In my adult Sunday School class at church we recently did a study using a book and video put out by The Voice of The Martyrs entitled “I am N.” This study led us through atrocities being committed against Christians not long ago, but right now! Christians being murdered, tortured, raped, cut off from family and community, and many other horrific things. This study burdened me (in a good way) to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are in parts of the world where their faith brings Jesus’ words of suffering for the sake of the gospel into a physical reality; as opposed to the way that we as American Christians often think of the suffering for the gospel in terms of having a socially akward moment for being one of the few not to drink at a wedding reception.
This study caused me to think and reflect on many things. (I hope to share more about this in blogs to come). And one of the questions that I kept coming back to is Why? Why was I born in America where I do not face this persecution while these Christians were born in Syria and Somalia and other countries where they know a commitment to Christ can mean severe persecution or even death? Why does God allow these awful things to happen to His people? And why was I led to complete this study; what am I supposed to take away from it? This story was an attempt to wrestle with these questions from an eternal perspective.
In Heaven, It Just Won’t Matter
Jesus had fallen asleep in the back of the van again. But this was not like the last time when he was awakened by the frightened disciples when a snowstorm hit and their nearly bald tires had the van sliding all over the road. That time, Jesus had rebuked the skies and the snow had stopped. No, this time, Jesus was awoken by, yet another, bitter dispute between his disciples.
As the loud voices erupted, Jesus opened his eyes, but then closed them again. He decided he would pretend to be sleeping a little longer. That way he could hear their true views before intervening.
“Clearly, that is wrong!” John said heatedly. “The one who does the most for the Lord will be the greatest in heaven! Open a homeless shelter in His name, serve on the front lines as a missionary. It only makes sense, do for the Lord now and he will do for you in the life to come. Be too timid to act for the Lord now and your place in heaven will be least!”
“No, that is not enough!” rebutted Thaddeus. “It is those willing to fight for the Lord who will be the greatest in heaven! For God means to set up his reign on Earth.Stand up to the Muslim extremists and surely you will be lifted up. Those who are willing to forcibly advance the Kingdom now, will sit upon thrones in heaven.”
“To suffer for the Lord,” Peter chimed in, “This is the greatest thing a man can do for the Lord. First, in the kingdom will be those who were martyred. Followed by those who faced much persecution while on Earth. Be murdered by the Muslim extremist and certainly you will be exalted above all others in the eternal realm.”
Phillip did not want this to go on without his view being heard. “It is he who had the most willing heart to leave all behind and follow the Lord. Willingly give up the things of this world and the Lord will be truly pleased. Sell your house and your car, leave your cozy white collar job and come after the Lord and surely you will be seated near the Lord himself in the life to come.”
With this Jesus opened his eyes, sighed heavily and spoke, “Quiet down, quiet down.” All eyes turned to Jesus. The disciples thought their squabble had been unheard by the Teacher. Jesus had slept so soundly through the near monsoon conditions they had driven through last week, but now a little argument awakens him…
Jesus continued on, “After the many months we have spent together, do you still understand so little? Are you still arguing over such trivial matters?” Jesus looked up at the van roof and clothed his eyes. “Father, how will I ever make them understand?”
Then, as though a direct answer had immediately been given, Jesus looked at the disciples once more and smiled, “Let me tell you a story.
Four men died on the same day. The first man was Joe Taylor. He was a perennial Pro-Bowl quarterback in the NFL. He won three super bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. He was a faithful husband to his wife Jenny for 52 years. His one regret was that he and his remained childless. After three mis-carriages, he and Jenny had decided it must not be the Lord’s will for them to have children.
Although, it caused he and Jenny great sorry, it did not cause them to waiver in their faith. They decided that they would to use their love for children in a different way. Joe ran summer football camps in inner cities all across the country free of charge during the offseason and Jenny volunteered to eat lunch with and mentor children labeled as “at-risk” by the local school district.
The second man was Estuardo Garcia. He lived in extreme poverty in rural Guatemala. He did his best to make ends meat farming a small plot of sugar cane on a steep slope on the side of a mountain. However, while Estuardo worked long hours to eke out a living from the sugar, he never let his weariness show on Sunday mornings.
For each Sunday morning, standing in front of his one room home, Estuardo preached. For four decades he preached to the other farmers living nearby. He preached to all who would listen. He proclaimed Sunday after Sunday that in spite of their current conditions, there was a God in heaven, a good God, a God who would take those who believed in Him to their real home one day. A home where they would no longer grow weary, no longer go hungry, but where they would bask in the glory of the Lord for all eternity.
Mustafa Abadi was the third man. He had grown up in Iraq in a proud Muslim family. As he grew older and became a man, he prided himself in his knowledge of the Koran and of the great prophet Muhammed. But, as time went on all of this knowledge did not seem to bring him satisfaction. And one day as he flipped through the TV stations, he happened upon a Christian speaker.
The speaker spoke of the love of a God who wanted to know him personally. A God who cared much more about a contrite heart than rituals and rules. And Mustafa new this was the true God and was the God for him. Mustafa was frightened at first, but as time went on knew he needed to boldly proclaim his faith. Even after being ostracized by his family and his community, he remained true to the Lord. And even as ISIS invaded his city, his faith did not waiver. And even as the ISIS soldier stood over Mustafa with a machete giving him one final chance, he would not recant his faith.
The last man standing at the gate was Jerome Division. Jerome lived a life of tragedy. He lost his wife to breast cancer at age thirty-nine. Just months later, his only child died in a tragic car accident. And at age go forty-two, Jerome was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, chondrosarcoma. The cancer acted quickly and aggressively. It devoured his whole face, eating away at his nasal and jaw bones, displacing his left eye and robbing him of her sense of smell.
As his time on Earth drew to its final days and Jerome lay in a hospice bed, he was the most frequented patient in the center. For the nurses could not help but be drawn to his joy. Whenever they entered his room, they would find Jerome humming a hymn or with his good eye closed as he prayed to the Lord; not prayers of misery, but of praise! Praising the Lord for his faithfulness and the promise that he would soon go to be in the presence of God with his beautiful wife and beloved son.
As the four men stood waiting at heaven’s gate, the Lord came to greet them. He opened his arms and beckoned them to come in. And he said to them, ‘Each of you were given a different lot in life, yet each of you took what you were given and used it to glorify Me. You have been faithful in your brief moment on Earth, enter into the beginning of real life, eternal life. Each of you was faithful with a little, I will now give you much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”
The van had been silent as Jesus spoke. And it remained so as they continued on their long road trip. The disciples now had much to think about.