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Blessed are the Persecuted...




Riding the Galloping Goose Trail last week, my eyes were drawn to the shape of several of the trees I was passing. The Galloping Goose is a bike trail on Vancouver Island formed from an old rail line that had been cut high above a cliff edge over a deep canyon formed by a rushing river.


I wondered, had years of noisy heavy trains thundering by forced the saplings to grow outwards before growing up toward the light?


Opposition, whether deliberate or unintended, affects our behavior. As children, we learn what is acceptable behavior from the adults around us. Being deeply loved enables the child to grow tall and strong.  A barrage of negative responses can lead to a child growing up afraid and careful.


It is becoming more and more obvious to me as we quietly sit with the Beatitudes, how Jesus here was planting the roots, the substance, of all he will say in the future whether here in the Sermon on the Mount or later in his ministry. His focus is always on the Kingdom. What does it mean to belong to the Kingdom of God? Here in the eighth Beatitude, he again makes a statement about those who will be part of that Kingdom...


              “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake                                   for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”


Persecuted? That word tends to suggest pictures of believers in countries where Christianity is considered a threat. But what of us who live in the United States, where our freedom to live out our faith, to living rightly toward God and toward the people around us, is not for the most part questioned.


Or is it? I wonder if we could consider the word as including the idea of opposition. Have you ever been in a place where your choice to obey the Lord led to opposition from others?


Choosing:                                                                                                                                not to retaliate,                                                                                    to respond to harshness and anger with kindness and gentleness,                                            to show mercy,                                                                                                to prefer others,                                                                                                    to hold back the angry retort,                                                                             to pause and breath before responding,                                                              to be alert and aware of the where & who you can help—in little things and big, even in your efforts to be a peacemaker…


 

You want to be a part of this Kingdom Jesus is inviting you into? It won’t be easy. It often won’t be appreciated by others. You’ll find yourself making choices that don’t make sense—at times even to yourself, let alone to those around you. Those who love you most and want the best for you at times may be the most vocal in their opposition to the path you are choosing.


I wonder if this is what Jesus was meaning when he talked about loving father and mother, son and daughter more than Him? (Matthew 10:37) To do so, Jesus says is to "be unworthy of Me" and then He talks of taking up our cross, of our lives... Did you ever hear His voice asking you to do something that seemed like that?



Years ago, when our third daughter was about to enter kindergarten, and I was looking forward to being home alone and pursuing a new phase of life, God directed me to bring all three girls home and school them myself. This was in the days when both church and state frowned on home schooling. Most of our friends, especially our church friends, were unsupportive of our choice. But I knew I had to do it; that first year was very challenging as I felt very alone in my choice.


Years later we welcomed our fourth daughter into our home when she was 10—believing God was directing us to do this and me naively thinking that it would be wonderful for us all! We were on the brink of being empty nesters—entering that delightful stage of life when we would be freer...to have fun! My mother, though she tried to be supportive, thought we were crazy. At times, we agreed! It was a very difficult journey as we sought to love this little girl who had been so hurt by life. I thought our love and God’s love would be enough for her healing. My heart was broken many times. And yet what looked at the time as failure was not the end of the story. This lovely young woman is now raising three amazing children.


Friends of ours, their kids all school age, sensed God’s call to them to take in foster children. They all gave their hearts and energy to the little girl entrusted to them by the state. Then she was returned to her dad, a good thing they all agreed, but with her went a little piece of their hearts. Then, straight from ICU came a little preemie boy. (“You just had your hearts broken, and you are going to do this again?”) Yes, again, they all gave their everything to help this little one thrive. A year later, they are awaiting a decision about his forever home. It has not been an easy journey. But their hearts, while scarred, have been enlarged, their lives changed, their relationship with Father God challenged and deepened; their kids will be different adults because of this journey.


Family and friends have sometimes wondered about the wisdom of these choices. People to go to when your heart is breaking are not always available in the way you need. Those who love us most tend to want to rescue us. And rescue is not what we need, but a listening ear that will help us recognize again the will of God for us. Sometimes the journey can be lonely.  But God…the Father who sees the tears, hears the heart’s cries, is present with His reward…a new awareness of His presence and His faithfulness. The scarred body of our Savior reminds us that He knows and understands the challenges of living out the will of God. The Father, Jesus keeps reassuring us, who sees in secret will reward you –sometimes openly, sometimes it is simply the inner witness that you have done the right thing.


Heaven comes. Kingdom comes, as His will is done through us here on earth as it is in heaven. And we stop to breathe in the courage to face another day.



All of us have stories of the times in our lives we have been misunderstood. I hope that reading these stories will reassure you that God is always present as we seek obedience to his will. Those stories that look like failures? The last chapter has not yet been written. In fact, God is writing the next chapter right now. I know I wouldn’t know God as I do had it not been for our adopted daughter. I learned more about God and about myself through her—and I continue to!


I encourage you to take time to sit with the Father. Pour out your heart to Him. Tell Him your story-- the heartbreaks, the triumphs, the fears, the doubts. Then wait in silence for the reassurance of His love, both for you and for those whose responses have been wounding.  Ask His forgiveness for your judgments and anger. Allow His healing to penetrate deeply into your heart.

 

 

 

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