Monday, June 2, 2014

When the Executioner Knocks

When I was a kid, I remember learning about the Christian martyrs—people who were burned, or torn apart, or stoned—and I remember thinking, “It would be cool to die a death like that.” I’ve since lost some of my desire for that kind of death, but I remember having these thought of standing before someone (in my mind it was always a king) and being asked if I believed in Jesus. To live, all I would have to say is, “No,” but I would answer that yes, I do believe in Jesus Christ and I will not deny my faith in him. For that cause, I would die a martyr’s death. I remember talking to my mother about this and her saying, “We could face something like that one day.”

The persecution that I imagined as a child was nothing more than a fantasy. And yet, the executioners are at our doorstep. A discussion we had at church on Sunday made me realize that we are already being asked to deny Christ in exchange for our lives, but it isn’t by a king in the king’s court. What will our response be?

On Sunday, when someone suggested that we in America wouldn’t respond as well as the martyrs we see in other countries, I responded to say that we shouldn’t assume that. My reasoning—and I believe I was right—was that we have the same Holy Spirit dwelling in us that they have in them. Anyone who is following the leadership of the Holy Spirit will respond well. Don’t believe me? Read Luke 12:11-12. While we might think we will respond poorly when faced with that situation, Jesus had confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to guide us.

But someone made the comment that if she were given a choice between denying her faith and the lives of her children, she would deny her faith in an instance. I want to say that I would rather my children see that Jesus was more important to me than them, but that hollow, since I have neither children nor a wife. In any case, her response made me realize that the question, “Will you deny your faith in Jesus for your life?” has taken on a different form than standing before a king or a judge.

Consider Danny Cortez, who over a long period of pastoring a Southern Baptist church, decided that he no longer believes the traditional teachings concerning homosexuality. I listened to some of what he said about how he came to that decision. No one put a gun to his head and said, “Stop teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality or die.” Instead, over a fifteen year period, he had numerous people come to him and admit to having same sex attraction. As a novelist, I can tell you that every good story begins with the protagonist dying. But the death is of the form that if something doesn’t happen in the protagonist’s life, he would rather die than continue doing what he is doing. Danny Cortez being told by so many of his friends that they were having homosexual temptation and realizing that they could never allow themselves to get intimate with the object of their affection is a good example. For him, that realization was a type of death. Of course, it wouldn’t have been for me. I’m single, so if Danny Cortez had told me how sad he was that these people could never have sex, I would’ve said, “Get over it! I may never have sex either.”

But the point is that for Danny Cortez it was a type of death and he was given the choice between denying the teachings of God’s word and experiencing that death that he felt. That is not so different from the mother at church. For her, the death of her children was a far worse death than her own death. Of course we know that anytime we place anything before God, it is idolatry and it is very dangerous. We may think it simple. If denying God will save our children, then deny God. But we have more to fear from God. If God so chooses, he can protect our children from the sword of the persecutor. But if we deny our faith in Jesus, God may take the lives of our children anyway. And worse, he may leave us here to think about what we did.

It isn’t just the issue of unconsummated homosexuality or the death of our children. That is the one that is in the news, but other things may seem worse than death as well. I see people who give in to their children’s desires to be involved in immodest activities, because seeing their children cry is worse than death. People get involved with gambling, because not being able to support the lifestyle they desire is worse than death. People turn to drugs because they fear pain of various kinds as if it were death itself. People divorce their spouses, because see death as preferable to putting up with them. Single people turn to sex without having first been married, because being alone feels like it is worse than death.

For Christians, it may not be these things, but have you considered what you would do if the company you worked for began firing people who opposed homosexuality? I expect we’ll see that happen very soon. And what if the government tries to force you to pay for abortions? That is already happening. It is easy for us to say that we won’t deny Christ, as long as there is food on the table, but as Peter discovered, when we’re surrounded by the enemy, it is difficult to take a stand.

But I still believe that if we spend time in God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we have an advantage that Peter didn’t have. The executioner may be knocking at our door, but the Holy Spirit is there to guide us to the right answer, if we will just seek him and let him do his work.