THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARTYRDOM AND A MARTYR COMPLEX

Neal Pollard

Will the day come when government attempts to shut down our Bible study and worship services? Looking back at history, particularly the books of Acts and Revelation, we know this can occur. Certainly, the current environment in our society reveals a trend toward greater intolerance of the biblical worldview. We are growing more secular and more sensual as a nation. Public symbols of Christian religion are disappearing from the public square, while public expressions of Christian religion have long since disappeared from public education. That said, we do not do service to Christ by manufacturing problems where they do not exist.

Isn’t it interesting that back when Christians were experiencing mistreatment, the Holy Spirit guided men and women to have a different attitude than that of a victim. From a prison cell he would never leave alive simply because he was preaching Christ, Paul sought to bolster a young preacher’s faith by saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according tot he power of God” (2 Tim. 1:7-8). When Peter and John were beaten for their faith, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When they were mistreated and released earlier in this episode, the church gathered to worship and pray (Acts 4:24ff). Peter urged readiness (1 Pet. 3:15). John urged faithfulness (Rev. 2:10). Stephen showed endurance, boldness, and compassion as he became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7).

It is an incongruous idea to imagine the early Christians wasting precious time organizing email campaigns, seeking to draw sympathy from the media, picketing, and playing the victim. Instead, driven by their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they committed their lives to Jesus while they spent their days trying to spread the good news of Christ (Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23). Even as Christians were martyred (Stephen, James, those assaulted by Saul of Tarsus’ efforts, and those during the time of the book of Revelation and shortly thereafter), there is no hint of any of them roaming around with a martyr complex. Let us emulate their great example!

work-martyr

Pilgrims And Strangers

Neal Pollard

The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.

Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us. 

I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.

19990219_10154823106870922_5613897177568887225_n
John and Carla learning a few Arabic words and phrases from the local Christians.

Could You Survive A Medieval Winter (Or An Ancient Persecution)?

Neal Pollard

How would you like to try and negotiate a Russian winter the way our Medieval forbears did, sans electricity, modern food conveniences, and Netflix? The Middle Ages, an approximate 1,000 years from about the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire (in Rome, Italy) to the time of the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire (in Constantinople, Turkey), also had a “Little Ice Age” from 1300 to “about 1870.” Sandra Alvarez writes, “Winter was a frightening time for many people; if there was a poor harvest, you could starve to death, and there was always the chance of contracting illnesses that could easily kill you, like pneumonia…. Winter was the most dangerous time in the medieval calendar year” (medievalists.net). A few years ago, a medievalist reenactment group (who know such existed?) selected one of their own “to live on a farmstead, with only ninth century tools, clothing and shelter for six months” (ibid.). Once a month they checked on him to make sure he was still alive.  The volunteer was undoubtedly hearty, but he could have left if he needed or wanted to. His more ancient counterparts could not.

I find it interesting to think about how people lived in the past, throughout the different periods of history. Dave Chamberlin is the master of transporting his students back to Bible history, describing the housing, diet, habits, and mindset of those in Old and New Testament times. It is incredible that people who lived so starkly different from us had the same feelings, needs, desires, and thoughts that we do today. How masterful that God wrote a book as ancient as the beginning of time and as modern as the morning news. It guides and directs us more adroitly than the best-selling survival guide by the world’s finest team of experts could.

As a Christian interested in restoring New Testament Christianity, I think about my first-century forbears. I assemble to worship in a much different style of clothing, singing songs with different tunes and illustrating sermons with different current events. As Christians visited at the conclusion of worship, did they have ancient equivalents for our talk of football, medical procedures and doctor visits, children’s and grandchildren’s social, athletic, and educational activities, and the like? Often, their pressing problems centered around surviving in a culture that, at times, detested them even while they enjoyed the great benefits of their godly lives. Their thoughts and prayers periodically centered around losing their jobs and possessions for being Christians (cf. Heb. 10:34) and even their homes, safety, and the threat of death (Acts 8:1ff; 12:1ff).

In some ways, our times are decidedly different. We enjoy many advantages and suffer a few disadvantages compared to our physical and spiritual ancestors. The time may come when we must face a winter without cars, electricity, and store-bought food. The time may come when we must face a culture so hostile to our faith that it costs us in a way none of us has yet experienced. The way to cope then would be the way we must cope now, by trusting a God whose provisions we often take for granted, whose love for us is greater than we could fathom, and whose promises are more enduring than life, death, and the grave. In the greatest trials, we can say with Paul, “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32). Nothing can separate us from His perfect love (Rom. 8:35-39). That, my friend, is timeless!

2992730336_d7f06aca71_z

Even When You’re Alone, You’re Not

Neal Pollard

If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4.  Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me.  It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine.  There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy.  Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21).  He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship.  Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15).  Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16).  Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air.  Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18).  These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!

This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:

  • The Lord stood with him.
  • The Lord strengthened him.
  • The Lord spoke through him.
  • The Lord saved him.
  • The Lord was steering him.

You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us.  He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4.  Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”

Disturbed

Neal Pollard

The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider.  If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity.  The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.

Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ?  It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established.  We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts.  We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11).  Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment.  Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2).  He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14).  Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).

The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith.  Consider a few highlights:

  • We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
  • Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
  • Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
  • Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
  • It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
  • It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
  • We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
  • The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).

I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances.  Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials.  Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).