04-13-2014 Finding Blessings: Blessed In Persecution

Before I forget, let me thank all of you who helped out this week with the Passover Seder dinner, whether with set-up, or clean-up, or cooking the (frankly amazing) food.  We had a good turn-out, and our new missionary friend from Chosen People -- named Josh Norman -- was totally blown away.  Seriously, he appeared to be genuinely moved, and he shared that he’d never been at a church that took the Seder so seriously, yet had so much fun with it.  Usually, apparently, it’s either some sort of goofy novelty to the churches, or else they take it so seriously that they miss the point that it’s supposed to be a family meal -- worship of God through genuine community.

But that’s precisely what we’re been trying to do here for over a decade, so it doesn’t surprise me when we succeed at it.  It’s just amazing to me how many times I’ve heard someone visiting our church family say, “I’ve just never been to a church like this one before...”  Praise God, people, because that’s an affirmation that you’re doing things right.

In that same spirit of community worship, let me encourage you to join us for the rest of Holy Week here at First Covenant.  We just celebrated PalmSunday, and we’ll have a special Community Prayer Service this coming Wednesday (at 6:30), and then our annual Good Friday Service at the end of the week (also at 6:30 -- on Friday, of course), and then finally, our special Resurrection Sunday service on Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of our Lord!  To help us celebrate, we always have a special community breakfast, so please come join us at 9:00 for that.  Oh, and if you’d like to bring any food with you, please just contact the church office and let them know, so that they know how to plan.  But whether or not you can bring any food, let me encourage you to please pray for and bring a friend or two with you to join us in worship that day.  We’ll be sharing the Gospel message, and there’s no better time in the year to invite someone to church than Easter!

In the message this week, we finished up looking at the Beatitudes in Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” by looking at the concept of persecution.  It does still go on today, you know -- more Christians have died for their faith in the past century than have died in all of the previous centuries combined.  But having said that, most of us are never going to experience real persecution.  What you and I experience is usually simply the natural chafing that we feel by being square pegs for Jesus in a fallen world of round holes.

But even then, we tend to try to avoid whatever persecution that we can, because we’ve been trained to seek out comfort and avoid discomfort in life.  But Jesus is very clear -- persecution is the only thing He lists here that we shouldn’t just find joy in, but that we should actually be happy about.  If we’re suffering because we’re following Jesus, then that just means that we’re successfully acting more like citizens of Heaven than like citizens of this world -- we’re actually living the way God sculpted us to live, and that’s a really, really good thing.  

When persecution comes -- and it will, if you’re doing things right, because the world doesn’t like square edges chafing against its round sides -- we need to take a moment to do an attitude check.  Do we respond with confusion, wondering why God is allowing us to suffer?  Don’t be confused -- that’s just life as a Christian in a broken world (you should actually be more concerned if you never felt like you were suffering for your faith, since that would suggest that your corners might be getting rounded off).  Do we respond with fear, asking God to protect us from suffering?  That’s not bad to pray for, but it might be better to remember to ask for strength to get through it rather than provision to get out of it.  Or do we respond with joy, remembering that persecution is a natural by-product of being perceived as living differently from this world -- and thus, persecution means that our walk with God has been noticed.

Praise God, people, because that’s an affirmation that you’re doing things right...