Persecution of A Different Kind

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.

Locked Up – Follow Up

Wow!  That’s the word that first comes to mind when I think about the LOCKED UP simulation for high school students at First Trinity yesterday.  For 12 hours, eight students from First Trinity and Grace-Niagara Falls gave up their identities and their rights to get a little taste of what it’s like to live in a country where being a Christian is illegal.

 

After hearing from Marty Doster about his experience in China, the students were processed into the prison and began to experience a VERY small taste of the reality that over 200 million Christians face everyday.  With guards yelling in their face, forcing them to do physical challenges, and mocking Christians any chance they got, the students began soon realized that this wasn’t an ordinary day at youth group.

 

One of my personal favorite moments from the day happened a couple hours into the simulation a few of the students couldn’t resist smiling.  As one of the guards were telling them to smile, they responded that even if they wiped the smile off their face, they’d still be smiling on the inside.  Each in push-up position while the other prisoners answered, they one by one confirmed that they were all indeed smiling on the inside because no matter what they were facing that day, they knew God was with them.

THAT, my friends, is the joy we have as Christians… not happiness that comes and goes with circumstances… but deep rooted joy in a God who loves us and cares for us and is good.

 

While I hope to write more stories throughout the week ahead, I wanted to be sure to share what a couple students posted on their Facebook page (for the whole world to see) as soon as they returned home from LOCKED UP last night.

“Had an amazing experience today… cant even believe christians around the world actually have to go through stuff worse than that everyday.. it was pretty [bad] but im now stronger in faith and in the bond with my “cell” mates.. love you guys and all the christians around the world!”

“I will never be able to fully explain what happened today. all i know i can express to you is that the events of this day have changed me. i, as well as a few other people, got the chance to really see what it’s like for a persecuted Christian in the world today. i feel so connected to God, my youth group, and all of the people throughout the world who are fighting and dying to keep their faith alive. today was really an amazing experience.”

 

Want to find out more about persecuted Christians around the world, or even write a letter to one who needs some encouragement?  Check out Open Doors or ask me for more information.

Thank you for praying for the youth that participated and the persecuted Christians we were thinking of all day.

More pictures of the event can be found on the First Trinity Facebook Page.

Sticky Faith

A while ago I started reading the book Sticky Faith.  I’ve picked it up again now that we’re through the busy holiday season and continue to love what I read.  This book is based on the results of a 4-year longitudinal study (which, for those of you who may  not be as passionate about psychology, sociology, and research like I am,  means meaning they followed the same people over the course of 4 years to get their data).  They interviewed, surveyed and used various other methods of research to gather data from youth group members during their senior year of high school and then the three years after that with the goal of figuring out what makes faith “stick” (or not stick) in their lives.

You can expect more posts about this as I read through the book, but today  I wanted to point to a blog post on the Sticky Faith Blog.  The author of this post was responding to a previous post discussing young adults leaving the church.  Some of the comments made by him and others sound a bit harsh at first, but I believe there is some truth in the statements as well for the Body of Christ as whole. One particular comment that caught my attention was this:

… if you’re a church member or leader, please take a hard look at the ways that you might have allowed your community to become unwelcoming and maybe irrelevant to younger folks.  Maybe it’s not so much that young folks have abandoned the church, but that the church has abandoned them.

As for First Trinity, my experience is that this is a place that is very welcoming and relevant to all types of people from all different age groups.  This comes through even in the story statements that sort of “define” this place:

  • All People Matter
  • Rooted and Relevant
  • Celebrating Life Together

With that though, there is always room for growth.  I want to constantly be on the lookout for ways we can help these three statements be even more true in this place for even more people.  I’m not sure of the answers, but I’m excited to continue to read more of this book, do some research of our own in our context and see what things we can do to help faith “stick” in the lives of youth, young adults… and really all of us.   I challenge you to do the same!

Hunger in WNY

According to the American Community Survey, Buffalo is the third poorest large city in America. 

Across the state, 2.3 million residents rely on emergency food assistance each year. That breaks down to about 570,000 different people turning to emergency food programs for weekly help in the state of NY.  (From “Hunger in America 2010.  Feeding America.”)  Hunger isn’t just something that impacts people in all those “other” countries around the world.  People in America, people in our own neighborhoods, suffer from hunger everyday. 

This weekend at the 30 Hour Famine, participants will have a chance to make an impact in our own community.  Through one of the activities, students will collect non-perishable food items, water, and blankets/coats.  With the items collected, we will restock what is needed in the First Trinity Food Pantry.  Saturday afternoon the participants will be going to the Food Bank of Western New York.  Here we will donate the rest of the food collected, get a tour and hear more about hunger in WNY.  The Food Bank of Western New York works with around 400 member agencies in four counties to distribute food to those in need.  These 400 agencies serve over 96,000 people, 39% of whom are children and 11% of whom are seniors.  Any blankets or coats we collect will be given to area agencies to hand out to people who need some extra warmth this winter.

Please continue to pray for the 30 Hour Famine this weekend.  I also invite you to get involved in this fight against hunger in WNY.  Here are some ideas of how to help:

Joyfullyblessed by music

There’s just something about music that calms my soul.

 

St. Augustine once said, “He who sings, prays twice.” 

 

As people gathered in Trinity Lutheran Church in Lockport, NY tonight, many prayers, with voice and song, were raised up for the homeless in Western New York.  It was such a fun night tonight.  Various musicians from all over WNY gathered together in a concert to benefit Lockport CARES, a homeless shelter in Lockport.  Everyone was great and I especially want to brag on the awesome First Trinity Youth Band who got the evening off to a rockin’ awesome start!  They did such a great job setting the tone for the evening of praise to God! 

 

If you want to know more about Lockport CARES or how you can support them as they help the homeless, check out their website.

Truly a Beautiful Sight!

Here is a glimpse into the beautiful sight I witnessed while I worshipped this weekend:  

  • Two middle school students working together to make sure we had light on the candles in the front of the Church to help us focus on THE Light, Jesus. 
  • Three high school student singing, playing, leading the congregation in praises to our King.
  • Four sisters in middle and high school greeting people as they came into worship, directing God’s sons and daughters to go receive His very body and blood, helping collect the gifts of God’s people and present them back to God.
  • A high school student, knelt down in prayer with a man at the altar railing.

 

I LOVE seeing youth involved in worship.  And no, for those of you who don’t attend First Trinity, this was NOT a special ‘youth’ service.  It wasn’t really a “special” day at all (well, minus celebrating Sue’s Master DCE Award!!!).   What I mean is this is not the first time I’ve witnessed young people in action here at First Trinity. 

Take Christmas Eve, for example, when a 4th grader stood up in front of the entire congregation for each service and recited, from memory, the entire Christmas story from Luke 2.  Hearing the story of the Christ child, proclaimed from a child… simply beautiful.

Or our New Years’ Eve lock-in where 7 of the 15 youth participating had some role in planning or leading a section of the event. 

It is such a beautiful thing to see the entire body of Christ working together.  And it wasn’t JUST the youth either that made these things (and so many more) so wonderful.  It’s the interaction between all those serving.

At that New Years Eve Lock-in, TEN adults helped with some aspect of the lock-in from set-up to serving breakfast and even a few brave souls who stay the entire night (mostly awake) with the students so they could enjoy bringing in the New Year with their friends.

On Christmas Eve, I’m sure there were many hours of practice with those 4th graders’ parents rehearsing and encouraging to each of them to prepare, not to mention the many others who served in that service.

And last week… those students I witnessed using their gifts weren’t alone!  Just for that one service alone, at least 25 other people worked TOGETHER to make that service possible… other band members, readers, people working sound and powerpoint, greeters, ushers, and the list continues.

THIS is what the Body of Christ is all about. … each person doing their part … no matter whether the role seems to be “in the spotlight” or no one but you knows it even gets done… whether you’re 9 yrs old or 90.  It is so encouraging to be serving and learning and growing and worshiping in a place who values each person for who they are and honors the gifts they bring to worship our King.

 

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27

 

“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” ~ 1 Timothy 4:12