"I will show him how much he must suffer for My name." Acts 16:9
When I read books geared towards a walk in Christ, I like to read those that both challenge and convict me. Such works are not easy to come across these days. I've a pastor friend who likes to say that all his favorite Christian writers are dead. So much of today's western Church writings detail how we can have better, richer, more successful lives. Self is so often at the center of it all. So when I find something totally opposite of that, I absorb it. Such a book is "The Insanity Of God," by Nik Ripken, which is not his real name, as he ministers in an area where to reveal his real one would put him, his family, and co-workers in danger of their lives. In one part of the book, he details his time among Russian believers shortly after the fall of the Soviet state. These believers had suffered greatly under the Communist regime. His telling of some of their stories pierced my heart. I want to share a few of them with you in this writing.
The first had to do with Russian fellowships whose pastors had been arrested and sent to Siberian work camps. Most of these men died in their captivity, and their families suffered as well. What the Communists would do after removing the pastors was to find one who would co-operate with their desires, telling him what he could say and do. In one of these congregations, almost all the men had been arrested and removed. All that were left were the women. When the government chosen pastor came in, the believing ladies stood before the pulpit with locked arms, and the pastor could only get to it by forcing his way through. Once there, the women would sing hymns of praise and gratitude before he would rise to "preach." When he began his state selected sermon, they, as one, turned their backs to him and remained in that state for the rest of his message. This was their rejection of the compromised sermon he was bringing. What moved me about this was how watered down and compromised much of the "gospel" of the western church has become. Yet our response to that has been to eagerly hear it. These Russian and Ukrainian believers were suffering unspeakable persecution, yet would not compromise in any way their beliefs. They had given all to Him. They had counted the cost, and they would pay it.
The writer raised a question with these believers; "How did they learn to live and die like they did?" They answered, "We learned it from our parents, our grandparents, and our great-grandparents." The question that rises up in my heart is, what are our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren learning from us? A cross-style life and faith, or a self-styled one?
Here's another story: The author, upon hearing all these tales of faith in the face of intense persecution, asked "Why haven't you put these stories together into a book, so that you could inspire believers around the world. An older brother, who'd suffered much answered, "Son, when did you stop reading your Bible? All of our stories are in the Bible. God has already written them down. Why would we bother writing books to tell our stories when God has already told His story? If you would just read your Bible you would see our stories are there. When did you stop reading your Bible?" The author wrote, "His convicting question still echoes in my mind." Does it echo in yours?
One last story. A mother and her children, sent to Siberia after her husband had been sent to a prison camp, were starving. Her children asked her how they would get food. She said the Father would provide for them. More than thirty miles away, God awoke the deacon of a church and told him to load his wagon with food supplies collected by his church and take it to this pastor's starving family. He asked God how he could do that? It was many degrees below zero, and besides, wolves roamed everywhere at night. The man told God, "Lord, if I go, I may never make it back." God answered him, "You don't have to come back. You just have to go." In a culture obsessed with personal safety, how do we respond to that? In our desire for His guarantee of our well-being before we do anything, what is our response to His saying the same to us? Coming back is not the issue. Going forth for Him is.
What do you and I do with these stories of faith? Do we feel the gentle rebuke of His Spirit that the author felt when God spoke through that Russian elder? These stories have been before us in His Word all of our faith lives. Have we ever really seen or heard them? Have we been so busy mapping out our journey of personal success, ministry success, that we have never really seen or heard at all? While building our buildings, have we had nothing built into our hearts? Do we feel the "echo of conviction" from His heart? If not, just when was it that we stopped reading our Bibles? When was it that we started to listen to the voice of the surrounding culture and not His? When was it that coming back safely meant more to us than going forth boldly? Do such questions bring with them the echo of conviction? Or do we just proceed in our self-styled lives?