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Finding Happiness (Part 8)

Matthew 5:10-12

    "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. [12] "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

The final beatitude is the longest one because it comes with an explanation.  The last two verses accompany the one sentence beatitude to clarify its meaning.  Jesus defines persecution for the sake of righteousness as being insulted, persecuted, and saying evil against you falsely.

Many Christians have the experience of being insulted for their faith.  We live in a hostile climate where we are often insulted.  While culture preaches tolerance toward all faiths and creeds it promotes intolerance towards Christians. 

The scripture also says, you will be happy, if you are persecuted, not just insulted.  Maria Durant was young, beautiful and intelligent. 17th Century life in France was difficult, especially because if it’s religious intolerance.  Maria was imprisoned for talking about her relationship with God.  For 38 years she suffered for Christ in a prison cell while her peers married, had children and relished their grandchildren.  Life passed her by. 

Eventually she died a martyr’s death.  The enemy thought he silenced this witness, but he didn’t.  Though dead, she continues to inspire those who go to the place where she was imprisoned to read the single word she scratched on the dungeon wall Resistez--resist!

It happened in the 17th Century and it is happening today.  Abdul Rahman was on trial for his life this week in Afghanistan.  The first paragraph of an article dated March 20, 2006 said,   “Despite the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban government and the presence of 22,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a man who converted to Christianity is being prosecuted in Kabul, and a judge said Sunday that if convicted, he faces the death penalty.”  According to news reports, the charges were dropped today.  "The court dismissed today the case against Abdul Rahman for a lack of information and a lot of legal gaps in the case," (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

This beatitude also says, you will be happy when you have all manner of evil spoken against you falsely.  DefCon, a left-wing special interest group, recently took out an ad in the New York Times with the headline: "These Religious Leaders Have a Serious Gambling Problem,” Among others, the ad pictures Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.  Appearing on the O’Reilly Facor, Dobson said, “This is absolutely scandalous - a full page ad implying that we have something in common with Abramoff. I have never met the man, never talked with him, and have never taken a cent from anyone having to do with the fight against gambling. We fight gambling because it's a curse and we are morally opposed, not because there is some financial gain. These are lies!" (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

They said Jesus was a drunk, Paul was not really an apostle and that anyone could do Moses' job. So Dobson is in good company. The moment Christians teach their convictions they can expect that someone will slander them. 

Right about now you may be saying, that’s OK, I don’t want to be that happy.  I really don’t want to suffer persecution.  I hear you.  But the truth is, if you don’t encounter resistance at some level, you’re probably not living your faith.  The gospel we live is offensive to those who reject its claims and because they have not experienced the new birth, they will act out of the old nature and will insult, persecute and slander believers.  Actually, I’ve noticed that believers will do the same to one another.  Because of an experience I had with church conflict some twelve years ago, I’ve been a student of church conflict.  I’ve spoken to many church leaders, read many books on the subject and have done a fair amount of writing about it myself.  I’ve observed that Christians often persecute each other.  Too bad.  It shouldn’t be that way.  But even if we stop doing it to ourselves, you can be sure that it will be done to us. 

Only those who hold deep convictions will suffer for what they believe.  A person with shallow beliefs will live incognito or will disavow their beliefs when the world puts pressure on them.  They will agree not to exercise their rights of free speech or their command to evangelize, and be silenced by the intimidation of others.  Only a person with deep beliefs—real beliefs will be persecuted.  And believe me, they will be persecuted. Phil 1:29 says, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (NASB)  Believing in Him and suffering for Him go together.  Suffering is part of God’s plan for our lives.  1 Thes 3:3 says, “and to keep you from becoming fainthearted in all the troubles you were going through. (But of course you know that such troubles are a part of God's plan for us Christians.)” (TLB)  Persecution is inevitable for those living godly lives.  2 Tim 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (NIV)

So how does this bring happiness?

The joy comes from knowing it is an honor to suffer for Jesus.  Acts 5:41 says, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  (NASB)  Instead of complaining, they gladly accepted their fate. They were honored that God considered them worthy to suffer for His name. 

Our joy comes from focusing on what will be, not just on what is.  Our destiny is far greater than our experiences in this life.  For the Christian, our purpose is tied to what is to come, not just to what is.   Hebrews 10:34 says, “For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.” (NASB)

Our joy comes from experiencing the faithfulness of God through troubling times. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the LORD'S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. [23] They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (NIV)  Our God is a faithful God.  He is faithful in good times and in bad.  Romans 8:31 “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (NIV)  I’ve heard Fenton say “God and me are a majority in any crowd” more times than I can count.  That cliché sums up the import of this verse very well.  Even if the whole world turns against you, if you’re in the will of God, what difference does it make?  Our wisdom is not man’s wisdom anyway.  1 Corinthians 2:5 says, “so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (NIV)
 Paul wrote, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. [17] But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. [18] The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Tim 4:16-18 NIV)  He experienced the joy of God’s faithfulness in his life, as did the writer of Hebrews who wrote, “So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6 NIV)

There is joy in knowing we are counted among a noble group. Matt 5:12 says, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (KJV)

Are you living your life in such a way that others speak evil against you, persecute you or slander you?  Those who are poor in spirit, mourn over their spiritual poverty, come under God’s control, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy to others, have pure hearts and make peace among others will be persecuted because they are going against culture’s grain.  And those who choose the path of God, over the path of the world find happiness.  Jesus said,  “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: [14] Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV)

The people who live life across the grain are the ones that ultimately find happiness.  Those who take the path of least resistance find destruction.
 

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