The eyes of the man were fixed upon the fire before him. If one had been watching, they would have thought him to be somehow studying the flames, but in truth, his mind was not there. He was searching beyond what lay before him and into the distant past. Again, and again, he seemed to return no matter what he did, those thoughts kept coming back; the persecutions so evil, so inhuman they were difficult just to look at. They were simple hand-drawn pictures dating back nearly a thousand years, yet the graphic story of death and torture were so vivid it turned your stomach just to glance at them for a few moments. The flames of inquisition fueled the pyres around those ancient believers. The Roman Catholic Church did all they could to erase their kind off the face of the earth, but God was with them. Their faith tested but never wavered. In his mind, he could see them again, succumbing to the heat and smoke, but fighting to the bitter end, singing praises or quoting scriptures to spite their tormentors. To the world, the stories were unknown. Their plight was hidden, partly by time, partly because that was the way the perceived victors had wanted. Yet, no matter how hard the criminal tries to cover the truth, eventually it is revealed.
In truth, that man is me.
The night before, we had been back at the Trail. My return was to help with the annual Christmas Lights. The rest of the family was to be there, so it was a chance to be with them, if only for a short while. As we sat and talked, the people coming to see the lights began walking into the Visitor’s Center. As they entered, my wife would get up and welcome them in. This was her job now. In the past, when it was my calling, I would be the one to greet them and welcome the chance to explain to them all the Trail offered. It was my opportunity to share with them the Word of God. Last night, it was far different. The wind had been knocked out of my sails, and the Trail was no longer the place of faith I had once pictured. The lights themselves were a huge distraction from what the story of the Trail was really meant to be.
As I sat there listening to person after person enter, part of me wanted to jump up and tell them the truth, the real reason they were here, but that side of me that had been wounded kept me chained to my chair. I knew if I started, I wouldn’t get home until late, beyond what I could safely drive, so I kept quiet. There was nothing I could do but sulk in my own despair.
After leaving for home, I happened upon a friend’s sermon that was going on live. It was Ted Alexander’s message on the Waldenses at a Baptist Bible conference. I had never heard Ted speak before. I had only read the book he had written that included my timeline research. Interestingly enough, earlier in the week I had prayed to God to give me a renewed strength in my faith, somehow to wake me up, recharge my belief. Ted’s sermon did just that.
One main theme Ted was sharing was how the Baptist history must include the story of the Waldenses; they were the forefathers of the modern-day Baptists. It was because of the Waldenses that there was no need for a Reformation because the original Church of Jesus Christ had never died, and as such, never needed a Martin Luther to Reform it. As I listened to Ted speak, the waves of memory returned. The pages of transcripts and historical writings that I had reviewed were made anew, and my passion was rekindled once more. Ted spoke like the wind, his words compacted into an untold wealth of information that I’m certain was overwhelming his audience, as it was myself as I drove. Soon enough, my cell coverage died, and I had to take a break. Since I had missed Wednesday night service at Church, I swung by to say hello. They had just finished watching a video on John Wycliffe, the person that first started my research journey back in 2001. I shared with Pastor Joe this fact and how that I had just been listening to Ted on my drive home. We talked a bit longer about Wycliffe, and some of the other reformers we too had been studying only recently. It was another moment of biblical clarification that I needed. Shortly after saying goodbye, I left for home and watched the rest of Ted’s presentation as well as started it over to catch the parts that I had missed. I was weary and soon found myself falling asleep even though the information was more than interesting.
That’s where I had left it the previous night.
As I began stirring this morning, my mind was perusing through Ted’s message and how I might trim it down to fit a sermon that I will try to deliver in a couple weeks at a local Church. It was as if a reawakening in my soul had given me new hope, new strength.
Once more, God is opening doors that I had almost given up on. Prayers were being answered once again.
The scripture Ted began with in his sermon was Hebrews 11: 32-40 where it talks about the good things that happened to the prophets of the Old Testament, but then begins to talk about the bad things that happened to believers later on. At least on the surface, it is perceived as bad, but in truth, God has a plan in all that we do, be it good or bad. No matter the difficulty, the persecution, or the torture, there is a reason for all that we do. In this manner, I had come full circle as I sat watching the fire before me tonight. The chill in the air was kept at bay by the warmth. In the right amount, it was a comfort, but too much made me move back, farther from the raging billows of spark and heat.
Some would not be so lucky as to be able to move, for their bindings held them in place until their skin began to melt from their bones and their blood boiled within their veins. Their last breaths were consumed by the broiling smoke fuming beneath their very feet. The last sounds of God’s word being spoken were drifted into the skies above, their vestiges mixed in the smoke as the two became one.
There are so many things for which I can give thanks, but one that is above all others, is my thanks for all those forefathers of our faith, that no matter the difficulty, no matter the obstacles in their way, kept the faith. They had received the Word of God from the Apostles and kept the early Church alive for over a thousand years. Their blood became the seeds of the Reformation that would eventually sweep across Europe. Their passion for the Word now feeds my own until I too am consumed, not by the flames of torture, but for the desire to want to do more for my faith. To say I am thankful for all that they did to preserve the Word is putting it mildly.
On this day of Thanksgiving, I am thankful that God answers prayer, and that we are not forgotten. There will come a day when we find our maker welcoming us home. We are promised a home in glory when we become one with our maker. Now it is my turn, to go out and to make others find that path, to awaken to their calling, and to share the precious gift I’ve been given.
No, it’s not Christmas yet, it just Thanksgiving.
Thanks be to God.
” And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: 36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”-Hebrews 11:32-40