Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Martyrdom: A Last Resort

"Martyr" is such an outdated term, and in our Western Culture an outdated ideal.

Growing up in church, I was made aware that there have been a number of Christians who have died in the name of the Church. Whether for ill or better it was a reality of being a Christian, albeit a distant reality.

The older I got I began to view dying for the name of Christ as a Biblical contingency, a last resort to my Christian walk. I began to wonder whether I would ever have to give up my life, whether I would ever be forced by God to suffer for Jesus. I'll admit the probability of this happening was at the very rear of my mind.

The funny thing is that, as with many things in my walk with Christ, God decides to pull the things that I've tried to keep my mind the farthest from, he pulls into the limelight, the very forefront.

As I began to grow physically and in my gifts I began to realize the very real nature of scripture and the very imminent call to ministry in my life. The more I thought about it and prayed the more like I felt that I would have to go to this very far extent. The implications of my life choices then became very important. Frivolous certainties in my future were cast into the cold light of doubt.

If I was going to be killed or die in the line of Ministry should I get married if I might die at a young age? Would that be selfish? Should I spend time building myself up for success? Should I dedicate my self to college?

I didn't know what this feeling was but it felt very real and a potential and very imminent possibility. I even tearfully told my Mom about this feeling one day. In retrospect that was kind of weird.

The more I began to grow, read, study and discuss the potentiality of martyrdom my view was flipped around. I began to read Acts, and specifically Acts 4, where some of the early followers of Christ were excited about being "counted worthy" to suffer for the name of Christ.

Bizarre, I had read that scripture a thousand times and it had never resounded with that much depth and clarity before. I had viewed the prospect of martyrdom as a contingency, never before as a privilege. I know it may sound trite as it had previously, I had realized that throughout scripture The Gospel was displayed as offensive to the world, it was a stumbling stone. I had also began to realize that in Scripture we see that we must serve, that we need to love one another- becoming the last place. We need to be obedient, and God will never give us more than he has equipped us to overcome.

As a friend of mine, and student at my school stated: "I mean look at the Prophets! How much is loving a rebellious people who reject you, like the heart of God?" (Sorry Megan, I just swiped that) ;)

In began to realize that there was no greater privilege than to be so obedient to the call of Christ and going out and loving a people who revile you to the point of being killed for love. As Christians we are called to follow Christ example, he brought the good news of the kingdom of God: he loved and healed and ministered. He was then betrayed, arrested, denied by the one who claimed unwavering loyalty, falsely tried, beaten, mocked, and killed by a corrupt system. What else could have spelled out rejection? How much should we be clamoring to be called to die? That God has called us to people who hate us and revile us and maybe will kill us.

"There is no greater love than he who lays down his life for that of his brother."

I began to realize that there is no greater calling than that of Christ. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians "For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain." That doesn't mean we should go looking to make people angry and get killed but realize that we will be joining Christ that much sooner, and of the right heart, love.

However, in the mean-time Scripture urges us to be wise, and good stewards of our lives which requires planning ahead. As far as marriage goes: again Christ is the highest calling, and marriage is a good thing and God never gives people more than he has equipped them to handle. I just need to find a woman of a like mind: A woman able to let me go for the sake of Christ, and myself likewise of her. It will be incredibly difficult, however there will be a day where there is no more tears and sorrow :)

Of course scripture speaks of reward in heaven for obedience, however I hope that one day I might be counted as faithful enough and be able to be obedient enough to have the privilege of dying for the Name. Don't get me wrong this is no frivolous decision Even Paul indicates that we are more effective alive, but death is of my own gain. Should I just jump into it? No.

As for that feeling that this will be a part of my future: I'm no where near sure. However we will see :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Going Old Testament

Isaiah 1:15-20:
15When you spread out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
 even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
   cease to do evil,
 17learn to do good;
     seek justice,
   correct oppression;
      bring justice to the fatherless,
   plead the widow’s cause.
 18"Come now, let us reason (dispute) together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land;
20but if you refuse and rebel,
   you shall be eaten by the sword;
      for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

As is normally my custom this scripture has something to do with my favorite band: U2  :D

I was reading an interview of Bono the other day: when asked about his understanding of Scripture in said interview, Bono brings up the central Christian teaching of love; how it is crucial to the person of God as well as the entirety of the New Testament.

After Bono finished his comment on the issues, interviewer Michka Assayas brings up the issue of God’s person as exhibited in the Old Testament saying:

Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn't so "peace and love"?

I am not too sure about your experience, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this argument used against the church: the paradox of jumping from complete vindictiveness and cruelty to love and peace.

We as humans are so swift to divide God between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We discount his unchanging, steadfast, and ultimately just nature.

This provides numerous problems; people discount God’s nature viewing him as fickle associating the attributes like anger, wrath, and justice and ascribing to them our own human shortcomings in these areas of emotion.

Anger becomes impulsive and uncontrolled. Justice becomes slanted and vindictive. Wrath becomes unjust and cruel.

We say that God has no mercy. We say God has no compassion. We say that God has had no love. We entitle ourselves to salvation and become indignant at the lack of tolerance.

The main problem comes to be that we forget that our own emotions are after God’s own emotions but contorted by sin, and lesser shadows of God’s emotions. We ascribe all these negative attributes of emotion to God. God’s justice demands actions against injustice and sin. He created right and wrong, he created us to choose right. We choose to wrong and as a result our wrong-doing must be repaid with death. We fail to remember that we provoked God. Justice is not slanted we all have sinned and we all deserve death.

We claim that God does not show us mercy. If we all died a horribly painful death right now, that would be just. Every breath we have is grace: something good that we do not deserve. Whether our lives are miserable or marvelous. People who follow Jesus and people who do not.

God’s anger is not impulsive. It is the God’s natural emotion to the violation of justice. It is measured and it only lasts for but a moment.

We claim that God shows us no compassion. In Genesis 6, he sends a flood to wipe out all of humankind. They had sinned and were deserving of death. They had violated the one who created them. He had the right. However, he chose one man and his family for no other purpose than he had compassion. Noah was said to be blameless, however still human and as such still sinful.

God’s wrath is not unjust, it is not cruel, it is the satisfaction of God’s anger; payment for the violation of God’s justice.

We fail to remember the very beginning: Genesis 12. Man is fallen and sinful, God has spared humankind once before but God makes a promise to Abraham (one who merely had the faith to believe in God and obey, and he was considered righteous for doing so,) that all nations would be saved through him and his line. God here demonstrates his compassion mercy and grace: He has compassion one who would obey him, he gives grace by promising to bless him with many offspring and making them his (God’s) people; he does this to be a blessing the world to the effect of showing them mercy, first through sacrifice but then through Christ.  

We claim that the Old Testament was devoid of any Godly love and mercy. This where Isaiah 1 comes in: In verses 15 God shows that the many sacrifices of Israel do not please him (violation of God: injustice-anger). In verses 16-17: He offers them second chance by telling them to turn from their ways (mercy). However, in verses 18-19 Isaiah relates God’s grace saying:

Come now, let us reason (dispute) together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
   you shall eat the good of the land;

In context: Isaiah is referring to the forgiveness of sins through sacrifice. Israel’s sacrifices will become pleasing to the LORDS once more. Israel will prosper under the blessing of God once again, despite Israel’s sin. There is also a second undertone: this scripture is used once again in the New Testament referring to Christ. The ultimate form of grace and compassion; we deserved death, God loved, in and of itself a gracious act, so he did all the work by mercy.

How little we realize how right God was for acting on his anger, but in the Old Testament he unleashed his wrath to satisfy his righteous anger only as a last resort. That is why we see the prophets, these turn or burn sort of folks. We view them as being sort of spiritual terrorists sent by God to scare people into obeying a cruel god. But they were messengers sent to warn a rebellious and ungrateful people (whom God loved!) so God might have mercy on them once more. We fail to see the prophets as a lovers pleading intervention, although not wavering on the consequences of un-broken rebellion.

This scripture is so very much a reminder to me who God is how unchanging he has been and why Christians need to share the Gospel. I hope that this is helpful to non-believers that they might see how God loves and how dire our situations truly. As Christians, I hope that this might inspire you to see the attributes of God better and see how his love is manifest throughout scripture and that you might share and read the prophets, as they are intended.