Come & Die

Monday, May 4th, 2020

Quotation from The Cost of Discipleship
Come & Die, Audio Version

It almost goes without saying that this call to come and die is not gender specific; it also applies to women. When Christ calls anyone, he calls that person to come and die. This statement, however harsh, is true and worthy of full acceptance. If you do call yourself a Christian, you have received and accepted a friendly invitation to follow Jesus, and with that, a summons to come and die. If you have even the slightest lingering doubt about that claim, go read what Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark 8:34-38. Jesus there issues the call to each of his listeners to deny themselves and take up their respective crosses. That was how Jesus issued his invitation, his altar call. It was and is a clear call — a chillingly clear call to come and die.   

How, then, are we supposed to die? What does it mean for you and for me to deny ourselves and take up our respective crosses? That’s a good question. Yes, it could mean physical death.

Pew-sitting Christians are likely to have heard biographical snippets about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a 20th Century German theologian — a theologian who ranks as a top-tier favorite of pastors and preachers, and deservedly so. Indeed, Bonhoeffer is doubly-deserving of honor. Not only did he pen the devotional classic The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer also died at the hands of the Nazis in the final days of the Third Reich. Many consider Bonhoeffer a modern-day martyr. I believe it is also fair and accurate to say that Bonhoeffer died precisely because he actively resisted a beastly antichrist. Bonhoeffer courageously resisted and defied Hitler. And Hitler was, by Revelation’s reckoning, a forerunner of the beast, that is, a type of the antichrist. Hitler qualifies as apocalyptic beast and an antichrist because he demanded absolute allegiance and loyalty — the kind of absolute loyalty that only Jesus Christ deserves. Jesus is Lord, not Adolf Hitler. Jesus Christ alone is worthy of our absolute allegiance.

Captured Bust of Hitler, Displayed at Fort Bragg

Bonhoeffer died young. He died on Nazi gallows as a relatively young man. But Bonhoeffer’s words live on. Bonhoeffer’s words have outlived himself and Hitler. And someday Bonhoeffer himself will rise again from the dead. Not only Bonhoeffer, though — someday all martyred Christians will be resurrected in victory to life eternal. I hope you will be in that number. I hope you will be one of those martyrs. If you’re a bit confused by my martyr-speak, please go read my earlier blog post on the meaning of the word martyr. The word martyr originally meant witness

This is all very morbid sounding, and thus somewhat repulsive: death, death, and more death. Jesus calls us each to deny ourselves and die. Jesus himself died young, by execution, upon a cross. Bonhoeffer also died a young martyr, executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer wrote a book about Jesus’ call to come and die. “Death, death, and more death — please talk about something else.”

Sorry, but the words of a martyr/witness will inevitably end in death. But they will also impart life. Faithful witnesses to Christ will speak words that result initially in the death of self, the death of ego, but then offer eternal life. As Proverbs 18:21 says, death and life are in the power of the tongue. That’s just a fact. If a martyr/witness conveys the gospel message faithfully, a listener will face a hard choice: to die to self now, or die in sin at the end. Death cannot be skirted. Death is unavoidable, either way. That all said, never forget that the gospel is truly good news, for it comes with the incomparable offer of life abundant and eternal. That is the most important part of the message entrusted to us. The cross comes first, but the victory of resurrection follows. That was the pattern for Christ, and is the pattern for each of us.  

Photo from The Passion of the Christ

Germs & Gems

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Audio Version

Far-off places often seem irrelevant. And practically speaking, far off places usually are irrelevant. One unexpected turn of events, though, can drastically and quickly flip our perspective on a location’s personal relevance. A location we once dismissed from our thoughts — that we once ignored as obscure and irrelevant — instead becomes entirely relevant. For example, take Wuhan.  

Six months ago, Wuhan was irrelevant; wasn’t it? As far as I was concerned, it was. It wasn’t even on my radar. At that time, I would have had no particular interest in the events occurring in, say, a cagey wet market or a batty viral laboratory in distant Wuhan. But in the course of a single season, events in far-off Wuhan became increasingly and chillingly relevant — and now drudgingly relevant to almost everyone worldwide. What we couldn’t have known then, we’re all too aware of now. Wuhan suddenly became relevant.

This notion of perceived relevance can be transferred from locations to ideas. What is true of places is true of ideas, at least in terms of perceived relevance. Ideas often originally seem irrelevant. And practically speaking, a lot of ideas actually are irrelevant. Then a turn of events changes everything dramatically. A once seemingly irrelevant idea goes viral, like a virus. Alliteration, anyone? “Viral like a virus.” How’s that for a redundant redundancy?  

But I was talking about obscure ideas. Here’s what usually happens: Academically-inclined people propose their ideas in dissertations, journals, or books. Some other academically-inclined people then discuss and argue said proposals. And usually, very few others care or pay any attention. Only the specialists are interested.    

Some of these ideas are gems, though. Other such ideas are dangerous germs. But we often fail to recognize them for what they are.

If we understood the implications of an idea that is genuinely a gem or actually a germ we would likely be interested. If we could perceive the ramifications of it, we might devote our undivided attention. Our problem is that we lack adequate interest and understanding. We do not see the idea for what it is. Our problem is our perception. We do not perceive it a gem, nor a germ. We do not perceive it correctly. A correct perception would change our attitude. 

Lots of examples could be provided here of ideas that are gems and ideas that are germs.

Christians are stewards of a particular set of ideas. This set of ideas was entrusted to us. In turn, we are meant to pass these ideas to others. These ideas are precious. They are genuinely gems, though they are not alway perceived by others to be gems. Sometimes instead our ideas are perceived to be germs. The onus is on us, then, to convince people that our ideas are gems and not germs. We find ourselves in a contest of competing ideas. Ours is the ultimate gem. 

That is what a martyr does. A martyr attempts to convince others of the truth and the worth of an idea. A Christian martyr is a witness to a particular set of ideas. And a Christian martyr is a faithful witness to him who is Faithful and True — the person originally behind that set of ideas. 

Our set of ideas is meant to go viral. It is supposed to spread from person to person. It is supposed to go from place to place until it has reached every corner of the world. But unlike a virus, it is not something that is simply caught. It is taught. It is explained. And it is celebrated.      

Are you doing the work of a martyr effectively? Are you convincing people that what you have to offer is a gem and not germ?