We have been reading the book Extreme Devotion from The Voice of the Martyrs (get Tortured for Christ free) to our children. There are never any dry eyes after we read one of the descriptions of saints who count it worthy not only to suffer for Christ, but to die for Him, saints who understand the real cost of discipleship. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Buy it and read it to your children, read it with your friends, read it yourself. Here are three excerpts (two are from Romania. I was told by my friend Peter Lucaciu that there was no secret, underground church in Romania during part of the communist rule of the evil Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was open for all to see - hence, there is no lack of stories of extreme devotion from that era):
This Grave is the Doorway to the Heavenly City
It was almost midnight as the women prisoners heard the Communist guards arrive. They quickly gathered around the condemned, a young woman of twenty who had been sentenced to die for her faith in Christ. They whispered hurried good-byes. There were no tears from the young Romanian woman, no screams for mercy.
Earlier that evening, the prisoners had listened to the young woman, her face glowing with love. “For me, this grave is the doorway to a heavenly city,” she had told them. “Who can tell the beauty of that city? There, sadness is not known. There is only joy and song. Everyone is dressed in the white of purity. We can see God face-to-face. There are such joys that human language cannot express. Why should I weep? Why should I be sad?”
She was engaged to be married, but this night, she told them, instead of being with her earthly fiancé, she would meet her heavenly bridegroom.
The pitiless guards entered the cell, and the woman stepped toward them, ready to go. As she left the cell, surrounded by guards, she began to recite the Apostles’ Creed. Minutes later, with tears streaming down their faces, the remaining prisoners heard shots. The executioners thought they had ended the young woman’s life, but they had only sent her to live forever in a much better place.
Courage is the bridge that carries us from a nominal existence on earth to an inexplicable longing for a heavenly future. Those who fully understand the certainty of heaven’s existence find it easier to exchange their comparably paltry lives on earth for eternal citizenship in heaven. Courage helps us to let go of all we cling to on earth—all the things that make us long to stay here. It takes courage to believe in a life after death. After all, life on earth is all we really know until the moment we die. We are courageous when we launch out in faith, believing Christ has made it possible for us to cross into eternity with him. Once we have made that firm decision, we can face life with purpose and death with courage.
Pastor Florescu couldn't bear to watch his son being beaten by the Communist officers. He had already been beaten himself, and he had not slept for two weeks for fear of being attacked by the starving rats the Communists had forced into his prison cell. The Romanian police wanted Florescu to give up other members of his underground church so that they, too, could be captured.
Seeing that the beatings and torture weren’t working, the Communists brought in Florescu’s son Alexander, only fourteen years old, and began to beat the boy. While Florescu watched, they hammered his son’s body unmercifully, telling the pastor that they would beat his son to death unless he told them the locations of other believers.
Finally, half mad, Florescu screamed for them to stop.
“Alexander, I must say what they want!” he called out to his son. “I can’t bear your beatings anymore.”
His body bruised, blood running from his nose and mouth, Alexander looked his father in the eye. “Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Stand strong! If they kill me, I will die with the word ‘Jesus’ on my lips.”
The boy’s courage enraged the Communist guards, and they beat him to death as his father watched. Not only did he hold on to his faith, he helped his father do the same.
Is there no justice in this world? When we read of the horrible atrocities committed against the innocent, we can’t help but wonder. We may falter in our faith when we hear about cruel suffering at the hands of evildoers. We may become discouraged when we long for the salve of mercy that seems to tarry. Is there no justice in this world? In answer to our cry, the Bible teaches the principle of “yes and not yet.” Yes, some evildoers meet with swift justice here and now. However, God’s mighty hand of infinite justice has yet to fall on this earth. That is saved for the end of time. We grow weary waiting, but he is undeterred.
The Muslim leader was shocked to find Andrew, the Christian evangelist, sitting in his living room with his own family sharing a meal together!
He was shocked because he had recently offered a large reward to have this Christian killed. Now Andrew was in his home telling his own family members about Jesus. "What's going on here?" he screamed. "What's this man, this infidel, this enemy of Allah doing in my home?"
His daughter-in-law began, "I asked him here because he, his Jesus, has healed your son, my husband." Her story continued in a rush of words. "He has been sick for eighteen years, but today this Christian, Andrew, came and prayed for him. He laid his hands on him, and now he is well! Jesus has healed him!"
The man saw his son's excitement as he told how he had felt the sickness leave his body. This was the first time in months that his son had gotten out of bed. For the first time in eighteen years, he felt no pain.
The man's anger was replaced with a sense of relief and happiness. He didn't choose to accept Christ that day, but he has become an ally to the Christians in that area and has helped many to avoid jail and persecution. The man who once put a contract on Andrew's head now welcomes him with open arms.
Christianity is a "see-it-for-yourself" type of experience. When the Muslim father walked into his home, Andrew was not preaching a three-point sermon on the triune God. He was not berating the man's wife and children for formerly believing in Allah. He was having a meal after praying with the Muslim family. They had an empty sickbed to prove God was real. Likewise we must remember that God's truths are self-evident. The pressure is not on us as the messengers, if we will say and do the right things. We do the right thing whenever we proclaim the gospel to others. Jesus will draw their hearts to him. We must let the evidence of Christ's reality speak for itself.