This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." (John 11:25)
The early Christians counted it all joy when they were found worthy to suffer for Jesus. Cassie Bernall's moment of ultimate worth came when an ordinary school day turned into an extraordinary moment of United States history. With a gun pointed at her head, one of her fellow students asked, "Do you believe in God?"
The enraged shooter's finger pressed on the trigger, and Cassie had only a few seconds of life left regardless of her answer. There was no time to think about an answer, but Cassie did not have to think. God was so much a part of her life, of her heart and soul. She had made her eternal commitment long before this moment of truth, and her answer came quickly and naturally.
"Yes, I believe in God!"
"Why?" asked the shooter. Then he pulled the trigger before she could reply--almost as if he was afraid of her answer. Not long after that, he shot himself. In less than a heartbeat he knew the answer to his question to Cassie.
Unfortunately, the answer came too late.
A moment of introspection: Dangerous question--freeing answer. In the face of death, Cassie chose life. For believers, life doesn't end at death; in the truest sense for us Christians, real life begins when the earthly life ends. For Christians around the world, Cassie's executioner asked an all-too-familiar question of identity. For some Christians, the question is phrased as "Recite the Shahada"--Do you believe in God? For some Christians, the question comes in the form of beatings and shouting from non-believing family members--Do you believe in God? For some believers, the question comes in the reciting of the Apostles' Creed--Do you believe in God? For many, this is a very dangerous question. It is often non-verbal; hearing that a person in a village is a Christian, mobs break in, destroy houses and churches, maim or kill pastors and families, burn Bibles and steal all possessions. An old question had often been posed, asking: "If you were a Christian facing a trial, would there be enough evidence [of your faith] to uphold a conviction?" Alas, in more and more countries, today, evidence for conviction or attack is not required. Rumor suffices; planted "evidence" on Facebook is enough; false claims of disparagement of the "sacred" objects or personages of other religions is acceptable; changed lives incite furor and hatred.
One might say that Ms. Bernall was brave. For Cassie, though, bravery was not even felt. Identification with and belonging to God was so strong, that her answer would not have come out any other way. "Yes, I believe in God!" She had no fear. Yet many Christians live in fear; some fall away from the faith. In the Middle East, as elsewhere, having made the conscious decision to follow Christ, these new Christians find life difficult and fraught with persecution from former friends and family. Offered mammon by the Seducer, the persons leave their new-found faith and return to unbelief. In northern Africa, facing an execution squad, 20 of 50 believers recanted their faith and were spared execution. The steadfast were beheaded or shot. Jesus warned His followers: "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4-5) Cassie had learned this healthy lesson, and had no trepidation when faced with her slayer.
For many of us, the answer to Cassie's killer might have been that of the father with the son who had an unclean spirit, as he cried out to the Christ, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (context - Mark 9:14-29) As such we might ask for a time-out, to develop a deeper, abiding faith. Ms. Bernall found within herself the mettle for the moment when it was needed. She needed no more time to practice and practice belief. So, she had what was needed. Perhaps Cassie had had other instances in which (though less acute) her faith had been tested; perhaps in these other moments her faith had been sorely tried as classmates or friends turned their backs to her because of her faith. But the testing of her faith conformed with God's Word: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine) James' words would have served the father of the son with the unclean spirit--showing him how to develop a more deeply-inculcated belief or faith. For us the same is true--to have the deeply held confidence in our God that Cassie had, our faith needs to be tested and rooted deeply within us. The apostle Paul explained this to the church at Rome, expounding upon the need for a deep faith in the face of opposition or persecution: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5, emphasis mine)
In our lives, if we shy away from situations that offer opposition, that test our faith, we grasp our shallow faith and avoid movement toward steadfastness of belief. If we side-step instances of society's hostility toward believers and merely watch such hatred from the grandstand, we avoid developing the endurance, character and hope that suffering produces within us. As spectators, our faith remains shallow, untested, and untried. As Christians, are we to look for trouble? No. Jesus Christ said that trouble will find us:
Matthew 6:34 (NKJV)
"Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
John 15:18 (NKJV)
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. "He who hates Me hates My Father also. "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. "But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'
This hatred is not new news. Many believers around the world can attest to the opposition and persecution that cause our brothers and sisters of the faith so much suffering. At one time within recent memory, a large group of believers were described as having faith "a mile wide, and an inch deep". The world does not care how deeply our faith is rooted. It only cares whether we call ourselves Christians, or if the world doesn't want people of faith within it. So, it uses epithets and casts aspersions on believers (aka: Infidels, CIA spies, anti-government propagandists, illegals, subversives, etc.). Hatred of Christianity began with Christ's own experiences of society's loathing, and has continued down through the ages until today. We too experience hatred toward us (as believers within the world) without a cause--and according to what is known of Bible prophecy, this will worsen. Shy not from the test of faith, that comes unrequested, but with purpose dear. (Matthew 5:43-45a) With a tested, practiced faith we as believers can know the deep, deep love of Jesus: "Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus, far surpassing all the rest; it’s an ocean full of blessing in the midst of every test." His love can lodge at our core just as a practiced and tested faith can exist within us--a Cassie Bernall faith. Our own faith. "Do you believe in God?" May we be known as those of faith--tried and true. "Yes, I believe in God!"