Standing with the Blessed (11/6/16)

Matthew 5:1-12 says “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This passage makes it clear that being a disciple of Jesus was never supposed to be easy.

Umar Mulinde grew up in a strict Muslim home in Uganda. His grandfather was an imam (religious leader of a mosque), and Umar was trained in Islamic thought which went unchallenged until he left home for college.

Umar visited a church for the first time one Sunday and was so impressed with the Gospel that he surrendered his life to Christ. Three Muslim friends saw him leave the church and attacked him.

He assumed the beatings would stop. He was wrong.

In time, Umar preached in a church that grew in size to 1,000. On Christmas night 2011 as he left church, Muslim assailants threw acid on his face as they shouted, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

As a result, he is badly scarred and blind in one eye, but he continues to preach. “When I became a Christian, I was set free from legalism, fear and hatred. My message today is one of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and I will continue to preach it.”

Jesus says following him will bring persecution and evil against us. Umar experiences this on a regular basis, Unfortunately, his story of rejection, persecution and violence isn’t unique. More men and women are being persecuted today for Jesus than at any other time in human history. Millions of Christians face intense persecution and risk their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

According to Christian groups like Voice of the Martyrs and Baptist Press, 200 million Christians in over 50 countries are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Although the numbers fluctuate and are hard to calculate, estimates are that approximately 160,000 Christians are martyred every year around the world. This is over 3 times to total population of Bedford County, PA.

70 million Christians have been killed for their faith throughout the first two millennia of church history, 45 million in the 20th century alone. More Christians were martyred in the 1900s than all previous centuries combined. The pace hasn’t slowed down during this century.

According to bpnews.com, most persecution of Christians springs from one of three causes. First is the hunger for total political control, exhibited by communist and post-communist regimes. We see this in countries like China and Cuba.

Second is the desire to preserve favored religious privilege, evident in South Asia. This happens with  groups such as the radical Hindus in India.

And third is radical Islam’s goal of religious dominance, which is generating an expanding global crisis. We’re much more familiar with this since we hear so much about ISIS and Boco Haram.

Here in the United States, we might have some people reject us because we’re Christians and, occasionally, some mentally deranged person does shoot up a church. But, by and large, we’re free to practice our faith in relative safety. We don’t have to worry about systematic persecution. Nonetheless, God calls Christians to give everything, including their lives and the lives of their children. Jesus says they are blessed when they do this because they are rewarded in heaven.

Are we giving God everything, even if it’s here in Bedford County?

Perhaps God won’t call us to face persecution for our faith but he does call us to remember those who are facing it. What are some things we can do to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted?

1) Be aware of what’s happening. We have to make sure we don’t stick our heads in the sand and simply not care. When the Apostle Paul is writing about how the church is like a human body in 1 Corinthians 12, he says verses 12-13 that If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. This body isn’t limited to just our congregation. It includes every Christian living around the world.

2) Pray. Pray. Pray. Matthew 5:43-45 says 43You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This means we pray for those being persecuted and for those doing the persecuting.

3) Get involved as the Lord leads you. Hebrews 13:3-4 says we are to Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.“ These two verses are in a section of scripture where the writer is calling his readers to action. We don’t remember them just so we can so, “Oh, those poor people.” We remember them so we can help them.

As a congregation, we’ve supported the Nigerian church as it suffers under the attacks of radical Muslims. However, we can’t stop there. There are others that need help as well. Check out websites such as: opendoorsusa.org, christianfreedom.org and persecution.com. They provide ways to donate money and get involved with their ministry.

4) Trust God is working where his followers are being persecuted. Paul writes in Philippians 1:12-14 – “12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”

For some reason, the church grows when it’s persecuted. The Holy Spirit uses the suffering of Christians to bring others to Christ. Yet, we are still called to pray for them, help meet their needs and be an advocate for them.

Jesus never said following him would be easy. He promised just the opposite. Let’s stand with those whose blessed people are suffering and dying for practicing the same faith we do.

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