The Good Life and the Response

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:12-13

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Soul Search Essay

“[You are fortunate] when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”

In the Beatitudes, Jesus has outlined important elements of the cost of discipleship. I have called these items “the Good Life” to highlight the discrepancy between what many of us Christians conceive of and live out as our good life versus what we sing about in church and what we say we do.

Unlike the modern (worldly) American concept of the “good life,” which produces interpersonally the envy of position, lust after acquisitions and affirmations of success, Jesus’ good life produces outrage among the non-believing world. The odd thing is that we as American Christians produce less outrage than Jesus did in Israel.

Yes, at the time of this writing there is increasing polarization in the  USA against Christianity as a concept and as a practice, but it is still relatively rare to see this specifically directed against individual Christians.  Yet, I hear talk among Bible-oriented Christians about fears of “persecution” in the US.  In reality, we are only at the insult level or stage for the vast majority of us.  That insult seems also generally indirect, rather than in our face.

The worldly citizens of the USA do make fun of us.  They sneer at times in our face or behind our backs.  They create TV shows that make Christians look stupid; but in our lifetimes only rarely has someone been killed in America for their faith in Jesus Christ (the “…on account of me…” part of the verse).  Yes, it happened in recent years, but it is not a trend. There has definitely been a sustained multi-decade effort to strip Christianity from the American culture.  This is blatantly true.  Also, people do lose jobs (such as professors, etc.) over their faith in Christ and/or the Bible, but they are not killed.

When we label insult and economic hardship as more than insult, when we label it persecution, we skew the reality of what Jesus, Paul, Stephen, Peter and countless others faced.  We equate discomfort and altered life paths with truly life threatening situations.  I have experienced multiple unexpected alterations to my life path.  Some where shocking.  All were painful; some pain lasted decades.  If I elevate that pain in my mind to equate with persecution’s pain, I belittle what others faced in Christ’s time and what other Christians across the world face today.

Jesus encouragement in this passage covers the range of Christian experience of human opposition from mild to deadly.  In doing this, he acknowledges that the full range of these experiences generate rewards.  To put it slightly differently, everything from insults to the death of a believer due to proclaiming Jesus in her or his actions, beliefs, thoughts and words matter.  It matters.  The insults we experience matter.  The pain of insults matter.  There is no need, however, to mislabel our experiences.  Mislabeling is a way of buying into the lie of, “This is really bad.”  No.  It is uncomfortable to very painful.  True persecution is much, much worse.  Why make this point?

To make up a word, ‘uplabeling’ our experiences decreases our proclaiming Jesus in our actions, beliefs, thoughts and words.  Uplabeling increases the power of the forces in our minds that stifle active, engaged discipleship. We empower the fear of mild or moderate conflict to the level of deathly fear.  Perhaps we do not go that far, but we seem to empower the fear enough to hesitate.  We seem to give into this fear.  So, we huddle.  We wait for the corrupt world to enter our church doors.  That makes us feel safer since we gave into assuming persecution is around the corner when in fact it is on a different continent.

Yes, evil is all around us and harms us.  Jesus, however, is speaking of human persecution of believers here.   The Kingdom is tasked with loving these persecutors.  If we give into this uplabeling?  We live not in the Kingdom of God that is breaking into this corrupt world to save those most trapped by the corruption.  We live in the “What will they think??!”and “What will they do??!” worlds; worlds we were called out of at our conversion.

Lies and fear are primary weapons of Satan.  Empowering our fears by uplabeling?  We are doing Satan’s work for him.  We are making his efforts more effective.  We have more than that.

We have a Kingdom.  We have an aggressive war of love being waged by the active, engaged disciples in this world.  We have a Conqueror leading the war.  We have a Spirit supplying resources, motivation and means for the war.

Love (agape) wins!

The Long-Sufferer (YHWH) wins!

Remember Truth and set aside fears.  Participate….

The Good Life as Personal Persecution

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:10

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Soul Search Essay

“[You are fortunate if you] are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Righteousness here refers to an internal God-given state that enables public demonstration to non-Christians of allegiance and reliance on Jesus; it is living publicly as Christ’s ally and messenger; it is stating and living out your salvation created aliveness or otherness.  In short, true discipleship will (not may) produce persecution.”

This should be one of the most disturbing Beatitudes for passive Christians.  This essay is a call to act, rather than comment on the text.

While verse 10 does not state my assertion above of “…will (not may)….”  Many other statements by Jesus do make this clear.  The larger passage (5:1-12) does emphasize persecution by covering the subject twice; once here with the emphasis on the link between “righteousness” and persecution.  The second emphasizes and expands what persecution is and the value of enduring it.

Why should American Christians be disturbed (or empowered) by this Beatitude?  It is probably not what you think.  It is the absence of personal persecution that should be disturbing.

A consistent theme in what I write is my belief that Jesus came and established a two front war during his ministry on Earth.  This verse and others like it are components in forming my belief.

As Jesus is launching his ministry, he offers bullet points defining what kingdom citizenship involves.  In this Beatitude list, persecution gets a double portion.  Why?

Jesus’ ministry was the beginning of offensive operations to take back what is his Father’s possession.  Satan usurped what YHWH created.  Christ’s offensive operations began with love and conflict at his first coming.  His second coming involves more military aspects than his first, but a military metaphor is useful in considering his first coming.

So, to use an extended military metaphor, the kingdom’s arrival on Earth was an opposed landing.  Christ’s conflict with Satan in the wilderness and his repeated removal of demons demonstrate this.  This is one front in the conflict.  The second front is focused on humans.

Initially, it is a path creator mission.  Christ must first create a path forward for his followers.  From this his followers are intended and designed to become an insurgency of believer’s operations in hostile territory.  Yes, it is an insurgency of love, mercy, grace and patience.  Regardless, it is opposed, because it disrupts the current human and Satanic order.  This ongoing asymmetric effort carried out by kingdom citizens with minimal training will grow into something much larger.  Where human insurgencies involve violence and destruction, Christ’s insurgency involves grace, mercy and love for opponents with harm, hardship and damage for the disciple insurgents.  This reality makes many balk at involvement.  The odds and costs seem too high.

The term asymmetric refers to the insurgents massively being (in a worldly sense) out numbered, out muscled, out supplied and out powered by their opponents.  These early active disciples expanding the kingdom are massively outnumbered by non-Christians, false Christians, non-disciple Christians and all the others who attacked and/or retarded the kingdom expansion.  The fear of acting is not hard to appreciate.  Actual death awaited some of these believers.  The casualties are real.

To extend this military metaphor Into our own time, there are millions of people labeled Christians now.  In theory, this should be a massive force that expands the kingdom today.  Is it?  Consider where you have seen Christians fill the following historical roles.   Are there many that come to mind?  Do we fear active duty as some did in biblical times?  Yes.  Sone are called to greater risks than others.

For any invasion, a critical question is, “Who establishes the beachhead?”  For America, it is the US Marines; an all volunteer force trained to assault beaches and initiate an invasion.  These are men and women called to particular courage.  Who, however, preceeds even the Marines?  The special operators that act as pathfinders – Navy Seals and the Operators of the Rangers, Delta Force, MARSOC Airforce SOAR and Marine Recon.  Who did this spiritually in biblical times?  The prophets were the special forces operators (with Jesus as the ultimate operator).

The prophets were sent in alone with a “burden” (the term often found describing the message the prophets had to carry) to be carried to hostile people in hostile territory.  They were tasked with establishing a path toward an objective (often the objective was repentance or consequences).  This was difficult and lonely work.  Who were the metaphorical Marines?  The always forward, always faithful were the apostles.  In many ways, the Gospels are the record of these Apostles basic and advanced training.  The book of Acts and the epistles are mission logs and battlefield communiques. So, the beachhead was established and initially extended 2,000 years ago.  Who takes over after this?

In terms of the US military?  It is the Army that advances and holds extensive areas.  The Army has the numbers, strategies and tactics to push across large fronts and hold large areas.  As they do this, they establish positions to operate from called FOBs (Forward Operating Bases).  We have forward operating bases in our churches  An FOB  exists in order to allow patrolling and additional missions within a geographical area of operations.  That is why FOB includes the word “operating.”

We have forward operating bases in our churches.  The churches exist to allow us to operate outside the church building as the army of the kingdom.  This metaphorical army would be the large number of actual Christian disciples (as opposed to merely labeled Christians) pushing forward and thereby experiencing personal persecution for expanding the Kingdom of God in their assigned areas of operation.  The FOB’s soldiers would use tactics and strategy that come from Scripture and receive orders via communion with the Holy Spirit.  This would require activities outside the FOB on most days.  Are we disciples active in moving the Kingdom forward on most days?  If not, shouldn’t we be disturbed?

Are we sufficiently disturbed at the plight of non-believers to actually act on Christ’s rescue strategy?  Are we disturbed enough to “leave the wire” and conduct missions outside the base?   The non-believers plight (being in the hands of Satan) should disturb us and inspire us with their need.  Do we push forward with love?  Do we “keep our head on a swivel” looking for those in need?  Do we even recognize warning orders from the Holy Spirit (warning order – a notice of your unit’s commitment in the near term to some action)?  If we do not go outside the FOB, do we conduct fire missions of prayer on specific targets?  Do we actively listen to those around us for specific targets of prayer?

Or do we avoid the persecution (or even mild discomfort) through inactivity and distraction?  If we avoid soldiering, there are only a few boots on the ground.  Lots of boots on the ground are required.  Someone has to participate in Christ’s specific missions to specific situations.

A prompt to go to a specific beauty salon and give $50 to the stylist was a mission.  I ignored it as my imagination initially, but the next day I accepted it was a mission tasking.  The salon had shut its doors.  Did anyone accept the encouragement mission?  I suspect not.  My regret over this has led me to see Holy Spirit promptings in this larger context of an offensive (in the sense of active) effort to expand the Kingdom.

I cannot prove that I missed a mission tasking at that salon, but I can prove that for decades in my Christian life I was oblivious to the war around me.  I could stride through battles totally unaware.  Clueless.  How do I and others maintain this obliviousness?

We avoid righteousness.  We thrash about in personal sin.  We avoid expression of love to the hateful and indifferent people in Satan’s power.  We avoid non-believers and cluster in our bases with other Christians.  We avoid intimacy with the Holy Spirit for fear of receiving warning orders, operation orders and trips across the wire.  We avoid intimacy with Christ and the realization of what he has always intended – salvation beyond just ours.  We avoid awareness of Scripture with its mission logs and battle communiques.  We avoid.  We remain mute and unconvictable as active duty disciples.  We are a ROAD (a person Retired On Active Duty).  Any of these is enough to take us from Christ’s insurgency, from Christ battle host and make us bystanders.

An army sitting is an army defeated.  Sitting is defeat.

I hope I am wrong and that most people are not like me.  Fearful of risking Kingdom work in Christ’s army.  I cannot, unfortunately name so many active duty disciples that I give myself assurance that we are truly always forward and always faithful (always forward means consistently in the fighting).

Also, I see there is so much effort on Satan’s part to delay, distract and divert us as Christ’s disciples.  Satan works so hard to get us to sit and not soldier.  If we sit, we are little different than the Israel of the Old Testament; enjoying the bounty (at times) and missing the point of God’s plan.

A sitting army draws no fire.  It’s inactivity is more effective for its enemy than actual opposition.  If an enemy has to stop an opponent’s army, resources must be consumed, decisions must be made and effort must be expended.  Persecution of us consumes Satan’s resources and demons’ effort.  This is Satanic effort that we influence.  We take the battle to him and his.  We allow the Holy Spirit to consume Satan’s resources at the time and place of the Holy Spirit’s choosing.  If you draw no fire or will not risk drawing fire, you do not matter to the conflict’s outcome other than assisting the enemy.  You are not forward.

A sitting Christian army leaves the Satanic enemy free to run amuck.  This..this is disturbing.

We fix demonic elements in place with a base of fire through word and prayer.  We flank the Satanic lines we fix in place in order to roll these lines through active witnessing?  If we do not, we are garrison troops that Satan can bypass with no concern of a meaningful attack from us.  After all, if we never sally from the wire, do no air mobile assault, do not act as boots coming out and covering ground, we are functionally helpful to Satan.  We have fixed ourselves in place as if we were casualties.  We consume our own resources without positive effect in the conflict.

To take a land, to advance a kingdom in hostile territory…boots must, must cover ground while under fire or threat of fire.

We have to leave the wire.

I do not want to end my life with more regrets of missed operation orders from the Holy Spirit.  That is why I am boots on the ground now.