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Posts Tagged ‘persecution’

I wouldn’t normally say I am persecuted on a regular basis: you know, things like domination, fanaticism, and intimidation. But, what if it’s as simple as someone who is “cruel in their attitude toward me” [Amplified]. In either case, I’m supposed to bless them. What does that look like?

Romans 12:14-16a
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. . . .

When I teach a Bible study, I am constantly asking the participants, “What does that look like?” I ask because most people who come to these studies have a pretty good handle on the scriptures, but they have lost the specificity of how the words apply (manifest) in their daily lives. It’s one thing to read about “blessing the persecutors” and another to figure out how to do that on a regular day.

For one thing (and for the sake of transparency), I’m still contending with the implications of the word, “bless.” Usually, I can get past these verses by including the “haters” (as my kids call them) in prayer: “Bless so and so, like the woman who gave me a dirty look, or the man who yelled at me over the phone, or the boss who challenged my ability, or the teen who blatantly lied to me. Oh yeah, bless them Lord. (The hidden message: You bless them God because I sure can’t/won’t.)

But I think that’s a dodge of the truth behind the words. To bless someone goes beyond a pat on the head or a passing verbal gratuity. Blessings begin in the mind and then need to manifest into some kind of action. To bless is a verb. Just a little look at a dictionary or thesaurus is quite revealing. Everything is included from “sanctify” to “protect from evil” or “confer well being upon someone.” So, yes, there is a speaking component to blessing someone. And when we are speaking this blessing, it is a request that God confer well-being, prosperity, health, and holiness (wholeness). Every time we say “Bless” it’s a prayer.

I believe there is a second component. The command for me to bless others is not just about me “praying” a blessing over someone but to do what I can to give that person the ability to receive those blessings. If I want to bless someone truly, then I am helping that person receive what God has to offer. I am participating in the process with God. I may be called to be the hands and feet of the blessing.

To only say, “Bless them” is an empty prayer if I am not offering my own commitment to that person’s transformation or change in circumstances.

On a personal level, if someone is treating me badly, cruelly, or even betraying me and accusing me wrongly, while God is telling me to bless that person, then what? Romans 12:20 says “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” My job is to do what is best for the person, no matter how they treat me. To actively bless someone is really just another word for loving them. I do my piece of it and the rest is up to God. If that person does not receive the blessings (mine or God’s) then the “burning coals” may indeed be brought into picture. But that’s not my job. My job is to bless/love.

Help me today, Lord, to “bless” and thereby extend love to everyone I meet today, but in particular, the persecutors. Oh, that feels overwhelming to say.

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Acts 16:3a
Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area…

Well, this certainly took me off guard. First, all those promises of freedom for the gentiles who were coming into the faith (including release from having to get circumcised), then, that freedom was tweaked and the gentiles had to follow at least “some” of the laws and it was assumed they would attend synagogues for ongoing instruction. Now, poor Timothy, who was already well respected by the all the believers in Lystra and Iconium, is tapped by Paul to join their band of merry men and become a leader among the believers. Paul wanted to bring Timothy along on the missionary journey. But… and there it is … but!… Paul insisted that Timothy be circumcised!

And the reason? Apparently, it was known that Timothy’s father was Greek and appearances required that he be circumcised. They all agreed that Timothy’s new leadership position required stricter adherence to the laws and traditions of Judaism. He basically needed to “go under the knife” to give himself additional legitimacy.

This outward act did nothing to bring Timothy any closer to God. Its primary purpose was to ease the perceptions of others.

Do we do this with our own leadership? Do we require the outer trappings in order to feel more confident of the person’s heart?

No one does well under the microscope. There is a fabulous episode of Twilight Zone called “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” The entire story is built around the power of speculation and interpretation of innocent events which lead to distrust and tragedy. In the end, the aliens really have landed and they discover how easy it was to create paranoia and panic, concluding that the easiest way to conquer the Earth is to let the people of the Earth destroy themselves, one “Maple Street” at a time. We can destroy one another with our assumptions based on appearances.

This is human nature. But, as believers, shouldn’t we look beyond appearances? Let us not put heavier “expectations” on our leaders for the wrong reasons: for appearances’ sake. Let us, instead, look to the heart.

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…if he [Saul] found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Saul started out as a great persecutor of the followers of Jesus. He considered them a threat to the traditions and laws of Israel. They were undermining the faith. How were they doing this? How would he recognize these disciples?

Back then, what did a Christian follower look like? How did a Christian follower behave? How would Saul have identified those followers in his time?

The question is no different today. Am I on the Way? For years, it’s been a pop question: “Is there enough evidence to convict you as a Christian?” I think there’s even a song that asks the question. Funny, after 2000 years, we’re still asking who’s on the way.

Certainly, it would not have been an Ichthus symbol on a bumper or Christian music blaring from a car radio or a creche in the front yard. It would not have been a well-worn bible or marching on Washington for some worthy cause or wearing a cross or crucifix.

By the time Saul was on his rampage, the believers had gone underground. They were meeting together in secret. This was one of the foremost clues: they met together often. They chose to be together because of what they had in common. They broke bread together and everyone shared in what was available. None went hungry.

What else did they do when they met together? They shared stories about Jesus. They sang. They worshiped. They waited. They prayed. They encouraged one another. It was a simple life.

Were people healed? Were there miracles? We don’t really know. But the implication is that those on the way, that is living as Jesus lived, were doing the same things He did.

In the end, Saul probably found out about followers because of a snitch. He was told where they would be meeting together. They would be collected and arrested as a group, not so much as individuals.

To be on the way is to be together with others on the same path. I have struggled with this concept my entire Christian life. Going to “church” on Sunday morning isn’t the same thing. That has become a “passive” experience. There is no sense of journey at all. It’s the small group, the cell, that can operate with true mutuality. It’s the place where we can be authentic, transparent, and united on the way. It’s where we can struggle together over the questions of faith, trust, and disappointment.

If I am not in fellowship with a group on the Way, then, no, there is very little evidence that I am a follower of Christ. An isolated follower will elude detection for a long, long time. And so I have done.

God forgive me.

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