture. I may want to avoid that theme because of what I think are theological aberrations of it within Christianity, something like I avoid future things because of “left behind” theology. But we should do neither. The reality of God’s sovereignty over all of life should give us more than pause over our tendency, over my own tendency to grumble when things are not going well, or we meet inconveniences and difficulties.

God’s sovereignty over all of life is about his greatness and goodness. God is in control always, even though we know God does not choose to control everything. And yet he works in everything for good. The nature of our existence in this life includes suffering as a way to glory in Jesus. That is in terms of our following of Jesus in a world which not only does not understand, but will not accept all that involves, or at best only tolerates it. Other suffering ends up for our good as well coming in the form of trials or testings to develop us in our character.

And above all, not only is this a matter of faith in God, and in God’s greatness and goodness at work in his sovereign hand. But it’s also a matter of love. Do we believe in the God who is love, showing us and the world that love in Jesus? And do we respond with love, so that we want to be careful not to grumble against our God and supreme Lover? Do we see life in this way? Or is it about us, and what we want, and think is best?

I once knew a man older than I, a professing Christian, who seemed to grumble about everything. Most all the time something was wrong, and he let his unhappiness be known. Life for him seemed to be cast in a mold that was not good, even no good. Yet he professed to believe and follow the God who has revealed himself in Jesus. But the prevailing theme in his life was not about God, but about this or that which was wrong.

I don’t want my life to emulate that. When people see me, I hope they see one who repents of grumbling when I do so sin, but also one who is characterized by a grateful attitude in life, word and deed–to God. Even though I am not like the friend just mentioned, I know I can fall into this sin all too easily. May those closest to me see me grow in Jesus in this way. The way of thanksgiving to our God as the faithful and loving God who is for us and for the world, in Jesus.