Til the day I die…

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.

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A message signed in BLOOD to the nation of the cross…

Kidnapped. Beaten. Bruised. Broken. Carried to the shores after one to two months of captivity. Along the shoreline, marched like sheep to the slaughter. Wet, soft sand under feet. Trembling lips, quickening of hearts. Raw skin and flesh rubbed by rope on wrists. Cold metal of sword to neck. Orange jump suits and black masks. An image of such collision of good and evil…

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A message directed to the church of the 21 coptic Christians of Egypt taken prisoner in Libya by ISIS/ISIL. I nearly threw up tonight as I went on Google to pull up some more information of these atrocities. I saw, without intending, an image of one of the 21 beheaded men- Christians- who refused to recant and deny Jesus Christ. His head laid on his lifeless body. Their blood spilled out on the sand and coloring the water.

LET’S GET ONE THING VERY CLEAR:

The 21 men who died brutally and viciously on those shores were not men who devalued their lives. They were, in fact, men who recognized the value of the eternal life they had attained through Jesus Christ, a recognition so great that they knew they loved Him more than their own lives.  “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11) They knew that their lives had value because the God- the creator of everything- said so in the beginning. They knew that God loved us so much- despite our flaws, our failures, our imperfections, our evil- that he would send Jesus Christ to stand in our place for our wrongdoing. They understood that Jesus’ blood held much power that even the sword, the machete, the bullet, the knife couldn’t stop it from victory.

….the Blood sacrificed by Jesus Christ holds more power than blood shed by any man regardless of weapon. Though I’m not Egyptian, I am a Christian and you better believe that I hold firmly that the cross holds more power than sword, gun, or any other tactics. Whether in this life or eternity, Jesus will be honored by the sacrifice of those Christians who refused to recant the one True God. Those Christians lost their lives in such an evil, violent way. It saddens me to know that people chose to watch the video, look up pictures, and think that it doesn’t matter.

THIS DOES MATTER. This has to matter to you. It has to matter to me. This matters because people are being murdered. This matters because people are taking lives. This matters because that blood that soaked the shore was not spilled in vain. Christians, first, let’s stop pretending that this doesn’t affect us elsewhere in the world. These people dying- being martyred for their faith- share in the story of Jesus Christ. They are our brotherhood being killed. Christians, we need to stop being shocked by such evil. If we remain lazy and lethargic in the Bible- the Word God provided for us- we would be aware that He warned us that the Gospel would not be accepted, that people who serve Jesus Christ would be murdered, persecuted, and mistreated. He warned us that people would dislike us for our values, our convictions, and especially our speaking of the Gospel…the truth of salvation.  If we did indeed study the Word, we would know that Jesus Christ wants all people to know His love and redemption- that the Gospel is an inclusive message. We would know that He wants us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Does this make sense to you? Think about it….those 21 men beheaded knew that Jesus loved them, redeemed them and wanted to redeem their oppressors also. My hope is that as the deaths were imminent and near, they were praying for their captors. 

Non-Christians, this matters to you too. Whether you believe in the Jesus and God I serve… this most certainly still matters to you. People are being killed, others are committing the killing. Its a crime against humanity, at minimum. That is why you should care. But I also believe that this story is bigger. Whatever your reason for not believing in Jesus, that is your decision, but understand this: Jesus loves you and because of his great love, his was killed. His blood was poured out on the ground. His flesh was ripped open brutally. His body was beaten and almost broken. He was unrecognizable. Then he was brutally nailed to a cross. That cross represents to this day this one man standing in the gap for you and I, taking on the the punishment that is rightfully ours. We are imperfect, and at our core, have evil and sin. Without Christ, without his love and salvation from our evil and sin, we are no better than he who held the swords of those men on the beach. We are no more saved than them. It is only through the grace and mercy that is offered through Jesus that allows for us to have a clean slate and life in eternity with Him forever. It is only in Him that we may have hope in the midst of such trial, evil, and suffering. It is only in Him that even when the sword be on neck, we can stand tall knowing that no matter what would happen, we are His and will remain with an eternal life with Him.

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So, as ISIS said in their video, “a message signed in blood to the nation of the cross”. The blood that saved me, the blood that poured out, the blood that came from Jesus Christ is the most powerful blood their is or ever could be. His blood can heal. His blood redeems. His blood is the very thing that makes someone whole again, even if they die. The nation of the cross….I’ll take that, not as a warning, but a compliment for the men who died. They were recognized for bearing the image and imitation of Jesus Christ so much that these terrorists felt threatened and, dare I say, afraid of what that image and power could hold. Those men who were killed gave the greatest sacrifice any of us could ever give…life for that of Jesus Christ.

 

The blood of the Cross is everything. That is the power “the nation of the cross” holds.