In the wake of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon this week, there’s one question I’m struggling with over most others. It’s not about gun control, it’s not about mental health strategies, and it’s not about politics. It’s about my relationship with God.
Stories have come out from the survivors about how the shooter asked people about their religious beliefs. Some claim that Christians were targeted, others suggest that it was simply gauging each victim’s perception of where they were about to go. Whatever the truth, I find myself asking the question.
If someone pointed a gun at me, and asked if I’m a Christian, would I say yes knowing that it meant their next action would be to pull the trigger?
I asked the same question of myself when the horrific tales and videos surfaced of ISIS beheading Christians. Would I have the courage to confess my faith in that situation? Knowing that such a confession would bring the end of my life?
My gut reaction is to say yes, of course I would. My gut reaction, though, also has me standing strong, staring the assailant down, and in some versions, ducking out of the way and trying to wrestle the gun out of his hands, and perhaps turning out to be the hero of the piece by managing to diffuse the entire situation. When you’re raised on tales of heroes and legends, I think there’s always going to be a part of you that at least intends to be the hero in your own circumstances.
The truth is, though, I don’t know how I would react in a situation like that. Whilst I’m not a person to completely shy away from confrontation, I’m not one to directly go and seek it out, either. I can’t be certain that, if faced with such a horrible position, I would definitely be able to stand up and say, “Yes, I’m a Christian.”
I do know that I pray I never have to find out.
The thing is, it’s easy for us to sit behind a computer screen and jump on the latest hashtag that’s floating around social media. It’s easy to say that you’d be the heroic one, like Chris Mintz, who ran toward the danger and charged the attacker. It’s easy to say that from behind a keyboard, but when I stop and really start to imagine what something like that must be like, I just can’t be 100% sure. There were a lot of students in that school that day, and out of them, we only know of one who got in there and tried to disarm the attacker. He is certainly to be lauded as a hero. It was his son’s birthday, no one would have judged him for staying safe and just making sure that he got home alive himself. Instead, he placed other people’s lives above his own safety and went back. Chris Mintz was the one hero out of all of those students.
Please don’t think that by saying that, I’m discrediting anyone else who was at the school. I’m not, what I am trying to point out is that we don’t know how we’re going to react to a situation until we’re put into it. I’d almost guarantee that there were other people there who, like me, have thought about what it’s probably like in a situation like that, and have thought that they too would intend on trying to save people. When it’s actually happening, though, it’s all very different. Real life is always different to what we imagine it to be. If that situation ever arises, will we have the confidence and assurance in Jesus to declare Him before men?
Therefore, whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. ~ Matthew 10:32-33
This isn’t a thought that we should be taking lightly. The reality is that we do need to be ready to stand up and declare Christ before people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to prepare yourself to stare down a gunman, but there are situations every day, where we have the choice to declare ourselves a follower of Christ, or remain silent.
It is getting harder to do that, too. As the world’s morality drifts further away from scripture, we begin to hear more and more stories of people being persecuted for staying firm to their Christian beliefs.
But we are blessed because of this.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ~ Matthew 5:11-12
We can pray that we never have to face down a choice between speaking Christ’s name and death. I pray that you or I never have to do that, but one day, someone may. In the meantime, let us make sure that we are confessing Jesus in the every day situations that we find ourselves in. Jesus compared faith to a seed, and seeds grow, so by confessing Jesus now, our faith grows, and so does our assurance in Him.
When faced with that decision, will you stand up? Will you say, “Yes, I’m a Christian,” when someone asks? Will you stand in the face of persecution, whatever that might look like, and declare Him Lord?
Today, a video was brought to my attention where Seth Dahl speaks about Jesus asking him for forgiveness. As per usual, when I see an outrageous headline on Facebook, I figured that there has to be more to the story than just what the thumbnail seems to be saying. Intrigued, though, I clicked through.
Dahl speaks about how he was hurt by a pastor of a church. He doesn’t go into details, but then he speaks about a vision that he had while lying on the floor of the chapel that they’re currently in.
Jesus picks me up and holds me so close that I can’t see anything. And he holds me so close. And Jesus starts to weep, and he says, “Please forgive me. Please forgive me.”
I said, “What are you talking about? Please forgive you?”
He said, “When that pastor hurt you, it’s as if I hurt you, cause he’s a member of my body. Please forgive me.”
Quick. Everyone suck in a breath.
Before we start erecting a stake, though, and call for torches. I wanted to check something that’s always important, especially on the Internet. Context.
So I signed up to Bethel.TV and found the whole sermon, and listened to it. It’s called An Unexpected Route to Joy, and in it Dahl is speaking about the role that sadness has in giving us joy. He spends about half the sermon retelling the whole story of the movie Inside Out, but the point he’s making, is that we can’t experience joy while we’re holding on to pain.
Then, right at the end, he starts telling the story of how he was really hurt by the words a pastor used against him some time in his life, and how he’d had this vision of Jesus picking him up and asking him for forgiveness.
Now I’m not here to make any judgment over the validity or honesty of Dahl’s vision. What I want to do is discuss forgiveness.
Forgiveness: Stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offence, flaw or mistake. ~ Oxford Dictionary of English
Why do we forgive?
Question: Why does Jesus tell us to forgive those around us?
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~ Matthew 6:14-15
I want to make something clear, because it seems to get confused in a lot of our minds – including, for a long time, my own. When you forgive someone, it’s got nothing to do with them. Forgiveness isn’t a transaction. It’s not something that you give to someone because they apologise. Forgiveness is a gift.
Forgiveness is about you
Forgiveness is also about the state of your heart, not the person who hurt you.
That dictionary definition speaks a lot. Forgiveness is where we stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone because they hurt us. Forgiveness isn’t saying that what someone did was right; it’s not even about absolving them from the consequences of their actions. Forgiveness is about releasing the negativity in your own heart, so that you can go on living without letting that hurt, pain and sadness control and define you.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8
Do you realize that Jesus had already forgiven you, even before you asked him to? Jesus wasn’t waiting for you to say the sinner’s prayer before he would forgive you; he was waiting for you to go through that process of accepting his forgiveness. Whatever that moment was for you, when Jesus came into your life, it wasn’t about you earning or deserving God’s forgiveness. That was already set in place. That moment was about your heart being opened.
Forgiveness opens the door to joy
Jesus doesn’t ask us to forgive others for their benefit, he asks us to forgive others so that our heart can be pure, so that we can live a joy-filled life that isn’t held back by hurt and unforgiveness.
But Forgiving Jesus?
I too, like Seth Dahl, have had experiences where a church pastor has said some really hurtful things to me, and I can testify to the idea of holding that resentment not only against the person, but, because of their position in the Church, holding it against God as well.
It’s easy, from our human point of view, to hold resentment against God, especially when it comes down to hurts committed by leaders of the church. I know more than my share of people who have turned their backs on God because of the actions of people, and it breaks my heart.
So when I hear Seth Dahl saying that Jesus said, “Please forgive me,” I don’t hear Jesus asking for forgiveness because Jesus committed a hurtful act and needs forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t need forgiveness. Jesus didn’t commit that hurtful act or say those harmful words. He has not sinned, obviously.
What I see Jesus saying, when he says, “Please forgive me,” is, “Please stop feeling angry and resentful toward me for the perceived offence in your heart.” I see Jesus cradling this young man in his arms, telling him to forgive, because that hurt is something that he needs to let go of.
Jesus doesn’t need our forgiveness, but if we have perceived hurts that we’re holding against him, then we need to forgive. We need to release any resentment, any hurt, any anger that we’re feeling, not because Jesus needs it, but because we do.
It’s only in forgiveness that we can truly begin to experience Christ’s joy.
The past few weeks I’ve been going through a pretty intense argument with God. Which, in some ways, is a bit ridiculous because let’s face it, He wins. Even when we don’t listen, He’s still in charge.
Four weeks or so ago, I was in Port Macquarie, struggling over what step to take next in my life, when I had one of those moments where God speaks so clearly, He might as well be sitting next to you. For several months previous, I’d received several invitations to come to a particular church in Melbourne, along with hints about living there. Then I was walking through Port Macquarie one day, gazing up at the skies, just asking God how to work out what step to take next when he just dropped the words straight into my heart. It was one of the clearest directions I’ve ever received in my life.
So, great, right? I was locked in. I had a bit of a holiday in Brisbane to enjoy, and then I would make my way to Melbourne and settle there, so that I could get involved in this church. It’s exciting when God gives you a nice clear direction, because suddenly you’re just raring to go and find out what He has in store for you.
Then Queensland happened.
I’ve never been the greatest fan of Brisbane. I was a rather troubled eighteen year old when I moved up here in the second half of 2000, and the experience was far from wonderful, so it’s never really been high on my list of places to come back to, but I have a fair amount of people I know in both Brisbane and the Gold Coast, so I figured why not take the advantage of escaping winter a little while longer and catch up with a heap of people at the same time? Great idea!
Until I fell in love.
Not with a girl. Okay, so there’s a part of the story may involve a female, but what I fell in love with was the sun, the warmth, the beach, the lifestyle on offer if I was to decide that, instead of going to Melbourne, I would settle down on the Gold Coast. I took a day trip to Byron Bay, came back, stopped at the Gold Coast for the afternoon and evening, and decided there and then that I didn’t want to leave. After a fantastic dinner (if you’re on the Gold Coast, try Moo Moo), I took a walk down to the beach, stared out at the ocean and decided that this was what I wanted.
It’s a reality that we have to accept, that there are going to be times in our lives where God’s plan doesn’t match up perfectly with our desires. We have our thoughts of what it is we want right now, but God sees the whole picture, and He sees a fulfilled life of amazing things that He is just waiting to bless us with, if we would just follow His directions.
Instead, though, like a petulant teenager, I pouted, argued and on a couple of occasions simply flat out refused to even listen. My desire was to stay in Queensland, where the sun shines, the water is warm, and the beaches are sandy and yellow.
Meanwhile, all I could think of was Moses.
In Exodus 3 and 4, God calls Moses to go back to Egypt and be his instrument in freeing the Israelites. Instead of embracing the call of God, though, Moses argues. He raises one point after another in contest against what God’s asking him to do, but in the end, God still won.
My experience wasn’t completely like that. I went through a few stages, and one that was the real standout moment of fatherly love, where it felt like God simply sat me down, stared into my eyes and spoke softly. Those words may stay with me forever.
Joshua, the choice you make here is up to you, and if you decide to stay in Queensland, I will still love you, I will still bless you, I will still have my hand on you. However, if you genuinely want to experience the fullness of what I have for you, then you need to follow my calling, because in Melbourne is the next step of an amazing journey I have for you, one that will take you to places you’re yet to even think of.
Yet even then, I still wasn’t convinced. I’d close my eyes and think of the morning runs along the beach, or the basketball courts just down from where I was intending on living, or a particular person’s face, and with each of those thoughts came a return of those desires.
But there was nothing about God in there. The closest to God I got was looking online for what churches were around, so that I could at least say that I was still going to one; but my heart wasn’t in it. Finding a church in the area was simply a measly effort at justifying my decision to do what I wanted rather than what God wanted.
Following God’s plan isn’t easy. Even Jesus had his moment.
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” ~ Matthew 26:39
Now of course I’m not comparing a decision on where to live with Jesus’ going to the cross. It’s pretty unlikely that either decision on my part will have eternal ramifications on the entire world’s population, but it’s Jesus’ attitude here that is important. “Not as I will, but as You will.” We are called to emulate Jesus, to be like Him, and so if Jesus’ attitude was that his own will came secondary to that of the Father, then how much more should we do the same?
A decision on where to live may not be the most earth-shattering thing that will ever happen in my life, but then, how often do we get into arguments over seemingly minor and insignificant things? When our desires conflict with God’s plan, we need to be well practiced at getting out of our own way and listening to Him instead. The reality is, that God’s perspective of things is far wider, and going to wind up better for us than anything we can try and achieve on our own.
“Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.” ~ Job 40:2
Then he said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
~Matthew 26: 38-39, 42
I think the Garden of Gethsemane sometimes gets a little overlooked throughout the Easter story, but it’s important. This is the part where we see that Jesus really was human. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, on his knees pleading with the Father that He find some other way.
There was a part of Jesus that didn’t want to do this.
Luke’s account of this story says that Jesus sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Other translations say that he actually sweated blood. How hard does your anguish have to be that that happens? I can kind of imagine it happening – I’ve had moments in my own life, where I’ve just had so much anguish that I could feel the tension and tightening in my brow and temples, but to actually see capillaries break so that blood starts coming out?
Jesus was anguished. He was in agony. Yet even in that pain, that struggle, his final determination was that God’s will be done.
“If this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
Honestly? I think this is one of the most powerful things that Jesus ever said.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” ~John 15:13
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~Romans 5:8
There is so much just in these verses and those around them to talk about, but today, there’s one thing I want focus on.
Jesus loves us.
It’s Easter Sunday – Resurrection Sunday – when we celebrate that Jesus not only died, but actually rose again. He conquered death so that we do not have to suffer through it.
And it was love that drove him to do that. Love so great that even when we weren’t his friends, Jesus gave his very life – not because he wanted to, but because it was needed. It was God’s will.
When I think about what it means to be intrepid as a Christian. When I think of the characteristics that I want to have, it sits pretty high up on the priority list, to be able to accept and follow God’s will, no matter how hard that might seem. No matter what God’s will is for my life, it’s fairly unlikely that I’m going to have to go through what Jesus did.
Jesus, when he was facing death, said to God, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
What would be different in our lives if we lived with this attitude?