In the sixteenth century, King Philip II took a hard line against those who would try to interpret Scripture for themselves. Anyone found studying the Bible during this time was hanged, burned at the stake, drowned, torn in pieces, or buried alive. The inquisitors from the king were sent to inspect the house of the mayor of Brugge to see if any Bible studies were taking place there. In their search, they discovered a Bible. All present denied knowing anything about it. Then a young maidservant came in. When asked about the Bible, she declared, “I am reading it!”
The mayor sought to defend her saying, “Oh, no, she doesn’t know how to read.” But the maidservant did not wish to be defended by a lie. “It is true, this book is mine. I am reading from it, and it is more precious to me than anything!” She was sentenced to die by suffocation, sealed in the city wall. Just before her execution, she was asked by an official, “So young and beautiful and yet to die?” She replied, “My Saviour died for me. I will also die for him.”
When finally one single brick remained to complete the wall, she was told again, “Repent! Just say a single word of repentance!”
Instead she voiced her single desire to be with Jesus and added, “O Lord, forgive my killers!”
To some it is simply a book—a best-seller for years running at that. To others it is merely a family tradition—given at weddings, births, and funerals. Still to others, it is God’s holy and inspired Word. These believers cling to the words as if they were letters from a lover, pouring over them again and again. What do they see in the truth of God’s Word? What makes them willing to risk death to read it? Ask God for the answer. If its truths remain a mystery to you, ask God to open your eyes to see his words more clearly. Without his help, the words will remain marks on a page. But God can bring them to life.
Taken from Voice of the Martyrs book Extreme Devotion:
“Don’t do it,” Nicholas yelled as he saw the executioner lift his sword to kill another prisoner. “He’s done nothing to deserve this.” The man was about to be executed for his faith in Jesus Christ. Nicholas bravely grabbed the executioner’s sword before it penetrated the prisoner’s flesh.
“Have it your way Nicholas . . . I have many others to kill today.” The executioner spat as he walked away and resumed his duties elsewhere. Nicholas boldly spoke up for Christ at a difficult time in history. In the year 303, Emperor Diocletian began one of the most brutal persecutions
of Christians. So many Christians were killed that the executioners were exhausted and took turns at their work.
Nicholas was branded with hot irons. He survived terrible beatings from the guards. And he endured other torture as well—simply for refusing to deny that Jesus is the Son of God. How could he deny the one who was so real to him? Nicholas remained resolute in the midst of great injustice.
After being released from prison, he spent the rest of his life establishing orphanages and protecting poor children. He was committed to advancing the gospel of Christ in creative ways. Once, he even threw money wrapped in a stocking through the window of a home of two very poor girls so they would not be sold to a house of prostitution.
Many years after his death, Nicholas was affectionately called St. Nicholas. For many children, the night before Christmas is the most magical night of the year as they await a visit from Santa Claus, a caricature of St. Nicholas. The real life story behind St. Nicholas is much more heroic and loving than most children could even dream. Think about your own life’s story. Do people know the truth about your faith in Jesus Christ? Or do they merely know you as an affectionate and unusually moral person? Although Santa Claus is not real, St. Nicholas was and you must be too. You may not feel like a saint, but the world needs real examples of resolute Christians. What will you do today to live your faith in a real way?
Taken from Voice of the Martyrs book Extreme Devotion:
Though the Soviet invaders were terrorizing their country, the Romanian children walked steadily towards the Russian soldiers with warm, confident smiles on their faces.
The soldiers greeted them kindly, patting them on the head. Each soldier was thinking of his own children, whom they had been forced to leave behind in Russia.
“Have some candy,” said one of the officers, holding out a handful of chocolate to the youngsters, who eagerly grabbed the hard-to-find treats. “Thank you, sir,” the boys said. “We have gifts for you as well.” They dug into their pockets, pulling out gospel tracts and New Testaments in Russian. “What is this?” the soldiers asked. “It is a book of Good News,” the boys said through mouths full of chocolate. The soldiers thumbed through the tracts.
One officer recognized the booklets as being religious and knew the dangers. He looked down at the children with deep concern in his eyes. If adults had handed out the material, he would have to arrest them. But what harm could these children do? he thought.
What the officer didn’t know was that these children had passed out hundreds of tracts and New Testaments, helping many in the Russian army find God. These children were enlisted into another “army” with an eternal “battle.” Where adults could not safely minister, children walked through a wide-open door with the Gospel.
The difference between a pessimist and an optimist is the difference between “can’t” and “can.” Certainly, believers in both religiously restricted nations and countries with religious freedom encounter closed doors. In some countries, possessing a Bible means a jail sentence. In America, the “separation of church and state” is often taken to extremes. Sometimes our focus on what we are not supposed to do as Christians makes us miss God’s opportunities. We see the closed doors more readily than we see the open ones. For example, while missionaries cannot enter restricted nations as such, “professional” workers are recruited! We can also support national Christian workers who live there. The door is open. Walk through it.
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Seated on logs under the shade of a tree, the 230 Christian students were just beginning their English
lesson when they heard the terrifying sounds overhead. A plane roared across the sky above the school yard. Within minutes, the Islamic army had dropped five bombs from a large Russian-made bomber.
Terrified and screaming, the children immediately started running. Two of the bombs landed in dry trenches around the village, and another
failed to detonate.
Unfortunately, the other two nail-studded bombs landed squarely among the frightened students. The explosion was tremendous. The damage, unthinkable.
By 9:15 A.M. the bomber was gone, and the horrible reality began to set in. Students wandered dazed around the school yard, crying and bleeding. Twelve of their classmates ranging in age from nine to sixteen had not survived the blast. Their beloved young teacher, Roda Ismail, also lay dead among the rubble.
Another seven students lost their battle for survival in the days following the attack, and three had to have limbs amputated.
The very next day, children showed up for school as usual. The exhausted and despondent schoolmaster told them to go home. “I cannot
tell you when or if we will resume classes.” A ten-year-old boy approached him and said, “Please let us continue. We want to learn, and if it is God’s will, then today we won’t die.”
Life at the crossroads. We’ve all been there, wavering between giving up and going on. Like the schoolboy, the crowds who were following Jesus one day realized the path they were on was fraught with danger. Like the despondent schoolmaster, many in the crowd headed for home, not able to say if or when they would continue to follow Christ. Yet Peter and the other disciples remained. The schoolboy’s solemn request echoes Peter’s response, “Let us continue.” When we are tempted to give up, let us continue. When it seems like following Christ is too difficult, let us continue. Are you facing the crossroads of commitment? Ask God to give you the strength to go on instead of give up.
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