This article resulted from Marc Smirnoff’s letter to me summing up his experience from hearing our recent guest speaker.
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Sometimes it’s the benefits of a free society that warp our perspective. The more we have, the more we expect or demand. From there it can be a short hop to demanding perfection from everything and every person around us. Entitlement has so frequently become the norm of our day.
One benefit of moving closer to God is that we feel more grateful for what we already have: His daily provision and His promises become treasures we recognize and value so deeply.
Thoughts like these–on gratitude, on perspective, on freedom–were the kind that sprung to mind as I listened, this past Sunday at King’s Park church, to a man from China who spoke for about an hour. Others later told me that they too felt similarly challenged or renewed by the man’s words.
Through his translator, the man told his American audience that in China he had been imprisoned several times totaling nearly two decades. His crimes? He’d been judged “Anti-Revolutionary.”
Interestingly enough, he never once criticized his government. He wouldn’t think of it… why? Because he’s more interested in the gospel transforming lives than having a political revolution. A revolution might offer help and hope on Earth, but only One can change hearts, lives–and nations–for eternity. Ironically in America, we often value freedom of speech above the power of freedom that comes from the gospel.
During his many years of imprisonments, he was twice given a death sentence. On one of those grim days when the impending judgment arrived, he was yanked from his cell to be killed.
Guards came and took him to meet with prison officials where he got this update: He would not be executed; instead, he would be freed.
The man did not believe this. He thought it was a wicked joke.
But it was true indeed, and what he thought was a wicked joke turned out to be a miracle. He was free to go.
So on what was no longer his day to die, the guards fetched the man and walked the length of the prison with him until they reached the main gate which was opened and this little group passed through. They were now outside the prison and a few steps later, the man decided to stop and turn around to look for one last time at the place he was leaving.
What he saw was a prison-yard flooded with people–his friends and “parishioners”–the entire prison population. They were everywhere he could see–around the main gate, along the fence, in the yard, in doorways, in windows, wherever. And without speaking they all stood, watching him.
But they didn’t just watch. Each of them, in tandem, waved some sort of white cloth–shirts, towels, rags, whatever–in wordless but precise communication–and tribute–and good-bye–to a man they loved, a man who helped free their hearts and who they loved. A man who turned his prison sentence into a prison transformation, one life at a time.
On seeing this multitude and their homemade fanfare, the man told the guards he wanted to go back to these people who had become “his” people, back to prison.
The guards dissuaded him.
Now a free man, he shares his story. His final challenge to us was unforgettable….”When you walk in the light, use the light. Use the privilege the American church has to bring freedom to those who don’t have it. Not just a freedom of expression, but a deeper freedom that cost Christ his life, the freedom that only the gospel can bring.” Then the translator shared these final words from the man: “Heaven is wherever there is love.”
A standing ovation erupted.