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.

Advertisements

Beheadings and persecution…

My heart is broken.

The evil in this world is sometimes far too great to bear. The pain, the suffering, the tribulation…just evil.

If you are keeping up with the news, than you will know how much evil is in this world. Specifically, in the Middle East, the evil seems to be rising making the news around the world. So far two American journalists have been beheaded, with videos having gone viral, with messages directed to President Obama. So far thousands of Christians all over Iraq, not counting other areas of the Middle East, are fleeing for their lives however, with imminent threat of death. I watched the news, hearing how various countries and organizations are wanting to help but unable without risk. Still others are pulling out their organizations and their citizens to save their lives. Still others, argue that no one should get involved at all. On social media and in the news, I have seen many people write or post about ISIS and how we [America] need to go in and kill them all. Genocide is never an easy fix or solution. Genocide never is met with peace without sacrifice. And genocide always leaves a wake of destruction for all parties.

This is why my heart breaks.

My heart breaks because my fellow Christians- brothers and sisters of the faith- are being murdered, beaten, tortured, raped and/or imprisoned [like Pastor Saeed in Iran]. My heart breaks because, for people in the Middle East to convert to Christianity, it means that they have counted the cost of faith and serving Jesus Christ. It means that they understand that, if they truly love Jesus, it may very well cost them their life. Alongside the Christians being persecuted, there are still Muslims in the Middle East that have nothing to do with the terrorism, genocide, or hatred, yet fall as bystanders in a cruel and evil fight. These Muslims are the ones that get the bad rep for their faith- though I don’t believe the same faith as them- they are people nonetheless and deserve the right to life. Even still, there are people from countries all over the world that are remaining in the lands of this evil because they are trying to help those caught in the destruction.

There is no peace in the Middle East. How can there be with this evil?

But I know a Peace that can bring healing, hope, restoration, and redemption. The problem is that we limit the reach of this Peace- the peace that comes through Jesus Christ. We, as American Christians, want to pray for the persecuted Church for safety, for protection, for a way out of the madness. We want to pray for them to overcome the physical, tangible hell they are in. We want to have punishment placed on the evil men and women bringing these atrocities. We want to have a perfect outcome in a completely imperfect and broken world.

For you reading this, especially if you claim to have faith and love in Jesus Christ, this is my plea to you: stop treating the evils in the Middle East and pretty much every other part of the world as something we can fix and mend. Only Jesus Christ can restore. I do not belittle the problems in this world by asking you not pray for them. I do ask that your prayers are bold prayers that rely on the power of Jesus Christ, not on our own ability. I ask that you stop praying for protection [only] for the persecuted Church, and instead, pray for their continued devotion and steadfast faith that will remain unshaken regardless of the trials they face. Like the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before the fiery furnace- God can free them from it BUT even if he does not, they can remain faithful to Him to the end. Our God is more than able to deliver us from evil, no matter what that evil looks like. But I also believe, that even if we do not understand why, he can help us through whatever it is that we face.

For you reading this, regardless of your beliefs, do not watch any videos these terrorists post. It only fuels their fear and fire. They want attention. Instead, be aware of what they are doing without continuing to watch the final gruesome moments of someone’s life. Give them- the murdered- respect, please.

And for you Church, I plead with you for this: pray for the members of ISIS, as well as other terror groups. Not for their success. Not for their continued evil. Not for their destruction either. Pray for God to show up in their lives. God can meet ANYONE where they are at, and no one is too far outside of God’s grace and mercy. We all want grace and mercy…until its for the terrorist or murdered or rapist or molestor. Church, pray for the salvation of those that you find to be most evil. Pray for the salvation of these men and women committing these crimes. What if we prayed for them and actually believed that their lives, like the Apostle Paul, could be changed? I’m not saying consequences for their actions shouldn’t come into play, but I have to believe that if Jesus died for the salvation of the world, that includes those that are evil. He desires for the wicked to be saved, not to perish [Ezekiel 33:11]. I am not one to say whether or not any of those members would actually change their lives, but I can at least pray for God to speak to them- to give them the chance at redemption.

That goes for anyone.

No matter who you are, whether you are a person of any faith, my faith, or no faith, I believe Jesus Christ loves you and he died so you could have restoration and redemption. He died so you could have the choice to love him or not. His resurrection offers us a hope and eternity with Him. When I see the evil throughout this world, I break because I see the brokenness that comes when this world lacks Jesus. I see the destruction that is led by selfishness, greed, and hate. I see that for many Christians in this world, to be a Christian, is more than a name or a religion but a literal death sentence for choosing Jesus. I see that we are fortunate in America, for now, to not have the same kind of evil. But I challenge you, don’t take it for granted. If you choose to follow Jesus, make it real, make it known, make it count. Be steadfast and unwavering. Don’t sit on the fence between partial care and obedience. If you are not someone who follows Jesus, or maybe doesn’t even want to because of some of things I wrote in this post… this world will continue to have evil present. It will continue to have destruction. You can choose to go through life with or without a true hope, which I believe, only comes through Jesus Christ.

This world is evil. I choose Jesus either way.