Willing to Die

Jesus and his disciples were heading towards Jerusalem. On the way he warned them of persecution that was to come: “All nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.”

They continued walking and arrived in the Gilan Province of Iran. They walked up to the courthouse, and Jesus turned to them and said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God. Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.”

They went on their way and came to Pyongyang, North Korea. As they passed by an underground church, Jesus said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

They walked on to Nigeria, stopping in village after village where many had recently been martyred. Jesus encouraged the people there, then turning to his disciples said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

My great-grandfather was an Armenian pastor murdered by Turkish Muslims for his faith. In the face of persecution, how significant the words of Jesus must have been to him!

In my super-safe-suburban-bubble, I don’t even fully grasp them. Yet I still hold back and complain and think, “these words of Jesus are too hard. Who can take them literally? Surely what he really means is…”

What words of Jesus do you tend to ignore?
What commands do you think are just too hard to follow?

Do you think believers in persecuted countries have an advantage over us? How so?

Painfully Worth It

Photo Credit Weisimel

Jesus once told a parable that went something like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hiding in a field. Every day, hundreds of people walked by it, around it, even over it, completely oblivious to the riches right under their nose.

One day, a young woman stumbled upon it. At first, she didn’t realize exactly what she had found. As it slowly dawned on her, she became more and more excited, until finally she hid it again and hurried back home.

Over the next couple of days, she gathered up all her belongings and boxed them up. Some things were easy to part with, but she shed many tears as she said goodbye to nostalgic items from her childhood; clothes, shoes, belts, and more shoes from her closet; books, CDs, and movies; laptop, television, cell phone, mp3 player; furniture, appliances, even her car.

It took her several days to sell all her stuff, and in the process there were moments of doubt and uncertainty about her plan. When she moved back in with her parents and told her friends what she was doing, they could not understand. They tried to get her to change her mind, at least to hang onto some needed items, but she knew what she wanted. Her father forced her to see a psychiatrist, but afterwards the doctor acknowledged that she was in her right mind despite her behavior being so unusual.

“I can’t explain it,” she said to her family, “but it’s almost as if I have no real choice in the matter. Now that I know it is out there, the thought of it consumes my every waking moment. I don’t think I can live without it. And if this is the only way for me to get it, then this is what I will do. I believe it’s worth it.”

Three weeks after first finding the treasure, the young woman met with a real estate agent and joyfully signed her name to many papers. It was a long process, and she could hardly contain herself as she patiently signed over and over. Finally, she was done; she was shaking hands with the others in the room, and it was a done deal.

She rushed over to the field as quickly as possible. Her heart felt like it was going to explode as she crouched down, turning over the soil, and then… there it was! Sunlight glimmered off of the treasure.

It was hers! Fully and truly and forever, hers. An overwhelming feeling of joy and peace came over her as she realized her life would never be the same.

Based on Matthew 13:44.

Question: Why don’t we see our life with Christ as such a treasure?

The Boy on the Fence

*Photo credit Keith Maguire

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who sat on a fence. This fence was actually the little boy’s home. He had lived there with his family his whole life. And there were lots of other people who lived on the fence, too.

It really wasn’t a great place to live. It resembled a wide wall more than it did a traditional fence, but it was still confining and uncomfortable. However, all the boy had ever known was life on the fence, so he didn’t realize how silly it was to live there.

It was a safe place to live. A long time ago, a group of people had chosen to stay on the fence and live there in order to protect themselves and their families from the lands on either side of the fence.

You see, the fence stretched in either direction as far as the eye could see and separated two very different lands. One of the lands looked like it came right out of a postcard. The sun was always shining on the green, green grass, the blooming flowers, the birds in the trees filling the air with their music, and the bunny rabbits happily hopping through the fields.

Almost everyone who lived on the fence visited the sunny land from time to time. Most people were only gone for four or five hours, and occasionally some would be gone for a day or two. But they always came back to the fence.

The elders, who were the leaders and also the oldest people who lived on the fence, said that it was not wise or safe for anyone to ever visit the sunny land. While the others respected the elders, and even loved them, they didn’t really listen to them.

Once in a very great while, someone would leave the fence and not come back. When the people on the fence realized that the person was gone for good, they would not speak of that person again. And no one ever really talked about what they did over in the sunny land or what it was like.

This whole situation made the little boy very curious. He did not understand what made the sunny land unsafe; it looked harmless to him. And if it was unsafe, then why did everyone go there and come back unharmed? And why was it okay to visit the sunny land, but not okay to live there? And why didn’t anyone obey the elders’ command to stay on the fence?

The little boy was too young to climb down from the fence by himself, but he wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Someday, he told himself, he would explore the sunny land.