Monday, August 20, 2012

Blessed are the Persecuted

This past Sunday, my pastor preached on "Blessed are the Persecuted" from Matthew 5.  It really moved me and got me thinking about where we are as American Christians.  This post is based upon his sermon.  Kudos to my pastor for boldly speaking the truth in love to God's people.  My hope is that Christians reading this will be strengthened and encouraged (as I was) to fight the good fight.
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Matthew 5:10-12

Who of us would have written it like that?

Jesus had just preached the Beatitude sermon on the mount in Matthew 5.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, and who are peacemakers.  Now, if we were putting the ending on this progression many of us would cap it with something like,

"Blessed are you that you have gone through all this stuff and obeyed.  Now that you're emptied of self, are filled with Me, and are now seeking to make peace with mankind, you are blessed and things will go well for you in this life.  Relax and enjoy."

But, we didn't write God's Word.  He did.  And He capped His sermon with persecution, suffering, and difficulties.  It was a warning, actually, because He KNEW that if someone truly gave their lives to Him, accepted His gift of forgiveness of sin that He gave on the Cross, and actually began growing in Him, He KNEW that this person would offend the world and that the world would hate him/her.

It's not really that the world hates the Christian person.  It's more that they hate Christ that is within them.  The world is darkness and the Christian is light.  The light exposes their evil deeds, thoughts, motives, intentions, etc and they HATE that.  They don't want to be exposed.  They don't want to be told that what they are doing is wrong.  They don't want to hear that they are being held accountable for their actions and that one day they'll have to answer to a righteous Judge that has the authority to send them to hell.  So they try to deny God and pull Him from every institution possible: schools, government, court houses, etc.  They also try to deny His existence by coming up with a "theory" of evolution that strips God of His Creative power.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."
-Romans 1:18-20

Because of how long it is, I cannot write out the entire section of Scripture from Romans 1:18-32, but I truly encourage you to read it.  It discusses "Unbelief and It's Consequences".

Take a nature walk and REALLY look at the clouds and grass and leaves and animals, etc.  It is far too perfect to have come into existence by evolution.  Plus, something can't come from nothing.  The world SCREAMS of a Creator God.  And we all know it.  But those who do not want to live for God deny it.  They don't want to believe in God.  Because if there's a God, then He created me.  If He created me, then I'm not just some random "ball of cells" that formed into a human by chance.  I'm not just a descendent of a monkey/animal.  I have purpose.  I was created by Someone for something.  That must mean I am accountable to this Being...

"And this is the judgement, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."
John 3:19-20

This was brought onto center stage over this whole Chick-fil-a hulabaloo.

Chick-fil-a is a Christian company.  There is no refuting that.  And they do not deny or try to hide that fact.  It's their business, so honestly it shouldn't matter what the president believes.  But a benign comment was made by the president of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy, that he believes in traditional marriage.  Wasn't bashing anyone.  Wasn't hating anyone.  Wasn't flaming anyone.  Wasn't finger pointing or judging or whatever.  Never uttered a negative word against homosexuals.  Just stated what he believed, which comes from Scripture.

And the world HATED him.
The world HATED Chick-fil-a.

Just look at how the world responded!!!

What it really boils down to is this: the world hates Christ.  Dan Cathy took a stand on Christ and on the truths of Scripture.  So the world persecuted him.  His light exposed their darkness and they reviled.

The whole Chick-fil-a situation opened the eyes of a lot of sleepy Christians.  And good, because Christians NEED to wake up!  We've been living in a fantasy land type Christianity for far too long here in the United States.  We're no longer bold, we're flabby.  Oh, there's a few warriors out there fighting off the darkness.  But as a whole, the Christian church is carnal and timid and lazy.

Christ says clearly that if you have completely given your lives to Him and are truly growing in Him, persecution WILL come.

As my pastor has shared many a time, one of our "gods" as American Christians is "being comfortable".  We want the nice house and money and ease and comfort.  And we certainly don't want to be "making waves".  But if we are truly living for Christ, we can't help but make waves.  The world hates God and as soon as you take a stand on issues and start sharing truth, the "waves" WILL come.

Are we making waves?

Now, I'm not saying we need to rush out into the world and unnecessarily create waves just to prove we're a Christian.  But opportunities arise ALL the time to share Christ and Scripture and truth. Do we stay quiet and keep our lips sealed for fear of upsetting or offending someone?  I understand we are to be "peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9) but God doesn't want us staying quiet.  He wants us to,

"... Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations... teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..."  (Matt. 28:16-20)

In fact, He says immediately following His Beatitude Sermon/persecution message,

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again?  It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck measure, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
-Matthew 5:12-16

We are to go out into every nook and cranny of this dark world and bring Christ, so that all may hear about salvation and may have the opportunity to repent and live for God.  People need to hear God's truth.  They need to come to repentance.  They need to give their lives to Christ.  They need us to boldly go out into the world and share the truths from Scripture.

Well, when we do that, it'll make waves...

"... but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name."
-1 Peter 4:16

"For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
-Philippians 1:29

"If the world hates you, you know that is has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.'  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you, if they kept My word, they will keep yours also."
-John 15:18-20

I am SO not looking forward to persecution.  I don't enjoy it at all.  (Who seriously does?!)  When I accepted Christ years ago, it was really just a personal realization that I was a sinner and I needed to repent of my sins and live for God.  I didn't realize at the time that the world would hate me and probably verbally insult me/defame my character.  And it certainly didn't occur to me that I may even have to endure physical abuse some day.

But it's undeniably all over Scripture: God's people suffer simply because they are His and are living for Him.  Many many many people were even martyred in the Bible for their faith in Him.  And many many more were martyred after the Scriptures were written, even on into today in some parts of the world.

There is no other religion on this planet that causes such hatred within man's heart than what people feel toward Christians.

A Christian takes a stand and simply calls out something as a "sin" (because the Bible does)- no physical or verbal abuse, no "intolerance", no lambasting, no "hate" (which Biblically speaking is "murder" so Believers will not typically be inclined to participate in "hating" people, see 1 John 3:15) and look what happens.  What the world doesn't understand is that us sharing the truth about their sin is actually love- we're showing them that they have "sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) so that they can repent and make peace with God.  The Lord does not "wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).  Our job is to share His truth and light so man can be saved.

But the world reviles.
They don't want to see or hear it.
And because we share the truth, they'll hate us.

"Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you."
-1 John 3:13

"... and you will be hated by all on account of My name."
-Luke 21:17

In the footnotes of my study Bible, it says this:
-People who are morally upright expose and shame those who aren't.  If we live for God, the world will often hate us, because we make them painfully aware of their immoral way of living.

The whole world clearly saw it with the Chick-fil-a ordeal.

As my pastor stated, Christian, it's time to stop being a peace-FAKER (let's be silent so as to not make waves) and start being a Matthew 5:9 peace-MAKER (sharing God's truth so that people can repent and make peace with God).  Biblical "peace" is having a right relationship with God, a heart that has been forgiven of sin.  There will be no "peace on earth" so long as man does things mans way, lives in sin, and rejects God.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."
-Ephesians 6:12

It's not people we are struggling against, but the spiritual forces of darkness.  We are truly engaged in a classic battle between good and evil.

Be strengthened in the Lord, Christian, as you share the truth in this dark world knowing that,
1) you are doing the work of the Lord and
2) some WILL come into repentance because we share the truth.

"Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12) and continue sharing the light of Christ with all boldness and perseverance and gentleness and love. And be praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world as they, too, are engaged in this battle.  Pray that they will be strengthened and empowered as well.
And be encouraged.  If you look back at Matthew 5:10-12 you'll see that you will be doubly blessed if you are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  Your reward in heaven will be great.

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