On the first anniversary of “9-11," I was asked to speak for a community guest day at a church in Nashville, Tennessee. If you can recall the social climate at that time, you will remember that nationalistic fervor was at an all time high. The patriotic spirit had dissipated party loyalties and the majority stood behind their commander in chief as he orchestrated the assault on Afghanistan and fabricated his nebulous case for the invasion of Iraq. Fully aware of the highly charged sensitivities, I responded to (what I believe was) the Spirit’s voice and delivered a sermon titled “In God We Trust.” In this message, I reminded Christians of their responsibility to be respectful to earthly governments, while warning them that primary allegiance should be to the Messianic kingdom. In no uncertain terms, I decried the demonic spirit that was behind irrational xenophobia and illusions of American supremacy.
As I presented that day, I was unaware that there were reporters in the congregation who had been assigned to cover 9-11 memorial services. After service, as I greeted worshipers at the door, one reporter from a local network affiliate requested an interview. He commenced the interview by contrasting my sermon with the messages delivered in the other memorials he had attended, and then posed his pointed question: “Aren’t you afraid that there may be consequences to delivering messages that are critical of the government?” This was neither the first nor the last time that I have been confronted with this question. More often, those who inquire are concerned about my safety. They are well aware that even in professed democracies governments have ways of silencing dissenters.
I Want to be a Martyr Please be assured that I am not some rhetorical daredevil on a death wish, neither do I find pleasure in decrying demonic institutions. However, as a citizen of Messiah’s kingdom, I believe it is my responsibility to be a prophetic voice in this world of injustice and oppression. I cannot keep silent while the Devil beguiles the gullible. In this environment of nationalistic narcissism, I realize that I am a voice crying in the wilderness. I am fully aware that there are many who view me as a nagging nuisance who needs to be silenced. Nonetheless, in spite of the pressure to proclaim patriotic platitudes, I cannot shirk my prophetic responsibility. In the spirit of Daniel, Isaiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, John the Revelator, Paul, and a host of others, I am willing to be a martyr for the kingdom.
Let me reiterate that I am not on a masochistic death wish. It is not my desire for my wife and children to see me fall victim to an assassin’s bullet. I am not yearning for a government sponsored Caribbean excursion to the torture chambers in Guantanamo Bay. I tremble when I consider the physical, emotional and spiritual pain endured by those who have been apprehended for their anti-establishment stances. I don’t want to die. If the Lord tarries, I want to see my children graduate, succeed in their careers, and perpetuate the genes that their parents inherited from their parents. Nonetheless, in spite of the frightening possibilities, I am committed to being a martyr.
What is a Martyr? Influenced by powerful works like Foxes’ Book of Martyrs and images of extreme jihadists on suicide missions, many are of the impression that martyrs are made at death. Ask anyone to provide a list of notable martyrs, and you will probably see names like John the Baptist, Paul the Apostle, Joan of Arc, or Martin Luther King, Jr. However, martyrdom has little to do with how a person dies, and everything to do with how he or she lives. Think about it. It is not the mode of execution that made these people memorable, but the principled public positions they portrayed in life.
In fact, the Greek word from which “martyr” is derived (martur) basically means “witness” – one who demonstrates her convictions by the decisions she makes in life. Martyrdom is a way of life. When seen in this light, we are all martyrs. We all bear witness to the entities to whom we have pledged allegiance. Perhaps this is why when the word “martyr” is used in the Apocalypse, it is qualified by the word “Jesus.” John is not a rebel without a cause. He has not been exiled for following a bedazzled crowd with nebulous uncertainty. His political agitation is instigated by his commitment to the impregnable reign of Messiah Jesus. He had made a choice and was willing to live for it–even if it meant dying for it. He was determined to be a beacon of the Lord’s liberating light in this world devastated by the Devil’s darkness. He exercised the courage to renounce the temporary pleasures of this world and embrace the eternal promises of the next.
Conclusion: A Call for Martyrs All who claim to be a part of the body of our Lord are called to be witnesses to his kingdom. The Bible is clear that the principles of the Kingdom of Christ are diametrically opposed to those prevalent in the divided kingdom of this world. It’s time for Christians to realize that no one can serve two masters. Many are trying to “have their cake and eat it too,” but true witnesses to God’s kingdom must make a choice. True witnesses must learn to put aside their allegiance to their political parties or nations and stand alone on the word of God. This is not to say that they are not to participate in political processes, but they must not be so loyal to earthly governments that they lose their prophetic voice. Even as governments and their constituents celebrate the works of the Devil, true witnesses should not be afraid to be the “rain on their parades.”
One of my favorite “Negro” Spirituals asks the question, “Who’ll be a witness for my Lord?” This is the call of the gospel. I wonder how many are willing to respond with the chorus, “My soul is a witness for the Lord?” I wonder how many are truly willing to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ?” Now, more than ever, your God needs you. In this age of reckless war, He is looking for martyrs who are willing to proclaim the gospel of peace. In this age of debilitating disease, He is looking for martyrs who are willing to serve as healing hands. In this age of sullied sexuality, He is looking for martyrs who are willing to demonstrate the virtues of inner chastity. In this age of perverted politics, He is looking for martyrs who are willing to govern with integrity. In this age of cultural conformity, He is looking for martyrs who refuse to subscribe to Satan’s agenda. Are you willing to be a martyr for your Lord?
Keith Augustus Burton is Executive Director of Life emPowerment Ministries, a non profit organization that empowers people to make transformational choices that positively impact their lives and communities. Through the efforts of this ministry, thousands of audience members in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, have made decisions to be martyrs for the cause of Christ. (http://www.empowermylife.org)
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2357