Archives For Martyrdom

The World’s End

October 20, 2014 — 9 Comments

christ arisenMany years ago, while attending seminary, I was invited to preach at a Pentecostal congregation in my home town. One of the conversations I had that day taught me more about the importance of sound biblical preaching than every homiletics course I ever took (combined).

Lutherans, I must admit, are not big advocates of “end times” concerns. The reasons for this are far too complicated to address in a brief column now. Ironically, however, although we confess our confidence that Jesus “will come again to judge the living and the dead” every week, we seldom talk about the details of that arrival.

At the aforementioned service, I did preach on the second coming of the Messiah. And, to distill it down to a single message, I suggested that the Scriptures teach us to live in a sort of tension. We should live with a conscious awareness and urgency that the parousia could happen at any moment . . . and, prepare for the future as though the return of Christ (and subsequent new creation) will not take place for another thousand years.

Shortly after the service ended, a woman approached me and shared how she “wished she could have heard that sermon thirty years earlier.” She related how different her life would have been.

She said in her youth she had longed to attend college, but she never did . . . because she knew Jesus would return before she graduated.

When she and her husband bought a home, she wished the property had some fruit trees, but she never planted any . . . because she knew Jesus would return before they bore fruit.

Saddest of all, she told me that when her children were born, she never raised them to become mature adults . . . because she knew Jesus would return before they grew into the men and women they became.

Nearly forty years later I am more convinced than ever that living with the “tension” I described is the proper course of disciples of Jesus.

So, how does this work out in reality?

While a few of us know people who become so preoccupied with the end of the world that their lives go askew, it’s the other error to which most of us are prone. We tend to think that the return of Christ bears little or no connection to the age in which we live.

We are so preoccupied with our present responsibilities and dreams that we invest precious little time in contemplating how these things will matter in the scope of eternity.

I highly recommend to you a recent article on this subject that will remedy this dilemma. Andrée Seu Peterson, a gifted writer I have commended before at Mere Inkling, reminds us all of the fact that Jesus’ second coming may be just around the corner. Andrée writes:

Who would have thought that after centuries of modernity, beheading would once again be a means of persecuting the people of God? Does it not send a chill up our spine to read all about it in Revelation 20:4 even as we hear about it on CNN? “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus.”

C.S. Lewis famously described two errors people fall into when considering the occult. Either we get caught up in unhealthy expressions of the supernatural, or we dismiss the reality of demons and their destructive agenda altogether.

I believe humanity’s impulsive nature makes us vulnerable to the same extremes when it comes to the final days of the world we call home.

I strongly encourage you to read Peterson’s article here, as a timely reminder that you were created for far more wonderful and amazing things than we can ever know in this life. Even the best this world offers is but a hint and a foretaste of what awaits those who trust in God.

Writing Life Scripts

September 13, 2013 — 9 Comments

ben hurI was shaped by the heroic religious films of the 1950s and 60s. The powerful messages of epic movies like Ben Hur, Quo Vadis and The Robe planted within my young Christian heart an awareness of nobility and radical self-sacrifice.

About twenty years ago, I spent a year doing graduate work in education. One of my Educational Psychology classes was taught by a professor who was a devotee of Transactional Analysis. I don’t recall too much about TA, aside from one of its principles that resonated with me.

It’s a concept called Life Scripts. Without going into great detail, it is an often subconscious notion of how we “think” our lives will or should play out. It’s adjusted throughout our lives, but the basic theme is established when we are quite young.*

A recent article says “script is broadly understood as a series of decisions, formed as coping strategies in childhood, which continue to shape the life course outside of awareness.”**

It was only as an adult that I realized just how significant an impression these virtuous stories made on me. I recalled the countless times I lay in bed at night rehearsing the story of The Robe. I was the unbelieving Roman soldier, converted by the gentle witness of the wrongfully persecuted Christians.*** Ultimately, I took my stand with them, defending them and voluntarily laying down my life for Christ.

That same plot line still echoes through my mind and soul.

I consider myself blessed to have been exposed to such positive influences while my self identity was being shaped. And I pray for children today whose parents allow them to be exposed (at terribly vulnerable ages!) to violent, fearful and morally ambiguous influences.

Those precious minds and hearts are scarred by the vulgarity and immorality that are endemic in modern cinema, television and music. May God have mercy on them.

C.S. Lewis lived during the era when the virtuous dramas such as those named above were at the peak of their influence.

In a diary entry from the mid-1920s, he mentions Quo Vadis in passing. He is describing his weekend schedule.

Saturday 22 April: Got up about 6.30 and did the same jobs as yesterday. Was settled to work by 9.5 o’clock and put in an excellent morning . . . Sheila Gonner—jolly child—came to tea. Dorothy is to come back tomorrow: so we shall no longer be servantless. At her request I lent her my crib to Tacitus’ History for her sister Rose— I wonder what makes her imagine that she would like it? Possibly early Christian novels of the Quo Vadis type. Worked again after tea, and from supper till ten o’clock, finishing Herodotus. The last few pages of the IXth Book I now read for the first time, having got tired of it on my first reading . . .

I find this diary passage intriguing, in the way that Lewis posits a reader’s potential interest in classical literature as arising from their exposure to ancient Rome via contemporary novels. That’s precisely where my own lifelong fascination with the Roman empire was born.

If you’ve never seen these three movies, I commend them to you. I would also encourage you to consider reading one or all of the novels. They are available for free download in various digital formats.

Quo Vadis

Ben Hur

The Robe

_____

* I’m a pastor and historian, not a psychologist, so I don’t pretend to understand all of the implications. Because of that, I don’t endorse TA as a fully valid theory. What’s more, in our fallen world it’s obvious that many early “life scripts” can be based on wounds inflicted on neglected or abused children. In such cases, particularly where the scripts are destructive, we are not “destined” to live out a tragedy. By the grace of God, even the saddest of stories can be redeemed and “rewritten” into tales of hope and wonder.

** From “Script or Scripture?” by Jo Stuthridge in Life Scripts edited by Richard Erskine (Karnac Books, 2010).

*** It didn’t hurt that the main Christian disciple in the film was the lovely and chaste Diana, played by the British actress Jean Simmons. But that’s another story, and it’s important to note that these life scripts are pre-pubescent creations, so they are motivated by much deeper impulses than hormones. As the previously footnoted quotation referred to them, they are fundamentally “coping strategies” for survival in the calm (or frequently turbulent) world in which children find themselves.

Sinister Initiations

March 25, 2013 — 58 Comments

fumieSomething unbelievable just happened in America. Something offensive, abusive, and utterly intolerant.

At Florida Atlantic University, one of the professors taught a lesson so distasteful that, had it maligned any faith other than Christianity, it would have led to his dismissal. Instead, the student who challenged it was suspended from the course.

The class is entitled “Intercultural Communication,” and the instructor happens to be the county vice-chair of one America’s major political parties.

So, what was the malicious class exercise? The students were instructed to write the name “Jesus” in large letters on a piece of paper which they laid on the floor in front of them. Then, they were directed to stomp—yes, stomp—on the name of the person millions of people throughout the world regard as their Savior.

It’s difficult to comprehend anyone would design such an offensive “lesson,” let alone that they would actually attempt to implement it. And, since lessons are created to teach someone, one wonders precisely what Deandre Poole wanted his students to learn by encouraging their blasphemy . . .

C.S. Lewis would not be surprised by this event. He foresaw precisely where the wholesale rejection of God within academia would lead. There is a passage in his book That Hideous Strength that seems almost prescient. In this scene the protagonist, a sociology professor named Mark Studdock, is being initiated into an elite and secretive inner circle at the Institute where he has come to work. The organization has global plans and great influence. Studdock is a confirmed agnostic, yet he is disturbed by something his mentors describe as a “minor” portion of the initiation process.

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room [where candidates are taught to think properly], something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic.

“We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all.

At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that [he had briefly experienced, and dismissed, the same thought during his own initiation].

“But, look here,” said Mark.

“What is it?” said Frost. “Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal.”

“This,” said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance to the horrible white figure on the cross. “This is all surely a pure superstition.”

“Well?”

“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean— damn it all— if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”

“That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with.”

The parallels are evident. I can readily imagine Dr. Poole justifying his own exercise in similar language. However, that something like this could happen in a civilized land is sobering indeed.

This incident reminded me of powerful scene in the book and miniseries Shogun. [Appended below.]

Christianity had been embraced by a number of provinces early in Japan’s history, but the rising ruler had vowed to extinguish it. The Shogun required that samurai suspected of being “Kirishitan” prove they were not by stepping on holy images of Christ or Mary. The Christians (all Roman Catholic in the seventeenth century) would not abuse holy images and were arrested on the spot. Fumi-e were images created for the sole purpose of desecrating, and some examples (like the tile shown above) have survived to this day.

If the individual failed to recant their faith in Jesus, they would be tortured and ultimately martyred. As recently as 2008, the Roman Catholic Church beatified a new group of 188 Japanese Christians. They joined 45 saints and 395 previously beatified martyrs. They represent only a small segment of the estimated 35,000 believers who accepted death rather than denying their Lord.

The newly beatified include 183 lay people, four priests and one monk. The laity included thirty samurai warriors, as well as farmers, artisans, civil servants, teachers, painters, writers, former slaves, pregnant women and even children as young as three.

If Dr. Poole was historically-informed, he would recognize that the odious ritual he thrust upon his vulnerable students carried a significant deal of baggage. And that’s not to mention the direct affront it poses to those who believe Jesus’ claim that he “is the way, the truth, and the life.” Ultimately, all people of goodwill—believers and atheists alike—will find his behavior repugnant.

Excerpt from Shogun:

In James Clavell’s book, it is the English protagonist who ironically desires to weed the [Roman Catholic] Christians out of his samurai contingent. (Their loyalties rest in a cause other than his own.)

. . .

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“No, Sire, so sorry.” Uraga was looking up at him in front of the assembled samurai vassals, the Dutch crew gathering into a nervous knot near the quarterdeck railing. “Please excuse me, but it is most important you find out at once. You are their most enemy. Therefore you must know, for your protection. I only wish to protect you. Not take long, neh?”

“Are they all on deck?”

“Yes, Sire.”

Blackthorne went closer to the railing and called out in Japanese, “Is anyone Christian?” There was no answer. “I order any Christian come forward.” No one moved. So he turned back to Uraga. “Set ten deck guards, then dismiss them.”

“With your permission, Anjin-san.” From under his kimono Uraga brought out a small painted icon that he had brought from Yedo and threw it face upward on the deck. Then, deliberately, he stamped on it. Blackthorne and the crew were greatly disquieted by the desecration. Except Jan Roper. “Please. Make every vassal do same,” Uraga said.

“Why?”

“I know Christians.” Uraga’s eyes were half hidden by the brim of his hat. “Please, Sire. Important every man do same. Now, tonight.”

“All right,” Blackthorne agreed reluctantly.

Uraga turned to the assembled vassals. “At my suggestion our Master requires each of us to do this.”

The samurai were grumbling among themselves and one interrupted, “We’ve already said that we’re not Christians, neh? What does stamping on a barbarian god picture prove? Nothing!”

“Christians are our Master’s enemy. Christians are treacherous—but Christians are Christian. Please excuse me, I know Christians—to my shame I forsook our real gods. So sorry, but I believe this is necessary for our Master’s safety.”

At once a samurai in front declared, “In that case, there’s nothing more to be said.” He came forward and stamped on the picture. “I worship no barbarian religion! Come on, the rest of you, do what’s asked!”

They came forward one by one. Blackthorne watched, despising the ceremony.

Van Nekk said worriedly, “Doesn’t seem right.”

Vinck looked up at the quarterdeck. “Sodding bastards. They’ll all cut our throats with never a thought. You sure you can trust ’em, Pilot?”

“Yes.”

Ginsel said, “No Catholic’d ever do that, eh, Johann? That Uraga-sama’s clever.”

“What’s it matter if those buggers’re Papist or not, they’re all . . . samurai.”

“Yes,” Croocq said.

“Even so, it’s not right to do that,” van Nekk repeated.

The samurai continued to stamp the icon into the deck one by one, and moved into loose groups. It was a tedious affair and Blackthorne was sorry he had agreed to it, for there were more important things to do before dusk. His eyes went to the village and the headlands. Hundreds of the thatch lean-tos of the Musket Regiment camp spotted the foothills. So much to do, he thought, anxious to go ashore, wanting to see the land, glorying in the fief Toranaga had given him which contained Yokohama. Lord God on high, he told himself, I’m lord of one of the greatest harbors in the world.

Abruptly a man bypassed the icon, tore out his sword, and leaped at Blackthorne. A dozen startled samurai jumped courageously in his way, screening the quarterdeck as Blackthorne spun around, a pistol cocked and aimed. Others scattered, shoving, stumbling, milling in the uproar. The samurai skidded to a halt, howling with rage, then changed direction and hacked at Uraga, who somehow managed to avoid the thrust. The man whirled as other samurai lunged at him, fought them off ferociously for a moment, then rushed for the side and threw himself overboard.

Four who could swim dropped their killing swords, put their short stabbing knives in their mouths, and jumped after him, the rest and the Dutchmen crowding the side.

Blackthorne jumped for the gunwale. He could see nothing below; then he caught sight of swirling shadows in the water. A man came up for air and went down again. Soon four heads surfaced. Between them was the corpse, a knife in his throat.

“So sorry, Anjin-san, it was his own knife,” one called up over the roars of the others.

“Uraga-san, tell them to search him, then leave him to the fish.”

The search revealed nothing. When all were back on deck, Blackthorne pointed at the icon with his cocked pistol. “All samurai-once more!” He was obeyed instantly and he made sure that every man passed the test.

Then, because of Uraga, and to praise him, he ordered his crew to do the same.