This week's 'thought' has to do with a question every Christian should give serious thought to at one time or another -- although the real answer to it could only be known if confronted by the actual threat. The question is this (as put to us by John Piper in his book "The Godward Life," devotional entry #99): "Would You Accept Execution for Being a Christian?"
It was a question I wrestled with as soon as I became a Christian (back in the winter of 1980) because the first "Christian" book I read (actually devoured!) after I came to Christ, was pastor Richard Wurmbrand's autobiographical record of his 14 years of imprisonment and torture in Russian prison -- "Tortured for Christ." (Richard's wife Sabrina was sentenced to 3 years of slave labor on the Danube canal.)
It's hard to read that book and not ask: "Would I be willing to endure that for Jesus?" I share what John Piper writes and leave you to ask yourself the same (noting that its not for the queasy of stomach). Enjoy.
"When we have time for an extended family devotion in the evening, my younger children have wanted to read stories of Christians who suffered for their faith. For example, we read the story of John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim's Progress. For more than 12 years he was imprisoned while his second wife, Elizabeth, cared for their six children. His crime? Preaching the gospel without state sanction. The authorities would have let him go if he had promised not to preach. He said he would remain in prison until the moss grew on his eyelids rather than fail to do what God had commanded him to do. He said that parting from his wife and children, 'has often been to me in this place as the pulling of the flesh from my bones.' This was especially true with regard to his eldest daughter, who was blind.
On another evening we read about the Anabaptists. What a heart-wrenching story they offer. Hans Brett was executed January 4, 1577, after eight painful months of imprisonment in the Netherlands. On the morning of his being burned at the stake, the executioner clamped his tongue with a metal screw device and seared it with a hot iron to make it swell. All this to keep him from testifying as he burned.
Women were not safe either. On March 10, 1528, Balthhasar Hubmaier was burned at the stake in Vienna for Anabaptist beliefs, and three days later his wife was forcibly drowned in the Danube River. The same death came to Margaretha Sattler, eight days after the burning of her husband, Michael. She was drowned in the Neckar River that flowed past Rottenburg.
Then we began to realize as a family that martyrdom was also happening in our own day. On December 3, 1990, after being tortured during a month of imprisonment, Hossein Soodmand, a fifty-five-year-old ordained minister in the Assemblies of God, was hanged in Iran. He was one of a handful of Iranian pastors who had left Islam for the Christian faith....
David Barrett in his 1996 'Status of Global Mission' reported in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research that there were about 159,000 Christian martyrs that year around the world,* people who died from causes relating to their profession of faith as a Christian. When I read such things, it makes me want to live more and more simply. It makes me want to have little to hold me here. It makes me want to be utterly enthralled with Jesus so that 'to live is Christ and to die is gain.' (Philippians 1:21)
Can you say with these Christians, 'Your lovingkindness is better than life (Psalm 63:3)? Better than life! To live in the love of God is better than life with wife and children and significant ministry. O that God would come and ravish us to such a single-hearted devotion."
*(If you would like more updated statistics of the persecution of Christians worldwide -- such as the fact that today the number has risen to about 176,000/yr and that during the last few decades an average of 400 Christians were martyred each day under Islam -- see "The Voice of the Martyrs" website at www.persecution.com, or pick up the 30th Anniversary edition of "Tortured for Christ" by Wurmbrand).
I know such a level of devotion seems silly to many today. We live in an age of non-commitment. Postmoderns tend to think there is little worthy of suffering for, and far fewer things worthy enough to cut one's life short for. A culture grounded in the pursuit of pleasure is by nature bent on avoiding pain and suffering, even if it is for a cause as great as the Gospel, or better yet, even if its for the One who gave His life for us.
As Piper concludes, "O that God would come and ravish us to such a single-hearted devotion." After all, it really is an issue of devotion, and love, and Who (or what) we value (worship) the most.