“God blesses those who patiently endure testing” James 1:12
It had been ten years since their freedom of worship had been taken away. At first it was for economic reasons, so they, the government, said. “We must cut back on all nonessential expenses. Since there are so many partially full churches that worship the same God, we’ve decided it would be more economical to combine your meetings into local buildings. Not only will this save expenses, it will save in travel as well, therefore using less fuel.”
All pastors and priests were gathered together to facilitate this combining effort. Those opposed were told they must attend special classes where they would better understand these economic sanctions. “You select few have been chosen to attend a series of intense classes whereby the government’s top secret decision-making processes regarding religious-diversity and economic betterment will be explained in detail.” Many of the pastors felt honored. The few who resisted were transferred to government schools. Within a year, those who agreed with these church combining measures returned to their homes. A few seemed to require more training. Some never returned home.
By the sixth year of government imposed sanctions of various sorts, public religious meetings became illegal except for government controlled varieties which allowed for a mixture of meetings that seemed to express biblical teachings. By then, most of those attending had become content with the seeker-friendly messages and social activities. New parents especially appreciated the youth-schools where their children were happier and content.
Inch by inch and step by step, religious freedom had become a thing of the past. And illegal. There were patrols assigned the task of infiltrating neighborhoods with an aim at squelching any attempts at secret Christian meetings. When asked why such patrols were necessary, the government’s answer was, “In an effort to eliminate those rebels who refuse to align themselves with our public welfare policies, we find it necessary to segregate such people who bring dissension and fear. Once found, they are sent to retraining camps.”
By the tenth year, public worship was a distant memory, replaced by a very similar brand of meetings that satisfied the itching ears of those who attended. Rather than wrestling with the strict, biblical God of old, these new services focused on a feel-good, non-invasive god. One who wanted everyone to be understood and appreciated. Under the new regime, church attendance was actually up.
Not everyone attended these new era church meetings. Some were still driven by an unquenched desire to secretly meet with others who gave their allegiance to the God of the Bible; who followed their Savior, Jesus Christ. At the literal risk of their lives, many small groups met in vacant rooms, remote parks, and abandoned buildings to share their faith.
Once such group met in a garage every week for prayer and Scripture readings. It was a cool Spring evening as the eight were kneeling in prayer when the door crashed open and three rifle-toting soldiers barged in. No one moved. The Christians barely breathed. The soldiers pointed their rifles at them.
“You have 30 seconds to leave or you will be executed!” shouted the officer in charge.”
Instantly people reacted and fled for their lives. Three remained, huddled together.
“Ten seconds remain!” shouted the soldier. No one moved.
Ten seconds later, the officer in charge nodded at the soldier closest to the door. He quickly locked the door. The men set their rifles against the wall.
“We have been hearing of this Jesus you follow and wanted to know if we could find any who were willing to give their lives for their faith. Tell us about the God you are willing to die for.”
What about me? Would I have run through the chairs like an Olympic sprinter to save my life? Of course I would like to say, No way. Not me. I would have remained like those steadfast men of faith, willing to face certain death. But…the truth is, I may have fled for my life just like the others. Which does not make me bad or a man of no faith. It makes me human and not ready for that ultimate sacrifice. We cannot say until we are forced to make such a decision. Our faith in Christ is not validated by a willingness to be ultimately strong. Quite the contrary. What does the Apostle Paul say in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”