Would I be ready for this?

 torture

What do the following people have in common:

Timothy, Symphorosa, Germanicus, Blandina, Ponticus, Felicitas, Perpetua, Cecilia,  Julian, Denisa, Alexander,  Epimachus,  and Agatha?

Any ideas? Are these names ringing a bell, somewhere from the deep recesses of your mind?

Every single one of these listed above (and thousands and thousands more) were martyred under the Roman government at one time or another. Here’s a quick rundown of how they entered heaven:

Timothy – reproved the idolatry of the people and was beaten with clubs so badly that he died from the bruises within 2 days.

Symphorosa – refused to sacrifice to heathen deities, along with her seven sons. She was scourged and then hung up by the hair of her head; after a time a large stone was thrown around her neck and she was thrown in the river.  All seven sons were fastened to seven posts with pullies and torn asunder, all their limbs dislocated; they were all eventually stabbed, except for the youngest who was sawed in half.

Germanicus – a young man, delivered to the wild beasts; he handled his death with such astonishing courage, several pagans were converted.

Blandina – Attached to a pole on the ground and exposed to the wild beasts for food; during this time her earnest prayers encouraged others; The wild beasts wouldn’t touch her. She was sent back to prison and forced to endure all kinds of torture, and then was eventually slain.

Ponticus – A 15 year old boy, who was in prison with Blandina and partook of the same sufferings and torture, eventually dying by the sword, as well.

Felicitas – A very pregnant young woman who, along with another lady named Perpetua, were forced to run between hunters of wild beasts and they were severely lashed; they were then stripped and thrown to a wild bull, where they were gored dreadfully, and then finally perished by the sword.

Cecilia – a young lady of good family, who converted her husband and brother, who were beheaded, and also the officer who led them to their execution, who was also beheaded; she was forced naked into a scalding bath for a considerable time; eventually she was beheaded with a sword.

Julian – He was put into a bag with serpents and scorpions and thrown into the sea.

Denisa – a 16 year old girl who was beheaded for her faith.

Alexander & Epimachus – beat with staves (plural of staffs), torn with hooks, and, at length, burned with fire.

Agatha – a godly and very beautiful Sicilian woman who caught the eye of the Sicilian governor. When put into a position to compromise her faith, she refused, and therefore she was “scourged, burnt with red hot irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne these torments with admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live coals, intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she there expired on the 5th of Feb, 251.”

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Perhaps I should have not written so many of these stories. I couldn’t decide which ones to use and which ones not to. There are dozens more and I am only a few pages in the book Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Here’s the thing — these were all REAL people. So, yes, they lived a long time ago but that doesn’t make them any less real. A 15 year old boy, a 16 year old girl, a pregnant woman, wealthy people, poor slaves, bishops, and beautiful women. All perished at the hands of evil men and women, whom Satan used in his efforts to douse the light of Christianity.

But it didn’t work! Here’s what it says regarding one of the persecutions: “but though the persecuting malice raged, yet the gospel shone with resplendent brightness; and, firm as an impregnable rock, withstood the attacks of its boisterous enemies with success.”

Fast forward 2000 years. Most of us have no clue what it means to suffer for Christ. Many of us wonder if we would choose to do so, if it really came to that.

I can’t help wondering if it will. Soon. Each year brings more and more persecution to those who stand firm on biblical Christianity. The persecution is nothing like those our persecuted brothers and sisters faced all those years ago, or even what many of our Christian brothers and sisters face in foreign lands. But if it comes, will we be ready?

I think it comes down to this: If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, Christianity isn’t a religion, it is your whole life. There is no part that remains untouched by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  We know that we are condemned to hell without Jesus’s death and resurrection and we won’t trade anything — not worldly reputation, material wealth, nor our very life– for it.

As I write this, I feel very weak as I read the sufferings of those mentioned above. I imagine my body being torn by hooks or burnt by scalding water or hot coals and I shudder and cringe. Lord, am I strong enough to withstand that?

But it’s not my strength that will see me through that day, should it come. It’s HIS.

The men and women who have died and continue to die for their faith in Jesus Christ do not do so on their own strength. They can’t sing and pray while being tortured on their human strength. Only God can supernaturally supply that strength. We are so far from needing that kind of strength in our own lives that it is a completely foreign thought to us.

Is it coming? I don’t know. I tend to think it is. We’d like to think that man could never become so evil again, but if we read recent history –of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot– or we follow current events–Sudan, Eritrea, and Iran, for example–we can see that men are still coming up with horrible ways to torture their fellow man.

Will I be strong enough to stand if that day comes to America? Only if I rest in God and draw on the strength that He will supply only to those who are truly His.

 

Find Foxe’s Book of Martyrs here.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth

 

This is one of my favorite stories. You may ask, “did this really happen?” as it seems so impossible.  I have always thought that it is a true story but cannot verify that for sure. However, no matter if it is or isn’t,  I have heard many miraculous true stories and I do know that anything is possible with God.

At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle — not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church — a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole.

The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, “Thy will be done!” But his wife wept, “Christmas is only two days away!”

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long. but it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea.

He bid it in for $6.50.

He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.

Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for 40 minutes!” he called, and invited her into the church to get warm.

She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English was imperfect.

The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers.

“It is mine!” she said. “It is my banquet cloth!” She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels! There could not be another like it.”

For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.

“I have always felt that it was my fault — to leave without him,” she said. “Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!” The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.

As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight.

After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced middle-aged man — he was the local clock-and-watch repairman — looked rather puzzled.

“It is strange,” he said in his soft accent. “Many years ago my wife – God rest her — and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table” — and here he smiled — “only when the bishop came to dinner.”

The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler clutched the pastor’s arm. “Can it be? Does she live?”

Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her. Then, in the pastor’s car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife, who had been separated through so many saddened Yule tides, were reunited.

To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season for it!

Wednesday Wisdom: Hell on Earth

Man-sitting-prison-480x357

I recalled again Richard’s words: Hell is to sit alone in darkness remembering past sins. Old memories burned like fire. You had no defense – no books, no radios, no distraction, no place to go when they came buzzing at you. Here self-deception ceased. Theories about new moral concepts didn’t help. Here you knew that the new morality was the old lasciviousness. Helena’s remorse was terrible. I knew what she was feeling. 

Nearly every woman in prison felt similar burning remorse. Nearly everyone was religious in some degree. Outspoken atheists surprised themselves by calling on God. Everyone wished to have her prayer heard.

But their prayers were wrong. It was like praying that two and two should be something other than four. Accumulation of sins can only bring unhappiness and remorse. It was over sexual feelings-adulteries, betrayals, abortions- that regret was most poignant. Women longed to talk about it and ease the pain. I remembered the words of David who had committed such a sin: “Blessed is he…whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).  So covered by God that there is no need to uncover it before men.

This is from a book by Sabina Wurmbrand entitled The Pastor’s Wife. The book is Sabina’s story of her life and imprisonment under the communist regime in Romania. Her experiences are far beyond anything I could imagine. While she is at Labor Camp, a detestable and horrifying place, she tells of some of the women there who are without Christ.

As we read her reflections above, we can’t help but turn our thoughts inward. How about us? How would we fare languishing in prison or labor camp without any distractions? No iPhones, no computers, no TVs, no movies, no radios? Where would our thoughts turn when all we had to do was think during the dark, lonely hours in a room full of strangers? What sins would haunt us? What choices and decisions would we regret?

How would we find a spirit of gratitude and compassion amidst all of the turmoil and filth?  Could we sing praises in the midst of starvation?  Would we be thankful if we lacked almost every comfort we have now?  Could we maintain our Christian testimony while trudging over miles of plains to get to work and then baking in the hot sun, hoeing for the whole day, without any water?

And, as I read of her experiences, there was another question I had to seriously ask myself: How much of God’s Word would I remember if I were thrown into prison without access to a written copy? I felt ashamed to admit the truth.

I believe that in this day and age, we are so lost in our distractions. We drink and eat and take pills to medicate ourselves and our pain. We watch movies, read books, and go to concerts in an effort to escape our real lives. But what if our real lives – the lives we are living right at this very moment – is all that we have?  Sabina Wurmbrand goes on to talk about a society lady a few paragraphs later:

“What’s your conclusion?” she asked, brushing back her greasy hair with a gesture that belonged to her “smart-set” days. “You’ve seen it all- what do you think? For myself, I’ve only one thought left: if I could go free, I’d live happily on a crust for the rest of my life.”

Like many of her type, she had a deep sense of guilt for frittering her life away. Often she’s spoken to me hesitatingly, hinting at some inner torment that she’d like to reveal. 

Guilt for frittering her life away. Wow – that hit me hard.  Am I frittering my life away? Am I doing anything that matters with the time I have been given? This is such an important question to ask ourselves.

And, so, most of us sit here reading this thinking we would never find ourselves in prison or labor camp. This is America, after all. Who really cares?  How does this matter?  But I believe Sabina’s words beg us to answer two questions—

1. Am I deceiving myself?

2. What am I doing with my life that matters?