I am currently a teaching assistant in a course called Introduction to Christian Origins. One of the books that I just finished reading for this course is a fictional, but historically-based account about what life was like for Christians in the first century. Yes, it inevitably ended with one of the main characters being martyred. Nowadays, the word 'martyr' has somewhat negative connotations because we associate it with radical political and religious action, such as recent terrorist acts. That is unfortunate, because by devaluing the term we miss out on some incredible lessons in devotion and courage.
I have been thinking about what it looks like to be someone who has devoted their life to following Jesus in the present age. The three M's, becoming martyrs, monks, or missionaries, are no longer the obvious options for whole-hearted surrender that they were at different times in history. But then, is a radical change of lifestyle, location, and livelihood vital in order to follow Jesus? Are extreme sacrifice and large doses of asceticism important to the integrity of a contemporary Christian? I don't know. What I do know is that everyone has to answer these questions for themselves. We can't just go along with what those around us are doing, or emulate the behaviour of someone we admire from another time. My guess is that the question of how belonging to God contrasts with living according to society's mores will not be quickly answered. However, personally wrestling with this challenge will hopefully not only reveal how strong or weak my devotion is, but will cause my devotion to grow. Not through comparison with saints and martyrs, but through recognizing what it means to belong to Someone holy.
Here is something that that I read today that gave me some perspective on this question:
One of the stubbornly enduring habits of the human race is to insist on domesticating God. We are determined to tame him. We figure out ways to harness God to our projects. We try to reduce God to a size that conveniently fits our plans and ambitions and tastes. But our Scriptures are even more stubborn in telling us that we can't do it. God cannot be fit into our plans, we must fit into his....'Holy' is the word that sets God apart and above our attempt to enlist him in our wish-fulfillment fantasies or our utopian schemes for making our mark in the world.
Holy means that God is alive on God's terms, alive in a way that exceeds our experience and imagination. Holy refers to life burning with an intense purity that transforms everything it touches into itself. Because the core of all living is God, and God is a holy God, we require much teaching and long training for living in response to God as he is and not as we want him to be. (Eugene Peterson in Introduction to Leviticus, The Message)
May I be transformed by Holiness today and every day.
This is a photo of some long grass along the ditch, glorious in its winter coat of fresh snow.