This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, the account of Franz Ravennas and Martin Guillabert (French authors) provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

"On hearing the death sentence, you will receive it as the invitation of the King of glory, who invited you to His wedding feast."

The instructions were difficult but clear. The French authors Franz Ravennas and Martin Guillabert wrote an instruction manual for Christians facing the threat of death. Their "publishing office" was their jail cell during the French Revolution. They saw their cell as the "antechamber to paradise."

"When they have finished reading your sentence," the manual continues, "you will say with many martyrs who have gone before you. 'Thank God.' Sing joyful songs. When they bind your hands, say the words of St. Paul: 'I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of Jesus Christ.'"

"On the way to being shot, speak to the guards from Scripture about the delight of suffering and dying for Christ. 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?'" (Romans 8:35)

"When you encounter the executioner, remember the words of the great martyr Ignatius: 'When will the happy moment come when I will be slaughtered for my Savior? How long must I wait?' Remember to also say a prayer for the persecutors."

Ravennas and Guillabert were beheaded. Their words are too much to imagine for most Christians in free nations, but they are followed, even today, in restricted nations.

FURTHER:  Every day we live should come with a warning:  Watch out!  At any given moment, tragedy is a distinct possibility.  Whether we are riding in a vehicle, crossing a street, or just going about our daily work, we are not safe from an accident, a disease, or a purposeful act of violence.  While we can't live protected from the evils of this world, we can live with the promise that God gives us:  Nothing, absolutely nothing, can cut us off from the love we have in Jesus.  Although you may never die for your faith, you may face rejection and other painful persecutions.  God's love will instruct you and help you face all that comes your way today.

A moment of consideration:  In this world, a phrase keeps appearing, bespeaking the vagaries of life; the saying goes that "life is just a crap shoot"; Forrest Gump, a fictional character re-worked the phrase, saying that life is "like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get".  As Believers in Christ Jesus, we know that, as David wrote in his Psalm, "My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!" (Psalm 31:15)  Sometimes, as persecuted Christians have discovered, enemies and persecutors get "the upper hand" and abuse, torture and even death follows for those who remain true to their faith in Christ.  David didn't want that eventuality to happen; his prayer (and ours) may have been something like Christ prayed in the Garden, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. " (Matthew 26:39)

Our persecuted brothers and sisters of the faith do not desire that "cup" either; they pray, too. Yet for some of them, and for some of us in the near future, the "cup" will confront us. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told His disciples, "Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles." (Matthew 10:17-18)  Throughout history and even today, disciples of Christ have been flogged, stoned, abased, and killed for their testimony, for their worship, for their praying, for their witness, for their mere existence in a town or village or city, and for their fellowship, etc.

In France, during the French Revolution, Christian prisoners incarcerated for their faith and bound for the guillotine were provided with a manual to follow beginning with the proclamation of their death and leading right up to the date and time of their execution. This document helped them to orient their souls to the transition awaiting the incarcerated faithful, taking them from this life to the next.  It helped them prepare for the dreaded day.  An anecdote from these United States likewise urges us to prepare:

An Indiana cemetery has a tombstone over a hundred years old that bears this epitaph:

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.

In line with this apparent message of the deceased, we Christians are encouraged to be faithful to the end--to prepare for death and follow Christ.  And it is wise, in our faithfulness, to pray for the best but to prepare for the worst.  In the first century, as in our own, God's Word to the church in Smyrna instructs us:  "Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days [a short time] you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)  May we, at such a time likewise hear the death knell sound, yet truly hear it as "the invitation of the King of glory, who invites you to His wedding feast".  Martin Luther was a leader in his thinking and in his response to the Word of God; he was heard to say, "In death, in the abyss, and in doubt we should remind ourselves, I have the word that I shall live no matter how hard death may press me."  Consider too, the life of Dwight L. Moody; there are many instances of those whose faith has triumphed in the hour of death.  D. L. Moody, the great evangelist of the past century, said on his deathbed, "Earth is receding; heaven is approaching.  This is my crowning day!"  He saw the King's wedding feast approach and rejoiced at the privilege.  Stephen too thought of Christ at his day of translation:  "And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:59-60)  Even Polycarp (of Smyrna in Asia) uttered these words while the pyre was lit around him: 

"O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You… I bless You for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered among the martyrs, to share the cup of your Christ… for this, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You."

Considering the tribulation of these believers, the suffering involved, and their response to receiving the notice of transition to one's heavenly existence, can we thank God for the honor and privilege of a life spent serving Him, as Jesus (our model) spent His life serving the Father?  Can we sing joyful songs such as "All Glory, Laud and Honor, to You, Redeemer, King", "Lift High the Cross", "Praise the Lord who Reigns Above", and others we each may be familiar with?  Such hymns orient us to our God and Savior, and in His perfect peace we rejoice--knowing that just as we are, we come.  The Apostle Paul said "...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).  Perhaps if we rejoice as Paul did, we too will endure with hope, and might say with him, "I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 21:13)  For who can separate us from the love that our Lord Jesus has for us? (Romans 8:35)  At the point of meeting the executioner, might we not "remember the words of the great martyr Ignatius: 'When will the happy moment come when I will be slaughtered for my Savior?  How long must I wait?'  Remember to also say a prayer for the persecutors." (Matthew 5:44)

In just a few moments, for us then, the hour would come, when our "perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:  "Death is swallowed up in victory.  "O death, where is your victory? "  "O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:53-55)  In that moment, all pain and suffering, each loss, each tear and regret, each heartache and disappointment will be taken from our shoulders, and we will be with the Lord; we will be home once more!  Hallelujah!  Re-reading the instructions of Ravennas and Guillabert, are their words too much to imagine for most of us Christians today?  Their instructions are followed, even today, in restricted nations.  We can be encouraged to know that there is this help from the Lord.  Let us be faithful to Him, rejoice in Him, give thanks to Him and praise His name, for He is forever faithful!