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The Higher, The Fewer

My family has a peculiar inside joke, a throwaway punchline that adorns the occasional phone conversation. “The higher, the fewer.” Spoken originally to Warf’s son Alexander by an overly pensive holodeck clown in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this little aphorism bears itself well in the world. The higher, the fewer. There are far more Hondas than Aston Martins, far more accountants than Evel Kenevils. The higher the effort required to become something, the fewer there will be who undertake the challenge. The higher the danger, the fewer participants will be willing to take the risk.

Except in the Christian life. And that is incredibly puzzling. Why is it that far more Christians would be willing to stare down the barrel of the gun of their murderous persecutors than are willing to live the hard aspects of discipleship? Why are far more willing to die for Christ than to live for him?

I don’t have any hard and fast data on what I’ve just said. And it certainly is not my intent to scoff at or imply that martyrdom is easy. It’s no act of courage to write from the bomb shelter about the fun of life in the front-line trench. The closest I’ve ever come to being martyred was when an off-duty coworker referred to me as a “fag” for refusing to refill her friend’s Pepsi through the Taco Bell drive thru. Intense persecution, that Taco Bell name-calling is.

Ignatius of Antioch wrote eight letters as his 2nd century Roman guards marched him across Asia Minor towards his impending execution at Rome. Seven were to churches, one to his new friend Polycarp who would one day too die at the hands of the Romans. To the church in Rome Ignatius writes,

Leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am his wheat, ground fine by the lion’s teeth to be made purest bread. . . . Fire, cross, beast-fighting, hacking and quartering, splintering of bone and mangling of limb, even the pulverizing of my entire body – let ever horrid and diabolical torment come upon me, provided only that I can win my way to Jesus!

These are no metaphors. It’s staring at your hand, watching the fire melt your skin and muscle off your bones. It’s being sewn inside the skin of a goat and feeling a lion scrape his teeth across your ribcage until your life slowly bleeds out of you. It’s feeling the slow and building pressure, followed by the sharp snap and fire of shattered bones and shredded ligaments again and again and again, punctuated by the sound of your screams and jailer’s laughter.

I, like you, bleach white at the thought of this. Reading causes me to pause and wonder if ever placed in the place of Ignatius of Antioch, what I would say. Would I deny? Would I?

No. Perhaps in the moment I would. But utterly and finally, I could not. For the Spirit of Christ will not let those He indwells deny Him by whom He was sent. The Trinity will not rest at odds with one another. And so it is with all who believe. Whatever the cost, we will follow, knowing that the world has hated our Master and so will also hate us. Certainly our churches would be smaller. Few people are tempted to use God for their own advancement when that advancement takes the shape of a bullet hole in the forehead. The higher the cost of discipleship, the fewer the disciples.

And yet, how puzzling it is that amongst those who would willing to die for Christ, so many of us struggle to live for him in present, easy circumstances. We’re willing to sell our lives, yet reluctant to pay what is a pittance in comparison. How many of us would refuse to deny, but also refuse to pick up the phone, dial that number, and actively work to restore that fractured relationship? How many treasure Christ above life, but give sparingly from their earthly treasures for the advancement of the Kingdom? How many would never blaspheme, but mark their days with slander? How many would never have less than pure worship, but live with impure eyes?

The higher, the fewer? Not this time. Not here. Why is it that those who would pay the ultimate price are so often hesitant or resistant to paying one of far less cost?

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Magnificent

I stopped by our sister hotel tonight after work to deliver a piece of wedding cake to my friend and (soon to be) fellow seminarian, Matt. We had hosted a renewal of vows ceremony earlier that day, and I was made distributor of several pieces of confectionary goodness. As Matt and I chatted and set up a time to hang out in the upcoming days, a guest walked up. I knew from the moment he opened his mouth to order a couple of Coors Lights that it was going to be an interesting conversation.

“The table isn’t real. And the chairs aren’t real. And all that is isn’t real. You see, people, when they die, they don’t go nowhere. They stay right here.”

Okaaaaaaaay.

“You know, I’m leaving Kentucky tomorrow and nobody here’s heard my story. I was up in Milwaukee since 1977 and I took a house and blessed it in the name of God. And I made it famous. But I burnt it all up in the ashes and rubbed it all over my hands.”

Okaaaaaaaay.

“My name is Magnificent. And I was up in New York City and I was blessing houses in the name of God and burning them all up to pieces. And we needed a name for it all. And so we picked something people would understand. God. G-O-D.”

Feeling compelled to say something here, but rather stunned and entirely unsure how to respond.

Magnificent: “When I was in California, I drove to Milwaukee with a whole bunch of wood. It was about this big (gestures about the size of a bumper sticker) with the words ‘God Bless This House’ written on it. Kept it for a long time. And I burnt it to pieces and made it all ashes. And I blessed 37 houses up in Milwaukee in the name of God.”

Me: “Uh, well…uh, what do you mean when you say God? Who is God?”

Magnificent: “Whoa man, that’s deep. That’s really deep.”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

Silence. Jesus. You need to tell him about Jesus.

Magnificent: God is just, well, we needed a name for me, something the people would understand. So we picked God.”

Me: “The Bible says that Jesus Christ is God. And no man comes to the Father but through Him.”

Magnificent: “Yeah, well Jesus is around here somewhere.”

Me: “No man, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father because he died and then rose from the dead.”

Magnificent: “But the stones. There were the stones. Well I was burning to ashes, and all over the newspapers. And I was up in Colorado. And California. But I burnt them all to pieces back in 1983.”

Me: “Well, I’ve been on the front page of espn.com before and–”

Magnificent: “Have you been on the front pages in Mexico and Africa and all over the world?”

Me: “Nope. But I’ll tell you this, Magnificent, those papers are gone and done. Jesus Christ, he’s on the best selling book in the history of the world. And he’s the only one who’s truly Magnificent. You feel me, brotha?”

Magnificent: “But those papers–”

Me: “No, man, best selling book in the history of the world, brotha. Best selling in the history of the world. You feelin’ me?”

Magnificent: “Well…yeah. Yeah, man. All right, man, all right. I feel ya. I feel ya.”

And away he walked with his two Coors Lights, leaving two seminarians scratching their heads in bewilderment and wondering who on earth they just told about Jesus.

Very Good News

Two days ago I logged into my email account to find good news. I was awarded a scholarship by Southern Seminary that covers over half of my tuition for the first year of school. Year one will now be debt free! The award was given out based on academic considerations and ministry experience. As I wrote this essay to apply for the scholarship, I was reminded again and again of how gracious the Lord has been to give me the opportunity to grow as His servant throughout all of these experiences. Many of you have been partners with me in it all, and I thank you for that.

The most life-changing conversation I’ve ever had about ministry happened while I was sitting on top of a washing machine. I was your typical insecure freshman, just a handful of weeks into my four years at The Master’s College. Somewhere in between deciding whether this was a standard “medium” load or was large enough to qualify as “full,” up walked —–      —–. In my book, —– —– was the quintessential cool senior: Biblical Exposition major, student leader of the Chapel Media department. I don’t think —– had any laundry to do that day; he just wanted to find out how this particular freshman was adjusting to life at college. And the answer was not very well.

When —— first walked up, I expected the usual quick and casual conversation. Forty-five minutes later I had experienced for the first time how ministry isn’t a just a program, but rather ministry is the gospel applied to every situation in life. —– refused to be content with my superficial answers. And then he didn’t run away when when sinful patterns of thought were discovered in my heart.

I take the time to share that story because what I learned that day while sitting on the washing machine, participating in a conversation where someone wanted to get to know me not for what they could get out of me but rather what they could pour into me redefined for me what ministry is. It isn’t glamorous; it’s servanthood. It isn’t showy; it’s dying to self.

My Dad was the pastor of a small, rural Washington church, so opportunities were plenteous growing up. I helped cleaned the church, washed the communion cups on Sundays, ran the overhead projector during worship, gained over 1000 hours of community service helping build houses for predominately low-income minority families. But starting freshman year of college, ministry became more than just doing things. Ministry became living and speaking out the gospel in such a way that people were pointed to Christ Jesus as Someone to be made much of.

My first taste of this kind of ministry was in the residence halls at The Master’s College. As an Assistant Resident Assistant, my job was people. Get to know people. Encourage them in the Lord. Point them to Christ as all-sufficient in every need, every care, every problem. This meant some late nights, staying up so I could get to know my night-owl roommates. It also meant developing an interest in things that I ordinarily wouldn’t have given a second thought about–vegetarian cooking, rugby, philosophical indie films. But gospel ministry means seeking to minister to a person. And gospel ministry demands taking a genuine interest in that person, for Christ took a genuine interest in me.

In successive years I had the opportunity to serve as a Resident Assistant and Head Resident Assistant. Being an RA at Masters’ is a unique experience. The student life department pours itself into making the RAs men and women who are leaders amongst their peers. RA training is an intensive year-long process focusing on biblical counseling and peer-to-peer leadership.

Few things in life have been as difficult as ministry to my wing that first year of being an RA. Two of my guys confided in me that they seriously struggled with depression and had recently given serious thought to killing themselves. Another was discovered to have left a trail of deceit across his schoolwork and personal life. One of my roommates was addicted to World of Warcraft; another wouldn’t speak. Ministering the gospel to people who have inoculated themselves against it by strong professions and weak living is a disheartening thing.

But there were moments of grace.  —– ——– discovered his passion for teaching biology and using it as a tool in evangelism. —- ——— finally understood how the grace of God was a liberating thing, and not an oppressive master. I know these are just names to you. To me, they are my brothers with whom I was

The following year (my senior year), I was given a wing and a staff almost double the size of the previous year. It was another year full of But this time, the men the Lord placed around me were eager students of His Word. They wanted to grow. They wanted to serve. Whereas small group bible study was the most dreaded part of the week during my junior year, this year it was energizing. Every Thursday night we’d get together and dig into our theme, Gospel Risk. I watched as the Spirit used my teaching from the Word to transform them into men who understood that promises of a deeper relationship with Christ and eternal reward far outweighed comfort; and that this motivates us to live lives that do not make sense apart from the hope of the resurrection from the dead.

Partway through the year, one of our deans approached me and asked if I would be interested in preaching at a local drug rehabilitation ministry. I knew I was in for a different experience than I was used to when, on the first night, one of the residents stood up and shouted in as deep an African-American accent you can get, “Here’s another youn’ brotha’ in the Lord come to preach us da Word tonight!”

Preach the Word I did; it was a tremendous opportunity to grow in my ability to effectively communicate God’s Word. After a couple of times the men began to recognize me. One of them walked up one night and said, “We always love it when you come because we can tell that you really care about what you’re teachin’. You really believe it and that makes you easy to listen to.” For a young preacher, that was quite the encouraging affirmation to know that others were being blessed through my ministry.

Upon graduating I was asked to serve as an intern at Cornerstone Community Church in Atascadero, CA for a year. I had grown up in this church (after my Dad resigned from his church in Washington over doctrinal matters), and I was thrilled to work with people I knew and respected. I can’t even begin to say how much this year has impacted my understanding of the ministry. Like most college graduates, my idealism about life had spilled over into unadulterated romanticism. Working in a church changed that!

My days at Cornerstone have been filled with directing the youth ministry, biblical counseling, discipleship, oversight of the audio/visual ministry, writing theological articles for the bulletin, organizing conferences, designing fliers and handouts, leading small groups, one-on-one time with the senior pastor, preaching in his absence, fixing computers and copiers, and all the thousand other little things that need to happen for a church to effectively minister.

Through it all, I’ve learned yet again what —— ——– first taught me while sitting on that washing machine. Ministry isn’t glamourous; it’s servanthood. It isn’t showy; it’s dying to self. Ministering to make much of Jesus Christ is hard. Sin is real and sinners will hurt you. But of far greater gravity is the grace and glory of God. Because of that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ten Thoughts on Missions

1.  Famous missionaries do not have the goal of becoming famous. Rather, their goal and passion is the salvation of those who are unknowingly perishing. I can test John Paton’s words by his lifestyle. When he says he was incredibly reluctant to write his biography, the musket leveled at his head twenty years prior witnesses to his truthfulness. Fame for godliness seems to be bestowed upon those who consider such fame to be a nuisance. Care nothing for your own reputation and influence, Nate. God did not save you to make you famous. God saved you to make Him famous. (Paton, Autobiography)

2. I am much more willing to overlook the doctrinal flaws of a dead man than the doctrinal flaws of a living brother in Christ. A dead saint is a static entity. He has written what he has written and can be divided at will with no opportunity to defend himself. Augustine believed the Apocrypha was Scripture. Dr. Sa’eed believed in perfectionism until later in life. I didn’t know either of these things and rejoiced in their ministry. Now that I know them, I’m simply willing to ignore those beliefs because they won’t talk about these issues unless I quote them as such. It’s easy to find yes-men by employing selective quotations. (Dr. Sa’eed of Iran, pg 73)

3. Historical context is important. Men of old would rise early to pray and read the Scriptures. While their Bible reading and prayers certainly are exemplary, their rising early doesn’t make those prayers any more fragrant to the Lord than mine. Lifestyles are radically different today. These men went to bed early, for there was no electricity! It’s easy to manufacture sacrifice by taking normal life in a different time period and placing it in modern culture. God looks at the heart, not at the hours on the clock. (Robert Chapman)

4. My life may not be 80 years long. Eric Liddell died at 44 of an inoperable brain tumor. I’m 24 right now. There is no such thing as a future in ministry. Oh, plans may be made for the future. I’m currently training for the future. But I cannot live in the future.  I must live in the present. I wonder how many young men have been surprised to waste their lives by preparing only for the future, not turning their eyes to those around them now, only to have their lives cut short by accident or health? (Pure Gold: A Biography of Eric Liddell)

5. I am invincible until Christ calls me home. John Paton said something along those lines. I fully believe it. The vaunted “Sovereignty of God.” And yet my life does not bear fruit of this truth as often as it should. God controls the minds of others. Paton was protected miraculously from those who were consumed with killing him and who had every opportunity to do so. And yet he never suffered a scratch. Radical ministry flows from understanding the depths of my sin, the heights of God’s grace, and the width of His sovereignty. (John Paton, Autobiography)

6.  A good spiritual leader and godly Christians on the whole are genuinely excited about things which—apart from a gospel-driven care for his brothers and sisters—do not interest or excite him. Many people take delight in and worship through activities or objects that I find uninspiring. Don’t mock what other people are doing as an expression of or medium to worship.

7. “My wife knows I’ll be killed one day for the work that I do,”—a current missionary to Muslims in London. I heard this in a sermon by Al Mohler. Mohler followed this up by saying that many young men come and ask him how to find a girl who will be a good minister’s wife. He responded by saying ‘how about finding a girl who is okay with being a minister’s widow.’ Missionaries and Ministers are the first targets when persecution strikes. Marry someone like Elizabeth Bunyan. (Al Mohler—Shepherd’s Conference 2007)

8. Missions life takes a hard toll on family life. Rob Liddell’s father saw him for a total of 6 months over 10 years. Nowadays it certainly is easier to keep the family together. However, culture shock and other issues still exist. Appreciate the cost missionary parents are willing to accept for the sake of spreading the gospel.

9. Sickness is an often overlooked aspect of missions. You don’t see Paton complaining in his autobiography or Martyn stopping because of disease. They pushed through it, counting it as part of the all-too-worth-it cost of spreading the Gospel. Physical comfort was nothing to be grasped in their minds.

10. Throughout the centuries—and even today—many Christians have precious little of the Bible in their possession. God is pleased with their simple faith in Him to save their souls, even though they know little of His Word to them.

Sitting Next to Voice of the Martyrs

As I sat in Chicago O’Hare airport waiting for my connecting flight to depart, a stranger approached me.

“Is this the flight to Louisville?”

“Yes it is.”

“This is my first time in America.”

“Really? That’s great! Where are you from?”

“Afghanistan.”

I knew at that point this conversation wasn’t going to be ordinary. But I couldn’t have imagined where it was headed. He settled into the seat next to me in the terminal and started the small talk while I sized him up and tried to figure out a strategy for steering the conversation towards the gospel. He was dressed entirely western, so it didn’t seem like a high-risk proposition, though I hope that wouldn’t have mattered anyways. All at once he asked “So what do you do?” There’s my entry card. Lord, don’t let me miss this opportunity.

“I’m sort of like a youth pastor.”

“Really?!? I’m a Christian.”

All at once the six-inch scar running from his left ear to the corner of his mouth began to occupy more of my attention. I asked him how he became a believer, and that’s when I discovered that I was sitting next to a man who had lived what I read about in Voice of the Martyrs:

“I was born into a very wealthy family in Afghanistan. We were businessmen, and I was sent by my father across the border to Pakistan to worth with a contractor. We worked very closely together for a number of months. One day we were driving together and he pulled over to the side of the road and told me he was going into a building for a little while and not to follow him. I asked him what was inside the building, but he just said ‘Don’t follow me.’ After a while I got tired of waiting and went into the building looking for him. I walk up to him and he cried out in alarm ‘What are you doing here? You can’t be in here! This is a church and these are all Christians! You need to go before someone sees you in here.’

I refused to go. I wanted to find out what these Christians were all about. After attending the church for several months, I converted to Christianity from Islam. I came to see that Jesus Christ was God and not just a great prophet and that Islam was untrue and Mohammed was a false prophet.

Eventually I went home and the time came when I had to tell my father. I did not know what he would say or do. I walked up to him and said ‘Daddy, I have become a Christian. I believe in Jesus.’ Without saying a word he picked up a knife that was lying on the table and cut me here, here and here–fingers the heavy scar across his face, then gestures twelve inches down his chest and along his entire right thigh. I ran out of the house, fleeing for my life as he was trying to kill me. All the next day I had to stay in hiding as he and my eight brothers roamed the city looking for me to kill me. The Koran says to kill any who are not Muslim, and it is not a peaceful religion.

I was smuggled out of the country and into Pakistan by the same Christian contractor that I worked with. I bribed an official $12,000 USD and flew into Malaysia. The official said he would get me documents, but he just took off and I never saw him again. Time came for me to check out of the hotel I was staying in because I had no money and I just sat crying on the curb outside. I just cried, ‘Lord, you have abandoned me. I’ve given my wealth, family, everything for You and You’ve abandoned me! I’m going to get deported back to Afghanistan because I’m here illegally and then my family will kill me.’ As I wept on the side of the road, a stranger, a woman, came up to me and asked why I was crying. I told her my story and she said, ‘Come. You will live in my house.’ I lived with that woman for 3 years. I learned English and went to Bible College in Malaysia. I changed my name. It used to be Mohammed, but now it’s John Smith. I applied through the United Nations for asylum, and was granted it by the United States government as a religious refugee.”

It’s tempting to try and spin John’s testimony to make a point. And a lot of those would probably be legitimate conclusions to draw. But in my rush to find a lesson, a principle to draw out of John’s incredible story, I don’t want to forget about the cause of that story. God, through the gospel, took a man doubly hardened by his own sin nature and the lies of Islam and shattered his worldview through a little church in a little border town in Pakistan. God is indeed compassionate and gracious. He is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness. Who indeed is like Him?

Book Review: He Gave Us a Valley

[For your discretion: This post quotes Dr. Helen Roseveare’s account of her being raped at the hands of the Congolese rebel army. The account is entirely non-graphic.]

I don’t really like Helen Roseveare the missionary. Which convinces me that I would probably like Helen Roseveare the person. He Gave Us a Valley serves as a sequel to Give Me This Mountain, both written about by her about her work as a medical missionary in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

I say I don’t really like Helen Roseveare the missionary because she doesn’t fit what I want missionaries to be. Missionaries aren’t supposed to have their first impulse be to shrink back from suffering. They’re supposed to have made that decision to suffer already. Missionaries aren’t supposed to be rebuked by the natives for having a paternalistic view of them. They’re supposed to have a well-ordered plan to turn control over to national leaders once they’re spiritually mature enough to shepherd themselves. Missionaries aren’t supposed to wrestle over returning to the field after a furlough. They’re supposed to be totally committed to the country God has called them to be.

I say I’m convinced I would like Helen Roseveare the person because her honesty and humility shatters my preconceived notions of what missionaries are “supposed” to be like. Becoming a missionary does not elevate a believer to a new level of sanctification where the struggles of faith and belief suddenly change form. Noel Piper’s endorsement of this book appears on the cover: “Her stories are about a real person with a real God.”

And so, like the previous book, this one is never short on human weakness meeting divine aid. At the end of Give Me This Mountain, Roseveare is raped by the rebel Congolese army. In the second chapter of this book Dr. Roseveare records her second period of captivity with the rebels,

We were ushered into this first room: a settee, a few chairs with o cushions, a table at the other end; windows seemed to be all round and rough guards seem to be everywhere. We sat crouched on the cement floor, our backs to the wall, watching warily like trapped animals. Three or four younger guards, slightly better dressed, swaggered towards us and we shrank back. The first grabbed at a young woman missionary and Jessie Scholes, wife of our team leader, moved quickly to intercept him. There was an ugly moment as he raised his gun to strike her angrily for her interference…and the younger woman leapt up, almost offering to go with him, rather than see Jessie struck or hurt.

‘She’s suffered before,’ my coward heart encouraged me.

They dragged another to her feet and took her away. I shrank wretchedly behind the settee and watched her go, with misery and fear in my heart.

‘What did you counsel that young nun? OK for another, eh, but not for you?’ So some voice seemed to taunt me. Still I shrank and prayed to remain hidden from their wicked seeking eyes.

‘They’re looking round for more prey. Don’t forget, everyone left in here, but for you, is so far untouched,’ and there seemed to be only one young guard at that moment.

He took me, out into the dark.

I don’t quote this passage of the book for shock value, though it is shocking. I quote it because it crystallizes the tenor of the entire book. Initial human weakness overcome by divine enabling. She did what was Christ-like, it just took a little while to get there. When I say I don’t really like Dr. Helen Roseveare the missionary, I say so because her words are far too often a convicting portrait of my own heart. It’s easy to condemn her for her hesitation. It’s sorrowing to have the Spirit turn my condemnation upon myself as I realize I hesitate in circumstances with overwhelmingly less cost.

The crown jewel of this book is the last chapter, entitled Was It Worth It? And the answer is a resounding yes. Not spurred on by impulse. No one who has read this book and seen the cost of fellowshipping with Christ in His sufferings could ever confuse her Yes with an impulsive one. But rather it’s a yes motivated by an understanding of the superiority of Christ over all circumstances. He Gave Us a Valley won’t ever be the topic of an inspirational Disney movie. But it is the tale of a woman who faithfully served the Lord, and a God who faithfully upheld His servant.

My one criticism of the book is that oftentimes the gospel plays a secondary role. While Dr. Roseveare talks much about the Lord aiding her, rebuking her, and transforming her, we meet very little of Dr. Roseveare’s God. This is a book about her work, not about her motives. Despite this, the greatness of the Lord still shines forth in glory. Read the book…you’ll be thankful you did.

Bottom Line: 4/5

Photo courtesy of eden.co.uk

Eric Liddell Died Yesterday; Polycarp Dies Tomorrow

A few weeks ago as I sat in my office one lengthy Monday afternoon, I began mulling over how mundane the day seemed. After the flurry of activity and business of Christmas and New Year’s and everything church-related that entails, that particular Monday just seemed incredibly ordinary. And then I discovered that it was the 53rd anniversary of Jim Eliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youdarian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCulley making first contact with the Waodani (Auca) Indians. They’d spent years preparing for that particular day, yearning to bring the knowledge of Jesus Christ to people who had never heard of Him, even 1,923 years after His death. Three days later they would die upon the ends of Waodani spears, becoming the most famous missionary martyrs of the 20th century.

After realizing that my very common day was the anniversary of a very significant day in missions history, I set to work researching and writing down on my calendar events that are significant in church history. When the neon lights of progress are constantly flashing around us, the faithful glow of the saints of God easily becomes obscured or forgotten.

Eric Liddell died yesterday. Polycarp dies tomorrow. Both men served the Lord with faithfulness and integrity, holding fast to what they understood the Word of the Lord to say. His stand cost Liddell the potential to medal in three Olympic events. Polycarp’s stand cost him his life. Through both of them Christ was exalted as being greater than fame, success, and avoiding great physical suffering.

Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna in the late first and early second centuries and studied under the Apostle John. Advanced in years, Polycarp was arrested for refusing to sacrifice to the genius of the Emperor. Theopedia.net describes the scene:

Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, “Caesar is Lord”. If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar’s statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake.

Eric Liddell was famously portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire. Although the Olympic schedule was published several months in advance (and not during the journey to France as the film depicts), Liddell forfeited his spot in three Olympic events because of his refusal to run on Sunday (the 100 meters, 4×100 relay, and 4×400 relay). Before the 400 meters final he was given a slip of paper with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30 on it: “Those who honour Me, I will honour” by an American trainer. Running with the paper in his hand, Liddell set a new world record.

After the games, Liddell sailed for China as a missionary. Rather than flee the country at the beginning of World War II, Liddell stayed and was put in an internment camp for foreigners by the victorious Japanese armies. A prisoner exchange was negotiated for the release of some of the captives and Liddell was placed on the list to be released. He gave up his place in the exchange so a pregnant woman could escape the strain of being a prisoner of war. Liddell died in the interment camp of an inoperable brain tumor. He was not a martyr; the tumor would have been fatal either way. But one need not be a martyr to be worth remembering.

These two men are part of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us. Though they may have died, they are not dead. They are with the Lord, having finished their earthly race. And we have been left with their legacy of faithfulness to imitate. I see in Polycarp a tenacity to cling to Christ at the cost of his own life. I see in Eric Liddell an uncompromising steadfastness, even when most people would think him an unpatriotic fool.  These men give me something to aspire to. And they remind me that God is faithful to transform the hearts of those who were once His enemies into people who count it a joy to live and to die that their Savior might be made much of.

Sources:

Widipedia “Eric Liddell” “Polycarp”

“Pure Gold” by David McCasland

http://www.polycarp.net