Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Laying Your Life Down

The story made the front page of the Ann Arbor News yesterday, Monday, March 20, 2006. I know because my kids each have a paper route and I'll often walk with them and check out the headline stories.

A man is facing death from his country. What is his crime? Murder? No. Abuse of a weaker person? No. Did he defraud or steal or take something that wasn't hi?. No. So of what crime was he guilty? He converted to Christianity.
The man's name is Abdul Rahman. According to the Associated Press, he was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian. He is charged with rejecting Islam. He has been a Christian for 16 years. The prosecutor offered to drop the charges if Rahman would convert back to Islam. He refused.

Last night our family was gathered in the living room around the fireplace. Some were doing homework. Some were reading. Others were doing a crossword puzzle. As the kids have grown, we have had fewer and fewer of these opportunities. Soccer games, orchestra concerts, and other activities keep us running. So we really value these evenings when everyone is home on the same night.

Someone read Mr. Rahman's story. Then they read it out loud. Someone else asked, "Dad, can we all pray for that man?" We agreed that we'd come back together to do just that.

So later that night, right before the first of us would head off to bed, we paused, put down our books, turned down the lights, read some scripture (passages in Revelation that speak of the evil that lurks in the form of a "dragon", looking to destroy the children of God, and martyrs who overcome by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and that they didn't love their lives so much that they wouldn't give them up, seemed particularly appropriate).

In their prayers, my kids prayed for this man's children, about the same age as my children. They prayed that his life would be spared. One prayed a particularly insightful prayer that the President and our representatives and our ambassadors would be able to help intervene on this man's behalf.

My wife and I agreed with those prayes, and then prayed giving thanks that in the tiniest of ways, we were able to share in his plight, maybe provide some minute amount of comfort to him through our intercession with the Holy Spirit connecting us half a world apart.

After we prayed, one of the kids asked, "Dad, do you think he will die?" The reality of the cost of following Jesus came home to them in a new way. None of us has had to face any decision in our own faith that seems anywhere near that dangerous.

Another asked, "Why can't he just say he converts and yet not really convert?"
I asked them if there were any Biblical precedent for how people in this exact same position had responded. We came up with a pretty good list. Peter & John, and Paul & Silas were all imprisoned for their preaching. When told to stop, they either refused or said things like "we must obey God rather than man".

The three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel, were thrown into the fiery furnace because they wouldn't bow down and worship another god. "Our God can save us," they said. "And even if he doesn't, we can't do what you've asked. That would be a betrayal to Him"

Daniel himself was put into the lions den because he wouldn't worship anyone other than God. Hebrews 11 gives a reminder that there were "others" who paid with their lives rather than do what they knew was wrong.

And then there are examples a little closer in time to us. People like Corrie ten Boom, a German Christian whose family helped hide Jews during WWII. Her sister and father paid with their lives. Corrie was one of the fortunate ones who was imprisoned, but lived till they were liberated by the Allies.

So we decided saying something we knew wasn't true to avoid punishment wasn't the answer. Such a response wouldn't be worthy of the heroes of the faith who had come before, or the God we worship.

How about you? How seriously do you take the call to follow Jesus in this Lenten season? How valuable is it to you? How serious are you about your faith? Are you willing to give things up to obey God's leading in your life?

I don't know how I'd respond to the choice to give up my life or renounce the faith. But I am challenged by the faith of Mr. Rahman. I want to be as committed to Christ as he is. I am asking for God's help today to do so. How about you?

Grace & peace.

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