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Monday, March 29, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Blessed are those who are Persecuted

Have you ever been persecuted? You probably didn’t feel blessed while it was happening. If you deserved persecution, this lesson isn’t for you. I have to confess that many times when I thought I was being righteous, God later humbled me. One of life’s ironies is that most people are righteous in their own eyes.  This is the last lesson on the Beatitudes. For purposes of this study, I have combined the last 2 Beatitudes because I’ve always thought they belonged together.

The Beatitudes were the equivalent to the “New Torah” or new laws to a new people of God – the Christian church. In this new world, called the Kingdom of God, things are not always as they seem. To get a feel for the power of the Beatitudes, you could start every Beatitude with the words, “Despite appearances to the contrary, blessed are the …”

There have been those occasions when doing the right thing got me into trouble. I’m just insecure enough that when people are upset with me, I automatically question myself, even if I knew I did the right thing. I’m grateful that the Beatitudes remind me that, despite appearances to the contrary, I am blessed when I’m persecuted for righteousness. When I’m in trouble for doing the right thing, it feels a lot like I’m in trouble for doing the wrong thing.
You listened to the voice of God,
• You did your best to follow that voice,
• The Bible supported what yo did
• Would do the same thing again,
• And still had people upset with you,

Keep reading. Today, we are talking to people persecuted for doing the right thing.

Morning Meditation

Read Matthew 5:10-12.
Matt 5:10-12

Beatitude 8
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Beatitude 9
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. NIV

Let yourself remember times when you were persecuted for righteousness.
• Did you feel blessed?
• Let yourself rejoice and be glad, knowing that you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven.

Morning Prayer

If anyone is persecuting you, ask God to help you be honest to determine if you did anything wrong or are being persecuted for righteousness.

• Listen carefully to the voice of God.

• If your persecution is for the sake of righteousness, praise God for His blessing and watch for the kingdom of heaven.

• If not, confess and make amends.

• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.

• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.

Morning Bible Study

We already learned about the kingdom of Heaven in Day 23. Take a moment to review the devotion and refresh your memory. The kingdom of heaven is like:

Finding a precious pearl.

• Finding a priceless hidden treasure.

• Casting a fishnet out into the sea, catching many fish, and separating the good fish from the bad.

When being persecuted for righteousness, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves. That’s when I read the book of Job. No matter how difficult my circumstances are, Job’s have me beat. I’m grateful for the book of Job because it reminds me not to expect life on earth to the fair. I may not like it, but at least God warned me.

Job was a righteous man, blessed spiritually, personally, and financially. He had a loving family, wealth, and good friends.

Read Job 1:1.

Job 1:1

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. NASU

Describe Job’s character.

Read Job 1:2-3.

Job 1:2-3

Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. NASU

What were his earthly blessings?

Job was about to go through a test. God and Satan had an argument and Satan issued a challenge. Read Satan’s words to God in Job 1:9-11.

Job 1:9-11

Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face." NASU

Why did Satan believe Job was righteous?
• What did Satan suggest to God?

It does seem easy to be righteous when everything is going right. The true test of righteousness is how we react under pressure. God decided to prove a point to Satan and to everyone who would later read this story. Read Job 1:12.

Job 1:12
Then the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. NASU

What did God give Satan permission to do?

• What condition did he put on Satan?

Over the next few chapters, Satan persecuted Job by stripping every earthly thing Job held dear. Job lost his health, property, family, and community respect and yet remained faithful – thus giving us all hope that we could remain faithful to God in the face of any calamity.

Unfortunately, Job’s family and friends didn’t see his losses as a blessing and chose to add their own persecution. They added insult to injury by suggesting his problems were due to his own sin. As Satan persecuted Job for his righteousness, Job’s friends and family joined the party. Read Job 2:9-10.

Job 2:9-10

Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!"

But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. NASU

What did his wife suggest?

• What was Job’s answer?

Read Job’s lament about his friends in Job 16:1-5.

Job 16:1-5

Then Job defended himself: "I've had all I can take of your talk. What a bunch of miserable comforters! Is there no end to your windbag speeches? What's your problem that you go on and on like this? If you were in my shoes, I could talk just like you. I could put together a terrific harangue and really let you have it. But I'd never do that. I'd console and comfort, make things better, not worse! The Message

How does Job respond to his friends?

• How do you think he felt about his friends’ accusations?

Throughout the Bible, we see people persecuted for righteousness. All of the disciples but one died for their faith. King David of the Old Testament had enemies at every corner. These human people struggled to interpret their earthly circumstances with eternal eyes. In the end of the book of Job, God did restore Job’s earthly blessings. Read Job 42: 10.

Job 42:10

The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold. NASU

What did Job have to do before his fortunes are restored?

• Do you think having everything restored made up for all that had happened to him?

While Job did have other children and his health and fortunes restored, we are aware of how tragic his prior circumstances were. We wonder if his new children made up for the grief he felt over losing his first children. How did he live with the memory of what happened to him? Did he suffer from posttraumatic shock syndrome or need antidepressants? Alternatively, did he learn the lesson of how temporal and unimportant earthly blessings are and come out of the experiences with a faith stronger then ever?

This book of Job has troubled people for thousands of years. Certainly, it makes the point about the ebb and flow of earthly life. It warns us about what we can expect from our time on earth but most of us hate this news. For me, the greatest lesson of the book of Job is the privilege he had in serving God. What he went through took place in just a blip of eternal time and yet he has the honor of being a role model for everyone following God while on earth. Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible. Imagine his pleasure in his eternity, knowing God is still using him as a teacher for us today. Despite all appearances to the contrary, Job was blessed.


My hands trembled as I opened my report card. I was in 5th grade and always got good grades but I still agonized over what would be written on the card. Wonder of wonders, I had made straight A’s. Usually, a couple of B’s found their way to my card but this time, those beautiful A’s peppered the row. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I bounced with glee. “Look,” I bubbled to my friend Janice. “I got all A’s!” She merely nodded.

I didn’t notice Janice’s lack of enthusiasm or the fact that she didn’t share her grades as I continued my anticipation of surprising my parents. I put the card in my notebook to go home.

When I arrived home, I opened my notebook, looking for this affirming card. It wasn’t there. Could it have fallen out? I was crushed with disappointment. My parents were good sports as I searched for the missing card, babbling about the grades.

Later that night, the phone rang. A neighbor had found card on the ground. “Cheryle must have dropped it,” my mother said.

“I don’t think so,” the neighbor said. “When I took it out of the envelope, it was torn into little pieces. My first thought was that a child had gotten bad grades and had torn it up but when I saw the A’s, I knew something else had happened.”

As Mama told me, I was confused. “Why would someone tear up that card?”

Mama sat me down and explained about jealously. “Did you tell someone about the card?” I remembered my conversation with Janice and her silence about her own grades. For the first time in my life, I realized that the world might not share the joy of my accomplishments. After that, I was sensitive about how I talked about my grades but I still didn’t understand how someone could tear up a card that looked like that.

In junior high, I was on the majorette squad. On afternoon, we went on a shopping trip to the mall. I noticed that two of the majorettes wore aprons with big pockets and thought it was strange. I was shocked when I saw them scooping earrings from the jewelry into those deep pockets.

What are you doing?” I exclaimed.

If you know what’s good for you, be quiet!” one of them threatened.

“But it’s stealing,” I continued.

“Hush,” she demanded, storming out of the store.

When she got outside, she explained as if she was talking to a child. “Getting jewelry is easy. They just leave it out on the counter so they have to expect this. I was nervous the first time but Carol taught me how easy it was. All you have to do is wear big pockets, wait until no one is looking, and scoop. You’ll have all the jewelry you ever wanted. I’ll lend you my apron in the next store so you can try it.”

No,” I said indignantly. “It’s wrong! We have to go back in there and give these back.” Her eyes hardened as she reached her hands into her pockets and shoved a pair of earrings into my jeans pockets. “You were with us and you walked out of that store. Now you have a pair in your pockets. If you tell on us, I’ll tell them that you stole right along with us. You’ll get in just as much trouble as us.”

Scared and intimidated, I rushed home. Terrified I would be seen, I kept the earrings hidden deep in my pockets. When I was finally safe at home, I showed the earrings to Mama and told her my horror story.

I have no memory of what happened to those cheap plastic earrings but I do remember Mama’s explanation. “Those girls are not Christians so they don’t know right from wrong. If you’re going to stay on the majorette squad, you’ll have to be careful. You need to influence them and not the other way around.”

“Why were they so mean to me?” I asked. “I just wanted to do the right thing.”

“Because it reminded them that what they were doing wrong,” Mama explained. “They got mad because they felt guilty.”

I spent the rest of my high school years on that squad. I wasn’t the only Christian, but I was in the minority. I never forgot the lesson I learned that afternoon. I hung out with those girls at school and went to their chaperoned parties but I never again accompanied them to the mall or went to parties where I knew something untoward would be going on.

Everyone on that squad knew I was a Christian and, over time, I became their confessor and counselor. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who learned a lesson that afternoon because they never again let me see their dark side in action. Occasionally, in need of absolution, they confessed their dark secrets but they didn’t insist or suggest I join their wicked adventures.

What lessons have you learned from doing the right thing? I thank God for a Godly mother who explained what was happening to me or I could have been shamed about my grades or seduced into thievery. For today, stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences.

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