“Dying For What You Believe In”

Is there anything that you feel strongly enough about that you would die for it? A cause, a belief? Few of us today in American really know much of anything about sacrificing to the point of death, but there are stories in history that tell us amazing accounts of those who have suffered and died for a cause or belief. One such story took place in 328 A.D. in a city high in the icy mountains of Armenia.

It was a bitterly cold winter, and in the middle of that winter an order came from the Roman emperor that every man, woman, and child under the rule of his empire must bow down to him as a god.

Now there was a powerful force of Roman soldiers in that Armenian city known as the “Thundering Legion”, and their reputation as a powerful military force was well known throughout all the Roman Empire. But the emperor was not satisfied with just their military service – he wanted each soldier to bow down to him.

But, when the time came for each soldier to bow down, 40 could not. They were faithful soldiers, but they were Christians – they could not obey the emperor’s order to make him their god. They said, “We can only worship the one true God.”

Well, when the word of these 40 soldiers refusing to bow down and worship him was received by the emperor, his command back was simple, “Bow down to me, reject your Christian God, or die”. But the 40 soldiers did not bow down – so the decision was made that they would die.

But how should they die? Should they be fed to the hungry lions? Should they be burned at the stake? These were both terrible ways to die, but an even more cruel death was prescribed –

they were to be frozen to death in the bitter cold winter.

So, they took the 40 soldiers to a frozen lake in the middle of a terrible winter storm. They stripped them of all their clothing and left them to freeze to death.

But the general in charge did not want to lose these 40 good soldiers. He said, “Simply bow down to the emperor and save your life?” But they would not.

The other soldiers taunted and laughed at them saying, “soon you will be back; you will bow down”. But the laughing stopped when these 40 Christians bravely walked barefoot across the icy freezing lake.

Well, through the night the soldiers lit a fire and cooked food to tempt the Christians to give up. But the Christians prayed to God to make them brave, and they began to shout,

“Here die 40 men for Christ”!

The freezing bitter cold night went on until finally, the cold was too much for one of the men. He staggered back to the fire and agreed to denounce his God and to bow down to the emperor. But the remaining 39 Christians would not give in, even though they were literally freezing to death.

Then, amazingly, something happened that they could not believe – one of the Roman soldiers sitting by the fire, having watched the bravery and courage and faith of these dying Christians, he stood before the general and uttered these words,

“I will take that man’s place – I will be a Christian.”

As the general watched in amazement, this Roman soldier removed his clothing and walked onto the icy lake to join the other 39.

Well, the Roman soldiers sat by that fire all night long, and the last thing they said they could remember hearing through the howl of that terrible freezing winter storm was the now 40 Christian men shouting,

“Here die 40 men for Christ”.

In the morning, sadly, there were 40 frozen bodies; men who had sacrificed and died for their faith and belief in Christ.

A full 350 years later, in the chapel in the forum of Rome, there was dedicated to these 40 soldiers a plaque, a simple plaque which still hangs there today. It has these powerful words engraved on it,

“Here Die 40 Men for Christ”.

 

What cause would you be willing to die for?

With all of the sports “goings on”, the big games like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, all of the world-wide sports, it seems crazy to me that so many people would get so worked up about a “game”.

What I’m about to tell you is a story of a game, a football game, but no matter how many games you’ve watched, no matter how big of a sports fan you may be, I can assure you that the story I’m about to give you is unlike any you’ve heard before. AND it is so much more than just another football story. So, hold on as I give you the story of “Wrong Way Riegels”.

The year was 1929, it was New Year’s Day and the big game at the Rose Bowl that year was the University of California Bears against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. And that day, starting at center for the California Bears was junior Roy Riegels.

Midway during the second quarter, Georgia Tech fumbled the ball and Riegels picked it up. But unbelievably, he somehow got turned around and he began to run the wrong way – toward his own goal – Riegels ran for 65 yards – the wrong way! As he ran for what he thought would be a great score, and the greatest single play of his life, his quarterback, Benny Lom, ran behind him, screaming as loud as he could – “Roy stop”. But the crowd was so loud, Riegels could not hear him.

Then, just at the last moment before Riegels crossed his own goal line, Lom tackled him, bringing him down on the 3-yard line. Roy could not believe what Lom had just done – he had stopped him from making a big score for his team – and then he realized – he had just run the wrong way! As he stood there near the end zone looking at the crowd he could see their faces, hear their laughter and mockery – he had just run the wrong way!

Later Riegels explained that when he had recovered the fumble he had been hit and, somehow, turned around; and that, somehow, in all of the excitement, he never knew he was running the wrong way. To make matters even worse for Riegels, on the next play, his team tried to kick out of the end zone, but the kick was blocked, and Georgia Tech scored a safety, giving them a two-point lead.

At halftime, Roy Riegels told his coach he could not go back on the field. His coach, Nibs Price tried to encourage Riegels, but Riegels kept saying, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you; I’ve ruined myself; I’ve ruined the University of California; I can’t face the crowd again to save my life”. Finally, coach Nibs convinced Riegels to go back out for the second half.

When Roy went back on the field for that second half, the crowd laughed and called him “Wrong Way Riegels” – it hurt Roy so much. But during that second half of play, they saw a young man possessed with determination. Riegels was all over the field, running, tackling, he even blocked a punt. But, despite all his efforts, sadly, Georgia Tech won the game by just one point. Riegels’ two-point safety had cost them the game – the season was over, and Roy Riegels was the national laughingstock in all of football. he felt that his life was ruined!

So, what happened to Roy Riegels? Did he go into hiding? Did he quit football forever? No! Here’s where the most amazing part of this story can be told. That next year Roy Riegels did return to play football for the University of California. In fact, he was voted to be captain of his team because of his hard work and great determination; and, get this, that football season he was voted as the best center in all of college football and he earned the honor of “All-American”.

You see, Roy Riegels refused to let one mistake, one foolish act, ruin his life; and despite the national mockery, he went on to live a normal life. He served in the US Army Air Corp in World War II, and afterwards he started his own successful chemical company. He went on to coach both high school and college football, and in 1991 Roy Riegels was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

What a powerful story of courage and determination, but the part of that story that strikes the deepest chord in me is the words of his coach at halftime. All Riegels wanted to do was to hide, to die, anything, just not go back out on that field. And what did his coach say? “Roy, get up and go back out there – the game is not over yet”.

What about you today? Where are you in your own game of life? Do you feel like a failure – that you can’t go on? That you’ve made such a mess of things that they can never be fixed? It may not be easy – it’s not easy, but remember – your game, your game of life – is not over yet. You see “Life consists only part of what happens to you – but the biggest part of life is what you do with what you have.”

As you watch any of the big games coming up, try thinking about your own “big game” of life. Imagine and realize that at some time in your life, you might drop the ball, miss the tackle, or even run the wrong way. But what must we choose to do? I choose to finish the game – my life is not over yet! What about you?

About Jerry Stewart

I am a story teller. Since 1998, I have been telling the true stories of our nation and those Americans gone before us.  To say the least, these stories have been well received by Americans, both young and old.  So, here’s where the stories have taken me.  In 1998, I was broadcasting my stories on just one radio station in Washington State.  Today, from Texas 15 years later, these programs are now broadcast through a syndicated radio network to over 400 radio stations all across America, with literally millions of listeners.

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