Friday, March 4, 2011

The Passion: Blandina

The women of old, and countless others all over the world, are true examples of God-designed womanhood and femininity. They are women who give themselves, just as Christ gave Himself for us. They are women who walk confidently and gracefully and captivate the watching world with their genuine love and contagious zeal and passion for Jesus Christ. Though they are surrounded by the same mendacious voices that we are bombarded by every day, only One Voice is heard and that is the voice of Christ alone.
The greats in the past passionately followed our God, pursuing HIM, and they had Him as the cornerstone of their existence, which very often cost them everything they owned and, in the end, their very lives as well. They suffered their share of pain. They were ignored, hurt, abused, misjudged, and misrepresented. They were beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and slain, yet they clung to the Lord Jesus. They possessed nothing out of the ordinary. They were common placed, not so very different from you or I. It was nothing more than their lifestyle that was so dramatically different from those around them. They were ordinary young women, yet their lives were consumed with an extraordinary God.

A spiritual revolution is what we need in this world that continually attempts to pass down a weak, human-scripted version of the Christian life. There is no victory. There is no courage. There is no wonder. There is no passion. It’s understandable that many shake their heads and walk away laughing at such a frail Gospel we assure others we have. They look upon us, who dare to call ourselves Christians, and never see a passion for our Savior or a burden for lost souls. They see a congregation of people whose faith has no life. They examine our actions and see nothing remarkable or desirable. They hear our thunderous claims of victory and fulfillment, but see only defeated and unsatisfied people trying to convince others, as well as themselves, that life couldn’t be better. They are hungering after something real, something that possesses a power and a reason for living. There is a Christianity that actually works but it cannot be found anywhere other than in passionately following and serving Christ Jesus. Over time, something happened to what was once fervent and beloved. While there was once men and women who loudly turned the world upside down, now there are only a chosen few scattered all over the world who continue to exemplify Christianity as it was made to be. While we sit in our Church pews, shadowed by stained glass windows and high steeples, they work in underground Churches and house meetings. While we sing choruses we pay no attention to, they sing praises of worship and adoration. We reveal a motionless Christian life that never reaches out and never makes an eternal difference while they pour out their lives in service and total abandon. They are filled with a passion for Christ so deep that it magnifies the very definition of passion. And we are sorely lacking. We lack the spiritual zeal and unwavering devotion that the great heroes and heroines possessed. We lack the heart of Jesus and the sacrificial love of God.

I enjoy reading stories of great men and women who have tapped into a power far greater than what we naturally possess. Hollywood gossip and news about the latest break-up or drug rehab is foolish and a waste of time, unless you spend a moment in prayer for those in California and New York. Their stories, if anything, should motivate us to have more passion to see the lost come to know Christ. They definitely should not fan a flame of obsession with Hollywood's latest buzz. Stories of utter devotion to Christ captivate me and inspire me. Stories of those who suffered and died horrible, horrendous deaths rouse and stir me and make me examine the conviction of my faith. These men and women gave their lives for the testimony of the Gospel of Christ, and it wasn’t for their glory, but for the Lord’s. They were selfless. They had servant’s hearts and their desire was to serve their King as long as breath was in their body. By making such a choice, it often meant losing their homes, their businesses, their families, their freedom, and ultimately their life. Most of them were not simply killed, but tortured and then slaughtered.

Very often, we tend to think suffering for Christ means ignoring a hateful comment or turning down a sinful offer. Many of us view torture and death as a thing of the past; persecution being a thing from long ago. We view the term “martyr” as something from the 13th century, but never see the gruesome reality of martyrdom today. The truth is, religious persecution and slaying began long ago, but it still goes on today all over the world.

By and large, most of us believe we could handle ourselves and confess the name of Christ if a gun were to our heads. In that, death is swift and painless. But could we bear the kind of unspeakable and horrific pain that so many all over the world have endured? Could we remain steadfast and unmovable through physical agony and shame or would we beg and plead for our lives? Could we embrace the honor of a martyrs death with joy? I often wonder if my faith is great enough, if my love is strong enough, or my witness and boldness fervent enough.

Looking back through history, we can see how many remarkable men and women of the faith faced the villain who attempted to steal glory from God Almighty. Hundreds upon thousands perished during terrible religious persecution. Some were placed in stocks; others were placed in a hot-iron seat where their flesh was burned. Some died in the arena as hungry lions tore at their flesh; others were covered with pitch and were set on fire as human torches to light the streets of Rome.

In the vast expanse of this earth, lived out by thousands of people around the world, there are a few such women who have found an existence that is more rewarding and fulfilling than any glamorous Hollywood celebrity life. They have found freedom. They have found truth. They have found a God worth living for and worth dying for. Through misery and physical anguish they had complete trust in a living, breathing, most holy God; not a religion or a state of mind, but a transcendent reality that gave them strength, boldness, beauty, and joy in the face of poverty and persecution.

Let's talk about Blandina....

In A.D. 177 terrible religious persecution came to Lyons, France. Under the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the Christians there endured all kinds of shame and torture. They were forced out of their homes and businesses, underwent personal injuries, stonings, and beatings and finally imprisonment. Among the many was a slave girl named Blandina. She was arrested and put in a dark, cramped, jail cell along with other Christians who had pledged their allegiance to Jesus Christ. She was scourged and placed in a roasting seat, burning her flesh. After enduring torture and inhumane brutality, she was brought out with forty-seven other prisoners to the amphitheater to “entertain” the crowd. She was suspended on a stake to taunt the wild beasts. It was meant to terrorize her fellow Christians, looking on, and strike fear into their hearts, enough that they would reject their God. They were pressed to deny their faith and swear by idols. But instead, her torture stirred them and inspired them. As they gazed at Blandina suspended on a stake, it reminded them of Christ suspended on the cross, crucified for their sins, suffering for their shame. It reminded them of the sacrifice of Jesus and the great love He has for all of mankind.

Amazingly, none of the wild beasts attacked Blandina that day, so she was taken down and thrown into prison again. Days later, she was brought out, once more, to the amphitheater. They enclosed her in a net and threw her before a bull. After being tossed about by the animal, she was sacrificed. Her body, along with the bodies of her fellow Christians, were exposed for six days, then were burned into ashes and thrown into the Rhone river. The bodies of those who had suffocated and died in the prison cells were thrown to dogs and were guarded to prevent the remaining Christians from burying them.

Blandina courageously confessed her commitment to Jesus Christ and refused to accept the comfort of life over rejecting her precious Savior. In the face of danger and ultimately death, she honored God by her courage and her faithfulness. It was said of her, Blandina was filled with such power, that her ingenious tormentors, who relieved and succeeded each other from morning till night, confessed that they were overcome and had nothing more that they could inflict upon her. They were amazed that she continued to breathe after her whole body was pierced and torn asunder. In the midst of her sufferings, as she for a moment revived, she repeatedly exclaimed, ‘I am a Christian; no wickedness is carried on by us!’

When I first read the story of Blandina, I was blown away by her courage and steadfast character. She was so young, and yet filled with an incredible force of faith and passion. Jesus meant more to her than her life. Many of us often say similar things. We declare that Jesus is our all and we proclaim that He is everything to us, and yet we are nowhere close to possessing the passion of those such as Blandina. Though those words are only spoken by the devout and the pious, they are also spoken by those who literally give no thought to their own life. They are crucified with Christ and they understand the real, and somewhat terrifying, meaning of “dying to self.”

These days, we think more of exposing our dirty laundry than actually washing it and being rid of the stains of sin altogether. While the call is to die to the world and to our own flesh, we look for a way to bend the rules and ease such a high expectation. While the mission is to forsake all earthly enticements and all that extracts the truth from the Gospel, we slack on the job and cower down into a pitiful mess of a Christian. In our typical suburbia Church of the 21st century, “dying to self” has been replaced with the “just be real” mentality that splatters muck and mire on the beautiful and glorious image of a Christ-built existence. Instead of bravely hungering after the ancient pathway marked with God’s fingerprints, we retreat with little or no concern.

I cannot count the many numerous people I have watched slide down the slope of compromise and spiritual denial. God’s intention and destiny for us is a far cry from the lackadaisical lifestyle so prevalent in our culture today. He calls us all to discard this cursed earth with all its sinful lusts and choose to make a radical turn back to the Gospel and to the heavenly vision of our God. Blandina did not resist that call. She possessed the kind of faith that astounded the watching world. With a light in her eyes and a smile on her face, she embraced torture and death with open arms. It was a small offering when considering the debt Jesus Himself paid on her behalf. That kind of passionate love is what we have lost in our reckless attempt to live the Christian life under our own terms. True living is found nowhere other than in the passion of following and serving our Savior with complete and total abandon.


G. HUBBARD said...

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Anonymous said...

Amen!!!! This is excellent and there is lots of food-for-thought. Christianity today is so anemic. I will be coming back to read this again.

I have to ask, where do you find your wonderful Christian pictures to go with your posts? The painting you used in this one is beautiful and painful to look at all at the same time.

Kristen Elizabeth Lee said...

I actually just used Google Images and searched for "martyrs" and such. :)

Glad it inspired you. I dearly long to be filled with more passion for Christ.

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