How Far Would I go?

I remember hearing my pastor in San Diego talk about the deaths of the apostles a while back. He said that except for John, they were all martyred. And since my memory is like swiss cheese, I had to look it up…Google is decidedly awesome…

“The Deaths of the Apostles

Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethopia, killed by a sword wound.

Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.

Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.

John was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos where he wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation. The Apostle John was later freed and returned to serve as a bishop in modern Turkey. He died an old man, the only Apostle to die peacefully.

Peter,was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross, according to Church tradition, because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die the same way that Jesus Christ had died.

James the Just, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and brother of Jesus, was thrown down more than a hundred feet from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.

James the Greater, a son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the Church, James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman soldier who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.

Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed about our Lord in present day Turkey. He was whipped to death for his preaching in Armenia.

Thomas was speared and died on one of his missionary trips to establish the Church in India.

Jude, another brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows after refusing to deny his faith in Christ.

Matthias, the Apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and beheaded.

Barnabas, one of the group of seventy disciples, was stoned to death at Salonica.

Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment which allowed him to write his many epistles to the Churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational doctrines of Christianity, from a large portion of the New Testament.”

It got me wondering. How far would I go to defend my faith? Would I take a sword to the belly rather than deny Jesus? Would I allow myself to be dragged along behind horses until I was battered and scraped to death? Would I suffer any of those fates for my faith?

The answer, of course, is “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I’d like to say I would, but the truth is, there’s no way to tell unless something like that actually happens to me. I think of people like Cassie Bernall, hiding out in the library at Columbine, and when confronted by the killers, answered “Yes” to the killers when they asked if she believed in God. They shot her in the face at point blank range.

People say they probably would have killed her anyway, and that may even be true. But she didn’t know that.

My old pastor at Calvary Baptist once told me words to the effect that he hoped for the chance to be a martyr someday. So he would go on mission trips to places that gave him the best chance for that to happen. That seemed like some kind of crazy at the time, but now I wonder. Is it a bad thing to want the chance to pay the ultimate price for your faith?

Jesus did it for us.

No answers today, but the little gears in my head are turning. Just coming off a very long night of driving a truck around in the dark, following dogs. Just take a moment to think about what your faith means to you, and what you would do for Jesus.

How far would you go?

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4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

If you’ve been to a few weddings, you’ve likely heard this passage, from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. If you’ve been to many weddings, you’re probably good and tired of hearing it. I know I am (I’ll wait to step outside for a few minutes just in case—I’ve yet to be struck by lightning, but it can’t be as much fun as it sounds). Jenny and I went with a verse from the psalms for our wedding (this is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it).

Anyway, I was thinking of this verse this morning when I woke up, and I looked it up in its entirety when I got to work (once again, I’m on standby—nothing to do). A little piece of a sermon I heard once came back to me just now, and I can’t even remember where or when I heard it, but the speaker was talking about taking the word “love” out of this passage, and replacing it with “Jesus.” Now, I’m not normally one to take out or replace any part of scripture, but in this case, it made sense. Take a look:

4Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It works, I think. And the reason why is because God is Love. Jesus is Lord, and God, and Son. Therefore Jesus is also Love.

He’s Love.

Love incarnate. God incarnate.

I wish I had some perfect, eloquent answer to explain what that means, but I only know what it means to me—what love, His love, means to me.

Love is getting a few friends together based on a feeling that something is amiss, and going to play basketball with a fourth, very early in the morning. Love is letting that fourth friend grieve in his own way, and just being there.

That’s a God thing.

Love is another friend witnessing to that same person with her life, and together with her family, praying for that him to come to Jesus. Love is praying that prayer over and over again, for many years without success, yet still persevering. Praying without ceasing for eight years—before he finally got it, and came to the Lord.

Another God thing.

Love is still another friend calling that same man during when he was at his absolute lowest—and keeping him from falling back into the darkness. She probably doesn’t even know what she did, but he remembers, and always will remember.

Another God thing.

And finally, love is a woman willing to persevere past that man’s shortcomings, and fears, and problems large and small, and finding within him the person God intended to be found, and loving the man in spite of all of it—seeing his true heart beneath all the other garbage, all the baggage.

A God thing, to be sure.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that it was Love that saved my life—that saved me, in so many different ways.

It was Love that gave me hope, and a reason to live.

And God is love.

So pray for the lost people you care about, and the ones you don’t know, as well. Pray for them. It works. Persevere, because sometimes perseverance is necessary. And while it’s true that it ultimately still comes down to the choices of the person being prayed for, it’s also true that prayer makes a huge difference.

Witness with your life, as well.

It’s only recently I’ve began to realize that my life tells people more than my words ever will. How I live it speaks volumes about what God means to me, and what he does, will do, and has done in my life. Do I live wantonly, or do I think about what God would think before I do something? Do I consider how I represent God in my workplace? In my leisure time? Do I love indiscriminately? Do I give cheerfully? Do I do whatever I can for the least of these? Do I forgive? And most importantly, do I pray?

4Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I feel like a goat sometimes

I have to admit something right now.

There are some people out there (and some of them might even know who they are) I just don’t like very much. I would not go so far as to say I hate anyone, but there are definitely people that really chap my hide. It’s probably like that for anyone—maybe even for everyone.

I never believed that Will Rogers crap for a second. He never met a man he didn’t like? Try driving in California traffic, Will. Or wait behind a snowbird at a green light for five minutes while they try and figure out which pedal is the accelerator.

Maybe there’s a person like that in your life.

Maybe the guy in the next cubicle is a really obnoxious, really profane fellow, and you’re tired of hearing him talk about his weekend activities in a voice loud enough to make sure everyone knows what a pimp he is. Or maybe your boss keeps skipping you for a promotion, and never recognizes what you bring to the table, and the office.

Or it could be something a little different. Maybe it’s not so much thinking that you don’t like someone, but the person in question just pushes your buttons in exactly the right (or wrong) way. Like the person who knocks on your door selling God in a convenient, pamphlet sized package to be read later, when you have the time. Or the homeless man that follows you down the street, begging for change, or food, or the shirt off your back.

It could be a million things, a ton of different scenarios. You know? People just suck sometimes. They’re rude, and annoying, and just need to go away.

Just because that might actually be true from time to time doesn’t change the fact that if I am the person I say I am, and if I’m really trying to be the person I want to be—the person God wants me to be, I have to behave differently.

I remember four or five years ago, a few friends and I went clubbing in downtown San Diego. We’d parked at Horton Plaza, and when we were done doing our thing, we would walk back to the car. On this particular occasion, it was January the 1st or 2nd, and it was pretty cold. I had on this leather jacket my roommate had given me, and on the way back to the parking structure, we saw a couple of homeless guys sleeping along the wall to this one building that looked like it was probably offices during the day. We had to step around them to pass, and as we did, I felt a very strong call from God to give one of the men my jacket. God was even specific about which one—but I didn’t do it. I was cold. I even remember thinking something like “that dirty bastard should just get a freaking job—then he wouldn’t need to be crashing in doorways.”

I don’t think I wore that jacket again after that night, and eventually it found its way to the trunk of my car. Back in 2007, another friend from church was going downtown around Christmas to hand out jackets, sweaters, and blankets to homeless people. I just so happened to have mine in the trunk of my car, and I immediately went out and got it for her to take. Of course, it’s almost impossible it got to the same person, but still…it should have the first time.

Anyway, I’m back from that tangent. Let me begin another. The other night, I was thinking of the following verse after a conversation with my wife and my older son (It made me think not just about how poorly I have treated people that got my large size panties in a bunch, but also about how I have been one of the “least of these” at several points in my life, and I was shown more grace from others than I have ever given):

40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ –Matt 25:40 (in my NIV, the chapter heading mentions “The Sheep and The Goats.”)

And here’s the other thing that occurred to me. No matter how annoying someone is, no matter how much they piss me off, or inconvenience me, no matter how much I dislike them—even if for what seems like a really good reason

Jesus still died for that person, just as much as he died for me. And he also loves them, just like he loves me. So I can longer treat people the way most of the world would tell me to, or how I feel they should be treated.

Dang. The “golden rule” sucks sometimes.

I’ll leave you with another few verses, from Isaiah.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.