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?
For Maria Camilla...
This weekend, I've had to think about loss a lot because I've experienced one. Circumstances are such that I will very likely not see my niece for several years, if not ever. This was a loss I expected and hoped and prayed God would spare me from. But ultimately, it was only by God's sovereign will that the answer to that prayer was no. I've cried. I've leaned on colleagues for support. I've searched the Scriptures and prayed. The result was a lesson for me in the value of Christ - a lesson I pray Maria learns well.
Philippians 3:8-11 says this:
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
For Paul, what I feel now he felt for everything he had gained. He considered it all a loss in light of the fact that Christ was supremely valuable. He didn't just think that his things were loss, he suffered the loss of all things. It was hard. He gave it up so that he could gain Christ and one day be found in Him with His righteousness through faith in what he longed to know about Christ. He knew the knowledge he longed for wouldn't come easy. It would come through suffering by being conformed to Christ's death. In other words, He knew he would have to die to himself and follow Christ.
Maria, I think the best thing I could wish for you on this second day of your life is loss. Not loss like I've experienced it today where I sinfully idolized you until you were taken away from me by force, but the joy of surrendering everything you have and everything you are to Jesus because He is infinitely more valuable than all of it. You couldn't cling to anything more valuable. You can't find righteousness in any other endeavor. I pray you fellowship in His sufferings, be conformed to His death, and press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus so that if we do not meet in this life, we will attain the resurrection from the dead and kneel side by side before the throne of God for all eternity in paradise.
Your aunt and uncle love you immensely; God loves you more!
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, 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.