by Peter Rust
You would think Jesus would kick off His instructions to His followers on how to live (Sermon on the Mount) by contrasting with the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. But He starts by pronouncing blessings – rewards and joy for those who live in uncommon ways.
All nine blessings are important, but Jesus does a few things to rivet our attention on the ninth:
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Sermon on the Mount’s opening isn’t the only place in scripture where suffering for Jesus is elevated as a high privilege.
Paul talks mysteriously of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. In writing to the Philippians, He speaks of suffering for the Lord as a precious God-given privilege on par with the privilege of faith in Christ. When the apostles were suffered, they rejoiced that they had been “counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name”.
Yet we have the exact opposite reaction: we rejoice that we have not had the opportunity to suffer for our Lord and we pray we never will.
Until a couple weeks ago, even I thought these blessings didn’t apply to Americans because we have a 1st Ammendment right to the freedom of religion. But as we studied this passage in church, I realized that the promises of scripture stands opposed to the thought: All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. If they do these things while the tree is green, what will they do when it is dry? If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also.
If these are the promises of scripture, why don’t we find them to be true in our experience? The answer is contained in the next words from our Savior’s lips.
Immediately following the blessing of being persecuted for Him, Jesus gives a double-warning against losing the vibrancy of our witness: the first against losing our taste and the second against hiding our light under a basket.
I believe that we have lost our vibrant witness for both of these reasons and that they are the very keys for re-gaining it – and with it, the blessing of persecution.
The first warning, salt losing its taste, is a warning against blending in with the culture around us. We do this by living the full-potency righteousness in Matthew 5-7. When we look at it, we begin to make excuses: we don’t have the time or money to live for others like Jesus did.
The truth, of course, is quite the opposite, but it is painful. It requires stripping down our monthly planners and budgets to find and minister to the sick and poor among us. I’m ashamed to say that I need a lot of work in this area.
The second warning, about stuffing our light under a basket, is not so much about being different as it is about hiding our differences. Paul asked people to pray that he would be courageous with the gospel and we see the theme of courage and boldness running through Acts from beginning to end.
But somehow we’ve redefined courage, such that “so-and-so knows I’m a believer” is courageous. Take a second to look at the apostles and we realize that bold evangelism means bringing the gospel to the lost in a way that is both relevant and convicting. One of the reasons we’re afraid to do this is that we’re afraid of suffering disgrace for the Lord – because we don’t see persecution as the blessing it truly is.
May we aspire to be worthy of suffering disgrace for our Lord, as the apostles did, speak the gospel boldly and enjoy the fellowship of sharing in our Lord’s sufferings.
By Neil Ahrens
as told to Adam Borries
On Saturday at Nationals, the Citizens had a firsthand lesson in putting faith into action. Last year, as a last-minute team, we were lucky if we had half the material covered at any one time. We were satisfied with our 37th-place finish, but we agreed that we would return the coming year, planned and prepared as a team, determined to perform to our potential.
Now, after all our hard work over the season, we were starting the bracketed day in exactly the same position – 37th place – and we all felt we could do better. As I prayed before breakfast, the Lord reminded me of the verse, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory rests with the Lord” (Prov. 21:29). We had done our preparation. We had studied up, practiced, and strategized. We were ready.
Taking the seats, we were encouraged, motivated, and focused, and we came out playing hard – and lost. And we lost the next one. After losing 2 more matches, we were emotionally battered. Yes, I reminded our team, we have trained, but that didn’t necessarily mean we would win; it only meant we would play hard, and leave the result to God. “We are going to trust God,” I told them, “to put us wherever He wants us at the end of the day. We will do our best, but where we end up is God’s business.” Doug S. encouraged us by borrowing words from the movie Facing the Giants: “We’ll praise God if we win, we’ll praise God if we lose.”
And something happened; suddenly, our final placing at the end of the day seemed to lose whatever false importance was attached to it. Our focus shifted to God’s priorities: we would quiz hard, care for the people around us, and have fun. From that point forward, we would honor God with our effort in the moment, and forget about the outcome, truly placing it in His hands.
And we won. In fact, we kept winning! And as we won, other verses kept coming to us: “I will honor those who honor me” (I Sam 2:30); and later, “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). We set our hearts right, and played for God’s glory, and by the end, He had lifted us from 40th place up to 20th!
Now, I’m not saying that God will grant success every time; this is not a formula for making God do what you want. Nor is it an excuse to slack off and “just trust God”, as if we have no responsibility; the preparation for the “day of battle” is painstakingly careful and thorough. But I believe that God blessed us this way to make a point: We can and should strive to do our best, but placing our trust in God is the ultimate success, whatever the outcome. And not just in sports, but in every aspect of life. Even in the midst of straining to excel, when we submit our effort to God – leaving the result to Him, and trusting that He holds the very best for us – in this, there is always victory.
by Pam Demmer
This year's regional tournament at Camp Berachah was one of the biggest. We had 61 quizzers and 33 volunteers for a total of 94 people. Faithful Marie brought a team and some adults from Idaho and Spokane to participate with us.
The weekend started out with a bang Thursday evening with worship, fun games, and sharing by Adam. The speakers' theme for the weekend was grace.
Jesse Weatherby led the worship team on guitar, with Danelle Roosendaal also on guitar, Rachel Finkbonner on bass, Jeremiah Finkbonner on drums, and, last but not least, Megan Demmer on keyboard. They did an amazing job.
Friday morning's speaker was Steve Forbes who (through no fault of his own) arrived just in the nick of time.
During free time most of the kids headed for the gym to play basketball, volleyball or swim in the pool while some of us tried to catch up on sleep.
Friday evening we played a game outside in the snow, rain, sleet, and mud called Bible Smugglers. After this most people cleaned up and then warmed up in the pool until 10:00.
The speaker on Saturday morning was Neil Ahrens with John Kimble sharing on Sunday. Thank you Adam, Steve, Neil, and John for sharing with us and challenging us to see God's grace in a different light.
See other photos!
Saturday evening we had a bonfire with smores, singing and sharing.
We quizzed 10 rounds on Friday with 10 more on Saturday for a total of 20 rounds for the weekend.
Sunday at 9:30 we started the final 3 competition. The 3 top teams, Wal-Mart Smilies, Gentile Sinners, and Bond Servants, went head to head for 4 rounds until a winner was finally crowned: The Bond Servants, with a whopping score of -30. Thyatira won the Christian Character Award. Congratulations to both teams!
See the full April 08 newsletter (pdf).