Our prison simulation for the high school students ended over 65 hours ago… yet my mind and heart continue to process that experience. I wasn’t even one of the prisoners, but it had a great impact on me. The struggle I’m having is in asking myself the question: “HOW is this going to impact me?” I know that it has, but I also know that it would be easy for me to push the experience away and just slide right back into everyday life. I don’t want that.
At the end of the 12-hour simulation we revisited a passage that we also started the day with from Hebrews 11-12. At the end of chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews talks about various forms of persecution that people of that time were experiencing… jeers, flogging, chained, put in prison, stoned, sawed in two, put to death by the sword, and more. Heading into chapter 12 we see a very big word: “THEREFORE”. That means… as we read these upcoming verses, keep that persecution, and those people in mind! It says:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix out eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 12:1-3)
Therefore… as you consider all the people who have suffered …. throw off what hinders and run the race. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
As we wrapped up the long day, I spoke of how we may not experience the same kind of persecution that over 200 million Christians in the world experience, but as we run our race… we run with them. We too are called to throw off the things that hinder us and step up in our own worlds. I truly believe we face persecution of a different kind in our culture. We face the persecution that says “STAY QUIET” and “KEEP YOUR BELIEFS TO YOURSELF!” We may not be beaten into submission but the call is clear to BE TOLERANT… that you can believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe and as long as you don’t get too loud about your beliefs, it’ll all be peachy.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to go crazy and I’m DEFINITELY not saying to disrespect others and their beliefs. I am saying, though, that if we don’t use the freedoms we actually have in this country to believe what we want and to speak about it, soon those freedoms will fade away. It reminds me of some verses we discussed at the Short Course last night that talk about “grace and truth”. This is definitely a case where both are extremely careful. We can slide to one side and get so wrapped up in speaking truth that people get pushed away from Jesus instead of drawn to him through his love and grace. Or, we can focus so much on loving everyone that we forget to speak truth and they sadly never meet the real Jesus who IS the Truth.
Again, I’m trying to figure out what this really means… not just on a general, “all of us Chrsitians” level… but on a personal level…. a level that says what am I doing to stand up and speak boldly about what I believe? What am I doing in the face of cultural persecution? What am I doing when what I believe clashes with what the culture around me is saying? Will I just go along with it and keep what I believe to myself or will I stand up and speak? How am I living in grace AND truth?
I pray that we’d all have discernment to know how to react in the face of persecution of any kind and that when it comes down too it, that our whole lives would simply be all about Jesus. I pray that our ONLY goal would be to fix our eyes on Him and run the race He has marked out for us. If that path includes speaking up, I pray I’d have boldness to speak up. If it means staying quiet, I pray I’d have the grace to do just that. If my race calls me to physical suffering at any point, that God would be my strength and if the race leads me through times of relief from persecution that I’d rejoice in those moments. But I can only discern what action (or inaction) is needed when my eyes are firmly fixed on Him. Most of all, in EVERY moment, I pray that I would remember the God who came to earth and found it JOY to suffer for me… because he loves me that much…. and that His great love would flow out of me to all around me.