It seems that our news is becoming more and more bleak, full of hopelessness, loss and despair only to be met with hatred, viciousness, and suffering. I have so much to say and I feel like I cannot fully express what exactly is going on in my mind and heart. But I can say this, that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened. You see, Christians globally are becoming more and more of a target of things that are reminiscent of the Early Church; things such as public executions, beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, and imprisonments. And I sit here in my dimly lit bedroom fighting tears wondering how I play a role in Christian history as events continue to unfold.
More Christians have been slaughtered brutally. In Syria, under the oppression of ISIS, 11 Christian missionaries were crucified and beheaded, just last month. Two of the women missionaries were publicly and violently gang raped only the to then be crucified. Other Christians have been beheaded in Africa. Others have been caged and drowned. And yet, still others, closer to home, have been shot. I can’t help but have a sense of camaraderie with my fellow Christians worldwide. But as I hear each story and painfully take in their suffering as a martyr and hero of faith, I am reminded of something that changed my life more than a decade and half ago.
April 20, 1999.
A normal day, until it happened…Two students, dressed in trench-coats and carrying various weapons, decided that they were going to change the course of history for their school and Littleton, CO. These two gunman, teenagers, began bringing havoc on their school as they sought out specific targets. Some of their targets were classmates that confessed love for Jesus Christ and that they believed in God. By the end of the day, they had intentionally shot, at close range, 12 of their classmates and 1 of their teachers, and then themselves. As an early middle schooler, I was saddened and broken by this news. I remember it clearly. I remember watching TV reports of students and faculty fleeing the building. I remember seeing images of people jumping out of the second story windows. I remember the names of victims. But it wasn’t until a few years later, the events that unfolded that dark day at Columbine High School would forever change my life.
Having grown up in the church and being raised by Godly parents, I pretty much assumed I was “good” for a long time. I think a huge part of me loved God and loved church- especially events like camp. I loved youth group. I loved learning about Christianity and God. But one day I realized that it wasn’t enough. For two years, I was constantly reminded of the murders of the Christians at Columbine. For two years I couldn’t get a few of those names out of my head: Cassie Bernall, Rachel Scott, and Isaiah Shoals. Then, in 8th grade at a winter youth retreat, I was broken and realized that I had missed something in this story of Christianity. A youth group had done a drama to a song dedicated to the victims- specifically the Christians- of Columbine. A phrase in the song is what did me in.
“What if tomorrow, what if today, faced with that question, what would you say?”
I realized that my religion wasn’t enough. My church attendance wasn’t enough. I realized in that moment, I did not have the faith those students had in their final moments. I remember thinking “God I don’t love you enough to die for you, but I want to.” It was in that moment, February 17, 2001, that I made a commitment, until the day I die, that I would try to love God with everything I had, even my last breath. From that day, I realized that it would be a journey to keep loving God no matter what was going on around me or happening to me. This journey is still happening. And that’s why news is painful at times, but necessary, to remind me of my commitment.
Last week, in Oregon, a similar shooting took place at Umpqua Community College, where a shooter targeted Christians for their faith. When I heard the news, my heart stopped for a moment, to give a silent prayer for the survivors of the shooting, and at the same time, remember the fallen of the Faith. Today, I learned of more executions by ISIS. There will be more. More hate. More evil. More persecution. More brokenness. But one thing, one thing I know for sure, is that in spite of the evil that exists in this world, the pain that follows, the brokenness that remains, I have Jesus Christ as my savior and my lord. This means I trust him, love him, and serve him with my life. He is my constant, steadfast and unwavering confidence in the midst of the darkness around me and in this world. Earlier in my blog I said “that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened”…I am sad and angry for the evil and hatred that exists. I am sad for the loss of life. I am angry at the taking of life. But I am overjoyed and strengthened because these Christians, faced with the question of belief and love in One God and Savior in Jesus Christ, they refused to recant, run away, make excuses, or betray. They stood firm. They were steadfast. They looked evil in the eye and said that God mattered more, even than their life. They knew that losing their life still meant gaining life and eternity with Jesus forever.
You may read this and think I am crazy. Just another religious nut. You make think this is bogus. But let me challenge with one thing: if I am wrong, then so be it. I lose nothing. But if I am right, I gain everything. I have a hope. I am not in despair. I am not lost. I am not weakened. I am redeemed and I am confident in Jesus. If I am faced with some event, whether natural, or evil, I want to know that I am doing my utmost, my best to live in a way that honors the God I say I believe in. If I am faced with death- I want to be among those that give up my life instead of give up my God. I want to be among the ones who finish strong and firm and confident in Him. Life is messy and painful. Life has evil. I don’t always understand everything. But I have hope in everything.
Til the day I die, I will live for Him.