It is becoming commonplace to insert the name of a city between a hashtag and “strong,” thereby symbolizing a community’s solidarity following tragedy. There was #Bostonstrong, #Charlestonstrong, and now there’s another one – #Noogastrong (and #ChattanoogaStrong).
It’s becoming all to common, isn’t it? And for me, it’s WAY beyond “close to home”; it IS home! Chattanooga, nearly eight hours away from Charleston, SC, the place I just visited. Chattanooga, the place where I came home to after praying on the steps of Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The world is just too small these days.
But Chattanooga, my city, is not just another hashtag in a list of tragedies. Chattanooga is a strong community with a strong sense of pride. And even though our town is full of nominal, backslidden Christians who can barely tell the difference between theology and skiology, Chattanooga is still a place with strong faith in its veins.
At first I felt a little apprehensive, for I am not one who subscribes to the ecumenical belief that all faiths are equally valid and true; I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to God. However, as a Chattanoogan, I felt the need to come together with others, despite our differences, to encourage not only peace, but the realization that good can come from evil, love can conquer hate, and that Jesus is the Way.
Gov. Bill Haslam (TN) was only one of several distinguished speakers at tonight’s meeting (our congressman and both senators were there, too). But it was Governor Haslam who made the case for a community prayer service, even if we considered this city a “Babylon.” He spoke of the captivity of Israel and the command by God to build houses and plant gardens, and “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace”(Jeremiah 29:7).
One of the most amazing things to see tonight, however, was the number of Muslims who came to the service – a predominately Christian service, in a Baptist church, on what was supposed to have been a day of Muslim religious celebration. They came to show their solidarity with their fellow Chattanoogans. As a matter of fact, the Imam that spoke nearly broke into tears as he condemned the actions of the Muslim shooter.
But what was truly incredible was what happened toward the end of the Imam’s speech. He asked that all those Muslims present who agreed with him, who condemned the actions of July 17, who wanted peace, to stand in unified allegiance, not as Muslims, but as Chattanoogans! They did! At least a hundred or more! All I could think at that moment was, “Man, that guy just became a target.” OH! If only more Muslims would do this publicly!
One man that stood up was an older man who was sitting next to me on my right. I stood up, took his hand to shake it, then embraced him. As we embraced I said, “Thank you!” He said, with tears in his eyes, “No, thank you! I served in the Army, too.” Later he told me that his heart was so heavy, and that he loved Chattanooga so much, that even after he moved to Florida, he kept his Chattanooga license plate – and comes back each year to renew it!
Later, when the meeting was over, I seriously stepped out of my comfort zone – seriously. I walked up to four guys who looked as stereotypically Muslim as could be, reached out my hand, and said, “Thank you for coming.” Of course, in conversation I told them who I was, so…it’s all in God’s hands. My uncomfortable zones are never outside God’s zone.
“Witnesses of Me”
It is easy to believe that everything is out of control, that God and Elvis have left the building. I mean, the more #strongs we see, the more likely we are to conclude that the Enemy is winning, correct? Well, don’t get too discouraged! Remember, the battle isn’t even a contest; it’s fixed – God wins!
Just look at all that has happened. Seriously! Here we have a radical, hate-filled Muslim “extremist” thinking he’s going to bring honor and glory to his cause by killing unarmed Marines, policemen, and everyone else. Sure, his name and cause gets mentioned, but what else happens?
The name of Jesus Christ is broadcast day and night! On radio and television! Around the world! This happened in Charleston, too! What the Enemy meant for harm, God has used to proclaim the forgiving, restoring, gracious love of Risen Saviour! For crying out loud, folks! There were over a hundred Muslims who sat through a Christian prayer service tonight! People were praying – in the name of Jesus! Even politicians!!
Never forget the full ramifications of Acts 1:8 and what it means to be a “witness.” Sometimes our Father calls us to be witnesses of His Son by becoming martyrs (the word translated “witness” [μάρτυς] is the word from which we get “martyr”).
We Need Him
A lot of people came to the prayer vigil that were not followers of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, both Jews and Muslims had words to say, along with “Christians” of every creed and color. Nevertheless, the name of Jesus Christ was proclaimed within those walls and to people watching around the world.
And even though it could be rightly argued that many in attendance worshiped a false god, there was something very positive and encouraging permeating the prayer vigil my little girl and I attended: it was humility. You see, whatever else you want to say, Chattanooga was humble enough to admit that there is a Higher Power to Whom we must go for help in times of need – not Washington or our local mayor – we need God!
I firmly believe Chattanooga is the best mid-size city in America. But it was like what our former Governor, and former presidential candidate, Senator Lamar Alexander said in his final words about the whole “Chattanooga Strong” thing: he prayed, “God, make Chattanooga strong.”
With God’s help, Chattanooga will heal. And as we are blessed with healing, we will be a blessing to the world.
Please continue to pray for Chattanooga, my hometown.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1