A Message to ISIS

I looked at the pictures. I saw my Ethiopian brothers, and my Egyptian brothers before them in February, being marched single file along a beautiful beach, each followed by his captor in military fatigues and a black mask, carrying a blade that would be used to decapitate each man.

It was an awful paradox- The peaceful and unparalleled beauty of sandy beaches massaged by crystal blue waters -and- the hideous brutality of religious extremists slaughtering men made in the image of the Creator.

They were being led like sheep to their slaughter.  And in moments, they would die a grisly death for bearing the name of Christ, for being what ISIS refers to as “the people of the Cross.”

As I looked at the photos and into the eyes of each man, I saw men no different than us. They are men with families. Men with sons and daughters who love them and who can’t wait for them to come home. Men with wives hoping and praying for their safe return home for dinner that evening. They are men with hopes and dreams and purpose.

Yet, because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ and their great commission to share the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom to their brothers and sisters within their communities, they would not be returning home to see their families again.

Each man was lain prostrate, his executioner standing behind with a handful of hair in one hand and death in the other. Judgment was pronounced and executed from ear to ear, taking each man’s head off and placing it triumphantly on the back of his headless corpse.

My Lord and my God.

Father, give their families the comfort and peace to know that their lives have not been taken in vain, but given as a world-wide testimony to your love.

This macabre spectacle is very real and ever-present reminder that the Body of Christ will always go to the greatest extremes, even in the face of terrible hostility and gruesome death, to peacefully demonstrate the love of God.

As did Christ in the past, so shall his body in the present.

With the stakes so high, death by beheading, these men did not choose to war with their enemies. They did not choose to fight back with a strong hand, despite knowing their fate. They did not even utter a curse to their executioners as the shear edge of the blade was placed against their necks. No, they were men of profound peace, men of profound love, men counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus until their very end. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the sons of God.

And they were like sheep before the shearers for their witness and their testimony.  They became martyrs for the greatest of all acts- following in the humble, submissive, self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.

But can you hear their testimony?

Or was the footage of their execution too much to bear?

Or have we become so desensitized to heinous atrocities that we no longer feel empathy or compassion?

Or have our lives become so busy and cluttered with information that this was just “another news story?”

Or have we insulated ourselves in so much comfort that we have become detached from the plight of our brothers and sisters who are suffering greatly?

Can you hear their anthem? Can you hear their victorious proclamation in the face of death, “Hallelujah! Death is beaten. Christ has risen from the grave!”*

Can you hear their voices in unison cry as their blood began to flow, “Hallelujah! It is finished! All to You the highest praise!”*

Can you hear the chorus of the saints, the testimony of the martyrs, as their message grows louder and louder, as all of creation joins together in Heaven’s refrain announcing to the deliverers of death, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen!”

We, as followers of Jesus Christ around the world, join them in their declaration.

Hear our testimony ISIS…

With every life taken, there is a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

With every drop of blood that is shed, there is the proclamation of the blood that forgives and atones.

With every body cut, mangled, and broken, there is the proclamation of love overpowering hate, life defeating death.

With every threat and act of terror, the proclamation of Christ and the invitation into his kingdom of grace, peace, and love is amplified so that all may hear.

With every gunshot to our head. With every knife to our throat. With every destructive act that takes our lives, hear me in this… Christ will be proclaimed louder and louder and louder.

Though you kill, a body is resurrecting to life that does not wage war with a sword. Worldwide, followers of Jesus are awakening at this very hour and we are putting down our arms. For our victory is won and there is no battle to fight, no war to wage. We will line the streets and surround our communities in prayer and peace, for the victory is ours… love has won. Christ is victorious. And our testimony will only grow louder and louder as more people join this chorus and wave our white flags of peace and surrender. We will not fight back. We will serve. We will love. We will even love you.

And if it is our blood that must be poured out, turning the seas to crimson, for the world to know the life-giving, cross-like love of Christ, then let the waves wash over this land in forgiveness for what you have done. For even in the face of death, our own blood will cry out and give testimony.

The power you wield is death, but you are powerless. For it is precisely death that Christ has defeated.

Can you now hear the testimony given by these men who gave their lives for Jesus Christ?

Do you now have ears to hear their message of forgiveness and hope?

Jesus has rescued each of us from the dominion of darkness, and brought us into his kingdom of light and love, where we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.

May we die well my brothers and sisters to express God’s love for all…

Brandon

*The quotes above are lyrics from the song Seas of Crimson by Daniel Bashta, Brian Johnson, Joel Taylor, and Bobby Strand
© 2014 Bethel Music Publishing (ASCAP). GoForth Sounds (ASCAP) (Adm. by Bethel Music Publishing)

merry offensive christmas…

This Christmas message will be different than most.  It is not a message of remembrance as much as it is a message of action.  It is not a message of what God has done as much as it is a message of what God is continuing to do.  And it is not a message depicted by a nativity scene or spoken as a sermon as much as it is a message proclaimed and demonstrated to every man and woman through the lives of those who have experienced the transformational power of the word becoming flesh.

The Christmas message is Incarnation.  The Christmas message is the word becoming flesh.  And it is not only our collective memory of the word becoming flesh on Christmas day, but the word becoming flesh in the daily lives of those who celebrate the Christ-child.

It was in the beginning that the word, or logos, existed.  And the logos was with God and the logos was God.  And the logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in this Jesus, and through him to bring humanity out of the dominion of darkness and into his Kingdom of light, making harmony to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.  The logos from with-out broke with-in…in order to be in all and through all.

And this is where we leave the Christmas message, as something that happened in the past that needs to be celebrated annually, but it is rarely a message that calls us to offensive action in our lives.

But the very action of logos becoming flesh, of Christ being born, is offensive.  It is the way of love confronting the hostile forces of hatred.  It is the way of forgiveness confronting the systems of retaliation.  It is the way of peace confronting methodologies of war.  It is the way of joy confronting the masses of misery.  The Christmas message of the Christ-child, of logos becoming flesh, is offensive to the powers of evil.

The logos becoming flesh is a confrontation to Satan and the demonic forces that enslave and lead the entire world astray.  The logos becoming flesh stands in stark contrast to the conventional ways and workings of every single oppressive kingdom of the world.  The logos becoming flesh is the very offensive action of the Kingdom of God breaking in, taking root, and then moving outward and onward throughout the world destroying the works of Satan through love, while reclaiming and restoring all of God’s good creation.

A note to the Christian:  the Incarnation…the word becoming flesh…the logos becoming flesh…the Good News of Great Joy is not on the defensive.  It is on the offensive march destroying every stronghold and every work of Satan through the word, the logos, becoming flesh in Jesus Christ and becoming flesh in our own lives.

We have cowered and believed that we were on the defensive for too long.  We have been fighting the wrong battle through the wrong means.  Our battle is not fighting for the 10 commandments on government property, prayer in school, or Christmas to be publicly recognized.  And our means of fighting is not through arguing, bullying, suing, or twisting another’s arm in submission.

The battle we wage is not against flesh and blood, but against the oppressive spiritual forces of evil.  And this offensive is fought with the sword of the Spirit, which is the very logos of God.  And this logos of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.

John writes in the book of Revelation that, “[Satan] has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word, the logos, of their testimony.”  The logos penetrates deep, convicting and transforming us from the inside.  The logos becomes flesh in our lives, moving outward in testimony breaking down the gates of hell and destroying the work of Satan in other’s lives.

It is the life-changing testimony of how the love, forgiveness, and peace of God broke down the enemy strongholds in our own lives and changed us at our core.  It is the testimony of how the logos of God continues to rescue and restore the broken-hearted, the lost and afraid, and the enslaved and oppressed.

The logos becoming flesh happened and we celebrate it.  But the logos becoming flesh didn’t just happen and then end.  The logos becoming flesh continues on the offensive in and through our lives…in and through our testimony.  Moment by moment and person by person the logos of God continues to spread as it did two millennia ago, “The logos of God kept on spreading ; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly…”

This Christmas, let the message be one of remembrance and one of action.  A message of what God has done and what God is continuing to do.  And a message depicted through nativity and sermon but also proclaimed and demonstrated to every man and woman through the lives of those who have experienced the transformational power of the logos becoming flesh.

brandon

the evolution of sunday sing-a-long…

I have written previously on how we need a fresh perspective on worship within the church. And while I pray that our understanding and practice of worship is being transformed, it is also necessary for us to have a fresh perspective on our praise.

Again, worship has become synonymous with singing songs on Sundays or a certain style of music. A much richer and deeper understanding of worship is found in the Greek word proskuneo, translated as worship throughout the New Testament.

The word proskuneo simply means to lie prostrate before one who is worthy. The one lying down with his or her face pressed to the floor becomes less, and the one who is worthy becomes more. Our worship is an emptying of ourselves of our wants, needs, and desires so as to be filled by the One who is worthy.

We become a vessel…or a conduit…filled by the Holy Spirit extending outward in the world. Our worship is us getting out of the way so the Spirit of God can work through our hands, our legs, our voices, and our entire bodies for Kingdom purposes in the world. Through our worship, we become the point where God meets a hurting world in need of healing and restoring.

If our understanding of worship has been so twisted and misunderstood in the church, is it possible that our understanding of praise could be just as twisted and misunderstood? Is it possible that we have reduced our praise to a Sunday sing-a-long? Is it possible that our praise has centered on what we get out of it rather than what God is doing through it?

Throughout the Old Testament, a common response to God as deliverer and liberator was a song of praise. When God delivered the Israelites out of slavery, through the water, and into freedom, the response from Moses and the Israelites was a new song of praise. It was a great retelling through song of what God had done, how God delivered, and the great characteristics of God. This pattern continued throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament culminating in the apocalyptic of Revelation.

John sees a vision of the throne room of God with Jesus encircled by four creatures, twenty four elders, thousands upon thousands of angels, and every creature on earth singing praise to the liberator and deliverer, who brought his people out of slavery, through the water, and into freedom.

In our praise, we come united joining this mighty chorus…this heavenly refrain of the created order…this great retelling of liberation and freedom. Our praise brings us together in our common experience so as to never forget who He is and what He has done. It is the song of a common and united people responding in recognition and exhaltation of the one who saves.

But there has to be more going on in our praise than a common people simply joining together for the great retelling. There has to be something more that is going on of which we may not be aware.

When Jesus entered the temple area, children were singing praises to him. The religious leaders were angry at what they saw. Jesus said to them, “From the lips of children and infants [God] has ordained praise.” This quick reply gives us great insight, as Jesus was quoting from Psalm 8, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Did you get that? There is great power in the praise of a child. Such power that it can actually silence the foe or avenger. It is no wonder that Jesus says that to enter the Kingdom of God…one must become like a little child. When we get out of the way with our own selfish pursuits, our own ego-driven agendas, and become like little children, our praise has the power to silence the foe and avenger. Our praise has the power to push back the forces of evil and extend God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of evil…and our praise is one way that battle is fought. So when we join together united in the common chorus…the heavenly refrain…the great retelling of Jesus as liberator and deliverer, let us know that the praise we sing is not about what we can get out of it, but what God is doing through us to break down the gates of hell. For we know that it is through our praise that the gates will not stand.

brandon