This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, a Russian pastor provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
"If you will renounce your faith and trample the cross, you will go free," the Bolshevik gang said. "If you do not, we will kill you."
Reverend Mikhail had seen eighty thousand of his fellow Russian Orthodox leaders and lay people murdered by the Communists. Amidst all of that pain and suffering, he decided that God, if He did exist, would not have allowed such misery.
"I don't believe," he thought as he faced the gang. "What does a cross mean to me? Let me save my life."
But when he opened his mouth to go along with the gang's orders, the words that came out shocked him. "I only believe in one God. I will not trample on the cross!"
The gang put a sack around his shoulders as a royal garment and used his fur hat for Jesus' crown of thorns. One of the gang, a former member of Mikhail's church, knelt before him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews." They took turns beating him and mocking his God.
Silently, the reverend prayed. "If You exist, please save my life." As he was beaten, he cried out again, "I believe in one God."
His show of faith made such an impression on the drunken gang, that they released him. When he arrived in his house, he fell face down on the floor, weeping and repeating, "I believe."
A moment of consideration: A recent report from Harbingers Daily (https://harbingersdaily.com/i-am-the-master-of-my-faith-how-dumping-christianity-is-trending/), reports on a growing trend within Christendom--to dump the faith and say, "I am the master of my faith." It is this kind of faithless person who might be described by the following anecdote:
An ignorant man was examined on the subject of his faith, as follows:
"What do you believe?"—"I believe what the Church believes."
"What then, does the Church believe?"—"The Church believes what I believe."
"Tell me, then, I pray you, what it is which you and the Church both believe."
"Why, truly, sir, the Church and I both believe the same thing."
Tan, P. L. (2004). Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.
In response perhaps to such ignorance, God's Word describes that "...in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits..." (1 Timothy 4:1) In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul warns us not to be taken captive: "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ". Notice that deceitful spirits are purveyors of empty deceit following the tenets of human tradition (Humanism, the green movement, etc.) and rejecting the Lordship of Jesus. When one rejects or ignores the Lordship of Christ Jesus, one is left with an unbelieving heart which the bible identifies as evil, leading such person(s) to fall away from the living God. G.K. Chesterton wisely said that "When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything." In that case, faith in God no longer reigns, but gullibility does. We are warned: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
In John's Gospel, Christ Jesus provides His hearers and us in our day, the things needed to keep us from falling away (John 16:1). What are these things? The world hated Jesus without cause, and hates us Christians (John 15:18-27) because we are not of the world, but have been chosen out of the world by Him. His provision of the John 15 background, needed to keep us from falling away, is to realize that the world hated the prophets who called Israel to faithfulness to God, the world hated the disciples and apostles chosen by Christ Jesus, the world has persecuted and tried to destroy the Church since the time of Christ's earthly ministry, and today, the world again sneers at and wantonly attacks Christ's Church around the world. Christ Jesus explained these things to provide perspective to help us understand them and thereby strengthen our resolve to remain faithful to Him, and not fall from the faith. In the first part of John 15, the Lord Jesus said that "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He [God] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He [God] prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:2) To bear fruit, we must abide in Christ. To abide in Christ empowers our prayer and service lives. He went on to say that those who abide are expected to keep His commandments as Christ Himself kept God's commandments and abided in the Father's love. (John 15:10) Perhaps God prunes the fruitful through obedience to His commandments.
Reverend Mikhail described his trial of faith and denial; the Lord was kind to him, and did not let him speak the denial of Christ and the cross to which he had resigned himself. Instead of denying Christ, he affirmed the Lord: "I only believe in one God. I will not trample the cross!" May Christ Jesus strengthen us, when our time comes to remain faithful under duress. In that situation, agree with the apostle Paul: "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10) In our weakness, God's strength prevails. (2 Corinthians 12:9) The tried-and-true hymn asserts "I am weak but You are strong; Jesus keep me from all wrong; I'll be satisfied as long as I walk, let me walk close to Thee." The wise lyrics profess a desire to abide in Christ, and to walk in His presence each day. They pose the question, "If I falter, Lord, who cares? Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, let it be, dear Lord none but Thee."
Indeed, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd has a good "track" record, shown during His Ministry here on earth (John 17:12) and shown toward and through His faithful in subsequent centuries. The apostle Paul provided a trustworthy statement: If we have died with Christ, we will also live with Him; if we endure[/abide], we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful--for he cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:10) Christ Jesus asks us to abide with Him; in essence, he bids us to "Abide with Me". In Luke 18:8b, Christ Jesus pondered, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" As purchased souls, our lives are not our own, but are lived in relationship to the Redeemer King. With Thomas Paine, we know that even now is a time that tries people’s souls. May we be found faithful, in faith and in deed, to the One Who shows steadfast faith and love toward us. When trials come, problems arise, opposers rally against us, national and international forces are arrayed against us, let us forthrightly, faithfully, and honestly say, "Lord, we are able" to meet the challenges with firm faith in our Lord, the King, the Blessed Hope. We believe in one God; let us respect and honor (and not trample) the cross.