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For the Martyrs

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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ERBIL, IRAQ - AUGUST 11, 2014 - A man stands still outside the Mar Tshmony church. 500 Christian families have been sheltered at Mar Tshmony church, after an unprecedented ISIS advance into Kurdish controlled territory, mainly Qaraqosh for the second time. These refugees are begging for passports to get out Iraq and even called on Western governments to offer them asylum as their culture faces the danger of extinction. (Credit: Photo by Vianney Le Caer / Pacific Press/Sipa USA)

February 15th marked the 1-year anniversary of the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS soldiers. The vivid scene is awful to recall. The 21 men, clad in orange jumpsuits, kneeling down in the sand as their black-clad executioners stood triumphant over them. Refusing to denounce their faith in Jesus, these men paid the ultimate price. Their legacy lives on, as the courage and bravery they showed in the face of such vicious hate testifies to the power of their faith.

Eric Metaxas, in the introduction to his book 7 Men, says this: “So from the gospel stories of Jesus’ life, you get the idea that seeing a person’s life is at least as important as getting a list of lessons from that person. Yes, sermons are important, but seeing the actual life of the guy who gives the sermon might be even more powerful.”

What is the message of your life? I think one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves every day as Christian leaders is this: How much am I like Christ? Last week, in the build-up to Valentine’s Day, we focused on the power of love in our leadership. 1 John 4:18 declares “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” This truth was visible in the 21 Christians on the beach that day last year. Their lives also gave witness to Jesus’ words in John 15:13: “Greater love has no than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

In leadership, there are certain phrases you’ll hear that embody the truth of how important our daily actions are as leaders: “actions speak louder than words”, “practice what you preach”, “model the way”. These are just a few of the phrases that pop up in leadership parlance that hint at the deeper truth underneath.

J. Oswald Sanders reminds us “We can lead others only as far along the road as we ourselves have traveled. Merely pointing the way is not enough. If we are not walking, then no one can be following, and we are not leading anyone.”

How much am I like Christ?

It is so important for us as a Christian community to remember our brothers and sisters who have already given their lives as martyrs. It’s also important for us to constantly keep in prayer those who are in the midst of persecution. Audrey Assad, Christian recording artist, released a new album recently that included a song she wrote after watching the 21 Coptic Christians die for their faith. She thought, “What would I pray, if it were me kneeling on that beach?” She penned the song “Even Unto Death” as her response:

“Jesus, the very thought of You, it fills my heart with love.
Lover of my soul, even unto death;
with my every breath I will love you.
In my darkest hour, in humiliation:
I will wait for You—I am not forsaken.
Though I lose my life—though my breath be taken:
I will wait for You—I am not forsaken.”

As we reflect on the sacrifice of those precious lives on the beach, we are moved to think about how we will live for Christ in our own lives. In a world confused with leadership, we desperately need leaders who embody sacrificial servant leadership. We need leaders in all sectors of society who are more concerned with their lives reflecting Jesus than getting their own way.

One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that God often chooses the things that we think are weak and powerless to accomplish his purposes. Think of stuttering Moses, the shepherd-boy David, diminutive Paul. God is not looking for the most impressive leaders, he’s looking for leaders who have hearts that long to be more like Jesus. Our 21 brothers who gave their lives on the beach that day are examples of just what it means to long to be more like Jesus, “even unto death”.