Modern Day Martyr

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“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.  Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.  You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”  When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.  But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.  Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
(Acts 7:51-1 NRS)



(Image courtesy of saints.sqpn.com)

While Christian tradition has reserved the title martyr for those who have been persecuted unto death for their faith in Christ, I believe that modern culture has shifted its persecution of Christians.  We are no longer hunted down, tortured, and forced to die rather than recant our beliefs.  Like those that stoned Stephen, people react harshly to the hard truth of Christ’s message.  The accountability in the Gospel is hard to swallow and many would rather take out their displeasure about the message on those that speak that truth.  Now Christians are ostracized, made into social pariahs.  We can become dead to those we love most in a social and emotional sense.  We are shut out of places that have disdain for our faith and its tenants. 

The modern day martyr is the man who leaves his family and friends to take an appointment at two small rural churches far from the urban setting which was all that he has ever known.  The modern day martyr is the woman who tells her beloved that she is going into ministry and is promptly abandoned by the same man who was fine with her career when it was lawyer.  The modern day martyr is the young man who is labeled a “Born Again” in a derogatory manner by the other college students and never invited to take place in the fullness of the college social experience because his lifestyle is too uncomfortable for those who binge drink, have indiscriminate sex, and are willing to cheat.  The modern day martyr is the young girl who chooses not to take part in sports on Sundays because that is her family’s church day, so she is thrown off the team and scorned by her former coach and teammates.  The modern day martyr is the one who is not shy about reading their Bible daily, or praying before their meals even in public while those around them stare and whisper in hushed tones.  The modern day martyr is the one who refuses to submit to a cultural idea that religion is private and should not be part of your decision making process.  The modern day martyr ignores financial advice from “the experts” and chooses to tithe before contributing to their 401K or paying down their credit card debt because God comes first.  The modern day martyr is the teenager who confesses to their friends that they plan to wait until they are married before having sex, and becomes the butt of jokes and the object of torment at their high school.  The modern day martyr includes the family that doesn’t take extravagant vacations to Aspen or the Bahamas because they donate their extra cash flow and time to working at the local homeless mission while neighbors scoff.

The modern day martyr is not killed for following Jesus.  They are limited in their worldly success, make sacrifices in their daily life, and are considered “old fashioned” for their views.  They make others uncomfortable, and so they are ignored or derided in the hopes that they will just go away and “take their religion somewhere else.”  The modern day martyr is not stoned with rocks, but with words, insults, vicious Facebook posts and insensitive texting gossip.  They become marginalized by family, friends, and coworkers to the point that they are dead in all but the physical sense to those people.  They live a long drawn out social sentence for bearing the name Christ, and await their vindication from God.  The worst part is, many of us are Saul (a man who would later be called into Christ’s ministry and renamed Paul) who doesn’t actively participate, but give our silent consent by not speaking out against it or making an effort to stop it.  We who are the closet Christians only strengthen the disdain of society for those integrated Christians, and even take part in their persecution.  Our stones don’t cut the flesh, they barrage and pummel the spirit.

Prayer:
O Lord,
Forgive us when we fail to follow you.
It is easier to hide our faith,
Than to live it openly.
Those that have come before us,
Let nothing, even death,
Stand between their faith and their life.
Help us to find that strength and conviction.
Strengthen and sustain us,
When others try to force our faith into submission.
No culture, society, or human being,
Is greater than you.
Grant us the ability to live as disciples in the fullest sense,
So that our lives are the testimony of the Gospel.
Amen.

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