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Saturday, February 04, 2017

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, PART 1

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It’s a difficult time to be a follower of Jesus.

There are numerous places on earth, however, where it’s more than difficult. It’s dangerous and deadly to publicly follow Jesus and confess Him as Lord.

Every six minutes a Christian believer is put to death for their faith somewhere around the world. This is based on a new study by the Center for Studies on New Religions (Censur) in Italy. In 2016, 90,000 Christians died for being a follower of Jesus.

Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It’s estimated that there are about 2.4 billion Christians distributed all over the world. With a current world population of about 7.2 billion, Christians make up 33% of the people in the world.

Massimo Introvigne, the Director of Censur, reports that Christians are also the most persecuted religious group in the world (along with other religious groups being persecuted as well).

30% of those who died for their faith in Christ were victims of terrorist violence or government persecution. Close to 70% of those martyred were victims of tribal violence in Africa where Jesus followers “refused to take part in violence.” 

Last year 11 Christian missionaries, including a 12-year old son of a ministry leader, had the opportunity to leave their ministry base in a town near Aleppo, Syria. The ministry director for the region urged them to leave because of the increasing violence. But they decided to stay.

They insisted they wanted to remain, because they were convinced God had called them to share the Good News of Jesus with those caught in the crossfire.

On August 7, 2016, ISIS militants entered the village and captured these missionaries. On August 28, their captors demanded that they renounce Christ and convert to Islam. Each one refused to renounce Christ even after being brutally tortured.

They stood firm in their confession of Jesus as Lord. As a result, each one was crucified and left hanging for two days.

Jesus told us that we would be persecuted.

On the evening Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of the twelve disciples, He warned them after their last supper together:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ 

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. ” (John 15:18 -21)

Why this violent hate?

Jesus is the embodiment of God the Father’s love, justice, and mercy for all humanity.

The Father sent Him to bring healing to the sick. Freedom for the captives. Restoration to the broken. Justice to the victims of injustice. Hope for the hopeless.

Here is the faithful love of God our Creator for His blind, rebellious, and violent creation.

Why would we refuse and reject Him? 

Why would we stomp on His gift of love, violently tear it up, and throw it away? 

Why would we torture and kill the Creator of life?

This is the blind insanity of our self-centered corruption called sin. When we look at the crucifixion of Jesus, we view the depths of our perverse rejection of God.

Yet, in Jesus’s death on the cross we also view the magnitude of God the Father’s undying, relentless, love and grace to rescue each of us no matter how broken, perverse, or evil we are. 

God loves us with a self-giving, sacrificial love even when we fiercely reject Him.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more will be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:8,10)

The Father’s reconciling love in Christ is at work to turn and change our dead, darkened hearts to trust in Him. So when we receive His love by trusting in Jesus, we then become bearers of this reconciling love – this righteousness of God.

Jesus transforms us to look like Him as we follow Him. But this means that we too will face suffering and persecution because of His name and righteousness.

Yes, it will be difficult, dangerous, and even, for some, deadly to follow Jesus. 

But how could we not follow Him? Jesus is our love, our life, and our supreme joy! 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

(Next week we continue with “Blessed are those who are persecuted,” part 2)

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Meet Pastor Chris

  • Hi! My name is Chris Boehnke (a good German name pronounced “Bane-key”). Tracy, my wife, and I have been married for 21 years and God has blessed us with four beautiful children: Joshua (18), Lauren (16), Nathaniel (13), and Mikayla (9). I treasure my wife and family among the greatest gifts God has given me in life. I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska – the heartland of the Midwest – by two loving parents, Don and Linda. I grew up attending a conservative but vibrant Lutheran congregation, while also experiencing excursions into other evangelical and charismatic church environments. This exposed me to a breadth of Christian practice and teaching that has incited me over the years to ask a ton of questions and to seek deeper understanding regarding what “the church” is and what it’s central message, “the Gospel,” is all about. While my interests were in art…

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