In the last few weeks our central MN community has been rocked by a number of tragedies. Our world shattered when we found out the horrible truth about what happened to Jacob Wetterling. It took 23 years, but finally he came home to us. Just when we were picking up the pieces, tragedy struck again. This time it took the form of multiple people being assaulted and stabbed at our local mall before the assailant was finally gunned down. Ten people were assaulted and injured. Early reports claim that the young man was asking some of the people if they believed in Allah before stabbing them and speculation is that it was religiously motivated. ISIS has claimed the attack, however, it is still unfounded as they are likely to claim any negative thing that happens if they feel it will further their agenda.

lifebelt-459754_640So this is when it all gets very real. This is where fear steps in, stewing and stirring itself into anger and hatred in the hearts of everyday people. This is where people flounder, drowning in hatered, and it isn’t hard to see why. Those without God can have a hard time with what has happened, after all, it is hard to have hope when there is nothing to hope in. Your life and the life of those you love in this present moment is all you think you have. Those who proclaim a belief in God flounder too; they flounder because they are human and their hearts are naturally dark and ugly; they flounder because they have belief but have not read for themselves the commands that Christ gave us on how to live particularly in times such as these; they flounder because they succumb to doubt; because they forget about God’s almighty power and lose trust in His plan; they doubt because they have been trusting themselves and not God; they doubt because God has never promised to make things easy & comfortable in this world and that is scary- in fact, we are clearly told in the Bible that we will suffer.

Times like these are not only when Christians are struggling the most, but also when they are under the severest of scrutiny. This scrutiny comes from people of other faiths, fellow Christians, agnostics, and atheists.  After all, how do you judge Christianity best? Most do so by watching how those who call themselves Christians conduct themselves. If only this were a true gauge by which to measure. Anyone who wants to can call themselves a Christian; there is no test to pass or official badge to earn. Additionally, all Christians are human and prone to mess up time and time again. The best and only reliable way to determine what a Christian is supposed to be like is to turn to the Bible and read the instructions that were so clearly laid out by Christ. It’s everywhere throughout the New Testament- be gentle, kind, peaceable, gracious. Love your enemy as you love yourself. Do unto others… and on and on. You don’t have to dig far.

But when things like this happen, not just in the world but in your own backyard, things can get ugly. People get fearful. Anger and hatred bubble up to the surface.  People forget that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). What is a madman compared to God? What is ISIS compared to the Most Holy?

As Christians we know that God can work all things to his glory. Islam has been a fast growing religion and while true practitioners of Islam are peaceful people, it is drawing many away from the truth of Christ. Who is to say that God will not use radical Islamists to orchestrate its collapse? To cause everyday Muslims to look inside their hearts and begin to quesiton? We don’t know, but it is possible. Everything is possible through God. And if they look to you, what image of God woman-1466239_640will you portrait?

I don’t know God’s plans, probably couldn’t wrap my head around it if He called me on the phone and told me all about it, but what I do know is that God calls us to use this and every other moment to reach out in gentleness and love to those who are lost- this includes Muslims. Muslims are worth no less than our atheist next door neighbors, fallen away coworkers, or unbelieving best friend. We are called to show all people the love of Christ through our actions. Jesus came across adulterers, murders, people possessed by demons, and other various “villains” every day and never once did he shun them- instead, he reached out in love, showed them mercy and that is what turned their hearts away from sin and false idols. This was what they longed for and in receiving His love they found Truth.

So in these next few days it is best to lay down your smart phone and pick up your Bible. Read, pray, meditate on how God’s word can be best shown through your actions.

“Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James 1:19-20

 

That is for me and it is also for you. We are not to be of this world. We are not to fear what happens to us here. We are made for something greater; this time is but a breath.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[a]—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  1 John 2:15-17

So my brothers & sisters I plead with you again. Lay down your phones and tablets. Drop the newspaper. Stop reading. It doesn’t matter. Any of it. The details of what happened or who or why do not matter! Bathing in them will only bring more sorrow and anger. It will only invite more evil. What matters is what Christ asks for us to do from here. Not sure what that is? Romans 12 couldn’t make it anymore clear and it is particularly poignant at times like these:

…14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written,“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

Brothers & sisters, you don’t need to be scared. God is with you. You may suffer and hurt and bear unbelievable sorrows before you stand before Him, but believe me when I tell you it will be so worth it. I ask you to be strong and remember that. I ask you to be strong yet gentle and kind. If you see a brother stumbling, direct him back to God’s word. Show him a better way. Show him the love that Christ has shown you. Teach him to forgive as Christ has forgiven you. Your sin is no less than that of the assailant’s- a tough pill to swallow, but remember that. Remember that Christ died for you before you were ever ready to ask for forgiveness; God sacrificed his son even though you didn’t, and will never, deserve it.

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This morning I watched my Muslim coworker succumb to sobbing in front of our entire team as he tried to express the hurt that this one event has brought on him personally, as well as his community as a whole. He is broken. Many are- not just you. Our entire community, hell, our entire world regardless of religion or ethnicity, is broken and there is only one way to help- show each and every one the love of Christ.

Lastly, for those of you out there who are not a Christian I ask that you be patient and gentle in judging those around you who call themselves Christian yet spew words of hate and of anger. They are scared, just like you. They have stumbled or maybe even fallen away completely. They may have never truly known Christ in the first place. Know that their actions are not representational of God’s word or his ultimately plan for us. If you want to know God more deeply, pick up a Bible. Open it. Read it. Ask questions. Christ changes us, but we are slow to learn and we mess up constantly. We are so much less than he is. We are terrible representatives most of the time, but he loves us anyway. Just like he loves you.