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)

A Christian Response to the Terrorist Threats

As I write this article it has been a couple of hours since I first heard the news that three Columbus, Indiana church buildings were spray painted in graffiti with supposed terrorist threats. At this point, no one knows who did it. But to be honest, for the points I am going to make in this article, it really doesn’t matter who did it. Whether they are authentic terrorist threats made by radicals or just the tasteless humor made by some locals, the response of the Christian, specifically, and the Church, generally, ought to remain consistent regardless.

But even in the few hours since the news broke, the positions of Christians with whom I have spoken have been anything but consistent. And that is precisely why an incident like this is so essential for Christians in our community and in our country- because whether it is a genuine threat or not, the way we respond as followers of Christ is more important than anything else in this world.

I submit to you that there is only one way that Jesus responded to both his friends and enemies… it was consistently in love. I also submit to you that there is only one way Jesus wants his followers to respond to their friends and enemies… it too is in love. And to that end, as long as we bear the name of Christ, we will not cower in the defensive stance of fear, rather we will stand boldly in the offensive act of revolutionary love whether the threats are with spray paint, words of insult, or at the end of a sword. Our very essence, the way we are knitted together, the well-Spring of our hearts that comes from the very Spirit of God is to love. And no matter how much you hate us, we will love you that much more. That’s just the way this thing is going to go down.

It is this kind of love that looks like Jesus Christ in every situation, good and bad, even to the point that it may cost us our lives. Yes, you read that correctly, even to the point of costing your life! The way of Jesus never moves forward violently, but only through selfless, sacrificial love. It is love put on display in such a selfless and radical way that it lays itself down for friends and enemies alike.

I was at a business meeting a few years ago in Chicago. One evening I went to a Mexican restaurant with some of my business colleagues. After a really good dinner and conversation we began our trek back to the hotel. My three colleagues were in deep conversation about guns and firing ranges. Since I didn’t have much to offer to the conversation I spaced out and started thinking about other things. That was until one of the men started talking about how he carries a concealed weapon to church service each week. He went on to say that his church recently implemented security measures for their church services. At any one time there are at least three people…with guns…at their church service! I was astonished. Maybe external threats have you considering the same thing for your church? Maybe the fear of violence has you and your congregation on the edge? Maybe you are terrified that someone may come in during your worship service and hold you hostage? But can you imagine the early Church, during a time in which they suffered the greatest violence, abandoning the way of Christ by picking up arms for fear of their lives at their church service! Can you imagine Jesus pulling out his piece and blasting the Roman soldiers when they arrested and began to beat him? No, of course not. The reason you can’t imagine it is because Jesus and his early followers would never had responded to violence with more violence. And neither should we as his followers. The entire Jesus movement and ministry was predicated upon turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, blessing and not cursing, loving your enemies, not repaying evil with evil, and non-resistance to evil. Responding in anything less than love contradicts and compromises the ministry of Jesus. And the very reason why we can demonstrate the self-sacrificial love of Christ to the world rather than by fighting back is because we are people who do not fear death!That is why we will love you despite your hate. Our singular hope is in the future resurrection. And the cross Christ would have us bear presently for each person in the world is love. A love that will lay itself down for both friend and enemy.

To that end, we each should live such uncompromising lives in the Kingdom of God that not even the threat of death itself will shake us. Our love will always, always, always prevail, even and most especially when it is face to face with death itself. It is this kind of love that exposes evil and hatred for what it is. It is the kind of love that is on display as a testimony for the world to see in all of it’s beauty. Love always wins. Love is always victorious. Love never fails. Preach it!

I implore my brothers and sisters in Columbus, in all the surrounding areas and throughout Indiana, and all across our nation who follow the humble, loving, self-sacrificial way of Jesus Christ to stand united in the Holy Spirit and in prayer and to go on the offensive with a radical, revolutionary love for the sake of the world.

Peace…

Brandon