Sep 252015
 

PersecutionBlessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Notice this is not just talking about being persecuted, but being persecuted for the right reasons. That is you do what is right, no matter what.

Did you know that it is reported that 80% of religious freedom violations in the world today are directed against Christians. We are easily the most persecuted of any religious group. Also, the majority of these go unreported. It is estimated that throughout the world, 2 Christians are being killed every single hour.

Many people consider that Christianity is a crutch for the weak, but it actually takes great courage to follow Christ.

In the relatively comfortable west, we are far less likely to suffer real persecution, although some subtle forms can make us feel very uncomfortable and marginalised. But in other parts of the world it can get a lot tougher. As Christians we need to show solidarity and support to our persecuted brothers and sisters by praying for them regularly. We are after all, the body of Christ.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)

Even though we may not experience physical intimidation, if we are serious about our faith, it is inevitable that at some point we will experience some form of persecution, which could be in the form of pressure or repression. In fact it is promised in the bible;

Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others (2 Timothy 3:12) (contemporary English version)

When you are being persecuted or feeling under pressure, it is important to remember the following 3 things;

1. Opposition can make you more like Jesus

Jesus was hated by many people

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Opposition means that you are doing something right

If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name! (1 Peter 4:14) (message)

2. Opposition will deepen your faith

It’s much like the muscles in our body which strengthen when we stretch and strain them.

so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)

3. You will be given eternal rewards

God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God: the Kingdom of Heaven will be theirs! You will be blessed WHEN people insult you, and 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.” (Matthew 5:10-12) (NLT)

Finally I’m going to refer to Rick Warren again, who has suggested 6 things to consider in the whole realm of persecution

1. Don’t be surprised

Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked when you go through painful trials that are like walking through fire, as though something unusual is happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12) (TEV)

2. Don’t be afraid

The antidote to fear is to be filled with God’s love;

“If you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it, so don’t be afraid and don’t worry! Instead, worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:14-15) (NLT)

The key is to focus on God, worship instead of worry!

3. Don’t be ashamed

Never be embarrassed for standing for the truth

“It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Instead, thank God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (1 Peter 4:16) (NLT)

You don’t need other people’s approval to be happy

“Take a firm stand against Satan and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:9) (NLT)

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)

Whatever you do in life, there will be someone who doesn’t like it. If you are rebelling, God won’t like it, if you are doing good other people won’t like it. It’s best to do the things that please God rather than other people.

4. Recognise the source of the opposition

It’s very important to realise that Satan is the one behind all opposition we experience. He is the one influencing people against us.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:10)

Satan hates God and so it follows that he will naturally hate God’s children. He can’t hurt God and so his focus is on hurting us instead.

“We’re not fighting against human beings, but against wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly realm . . .” (Ephesians 6:12) (TEV)

“Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble. God’s servants must never quarrel. (Instead) be kind to everyone . . . and be patient. Be humble when you correct people who oppose you . . . they’ve been trapped by the devil, and he makes them obey him, but God may help them escape.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26) (Contemporary English Version)

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23) (NIV) They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. (message)

5. Refuse to retaliate

You are behaving most like Jesus when you don’t attack or fight back

“Never pay back evil with more evil . . . If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And never avenge yourself. Leave that to God, who has said, ‘I’ll be the judge and I’ll take care of it.’”(Romans 12:17-19)

“Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19) (NIV)

We need to understand that sometimes, suffering is God’s will. It is a mystery, but we have to entrust ourselves to His grand plan.

6. Respond with a blessing

It’s not just refusing to retaliate, turn it on its head.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Jesus: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.” (Luke 6:27b-29a)

That sort of reaction is the most powerful form of witnessing, because it proves that God is real. Nobody has that kind of self-control

Next week I’m going to look at what happened to the Old Testament prophets and how they suffered for doing God’s will, but for now I want to leave you with a thought provoking quote from the one man who died for his faith, Jim Elliot:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

 September 25, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Persecution, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 1 Response »
Sep 182015
 

Peacemakers part 2 Last week we looked at the importance of peace and especially those who promote it, the peacemakers. We saw that as the ‘prince of peace’ Jesus is the one who leads us and inspires us to imitate our heavenly father and promote peace.

We saw that having peace is not something that just happens to us, but something we really have to work at.

This week we are going to look at an aspect of peacemaking and that is conflict resolution. Conflict happens around us every day, it is part of life. If we are serious about following Jesus though we need to do our best to resolve the conflicts we are involved in. It is not always possible to mend other people’s conflicts, but we should at least make an effort to resolve the ones we are in.

In the process of preparing this subject, I discovered some excellent principles about resolving conflicts from American pastor, Rick Warren. Here are 7 steps to resolving conflict:

1. Make the first move

Swallow your pride and take the initiative. We are called to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Peacekeepers don’t really resolve issues, they just maintain a ‘stand-off’. Don’t put it off, or it will never happen. As a famous phrase goes ‘do it now’.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (Matthew 5:23-24) (NLT)

Conflict never resolves itself. The only way to resolve a conflict is to face it. The first man, Adam, didn’t get off to a great start.

And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10)

If you want to be a peacemaker, hiding is not an option .

The following 3 D’s are definitely detrimental to resolving conflicts; being defensive, distant and demanding.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)

2. Ask God for wisdom

If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. (James 1:5) (living bible)

3. Begin with what’s my fault

It’s very rare that we are completely blameless. If you took an honest assessment of yourself, you would discover, however small, where you have contributed to the conflict.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1)

As we saw last week, it’s important we are at peace with God and ourselves before we can be at peace with others. When I’m at peace inside, what’s outside doesn’t upset me.

Pride only leads to arguments, but those who take advice are wise. (Proverbs 13:10) (New Century Version)

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3,5)

We all have blindspots.

4. Be aware of their hurt and perspective

This is a very true phrase (Think about it) “Hurt people, hurt people”

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James1:19)

We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them in proportion. It’s so important to listen

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5)

You are most like Jesus when you are focussing on others’ perspectives.

Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the “burden” of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others—of those who feel these things are wrong. Let’s please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good and thus build him up in the Lord. (Romans 15:2) (Living bible)

5. Speak the truth tactfully

It’s important to tell the truth, but it takes skill to do it tactfully so that you don’t hurt the other person. Say it with kindness.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18) (NIV)

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (Ephesians 4:29) (TEV)

6. Fix the problem, not the blame

Arguments can get very personal, very quickly. Attack the issue, not each other.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

7. Focus on reconciliation not resolution

This means re-establishing the relationship, which is the most important thing.

God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships. In other words, God was using Christ to restore his relationship with humanity. He didn’t hold people’s faults against them, and he has given us this message of restored relationships to tell others. Therefore, we are Christ’s representatives, and through us God is calling you. We beg you on behalf of Christ to become reunited with God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) (God’s word)

You may have some other ideas. Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you.

 September 18, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Peace, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Sep 112015
 

PeacemakersBlessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.(Matthew 5:9)

Just about everybody would like a peaceful life, but very few would actually do what was required to get it. A peaceful life is pretty easy for a hermit living on his own in a cave, but as soon as you add another person, the odds for conflict rise exponentially. Peace doesn’t come naturally to any of us because we are all basically selfish, but it is an absolute necessity if we want to become children of God.

Children of God are different to regular children. If you’ve ever grown up with a brother or a sister you’ll know that a peaceful life is not the default. It’s sin that causes conflict to occur and a deep desire to get our own way. But when we become children of God, our lives are submitted to Him, our commitment is to please Him. When we give our life to God we start on the lifetime pathway of peace.

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

There are loads more references to peace in the bible, but I want to pick out a few today for us to consider how important this subject is to God.

Firstly it is one of the names given to Jesus himself. Last year I wrote a series of blogs on the names of Jesus and one of His names was ‘prince of peace’ taken from Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As the prince of peace, Jesus has brought us peace in a number of areas;

1. We have peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

This is the most important peace as it restores our relationship with our loving heavenly father. Until this relationship is restored our lives are in turmoil because we were created to have a relationship with God, but our sin was separating us. When Jesus dealt with our sin the relationship was restored and we can now experience true peace.

2. We have peace in ourselves

Knowing you are right with God gives you an inner calm and tranquillity. When our relationship with God is right, all is as it should be.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15)

3. We have peace with others

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

We can never really have peace with others until we first have peace with God and that inner peace within ourselves that helps us then to reach out to others.

Not having that peace with others can cause all sorts of problems in our lives. 3 blockages that can result are;

(1) It blocks my fellowship with God

You can’t be right with God and off with other people

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.(1 John 4:20)

(2) It blocks my prayers from being answered

This passage relates to marriage, but the principle is the same

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.(1 Peter 3:7)

(3) It blocks my happiness

Remember, the other name for blessed is happy. The peace we sow into others will be returned to us and cause us to be happy too.

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18) (NLT)

There is so much more to say about this subject, that I will continue it next week when we will look at some principles for resolving conflict, but for now I will leave you with a great biblical blessing from Numbers 6:25-26

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 September 11, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Peace, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Sep 042015
 

Pure in heartBlessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Our culture is obsessed with image. We love to judge people on outside appearances. As long as people act and look good and keep their private life covered up, we’re not bothered too much. We’re pretty shallow when you think about it, and this attitude pervades every aspect of society. Image is everything.

Not so with God. He is not fussed at all about the outward appearance, it’s the inside He cares about – the heart. The heart is the secret place, unseen, where our thoughts and attitudes are. It’s relatively easy to con people with outward appearances, but the inside is a different matter.

You could say that the heart is the most important place to be pure, because that is what God sees

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

So what does it mean to be pure in heart?

It’s not about being perfect or being sinless, but a progression from the other beatitudes. It comes from a desire to know God, to be sorry for our sin and to be hungering and thirsting for His righteousness. Being pure in heart doesn’t come from ourselves, but is a gracious gift from God. When we commit ourselves to following Him, the process of becoming pure involves Him turning our heart of stone into a soft heart of flesh.

Another word for purity and one we are probably more familiar with is ‘integrity’. Being a person of integrity means we are exactly the same with everybody, we aren’t one way with one type of person and another way with somebody else. We are sincere, not hypocritical, transparent, constant. We are exactly the same way if people are watching us or not.

There are a number of blessings given in the bible for people who walk in integrity;

They stay on track, they are the sort of people that others follow, they are good to be around

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9) (NLT)

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin. (Proverbs 11:3) (message)

They are people who leave a lasting legacy

A righteous person lives on the basis of his integrity. Blessed are his children after he is gone. (Proverbs 20:7) (God’s word)

Their faithfulness and consistency mean they will receive a rich reward;

The master answered, ‘You did well. You are a good and loyal servant. Because you were loyal with small things, I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me.’ (Matthew 25:21) (New century version)

Notice it says “share my joy with me” that is the fantastic promise of this beatitude of purity and integrity, we get to see God. That is on two levels; firstly it is for now. God loves it when we act purely before Him and He can’t help but bless us and reveal more of Himself to us as we do so. Secondly this sort of life means we get to spend eternity with Him. What an amazing thought that one day we will actually be able to see God, to stand before Him having had our sins forgiven and knowing we are accepted as His children. What a day that will be!

I’m going to finish this blog with some suggestions (including bible verses) on how we can live a life of purity and integrity;

(1) By keeping our promises

People who promise things they never give are like clouds and wind that bring no rain. (Proverbs 25:14) (TEV)

(2) By having financial integrity

The wicked man borrows and never pays back (Psalm 37:21) (TEV)

the authorities are working for God . . . Pay what you owe them; pay your personal and property taxes (Romans 13:6-7) (TEV)

An aspect of this is giving to God. Tithing is an Old Testament form of giving, but of course under the New Covenant we want to be even more generous than just 10%. The bottom line is ‘Do I trust God with my finances’?

“Is it right for a person to cheat God? Of course not! Yet you are robbing me, says the Lord. How?’ you ask. By withholding your full tithe and offerings . . . Bring to me the full amount of your tithe to my House . . . Put me to the test and you’ll see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out so much blessing on you that you won’t have enough room to receive it all! (Malachi 3:8-10) (TEV)

(3) By refusing to gossip

“A gossip can’t be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13) (message)

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18) (TEV)

(4) By doing your best at work

Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism. (Proverbs 18:9) (message)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 3:22-23) (NLT)

(5) By being real with others

We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (2 Corinthians 4:2) (NLT)

(6) By reading and meditating on God’s word

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9) (NIV)

As with all these beatitudes, don’t forget that we can only do them with the strength that God gives us. They would be impossible to achieve through will power alone. That is the reason God sent us His Holy Spirit to help us. Why not ask Him to help you start right now?

 September 4, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »