A Test of Faith

Rebekah Ruth Cole
6:32 mins

I am writing today about the senseless killing of two innocent teenagers in an avowed act to destroy Christians. As bad as this is, it could have been worse. My faith could have died along with them.

Matthew Murray, age 24, opened fire with an assault rifle and shot my two friends as they got into the family van after the second service at New Life on that fateful day. Earlier he had killed two others in Arvada, Colorado, at the Youth With a Mission facility. Records show that he had some personal vendetta against Christians. Our family had been at the earlier service at New Life that day and had just arrived home when the news broke. Soon the horror of these events engulfed us all.

Stephanie (age 18) and Rachel (age 16) Works were gunned down as they were leaving worship on December 9, 2007. Both amazing women of God, they accomplished so much for His kingdom in their short lives. "They were two of the most beautiful, pure, passionate women I have ever had the honor of meeting. Their joy and smiles were so contagious."1 Both did missionary work throughout the world bringing the love of Jesus to all they met. While Stephanie was pronounced deceased at the scene, Rachel was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit to fight for her life, as was her father. While at the hospital that day I had a deep faith that our prayers would be answered and the testimony would come from Rachel being miraculously healed. But God had bigger plans.

This isn't the first time that that our church community has been assailed. In November 2006, we learned that our beloved pastor, Ted Haggard, had sinned in ways that still remain incomprehensible to me. They were most definitely abhorrent to our congregation's spiritual core. It broke my heart. I was unprepared to imagine that our pastor was, in many ways, all that he condemned. But it was Ted himself who said to us, "People will fail you, no matter how much you love and respect them, but the Holy Spirit never will." 2Through this difficult lesson, my belief became more tangible that it is Jesus who walks beside me, keeps me strong, and loves me. As one of our members said, "Faith is about something you can't see. It's about believing." 3 You can't refuse a fire, but you can refuse to let your faith be refined by that fire. We passed the internal test of purification and embraced the new future ahead for New Life Church. The best days were yet to come. God's calling to advance, to preserve, and to overcome resonated strongly within us.

But yet, a little over a year later, we faced the darkest days yet as a church and as individuals. Our very core was shaken but rather then falling, we became stronger. Rachel's last journal entry, as shared at her memorial service, demonstrates clearly the hope we found in Christ, "Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. This peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." 4 I was among the church members interviewed by The Gazette newspaper at the Memorial Service. Given my relationship with the two young girls, my quote about Rachel and Stephanie headlined the front page article following the memorial service: "They were passionate and on fire for God. They never wasted a moment." 5 They challenge us to live the same way.

The pain in my heart will ease in time but it is still too fresh to be far from my thoughts. Many questions still abound. Why do the righteous suffer when it seems "the way of the wicked prospers"?6 Why was my church the one targeted? Why did my friends have to die? What is God's plan? Yet in the midst of the overwhelming lack of control I feel, I can see God. While I might never fully understand or discover the answers, I know God works everything for His ends7. I have faith in my God for he loves me in an incomprehensible way and orders my steps according to his good, perfect, and pleasing will. It is this "unheard of trust in an unseen God"8 which brings hope and life.

Christian hero Corrie ten Boom discusses the mystery of God's magnificent meta-narrative as it relates to suffering on earth. God is weaving the threads of our life into a intricately woven tapestry but in this life we can only see the backside. It is easy to become discouraged when we see the threads going every which way, some short and some long, some smooth and others cut and knotted. But someday we will see the tapestry from God's point of view on the front side. Then we will discover how He has woven all the threads of our life into a beautiful pattern, His unique work of art.

I know that God is not the cause of our suffering but rather He is the answer to the suffering through which we are to grow strong. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."9 By His presence and intimate relationship with each of us springs forth supernatural hope, joy unspeakable, and strength to walk in victory and life.

Christians throughout history have faced tremendous obstacles, yet have prevailed since "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."10 Without hardship, without suffering, without having to learn to walk in faith, we become dormant in our Christian walk as so many churches have in the ease of 21st century America.

While answers still evade me, the question now is not why God lets something awful happen but rather seeking the testimony that will come from the trial. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."11 This is a challenge to each individual and to each church to rekindle by God's powers the lost flames of passion for His name. The cruelty of the world and depraved sinful nature of man is not the will of God but rather decisions humans make which break His heart. I know God has created us to overcome adversity through His authority and by His grace.

Pastor Brady Boyd, our new senior pastor, spoke to us about how being tested leads to a strengthening of our faith and our resolve. In his sermon at the memorial service for Rachel and Stephanie he said: "Live life on purpose. Every day matters. Every hour matters. Every relationship matters. Every friendship matters .... That's what I'm hearing from Rachel and Stephanie." 12 I know this testing of our faith leads to perseverance and purification. It's a choice to move forward into the glorious future rather then to wallow in the past. Just as the internal test of Ted Haggard's falling prepared us for the external test of a gunman attacking our church, I know God is readying us to advance His kingdom in our generation in ways previously unimaginable.

God is raising up a people who will sacrifice everything for His name, to make his gospel known. "I will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." 13 His fire is falling, his glory is coming, and we must be ready. This is a call not only to New Life, but to every church and every Christian living in the world today.

The mission of Christians today is to remain steadfast in the Lord, to 'do' as well as to pray, to 'become' instead of merely wishing, and to stay strong in the face of adversity. We absolutely must stick together as a body of people whose hope is found in Christ alone. Sharing our most frightening moments, as well as our most precious moments, together results in a thriving, healthy community of believers walking through life together. When we feel terribly alone, singled out by the cruel hand of the kingdom of this world, when we are tempted to crawl off into a dark comer, cry, and feel sorry for ourselves, we are comforted by knowing that we are part of a community, that there are people around who care about us and that we are still part of the beautiful tapestry of God's plan. Our spiritual home brings us together and keeps us in each other's lives. This was demonstrated so clearly as we all gathered to love and support the Works family for we found ourselves wedded even more closely to each other, strengthened by the unity of our sorrow and the hope of triumph in the midst of tragedy.

Our focus cannot be just inward on our own churches but it must also be outward. As we stand strong as a body of believers we can then pour ourselves out as a drink offering to reach the lost around us. We are given the responsibility to bring God's salvation to every person's world, to be the hands of Christ, and to proclaim freedom to the captives. Suffering, pain, and hardships produce a burning motivation to reach a dying and desperate world. Time is short, life is short, every moment matters.

Why don't we do what we were saved for? The church in American must awaken. Tears should be streaming down our faces, crying for the lost and unsaved to come back home. "Desperate, we must lift our hands. Stronger, we will rise up again. Freedom, it's a part of us all and its time to let it go." 14 God is asking "Whom shall I send?" and is waiting for the church crying out for revival, for the people desperate to see God's fire fall on their generation to declare "Here I am. Send me. I will go." Faith to make this statement comes from learning how to trust God wholeheartedly while facing suffocating trials of every kind.

In the midst of this testing of our faith, it's a choice to surrender our lives to Christ and to walk in the victory God has for us. In some ways, I could not have believed that we would have been able to survive in our faith with all that has happened. But that is what has transpired. I know that God is giving us all that we need to overcome. The presence of God is sweeter, the Scripture is more powerful, and the grace of God more abundant. But this movement is not just for us in Colorado Springs. It's a call to the church of America to live passionately and sacrificially while loving others for God's glory. It's a part of the wondrous design of eternal triumph God is weaving with each Christians' life. Embrace the trials, walk in trust, and live in faith. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passes away. He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new." 15 The best is yet to come...

1 Alaina Reyes, friend of Rachel and Stephanie
2 The Denver Post, November 5, 2007
3 Ibid.
4 Paraphrase of Philippians 4:57
5 The Gazette, front page.
6 Jeremiah 12:1
7 Proverbs 16:4
8 Deeper Still, IBS Publishing
9 Isaiah 41:10
10 John 16:33
11 Turtillian
12 Breaking Christian News. December 12, 20078
13 Isaiah 42: 6
14 Classic Crime, Albatross.
15 Revelation 21:45