Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Happiness and Persecution

Chuckle (Church bulletin blooper): "Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First
Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance."
Quote: “There is no place for fear among men and women who trust the Almighty, who do not hesitate to humble themselves in seeking divine guidance through prayer. Though persecutions arise, though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is life's greatest blessing. .” --Ezra Taft Benson
"Blessed (happy) are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10 NIV).
Have you asked questions like these? Why do bad things happen to good people? How could a loving God let this to happen to me? How could a merciful God allow my child to be so sick or to die? Why are the righteous persecuted? As we study this beatitude, let's ask God to increase our understanding of His ways.
One of the most inspiring examples of courage in the history of Christendom was the martyrdom of Polycarp, who was burned at the stake for his faith. As an old man, Polycarp was arrested by the Roman authorities and brought to the arena for execution in front of the cheering crowd. The proconsul pressed him hard and said, "Swear, and I will release you. Revile Christ." Polycarp replied, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?" (From Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 15).
Hopefully, none of us will face the fate of Polycarp, but I wonder how willing we are to accept persecution, ridicule, or harassment because of our faith. "Persecution" means "to keep on treating someone in a cruel and harsh way." It also means to "harass." or "Ridicule."
God made us to enjoy being loved and liked. When we are in the presence of good friends in an atmosphere of love and acceptance, we live and breathe most freely. To be ridiculed as a child is heartbreaking, and the pain is not lessened as we grow into adulthood. Persecution by harassment and unfair accusations may destroy our feelings of security and cause great anxiety. Of all injuries that can be inflicted on a human being, persecution comes the closest to making life feel like hell on earth. With this in mind, the Lord's final beatitude is the most difficult to understand and accept. "Happy (blessed) are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Persecution seems to be the absolute opposite of happiness. Also, it seems strange that a compassionate Lord would encourage the persecuted to rejoice in their persecution. this is a paradox -- a statement that seems to contradict itself -- or appears to be false even when it's true. The statement, "Blessed are those who are persecuted" seems contradictory, confusing, and humanly impossible.
I came across this statement by Oswald Chambers: "To choose to suffer means there's something wrong; to choose God's will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy Christian ever chooses suffering; he chooses to do God's will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not." As we digest this statement, we can better understand what Jesus meant by this beatitude. How can a person be happy when persecuted for his or her faith? The happiness comes from knowing we are a part of God's eternal kingdom -- that we are following him and pleasing him -- that he will give us the strength to endure.
Love, Jerry & Dotse


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