Feeling Persecuted?

Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 HCSB

The Christian Post reports that the United States Department of State has detailed in its International Religious Freedom report what one group described as “unimaginable horrors” Christians are facing at the hands of the Islamic State terror group, including beheadings and kidnappings. The American Center for Law and Justice, which has been speaking out about Christian persecution across Iraq and Syria, described accounts in the IRF report as “truly gut-wrenching,” and said the report only offers a “a small glimpse at the unimaginable horrors” Christians are facing.

Jesus told His disciples that they would be persecuted for their righteousness. They would be blessed (find inner peace and fulfillment) when they were insulted and persecuted in His name. He even said they should be glad and rejoice. It is hard to rejoice over persecution, but if it is for the the cause of Christ, a person will be blessed and rewarded. It may possibly not be in this life but in life eternal.

Challenge: Do you feel you are persecuted for your beliefs? It seems that even in America more and more Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs. Pray for strength to stand against the evil that will be spoken against you as a Christian. Read more about Christians being persecuted at www.christianpost.com and lift your persecuted Christian brothers and sisters up in prayer.

Merciful, Pure in Heart, Peacemakers

The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called the sons of God. Matthew 5:8-9 HCSB

Our world seems to be a place of unrest on many fronts. There have been more murders in Louisville, Kentucky, this year than in many previous years. It seems that every time the news comes on there is another report of murder or shooting. Our culture has been inundated with road rage. There seems to be more protests and people filled with anger. Our schools have become places of unruly children because there is no longer respect for authority. Even in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, there is so much fighting and unrest that there were hundreds of soldiers trying to protect those who had come to celebrate Christmas this year. In essence, the peace in our world is progressively diminishing.

Jesus called on His disciples and the people to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers. To be merciful means to show mercy toward those who do not deserve it just as God has shown mercy toward us as sinners. We do not deserve His mercy, but He freely gives it to us. Those who are pure in heart are those who try to do what is right, keeping pure motives and desiring the best for others. Peacemakers are those who look for ways to get along with others and seek compromise rather than fighting over issues that are not really important.

Challenge: Would Jesus classify you as a person who is merciful, pure in heart, and peace-making? What changes do you need to make in your life to be more like the type of person that Jesus is calling His disciples to become?

Are You Blessed?

Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:4-7 HCSB

I feel richly blessed. I have a wonderful wife of 39 years, four loving children and five precious grandchildren. My home is comfortable and I have a car to drive. My health is sound and I live in a free country where I can read my Bible and worship God. My job affords me the opportunity to serve the Lord and His church. By worldly standards, I am richly blessed.

To be blessed as mentioned in these verses from Matthew describes a person who is happy or to be envied, a person who is filled with joy and satisfaction in God’s favor regardless of his outward worldly position or condition. This is an inner, spiritual happiness that only comes from God. Jesus told His disciples and those listening that those who mourn will be comforted, those with gentleness will inherit the earth, and those who seek righteousness will be filled with happiness and fulfillment.

Challenge: Do you feel happy and fulfilled in life? Do you really hunger and thirst for righteousness? Ask God to bless you and use you to impact your world for Christ.

Are You Becoming Proud?

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them saying: “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:1-3 HCSB

God has been very good to me and allowed me to receive some awards. One of which I am very proud is the Distinguished Leadership Award that was presented to me by the Baptist Association of Christian Educators. This is an award that is given annually to one Christian educator who has made a significant contribution to the world of religious education. I was not expecting this award and was totally surprised by such recognition.

There were crowds of people following Jesus who wanted to hear him. Some had come to receive healing. The disciples were His closest friends and associates and certainly were held in high esteem by the crowds. They were probably proud of their positions as disciples of Jesus Christ. But Jesus had an important lesson to teach them. He went up on the mountain and then sat down (the normal position for a teacher). He then gathered His disciples and began to teach them that it is easy to become proud but those who are poor in spirit (a position of humility) would be blessed and receive the kingdom of heaven.

Challenge: It is easy to become proud because of our accomplishments, position, or power. Jesus calls all of us to have a spirit of humility and to look for ways to serve others. Pray that God will help you to be a person of humility and to avoid the temptation of becoming proud.

Who Are You Serving?

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written. Worship the Lord your God , and serve only Him.” Matthew 4:8-10 HCSB

My wife and I have had the privilege of touring the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, North Carolina. This 250 room house is still the largest house in the United States. The house was built by George Vanderbilt. There were 40 men and women servants who helped take care of the Vanderbilt’s, their guests, the home, and the grounds. The servants were treated much like family and had very nice quarters with indoor plumbing, a luxury at the time the house was built. At Christmas all of the servants and their children were given gifts. In many ways, George Vanderbilt had servants who served him, but he was also a servant to them and helped take care of their needs.

Jesus said that He came to serve and not to be served. He even took on the role of a lowly servant and washed the feet of His disciples. He set the example for all of us. We are to worship the Lord and serve only Him. One of the ways that we worship the Lord and serve Him is by being a servant to others. Jesus brought glory to God as He willfully gave His life as a ransom for others.

Challenge: We live in a “Me” culture where everything revolves around self and what an individual wants. Are you worshiping yourself? Does everything seem to revolve around what you want? Turn your focus to God and others. Seek to serve God by serving others. Be the hands and feet of Jesus by helping meet the needs (physical, material, and emotional) of those around you. God will bless you as you worship and serve Him.

Testing God

Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.” Matthew 4:7 HCSB

We live in a world where testing abounds. Children take tests at school to prove they have mastered the material they are studying. Adults take tests to earn certifications and licenses to perform their jobs with excellence. We are required to take a test to get a driver’s license. There are tests on new medical products to make sure they are safe. Test pilots test a new plane to make sure it operates properly.

The temptation that Satan put before Jesus was to test God. He even used Scripture to justify why Jesus should test God. But Jesus was smarter than Satan and again quoted Scripture to overcome the temptation. We are instructed to trust God and not to test Him. There is only one place in the Bible where God says to test Him – “Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test me in this way”, says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.”

Challenge: Do not test God except in this one area of giving. Give at least a tenth of your income to the Lord and His work and He has promised to bless you. His blessing may not be in the form of money or material possessions, but God will bless you and use you to bless others.

Do You Have Doubts?

Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written,” He will give His angels orders concerning You and they will support You with their hands so that You will not strike your foot against a stone.” Matthew 4:5-6 HCSB

Have you ever doubted God? Have you waited years for something you have been praying for and wondered if there really is a God, why doesn’t He answer? Have you seen evil and pain in the world and wondered, if God exists, then why does He allow so much suffering? Those thoughts and feelings are only natural, but they come from the evil one – Satan.

He is the master of deception. In the garden he tempted Eve by causing her to doubt God’s Word and His goodness. In these Scriptures he is trying to get Jesus to doubt God and His mission on earth by again asking, “If You are the Son of God.” Jesus knew He was the Son of God and He knew His mission on earth. He did not have to throw Himself down to prove it. Satan also twisted the Scriptures to try to get Jesus to do something that was not in God ‘s perfect plan.

Challenge: Be aware of Satan’s deceptions. He will try to get you to doubt God and His goodness. Trust God and seek to constantly follow His plan for your life, even when it is hard. Ask God to help you resist the Devil and keep your eyes focused on Him.

Wrong Time Wrong Place

After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Then the tempter approached Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” But He answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:2-4 HCSB

It seems that in today’s culture it has become very acceptable and normal for couples to live together prior to getting married. Many couples share intimate relationships outside of the marriage relationship. This is one example of mankind fulfilling a natural God-given desire at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and He was hungry. Desiring food is natural, and it is acceptable to satisfy our hunger. Jesus had given up His power so He could experience humanity fully. He would not use His power to turn the stones into bread even though He could. The tempter was tempting Jesus to prove He was the Son of God and satisfy His hunger. Jesus did not need to prove He was the Son of God and this was not the right time or place to satisfy His desire for food.

Challenge: We are all tempted to satisfy normal desires in wrong ways or at the wrong times. Many of our desires are good and are God-given, but there is always a right time and place to satisfy them. Ask God to help you resist the temptations of the tempter and to experience all of the joys of life as God intended.

Are You Tempted?

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Matthew 4:1 HCSB

My favorite movie of all time is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. George Bailey was tempted to take his own life because everything seemed to be falling apart around him and he thought he was worth more dead than alive. We are all tempted in various ways. Some are tempted to lie and cheat while others are tempted by alcohol and drugs. Some are tempted by fame and fortune while others are tempted by sex outside of marriage. The list is endless of the many ways men are tempted.

This verse in Matthew tells us that Jesus, the Son of God, was purposefully led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil. This was immediately after His baptism when the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” As in life there are ups and downs. Jesus went from the spiritual high of His baptism to His temptation in the wilderness. Note that both the Spirit and the Devil were present in the wilderness.

Jesus was human. He had to be tempted in every way that man is tempted. He never yielded to temptation; because He was perfect, He became the perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross and shedding His blood.

Challenge: God may allow us to be tempted to test us, but He Himself does not tempt. It is the Devil that tempts people to go against God’s laws. To be tempted is not a sin. It is when we fall into the temptation that we sin. Ask God to give you the strength needed to defeat the Devil and his temptations.

What Are You Bringing to Jesus?

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. They then opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 HCSB

Each year in Southern Baptist Churches there is a special offering called the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions. One hundred percent of this offering goes to help with special projects and needs on the foreign mission field. Some see their gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering as their “Christmas Gift” to Christ. I was convicted many years ago when a pastor asked our congregation, “Is your gift to Jesus at least equal if not greater than what you are giving to others on your Christmas list?”

The wise men came prepared to give extravagant gifts to the Messiah. The gifts they brought were fitting for the Messiah. Just as it is today, gold was very valuable and a fitting gift for a king. Frankincense was an ingredient used in the tabernacle for incense as an act of worship to God. Myrrh was an ingredient used in the Old Testament as an anointing oil. It was mixed with wine and offered to Jesus on the cross, it was used as a perfume, and it was used in the embalming process for dead bodies. Jesus came as the King of kings. He came to bring honor and glory to God the Father. Jesus was required to die to accomplish the task that God the Father had given Him to do.

Challenge: How much are you giving to Jesus this Christmas as your gift? The greatest gift you can give to Jesus is yourself. Christ desires to have a personal relationship with you if you will only invite Him into your life and make Him the King of your life. Beyond your life, give to Him extravagantly like the wise men from the many blessings God has given you (your time, talents, and resources).