Stand if You Would Get Shot for Jesus

A year or so ago I shared this writing with my adult Sunday School class the week after my pastor preached a sermon and gave a challenge that will be explained below. It brought about great thought-provoking conversation and I hope it will cause you to stop and think as well.

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Our pastor was concluding his sermon. It was both a thought provoking and emotion-educing sermon. A call to live your life in a way that matters; big in the eternal perspective. He was wrapping it up with a headline drawn from the recent news; College students in Oregon willing to be shot in order to pronounce their allegiance to Jesus Christ. These students are now spiritual heroes. In their last moments on Earth, they have taken a stand that will echo for all eternity. I am awed by their commitment. I am deep in inner-reflection as I consider just how deep my allegiance to the Lord really is. Then he drops the bomb, “If a gun was in your face and you would still say, “I’m a Christian,” I want you to stand up.”

My emotional instincts are screaming at me to get on my feet. But, my mind is telling me, Be honest, you can not, with any certainty or  sincerity stand up right now.

I pick my head up to look around. I figure there must be dozens of people throughout the sanctuary grappling with these same feelings, wrestling with this sobering challenge pastor has just laid before us. But, wait…..

WHAT! SERIOUSLY! As I scan of the sanctuary, it seems as if I am literally the only person still seated.


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I would just like to take a few minutes to share why it concerns me that I was the only person seated in the sanctuary that day. And this comes from no place of judgment, as this has been a rough week this week, and I believe it was in large part due to the fact that I have not stopped struggling with the fact that I couldn’t stand. That in my heart of hearts, I know I should be ready and willing to live and die for Jesus, but that I don’t know that I’m there yet. So, if every other person in the sanctuary was certain of what they would do with a gun in their face, I guess you could say my words come from judgement, but from envy.

However, my gut tells me that there might have been more than a few who had some of the same thoughts and feelings as me. And if so,  this is for you. Or, maybe for some who popped up without fully thinking about the reality of that promise; I hope that these words might spur you on to contemplate what that stand meant.

 

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As I said, as far as I could see all those in the sanctuary where standing, including the teens. After each sermon I typically ask my teenage daughter about what she learned and how it applies to her life. So, after this sermon I asked her about how she felt about the challenge pastor had given at the end of service.

Keep in mind, my daughter did stand up, but she told me, “I didn’t want to stand up. I mean, I knew what I would want to do, but in that situation I don’t know what I would really do.”

My 13-year old daughter had just processed an emotional moment at church and articulated her true thoughts and feeling. I was very proud to say the least. She had also just stated precisely my first layer of thinking when I chose to stay seated last week. Pastor did not just ask if I’d like to have the courage to stand with a gun in my face (to which I could have answered yes adamantly), but in essence, would I commit to doing so. And in that situation, do I really know what I would do? Does anyone really know? And how does standing amongst this of this sea of people who are all standing make my commitment any more real?

 

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Let me share some of the reasons for doubting that I truly know what I would do in that situation. First of all, it is a panic situation. One full of feelings, emotions, stress and terror that I have never experienced. It’s really unfair to say I am certain of how I would handle it.

I do know that in situations where great consequences are sure to come from the choices made, the best and worst in people tends to brought out; in some, the most extreme courage to do what is right no matter what the cost, and in others, the greatest of cowardliness to save their own butt regardless of what will happen to anyone else. Now I know which group I want to fall into, but I cannot say for certain  in which actuality I would.

I do know my track record in panic situations and it is not too hot. You can ask my wife about  time I cut my hand while trying to pry apart frozen tacos with a knife. (I know, brilliant…) The cut was just bad enough to maybe need a stitch or two. However, as I sat on the floor holding a towel on my hand and trying to stop the bleeding, I kept telling her over and over how bad it hurt and that I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. Or ask one of my former students how well I do in pressure filled moments. At recess, she hit what we thought at the time was inside her eye (but thank God, turned out to be just above her eye)on a piece of metal fencing.  The wound was gushing blood. I told another teacher to call 911 (the only good thing I did) then promptly took her into the building and sat her right in the doorway of my classroom….. A spot that every other 5th grader entering the building from recess had to walk by and had a great view of her as the puddle of blood formed below her as they walked by.

 

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As I sat in my seat in the sanctuary last week, eyes closed, hoping that if it looked enough like I was in deep prayer not too many of those around me would judge me for not standing, the even scarier thought popped in my head of what would happen if the gun was to my face and I was actually thinking clearly.

If I was thinking clearly, would thoughts of Jesus have been what was running through my head? I like to believe he would be, but I can’t help but think of some of the other possibilities as I lay on the floor with the dead bodies of those brave enough to stand for their faith just feet from me.

I get a clear image of wife in my mind, then my teenage daughter,  my 5-year old son and my baby girl barely 2 years old. If I stand, I am not going home to them tonight. If I just stay put on the ground I will tuck my three children into bed and hold my wife as I fall asleep.

 

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And then there is another possibility. Might my fears of what is to come if I do stand and take the bullet rush to my mind. I mean, I believe that after death I will spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven.  If I didn’t, I would live a very different life. I believe, with all my faults and sins; my life and the choices I make demonstrate my trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and point me towards life everlasting.

However, although it is a matter of much prayer and much pleading, when it comes down to it, eternity scares me. First off, no matter what is going to take place forever, the very thought of forever brings me fear. Secondly, there is the thought that of, what if I’ve been wrong about the whole Christianity thing? That thought that when I die, that’s it…….terrifies me. I guess when it comes down to it, I am scared of the unknown. Because no matter what we say or think about eternity, what takes place after we breathe our last is unknown, until, well…..until we actually breathe our last. So, I wonder, with all of my fears of eternity, would I still stand?

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And then I get to maybe the most rational thought of all. We all believe that Jesus shows us the extent of God’s forgiveness with stories like the Prodigal Son. With his promise of paradise to the thief who hung next to him on the cross. I’d venture to say that we all believe someone in that situation in Oregon who did not stand; yet genuinely repented at a later time, would be forgiven.

So, if as I ways lying there with gunshots still ringing in my ears, and my mind happened to be clear enough to think all of that through, to tell myself that I can save my life and still be forgiven by Jesus; I am afraid I might not have stood.

 

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As I continued to try to process the question asked by pastor this week.  As I wrestled with the haunting thought of would I be willing to be martyred for Christ; I seemed to keep coming back to the a slightly different question: Will I daily take up my cross? I hope that being asked about whether or not we would make the ultimate sacrifice theoretically does not in any way keep us from making daily sacrifices in reality. Might we face physical persecution or even death for our faith? Yes. But we will certainly daily be granted opportunities to live a BIG life that require us to sacrifice by not making the easy choice. YES!

How often do I fail to sacrifice my fear in order to share Christ with co-workers? How often do I fail to sacrifice my selfishness in order to spend more time with my family? How often do I fail to sacrifice my laziness in order to take a shortcut at work? And the list of questions that hit a little too close to home could go on and on.

And so my challenge to myself, and to anyone else who left last week burdened by pastor’s question, is that we might share, first with God, and then with another human being who will hold us accountable, something that we know we must begin doing, stop doing, or do more consistently, in order to truly daily sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and to live a life of eternal significance. And once, with the help of the Lord and our accountability partner, we start to find ourselves achieving sacrifice in that area, we move on to the next and the next and the next.

And for me, maybe, just maybe, if I were truly in a situation where my faith was going to cost me my physical life, I would be so used to my daily sacrifices for Christ, that the final and ultimate sacrifice would come a little more naturally.  
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In Heaven, It Just Won’t Matter

In my adult Sunday School class at church we recently did a study using a book and video put out by The Voice of The Martyrs entitled “I am N.” This study led us through atrocities being committed against Christians not long ago, but right now! Christians being murdered, tortured, raped, cut off from family and community, and many other horrific things. This study burdened me (in a good way) to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are in parts of the world where their faith brings Jesus’ words of suffering for the sake of the gospel into a physical reality; as opposed to the way that we as American Christians often think of the suffering for the gospel in terms of having a socially akward moment for being one of the few not to drink at a wedding reception.

This study caused me to think and reflect on many things. (I hope to share more about this in blogs to come). And one of the questions that I kept coming back to is Why? Why was I born in America where I do not face this persecution while these Christians were born in Syria and Somalia and other countries where they know a commitment to Christ can mean severe persecution or even death? Why does God allow these awful things to happen to His people? And why was I led to complete this study; what am I supposed to take away from it? This story was an attempt to wrestle with these questions from an eternal perspective.

 

 

In Heaven, It Just Won’t Matter

Jesus had fallen asleep in the back of the van again. But this was not like the last time when he was awakened by the frightened disciples when a snowstorm hit and their nearly bald tires had the van sliding all over the road. That time, Jesus had rebuked the skies and the snow had stopped.  No, this time, Jesus was awoken by, yet another, bitter dispute between his disciples.

As the loud voices erupted, Jesus opened his eyes, but then closed them again. He decided he would pretend to be sleeping a little longer. That way he could hear their true views before intervening.

“Clearly, that is wrong!” John said heatedly. “The one who does the most for the Lord will be the greatest in heaven! Open a homeless shelter in His name, serve on the front lines as a missionary. It only makes sense, do for the Lord now and he will do for you in the life to come. Be too timid to act for the Lord now and your place in heaven will be least!”

“No, that is not enough!” rebutted Thaddeus. “It is those willing to fight for the Lord who will be the greatest in heaven! For God means to set up his reign on Earth.Stand up to the Muslim extremists and surely you will be lifted up. Those who are willing to forcibly advance the Kingdom now, will sit upon thrones in heaven.”

“To suffer for the Lord,” Peter chimed in, “This is the greatest thing a man can do for the Lord. First, in the kingdom will be those who were martyred. Followed by those who faced much persecution while on Earth. Be murdered by the Muslim extremist and certainly you will be exalted above all others in the eternal realm.”

Phillip did not want this to go on without his view being heard. “It is he who had the most willing heart to leave all behind and follow the Lord. Willingly give up the things of this world and the Lord will be truly pleased. Sell your house and your car, leave your cozy white collar job and come after the Lord and surely you will be seated near the Lord himself in the life to come.”

With this Jesus opened his eyes, sighed heavily and spoke, “Quiet down, quiet down.” All eyes turned to Jesus. The disciples thought their squabble had been unheard by the Teacher. Jesus had slept so soundly through the near monsoon conditions they had driven through last week, but now a little argument awakens him…  

Jesus continued on, “After the many months we have spent together, do you still understand so little? Are you still arguing over such trivial matters?” Jesus looked up at the van roof and clothed his eyes. “Father, how will I ever make them understand?”

Then, as though a direct answer had immediately been given, Jesus looked at the disciples once more and smiled, “Let me tell you a story.

Four men died on the same day. The first man was Joe Taylor. He was a perennial Pro-Bowl quarterback in the NFL. He won three super bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. He was a faithful husband to his wife Jenny for 52 years. His one regret was that he and his remained childless. After three mis-carriages, he and Jenny had decided it must not be the Lord’s will for them to have children.

Although, it caused he and Jenny great sorry, it did not cause them to waiver in their faith. They decided that they would to use their love for children in a different way. Joe ran summer football camps in inner cities all across the country free of charge during the offseason and Jenny volunteered to eat lunch with and mentor children labeled as “at-risk” by the local school district.

The second man was Estuardo Garcia. He lived in extreme poverty in rural Guatemala. He did his best to make ends meat farming a small plot of sugar cane on a steep slope on the side of a mountain. However, while Estuardo worked long hours to eke out a living from the sugar, he never let his weariness show on Sunday mornings.

For each Sunday morning, standing in front of his one room home, Estuardo preached. For four decades he preached to the other farmers living nearby. He preached to all who would listen. He proclaimed Sunday after Sunday that in spite of their current conditions, there was a God in heaven, a good God, a God who would take those who believed in Him to their real home one day. A home where they would no longer grow weary, no longer go hungry, but where they would bask in the glory of the Lord for all eternity.

Mustafa Abadi was the third man. He had grown up in Iraq in a proud Muslim family. As he grew older and became a man, he prided himself in his knowledge of the Koran and of the great prophet Muhammed. But, as time went on all of this knowledge did not seem to bring him satisfaction. And one day as he flipped through the TV stations, he happened upon a Christian speaker.

The speaker spoke of the love of a God who wanted to know him personally. A God who cared much more about a contrite heart than rituals and rules. And Mustafa new this was the true God and was the God for him. Mustafa was frightened at first, but as time went on knew he needed to boldly proclaim his faith. Even after being ostracized by his family and his community, he remained true to the Lord. And even as ISIS invaded his city, his faith did not waiver. And even as the ISIS soldier stood over Mustafa with a machete giving him one final chance, he would not recant his faith.

The last man standing at the gate was Jerome Division. Jerome lived a life of tragedy. He lost his wife to breast cancer at age thirty-nine. Just months later, his only child died in a tragic car accident. And at age go forty-two, Jerome was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, chondrosarcoma. The cancer acted quickly and aggressively.  It devoured his whole face, eating away at his nasal and jaw bones, displacing his left eye and robbing him of her sense of smell.

As his time on Earth drew to its final days and Jerome lay in a hospice bed, he was the most frequented patient in the center. For the nurses could not help but be drawn to his joy. Whenever they entered his room, they would find Jerome humming a hymn or with his good eye closed as he prayed to the Lord; not prayers of misery, but of praise! Praising the Lord for his faithfulness and the promise that he would soon go to be in the presence of God with his beautiful wife and beloved son.

As the four men stood waiting at heaven’s gate, the Lord came to greet them. He opened his arms and beckoned them to come in. And he said to them, ‘Each of you were given a different lot in life, yet each of you took what you were given and used it to glorify Me. You have been faithful in your brief moment on Earth, enter into the beginning of real life, eternal life. Each of you was faithful with a little, I will now give you much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

The van had been silent as Jesus spoke. And it remained so as they continued on their long road trip. The disciples now had much to think about.