Let's visualize something for a moment. Imagine you are in the middle of your everyday routine. You're at work or school doing what you do every day. Perhaps you aren't fully engaged in what you are doing, bored with the monotony. Or perhaps you are excited about and love what you do. Then a man with a gun barges into the room and orders everyone to the ground. In a moment of sheer terror you fall to the ground as ordered. You begin to cry, afraid of what is about to happen. You think about your family and friends and worry. Then you see a shoe standing next to you and hear the man tell you to get up.
Shaking, you stand up - still crying and trying not to look at the man but unable to overlook the fact that he is pointing a gun at your face. He asks you, "are you a Christian?" Now pause. Sit in that moment for a few minutes and take it all in. Who is watching you? What are you feeling? Most importantly, what would you do? How will you respond?
It appears that this is the decision that several people faced at Umpqua Community College in Oregon yesterday. Reportedly, those who said no or did not respond were shot in the leg. Those who responded "yes" were told they were about to meet their God, and then were shot in the head.
The more fundamental question is, "what do you believe?" How much do you believe it? Will you put your beliefs into action? If so, that's called faith. The motto of this blog is "There is comfort where faith and loss merge." With a gun pointed at your head, you've lost everything. You have no control over the situation. You have no control over your emotions. You've lost everything but your life. Everything else has been taken away at least temporarily in a moment of terror and fear. And in that moment there can be great comfort. Belief alone won't do it if you won't put it into action and turn your belief into faith. There is comfort where faith and loss merge.
How could there be any comfort in that moment? Scripture says this:
Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mocking and scourging, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
These things happened by faith. They put their beliefs in action. That faith has the ability to do many things; just read the rest of Hebrews 11 to see what great things happened when heroes of the faith acted on their beliefs, turning them into faith. Most importantly, we gain divine approval on account of our faith, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6, 39).
My tribute to those who may have died as a result of their faith is simply this: the world was not worthy of you. For those of us who remain, you have inspired us and we are proud of you. Relish in His perfect glory now and for all eternity!
For those of us who remain, what should we do? How should we respond? Keep reading Hebrews.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
These men and women who perished because of their faith are our great cloud of witnesses. The Greek word translated as witnesses here is martyron from which we get our word martyr. These witnesses surround us, not only in Oregon but in Syria, North Korea, China, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, and in many other places where Christians are raped, beaten, tortured, beheaded, crucified, and/or burned alive because of their faith.
Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, we must lay aside every encumbrance. In other words, what is stopping you from saying "yes" to the gunman? Whatever it is, lay it aside. We must lay aside every sin. In other words, what are you doing, thinking, or believing that is contrary to the Word of God? Whatever it is, lay it aside. We must run the race set before us. What is that race? It is the Christian life! Read the Word. Praise the Lord. Share the gospel. Serve one another. Love one another. Fulfill your mission. It won't always be easy, so run the race with endurance. Fix your eyes on the prize - Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of the faith which pleases God and gains His approval. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. For the joy set before you, live and - if necessary - die for Him.
What would you do if the gunman asked you?
I am far too quick to pat myself on the back. I look back over my life and see countless situations where I act in faith towards a goal, sinfully boast to myself or others about that faith, but then at the first sign of opposition resign myself to the belief that God had a different goal in mind. It has rarely, if ever occurred to me that perhaps God had the exact goal in mind as when I initially took that step of faith. Even in the last 24-hours in the face of opposition to a major life change I have found myself considering giving up and doing something else despite the "faith" with which we've come this far.
Don't we take a certain degree of comfort knowing that the medication we buy has been tested? I find myself abroad now and then with a headache and hesitant to buy the foreign equivalent of Tylenol because I know in the U.S. that Tylenol has certain quality controls and tests to make sure it is safe. The same goes for a lot of products - good manufacturers have some degree of quality control testing to ensure their product will remain worthwhile under various pressures and stress. So what good is our faith unless it has been tested? How do we know it is genuine trust in God's sovereignty and not just some cheap knock off that we conjure up ourselves and then boast about as genuine? Are we sometimes like the guy that sells knock off Rolex watches when we share our faith?
Scripture says "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." James 1:2-3. Far too often, we wrongly equate the testing of faith with only the decision to act in faith. From a very basic level, the equation is true - the decision to act or not act in any situation can be a test of whether faith exists. But I want to know that Tylenol manufacturers do much more than test their product to see if it exists. I would like to know something about the quality of the product. God wants the same thing.
The testing of faith produces steadfastness. How steadfast is faith if at the first sign of opposition it bails? Do not be fooled into thinking that when we act in faith to follow God, passing the test to determine whether faith exists, we may not later become the beneficiary of opposition. James does not tell us to consider it joy if we face trials - he says when we face trials (1:2). Opposition will come. When it does, if we stay the course through the test, it produces steadfastness or perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope (Rom. 5:3-4). Opposition should not change our course it should strengthen our faith. (James 1:4). When our faith is tested as genuine it should "result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6-7).
The faith with which we've come this far has not been tested until now. It exists, but of what is it made? God, let us rejoice now more than ever, knowing that this trial is designed to produce steadfastness, completeness, character, and hope for Your praise and glory and honor. "In Your everlasting arms are all the pieces of my life; God whatever comes my way, I can trust You." (Chris Tomlin, Sovereign).
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I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.