Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” — Luke 9:23
I like to read books about martyrs for Christ. Believe me, its not that I enjoy reading about the torture that many, many Christians have endured. But, it is a constant reminder that real Christianity is costly. It is also a reminder that if I am unwilling to give up any earthly possession, then I do not see Christ, salvation, and Eternal life properly. God is the pearl of great price. He is the treasure in the field. When men see Him for who He really is, they will gladly give everything for Him.
I regularly read “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” “Jesus Freaks,” and “Tortured for Christ.” I like reading them because you can read one of their stories in just a few minutes (except “Tortured for Christ,” the whole book is one man’s story). In that few minutes, it just somehow awakens my spirit to follow Jesus . . . like REALLY follow Him.
My wife knows I read books like this, so for Father’s Day, she bought me a new one called, “I am n.” It contains stories of individuals giving everything: money, possessions, homes, even their own lives for the sake of following Christ. I have only read the first story. Fortunately, the guy is still alive (at least at the time of the writing of the book), but the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took nearly everything from him. They are constantly seeking out all “infidels” who refuse allegiance to Allah.
To mark these people, they spray paint the Arabic letter “nun” on the houses of people they have marked as Christians. “Nun” is basically the equivalent of our “n”, and stands for Nazarene. Houses marked with an “n” contain followers of Jesus the Nazarene.
Here is the thing: The guy in the story, Abu Fadi, could have kept every single one of his possessions. All he had to do was say that he was not a follower of Jesus, and then pledge his allegiance to Islam.
He refused. He just quietly, and humbly said, “No, I will not become Muslim. I do not denounce Jesus.”
I heard a preacher say that one of two things must happen in America: Either our preachers must change the way they preach, or a great wave of persecution must befall the American church. I believe him. The reason being that one of these events would separate the true followers of Jesus from those who give lip service only.
Somehow, in America, we have become church consumers. “What’s in it for me?” is our favorite question. We “shop” for churches. Does it have a great children’s program? If yes, it may be worthy of my children’s attendance. Is the service over by 11:45? That will allow me to make it to the restaurant before the line gets long from the rest of the churches who get out at noon. Is the band good? Do I like the preacher? If it isn’t at least a little bit entertaining, then I don’t really want to go.
I use those examples because I’ve either said this dumb stuff, or at least thought it.
When I became the pastor of a church two years ago, I never prayed that God would give us good programs, good music, or that my sermons would be great. I prayed for one thing, and one thing only that remains my prayer today: “God, please allow your Presence to abide at Lifeline Community Church. I pray that every person who comes in the doors will experience you. May they desire above all else to keep that feeling of your mighty presence with them every day for the rest of their lives. Help us to want you above all else.”
If God’s Presence isn’t being made manifest, what does it matter if your kids like the youth group? If the Holy Spirit isn’t all over the worship service, what does it matter if the band plays every note perfectly? I don’t care if the pastor is the greatest public speaker on the planet; if he isn’t teaching you that you can have your own real deal one-one-one relationship with God and that you can have the Holy Spirit residing in you . . . he is useless.
If you ever really grab a hold of Him . . .
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Would they spray paint your house with an “n”?