Victory Out of Tragedy

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Nine Christians and their rampaging executioner lived their last day on earth yesterday. Growing reports of the terror-inflicting mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon seeped into news broadcasts leaving readers and listeners dry-mouthed and uncomprehending. Why do people do these things? When eyewitness accounts described the shooter’s demands to know who were Christians and had them rise to meet his deadly aim, we began to understand his motive, but we could not comprehend his inhumanity. Wrong! Everything in us cries, ‘What he did is wrong!’ At times like this we all know without a shadow of a doubt that there is a moral standard to life. Right and wrong exist. Wrong brings death and horror and pain. Today we feel it and it weighs heavily on our hearts.

But yesterday’s tragedy is not the climax of the story. Those nine brave and true individuals who rose in integrity to stand for the truth of the One who died for them are not victims of tragedy alone. They are victors over the spirit of this world’s sullen attempts to snuff out their light.

“You are the light of the world,” explains Jesus to His followers. It implies the existence of darkness. Jesus well knew the dark influences that would demand the ransom of His own life in exchange for the lives of many. But darkness can’t hold a candle to real light—the brilliant, God-exuding light of truth and goodness and love. “Let your light shine before men,” adds Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

I suggest we view the nine victims as victors for good reason. These nine individuals stood up to a horrific threat, well aware of the consequences of their stand, and accepted the results of identifying with Jesus Christ, even though it meant sure death. Their stand shines a bright light on what it means to be created in the image of God. Their stand, we might even suggest, saved the lives of those who lay on the ground, diverting the gunmen’s bullets from others to themselves. Their choice to stand as followers of Christ in the face of death helps us consider the source of their strength and courage. Christ is that strength.

So terror and death exist, but that is not the end of the story. Christ’s strength makes it only the beginning. The gunman was right about one thing. His victims would not be annihilated by his hateful act but rather meet their Maker in glorious welcome. We sorrow in the loss of their earthly presence, but the great tragedy is the gunman’s own submission to evil and self-destruction. He became the worst victim in the tragedy.

What is the take-home message of this event that tears at the moral fabric of our society? I suggest that each of us ought to think long and hard about what we would have done in a similar situation. Would we have taken a stand for the One who stands forever at the side of those who love Him? If our answer is, “I’m not sure” or even “No”, we are invited by God, the loving Father of every human being, to come to Him in humble prayer. We have the opportunity to turn more fully to His compassion and faithfulness, to ask for His strength and courage to follow Him, and to grow spiritual muscles that will help us to stand for Him in whatever comes our way.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” invites Jesus, “and I will give you rest.”

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ESCAPE AND STAND

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          The most thrilling adventure stories always seem to include two key elements: an exciting escape and a bold stand. Louie Zamperini’s life is no exception. Unbroken, the story of his life and the movie soon to be released, tells the tale of repeated escapes and stands. We thrill to those kinds of stories. We are excited, intoxicated and exhilarated by them, because they tell us a core truth about this life. We are in a battle for survival – every one of us.

“Be careful,” Jesus warns, “or your hearts will be weighted down…”

That’s true, we agree. Life should be fun, shouldn’t it?

“Be careful or your hearts will be weighted down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” He’s talking about the end of life.

“For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth,” He adds. He’s very inclusive. No one escapes his own mortality. No one is immune to facing her own precarious adventure story.

“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). There it is: escape and stand.

The way He talks, our triumph is not certain. There are dangers about that can inundate us, weigh us down, engulf, besiege and overwhelm us. He even cites for us the three areas that are sure traps to our ultimate goal of survival.

One trap is ‘dissipation’. Let’s use the word decadence instead. Jesus is talking about our fascination with self and the trinkets we use to prop up that self. We overeat, over-primp, over-earn and overspend. Our obsession with making ourselves feel good and look good is actually at the expense of our real selves.

“Set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God,” the Apostle Paul counsels us. Hearts set on things below eventually become weighted down. Jesus wants more for us — much more. We know the phrase, ‘reach for the stars’; Jesus is saying, ‘reach for me’. The heart that reaches for Him is on the right path.

Another trap is ‘drunkenness’. Let’s use the word desensitization. Jesus is talking about our tendency to use various means to dull our sensitivity to His voice. Drunkenness pictures for us the use of alcohol to block out the sensations of real life – but we have other ways of doing that too. We become preoccupied with the loud to block out the quiet. Loud boasting, loud music, loud schedules – they all desensitize us to the still soft voice of God who wants to speak to our hearts.

The third trap is ‘anxiety’. Lets keep the word anxiety because we know it fits us like a glove, a grasping, squeezing iron glove that crushes our inner peace and steals our joy. The tensions, worries and fears of this life are not peripheral concerns. Jesus says they are powerful enough to rob us of our ability to escape and stand up to our life’s quest.

There is a solution to anxiety, drunkenness and dissipation. It’s faith — not faith in the ethereal notion of faith, but faith in Jesus as the sole means to our successful escape from what He calls perishing. Faith in Jesus is also the only means of our being able to stand before Him some day, beyond this life and world, in confidence of His love and acceptance.

So, watch and pray, He ends up saying. Be alert. Keep lines of communication open with Him. Avoid the traps this world holds for those who are careless. He wants every one of us to have stories to tell some day of our escape and our stand.

(Photo Credit: “A321 sunspots 09.26.2014 (15359237736)” by sebastien lebrigand from crépy en valois, FRANCE – A321 sunspots 09.26.2014. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A321_sunspots_09.26.2014_(15359237736).jpg#/media/File:A321_sunspots_09.26.2014_(15359237736).jpg)