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)

Breaking Silence…

As a Christian, ought I kill a man who lives down the road from me, but whom I have never met, only because I have been told by others that he is my enemy and that he has verbally threatened my freedom and my life?

I am convinced that your gut reaction to my issue was an adamant and exclamatory, “No! Of course not!” And, of course, you said this because you know that such a thing is unlawful and is also contrary to what Christianity would mandate of me. But if you will allow me, I would like to go further.

Could I ever convince you that I, as a Christian, would be justified in killing this man with my own hands? What if some of the circumstances were to change? As a Christian, would it be more or less acceptable for me to kill a man, whom I have been told is a threat to my life and freedom and also my enemy, if he lived somewhere else in the United States or in the world? Would I be more justified in my actions if the distance changed? Would I be justified in preemptively killing him based solely upon what others have told me of his threats and the fear i now have that he will make good on his threat of taking my freedom and life?

As a Christian, I am no more justified in killing my enemy when the proximity changes than I am when the man lives across the street from my house. Even if this man really has threatened my freedom and my life… I have still preemptively taken his life into my own hands and it is murder.

But it seems I have found an appropriate loophole to the dilemma of killing this man, whom I now believe is my enemy, which clears my conscience. What if I have another man kill my enemy on my behalf in order to protect my freedom and my life so I do not have to do it on my own?

Being that I do not have the conscience to kill my enemy and being that I find that his killing stands opposed to the tenets of Christianity, it seems a more appropriate and justified action to have someone hired or appointed by the government to kill him -or- to have someone volunteer to kill him on my behalf. In this way, I will be completely absolved of his murder and the guilt of it will not be upon me.

I have to admit that while this sounds appealing…there is something about this logic that does not make sense.

As a Christian, am I any less guilty of killing my enemy by having another man do it… even if that is what he was employed to do on my behalf? Can I so easily put the burden and guilt of killing on this hired man and leave him to deal with the demons of killing for me? In my support of this preemptive action, or in any act of retaliation, am I not guilty of his murder by the witholding or, in the reluctance, of my opposition?

I am beginning to realize that, since I am a Christian and called to love my enemy, no matter how hard I try to manipulate the circumstances or get around my conscience with slick reasoning, justifiable thinking, or creative planning- killing my enemy is no less murder or contrary to the way of Christ. Even if I have someone do it on my behalf, as I stand in silent or vocal support of the action, I am still guilty of murdering my enemy myself.

As a Christian living in a hostile world there is a real struggle by coming face to face with this tension.

In one sense, I fear what my enemy has threatened to do to me so I feel justified in his killing. On the other hand I have committed myself to a higher law of love and have been called to a higher standard of being a peacemaker by Jesus Christ.

“Jesus, as one who follows you, might I have a special exception to preemptively kill my fellow human being even if he might be an enemy who has threatened my freedom and my very life? Or would you at least allow someone to kill him on my behalf?”

You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

“But surely you understand and appreciate that I love my life so my enemy must be killed.”

Whoever loves his life will lose it. For those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

“Jesus, that is such a high standard. Not only are you saying that I ought not kill another man, but that I ought not even be angry with him. What if my enemy attacks me or verbally insults me or damages my property? Am I then authorized to aggress or retaliate against this man who causes me injury?”

You have also heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

“Am I to sit idly by and not defend myself?”

You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Still holding on to the hope that Jesus would agree with me that it is appropriate and justifiable to kill my enemy, I exclaimed, “But Lord, your requirement of me is much too high! Surely you understand that I am not capable of your way! Your way is naïve and too idealistic for this life. Surely you understand that I am a mere mortal man incapable of such a high standard! You are perfect and I am not!”

It was to this the Lord boldly impressed upon me, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Therefore, I can come to no other conclusion through good conscience, and as one who uncompromisingly follows the way of Jesus Christ, that not only can I not kill my enemy or have someone do it on my behalf or with my support, I can not even hate my enemy, avenge the wrong he has done to me, or be angry with him- for all other laws have been transcended with a higher law of love, non-resistance, and non-retaliation to evil.

And it is to this higher law and it’s legislator that I pledge my allegiance.

As a result, I have no other choice before me than: to not repay evil with evil in any situation, to not seek retribution on my own accord, to not ask anyone to seek retribution on my behalf, and to not implore the court to sentence a man to death on my behalf. I must not avenge myself, but must leave room for the wrath of God. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The truth is that, no matter how much we have been brought to believe that certain circumstances or situations stand outside the reasonableness of Christ’s law, we have not been given special exception to kill or to have someone killed on our behalf.

As Christians, we have unambiguously been given the command by Christ of non-resistance to evil, to not repay evil with evil, and to love our enemies. And while we, as Christians, ought to hold ourselves to this expectation and standard… we do not hold other individuals or governments (who do not follow Christ) to this standard….even though we believe that the way of love is the best and highest way and the only way evil can be defeated and extinguished.

“A virtue cannot be practiced in all circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the only true Life.”- Adin Ballou

“What really made a mess of the world? Grace? Forgiveness? Turning the other cheek? Or is it guilt, punishment, vengeance, and retribution?”- Robert Farrar Capon

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his point of view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brother who are called the opposition.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Men who are used to the existing order of things, who like it and dread its being changed, try to take [Christ’s teaching] as a collection of revelations and rules which one can accept without their modifying one’s life.”- Leo Tolstoy

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”- Jesus

Peace…

Brandon

puddles of love for my enemy…

As she began to walk out the door I asked, “What do you think about loving those who are hard to love?” And she replied, “Like my dad? I hate it.”

My friend is as passionate about following the way of Jesus as anyone I know. In fact, she has given up everything to go around the world as a missionary to love, serve, and share the hope of Jesus Christ to the poorest people on the planet in the most remote parts of the world.

And while she is a great example to all of us who know her as displaying great love, selflessness, and sacrifice in her life for the benefit of those pushed away and discarded by the rest of the world, she may be a greater example in her demonstration of how difficult it is for a person who follows Jesus to love someone who is difficult to love or who does not deserve to be loved.

I am confident that when someone is teaching us about love, most of us just kind of tune out. I do. I have been there and done that…and I know all the verses about love. It is almost like, “Yeah, yeah I have this love thing figured out. You just love people. It is just that simple.”

The truth is that it is not that simple at all.

It is true that it is simple to love those who are lovable, but it is quite a different thing to love those who are unlovable, to love those who don’t deserve to be loved, or to love those who are our enemies. If we, as Christians, only love those who are lovable then our love is quite conditional and far from the kind of love that God has for each and every person in the world and then subsequently the kind of love that God wants demonstrated through us.

A great crowd of disciples were following Jesus when he stopped and began to teach them about the kind of love that they ought to exemplify in the world. He said that those who follow him would “love [their] enemies,” and would, “do good to those who hate [them].” He then went on to say, and this point is critical, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.”

Here is the thing…every human being was created to have an unconditional love for each other and God. Each and every one of us was created in the image of God and has the Divine capability to express unconditional love. But we have been so wounded by the effects of sin (or our separation from God) that our ability to love unconditionally has deteriorated. So instead of being able to love everyone unconditionally, we are only able to unconditionally love those who we trust and those who haven’t hurt us. For everyone else, we believe that it is good and appropriate to stay at arms length in fractured and broken relationship, harboring anger, resentment, and grudges so as to not be hurt or wounded again.

This conditional love is not what God intends for those who have invited God to come into their hearts, minds, and souls. In fact, God is working to repair and restore that which has been broken and separated, the individual first and then the relationship between the person and others. God draws us in and envelops us in perfect love so that we may go out into the world and express this perfect, unconditional love to both the lovable and the unlovable, the friend and the enemy, the victim and the oppressor.

It is easy to love those who are lovable. Even those who do not know God can do that. But it is only through the power of God when we are enveloped in perfect love and given the power of the Holy Spirit that we can even begin to see people the way God sees people and then begin to love them the way that God does. That is the only way a person can love the father that has physically and emotional abused him or her. That is the only way that a person can love the drunk driver that takes the life of his or her child. That is the only way that we can love the murderer or terrorist who has taken innocent life. And that is the only way that we can continue to love and forgive those who continue to hurt and wound us daily.

It is absolutely impossible to love our friends and enemies in our own power. It is only possible in the power given to us by God.

brandon