Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Meet Dirk Willems

In the wake of Christian martyrs in the news (90 more Christians kidnapped by ISIS in Syria earlier this week), I am sharing a few martyr stories from church history.  Sadly, there have been seasons in Christian history where Christians persecuted and martyred other Christians of a different stripe.  Our history is hardly pure.
In 16th century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed.  One of them, Dirk Willems, was being chased across a frozen lake when his pursuer broke through the ice and fell in.  In response to his cries for help, Willems returned and saved him from the frigid waters.  The pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but thinking it his duty nevertheless arrested him.  A few days later in the town of Asperen, Willems was burned at the stake till he died.[1]
When Christ is deep in a person’s life, he is going to value others ahead of himself.  He is going to love his enemies and pray for those who persecute him (Mt. 5:44).  When Christ is deep in a person’s life she is going to be faithful no matter what the cost.  Don’t you think it’s important that all of us who know Christ seek to cultivate that depth of faith before the persecuting time comes?
Obviously, Willems didn’t just talk his faith, he lived it in the faith that as Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25).  I wonder if Willems had second thoughts about his decision to fish his pursuer from the icy waters, especially as he was tied to the stake and as the flames began to lick at his body.  Who knows?  But we do know this: when Willems entered Paradise and the blessing of his Savior any second thoughts were vanquished.  “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

[1]Cited by Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998), 213.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What If?

They did it again.  ISIS has murdered yet more Christians—21 Egyptian Coptic Christians brutally beheaded in Libya.  Their video also declared a commitment to take the fight to Rome and to all people of the cross.  Don’t expect much help from the White House.  This President and his closest advisors live in some alternate universe.  He still thinks global warming is a more clear and present danger to Americans and the world than “Islamic terrorism” (words he can’t even bring himself to say).  He thinks we Christians are on a “high horse” about all this.  After all, millennia ago our Christian ancestors conducted the Crusades to thwart the violent Islamic takeover of what had been sacred grounds to Christians.  I’m not condoning the Crusades, but to compare that to what’s going on now is … well … only possible for someone who is either history-ignorant or lives in an alternate universe.  But enough of that.  I’m not posting this blog to rag on the president.
I am posting this blog to state that persecution for our faith is coming.  Many would say it is already here in subtle ways.  But subtlety may one day give way to the fist.  A Facebook friend of mine posted a picture today of the Egyptians Christians lined up on their knees awaiting their beheading.  He wrote words to this effect: “Praying fervently that I could be as faithful as these martyrs should that day ever come for me.”  This is a wise and good prayer.
While most of us would like to think we would be “faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10), I suspect none of us would know for sure until that moment arrived.  How do we prepare for such things?  Perhaps it goes without saying that keeping our faith current helps immensely—relying on a walk with Jesus that matters just as much today as it did years ago when we first trusted Him for salvation.  When Jesus is more like a friend to us than an historical figure (world history and our history), this might help us be prepared to suffer for Him.  Who would die today for George Washington?  I don’t know Mr. Washington.  But I know Jesus.  I’ve talked with Him today several times already.  I’ve sought to listen to Him in both my spirit and through the Scripture.  A faithful, current walk with Jesus will surely help us prepare for persecution.
And something else might help too: martyr stories.  Fox’s Book of Martyrs is a classic because it tells us of our mothers and fathers in the faith who were “faithful unto death.”  Such stories provoke both faith and courage.  So for the next few posts, I’m going to share some martyr stories in the hopes that such stories will provoke faith and courage in us all.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Jim Eliot who died at the end of a spear in Ecuador serving one of the Indian peoples there.  In writing his biography, Eliot’s wife, Elisabeth shared something that helps us understand why Eliot and his missionary friends were willing to die for their faith.  She wrote:
Jim’s aim was to know God.  His course, obedience—the only course that could lead to the fulfillment of his aim.  His end was what some would call an extraordinary death, although in facing death he had quietly pointed out that many have died because of obedience to God.
He and the other men with whom he died were hailed as heroes, “martyrs.”  I do not approve.  Nor would they have approved.
Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great?  Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first?  Furthermore, to live for God is to die “daily,” as the apostle Paul put it.  It is to lose everything that we may gain Christ.  It is in thus laying down our lives that we find them.[1]
This quote doesn’t tell any of the grisly details of Jim’s death, but it helps us understand why he was prepared to suffer for his faith.  He died to Christ daily.  Let’s learn from Eliot in these uncertain times.

[1]Elisabeth Eliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life of and Testament of Jim Eliot (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1979), 9-10.