What keeps the church safe?

In the book The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken the story is told of a time when a Communist official in the old Soviet Union broke into a Christian congregation’s worship service, slapped the pastor, threatened him and warned him the church needed to close. “If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.” As the official started to leave a small grandmother who was part of the congregation waved her finger in the officer’s face and declared: “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive!”

The grandmother’s prophetic word was pronounced on a Tuesday evening. On Thursday night the official dropped dead of a heart attack. The fear of God swept through the community. Attendance at the little house-church doubled from 75 to 150 people.

The death of the official did not deter the Communist authorities. They arrested the pastor, a man named Dimitri, and put him in jail where he would remain for 17 years. He suffered much persecution there, but he kept doing the same thing each morning. He would stand, raise his arms in praise to God and sing a “HeartSong” to Jesus. The other prisoners would curse and jeer and throw things at him to try to shut him up. But Dimitri kept singing the praise song at the start of each day.

One day in prison Dimitri found a whole sheet of paper and a pencil beside it. As was his practice whenever he found any kind of paper, he wrote on it any Bible verses, Scripture songs or stories he could remember. After filling both sides he stuck the paper on a pillar as a testimony and praise to God. The jailer soon saw it, beat Dimitri and said he was going to have him executed.

Dimitri was dragged from his cell and taken down the corridor to the place where they did executions. Before they reached the door that led to the courtyard, 1,500 hardened criminals stood at attention by their jail-cell beds. They all began to sing the praise song they had heard Dimitri sing every morning for the past 17 years. Dimitri said later it sounded to him like the greatest choir in all of human history. The jailers instantly released their grip on him and stepped away in terror, asking, “Who are you?” Dimitri replied, “I am a son of the living God, and Jesus is HIs name!” They returned him to his cell and later released him from prison and returned him to his family.

In the wake of the horrific shooting in the church in Texas some news commentators have described churches as “soft targets” and “vulnerable.” Dimitri’s story reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ has a power of protection that is far greater than the most sophisticated security system or the most powerful worldly weapon. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

The church may seem like a soft, vulnerable target by the world’s way of looking at things. But the church rests in the strong, safe arms of the Almighty Lord. Our first and most powerful means of protection is to pray. God may permit things to happen that cause our body to be harmed and even killed. None of us really know why He lets some of these terrible things occur. But we still trust that in Him our soul is safe for all eternity. “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. … For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling” (Psalm 27:3, 5).

Those who went to that Baptist church in Texas thought they were going to be safe there. That congregation is now suffering pain that is hard for the rest of us to imagine. Sadly, lives on this earth were ended far too soon and families and friends are now heartbroken. But for those who knew Jesus, their souls were still safe and their relationship with the Lord was still safe. Even though it’s a scary, dangerous world, we don’t have to live as prisoners of fear. We live in freedom and peace by faith in our Father’s strong and loving care.

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