Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Moves Me...

About 6 years ago, I was visiting the church I went to in high school back in the Grand Rapids area of Michigan, and one of the main pastors at the place began his message by giving a quote from G.K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy. I cannot for the life of me tell you what he quoted, but I do remember what he said after he read the passage. He said something to the effect that there was a large number of people that had started to read this book in their community, which was followed by a large "Whoop!" He also said that this book was doing some great things, affecting these people and moving them.

I left that service, found the local Barnes and Noble where I purchased the book. Well, it has been 6 years, and I am now getting around to reading Orthodoxy. Apparently, I have a 6-year waiting list for all good books to be read. This blog entry is not going to be about the rather rotund Chesterton though. I have yet to finish the book and digest it; I have underlined one incredible line so far, but I am still working on it. This entry is about what that pastor talked about 6 years ago - something that was affecting and moving the community.

When I first became a follower of Christ back in the year 2000 (there is my timely-nod to all things Leno/Conan right now), the first "Christian" book that I read aside from the Bible was the book Jesus Freaks collaborated together by dc Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs. I spent many nights in tears as I turned each page of this book, reading the horrific stories of people from around the world and throughout history that have been tortured, persecuted, made to watch loved-ones be killed, and then ultimately were killed themselves all because they said, "Yes, I am a follower of Christ." These stories, along with a few other things, were the most transformative thing to have ever happened to me in my early years as a Christian. With each story, my faith grew stronger. I realized that I was a part of something global, something historical and something much larger than myself.

I wanted to spend a few blogs discussing and writing about these stories. Hopefully this will encourage you in your prayer life to be focused on the countries that are persecuting Christians today. I heard a horrifying statistic the other day that there are more people being martyred today than there were during the first 250 years of the church. Whether you believe that prayer changes things or you believe that by praying you are now entering into God's will for that person(s), prayer will affect your heart and change your focus. I can think of very little that is worth focusing on more than the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Let's begin then. A man named Jesus came to a tiny part of the globe called Israel and pretty much turned the world upside-down. He spent three years pouring into the lives of men and women, healing thousands upon thousands, raising the dead, and teaching about a Kingdom that anyone could come and be a part of. He was murdered, but since He was not a mere man, but was God AND man, He raised Himself up from the dead. After His resurrection, He told the men and women that He spent the most time with to go out into the world and make followers (disciples) of every nation, by teaching and baptizing them. Before He was crucified though, He had told His followers that if they continued to follow Him, they would be persecuted as well even to the point of death.

That's interesting. Have you ever had a really great teacher in school? You know, someone that you look back on and think, "Man, I really LOVED Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So's class! I could hang on every word that they said!" These teachers were almost friends in a way. You respected them a lot for their knowledge and their incite, but your conversations with them made you feel like you were actually close with these people. Anyone have this experience besides my nerd-self? As much as I loved these particular men and women and what they had to teach me, I really doubt that if they told me that I was going to be tortured, persecuted and most likely killed if I kept following what they taught me that I would continue to follow their teachings. In fact, I can tell you right now that if my art teacher back in high school told me this, I would have put my paint brush down and walked over to the Economics department for the first time in my life. I'm not sure that my art is worth dying over, or being tortured for that matter.

But this is what these followers of Jesus did. He warned them, straight out, if you follow Me, they will torture you. If you follow Me, they will persecute you. If you follow Me, your family members will hate you. If you follow Me, they will kill you.

This is what inspired me so much ten years ago. Jesus had 12 guys, 12 really close guys that He spent a lot of time with. These were His chosen men - He hand-picked these guys to become fishers of men, and stop their lives as fishermen. When their Teacher, their Friend, their Mentor, and their Savior left them, they didn't despair, they didn't go back to their old ways, they picked up where He left off, went out into the world, healed thousands, and brought the message of the Kingdom to all nations.

We are told that Thomas, that guy who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, went all the way to India to make disciples. Get out map one day and look how far Israel is from India, then realize that this dude walked it in sandals. I'm impressed, that's all I am saying. James, Jesus' brother, remained in Jerusalem and preached to the Jews and Hellenists. Let me say that again - James, Jesus' brother, remained in Jerusalem to reach out to the Jews there. If you had a brother that was just murdered by some people in a particular town, would you decide to continue living in that town and try to show them that God loved them?

Andrew went to Italy and started working to teach people about the true God instead of the non-existent gods. James, one of the sons of Zebedee, remained in Jerusalem to reach out to the Romans, the Romans were the other conspirators in the group that killed Jesus, by the way. Bartholomew traveled to India, Turkey and finally to Armenia. While in Armenia, he preached about Jesus and the King's brother decided to stop following the false gods and became a follower of Jesus.

Philip traveled to Turkey and Syria making disciples. Matthew wrote his gospel in Jerusalem then traveled to Africa and began making disciples in Ethiopia. Jude (also known as Thaddeus) travelled to present-day Iran. Simon the Zealot began by traveling to Egypt and North Africa. He then went all the way up to what is now known as Great Britain. After that, it is said that he traveled back to Persia and met up with Jude to work together in that area. Peter did a lot, as we can read about in the book of Acts and his own letters. Primarily though, he went to Rome and was the first Bishop of Rome.

What happened to these guys?

Thomas - put in a furnace, and when the fire didn't kill him, he was speared to death.
James, Jesus' brother - brought to the top of the temple roof and thrown off from it.
Andrew - was hung on a cross for three days, preaching the entire time about Jesus while he grasped for air, on the third day he died.
James, the son of Zebedee - beheaded in Jerusalem for preaching about Jesus.
Bartholomew - the King of Armenia was pretty ticked that his own brother had become a follower of Jesus, so he had Bartholomew beaten with rods, then crucified on a cross almost to the point of death, taken down and flayed.
Philip - tied to a pillar and stoned to death.
Matthew - dragged outside the city gates in a town in Ethiopia, nailed to the ground with spears and beheaded.
Jude - was beaten with sticks and clubs until he died.
Simon the Zealot - After Jude's death, Simon continued to make disciples in the area and moved onto Syria. There, he was tortured and crucified by the governor.
Peter - Emperor Nero had begun the persecution of Christians by this point and made it a personal goal to find and execute Peter. Sometime around 65 AD, Peter was captured in Rome, and it is said that he was crucified upside-down.

There are hundreds of others that suffered the same fate as these men did. But I want to turn now to one who didn't. James, the son of Zebedee, had a brother, his name was John. John was not martyred. John was persecuted, and he was supposed to be killed, but for some divine reason when he was put into a vat of hot oil meant to burn him alive, the oil did not do anything to him. Emperor Domitian had him exiled to the island of Patmos instead. At this rocky, desolate place, His Savior visited him and brought him visions which he wrote down as ordered - now known as the book of Revelation. Once Emperor Domitian died, John was released and returned to Ephesus, becoming the Bishop there. He verified the Gospels that Matthew, Mark and Luke had written, then wrote his own Gospel. He also did something of the utmost import in Ephesus.

John made disciples.

And this is where we will pick up in my next blog.

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