I have been reading The Insanity of God over the last few days. There have been a few times where I've turned to Susan and told her, "I don't think I can take much more of this. I think I need a break. Maybe I'll stop for a bit, and then come back to it."
Why the need for a break? It is that brutal.
The tome is Nik Ripken's account of the suffering of the Somali people, having ministered to them for over fifteen years. Part of its power is found in the regular recording of the testimonies of members of the persecuted church in over sixty countries around the world. This creates a fascinating read, but also a difficult read. It is emotionally draining, painfully convicting, and heart-wrenching.
So I set it aside.
For a day.
And then picked it up again.
Susan: "I thought you were going to stop reading that book? I thought you said it was too much."
Me: "Yeah I know, but I had to keep going."
Susan: "Why? Just can't bear not finishing it?"
I thought about that for a moment, and realized (despite my anal-retentive, OCD personality) that that wasn't the case. It was something more. Something deeper.
I guess it felt wrong to give up on hearing the stories, despite how difficult it was to read them. It felt...wimpy. I mean, how bad is it that I find it hard to read the stories of the suffering of other human beings, and the persecution of fellow believers in Jesus, much less live those stories? It felt like I would be dishonoring them by not listening to them. Further, that if I would listen, I would be changed in the listening. Changed to think of them more, pray for them more, and be willing to suffer the way they have suffered, for the sake and cause of King Jesus.
So I press on.
And I am being instructed.
Instructed by people many of us would consider simple, but who live brave, courageous, godly, sacrificial, and walking-close-with-Jesus lives.
One story that Ripken shared was of an interview he was conducting with some believers in Russia who had been severely, systematically, and relentlessly persecuted by the Communist authorities. One man - Dmitri - was jailed with 1,500 hardened criminals merely for holding a bible study in his home. There were two things he did every day in a cell so small it barely held him and a bed.
The first was to stand at attention every morning and sing a song of praise to God.
Whenever he found a scrap of paper in the prison, he would sneak it back to his cell. There he would pull out a stub of a pencil or a tiny piece of charcoal that he had saved, and he would write on that scrap of paper, as tiny as he could, all the Bible verses and scriptural stories or songs that he could remember. When the scrap was completely filled, he would walk to the corner of his little jail cell where there was a concrete pillar that constantly dripped water - except in the wintertime when the moisture became a solid coat of ice on the inside surface of his cell. Dmitri would take the paper fragment, reach as high as he possibly could, and stick it on that damp pillar as a praise offering to God.
Of course, whenever one of his jailers spotted a piece of paper on the pillar, he would come into his cell, take it down, read it, beat Dmitri severely, and threaten him with death. Still, he refused to stop.
Every day, he rose at dawn to sing his song. And every time he found a scrap of paper, he filled it with Scripture and praise.
His guards tried to make him stop.
They threatened to do unspeakable things to his family. At one point, they even led him to believe that his wife had been murdered and that his children had been taken by the state.
But for seventeen years, he never stopped. (The Insanity of God, p. 156)
Note how this happened - had Dmitri not previously memorized the word of God, he would have been unable to recall the word of God, when he desperately needed it. But he had, and it sustained him for seventeen years, when he was finally released and returned to his family.
I was struck with this thought - were I imprisoned in the same way as Dmitri, how much would I be able to remember? How much paper could I fill, if my Bible were taken away? How much of the Holy Scriptures could I recreate? Would I see them, know them, as my life?
In our church, we want everyone in the family to value the treasury of Scripture, just as Dmitri had. We desire that people hide God's word in their hearts, so it is accessible when an actual copy is not. One way we do this is with our Fighter Verse program.
The goal? Memorize just one, brief passage each week from a storehouse of Scriptures chosen specifically to build the muscle of faith in each follower of King Jesus, that we would be equipped for Kingdom expanding and proclaiming work.
Just one passage each week.
For example, this week...
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
How helpful is this verse to strengthen the muscle of our faith!
Jesus, who knew no sin,
God made him sin,
that we, who are sinners,
might become the righteousness of God.
God did this, for our sake.
God did what we could not do, what only he could do, for our sake.
Jesus obeyed the Father, bore the shame, received the wrath, not because he deserved it, but because it was the only way, for our sake.
Jesus took the curse, so that we could receive the blessing.
Jesus became - became! - sin,
so that we could become - become! - righteousness.
As sinners, we are lost and without hope in this world, rightly condemned for our unrighteousness before a holy and righteous God.
How are we righteous in the sight of God?
It is assuredly in the same respect in which Christ was a sinner. For he assumed in a manner our place, that he might be a criminal in our room, and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offences, but for those of others, inasmuch as he was pure and exempt from every fault, and might endure the punishment that was due to us—not to himself. It is in the same manner, assuredly, that we are now righteous in him—not in respect of our rendering satisfaction to the justice of God by our own works, but because we are judged of in connection with Christ’s righteousness, which we have put on by faith, that it might become ours. (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Vol. 2, p. 242)
Beloved, I need this verse every day. I need every ounce of reality and theology that is tied up in this verse. This one verse of the Bible!
I don't merely want to know where it is in the Bible. I don't want it only written down on a piece of paper. I need it locked away in my mind, so that I am constantly thinking it over, and am pressing it deep down into my heart. In this way, it will be there, ready to pop out and spill all over someone who needs it in the moment they need it.
I believe it is an awfully good start to a whole host of God's words that you should be able to scratch on a piece of paper with a chunk of charcoal, should that day ever come.
Or, maybe just to share when you wonder what you should say to the person sitting next to you in Starbucks.