Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.
They have come for us before but it has always made us stronger. They have visited darkness upon us throughout two thousand years of history, yet it has only served to contrast with testaments of courage, love and light. They have danced while covered in Christian blood and celebrated the carnage. Starved and panting lions have been uncaged before. It has all happened before.
Yesterday, Islamist radicals raided a morning Mass in Normandy, France and beheaded an 86 year old priest. One nun, reportedly named Sister Danielle, was taken hostage and described the awful scene. "They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened," she reportedly said. "They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror."
Christianity is replete with similar stories. Yet atrocities and horrors have not crippled the spread of the gospel. In fact, the counterintuitive nature of Christianity's advancement puzzles the world which seems unwilling to understand that sacrifice and martyrdom only highlight for us that we are followers of a crucified Christ. It is Christians willingness to live and die to spread a message of love that sets us apart, not a willingness to kill. The world is always willing to kill for this reason or that reason.
While you can kill Christians, you will never eradicate the Church. It turns out that despite thousands of years of attempts, you can not extinguish the light of Christianity with darkness. In fact, the light only shines brighter in the darkness. And people notice. We are created to be drawn to the light. The terrible sounds of explosions and violence will square off with whispered words of love and forgiveness. And I believe, I firmly believe, that many will understand the difference and embrace the faith.
When Stephen was martyred, he prayed aloud "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Acts continues to say that “then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’" Saul was present there. He witnessed this horrible act of violence and he heard Stephen's final plea for forgiveness in the face of hate. There's no telling the impact that Stephen's message of love and forgiveness at the time of his own death eventually had on Saul. Perhaps it made him open to his later conversion which changed the course of Christianity.
I firmly pray that these dark days will ultimately serve to bring forth courageous Christians and make them shine as examples of our beloved faith. I believe violence will never silence the gospel, it will only serve to make it come alive in the hearts of those open to viewing it, to hearing it.
Please join in prayer that the world will open its eyes and listen.