Monday, July 28, 2014

What Kind of Martyr's Death Would You Die for Christ?

News out of Pakistan today details how a seven-year-old girl and her infant sister were brutally murdered by radical Muslims in Islamabad, all because their grandmother, who was also murdered, posted religious 'heresy' on her Facebook account.

This account of religious violence is just one of hundreds coming out of Sharia-law countries, where Muslims believe Allah requires 'death' for heretics and infidels.

The news story caused me to think about Christians in America, and what 'brand' of Christianity we possess. For example, is our faith a New Testament kind of faith and the Foxe's Book of Martyrs type of faith where Christians willingly, cheerfully, and confidently died at the hand of executioners for their faith in Christ? Or is our Christian faith the kind of faith that would angrily fight and attempt to kill the one who seeks to take your life because of your faith in Christ?

Interestingly, it seems to me that the qualifier for what kind of 'martyr' faith a Christian possesses determines if he is in the 'minority' or 'majority' of the culture in which he lives. Historically, Christians in the minority don't fight. Christians in the majority do.

Why the difference?

It seems to me that where Christian principles guide a nation's governing documents, freedom is present. Sharia Law countries are not known for individual liberties. Therefore, if you are a Christian in a Sharia Law country, you are are not free to worship Christ and live.

So, how would you die?

When you are asked to 'renounce Christ,' would you cheerfully, confidently, and willingly keep your faith and voluntarily put your head under the sword, or give your body to the fire, or allow the executioners to take your life in whatever manner they desire? Or would you fight?

The early Christians did not fight. They willingly died. When the Romans called on them to confess "Caesar is Lord," the Christians refused. Some were thrown to the lions, others were drowning in boiling vats of oil, some died by the sword, and others were cast into prison and starved to death. Yet, in the course of 300 years, Christianity changed the western world.

As Americans were love our freedom. Unfortunately, we Christians are now a minority. Even our governing documents are being ignored, and freedoms are being lost in the land of the free. We may be a generation or less away from being persecuted for our faith.

What kind of martyr's death would you die for Christ?

Christ's kingdom is not dependent on His people fighting, for our true battle is NOT against flesh and blood. Jesus told His disciples to 'put up the sword,' for 'my kingdom is not of this world.' I'm wondering if we have confused the kingdoms to which we belong. America is not the Kingdom, nor is being an American equivalent to being a Christian.

Could it be said that the genuine follower of Jesus Christ would lay down his life willingly to those who would take it instead of fighting?

Just wondering.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Awakened Together: The Hope of Resurrection

"We should learn to view our death [as] . . . a fine, sweet and brief sleep, which brings us release from . . . all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, rest sweetly and gently for a brief moment, as on a sofa, until the time when He shall call and awaken us together with all his dear children to His eternal glory and joy." (A Compendia of Luther's Theology, p. 242).

I lead a men's discipleship group on Tuesday mornings. The only ground rules are there are no ground rules. Come when you can. Leave when you must. Ask questions, make comments, or simply stay quiet. The discussion is free flowing. We've been meeting for twenty-two years at 7:00 am and everyone's welcome, guests invited. Currently we are reading and discussing John's Gospel.

It has long been my belief that churches should create safe zones for people to question long-held church beliefs, particularly if those beliefs, often presented dogmatically by church leaders, seem to contradict the God-breathed and infallible Scriptures. Our canon--that means our standard and guide--is the Word of God alone. Our interpretations of God's word are sometimes faulty; but the fault of our faultiness (pardon the pun) is in us, not God. Therefore, it is incumbent upon church leaders, in my opinion, to create safe zones where people are free to question other's long held, sometimes cherished beliefs. We have that freedom on Tuesdays, and the discussions are often very interesting. Let me give you an example.

In our study of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, several questions were about Jesus saying, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep; I will go and awaken him" (John 11:11). Was Lazarus really dead? If Lazarus was really dead, why did Jesus call being dead being 'asleep'? How is death like sleep? Was Lazarus in 'heaven' when he was dead, and did Jesus call him back from heaven when He raised Lazarus to life? Would Lazarus want to have come back from heaven? Is the 'spirit' of man something that exists independently and separate from the body?

One of our church members, a marvelously deep thinker with a passion for Scripture, gave us his belief that the miracle of Lazarus was a 'type' of the resurrection -- the day to which Jesus referred when He said,
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear My voice, and will come forth; (some) to a resurrection of life, and (some) to a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:28-29)
Our church member, who came from a Lutheran background before coming to Emmanuel,  went on to explain that the Scriptures nowhere speak of  man's 'spirit' existing apart from the 'body.' The soul of man, he argued, is the totality of man. A human being is not an angelic being; never was, and never will be. Men are mortal by nature, for God alone is immortal (I Timothy 6:16).  Therefore, for eternal life to occur in a human being, this eternal life must be a gift from the only eternal One by nature, who alone has the power to resurrect mortal life and sustain it eternally. 

Jesus Christ was sent by God to this world "to give eternal life to those who believe " (John 3:15).  The last enemy destroyed in the life of a believer is death (I Corinthians 15:26). Eternal life is not experienced until the resurrection! The Apostles and early Christians all placed their hope in the resurrection, not their death. According to this gentleman's view, every person who dies will sleep until the resurrection. From the dead person's perspective,  physical resurrection is instantaneous to the closing of one's eyes at the moment of death, similar to way a person falls asleep under anesthesia, only to awaken immediately--though many hours may have passed.

 At 'the hour' of resurrection,  that means, in 'the fullness of time," Jesus Christ will raise everyone who has died , some to a resurrection of life (eternal), and others to a resurrection of judgment. Believers in Christ escape the 'wrath to come' (I Thessalonians 1:10). Unbelievers will be judged after the resurrection for each and every sin committed in this life. Every act will be examined and morally weighed, every 'idle word and thought' measured against the standard of God's purpose for life, and then the righteous Judge will give out varying sentences of punishment to the wicked. No lost person will be punished the same. God is dispenses His judicial wrath in accordance to the severity of earthly sins. The isolation of hell, the blackness and loneliness of separation from mankind and God, not to mention the gnawing worm of conscience, memories, and regrets, will last longer for some than others. However, once the judgment commences, it is 'unquenchable' -- it can't be stopped (Luke 3:17). The divine sentence of punishment that the resurrected unbeliever experiences called the 'second death' (Revelation 21:8). After the righteous sentence has been fulfilled in time, the mortal person will cease to exist, for Jesus said,
"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
When the gentleman in our small group finished, a few of the men looked shell-shocked. Some turned to me and asked what I thought. I replied, "One of the advantages of knowing history is the ability to recall debates like this one from times past."
I then proceeded to explain how Martin Luther, John Milton, John Locke, Isaac Watts, Robert Hall, the Anabaptists, and a host of other evangelical Christians believed very similarly to what they had just heard from our friend. I then mentioned that evangelical Christians have never been in full agreement on these issues. The skillful and influential John Calvin wrote a book 'refuting' Luther's beliefs on death as sleep and the mortality of man. Calvin's book title is rather long: Psychopannycia: Or a Refutation of the Error Entertained by Some Unskilful Persons Who Ignorantly Imagine That in the Interval Between Death and the Judgment the Soul Sleeps, Together with an Explanation of the Condition and Life of the Soul after This Present Life."  After its publication in the 16th century, very few evangelicals publicly opposed the eloquent John Calvin. 
However, one of those orthodox believers in Christ who did challenge Calvin was the even more eloquent Isaac Watts. This follower of Christ who authored many wonderful hymns including "Joy to the World," "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "O God Our Help In Ages Past," and others, once wrote:
"There is not one Place of Scripture that occurs to me, where the word Death, as it was first threatened in the Law of Innocency, necessarily signfies a certain miserable Immortality of the Soul, either to Adam, the actual Sinner, or to his Posterity.... (The Ruine and Recovery of Mankind - p. 228).
Ultimately, our standard for belief is not the writings of men, but the Word of God. I think it quite fascinating that a group of men in Enid, Oklahoma in 2014 can discuss the resurrection of Lazarus from John 11, and through simple discussion jump immediately to the heart of a major disagreement that occurred 500 years ago between Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Who's right? It's definitely worth discussing. There are strong points on both sides.

One of these days, we'll all see the truth clearly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Congratulations, Dr. Rachelle Burleson!

This week my wife successfully completed and defended her scholarly project, meeting the requirements for her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from Vanderbilt University. After presenting and defending her paper, the committee review team met for a brief period of time, returning with these words, "Congratulations, Dr. Burleson."

10 years ago Rachelle and I were in an injury accident on I-35. While recovering in the hospital at Mercy, OKC, Rachelle fell in love with the manner in which the nurses treated her, and she decided to continue the education she had begun at Baylor University, but laid aside when we married and began a family. When Rachelle finished the requirements for her Bachelor's Degree from Northwestern, Alva, in 2006 she was stopped by the dean who handed her the diploma. I saw a conversation between the two take place on the platform. I later asked Rachelle what was said, and I found out that Rachelle was asked to continue her nursing education and return to be on faculty at Northwestern.

Rachelle did decide to pursue her education, but she began working in the medical field, taking on an the incredibly difficult and intense role of ICU heart recovery nurse with a newly begun open-heart surgery program at a local hospital. The chief open heart surgeon specifically chose her for the program, even though others were concerned with her lack of experience. Rachelle performed her job brilliantly. As she worked full-time, she began taking Masters level nursing courses at Oklahoma University. Upon graduating from the University of Oklahoma with her Masters, Rachelle was the recipient of the 'Einstein Award,' given to the graduate student whom graduate peers voted most scholarly. Rachelle was the only graduate student asked to speak at the commencement ceremonies for the University of Oklahoma.

Upon completion of her Masters, Rachelle went into private practice and worked at a local cardiologist's office, providing patient care for many men and women in the northwest Oklahoma area suffering from heart problems. She decided that she would pursue her doctorate in nursing care and considered several universities across the nation, but applied to only one - Vanderbilt University. Rachelle told me, "There's no way, Wade, they will ever accept me. I applied very late in the game, and it is a coveted medical school." When Vanderbilt admitted Rachelle into their prestigious doctoral program, she told me, "There must have been openings that they needed to fill." On our first trip to Nashville, I heard with my own ears the dean of the nursing program say, "We had hundreds of people apply to our doctoral programs in nursing. You are a very select group of people that we have chosen." I just looked at my wife and smiled (actually, I may have said something).

During the two years that Rachelle has been commuting back and forth from Nashville in pursuit of her doctorate, she has worked full-time, and has also provided invaluable support for me in my ministry to the people of Emmanuel Enid. In addition, her transcripts from Northwestern, Oklahoma University, and Vanderbilt have only A's; a pretty remarkable accomplishment, particularly when the courses at Vanderbilt were demanding, taught by the leading specialists in their respective fields, and no professor used curves when giving grades. They have not yet handed out the scholarly awards from Vanderbilt, but I would not be surprised if Rachelle is not, again, the recipient of one. Rachelle has already been asked by the faculty to prepare an abstract in order to present her paper--An Examination of Nurses Knowledge and Attitudes of Palliative Care in an Acute Care Hospital in a Non-Metropolitan Setting--at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine's national assembly in 2015.

This week Rachelle accepted a tenure-track professorship at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. She will be commuting back and forth, and on occasions staying overnight with the many family members we have in the Edmond area. Though the commute is an hour and fifteen minutes, it will be worth it because her contract runs from August until May. Rachelle will be able to travel with me in the summer, and she also has holidays off during the year. Rachelle has loved her job in Enid, and two people, Chief Nursing Officer, Doug Coffey, and Director of Critical Care, Virginia McCall, have been two of the finest people with whom Rachelle has worked.

My nickname for Rachelle is Dr. Thuya (pronounced Twee-a). My friend Col. Andy Haman gave me some thuya wood for my office when he and his family left Enid for Morocco via Washington, D.C. The Thuya tree only grows in Morocco, and is considered very rare and precious. In fact, it is the only wood that the Rolls Royce will use in their consoles. The Romans coveted the wood because they used it for their sacrifices. When thuya wood is on fire, there is a sweet aroma that wafts throughout the air.

My wife has been on fire these last ten years, and the fragrance she exudes is sweeter than ever. She is a rare human being. People sometimes ask me how Rachelle and I are different. Here's the answer: I walk into a room and think I know everything, but don't; Rachelle walks into a room and doesn't think she knows a thing, but knows everything. We make a pretty good team - as long as Rachelle doesn't leave the room!

Congratulations, Dr. Thuya!

I look forward to the years ahead.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Law Enforcement's Acceptance of Military-Type Tactics

Stephen Jones is an extremely bright, historically savvy criminal defense attorney from Enid. He has defended unpopular criminals, including Timothy McVeigh, with his unwavering belief that every United States citizen should be provided his constitutional right of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. Stephen is often wrongly tagged as 'liberal.' His only liberalism is his inherent belief in individual rights and freedom from government intrusion. He used to be President Richard Nixon's personal researcher, and to this day believes Nixon to be one of the most misunderstand Presidents of the modern era. I have read Stephen's book Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy and found it compelling. The second edition is better than the first because Jones was able to use Timothy McVeigh's own words in the latter.  Before his death by execution, McVeigh broke the bond of attorney/client privilege by giving disparaging remarks against his former attorney, opening the door legally for Stephen Jones to reveal what Timothy McVeigh told his attorneys in private.

Though there are many striking revelations about the United States government in Jones' book, there is one particular bit of information that gave me pause; and after reflection, a growing concern over our government's use of its formidable military might against United States' citizens.

I have known for a long time that McVeigh's confessed motivation for bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was retaliation for the 1992 Ruby Ridge Incident and the 1993 Waco Siege where government officials used deadly force and killed U.S. citizens. McVeigh thought himself a 'patriot' and a 'freedom soldier' by striking back against the government, similar to the way 18th century American patriots used force against the government of England.  Attorney Stephen Jones, however, personally and verbally scorched his client by reminding McVeigh that no patriot or freedom soldier would ever take the lives of innocent women and children

Stephen Jones is right.

Yet many Americans either do not know or have forgotten that women and children also died at Ruby Ridge and Waco, shot and killed by government officials. Stephen Jones quotes from a report put together by two Congressional oversight committees that investigated the assaults on the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco. Congress wrote:
"Many citizens no doubt would be surprised and concerned to learn that components of the same forces the United States used in Operation Desert Storm, Somalia, and Bosnia [i.e., the Texas National Guard], also can be used against them in the United States. The Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents epitomize civilian law enforcement's growing acceptance and use of military-type tactics... When ATF faced the option of conducting a regulatory inspection or a tactical operation, it chose the tactical operation. When ATF had to decide between arresting away from the Branch Davidian residence or a direct confrontation, it chose direct confrontation. ATF also decided to conduct a dynamic entry as opposed to a siege."
A 'dynamic entry' is government speak for 'an assault.'  Congress, in essence, is saying that Americans would be shocked to realize that our local civilian police departments are becoming more and more comfortable using military armaments, tactics, and even personnel (combat troops)--unique elements of war that have been historically reserved exclusively for combat in foreign countries--against our United States citizens living on American soil.

That's scary.

On April 18, 1995 I spent the night in Prescott, Arizona, in a hotel right next to the Internal Revenue Building. I was in Prescott speaking on behalf of the Franklin Graham Organization, helping local pastors prepare for its upcoming Franklin Graham Festival. It was only after reading Jones' book that I realized Michael Fortier's and Timothy McVeigh's first choice for a building to bomb was the IRS building in Prescott. Just another reminder to me that there is but a 'step between life and death' for all of us.

I took a very early morning flight out of Phoenix on April 19th, arriving at Will Roger's Airport in OKC at 8:30 am. I was driving by downtown OKC when the bombing occurred. The shock wave actually shook my car. For the next three days I spent time at the temporary morgue, set up in the basement of First Methodist Church, and would make trips to First Christian Church north of downtown to console family members of victims who had gathered there, waiting for news of their loved ones who were in the building.

I know first-hand the destruction and havoc Timothy McVeigh caused. He deserved the death penalty for his actions, and he received it. But McVeigh's attorney has done all Americans a good service by reminding us that acts of terror against United States citizens are wrong, whether they come from terrorists like Timothy McVeigh or from police organizations designed to protect the rights, liberty and peace of all American citizens.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Our Friend, Louis Zamperini, Has Died

Universal pictures released word this morning from California that our friend Louis Zamperini has died. Louis is one of the most remarkable men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. His incredible story has been written by Laura Hillenbrand in her sensational bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. I consider Hillenbrand's book one of the top five best non-fiction books I've ever read. One of Louis' last public speaking engagements before a fall ended his ability to travel was at Emmanuel Enid. We hope to place that remarkable speech on YouTube shortly. Angelina Jolie is the director of the Hollywood major motion about Louis' life which is scheduled to be released Christmas Day 2014. I would encourage you to watch the trailer narrated by Tom Brokaw: it will give you chills. I know where I will be Christmas Day.

Louis once asked me about some of the history of northwestern Oklahoma and I told him about Indian Territory, the establishment of Carlisle Indian School by the American military, and I mentioned the legendary Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete to ever live, a native of Oklahoma and graduate of Carlisle. I'll never forget that when I finished the story of what I believed to be ancient history, Louis paused, and said, "Jim Thorpe. I knew him well. We were once roommates. I'll never forget how sorry I felt for the way they made him put an a Indian headdress to promote he was from Oklahoma." Startled, I realized that I was in the presence of a 95-year-old man who had been born close to Oklahoma statehood.  He then proceeded to tell me how he shared Christ to Jim Thorpe. Louis shook hands with Adolph Hitler, roomed with Jim Thorpe, and is at the center of one of the 20th century's most amazing stories. The indomitable spirit, deep faith, and extraordinary wit of this true American hero have enriched the lives of millions.

Good-bye friend. You displayed for us all that courage and conviction are no match for others' selfishness and fear. My prayer is that when millions of people who are unfamiliar with your life become gripped by it this Christmas, they will know that the power within to forgive Japanese torturers comes from the knowledge and experience that our Creator forgives us through the grace that is found in His Son, Jesus Christ. We are working on that video, with your permission, that will insure your love for Christ is not lost on others this Christmas Day.

I look forward to hearing more stories from you in heaven. See you on the other side.