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Blessed are You, Persecuted

(Sept. 2017)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me… ~ Matthew 5:10-12

About two months ago, we got a shocking bit of news. A friend of mine from high school was found dead in his car from an apparent drug overdose. Our families have known each other for twenty years. Being that I was one of his close friends… and he didn’t have many because he was mentally disabled, the parents asked if I would speak at his memorial service. I happily obliged. As the service got closer however, some of the family members began prying and asking more specifically what I would speak.

We know you are a Christian minister. And some people in the audience and in our family are very offended at evangelicals,” they said.

I told them I intended to share about my friendship with their son, his good qualities and some things we can learn from his life. Lastly, I wanted to mention my faith in Jesus Christ. It is important to give people hope in their grief and there is no greater hope than the gospel. The family rehashed their concern over offending people in the audience and the family (even though the memorial was being held at a liberal church). I asked them what they were so afraid of and they somehow turned the conversation into how bad Donald Trump was… and what my beliefs on homosexuality and other issues were. After responding that I believe what the Bible actually says, they uninvited me from speaking at the memorial service.

As I was praying and processing the hurt of this, the Lord reminded me of Jesus’ words to those who would dare follow him.

Blessed are you when men insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad because great is your reward in Heaven for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” ~ Matthew 5

My anxiety and discomfort vanished at this revelation that God was calling me to rise above this and fix my eyes not on what injustice or insult had happened but on His eternal plan. Somehow this was part of it. The more I embraced this, the more I began to rejoice and laugh.

I chose to still go to the service to honor my friend and his memory and even went up after the service and shook hands with the family members who had spited me. I believe it is what Jesus would have done.

Here is another story.

A good friend of mine named Pastor Vieng who I labor together with in preaching the gospel on college campuses used to be a teacher in Oakland many years ago. He was doing a great job teaching Math. But his students were becoming increasingly unruly and disrespectful and it hindered his teaching. One day, he got so angry that he opened his Bible and said, “Listen you kids! God says there’s going to be a Day of Judgment. You need to fear God and follow the Bible and that includes listening to your teacher. But if you follow God’s Word, you will make it to Heaven.” (my paraphrase of his rebuke)

All of a sudden, everyone was quiet. The class seemed to want to know more about the Bible and how to get to Heaven. Amazed, Vieng said, “I can’t teach you this now because the school does not allow me to. I have to teach Math.” But the kids kept insisting.. so he told them to come on their lunch break and he would tell them more about Jesus. For the next few weeks, kids would voluntarily pack out his class during lunch to know more about Jesus! This continued on until the vice principal got wind of it. Vieng said he was doing no wrong. The students were coming of their own initiative and their parents even knew about it. That wasn’t good enough for the superintendent and the principals. He was fired the next day.

What a shame that in the country with freedom of religion that it has come to this. The devil has gotten control of the minds of those in authority to persecute the church. The very thing the kids needed the most was being stolen from them by the devil.

The Inevitable

One preacher puts it this way, “You can’t have an impact without a collision.”

We are living in an age in America where speaking and living according to the actual Word of God will cause you to be persecuted. If you look at history, the Church has always undergone this pressure from the world’s system. We are not of this world. We are ambassadors of another kingdom: one with different values, laws, and rewards. The god of the world says “serve self” and, “Do what seems right in your own eyes.” Our God says, “Love and serve me. Obey my laws and my statutes for in them is eternal life.” Persecution is the byproduct of conflicting kingdoms.

The aforementioned stories I wrote to you are not unique. As a matter of fact, they are supposed to be normal for every Christian. Jesus expressly tells us to not be surprised if the world hates us.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” ~ John 15:18-9

I have told you these things that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33

No one asks for or likes persecution. Jesus understood that we would all need his peace, his comfort and his strength in this world. This is freely given to us through the Holy Spirit. But compromising in order to avoid conflict with the world is a violation against God. It is what the apostle James calls spiritual adultery, friendship with the world.

In modern day Christianity, I see many alarming things. There is the “seeker sensitive” movement that is more worried about offending non-believers than God. In the name of bringing people to Christ, we actually drive them away or make false disciples by not preaching and modeling the radical Christianity that Jesus died for.

Additionally, there are the strains of false teaching on every topic imaginable from warping the Word of God to no longer call sin as it is, to preaching a gospel of cheap grace: you get everything at no cost. The fruit of cheap grace are people who calls themselves Christians but live just like the world. There is no holiness, fear of the Lord, no conviction and no real fruit. Every false teaching has elements that sound enticing or even right. We cannot afford to have some of the truth. We must have all of it. Our faith bears a tremendous cost.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross, not our latte.

Paul the apostle writes with delicate care and love to Timothy his spiritual son. He warns him of heretics, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and of perilous times where men will depart from the faith. He charges him to stay true to the gospel which he received. The gospel that cost Paul his life and confined him to a prison cell in rags.

It is in this context that Paul says to Timothy,

In fact, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:12-5

The reason the church in America is losing ground is we have tried to do Christianity while avoiding persecution. And the only way to do that is to stop preaching the real gospel. Instead, peddlers of motivational success messages and false gospels fill many pulpits. Paul makes his case that if he was still preaching circumcision, he would not be persecuted. It is the offense of the cross that makes men angry and hateful towards believers.

The cross is central. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that He (not man) is the Lord of All. The real gospel says we are accountable to God. It calls us to genuine repentance and transformation. The real gospel reveals both the judgment and grace of God. Only the real gospel will be anointed with the Holy Spirit’s power. Is this why we are not seeing revival in America? Have we peddled a message that God cannot put His Spirit on?

The moment you preach and live out the real gospel, you become a major threat to Satan’s dominion. That is why you will be persecuted. It is inevitable.

The Testing

In the purification of all metals, it is necessary to melt them down. It is the fire that separates the pure metal from all the impurities that have worked their way in.

In the book of Acts, the Church enjoyed a season of great prosperity, peace, and growth. But shortly thereafter, persecution broke out against the Church beginning with the stoning of Stephen. The apostle Peter later writes to the believers to not be surprised at this fiery trial you are going through as if something strange were happening. Peter teaches that these trials have come so that our faith which is of greater worth than gold may be tested and found pure at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12-3)

Persecution takes many forms. Have you been rejected or lost friends and family because of your faith in Jesus Christ? Have you suffered mockery, insults, verbal abuse or slander because you live according to the Word of God? Have you been fired, demoted, overlooked for promotion, or suffered other financial attacks because you profess Christ? Have you been beaten, imprisoned, or threatened with death if you did not recant your faith?

The Church until the present day continues to undergo persecution. Though one might argue that this is the work of the devil, God is using this to test his people. Jesus says that everyone will be salted with fire. (Mark 9:49)

Here are two keys that will keep you strong during every trial.

Know you are not alone in the struggle.

There is a great cloud of witnesses in Heaven, who have gone before us and endured much suffering for their faith. Moreover, believers around the world today are enduring much hatred because of the name of Jesus. Even more, the Holy Spirit is yours if you are a true follower of Jesus Christ. Ask for Him to fill you right now with peace that passes understanding.

Remember persecution is not forever.

This life is but a vapor. Solomon in all his wisdom concludes that all things both good and bad shall pass and that man should fear the Lord and keep his commands. King David reminds us of the goodness of God who is our faithful Shepherd. He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Do not give up or give in during the fiery trials. Rather fix your eyes steadfastly upon the One who is able to save and deliver you.

The devil will not bother attacking anyone who isn’t a threat to his kingdom. A good litmus test of whether you are really in the faith and in the will of God is…

Have you been persecuted for your faith lately?

I preach the gospel at UC Berkeley regularly. As strange as this may sound, I am more worried if we don’t get persecuted than if we do. Persecution tells me I am walking in the will of God.

Persecution is designed to test and refine us. It brings glory to God when his people endure injustice and evil. Let us conclude with how God would have us respond.

The Response

The natural fleshly response when we are wronged is to get vengeance. Justify me! You cut me off, disrespected me, took something that was mine, treated me unfairly… And the list goes on. We can go there and stew in it. We can seek retribution. But I ask, is this the will of God? Do we trust Him to right all wrongs and to plead our cause? Have we forgotten who the Judge of all the world truly is?

I want to encourage you. If you have been abused or mistreated because of your faith or your stand for Jesus (not because of sin or foolishness), the Word of God tells you…

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!!!

You are joining the ranks of millions of others who will stand before the God of the universe unashamed and radiant in His eternal kingdom.

May the Lord give you his strength, comfort, peace and joy.

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