Tag Archives: martyrs

The World was Not Worthy of Them

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“Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed foreign armies.  Women received their loved ones back from the dead.  There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better:  resurrection.  Others braved abuse and whips, and yes, chains and dungeons.  We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless- the world didn’t deserve them!- making their way as best they cold on the cruel edges of the world.”  Hebrews 11:32-38

Westminster Abbey martyrs

I teach the Book of Acts to the 9th graders at our school.  I really did try to get out of this assignment, but it seems that I’m the only teacher who actually went to Bible College, so I was the obvious choice for teacher.  Turns out, I’m really enjoying this class.  It kind of reminds me of teaching Sunday School to our youth group kids all those years ago.  But this class is distinctly different from our church youth group where the majority of the kids had grown up in church, hearing all the classic Bible stories over and over again until they were bored with them.

This class is made up of a wide variety of denominations, most are some flavor of Protestant, one is Catholic, one hasn’t decided if he really wants to follow Jesus or not.  There are a handful of missionary kids, and the rest are Latinos whose parents want them to learn English.  So my first question of the year was, “Who has read the book of Acts in the Bible?”  Not one of them.  As I teach, I weave back and forth between the Old and New Testaments showing parallels in other stories, discussing symbolism unique to Judaism, explaining cultural details that us Western thinkers often miss.  The thing that is interesting to me is that if I were teaching this to our kids who grew up in church, they would be bored.  They have heard this so many times.  But for this class, most of these stories are new and ALL of the conclusions I present are revelations to them.  And that’s exciting to me.

I love laying out new material.  I love seeing the lights go on in their eyes, waiting for that “Ah-ha!” moment when it all clicks for them.  I love watching the wheels start to turn in their minds as they are exposed to completely new thoughts.  I love hearing them unravel a story and wind it back up again- making it theirs.  I love that.

When we reached the point of the story where the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is stoned and then later Saul is converted.  We “camped out” on these stories.  We talked a lot about what it means to be a martyr and why the Lord allows Christians to die like that.  We read stories about modern day martyrs and watched the movie “The End of the Spear”.  Then I assigned them a paper about a martyr of their choice.  This awakening of knowledge stirs the embers of passion into a flame.  This age, kids can really seize upon a cause and wrap their hearts around it.  They want to meet with ideas that challenge them to think and feel and question their own beliefs.  This is a good age to stoke the flames of dedication.

The potential to change the world that sits latent in those desks in my class room is just staggering to me. Will the world find itself unworthy of any of my students?  I hope so.  I hope that some day these kids will look back on their 9th grade year as the year when they decided to get serious about their relationship with God- to really “go for it” and “give their all”.  If you can look death in the face and know where you will end up once the battle is over, then you have robbed death of its power of intimidation over you.  You won’t fear death.  Death comes to us all.  Will the world which is unworthy of your life, look you in the face as you die and sigh because it could not conquer you?

Baptism by Fire

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I’ve been thinking about this phrase “Baptism by Fire” these last few months and wondering where it came from.  I asked a few Costa Rican friends if they had anything in Spanish that was similar, but they said No.  (Maybe if there’s someone out there who knows of one, you could add it to the comments here.)  So of course, I Googled it.  Basically it comes from taking some scripture verses out of context and applying them to a really hard situation.  Once upon a time it was used in France to talk about a soldier’s first real combat experience.  And the Mormons have added it to their rituals, again taking the scriptures out of context, to confer a higher authority (“priesthood”) on someone.

But the more I think about this phrase, and about the imagery of fire, the more I feel like it’s a gross exaggeration of a temporary rough spot in life.  It’s an exaggeration along the lines of “you’re killing me” or “we’re flat broke” or “that was the last straw.”  When we use such over the top words to describe a fleeting trial, we start to feel hopeless and victimized by life.  We start to imagine that we are some kind of martyr in  unusual circumstances.

But the Bible tells me that there is no trial or temptation which is new to mankind, nothing new under the sun, nothing that hasn’t been tried and conquered before.  This gives me great hope.  Rather than stripping me of my uniqueness, it bolsters me with good company.  Others have gone this way before me… and survived.  Sure some have fallen into the gorge on the side of the trail, but the survivors have left their torches along the path to illuminate my steps.  Their baptism by fire lights my way.  I can do this!

In the flames of my trial, I find the essence of my being.  I know what I am made of.  The dross, the flaws, the impure is burned away and the gold and silver bubble to the surface.  It’s the way God designed me.  As I pass through the trials, this old world burns away.  The straw and wooden crutches that have supported me go up in a flash and I have to stand on my faith- really owning it, really trusting it.  Is it strong enough to hold me up?  Or am I going down in flames too?

God does not preserve us from the flames.  They serve a purpose.  The martyrs of old met their end in the flames, being burned alive for their confession of faith and seeing this faith materialize into the face of Jesus right in the midst of their trial.  And it was in the very midst of the fiery furnace that the Son of Man met those three Hebrew teenagers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (in the Bible, Daniel chapter 3).  They were not rescued from the fire- they met God IN the fire.  I bet if you asked any one of them if they would have liked to skip over this episode in their lives, not one of them would choose to miss out on their closest encounter with God.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of epic proportions that has encouraged Jesus Followers for centuries thereafter.  The fire is not our enemy- the fire is our opportunity to meet God face to face.

Embrace your trial by fire and seek for Jesus’s face amidst the flickering flames.  Let everything else go up in flames.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O kind.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  Daniel 3:17-18