At first glance, terrorism, love and lent seems distantly related. Let’s be honest, they don’t seem related at all. But Sunday’s news of 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS brought these three things together for me.
First I wondered about their final moments. Did Jesus give peace to those men in a moment that humanly could only hold terror? I choose to believe so for two reasons. First, I’m an optimist. I pretty much always think things are going to be fine. Second (and this reason is much more valid), in writing the book of Acts, Luke tells us as Stephen was about to be stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus saw what was happening to his child, and gave Stephen a glimpse into the reality of His glory, a glimpse I am certain overwhelmed the fear and terror Stephen surely felt.
Once assured of God’s peace to those men, I began to think about how to frame this in my life. My first inclination is always to bury my head in the sand because, 1) it helps me remain an optimist, 2) I don’t know these men, 3) it happened far away from my home, and 4) except for the blood rushing to my head, it’s easier to sleep with my head in the sand.
And yet, I can’t do that.
I may not know these men, and it may have happened far away, but I cannot deny the common bond I have with them. I, too, am one of the “people of the cross.” The fact that we have not met does not diminish our kinship in Christ.
The fact that it happened at all does not diminish the reality that Christ died for every member of ISIS. He died to bring freedom to every terrorist, every perpetrator, every…single…person…ever.
So, what do I do? What do we do? (We’re in this together, people of the cross.)Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent which is a 40-day journey leading up to Easter. Many Christians have historically observed Lent as a period of fasting and penitence.
I did not grow up observing Lent. I was in my 30’s before I attended an Ash Wednesday service or thought about “giving up” something for Lent.
Since then, I’ve observed Lent in different ways. Sometimes I’ve given up something. Some years, I’ve “take on” something like a specified prayer time, or regular scripture reading. Some years, I’ve done nothing specific. Most of my seasons of giving up or taking on something were done with the idea of helping me better follow Christ — an emphasis on Christ, but with an eye turned toward me.
This year seems different. While I hope always to strive to be a better follower of Christ, this year I feel a need to not concern myself with, well, myself. I’d like to take my head out of the sand and, in some way, mobilize God’s kingdom.
Those are good, strong words. But honestly, I feel afraid, unsure and small.
Can I put myself in a position for Jesus to lessen my fear, increase my courage in Him, and maybe let me play a small part in growing His kingdom? Can I put myself in a better position for the Holy Spirit to grow a love in me reflecting God, my Father, and his love for the unlovable?
That is my hope.
A friend recently shared a link on Facebook to the Adopt A Terrorist For Prayer website. Such a profound idea! Looking around the site I found a gallery of FBI and State Department identified terrorists and terrorism sponsors. (Seriously, as I looked through the pictures and names, I felt more heart-pounding fear than courage !)
The site also has a great section on very specific ways to pray for those who terrify us.
Believing Jesus when he said, “Perfect love casts out fear,” I choose to pray specifically for one of those who persecute the “people of the cross”.
Even if you don’t choose to Adopt a Terrorist For Prayer through that site, I hope you’ll look at the site and then consider praying for those who are persecuting others through terrorism, the sex-trade, abuse or any other form of manipulation.
The brutality shown by ISIS and others can easily breed fear, hate, anger. But we cannot allow it to breed complacency.
I don’t need to fear — I have the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling me even if I face death.
I don’t want to hate — I want to model Christ by loving those who hate.
I don’t want to be angry without doing something to make the situation and the kingdom of God better.
Stephen set the example by praying for those about to murder him. His witness played a role in the conversion of Paul, who, before his conversion was nothing if not a terrorist. (I am not using that term lightly.)
I’ve often heard it’s impossible to hate someone you pray for. I hope that’s true about fear, too. I’m on a 40-day journey to find out.
Will you join me?