342 posts categorized “Extreme Devotion”

April 3, 2014

Extreme Conquerors

ROMANIA: PASTOR RICHARD WURMBRAND

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

“My wife is sleeping in the other room because she has been ill,” Pastor Richard Wurmbrand began. “She and I are both Jewish. Her family perished in the same Nazi concentration camp where you just boasted of killing Jews with children still in their arms. Perhaps you murdered my wife’s family.”

Upon hearing this, the pastor’s guest, a soldier, became very angry and stood to leave. But Richard stopped him. “Wait. I want to propose an experiment. I want to tell my wife who you are and what you did. But my wife will not curse you or even look at you angrily. She will accept you.”

The man sat with his mouth open, but speechless. ED_Cover

The pastor continued, “Now if my wife, who is only human can forgive you-then how much more will Jesus love and forgive you?”

The man buried his face in his hands. “What have I done? How can I go on living with the guilt of so much blood? Jesus, please forgive me.” The soldier went on to give his life to Christ.

Then Richard went and woke his wife Sabina. “This is the murderer of your sisters, your brothers, and your parents,” he introduced the man. “But now he has repented.” She wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

“Love conquers all” is a popular saying. Christians, however, know the truth of this saying first hand. When we are at the mercy of our anger, we are consumed with hatred. But when we have allowed God (who is love) to control our lives, we find that our natural emotions like anger submit to him. We don’t even feel like getting upset over situations that used to enrage us. Love must conquer anything within us that is contrary to the character of Christ. The end result is that we are so consumed with love that even our worst enemy benefits from our transformation. Are you experiencing victory over bitterness and vengeance? Ask the God of love to conquer your anger today. 

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here.


March 12, 2014

Extreme Places

ROMANIA: PASTOR RICHARD WURMBRAND

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:11

Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who suffered in prison for fourteen years, once told a story that he had heard from a fellow prisoner. It had helped him through his most difficult times of torture. The brother told him:

“I once went to a circus and witnessed a most impressive scene. A sharpshooter placed a burning candle on his wife’s head. He then stepped out of the center of the arena and, from quite a distance, shot the candle off her head."

“After the show was over, I approached her and asked if she was ever afraid the arrow would strike her. She replied, ‘Why should I be? He was aiming at the candle, not at me.’” ED_Cover

When Pastor Wurmbrand heard this story he thought, “Why should I be afraid of the torturers? They don’t aim at me. They may beat my body but my real being is Christ within. I am seated with him in heavenly places, and therefore they cannot touch my real person. From this incredible viewpoint I can look down and see the futility of their efforts.”

Pastor Wurmbrand lived through years of suffering and had neared death many times. But he was encouraged with this simple lesson and even flourished spiritually because he knew his place with Christ was secure, no matter what happened to his body.

Persecution, though indescribably painful, has its limits. Neither physical torment nor emotional trauma can destroy the deepest parts of who we are. What we carry on the inside is the most valuable part of ourselves—our souls. Christ’s Spirit lives within us and protects our soul from emotional and physical harm. True, our enemies may strike us and even kill our bodies. However, when our enemies take a swipe at us, they are really maligning the name of Christ—the one who lives within. And he can never die again. However personal and pointed the opposition, it is really part of a bigger picture. The battle may involve us, but it concerns an overarching war between good and evil. 

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here.


March 5, 2014

Extreme Fear

LAOS: LU

The LORD is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? Psalm 27:1

The unwritten code of the police was clear: If you catch the Khmu or other tribesmen converting to Christianity, arrest them. If you catch anyone evangelizing the tribesmen, kill him.

After “Lu” had been shackled at the hands and feet and shamefully marched through the village, the Communist police threw him in a pit. “We will let you go,” they said, “when one hundred Christians in your village renounce their conversion to Christianity.” But they were unable to find believers willing to turn their backs on Christ. ED_Cover

Then tragedy struck the police. One officer’s son broke both legs in an accident. His other son became critically ill. The officer who had beaten and harassed new Christians suddenly died of a heart attack.

Other officials fearfully pulled “Lu” from the pit and allowed him to return home. Government authorities were too frightened to take action against the Christians in the village after seeing what happened to their leader.

Seeing God’s show of power, more Khmu became believers. Where there had been one hundred Christians, now there were seven hundred. They even sent Christians out to tell other villages about Jesus. While the Laotian authorities were controlled by their fear, the Christians in Southeast Asia overcame theirs.

Fear is one of the most basic human motivations. It drives stock markets and fuels wars. Its unruly energies can be used for great harm or channeled for great good. Professional boxers are often told fear is their friend. Fear can make them better fighters. It keeps them alert. It sensitizes their determination. In the same way, God can use our fears and make us better fighters for his cause. Whenever we are afraid, we have the potential to do the impossible. Why? That which is impossible in our own strength is made possible with God’s help. Fear makes us more likely to forsake our own resources and rely on God instead. In this way, extreme fear can lead to extreme faith. 

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available in print from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here.


February 26, 2014

Extreme Weakness

RUSSIA: REVEREND MIKHAIL

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. Ed_cover

“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 them, 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.”

The Christian faith is full of paradoxes. Die to live. Lose to win. Be weak in order to be strong. In fact, unless we are willing to embrace our own failures, we cannot experience God’s strength. When we undergo hardship and trial or even witness the unjust suffering of others from afar, we may begin to doubt God’s goodness. That is a human, natural response. However, God does not reject our human weakness. He restores our weakness with his strength. Therefore, we can rejoice in our failures because they remind us that human strength is no substitute for godly power. We may fail, but our God remains strong. What are you learning about your own weakness? What does that teach you about God’s strength? 

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available in print from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here.


February 5, 2014

Extreme Injustice

ROMANIA: PASTOR FLORESCU

He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. Isaiah 42:4

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. ED_Cover

“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. 

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available in print from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here.


January 16, 2014

Extreme Smile

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

It was getting late, and the Soviet officer had beaten and tortured Paulus for many hours. “We are not going to torture you anymore,” he said, smiling brutally when the Christian looked up. “We will send you instead to Siberia, where the snow never melts. It is a place of great suffering. You and your family will fit in well.”

Paulus, instead of being depressed, smiled. “The whole earth belongs to my Father, Captain. Wherever you send me I will be on my Father’s earth.” ED_Cover

The captain looked at him sharply. “We will take away all you own.” “You will need a high ladder, Captain, for my treasures are stored up in heaven.” Paulus still wore a beautiful smile. “We will put a bullet between your eyes,” shouted the captain, now angry.

“If you take away my life in this world, my real life of joy and beauty will begin,” answered Paulus. “I am not afraid of being killed.” The captain grabbed Paulus by his tattered prison shirt and screamed into his face, “We will not kill you! We will keep you locked alone in a cell and allow no one to come see you!”

“You cannot do that, Captain,” said Paulus, still smiling. “I have a Friend who can pass through locked doors and iron bars. No one can separate me from the love of Christ.”

Despite an uncertain future, we can be sure of one thing: Christ will face it with us. Whether we are going through a private trial or a public grieving, we are never going alone. In contrast, every human companion will fail us at some point. There will be places in life’s journey where they cannot walk with us-the water will be too deep and their understanding would be murky at best. Only Jesus has the ability to pass through the “iron bars” on our suffering hearts and share these difficult times. Although, in his wisdom, he may not choose to deliver us from our circumstances, his sure presence will see us through them. Smile, knowing you have a Friend from whom you can never be separated.

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore


January 3, 2014

Extreme Devotion: What's the Point?

“But I am not a Communist. You must believe me,” pleaded Pastor Im when the United Nations regained the occupied territory in September of 1950. The North Korean Communist soldiers had kept Im locked in an isolated prison cell for two years for preaching to others about Christ and for refusing to change his sermons into pro-Marxist propaganda.

When the UN troops arrived, he felt certain he would be a free man again. Yet they mistook him for a Communist and threw him into another cell with the Communist captives. ED_Cover

Being a compassionate man and accepting the situation as God’s will, Pastor Im witnessed to the Communist prisoners. Many were converted to Christ. “We keep hearing about this prison camp preacher,” said an American missionary to his friend visiting Korea as a chaplain.

“Since he knows the prisoners so well, I wonder if he would help us organize an evangelistic service?” questioned the chaplain. God answered their prayers.

The American missionaries were able to get permission to have access to Pastor Im. And the “prison preacher” faithfully helped and preached at prison camps all over South Korea. Thousands of Communists accepted Christ. Within a year, twelve thousand prisoners were rising each morning for dawn prayer meetings. 

Pastor Im never saw his family again, yet thousands became his brothers in Christ in the prison camps.

“What’s the point?” This is the question on everyone’s minds when we see unjust suffering and violence. However, we cannot always know God’s purposes. We can only know they are great and they are ultimately for our good. We are like individual puzzle pieces spread out over a table. We strain our eyes from side to side and see that the pieces immediately around us do not seem to fit. We feel frustrated and frightened. Yet God is the puzzle Master—the only one who sees the whole picture. He can see all the pieces in your life at once. He knows how they fit together for his greater purpose. Will you look with trust into the eyes of the Master, content wherever he places you?

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore.


December 16, 2013

"The Grain of God"

“The life of man is a continual death, unless it be that Christ lives in him.”

—Ignatius

Ignatius was a disciple of the apostle John and had publicly reproved Emperor Trajan Antioch for worshiping idols. However, Trajan swore to take public revenge on Ignatius in return for his embarrassing rebuke.

Ignatius was arrested and brought to Rome. As he was led away to the pit of lions, he told another believer, “My dear Jesus, my Savior, is so deeply written in my heart, that I feel confident, that if my heart were to be cut open and chopped into pieces, the name Jesus would be found on every piece.”

When the multitude of people was assembled to witness his death, Ignatius boldly addressed the cheering crowd. “I am the grain of God. I am ground by the teeth of the beast, that I may be found a pure bread of Christ, who is to me the Bread of Life.” Extreme Devotion

As soon as he had spoken these words, two hungry lions devoured him. He lived up to his surname, Theophorus, “the bearer of God.” To the very end, he bore the name of God and his Savior on his lips. He had often said, “The crucified Christ is my only and entire love.” And to the end he found solace in this simple truth: “As the world hates the Christians, so God loves them.”

Marriage tradition holds that a wife should bear her husband’s name as a symbol of their union. They are no longer two people, but one. As a couple grows old together, they begin to share more than just the same last name. They share the same friends and interests. They begin to finish each other’s sentences. And some begin to even strangely resemble one another . . . such is their long-standing intimacy. In the same way, those who bear the name “Christian” or “little Christ” develop the same intimacy—a oneness with the Savior. Are you wearing well the name of Christ? Like Ignatius, does sharing Jesus’ name inspire you to share in his sufferings, his ministry, and his life?

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore.


November 18, 2013

Extreme Companion

“They have burned our possessions, but they cannot burn Jesus from our hearts.”

Origen was not the typical eighteen-year-old. He was a teacher in second-century Egypt. As the church of his day suffered severe persecution, Origen did not spend his time chasing girls or trying to impress his peers.

Instead of running from the horror that had killed even his own father, Origen chose to become a companion with the persecuted church. He spent his time encouraging Christians who had been brought before the court. When they were led to death, he walked up to kiss them. He even visited the prisons to comfort the believers.

But Origen soon found himself in grave danger for his compassion toward the condemned believers. Soon soldiers were posted around his house because of his influence on the church. He had many enemies, and the anger towards him grew hotter each day. Extreme Devotion

He was eventually forced to leave the city. He moved from house to house because of the many threats against his life. But spurred on by the examples of faith in Hebrews, he continued being a companion to those who were persecuted. He even employed several people to handwrite additional copies of the Scriptures.

Eventually, his amazing attitude drew some of his enemies to Christ. However, he was eventually imprisoned, tortured, and killed for this same attitude.

What does it mean to be a companion to those who are persecuted? People are not companions because they are going through the exact same sufferings. We may be in entirely different situations from our brothers and sisters in restricted nations, yet we can still be their companions. Physical distance does not make us soul mates. Personal devotion does. Unwavering support, prayer, and concern link our hearts and lives together. Like Origen, are we willing to align ourselves with those who are suffering for the gospel? We can neither be ashamed of our friendships nor ignorant of the ensuing risks. When we hear the voice of the martyrs calling to us in our prayers, will we heed their cries as true companions?

YOUR TURN: Read Hebrews 10:32-34. What does it mean for you, personally, to be a companion to the suffering church? Comment on this post with your answer.

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore.


October 30, 2013

Which One Is Bad?

“Hussein**” has seen God work miracle after miracle as an evangelist and house church leader in Iran. Miracles like Iranian secret police raiding a house church meeting that had just received a shipment of 500 Bibles in three large boxes, which were still sitting on the floor. Police pulled pictures off of the walls and searched the apartment so thoroughly they literally picked up a needle that had fallen into a crack between the floorboards. But they missed the 500 Bibles!

Or the miracle of being sent to death row and being made a part of the leadership core of the gang that ran everything in that section of the prison. Some prisoners who’d been there five years were still sleeping on the floor, but Hussein slept on a top bunk from his first night there.

Or the miracle of having the radical Islamic judge fill out Hussein’s court documents for him, then tell him exactly where to go to file them and who to talk to. The judge even gave Hussein his personal cel-phone number and told him to call if there were any difficulties with the case.

So when a VOM worker asked Hussein if he worried about more encounters with the police because of his Christian work, Hussein was confident: “I think one of two things will happen. [The police] will either kill me or there will be more miraculous events like these.”

Then he smiled and asked, “Which one of those is bad?”

YOUR TURN: Hussein isn’t the first Jesus-follower to have that attitude. Paul wrote to the Philippian church that, “…Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Is it bad if I continue to live and serve the Lord and see Him work miracles in my life and ministry? No. Is it bad if I die—even at the hands of the police or radical Muslims—and go to heaven? No. True followers of Christ cannot lose. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. Which one of those is bad?

**Name changed for security reasons.