Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Persecuted

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" ~ Jesus

(This is a continuation of posts on the Beatitudes starting on January 20th.)  

Jesus had begun his ministry teaching that the Kingdom of God had arrived. News of his healing power had spread and large crowds began to gather.  The people were hoping, He was the promised King who would deliver them. And so Jesus begins teaching about this Kingdom.  The whole sermon on the mount is about the reality of this coming kingdom and how we should live.  Even these first little verses (Matthew 5:3-10) bookend with the promise of the Kingdom of God.  But really its all about His Kingdom.

The Persecuted
Persecution seems to be something we think of that happens somewhere else.... in some closed land to a few.  Yet Jesus teaches that persecution (for righteousness sake) would go hand and hand with following Jesus.  It is not if but when.   If the world persecuted Jesus, the world will persecute his followers.  

I can't say I have faced major persecution.  Okay I got knock down a grade in college in one history class for standing up for my faith.  (At least that how I saw it).  It cost me graduating cum laude.  But so what?   Once our ministry almost got kicked of campus at University of Northern Colorado and another time we were stopped from passing out surveys..  But I went through the proper channels even visiting the President of the University and nothing really happened.  I had to leave a country were I was serving early because we heard they were going to call our disciples in for questioning.  But really it was our students we were trying to protect not me.  And I got home and saw my girlfriend (now wife) sooner.   So actually I should have thanked the PSB.

None of these are anything like losing your life or being imprisoned.  Just inconvenienced.

Yesterday I heard of two of our teams that are facing  potential situations of visas being revoked or not being allowed on campus.  In another country where we hope to send people, I read all they are cracking down more severely on believers coming into the country.  I shook my head.  But shouldn't we expect it?  Is this in fact, the norm for a person living in the Kingdom of God?   

Should my response be to shrink back or rejoice?

Blessed..  Rejoice... Be Glad
I don't want to discount our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution.  It's real.  Millions are facing persecution for their faith around the globe.  It's serious.   But here we have an encouragement from the One who would face the ultimate persecution to rejoice.   

I think of Paul and Barnabas being kicked out of on town and rejoicing they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ.   I can see them skipping down the road to Iconium not fully knowing what lay ahead.  They would be kicked out of another town and then on to Lystra where Paul would be stoned and thought dead.   Of the 12 cities where Paul ministered in the first 3 journeys, he would be forced out of 6 and face huge trials a 7th (Ephesus.)   And then of course after those journeys involving various intense persecutions, Paul would spend years imprisoned in Rome. And yet from there he writes a letter on joy and rejoicing always.   Earlier he writes that he delights in persecutions.  Strange.   I don't get it.

Reward in Heaven
If something comes with a reward, you'd think we would want it.  I get the treasure in the field parable.  At least I like the treasure part of it.  But does the cost come with this?  I want to flee persecution and certainly don't celebrate its coming.  And there's a basis for some of this since Jesus told us to flee.    

But Jesus says it comes with a reward.  Really?   A reward?  How would believing this change how I live?  Would we hesitant to go to certain places?  Would we hesitant sending others... our own children?  

Lord, I don't know if I can honestly pray for persecution.  But I pray for perspective.  I pray that when it happens I will by faith rejoice and be glad.  i will rest in the hope that I have a reward that awaits me.  I will know that the Kingdom of God is mine.

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