Tick. Tick. Tick.
The time ticks off the clock.
It’s 2 AM and the Florida moon is an illuminated sliver on its side. The screen bends the light into a cross slicing straight through the center. I want to grab that moon by the tail and swing as a child, my curls swaying along with the sundress Grandma sewed for me when I was four. I can see it still, the pastel-striped seersucker covering my young skin, covering a once young girl, naïve, not knowing the evil of others.
My childhood is long gone. I know I can’t grab the moon.
So I grab hold of the cross in my mind. I close my eyes, letting the love of Jesus comfort my aching heart. I lay awake on this peaceful, moon-drenched night because of twenty-one brothers kneeling on a beach far away to the east. They sang songs to Jesus as their captors’ blades drew near their necks.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
One second alive, then they were gone. Twenty-one young men, their beheaded bodies thrown into the sea for the whole world to see.
Because they didn’t just murder. They made a documentary.
The massacre was taped and titled . . .
“A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross”
They wanted the world not just to know, but to see. So they posted their murder on YouTube.
Why wouldn’t they show themselves? Why dressed all in black?
Those who killed and “signed with blood” their message to “the nation of the cross”—they hid behind their black drapes as they tried to wipe out the Cross of Christ with knives. But do they know?
The Cross. Was Signed. With Blood. By Jesus.
Jesus signed His own name, in His own blood, signing off all our debts, all our sins.
Jesus gets the last signature.
He said, “It is done.”
The blood of Jesus wipes away all evil.
He makes us white as snow—or sand.
And this is what these kneeling men on the Libyan beach believed. And they refused to recant. The cross of Jesus Christ where His blood was shed for their sins is what sent them home to be with their Savior, singing His praises till the end.
Still, they left loved ones grieving their loss. I prayed for the living, that God would heal their hearts.
Then my prayers left the Libyan beach and I prayed for my brothers and sisters all over this earth who are persecuted, tortured, and executed by religious extremists who dare to disagree with their beliefs and their ways.
Religious extremists hate what Jesus loves. They love what Jesus hates. It’s all so backwards, really. And let us not forget that religious extremists are found in every religion, including Christianity. Jesus cares not for labels of religious identification. Actions speak louder than words.
“Crucify him!” came from the religious.
Atrocities throughout history have been committed in the name of Christ. This truth does not mean Jesus approved then or approves now or will ever approve.
But let’s just speak of belief here for a moment.
Specifically, let’s just speak plain truth here.
My Egyptian Christian brothers were murdered because of their BELIEF in Jesus Christ. That’s it.
Our president might not say so, ever politically correct. But the Pope was brave enough, thankfully.
The bottom line is this:
OUR WORLD IS AT WAR. AND IT IS A RELIGIOUS WAR.
The truth is told in the Book I believe—The Holy Bible—inerrant and inspired by God.
In OUR Book, Jesus commands us to PRAY for our enemies, not CURSE them. Jesus commands us to LOVE our enemies, not KILL them.
Yet, for those who know the Bible, hate and killing are as inevitable as loving and birthing in this broken world. Just read Ephesians 6 to learn of our world’s war, written in detail.
I open my Bible at 2 AM and read it again, the passage I’ve read countless times since I was ten . . .
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for the saints. Ephesians 6: 10-18 (ESV, emphasis mine)
I realize that those who beheaded my “family” on that Libyan beach while I relaxed, free and at ease on a white Floridian beach, could read the first part of this passage and find justification for their actions.
But re-read the words of the second part—the words I emphasized to make a point.
We who love Jesus fight evil best on our knees with the sword of the Spirit—the word of God—the gospel of peace—the peace that Jesus offers everyone whose knee bows and tongue confesses Jesus Christ is Lord.
I grieve this night for the murdered and their families. But I also give thanks. Because the one true God is on the move. Because whenever even one follower of Jesus Christ is persecuted, tortured, and killed, the gospel message spreads like seed on the wind. Because “gospel” means “good news”. And good news is spread to the farthest reaches of earth when believers are blown away.
Love always triumphs.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, we must stand together, encouraging each other to rise above fear. We must rise and live on the level of love and truth.
Hold fast. Stand firm.
Uphold TRUTH. Always LOVE.
Never sacrifice one for the other.
Truth and love are eternally tied.
Unbalanced beliefs always implode.
Our God says this:
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I Corinthians 13: 4-6 (ESV, emphasis mine)
I carry the murdered men’s faces in my mind as I walk the Florida beach, whiter than white, the only death-evidence a tide line of empty shells. How thankful I am for empty shells of humans whose eternal souls live on with our God who promises to avenge—so we don’t have to.
I am thankful for empty tombs.
While I will always grieve evil behaviors, I still hold onto sure hope. And I will not let our enemies, physical and spiritual, snuff out the flame of joy God gives.
Jesus will come again, just as He said. God is making all things new, even now. He will right every wrong and wipe every tear.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It’s only a question of time.
I fall back to sleep, at peace, and rise with the sun.
My friends and I prepare for our journey. We boat out on calm sea, meandering through mangroves whose broken roots float and plant themselves along other parts of the white-sand shore, starting new life from the broken.
We press on, into the Gulf, and I look back on the wake all curved and effervescent, reflecting the sun.
And I whisper a silent thank-you to our God who is Love—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I exhale all pain— all grief— and send it out as ash thrown on the wind, falling in the liquid trail we leave behind, moving on toward the distant but sure shore where we will rest and soak in the sun.