We who name Christ as our King and are immersed in western civilization and culture have little concept of what it means to suffer for "Christ's name's sake." Our church buildings are beautiful and comfortable, our worship services are moving and meaningful, and our lives run like clockwork. Think back to how you felt the last time the lights went out during a storm. Were you irritated? Lost? Or do you remember your reaction the last time your 4G phone service went off-line? Were you frustrated? Perplexed? When our greatest discomforts in life revolve around electricity and electronics instead of challenges to our faith and discipleship of others, we American Christians have become too soft. Don't misundersand: This softness isn't a moral dilemma for us; it is simply a meaningful description of us. We didn't ask to become soft, our culture has made us soft.
This is why a knowledge of history, geography, and current events is so important. When Christian kids in the west feel the greatest disappointment for them during the holidays is in not getting just the right number or kind of gifts, then we are doing a disservice to them by not helping them become interested in the world at large and the world of the past. For many centuries, Christians have been persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Christ. Sadly, Voice of the Martyrs tells us that more Christians have been killed or martyred in the last century than in all of the previous centuries combined. We don't know about this because it doesn't happen in the west. That's why it is important for us to open the eyes of our kids to the world outside of modern western civilization. When the Burleson kids were growing mom and dad read to them Fox's Book of Martyrs during our morning devotional. It made their cereal and oatmeal more difficult to eat as we read, but is sure helped them understand that many Christians have not lived as cushy of lives as we.
Today, I was moved by reading a letter from Pliny the Younger to Roman Emperor Marcus Trajan. Pliny was the governor of Bythinia in northwest Turkey in the early second century, and he considered Emperor Trajan his best friend. The letter, written about AD 111, vividly describes to Trajan how Pliny deals with the Christians in Bythinia, people Pliny considered enemies of the Roman Empire for their refusal to ascribe deity to the Roman Emperor and say, "Caesar is Lord."
"I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist in avowing themselves followers of the one they call Christ, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished...Next time you complain about the carpet in your auditorium, or the comfort and style of the chairs that you sit in at church, or the lack of funding for your special church programs, remember those two Christian deaconnesses from Bythiania and the torture they endured so that Pliny could get to the truth about this cult called Christianity. Those two women endured something you may never face in your lifetime, but we can sure learn from them. Christianity to them was life, not convenience. The only thing that will harden us up in the west without facing persecution ourselves is a vocal acknowledgement that much of what we get attached to in church are those things that are comfortable and make us feel wonderful instead of those things that are missional and make us very purposeful.
The sum total of their guilt amounts to no more than this: they meet regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and they also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery...
This has made me to decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconnesses. I find them to be nothing but a degenerative sort of cult carried to extravagamt lengths."