Thursday, January 29, 2009

"It's Not Bataan"

Whenever circumstances get hard for me I try to keep things in perspective by saying, “C’mon, it’s not the Bataan Death March.” I also tell this to my teenage daughters when they complain about some of life’s great hardships like having to walk sixty steps from the car to the mall entrance in the heat of summer.

After the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines in World War II, 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese were marched 60 miles by foot to prison camps. The cruelty was horrific, as wounded prisoners limped for days through hot sun with no water. Falling down and being unable to continue was tantamount to a death sentence. Merciful death was by knife or gun; unmerciful death was by torture far too graphic to be detailed here. Prisoners who tried to help others were brutally beaten. A friend gave me a book written and personally signed by a Bataan Death March survivor; it is a gripping account of courageous perseverance. Bataan is my hedge against self-pity.

I thought of this as I dug into I Peter 3:13-18 this week to prepare a message about “always being prepared to give a defense for the hope that is within us” (v. 15) as part of my series on the Great Commission. The Christ-followers to whom the apostle Peter writes apparently experienced harassment and (moderate) persecution on a regular basis. The letter is suffused with references like “suffering for doing good” (2:20) and “those who speak maliciously against you” (3:16) and “all kinds of trials” (1:6). Peter, though, says that Christians who are insulted because of the name of Christ are blessed (4:14)! This mirrors Jesus’ own assurances (Matthew 5:10-12).

When I compare the tenor of discipleship in I Peter with our modern, often petty fears about “offending” someone or getting “criticized” if we live out our faith too overtly, the comparison is painful. In short, just as the Bataan Death March serves as a hedge against self-pity for me, the lives of early followers of Jesus serve as a hedge against self-timidity. “C’mon,” I say to myself, “this isn’t Rome under Nero.”

Peter writes something particularly intriguing when he says that “the one who has suffered in his body is done with sin” (4:1). When we are willing to experience hardship and even suffering for our faith, it helps us be more serious about living Christ-like lives. This is a supernatural dynamic at work through the Holy Spirit. To use a modern term, hardship for our faith and growth in our faith are “synergistic.”

It is a good thing to remember as we live out our calling to be witnesses of the Good News who are “always prepared” to respond when asked about our faith. If we live devout Christian lives, people will ask us about them. If people ask us, we then give the reason for our hope and purpose. As we give this reason, people may criticize or mock us. We respond with “meekness and gentleness” (3:16). And we keep walking the walk and talking the talk. This is the way of discipleship. Will you walk in it?


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